Writing the Same Thing Over and Over?

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, you realize you’ve used them before in other stories? If so, do you continue on… or shift gear

In answer to today’s question, I’d have to say that yes upon occasion I’ve found myself having to switch gears because something sounds too familiar. In terms of characters I’m not guilty quite so much. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I don’t like perfect characters. They’re so boring and unrealistic. I always enjoy deciding what little imperfection I’ll give to my characters. I sometimes get in trouble for it too. In one of my books my readers complained that the heroine was wishy-washy, and my hero was too powerful. He was powerful, but she wasn’t wishy-washy. She’d just had her life turned upside down and was emotionally a mess. I’ve written another heroine that I know everyone is going to just hate. I haven’t decided yet whether to tone her down a little or not, but I can’t help liking her. What’s her problem? She’s mad at the world and not without cause.

When it comes to scenes I don’t remember a lot of repetition in my work. I’ve written about many different types of people, and that probably makes a difference when I’m writing scenes.

Dialogue is where I have to be careful. I have a couple of catchy phrases that I constantly have to strike because I know I’ve used them before. Other than that writing about such diverse characters probably helps here too. People from different social backgrounds may sound very different.  For example, in my romantic comedy Fortuna two thugs who worked for my villain said, “It don’t have nothing to do with zits.” I can’t see my hero saying that, but if you’ve read the book you know it’s exactly what the thug would say. (It would take too long to explain why the thug was talking about zits, but it was a pivotal moment in the story.)

I think writers have to be careful though. It would be very easy to fall into an old, comfortable pattern with your work, and no one wants to do that.


About Elaine Cantrell

Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina. She has a Master’s Degree in Personnel Services from Clemson University and is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority for women educators. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America. Her first novel A New Leaf was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest and was published in 2004 by Oak Tree Press. When she isn't writing you can find Elaine playing with her dog or maybe collecting more vintage Christmas ornaments
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9 Responses to Writing the Same Thing Over and Over?

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    I agree that “Perfect” characters can be boring.
    And, certainly, if the characters are human, they will have flaws and failings.
    I can’t imagine readers getting mad at you (the author) because you depicted humans with human glitches.
    Something I find myself watching — both as writer and reader — is whether the character’s tics are irritating or endearing.
    In one of my novels with a HUGE cast of players, I tried to give some of them physical features (that would set them apart), like extremely bushy eyebrows or a “comb-over”. And for some I focused on matters of their apparel (like one guy always had sawdust on his clothing, from his workshop).
    This novel had so many characters that I needed a third way to use for some (to set them apart). Much of that I did through expressions they’d use in dialog. Or mannerisms. Or attitude.
    As I re-read that long novel, I enjoy all those distinctions among the many players. But as I was writing it, it nearly drove me crazy trying to keep everybody straight.


  2. One absolutely has to picture and create a whole character in your mind in order to know how that person would act, talk and what they would do or say in order to write decently at all. Otherwise, what’s the point? Just put down random words!
    I imagine that some writers who have long-running series with the same core cast of characters might find themselves coming up with familiar situations or conversations, but I suppose even the best know exactly what their people have done.
    If anyone finds this happening, I imagine that they need to broaden their horizons and their characters. I was writing for one particular niche and that will be told on Friday.


  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Having a wide variety of scenes and situations in your books does help to prevent repetition. And I too struggle with preventing characters who have similar backgrounds from sounding the same. I know some people who keep meticulous notes and spreadsheets about all their characters and their traits, as well as other details about their books, but I’ve never been able (or willing) to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Characters from different backgrounds would make it a little easier to avoid repetition.
    I enjoy flawed characters. I want to see a little of myself in the people I read about and having perfect characters is a turnoff when I’m reading a book.


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