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Rhetorical Devices: Adding Emotion and Upping the Tension

Liz here:

Last week, Jen did an amazing job of explaining why writers should use rhetorical devices in their writing. The proper use of these devices takes your writing to the next level. It shows your maturity as an author. And I'd like to second her recommendation of Margie Lawson's courses. They are fabulous. And not at all expensive. 

I'm going to start this week off with one device that's probably very familiar to all writers: metaphor.This is the art of comparing two different things by asserting that one thing is the other or has properties of the other. And I call it an art, because that's what it is. There is a right way and a wrong way to use metaphor. The wrong way is to use too many metaphors. That gets tedious and tiresome for the reader and takes away the impact of the rhetorical device. That goes for all rhetorical devices. Don't overuse them.

When you do use metaphors or similes (the same thing but using like or as to compare the two things), tie the comparison into the story. Make it have some meaning. In my WIP, A Simple Heart, which is an Amish romance, Elam is frustrated talking to someone who doesn't want to speak to him. 

It was like talking to a horse. 

I first went for the cliche brick wall, but by using the horse, I'm tying it into the genre and the story. (Because I used like, that was a simile.) 

Here's an example of a metaphor, also from the same WIP. 

Naomi stepped into the cemetery, the branches of the large oaks overhanging the place, creating a ceiling, their red and yellow and orange leaves the stained-glass windows of a cathedral. 

Notice that this never uses the word like or as, but it's comparing the oaks and how they shade the grounds to a cathedral. And it makes sense in an Amish romance, because of the simplicity of what they would consider a holy place. And, like Jen suggested, I used multiple devices, both metaphor and polysyndeton (the use of many conjunctions).

Another device is an epistrophe. This is the ending of successive clauses with the same word. This is similar to anaphora, which is the repeating of a word at the beginning of sentences. Word repetition is a very powerful tool for emphasis. It really heightens the emotion in a story. 

Doug had bought her that necklace. On their wedding night, he gave her that necklace. And now, she had lost that necklace. 

The repetition of the phrase "that necklace" drives home the point that it was very important to her. And you can imagine the next line indicating how frantic she is now that it's gone. It amps up the tension in the story. 

Another device that utilizes repetition is amplification. This is the repeating of a word or phrase and adding more detail in order to emphasize a point. 

This was the house. The house where Frannie died. The house where she struggled with her attacker. And lost the battle. 

Each of the first three sentences uses the word "the house", but adds more detail. The last sentence there is what Margie Lawson would call a button. It's a short sentence, usually at the end of a scene or chapter, that really packs a punch. The amplification heightens the tension, each time revealing a little more about the house and what happened inside of it. And the last sentence hits you in the gut. 

Whenever you find that your writing feels flat or uninteresting, it might be because you need to use some rhetorical devices to "amplify" your work. Play around with them. At first, you might have to think about using them, but they will become second nature the more you use them.

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