Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 18: How To Not Repeat Yourself

John Brown rejoins us for this discussion of  repetition. How do we, as writers, avoid repeating ourselves? We’re not just talking about the literal re-use of words and phrases here. We’re interested in avoiding the re-use of themes, character arcs, and plotlines.  Forget the problems Howard might have coming up with a new joke… he (and all of us) need to reach further than that to keep things fresh.

This week’s Writing Excuses is Brought to you by Servant of a Dark God by John Brown.

Writing Prompt:  The princess is trying to eat a pie, but someone is trying to stop her. Oh, and the fate of the world depends on the outcome.


23 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 18: How To Not Repeat Yourself”

  1. I can’t imagine trying to do the pseudo mad-libs to create the characters or plot for my story, which means at some point I have to try it I think…

  2. While I look for originality in any book that I consider reading, I have to say that redundancy is pretty powerful, and can hook a lot of readers. Because, lets face it:

    We do not want Gilligan to get off the island.

    We do not want Superman to permanently die.

    We do not want a Star Wars movie where the good guys barely mention the force (even though we got three such movies in the past decade).

    And we do not want the magic-sword-toting hero to discover, halfway through the book, that he feels he can better save the world by becoming a cosmetic surgeon who lives in a sitcom world where laughtracks actually happen.

    There will always be some unoriginality and repetition in every great story. Some archetypes were meant to be broken, and some are unbreakable natural laws. What I’m trying to say is this: Don’t be too hard on yourself. If one of your books is similar to another, don’t fret. Because it seems sometimes like creative people worry themselves into the ground.

  3. Yes! I got started with TMNT & Other Strangeness too!

    Really appreciated the discussion. Recently a friend and I made a decision to discontinue a webcomic we were working on, partly because it got too hard to not repeat ourselves. We will definitely make use of your advice while working on our next webcomic.

  4. As jazz musicians (or composers), we use repetition all the time to set up expectations, then change it at the last moment to (hopefully) pleasantly surprise the listener. The challenge is to make sure it doesn’t become redundant. I believe this same principle can be carried out in our writing.

  5. Wow, this gives a lot of good insight. I have that problem like none other. I blame me creative writing class, because it wasn’t AS bad before I took my most recent one (well, it’s more like I didn’t NOTICE it was that way). I really like the advice given. And the random plot generator mentioned in the podcast finally got me to buy XDM (I’ve been on the edge for awhile). So I guess this episode was a great salesptich as well as great advice.

  6. I think there’s a certain advantage in repeating themes as an author. You DO get to write what you’re interested in, but readers also get to read what they’re interested in. The first book of Brandon Sanderson’s I ever read was Warbreaker, and I loved it. When I looked to see what Mistborn and Elantris were about, I could see they had similar themes; themes Sanderson did really well. So I was confident I would enjoy the books and wasn’t disappointed.

    As long as the themes are kept fresh like the podcasts suggests or explored in new ways, I don’t think authors should worry too much. They may find fans who are glad they know where to look to explore certain concepts reliably.

  7. Was it just me or did this episode end rather abruptly?
    I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the part about turning your repetitions into a theme, tres cool.

  8. I really don’t think that repition is as bad as we think. The important thing is that we avoid formula. Many of the literary greats repeated themselves. Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Austen and so many others. In genre fiction we have Tolkien, Asimov, Jordan, Brooks, Herbert, and so many others. All of these writers leaned heavily on repeating themes, and I would like to think that these are the kinds of authors that we are trying to be like.

    The difference is that we need to avoid formula fiction. Think of Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. That was formula fiction, because it did the same thing every single book. The important thing is to take a new look at your recurring themes. Approach it from a new angle. Throw in some unexpected elements. This correlates with the idea of recombination.

    Essentially, we can repeat things, but we have to add some fresh elements.

  9. Another great podcast, especially good point about getting to the root of what your story is all about and making sure to take future stories in different directions if you keep that same root or seed. I had the same feeling when I read Eddings’; Belgariad was great, Mallorean was slightly derivative, but ok because it continued the story and gave it a bit larger scope. But the Elenium threw me, from what I recall (it’s been a while) it was decent enough but too close of a copy to the basic premises of his prior novels for me to really get into.

  10. I want know if Mr. Brandon Anderson will make a second part of Elantris I like know what will happen with the impire fjordell, arelon, new Elantris and our heroes… please say me what do you think????

  11. I could be wrong on this one, but as far as I know the only sequel he’s planning on (aside from Way of Kings stuff) is for Warbreaker.

  12. Excellent podcast, I often worry that my desire to get my characters into close combat is going to lead to repetitive scenes, so I found this podcast really useful.



  13. Does this writing prompt call for actual pie or metaphorical-or-allegorical pie? Either way, I’m hungry, and I’m going to write something now. Thanks for another great episode!

  14. I picked up listening to this podcast earlier in 2010 and hadn’t listened to this episode until now, so it’s probably a bit late but on the extreme off-chance that anyone looks through the comments on this, I actually translated the tool that Tracy Hickman created that Howard mentions in this episode, taking it from paper “roll the dice and turn the page to find out your answer” into a javascript-based app that selects your words from an array based on how it fits into the sentence. I posted it over at the XDM forums after getting Mr. Hickman’s approval and he seemed to like it. Much easier to show than explain: http://www[dot]stgeorgegaming[dot]com/storybuilder. I’ll be adding to it soon, he mentioned he’d be interested in hosting the code on their official XDM site so we’ll see how that goes too.

  15. Don’t worry Brandon, I really enjoyed the different takes on divinity and a “City of the Gods” in Warbreaker and Elantris. I couldn’t help but notice, but I thought you succeeded well at making them two entirely different stories that happen to include a similar theme.

  16. FYI: The MP3 for this episode is only 2:26 or so long.

    Working my way, slowly, toward the current season. The podcast is very helpful and greatly appreciated.

Comments are closed.