The Role of Repetition in Prose

I love it when people see new discussion points in my examples. In my last post, I used a passage from Graceling to illustrate creative internal narration. If you didn't read that post, you may want to hop over to get the full passage and context.

Peta Andersen noticed something else about that passage:

Great examples - it's kind of cinematic, isn't it?

I'm wondering, though, about this section:

"She didn't see where Giddon came off feeling insulted. She didn't see how Giddon had any place in it at all. Who were they, to take her fight away from her and turn it into some sort of understanding between themselves?"

The rest of the text is so tight that adding "she didn't see" is distracting. Katsa doesn't need to explain that she doesn't see something because we're in her head. She doesn't need to frame her thoughts as if they were dialogue, either.

Cashore is a strong writer; if I had to guess, I'd say she left the phrase in for two reasons:

1. Cadence - spoken aloud, the lines sound better, and give the text a more aural feel.

2. Atmosphere/tension - the repetition builds tension, leading into Katsa' frustration with Giddon. It's almost like a refrain.

 Thanks for the observation, Peta!  Anyone else have good examples of selective repeating?

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  1. I think repetition can also be used to emphasize the action (or whatever). To draw the reader's attention and say "This is important" without being annoying. Hopefully :)

  2. Oh, okay. I'll bite. In Faulkner's "Barn Burning," the father hits the boy narrator several times, "hard, but without heat."

    He's also described as having a too-heavy tread about three different times. Repetition for emphasis.

    It's done by the best, y'know. :)

  3. "And Brutus is an honorable man.", from Shakespeare.

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
    Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest --
    For Brutus is an honorable man,
    So are they all, all honorable men --
    Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
    He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
    But Brutus says he was ambitious,
    And Brutus is an honorable man.
    He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
    Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
    Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
    When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
    Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
    And Brutus is an honorable man.
    You all did see that on the Lupercal
    I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
    Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
    And sure he is an honorable man.

  4. Todd -- I like the refrain-like quality of the repetition in your example.

  5. I'm liable to get a big head with this sort of quoting! *preeening*

    Picture books do this a lot--repetition and refrain is a great way to draw kids into a story. Recognizing the repeated words may also encourage kids just starting to read.

    To take this a little farther - I think our eyes are naturally drawn to repeated words and phrases. As Jemi said, it's an excellent way to signal what's important (as long as it's not overdone). This sort of repetition works more subtly, though, as the repeated word/phrase doesn't have to be so structured.

    Hmm...I think I feel a blog post coming on.

  6. How many times are we told by Bartleby, "I Prefer Not"? And how often is it said that Miss Brodie is in her prime? I think the repetition in both these stories are used in many ways: emphasis, theme, character development/non-development, etc.

    Sometimes, repetition works in prose. It's poetic. Sometimes, it just feels repetitive!