Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jazz Up Your Writing

When I write, I sometimes use rhetorical devices without thinking about them. However, two of those instances were brought to my attention by other people who suggested I change my wording.

The first instance was when I wrote about my heroine driving over the hose at the corner gas station and hearing a ‘bing, bing’ sound. The person reading my ms said the words were called onomatopoeia and were meant for comics, only, not romance books.

The second instance was in An Outlaw for the Lady where I purposely ended 3 consecutive sentences with the word 'privacy'. I did this for emphasis because my heroine just realized she was alone on the prairie with four outlaws and nothing to hide behind. In one contest, the judge highlighted the word privacy and said, ‘You are going to have to find another way to say this.’ I disagreed and so I kept it. After all, 5 previous judges hadn’t mentioned it. Then at a workshop I attended at the ACFW conference in Sept, the instructor said it’s called an epistrophe (also called antistrophe) when you repeat the same word at the end of consecutive sentences. Maybe the judge wasn’t aware of this?

The topic of the workshop was how to liven up your writing. How to make it more interesting and literary. I discovered the six most common rhetorical devices. This term was unfamiliar to me as were half of the devices on the list. These definitions are courtesy of the Encarta Dictionary that comes with Microsoft Office:

1. Simile - a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word "like" or "as," e.g. "as white as a sheet"

2. Metaphor - the use to describe somebody or something of a word or phrase that is not meant literally but by means of a vivid comparison expresses something about him, her, or it, e.g. saying that somebody is a snake

3. Hyperbole - deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect, e.g. "I could eat a million of these"

4. Personification - the attribution of human qualities to objects or abstract notions

5. Alliteration – a poetic or literary effect achieved by using several words that begin with the same or similar consonants, as in "Whither wilt thou wander, wayfarer?"

6. Onomonopiea - is a word or a grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing, such as animal noises like "oink" or "meow", or suggesting its source. (

The instructor said you shouldn’t riddle your writing with rhetorical devices, but when you did use one that the reader recognized, it was like finding a treasure.

Along with the six above, she mentioned:

Anaphora - the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences, commonly in conjunction with climax and with parallelism

Epstrophe - the counterpart to anaphora, because the repetition of the same word or words comes at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences

Symploce - combining anaphora and epistrophe, so that one word or phrase is repeated at the beginning and another word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences

Polysyndeton - the use of a conjunction between each word, phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of asyndeton. The rhetorical effect of polysyndeton, however, often shares with that of asyndeton a feeling of multiplicity, energetic enumeration, and building up. ie They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked.

Asydeton - consists of omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. In a list of items, asyndeton gives the effect of unpremeditated multiplicity, of an extemporaneous rather than a labored account: On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame.

Litotes – a double negative.

Anadiplosis - repeats the last word of one phrase, clause, or sentence at or very near the beginning of the next. It can be generated in series for the sake of beauty or to give a sense of logical progression. Ie In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. --John 1:1

Conducplicatio - resembles anadiplosis in the repetition of a preceding word, but it repeats a key word (not just the last word) from a preceding phrase, clause, or sentence, at the beginning of the next. Like anadiplosis, conduplicatio serves as an effective focusing device because with it you can pull out that important idea from the sentence before and put it clearly at the front of the new sentence, showing the reader just what he should be concentrating on.

These aren’t the only rhetorical devices, either. Virtual Salt at has an on-line handbook which it says ‘contains definitions and examples of more than sixty traditional rhetorical devices, all of which can still be useful today to improve the effectiveness, clarity, and enjoyment of your writing.’

You might also want to check out English Grammar on-line where the rhetorical devices are also called Stylistic Devices.

So, there you go. All the tools you need to enhance your writing.

Do you use rhetorical devices in your wips? Do you feel there’s a place for them in the modern fast-paced 55,000 word romance books? What’s your favorite rhetorical device?


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Very informative post! This week seems to be the week for sentence-level topics and literary flares. You've listed some really great techniques. I love hearing about the uncommon ones, especially the ones I never even knew the name for.

I absolutely love using these sort of techniques when the occasion calls for it, and like you I think they often show up without much thought, especially for things like repeated words. It's also immensely handy to finally know the term for repeated ands or lack of ands, so the next time someone tells me to edit and use commas, or stick an and on the end of a list, I can show them why I choose not to do it.

I also really like litotes, which you can find a lot reading Anglo-Saxon poetry, where it's usually described as 'epic understatement'. Also the frequent device of sarcastic characters :)

I feel that there's a place for literary devices anywhere. It seems illogical for someone to say there's no room in a 55,000 word romance for devices and poetic conceits, when there's room for them in a 14-line sonnet and the message still comes across. It's one of the marks of unique writing and creates engaging language, rather than just plot thrust.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I too use many of these devices, although I couldn't have told you what they were called, until now. They seem to come quite naturally and I find them really useful.

But like many good things, a little goes a long way. I love similes so I find myself using them a lot. I ususally have to remove some in revision, or at least change some from well-worn comparisons to something a little more original.

Thanks for an informative post.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good morning, Hayley. I liked your comment.

Granted, it's not everyday you can say, 'I also really like litotes' in a conversation and have everyone nod sagely. Maybe someday... :)

I'm looking forward to reading about these in your book. Thank you for starting us off today.

B.G. Sanford said...

I appreciate your informative post. I just finished my new romance novel, "Beth: Love Along The B.G. Sanford," and is due for release in the next several days. I can use some of information you provided in future publications. Thank you,
B.G. Sanford

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I've actually been told that my original similies bring the reader out of the story because it makes them stop and think.

In Outlaw, Emma likens most things to culinary skills which is her heart's desire. So when I wanted her legs to feel like 'limp noodles' which is a common cliche, I said they felt like 'overcooked carrots' (mush). I'm not sure what image of carrots the reader was thinking, but she said using food for legs wasn't appropriate. Hmmm.

Thanks for stopping, Jana.

sheandeen said...

Hmm, carrots are generally straight and firm. When they are overcooked they are not going to be straight and firm. What is the problem with equating buckling knees with overcooked carrots?--It seems appropriate for your character.

Another interesting blog.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hello BG Sanford. Thanks for visiting us today.

I checked out Amazon and I like your book cover.

I'm wondering...since you entitled this book about Beth, does that mean your next book(s) will be entitled the same way but with different women's names?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Nancy, nice to see you.

Maybe the carrots she grows are the red, short, round ones? LOL

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Personally Anita, I love that carrot analogy. It's creative and consistent with the character. I love to see an author who spins their analogies toward the pov character, rather than ranging to comparisons beyond the character's own knowledge.

If something like that pulled me out of the story, it would probably be more in the sense of stepping back from plot to look at writing, which is no bad thing. I suppose everyone wants different things though.

I've had occasions to use litotes and synecdoche in sentences this week. I am one happy lit nerd. I also had a riveting conversation about use of semicolons, dashes, and parentheses in an English class, and about how much some students enjoyed trying to write incredibly long yet grammatically correct sentences for the fun of it.

What an odd bunch we are, we word-folk.

Anita Mae Draper said...

You're cute, Hayley, I'll grant you that. Your comment had me laughing out loud.

Helena said...

Anita, you've just compiled a wonderful glossary of rhetorical devices, some of which I must use without noticing because I didn't even know they had names!

If our writing uses a variety of these devices properly, why should anyone complain? Surely that is carrying formulaic requirements too far. Shouldn't our writing be interesting and vivid, as long as it doesn't interfere with the telling of the story? Maybe that's just my stubborn nature talking.

As far as favourites of mine ... I think I need to give it some thought, or at least look at some of my writing to see if I can detect a pattern. At any rate, you have certainly got us all thinking today. Thanks.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hi, Helena, glad you like my list.

We are told not to repeat the same word but find other creative ways of saying the same thing, so I really think the complaint was ignorance in this instance.

I also have to admit - this week, a new writer entrusted me with a few pages of her ms. Other than snippets, she hasn't shown her work to anyone. When I realized the quality of her writing, I critted it as I would any work from my CP's. Her genre is fantasy and she pulled me right in with the hook poking out my cheek!

However, one of the things I did comment on was her use of anaphora. Her command of this device is superb, yet after reading the 4th use of it in one page, I suggested she not use it as often.

The people that I've heard decrying use of rhetorical devices are the ones who promote the action between the H and h as the only reason for the story and why muddy that with pretty petals of prose, eh.

Thanks, Helena.

Molli said...

Whoeeee - who knew? Certainly not me. Marvelous list of options you've given us to consider. Of course, like Helena and Jana, I've used them without knowing I was using a "device", much less what it was called. Sigh! I blame it on the number of years it's been since I was in high school, which was the last time I discussed or purposefully practiced the use of literary devices of any sort.

As for comments from judges comments, not all are able to separate personal preference from accepted form so perhaps that what you experienced.

Interesting post, ma'am. Thank you for giving me more to think about when I'm editing and trying to figure out how to add more impact.

Fiona Lowe said...

Anita Mae, I'm thinking you heard Margie Lawson speak? If you didn't then check out her site

Like everything in life, "all things in moderation." In all my books you will find those devices scattered throughout although I couldn't name half of them! I write always wanting to wring the most emotion I can from a scene.
Good luck with your writing

Janet C. said...

You and Karen are on the same page this week! And it's making me return to my writing and check out exactly how much imagery and literary devices I use. I just write - the words pour from either my pen or my fingertips. I read the same way - but, like Hayley, if a particular phrase or sentence grabs my attention, I re-read, savour!

Great post, Anita.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Molli, I'm glad I've given you something to think about, considering you judge contests. :)

I have a tendency to treat contests like the military. I volunteered so I if I wanted a pay cheque, I had to play the game their way, whether I thought my leader was a good one or not.

Same with contests, I enter, I format according to their rules, I take their critiques knowing that the judges aren't perfect. Most of them are just like me, actually.

Thanks for commenting, Molli. I appreciate it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Fiona - nice to see you.

I'm thinking you heard Margie Lawson speak?Actually, I think it was Margie's workshop, but my notes were in such a mess, I wasn't sure and didn't want to give out wrong info. I don't know how it is at other conferences, but in the ACFW one, we were give these 5x9" or so pads of paper. Every class had another pad and I'd take note after note, front and back and shove them in my case at the end of the class, then rush off to the next one. No time to label or nbr the pages.

Thank you for giving her web address. She packs so much information into her classes, I'm going back if I get another chance.

Thanks Fiona, I'm going to dig up one of your books and check... lol

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thanks, Janet.

Umm... this is the 2nd or maybe 3rd ref to Karen's post, and umm... I don't think I even read it. (blush)

Between the blogs, taxes, kids home from school, and flood, I think I missed a day.

Sorry, Karen, I'll get on it tonight...

Gee, thanks Janet, get me in trouble again. LOL

Janet C. said...

Any time, Anita :)

Misa Ramirez said...

Interesting post. I definitely use some of these techniques (not always consciously!). A little of something goes a long way...that's my philosophy on a lot of things, including rhetorical devices, but anything to help create vivid language, sentences, enhance characterization, etc, I'm on board with.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey, Misa, thank you for taking the time to join our discussion. I'm glad you spoke up. I checked out your blog and your book certainly looks lively. :)