By: Janice Hardy, @Janice Hardy
I'm a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin, who writes some of the best dialog in the business. If you’re a fan of The West Wing, you’ve seen a particular trio of literary devices used in almost every speech President Bartlett gives. Heck, you’ve heard these in almost every speech anyone has ever given.
What are they? (
Anaphora: The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. The most famous example is probably Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.”
The repetition here gets you thinking about the contrasts and contradictions of the situation and suggests that things aren’t as simple as they appear. You read on anticipating that things will not be what they seem, and there will likely be two sides to every story. The device creates anticipation for the reader, which sets up the story without you having to spell it out.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!
The repetition here emphasizes an idea (screaming for ice cream) and can work to get readers on board with that idea. You hear something often enough and you start to believe it. Another example here would be Shakespeare's famous speech from Julius Caesar. "But Brutus is an honorable man..." Think about how often those words are said, and what Antony is trying to make his audience believe.
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
The repetition here connects the speaker with the reader, forcing them to put themselves in Shylocks’s shoes. It draws comparisons and gets readers thinking about what’s not being said here. You think you’re different from me, but are you really?
To see a strong example of all of this in action, let’s take a peek at one of my favorite speeches from The West Wing (video at the end for those who want to hear it. The last bit is a special treat just for us writers, one writer talking to another):
More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek, nor did we provoke, an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect, nor did we invite, a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive.
Forty-four people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran into the fire.
The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.
If you can read/watch that without tearing up, you’re a tougher person than I. The sheer beauty of the words reaches into you and drags the emotion out. It puts you in the shoes of those who risked all to help others. It makes you think about what you would do and how you fit into this
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Read the full article HERE!
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