Tuesday, November 29, 2011

3 Find the Rhetorical Device: A Game, Contest, and Writing Lesson

For me, a great book has to have more than a great story and memorable characters. The books I love to curl up with, the books I return to so often that they become good friends, are the books that have beautifully crafted prose on every page. It's one of the reasons I love Young Adult literature. At its best, YA lit is such a beautiful mixture of literary writing and an unputdownable read. There are many YA authors out there who literally make me thrill with anticipation when one of their books comes out.

Here are some examples of completely random passages taken from three recent YA releases. Did I mention these books are HOT?

I loved reading these excerpts and really thinking about them. I loved the cadence and the tightness of the writing. But what really caught my attention was the sheer number of rhetorical devices packed into each of these three short groups of sentences.

What do you think of the writing? Notice anything? Is there anything you already do in your own work, or a technique you want to try? Don't just look within the sample sentences. Consider the symmetry of the overall extended structure as well as the figures of speech.

Post a comment with an example of a rhetorical device from the passage, or just your general thoughts about the writing. The person who posts the most examples of rhetorical devices will will a copy of Myra McEntire's HOURGLASS.

Take your time. We'll keep this contest running until January 2nd, and then post the winner's answers.

Are you ready? Here are the examples:

Suddenly I'm acutely aware of my impractical outfit. Suddenly the wind is too callous, too cold, too painful as it slices its way through the crowd. I shiver and it has nothing to do with the temperature. I look for Warner but he has already taken his place at the edge of the courtyard; it's obvious he's done this many times before. He pulls a small square of perforated metal out of his pocket and presses it to his lips; when he speaks, his voice carries over the crowd like it's been amplified.

"Sector 45."

One word. One number.

The entire group shifts: left fists released, dropped to their sides; right fists planted in place on their chests. They are an oiled machine, working in perfect collaboration with one another. If I weren't so apprehensive I think I'd be impressed.
Tahereh Mafi, SHATTER ME, page 103-104

It's like birds worrying a crow. I've seen them in the fields, when the crow has gotten too close to their nest or otherwise insulted them. The other birds dive-bomb and scream and the crow merely stands there, looking dark and still and unimpressed.

So it's just this: Sean and Mutt, heir to the island's fortune, and Mutt's spit glistening on Sean's boots.

"Nice boots," Mutt says. He's looking down at them, but Sean Kendrick isn't. He watches Mutt's face with the same looking-but-not-looking expression he had in the butcher's. I'm kind of horrified and fascinated by what I see on Mutt's face. It's not anger, but something like it.
Maggie Stiefvater, THE SCORPIO RACES, page 67

There are master forgers in the world, folks who know exactly what chemicals ink had in it in the sixteenth century versus the eighteenth. They have sources for paper and canvases that will carbon date correctly; they can create perfect craquelure. They practice the loops and flourishes of another hand until it is more familiar than their own.

It probably goes without saying that I am not a master forger. Most forgeries get by because they are good enough that no one checks them. When I sign my mother’s name to a permission slip, so long as it looks like her handwriting, no one brings in a specialist.

But if Barron compared the notebook I hastily forged to his older ones, the fake would be obvious. We are all specialists in our own handwriting.
Holly Black, RED GLOVE page 236

So did you spot alliteration, epizeuxis, metaphor, polysyndeton? What about the zeugma? What else did you find?

Looking for a refresher on rhetorical devices beyond the basics we're all familiar with? Here are a few good links:


Happy hunting!



  1. Loved reading the passages! You're right about the quality of today's YA lit. Great post, Martina! : )

  2. Hi Ara! Aren't these beautiful?


  3. These ARE great examples, lovely.

    I've never heard of some of those literary devices! I'm curious to learn them--although some I was aware of but just didn't know they had a technical label! ;o)


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