Have you heard the story about the goldfish? She was swimming in her bowl and passed the front entrance of the castle that decorated the small aquarium. “Oh, I have a new castle!” she exclaimed. Then she went around the bowl again and spied the fortress once more. “Oh, I have a new castle!” she exclaimed. She went around again, and not remembering what’d she just seen she exclaimed once more, “Oh, I have a new castle!” And again, “Oh, I have a new castle!” And again, and again.
The moral of this story, besides the fact that goldfish have memories that only last for three seconds, is that you, the author, may forget you’ve written a particular piece, or pieces, of information in your story and repeat yourself. While you might not remember dispensing the information, you can bet, that like those of us who are laughing at this funny story, your reader will remember those words, phrases, and information that you’ve inadvertently added more than once.
Don’t get bent out of shape if you discover this in your work. It’s a natural result of writing a book over a long period of time. Most authors only write a few thousand words in any given day, and unless you’re writing a short story, blog post, or essay, it will probably take weeks, or months, before you’ve finished your project. With all the stuff that happens in between your times at the computer, it’s only normal you’d forget something you’ve already written, especially if you get in the zone and your muse or characters take over
So what’s a writer to do?
Here are a few tips to help you catch those repetitions.
For repetitive words and phrases:
- If you know you’re fond of certain words or phrases, and you use them a lot, make a list and do a search for them at the end of each day’s writing. A quick way to search is by using the find function of Microsoft Word. Type in the word, ask the computer to highlight all forms, and see how often you’ve fallen victim to repetition.
- Eliminate repetitive words and phrases as you go. By doing this you will make the chore less bothersome at the end of the book. A daily reminder of your trouble words will also help prime yourself to catch them as you work.
- Reread the previous day’s work (or even a couple of days work if you’ve been away for a long time) when you sit down to write. By keeping what you’ve written fresh in your mind, you will be less likely to repeat yourself.
For repetitive information:
- Keep a list of the important points/information you want to be sure to include in your story. When you’ve made that point, notate it, indicating where in the book you placed the information.
- Double check how many times your characters repeat a story or information. If the event or information they are revealing to another character has already been shown to the reader, if may not be necessary to repeat the whole story again. The author of Downton Abbey was a master at this technique. When something was being related to other characters that had happened in an earlier episode, he often had a one sentence referral to the incident. Enough to trigger the viewer’s memory, but not enough to bore one to death. For the written word, a simple She told him what happened at the skating rink and the character’s reaction to the story may be enough to get the point across without rehashing the information a second or third time.
- Consider becoming a plotter. When you draft your book’s scenes in outline form, chapter synopsis, or whatever works best for you (and follow them), the tendency to repeat oneself is reduced. Yes, you may still have to double check that you’ve eliminated those pesky repetitions, but you will find they are fewer and, hopefully, farther in between.
What tips do you have for eliminating repetition in your work?