Like bumpers at a bowling alley, rhetorical devices are the structures we use to guide our audience toward the idea we want to strike when writing or speaking. They empower us to persuade, inform, and express our ideas more powerfully.
These devices have been used for thousands of years. Egyptologists have decoded rhetorical glyphs from middle-eastern walls, and it was Aristotle who first codified the study of rhetoric as an academic discipline in ancient Greece. Mastering some rhetorical devices makes our writing more vibrant and persuasive. For instance, there’s:
Advanced sign or warning of what’s to come
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Opening sentence)
Figurative depictions or illustrations
I remember the bite of jagged-toothed pebbles slicing through my worn leather soles. The rising heat stripped the fragrance from the pine brush on the verge beside me.
– Bugle Creatives, What Should Your Next Conference Smell Like?
Figure of speech containing an implied comparison
Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don’t waste a breath mourning Miss Barnes. Every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless at first—small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood. Sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted. Welcome back.
– Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Words that have the same sound at the beginning
…The only verdict is vengeance; A vendetta held as a votive not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
– V, V for Vendetta
Repetitious words or phrase at the beginning of sentences
There are those who say, “Oh that’s too far. You’ll never make it. Give in.” There are those who laugh, “No way in hell. Shut it down. Turn around. You can’t win.” There are those who smile, “It’s too hard. Surely, it can’t be done.” There are those who wince at hints of change, “That’s just how it’s always been run.”
– Bugle Creatives, There Are Those Who Say
Polysyndeton (pronounced: pä-lē-ˈsin-də-ˌtän)
Several conjunctions in close succession that draw focus to each listed item
They’re the women whose manes we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories, and they work in restaurants, and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They are athletes in the Olympics, and they are soldiers in the military.
– Oprah, Golden Globes 2018
Comparison between two fundamentally different things
I drop lyrics on and off like a light switch.
– The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die
Repeated words, phrases, or sentences
He waits. That what he does. And I’ll tell you what: Tick followed tock, followed tick, followed tock, followed tick.
– Guinness, Surfer Ad
The Always-Fresh Simile Machine
Yet, for all the devices at our disposal, we all still run the risk of cliché: the tired metaphor that fails to stir the imagination. The simile that rings too familiar. We’ve all heard them and God knows I’ve used them.
One way to avoid the pitfalls of these overused phrases is to create your own. Below are assembly instructions for an Always-Fresh Simile Machine. It’s a process I’ve found helpful when building my own comparisons. If you try it out, leave me a comment and let me know how it worked.
STEP 1: Choose Your Apple and Orange
Astute, non-obvious comparisons are both fun to write and to read. That’s the output the Always-Fresh Simile Machine will produce. But to start, you need your Apple and Orange. Chances are you already know your Apple: the thing you’re going to cleverly compare to something else for your reader. Write your Apple down on the top left of a piece of paper. Next, pick your Orange: The thing to which you’ll compare your Apple. Write that word at the top right of the same piece of paper. For freshest results, pick an Orange people wouldn’t typically associate with your Apple.
Apple = Love
Orange = Etch-a-sketch
STEP 2: List Your Orange Characteristics
Here’s the heavy lifting part. Write down every feature, characteristic, and association you can think of about your Orange. Stretch yourself here. Write down every description you can muster. The more you put to paper, the better your Always-Fresh Simile Machine will work.
STEP 3: Sort Applicable Phrases
Now, comb back through your long list of zesty Orange descriptions. Each time you spot a description that could also apply to your Apple write that description in the left-hand column. You’ll have a smaller list, but a bunch of fresh similes.
|Shake it and image disappears
Takes practice to master
Makes grown-ups nostalgic
Dullest part becomes magical
You remember playing with it
STEP 4: Deploy Newly Created Simile
Pick the simile that fits the comparison you’re trying to make. And voila. You’ve both assembled and used your Always-Fresh Simile Machine.
Her old flames faded from memory like a shaken etch-a-sketch.
Love tunes dull days to magic like the dial of an etch-a-sketch.
STEP 5: Share Results With @buglecreatives
Run a test on your Always-Fresh Simile Machine by playing the game below. We’ll repost the best results to our Instagram page and tag you with props. Good luck.
- Build an Always-Fresh Simile Machine on a piece of paper using an Apple and Orange from the list below
- Write your fresh similes below the machine on the same piece of paper
- Post a picture of your results to Instagram, tagging @buglecreatives