Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, rhetorical devices are among your most useful tools. Use them, and your writing will have specificity, emotional impact, color, and memorability.
The term rhetorical device is hard to define. Vocabulary.com says it’s “a use of language that creates a literary effect.” Huh? What does that even mean?
Let’s look at some devices (they’re also called poetic devices) and some examples.
Simile is a figure of speech making a comparison, saying something is similar to something else, usually including the word like or as.
A pretty girl is like a melody.
Metaphor is a figure of speech making a comparison, saying something is something else.
A pretty girl is a melody.
Antithesis is the contrasting of two opposing ideas, often set up in parallel structure.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 HCSB).
A character can also be an antithesis, such as a vegetarian who raises beef cattle.
Alliteration is the use in close proximity of words starting with the same sound.
The slender snake slithered in the sand.
Assonance is the repetition of same or similar vowel sounds within phrases or sentences.
He spent his summer mornings roaming and roving over the hills.
Oxymoron is the juxtaposition of two conflicting images.
Observing the cheerful chaos, he quietly shouted for it to stop.
Personification is the ascribing of human characteristics or behavior to something non-human.
The avalanche raced down the mountain.
Backloading is putting the most important word of a sentence at the end.
Jason’s dad exploded when he saw the damage to his car.
When Jason’s dad saw the damage to his car, he exploded.
Which of the two sentences above has more impact? The one ending in exploded. That’s a powerful word. It leads the reader on to the next sentence.
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Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of three or four successive phrases, clauses, or sentences.
Jill was tired of the shutdown, tired of wearing a mask, tired of staying six feet away from everyone, tired of not being able to go to a bar.
Epistrophe is related to anaphora; it’s the repeating of a word or phrase at the end of three or four consecutive phrases.
Sandra fed the dog, walked the dog, bathed the dog, and picked up after the dog.
Anadiplosis also involves repetition: it’s repeating the last word of a sentence at the beginning of the next sentence.
She was beautiful and smart. Smart enough to save the company from disaster.
Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions in a series.
I came. I saw. I conquered.
Polysyndeton is the opposite of asyndeton in that it’s the use of multiple conjunctions in a series.
She came home from the festival with tacky souvenirs and leftover popcorn and cotton candy and a pounding headache.
Epizeuxis is repetition for emphasis.
Writing is hard, hard, hard.
Zeugma is the utilization of two different meanings of a word in the same sentence, often creating wry humor.
While waiting for his dad to come home, he killed time and his mother.
Rhetorical questions are questions which are not necessarily to be answered, but to make a point. They can sometimes be used as an end-of-chapter hook.
But isn’t that what every author does?
This list of poetic devices is by no means exhaustive. These are just my favorites. You are probably using many of them unconsciously (or purposely) in your own writing. If not, you can make your writing more musical and expressive by including some. Pick a few to utilize to take your writing to the next level.
Guest post contributed by ARHuelsenbeck. Former elementary general music teacher ARHuelsenbeck blogs about the arts and the creative process at ARHtistic License. She is currently writing a YA mystical fantasy and a Bible study guide, and submitting a poetry chapbook, with mystery and MG drafts waiting in the wings. You can follow her on Twitter, and see some of her artwork, photography, and quilts on Instagram.