Writers in the Storm

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November 20, 2015

Margie’s Rule #11: Power Up with Rhetorical Devices

Margie Lawson

Thank you for inviting me to guest blog again this month. I love being on WITS!

Want more superpowers in your WIP?

Most writers use just a few rhetorical devices. These are the most frequently used: simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, and the occasional rhetorical question.

How many rhetorical devices are in your writing toolbox?





We’ll look at eight out of the thirty rhetorical devices I cover in my Deep Editing course and lecture packets.

  1. Alliteration
  2. Allusion
  3. Anadiplosis
  4. Anaphora
  5. Metaphor
  6. Polysyndeton
  7. Simile
  8. Zeugma

The Definitions:

  1. Alliteration – repeating initial consonant sounds. They may be juxtaposed, adjacent to each other, or they may be spread out in a sentence or across several sentences.

I Do Not, Rhay Christou Daughter of the trailer park tramp. Top that one off with a star and a sticker.

Fatal Dreams, Abbie Roads The days and nights blurred and blended together with no division between them other than the color of the sky. It was an exhausting, endless sort of existence.

  1. Allusion -- a quick reference to a famous person or event.

Sixth Grave on the Edge, Darynda Jones  –  What the hell kind of name was Muffy. If I were a prostitute, I’d go for something cool and exotic like Stardust. Or Venus. Or Julia Roberts.

  1. Anadiplosis – repeating the last word of one sentence or clause at the beginning of the next sentence or clause, or very near the beginning of the next sentence. The words may be separated by a period or comma or em dash.

Tempt the Devil, Anna Campbell He was jealous. Jealous of a dead man.

The Last Breath, Kimberly BelleYou’d think that when confronted with concrete evidence of your wife’s infidelity with the next-door neighbor, there’d at least be some screaming. Screaming and cussing and accusations and blame.

  1. Anaphora – repeating a word or phrase at beginning of three (or more) successive phrases or sentences.

About a Scandal, Elizabeth EssexLady Claire Jellicoe hadn’t thought to protest. She hadn’t thought Lord Peter Rosing would ever do anything untoward. She hadn’t thought someone she’d just met on a ballroom floor could ever wish her irreparable harm.

She simply hadn’t thought.

  1. Metaphor – comparing two different things by asserting that one thing is the other or has properties of the other.

When You Are Mine, Kennedy RyanShe closed her eyes for a few erratic heartbeats, struggling to rein in her body’s response. She was a running engine slowly cooling down.

More Than a Kiss, Brenda Spears “Don’t you think a dance with Rose would be lovely, Henry?” his mother said, a shepherdess leading her sheep.

  1. Polysyndeton – using a conjunction between a series of words in a list of three or more. Think many conjunctions.

King Stud, Liv Rancourt “C’mere.” Ryan tugged, and instead of backing away, she rocked forward, drawn to him by physics or hormones or old-fashioned need.

  1. Simile– comparing two different things that resemble each other.

Sixth Grave on the Edge, Darynda Jones  –  Garrett eased forward as our target closed the door, sealing my fate like a ziplock bag sealed in freshness.

The Sweet Spot, Laura Drake  Frozen frame pictures of Jimmy, knocking boots with the little blonde shot through Char’s brain like machine gun fire.

  1. Zeugma – last word doesn’t fit the cognitive sequence for two or more items. It’s an idiomatic mismatch. Margie grabbed her purse, her keys, and her steely resolve.

Fatal Dreams, Abbie Roads  – He looked like every other cocky college kid—hair too long, pants too baggy, ego too large. He didn’t look like the leader of a sex gang.

Love all those examples. And they’re all from Margie-Grads.

What do rhetorical devices add to your writing?

Interest and fun and impact and power.

They make your work cadence-driven and make your Cadence Ear happy.

They make your writing fresh and strong and boost you toward bestseller lists.

Check out these examples of rhetorical device combos.

The Last Breath, Kimberly Belle

Anadiplosis and Polysyndeton: You'd think that when confronted with concrete evidence of your wife's infidelity with the next-door neighbor, there's at least be some screaming. Screaming and cussing and accusations and blame.

Beware of Heels, Suzanne Purvis

Anadiplosis and AlliterationI have a warning voice. A voice that’s a mash up of my mother and the Reverend Hill of The Church of Everlasting Light. The voice screamed leave now.

Simile and Double Alliteration: My heart ticked like a bomb beneath the bones of my ribs. Silent screams stole air from my lungs.

More Than a Kiss, Brenda Spears

Simile and Alliteration:  He put a hand on her shoulder, his heat sinking to her skin as if her clothes did not exist.

Anadiplosis, Anaphora, and Alliteration:  Miss Carew was a woman who could make a man forget. Forget his family. Forget the wars. Perhaps even forget he was the Blind Baron of Shropshire. And while he forgot, she could take advantage of his weaknesses, dupe him, lead him on a merry dance to the altar.

Simile and Metaphor: She tingled as if bergamot were exciting or new. The scent was neither, but on him bergamot suddenly was a pleasure, a thrill, a temptation.

Simile and Alliteration:  Cornwall—the name sliced through Katherine as a claymore would a man on the battlefield.

Broken River: Resurrection, Lindsay Cross

Anaphora and Zeugma:  Rachel’s day started at sunrise and ended after midnight. Feed the chickens. Feed the cows. Feed herself. Then, after five, feed the alcoholics.

Anadiplosis and Anaphora:  Ranger is a man plagued by guilt. Guilt over the death of his best friend in battle. Guilt over being the one who survived. Guilt over loving his best friend's widow.

For Roger, Laura Drake as yet unpubbed WF

Alliteration and Allusion:  “No, but Roger’s daughter makes the pope look downright agnostic.” Great. This woman is pulling me down to her Dante-level of bitchy.

Sweet on You, Laura Drake

Alliteration and Simile:  The two-story stucco buildings may have been handsome, before the bombing. They passed one with a missing front wall, exposing jagged rooms like broken teeth. Between the damage and the dust, the town looked tired, weary of all it had seen.

Days Made of Glass, Laura Drake, as yet unpubbed WF

Simile and Alliteration: Smoke rolled into the sky, spreading over the dairy like an angry fist.

Fused, A Middle Grade Novel, Suzanne Purvis, Immersion-Grad

Simile and Alliteration: Jordan stands super-slow like he’s got time to watch glaciers melt. “Gotta figure out what I’ll do with my prize money.” He superstar-saunters around the cubicles.

Polysynedton and Alliteration: Without weapons or back up or super powers, my strategy is stealth.

Zeugma and Alliteration: I’ve trapped the Frog Farts twenty feet in the air, ten feet from the fence, and fifty miles from their fearlessness.

Anadiplosis, Anaphora, Alliteration: Pops pulls Anastasia to the curb and sounds her ridiculous horn. He opens the passenger side window. “You boys about done?”

Oh, I’m done. Done with Allen. Done with this day. Done with Show Low.

And I smell smoke. Must be the stink of my karma cooking. 

The last set of examples is from smart and fun Immersion Class Members in Washington D.C. area this week.

Tales of the Virgin Vault, Christina Crayn

Alliteration and Anadiplosis: His brilliant blue eyes sparked with promise—a promise of going to bed Christmas Eve knowing Christmas morning would be better than you could possibly imagine—sort of promise.

Imperfect Picture, Jacki Kelly

Alliteration and Anaphora: Her perfect picture life paled. Gone was the glamour. Gone was the dream. Gone was the promise of her perfect future.

Unveiling Love, Vanessa Riley, to be released January 2016

Alliteration and Zeugma: The sultry tone of songstress Cynthia Miller floated in the air, the lyrics haunting, soulful, man-snaring.

A Treasure of Gold, Piper Huguley

Allusion and Alliteration: The huge expended effort seemed reminiscent of Moses parting the Red Sea, but soon they stood in front of her sister's door.

Protective Instinct, Riley Edgewood

Alliteration and Simile:  Last time she'd seen Vaughn, he'd used his vulnerability to draw her in—and then spin her out, flinging her away. This time, he'd been hard as ice with no sign of melting.

Wild Women and the Blues, Denny Bryce

Asyndeton, Metaphor, and Alliteration: The harshness in her voice would’ve surprised him if he hadn’t been looking into her eyes. Hard as metal, determined as time, his mother had been right to make him promise to visit the old woman, but being a good son was a weight, digging into his shoulder with a bucket of bricks called what the hell.

Kudos to those Immersioners, and to all the Margie-Grads referenced in this blog.

Stellar content. Stellar cadence. Stellar writing. 

Rhetorical devices have two more superpowers!

1. They share backstory.

The Woods, Harlan Coben

I’ve never seen my father cry before, not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he heard about my sister, Camille.

Brilliant!  Four hits of backstory in one cadence-driven sentence. 

2. They compress time.

To the Power of Three, Laura Lippman 

We go to lunch, the waitresses swirl around him, offering seconds and specials and thises and thats.

You need these superpowers! Learn 20+ rhetorical devices, and use them in your WIP.

Don’t miss opportunities to use rhetorical style and structure to make your writing award-winning strong. 

If you’re interested in learning more rhetorical devices, and how to use them, check out my Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More lecture packet. www.margielawson.com

BLOG GUESTS:  It’s your turn.

If you like, post a rhetorical device. Post a comment and you have TWO CHANCES to WIN!

  1. Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson
  2. An online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy – worth up to $75!

Check out the courses offered by Lawson Writer's Academy in January:

  1. Getting Serious About Writing a Series
  2. Power Up Your Setting!
  3. Empowering Characters’ Emotions
  4. Madness to Method: Using Acting Techniques to Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy

The drawings will be Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time. See you on the blog!

All smiles................Margie

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About Margie

Margie LawsonMargie Lawson—editor, international presenter—teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners. Margie has presented over ninety full day master classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Denver, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Canyon Lake, Dallas, San Jose, Melbourne, Australia, and more), her full day Master Class presentations, on-line courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit www.MargieLawson.com.

53 comments on “Margie’s Rule #11: Power Up with Rhetorical Devices”

  1. Hi Margie, Great examples. I love this kind of writing. It's like a celebration of language. Your readers might enjoy a few of the excertps from my upcoming novel Finding Rose Rocks.

    Winds blew clean and clear with no impediments—buildings, mountains, or complicated souls—to get in its way.

    Over and over the foamy tide whispered her name.

    Now the Las Casitas house would join the many-pocketed garment of her past.

    Troy laughed again, more softly than before, a sound pleasant to the ear like the first notes of a tenor sax.

    Thanks for the article,
    Karen Ginther Graham

  2. Some of these devices I've used without knowing what they were called. Now that I see how they can work, I know my writing will get better. I'm currently fascinated by - and working on - the skill to condense backstory as your example demonstrates. So much more powerful than pages of narrative. Thanks.

    1. Carol --


      The more you know, the stronger your writing.

      You need to know which RD to use where to accomplish what.

      Lots more rhetorical devices, and hundreds more examples--including which, where, and what--in the Deep Editing lecture packet. That packet has 300+ pages. With all those fab examples and fun teaching points, it's a fast read!

  3. Margie, I'll out myself here (so no one else has to). About the only names I remember the definitions of, are simile (from Jr. High), and Zeguma (because I love the sound of the word).

    But I put forward the theory that, as long as you know HOW to use them, your readers won't know you don't know the definitions.

    The only place I don't get away with that is in your classes. And I'm going to be on a 7 day cruise with you in a couple of weeks.

    *she gulps while making out a cheat sheet*

    Thanks for including my examples among all these stellar ones!

    1. Laura --

      Absolutely. You don't have to learn the Greek words, but you need to know the structure of the RD and when and how to use which one.

      And you do!

      Can't wait until that 7 day cruise. Only three more weeks!

  4. What a wonderfully informative post. Thank you for reminding me of rhetorical devices that I've neglected over the years. I've been focusing on simile and metaphor lately as I bounce between fiction and poetry. Now I have more literary devices in my arsenal. Thank you!

  5. Your posts always come at just the right time. I woke up early and was polishing my WIP. You--and the examples you shared--inspired me to make my words work harder. Here's a taste. Thanks for your continued motivation!

    I pursed my lips so tightly they trembled. The tendons in my neck stiffen and pressed against my blouse’s collar.

    “Now, now. Don’t pucker up your mouth like a cat’s ass.” He took off his stained glove and began to grab at the front of my blouse. The dry-skin burrs on his hand chewed at the silky fabric. He squeezed my breast like it was a lemon and he was desperate for lemonade. My thoughts ricocheted in search of a way to get away from him.

    “I know my hand’s as rough as a dry corn cob in a shit shack. But the rest of me’s smooth as butter on a steaming flapjack. Hmmm, I may just have to take that cameo off your hands, I mean neck. Might be able to barter for something pretty with that in Frisco.” His barbed-wire fingertips loudly snagged the satin near the cameo—my closest connection to my mother. My captor was hurling spears into my ears.

    1. Hello Immersion-Grad Rebecca!

      Great to cyber-see you on WITS. Loved working with you and your characters in Immersion. I bet you're writing fresh and adding cadence-driven power with your RDs!

  6. Rhetorical devices for the win 🙂 It's awesome learning the names to techniques I didn't even realize I used--and learning how to push them further and implement new ones to power up my prose (see, alliteration BOOM).

  7. Hi Margie, I'm so honored you included some of my work as examples. I love learning, exploring, playing with rhetorical devices, all thanks to you. There are so many RDs to choose from and you constantly challenge me to try new ones. Thank you for keeping my writing new, interesting and fun.

  8. I love the way that using these devices makes your work more thought-worthy (metaphors, especially) and improves the rhythm of sentences. I've used some of these for a while - who knew they had names!

    1. Hello LizAnn --

      You can deepen your story and/or characters with all 30 rhetorical devices I teach writers. And learn when and how to use them to pick up pace, compress time, expand time, slip in backstory, and MORE!

      Many of those rhetorical devices (when written well) are cadence-driven.

      Glad you're an RD lover!

  9. Hey Margie! Thank you for including one of my Virgin Vault writing examples in your blog post. I'm honored to be included with this talented group of writers. This is my second immersion class and I'm still absorbing, applying, assigning rhetorical devices to my WIP. Not only is your class challenging me as a writer, but I'm having a blast working with you and the other DC area immersioners to keep my writing NYT fresh. Truly.

    1. Hello 2-time Immersion-Grad Christina!

      So great to work with you again. Lots of strong writing! And I'm looking forward to more. Maybe an April or June 2016 Immersion class? 🙂

  10. Great post. One quick question, though. When should these devices be written? I am in the middle of first draft and that seems too early. But after multiple passes, I don't want them to seem contrived rather than organic. Any suggestions?

  11. Beautiful examples Margie. I hope to get my writing up to this level on my current manuscript.

  12. In the new book I'm writing, I'm heading each chapter with a 'famous' simile quote. And here is the beginning text of one of my chapters: Beatrice Roan Wilkins entered the classroom and stopped short. Her five students sat up straight, looking at her expectantly. Then almost in unison, they turned toward the back left corner and stared at the stranger sitting there.
    The tall, rugged, blond-haired man sat uncomfortably in the too small chair, appearing as out of place as a football on a basketball court. Or as a peach on an apple tree, Bea thought, catching herself grin at her own silly similes. That’s what she was working on with the students in her special ed English class this week – metaphors and similes.
    Bea held her grin in place and walked toward the stranger, holding out her hand. The man, taller than Bea had guessed, stood up, shook her hand as if it was a delicate tea cup. Whoops, Bea thought, another silly simile.
    Thanks for the great post!

  13. Always such an honor to be included in a Margie blog post! Thanks for putting my name up there among all those other fabulous writers ~ and thanks for pushing me to keep writing fresh. Your immersion and online classes have taught me so much!! xoxo

  14. What a surprise to be honored in this blog! Margie, you have taught me so much, inspiring me to dig deeper and write fresher. Your online classes have been awesome!

  15. “Don’t tell me what ‘condition’ I’m in. You have no idea how I’m feeling. Give me those keys!” I screamed. I wanted to smash something. Maybe his camera. Maybe his car. Maybe his face.

    Thanks for your great teaching tools. I hope to take an Immersion class someday. Everyone above seems to really benefit from it.

  16. Hi, Margie. Love your rules! Here's my contribution:

    "He'd have to do without an office manager for now. He couldn't endanger Meagan and her family. This was his fight. The agency's fight. The task force's fight.

    Moreno was scum. Bottom of the cesspool scum.

  17. Oh, my! Being Greek, it was as if was reading a Greek article! Not one of those words isn't Greek. Okay, alliteration isn't. But my chest is double in size. Thanks, Margie!

  18. I am in awe of writers who use these devices well. Thanks for the reminder to work them in more often.

    How about consonance as another rhetorical device? Pairs such as "hurly-burly."

  19. Hi Margie, I was fortunate enough to attend one of your one day workshops (at the RWAus Conference in Melbourne in August this year), and LOVED it! I've actually been madly editing my latest ms, using some of your devices, but I would love to become adept with all of them. I want the velcro between the reader and my pages to be super strong! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. I hope that one day I can do a full Immersion workshop.

  20. Oh, I love seeing all these examples. So inspiring! Makes me want to push myself harder in my own writing. And since you asked, here's from a YA sci-fi I'm working on (AWAKEN) with simile & zeugma:

    “I’m coming up.” My voice is steadier than my nerves. They flutter in my stomach like birds trapped in a too-small cage. There’s no other sound but the thick rush of wind ripping at our hair and our clothing and our confidence.

  21. Hello from Melbourne, Margie! I was in your day lecture for Romance Writers Australia, and have implemented some of these devices in my debut MS. It's already getting positive interest from agents and publishers. Nothing's confirmed yet, but the rethorical devices have given my writing more lift and nuance. I'm even on my honeymoon right now and reading lecture packs by the pool :p

  22. Hi Margie - I attended your one day class at RWAustralia Get Fresh. It was my conference highlight. Such a relief to have someone talk about the nitty gritty of using language to strengthen story - and more to the point, about how to do that systematically!

    I've earmarked January to go through your Empowering Character's Emotions lecture packet, and am looking forward to applying Margie-Lawson Style Nouse when I start editing my WIP in the new year. Thank you!

  23. Hi Margie, I, too, was at the RWA Conference in Melbourne this year and attended your full day workshop - inspiring! I had no idea the 'devices' I used even had names, and now knowing that, thanks to you, I'm inspired to further explore with them. Thank you also to your contributors - they are all great reads.

  24. Discovering these rhetorical devices were a game-changer for my writing. Thank you Margie!

    If I ever hit a best seller list, you'll be in my acknowledgements 🙂

  25. I feel so privileged to have attended your workshops in New Zealand in, I think it was 2007, and then again at the RWA in Melbourne this year. I've learned so many ways to freshen my writing using your rhetorical devices. Thank you!

  26. Wow. I love the whole idea of spicing up my Manuscript, Margie. Here's my attempt.

    The captain of the British-built clipper aimed at nine knots. Nine knots! He sliced through the sea like a madman in full attack mode.

  27. Hello Everyone!

    My flight from Washington D.C. to Denver was delayed last night. Sorry to keep you waiting for the WINNERS.

    Random.org selected: COLETTE CAMERON and BEVERLEY EIKLI!

    Collette Cameron -- wins a lecture packet from me.

    Beverley Eikli -- wins an online course.

    Collette and Beverley -- Please email me and I'll get you set up.

    An FYI for EVERYONE:

    It's been two years since I taught EMPOWERING CHARACTERS' EMOTIONS, and I'm teaching it online in January.

    It's the first of my Big Three courses, the prerequisites for my Fab 30 class (online) and my 4 1/2 day Immersion classes.

    Have questions about my online courses or full day workshops or Immersion Master Classes? Ask me: margie@margielawson.com


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