Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Power of Repetition


By Rob Sanders

As a teacher, I know the power of repetition. Let me say that again, repetition. Yes. repetition. Don’t believe me? Consider what others have to say on the subject:

  • “Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.” —Oliver Napoleon Hill
  • “The eight laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.” —John Wooden
  • “Repetition is the mother of education.” —Jean Paul
If repetition is such a powerful teaching tool, then it stands to reason that repetition is also an important tool for nonfiction writers to keep in their toolboxes. Let’s explore some ways to incorporate repetition into your manuscript.


THE RULE OF THREE

It seems that good things come in threes in picture books. A triad of words, phrases, names, adjectives, and so on can be pleasing to the ear and can also provide a feeling of completeness or wholeness in a manuscript. These triads are known as the Rule of Three. Things that come in threes are thought to be more persuasive. In addition, three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern, and patterns can make content more memorable. One less and you feel unsatisfied, one more and it feels overdone. You can find the rule of three in familiar phrases such as:

·         We came. We saw. We conquered.
·         Tora! Tora! Tora!
·         Stop! Look! Listen!
·         Blood, sweat, and tears.
·         Cool, calm, and collected.

Of course, the rule of three isn’t limited to three words strung together. Consider this use of the Rule of Three by Winston Churchill:

            We shall go on to the end,
            we shall fight in France,
            we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
            we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
            we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
            we shall fight on the beaches,
            we shall fight on the landing grounds,
            we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
            we shall fight in the hills;
            we shall never surrender.

The use of the Rule of Three usually slows the pacing of a story since it causes the reader to emphasize each word or phrase. So, this crafting technique is both visual (how it appears on the page), aural (how it sounds when read aloud), and oral (how it is spoken).


A GOLDEN THREAD

Politicians, preachers, and other public speakers often use Golden Threads in their speeches and sermons. Phrases such as I have a dream; Now is the time; Together we can. Together we will. Together we must.—are woven through a presentation to evoke emotions, provide continuity, and leave a lasting impression with listeners. Most of these speakers may not use the term Golden Thread. Instead, they may call the approach they’re using anaphora—a Greek term meaning repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of several sentences. Whatever you call it, it’s a powerful tool to engage listeners and readers.

Often found in fictional texts, a Golden Thread is a technique where a recurring phrase or set of words is woven throughout a piece of writing. My students discovered a Golden Thread in the historical fiction novel Winnie’s Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut. The phrase “You’ll always be my bear,” is uttered by almost every character who comes in contact with Winnie. So prevalent is the Golden Thread that the fourth graders I was teaching could sense when the dramatic moment was coming (usually when the character was about to say goodbye to Winnie) and they would join in speaking the phrase together. The primary functions of the Golden Thread are to “tie” together the writing and to provide a feeling of completeness. But Golden Threads can do much more heavy lifting than that.

In her book, I Could Do That! Ester Morris Gets Women the Vote, Linda Arms White uses the phrase I could do that throughout the story. The Golden Thread not only holds the story together, but it gives insight into the main character, Ester Morris. Ester’s confidence and competence grows over time as she faces small challenges (learning to sew and make tea, for instance) to larger tasks (opening her own business and moving West to Wyoming) to monumental undertakings (convincing politicians to grant the women of Wyoming the right to vote and running for office herself). With each endeavor, Ester’s character is revealed with the Golden Thread, I could do that.

In Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, I use a heftier Golden Thread to communicate the theme of the book. My Golden Thread morphs, using stronger verbs in each of its three uses, and then is summarized in a simpler fashion at the close of the book. Take a look . . .

     Harvey dreamed that everyone—even gay people—would have equality.
     He dreamed that he and his friends would be treated like everyone else.
     He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.
                        ***
     Harvey and the people asked for equality.
     They asked to be treated like everyone else.
     They asked to live and love as they pleased.
     They hoped the march would make a difference.
                        ***
     The people demanded equality.
     They demanded to be treated like everyone else.
     They demanded to live and love as they pleased.
     They were proud. They had hope. They would make a difference.
          ***
     Equality.
     Pride.
     Hope.
     Love.
     Harvey’s dream became a flag for us all.

REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION
      
Forms of repetition aren’t limited to the Rule of Three and Golden Threads. As you read and analyze nonfiction texts, be on the lookout for other ways repetition is used. Then analyze your own writing to see where repetition might help you emphasize a point, create pacing, give insight into a character, establish a theme, and more. You’ll be glad you did. Glad, I tell you. Glad.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Sanders is a writer who teaches and a teacher who writes. He is known for his fierce and funny nonfiction and fiction. His 2020 releases will include The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier (Little Bee); Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg (Henry Holt): and Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter not Shade (Sterling). Visit Rob’s website at www.robsanderswrites.com and follow him on Facebook (RobSandersWrites) and Twitter (@RobSandersWrite).


ABOUT THE PRIZE  


One participant will win an autographed copy of Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below. 

124 comments:

  1. Love this, Rob! I just revised a NF PB this morning to include the rule of three. Thank you so much for such great examples!

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  2. Thank you, Rob. I knew about the rule of three, but the golden thread is new to me. I’m going to be looking for it and seeing how I can incorporate it in my writing.

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  3. Thanks, Rob. Great advice. Great examples.

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  4. Hi, Rob! Your post gives some compelling examples, some excellent mentor texts, and some great food for thought! I especially love the term Golden Thread. Thank you!

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  5. I appreciate The Golden Thread examples and I can't wait to weave some into my manuscripts. Thank you Rob.

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  6. Thank you for your descriptions and examples of the writing tools, Rule of Three and Golden Thread, Rob. It helps to see how/why they work well! I'm excited to check out your new book.

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  7. It's seems so obvious, but I never really appreciated how "three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern" and how I can use that in my NF writing. I do use repetition in some forms, but your post have given me many more ideas of incorporating it!

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  8. Thanks for a great post! I will be checking for repetition in all the books I'm reading and in my writing as well! Look forward to reading your upcoming books!

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  9. Rob, thank you for your post. Repetition not only helps the reader absorb the information, it makes the information far more engaging!

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  10. Repetition. Powerful usages came together showing me how to use it. Thank you for this post.

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  11. I'm currently working on a fairy tale retelling and using the rule of three-I came up with a twist ending in the middle of the night so off I go before I need to go to work! Thanks!

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  12. Ty, Rob, for introducing me to the idea of "the Golden Thread." I know of repetition and the rule of 3, but this is even more effective. I appreciate the examples and your entire body of work.

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  13. I love the idea of using a Golden Thread and appreciate the example you provided.

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  14. I never considered that three was the smallest number of elements to create a pattern. So helpful! Thanks for your examples—the books, of course, but also the speeches. I love the way you morphed your Golden Thread in PRIDE.

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  15. Love the 'Golden Thread' idea--I've read it in use but never known what to call it before.

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  16. Rob, Thank you for this great advice! I love books that use repetition (like The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag AND I dissent by Debbie Levy, and many others). They are such fun to read aloud and the words stay with you much longer using this approach! Susan

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  17. What a powerful concept: Golden Thread...I shall remember it. Can I tell you how powerful x 3 I found PRIDE?!

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  19. So many great examples, Rob! Thanks for a great post.

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  20. Just reading all these great repeated lines and examples of eloquence was thrilling! I feel very energized this morning -- thank you!

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  21. Of course, of course, of course-repetition, repetition, repetition!!! Thank you for all the great examples, Rob Sanders.

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  22. Thanks for weaving your Golden Thread rule into the fabric of ideas. Also the rule of using Three.
    Looking forward to reading your terrific books!

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  23. Thanks for the great post about using the rule of three in NF books. Also the Golden Thread.

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  24. I have always admired I COULD DO THAT! ESTER MORRIS GETS WOMEN THE VOTE. I'm going to reread it soon.

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  25. Love this post...and the power of 3! I've used it in my fiction but love the life it can breathe into nonfiction, too.

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  26. Love all of this! I find that I use it without thinking and it really does improve the story. You have pointed out a few things that I want to take a look at and possibly tweak with my manuscripts. Great ending to your article!

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  27. Thanks for the great reminders, the clear examples, and the encouraging post.

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  28. Light bulb time! Of course this works! Have't I listened as first graders repeated the phrase they knew was coming in the story I read to them in the library? I'm seeing this as a way in to the bio I'm struggling with. Thanks, Rob.

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  29. What a good article. The blend of truth and humor hit the spot. I particularly liked: "Don’t believe me? Consider what others have to say on the subject:

    “Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.” —Oliver Napoleon Hill; “The eight laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.” —John Wooden; and “Repetition is the mother of education.” —Jean Paul. Thanks for making the topic so clear and specific.

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  30. Thanks, Rob, for sharing specific examples! There are so many ways to take a book a little higher!

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  31. This is a wonderful deep dive into the rule of three and how it can be applied to NF. The examples are extremely helpful! -Sara Ackerman

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  32. I am a big fan of repetition. A very big fan. Big. Fan.

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  33. This was an excellent post. Simply excellent!

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  34. Your explanation of the Rule of Three and the Golden Thread and how they can be used in NF is great. Really great! Thanks

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  35. Although I know from experience that children respond to and benefit from repetition when reading, I've hesitated to put it to use. Thank you for the reminder of its usefulness. It bears repeating.

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  36. I like this idea of a Golden Thread. It meshes with Bethany Hegedus's threading the needle and using that thread to connect the heart of the story subject, with your own heart, and the heart of the reader.

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  37. Thanks for providing clarity about these important writing tools: repetition, rule of three and the golden thread. You gave great examples that included longer nonfiction pieces such as biographies. Repetition and rule of three are especially effective in shorter nonfiction picture books. It allows the writer to emphasize important information in a flowing cadence without using rhyme, and encourages the use of alliteration. This post made me stop and think about more ways to do this in my own writing.

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  38. Love the use of repetition in our stories. Thanks for the reminder. Learned a new word, too! Thanks for the terrific post!

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  39. Thank you for the great post! Thank you for giving such good examples! Thank you for your time!

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  40. Thanks for this post about the power of repetition and the Golden Thread.

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  41. Thanks for this post! Thanks for this post! Thanks for this post! It's super clear and helpful:)

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  42. Another reminder for my arsenal. Not only does this Rule of Three make for mellifluous prose, it would be a good way to keep coming back to the theme as the storyline expands.

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  43. Thanks, Rob, for another reminder to use repetition. It's especially important in NF. I always love it in the work of others, just can't seem to remember to use it in my own!

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  44. Repetition is a great tool to drive the message and helps with memory. Such a great point. I try to use it in my own writing and I've noticed it in some nonfiction as well. I would like to learn how to use repetition even better in my writing. This is a great element to explore.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  45. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Thanks for the books you write. Thanks for your support to the writing community.

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  46. I love, love, love the rule of threes! (See what I did there?) Looking forward to reading Rob's upcoming picture books.

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  47. This is such an excellent and informative post! Thank-you so much. Your emphasis on repetition, the rhythm and musicality it can lend to a text and its power of persuasion was super-helpful and illuminating. I appreciated as well your explanation of the Greek term 'anaphora.' I loved the closing lines of your post: "You'll be glad you did. Glad, I tell you. Glad!" Fabulous! I look forward to reading your books.

    Celia Viramontes

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  48. I cannot get enough great teaching wisdom from Rob Sanders! Thanks for more great guidance on writing strong nonfiction.

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  49. I've done some preaching and used the Golden Thread without knowing it had a name--let alone two! Thank you for this, and for such great examples of how to deliberately employ repetition for stronger nonfiction.

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  50. Thank you for a great lesson about the Rule of Three and Golden Threads! Your post gave me an aha! moment, a wa-ha! moment, and a voila! moment. I will be looking more closely for repetitive patterns in mentor texts and putting some of my own into practice. PS - I'm really looking forward to reading your book about Albert Cashier - what a fantastic history - Priscilla

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  51. Thanks for the post Rob. These are great tips for both fiction and nonfiction stories!

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  52. I like your repetition idea, and I also think it's great that you've carved out a niche for yourself with your choice of subjects. My daughter is gay and runs a preschool and is always on the lookout for books with gay heroes. Thanks for your contribution to this field! (And yay, Mayor Pete!)

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  53. Talk about timing--I just read "Pride" yesterday as part of my ReFoReMo homework! And I learned quite a few things I didn't know about Harvey Milk--so thank you, muchly! And thanks too for the tidbit of Churchill's speech :) A golden thread, indeed!

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  54. Rob, Thank you for the introduction to and examples of the Golden Thread. Great post.

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  55. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I've seen this rule in action with readers. It helps build reading confidence. I had not really noticed it in non fiction, but I will look for it now for sure. Thanks so much!

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  56. The Rule of Three. The Golden Thread. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Thanks for sharing these nuggets Rob!

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  57. Such a great reminder about how effective repetition can be, especially in books that are meant to be read out loud. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  58. Great advice, Rob! I sometimes forget to come up with a catchy phrase by my MC that can be repeated throught the story. Thank you.

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  59. Great post. Great techniques. Great examples. Thank you!

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  60. Thank you for emphasizing the rule of three Rob. Great examples and a new way to think about repetition as the Golden Thread.

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  61. I enjoyed and appreciated your post on the value of incorporating repetition in our nonfiction texts. The explanation of a Golden Thread was most helpful too. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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  62. Great post! Thank you for sharing!

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  63. Loving this post about the rule of three. There's something really powerful in this formula, and also, in being succinct in fewer words.

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  64. Rob, enjoyed your post, Repetition is also a poetic tool. Thank you, thank you, thank you .

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  65. Thank you for reminding us of this beautiful use of language to give rhythm and flow to a piece of writing. I also appreciate hearing from teacher writers and writer teachers.

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  66. Great post, Rob! Thank you for sharing your examples of the Rule of Three and the Golden Thread. I loved Bethany Hegedus's idea of threading the needle with one’s heart and your idea of a Golden Thread meshes perfectly with hers.

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  67. Thanks Rob for so much great advice, including encouraging us to “analyze [our] own writing to see where repetition might help you emphasize a point, create pacing, give insight into a character, establish a theme, and more”. 🙂

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  68. Thanks, Rob, for this great post. I've used the rule of three, repetition in my fiction stories, but never thought about it being part of non-fiction, too.

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  69. Yes, I love repetition in kids books! Great post.

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  70. Thank you for your expertise. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for your advice.

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  71. I love that you *showed* us sucessful implementation of repetition in text examples and explained how it can strengthen the reader/listener's enjoyment and understanding of the book. Thank you!

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  72. Rob, I need to read and practice your Repetition Rule to make my writing more meaningful. Thanks for all the examples and suggestions of how to do it right.
    Melanie Vickers

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  73. Oooh! Thanks for this precious article. Reptition, repetition, repetition. I do love the magic of 3.

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  74. Repetition, the rule of three and the golden thread - the secrets to tie the writing together and provide a feeling of completeness. Got it! Thanks for explaining it so clearly.

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  75. Very helpful post. I use a Golden Thread in two of my books, but I didn't know there was a name for the technique. Kids love to anticipate it and say it with me at school presentations. Thank you!

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  76. These techniques are new to me and I appreciate the specific examples of mentor text.

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  77. Thank you Rob for the wonderful reminder of repetition, repetition, repetition! Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  78. Excellent lesson on craft. Thank you!

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  79. Thank you for sharing this great post on repetition and "the golden thread" and for providing some mentor texts so we can explore this technique at work. I've already put them all on hold at my library!

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  80. The Golden Thread is an excellent writing tool to show more impact, share more persuasive facts, and a satisfying meaning to a story.

    Thank you, Rob, for sharing your knowledge and many excellent examples in this post.

    Suzy Leopold

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  81. Thank you for sharing your post on repetition, it certainly is an important tool. I appreciate the mentor texts, too. Very helpful!

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  82. Love your example of slowing down the rule of three. Thanks so very much! Good for fiction or nf!

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  83. I love this focus of the Golden Thread.

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  84. Thank you so much for helping me to find these Golden Threads in the books I read and in those I write!!!

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  85. Great post! Your examples of The Golden Thread helped me to figure out how to revise a manuscript. Thank you!

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  86. So great to see you here! You came, you saw, you conquered. So happy to be on your journey. Thanks for always caring and sharing!

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  87. I've always associated the rule of three with fiction, so thanks for opening my eyes to its importance in nonfiction as well.

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  88. Repetition is a great device that works well for many people. These are wonderful examples!

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  89. I've used repetition but the idea of a Golden Thread is new to me (but it's brilliant). Thank you.

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  90. Rob, this insight into repetition is powerful. Thanks for the encouragement and examples you shared.

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  91. Your use of repetition In PRIDE is masterful. Thank you for sharing this powerful tool with us!

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  92. Loved, loved, loved this post! Thanks for broadening my understanding from a simple rule of three to a Golden Threat to the device of anaphora — it was incredibly helpful.

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  93. Thank you for an insightful post about repetition.
    Thank you for an insightful post about repetition.
    Thank you for an insightful post about repetition.

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  94. I like the "golden thread" but never knew what to call it... great name. As I revise, I'll keep these two tips in mind.

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  95. Great info about the rule of 3 and the Golden Thread. Thanks!

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  96. There was a lot to like in this post, but I'll mention that fact that three is the smallest number of elements to create a pattern--and patterns make content more memorable. Also, I liked the info that the rule of three slows down our pacing and causes the reader to reflect or slow down their thinking.

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  97. This is such great advice. I love the strong examples you gave. Repetition is so important - I think of athletes practicing the same drills and skills, over and over and over again. I think it's called muscle memory. In writing - it's the Golden Thread and Rule of 3.

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  98. Thank you for the tip--and the examples! I'm putting this on my list as something to check for in my own work when I'm revising.

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  99. "Play it again," I'll say to a piano student. Then, "again." Then, still smiling, "one more time." I like to remind them that neuromuscular pathways are being formed through each repetition!
    I like your examples of ways repetition, the rule of three, and a golden thread can work together.

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  100. Thanks for your post, Rob. I appreciate your books and can’t wait to read them. I appreciate what you write about and for. I appreciate you :)

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  101. As a poet, I am right on board with your ideas about the important roles repetition can play in our writing narrative nonfiction. Thanks, Rob!

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  102. So happy I read this! Happy I tell you. Really happy.

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  103. Yes, yes yes! Love those threes and golden threads. Perfect for what I'm trying to achieve in my pb bio right now. Thanks, Rob.

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  104. Such a convincing post! Thanks for the many great examples.

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  105. Thanks Rob for explaining golden threads and providing wonderful examples and quotes. Great post. Great post. Great post. 😁

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  106. Thank you for showing us more ways to use the Rule of Three!

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  107. The golden thread running through the narrative is an interesting concept. I will look for it as I read other books.

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  108. Love, love, love these tips! This post was such a help--talking about specific ways to help us write a stronger piece. I never thought about weaving the rule of three and a golden thread in my own writing, although I am now more aware that I've seen and read it often in many new nonfiction picture books. Thank you, Rob!

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  109. Rob, thanks for sharing such wonderful advice! I especially liked your comments and insights on the "Golden Thread"... that's were I've been working lately. These are great examples.

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  110. I'm glad I read your powerful piece, glad, glad i tell you, and your website is powerful too. Maria Johnson

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  111. Wonderful reminders of structure, repetition, and how to make a story resonate. Thank you Rob!

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  112. What struck me in your post? What struck me in your post? What struck me was that you did what you were describing which was wonderful! Thank you for a thoughtful, fun post to read that got me thinking about my manuscript. Can't wait to read the books that you mentioned. Thank you again!

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  113. Great examples and suggestions. Thanks!

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  114. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you ! I borrowed some quote for this post to inspire my AP Art students who are in the midst of a sustained investigation. It was a hit!

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  115. Thank you for your insight into how repetition can be an effective writing tool and the history behind it.

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  116. Wow, another magnificent post! Thank you for this, Rob. My students aren’t fond of the triads, but just adore a golden thread. We have researched books that use it and practiced it in their class writing too.

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  117. I love the imagery of threading our stories with gold. Thank you for this post and for "Pride."

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  118. I love when anaphora is used right and I learned a new term "golden thread".

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  119. Your post will help me make my stories better, a golden thread, rule of three and repetition. I was unaware of the Golden Thread, so I will keep looking for that element when doing ReForMo this month. Thank you.

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  120. Wow! What a fantastically helpful post - thank you so much, Rob!

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