In this week’s episode, we explore the claim that “everything is an argument.” If this is true, then our creative writing qualifies as an argument and can benefit from using rhetorical devices. But what are rhetorical devices? Simply put, they are tools we can use to persuade others to see the world in a particular way. After all, isn’t that what we’re doing with our creative writing? In addition to learning about argument and rhetorical devices, we add two new tools to our writing toolbox: repetition and polysyndeton.
We use some terms on this episode that require some definition:
ARGUMENT is a “reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.” Notice how our definition is absent of the usual thoughts about what argument is; there is not necessarily an element of anger or disagreement. For our purposes, anything that attempts to change the opinion or viewpoint of a reader can be considered an argument.
RHETORIC is “language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience.” In other words, it is the technique of persuasion.
RHETORICAL DEVICES are “stylistic devices that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading them towards considering a topic from a different perspective.” In other words, they are the practical tools used in writing to persuade others.
We examine two specific rhetorical devices in this episode:
REPETITION, which likely doesn’t need an in-depth explanation here, although we explore aspects of it that may be insightful to creative writers.
POLYSYNDETON is “the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some could otherwise be omitted.” In other words, it’s joining together a list of things with ANDs rather than commas in a way that heightens importance, tension, and impact.
We make reference to other books in this episode which can be found at the following links:
- Nicholson Baker’s novel, The Everlasting Story of Nory
- Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night
- Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”
- Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road
- Barack Obama’s 2008 Victory Speech
Our wise word shines the spotlight on the importance of rhetoric in our writing. Peter Shaffer, award-winning playwright and screenwriter best known for his play and film adaptation of AMADEUS, has this to say about rhetoric:
“The rhetoric is the key to the character. It’s the verbal music of the piece.” – Peter Shaffer
I often think of writing and music as being parallel art forms, and I love that he describes rhetoric as “verbal music.” Rhetorical devices are another instrument in the orchestra of tools that we have at our disposal.
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Our weekly challenge this week is to use one of the tools you’ve been given this week: repetition or polysyndeton. Find a place in your current work-in-progress where you can play with one or both of these tools.
- What piece of dialogue might a character repeat throughout your story, either to heighten it in the reader’s mind or as a way to show that the character is trying convince herself of something that may not be true?
- Or where do you find yourself listing things–even it’s only a few things–that could benefit from becoming larger in your reader’s mind?
- Where might you be tempted to use hyperbole or exaggeration but polysyndeton might be a more subtle way of enlarging its impact?
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