I don’t know if I’m just now noticing, noticing the way some writers repeat certain words or phrases for emphasis. But I’ve been seeing this so much lately, seeing how authors are taking a word or two from the beginning of a sentence and using them again to elaborate, using them in a way that I think is supposed to sound lyrical. As with any writing technique it can be done well, done well in a way that emphasizes a key word or two. But when it’s overused, overused again and again, it can begin to drive the reader crazy, crazy in a way that you definitely don’t want to drive a reader.
Please be careful with repetition, repetition that can become distracting if it’s used too much, used too much in an attempt to create a lyrical style, a lyrical style that is undermined by the repetition.
Hey. Did my post sound critical of your point, Nathan? It wasn't. I think this is really interesting – and I never thought about it before.
I appreciate the head's up. It's good to do things consciously. It's also good to be aware that the reader can find it irritating.
So, this is good!
Marilyn Peake says
"Just because one shot of vodka makes you more fun to be around, a dozen can make you pain in the ass."
ROFLOL. That's hilarious…and true!
Cory Emberson says
And what of the repetitive rhetorical question? 🙂
Amber Tidd Murphy says
Wait, is that the way you spell "here, here" when raising a glass to toast Nathan Bransford for his wit?
Spelling a word wrong when using it twice must be the ultimate repetition fail.
I recently edited a novel where two of the characters were 1930s British and the author insisted on using the phrase "sticky wicket" (difficult situation) more than once as one of too few devices to flesh out the characters' personalities and cultural leanings. I had a difficult time explaining why using the phrase more than once didn't work. "Sticky wicket" hits me the same way that "cyclopean" hits you. It seems that Nathan is similarly struck by repetitive word/sentence structures. These instances hit us between the eyes and wrestle us to the ground for our sensibilities. All I could say to the author was "But… but it's a neon sign telling the reader to turn left when all s/he wants to do is read forward." Fun post Nathan. 🙂 n
Word verification: powdo, as in "Pow–do you want it?"
(that's a software company.)
Pretty sure this technique of repetition comes out of copywriting (advertising). It's a good one for pulling the reader through the copy.
Should not be used for "creative writing."
Andrea M. Bodel says
I copy and paste my novel one chapter at a time into a tag cloud generator to avoid repeating words excessively. >_>
Good good post post Nathan Nathan! But but is is there there an an echo echo in in here here?
Marilyn Peake says
I’ve also learned that sentence length should be varied. If all the sentences in a book or short story are around the same length, the monotony tends to put the reader to sleep. Length of sentences needs to vary between long and short. One author who’s very good at varying sentence length is J.K. Rowling.
Of course, I used the same words repetitively in the above paragraph, but it’s just a blog comment and I’m very, very tired right now. 🙂
There's another type of repetition that annoys me.
When used in lists for humorous emphasis, be it colors, or cars, or colors, or girls, or colors, I can encounter it once in a novel and have a chuckle. But when the same mechanic appears again later, even if about something completely different, like smells, or clothing, or smells, or tools, or smells, I roll my eyes: The joke's been done.
The other type of repetition that bugs me is to throw about fifteen metaphors after a single concept. Her eyes were blue like the ocean. Blue as the the sky, Blue as a 1000 flushes after only one flush. Got it. Blue.
I meant simile. If one is to rant, they should get their words right first. I shall wear my dunce hat and sit in corner.
Myrna Foster says
This is why your posts make me smile.
Lindsey Edwards says
What a way to point out the annoying use of repetition. I have used this technique a time or two, but it's the overuse that drives one nuts!
Ishta Mercurio says
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! And now, now that I know to watch out for this habit of repetition, repetition that can be annoying, I'll try my best not to inflict it on unsuspecting readers – readers of my work.
I LOVED this post. Thank you for a much-needed laugh.
LOL. Point taken, taken to heart.
I work on my novel and remove the repetition. I post on my blog and allow myself a couple. Now I have a radio show and am told, repeat, repeat! Sheesh…three ways to tell a story, each with its own set of rules.
Other Lisa says
HEH! And what sentence was I editing when I popped over here to read this post? At the risk of embarrassing myself:
"Up the hill, she thought, if she walked up the hill she thought it led to a large avenue…"
Jimmy Ng says
Holy crap! I noticed you were doing it while you were talking about it. Freakin awesome.
A writer friend of mine read a published writer does this to emphasize a point, or whatever his intention maybe. But I think some authors mistake this as a formulaic way of writing.
Aside from basic structure, should there be or is there a formulaic way of telling a good story?
Ow, that hurt. No, I can't bring myself to repeat it. 😀
Jens Porup says
When it's done well, though, it can be incredibly effective. Here's H.P. Lovecraft at work:
Mere dinosaurs were new and almost brainless objects — but the builders of the city were wise and old, and had left certain traces in rocks even then laid down well nigh a thousand million years — rocks laid down before the true life of earth had advanced beyond plastic groups of cells — rocks laid down before the true life of earth had existed at all.
Nuria Coe says
Okay, okay, you made your point, enough, enough already!
that's why i like the cheesy movie armageddon, the characters say everything twice, they repeat everything.
SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti says
I thought this post reminded me of something. I believe it was this. Wonder where this type of trend comes from?
What's with the anonymous posts? "I love you so-called experts." Um, hang on a minute, here. You, Nathan, are someone who makes their living selling books to publishers. MAKES A LIVING DOING THIS (no small feat). You don't know about writing? Who does, then?
I really really hate and dislike with loathing people who redundantly and constantly repeat themselves over and over again and again trying to sound lyrical and musical and creative by repeating themselves constantly instead of just telling a good, well-written story and tale. Hate it, I does!
StoryMill for Mac has a feature that checks out which words get repeated the most. Really useful
T. Wolfe says
You almost sounded like Dr. Suess for a moment. LOL
At one time I was told that I do have a habit of repeating words. Now I am more aware. Hopefully.
sex scenes at starbucks says
I have to admit, this is probably my biggest pet peeve because it is so absolutely self-indulgent on the part of the writer.
J.J. Bennett says
Shoot. I do that. Will pay more attention and revise again. Thank you!
LOL. Point made. Point taken.
Rachel Hamm says
I am so guilty!
hopefully, not this guilty, but any bit of guilty is bad!
So, I'm STILL thinking this one over. I guess I feel confused about this, because I utilize this technique alot – but I also think you're saying something important here, Nathan. So, I guess the question is, when and how can this be done effectively?
When is this a good tactic, and when does it become so annoying
it breaks the reader's trance. That's the big no-no, right? Breaking the reader's trance by doing something that calls attention to itself.
Arrrggghhhh. I'm still confused. Darn you, Mr. Bransford. I shall ponder some more. 🙂
Bernard S. Jansen says
That post was only 148 words long, yet reading it gave me pain in behind my eyes.
it's ironic that in a thread about repetition everyone keeps making the same joke.
Lt. Cccyxx says
You sound like Robert James Waller in this post…hey, it worked for him, and he certainly isn't literary! (lol)
I laughed really hard at this, then I started getting paranoid.
"Did this guy just read my work on Booksie and got inspired by my repetition?" I thought. Nah.
Ha ha! I think all writers should read this… it will certainly make me think twice before repeating anything for emphasis!
Just finished my first novel for the sixteenth time. Now, I have to edit again for repeated phrases and words. Being an aerospace engineer that is trying to write, I can now verify that writing is more difficult than doing a flutter analysis on any aircraft. I know I have several repeated phrases.
Well, at least the names of the characters have not been revised.
Thanks for all the free education
In dialogue, one can distract the reader with the cunning insertion of a gratuitous character name, Nathan, a gratuitous character name.
That's why God created editors.
Don't you just hate a person that always talks about himself, or herself. All the 'I did this' or 'I think that' or 'I have' begins to grind on you after even a short conversation?
Now, if you write a story in first person because most of the tension is in the main character's mental argument with himself, then how do you avoid all the 'I's that will result. I counted seventeen I's on one page. I counted seven in this post!
Dan Brown does this and, although I didn't notice it when I read it, it became very annoying when I listend to it on tape.
Seasonal Deluge says
While repetition can be distracting. Distracting like a loud conversation on a commuter bus. A loud conversation with a lot of mixed metaphors.