Why Repeating Yourself In Dialogue Can Be A Good Thing

Why Repeating Yourself In Dialogue Can Be A Good Thing


Writers Write is a resource for writers. In this post, we tell you why repeating yourself in dialogue can be a good thing.

This is the fifth step in my dialogue series, How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps.

Step 5: Why Repeating Yourself In Dialogue Can Be A Good Thing

Today, I want to talk about why repetition is a powerful writing tool. Used correctly, it becomes a great literary device. Used incorrectly it is annoying, clumsy and points to a lazy writer.

Here is a list of all the kinds of repetition you can use as a rhetorical device, but because I am still on a dialogue spree, I’d like to talk about the use of repetition in dialogue. It’s awesome if you can use your character’s words in this way. It is so simple, yet so effective.

Three Examples:

1.  In a movieToy story: (Spoiler Alert)

In the beginning when Buzz shows off his wings and flies, Woody says: “That’s not flying, it’s falling with style.”
In the end when Buzz uses his wings to glide them to safety, he uses Woody’s words: “It’s not flying, it is falling with style.”

It ties up the story, shows the character growth as well the change in the relationship between Buzz and Woody.

2.  In a song Cats in the Cradle

The father loves his son’s words at the beginning. After all, his son wants to emulate him.

In the beginning, his son says:
"I'm gonna be like you, Dad You know I'm gonna be like you"
And in the end, the father is ignored by his son, and he has to admit the bitter truth:
'And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me My boy was just like me.'

Now this repetition isn’t as direct as the Toy Story example, but it works just as well. It shows how the story has come full circle, how the son grew up and what the father regrets. Fun fact: A recent study shows that the more the chorus is repeated in a song the more likely it is to become a hit.  Now, I’m not saying go write a chorus for your book, but it is interesting to note how we react to repetition.

3. In a book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Spoiler Alert)

Q. Why did you choose “okay” and “always”?

A. Well, always is just an inherently ridiculous concept, but of course you want to say it to people you love, right? You want to promise them that you will always love them, that you will always take care of them, that they needn’t worry because you’re always going to be there. You won’t always be there, because at some point you’ll be dead or stuck in traffic or in love with someone else or whatever.

Most of us (me included) don’t think about the ridiculousness of what we’re  saying when we say, “I’ll love you forever*,” or “I will always remember this day,” or, “I’ll never forget** you” or whatever. Like, I say those things all the time, like most people do. But Hazel and Augustus are both a lot more measured in the way they imagine themselves and their love for/responsibilities to other people, hence them adopting “okay” as the word that serves as an expression of their love for each other.

* It’s important to note that forever is not a long time just as infinity is not a large number. Forever is infinite, and it’s a very bold to make declarative sentences about infinities.

** This seems to me a very fate-tempting thing to say. Like, what if you develop dementia?

He uses it several times during the novel and it makes you smile or bawl your eyes out every time.

However, think carefully before you repeat dialogue. Repeated conversations suck and that is not what I want you to do.

Remember that dialogue must:

  1. Reveal character.
  2. Move the story forward.
  3. Add conflict and tension.
  4. Give information.
  5. Create white space.

And remember, a thesaurus is evil. Don’t go adding big or fancy words because you don’t want to repeat a plain one. The simpler the word, the stronger your writing will be. Think Hemingway.

Happy writing.

Exercise: Use the line “Never is a long time.” Write a scene and try to turn the character’s own words against him. Writing prompts are an excellent way to exercise the writing muscle.

Top Tip: If you want to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

 by Mia Botha