This Writers Workshop post is about repetition in your prose. I decided to post about this because of a show I recently saw called Bamazon. A piece of the writing I found quite annoying and it bears on our writing as writers. Bamazon is about some guys from Alabama who go to Guyana’s Amazon to hunt for gold. But what about the show annoyed me? Keep reading…
Writers Workshop – What Is Repetition?
Here is a good example of repetition:
An instance of using a word, phrase, or clause more than once in a short passage – dwelling on a point.
Repetition is not good. How many of us have heard this? But repetition can be a good thing in writing; however, it can also kill good writing and bore or annoy your reader. It’s easy to write something and not even realize that we have fallen into the trap of repetition.
See how I used the word repetition in the previous paragraph? It was used three times but effectively, where it conveys a point but the wording doesn’t distract you.
Writers Workshop – Some Effective Examples
Here are some ways to use repetition effectively:
- for emphasis – on a certain idea, emotion, mood etc. – The evil was near. Evil in his thoughts, evil in his soul…
- emphasis in dialogue – I love you. I’ve always loved you. I love your smile, I love your eyes. I love everything about you…
- to create fear, tension, or panic – Who’s coming to the door? Bang. Bang. He jumped…
- as a parallel structure to show contrast – Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities is a great example of this: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
- to create rhythm – great in dialogue, you can give a feel for a character without the reader really noticing: I knew this would happen, I knew it when I saw your face, I knew you wouldn’t listen.
Writers Workshop – Be Wary, And Edit
All of the above examples (and I’m sure you can come up with more) are great if they are used effectively. Subtle repetition of words and themes help establish an image for a reader. The problem is that too many writers don’t realize they are overdoing these things when they are writing, and they don’t edit well enough to catch these things and correct them. When you are editing, you should pay particular attention to repetition. This post has some great points from an editor about correcting repetition. Some points:
- Never start two consecutive sentences with the same word.
- Scan each page for extensive repetitive use of particular words other than he, she and character names.
- Never repeat a descriptive phrase.
Writers Workshop – The Common Bad Example
The most common and easily spotted use of repetition is the same word used over and over again. I’ve not read 50 Shades Of Grey but from what I read, the trilogy is overburdened with repeatedly used words or phrases that annoy many a reader:
I have discovered that Ana says Jeez 81 times and oh my 72 times. She blushes or flushes 125 times, including 13 that are scarlet, 6 that are crimson, and one that is stars and stripes red. (I can’t even imagine.) Ana peeks up at Christian 13 times, and there are 9 references to Christian’s hooded eyes, 7 to his long index finger, and 25 to how hot he is (including four recurrences of the epic declarative sentence He’s so freaking hot.)
You get the idea. And in this day and age of electronic reading devices, readers can search phrases and point out your errors for you. You don’t want this…
It’s easy for words to slip by you so it’s imperative that you have a quality editor who can watch for this. And I might say that Ana saying oh my a few times would give the reader some sense of who she is and it would distinguish her from other female characters, but 72 times is overdoing it :).
Writers Workshop – Another Bad Example
Along with repeated words are repeated descriptions. I see this a lot in unpolished works. It’s one thing to describe something once for effect, but repeating the descriptions only serves to make your reader scan your novel, or put it down completely. If you feel a description is needed again, find new words for your description and vary the structure and style so it doesn’t read as a repeat of something that came before.
Writers Workshop – A More Subtle Bad Example
Now to a bad example that is talked about less, but is easily seen by your readers. I struggle with exactly what to call this but essentially it’s making a point repeatedly. It annoys your reader, and this brings me to Bamazon. In the first episode, two guys on the team are sent out to retrieve an excavator that was abandoned 50 miles from base camp. As the guys struggle with how to get this huge machine through the jungle, we are repeatedly told that if they can’t get the excavator to the camp, the entire mission is wasted because they won’t be able to dig up enough gold without it.
I got that the first time. And the second. And the third. I don’t need to be told this every time the guys encounter another problem with moving the excavator. Now I know that in serial television they have to update new viewers, but the repetition within the same show only annoys the viewers.
I see many new(er) authors do this. It’s one thing to foreshadow a future event, or to let us in on a key piece of information, but too much repetition will have your readers putting your book down. A few readers said I did too much of this in Nephilim Genesis of Evil…maybe so. I do know that most of my readers felt that the tension and fear were built up effectively. And I can also tell you that I look at the critiques as well to see if I can improve things in future books.
Writers Workshop – A Difficult Skill To Master
It can be difficult to master the art of repetition in your writing. Sometimes you think you’ve done things well, you’ve been subtle in making your point(s), but your readers think differently. Or you missed that you said darkness six times on a page. As with most things, the more you write, the better you’ll get. And if you have others read your writing, they’ll catch things you won’t.
Good luck and keep writing!