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  1. agorman00

    agorman00 Member

    Mar 22, 2016
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    Repetition can be good

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by agorman00, Nov 17, 2016.

    Okay, I'm going to start by saying that I'm not by any means a great writer. I write sometimes in my free time, and even then my writing isn't ever that good. But what I do hold a lot of knowledge in is music. I love music, I love the production that goes into it, I love learning about what inspires an artist, and most of all, I love lyrics. Everyone here knows how a song goes, there's a few verses and a chorus. The verses are always different, and they tie into the chorus, which usually stays the same throughout the song. Even though the chorus is usually repetitive, it's enjoyable, because it has the verses to supplement it and give the song variety.

    Knowing most the people on this website, I'm sure many of you have heard the Hamilton soundtrack. Maybe some of you are sick of hearing endless praise for it, and some of you might even think it's overrated. Whatever your opinion might be, hear me out. One thing that was brilliant throughout the play, believe it or not, was the repetition. Songs had the same instrumentals, some songs had almost the same exact lyrics as other songs, and the same couple of themes carried on throughout the entire 2-3 hours of the play. So how the hell is that good? Don't we all know that repetition is bad?

    Everyone likes to tell you to never repeat yourself, always be doing something different. I'm here to tell you differently. I believe that repetition is only bad when it's tedious. If you keep repeating yourself and you go nowhere, it becomes exhausting.

    The thing about humans is that we love patterns. Something deep in our biological coding makes us go nuts for patterns. If you can incorporate a good pattern into your story, you intrigue and captivate your audience. Another thing about humans, however, is that we're fickle. We'll get real sick of the pattern real quickly if it becomes too easy to recognize. This is the exact dilemma music producers face when producing a song. A beat is just the same couple of sounds in a sequence, over and over again. Usually the chords, the synths, everything that goes on top of a beat, is there to simply negate the tediousness of the same sounds repeating over and over again.

    What I'm getting at in this ramble, is that just like repetition can make a song or a musical, repetition can also make a story. Repetition can be a useful tool to create structure in your stories, and actually make a story more interesting than if you didn't ever repeat some aspect of a story. Your story doesn't have to be a long verse, it can have some chorus too.

    (Thank you for reading, this is the first time I've written something like this, so feel free to tell me if it's trash. Either way, I'd love to see some discussion in this thread!)
    Malisky and SethLoki like this.
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Aug 8, 2015
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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Sure repetition can be good after a fashion. (Pop music you are guilty of this crime in the first degree, how do you plead?) :superlaugh:

    Though music does not sit quite on the same level as a story. For one a song is typically 3-9 minutes long, as it takes a bit longer
    to read a story (and way longer to read a novel.) Stories evolve in many ways that a song simply can't. While I will say that some
    songs do manage to tell a story in their own way, it is not the same thing. Reading a story one does not expect to run across
    the equivalent to a chorus.

    Change is good in a story, think of your characters as the repetition (but then again they should grow too).
    Good luck :supersmile:
    deadrats likes this.
  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

    Aug 12, 2015
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    London, UK
    It can!

    It's a balance, as you point out. I used repetition in a way that made a publisher say it was some of the funniest dialogue she'd ever read (I'm sure she was being hyperbolic, but she clearly enjoyed it) and I've used it in a way that nearly every beta reader said "X is annoying, stop it."

    I like threads that run through a story. For example, a piece of dialogue used early on and then repeated later on where it's taken on a different meaning. It feels like an in-joke between me and the author (or me and the readers) and makes everything feel neat, like two book ends on the end of a shelf.

    I dislike repetitive sentence structure, and authors using 'pet' words or phrases too frequently.
    Cave Troll and deadrats like this.
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    I think it also depends on what level we're discussing repetition. Like, repetition of the letter "e" in that first sentence? Seems pretty justified to me. Repetition of the same word in a single paragraph - it'll feel like a sledgehammer, so you'd better be sure it's a word you want sledgehammered into your reader's head. Repetition of a concrete event in a book? Again, if the event is important enough to justify it, okay. Repetition of a symbolic element, thematic element, relationship dynamic, etc? If done deliberately and well, this is part of what separates literature from simple storytelling.
    Mckk likes this.
  5. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    Repetition can have a lot to do with rhythm - if the word or phrase is important and it's a concept you wish to emphasise, that's written within some rhythmic structure, then there's a case for repeating it, but only if it works in the rhythm of the sentence, or, preferably, rhythm of the entire paragraph. This much is also part of poetry.

    The problem with repetition is when the point was already strong enough and does not bear repeating, or when the choice of what is repeated is weaker than the author thought, or when it's accidental. Deliberate repetition has its place. Accidental ones do not. Although of course, there are always happy accidents that you can flesh out later in edits.

    Examples from my own work:

    They’d been lit and relit, the wax replaced and lit again, like a nervous tick. Repetitious. False solace that crept around their throats.

    An old man crouched near the candle in the centre, his features ghastly so close to the fire. He gripped a match and flint, waiting for the flame to die.
    "lit" and the concept of lighting is obviously repeated, deliberately. The rhythm that exists in the second line with the repeated Cs and Fs were actually accidents to begin with - because I usually choose my words according to the rhythm of the sentence. I decided I liked them, and left them there.

    However, originally, the line read:

    An old man crouched close to the candle...
    Now remember I said I liked the alliteration with the C sound. One would think therefore the word "close" was a good choice. But then I noticed "close" used again immediately in the next clause. This would be a case for bad repetition - the accidental ones that should be got rid of. "Close" is not a concept worth emphasising, nor was it my intention to emphasise it. The repeat of the word "close" does not add anything to the rhythm of the sentence, either.

    "so close to the fire" was clearly the better sounding phrase, so I deleted "close" from the first clause and replaced it with "near".

    So you have to be careful about what you repeat, when, and why.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2016
    Carly Berg likes this.
  6. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

    Nov 20, 2016
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    South Florida
    I never argue with Willie the Shake.
    agorman00 likes this.
  7. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

    May 18, 2015
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    Repetition can be good? You can say that again.

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