Tag Archives: Poetic devices

Using Rhetorical Devices, Part II

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Using Rhetorical Devices, Part II

Writers use a lot of devices. (I’m not talking about electronics, I’m talking about words.) These devices include rhetorical devices, poetic devices, and literary devices. What are the differences among them? Well, rhetorical devices are used to convince the reader. Poetic devices are used in poetry, and literary devices are used in literature. But you know what? There is a lot of crossover; a creative writer can use the same device in all three situations. So let’s not quibble.

I first wrote about using rhetorical devices two years ago. I’m trying not to duplicate that article here, so if you want to go deeper, please click the above link.

Rhetorical devices are useful for making writing more colorful, more sensual, and more understandable. Here are some examples:

Imagery: description that appeals to the senses. The snow clung to the roof like a layer of vanilla icing. Her lips were as sweet as sugar. The waves roared.

Symbolism: using a word, object, or character to represent an important concept, as in the old Westerns where the good guy wears a white hat, and the bad guys wear black hats.

Motif: a recurring image, symbol, or object that has significance to the theme. In the movie Forrest Gump, a feather repeatedly appears, swirling in the breeze, separating the extraordinary experiences of the very simple protagonist.

Euphemism: substituting a word or phrase for one that might disturb or offend someone. Passed away instead of died. Rest room instead of toilet. Laid off instead of fired.

Foreshadowing: dropping a hint of what is to come, setting up a future event. It can create suspense or dramatic tension. For example, before a woman leaves her home, she slips a gun into her handbag.

Allusion: a brief reference to a song, work of literature, movie, or historical event that the reader would probably be familiar with. This allows the author to squeeze a great deal of meaning into few words. For example, a worker might refer to his superior as he who must not be named.

Colloquialism: informal language, local dialect, or slang of the time. This can aid in making the setting more vivid, as when an Arkansas matron says, “Y’all come in and set awhile.”

Hyperbole: exaggeration to make a point. For example, you are on fire or that cake is so good I want to eat the whole thing.

Onomatopoeia: a word that imitates a sound. For example, the wind whooshed through the trees; his armload of firewood thumped to the floor.

Anastrophe: a reversal of traditional sentence structure, like Yoda-speak. It can distinguish a character, or emphasize one part of the sentence over another. For example, Into the water dove he; or Excited the children were.

Chiasmus: a flipped set of parallel clauses. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country (John F. Kennedy). When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Take care of your health, and your health will take care of you.

Aphorism: a concise, witty, or proverb-like statement of truth. Two halves make a whole. The pen is mightier than the sword. Autumn is the falling-leaf season.

Hypophora: a rhetorical question immediately answered by the same speaker. Do you like puppies? I looove puppies. Or Will this be on the test? Yes, this will be on the test.

Paradox: a contradictory statement that also, upon reflection, appears to be true. Youth is wasted on the young. Or, The louder you speak, the less they hear. Paradox can be wry, or funny, or profound.

Anthropomorphism: giving human characteristics to something non-human. Often used in children’s literature and animation, such as when animals talk, drive, and wear clothing.

Point of view: also an element of fiction. The perspective from which the story is told; the narrative voice filtered through the narrator’s eyes. This is a critical choice for the author to make, because it determines what can or cannot be revealed to the reader. Virtually everything that is written employs a point of view.

As you work on your writing, try incorporating some of these devices to make your words come alive on the page.

Now it’s your turn. What is a favorite literary device that you like to use, or that you appreciate when you’re reading? It can be one of the above, or one which was not mentioned. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Using Rhetorical Devices

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Using Rhetorical Devices

Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, rhetorical devices are among your most useful tools. Use them, and your writing will have specificity, emotional impact, color, and memorability.

The term rhetorical device is hard to define. Vocabulary.com says it’s “a use of language that creates a literary effect.” Huh? What does that even mean?

Let’s look at some devices (they’re also called poetic devices) and some examples.

Woman Rainy Window

Simile is a figure of speech making a comparison, saying something is similar to something else, usually including the word like or as.

A pretty girl is like a melody.

Metaphor is a figure of speech making a comparison, saying something is something else.

A pretty girl is a melody.

Antithesis is the contrasting of two opposing ideas, often set up in parallel structure.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 HCSB).

A character can also be an antithesis, such as a vegetarian who raises beef cattle.

Alliteration is the use in close proximity of words starting with the same sound.

The slender snake slithered in the sand.

Assonance is the repetition of same or similar vowel sounds within phrases or sentences.

He spent his summer mornings roaming and roving over the hills.

Oxymoron is the juxtaposition of two conflicting images.

Observing the cheerful chaos, he quietly shouted for it to stop.

Personification is the ascribing of human characteristics or behavior to something non-human.

The avalanche raced down the mountain.

girl-writing-2Backloading is putting the most important word of a sentence at the end.

Jason’s dad exploded when he saw the damage to his car.

When Jason’s dad saw the damage to his car, he exploded.

Which of the two sentences above has more impact? The one ending in exploded. That’s a powerful word. It leads the reader on to the next sentence.

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of three or four successive phrases, clauses, or sentences.

Jill was tired of the shutdown, tired of wearing a mask, tired of staying six feet away from everyone, tired of not being able to go to a bar.

Epistrophe is related to anaphora; it’s the repeating of a word or phrase at the end of three or four consecutive phrases.

Sandra fed the dog, walked the dog, bathed the dog, and picked up after the dog.

Anadiplosis also involves repetition: it’s repeating the last word of a sentence at the beginning of the next sentence.

She was beautiful and smart. Smart enough to save the company from disaster.

Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions in a series.

I came. I saw. I conquered.

Polysyndeton is the opposite of asyndeton in that it’s the use of multiple conjunctions in a series.

She came home from the festival with tacky souvenirs and leftover popcorn and cotton candy and a pounding headache.frustrated-writer-2

Epizeuxis is repetition for emphasis.

Writing is hard, hard, hard.

Zeugma is the utilization of two different meanings of a word in the same sentence, often creating wry humor.

While waiting for his dad to come home, he killed time and his mother.

Rhetorical questions are questions which are not necessarily to be answered, but to make a point. They can sometimes be used as an end-of-chapter hook.

But isn’t that what every author does?

This list of poetic devices is by no means exhaustive. These are just my favorites. You are probably using many of them unconsciously (or purposely) in your own writing. If not, you can make your writing more musical and expressive by including some. Pick a few to utilize to take your writing to the next level.