Repetition in Books

Everyone has a pet peeve. Sensitive, intelligent people tend to have a lot of them. Especially when it comes to solo activities that they enjoy immensely. I find it most often zeroes in on books and video games. I also find that I know more people who read than people who play video games. (plenty who do both, but if it’s one and not the other, the one is usually books)

In my opinion, one of the most valid peeves are ones that are or may be considered actual errors. For example, overuse of “he/she said” when it might have done to drop the tag once in a while. Which is itself in the category of repetition. Hooray, I found my point quickly!

Repetition is not always a bad thing. It can be used for emphasis. As seen here:


In Back to the Future, cursing is fairly low-key and infrequent, while not confined to a single word. The subject of swearing even comes up. So when this scene comes up, the repetition conveys the proper emotion. And since Doc is normally verbose and free with the long words, it’s also a funny shift.

It’s nothing like a 120 word scene wherein a nervous street tough uses a stronger curse 30 times. I don’t like an f-bomb-laden landscape, and it’s not to do with sensibility. Cursing in books is a completely different topic. My topic here and now is that it’s BORING. It is the most boring word in the world and I really hate writing it. And even if I didn’t, imagine that. Thirty out of 120 is 25% of the scene.

These can be minor for some people, or major tiffs for others. Today, I read a book that introduced me to a series of repetitions I had not previously considered dreading. The same zarking meal. Over and over and over again. Chicken marsala is permanently removed from the list of things I will ever eat. I would eat baba ganoush first, and baba ganoush tastes like the apocalypse.

Certain foods got more screen time than others, but the same things usually got mentioned. Chicken marsala is practically a character, doughnuts are the third character in a ménage, and I think butter is the misunderstood villain who is eventually welcomed into the fold as a dear friend. Bread is a side character.

I can forgive a routine in a contemporary setting, especially in a romance. If the characters do the same things, it’s usually because humans like routine, and it isn’t necessarily lazy writing. But the food and the things that people said were so consistently repeated that I was ready to start arguing with these imaginary people by the halfway mark. I still want to kill the cheating fiancé and shout the crap out of the main character’s mother for fat-shaming her daughters for most of their adult lives.

But the worst repetition, in my opinion, is that of repetitive voice. Characters who all talk like one another. Often they don’t even say the same things, but they still somehow sound exactly alike. Of course, it’s vile when they say the same things. Guys don’t really talk like girls. Close friends share turns of phrase and pick them up from one another (I started so much slang for my friends…) but they don’t always always use the same words for anything.

Repeating this is such a gamble. This is one reaction. Another reaction? MEMES. Oh my, the memes. Most perpetuated by people who don’t even understand them. BUT! Writing something that becomes the fun kind of meme (those that do not eventually descend into The Cake is a Lie territory) is pretty flattering. It’s like having an in-joke with a big chunk of the world.

I’m trying to decide what to read next. I was going to move on to How to Eat a Cupcake, but I’m afraid that there will only be one sort of cupcake that is always trotted out. I may have to re-read a Redwall feast scene to remember that I usually like food in books. I also hope that I never see another crushing glut of cutesy nicknames again. Eighty percent of the characters having nicknames is just excessive.


[Teething sucks, btw. Seriously, I am ready to invent some bionic teeth for Owen at this point. The nightmare was mostly due to teething. I still think he had a 72-hour virus, since the fever broke at a pretty precise hour, but the grief was teething at the core. He’s still in a lovely (read: inconsolable) mood some of the time. Like last night, at 4:30 when he woke me up. After going to sleep at 23:30 the night before.]

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