Wednesday, March 14, 2012


   Matthew Bryant is  secretary of GFW Writers group and also is our in-house professor of the new Grammar Etiquette blog series, posted the second Wednesday of every month. He is an English teacher in Denton, TX. When he isn't teaching he is ghost writing and working on his novel. He says with small children he has learned to write fast.  
If you have a question or a comment, please leave it in the comment section at the end of this article.

Rhetorical Devices

            By definition, rhetoric is the classic art of persuasion.  It came about long before people had better things to do with their lives and spent all their time convincing the masses that they knew things that they really didn't.  The same holds true for politicians and marketers of the day, but these time-honored traditions are even more effective for you, the writer.  With the tools of the trade working in your favor, feel free to convince your readers that your fictional worlds and characters are real.
  Antithesis – This little beauty supports an idea by presenting the contrast.  While that makes little sense, rest assured that it has its place in the grand scheme of things.  For instance, you can never appreciate how soft a marshmellow is until you've chewed on a rock.  By suggesting the opposite of what the reader is used to, you can introduce them to the exact opposite.

            In all honesty, I really have no idea what this is for.  Example:  he floated on to the surface exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

            Euphemism – Perhaps the greatest invention in the history of language is the euphemism.  Or at least the greatest contributor to dirty jokes.  Euphemisms are more subtle ways of describing an otherwise taboo matter.  Examples would be referring to masturbation as 'polishing the one-eyed gopher', 'calibrating the joystick', or 'taking the low road to Palmsdale'.

            These are quite frequently used in humorous dialogue or internal monologue.

            Hyperbole – There are literally bajillions of these!  Hyperboles are gross exaggerations.  “I'm so hungry I could die!”  While there are some people out there that this applies to, it's more often heard from the lips of an eccentric young boy or girl.

            Irony – saying the opposite of what is intended.  See also:  sarcasm.  This particular device is rather difficult because it's always presented with inflection and tone.  Tips for this are to over-exaggerate the opposing word and suggest the tone with an eye-roll, smirk, or other smarmy expression.  “I would never be facetious in front of such an obviously respectable individual such as yourself.”

            Sometimes irony can be just as effective by leading up to it with context clues.  Making a point to agree when every action leading up to that moment suggests otherwise.

            Personification – unless under the influence of mind-altering drugs, nobody talks to a lamp-post and expects a response.  On the other hand, personification is ideal for adding a new subject to your steady stream of pronoun sentence beginnings.  “The steel door groaned a protest against his advances.”  This is one of the more useful devices in sprucing up your language instead of focusing on dialogue.

            Tautology – repetition, redundancy, and saying the same thing over and over.  These are used to make a point... or to reword things for geniuses who can't get it the first time.  “All of these planes are grounded, they can't fly.”  This is especially useful if the reader is unaware of what 'grounded' means.  These are essential for helping clear the air around fictional words without breaking stride from the action to go into elaborate detail over made-up or fictional things that nobody has any clue about.
Read Matthew's blog at   

Don't forget to leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

Love the cat's photo for sarcasm. Thanks for listing and giving examples of these writing tools.

Caroline Clemmons said...

That "anonymous" comment was from me. I didn't mean to post when I did. Sorry.

George said...

If I had an English teacher as creative and well versed as you in school, I wouldn't have flunked out of college.

Ruby Johnson said...

This is a good description of a euphemisn. If you have a surgical procedure without anesthesia and the doctor says,"You'll feel some pressure." It's a euphemisn for "this is going to hurt."

Matthew Bryant said...

Thanks guys! Yeah, I loved the cat too. And George - if you like this, you should see me do Shakespeare! (No, that's not me volunteering)

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