Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 31, 2013

Once Is Usually Enough

Today, I’ve been working on a  Science Fiction book and, going back through the first fifty or so pages of the first draft, I found a mistake that I abhor. Allow me to explain.

Three or four years ago, I was asked, by a publicist, to review a book written by her client.

The author had a good storyline and an interesting protagonist/antagonist conflict.  The book was flawed in a way that many “editors” would miss.  Repetition.

I won’t use the exact words, to protect the author, but the outcome is the same.

The protagonist tells us within ten pages that he drinks chocolate-caramel coffee (in the book, it’s different).  No problem; the reader gets an idea of his tastes.  Here’s the difficulty—every time the protagonist drinks coffee—and he drinks a lot—it is described as his favorite, “chocolate-caramel.”

We learned about the coffee preference early on, there’s no need to hammer the reader ten more times in the book.

The second repetition is in the protagonist’s vehicle (here’s another change).  The car is nicknamed “Silver Speedy.” Once the reader is aware of the nickname, it is unnecessary—and irritating—to read that every time there’s action, he takes a sip of chocolate-caramel coffee and fires up Silver Speedy.

In the excellent book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King, there’s a fine chapter on repetition.  I stole the title for this blog from that chapter.

Repeating words or phrases can be powerful, as in the final two lines of Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

“And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Repetition can be powerful in poetry, but quickly becomes tiresome in prose.


  1. Enjoyed this post, Tom! Have a great Labor Day!

  2. Thanks. Repetition and redundancy are two of my personal bugaboos!

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