Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Power Of Repetition

I attended a writer’s workshop yesterday. The instructor, whose teaching is not limited to romance authors, told a roomful of romance writers that we have to unlearn things in order to get better. Years of devouring romances have taught us bad habits and we need to break away from the old way of doing things in order to someday reach the NY Times bestseller list.

Interesting stuff.

Case in point. In my critique group, we have a person who has an English major background. She takes her red pen and underlines places where I’ve reused a word in a paragraph or (heaven forbid!) the same sentence. So, I’ve been diligently removing repetitive words from my manuscripts for years now. Except in places where I’ve meant to do it. That’s when I put my foot down. (Speaking of putting your foot down, that’s a cliché to avoid, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Turns out, putting my foot down when I intentionally reused a word or phrase was the correct response. Repetition can be a powerful tool in writing. It creates cadence and flow. And, if you were just zooming along through the story, using the same phrase over and over will draw your attention to the sentence and make you aware that something is about to happen. Something that involves those particular words. It’s a common enough device, used by poets, orators, songwriters and, lo and behold, great writers. Here’s an example: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." (Benjamin Franklin)

My English major red-pen toting friend is still correct in pointing out my overuse of some words. The repetition of words and phrases loses its power if sloppily applied. But when you want to highlight or ratchet up the tension, it’s definitely a tool to pull from your arsenal of writing techniques.

I’d say the cost of the workshop was money well spent.

21 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Becky. I am always surprised when I find, in a best selling book, a device or method of writing that I have been instructed to avoid. You are correct, there may be times when ignoring a known 'no no' is absolutely necessary, Best to you!
    Jeanne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jeanne, for coming to my blog today. I found the whole workshop enlightening and overwhelming. But, I always think if I can gain one nugget of info that I didn't have when I walked in, it was worth it. I'm still trying to process a lot of what Margie had to say.

      Delete
  2. Great post, Becky, and wonderful to see you yesterday. I learned so much from Margie--there was quite a lot to digest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marin, for visiting my blog today. I, too, enjoyed dinner last night and getting caught up. Hope to see you soon.

      Delete
  3. I love Margie's workshops! Anything by Margie is money well spent, and I feel I've become a better writer thanks to her classes. Thank you for the post, and the great reminder that repetition sometimes is a good thing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Twice is a mistake; three or more is intentional by the author so he/she better know why it is there because the reader will want to know the answer before they reach the end."

    Our critique group points out repetition with the above in mind. Sometimes it is intentional. Other times, the writer is surprised at the repeated words/phrase.

    On another topic, a crit partner with a red pen sounds frightening especially if you have to go as far as putting your foot down. I'm hoping you are only saying this in the blog vs. this being a true reality. Red is not the only color which is easily found on a typed page. Many less harsh colors are available. And anything suggested in a critique group is just that... a suggestion. You should never feel as if you have to justify your word choices. The only items up for discussion at our group is interpretation of a "rule" and not whether or not someone wants to agree/follow that "rule" in their writing. I'd not be part of a critique group without that clearly defined in the group's agreed upon guidelines.

    EEKS, sorry this was so a long response. Glad had a great workshop. I'll have to check Margie Lawson out in the future.

    ~~Emmly Jane

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emmly--Great info. Never apologize for having a long response. Your words are very wise. Actually, the name of our critique group is the Red Pen Society, so red is our color of choice. But, as with any critique group, you take from their comments what you agree with and disregard the rest. We totally respect one another and our work.

      Delete
    2. The name of your group puts it all into perspective. Cute! I have been blessed with a wonderful group from the start so I have never experienced some of the horrors which I hear and scare the tarnation out of me! I look forward to reading THE TEMPESTUOUS DEBUTANTE. ~~Emmly Jane

      Delete
  5. I'm saving up my $$$ and vacation time to attend Margie's mountain-top writer's retreats. She's one of the very best writing coaches around. I attended her workshop in Atlanta this summer and walked away with pages and pages of great notes. Love her!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I'll be able to meet you at the mountain-top. I think I'd prefer to spend my money on an immersion class rather than an RWA conference. At least one year...

      Delete
  6. Nice insight, Becky! Thanks for sharing a key point from the workshop.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great info & I agree. I stopped using a beta reader (family member) because she always wanted to change my sentences to Subject-Verb-etc without deviation. If you read a whole book like that it gets boring.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Andrea. Yeah, the English teach mentality doesn't really work in fiction works. My sister and I battle all the time over sentence structure. I just have to learn not to talk to her about my writing. Hard lesson to learn.

      Delete
  8. That's good advice. Sometimes repetition is necessary, and sometimes you have to put your foot down. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I recently had the same thing happen with an editor. I had a phrase that I intentionally repeated, like your Ben Franklin example, highlighted. I didn't change it. It was there on purpose and for effect. I do have some favorite words I need to weed out, though. (just and that are two biggies!) Thanks for sharing, Becky!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Good to see you on Saturday. It was an interesting workshop and does change the way I look at the mechanics of the sentence. I enjoyed your insights in your blog. Well said!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Margie Lawson is amazing. I have taken a couple of her courses and met her at a workshop. Wonderful woman and great courses. I LOVE anaphora. Use it all the time, sometimes too much but it is so much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Interesting, interesting. Thank you, Becky!
    -R.T. Wolfe

    ReplyDelete
  13. You're incredible, Becky! You spend all day and night at the workshop Saturday and still have a post with tips ready for us Sunday morning! This is why you are one of my favorite authors - you don't let a second of precious writing time go to waste! In an entirely different vein of training, I have learned that repetition can be very useful. Words of wisdom!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Grammarly Cost
    Language is an important part of expressing ourselves to the whole world. It is needed while we are speaking to someone and also when we are writing something. The language that we talk often tends to have colloquialisms, and the grammar isn't always perfect. But it does reflect into our writings. Along with that, we aren't always able to write in perfect grammar.

    ReplyDelete