If you love reading as much as I do, then I’m sure you’ve come across a story in which an uncommon (or common) word or phrase seems to be repeated … repeatedly? See what I did there? Repetition can be both a good or a bad thing, depending on the context. However, repetition can be overused and need to be taken out for a walk. Know what I’m mean?
The most obvious use of repetition is when a word is repeated multiple times (also known as word repetition). Does the author realize they’re doing this? Who knows. Now, this could be using the same word, variations of that word, or words meaning the same thing multiple times in a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, etc.; it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the fact that it stands out to you, as the reader. And by you, I mean me. I’ve read many stories that have displayed this issue.
It’s one thing for a writer to use repetition in a song or poem, but for fiction writing, it can come across as too much.
There’s always hope though! To make sure this doesn’t end up as a bad thing, especially when you want to repeat certain aspects of your story, for example, a character’s unique trait, you could use different words (think of the Thesaurus), have another character comment about it, or just rephrase it so that it’s implied what you’re talking about.
Here’s an example of repetition. Let’s see if you can spot the problem…
“I felt happy because I saw the others were happy and because I knew I should feel happy, but I wasn’t really happy.”
Roberto Bolano, 2666
So, what’s the issue here? It should be pretty obvious. Happy! How many times is happy mentioned? Four times! For a single sentence, this seems like more than enough. I’m sure anyone who reads this sentence would notice the overabundance of happy as well.
What about this one?
“Because the world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds have gone is a vast silent place.”
Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary
So what’s the magical word here? Oh, wait. It’s not a single word but two variations of a word. There are silence and silent. Even though it’s two different words, it still means the same thing and it’s used twice… It’s used twice in a single sentence. See what I did there? I repeated myself with “used twice.” This is an issue in writing that can happen without the writer even realizing it. That’s where the editor comes into play.
I received both of these examples (and there are lots more) from https://thejohnfox.com/repetition-examples/
Repetition is also used in different ways besides word repetition. There are content repetition and conceptual repetition. Am I repeating myself too much? I think I am.
Content Repetition is pretty similar to word repetition. Except, instead of repeating a word or words with a similar definition, an author repeats aspects of a character, plot, or any other important part of their story; that’s content being repeated.
This is a simple example. Imagine reading a story about a vampire. This story only has one vampire in it. Yet, for some reason, the author repeatedly refers to this character as the blond vampire. If there’s only one vampire, couldn’t the writer just say”vampire,” use the vampire’s name, or use some other description to describe said vampire? Vampire! Of course, they could!
A different example might consist of an important goal the main character(s) hopes to achieve. In this instance, the author repeats the fact the character needs to attain an important document which then must be translated and given to some other important character in the story. As the main character(s) goes on their journey, this important document is repeatedly brought up. In instances like this, it may come across as though the author isn’t sure how to write properly/clearly so the reader understands. Maybe they’re uncertain the reader will understand what the character’s goal in the story is, hence, they repeat this goal. Or the writer doesn’t even realize this mistake. Either way, it’s always a good thing to have fresh eyes read over your script before moving on to the next step in the writing-to-publishing process.
How about an example of conceptual repetition?
“You want me to carry this thing, Peter?” John asked, prodding the gun with a finger as if it might explode. “I don’t like guns.”
If I told you that there are two characters here (Peter and John), what do you notice wrong with this little bit of dialogue?
Keep in mind, this line would be in the middle of the story, so the reader should be familiar with the characters and their names. So, if there are only two people talking, why would you bother writing this the way it’s written? If the dialogue is written clearly, there’s no need to include their names based on what comes before and after this.
For example: “You want me to carry this thing?” he asked, prodding the gun with a finger as if it might explode. “I don’t like guns.”
If you’ve read through my blog about dialogue, the tags specifically, you will have a better understanding of the following.
Okay, so we know that only John and Peter are involved here. We also know that John has just asked Peter a question. So, why would you, as the author, include the “John asked” part? Obviously, John asked a question; hence, there’s the dialogue: “You want me to carry this thing?” Therefore, it’s unnecessary to write “John asked” because the reader should already know he just asked. Get what I mean? Sometimes I read too much into a story or even a simple sentence like the original example I’m talking about above, but what can I say? It’s just the way my brain works when I’m reading.
Now if we read a little deeper into this example and look at the context, one might wonder why the author wrote John as not liking guns. Does he not refer to the gun as a thing? Does he not prod the gun with a finger “as if it might explode?” Wouldn’t that make you think John isn’t a fan of guns? Perhaps… Perhaps not. This is just an area that I find interesting if you like looking deep into a story.
I found this example at https://kjcharleswriter.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/self-editing-repetition-echoes-and-saying-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again
I hope you have found this blog useful. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, jokes, funnies, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for reading!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash