3 Ways to Add Repetition That Pleases Readers

We all know to avoid “bad” repetition—our overused pet words, unintended echoing phrases, and repetitive sentence structure. But there’s also useful repetition that we can use to enhance our stories.

Repetition can be used to reinforce a sense of unity or to supply readers with a satisfying feeling after tying up loose ends.

Let’s look at three examples of useful repetition.

1. Having the closing image mirror the book’s opening image.

This is a literary bookend technique, frequently used by scriptwriters. Writers can repeat elements from the book’s beginning at its end (for example, the same setting, the same characters, a similar situation) and add a few subtle differences that reflect and emphasize the change the protagonist has just experienced or effected. This echo of the opening scene provides the end of the book with a full-circle feel.

Using the same location at the beginning and ending reminds the reader of the character’s arc through the story and his progress—where he is now in his life, compared to where he stood at the start of the book.

2. Tying an early subplot that seems like a separate, smaller, storyline into the book’s conclusion.

Tying in a subplot to the end of the story is another way to give readers that feeling of completeness in a story.

Some subplots feature a relationship between the protagonist and a secondary character—a relationship that suddenly becomes key at the end of the story.

Others might seem like a completely separate, almost random, storyline . . . until the end of the book where they impact the main story in unexpected ways. Subplots can be particularly effective when they work double-duty and make the protagonist face internal conflict or stand in the way of what the character wants most.

3. Repeating an object, image, word, setting, imagery, or even a distinctive phrase.

This type of repetition reinforces symbolism or theme. Anytime you repeat an object or specific diction, it implies significance and imbues it with importance.

Many readers have a real talent for sussing out literary elements, and others may subconsciously pick up on the subtext—especially with the aid of repetition.

A note of caution

Repetition is better used when we’re being subtle with it. Heavy-handed use of repetition can seem as if we’re hitting readers over the head with our message—or make it appear as if we don’t trust our readers will pick up on it. Either way, it could pull readers out of our story.

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About Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth’s latest book, Knot What it Seams was released February 5, and Rubbed Out launches July 2. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently Writer’s Knowledge Base—the Search Engine for Writers. Find her on Twitter.


  1. I like this post. I’ve found that sometimes repeating setting, objects, images etc., sort of plops into place on its own. It’s amazing how the brain stores those elements and logically (sometimes) puts them in their place at the end.

    As in life, I have to be careful not to repeat myself (or stories) unnecessarily.

  2. I love the bookend concept, and symbolism. Just goes to show how subtle we must be as writers, and how good planning (plotting) often leads to success.

  3. Thanks so much, K.M., for hosting me today!

    Teresa–I think you’re so right–a lot of this comes naturally to us…maybe because we’ve subconsciously picked up on it as readers?

    Crystal–Thanks for coming by! And you’re right…it’s amazing how just subtle tweaks can make a big difference for our stories.

  4. As a reader, I do like these subtle bits of repetition. Good tips, Elizabeth!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  5. Laura–Me too. Thanks for coming by. 🙂

  6. I’ve used the second one! I think it shows up in all of my books, but strongest in the last one.

  7. Alex–I’ve noticed that you have! 🙂 And very effectively, too.

  8. Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us today, Elizabeth!

  9. Elizabeth – I agree completely that a certain amount of repetition (especially the ‘bookend’ idea you mention) can give a book that ‘polished’ feel and allow the reader a sense of gestalt. And absolutely repetition is valuable for integrating sub-plots into the larger plot. I also like repetition as a way to weave a ‘running joke’ into a story if it’s done as you say subtly. For instance, I like the way you use repetition to integrate running jokes (like the Back Porch Blues Band’s joke about that special bottle of wine) into your Memphis BBQ series. A touch of repetition is useful; too much, though, can be boring. Thanks for making me think about this.

  10. Margot–It has to be used judiciously, doesn’t it? Good word–gestalt! That’s exactly the result we’re looking for with this approach.

  11. This is a great post! I tend to repeat myself a lot, especially when I’m talking.


  12. Elizabeth, thanks for the excellent reminder of how repetition can work to heighten the enjoyment of a story for a reader and how it can be used to tie things up at the end to create a satisfying ending. I am helping a friend with a book and these techniques will work very well for her book.

  13. Gina–I do, too. 🙂

    Steve–Great! Glad the post helps. Thanks for coming by!

  14. Thanks for sharing such great tips. Great article, Elizabeth!

  15. Thanks, Carol!

  16. This is a very helpful post. Thanks. I’m finishing my ms now and I as reflect on point 1 I’m feeling pretty good that I’ve accomplished it.

  17. Mary Sue–Thanks! And sounds like you’ve got a great manuscript. 🙂

  18. Thank you for this post. I find that repetition is one of the most satisfying and story unifying writing devices. Because its so powerful, I see why you say to use it carefully! I’ll be keeping these tips for present and future reference. Gratitude.

  19. Tammy J. Palmer says

    You are so right that when done well repetition can add layers and deepen the meaning of a story. Overdone, as it was in a novel I read recently, leads to the reader screaming, “Enough already! I get it!” Enjoyed the post.

  20. Idellah–Thanks! It definitely provides a very satisfying feeling when reading.

    Tammy–Good point–everything can be overdone with writing! A little goes a long way. 🙂

  21. Thanks for sharing. I seem to get new tips or insights every time I visit this blog.

  22. If my first mystery uses repetition, it was an accident. As a songwriter, it’s an obvious tool (the chorus repeats words, and the bookend technique is real common in country music.) But I’ve failed to incorporate it well into my fiction.

    When it’s subtle, it’s potent. I revere Raymond Chandler, but hadn’t noticed how doors are repeated in “The Big Sleep” until another reviewer point it out. I immediately realized that locks were a natural metaphor in my current book, so I’m on my way.

  23. Three great ways to use repetition to entice and satisfy readers. Thanks! I call the repetitions “loop-de-loops” and the book ends “bring-it-back-around” endings. My 2nd graders can effectively use bring-it-back-around endings to satisfy their readers.


  1. […] Weiland, though, does a beautiful job of explaining how you can do it in this blog post. And if you want more of her tips on how to use great literary devices to better your story […]

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