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  1. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Rhetorical Questions

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Nervous1st, Aug 31, 2009.

    Hi all,

    In my novel, the main character asks herself a lot of questions. Since is is a 'journey of self discovery' theme, she questions herself constantly.

    Examples are:

    What is wrong with me?
    I don't think he could do something like this, do I?
    Did I just say that out loud?

    We all do this in real life. Every day I question myself: What do I feel like for lunch? What are we going to have for dinner?

    Anyway, I seem to recall someone saying that using rhetorical questions was a big no-no. Is it just another example of 'lazy' writing? Obviously I understand that overusing them would be annoying but does anyone of the laws on this?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There aren't any rules or guidelines for something like this. As a writer, I would say it all depends on how well the piece is written. As a reader, however, I do admit that I would find it annoying to keep seeing something like this pop up often.
     
  3. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never heard any rule about the use of rhetorical questions. I'd only warn that if she's constantly asking these questions it will get tiresome. You could change it up by saying: I wondered... rather than only posing it as a question.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Just because you do something in real life, doesn't mean it belongs in your writing. I say "umm" and "like" a lot when I'm speaking, but I would never write like that, even if I was trying to portray myself in fiction.
    Certainly if its your intention to show that the character is questioning herself constantly then include a few, but don't make it annoyingly repetitive, and make sure it always contributes something valuable.
     
  5. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Of course. Obviously they're are not silly questions like I used in my examples, they are meaningful and questions her sanity.

    It's certainly not too repetitive but I did wonder if even a few were considered 'bad writing'.

    Thanks for the responses.
     
  6. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use quite the few rhetorical questions; nothing defines an introspective journey quite like a rhetorical question, well the journey helps too, haha :)
     
  7. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    I have read advice against using rhetorical questions. I occasionally use them, but I try to keep it to a minimum. If I remember right, whoever was railing against them said that they confound the reader who does not like to have a bunch of questions asked, but not answered. It is better to phrase it so it's not in the form of a question. As marina says, I wondered..., etc. I suppose this might be a more rigid rule when it comes to rhetorical questions as opposed to asked-and-answered questions. Had I said that out loud? Apparently, yes, I had. I really needed to work on training my brain to keep a tighter lip when my mouth was around.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Watch "The Thin Red Line"

    It's a war movie taking place in the pacific. The MC's thoughts are projected onto most of the film and he asks rhetorical questions endlessly. Introvert, wondering about the meaning of life, loss of innocence, hopelessness of war, and all.

    Yes, it will alienate people who don't like unanswered questions, but they will probably read a murder mystery rather than a philosophical journey type story anyway, so no loss there. I think writing guides give advice that aim to please everyone - you have to break eggs to make omelets, and you have to break rules to have a distinct style. Just look at King, he breaks tons of "rules". That's his writing style. Some like it, some don't.
     
  9. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    I think the clincher is whether or not it comes off as contrived and copy-pasted

    The trick is to work it into the self-monologue without having that abrasive feeling of "insert obligatory introspection here"

    For example, instead of saying "This happened, but did it really?" try "This might have happened; I'm not even sure any more"

    Rhetorical questions tend to sound like they're coming from a five-year-old, wheras self-doubting internal monologues are able to maintain that brooding uncertainty without little Timmy asking dumb questions

    "Is this really happening?" vs "This feels so unreal."
    "Did I just say that out loud?" vs "I can't believe I just said that."
    "Yes, but will it work for me?" vs "It might be worth a shot, I guess"

    =P
     
  10. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rhules for rhetoric? Rhidiculous!
     
  11. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Oh... that's just... my God XD
     
  12. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I think the main thing with it would be to ask if the rhetorical questions are moving the story along or just thrown in there for the sake of being there.

    To me, times I have read rhetorical questions in books, the ones that work move the story along and are part of the characters internal psyche. Too many might make the character come off as a neurotic type of character (though that might be what you are aiming for.)

    Yes we do ask ourselves questions all day long, but how many would be considered rhetorical?

    Your example of "did I just say that?" Isn't so much rhetorical, as a realization which could be reworded into "Crap, I just said that aloud!"

    A question like, "What's the purpose of my life?" Isn't really rhetorical either, because there is an answer within the character's mind (or anyone who might be asking that question.)

    I tend to see rhetorical questions as more of our internal sarcasm.

    "Are we going to hang out today?" Bob asks.
    "Is the sky blue?" Joe replies.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Is there a place for rhetorical questions? Of course there is! In dialogue, including unspoken dialogue, it may be part of that character's manner of speech.

    I also use rhetorical questions in nonfiction, and in opinion pieces. Why shouldn't I? It emphasizes that the reader is a participant in the thought process.

    I probably wouldn't use a rhetorical question in narrative,simply because I don't usually write to the reader. It's not a conversation, it's a viewpoint that the reader is permitted to listen in on. The exception might be in a humorous piece, in which the reader is being shown the outrageous absurdity of a situation.
     
  14. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Absolutely!

    (And Also... Adorable Alliteration!)
     
  15. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    You could also share her thoughts.

    Something's definitely wrong with me.

    They're probably right. I'm such a loser.
     

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