Thursday, February 28, 2013

21 Rhetorical Devices, and their tricky names

What exactly is rhetoric?

To me, it's what a speaker or writer uses to get the message across, usually, with added effect. It's persuasive communication, and if it's not a down-right lie, it can be a powerful and legitimate tool, one we use every day, without even noticing the techniques we're employing. Our good buddy Aristotle even went so far as to relate intellect, emotion, and sense of credibility and fairness to demonstrate rhetoric.

Philosophy aside, there are many rhetorical devices available to the astute writer. Many are familiar: oxymorons, euphemisms, hyperbole, alliteration, metaphors. For those who do not have an MFA and who like to increase or test their literary vocabulary, here is a handful more taken from The Complete Stylist and Handbook by Sheridan Baker. Make up or look for your own examples, even if - like me - you struggle to pronounce the names.

Alluding to the Familiar:
Anamnesis: "A remembering." Emphasizing the point by reminding the reader of a former event. (Today is the day she kissed me goodbye, twenty-four years ago.)
Parachresis: Alluding to, or mixing another's words into your context for emphasis or effect. (Only the low-lifes laughed at my jokes. I guess Oscar Wilde was right about the value of sarcasm.)
Paradiorthosis: Twisting a famous quote. (Friends, colleagues, paperboy, lend me some money.)
Building to Climax:
Asyndeton: "Without joining." Rushing a series of clauses to indicate emotional haste. (They charged, they fought, they died in the hundreds.)
Incrementum: Arranging items from lowest to highest. (They devoured the plants, they razed the fields, they swept through the towns, and threatened the nation.)

Synonymy: Repeating, by synonyms, for emphasis. (A low-down, no-good, miserable son-of-a-bitch.)
Anacoenosis: Consulting your audience, often through rhetorical questions to gain intimacy and urgency. (I ask you, is being a good parent enough?)
Aposiopesis: "A silence." Stopping midsentence. (But the children....)
Erotesis: Commonly known as a rhetorical question. (Does bread pay the bills?)

Apophasis: Pretending not to mention something by mentioning it. (I won't mention the time I fell asleep in the park and awoke behind bars.)
Litotes: "Simplifying." Asserting something by denying the opposite. (Not the smallest dog I had ever seen.)

Zeugma: "Yoking." Pairing one accurate word with an ironic misfit. ('Waging war and peace.')
 Overstating and Understating:
Auxesis: Using an exaggerated term. (He's a saint.)
Meiosis: Making big things small. (Besides the mansion in the country, he owned a second modest abode by the beach.)

Posing Contrasts:
Chiasmus: "A crossing." Reversing order. (A good man is hard to find; a hard man is good to find.)
Enantiosis, also called contentio: Emphasizing contraries, often with chiasmus. ('Could not go on, would not go back.')

Refining and Elaborating:
Exergasia: "A polishing." Presenting the same thing several ways. (A dream, a vision, an illusion of magical things.)

Epistrophe: Ending sentences the same, as a way to emphasize. (He lives at sea. He loves the sea. He'll die at sea.)

Paregmenon: Using derivatives of a word. (A fantastic fantasy.)
Metonymy: Using an associated thing for the thing itself. (The White House said today....)
Synecdoche: Substituting a) the part for the whole (He is a brain), or the whole for the part (China wins the Olympics), b) the species for the genus, or the genus for the species ('the felines [for lions]'), d) the material for the object (He plays brass.)
So, does you tongue feel like it's been squished through a meat grinder? (Is that a metaphorical erotesis?)

Or that you need to see a doctor in case you contracted any of these symptoms?

As tricky as the terms are, you have to agree (anacoenosis), rhetorical devices are fun, fun, fun (that's an epizeuxis, by the way).

Enough already! (apodioxis).

I need a nap.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February: Martha's Vineyard

Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha's Vineyard.
Original photo is by Paul Rezendes

Back in January, I set sail on my journey of rejection. I committed myself to devising some type of submission plan as I cruised around the Islets of the Scouts.

Now, my trusty ship (The Eggonaut??), with the help of my lighthouse wall calendar, has taken me to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

I have yet to visit the area in person, but I hear it's very relaxing there, particularly not in February for those of us allergic to cold weather.

It's fitting then, that I take a breath, and enjoy the calm.

The spreadsheets are spreading, the lists are lengthening, and I am gradually polishing my work and sending it out. I'm starting small, fishing for minnows, while the bigger fish continue to circle the boat, demanding attention.

The Edgartown Lighthouse on my calendar reminds me to take it easy, do what I can, and most importantly of all, be patient. The rejections will come and tear at the hull, but until then, I'm enjoying the scenery.

[Rejections this year: One. The postie returned a submission for lack of postage. What really hurts is almost certainly knowing that he or she didn't even bother to read it.
Non-Rejections: One. 9th place in the 13th Annual Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition. Thanks WD people.]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bird by Bird: lyre lyre, home on fire

I can relate to that little boy overwhelmed by the avian world. But pay attention to your assignment, young Master Lamott, and the birds might tell you their secrets.
Birds are funny things. The millions of birdwatchers, birders, twitchers, whatever you want to call them, are even funnier still. Years ago, I had a lecturer who was so passionate about birds, he wore them embroidered on his shirts, stamped on his belt buckles, and etched on his boots. He would start an ecology lecture with, “I knew this bird once…,” and never did I hear a tale about a long-lost love,or a mysterious acquaintance in a faraway land. Instead, I slept through an account of the foraging talents of the treecreeper, the social habits of the babbler, and the parental responsibilities of the emu.
But when the lecture turned to the uncanny ability of the lyre bird to mimic just about anything it hears, I considered this a worthy skill, and I paid attention.

The lyre bird learns the sounds of the forest, quite literally, bird by bird, to add to his repertoire of courting songs. Impressively, the Casanova in the video not only does birds, but camera shutters, car alarms, and chainsaws as well.
See for yourself.

For those thinking, okay, nice post about birds, but what's it got to do with Anne Lamott's book about writing, consider this: treecreepers, babblers, and emus have their own appeal, but sometimes, it takes that one special bird to get people thinking. One bird mimicking chainsaws. One bird singing about his own demise.

And so I tell myself to keep on writing, because you just never know which bird will be the one to touch someone's heart.

P.S. I liked the book.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'll Huff and I'll Puff, and I'll Be Forever Faithful

This amazing photo is from Steve Harris, flickr

Mm mm. Grandma looks delicious! So do those sneaky little pigs. Now if I can just squeeze into this itty bitty lamb skin.

Even though wolves almost never attack humans, from an early age, we are introduced to the wolf as a cunning killer, to be boiled or hacked to pieces at every opportunity.

But did you know that wolves mate for life? The alpha male and female lead a pack and act as the dominant, if not the only breeders in a group of six or ten.

These animals have a stronger sense of commitment and family than a great many humans.

I considered it rather appropriate to model a Saint Valentine's Day post on these remarkable animals. I rather like the idea of a wolf as a protagonist in a story. An intelligent, ruthless survivor; a convenient villian; an eternal romantic.

May your February 14 be free of men with axes, pots of boiling water, and villagers wielding pitchforks.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Never Trust an Expert

I allow myself to be bombarded with advice (build a platform, know your genre, write articles) which I gleefully ignore, and I give things a go, often prematurely.

So my recent holiday experience comes as no surprise to me. Let me explain (sit, I have slides).

I am not a great skier. In fact, I'm not even a very good one, but I agreed to a skiing holiday in Japan, pleased that my equally-hopeless sister, Ro, was joining me so we could check out each other's face-planting techniques.

The third adult in the party is a competent black-run (diamond, sapphire, whatever) skier.

"Here's a really good green run," he says. "It's wide; it's not busy; blah blah blah."

So my sister and I followed the advice of the expert, made it off the ski lift without bowling ourselves or anyone else over, and stood at the top of the slope, wondering how on earth we came to be there and how we would ever get down again.

It was just too steep for us.
Nevertheless, we trusted the advice of the expert and struggled down the slope. I'd like to say that my abilities surpassed my expectations, but alas, they did not.

After a great deal of face-planting, filled with terror, rather than laughter, we made it to the bottom, clicked off the wretched skis, and looked back up the slope. "What on earth were we thinking?"

My confidence was shattered. So was my sister's. We lugged our gear back to our accommodation, wondering if we could claim a refund on our lift passes, and co-ordinating the books we would read for the remainder of the trip.

After a hearty hot pot meal and restful night, Ro and I arose the next morning determined to redeem ourselves. We studied the plan of the mountain, diligently selected runs better suited to our abilities (or lack of), and set off once more.

Eureka! We flew past other face-planters and revelled in our expertise. We swooped down the slope like the bullet train in for service. We had conquered the foot of the mountain. Hurrah for us!

So what has this got to do with writing? Not much, I guess, but I did utter these philosophies to myself to combat chronic brain freeze:

1. I wasn't reading Bird by Bird, but I was living it, snowflake by snowflake.
2. To master the top of the mountain, you must first master the bottom.
3. It doesn't hurt to extend yourself, but don't be surprised to learn you're not as good as you think you are.
4. If you're not ready, step back and be patient.
5. There's no point doubting your abilities. It's better to learn what they are, and work with them.
6. Don't give up. There's a spot for you. If you keep on looking, you'll find it.
7. Only you know where you're at, so
8. Never trust an expert.

Happy Birthday Mr. Dickens

(7 Feb 1812 - 9 Jun 1870)
Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose so softened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became pleasure, and lost all character of pain.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens