I’ve had a lifetime problem with repetition. As in, I hate it. I don’t like repetitious songs (“Pumped Up Kicks” anyone?), jobs (don’t make me repeat myself, you damn kids!), or conversations (see “jobs”). Most of all, I can’t stand repeated words. You know that Beastie Boys song “Whatchya Want?” Mike D rhymes “commercial” with… you guessed it, “commercial.” Drives me nuts.
When reading a book, sometimes an author will latch on to a word or phrase and use it over and over. Sometimes — though rarely successfully — the repetition is done on purpose for effect, but even then it rubs me the wrong way. I’m currently reading The Terror by Dan Simmons and I really, really dig it, but his favorite word is “impossible” and derivations thereof. Example: “The creature rose to an impossible height, then jumped to the next spar, impossibly.” Sure, in that one sentence, you might say the author is expressing the impossibility of the creature’s very existence. But EVERY time the creature appears? Man. Now that it bugs me, the word jumps off the page and I find it distracting. The overuse of the word is putting an asterisk to a great reading experience. He also repeats phrases such as, “As dark as a Welsh mine,” but that’s different because it’s something the characters in the story would say or think in the time period of the story, and he doesn’t do it over and over in a chase scene! Also, there are less obvious words like “cold” (the book takes place in the Arctic) and repeating that doesn’t bug me. Henning Mankell uses the word “cold” a billion times in Faceless Killers, but it’s so matter of fact that it’s really effective. Understated, almost.
So maybe the problem is the repetition of superlatives that gets under my skin. “Impossibly impossible-ness that simply couldn’t be any impossibler.” I guess the skill in writing is embedding words carefully so they don’t pop off the page or saving certain words for when you really mean it. I’m going to finish this book, but the word impossible has no effect on me now. What will happen in the next attack scene? I’m not certain, but I already know it’s possible.