Storium Theory: Repetition is Repetitive

Today, I’d like to just briefly discuss something I find myself having to fight against in my own writing for online, play-by-post games like Storium: Repetition of themes in moves.

Storium games take place at a fairly slow pace for the most part. You’ll write a move, and oftentimes it will be a day or two, or even a few days, before you’re writing another move for the same character.

I’ve found that, for me at least, this puts me somewhat at risk of repetitive writing. Because my last move isn’t fresh in my head, I’ll sometimes start writing a move only to find that my character is effectively repeating some of the themes from a prior move that scene–maybe he takes off his glasses or puts them on, maybe he uses one of his catchphrases or common words (that I’m trying not to make overly common), maybe he thinks about how he likes or doesn’t like a certain person…it’s generally not anything particularly standout – not taking the exact same sequence of actions or anything – but if someone was reading the scene all together, it would feel strange. In each individual move, it feels right for the character to do or think what he does, but when you read the moves together, you either think “wait, he already did that,” or “okay, we get it, he does that a lot.”

For instance, one of my characters, Blythe Brenton, doesn’t normally wear glasses but does when he’s working on something technical. So, I often show him pulling out his glasses and putting them on when he’s about to go into his work on experiments. I’ve caught myself a few times focusing on him putting the glasses on, or mentioning that he has his glasses on, multiple times in the same scene when he’s never been shown taking them off. It’s a little thing, but the sort of thing that would definitely be annoying for someone reading a story.

It happens with characters of mine who have certain special words or noises they use, too–I want to use those words with reasonable frequency to get the sound of the character’s speech out there properly, but overusing them can just annoy a reader. If Avetis is going “Ayo” every single move, it’ll be bad. But I catch myself writing that for him all the time, because I go long enough between moves that I forget that I’ve used it in the last one! Heck, I looked at the first scene of the game just now, and I do use that every single move (to be fair, I’m trying to establish the character’s voice there, but still…a little much).

What I’m learning is that it’s definitely a good idea to give your previous moves in a scene a look over before you start writing a new move. You may think you remember what you wrote, and you probably do recall the broad strokes, but it’s the little stuff that’ll catch you like this. I’m trying to make a habit of that, and if you find yourself having a similar problem, I suggest you do the same. Before you start writing a move, give your previous moves in the scene a read over and specifically look for “habits” the character has that you’ve already used.

I’d imagine this won’t trouble everyone. I know it comes up for me because I tend to capture a character’s personality fastest by giving them a few specific actions or words that they use frequently anyway. It’s easy, then, to fail to realize exactly how often I’ve been using those things, and take them from a good character establishment tool to something that will confuse or irritate people reading my moves. It’s a minor problem, but it’s also not too hard to fix–I just need to take time.

So if you, like me, find yourself accidentally repeating themes in moves too frequently, just be sure to take the time to read over your prior moves and get a good feel for exactly what you did in them before you write a new one – it’ll spare you a few revisions!