You know that feeling when someone is telling you something they’ve already told you? It makes your palms sweat and fingers twitch. It takes all the self control you possess to not scream in their face, “You told me this already! I know, I know, shut up!” (maybe that’s just me?)
A lot of writers create this irritation in their readers without even knowing it.
This repetition takes many forms:
This is when a character feels a certain way about something and we hear about it over and over and over. Often it’s related to the character’s motivation or what they’re trying to accomplish.
For example, maybe a character really wants a boyfriend. That’s all fine and good, but if the narration of every single scene features something along the lines of “She wished she had a boyfriend,” it gets very old, very quickly. Establish motivation early on, then let it go. Readers can remember your character’s motivation without constant reminders.
Scenes with the Same Purpose
Say you want to show that Abby has a crush on Bill. You write a scene where Abby watches him from the back of the classroom. Okay, no problem, that introduces her motivation, it pushes the story forward. But then you write another scene, where she doodles his name in her notebook. Okay, we get it, she likes him. Then you write another scene in which Abby writes him a love letter that she doesn’t send. Alright already! We get it! She likes him!
There would be nothing wrong with these scenes IF something else happened in them (she writes a love letter and gets caught; she doodles his name in her notebook and loses it). A scene must have conflict and must move the plot forward. You can’t use scene after scene just to establish character motivation. You can test whether a scene is repetitive/redundant by taking it out of your story – does the story still make sense? If so, cut it out! It’s useless! I wrote more about this here.
Sentences with the Same Meaning
Nearly every writer does this, and it is much harder to catch in your own work than in others. This is when two sentences appear relatively close together (within a page or two, but often they’re back to back) that carry the exact same meaning. For example:
The couch was dark red. She dropped into it with a sigh. It was the color of blood.
See how the first and third sentences are saying the exact same thing?
Writers should avoid repetition at all costs! It makes the story grow stale and it can irritate readers (even if they don’t know why they feel irritated).
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2 thoughts on “Writers, Stop Repeating Yourselves!”
This is a good thing for me to keep in mind as I shift from preaching to writing in my career. In seminary, prospective preachers are taught to – 1) tell them what you’re going to say; 2) say it; and, 3) tell them what you said. Repetition works better in oral communication than written.
Ha ha! Yes, oral communication is much different from written communication. If you try to read a transcript of a conversation it seems so strange compared to the written word. Tons of pauses and repetition.