I want to talk about repetition. We’ve all heard repetitive songs on the radio (back when we listened to radio). Something that the stations would plug 150 times a day. If it was a mainstream radio station, the hook would be catchy enough to get stuck in our heads, and we’d be singing it all week, even when the radio wasn’t on. Sometimes, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. Other times I’d do anything I could to get the song out of my head.
In songs, repetition is used to great effect. Verses have the same amount of syllables, the same rhyming vowels, and the same metre used throughout the whole song. In fact, a song without repetition is more akin to an improvised jazz solo, and those only appeal to a select audience. Repetition in songs is fantastic.
Repetition in stories, however, is not. Most boring paragraphs I read go something like this:
I thought I knew what I was doing. I closed the throne room doors behind me with clang. I was supposed to be the good son, the chosen king. But I didn’t know anything at all. The senate had chosen me as speaker for the games, and I was delighted. It would be my first speech in front of a crowd. I had a chance to show the kingdom what I was really made of. I was going to be the best and most generous king this kingdom ever had.
Oh my god, I was bored writing that. It took me two minutes to spew that garbage that I’ll never get back. Do you know why I hate it so much? Because it’s all about I, I, I. I did this. I knew that. I thought this. Giant who cares? That’s the reason I hate first person POV. Most authors who use it rely too heavily on the I of it all to tell the story. What this passage does is tell you about things instead of showing you. Or, narrating instead of describing.
First person POV can be used to great effect to knock down the third wall between audience and narrator/character, but it can also become quite tiresome, overwrought, and, well, boring.
My last blog post was about “show, don’t tell”. If you haven’t read it, go have a squizz and tell me if it helped you. I talked about how we need a healthy dose of both of those things—narrating and describing—in order to achieve a well-rounded story. It goes for any POV—first, second or third. It’s similarly boring to start every sentence with “He”. “He shut the doors. He turned to his pageboy and barked an order. He put his cloak on and looked at himself in the mirror.” Boring. So goddamn boring.
So do me a favour. Instead of writing every sentence with “he”, vary it up. Tell us something different about the scene. Show us how he put on his cloak, what order he barked, how good he looked in the mirror. Describe his inner turmoil, his fears, his desire. Give us the meaty details of the king’s life that we can’t get just by looking at him. Make connections between events and thoughts. Weave in themes. Dazzle us with your imagery, similes, metaphors, metonyms, and figurative language. Do it all!
But before you do, you should read Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistion. Yes, I know, everyone’s read it, but have you? You should. Do it right now in fact. Learn from the power of Casey McQuiston’s words and bring it to your own writing. I believe in you.
Oh, and also buy my book.