Monday, June 2, 2014

Boredom Busters #1: Avoid Repetition

by Alycia Morales

I recently had the honor of participating in a podcast with best-selling author Steven James, Hallmark Channel's When Calls the Heart producer Brian Bird, Splickety magazine executive editor Ben Wolf, and author Aaron Gansky. Aaron posed the question, what's one thing writers do that bothers you the most?

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Do you remember the teacher in Charlie Brown? Wha. Wha. Wha. Wha. Wha. 

I had a science class just before lunch period, and the teacher spoke in a monotone. Between the hunger, the boredom, and the repetition, I could barely stay awake. I never enjoyed her class, and I never had any desire to learn about science.

Occasionally I come across a book where an author bores me to the death of their novel. Why? Because they've written their novel in a monotonous voice, no thanks to repetition. It doesn't take but a chapter or two, maybe three, for me to decide I'm tossing it and will not be recommending it to my friends.

Here are a few types of repetition in a manuscript:

1. Repetition of words or phrases within sentences that are close to one another. What I mean to say is that words or phrases in both sentences are repeated.

2. Use of pet words. These are words an author tends to gravitate toward using. Sometimes you'll see them at the beginning of sentences, and they will usually be an adverb or a conjunction such as "and" or "but." Other times you'll see them in the midst of sentences, and they are a sign of lazy writing. Authors will use the same description (adjectives) for each character or for one in particular. Or, the characters will always sigh or smile.

3. The character will think about the same thing all of the time. They won't be able to get past one particular instance or emotion throughout the entire book. This drives me insane. For example, we're introduced to the female protagonist in chapter one, and she is depressed. In chapter two, we are reminded that she is depressed. Her situation hasn't changed. By chapter three, she's still depressed, and I am now finished reading the book. A character needs to move forward, not stay stuck in park.

Here's how to fix these three repetitive mistakes:

1. Delete one of the repetitive sentences. Pick the more active sentence to keep.

2. Check your manuscript for pet words and descriptions. Delete the sentence starters. Delete the pet words. Change the descriptors. Deepen your characters and give them other things to do than smile or sigh. Find a tick for when they are happy, like squeezing their hands together.

3.  Develop the character arc. Your character needs to go through some sort of internal/external change as the story develops. This is a progressive movement, not a stagnant one. Move the character toward that final goal throughout the story. Don't save it for the last act. Otherwise, she'll meet her death before she ever has a chance, because your reader won't connect with her and will lose interest.


Keep your readers from throwing your book across the room. Avoid repetition. #amwriting
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Don't put your readers to sleep. 3 ways to avoid repetition in writing: #amwriting #amediting {Click to Tweet}

What types of things irritate you as a reader?

If you'd like to check out the podcast with Steven James, Brian Bird, Aaron Gansky, Ben Wolf, Jake Pendleton, and me, click here.


  1. Great tips to keep in mind Alycia! I agree that characters need to change or we lose interest way too quickly.


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