REPEAT POLICE, By: Jeanne Marie Leach
One of my pet peeves as an editor is repetition. I once mentored another Colorado writer who had trouble in this area. Every other page had a repetition infraction, and since she was a friend, I soon simply gave her this comment, “Repeat police! Repeat police.”
There are many ways repetition can find its way into a book.
One is by using the same noun repeatedly in the same sentence or paragraph.
- · George jumped into his red sports car and turned on the engine. He backed the car out of the driveway and then sped down the street in the car. He enjoyed the many stares he got from guys who envied him for his car, and from the chicks who dug guys with cool cars.
You saw the word, didn’t you? And it became glaringly annoying.
Another form of repetition is when the writer wants to drive home a certain point and says the same thing, only using different words. In the following example, only one of the sentences is necessary and the other can be eliminated.
- · Jane had never in her life met a man she admired as much as Tim. For the first time ever, she’d found a man whom she could look up to in Tim.
The next repeat offense that bothers me is when authors repeat words for effect. It’s especially maddening when I find more than one of these on the same page. It even irked me to have to write this example for you.
- · Jane crept down the long hallway—the hallway her mother had stepped into just moments before. Where had she gone? Perhaps she’d gone into her room—the room where a century ago a woman had been murdered—murdered by her own step-father.
This really does nothing to heighten the tension and is unnecessary to the story. The author would achieve the same effect with shorter sentences that get to the point. Here’s the same paragraph rewritten to create more tension.
- · Jane crept down the long hallway. Where had mother gone? To her room? Until then the fact that someone had been murdered by their own step-father a century ago in her mother’s room meant nothing to her.
The only time repetition is useful is when used for a special effect. I’ll never forget the scene in the movie 310 to Yuma when Ben Wade and his band of outlaws were in the bar after committing a big stage robbery in which a couple of their men had died. Ben lifts his glass and gives this “eulogy” about one of his men who’d made a huge mistake that caused other good men to die.
- · “Tommy was weak. Tommy was stupid. Tommy is dead.”
This type of repetition drives home a point much better than if he’d said, “Tommy was weak and stupid, and now he’s dead because of it.
Remember to cut repetition whenever possible, but leave it alone if it enhances the scene.
I hope you get what I’m saying here in this blog. Do you get the point of this blog—the blog that I hope gives you something to think about? My main goal of writing this blog is to help you recognize repetition in your own writing. Be on the lookout for repetition and you’ll stave off the Repeat Police.
I get it, Jeanne, I get it!
Jeanne Marie Leach is a multi-published author and freelance editor specializing in fiction and teaches courses on editing fiction. She is coordinator of The Christian PEN, a member of the Christian Editor Network, and member #46 of The American Christian Fiction Writers, where she received the 2012 Member Service Award. She teaches 32 weeks per year to editors on how to edit fiction and continually keeps abreast of current market trends and hones her knowledge of fiction writing and editing through classes and conferences.
What about you, writers…Are you guilty of alerting the Repeat Police?
And you readers…have you found mistakes like these in books you’ve read?
Do join this conversation…