Once again it’s Smart Bitches Day (a rather belated one due to my sunburned glory) and it’s time to talk about repetition. Yesterday on the way to fry ourselves, the druggie and I got into a conversation about the books she’s read this summer. The druggie works in a slow pharmacy (hence her nickname; she’s also a pharmacy student), and in between feeling drug subscriptions and fighting with insurance companies she has ample time to sit and read. Thanks to the library (and their website) she’s found several new authors (that “also liked” suggestion box is always helpful) and read the entirety of several authors’ works without spending a dime.
She’s noticed something disturbing as she’s blown through the backlist of a couple of big name Chick-Lit authors. In each book the same or a very similar situation will occur (answering the door in just a towel) and all of the main characters share some of the same habits (love champagne, hate pretty underwear, one friend is always committing adultery). The repetition has really begun to bother her because she feels that it is an example of lazy story telling and shouldn’t someone—the author or the editor—have caught this before it went to print?
“I think I’m going to have to send her a letter with a list of different alcohols,” the druggie said. “There is more in this world than just champagne.”
This isn’t an uncommon problem. Many times when I’ve discovered a new author and have gone back to read the rest of their books, I’ve discovered the very same thing. It could be anything from as small as an obsession with a certain type of clothing to something as noticeable as the same fantastical place to have sex. I’ve heard from customers and friends that this repetition begins to make them wonder if this is a reflection of the authors own loves overlaid on the character; the point where an author cannot separate himself/herself from the person she’s created on the page.
The counter argument, of course, could be that this is the little wink and nod by the author to his/her reader; a repetitive theme that is there to make it a signature story by this author instead of that one. But it rips me out of the story when I see something repeated and ruins the experience. Does this cause the same reaction in anyone else?
Are we making too big of a deal out of this? Maybe, but I don’t think so. When you’ve taken the time to create a fully realized character in book A, despite the fact that I love and adore her, I don’t want to see shades of her in book B unless she is there. Characters can have similar personalities (thus appealing to the same people) in different books without repeating the same traits (alcohol choice) and site gags (answering the door in the towel). It’s the duty of the author to realize what is going on, and if they can’t, it’s the duty of the editor to have enough knowledge of the author’s past work to try and catch these things.
I’m not asking too much, am I?