Listen to any good song and you’ll notice that the same notes are played repeatedly with minor variation. Stories need to use repetition as well to emphasize ideas. The first time we see something, it appears interesting. But the second time we see that same idea, then it has a more powerful meaning.
In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nicholas Cage plays himself as a struggling actor. The first time he’s trying to land a part, he gives a defiant speech as his character is about to be killed. Despite pouring his passion and emotion into the audition, he fails to land the role.
Then later when he’s about to be killed by the villain and everything looks hopeless, he gives the exact same speech, except this time it’s loaded with additional meaning as it shows that he’s not just pretending to be brave, but he’s actually being brave. This simple repetition makes the moment for more memorable than if there had been no repetition at all.
Rather than speeches, most movies use symbols repetitively. In “Harold and Maude”,” Maude gives Harold a banjo to make music, which symbolizes Harold’s growing embrace of life instead of death.
In a later scene, Harold practices the banjo while his mother looks for him to introduce him to his next date. Finally in the end, Harold fakes his last suicide and strolls away, playing the banjo, which shows he’s finally embraced the idea of living for good.
Repetition is a powerful tool in story telling because it makes a seemingly trivial moment far more emotionally impactful later. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones is trapped in a tomb filled with poisonous snakes. That’s bad enough, but earlier we learn that Indiana Jones is deathly afraid of snakes. That makes being trapped in a tomb with poisonous snakes even more emotionally memorable.
Repetition is just a simple story telling tool that’s too often overlooked by most writers. Just consider how to use repetition in your story and chances are good it will elevate your story beyond the mundane and make it far more memorable as a result.