Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reminders vs Repetition

We all get busy and need reminders. 

Those little Post Its stuck to everything around the office or house help to solicit the "oh yeah" response.

I don't know about you, but I need two or three reminders in more than one place to yank my attention away from where ever it is.

In the movie Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder used one of the many Post Its stuck around her house to blow her nose. The message she wrote on the Post It read: buy tissues. 

I like gentle reminders. Even in the books I read.

At times a story can be so compelling I may not hear someone in my house talking to me or the phone ringing. Or sometimes, while engaged in a book, a little sound in the house like the cat mischievously leaping to the floor will scare the snot out of me. You too?

Wrapped in the pages of a story, I may forget a minor detail placed early in the book. Well, it seemed minor at the time, but later the same detail became a key. I turned the page and found the "key" again. I stared at it and vaguely recalled something from earlier in the book...what was it? Annoyed, I had to flip back, digging for the first mention of the detail and its context.

In those engaging times, I like having a gentle reminder of the key information rather than interrupting the story to research previous pages to satisfy my need to find out who the reappearing character is or why an object suddenly returned to the scene. 

As a reader, I do expect the author to differentiate between the moments I want to be reminded and the needless repetition used to fill pages. They have to read my mind, and simply know when to drop the clue.

As a writer, I need to be careful to provide reminders and not mundane repetition. 

A reminder is a spice needed to enhance the scene. The spice is a character, object, or etc not often used in the story, yet plays a reoccurring key role. Not the antagonist, but the secondary character who creates a problems or mysteriously lends a hand.

Introduced early in the story, this teaser is dangled periodically to: 

heighten suspense, 

erupt a comedic moment, 

stir a romantic heart to pulse wildly, 

add vivid color to the setting, 

plant a clue or red herring. 

This teaser deepens a story, adds a third dimension, brings life and realism to a plot.

I want to share with you a wonderful example of the effective reminder.  Ruth Axtell Morren introduces Doyle a rector, in Bride of Honor. Doyle is a persnickety secondary character who lives by the rules. He also happens to be Damien's superior. Damien, the hero, wants to please his superior but fails. 

Doyle is ornery, and gets my boos every time he enters a page. Although, without his sardonic intrusions, the story would leave a bland aftertaste. 

Doyle doesn't appear that often in the book, yet I know him well thanks to Morren's gentle and timely reminders.  For example, on page 127, Doyle pays a late night visit to Damien. In truth he hadn't made an appearance in many pages and I became so engaged in Damien and Lindsay's story I had forgotten who he was. Doyle. Who is Doyle?

Great, I'd have to plow back through past pages to find his name and figure out who he was and why I should care. Grumble. 

Yes, yes, I know Damien is uncomfortable with him, but why? What significance dose Doyle hold. 

To my surprise, before I flipped back to research Doyle, Morren whispered on page 127: "The whole household was aware of the delicate relationship between him and his superior since the incident with Jonah." quote used with permission from Ruth Axtell Morren.

Oh, I remember now. The incident with Jonah. Yes, that was when...( spoilers here) 

"Boo!" I shouted recalling my disdain for this man. Yes, Doyle needed to make an appearance at this time to kindle my sympathies for Damien. Thank you. And on I read without a hiccup or wasted research time clogging up the flow of the story.

On the other hand, let us not go overboard and fall into diverse repetitions.

The nagging

The insults to the reader repeating, repeating, repeating causing the reader to cry out "I don't need you to tell me again . . . I got it already!"

 How can you tell what is a reminder and what is repetition?

1. A reminder is like the fly on the wall, there, but not obviously seen. A reminder is like the red paint in the color purple. There but not blatant. 

   Repetition is the annoyance seen everywhere. It is the dust on the piano, the mosquito on a summer walk. There for all the masses to see and dislike.

2. When did you last mention the teaser? How many pages back? How many scenes before? If the mention was the last scene, the last chapter, the last page it is repeated information. 

   An orchestra conductor waves a baton in a designated pattern to keep the beat of the music and communicate other essential directions to the instrumentalists.  The conductor has so many things to communicate during a performance, but will always bring his baton down for the start of a measure as a reminder. To count all the directions, loud soft, who plays now, who needs to stop, would be a great number. Hidden in those directions, dropped at the right time, is the down beat, the reminder of the current speed. A reminder without which the orchestra would not be a unit. 

How has a reminder enabled you to keep turning pages forward in a book you've read?

How have you used reminders to keep your reader tuned into the story?

Without mentioning any books, have you been avalanched with repetitious details, introspections, etc in a story? 

Adding meat to a story helps to fill those repetitious paragraphs. Recently, Michelle Lim from  My Book Therapy did a chat class on brainstorming chapters/scenes. Her checklist provides a wealth of ways to turn repetitious words into meaningful paragraphs. 


photos courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary Christian fiction with a focus on the homeless population and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Mary, and so important! I hate whenever writers are super obvious about the plot setup... Makes me not even want to read the book! But equally frustrating is when plot elements seem to come out of the blue. Great advice on how to keep from these two extremes!

Jeanne T said...

Mary, what a great post! I gleaned so much, and I loved your illustrations, both from RAM's book and the ones you used to show the difference between reminders and repetitions. I'm coming back to this post for a re-read. So well done!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you Ashley,
I couldn't help but share this great writing concept so nicely done in Ruth's book. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Jeanne.
So nice to see you here today and always love revisits:)

Joanne Sher said...

Great stuff, Mary! Definitely need the reminder (but not the repetition!)