The Power of Repetition

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
We've discussed repetition in a couple of threads:—good-bad.4689/—yes-i-am-do-you.2020/#post-32990

It remains an aspect of writing that I find intriguing.

I've read several novels this year which used repetition to good effect.

In Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mystery The Overnight Kidnapper, Montalbano visits a witness who was a colleague of a murdered woman:

Rita Cutaja was a woman of sixty-five who could have served as the typical female specimen of clerk who has spent a whole lifetime between files and dusty papers in offices with insufficient lighting and even less space.

Tidy in dress, tidy in personal appearance, tidy in her movements, she lived in a small, tidy apartment.

Two short paragraphs that demonstrate Camilleri's mastery of laconic description, the first appears to show Rita as a trapped dust mite, while the second reveals her self-control by repetition of the word 'tidy'. Her tidiness makes her testimony trustworthy.

In American Gods, Neil Gaiman uses repetition to emphasise character

Mr Ibis wore a hat. It was a sober brown hat that matched his sober brown blazer and his sober brown face.

Repetition conveys emotion well, particularly regret where a character is fuming about something:

Almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.

from: Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris

Seeing repetition used so effectively has rubbed off on me, for I recently used it in my WIP a novella about a widowed hedge witch who's tempted by a newcomer to the village, who may have arcane powers. Her marriage was long and tedious, wedded to a man who found figures more exciting than her:

David had been an accountant, and he looked like an accountant and behaved like an accountant.

Do you use repetition in your writing?

I do use repetition in my writing, and sometimes it's deliberate ;).

As your examples show though, when I do it deliberately I do it in threes.
I was taught "the power of three" on a writing course. The reasoning is this: use a particular verb or noun once in a single sentence and it is nothing special, twice and it looks like you just haven't proof read it properly, three times and it shows you did it deliberately for a reason. The reason being to emphasise the point.
Repetition is a literary device. Prepare to be further intrigued by the mysteries of the art of writing because .... there are many literary devices. Surprise!


I like this site better but it doesn't have a direct listing for repetition.

Literary Devices

I like repetition. Sometimes I adore it.

I use it in my own writing. Sometimes I use it too much in my own writing.
Your examples were good, @Paul Whybrow. If used judiciously, repetion can be powerful - but where it's overused and doesn't sparkle, I hate it like the gates of hell. Really cannot stand it. This probably goes back to a book I read as a teenager, which was awful in every possible way. Almost every paragraph contained repetition. And the plot turned out to be a ghastly female version of a Death Wish fantasy, where every single male character was a sexual predator. Urghhhh.
You really are digging deep here Paul. If I’m not mistaken the art of rhetoric repetition was first initiated by the Greek Philosophers, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the pattern has been used in all famous sermons as in Donne’s “For whom the Bell Tolls,” the sermon and not just the poem of the same title. Shakespeare used it a lot, as in the speech over Caesar’s body and of course, I believe, those who have read such stuff it rubs off in them too, without knowing it- as I came across this today in my WIP:

There is something reassuring about the whiteness of a hospital room, that white smell of cleanness that makes you feel secure- white beds, white linen, white walls, floors and doors- they make you feel safe.
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Rich Writing

Pop-up submissions got me.