Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Not Going to Warn You Again," She Warned

Like many of your generation, you became aware of repetition on a meaningful level when the time arose for you to commit to memory the so-called multiplication tables. 

Not going You can recall teachers who, in the act of presenting repetition to you in the context of an aid to memorization, referred to the meme of how the you-of-the-future will appreciate and understand the importance of what the you-in-the-now were about to undertake.

Experience may well be the best teacher, a truth to be expanded upon by pressing the repeat button; thus more experience becomes an even more superlative teacher. But such is the nature of repetition that doing over something successful the first time through is given short shrift.

To set the matter to rest, you're not sorry you committed the multiplication tables to memory, nor are you all that glad. If anything, you wish you'd not stopped with twelve, burning into memory the thirteen and fourteen because it now seems to you how you have more occasion to plumb the depths of a thirteen- or fourteen-times X than any of the lesser predecessors.

This could also imply another truth: had you taken your memorization beyond twelve, you might this very December day in 2016 have no irritation for the times in recent years when you had to rely on mathematics rather than memory.

You are in fact saddest about the things you repeat without deliberation, rather by accident, which means you have to go back to rewrite, rephrase, even rethink your way out of what you consider the clunky sound of an unwanted repetition. Nothing sounds more as though you'd fallen asleep during a composition session than unintentional repetition.

On the other hand, a well-orchestrated repetition of a word or phrase adds to the emphatic cadence of a sentence. You've no qualms about admitting as a personal,  primary goal in composition, the wish to convey a meaningful and accessible outcome when you offer fact, opinion, or argument.

Repetition becomes important to you in direct proportion to your growing awareness of the significance of every word in a story. Unnecessary words become metaphoric albatrosses, weighting down the dramatic effect, increasing the unwanted sense that the material before you in effect stops the story in order to describe.

The writer Junot Diaz has done some intriguing things with the use of footnotes in fiction. Lesser writers than he stay away from such variations in convention, but Diaz, in his most recent novel, has made them seem an integral part of the narrative, their typographical distance from the actual text to the contrary notwithstanding. His use was daring, but from his success, you could see how he knew when to take the risk.

Most other writers, yourself included, need to consider with care the temptations to deviate from conventional format, reminding themselves how the goal of fiction has evolved from a telling, descriptive mode to one where the reader is situated inside the story, where the story appears to be taking place around not only the narrator of the text but the reader of the text.

The right repetition enhances this interior emphasis; the wrong repetition--one that seems to be an oversight or moment of editorial laziness--reminds the reader of the fragile apparatus story is.

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