This past weekend I popped in a comfort audiobook, a medieval Scottish romance by an author I usually devour. It is the first in a series and one of the characters was similar to one I have been writing. I put in my earplugs and as expected, I became entranced in the story. Only an hour or two into the book I started to lose interest and it wasn’t because the story sucked, it was because the author kept repeating herself.
For example, the heroine suffered a fall from her horse, nearly died, and it changed her life. After the initial retelling – I as the reader already knew this fact. However, the same exact retelling of the story only shortened slightly had to be told to the hero, and then his brothers, and then his clan. I heard this tragic snippet three or four times. Ahhhh! Seriously?
Later in the book, the hero is injured and we as readers live through the ordeal with him and the heroine. Only he loses consciousness and the heroine must get help. She rushes back to the village and tells the story of what happened. They rescue the hero and when they return to the keep, they tell the doctor the whole story. Again – I’ve heard this three times.
In an 10 hour book this happened so much I had to fight to not scream at the author or be passive aggressive and put a bad review out on Goodreads. I did finish the book, same day, and I loved the story and the characters, but ultimately this repetition annoyed the shit out of me. It weakened the book and damaged the author’s credibility for me. While there needs to be a little bit of repetition in a book whole chunks of the story really should not be repeated.
As usual, I internalized this information and looked to my own writing to see if this is a mistake, I’ve made in the past. *Blush* I have done it once or twice but never to this extent. I find once I’ve told a part of the story I typically brush it off or I introduce the situation back in later but in a different way. I change the reaction people have and it strengthens not only characters but adds imagery to a scene. Repetition in a story feels more like moving the chess pieces around the board and not making a play. In my work – I’ve made the play and I might go in for a repeat attack but I make it short, simple, and completely different from the first story.
Here is an example from my work. Stuart was a gay pirate who married Effie to keep his love life a secret from the crew. In turn, she gets to have a family and life she is sorely lacking. When he is killed, Effie is whisked off to his family clan in Scotland to be taken care of as per his wishes. Stuart’s former lover is charged with relaying news of the death. The prologue is told from Effie’s point of view as she tries to save Stuart, so the reader has already lived through his death. This excerpt is how his ex-lover relays news of the death to his brother. As you will see – there is a little detail but not an entire retelling – blow by blow – of the death.
“What are you doing here?” Rory bellowed as he charged into the darkened solar. The door banged against the stone wall with such force he heard it splinter.
Cal Taggert turned from where he stood by the fireplace with a grim frown. His face was thinner then Rory had remembered, and aged. The lines around his eyes were not there before, but then again he’d usually seen them laughing and not serious as they were now. The familiar mop of reddish brown curls pulled tight against his scalp and tied at the base of his neck with a leather throng.
“Rory.” He didn’t offer his hand, only a small inclination of his head to show respect to the Laird of the McDonough’s.
“What are you doing here?”
A wince passed over Cal’s cheeks. “Stuart is dead.”
The blood in Rory’s veins turned as cold as the night air outside. A swath of pain and grief snaked through him. “How?” His voice softened but his posture remained hard and overbearing.
“Battle. We were attacked. By the time I got to him, he was fighting six men. He was injured.” Cal swallowed hard and ducked his head, the subject obviously painful for him. “The medics did their best but it wasn’t enough.” The distance that separated them couldn’t hide his shaking hands.
Pulling off his wet leather gloves Rory stormed over to his desk, leaving behind him a trail of muddy boot prints and chunks of snow. He’d only just returned from a three day hunt to find a man he’d hoped to never see again, waiting for him.
He poured three fat fingers of whiskey into a cup, swallowed it and refilled. Rory rolled his lower lip over his teeth as he contemplated what to do next. Stuart was his younger brother and the loss of his life was devastating. They’d been estranged for nearly five years and even that distance didn’t soften the blow of his death.
“Your message is received.” Rory motioned with his the back of his hand towards the door. “Get out.”
So how about you – Have you read anything with gobs and gobs of repeated information? How do you deal with repetition in your work?