Repetition: The Good, The Bad, and The Bad


Before I get to today's post, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who left a comment on Friday's post.  You guys are better than chocolate for cheering a girl up.  So thanks. Y'all are the best!  I'm happy to report I did absolutely no writing on Friday (besides the blog), played way too much Rock Star on the wii, and felt better for the break.  This weekend I managed to churn out 2000 words, so hopefully, I'm back on track.


Alright, so today I thought we'd talk about one of my bad habits when drafting.  Repetition or echoes.  (How cool is the echo pic above, btw?)  There are a few versions of this issue to look out for.

The first is the favorite words or phrases you have that, when used multiple times in a novel, stick out.  If you read a lot by one author, you'll often start picking out those phrases that the author likes.  For instance, the kissing scenes always have one of the people "slanting" his or her mouth over the others.  For the record, I never really understood that image anyway, but if it's used multiple times in a book, I notice because it's unique enough to draw attention to itself.

Now the word of phrase doesn't have to be unique to be an issue.  If your character's physical reactions are always based in her stomach--my personal favorite goto organ when writing--i.e. her stomach twists in anxiety, churns in worry, flips over when excited, etc, that will be noticeable.  So look for your tendencies--are fists always balling, eyes narrowing, hearts pounding, eyebrows raising?  Make sure you change them up.

Another version of repetition is echo words in the same paragraph.  When I crit, this is one of the things that always jumps out to me.  This occurs when you use the same word too close in proximity to each other.   Here's a a cringe-worthy example plucked from my current draft:

 As the kids exited the room, Quinn putteredaround, picking up stray worksheets and straighteningfurniture, amazed at howquickly teenagers could turn a room upside down.  She wandered to the back of the room andfound an acoustic guitar that one of the students had forgotten to put back inthe case.  She picked it up and threw thestrap over her shoulder, letting the guitar swing while she crossed theroom toward the stage.  A loud bangerupted as she accidentally knocked the guitar against a desk.

My rough drafts are rife with this kind of repetition.  I don't worry too much about it during this phase.  The creative part of my mind is working on the story, not utilizing my mental thesaurus.  I picture my brain having all these pages of available words tucked away onto shelves and when I call one out, my mental librarian pulls the word out and puts it in the stack of words on the available table.  Then when I need the same idea again,  the librarian's lazy and automatically goes to the words she's already pulled out so she doesn't have to go back to the shelves again.


So make sure when you do go back for revisions to look for these.  And then when you think you've eliminated most of them, send it to your crit group.  They are bound to find more.  If you'd like more examples, Katie at Step 1 did an excellent post on echo words a while back.

Now, having said all of that, remember there are always exceptions.  Sometimes the word is necessary to repeat because a synonym for it would sound silly and unnatural.  The thesaurus is not always your friend.  So if you can't change around the sentences to avoid the repetition, that's fine in some cases.  Especially if the word is pretty common and can blend in.

Another exception is when repetition is used as a device to make a point or create impact.

"They hire English nannies, if possible, always nice middling women with sensible hairdos, sensible clothes, and sensible shoes." Tom Wolfe
"I remember the place, I remember the date, I remember the moment." Cindy Clark
(source of examples)

So, as is the case most of the time, rules can be broken.  But you should know the rule before breaking it.


**Be sure to stop by tomorrow.  I'm going to spend a few days talking about critting, how to do it in Microsoft Word, and about the structure of my crit group.  But I'll also be holding a contest offering a one chapter detailed crit or a query critique!  So don't miss it.  :)**

Do you struggle with repetition or echo words?  What are your favorite phrases or words you find yourself using all the time?  Does your character have a favorite physical reaction that you catch yourself repeating?


**Today's Theme Song**
"Can't Repeat" - The Offspring
(player in sidebar, take a listen)