It’s Thursday and that means I look into the future at a more successful me and report back to the present me on what I will have done to get where I will be.
Also known as the Weekly Motivational!
This week it’s not about keeping myself inspired or motivated to write; it’s about a handy little tool in your writer’s toolbelt that I like to call the Repetition Recitation.
Just what is the Repetition Recitation, you ask? Well, the Repetition Recitation is a narrative device by which you ascribe importance to a person or thing by referencing it multiple times in a short timeframe.
In television, you will often see this device used when a character is suddenly acting a little out of their ordinary space, saying or doing things that you’ve never seen them do before, but that you are expected to believe they’ve always done. This gives narrative weight to a moment in the future of the episode in which the thing they’ve been repeating suddenly comes into play for dramatic tension.
It’s a kind of ploy when used in that way, but that doesn’t mean the narrative device, reinforcing a particular attitude or piece of information, is inherently a bad device.
When you see characters acting in stereotypical ways, seeming 2-dimensional and not well-rounded, what you’re actually seeing is a character archetype being established. It is familiar in some way and lets us feel comfortable that we know who this individual is. This is the Repetition Recitation at play. Then, when the character finally begins to grow and change, there’s a very clear path for them to follow because we know very concretely “this is what the character would normally do” and then they don’t do it because of external events that have changed their priorities.
These are shorthand for character development, which can be incredibly useful when you’re first getting to know your characters or the world or just facets of the world. Things that you distinctly repeat in the narrative have extra weight. Readers know “this shit is important” not because they understand the narrative device but because confirmation bias exists in the reader. They see information being repeated and their brains automatically register it as having meaning, as having import. Any time they see it, it sticks in the craw and reinforces this subconscious belief.
As writers we tend to see these things coming a mile away, but that doesn’t mean suddenly they are clumsy tools. They might be utilized clumsily but the tool’s use persists.
You can also cause tension or heighten awareness or emotion in a scene, control the flow of the scene, by repetition of information. A thudding step coming nearer while a person hides in a closet nearby can ratchet up the tension and physically scare people who are waiting for the moment that the repetition suddenly stops and all hell breaks loose.
I could go on and on about the many ways in which repetition can be used to enhance many aspects of many types of narratives, but I think it’s worthwhile for you to run the mental exercise and see what else you can come up with.
And speaking of repetition, always remember to write the hell on!