This exercise from Steering the Craft dealt with using a particular word or phrase. Conventional wisdom says “don’t use the same word twice,” which as a general rule of thumb is..okay, but can be constraining, especially when it can enhance your writing as a narrative tool for emphasis.
Part I: Verbal Repetition – Write a paragraph of narrative that includes at least three repetitions of a noun, verb or adjective (a noticeable word, not an invisible one like “was,” “said,” or “did”)
“You stink. I can smell you from over here, and not in a ‘it wafted near my nose for a moment and then the smell was gone’ kind of way, you smell so bad it is hanging in the air, it is assaulting my nose! That smell is going to literally incapacitate our entire unit! Do you hear me soldier?? Your mother must not have taught you to wash your a** because you smell like s**t, like a dead animal crawled up your rectum and died, that smell is repulsive son! You disgust me! Go take a shower, scrub until your skin is pink and then, scrub some more, I don’t want to so much as catch one whiff of your dirty, smelly, rank behind—DISMISSED!” The Sergeant nodded and turned his eyes to the rest of the company, “Any one else neglect to shower today??” he bellowed, “Sir, no Sir!” they replied in unison.
Part II: Syntactic Repetition – Write a paragraph to a page of narrative in which you deliberately repeat the syntactical construction, or the exact rhythm, of a phrase or sentence (or more than one) several times.
This exercise was very difficult for me. I did not do it correctly. I still have to go back and reread the meaning of syntactic repetition to fully understand what it means, and how it is used. I think I have a better grasp of it now, than when I first completed this exercise. In fact, I will explain it (honestly more for myself, to reiterate what I think I know, than for you). Syntactic repetition is when you use a particular sentence structure or rhythm repetitively. Example using sentence construction: –e.g.;
She could have cried, but she instead remained stoic. He wanted to see her emotional, so he increased the number of insults in his retort.
This was an easier concept to grasp once I reread the examples several times. The second form, rhythmic repetition, was more difficult to identify (for me at least). The example given:
“We always went to the mountain in summer. But I never knew what had happened to Bonny.”
did not immediately strike me as rhythmic. I was thinking poetic rhyming, but this was not that. One of the women in my writing group, who has a Bachelors in Creative Writing, pointed out the rhythm to me (after I butchered the exercise): the syllables match, the number of words, match, a colored illustration makes this easier to identify:
We always went to the mountain in summer.
But I never knew what had happened to Bonny.
It is really great to write with people who can help make you better, who want to see you improve, and who point out your errors without condescending, but with the intention to bring out your best work. Writing with these women is a safe place. I never balk at their thoughtful criticism, I welcome it, because, I know it comes from a place of honesty.
Here was my first, terrible attempt at this exercise:
Cars of every shape and size drove swiftly down the congested street. Many people seemed not to pay attention to the world around them, opting to instead, browse their Facebook newsfeed. It would be easy. What if she just pushed him him into the street? Not an obvious shove, rather, a slight bump, just hard enough to knock him off balance and into the street. After all, he was always teasing her about tripping on cracks in the sidewalk, so who was to say she didn’t just stumble on one of those invisible cracks, reach for him to steady herself and, completely on accident, send him plunging into oncoming traffic. One of those distracted drivers would surely make quick work of him. The posted speed limit was 45, how likely was it that someone would survive a hit at that speed? She always noticed the crosses adorned with photos and remembrances on the side of residential streets, that meant someone died there, some unfortunate meeting between pedestrian and car had taken place; score: car 1, pedestrian 0. He reached out and grabbed her hand, swinging it in jest. She attempted to still the motion, “You know I hate it when you do that,” she muttered, snatching her hand, he feigned offense, “But you like it when I hold your hand,” he retorted. She kicked a rock into the street, just one little trip, one little bump, that would be enough. She narrowed her eyes. “Hey, what are you thinking?” he asked, the playfulness leaving his voice, “Where did you go?” — she watched the cars fly by, “I think we should break up,” she said abruptly.
Now, you tell me — WHERE is the repetition in that?? You can’t see me, so I will tell you, I am laughing. I think I just wrote, hoping that I would magically fall into repetition on accident, and no one would notice that I had no idea what the exercise was asking me to do. Bad idea. Here is this exercise, rewritten (and highlighted) for repetition. Bright yellow highlights are structural repetitions, multi-colored highlights are used to identify the rhythmic repetition, at least in the beginning, then, you’ll just have to trust me :-).
Busy cars drove swiftly down the congested street. People did not notice the world surrounding them. It would be easy, she could just push him. Not an obvious shove, just a slight bump. After all, he was always teasing her for tripping on cracks in the sidewalk. Maybe then, she would stumble over one of many small cracks, and reach for him. Then, completely on accident, she would send him plunging into oncoming traffic. Surely someone, one of those distracted drivers, would make quick work of him. The posted speed limit was 45. How likely was it that someone would survive? She always noticed adorned crosses by the busy streets. They marked someone’s tragic meeting with a vehicle. Score: car 1, pedestrian 0. He grabbed her hand, swinging it in jest. She recoiled, attempting to still the motion. “You know I hate it when you do that,” she muttered, snatching her hand. He feigned offense, “But you like it when I hold your hand,” he retorted. She kicked a rock into the street. One little trip. One tiny bump. That would be enough. She narrowed her eyes. “Hey, what are you thinking?” he asked, the playfulness leaving his voice. “She watched the cars fly by, “I think we should break up,” she said abruptly.
And there you have it. My corrected exercise. I had to use my white board to construct some sentences. When I was having difficulty, I lined up the words and matched the syllables:
You’ll note that ve-hi-cle, I paired with bu-sy streets. Is that cheating? Hmm…I don’t think so, it is in the spirit of the exercise, so I gave myself a pass.