Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014 - Don't repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat . . .

Have you gotten feedback on your writing that says you're repeating words? Okay, so critiquers will often cite repetition of "red flag words" like: was, were, there, so, and, as, just, or but.

However, what I'm addressing this month are words and phrases not so easily found. It's the old can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees syndrome.

You see, every word or phrase leaves an echo in the reader's mind.
Words like "the" scarcely leave an echo, but use a word like fortuitous and the "echo" lingers. And lingers.

Now, the Muse, which is your storytelling subconscious, loves rhythm and rhyme. That's why it will latch onto words just to hear them resonate again. And again. Which means that if you use an "echoing" word (like fortuitous) in the next sentence, or the next paragraph or on the next page, the reader has not forgotten that word. The reader, on a subconscious level, begins begins to wonder—  and anticipates— if there will be a payoff when the third repetition occurs. This is also an example of the Rule of Three, which is a good thing if there is a payoff. Not such a good thing if there isn't.

What's the Rule of Three you ask? It's about deliberately repeating something three times, and the third time is a payoff or offers a surprise or results in a wow factor. For example: mention a Winchester rifle in chapter one, then mention the Winchester in chapter eighteen. With that second appearance and "echo," the reader thinks the rifle is VERY important (because it has been mentioned a second time). The reader now anticipates that the rifle will be used a third time. When the gun is used, and in a significant way, that's the payoff. 

Do you know what happens when the reader pays attention to the rifle after the second mention, but the rifle is never brought into play again? On a subconscious level, the reader is irritated— and not likely to enjoy any more stories by that writer.

How do you know if you're repeating words or phrases that don't generate a payoff?
Self-editing with a keen internal ear and listening carefully helps.  Better yet is to read passages out loud or have someone read the story and you listen. Even better is to join a critique group or find critique partners who can see the forest for the trees and hear the echos across the valleys of words.

After all, craft enhances talent and craft can be learned. And here's a tip: craft makes the difference between a ordinary writer and a great storyteller.

***This blog is updated the first of each month. Next month:
July 2014 — Don't blatantly talk to the reader (Author Intrusion)

*** Note: Act now! 
Make sure you're notified when this blog updates by joining my private e-mail list.

***Comments and questions on craft are always welcomed and answered.

# # #