Tag Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

#amwriting: using repetition as a literary device

fitzgerald-great gatsby memeUnconsciously using the same words too often in our descriptions is one of the pitfalls of writing. It happens to all of us, and for me it occurs most often when I am laying down the first draft. I’m hurrying and trying to get the ideas out of my head and onto the paper and my vocabulary can’t keep up.

Many common words (the, and, etc.) don’t really stand out when used more than a few times in a paragraph, and you couldn’t write well if not for those words. However, some words will always stand out more than others, and if you use them more than once in a paragraph it looks like you’re unimaginative or a lazy writer. This is especially true if the word in question has a lot of synonyms you could have used instead of repeating the same word. Having a good thesaurus at hand is a great help to the brain-stranded author.

Scottish claymore replica Albion Chieftain, Søren Niedziella, CC BY 2.0

Some words don’t have a lot of obvious synonyms so you get hung up on the few you can find.  In my own work, the word sword is one of the main culprits. The type of blade my characters wield in the World of Neveyah books is a claymore, and four ensorcelled blades figure prominently in the Tower of Bones series.

Therefore, some obvious synonyms will not work as these are distinct blade types that are in no way like a broadsword.

  • Rapier
  • Epee
  • Foil

Because of this constraint, I am limited to:

  • Sword
  • Blade
  • Weapon
  • Steel (if I’m desperate, but I despise using that to reference a weapon that isn’t an epee or a rapier)

ozford american writers thesaurusHowever, sometimes we use intentional repetition:

Sometimes we want to emphasize a concept and repetition is the way to do it. Some of the best authors use the repetition of certain key words and phrases to highlight an idea or to show the scene. This technique is an accepted rhetorical device and is commonly found in mainstream fiction. It is used to evoke an emotional response in the reader, and can be exceedingly effective when done right.

Literarydevices.net says, “The beauty of using figurative language is that the pattern it arranges the words into is nothing like our ordinary speech. It is not only stylistically appealing but it also helps convey the message in much more engaging and notable way. The aura that is created by the usage of repetition cannot be achieved through any other device.”  (End quoted text)

Also according to literarydevices.net, repetition as a literary device can take these forms:

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition both at the end and at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • A construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause. (End quoted text)

Some famous examples of repetition as a literary device:

“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry

f scott fitzgerald The Great Gatsby“About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

When an author writes it intentionally to drive home a point, repetition is an effective tool. It is when words are inadvertently used with a lack of creativity that repetition ruins a narrative.

Consider buying a thesaurus or make use of the many online thesauruses that are available.

I have a well-worn copy of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. This book has become just as important to me as my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. This large book of synonyms can be purchased used from Amazon, for as little as $9.99 in the hardcover form. I do recommend purchasing this as a paper book rather than an ebook. Once you see the amazing variety of words at your disposal, it’s one you will refer back to regularly.

 

 

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To blurb or not to blurb

Blurb definitionOne of the things that sucks about being an indie is that you have to sell your books. I know that seems pretty obvious, but but it’s harder than it looks! In the old days, every book had a blurb on the back of it, or inside the flap on the dust jacket, and that blurb gave us just enough intriguing insight into the book that we bought it.

Here in the US, the word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess’s short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual publishers’ trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work–they did things right in those days! His definition of “blurb” was “a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial.”

Blurbs can and do sell books.

wool by hugh howeyBut what will sell books? Let’s take a look at Wool, by Hugh Howey:

This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

f scott fitzgerald The Great GatsbyOr F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s classic novel, The Great Gatsby:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

There are huge differences in these blurbs:

Hugh Howey (an indie) tells us about the plot of his book-and it is intriguing. I bought it based on that blurb.

(Charles Scribner’s Sons) (Fitzgerald’s original publisher) used the opening lines of the book–and that was intriguing as well.

Choosing to use the opening lines for marketing is dangerous–it could be an epic failure, for those who want to know what the book is about.

Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Even more dangerous than that is the increasing trend toward eliminating the blurb and going with nothing but recommendations mentioning other works by that author.  Let me just say now, I HATE THAT! For the love of Tolstoy–talk about the book I am going to buy, please! Any blurb, even a bad one, is better than glowing reviews by paid reviewers. 

But this trend just proves to me that the BIG PUBLISHERS are just as much as sea in the this regard as we poor indies are, small comfort though it is.

I will be writing blurbs for my own work again soon, and so I am looking at blurbs on the covers in my library, and trying to see what it was that attracted me to that particular book. I admit that many times it was the cover art, and not the blurb, but when I picked up a book by an author that was unknown to me, I read the blurb, and considered carefully whether or not to spend my dearly earned wages on that book. I was taking a risk–because what if I hated it?

It’s a conundrum.  Perhaps I can go with “One ring to rule them all…”

No… I suppose that’s been done…but it’s an awesome blurb, short and to the point….

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