Writing Tips: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

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This week, I’ve been thinking about how a story can be written in its clearest, most resonant form and taking some inspiration from speeches, adverts, and political broadcasts. Not that you want necessarily to sound like a politician or an ad writer in your fiction, but taking some tips from these catchy, memorable mediums as you’re writing may well have a positive effect on the memorability of your plots and characters.

Remember – readers don’t know your characters or settings as well as you do, and giving them signposts and markers can make the reading experience more fluid and exciting. Here are a few examples of repetitive tricksters from different trades that might come in handy as you take your reader on the journey through your story.

The Liberal Democrat leadership candidates

The liberal democrat leadership debate of recent months has been a trove of political rhetorical tricks. Repetition is the main one. Both Norman Lamb and Tim Farron have cleverly peppered their leadership speeches with repeated phrases that embody their values. “This is a liberal age,” is Norman’s favorite, and Tim chooses a synonymous phrase – “This is the Liberal moment.” Both potential leaders use a sense of time and circumstance paired with the key word “Liberal” to give their listeners subtle (or not-so-subtle) cues that they are an urgent and current voice that needs to be heeded.

And it’s not just major values and policies that are prioritized by speech writers; repeating other phrases, ones that add atmosphere and color perhaps, rather than just principle, can be just as effective. Tim Farron’s debate answers often chime on a few memorable phrases – using “vivid primary colours” to describe his campaign strategy for example – that make the listener recall the points he’s making and learn to associate him with his method and positivity.

Though you don’t want to repeat phrases too often throughout your narrative, selectively echoing phrases from previous scenes or repeating slang throughout one character’s bits of dialogue can anchor your reader to the key points and themes of your story.

The Meerkats 

Whether you love or hate these animated meerkats, they’re super effective at spreading the word about their product. As soon as you hear the little voices, you know what you’re being sold, even though the adverts’ content isn’t hard-selling at all. In fact we don’t even need to think about “comparing the market” for the advert to do its job.

This effect can be powerful when used in fiction. By keeping certain elements (the meerkats, the catchphrases) constant, you can then play with the viewer (or the reader in your case) by changing other elements. In the adverts, Compare-the-Market’s Meerkats embark on various adventures while still always staying true to their original personalities and quirks.

The more new information you throw at your reader, the more constant certain aspects of your world need to remain (unless of course the whole point of your narrative is to disorientate). Try locating your reader with a few clear simple details repeated that show where the characters are. Or remind the reader of your characters’ traits by having repeated gestures and phrases that only they would use.

Barack Obama

Obama uses repetition in every single speech and answer he gives to draw his point forward and make it land in the minds of the busy, distracted Americans he’s talking to through the TV screen. Right from his inaugural address, Obama has used repetition to give his audience a positive rising energy. “The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act,” he told his first audience back in 2009, then went on to list a round of powerful “We will” statements so by the end of his speech, his aims for office combined in one powerfully positive declaration.

Even his eulogy at Charleston AME Church had words of hope rising and growing in strength throughout, “the buoyancy of hope” for example recurs to create a comforting tone, as well as other words with buoyant meanings, like “rise” and “lift.” All these cues combine to make the speech feel hopeful rather than despairing.

Using similar kinds of words and phrases in this way can work wonders in your story to create the right mood or tone.

How will you use repetition to enhance your story?

Word Play with Teresa Monachino

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.

Monachino is an internationally recognised, award winning graphic designer. Her work spans many talents, from digital media to publishing, book design to branding and more. She’s written and designed multiple publications, displaying her fantastic sense of humour as well as her vast understanding of the English language- particularly its quirks!

Initially, I was just going to talk about a few examples of Monachino’s book cover designs and how they have inspired me personally. However, looking back through the plethora of her work I think its worth talking more about her publications and how she uses design to play with words. While this might not initially link totally with book design, bear with me and you’ll begin to understand how work such as Teresa’s can influence your cover designs (and possibly even your writing).

Monachino’s knowledge of the English language, along with her flare for typesetting has influenced her work for a long time. In April 2012 she gave a TEDMED talk about the flaws in communication throughout the healthcare system, discussing how vagueness, stigma, double meanings and lack of continuity in our use of words and language has caused a communication breakdown when it comes to health. Using her ‘Sicktionary’ A to Z, she lists various ambiguous words and phrases that we all commonly use, despite how contradictory their meanings can be. For example, Monachino points out ‘impregnable’ means both ‘impossible to enter by force’ but also ‘to permeate thoroughly.’

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Similarly, in her limited edition book ‘Around the World with the Bodoni Family’, Monachino takes us on an amusing journey from A to Z of places, using handprinted Bodoni type to create simple images associated with each place. For example, the letter A is used in different sizes to become a mountain range, representing the Alps, while an italic I is used to represent the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy. Again, these designs are satisfyingly witty and their bold simplicity makes for a really effective design. The fact that only forty copies were printed using old-fashioned letterpress makes the publication all the more desirable.

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Now let’s take a look at how this approach to design comes across in Monachino’s covers. As a lecturer at my University, she discussed her methods and thinking often. Her focus and attention to detail was infectious. Her designs are immaculately executed and hearing her talk about them really brought them to life for me.

One of her most effective book cover designs was for Monty Don’s ‘Extraordinary Gardens of the World,’ which went on to win a prestigious D&AD award in 2010. With so much in the way of content, it would have been tempting to hide from the challenge by putting a photograph of the Don himself on the cover design, but Monachino was more ambitious, creating a stylish graphic pattern instead that was inspired by Japanese Zen gardening. Immediately the bold cover stood out from the rest on the shelves in the Gardening section of her local book shop! Then, adding just a touch of luxury, Monachino had her design flocked, so the dark green we see on screen is actually a soft velvet texture, reminiscent of fresh cut lawns which creates a direct link between the design and the content of the book.

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If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that Monachino’s lectures were a real insight into how her job works and the processes she goes through to create an effective and successful overall design. She gave great tips on identifying five main features of a book you are asked to create a cover for, then showed how she combines them- a task often made more difficult by restrictions with copyright laws- and then checks the over all success of a design by placing it actually in a bookstore in the relevant genre, to judge whether it stands out or blends in too much. These tips are really beneficial and definitely worth remembering. Clearly she uses these methods to great advantage in the design world and her publications will continue to wow book worms and designers alike.

Next time: What is the thinking behind the cover designs of one of the most well known publishing houses in the world? In my next blog, I’ll be introducing you to David Pearson, designer and archive enthusiast at Penguin Books. 

Should We Be Making the Popularity Contest More Personal?

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All this shortlisting has got me thinking about “likes,” how we dish them out, how we take them.

To like or not to like. That is the question.

We live in a public age, defining ourselves daily by how we “share” and how we “like.” When we read fiction we engage in a popularity contest. It’s one way the field is leveled between traditionally published and self-published work; both methods depend on the reader eventually for their visibility and success. What would E.L. James be without the popularity contest?

E.L.James represents the extreme end of the popularity spectrum; her work has become so famous via gossip and social media sharing that often people don’t even think of the text when they think about Fifty Shades of Grey. They think of the movie characters, they think of genre, they think of bondage, of the glorification of abusive relationships; the text is very far away a lot of the time.

This week, James was drumming up the publicity for her new novel Grey, and hosted a Q & A on Twitter. Probably expecting fans to appear in their droves, James was shocked into silence when the hashtag became a vehicle for the reading community’s frustrations instead, with repeated questions posed like these:

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The anger directed at James was largely to do with the themes she used to tell her story and the way she presents abusive relationships as sexy. While many lesser known works have similar themes, James’ series has come to represent them all, and is discussed more in principle than as fiction; Twitter happened to capture this perfectly by asking users to connect with E.L. in its brief, freeing form. James was basically booed off stage, having no retorts ready for her critics.

Though I agree with many of the criticisms of E.L.James’ work, I also wonder how close these insults come to striking the woman behind the brand where it hurts. I agree too with the few tweets that aimed to remind critics that E.L. James is actually a real person, with a family and feelings. Is it the characters or the writing we are offended by? Is it what E.L.James has narrated or is it that she’s wringing it out for all the profit it’s worth or is it that she remains silent in the face of her accusers?

Sometimes the separation of popularity and the work itself can be a positive thing, a sign of the work’s quality and readers’ connection with it. The Harry Potter series has moved beyond the text in a wonderful way; fans feel like they’re part of the same world that Harry inhabits, by visiting Warner Bros, by joining a Hogwarts house, etc. Maybe the best way to handle something like Fifty Shades of Grey is to remove it from its author’s hands, and I’m sure for E.L.James, the whole thing must feel very out of her hands, very removed from her original intentions back when she was an anonymous wannabe writer.

eljamesAt any rate, the whole debacle should make us reconsider how we select our champions and our battles on social media. Clicking the “Like” icon is so easy we hardly think about it, but put all our social media impulses together and you create a powerful collective impact, like the #AskE.L.James outpouring this week; we need to use our likes, our retweets, our complicity wisely.

The Shortlist!

Thank you to everybody who entered Towerbabel’s first short story contest. Rest assured, there will be plenty more, of varying word limits and themes, to come, so stay tuned for those. And see below for how to cast your vote for your favorite!

Without further ado, here’s our shortlist:

The Last Game in Brooklyn by Wayne Zurl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whispers in the Autumn Wind by Michelle Medhat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forever by Coren Graves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone Fishing by Stephen V. Ramey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now it is up to you to vote for the favorite story of your choice. Read them here and click the little blue Facebook Like button at the top right hand corner of your favourite story to show your appreciation. The story with the most Facebook Likes will win, and you can log your vote until July 8th, when all votes will be counted and the winners announced. Best of luck to all the shortlisted entries!

Last Two Days to Enter Our Short Story Contest!

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Have you submitted your entry to the first ever Towerbabel Short Story Contest yet?

What are you waiting for? Just post your story of under 1000 words to our Forums contest page as a new topic and you could win $100 in Amazon vouchers or $50 if you make 2nd place. Your story doesn’t have to be an Edgar Allen Poe twisty-turny or a clever Dave Eggers satire, it can be a stream of ideas, an image, a moment, a conversation. It can be five words long or 50, or 999.

We’ll announce the shortlisted entries on July 1st, and then for one week only, visitors will have the chance to vote via a Facebook-style Like button on the story of their choice, and the winners will be announced July 8th.

Good luck!!