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This is my first time writing a book and I have been noticing that a lot of my scenes are quite similar to each other. The main character has an alcohol addiction and constantly gets drunk to the point of passing out on the streets. The love interest always helps them out no matter what, because they are afraid of losing them again.

The road to recovery for my character takes many curves, so I am afraid that the reader might feel like they aren’t progressing at all. I understand that addiction is a vicious cycle, but how can I write about it without sounding like I’m saying the same thing over and over again? How can I change things up a bit?

Another thing that I’d like to add is that I’m in the beginning of my book, so I’m not sure if I would be getting ahead of myself if I start to show such early progress in the character’s journey.

4 Answers 4

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The problem with having an alcoholic friend is not just that they get drunk, but that their getting drunk has consequences.

There are many different possible consequences, so you could easily have many scenes in the same book without it being repetitive.

  • If Alice invites Bob to their place and Bob drinks alcohol at Alice's, then wants to go home by driving, then Alice is going to be responsible. In the long run this means that either Alice will stop inviting Bob, or Alice will try to prevent Bob from drinking when Bob is at Alice's, or Alice will try to confiscate Bob's car keys when Bob has drunk, or will try to confiscate Bob's car keys before allowing Bob to drink. Forbidding Bob from driving means either driving Bob home, or arranging for someone else to drive Bob home, or offering that Bob stay the night at Alice's. That's already quite a few different combinations that Alice has to try. Bob will also have varying levels of resistance, from promising that he won't get drunk to arguing that although he drank a little, he didn't drank too much and can still drive, to actually getting angry and emotionally-blackmail Alice. On the one hand, Bob will tell Alice that she's not his mother and that she should stop trying to control his behaviour. On the other hand, Alice would feel 100% responsible if Bob had a car accident while driving drunk because he got drunk at Alice's.
  • If everyone is on-foot and drinking at a bar, but Bob gets so drunk that he cannot even walk home, then Alice has to either call him a taxi, or accompany him to his home (in taxi or on foot), or take Bob to Alice's home. Taxi drivers occasionally refuse to take drunken customers, by fear that they'll get aggressive or that they'll puke or pass out in the car, so it's possible that Alice calls a taxi, but then when the taxi arrives they outright refuse to take Bob, or Alice has to negociate for them to take Bob.
  • Alcohol sometimes makes Bob uninhibited. Maybe Bob will reveal secrets to Alice that he was supposed to keep from her, or maybe Bob will reveal Alice's secret to someone else, or Alice will be worried that Bob might reveal her secret. Or maybe Bob will say upsetting things, or will engage in very inappropriate flirting, either with Alice or with other people. Or maybe Bob will steal something from a store and Alice will have to pay for it. Or maybe Bob will say insulting things to people without realising how insulting he is, while Alice will be afraid that this might get them into a fight. Or maybe Bob will pee on a church or on the police station, while Alice will be afraid that this might get them arrested.
  • Maybe Alice will not receive news from Bob for some time after leaving Bob in a state of drunkenness, and will become extremely worried that something happened to Bob, such as a car accident or simply passing out and dying due to an ethylic coma. Then when Alice next sees Bob, Bob will act all cheerful and tell Alice she worries for nothing. After a while, Alice gets very tired of these emotional rollercoasters.
  • Maybe Alice is busy at work or doing something important or seeing a friend that she rarely gets to see, but suddenly she gets a call from a stranger asking her to pick up Bob because he's drunk. Alice will have to drop what she's doing to go help Bob, possibly with consequences on her career or friendships or whatever projects she was involved in.
  • Maybe Alice, Bob, Charlie and Dave used to all be good friends, but Charlie is Bob's ex-girlfriend and Dave's current girlfriend, and everytime Bob sees Charlie and Dave together, it makes him so sad that he gets drunk. This affects the friendship of Alice with Charlie and Dave.
  • Because everyone knows that Bob is an alcoholic, they try to avoid alcohol at any gathering where Bob is present. Alcohol becomes a heavy taboo topic that no one talks about but that is on everyone's minds all the time.
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If you portrait the everyday life of a normal person (and alcohol addiction is normal, unfortunately, and quite widespread), there is bound to be a certain repetitiveness to it. Think of all the Young Adult novels about schoolage teenagers, for example: You'll have them getting up, going to school, and sitting in class many times over the course of a book.

But recounting the everyday repetitiveness of the average person isn't a story (unless you are telling what everyday life is like in exotic places like 18th century France or Mars).

So what you first need is a story. A story is when something out of the ordinary happens. What do people tell each other? When a kid visits grandma, when there was an accident, when the boss was especially mean, and so on.

So what, except recovery from addiction, is your character going through? What is interesting for your readers about his life? If you are writing a casebook about treating alcohol addiction, you need not worry about repetitiveness, but if you want to write a novel, the story must be something else. I don't know what you story is, but maybe it is about how the relationships in his life change or how he resolves a murder case (seems like most detective nowadays are either alcoholics or unable to form stable relationships).

So what you do is focus on the story to which the recovery from alcohol addiction is the background. You do establish the repetitiveness by repeating things a few times, and then don't mentions them any more. It's like going to the toilet. We assume that all characters in novels have to go regularly, but we usually aren't told about it, because we take it for granted. Do the same with the repetitive parts of recovery: establish them, then take them for granted. You can briefly mention them every now and then in a half sentence so your readers don't forget them, but focus your story on what your readers want to read about: the deteriorating relationship, the rage at God, whatever it is that you want to narrate.

Because, no, the process of rehab alone isn't a story.

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If many scenes seem repetitive, then don't repeat them.

It's easy for me to say this, not being the writer of this story, but repetition of content should in general not be included in stories. As Ben mentions, you need a story, which leads you from one scene to the next, that won't require the explicit mention of many nights of drunkenness. Often times, these can either be skipped, or, mentioned in passing.

It turns out, there are many ways to convey the message that a character passes out drunk on the street after a night of drinking:

  • He wakes up, and doesn't know where he is. He buys some food with the remaining money in his pocket, and goes home.
  • Another drunken night landed him in the gutter, behind the bar. The trash smelled particularly bad.
  • Coming home in the morning, he drank a lot of water and turned on the TV.
  • This time around, he never left the bar. The bartender didn't find him, hiding underneath the benches until it time to close, at 5 in the morning.
  • The last thing he remembers is entering the club. The next he knows, is that the high tide was coming in, wetting his shoes.
  • ...

Make sure to talk about other things than just the drunkenness as well. Like rehab, like the progress made, the what character learns, etc.

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There’s also the whole issue of behaviour around being an alcoholic, especially one that’s trying to dry out. The hiding drink around the house, especially in different containers, the lying about money, or where they’ve been, occasionally stealing. Alcoholism is an addiction like any other and the alcoholic behaves the way any other addict would behave. As others have said, concentrate on the behaviour around drinking, not the drinking itself.

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