Not to repeat myself, but..

Today in my masterclass, Why My Opinion is King.. I’m kidding. It’s Queen. Everyone knows the Queen’s where it’s at 🙂 …


This particular advice has cropped up a lot in other posts of mine. It seems to be something of a favourite of advice givers.

It would almost be too easy to dismiss this entire topic in one sentence – me be brief? Ach, no.. but if I were…

When it comes to people who don’t really have a clue but want to sound like they do, repetition is the golden egg. Its easy to spot and we all learnt it was ‘bad writing’ in primary school. Certain words can be thesaurused into virtual extinction in English, one of the joys of the language, but others just can’t be avoided and often when you try the result is just odd.

In the above paragraph I have used ‘it’ three times, ‘to’ four times.. Variations of the verb ‘to be’ five times. I believe that is one of the favourites. Another is the use of he/she/I. I know one thriller writer who tries to remove as many I’s as possible. I had an odd vision of hard boiled FBI agent going, am off to catch bad guys. Flack jacket v.tight, am bit bloated, maybe shouldn’t have had second cupcake…

Repetition can be clumsy and awkward. We know this, we learnt it in primary school and yes, non writers still do it. And writers, too, when we start out. I found with my first book, lots of passages

He walked.. He opened… He placed..

I didn’t like them. I fretted about the rhythm and feel, and just generally how boring and uninviting they were. I tried re writing a few. Then in the midst of a major cull, after realising 200k words was a wee bit too long, I discovered the problem wasn’t, in most cases, how I was saying it, it was what I was saying. We don’t need to know

He walked home.. he opened the door… he placed his keys on the table …and then the man jumped out and stabbed him.

From him saying goodbye to his colleagues the only thing we need to know is he is in the kitchen, the rest is utterly irrelevant and that was the real problem: No one would be interested in reading it.

I don’t think I am the only writer who has had trouble with transitions. Unless you’re setting your book in one room over the space of one hour, you are going to be jumping through time and space, moving in and out of different heads. The amount you leave out can be vast and when you are stuck in micro mode, offering the nitty gritty of a scene, there is a temptation to keep following every step your character takes. Yet at the same time it is dull writing. It’s dull because you aren’t interested in it, let alone your reader, you just want to get him where you need him to be – answer – just put him there.  The transition to you locked in your characters world can be jarring, but the minute you go back and read you realise how a simple line of white is all the adjustment needed.

Another reason, and complaint, is what is generally called filtering. You want to emphasize that this is one person’s experience and opinion. The naysayers say, it is assumed everything you give is one persons pov. Neither are wrong, neither are right. First of all this generally presumes that you are writing either close third or first person. Second, I actually think, unless you are deliberately contrasting differing pov’s the reader won’t assume something is opinion, but rather fact.

For instance..

I thought I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. The shadows beneath the branches seemed darker for a moment, but when I looked harder there was nothing but fallen leaves stirring in the faint breeze.


Something moved at the corner of my eye. The shadows beneath the branches were darker for a moment but there was nothing there but fallen leaves stirring in the faint breeze.

One implies uncertainty, a sense of am I imagining things, am I not? And gives us a sense of the flow of action. You don’t even have to include every filter.

The point is, of course it can be over done, but galloping madly through a text and whipping out every filter, every I, every repetition is even worse. And editors cannot always tell when such finesse is required, because they are coming to your story cold. And notes made early on may not be corrected or even remembered later.

Last but not least, repetition can be a tool. It is only an issue when it reads poorly. I have used sentences with similar structure and repetitive phrasing many a time, as have many others. One such technique is what I call the gathering storm. It can add a sense of building up to something..

We came that night. We came quietly, we came with dark painted faces and quick, bare feet. We came with swords already drawn and blood on our hands. We came to bring death. But it was waiting for us.

There are many others. It can create emphasis. It can be a clue, a nice little breadcrumb for the really sharp eyed reader.

Any writer reading their own work should be attuned enough to spot when this is an issue in their text. Clean and crisp are words banded about too often, without anyone really asking if that is the tone we want. Our internal editors can be hard to shut off, but as far as readers go, if they are counting your words, any words, they are not listening to what you are saying and that is a far greater issue. Not to repeat myself… 🙂



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