IT'S A TRAP!: Overdescription & Repetition

| Friday, April 9, 2010

Today's Tune: Tightrope

IT’S A TRAP! entries are posts in which I discuss newbie writing mistakes that seem like a good idea at the time, but usually end in burning wreckage. I’ve made many of these mistakes myself and thankfully learned from them, but I needed a few years and wake-up calls to recognize them for what they were.

DISCLAIMER: there are aaaaalways exceptions. The topics discussed herein are not always mistakes. But most of the time they are *shifty eyes*

Overdescription & Repetition: IT’S A TRAP!

Okay, before I get started on today's post, I have to say GO WATCH THE VIDEO I POSTED AT THE TOP OF THIS POST, SRSLY. And watch the video for "Many Moons" while you're at it. Janelle Monae is awesome.

AHEM. What was I saying? I was saying something. There was a thing I was going to say.


I know I'm not alone in that I occasionally want to really hammer my point home. Unfortunately, it's very easy to get into the rut of relying on repetition and overdescription. If you find yourself saying the same thing in slightly different ways, you're in danger. Likewise, if you feel the need to repeat for the sixth time in three chapters that your protagonist's love interest has the most amazing ice blue eyes, you're also in the danger zone.

This is fluff and filler, folks. Trust your readers. They don't need to be reminded every other chapter that your protagonist is a spunky redhead. If you've already mentioned that she's a spunky redhead, they know. They also don't need the additional reminders sprinkled throughout the work that her hair is made of fiery strands of molten lava red cherry candy apple ruby blood. Be mindful not to overdo it, lest you come off as shallow or annoying.

I know this is a bad habit of mine. I want to be absolutely sure my point is crystal clear, so I end up saying the same thing several different ways. I do it in my fiction, I do it in essays or articles, and I do it in blog posts. I'm fairly certain I've done it in this post already. It's only natural that we writers want to paint our scene as accurately as we possibly can, but that doesn't mean we need to think up 800 different ways to say "the trees were tall and green; emerald and towering were the trees."

Have faith. Faith in your ability as a writer to get your point across without beating it to death, and faith in your readers to retain the facts they need to know. Read over several pages of your work. Do you find yourself going over and over the way something or someone looks? Do you tend to repeat yourself, albeit with different words? Trim that fat. Trust yourself!

Your get what I'm saying, right? Of course you do; you're awesome :D

How many instances of repetition did you find in this post?



{ JustineDell } at: April 9, 2010 at 6:13 AM said...

Hmm...a lot? *Giggles* This post made me laugh. Thank you. I hate when authors do this...Twilight comes to mind here. Trust the reader, people. Famous the reader. ;-)


{ Christi Goddard } at: April 9, 2010 at 6:15 AM said...

I was tempted to Wordle it and leave a link :-)

I try to avoid repetition, but I'm sure I'm guilty of it. My beta, for example, pointed out that I used 'for a moment' and 'for a bit' far too much in my MS.

{ KarenG } at: April 9, 2010 at 6:15 AM said...

How many times have you yelled at the author while reading a book-- "We get it already. Shut up and get on with the story!" By the third time, I'm done.

{ Matthew Rush } at: April 9, 2010 at 7:58 AM said...

I love detailed lengthy descriptions ... once in a while, to set the scene. When it gets done too often it totally becomes a problem (which happens a lot in my own writing). Thanks for the reminder about these little but important things that can easily sneak past Stephanie.

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{ Terresa } at: April 9, 2010 at 1:44 PM said...

I write with a lot of fluff, too. It takes me multiple re-reads to shave down my fluffiness.

But I will continue trimming the fat, with faith.

Happy weekend!!

{ Shelley Sly } at: April 9, 2010 at 5:38 PM said...

Guilty. Not necessarily with physical description (I love the many words you've come up with to describe the red hair!) but I'm aware over-describe emotions. I let the reader know that girl likes boy... but then I remind them again... and again. But at least I'm aware of it, and constantly striking out repetitive phrases as I edit.

Also -- I discovered that 8-bit Dr. Horrible vid earlier this week. Awesome!

{ Shelley Sly } at: April 9, 2010 at 5:39 PM said...

*I'm aware that I over-describe emotions.

I'm also aware that I make typos.

{ Iapetus999 } at: April 10, 2010 at 10:27 AM said...

I see this all the time. Excessive adverbs and adjectives that try to impress on the reader that something happens "fast"--"really fast" as if the reader doesn't understand "fast".

Just focus on making stuff happen, and not describing things that much. That's what will interest your reader.

{ Simon C. Larter } at: April 11, 2010 at 5:40 PM said...

Oh, yeah... pet peeve of mine. Just say what you have to say and be done with it, I say. :)

I'll certainly use repetition if the style I'm using calls for it. Stream-of-consciousness narration is a good place for effective repetition, but even then it should be kept to a bare minimum.

Great post, good lady. Really nice, even... ;)

{ Paul } at: April 13, 2010 at 9:03 PM said...

I enjoyed this post and the prior one. I hope that you are planning on collecting all of these into a how-to and how-not-to book for budding authors.

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