In writing a recent post over at Puddles, I realized that I have a tendency to use repetition quite a bit. In the aforementioned post, I ended a few of the paragraphs with a refrain. It’s not the same every time but it is structured in a specific way:
[sentence]. [1-2 words]. [single word].
If that post had been longer, I think the repetition would have evolved into something more normalized.
[sentence]. [1 word describing sound, motion, etc., e.g., ‘Grumble,’ ‘Grr,’ ‘Facepalm’]. [single word, e.g., ‘Onward’].
The final repetition ends with the refrain changing:
[sentence]. Sigh. End.
The repetition was deliberate but I didn’t reflect much on why I was using it. In looking over earlier posts, in which I attempt to entertain with my writing instead of treating the post as a journal entry, it seems that repetition is one of my favorite devices. A great thing about repetition is that it’s scalable. I may utilize an exaggerated parallel structure within single sentences (as I’m doing in this sentence), I may use lists, or I may sustain a refrain over several paragraphs (or indeed, entire novels).
I like using repetition because it helps pull a reader into the story. Predictability can be detrimental but, if used as a device (instead of predictability arising from poor plot construction or flat characters), it is much like letting a reader in on a joke. I may or may not have pulled that off in my “Walks 2009.001” post but there was definitely a semi-conscious effort to wink at the reader, who (I hope) is already nodding, because they know where I’m going.
Things to think about: Is repetition annoying, even if done well? Does it talk down to the reader? Is repetition a cheap trick? Is it too obvious or affected? What are other examples of authors or works that pull off repetition well? Are there other ways to help engage readers, allowing them to be quasi-co-conspirators in my writing? Conversely, which stylistic techniques are useful for distancing readers from my writing?