In praise of repetitive writing

David Teniers der Juengere - Das Katzenkonzert

If you do not hear music in your words, you have put too much thought into your writing and not enough heart. – Terry Brooks

I’m still working through issues raised by sending my writing through a critique group. Some people objected to any repetition in my writing.

Now, that can be a perfectly valid point. Some people repeat a word several times in a sentence/paragraph/page without noticing they’re doing it. I confess that I have done this once. Or twice. Or… I have to say it… repetitively.


It is also true that repetition can be used to set up a rhythm. You know how you can set up a reader’s expectations by playing along, giving them what they expect to read? You can also lure them into reading by setting up a rhythm. George Bernard Shaw did this in Pygmalion (the forerunner of the musical My Fair Lady) when he had a character say, “I’m willing to tell you, I’m wanting to tell you, I’m waiting to tell you.

This is often used very effectively in poetry. Alfred Noyes, in his poem The Highwayman, used great, galloping repetitions that set up a rhythm of a horse riding down a road.

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

It’s more common when what was written down is intended to be read aloud.

Cicero, for example, one of Rome’s most famous public speakers, told his rapt audiences that the end of a sentence “ought to be determined not by the speaker’s pausing for breath, or by a stroke interposed by a copyist, but by the constraint of the rhythm”.

This was an interesting article on the history of punctuation.

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