Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Repeat After me.


Spring in the Bronx,
Jospeh Stella,
oil on canvas, c. 1936.

Spring is here.
I have crocuses in bloom beneath my smoke tree. The hyacinths have raised their heads, and narcissus are about to trumpet.
And the birds are strutting bold on my boulevard.

Repetition in writing can be both bane and beauty.

The search 'n find feature is a fine device for discover of inadvertent repetitions of individual excess. I once used the word back five times in two short consecutive paragraphs.

As you know, I think that purposeful repetition is a wonderful device of the incantational variety.
Up to the point the reader feels like a fence post with you wielding the sledge. As a stylistic emphasis it may become eye-rolling if over-indulged during the course of a piece.

A beta reader recently pointed out another practical need for repetition -- one of fact -- if you mention a small but vital detail on page five, the reader may need a reminder of it when it surfaces some fifty pages later.
For example: Lillie cannot use a cell phone. She buggers them. Duly mentioned early. However, that detail may need repetion later so a reader isn't going to yell why doesn't she use a frigging cell phone!


News Bits:
Raine Weaver's latest book, deliciously titled The Last Man on Earth is out and available.
Sweet Cyn and Jon have both acquired agents.

Pay It Forward Contest:
Shauna has opened a most generous version of this contest. Many, many prizes to choose from if you win.
You may still enter my meager version by commenting on my April 11 post.
Both contests open until April 30.

34 comments:

ChristineEldin said...

I think you have to have a poetic flair to make repitition work. I know I don't so I don't even try.

The painting is beautiful!!! Glad your seeing evidence of spring. LOL--your background in forensics requires this. :-) It's not just a date on the calendar...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Chris.
I have the requisite suspicious and cautious mind.

BernardL said...

'Back' is one of my repetitive banes. Another is 'again'. Even after two or three editing trips, I'll locate a new area where I let 'again' multiply through numerous paragraphs, unimpeded by discriminating intelligence. :)

Bernita said...

Funny how certain words creep in a text like cellar bugs or earwigs, Bernard.

SzélsőFa said...

All writers working by a computer bless the 'search' function of Word :-)

But if it's not a repetition of one single word, it might emphasize..anything.
I agree with Chris: Repetition is a poetic tool. Great in the hand of the gifted, boring in those who's just writing becase he has nothing else to do.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Lillie cannot use a cell phone. She buggers them.

I'm reading the first of the Dresden books and Harry, too, messes with electronics (maybe not in the same way.) It comes up from time to time because he could, say, really use an elevator about now!!! Weave the reminders into the plot and that's sufficient. (I have no doubt you already are...)

I repeat 'quietly'. Dialogue on entire pages will all be said quietly.

Charles Gramlich said...

The find function has been a boon to my writing. I'm often amazed, or appalled rather, by common words that I overuse without being aware of it.

I like the idea of your character not being able to use a cell phone. Cool.

writtenwyrdd said...

In my own twisted sense of writing rules, my number one seems to have become, "don't give your readers too much credit; they won't appreciate it." Not because they're stupid, but when you give them 20K of words in a brand new world, they will forget small but crucial details later on.

It's just the way it is.

The corollary to that above 'rule' is that you can't make it look like you think they are stupid. Hah.

Have fun with that stuff, Bernita!

Demon Hunter said...

I have one word that I used too many times in my WIP. I have to go through and strike it out and find another way to word the sentence.

Gabriele C. said...

I hate cell phones.

The repetition of minor details is something I'll have to remember; I keep thinking the readers will get it the first time.

Bernita said...

True, Szelsofa, and useless repetition may also indicate the writer isn't willing to commit to specifics or hasn't visualized the scene clearly.

Haven't read the Dresden Files, but probably, not the same way, SS. It's the hand-held battery type she buggers.

Thank you, Charles. I have a totally inappropriate fondness for "some" in all its compounds.

A useful rule and great stuff, Written.

My Demon, you are fortunate you only have one. Myself, on the other hand...

Anonymous said...

You'd probably like the Dresden Files, at least the first few, Bernita. But do not read them until Malignity is completed, at least a good first version.

writtenwyrdd

Bernita said...

"I keep thinking the readers will get it the first time."

My problem too, Gabriele!

Bernita said...

Written, I'd be afraid to, after what SS said.

Jaye Wells said...

One of my favorite rhetorical devices is anaphora. This is when you emphasize words by repeating them in successive clauses. You can definitely overuse it, but, used correctly, it can be quite effective.

Bernita said...

Mine too, Jaye.

Carla said...

Lovely description of spring.

What does Lillie do to cell phones?

Most readers probably don't remember everything, and what they do remember probably varies from one person to the next. I tend to forget hair colour and similar details of appearance, for example. For what it's worth, I think readers tend to remember things they think are going to be important. So if at first mention it's evident that Lillie's effect on cellphones can cause her noticeable problems, readers may be more likely to remember that over a gap of 50 pages than if it was just mentioned in passing. If she can't ring the office to say she's running late on page 50 and that gets her into some minor trouble with a client, they're more likely to remember that she can't use a cellphone when she finds she can't ring for emergency help when trapped by zombies/terrorists/gangsters on page 100.
Just my 2d

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla. She's an energy sink of sorts.

Billy said...

Glad spring has finally arrived.

Repetition is often necessary as you describe it. It can also be used for great effect ... but only under the right circumstances. In THE OPEN BOAT by Stephen Crane, the stranded narrator recites the same snippet of a bleak poem about five times to reinforce the sense of hoplessness of the shipwrecked survivors.

bookfraud said...

i don't repeat information or dialog unless it's for effect.

i will repeat information or dialog primarily for effect.

i sometimes repeat information or dialog in order to produce an effect.

the effect usually being, "enough, already!" stylistically, it can work, but one must assume the reader is smart enough to absorb stuff on his or her own. that's one of the problems with poorly written children's books -- they assume young readers need to have facts repeated over and over.

Bernita said...

Billy, that example is entirely realistic for a character in those circumstances.

Quite an affecting effect, Book.
A bit of repetition in dialogue is one of the nice ways of delineating character.

The Anti-Wife said...

Glad Spring is finally popping through the cold. My hyacinths are almost finished now and the tulips are starting to unfold. It's cool and rainy in the lowlands, but they had 6 inches of snow in the mountains last night. Wierd winter/spring!

raine said...

Glad to hear about your spring. :)
I still haven't smelled it, and still have my shovel parked by the back door. Paranoid, much?

Good post.
I'm also a fan of the "remembering snippets of dialogue that seemed unimportant at the time" device (if not overused). Like the tumblers of an old lock falling into place.

And thanks, dear Bernita.
And congratulations, Cyn and Jon!
Whoop!!

Bernita said...

Late and reluctant this year, AW.

Raine,let's say cautious. I haven't put away my snow shovels either, though the trees are getting fat.

"Like the tumblers of an old lock falling into place." - Nice analogy.

Happy Birthday, Diamond Lady!

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks for referring people to my contest, Bernina! I thought yours had some good prizes; I had to restrain myself from entering and possibly winning and needing to run another contest.

Perhaps because I've played music for so many years, I like repetition and parallelisms in writing and I like to use it as well, to the consternation of my critique group.

Scott from Oregon said...

I often ponder people's disdain for repetition in fiction. It is the only "form" that language takes that seems to have people adamantly opposed to having words repeted.

Let's see...

Poetry.
Speechifying.
Advertising.
Lectures by cops.
street signage.
teaching...

The list is long where repetition is not only tolerated, but useful.

How did prose get tossed from this list?

Also, in first person, when using a character to describe your story, you are adding characterization in the repetition of diction. It is quite common (especially in the construction biz) to find people who use the same words and expressions over and over. It makes them who they are tells you a bit about the workings of their mind.

I often ponder people's disdain for repetition in fiction!

Bernita said...

You have a lucious array of prize choices, Shauna.
And thank you for including Weirdly among them. That was especially kind of you!

It's an especially useful tool in depicting character, Scott, I think.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think those books would be worth a gander, Bernita. I'm happily surprised at how well he does it. Harry messes up any and all electronics, but never consistently, so he takes the stairs and uses candles a lot.

Bernita said...

I think after, SS.
Be so crushing to decide I was derivative.

Whirlochre said...

Repetition has to be consciously directed—otherwise it's an accidental symptom of a sloppy brain.

Repetition has to be consciously directed—otherwise it's an accidental symptom of a sloppy brain.

Fine.

But we all have our favourite words, right?

Currently, I'm tossing pancakes of OOZE into every description I write, because I love it.

Time to step back and merely DRIBBLE.

Or drooble.

Repetition of itself is a hollow clone; a feat that computers and especially stupid dogs can perform.

Nonetheless, in spite of our cerebral magnitude, we humans reproduce oft-rehearsed behaviours to save time, and this helps when deciding what a character may or may not do (or say).

As far as the word stuff goes, I always aim to imbue the repetition with differentness; to hint that the sameness has evolved in some way. So - yes - when you come back to the cellphone after 50 pages, the fact of its chirping ringtone now generates different echoes.

As for poetry/lyricism—the loop-the-loop vowel 'n' consonant hoop must be cast over every quoit.

Bernita - loving your thoughtful blog and enjoying the pictures.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Whirl.

"when you come back to the cellphone after 50 pages, the fact of its chirping ringtone now generates different echoes.."
An important point. Imbue the basic repetion w/variation/progression on the fact/theme.

"As for poetry/lyricism—the loop-the-loop vowel 'n' consonant hoop must be cast over every quoit." - that's really clever!

writtenwyrdd said...

I think for foreshadowing, in particular, repetition that increases knowledge each mention is wonderful.

Sam said...

Repetition can be effective if used correctly. In poetry it can be lovely, and in writing, it can serve to set a sort of rythem.

But sometimes I read books where the repitition is simply hitting me on the head with the same insistance, and I end up getting very aggravated with the writer.

Bernita said...

The best way to work it, Written.

Sam,"the same insistence" is the type to avoid, I think. We see that sometimes in repetition of reactions which seems to forget that the reader "gets it" that a pair are attracted, for example.We don't need to be told umpteen times how her nipples harden.