This week, our hound asked, “As you’re writing (on a new/current project), do you sometimes find yourself creating scenes / characters / dialog that sound VERY familiar? And after you stop and think, do you realize you’ve used them before in other stories? If so, do you continue on… or shift gears?”
Repetition is the key to success in education – I had to play my musical scales many, many times and spent endless hours repeating vocabulary when learning a foreign language – but in writing, it’s a red flag. Writing and trying to publish another author’s work is illegal (as well as unethical), and writing what you’ve already written is a signal that your pool of creativity is not deep.
I had to spend a lot of time thinking about this question as it relates to my writing. I couldn’t remember having repeated scenes and dialogue. But then, I haven’t written all that much. My book list doesn’t come anywhere close to that of most NYT and USA Today best-sellers. And it seems that if I did make a habit of repeating myself, people who had read more than a few of my stories would have mentioned this, either to me or in a review. Characters from some of my books have made appearances in other books, but I’m certain our hound wasn’t referring to books in a series.
I decided to call my daughter, who’s read most of what I’ve written for publication. She’s also a seasoned editor, having worked in that capacity since her college days. The last time I described a project to my her, she said, “Mom, almost every heroine you’ve written has self-doubt. You need to come up with a different flaw for her internal conflict.” So I asked for her input on this topic, and she mentioned my penchant for using inner dialog to illustrate a character’s inner conflict. Apparently, the method I use to show what the he or she is thinking is something I need to vary.
When creating my characters I tend to have a picture in my mind of what he or she looks like. Often I have a specific person in mind as I’m writing, and that makes it easier for me to avoid repetition. For my most recent contemporary romance, the hero was modeled after the actor Mark Harmon and for the heroine I pictured the actress Jean Smart. For my most recent historical, I wanted someone not normally considered hero material. My husband often watches reruns of the TV show Home Improvement, and I decided Al Borland, played by actor Richard Karn, was the perfect model for James Benton. I haven’t kept track of all my characters and the people they’re based on, but I suppose that’s a project for a rainy day.
As for dialogue, I’m quite sure each story is unique enough that the same conversation wouldn’t appear in more than one book. But to answer the last part of the hound’s question, if it did, I would “shift gears” and re-do the scene. My husband will vouch for the fact that I don’t watch re-runs. If I’ve already seen a show I’ll leave the room and do something else, or put my headphones and work on a project. So I assume people won’t want to read the same scene or dialogue in more than one book.
Does repetition diminish your opinion of an author’s work?