Avoiding Repetition in Stories

Repeating pipes

Avoiding Repetition:

Repetition through dialogue or action in films and novels—other than as an attempt to hook, or link lines so that they flow more rhythmically, is, at best, tedious, or, at worst, amateurish.

In his book, Screenwriting, Richard Walters uses the film, Yentle, to illustrate this point. The film starts with a prologue informing us that in the Eastern Europe of the time, education was meant for men only. Moments later, a bookseller rides a cart through the streets advertising “scholarly books for men! Romantic novels for women!”

When Yentle gets to town she finds and peruses the bookseller’s books, studying a scholarly tome in particular. Upon seeing this, the bookseller snatches the book from her and reminds her, and us, that such books are meant for men only. She should seek out romantic books instead.

This sort of repetition is condescending, implying that we are incapable of getting the point the first time around.

Repetition is, of course, acceptable, but only if it is not repetitive. This is not as contradictory as it sounds.

In Rashomon, four observers relate the same event, but here each version differs in the detail from the others, adding a unique and intriguing quality to the recounting. Although this is an exceptional rendition of a technique that examines the nature of human perception and truth itself, there are other techniques that emphasise existing information whilst avoiding repetition.

In Unforgiven, we learn that the sherrif, Little Bill, is a tough antagonist to Clint Eastwood’s William Manny. In seeking to elevate the stature of the sherrif, the writer has one of the deputies underline his toughness by assuring the others that Little Bill is scared of no one, having survived a tough education in the mean streets of Kansas. This inflection adds to Little Bill’s ruthless reputation, rather than simply repeating pre-existing information.


Repeating information already provided to an audience or reader is condescending and unnecessary, except when it is specifically rendered as emphasis.


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