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Study How Authors Use Repetition Tools to Create a Unique Voice

This is a great time to study how authors use repetition tools to create a unique voice. And, this is a great time to write. Write. Write. During quarantine, strong feelings are bubbling. Great ones – enjoying family time. Sad ones like loss and isolation. And feelings of frustration and anger too. We’re human so those strong feelings are bound to arise. Writing often begins with strong feelings. 

Poet Georgia Heard said, “For me, all poetry comes from a feeling I have about something. Everybody has feelings. Sometimes I’m happy, sad, angry, frustrated, worried, whatever it is. Sometimes I’m walking down the street or driving, and I’ll see something or remember something that I feel so strongly it makes my insides move. Then I know there’s a possibility for a poem there.” 

~From P16 For the Good of the Earth and Sun: Teaching Poetry

Georgia Heard puts her emotions into the moment and visualizes. Then she writes.

In fiction writing, authors can put their strong feelings into developing characters or envisioning conflict. 

In nonfiction writing, strong feelings help the author search for a nugget of truth that will hook the reader and allow the story they care deeply about be told.

After that, authors use tools that distinguish their writing voice from others. As author Tom Romano explains:

“With time to write, choice in topic, and understanding of what to do, [authors] charge forth with voice…trust the gush.”

~P45 Crafting Authentic Voice

In other words, he is encouraging authors to be fearless in writing sessions. Reach for writing that builds meaning with sophisticated, musical sentences that will introduce your writing voice to your audience.

Repetition Tools to Add Sophistication and Music to your Sentences

Author Heidi Bine-Stock (HBS) highlights several instances of a tool that helps you write with voice.

In her book she discusses how using “subtle and sophisticated figures of speech…are important for conveying nuanced meaning, for giving characters a signature style, and for providing cohesion” in a story. 

~p9 How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Vol. III Figures of Speech

Our focus today is repetition.

Author’s Toolbox – Four Types of Repetition

I’ll analyze and respond to examples and patterns of repetition found in current children’s literature, patterns that surprise a reader, patterns that should be emulated in our own writing.

Repetition Examples 1-2

1.Repetition of beginnings – anaphora is when an author begins sentences with repeated words. 

2.Repetition of the same idea – exergasia is when a word is “repeated” in that the same idea is repeated, like “in other words…”

HBS demonstates with dialogue from A Fish is a Fish:

“Look,” he said triumphantly. “Look, I am a frog.”

“Cows,” said the frog. “Cows! They have four legs, horns, eat grass, and carry pink bags of milk.”

“And people!” said the frog. “Men, women, and children!”

The frog repeats the same word twice at the beginning of his conversations. And he adds details to it with the last one about people – or in other words, men, women and children.

Why write with these patterns? The repetition establishes frog’s style of talking, adding depth to his character. The patterns add a sense of excitement – like learning something for the first time. 

I found this pattern in the book Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard. He repeats the beginning “Fry Bread is…” and then adds a description word to end the first sentence on a page. Then, he continues on “in other words…” So he’s using both types of patterns. Each page is filled with details connected to that last word. For example:

“Fry bread is food. Flour, salt, cornmeal, baking powder, perhaps milk, maybe sugar. All mixed together in a big bowl.” 

Another page reads, “Fry bread is sound. The skillet clangs on the stove, the fire blazes from below, drop the dough in the skillet, the bubbles sizzle and pop.”

The author creates a sense that Fry Bread is “a character” by using repetition and making it come alive on each page. In Native American families, fry bread is a staple at family gatherings. Everyone expects it to be a part of the celebration. As I searched for examples of repetition and looked at how this author uses it, I find myself smiling now at how he crafted Fry Bread as an important character in his story. Subtle. Deeper. Meaningful. How clever! 

(FYI – there is no punctuation on the pages – I’ve added commas and periods to typed version here. That’s another tool for the toolbox – invisibles, which I’ll be writing about in a future post.)

Repetition Example 3

3. Repeated word or phrase in an introduction –  asterismos is when a word or phrase is added to emphasize what follows.

HBS example: 

“Ah, if he could only jump about like his friend and see that wonderful world.”

~ from Fish is a Fish

The expression “Ah” emphasizes what follows it. 

In the book Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker, the phrase “count on me” is used at the beginning of a few sentences sprinkled throughout the story. 

“Count on me,” Katherine’s father told her. By working night and day, he earned enough money to move the family to a town with a black high school. 

And later in the story, Glenn refused to fly unless Katherine okayed the numbers. “You can count on me,” she said. Glenn’s spacecraft…orbited Earth three times and returned home safely.

And, Katherine was promoted again. Now she was asked to calculate the flight paths for Project Apollo…”Count on me,” she said…the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon. Their feat was celebrated around the world.

By using the repetition of the phrase “count on me” readers learn that Katherine took the value of hard work from her father, moved forward with her life, and had people in NASA counting on her. It’s also a play on words since much of what Katherine did was calculate with numbers, counting numbers, manipulating formulas, figuring out how to solve problems mathematically. Subtle, deeper, meaningful. How clever!

Repetition 4

4. Repeated word(s) in opposite order – has two names, antimetabole or chiasmus

Let’s take a look at the opening of Sachiko by Caren Stelson:

“Six-year-old Sachiko sat on a worn, woven tatami mat and stared at the boiled egg in the middle of the low table.

So did her fourteen-year-old brother Aki, her twelve-year-old brother Ichiro, and her four-year-old sister Misa.

The hen had finally laid an egg. 

Sachiko’s stomach growled. 

Mother bounced two-year-old Toshi on her lap and moved the egg closer to him. Toshi clapped his hands. The egg was his. The egg, when there was one, was always his. Toshi was the youngest. 

Sachiko glanced at the egg and then smiled at her little brother.”

In the opening of Sachiko’s story we see the egg in the middle of a sentence (much like the egg being in the middle of the table), then at the end, then it moves to the beginning of two more sentences. Repeating the egg in this way makes it the focus of attention– for Sachiko and her family, and also for the reader. Emphasis is placed on this lone egg. Why? What is the importance of one egg? Why is the two-year-old the only one who gets eggs? (The reader finds out further in the chapter that everyone in 1945 Japan has little food, and there are other options to eat, but a toddler could not swallow those…) How does a six-year-old not grab the egg but sacrifice for her youngest sibling? So many questions about the main character, traits are revealed in this introduction to Sachiko’s character. Subtle, deeper, meaningful. How clever!

 Try It Out!

As in the words of author/educator Donald Murray, “Voice is the magical heard quality in writing. Voice is what allows the reader’s eyes to move over silent print and hear the writer speaking.”

p10 Crafting Authentic Voice

While you’re reading, keep an eye out for more examples of these 4 types of repetition:

  1. Repetition of beginnings
  2. Repetition of the same idea
  3. Repeated word or phrase in an introduction
  4. Repeated word(s) in opposite order

Develop your own writing voice by using one or more of them in your writing, in work in progress.  As I scanned my WIP, this line jumped out at me:

Old: “That was the year Pearl stopped typing. She no longer wanted to file papers or take shorthand.”

Writer Andrea Page 2020

(I changed the MC’s name for this post) Thinking about the repetition tool used in Fry Bread, I could see a connection between the first sample of “office work” and the next two. I’ll try it and see what happens. 

Next Try: That was the year Pearl stopped her office work. No more typing. No more flipping and filing papers. No more scribbling shorthand. 

Writer Andrea Page 2020

I tried to add stronger verbs too. Keeping in mind that every word must count in a picture book, I tried to lower the word count.

New: “That year Pearl stopped typing. No more filing papers or scribbling shorthand.”

Writer Andrea Page 2020

I’ve whittled the word count down by 5 words from the original sentence. When you’re going through this process, remember Maya Angelou’s quote – “I’m not perfect. I’m pretty good.”

I’m not perfect but was fearless enough to try it here. And although the repetition tool isn’t used exactly as the models above, using repetition led me to the new sentence by helping me see and hear more details of “office work.” The new sentence is more concise and revising has prompted me to reorder two others. I feel pretty good about the results. You can too, if you just try it!

Feel free to post your own examples of these 4 types of repetition in the comment section. It could be a line from a book you just read or from your own WIP. (change the names to protect their identities like I did) I’d love to see your examples! Or please tell me what you think of this post, I’d love to know that too!

Best wishes finding your unique voice!


Subscribe to my newsletter and join me on a journey as we develop writing voice…

Related Links

Poet Georgia Heard website

Author Heidi Bine-Stock website

Teacher/Author Tom Romano book for teachers

Interview with Author Kevin Noble Maillard

Author Helaine Becker website

Author Caren Stelson website



Children's Author and Educator

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