Writing Tips: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition


This week, I’ve been thinking about how a story can be written in its clearest, most resonant form and taking some inspiration from speeches, adverts, and political broadcasts. Not that you want necessarily to sound like a politician or an ad writer in your fiction, but taking some tips from these catchy, memorable mediums as you’re writing may well have a positive effect on the memorability of your plots and characters.

Remember – readers don’t know your characters or settings as well as you do, and giving them signposts and markers can make the reading experience more fluid and exciting. Here are a few examples of repetitive tricksters from different trades that might come in handy as you take your reader on the journey through your story.

The Liberal Democrat leadership candidates

The liberal democrat leadership debate of recent months has been a trove of political rhetorical tricks. Repetition is the main one. Both Norman Lamb and Tim Farron have cleverly peppered their leadership speeches with repeated phrases that embody their values. “This is a liberal age,” is Norman’s favorite, and Tim chooses a synonymous phrase – “This is the Liberal moment.” Both potential leaders use a sense of time and circumstance paired with the key word “Liberal” to give their listeners subtle (or not-so-subtle) cues that they are an urgent and current voice that needs to be heeded.

And it’s not just major values and policies that are prioritized by speech writers; repeating other phrases, ones that add atmosphere and color perhaps, rather than just principle, can be just as effective. Tim Farron’s debate answers often chime on a few memorable phrases – using “vivid primary colours” to describe his campaign strategy for example – that make the listener recall the points he’s making and learn to associate him with his method and positivity.

Though you don’t want to repeat phrases too often throughout your narrative, selectively echoing phrases from previous scenes or repeating slang throughout one character’s bits of dialogue can anchor your reader to the key points and themes of your story.

The Meerkats 

Whether you love or hate these animated meerkats, they’re super effective at spreading the word about their product. As soon as you hear the little voices, you know what you’re being sold, even though the adverts’ content isn’t hard-selling at all. In fact we don’t even need to think about “comparing the market” for the advert to do its job.

This effect can be powerful when used in fiction. By keeping certain elements (the meerkats, the catchphrases) constant, you can then play with the viewer (or the reader in your case) by changing other elements. In the adverts, Compare-the-Market’s Meerkats embark on various adventures while still always staying true to their original personalities and quirks.

The more new information you throw at your reader, the more constant certain aspects of your world need to remain (unless of course the whole point of your narrative is to disorientate). Try locating your reader with a few clear simple details repeated that show where the characters are. Or remind the reader of your characters’ traits by having repeated gestures and phrases that only they would use.

Barack Obama

Obama uses repetition in every single speech and answer he gives to draw his point forward and make it land in the minds of the busy, distracted Americans he’s talking to through the TV screen. Right from his inaugural address, Obama has used repetition to give his audience a positive rising energy. “The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act,” he told his first audience back in 2009, then went on to list a round of powerful “We will” statements so by the end of his speech, his aims for office combined in one powerfully positive declaration.

Even his eulogy at Charleston AME Church had words of hope rising and growing in strength throughout, “the buoyancy of hope” for example recurs to create a comforting tone, as well as other words with buoyant meanings, like “rise” and “lift.” All these cues combine to make the speech feel hopeful rather than despairing.

Using similar kinds of words and phrases in this way can work wonders in your story to create the right mood or tone.

How will you use repetition to enhance your story?

Georgina Parfitt


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One thought on “Writing Tips: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
  1. Hatty

    I’ve always loved how Stephen King uses repetition in his books. Its adds so much more meaning to the plot, creating sort of ‘in jokes’ with the reader which connects you more to the characters. Or even giving clever plot hints, like his use of ‘REDRUM’ in ‘The Shining’.

    I’ve never thought of taking inspiration from marketing and political speeches, etc, but what a great idea! Will definitely use this tip in future!


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