Strengthening prose (and lyrics!) with rhetorical devices

Nov 17, 2020 8:21 pm


Hello, writers!

Sorry for the delay in getting you todays’ newsletter. Things have been a bit taxing at home but I didn’t want to leave you hanging any longer than I absolutely had to.

We’re now halfway through NaNoWriMo and it’s turned into me working out the plots and arcs for not just this book, but its sequels as well. I had only intended it to stand alone, and now I don’t think I can tell a satisfying story in the space of only one book. So, back to planning for me! 

If your NaNoWriMo isn’t going quite to plan, either, chin up! It’s a weird, tough year and I’m pretty sure at least half of American WriMos lost a solid week to election anxiety. That was certainly my experience, and I’m just now getting my head back in the game. November is an arbitrary month to hold NaNo, so don’t stress too much. I for one will be drafting well into December.

Yesterday I stumbled on a pair of threads by @chrtucci citing examples of rhetorical devices in the lyrics of Alanis Morissette and Taylor Swift. “Rhetorical device” is the fancy bucket term for clever word tricks. Most people are familiar with terms like metaphor and hyperbole, but there’s also anaphora, litotes, and zeugma. Put aside the weird terminology to read their definitions and you’ll realize that there are names for things we do all the time. Knowing that these terms exist can help you remember to employ them more deliberately in your writing.

A couple of examples:

PARADOX: A statement that appears to contradict itself

“I’m high but I’m grounded”

“I’m here but I’m really gone”

“I’m brave but I’m chickenshit”

- Hand In My Pocket, Alanis Morissette 

POLYSYNDETON: the addition of extra conjunctions for emphasis (the opposite of ASYNDETON).

“All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life, and mean”

- Mean, Taylor Swift

I love the linked threads because they take these strange, often abstract ideas and put them in a familiar context. We recognize the power of these techniques because the songs have already made an impact on us. 

If you’re interested in learning more about rhetorical devices, and how to use them in your fiction, I highly recommend this lecture packet by Margie Lawson: Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More. All her lecture packets are excellent, over 200 pages each of tips and examples. I still use her EDITS system to help balance my prose. 

Forge on, writer. 




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