Writing Badly, Well: Repeating yourself repeatedly

The Rule: Don’t repeat yourself and delete repetition when you find it.

I’m going to break my own rule here and say that, in many cases, this might actually be the case.

An infamous inside joke amongst my writer friends and I is that you should watch out of “rocky rocks.” Calling rocks rocky is redundant, and repetitive.

Also, making constant mention of specific information can leave the reader feeling bored. Give the reader more credit.

But that’s where my willingness to buy this rule ends. For three reasons, I think repetition can be helpful.

1. To instill a very specific sensation or emotion in the reader through repetition. One of my favorite examples is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Without giving away too much of the plot, there’s constant mention of moons, two moons, one moon, loneliness, and a rather repetitive life style for many of the characters.

This leaves a sense of belonging between the reader and the character. It also creates a sense of complete isolation from the world (like the characters are experiencing). And the moons? Well, to this day, my wife and I can’t look up into the sky, see one moon, and not wonder where the other moon went.

2. To instill urgency and passage of time in a heart pounding scene. Here I’d like to bring up The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Todd, the main character, is constantly repeating himself. He repeats himself a lot when things are moving very quickly by saying something like (and not a real quote), “I ran. I ran and ran until there was nothing left in me.”

This does a couple things. It makes the reader feel running while propelling the young reader forward and still letting you know there’s a significant passage of time just then even though it’s not explicit.

3. Repeated sentences drive home a point. If you come to a segment of your story where you’re trying to make a point, it could be a great time to use the Rule of 3s. The best example of this Rule of 3s is in Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech. “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.”

So, be repetitive, repetitively. Just make sure you’re doing it for a reason. Because, if you’re not, like all the rules in Writing Badly, Well, you’ll just be another amateur.

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