To close out the year, I thought I’d give an overview of some terms we use when we write or speak.
Rhetoric is the art of writing and speaking. (When I say art, I really mean knack or skill.) Anytime we open our mouths or write something (like I am doing at this very moment), I am trying to do one of three things: inform you of something, persuade you to do something or motivate you toward an action. Why else would we write or speak? Now, that question I just asked you is a rhetorical question. That means I really don’t expect you to come up with an answer.
Rhetorical questions are used a lot of time in advertising. Remember the rhetorical questions in the soap ads: Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone did? Ads are full of them because they involve us. Anytime anyone asks us a question, it is like snapping their fingers at us to get our attention. I saw a movie last night and it was so full of rhetorical questions, I soon lost interest. That’s what happens when you overuse this device. One character asked, “What the hell?” “What’s happening with you, man?” “Have you any idea how stupid that was?” “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” “Is the pope Catholic?” You can’t answer these questions. You’ll just look stupid if you try.
So, here’s a tip: Questions with no answers get dull fast. Watch how many rhetorical questions you use in your writing or your speech. The only thing that makes writing or speech more boring is the overuse of the word “like”. Ex. I was like, she was like, they were like. Both items must be sparsely used or you’ll wear out the eyes and ears of your reader and listener.
I mentioned above rhetoric means that any speaker or writer is attempting to do one of three things. Of those three, the most important is to attempt to persuade someone of something. Aristotle, the historic philosopher and logician, reasoned that there were three ways one could convince someone of something: (1) Pathos=by appealing to someone’s emotions, (2) logos=hit them with verifiable facts and (3) ethos=an eminent person says so. If you’ll look at these three, you will find they are the cornerstone of any ad you’ve see on TV or in print. Ads with pathos will have a photo or statement that appeals to your emotions; those with logos will say that 44% of doctors recommend this product; and ethos tells you that George Clooney uses this product—so if you want to be cool like him, you will use it too.
It’s the same in literary composition. What kind of book or screenplay are you writing? On what level do you hope to hook your audience? And once you’ve written your book, you hope the cover and all ads will have glowing quotes from well known critics.
Rhetoric is how you will achieve a career in writing. Or if you’re a politician or lawyer, it is how you will get elected or win a case. Or if you’re a preacher, it can be your way to great acclaim and popularity. Or if you’re selling snake oil, ditto.
Read something you’ve recently written. What are you trying to do via that piece of writing? How are you trying to sell it? On what basis? You can brush up your writing immensely by using the tips in the above paragraphs.
Good writing can cause people to cry, or learn a lot of facts or can get a lot of known people bragging on you. Aristotle knew what he was talking about.