Repetition in writing is often frowned on as redundant, but used with intention, you can use this literary device to take your writing to new levels. There are famous lines and speeches you’ve likely heard but may not have realized the importance that repetition played.
In this article I break down what exactly repetition in writing is, various types, and the key difference between repetition and redundancy (a big writing no-no).
If you love following the writing rules but also care about making a point, this article is for you. Let’s dive in with a definition.
What Is Repetition In Writing?
Repetition is a literary device used to drive a point home and keep or capture attention by repeating words or phrases. Repetition helps readers fully grasp what you write and is a type of teaching style.
Consider the writing coach who tells you to “show, don’t tell,” over and over. After a period of time, the phrase begins to sink in. The same is true for repetition in writing. Repeating your point, a specific characteristic, or describing a theme repeatedly helps readers grasp the message you are writing.
There are various forms of repetition in writing, but some of the classic types are laid out below. Remember, every type has its purpose and it’s up to you, the writer, to decide what type is best for your writing project.
#1 – Anadiplosis
Anadiplosis is repeating the last set of words of a sentence at the start of a new sentence. It is very similar to the communication tactic of mirroring, where the listener repeats the last few words just spoken to them.
#2 – Epistrophe
Epistrophe is a type or repetition in writing that repeats a word at the end of a section of writing. Done with purpose, epistrophe adds syncopation that would otherwise be missing.
#3 – Epizeuxis
Epizeuxis, otherwise known as palilogia, is the repetition of just one word or phrase, without others coming in between. Use this literary device with particular intentionality, lest readers confuse it with redundancy.
How It’s Used Intentionally
Redundant is one of the last words a writer wants attributed to their writing—fluff is likely a close second. While redundant writing is often due to a lack of forethought, you can use repetition in writing for a myriad of specific purposes. Let’s consider the types above and how their use could influence your readers.
Make It Memorable
The creators of Gladiator used anadiplosis for back cover copy on their DVD edition of the film. “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an empire.” This intentionality adds flow to the sentences and makes them memorable.
Underscore Your Point
You can use epistrophe to underscore your point. For instance, look at these two examples, one with repetition in writing and one without.
Example 1: I get up early to write. I go to bed late to write. I push past my comfort zone to write.
Example 2: I get up early, go to bed late, and push past my comfort zone to write.
Notice how the repetition in writing focuses the mind on the purpose of the sentences. Every activity is done for one purpose—to write.
Hammer Your Point
Use epizeuxis in children’s books, exuberant dialogue, or nonfiction to hammer your word home.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy!”
“It’s a hot, hot, hot day.”
“You should encourage, encourage others when the going gets tough.”
When To Avoid It
When used intentionally, repetition in writing is a powerful literary device. But what about the times you should avoid using it?
If you are a new writer struggling to embrace all the writing rules, you may want to hold off on putting repetition in your writing. New writers can tend toward redundancy, overly explaining what takes place.
Take for example the following lines: She walked through the open door, sat down at the desk, and looked up at the sky through the window.
Most editors would make the following adjustments: She walked through the door, sat at the desk, and looked at the sky.
It is redundant to say the door was open, she sat down, and she looked up at the sky. However, a more seasoned writer can use repetition in writing to create a powerful scene.
Instead, focus on showing your story. In later drafts, you can add specific literary devices with repetition.
Less Is More
Another time to avoid repetition in writing is when one descriptor packs more power than several. Sometimes one word carries more power. This applies for both fiction and nonfiction.
For instance, describing a character as happy, smiling, upbeat, and excitable is often unnecessary. Instead of repeating synonym after synonym (see the repetition there?), try choosing the one word or phrase that best describes your character.
Incongruent With Character
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, both often include some type of dialogue. If the person speaking uses few words and is known for their concise mannerisms, refuse the urge to use repetition in writing.
On the other hand, if a character is verbose and always has something to say, you may want to make them repeat themselves.
Examples For Inspiration
There are countless examples of repetition in writing, but a few particularly stand out. Consider Winston Churchill’s famous speech and how he used epizeuxis: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Next, John Steinbeck’s example of epistrophe from The Grapes of Wrath: “Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.”
Even Yoda uses anadiplosis. Notice it in his lines from The Phantom Menace from Star Wars. “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Of course, there are many forms of repetition in writing. You’ve probably heard, or studied, The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He uses anaphora in his opening: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”
Finding Your Cadence
Like everything, using repetition with moderation is a key component to your writing success. Poetry can often get by with more repeating phrases because of its genre. However, if you use too much repetition you’ll likely bore your readers.
Instead, seek to find the best places to sneak in repetition and then return to your usual narrative style.
A parting tip of advice: When incorporating repetition in your writing, make sure you do so in a way that maintains your unique writing voice and tone.
Literary devices should be used to highlight the uniqueness of your writing, not make it blend in with other writers.
You have a special tone that is unique to your story. Use repetition in your writing to spotlight your writing voice and help readers focus on themes!