I mentioned in a recent blog post that repetition is bad. I'd like to clarify here that there are different types of repetition: Repeating Redundancy and Repeating Beauty.
Redundancy refers to the types of repetition I speak of in the Trust blog post - pounding unnecessary information into your reader's head. For example, repeating dialogue tags when the dialogue said it clear enough, repeating a symbol or metaphor over and over just in case your reader "missed it", repeating specific key plot points in case your reader "missed it", etc.
Beauty refers to something I keep coming back to ever since I read a post by David King on Fractals. It clicked. I thought, repetition isn't always bad. In fact, I've been using the "fractal" idea in my work for a long time. Fractals are naturally beautiful and pleasing. What is a fractal? You can find information on fractals in this Wikipedia post. But to sum it up in David King's words:
A fractal is an irregular or fragmented shape, like a cloud or a coastline, into which you can zoom, almost without limit, dividing and subdividing it into smaller and smaller parts, each of which is a clone of the original whole.
I don't know about you, but this idea is completely fascinating to me. I mean, look at these pictures:
Repetition is everywhere. And I think it can take place in our writing, as well. In fact, I almost gave up on the first book I wrote. It was a complete mess. Irreparable in my opinion. Then a friend told me about the Snowflake Method. This popular outline method, although shunned by a lot of people who simply hate outlines, saved me. It's based on the idea of a fractal. A snowflake is fractal. You start out with a triangle and build and build and build until you get this beautiful, complicated looking snowflake.
It may look complicated, but in reality it's quite simple. Think of it as layers, as building over and over until all the smaller pieces resemble the whole. The idea behind the Snowflake Method shouldn't be shunned by anybody. Because I think it's the basis of any great work, whether or not you like outlining.
In essence, every sentence, chapter, and section of your book should contribute to the entire work in a similar way. For instance, I just picked a random quote from The Great Gatsby. I believe it clearly sums up the novel. Amazing.
When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.
I hope this isn't intimidating. It's not meant to be. My point is that repetition doesn't have to be bad. One of the greatest things I believe a writer can do is sum up their book in one short sentence. Reveal the "whole" of your book - the whole tree so to speak. Then break it down and show the branches, the leaves, the veins on the leaves that astoundingly enough resemble the whole tree.
If you can't do this, do you really know what your book is about?
To me, it comes down to focus. Without it your story is weak, weak, weak! This idea is absolutely essential to me. And although I know many readers might skip over this post because it looks freakishly complicated and in-depth, the idea is simple. My first book is still a mess, but it makes sense in my head now. I know what I want it to be, and the basic "whole" is there. My second novel has been easier to write once I grasped this concept, and I know that the more books I write, the more this idea will make sense. Like creating any beautiful piece of art, it takes a lot of time and practice.
Do keep in mind, though, that this process often happens naturally if you have your focus in place. It's not something that you have to consciously think of every time you write a sentence. Thank goodness! Finding that focus is often the tricky part. Perhaps I can save that for a 15-part blog post...
~MDA (aka Glam)