Writing tips

Repetition, repetition, repetition: is it always a bad thing?

Repetition, repetition, repetition: is it always a bad thing?


First drafts are often full of repetition.

When you’re in writing mode, trying to get words onto the page, it’s very easy to end up using the same word a number of times without noticing. But it’s one of those things that stands out very clearly when you read your work back.

Repetition in and of itself is not always a bad thing, but there’s a difference between purposeful repetition for emphasis or impact and accidental repetition, which can have the opposite effect.

One of the main goals of line editing is making it as easy as possible for the reader to remain immersed in the world of the story, including by avoiding distractions in the writing that might pull them out of their imaginations.

This means looking out for things like obvious mistakes, sentences that are so confusing they need reading more than once, and… you guessed it, too much repetition.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

One of your characters in your folk horror tale tells another, “Whatever you do, don’t go into the forest. People go into the forest, and they don’t come out. People in town don’t like talking about the forest.”

Or perhaps they say instead: “Whatever you do, don’t go into the forest. People go in, and they don’t come out. We don’t even like talking about it.”

The character here is making an important point, but using “the forest” three times in such close proximity makes the warning feel less urgent and less effective than the version where the words are only used once.

And the reader still gets the same information.

Another example…

A character in your fantasy novel tells the reader, “By the time the snows had melted, there were wolf attacks on a daily basis. And on a daily basis, I rode out to meet them.”

Or perhaps they say instead: “By the time the snows had melted, there were wolf attacks on a daily basis. And every time, I rode out to meet them.”

Here, the repetition of “on a daily basis” makes the writing more effective, emphasising the unrelenting nature of the events and the character’s unwavering resolve.

The other version just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!

If you notice repetition when you read through your work, chances are that your reader will too. It’s important to consider whether the repetition is there for a reason.

If it’s not – if it takes away from the impact of your words, rather than adding to them – that’s when you should look at rephrasing it.

For more useful articles and free downloadable guides, check out the resources page.

Or get in touch to discuss your book.

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