1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Rhetorical Devices Guidebook Thread

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mallory, Sep 1, 2011.

    Rhetorical devices -- different techniques that rely on sentence structure, punctuation, word choice etc (writing mechanics) -- are a huge part of creating a tone in a story.

    Lots of people ask about the best way to generate emotion in a scene, and I've found that use of rhetorical devices is the best way. For example, read Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," that guy knew how to write.

    I figured we could have a thread where we share different rhetorical devices that we know, both what they are and what effect they have, with an example. I'll start:


    1. Active/passive voice:

    - A general rule of distinction is that a sentence with "is," "was" or any other form of "to be" is in the passive voice. For example, "The officer ticketed the speeder" or "The driver got a speeding ticket from the officer" are written in active voice, and "The speeder was ticketed by the officer" is passive.

    If you're striving to create a dynamic tone, you want active voice 99 percent of the time. Passive voice has its time and place when you want to create a detached tone, for example, if the character feels isolated from the setting or from the character(s) around him/her. If it's just simpler to use passive voice, that's fine too - for example, it's fine to say "The chicken was plucked when Joe bought it" instead of "The employers of the meat store had plucked the chicken before Joe bought it."
    But if you're writing a fight scene, and it's filled with sentences like "The pain was really bad," "His stomach was punched," etc then chances are it's not good.

    2. Asyndeton/Polysyndeton

    This refers to the length and flow of your sentences. Asyndeton refers to prose that's short and choppy, and polysyndeton refers to longer sentences with more clauses (There's a little more to it than that, but I'll explain after the examples).
    Asyndeton creates a tone that's hectic, chaotic, fast-moving or desperate. Polysyndeton has a calmer, more meandering feel and helps create the impression that whatever's being described is not a jolting situation of any kind.

    Examples:
    "It was my first day of high school, and the sea of strange faces blurred together, but I hoped lunch period wouldn't be too bad."
    versus
    "It was my first day of high school. The sea of strange faces blurred together. I hoped lunch wouldn't be too bad."
    The second has a more desperate/chaotic feel to it, just by the structure, doesn't it?

    It's not just about length though...you can use commas, semicolons, dashes etc to cause the breaks, but asyndeton's key feature is that the syntax has a broken feel to it to create a broken tone.
    I.e. "It was my first day of school, I looked like crap, I didn't know anyone--their faces blurred together--and today would be hell." It's technically not a short sentence, but it's not all smooth and flowy either.

    3. Cacophany/Euphony

    This refers to the way your words sound phonetically. Cacophany has a lot of harsh sounds, like "ck," "cr," "qua" etc, and euphony is marked by softer, gentler sounds like "sh," "fl," words with lots of vowels etc.

    4. Parallel Construction:

    Setting up a few sentences in a row that all have a repeated element of some kind, whether it's sentence structure, a beginning word or phrase that gets repeated, etc.

    The effect of parallel construction is that, when done right, it serves as sort of crescendo, like you're building up for emphasis and the emphasis will fall on whatever breaks the parallel construction pattern.

    Example:

    "He walked down the hall; he paused at the door; he braced himself and shoved it open. He reeled back.
    The stench hit him with full force."

    Two repeated elements: the sentence structure (subject --> verb --> object), and the word "he" at the start.

    The sentence about the stench has emphasis on it because it breaks the pattern.

    Anaphora is a specific type of parallel construction in which the repeated element is, specifically, repetition of the beginning word or phrase. Like my example above, and also MLK's "I have a dream" repetition.

    ---------------

    I can add some more later; for now, feel free to add the ones you know!
     
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  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I'll add more in a little bit (I have a long list) but perhaps a mod could sticky this?
     

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