Tuesday, October 27, 2009


One of the skills of writing is to avoid repetition. Most competent scribes prefer to find another word rather than using a previous one again. See what I did there?

There are some interesting exceptions. There are times in life when you need to say the same again. When asked what you're drinking, of course, to make the obvious gag, but also safety instructions. Nobody tells a three year old, who has just been burned on the cooker, that the instructions were clearly stated a year ago and listening should have been done. 'Don't go near the fire' needs to be a mantra for small children.

On the radio the other day Mark Lawson explained that writing about the internet was complex because there weren't yet enough words to allow for synonyms. 'Then don't write about the internet' was the advice of one of his fellow panelists.

When doing a piece of writing which will be read aloud I find it is good to have repetition to draw attention to a continuing theme or pattern. The end of my sermon on Sunday night was:

Is this a holy place?
Is this a holy time?
Are we a holy people?
Are you a holy person?

I think this was more powerful because of the pattern and the repetition. It summarised three points from earlier each of which began with:

The Bible says there are...

Holy places
Holy times
Holy people

By repeating the three, then adding a fourth to catch the listener out and personalise it, you pick people back up who may think they have been paying attention but had wandered.

As I have been reading though MSS and adding labels I have noticed that there are repeated stories. The same illustration, joke or expression has occasionally been used more than once. Great writers keep in mind everything that has gone before. I need to work harder at that.

Avoiding the repetition of common words is easy enough with find and replace facilities as long as you know what your problem words are. Avoiding whole stories in a piece of work with nearly 1,800 small chapters? Not so easy.

As I plough on deep into year seven of this project I suspect there may be more and more repeats. I will have genuinely forgotten that I said something about this (whatever 'this' is) before.

1 comment:

dmk said...

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt! repetition of the word 'to'. And the word 'one'.

Like the thing you did in church.

Given that most folk can't even remember from one week to the next what's been said in a sermon, I'm getting much more relaxed about re-using stories and jokes that I've told before (usually prefaced by 'you may have heard this one before'). My guess is that most folk have either forgotten hearing it, or if they haven't, have forgotten who they heard it from.

Writing stuff down is trickier!