The Art of Writing No. 38

Repetition is the bane of the author. There is a high incidence of the repetition of a word or phrase within a single paragraph, never mind chapter!
Consequently there are many writers who sit with a thesaurus by their computer or notebook. Not many of us have a labyrinthine vocabulary and having at hand a resource which provides synonyms can help us produce a much more involving and entertaining text. (There are free ones on the internet).The issue for the writer is that the more intensely you operate in the ‘zone’, with words spewing from your tommy-gun-like-brain on to the paper – for there seems to be nothing inside your head to impede their progress – the more clichéd your writing becomes. Arrestingly innovative sentences help make a book. Using alternative words and phrases gee us up because they create hooks for our imaginations, momentarily, by stimulating our pleasure in the new and fresh. You have to be a very great writer indeed to write in a fever of concentration and still maintain originality and freshness in your choice of words. I remember reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and twice, maybe three times he talked of the hero ‘gunning’ his car away from some scene or the other. I felt short-changed. His writing is never more than adequate. The better the writer, the more he or she tries to avoid repetition of a word, be it noun, verb or adjective. I remember seeing a rather fine film set in my home city of Newcastle, called Get Carter. An excellent phrase was used by either a gangster or Caine, I can’t remember which, but whoever it was described the eyes in someone’s face as piss holes in the snow.  Then I happened to see a B movie some couple of years later and there was another gangster using the same phrase, attesting to its B movie status.  The same happens with novels. It is careless and lazy to plagiarise from other sources, as well as being an act of thievery against a fellow professional. It is also careless and lazy to plagiarise from your own novel, either a previous work or the one you are currently writing! Remember, plagiarism can be unconscious – the mere duplicating of words and phrases you have used already.
Essentially, most repetition within your work breeds banality and a lifeless prose. Avoid it.
Having said all that, when my editor read the first draft of Azimuth Book 1,she said she could not remember who some of the characters were because I did not repeat the ‘handles’ which enable the reader to follow characters through the plot.  Instead, I had resorted to a variety of synonyms when describing them. I learned that repetition might actually be necessary. The cast of characters in Azimuthruns into the hundreds and since for most of the inner narrative there are no names to distinguish individuals, I had focused on making my prose rich and diverse, offering different adjectives to describe a character every time he or she turned up, thereby confusing the reader. Using the same noun and adjective to re-introduce a character helped. The ‘fat boy’ is always reintroduced at his next entrance as the ‘fat boy’, not the plump boy, the rotund boy, the obese boy…. It is the same when introducing characters’ appearances. Try to give a unique visual profile to every one of them so that there can be no confusion. This extends to names. Don’t even include names beginning with the same first letter. Books are made from words, not visual images. Generally we can differentiate people easily in films and on TV by their features alone but in books we have to be sure we are including enough detail to make a character unique.
Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic Love Story by Eric le Sange on Kindle Amazon
Azimuth by Jack Sanger, in three separate volumes on Kindle Amazon
Azimuth, the trilogy, in beautifully produced paperback (and PDF)
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange Kindle, Amazon

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