Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Repeating Elements

Writer's DigestI don’t know if y’all subscribe to Writer’s Digest, but this past month’s issue (the February one, pictured left) is especially good, I thought. There was a nice article in the issue called “25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day.”

The article touches on things like sentence structure, pace, flow, and imagery. One subject I found particularly interesting was the section on unity.

Writer Jack Heffron pointed out the usefulness of selective repetition. He said:

“A detail or remark or even just a unique word mentioned early in your piece can be echoed later, creating a sense of wholeness through the reader’s recognition of the previous mention.” That recognitions also imbues the repeated element with a resonance… The reader enjoys a satisfying sense of progression, of having moved from one literary moment to another.”

This is something that I’ve enjoyed playing around with, but always in terms of subplot. I usually have a subplot that crops up in an innocuous (and frequently humorous) way in my mystery. Then I tie in the subplot to the main plot at the end of the book. I’ve always really liked the feeling of completeness that it gives to a book.

I’ve never thought about it, but there are other subtle ways to use this device, too (and I think ‘subtle’ is key here.) It could be used with setting, imagery, a triggered memory or simply an unusual choice of words.

I’ve always used it for more of a humorous effect and that pleasant sort of tying-up-loose-ends feeling. But it could be used to evoke a variety of responses from readers…still with that satisfying ‘wrapped up’ feeling of unity.

Is selective repetition/unity an element that you’ve used in your writing before? As a reader, is it something you usually notice?


The WKB newsletter that Mike Fleming and I are putting together is set to launch later this week. We’ve got a great interview with freelance editor Jason Black and links to February’s most popular writing articles. If you’d like to get on our email list for the newsletter, please sign up here: http://bit.ly/gx7hg1.