I have been having so much fun playing with rhetorical devices! Also called figures of speech, or stylistic devices, they fall in two groups: schemes and tropes. Tropes and schemes dress up our writing like nothing else.
Once our children understand grammar through study of English or a foreign language (Latin helps here tremendously), they are ready to focus on figures. Facility with figures comes with deliberate practice, though I have read the papers of students who use them unconsciously. (I delight in pointing them out to the writer!) Writers who read the best of writing gather up the wisdom and jewels of master writers before them.
How many rhetorical devices are there? It depends whom you ask. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase covers a good many; Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student teaches quite a few good ones that Figures omits. (Quinn only explains Greek-named devices. Classical Rhetoric covers those and more, such as irony, parable, personification, puns.) I am having a good time reading about rheotrical devices. I love reading the examples; there are some fantastic ones. They inspire me to try them in my own writing. If I have devices stored in my mind, and I have the time, then I have the tools to spice my speech. It isn’t always Art but it is always worth the practice. Practice alone leads to excellence.
If you are at all interested in schemes and tropes, see what The Visual Communication Guy has done! He has arranged common devices like a periodic table. I would love to have this on my wall, if I had a spare wall (they are all bookshelves), but let none of us get the impression from his visual device that rhetorical devices are like Chemistry! I laughed when I read this in Figures:
Writing is not like chemical engineering. The figures of speech should not be learned the same way as the periodic table of elements. This is because figures of speech are not about hypothetical structures in things, but about real potentialities within language and within ourselves. The “figurings” of speech reveal the apparently limitless plasticity of language itself. We are inescapably confronted with the intoxicating possibility that we can make language do for us almost anything we want. Or at least a Shakespeare can. The figures of speech help to see how he does it, and how we might. [Quinn 2]
Follow me through a series of articles on figures of speech for Classical Conversations’ Writer’s Circle. They should appear in 2015 January, February, March, and April. If you don’t remember the difference between schemes and tropes (as I could not until recently) and if you want to add some choice ones to your writer’s toolbox, check them out.
Can you spot a few in my post? Comment below. You don’t have to know the name for it–just point out where you think I was practicing.