Rhetorical Devices You Should Use in Your Writing

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

One thing many writers pride themselves on is the ability to use our craft to make people feel, think, react, and respond in ways that we, the creators, have intended. Word magicians, perhaps. And in addition, masters of applying rhetorical devices.

What are rhetorical devices?

Rhetorical devices are used to extend phrases well beyond their actual meaning for the purpose and effect of bolstering the quality of writing. For example, take a popular rhetorical device: alliteration. The sheer use of repetitive letter sounds creates a cadence and carries the reader along an inviting sound ride: When Wendy wanted to wear the white shirt, she wondered why.

Rhetorical devices wake up words so they command added attention or emphasis. They can do the heavy lifting of inferring tone, meaning, and highlighting ideas. You may already apply some of these rhetorical techniques, and there are others you may want to experiment with in your work.

Imagery

Imagery utilizes vivid descriptions that evoke a reader’s senses to paint an image in their head. As a rhetorical device, it is used to elicit a sensory and emotional experience by way of designated words. All the senses may be encouraged — taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight — to enhance a story’s impact.

For example, instead of saying “it was a humid day,” create a sentence structure that focuses on imagery to describe the humidity: “The rain fell in a hard mist, making his clothes feel like sticky rice.” Or, if we want to add weight to a level of guilt a character feels, you could say “remorse settled into his gut like lead.”

Look around and open your senses when you’re trying to articulate a situation or a character’s mood; describe your own actual sensory experience in that moment.

Simile and metaphor

This rhetorical device is a crowd-pleaser because it makes the intangible tangible. A simile makes a comparison of one thing or idea to another by using the words “as” and “like.” For example, “He was as hungry as a hippo,” or “He fought like a tiger.”

Metaphor, in comparison, makes it more direct by replacing one thing or idea with another — without a “like” or “as.” For instance, “that handsome man is a sly fox,” or “his absence left me a parched desert.” The beauty of these rhetorical devices is that they can pack a punch! They say what they want to say by way of implication and prior associative meaning.

Personification

Sometimes we want to make clear the extent of an impact or outcome a character experiences. Personification — a creative writing tactic in which a thing or idea is given human traits or feelings, or is referred to as if it is human — is a fabulous rhetorical device to help ensure this. For instance, “the clouds cried a thousand tears,” or “the rabbit danced through the carrot patch.” 

A writer might want to give an idea or element a human attribute to make a story’s moment more relatable. Humans relate to human things and human ways of being. Give your chair a smile. Allow your desk to desire your presence. Be sure your words sing with gratitude.

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a common rhetorical device used to achieve emphasis by way of extreme exaggeration. These words are not meant to be taken literally, but instead, they are understood as a reference used in comparison or contrast to communicate a specific idea.

Hyperbole is used to describe feelings, create a comedic moment or scene, or make a very deliberate point. “I’m starving to death over here!” or “He was so high that night, he was floating.” We get the point.

Alliteration

Alliteration is perhaps my favorite rhetorical device, though I try to apply it sparingly. Alliteration is when a writer uses the occurrences of the same letter, or same sound, within a sentence containing closely connected consonants. See how I just did that? Imagine if you want to write about Jim, and his joy of jumping on the jungle gym. We get the bouncy feeling of Jim just by joining in his joy.

Alliteration creates a satisfying or unsettling flow; it can carry the reader into or out of a story’s unfolding events.

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Onomatopoeia

If ever there was a word that could use more onomatopoeia, this rhetorical device is it. It’s funny sounding word which doesn’t really showcase what it is, or does, by way of its own definition. Onomatopoeia is the naming of a thing or action by a vocalized mimicry of the sound associated with it, such as boom, hum, buzz, or hiss

Why would a writer apply this rhetorical device? For literary interest; to show, not tell about the action or occurrences of something happening in a story; to describe sound by creating the actual sound itself in the reader’s experience. For example, “The ocean sloshed, churned, and gurgled” is more expressive than “The ocean’s current was strong that day.” Onomatopoeia can express the mood of the work.

Irony

Isn’t it ironic that rhetorical devices can sometimes do more than words alone? Irony is one of the words we think we know and, ironically, misuse all the time.

Defined, irony is when a contradictory statement or situation happens and reveals a reality that is different from what we thought was true. Key concepts here are “should be” and “actuality is.” Sort of like life, I suppose. When used as a rhetorical device in creative writing, we can apply irony in many ways. For humorous rhetorical effect, for sarcasm, to emphasize the opposite of what is actually true, or to showcase the way humans often miss the mark in their assessments.

Parallelism

Parallelism can either be a repetition of elements in writing or speaking, or to create an aligned positioning through opposite ideas. Some examples include James Baldwin’s famous quote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” or Neil Armstrong’s famous decree as he stepped on the moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In a most rudimentary example of parallelism, “stupid is as stupid does.”

Parallelism creates a sense of rhythm through repetition, which can reinforce or elaborate on an idea. It can also create relationships between words and sentences by way of contrast or comparison to enhance a reader’s understanding of what is taking place in a story. Through parallelism, words are toast and the meaning is butter.

From rhetorical to literal

Once your rhetorical devices are in place and ready to speak your ideas to readers, turn to BookBaby for all your self-publishing needs, including book printing. Call us at 877-961-6878 or visit us at www.bookbaby.com and let’s help you set the literary world on fire.

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