When Repetition Is Good

Last week I talked about varying your words. I gave some good advice, but I also want to talk about the times when you need repetition. It isn’t a bad thing, if sprinkled through the piece in small amounts.

When a ship or a plane encounters problems, they send out a radio call, if they have time. That call is usually called a mayday call. They do it to call for help. They don’t call mayday and leave it at that. They repeat the word, mayday! Mayday! The repetition implies urgency. That’s true in fiction as well. Repeated words can impart a good deal of urgency or emphasis to them.

Repeated words are not the only forms of repetition that can creep into your writing. Depending on the length of the piece, you can repeat scenes. I don’t mean word for word, but the same kinds of things happening to your characters. This is more a problem for fiction, rather than nonfiction. Although I suppose it could happen there. Guard against that for the most part. But, if your character is clumsy, show it. Don’t be afraid to have characters trip many times. Clumsy people trip. Again, don’t go overboard with it. Just every so often remind your readers that one of the character’s traits is clumsiness. If characters are in trouble, vary the methods they use to try to get out of trouble. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Or so Albert Einstein is supposed to have said. It’s true. Don’t make your characters insane. Have them try different solutions to their problems.

Think about the timing. No one has multiple car accidents in a week. Some only have one or two in a lifetime. Accidents happen but only have them have many accidents in a week if you need to show they are targets. That can be powerful. Anything out of the ordinary like that can create tension. Are they walking into a trap? If it’s the same trap, have them evade it the second time with a joke about unoriginality. It can add humor as well as tension. Vary the characters having the ‘accidents’ to raise the stakes.

Repetition can help with that. Children’s books are full of it. It helps them understand the story. Adults don’t need it that much. In works intended for people older than ten, use repetition to raise the stakes of the story, but don’t overuse it. Less is more, or so they say. In this instance it’s quite true. It’s a fine line we walk as writers. We need to show something is important, but we don’t want to bore our readers. A well crafted plot can have some repetition. A poorly designed one can have too much. Go through the story. Highlight the passages that seem to be too repetitious and make the decision on which ones to keep. Your readers will thank you.


I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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