Author Mary Deal weighs in on an important topic…repetition in writing and how it can turn off readers. In her article, she uses an example where description can be repetitive and potentially offensive to a reader. I would like to add the same holds true for dialogue. I’m sure everyone reading this post has had the experience of being in a group setting and participating in a conversation. Fine so far, right? But then a new person walks in the room and asks, “What’s up guys?” Isn’t it frustrating and boring when people feel compelled to rehash the entire conversation? The same thing holds true in writing. Sometimes in my stories I have scenes where a character joins a conversation late, but I always find a way to “brief him up” without having to bore the reader with the same dialogue. I may have my protagonist excuse himself to take a phone call, leaving the room after saying, “Why don’t you guys bring Woody up to speed on the operation while I take this call.” Done! Read Mary’s article for her insights, and be sure to visit her website for even more writing tips: Write Any Genre.
Repetition Offends Your Reader
by Mary Deal
When descriptive words are used repetitively in writing, it makes the reader wonder why they have to be told something they’ve already learned earlier in the story. Repetition can kill your reader’s interest.
On Page 2 of my new novel, River Bones, the reader learns that Sara, the protagonist, is blonde when the real estate salesman describes her to someone else:
“Some middle-aged blonde woman—a real looker out of Puerto Rico—just bought that damnable eyesore down along the river.”
On Page 9 I say,
“The breeze whipped her hair across her face and wrapped it around her neck.”
I had originally written that sentence like this:
“The breeze whipped her long blonde hair across her face and wrapped it around her neck.”
Because I mentioned Sara’s hair color on Page 2, no need exists to mention the color again anywhere else in the book, with rare exceptions, of course.
Notice, too, her hair length was not mentioned on Page 2, but on Page 9 if her hair is long enough to whip across her face and around her neck, no need exists for the word “long” to describe it. Surely from reading that one corrected sentence, a reader knows Sara’s hair is not cropped off at the nape of her neck.
The word “long” was not needed due to the description of how the hair reacted in the wind.
To further prove the point, read the sentence from Page 2 with the correct sentence from Page 9. Then go back and read the sentence from Page 2 with the incorrect sentence from Page 9.
Analyze your sentences for superfluous words. Cut ruthlessly, or improve the action in your sentence to show what you mean. Your readers will love you for it.