In school, I had a love/hate relationship with English class. I loved to write! I loved to read! I loved to think about writing and reading! What I didn’t love was tearing books down to their constituent parts, coldly identifying how the sentence worked as if this were some sort of literary autopsy. I hated having to identify rhetorical techniques or writing tricks. But now, I realize that learning how things like synecdoche and assonance work is part of becoming a better writer. And those same techniques don’t just make novels or poems better–they also make blog posts better. Here are a few literary writing tips which can make your blog posts sing.
1. Alliteration. Alliteration is when you use words in close proximity to one another which all have the same sound (usually at the start of the sentence). Many tongue twisters use alliteration–“she sells seashells by the sea shore” uses both the sh sound and the se sound to create its bet-you-can’t-say-that-three-times-fast trickiness. Alliteration can be used to highlight important words in a sentence and tie them all together into one coherent idea and create a common unifying factor. It can also manipulate our emotions–harsh consonants like hard c or k give a feeling of strength and resolve, while softer sounds like h are peaceful, like in “happy holidays.” Use alliteration to catch a reader’s attention or evoke certain emotions.
2. Repetition. Have you ever noticed how politicians in speeches love to repeat themselves? For instance, in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, he ad libbed additional references to “they deserve a vote” throughout his speech, making one of the strongest and most remembered rhetorical moments of the evening. This is simple repetition, when the exact phrase is said multiple times in a piece of emphasis. This technique can also be used to tweak the meaning of the first mention of the phrase, as in Benjamin Franklin’s “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” By playing with various meanings of words, we can make short, memorable phrases that pop out at people. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself and double back. Just use it judiciously.
3. Metaphors and similes. Metaphor is language that compares one thing to another seemingly unrelated thing–“he was a great bear of a man,” for example. The man is (probably) not an actual bear, but we are able to understand that we’re probably talking about a large, perhaps hirsute, gentleman. A simile does the same thing, but rather than saying he is a bear, we would say he is “like a bear.” At any rate, metaphorical language allows us to step out of our preconceived notion of a thing and view it in a new light. That’s why those “what Walter White can teach you about social media” posts are forever so popular–it’s an extended metaphor. While those posts are admittedly not my favorite, they do work. And metaphors can help you in other ways–describing what a product is like if it’s not immediately familiar, putting a complex idea into an understandable context, and so on.
Most blogging is, in one fashion or another, persuasive rhetoric. Whether you know it or not, by blogging and using rhetorical devices like these, you are connected to a great lineage of writers which extends back to the ancient Greeks. Don’t be afraid to play with language, dust off your English books and let your literary side run free.