Sounds Kinda Familiar

Déjà vu, All Over Again

By Jeff Salter

I’m told this was my topic suggestion, but – like many other topics which apparently sprung from my weary brain – I have no idea what I was thinking about when I proposed it. It’s a two-parter: (1) have we written something that seems so familiar, we must have already used it in another story, and (2) what do we do when we establish that it has been used before?

Deja-Vu

I confess that when I re-read some of my older published stories, I’ll come across expressions (dialog) or descriptions (appearance) that I’ve used in later stories. One example is the word “keester” — which probably shows up in several different stories, from the mouths of various characters… simply because I think it’s a cool word and I use it often myself. Sue me.

It’s certainly possible that if some diligent literary professor were to carefully examine three of my novels, side-by-side, that she/he could find words, expressions, descriptions, etc., that would be common to each. That’s regrettable, I suppose, but hardly surprising. After all, we only have 26 letters to deal with and we’re writing novels of anywhere from 55k to 110k words. I reckon you’re gonna see a few of them over and over again… and perhaps even in the same order.

But, as I mulled over this topic this week – for the first time since I’d initially suggested it (over a year ago, or longer) – I got to thinking of a slightly different angle. Something happens to me, and much more often than I’d wish, is that I’ll remember I need to write such-and-such scene in a story. Let’s say it’s character John Doe reflecting on the battle action at Graignes. So I’ll refresh my memory about the facts of that actual battle, then I’ll decide how much detail (or which aspects) I wish to have John Doe verbalize in my fiction… and I’ll find a logical spot in the story to plug that in.
Oops… after I finish composing that bit about the Graignes battle, I’ll read down another page or two and see that I already wrote it… presumably in a previous draft (or possibly even a day or two earlier on THIS draft). And now I have to compare the two iterations, pick the better of the two, or – as I often do – take the best components of each and meld them into one account. And, yes, they will usually be quite different in what they reveal and how it’s told.

This also happens to me when I’m not able to get to work on Story XYZ – because of other deadlines or external obligations – but I’ll take a few minutes to jot down several pages of notes to use in that story… whenever I may next have an opportunity to open the file itself. Oops… when I finally get back to that story – which could be months (or even years later) – those hand-written notes often represent what has since become hardly more than a tangent to how the story has evolved in my head. Or, as in a recent example with my current WIP, it involved the wrong character at the wrong time in the story. So it was all basically useless — eight pages of hand-written notes…wasted!

Oh well.

As I said, I don’t recall what was on my noggin when I initially proposed the topic. This is what’s on my brain at this point in time. The mind can, at times, be a very strange terrain.

Question:

What about you? Have you ever written a scene you forgot about… and ended up writing it AGAIN?

[JLS # 441]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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12 Responses to Sounds Kinda Familiar

  1. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve never written a scene I have forgotten that I’d already written before. I suppose that’s only because I don’t skip ahead. I only jot notes on those scenes that need to happen but are yet to come. And then sometimes, I don’t even understand my own notes. LOL!
    However, sometimes I do catch myself using the same descriptions. It is especially challenging when writing about recurring characters. I want to keep it fresh, but the persons look and act the same in each book. And since I write a lot of scenes involving weaponry fighting, it can also be a challenge coming up with different ways to describe what is going on.

    Greta topic, Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn. Yes, fight scenes present many difficulties for the writer. For one thing, so many different details of the fight are happening at the same time. Difficult to pack them all in there without slowing down the pace.

      Like

  2. Well, Jeff. I for one don’t think it’s a crime to use a word you like over again in another story, or even a phrase, because (as I’ve said before) there is nothing new under the sun (to quote a Well-Known writer…Ecclesiastes 1:9 “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”). Keester is a perfect example. When you use that word in your books, it is part of YOUR writing. No one else’s, even if someone else decides they want to use it. And you’re not writing your stories for literary professors. You’re writing for your readers.

    As to your “wasted” notes. They are never wasted. Not really. You might use those notes some other time in a story just by changing one or two words. You never know. I don’t consider anything I’ve jotted down as a waste of time (unless I can’t read it later…which I’m afraid I have done LOL).

    Now, to answer your question. Yes, I have rewritten an important detail into a story more than once. That’s where the read-through of the entire story is so important to me. I use an index card (now instead of the notebook I used to use) for each scene. I write down all the important points of that scene. As I’m reading through the story before sending it to the editor, I have come across the information that I’ve already given. I do a search and find on key words in the computer, find out what page it’s written on and pull up the index card for that page. Like you, I then decide where that information will work best or is most important. Or…do I need it in both places for some reason?

    One thing to think about. Have you never repeated yourself, telling the same thing to one or more people? People do that. So, if it isn’t done by a character in a story where it is word for word and to the same person in the story who would not have forgotten what was told them, why not? If your MC is explaining to the police what happened, for example. Then maybe a few scenes later, she has to explain to someone else, why not? The words can be changed or the incident summarized. That doesn’t ruin the book for me. I doubt it does for many.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      you raise several excellent points here.
      When I was Slashing some 55,000 words from my 165,000 word ms. — to get it close to the maximum length allowed by that publisher — I carefully saved almost all of those chapters and scenes. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to use them in any other way, but certainly did not want to lose them. Partly because they’d already survived some 5 or more drafts and at least two overhauls by that point.
      I like your idea with the index cards, or some similar means of keeping track of the content of each scene or chapter. For this current WIP, I actually have developed a list of key developments, as they occur, and indicate both the chapter and page. I did that mostly because I was trying to determine whether I’d grossly underestimated the amount of time I’d allowed my characters to get everything done. [I tend to do that.]
      But secondly, it will come in handy if I ever have to assemble a synopsis.
      As to your final point: I totally agree that we humans repeat ourselves and therefore our characters should be allowed a degree of repetition. However, most editors I know will scream bloody murder!

      Like

    • I agree, but unless a point is changed in scenes where explanations are retold, they are usually cut-away, and done off-screen in movies and TV. I agree with Jeff that most editors would go bonkers. They overreact a lot, as do beta readers at times. If they miss your point, they can ask you to remove key elements.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Sounds Kinda Familiar – Sharon K. Connell

  4. I am glad to hear that this is more common than I thought. More on this tomorrow, but you have just about said it all.
    When I wrote my play, I used Celtx, which helped me keep stage direction and dialog in format. Many authors use it for novels. I can’t imagine needing that much memory help, but I may eat my words later, as I have before!
    I have a cousin who has notes taped all over a wall for his manuscript…not my style either, but whatever works, works….not that my systems necessarily WORK! (Remains to be seen!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      absolutely — one has to go with what works for them.
      Faulkner, famously, charted his character genealogies on the WALLS of his writing area.

      Like

  5. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I don’t consider the repeated use of specific words as a problem. As Sharon said, it’s part of who you are. And I have also written scenes more than once, forgetting that I’ve already written them. Guess that’s the second sign of aging – and I can’t remember the first.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have purposefully written a scene a few different times because I wasn’t satisfied with one or wanted to see how it could go if it was just slightly different or told from a different angle then I’d go back and take the best of each version I’d written and combine them.
    Also, I like keester. Its a word that not many people seem to use anymore. There are authors who use certain words or phrases in each of their stories and I like finding them in their works. I know of one author who always has one character who “scampers” at least once in each of her books and I like finding that in each story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      one of my critics noted that (her opinion) “females do not use the word keester.”
      I had no basis to argue with her since I’d never heard a female voice it. But surely, they’re aware of WHAT it is.

      Like

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