When I first started writing I was a kid, but I was a voracious reader. I inhaled books–and would stagger out of my library with eight (the maximum that I was allowed to borrow) clutched in my arms. Then I’d return a week later and exchange them for the maximum again. When our teachers asked for our reading list at the end of each semester, other kids in my class would struggle to come up with the title or one title or two, and I would have six or more pages listing title, author, number of pages, genre, and a star rating for it. (This was long before ebooks and Goodreads or Amazon so I starred them because I’m a big re-reader and I wanted to remind myself if a book was worthy of being checked out of the library again.)
As I was reading I soaked up other authors’ methods, the way they described things, the way they created characters with depth, etc. I also soaked up, unknowingly, literary devices that I didn’t realize had names until I was in college. Now I’m conducting a writing course at our local library, I’m realizing a lot of people don’t know that some things aren’t mistakes, they’re deliberate literary rhetorical devices that draw a reader in, that add power to an author’s worlds and characters.
So since I just wrote a paragraph that used it and it reminded me, I figured I’d share them here every now and then…
Today’s device is anaphora. As it says in the graphic below, it’s the repetition of a phrase at the start of a number of sentences to create an emphasis–generally it’s 3, but it can work with more. This is probably one of the most recognized examples of anaphora:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings [. . .]
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,” ~ Shakespeare
It’s a really powerful device. Especially for speeches.
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” ~ Winston Churchill
“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Oh and the paragraph I wrote? It’s still unedited and who knows if it’ll make it into the final copy of Unashamed. No, it’s not as memorable/quotable as Dickens, nor as powerful as Churchill, but it creates a cadence that makes reading more powerful and easier too. Because it draws a reader in and says “this–this is something that you need to pay attention to.”
Both he and Noah had talked about it—a lot—over the week. Talked about whether it was fair that Max got a night with Hayley to himself where Noah hadn’t. Talked about whether they should do it here at home, or whether to rent a hotel room the way they normally did. And they’d talked about whether Hayley had sought them out because someone had told them they’d had threesomes before. ~Leah Braemel, Unashamed