How Chuck Palahniuk Uses Repetition & Short Sentences In “Fight Club” To Establish Tone

Repetition and varying sentence lengths is a very useful way to inject rhythm into writing, and “Fight Club” is a great example.

Howard Chai

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The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. If there’s one line from Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel that has transcended the book, as well as David Fincher’s 1999 film adaptation, this is it. Walk up to any millennial on the street and ask them if they’ve heard some variation of that line and there’s a good chance they know it, even if they don’t know where it came from. I am Jack’s Utter Lack of Surprise.

Fight Club, the novel, published in 1996, remains one of those texts that has continued to stay in the public consciousness, for better or worse. While much of it is due to its themes and subject matter, an understated reason is that the writing is just very punchy (pun extremely-intended) and fun to read. The first rule of writing is you show rather than tell, so let me show you rather than tell you.

“The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” This line sings and is fun to read because it utilizes repetition — by using “fight club” at the end of each half of the sentence, like rhyming words in a poem — in a way that gives the sentence a rhythm and musicality. What also makes it fun is that it leads into the second rule of fight club: “the second rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” Here, the repetition repeats within the line and as a repeat of the first rule.

In the Afterword of the 2018 re-issue of Fight Club, author Chuck Palahniuk admits that the “fight” part of “fight club” was an arbitrary decision and that what he was after was the “club” part and specifically the governing rules. “It could’ve been ‘Barn-Raising Club’ or ‘Golf Club’ and it would’ve probably sold a lot more books. Something nonthreatening”, he says. “The first rule of Barn-Raising Club is you don’t talk about Barn-Raising Club” rolls off the tongue better than you’d expect. This is a hint that what makes the first rule of fight club line work is not the words “fight club”, but the structure of the sentence, specifically the repetition.

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Howard Chai

I strive towards a career that ends up leaving me somewhere between Howard Beck and Howard Beale.