R=Repetition (Feb 19)

. . . of words and sounds

Repetition works. I repeat: repetition works // Shutterstock

To tell someone they are repetitive is not a compliment. Yet repetition is a very useful tool for writers.

Consider Shakespeare. His sonnet 40, in 14 lines, has the word love 10 times, including five times in the first three lines:

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all,

What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?

No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call (etc etc)

In sonnet 135 he uses his nickname “Will” seven times, and uses “will” as a common noun another six times. Also there’s a “wilt”. Here is an extract:

So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will

One will of mine, to make thy large Will more. (etc etc)

What is a non-Will writer to do?

A starting point is to remember that words are sounds as well as signifiers. Consider this sentence from the nature documentary Our World, on the giant kelp of coastal California: “Air-filled floats lift the fronds towards the sunlit surface.” It sounds beautiful, as it matches the sounds to their substance.

The sound-substance connection is encoded deep in our alphabet. The letter Q looks like a monkey with a tail and sounds like the monkey’s cackle. S is a snake which hisses and slithers. O is the shape of a mouth making the sound O.

Admittedly such long-ago provenances are misty. Regardless, repetition is an area where the sound is decisive. If the word has a lilt, like love, then use it at will in a love poem. If it is blunt or percussive — like a curse word, or like mécanique as Charles de Gaulle emphasized it at the beginning and end of a message to the French people in 1940:/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwMVMbmQBug/

— then deploy it where force is wanted. And if it simply sounds funny, like donut, then repeat it in a joke, as the beloved Mitch Hedberg does here:

That’s eight donuts in 46 seconds, including four donuts in the first eight. Like Shakespeare, Hedberg accelerates the repetition right out of the gate. (Note: the sentence at the start of this paragraph is duller if you replace donuts with times.)

Another way in which repetition is important is for clarity. If you are writing about a report, refer to it repeatedly as a report – don’t call it a report here, a study there and an analysis somewhere else. You just confuse the reader.

LEARN: Read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets here.

USE: Write an eight-line poem, using the world love at least eight times.

Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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