Q is for Quack #AtoZChallenge

A guest post by Donan Berg

Walter Hunt’s repeating rifle replaced the single-shot musket. While it became a model for the Winchester lever-action rifle said to have won the American West, word repetition has never single-handedly enhanced fiction writing and can figuratively “kill” sales, if one visualizes a hand tossing aside a boring book unread. Stand on a United States urban street corner today and you may hear: “Stop quacking about it!” The root-word “Quack” is slang meaning: “to talk rubbish” or “drive a point home unnecessarily.”

Word repetition in writing is not automatically rubbish but, more times than not, is a problem to be avoided. To expand a metaphor, let’s examine six repetition no-nos as if lethal bullets fired from Annie Oakley’s revolver.

1. Literally repeating a word, or phrase, by placing them in close proximity is a no-no easily discovered and corrected.

2. Repeating an effect is just as problematic. Example:
Sally’s dumb, thought John.

Frank whispered into John’s ear, “Sally’s here. She failed the math quiz.”

“Isn’t she a dumbo?” replied John.

“Totally dumb, dumber than a door nail,” said Frank, poking a finger to the side of his head.
Maybe you actually heard this dialogue. Still, aren’t you insulting the reader’s intelligence? Does Sally become increasingly dumber with each mention? And, even if the word dumb is not used, i.e., Sally failed a test, isn’t that of the same effect?

3. Repetition of products by Brand Name or identifying a character by specific celebrity reference drives a point home unnecessarily and in the process you cheapen your prose. Does repetition of wearing a Rolex, driving a Bugatti, or carrying a Gucci bag heighten reader identification? Saying your character looks like (fill in Hollywood Red Carpet star) solve your character identification problem or cause your reader to abandon your character and drift off into George Clooney, James Bond, or Cher fantasies.

4. Watch character interior monologue. Needless repetition seems to spring forth eternally from the desire to make sure the reader gets it. Example:
Sally thought she just had to have that Gucci, even if it cost a zillion dollars. She’d never deprived herself. It wasn’t wasteful to desire expensive things. It was good for the economy, wasn’t it? She had a trust fund, Uncle John gave her expensive birthday trips, like Paris, London, and nobody said she had to save. She was never in trouble for spending.
Would you summarize the above to say Sally was a spender or spoiled rotten? No matter what the conclusion, couldn’t you slice the number of words without altering or hiding the resultant meaning?

5. What about using the same pronoun in close proximity when the meaning changes? Example:
When one tires of visiting beaches and native villages, you can renew your strength in one of Honolulu’s lovely parks.
Don’t gamble that the reader won’t become confused. If the reader trips often enough, the book’s closed.

6. Bigger repetition problems lurk when two characters play the same role. While a hero’s sidekick is always there to help, does the plot need the entire neighborhood or every classmate from the last reunion? The reader may have trouble with the nose count. Make life simple. Distill the characters employed to the bare minimum.

Is repetition always bad? No. Consider this example:
John stood at the altar.

Sally, hands bouncing the bouquet, listened as the preacher said: “Do you, Sally, take John to be your lawful wedded husband?”

“I do. I do. I do.”
Would you add a tag line that said: She gushed excitedly? Or eliminate the repetition? Or both?

Remember, a person can be fatally wounded by one shot from a musket without the necessity of the lever-action Winchester pumping five slugs into the chest. As the author you pick both the actual word and the number of times used. Make the reader enjoy reading them, not trip over unnecessary repetition. Don’t quack.

A little about Donan Berg

Author Donan Berg, a native of Ireland currently residing in the American Heartland, is the author of three Skeleton Series Mysteries (A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, and Baby Bones) plus a fourth murder/mystery, Abbey Burning Love. He pens articles about writing and what he calls “whimsy” at www.abodytobones.blogspot.com. Author Berg can also be contacted through the website, http://www.abodytobones.com. A collection of short stories, Bubbling Conflict and Other Stories, is available from DOTDON Books, http://www.dotdonbooks.com.

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