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.