Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: The Potty Post



I’ve been looking for an excuse to use this forever. If you’re a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you know they were quite fond of repetition. Repetition, in fact, is a staple of good comedy. The sequence above occurred three times in about a ten-minute span of an episode called ‘The Buzz Aldrin Show’. They arrived at it in different ways, and in the third instance, the fictional show’s title sequence was interrupted by an apology for the ‘constant repetition in the show,’ immediately followed by the same apology, to great comedic effect.
Repetition is a great tool in comedy. On a micro level, i.e., at the sentence and paragraph level, it can be a great writing tool, as well. A repeated phrase or word can really drive an idea home for a particular piece. It can also be used to establish mood or rhythm or pace.
It’s also interesting to look at repetition on more of a macro level. Writers have a tendency to repeat themselves across the body of their work. Stephen King has a thing for finales involving town-consuming explosions and conflagration. Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool and Empire Fallsboth involve absentee and irresponsible fathers, great small town dynamics, and freakish driver’s education accidents. It’s mostly fine. Some authors can forge a career exploring the same themes or using the same setting. The problem comes when people feel like they’re reading the same book over and over again.
I found a strange bit of repetition in my writing: bathrooms. In the last two years I have a lot of scenes that involve actual bathrooms or the act of excretion. I don’t go into great detail about bodily functions, because that’s never the point of the scene/story, yet my writing over the last two years seems to have an inordinate amount of bathroom type of activity. I did a quick tabulation and came up with the following:
  • I have referenced bathrooms or had an ‘excretion scene’ nine times in five works (2 novel-length, 3 shorts)
  • One short story from my writer’s circle took place entirely in an executive washroom
  • Five scenes occurred inside, four took place outside
  • Three of the outdoor scenes either mentione or described in some level peeing; in contrast, only one indoor scene had any mention of urination at all, and one indoor scene involved someone throwing up. Apparently, in my world, no one needs to go number 2
  • Several of the scenes involve a character having a moment of clarity (call it an ‘epeephany’), as if the act of clearing the junk out of a bladder served to clear the junk out of his brain as well.
A psychiatrist could probably have a field day with this; I, however, am at a bit of a loss to explain it. These scenes are in there because they work and help the story along. Could they be rewritten to take place somewhere else, in some other setting? Maybe. Should they be? I don’t know. I’d hate to be known as the guy that writes all the bathroom scenes.
It’s made me curious, though: do you find yourself using similar themes, scenes or imagery from book-to-book, story-to-story? Does it ever worry you?

11 Responses

  1. An epeephany! Hah hah hah. I did not notice that having read both of your novels, so I think you're okay. I do use very similar themes, scenes and imagery but thank goodness, my beta readers and CPs usually point out the most glaring stuff. But it doesn't really worry me. I know that for me as a reader, I like my favorite authors because their themes resonate with me and I keep buying their books because I know what I'm getting. There has to be something that is uniquely them to keep me reading–even if it's bathroom scenes! LOL. Great post.

  2. I never noticed it but now that you mention it, yeah, I remember those bathroom scenes. Maybe you were just sitting at your desk too long & it was your subconscious mind's way of telling you to take a potty break. I know that's how it works in my dreams. Okay, TMI. I'm worried about writing about the same thing in my second book as I did in my first. I'm gonna have to make a mental note to have caution.

  3. Repetition is something I haven't really considered on a macro level before. Hmm… epeephany, haha. Maybe you have moments of clarity when you go to the bathroom, and so it's something that you associate with moments of clarity when writing? Haha. Well, as long as you mix it up a bit – write it with a different edge each time – I can't see it being a bad thing. Now I'm going to keep this blog entry in the back of my mind when I'm writing from now on. 😀

  4. Funnily enough, the only moment of clarity I've had in the bathroom with regards to one of my books was in the shower.

    It's not necessarily a bad thing, so long as future readers don't say, "Oh, look, this is the third book in a row where he just solved all his problems while taking a dump!"

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