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How to Use Rhetorical Devices Properly in Your Writing

10 mins read

From ancient Greek amphitheaters to the far corners of bookstores and even the Internet, rhetorical devices have long been a cornerstone of effective communication.

While often associated with persuasive speeches, the art of rhetoric extends far beyond the podium, weaving its magic through every type of writing, including fiction. Using rhetorical techniques can make any kind of writing compelling, turning simple messages into memorable narratives. 

Keep reading to explore rhetorical devices, from what it is to the ways you can utilize it in your writing to captivate readers

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What is Rhetoric?

What is rhetoric exactly? It’s is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of certain techniques known as rhetorical devices. 

In writing, rhetoric is used to persuade, inform, or entertain the reader. 

Elements of Rhetoric

To employ rhetoric, you need to understand the elements needed to make it function effectively. Those elements are as follows: 

Credibility

Establishing the writer’s or speaker’s credibility and authority is crucial when it comes to convincing an audience of anything. This can be done by demonstrating expertise or shared values with the audience. In fiction, this could also apply to the main character. More often than not, we need to be able to trust our narrator and believe they have some sort of authority to lead us through their journey. 

Emotion

Humans are emotional beings. Appealing to your reader’s emotions will help you connect with them and that connection will make it easier to persuade, convince, or lead. Utilizing this element involves creating an emotional response through anecdotes, descriptive language, and the rhetorical devices we will talk about shortly.

Logic

Simply put, things need to make sense to a reader or listener if they are going to listen long enough to be persuaded. Making a logical argument for your stance, or regarding the rules of your world, or your character’s actions will make your story more believable. This entails providing clear reasons, evidence, and logical structure to support the argument (or premise) you are presenting. 

Meme featuring Keanu Reeves as a teenager from Dazed and Confused. The text says "What if my rhetoric teacher is actually good at rhetoric?" This is a joke about the persuasive nature of rhetorical devices.

Depending on the type of writing you’re doing, you’ll rely on some of these elements more than others. In non-fiction, logic and credibility are going to be at the forefront of your writing and you’ll want to use rhetoric or a rhetorical device to drive home your knowledge and reliability. You can also use rhetoric to make complicated subjects easier to understand for readers. 

However, in fiction, emotion is going to play a leading role. While credibility and logic will be important, the rules of your world will need to make sense and readers will need to know which characters to trust. When writing fiction you’ll want to make your readers feel.

Rhetoric or rhetorical devices can help you do this by helping readers understand a situation more deeply or relate to a character or situation they have no previous understanding of or experience with. 

How can you do this? By using rhetorical devices.

Let’s take a look at some different rhetorical devices, the tools you can use you can apply rhetoric to your writing, and how they might help in different types of writing. 

What are Rhetorical Devices?

A rhetorical device is a technique used by writers or speakers to convey a message to the audience or to evoke a particular response or emotion. To engage the elements of rhetoric, you can use a rhetorical device. These devices can be used to enhance the meaning of a message, make it more memorable, or make an argument more persuasive. They are used in persuasive speeches, non-fiction, and fiction writing. 

Here are just a few of the rhetorical devices you could use (because there are a lot).

Rhetorical Question

Asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer, but to make a point or draw attention to a topic.

Examples: “Is the Pope Catholic?” or,  “Are you kidding me?” 

Alliteration

The repetition of the same initial sound in a series of words.

Example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Anaphora

The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.

Example: “I have a dream” from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech.

Hyperbole

Exaggerating for emphasis or effect. 

Example: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

Metaphor

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other.

Example:  “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” from Shakespeare.

Oxymoron

Combining two contradictory terms. 

Example: “deafening silence.”

Personification

Assigning human qualities or characteristics to non-human entities or abstract ideas. 

Example: “The wind whispered through the trees.”

Simile

A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” 

Example:  “She sings like an angel.” 

Famous Examples of Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices have been used throughout literary and oral history to paint pictures, pull an emotional response from an audience or prove a point.  

Oxymoron 

From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

The juxtaposition of “sweet” and “sorrow” captures the complex emotions of love and longing. 

​Anaphora

From Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….”

The repetitive “it was” at the beginning of each clause creates a rhythm and emphasizes the contrasts.

From Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream Speech: “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania….” 

Alliteration

From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes….” 

The repetition of the “F” sound is a rhythmic alliteration. 

These are just a small sample of the examples you can find across literature and of course rhetorical devices are used in movies and modern works as well, even articles, blogs or videos. 

Why Use Rhetoric in Your Writing?

Because rhetoric and rhetorical devices are so common and so effective, it can be hard to know when you’re even using them. This might leave you wondering why you should use them. This subtleness shows why we should use them. 

When an author compares the emotion of a character to an experience or emotion the reader can relate to, it pulls the reader into that emotion so effectively, they don’t even realize they’re being “convinced.” 

While the average reader might not understand what it feels like to send a loved one off on a quest from whence they may never return, they probably understand the ache that grows in your stomach when you send a child off to their first day of school or even a spouse to train for the military. And even though it’s not directly the same experience, they will start to feel that ache in the moment and may be able to relate more to the character than they did previously. 

That’s the power of a rhetorical device. So the next time you’re writing, give it a try. Use a rhetorical device to convince your readers they’re feeling an emotion or help them understand a stance you’re making.

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