Monday, August 2, 2010


File this one under problems to avoid. I’ve been reading a book written by a friend of mine. I won’t mention the author’s name because many of you would recognize this particular person, but I keep seeing echoes. I’m not sure what else to call them. Essentially, a character says something like “It looks to me like it might’ve been caused by a blunt object,” the police come in and say, “The victim was hit over the head with a blunt object,” echoing what the previous character said.

In real life we experience echoes all the time. People tend to say things the same way, so when they see the same thing they may use very similar words to what the other person used. In a novel we want to avoid echoes, because our characters aren’t really talking to other characters; they’re talking for the benefit of the reader. If the reader already knows the victim was struck by a blunt object, we don’t need to say it again unless there’s something interesting about the fact that we’re pointing it out again. For example, one person says, “He was struck by a blunt object.” The next person says, “He was struck by a blunt object.” The third person says, “He was struck by a blunt object.” The fourth person says, “He choked on a peach seed.”

But really, most of the time we don’t want to see echoes. Echoes may appear during the first draft, but they should be removed in subsequent drafts. If information is repeated in much the same way before the reader has time to forget that someone else said it then it should be reworded or removed completely.