The Power of Rhetoric

Rhetoric can change your writing from something bland to something addictive in just a few simple words.

Everyone and their mother has their own idea of what rhetoric is. I will be primarily using the definition found from “the art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please”. If I may add to this, I would also include suggestion and subtlety.

There is power in words. There is power in the way something is presented.

Rhetoric has been at play in this post since the first sentence; let’s do a quick analysis of it.

A connection with you is immediately established at “your writing”.  I’ve caused you to reference your own work: your intimate thoughts and feelings you jot down, the things you aren’t quite sure how they’ll be received.

Many are guilty, whether it’s true or not, at thinking their projects aren’t appealing to anyone. It’s a negative thought and a discouraging feeling. The placement of “something bland” immediately attributes your writing to being inadequate. Quite rude of me and I mean no disrespect, it’s purely for the purpose of this post.

The immediate follow-up “something addictive” is a desire that nearly everyone wants their writing to be. Maybe you want to be the next Harry Potter, where someone ends up missing work or school because they stayed awake to 6am reading your book.

By calling your writing bland and how you could make it addictive, I’ve suggested that by continuing reading you’ll find out how to improve. I’ve immediately set up the next portion with a smooth transition.

What you address, how you address it, and how you follow up will create a much deeper meaning than what lies on the surface. This is beautifully illustrated in a blog I recently came across: Holistic Wayfarer.

I read a few posts and fell in love. She drew me in immediately, I saw a connection between myself and nearly every line. Even though these mental references may have been subtle or completely unintentional, they helped me look at my own situations in a different way and invited me to think critically.

In part one of her two part post about succeeding as a blogger, she talks about the importance of finding the right word.

“If I had to choose between searching for the perfect word and befriending 20 new bloggers in a given window of time, there would be no competition. Because my goal isn’t to bust the roof on my stats.”

Whether she knew it or not, that immediately says, “I’m a writer with integrity”. I admire that. I respect that. You could break down that phrase and analyze its meanings for thousands of words.

Rhetoric is the power in a word, one word that could change the entire meaning of your sentence. Rhetoric is an incredible tool to plant suggestion and influence in the reader for more effective foreshadowing, for bigger reveals later on, and more intricate plots.

Analyze this:  The young girl walked slowly down the hall. She was vulnerable, innocent, and completely naïve. She had no idea what foul danger had consumed her brave and powerful father and was coming for her next.

What do you really get from that passage? Pretty much nothing. The words are wasted and I told you about the girl and her father rather than showed you; besides that, there are adjectives everywhere.

Take note: It’s good to be descriptive, but don’t go crazy. Be wary of using lots of adjectives, some agents really dislike several adjectives stringed together or excessive descriptions.

Let’s look at the scene again after I reworked it with some better rhetoric: Sleepily she rubbed her eyes, dragged her teddy bear behind her, and toddled down the hall. In a sleepy haze she glimpsed a picture of her daddy in his military fatigues adorned with medals of recognition.

A foul creature watched her climb onto the kitchen counter to get a drink of water from a glass too big for her hands. Even after gorging itself on her father, the monster hungered still.

As you can see, I knocked out “young”, “slowly”, “vulnerable”, “innocent”, and “naïve”; all of these were implied in the descriptions of the girl and her actions; pulling her stuffed animal behind her (even having a stuffed animal), toddling, getting a glass too big for herself, and by referring to her father as “daddy”. All of these suggest the words I used before, but helps the scene flow much better.

Next up “brave” and “powerful” were removed in the simple description of the father in his military uniform (power) and medals of recognition (bravery).

In addition to getting rid of the clutter of adjectives, I brought you into the scene, and I showed you versus telling you.

In writing and especially in art/photographs, rhetoric is often used in conjunction with symbolism. Be careful that you don’t put too much symbolism in your writing.

Unless you’re writing poetry, when you say “the sky is blue”, most of the time it should just mean “it’s blue.”

Think of rhetoric like a lens flare. It should be used to help your scene stand out and to compliment it, but an overabundance can ruin an otherwise good moment.

Rhetoric is absolutely everywhere. From commercials, to magazine ads, to those political pictures that show up on your Facebook’s newsfeed. Next time you watch a commercial, think about what it’s trying to say. What is the age demographic? Facial expressions? Colors in use? What are the transitions like? These all play a part in the rhetorical message.

Being able to analyze and perceive rhetoric in other media is a great tool to help you create it effectively.


2 thoughts on “The Power of Rhetoric

  1. SIGH. Just lost the comment. Here I go again.

    Your feedback is sweet reward for the labor of love I call writing. It is just what I’ve hoped to achieve (and more), though I’m consumed with the message and crafting in the moment. I came close to writing the diatribes on adj and advs. But not to abuse them is not great mystery.

    If I even used sleepily (bc you repeat sleep soon), I would tuck it at the end of that phrase (before the comma).

    Thanks, Buddy.
    Great post.

    • Oh nice catch! Reading over it again I’m surprised I missed that during the edit.

      Too often I want to write about the same thing in different ways and jumble my thoughts. I almost always need a fresh set of eyes, haha.

      Thanks for the input! 😀

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