I have to admit, this Sin is my personal favorite. Not because I like it, but because so many people try to get away with it. Primarily the more famous authors I once loved...who have either forgotten that they can write a great book or remember too well and try to write it over and over again with sometimes slightly differently named characters. It is the one of the most dissappointing sins because it’s so often overlooked for earning capability or because the author has written over fifty books and apparently, they’ve written every possible romance out there and need to start over.
No matter how much you write, no matter how long, if you love your readers--hell, if you love writing--try to avoid this sin.
It is the sin of Repetition. And it’s evil.
There are two basic types of repetition. The first, Regional Repetition, is the most insiduous, because it seeps into your writing without you really noticing. At it’s most simple level, it’s the overuse of a word. Beyond the required repeated words (said, is, and), there are a whole host of words writers come to favor that can--and should--be edited out--the most common being that, even, although, very, really. While some will argue that these words add Voice, one should remember that Voice is the spice to your writing. Overuse it and it’s inedible. Train yourself to avoid overusing any particular word. Rule of thumb--if you see the same word used more than twice in a paragraph (with exception to required is and saids), look for a way to rearrange it.
The second general type is Global Repetition. That means you will have the same character types, jobs, actions, events, places, schemes or plot from one book to the next. This is where those above authors were sucked into the evil--and in my opinion, reader-insulting--repetition sin.
Take for example, the very talented Jude Deveraux. I love her writing. She’s witty, she has a sweeping vision of historicals. Brilliant woman, really, and she had me going for so long. Remember the individuality of the James River Trilogy? The emotion of Twin of Fire/ Twin of Ice?
The Montgomerys were great...but something started happening. They were perfect. All right, we’ve seen that. Their names started repeating. Okaaaay, that happens in families. Then they all started taking on the same characteristics. I’ve lost count of the number of Kanes she’s written. Or twins. But, I could live with that. Let’s count how many times the heroine was tall, thin, pale blonde with a small chest and showgirl legs. Most of them are storytellers with smart mouths. And if they miraculously are not either of those things, they inform people that they’d be amazed what she can do with a wild rabit, herbs and a few veggies on a spit.
The worst crime is overstepping that fine line between an inside joke with the reader to simply creating a shortcut to happily ever after. Deveraux’s shortcuts of choice are “The Kiss”--strangers meet, bump into each other, and inexplicably embark on a public, body twisting kiss that would become public, body twisting sex if not reminded that they’re on a street just in time, then they decide to hate each other for the nearly violent attraction.-- and “The Family Saying”--The Taggerts are known for overpopulating the planet with identical twins, so their saying is “Marry the one who can tell the twins apart”. In her stories, a man will give up his business, spend thousands and do everything he possibly can to win the woman who thinks he’s got longer eyelashes and less body fat than his twin. (Come to think of it, I might marry a man who thinks I have less body fat...can’t blame her for that one, I guess.). These things both started off endearing...but then they started crossing continuities and that’s when I finally stopped buying her books. I’m tempted when I see her name on the shelf, but she lost my trust and I’ll probably never pick up another. She’s not the only author I won’t buy or even pick up free, for this reason.
That, in a big, fat nutshell, is why Repetition is such a sin. You break the trust of your reader. An author’s singular responsibility is to provide their reader with an enjoyable escape for the rock bottom prices of about six bucks a book (or around fifteen for trade size and twenty-two or so if you sell hardcover). To rip them off by annoying them with repeated words, taking chunks of previous books and combining them for a “new” book or worse, just writing the same book over and over again...that makes you less a creative being and more of a thief.
Readers don’t like to be robbed and very quickly, they will lose their trust in you to provide them with anything they want to pay for. Bottom line, if repetition doesn’t cost you the sale, eventually, it will cost you your reader base. How long do you think you’ll sustain a career after that?
So how do you spot it in your writing now?
Look in these crucial places:
• Sentence Structure: Are you using the same constructs too often? Take a look at your paragraphs, do you have more than one sentence in a row or even a paragraph that are punctuated the same?
ANDS: “Jenny ran to the closet, pushed past the heavy jackets to the back and opened the safe. She quickly pulled out the jewels, closed the door and ran.”
EM DASHES: “Peter--the man she loved, the man she hated--was the only thing between her and freedom. He blocked the door, determined and angry--where was the man who’s made love to her so sweetly only hours ago?”
Check also that your sentences are not all the same length. Part of the joy and ease of reading is to have variety in length. If the writer uses streams of long sentences, a reader is tempted to skip to get to something less dense. When you create a rhythm (short, long, short, short, long), try to keep in mind that you don’t use the same rhythm over and over again.
• White Space Structure: What makes up the background of your worlds? Many authors use the same city, which can be acceptable if your characters are not all going to the same places (outside of series or contiuinties).
Does everyone live in the same fabulous house? How do you decorate them? Are you using the same things in separate homes that don’t have to do specifically with your plot?
• Thematic Structure: Do you find that your characters in multiple books have the same conflicts or realizations? Does everyone come to the same conclusion that love conquers all? Are unimpressed future in-laws behind every crime to the couple? Is it always the little rich girl and the bad boy with the heart of gold? Each book should have something different to say to the reader. There’s more than one story or one goal in you, find it, or you’re short-changing the reader as well as yourself.
• Event Structures: This one has a few places to look out for.
First, be aware that your characters aren’t doing the same thing in multiple books--even series--either literally or figuratively. I realized once that, somehow, in three books I had characters going to a cave for some reason or another. Considering I don’t like dirt or caves, this was just lazy-braining it. Another bad one was that multiple books had love scenes in a shower (thus the unfortunate nickname of “The Porceline Queen”.) I lost a sale on an otherwise not-so-bad book because the editor felt there were too many unplanned pregancies in the series. (She was right, by the way.) It won’t matter if the event has different specifics, the editors--and the readers--won’t put up with it.
A particularly painful reading experience is when there are pages are recaps...especially if it’s a recap of a recap. Be sure you’re not over-informing your reader, trying to jam a clue or information down their throats.
• Character Structure: Do your characters all look alike? Act alike? Say the same things? Have the same habits? In the same or different books? Do your heroes have the same type of job? Inspect your characters for likenesses of any kind. Make your mantra: Be an Individual. Even related books should have characters with different looks, thoughts, histories, drives, motivations, dreams and desires. No matter how closely linked your characters might be from book to book, how they grew up or where, keeping them unique keeps your stories real instead of rejected.
Next Week: The 2nd Deadly Sin: Phraseology