Monday, July 22, 2013

Tool # 33: Repeat, repeat, and repeat.

. . .Purposeful repetition links the parts.

Today I am featuring another chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

"Repetition works in writing, but only if you intend it.  Repeating key words, phrases, and story elements creates a rhythm, a pace, a structure, a wavelength that reinforces the central theme of the work. Such repetition works in music, in literature, in advertising, in humor, in political speech and rhetoric, in teaching, in homilies, in parental lectures--even in this sentence, where the word "in" is repeated ten times."

Then, later, Roy gives an example:

"Writers use repetition as a tool of persuasion, few as skillfully as Michael Gartner, who, in a distinguished and varied journalism career, won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.  Consider this excerpt from "Tattoos and Freedom":

. . . Remember the flag burners in Texas?  The Nazi marchers in Skokie?  The war protesters everywhere?  Protected citizens, one and all.  Obnoxious, sometimes.  Outrageous, sometimes.  Despicable, sometimes.

But never unspeakable.

The pattern throughout is repetition, repetition, repetition, flavored by variation. . .

Repetition can be so powerful, in fact, that it can threaten to call attention to itself, overshadowing the message of the story.  If you're worried about too much repetition, apply this little test: Delete all the repetition and read the passage aloud without it.  Repeat the key element once.  Repeat it again.  Your voice and ear will let you know when you've gone too far."

And now, a sample tool to put to use from Roy Peter Clark's WORKSHOP:

-Read through an anthology of historical speeches and look for repetition.  Make a list of the reasons the author uses repetition, starting with: to help us remember, to build an argument, to underscore emotion.

Have you used repetition in your work lately??

Next week: Tool # 34 "Write from different cinematic angles."


  1. Interesting advice. I try to highlight things... May try that exercise. Thanks! Have a great week!

    1. You are welcome, Diana, and have a good week yourself!

  2. Yes, I use repetition, especially when I write stories for children.


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