Advanced rhetorical techniques to make your writing sing
My best articles have focused on the topic of writing. Which makes sense because I’ve taught it for over twenty years.
By carefully guiding students, I have had sixteen-year-old students turn sophomoric drafts of writing into sophisticated pieces. Ones that transform the written word into poetry.
Isn’t this the writer’s ultimate goal? To deliver informative text that’s also pleasing to the ear.
Being able to effectively relay information in an aesthetic way has been around for centuries and is known as the ancient art of rhetoric.
Taught in ancient Greece, Aristotle defined rhetoric as, “the faculty of discovering in any particular case the available means of persuasion.”
Youth were taught rhetoric to speak effectively in political situations, legal disputes, and other civic matters.
It’s still taught to lawyers and other statesmen in modern-day society.
And with good reason — good writers know how you say something is just as important as what you say.
This brings us to two rhetorical techniques: anaphora and metaphor.
Anaphora is more obscure and academic. While the metaphor is more commonly understood.
At first, only use these rhetorical techniques in the revision process. Get your ideas down first, then play with the words and make them come alive.
Eventually, as you practice and apply these techniques regularly, they’ll become more ingrained and happen spontaneously.
Incorporating them will make a positive difference in your writing.
So, take one article that you really want to polish and add these two rhetorical techniques into the mix. Then watch the magic happen.
Anaphora is the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of sentences or successive phrases or clauses.
The world’s most famous speeches and writings contain this technique.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most persuasive and charismatic speakers of all time. His writings made powerful use of these rhetorical strategies.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he uses the technique of anaphora.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
The anaphora lies in the repetition at the beginning of each phrase: go back.
How can you use anaphora? Let’s say you’re writing about writer’s block.
Perhaps your opening paragraph looks like this:
Writer’s block is a thing that often hinders the creative process. Writers stare at the computer screen for hours, hoping that an idea will suddenly propel them into motion. This mental barrier to writing can be discouraging and can last for days or weeks on end. It is the single most common issue for old and new writers alike. So, what can a writer do to free themselves from this struggle? Here are some ideas.
Now watch the difference when I add anaphora:
Writer’s block is a thing that often hinders our creative process. We sit dutifully at our computer screen. We wait patiently. We watch the minutes pass. We type. We delete. We wait some more. We summon the words to burst forth. Yet they resist. This problem can be devastating to even the most seasoned writer. It can cripple and frustrate. It can linger for hours or days or weeks. However, the good news is, it can be overcome. And today, I’ll show you how.
Anaphora was used to repeat we followed by a verb: we sit, we wait, we watch, we type, we delete, we wait, and we summon. Additionally, it can followed by a verb was used later in the paragraph.
Anaphoras emphasize the emotional toll writers experience when suffering from writer’s block.
A metaphor compares two, unlike things without using the words like or as. It’s one of the most powerful weapons at a writer’s disposal.
Metaphors clarify abstract ideas by making real-world comparisons. These comparisons are often more visual, comprehensible, and intriguing to the reader.
Let’s revisit Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In the speech, he uses the metaphor of a bad check to compare how Constitutional rights were being denied to people of color:
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Yeah), they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men (My Lord), would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
King takes the complex issue of inequality and compares it to an everyday concept to which people can relate. He embraces the indisputable logic that a written agreement between two parties is a binding document and cannot be revoked.
How can you use metaphors in your writing?
Let’s use the above example about writer’s block and add in a metaphor:
Waiting for writing inspiration can be exhausting. We hover around the pinata of the Muses, strikingly boldly, blindly, hoping to strike a space where words will spew forth. We grasp at the flying words, we watch them fall all around us, and we grapple to pick them up so we can stuff them into our sentences, our paragraphs, our essays, and our novels. Even so, somehow our greedy hands remain empty.
In the paragraph above, I compared the writer’s frustration to a child fighting to get candy out of a pinata. The metaphor allows the reader to visualize the writer’s struggle through the use of imagery and concrete detail.
These are only two rhetorical strategies that can add power and poetry to everyday writing. There are many more techniques that a writer can use to make their writing stand out from the crowd.