Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Repetitive Elements in your Story
When you have an element in your story that is going to show up again and again there are some rules to make it plausible. Sometimes times this element is tied to the theme of the book other times it is symbolic or has meaning to the author or reader.
For instance: in the Harry Potter Series, Halloween is prominent at the beginning of every book. It is a time marker for the story. The actual Hogwarts Castle is also a repetitive element.
So back to the rules,
First, if there is a repetitive element in the story, it needs to be mentioned often enough to jog the readers memory and not too much that the reader thinks it's become obnoxious or puts the book down. This is often times a very fine line. My suggestion is to let a few beta readers read it for the elements only and ask other readers if they noticed it or not. If they noticed it afterwards with a pleasant surprised look you did well. If they didn't notice it, you need more, if they groan in annoyance, you need to remove a few.
Second, the element needs to be the exact same object person event, or it needs to be varied. I know confusing as mud. Okay for clarification, if you have a bad guy for example that keeps showing up, he needs to be the same guy. He needs to appear similar every time and act the same every time. Too many different bad guys and your reader is going to be confused.
In one of my manuscripts there's a guy who shows up and is wearing expensive sunglasses every time you see him. He also wears black most of the time and drives a black Mercedes. See what I mean?
In another story a repeating element is gateways. This time the element is varied and each gateway is different and not everyone of them has the same plot element. If the gate was repeated the exact same all over then it would be boring.
For example one is a man made stone archway, another is a path through a bamboo forest where the leaves touch overhead giving a tunnel appearance.
Third if this element is essential to the climax of the story, it needs to be established in the beginning of the story so it doesn't appear duct taped.
My gates are portals that help people travel all over the planet. Similar to wormholes. However only some of them work and my characters have no idea that they exist. So if my characters happen to step into a portal at the end of the book that takes them to a place they need to be, then they need at least one other experience near the beginning of the story to justify using the gate at the end.
Last, make sure the element is revealed or explained in the book, most of the time at the end. This doesn't mean it has to have a huge back story and paragraphs of exposition. It just means that the reader should have an "ah-ha" moment which makes for a satisfying read on their parts