Repetitiousness Repeats Repeatedly
Recently, my lovely, friend and critique partner, Eva, pointed out that the large size of my manuscript may discourage agents. It was 103k words, people (as we folks in the Nort' like to say 'oofta!'). So, the manuscript underwent another revision slashing 10k words. It took eight weeks and lots of brainstorming to figure out how to combine scenes to serve multiple purposes, scrap minor characters, bye-bye epilogue (sniff) and finally we were at 93k words.
I noticed during one of my slash-seshs that in two particular scenes I repeated myself several times.
The repeats were happening during a big Reveal Scene where one character is explaining information to the protagonist that will change her current course, desires and eventually the outcome of her life. In other words, it's the point of no return.
I noticed that this Reveal Scene was super long and the revealer was essentially explaining the same concepts to the protagonist in 3 different ways.
I tried to cut out some of these paragraphs, but I still wasn't convinced I was getting the point across in the best way. Finally, frustrated, I began to research writing journals to get to the root of the issue. I found that Robert McKee, author of STORY, addresses this really common problem. Essentially, McKee says that writers repeat themselves because they can’t find the specific language they are looking for in order to nail down their meaning in one stroke.
I realized that this was true in my case. I was having a hard time finding the right tone to explain the seriousness of The Reveal, without it coming across like: "No biggy, girl, go home, kick back, things will all work out." I needed my protagonist to be moved to take action, but I also didn't want the scene to flail on the edge of melodrama like: "If you do nothing," he paused, his eyes fixed on the horizon, "the dawn will be painted red with blood."
Side note: I don't hate all melodrama, I actually find it HILARIOUS in the telenovela spoof Jane the Virgin (but that's simply not the tone of the novel, so, moving ON!).
Quantity will not substitute for quality
I realized that my three repeats during The Reveal were my attempts to find the perfect tone at the perfect moment. I rewrote the scene several different ways and looked at all aspects of what I liked and disliked about each one.
I realized that the problems I was encountering during The Reveal weren't actually happening because of The Reveal. There! You caught me contradicting myself. But the truth is, the problem actually rested in the narrative about ten pages prior. It was a flaw in the protagonist's character arc i.e. her emotional state leading up to the turning point. I was giving the revealer the unfair job of convincing her to take action. Where truthfully, she should have reached a desperate enough emotional state to want to take action. She should volunteer! She should be jumping up and down. Pick me! Pick me!
After this understanding, I found what I call a sweet spot, the words came and it just seemed right.
"The finest writers will not give up. They will find the perfect phrase, the perfect choice." -- Robert McKee.
Don't repeat, find the sweet (um...spot!)
"Brevity is the soul of wit," and who can argue with Shakespeare? Repeating the same thing over and over loses power and violates the law of diminishing returns.
Of course, you're free to repeat yourself but it will harden your readers. Whenever an author repeats themselves unnecessarily, I get annoyed. "Ya think I'm dumb or somthin'?"
One of the worst things a writer can do is insult her reader's intelligence. I never want to do that! As writers we should earn our reader's trust. We should write as though we are speaking to the cleverest people in the world. After all, if they're reading our books, they probably are!
Have you ever been irritated by an author repeating themselves? For you, when do recaps cross the line to repetition? Comment below to tell me what you think!