I’ve been going through a few things that get on my nerves as a reader. What started as a simple list of things I disliked in a novel I was reading, turned into a series of articles addressing reasons why a reader will lay aside a book.
I confess, I planned to start this article with a drawn-out paragraph that kept defining the notion of repetitive writing. But it bored me to just think about it. I couldn’t do that to you. You know what I mean, and if you don’t, you’re going to see three different types of repetition.
Usually I can overlook them, but they’re can be annoying. By explanation, I’m not taking about a sentence here and there describing the political air of a kingdom, real or imagined. That type of reading can get tedious, but if the details of the government are essential to the plot (MacBeth) then the information is important.
There are two types that aren’t acceptable. The first is PLOT POINTS. And I have a confession: I loved Disney’s Teen Beach Movie. The whole thing was a farce, a take-off on Frankie and Annette movies of the 60s. (Which I saw in reruns!) Anyway, at one point in TBM, the heroine explains what has happened so far and what they must do to succeed. A six-sentence synopsis. Then she halted and exclaimed, “I’m talking in plot points.”
While that makes me laugh, I get miffed at the authors who don’t think I can keep up. Usually done as an innocent-looking conversation, the run-down of the action so far is more likely a crutch for the author than placed there for the reader. (Still, it has no business being there at all.) If I read 3/4 of a the way through a novel and NEED the listing to help me figure out what’s happened, then either the novel is far above my intelligence, or the author did a poor job of conveying the twists of the story.
The second type of explanation is rather common, that of naming emotions. Big no-no. Here’s an example:
What did he mean by that? her curiosity reviewed the entire conversation they’d shared. He could have at least stayed long enough to explain his snide comment. She picked up his half-empty paper plate and angrily hurled it in the direction of the dumpster. “Let the rats have a party … oh no …” Party. She’d totally forgotten her promise. She smacked her head at the realization. No wonder he’d been irritable.
Three different emotions. All plainly identified without naming them. And IMO, including their names is not only redundant, but insulting to the readers. As though they can’t figure out the feelings for themselves.
This might seem like the repetition that I spoke of above, but it’s a different animal entirely. I read a book recently where the hero and the heroine must have been psychic. Chapters apart they were echoing each other’s thoughts right down to the same unique wording. Only this wasn’t speculative fiction. This was just a case of the author needing to build word count and kill time. (Or the author forgot that the topic had already been covered. But these are only assumptions.)
In one section, the heroine, in her POV prose thinks that the hero probably wanted her to smooth out the wrinkles of material. Five pages later, in the hero’s prose, he wishes that she had smoothed out the wrinkles. Same verbiage. Stands out and not in a good way.
In another book, the hero and heroine both dealt with grit in their eyes “from lack of sleep” – four times in all, two for each of them. I consider that lazy writing, or perhaps poor editing. It doesn’t take too many instances of repetition for an author, even a well known, award-winning, or favorite author, to lose a reader.
Oh, and the book I read last night. I think I read the word sigh over 300 times. That’s a LOT of sighing! Just wait! This is going to be another topic. Get ready for some coming hot air!
A final instance of repetition is the muddle in the middle of the book. This is where the author knows how she’s going to end the book, but she has to get to the right word count before she can go there. Instead of moving forward, the main characters continue to revisit their weaknesses, fears, and failures.
Over and over.
Reminds me of “A Book Report on Peter Rabbit” from the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. In that song, Lucy (I got to play that role! Too fun!) is all about the minimum length. She counts up the words more than once. To beef up her numbers, she lists the vegetables that the “stupid rabbit” eats. Then she finally tacks on about a half-dozen “verys” before her final “end.”
A recent book I read had the same feel. Without any action (and precious little plot) the mains kept rehashing their thoughts and feelings.
In the words of Buddy Hackett, “That’s very boring.”
Now I’d like to share with you authors who can pull these things off, who use repetition well, but there aren’t any. Not that I’ve read anyway. Do you have any good examples?
Your Turn: What is an example of repetition that you’ve encountered?