Repeating Ourselves Too Many Times in a Novel

Healing StonesOne thing I’ve learned while editing to a specific word count is to provide the information only once. Readers are smart; they’ll understand. If I have 300 words to tell a story, every word matters. I don’t need to say the car was blue twice.

Saying something once in a 300-word story is easy to do because I can see the entire story on one page. I can remember what I’ve said and how I’ve said it. It’s a little more difficult in a 130,000-word novel.

But it’s still important not to repeat things multiple times because readers who read fast or have great memories will remember. Even those with weaker superpowers will notice if you continue to tell them Sarah’s hair was naturally blonde but was dyed green. I know because I read book reviews on Amazon, and I’ve seen many readers complain about the number of times something is stated: How many times does she have to say his eyes were blue? I heard it the first ten times.

That’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. More complaints arise when a situation is overstated: I get it; he’s broke and he lost his job at the construction site because he was late two days in a row. Stop telling me that in every chapter!

As a writer, I’m always looking to improve my storytelling, so I’m constantly learning, evaluating my work and applying new techniques. With the overstating complaint fresh in my mind, I decided to flag ten points in Healing Stones to see if I overstated them.

With MS Word, it’s easy to search for a specific word or phrase. In this instance, I marked the passage with [XB] to ensure only those points I referenced were counted. Within the bracket, I placed a number [1XB] to indicate the situation.

Overall, I did well. Here are a few of my results. I noted the points of view to show who was thinking what to help me decide if a reference should be removed or modified.

[1XB]

The first one marked how many times I referenced the murder of Liam’s das (father). I found five instances. After reviewing them, I decided to keep them all.

Chapter 1 – Scene 1 – Isla’s POV

After spending six weeks at Maskil recovering and reacquainting herself with home, they’d set out for the large city of Wandsworth with the hope of finding her long-lost friend, Liam Jenkins. He’d been sent there more than six years earlier after his das had been killed. [1XB] His meeme had been murdered [2XB] on the journey, leaving the boy, only thirteen years old, to live with his aunt and uncle, relatives he’d never met.

Chapter 13 – Scene 2 – Liam’s POV

“Perhaps you should explore other opportunities. You’re young.”

Her words hit low, taking the wind from his lungs. Fumbling to express his feelings, he spoke without considering his options. “I’m confused. I’ve always thought you wonderful. You’re like Meeme…” A stubborn lump swelled in his throat, stirring unwanted tears, unwanted images from when he was thirteen. He coughed to clear his throat and wiped away his tears. “I don’t want to…” He drew a deep breath. The pain he’d buried long ago renewed. His horrible path in life had started in Maskil; he hated this town and couldn’t wait to leave. [1XB]

“I’m so sorry about your meeme.” She stood in front of him, tears in her eyes. “She was a wonderful woman.”

Chapter 14 – Scene 2 – Isla’s POV

“Das told me to bring you here to show you he had a respectable burial, that we did care about what happened to him.” She kept her grip on him when he fell to his knees and sobbed. “He won’t be forgotten, Liam. His death burnt his memory in the hearts of many.”

“The lords killed him.” Spit flew from his mouth. “They should be dead, buried where no one can find them.” [1XB]

She knelt beside him. “Your das is found. See the dried flowers secured with a ribbon? Farlan and I brought them. He comes often; he can’t let it go. He tried desperately to save him. When you see Farlan, know his heart bleeds for you.”

Chapter 14 – Scene 2 – Isla’s POV

“Unless he’s threatened, then the poyson takes over.” She gazed down the alley. “Right now, he’s a scared boy running for his life, feeling everyone is against him.” She looked up. “Please, help me find him. He deserves better than this. His das was murdered [1XB] by the lords, and his meeme [2XB] was killed in front of him while on their way to Wandsworth. He needs our help.”

“Killed in front of him?” Pain tore across Tam’s face as he stared down the alley. “Do you know where he’ll hide?”

Chapter 14 – Scene 3 – Tam’s POV

He formed his words carefully. “His life was tragic. His das was murdered, [1XB] then he witnessed his meeme’s murder.” [2XB] He swallowed hard as memories he buried long ago flashed before him. It had happened so quickly. No one was supposed to die; they were to take the contents of the steel chest on the stagecoach and release the horses to stall the travellers’ progress. Kieron Ruckle had other plans.

[3XB]

Often a character’s own admission that they are not good enough for another person and will not have the life they desire is repeated too many times in a story. Because of Liam’s choices in life, he thinks he is unworthy for Isla and that he’ll never have her as a mate. I flagged this reference 11 times. Some of these were not from his point of view and in a few instances, the reference was vague.

In the end, I modified two passages and removed two completely. Here’s a small sample.

Chapter 4 – Scene 1 – Liam’s POV

The longer her hand lingered, the hotter the fire grew within and the more the itch expanded on his shoulder. His past rushed forward, causing an ache in his heart that would never heal. It spread to his throat and threatened to sting his eyes. He forced his mind to think of other things, anything other than his inability to be with her. [3XB] “And Farlan. How is he doing?” He cleared his throat and moved his hand away from her, pretending to gather his gear.

Chapter 4 – Scene 1 – Liam’s POV

She stepped away. “You look ready for The Trail.”

“More like La-la Land.” McGuigan chuckled as he passed.

Liam composed himself quickly. Had he been that obvious? He didn’t want to be. He wanted to… Pain flared up in his chest. What he wanted was impossible to obtain. [3XB]

Chapter 13 – Scene 2 – Liam’s POV

The longer he stared, the more Liam felt as though his entire life with all his horrible deeds was being laid out before him. Bronwyn Darrow, the most honourable man he knew, was scrutinizing every aspect of it, judging him unfit for his daughter. [3XB] If he knew what he’d done in the previous moons before leaving Wandsworth, he’d have thrown him out of his house without hesitation.

XR – Chapter 14 – Scene 2 – Isla’s POV

REMOVED crossed out section.

She cradled him in her arms. “We’ll go slow. Remember there are many who love you; you are not suffering alone.”

“Many?” He laughed sarcastically. “No one loves me but you, and I don’t deserve your love.” [3XB]

“Nonsense. Farlan does. Meeme, Das, his family.”

He snorted. “Your das hates me.”

“If he hated you, he’d have never allowed you to stay in his home.”

“I stayed because Alaura insisted.”

Chapter 18 – Scene 2 – Isla’s POV

She placed her fingers over his lips. “Hold me to know what to anticipate without fear.”

He tucked her head against his chest and laid his bent leg on her hip. “You deserve better.” [3XB]

“Better than a loyal man, one my blood burns for hotter than an inferno drenched in dragon spit?” She spanked his bottom playfully. “Now shush and let me sleep in your arms.”

 

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