Repetition is exactly what you’d think—using a word, phrase, or even a sentence more than once for the effect it will have on the reader.
I did a little bit of research for this term, and discovered that there are fancy words for all sorts of repetition—how do you feel about epizeuxis, conduplicatio, and epistrophe?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. I don’t want to mess with those, either. But I will give a few examples of different types of repetition, in both prose and poetry, and I’ll indicate how and why you might want to use some repetition in a Writing Challenge entry.
Gotta give credit to Wikipedia for the following.
1. You might choose to repeat one word, with nothing between them:
~“No, no, no! I refuse to allow another cat into the house!”
~I never, never expected to find myself knocking back a beer in Rick’s Saloon.
2. Or you may repeat a key word several times within one paragraph:
~A breath of air whiffed into the room; someone had walked past the open door. I reached out to take my new grandson into my arms, holding my breath; such perfection in such a tiny package. Bending my face to his, I captured his breath—milky and sweet.
3. Think about repeating the last word or two of one sentence as the beginning of the next:
~Jan stared at the letter. The letter—with the return address that mocked her.
~My wanderings led me far from home—
From home, where comfort dwells…
4. It can be very effective to repeat a word or phrase at the beginning of a series of sentences or clauses:
~I hate pickles. I hate them on the side of my sandwich, where their icky juices contaminate everything they touch. I hate them lurking in my tunafish or my devilled eggs. I hate them taking up valuable space in my refrigerator. I really hate pickles.
5. Similarly, consider repeating a word or phrase at the end of a series of clauses:
~I love the smell of newborn babies, and the clasping fingers of newborn babies, and even the whimpering and snuffling of newborn babies.
6. Obviously, you can also repeat a word or phrase in the middle of a series of clauses:
~The stupid cat eats sting, and she throws up. She sleeps on my bed, and she sheds fur on the pillows. She cries to go outside, and she immediately cries to come back in. But then she leaps into my lap—purring-- and she steals my heart.
7. I’ve read many excellent entries in which an entire sentence is repeated periodically throughout the story, or an entire line throughout a poem, perhaps as a refrain, or at the end of each stanza. This sentence may emphasize something that is happening in the protagonist’s life, or it may gain additional meaning each time it is used.
8. Closely related to repetition is parallelism, or parallel structure. Here, the writer uses very similar words or sentence structures for their effect on the reader. This is very common in the Psalms, so I’ll just give one example, and give you the privilege of seeking out some more:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)
See how the second part of the sentence has the same structure as the first? In your writing, you can use parallelism for anything from one sentence (as in the above example) to whole sections of writing.
Repetition is a tricky literary device. Done well, it can be highly effective for enhancing your story or poem. Repeated words or phrases can be very meaningful, touching, or funny. On the other hand, if overdone, repetition can be tiresome, or may even cause your reader to skip an entire passage—yadda yadda, I’ve read that before.
It’s one of those things that has to be done intentionally, and with a specific purpose in mind. I found a story of mine recently that had the word strictly in two adjacent sentences. It’s a dumb word to repeat—not significant at all, nor particularly meaningful. I did not intend to use that word twice in one paragraph. I usually catch unnecessary repetition by reading my stories aloud—something you might want to try.
Homework: Write an example of a few of the types of repetition listed above. OR find examples in the Bible (repetition is common in the Psalms, as I said, but can also be found in many other OT books, and in some of the NT letters). OR comment on your use of any of the listed types of repetition: how does it enhance your writing?
If you do one of the homework assignments above, you may also link to a challenge piece in which you used repetition. Please tell us about how and why you used it in that piece.
Last edited by glorybee
on Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.