Monotonous means boring, so as long as you have interesting stuff going on in your scene it won’t be monotonous, right?
But that’s not what monotonous means. It’s boredom brought on by repetition or lack of variety. Monotone. So even a scene that in itself is fairly interesting, when put in an environment of similar scenes, not only loses its impact, it actually becomes a negative force.
There’s something about the human brain that makes patterns standout. We love spotting them, and we love predicting them, and we also expect them to mean something. But we get tired of them very quickly.
Readers are particularly quick at seeing repetition and echoes. In some cases this is a good thing. It helps solidify a theme or create a rhythm to the writing. But often it is unintentional and jarring.
Something as innocuous as using the same word more than once in a paragraph can result in clunky syntax.
Dave climbed over the wall which was covered in climbing ivy.
Even though the above sentence makes perfect sense and in no way confuses the reader, it still reads stilted because of an unintentional repetition.
When the tone or type of story element gets repeated, it can quickly get tiresome. It can be something as overt as three conversations on the phone one after the other (even though each phone call deals with important developments), or it can be something less obvious.
If Tina is at work preparing for a presentation when she gets a call to set up a date with a new guy she met, and she’s thinking about how to deal with seeing her parents on the weekend, even though each of those three elements can be fantastically dramatic and interesting, the fact each of them are presented at the same (planning) stage can make it feel monotonous.
Whether or not the actual scene you write is boring or not, having similar elements together can be enough to wear the reader down. This isn’t just true of books, it’s true of most things in life. Even the thing you love doing, if you do it too much, you’ll get tired of it.
A fast paced action scene followed by another fast paced action scene, followed by... you get the idea.
It’s not just the content that decides if a scene or chapter works, it’s the context. What comes before? What goes after? If things repeat themselves it will be noticed. It’s one of the things our brains excel at.
That’s not to say you can’t use that instinct to your advantage. Think of how a hook in a song works. But if you do use intentional repetition, you have to be careful how you go about it. A monotone beat can produce a rhythm, but a little syncopation can really get feet tapping.If you found this post useful/interesting/mostly harmless please give it a retweet. Cheers.