How to Fix Repetition Mistakes in Your Fiction
Updated: Apr 12
Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.
I'm not going to argue this sentiment, but I will add to it. People that have to read poetry can go mad!
Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to hate on poetry; there is a place for it. In fact, I think there is not nearly enough poetry in fiction these days—that is, cadence, rhythm, and presence. However, there are far too many writers out there who think they're poets and lay down such convoluted prose that readers start laughing out loud or dry heaving. Either one, maybe both.
I have recently read a fantasy that just about killed me to get through. I'm not going to name any names—that's not a good look for me (and this person is gonna have a hard enough time as it is). However, I will go over some of its major issues so you can avoid making the same mistakes!
Repetition of Scenes
Scenes are there to display the important moments of your plot. That's it. If they don't do that, then they shouldn't be in your novel. But another problem many authors run into is the scene that moves the plot but then repeats itself.
Let me explain with an example...
Scene 1: John and Janet realize that they are in trouble if they cannot stop the Mage who controls the king. They discuss how they might stop him. They come to the only decision they can make.
Scene 10: Janet and John discuss the Mage again. They go over all their options just to make sure. They decide the decision they've made really is the best option.
In this case, either scene would need to be cut.
Imagine that you are telling your story to a group of cross-legged kids, impatiently waiting for you to get to the exciting parts. You wouldn't want to repeat anything you'd already said, would you? You would want to use as few words as possible, just getting to the gist of the action leading to the climax.
Now your readers probably aren't going to be toddlers and preschoolers, but the sentiment stays the same, just adjust the embellishments and detail given to your targeted age group.
Remember that once something has been said, it doesn't need to be said again!
You're writing a story, and that makes you a storyteller. Good storytellers know that they have to get to the point. They use emotion, persuasion, logic, and authority (something we will get into another day) to drive their ideas home, but they never repeat them.
The only thing that will be repeated in your story is your theme. However, that's quite a bit different and will also be discussed another day.
There are two types of redundancies that I want to go over. The first is in ideas and descriptions, and the second is in imagery.
I call this one "ideas" because they really can be found anywhere in your book. Mostly, they raise their ugly heads in descriptions but not always. Think of these as MACRO level redundancies.
Here's an example...
Somewhere in Chapter 1: Kara walked toward the great forest. The trees were clustered so close together that they resembled a woody wall of the fortress that was the troll lands.
Somewhere in Chapter 6: Jake looked back at the forest as he exited through the last tree line. The further he rode away from the wood, the more it revealed itself as a dark divider between lands.
Is it obvious what the problem is?
When you repeat descriptions like this you seem unimaginative to your readers and lose a lot of your authority.
When editing these redundancies, I almost always get the same response from the author: "I didn't think the reader would get it!" or, "I thought maybe they wouldn't remember."
The problem isn't just with repetition of metaphors or similes, it can happen with every single idea if you're not careful. Readers can quickly get hostile when they come across too many redundancies or "Yeah! I know!" moments. They will take it as an affront to their intelligence. It's not pretty.
These problems can be easily rectified by hiring a good editor that can find things you've become blind to.
Sometimes repeating descriptions are ok, or even necessary, but to do this, a perception of the thing needs to have changed. For instance, maybe your protagonist is seeing his love interest in a new light. The same physical description can be retold with a new twist to reflect the POV's new attitude. But please make these decisions thoughtfully.
Redundant Imagery and Sentences.
This one makes me the angriest. Not that it's somehow worse than the others, but it can make every page hard to read. Do this and your readers will not be readers for long.
Remember when we said bad poets can make readers insane (with rage and disgust), well this is where they shine. Think of this as your MICRO redundancies.
The colors of the flowers in the dream were faded versions of those in real life. The reds, blues, greens, and purples looked like they had been acid washed. Everything was faded into dull pastels. The florets all around her had become pale, bleached. As she walked through the bed of different colored blossoms, she noticed their underwhelming luster and became sad at the evanescence of the spring blooms.
Notice how every sentence basically said the same thing and summoned the same imagery. Hell, in the last, I did it twice in one sentence. I may not have repeated the same words but I did repeat the same images.
Just like with scenes and ideas. Images need to be conveyed only once. Each sentence needs to say something different. Explain a new aspect of something.
Let's see the above paragraph if we got rid of the repetition...
The colors of the flowers in the dream were faded versions of those in real life. The scents they emitted were equally faint as if she were smelling them through a plastic bag. As she walked through the garden, the leaves and petals felt sharp, like barbs and needles scratching against her skin....blah blah.
Notice that in this example, every sentence describes a different aspect of the flowers: the look, smell, touch.
Though if I were editing this, I still would cut it to bits :) ...but I might be nicer about it.
Repetitive and Overused Words.
I'm going to be quick with this one. A repetitive word is one that is used too often in succession. An overused word is one that you rely on throughout your novel instead of finding an appropriate alternative.
Simple solution, this one.
Get a thesaurus!
Read your work aloud. Do you say "kill" ten times in one paragraph? Change it!
I'm not saying you need a synonym for the word "kill" every time you use it. Just pay attention to how it sounds when you read (tip: you hear sounds with your ears, not your eyes).
Try recording yourself reading your chapters and then listen to them. I bet you find a ton of repetition you never knew was there.
There is a lot to say on this topic, and it takes a good deal of experience to even notice some of these problems, but keep writing and keep reading. Over time you will become an expert at catching your own mistakes before you write them down.
Until next time,
Talk to you again,
Hope you return for another post,
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