October 2, 2015

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

            Just a quick post this week.
            I wanted to talk about repetition.  Repetition can be a powerful tool.   It is amazing when used correctly.
            But sometimes it indicates a problem.  A tool being used incorrectly.  Perhaps always repeating the same words.   Or always using the same phrasing.  Or very similar sentence structure. And this is when repetition fails.  Because now it weakens the story.  Or the post, in this case.
            Do you see what I mean?
            All these sentences have six words.  No more or less in each.  The words are all different lengths. The structure of each sentence varies.  But you still feel the rhythm. Six words repeating over and over.  The pacing feels a bit unnatural.  And then I start watching it.  I stop reading the story normally.  I end up auditing each line. I count up the repeating words
            This is when repetition means boring.
            And my readers hate boring.
            Okay, that’s enough of that.  Did the last sentence seem to slam the point home a bit in your mind?  Especially at the end?  Look again—the last sentence only has five words.  It’s different.  It stands out.
            I’ve also seen people who repeat the same opening for every sentence.  I’ve also seen people who repeat the same structure for every sentence.  I’ve also seen people who repeat the same opening and structure for each sentence.  I’ve also seen people who repeat the same trick again and again and expect it to have the same impact.
            But it’s not just the blatant stuff. Repetition can creep into my writing a bunch of ways.  I may be using the same word a lot.  We all have a phrase or a term we latch onto and have to go rooting out of our manuscripts.  Or maybe someone’s name.  It might even be the way I present information. 
            I spend a lot of time trying to weed out of much of that as I can. Even something as simple as dialogue descriptors—I hate looking at a page and seeing a chorus of Wakko said, Dot said, Yakko said, Wakko said, Phoebe said.  Not that there’s anything wrong with said—it’s a borderline-invisible word.  But this structure of name-said-dialogue, name-said-dialogue, name-said-dialogue, name-said dialogue… it’s just boring as hell.
            D’you notice that one? The fourth repetition is just too much, isn’t it.  You get the point, I don’t need to keep pounding you with it.
            And it’s so easy to break up that sort of thing. Name-said-dialogue.  Dialogue-name-said.  Dialogue-said-name.  Really, if everything’s working right, I probably don’t even need descriptors past a certain point.
            Y’see, Timmy, that’s the thing about repetition.  It can be a powerful form of writing.  It’s writing at level eight or nine.  But we’ve talked about this before—what happens when everything’s set up at nine or ten?
            It’s dull.  It’s monotone.  It’s true for my story, but it’s also true for my writing itself.  If I try to make every page, every paragraph, every single six-word sentence a piece of dialed-up-to–ten Pulitzer-winning literature, my writing is going to get boring really fast.
            D’you catch that?  Repetition for emphasis.  At the end. Where I want to score the big points.
            I don’t need to be scared of repetition.  I just shouldn’t be wasting it when I don’t really need it.
            Next time…
            Well, I’ll be honest.  This time next week I’ll be moderating a couple panels at New York Comic Con and doing a couple of signings.  So next week will probably be a few photo tips.  But hopefully you all know that sort of thing’s the exception, not the rule.
            And if you’re attending NYCC and you have some time, please stop by and say “hello.”
            Until then… go write.

            And don’t repeat yourself.

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