By: Jami Gold
Some in the literary community assume that genre writers don’t care about the deeper aspects of writing craft. While it’s true that literary fiction is more well-known for its use of figurative and lyrical language, genre fiction can use the same literary tools.
Now, if you’re anything like me, and your English or grammar instruction was less than ideal, you might not be familiar with the term rhetorical devices. I certainly wasn’t.
When I first heard the term, I assumed it had something to do with arguing or making a point, like a rhetorical question. Eh, in a way, I wasn’t too far off. But once I did learn about them, I quickly became aware of how using rhetorical devices can strengthen our writing—even if we’re writing genre stories. *grin*
What Are Rhetorical Devices?
Rhetorical devices are simply ways to use language to affect our audience. We probably use several of these methods without realizing there are other similar tools sitting right alongside them in the literary toolbox.
Common rhetorical devices include:
- Similes: Comparing two things using the words like or as: “Her smile was as warm as a summer day.”
- Metaphors: Comparing two things without using like or as: “Her eyes were ocean-deep.”
- Alliteration: Using words with similar beginning sounds close together: “Her heart hammered.”
- Onomatopoeia: Words that imitate the sound they describe, such as:splash, plop, sploosh, whiz, etc.
Why Should We Care?
It’s good to be aware of the rhetorical devices that crop up in fiction writing so we can write more purposefully. Lazy, un-purposeful writing is more likely to be filled with clichés and sit limply on the page.
All of those examples above are methods for using language for a purpose. Obviously, we’re comparing, creating tongue-twisters, or making funny sounds. But we can have a greater purpose in mind with those techniques too.
Purposeful writing can add more emotion to our descriptions, rhythm to our sentences, and faster pacing to our paragraphs. In short, purposeful writing is stronger.
If we weren’t aware of a rhetorical device like alliteration, we might create a tongue-twister in our writing accidentally. Many readers “hear” the words they read in their head, so an unintended tongue-twister could pull readers out of the story while they chuckle over the collision of words.
Similarly, similes and metaphors tend to emphasize concepts, as they make readers think through the comparison. If we weren’t aware of the purpose of the technique, we might emphasize a concept that didn’t need emphasis. (Or we might create a bad comparison, like one of those “worst similes and metaphors from high school students” articles. *snicker*)
So the more rhetorical devices we know, the better we can use them when we want to strengthen our writing. And the better we can avoid using them when they’re a bad match for our purpose.
What Do We Mean by Purpose?
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