Thursday, March 21, 2013

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 10, Once Is Usually Enough

The Redundant, Revenant Recidivist

Notes, highlights, comments and thoughts from Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 10, Once Is Usually Enough. Use them or lose them.

"Despite its tireless narrative energy, despite its relentless inventiveness, the book is bloated, grown to elephantine proportions... Repetition is the problem; the same stories are told several times, accruing more dealt in with each telling. Also, the principal characters have a way of regurgitating what they've learned, even through the reader was with them when they learned it."
Patrick McGrath, in a New York Times review of The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice.

The problem Mr. McGrath describes is one we see regularly in the writing of both novices and professionals; unintentional repetition.
The repetition of an effect can be just as problematic. Whether it's two sentences that convey the same information, two paragraphs that establish the same personality trait, or two characters who fill the same role in a plot, repetition can rob your story of its power. In fact, repetition is likely to weaken rather then intensify the power of that effect.

When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one.

One form of repetition that we've seen more often in recent years is the use of brand names to help characterization. The mention of what type of scotch hour hero drinks or what kind of car your heroine drives may help give your readers a handle on their personalities. But when all your characters glance at their Rolexes, then hop into their Maseratis to tear out to the house in the Hamptons, where they change out of their Armanis to pour themselves a Glenliovet-you've gone too far.

Interior monologue is also prone to needless repetition.

Keep an eye out for unconscious repetitions on the smallest scale-especially repetitions in which the repeated word isn't used in the same sense as the original word. ("She heard a sharp crack, the loud spring of her bed springs.")

A fringe benefit of getting rid of unnecessary repetitions is that it frees up the power of intentional repetitions.

Why would you want to repeat an effect? Roshomon Technique!

As you come to see what each element of your story-each sentence, each paragraph-accomplishes, you can learn o accomplish more than one thing at a time.

If each element of your story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial. When everything seems to be happening all at once, then it will feel like real life.

Another way in which the writers indulge in the large scale overkill is in the creation of the characters.

Then there is repetition on the largest scale, from book to book...of course, there is room in the world of fiction for the formulaic novel, it's been said that every James Bond novel has the same plot. (Oh, don't get me started. IF any of you EVER think that I am writing the same plot, over and over again, by simply changing the character names and the location, then, please, do not shoot me in the ass. Aim higher and put an end to my drivel.) (I refuse to read formulaic novels.)


Thanks for following (Get the hint?). I hope this is helpful to someone out there. It has certainly improved my writing. Please comment and share the blog. Who knows, it may make the difference to someone.

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