Like with cooking, adding spice to your writing can transform it from okay to mouth watering. Mouth watering enough to keep your reader turning the pages. Mouth watering enough to make them eager to read your next book. Mouth watering enough to make writers wonder what your secret is for great writing. Yes, I’m taking about those impossible to pronounce words: rhetorical devices.
There are over sixty different rhetorical devices. Some you’ll be surprised to learn you already know (i.e. analogy). Here are eight, along with an example of each. These ones (among others) are ideal for fiction, but can also be used in non-fiction.
The repetition of sounds at the beginning of a word.
My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury.
My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. (Both examples were from the same page of the novel.)
The last word of a sentence is repeated at the beginning of the next sentence (or near the beginning of the next sentence).
I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops.
The repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning or three or more sentences.
It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make things fair. It doesn’t fill our stomachs. In fact, it scares off the nearby game.
When you omit the conjunction in a list of words or phrases. In the example below, the conjunction ‘and’ has been dropped from the sentence.
He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.
A repetition of a word (or phrase) for emphasis. Great for emphasizing emotions.
The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not me, that it’s not me, that it’s not me.
The use of a conjunction between each word or phrase in a list (instead of using the conjunction between the last two words).
With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.
Simile (Metaphors are also rhetorical devices)
Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now it’s silent as a stone.
A list in which the last word (phrase) is not like the others. (Think Sesame Street: One of these is not like the others.)
Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow.
If you think rhetorical devices are only for literary fiction, guess again. The above examples are from the young adult dystopian novel, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. And not only that, they’re from the first chapter. Now that’s powerful writing.
How to Use Rhetorical Devices
- Add them when you want to place extra emphasis on something. For example, turning points in your plot or sections of heightened emotion.
- Use them on the first page of your story to hook your reader.
- Add them at the beginning and end of each scene to keep the reader reading.
- Blend several together.
- Make sure they are there for a reason. Don’t randomly insert them. If you do, you might waste an opportunity by only adding them to places of low importance.
- Make them seamless, not obnoxious. Your reader shouldn’t notice them, unless he’s a writer who knows about rhetorical devices.
- Because there are so many, select about fifteen to twenty that call to you, and work them into your writing as much as possible. As you become comfortable with those ones, add to your list.
- Study your favorite stories and see how the authors used them. You might be surprise to see how often they use the various devices.
- Add them to both your fiction and non-fiction writing.
For a complete list, and the definition for the each rhetorical device (and figure of speech), check out the About.com Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis.
Do you consciously use rhetorical devices in your writing?
Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.