Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
There are many writing techniques that have been used down through the ages. Most have risen and fallen in popularity and even have found themselves being used incorrectly. One such technique is the anaphora.
What is Anaphora?
Anaphora is simply the repeating of a word or phrase. The best way to describe it is to give her a great example from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
“It was the best times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”
The anaphora here is “It was the”. Over and over it is repeated.
Great Examples of Anaphora Use
I’ve just shown you one great example from A Tale of Two Cities. Another well-known one can be found in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes (NIV) chapter 3.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
The anaphora is easily seen here: “a time to”. It is repeated over and over throughout the selection.
In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech, “I have a dream” is the anaphora that is repeated over and over.
How It is Used in Fiction Writing
Anaphora obviously is used in creative writing, but why? What is the purpose of repeating a phrase over and over again? Doesn’t that go against what we are taught in writing? Well, yes, it does seem to go against the grain, but there is a very good reason for it: emphasis.
Look back at King’s speech. The whole thing is centered around having a dream: “I have a dream.” He didn’t just say he had a dream and move on. He repeated it over and over because it was the theme. It was important.
In the selection from Ecclesiastes, there “is a time to” do about anything. It is important that the reader understand that the words are about more than just death, life, laughter, dancing, morning, war, and peace. It is all about there being a right time for them all. It is the theme. It is important.
Dickens’ selection is emphasizing that the time was many different things at one time. It wasn’t black and white. It was chaotic. It needed emphasis.
Dangers of Using Anaphora
So, as a writer, should you just start using anaphoras everywhere? No! There are several dangers to using them if you are not careful.
The norm in writing is to vary the words. Repeating words over and over can be dull and boring. Readers don’t want you starting every sentence with “She said.” That is not a good use of anaphora. It is laziness on the side of the author. It shows a lack of creativity from the author as well as a lack of vocabulary.
Using too many anaphoras and using incorrect ones makes a writer look bad and lowers the quality of the writing. You want to make sure you use them deliberately and at the right time.
Benefits of Anaphora
Using anaphora can draw attention to a selected text. It should be used when you want to emphasize something and highlight its importance. Anaphora that is used correctly is remembered long after the book is read. It stands out. That means you want to be very selective in what section of your writing you put the literary device. It can be a speech, a poem, a lecture, or anything you want the reader to remember and refer to later.
Think of the anaphora as a big neon sign to the reader pointing to the words saying, “Hey, you! Pay attention. This is important.”
Literary devices are there to help you get the message across to the reader in a stronger and more poetic manner. An anaphora is easy to remember and fun to use. Just don’t over use it.
Doris H. Dancy from Yorktown, Virginia on September 05, 2014:
This is a very useful hub. I have used anaphora and even taught its use. This is exceptionally useful because of the excellent examples that you use as well as you very clear explanation of this technique. Great hub.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 12, 2013:
An interesting insight to suing the repetition of words as mentioned and frankly I didn't give this one much thought until I read this hub you definitely opened my eyes to The Dangers and Benefits of Using Anaphora in Your Writing, thanks for the helpful information.
Ceres Schwarz on May 12, 2013:
I've also never heard of this term before but I know about the repeating of words or phrases like in Martin Luther's "I have a dream" speech. I didn't know there was actually a term for repeating those words and phrases in writing. It can add to your writing to use anaphora like in emphasizing something important but you're right that it shouldn't be overused because it might just lose its impact and just become dull and boring.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on May 11, 2013:
I had never heard of this term before. Thank you for enlightening me! I found your hub interesting and enlightening.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 11, 2013:
Good Hub. Interesting and informative. I have occasionally used anaphora in a poem, but I didn't know there was a special word for it. And now I know "epistrophe" too. Sharing.