The case for repetition (repetition, repetition)

Written on July 26th, 2016

One of the criticisms I’ve ever heard about John Green as an author that stands up under inspection is that many of his books seem repetitive when compared side by side. He utilizes similar motifs and similar characters and his similar storylines pull at your emotions in the same sort of way each time.

I should be candid and admit that my personal bias is that I love John Green, so that may color the way I view other criticisms against him. But even with my immense appreciation for his literature, I understand where people are coming from when they say all he does is repeat himself.

I just don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

John Green has found a formula that works for him as a writer. He has found a rhythm in which he is able to consistently produce high quality work. Who’s to say that he must vary his process and results every time?

I understand that “variety is the spice of life”. I appreciate new angles and, despite dragging my feet once in a while, my eyes are open to the value of change. It’s important to be adaptable and ready to take on fresh ideas at every moment in our lives. But I don’t think we have to scrap a successful pattern once we’ve found it simply for the purpose of not being redundant.

For example, I order the same thing every time I visit a Panera restaurant: broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl. It’s delicious, filling, and comforting when I need it. I never have to question whether or not it’ll be good because it always is. You could make the case that by not trying a new menu item every time I’m potentially missing out on a dish I’ll enjoy even more – but you could also make a strong case for the value of a consistently positive meal experience. The truth is that you have to pick and choose your battles, and while I’m a firm believer in innovation, I also have no problem recognizing and holding onto a good thing when I find it.

I think it’s the same with John Green’s books. For one thing, he’s targeting a certain market of young adult readers that will be interested in reading works of a similar nature. After all, he writes for his readers – and if his readers want a specific type of story, he’s not wrong to craft a work that fits their desires. In addition, he seems to truly have a passion for creating certain types of characters and telling certain types of stories, and I believe that talent shines most brightly when you’re truly invested in what you’re doing.

The point is yes, Hazel is a lot like Alaska who’s also a lot like Katherine and even a lot like Margo. Q and Miles and Gus all share similarities. But what’s so terrible about that? While similar, each character brings something new to the table but also feels comfortably familiar. I personally like the consistency in Green’s work as I feel like I get to interact with these characters in many different ways and at many different levels.

Could he bring more diversity to the table? Of course – we all could. Could he maybe create a new type of character unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him before that would blow his career out of the water? The possibility is definitely there. But sticking with the formula that has worked so well for him in the past is nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t believe his passion for a certain kind of storytelling makes him any less of an amazing writer.

At the end of the day, repetition is dangerous when you refuse to acknowledge that the age-old way of doing something could be deeply flawed or hurtful. But if the pattern you’ve found is harmless and successful, then go for it. Keep creating intellectual teenage characters who shape and mold each other. Keep ordering the soup you love. Keep doing what you’re doing when you’ve found that it works. I’m not saying that there isn’t always a better way to go about our lives – but we have to pick and choose what areas really require our analysis and alterations.

Try new things, learn new methods, improve in new ways – but remember that there’s nothing wrong with a little routine now and then.