Blogging Guest: Elizabeth Spann Craig, w/a Riley Adams

Happy November to all of you here at More Cowbell.

I have a present for you on this first day of a mad dash/ NaNoWriMo/holiday month. Elizabeth Craig is starting her blog tour for her new book, Hickory Smoked Homicide right here with us.


Why am I so delighted to welcome Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams for today’s guest post?

It’s not because she finds the very best writing links and shares them with all of us via the Writer’s Knowledge Base. (You’ve clicked on this icon in my right sidebar, right?)

It’s not for her amazing mini-conference Sunday posts, Twitterific, where she shares her links from throughout the week in one scrumptiously long post.

The real story goes back to early January when a tired new mom and battered writer (that would be me) decided to get on Twitter and try it out for a work project. Elizabeth found me, floundering, on the second or third day. With a gentle nudge and a kindly explanation of Twitter terms, she put me on the path to Twitter Nirvana. I was so excited with the whole app, I started writing Twitter posts like a possessed cyber geek hopped up on Red Bull.

Elizabeth was my first Twitter friend. She’s one of the most generous writers and all-around-great ladies that I know. Plus, she knows a heck of a lot about writing mysteries.

When you’re done with the post, be sure to read her bio at the bottom, go to her blog and check out the Writer’s Knowledge Base. Oh, and don’t forget to comment…you know I love hearing from you, plus Elizabeth will be popping in to answer your questions.


Bad Repetition and Good Repetition
by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Most of the time, when we’re thinking about repetition in writing, we’re thinking of all the problems it causes.  We’re thinking about the days when we’re knee-deep in edits, trying to figure out how we ended up with 500 ‘justs’ in our manuscript.

But repetition in our books can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Repetition to Cut:

All of us have our pet words—and most of us know what those words are. My characters tend to nod a lot.  If you don’t know your favorite overused words, you can easily run your story through an application like Wordle to see what shows up (aside from character names). After you learn what your pet words are, you can do a search a destroy  (um…search and replace) for the repeat offender.

Another example of bad repetition is repetitive sentence and dialogue structure.  Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a particular pattern with sentences where we end up with a ton of simple subject-verb-direct object constructions. We could try opening a sentence with an adjective or adverb, phrase or clause, instead.  It’s also good to vary long and short sentences for our readers instead of repeating one or the other over and over. With dialogue, it’s nice to vary the tags:  He said, “Blah blah blah…” and then: “Blah blah blah,” he said. 

Sometimes, writers tend to repeat description over and over. It’s like the writer brainstormed a character or setting description and just scattered those same references throughout the story.  In those cases, it might be better to either focus on different attributes of the characters or setting or show how those traits affect other characters in the story.

Repetition to Encourage:

But repetition can also be good for our manuscripts.

It can provide a sense of unity for the readers, a tying-up-of-loose-ends, and a feeling of a full-circle journey. It could be used with setting, imagery, a triggered memory, or simply an unusual choice of words.

Subplots can have repeating elements that progress slowly throughout the course of a novel and then tie into the main plot at the end. It lends a feeling of completeness to a book.

Repeating a word or distinctive phrase or an object in your book can give significance to it. This is a great way to instill symbolism in your story (even in genre fiction).

Then we’ve got Chekov’s Gun-style repetition—especially good for horror or mystery writers. With this technique, something that seems completely irrelevant in a story is imbued with importance later on. It can also be used for foreshadowing events later in the story.

Repetition for children’s picture books provide rhythm for the reader and fun for the storyteller.

Tying in the beginning of a book to the ending of it (by setting, diction, etc.) can also remind readers of the story arc and the progress of the protagonist on his journey.

It can be easy to be heavy-handed with repetition, so it’s an element we have to be careful with.  A gently worked-in reminder works well. If it’s too obvious, the reader might be pulled out of the story.

Have you used repetition in your own writing?  Can you think of examples of repetition that you’ve enjoyed, as a reader?

Thanks so much for having me here today, Jenny! I always love getting some more cowbell. 🙂

Elizabeth’s latest book Hickory Smoked Homicide released November 1.  Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink.

She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.

Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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37 Responses to Blogging Guest: Elizabeth Spann Craig, w/a Riley Adams

  1. Thanks for a GREAT guest blog, Jenny. I see you now, muttering to yourself, as you CHARGE into NaNoWriMo.

    CONGRATS Elizabeth, on the release of your new book. The first time I pasted a chapter into WORDLE, the largest word was “back.” I write romance, but the chapter was not a steamy scene. Never mind it would make for a dull read if that was the only body part and action in said steamy scene. I went on a search-and-destroy mission. Yes. I call them that. Sat back, turned back, looked back (ACK! two offenders in a row!). You get the picture.

    I’m also a HUGE fan of Margie Lawson’s craft lessons and her rhetorical devices. But, don’t give me a new bauble and expect me to play with it moderation. I mark the margins with the devices used during the edit process and edit down to a reasonable number. I have even had to think through character voices. Which device(s) fit best with the heroines voice? Which would the hero use only with a loaded gun pointed at his temple?

    Thanks for a great post. And, yes. I’m hopping over to subscribe via RSS feed (Google Reader: my new toy of the week.)


    • Thanks so much for coming by, Gloria! Like you, I’ve been surprised before by some of the words that I’ve repeated in my manuscripts. Most of the time they’re just my *favorite* words that I *know* I use, but sometimes I tend to get stuck on one word or image in a book.

      Margie does an amazing job with her posts. I don’t think much editing comes second nature to any of us….just takes time before we automatically start looking for problems. I do a whole bunch of thinking through my edits, too.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are most welcome, Gloria! I know you’re deep in your book and every tool helps. You are going to adore that WKB. 🙂


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Jenny – Hello :-), and thank you for hosting Elizabeth.

    Elizabeth – You are so right about repetition having both good and bad sides! You’ve outlined them both so well. I’d say that mystery novelists can also use repetition to provide clues. In more than one novel I’ve read, there are clues in words and themes that are repeated in the novel. Of course, one can’t be too obvious…


  3. Hart says:

    Hey-Elizabeth, I’m glad you’re here, as I hadn’t met Jenny before and she seems oddly kindred to yours truly (you draw all the nuts, yes?) So thanks for the introduction, even though it’s sort of backward! And I LOVE repetition in horror. The Shining is the most striking example–repeated images (those girls in the hallway, the curling wallpaper), repeated word (redrum) repeated phrase (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy) all adds up to TERRIFYING!–but note the variation? He’s using a lot of it, but in very different ways. Ah, King, you’re a master… As for me, I’ve used it for character tics—some people use certain words really regularly to reduce the need for tags. I think though, I could use some work in other uses. (I definitely use the bad kind–I overuse the words of hesitation… being typically female and all… all those qualifiers I have to just DROP)


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Hi, Hart!

      Nice to meet you over here at More Cowbell. 🙂

      We DO like to have fun over here…come back and visit whenever you’d like. In the meantime, enjoy Elizabeth!


    • It took me a while to lose those qualifiers, too–in fact, I usually have first drafts full of them! And…such a great example with King—LOVE “The Shining.” Repetition in horror is really frightening…maybe it hints at insanity a little?

      So glad you discovered Jenny’s blog! Yes, you are kindred spirits. 🙂


  4. Jenny, thanks for hosting Elizabeth. Hope you’re getting your words in this fine first day of NaNo 🙂

    Love this, Elizabeth! The first thing I do before I start revisions is a find for “was,” “that,” and “though.” And while I’m getting better at avoiding “was” in my first drafts those other words still plague me, LOL. I also call it “search and destroy” 😀


  5. amyshojai says:

    Excellent info–and timely, as I’m in deep edits on the WIP. And yep, using that search/replace (THANK YOU, WORD!). So much easier than the “olden days” and white-out. *s*


  6. Congratulations, Elizabeth! Crap, forgot to mention your book yesterday. I’ll do it Friday! And yes, lots of bad repetition with words. I’m still learning.


  7. K.B. Owen says:

    Elizabeth, I am so happy to know you. Like Jenny, you’ve been so generous with your time and helpful with suggestions for me. You were one of the first followers on my blog, too! I don’t know how you do it all – writing/drafting/editing multiple books at once, blogging, helping out others, and being a mommy all at the same time! Whew. So glad you guested here at Jenny’s site, and all the best for your new book!



  8. Patricia says:

    Nice post and good advice. I overuse “smile” and have an apparent love affair with eyes. I’m constantly reminding myself to look for something else.

    Keep up the good work ladies!



  9. Congratulations on the book, Elizabeth, and thanks for the incredibly helpful information shared in this post. I’m heading to your blog as soon as I say thanks to Jenny for having you guest here! Job well done!


  10. Ashlee Hartt says:

    I laughed out loud when I read your opening about overusing “just” because it is one word I apparently just can’t get enough of when I write! I also notice my heroine tends to roll her eyes a lot. It’s a wonder she hasn’t tripped and broken a leg or something! Side note, I’ve started cutting out the use of “that” in my writing and regular work writing . . . and my boss keeps sticking them back in for me! What can you do? Thanks for the story, Jenny and Elizabeth!


    • I go through and eliminate a ton of justs. My agent actually made a comment about it with one of the last manuscripts. She’d seen all my deletions in track changes and said, “You know, you didn’t have to take them *all* out…” 🙂

      Too funny about the boss’ love of thats!


  11. Wow, you are so right about the repetition. Until someone else reads it, I never see it in my own work.

    Congrats on the book release!


  12. Elizabeth, congratulations on your book. Thank you for such a fantastic blog post (Jenny, thank you for sharing Elizabeth’s wisdom with the rest of the blogging community!).
    I am easily ticked off by those bad repetitions that you defined here so well, especially when it comes to a dialogue structure and description. 🙂


    • Angela–It can stand out like a sore thumb, can’t it? I think it’s especially annoying to *readers*–writers may not even notice it in their own work, but it’s certainly noticeable to the folks reading their books!


  13. Jill Kemerer says:

    I’m always up for more cowbell! Congratulations, Elizabeth, on another fabulous release! One of my final stages of revision is honing my sentence structure and doing a “search and destroy.” 🙂


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