Fun with words?
Yes, it’s possible. And practical. Especially practicable when we want to create emphasis.
Easiest is simple repetition:
“And the highwayman came riding–riding–riding / Up to the old inn-door.” (Noyes, “The Highwayman”)
Pick a key word, and it becomes the key element.
Be careful, though, for repetition becomes a key gimmick, as we know from reading “The Highwayman”: “A red-coat troop came marching–marching–marching”. From mid-point on, the repetition is too much.
Play with Incremental Repetition:
An increment is a small amount. Incremental Repetition is a small change at the next repeat of the word or phrase.
Again, from “The Highwayman”: “And they shot him down on the highway / Down like a dog on the highway.”
The slight change miraculously adds strength.
For a clever version of incremental repetition, check out Judy Collins’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”: Both Sides Now
Grow for Emphasis:
Once we get to working with changes in repetition, we run into a clever Greek word auxesis, which means “growth” or “increase”, but is really a fancy way to say climactic ordering.
In Robinson Jeffers’ translation of Euripides’ Medea, our main character contemplates the murders of those who have wronged her: “Grind. Crush. Burn.” She, of course, chooses the last method, the one most painful and enduring. No quick deaths for Medea.
“Both Sides Now” uses auxesis to present ascending significance. The first stanzas discuss clouds (innocent, childlike naivete), the next discuss love (the focus of our teens and twenties), the last discuss life (maturity in considering our world).
We can take power away by descending in importance. Remember the lesson of the trolls? Removing power can be a useful technique.
Work in Threes:
Once is not remarkable. Twice seems coincidence. Thrice is serendipity.
Set the Right Pace:
We can slow down the speed of our repetition and auxesis by adding conjunctions: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day” (Macbeth’s famous speech by Shakespeare). This is called a polysyndeton.
We speed up by removing conjunctions: “Out, out, brief candle” is the asyndeton
from the same speech by Macbeth.
Front and Back:
Repetition can occur at the beginning of a series of sentences, which creates an anaphora:
From Winston Churchill’s June 1940 speech: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight . . . in the air, we shall defend our island . . . we shall fight on the beaches . . . we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Opposite to the anaphora is the epistrophe.
From Sam’l Beckett: “Where now? Who now? When now?” (The Unnamable)
From Shakespeare’s J.Caesar: “Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended.” (Brutus)
This example comes from Jeffers’ Medea: “They were full of cold pride, they ruled all this country–they are down in the ashes, crying like dogs, cowering in the ashes, in their own ashes.”
Keep a light touch:
Don’t overwork it. With a light touch, the simple occurrence of repetition creates power on the page.
Use it to remind of elements of character.
Use it to develop setting with a quick glance or a lingering view.
Crime scene images. Events in a mano-y-mano battle. Workings of a spell. Effects of a kiss.
Repetition creates emphasis.