Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writer Wednesday: Beware the Repetition


If you read my Monday Mishmash, then you know I've been busy with my own revisions and editing for clients. Something that came up in both is repetition. Sometimes you want repetition for emphasis or to offer a new insight, like when your MC makes a big revelation. But in most cases, repetition needs to be cut. Here's why.

Repetition just tells the reader what they already know. You're almost insulting the reader's intelligence by assuming they can't remember certain details. Consider if the reminder is necessary or if that space on the page is better spent offering the reader something new. Most of the time, you should be offering new information that moves the story forward.

Repetition slows down the pace of your story. If you want tension to be high, don't backtrack by reminding us of details you've already mentioned. I know it's tough sometimes to hit that delete key because you spent countless hours pouring over those words and they're brilliant. The problem is, those words were brilliant when you said them the first time. After that...you see where I'm going with this.

Most repetition comes from drafting or revising in stages. How many times have you gotten a great idea for something to add during revisions only to find you said the exact same thing (or just about) a few paragraphs later? I do this all the time, and I have to then edit one of those out. My tip is to try to revise in the least sittings possible because that will allow you to catch more instances of repetition.

I challenge you to find repetition in your own work and see if it's really needed.

41 comments:

  1. Great tip. I'll bear this in mind when I'm revising my novel. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Hi Kelly. Great to see you going from strength to strength! I find the Edit...Search facility very helpful too for all those times when you use the same word without realising too.

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    1. Yes, that's very helpful. Thanks for bringing that up, Deborah. :)

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  3. Stealing Fi's comment- great tip! And I'm like you, I'll think I haven't mentioned something, only to find I have. And usually better the first time! =)

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    1. Yes, that's totally how it happens. ;)

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  4. A great tip, easily forgotten

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  5. One of the things I did while redrafting was going for those repetitive moments, sometimes as little as a phrase, and cut them out or change them. Good tips!

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  6. Repetition is something that bothers me when I'm reading -especially if the book is written by well-known bestselling authors.

    Great post, Kelly! And very true.

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    1. Same here. Even if the author doesn't mean to, repetition makes it seem like he/she is talking down to the reader.

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  7. So true.
    The only exception to this may be PBs for the very young, when repetition of a central idea/theme is part of a desirable cadence. I find that beta readers who don't usually read kid-lit often consider it unnecessary, because they are not familiar with it as a device.

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    1. Yes, PB are an exception. They work well with repetition for sound effect and overall quality. I should have mentioned that. Thanks, Mirka.

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  8. Kelly, you know I think you are like the smartest person in the world and I've learned so much from you but I love repetition. In some forms. I once wrote a book with a motif that ran all the way through it to let the reader know time was about to jump. My former cp thought it was too repetitive. My response was a motif is repetitive by definition. And I still love playing with this!

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    1. Aw, thank you! Now see in what you just described, I think the repetition has a definite place. You were setting a pattern for the reader to identify. Shakespeare did that in his plays too! :)

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  9. Great tip! I usually get attached to words and then use them to death. I recently found out I use "but" a lot. Fortunately, I've gotten a lot of feedback on my work so I know my default words.

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    1. I think we all get attached to certain words. That's why I read my work aloud when I revise. I find I pick up on overly used words when I hear them.

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  10. Great post and tips, Kelly! Reading aloud is the best way to catch all typos, sentence structure and all other issues. I always do that while editing. I send to my kindle and read aloud.

    Nas

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    1. It's fun to have the Kindle read it too.

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  11. Good post! It's important to remember how annoying it is to read the same thing all over again.

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  12. I find it all the time and my beta's also put slash marks through these scenes.

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  13. I agree! I do not like repetition in writing! It makes me feel stupid, as you say! Sometimes however I am too short. Must work on this balance!

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    1. I'd rather read a short book than a book that keep repeating things.

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  14. I don't mind reminders when they are scaled back and not detailed. A reference to something which had already been detailed is fine, but I don't like those "remember when so and so did such and such and we had to do whatever?" The Matrix 2nd and 3rd movies had a lot of that in it and made me want to scream. :)

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    1. I guess it's good that I never watched the Matrix 2 or 3. ;)

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  15. Good tip, Kelly. I think limited repetition (say, once) is okay with me because sometimes the second time acts as a reminder for the readers, especially for younger readers, and especially in the mystery/thriller genre.

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    1. With younger readers, repetition can be necessary. Absolutely.

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  16. I find a certain amount of glee in cutting words, so I enjoy shaving repetition out. I completely agree that it tends to slip in during revision, and I like to go over as much of the ms. as I can in one sitting for that reason.

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  17. I am editing right now! I hear you about the repetition! Sometimes we forget what we already wrote. I don't mind a little bit (depending on the audience the book is written for).

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    1. Yes, some circumstances require repetition but we need to weed out the repetition that serves no purpose.

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  18. So key, Kelly, especially when it comes to a series. Rehashing the plot of book one in book two always seems to slow things down. I've been guilty of this myself, so I've been trying to leave tiny breadcrumbs back to the original stories in the form of significant details or catch phrases in dialogue.

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  19. While this is true for novels and most short stories, some picture books/early readers and chapter books do deliberately repeat themselves, either for the effect (Like how the "Madeline" books begin and end in similar ways, and even stories that don't rhyme have something familiar that links them) or to aid the new reader's comprehension (Chapter books will often use certain keywords to aid the reader's comprehension while STILL serving the story told)

    This is another reason why I can't write stories for readers below MG, I'm too used to fighting AGAINST repetition because the readers I want to have will find that annoying.

    But sometimes it's intentional and necessary to benefit the new or struggling reader, or even serving the story, like if the MC has memory problems, or has a friend or relative who may not remember things easily (whether treated in a comic "Amelia Bedelia" manner for kids or even in a YA novel dealing with a relative who has alzheimer's where they may not remember what they said four chapters ago, or forget what the context was, etc)

    This is the time when we have to consider what our INTENDED readers need more than the (random?) adults would prefer. At least, that's what I took away from my few attempts at picture books.

    Kelly, I'm not disagreeing that most repetition is annoying, and often not intentional, but sometimes, it is, and in some cases truly necessary for our INTENDED readers, even if it's annoying to more experienced readers.

    We have to remember that older kids, teens and us grown-ups have built up our life experiences and reading skills in BIG ways, and we at times take it for granted or just forget where we started.

    While I didn't struggle reading the way some kids and teens do, that doesn't mean I hadn't recognized that discrepancy before I took my writing seriously, but this is one of the things that changes your relationship with books and reading when you shift from being an adoring lay reader to a writer, and that's something I wanted writers to keep in mind when they think about repetition.

    We as the writers, and most readers don't need it, but some kids and teens, and certain stories do, we just need to be as sure as we can that it's needed when we do it on purpose.

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    1. Taurean, I mentioned in the comments that I am not talking about PBs at all. Those lend themselves to repetition and chapter books require some too. I'm talking about YA, NA, and adult books.

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    2. But I also think that sometimes even in novels repetition is necessary, like my example regarding a character's state of mind, sometimes that misinterpretation of information is part, and not a mistake.

      Plus, I thought it was important to broaden what you were saying because lots of writers write across demographics like you, and I wanted to add that angle for those who stay stuck in one area may know the nuances as I know you do.

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