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Mention / Notice / Pivot

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Daniel David Wallace is writing scholar. He's continually sharing writing information in a way I haven't thought of before. 



It's hard to convey meaning or significance in fiction without repetition.


Without repetition, you are really just gambling whether the reader will get your next big point or twist.

You'll finally arrive at the big reveal, and write, on page 300, "The murderer was actually her BROTHER!!!"

And readers will say...

"She had a brother?"

"Is the brother the guy with the hair?"

This principle holds within scenes and across them.

Before something in your story is important, it must be repeated.

Before you want the reader to be moved by something, or even pay attention to something, I suggest it should have already appeared in the story two or more times.

One way of thinking about this is the sequence: "mention / notice / pivot." This means that whatever "thing" is important in a scene, it has already come up twice before, in two distinct and separate occasioned.

  • The thing is mentioned -- and then the story moves on.
  • The main character notices it and thinks about it -- and then the story moves on.
  • Its true nature is revealed and it is pivotal in a scene.

For instance...

In chapter one, the tour guide says, "There are many secret passageways in this house."

In chapter three, the main character learns about the mystery of the Duchess, and wonders if the poor woman used one of those alleged secret passageways to escape.

In chapter five, our hero is in trouble. There seems no way out. Wait -- is that the button to open a secret passage way? Wow... it works!


The character arrives at work: Someone says, "You look tired, luv. Everything all right?"

The character tries to type, but his hands shake -- "This happened last week, too," he thinks.

The character heads to the bar to meet friends, and as he enters the crowded space, he collapses.



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Yes and no. Sometimes repetition works, while other times subtlety works better. When it comes to mysteries and plot twists, I've found that subtlety usually works best. Repetition tends to call too much attention to something and ends up spoiling a plot twist.         

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This is often called plant and payoff. You have to plant the pistol in the room in chapter two so that the hero can find it in chapter 20 to defeat the villain.


In a nonfiction book I was writing, my critique partner said I should introduce a key theme earlier and repeat it several times with increasing detail as I built my presentation. I took his advice and the clarity and impact of my book improved greatly.

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