Friday, April 17, 2009

First Page Lightning: Adding Power with Rhetorical Devices

Today I have the lovely Margie Lawson with me to share some incredible teaching. Margie knows how to add adventure and ramp up life as much as she does writing. This photo above is right after Margie and her hubby, Tom, flew me around Denver in their experimental plane that he built! Come join us on the writing adventure today :-)

Take a moment and read a little about her and the special possibility to win a lecture packet today and then jump into this one day class below. When you ask a question or make a comment, Margie comes and visits to answer :-) Just love that. So watch the comments today for even more.
Welcome, Margie!


Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for writers.

Her Deep Editing tools are used by all writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

Over three thousand writers have learned Margie Lawson’s psychologically-based deep editing material by attending her full day Master Classes. In the last five years, Margie presented forty-four full day Master Classes, in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

You may WIN a Lecture Packet!

For every 25 people who post a comment today, Margie will draw a name for a Lecture Packet giveaway, a $20 value. Winners may choose a Lecture Packet from one of her on-line courses:

1. Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More -- May 1 - 30
2. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist-- May 31 - June 13
3. Powering Up Body Language in Real Life: Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting, June 14 – June 27
4. Part 1: Digging Deep into the EDITS System, October 4 – 17
5. Part 2: Digging Deep into the EDITS System, October 18 – 31
6. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, January, 2010
7. Empowering Characters' Emotions, March, 2010

Strap in for the flight to write! And we have lift off...
First Page Lightning: Adding Power with Rhetorical Devices By Margie Lawson

You all know the three-second-rule. Right?

When you meet someone new, that’s how long it takes to form an impression. That all important first impression. That hard to reverse first impression. That colors-your-perception-forever first impression.

Three seconds.

Look. Blink. Smile.

Your three seconds are up.

Writers have a similar challenge to make a positive first impression on agents, editors, and readers. They have a first sentence challenge, a first paragraph challenge, a first page challenge . . .

The first few pages of most novels are the most rewritten. Writers scrutinize those pages. They revise, rethink, rework, rewrite, reject-and-start-over.

Having analyzed the first several chapters (and beyond) of over a thousand novels, I know what components add power to openings. Many writers overlook one of those options--the power of rhetorical devices.

My research reveals that some New York Times bestsellers almost always use the more obscure rhetorical devices in their first few pages. Harlan Coben almost always uses ANAPHORA in the first few pages of his books. In some books, he uses anaphora in his opening paragraph and several more times in the first chapter.

Lisa Gardner and Stephen White often use anaphora and epistrophe in their opening chapters too.

In my Deep Editing course, I teach writers how to use THIRTY rhetorical devices. I’ll introduce three of these devices in this blog. ;-))

We’ll dive into ANAPHORA first.

ANAPHORA – Using the same word or phrase to START three (or more) consecutive phrases or sentences.

From Harlan Coben’s NO SECOND CHANCE, opening paragraph:

I know that I lost a lot of blood.
I know that a second bullet skimmed the top of my head . . .
I know that my heart stopped.

Two more examples from the first chapter of NO SECOND CHANCE:

I remembered waking up that morning . . .
I remembered looking in on Tara.
I remembered turning the knob . . .

I longed for the numb.
I longed for the comatose state of the hospital.
I longed for that IV bag . . .

Here’s an example of using anaphora to start phrases. It’s from Harlen Coben’s THE WOODS, Chapter 1:

I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.

Look what Harlan Coben accomplished in that line. He slipped in backstory. But with anaphora, it’s fast and smooth and intriguing.

Here are two examples of ANAPHORA, from Allison Brennan, FEAR NO EVIL,
Chapter 1. It’s two paragraphs.

Fourteen years ago she wanted the exact same thing as Lucy--to get out from under her parents thumb. But that was before she'd decided to become a cop. Before she realized how truly dangerous the city could be. Before she realized that justice wasn't always swift, that the system didn't always work.

That some murders would never be solved.

Stephen White used anaphora eight times in BLINDED. The example below is from Page 1:

It may sound goofy, but I also believed that on good days I could smell the spark before I smelled the fire and I could taste the poison before it reached my lips. On good days I could stand firm between tenderness and evil. On good days I could make a difference.

OKAY! What makes ANAPHORA powerful?

The rhythm . . .
The auditory echo . . .
The repetition of the message . . .

Anaphora speaks to the reader’s subconscious.

Using anaphora makes the read imperative.

Let’s look at another rhetorical device. EPISTROPHE. This one is even more obscure than anaphora. I’ve found 20 times more examples of anaphora, than epistrophe. Yet, it’s equally powerful.

And it’s as fun to write as anaphora. I used epistrophe to draw you into this blog. It’s in my second paragraph, and in my sixth paragraph.

EPISTROPHE – It’s the opposite of anaphora. Using the same word or phrase to END three (or more) consecutive phrases or sentences.

When you meet someone new, that’s how long it takes to form an impression. That all important first impression. That hard to reverse first impression. That colors-your-perception-forever first impression.

They have a first sentence challenge, a first paragraph challenge, a first page challenge . . .

Here are more examples of EPISTROPHE from bestselling authors:

From Michael Connelly, the opening lines from THE BRASS VERDICT:

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.

The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Not just for any lie. But for the one you can grab on to and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts on the floor.

That’s my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To use it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies.

Here are the first four paragraphs of HIDE by Lisa Gardner.

My father explained it to me the first time when I was seven years old. The world is a system. School is a system. Neighborhoods are a system. Towns, governments, any large group of people. For that matter, the human body is a system, enabled by smaller, biological subsystems.

Criminal justice, definitely a system. The Catholic Church—don’t get him started. Then there’s organized sports, the United Nations, and of course, the Miss America Pageant.

“You don’t have to like the system,” he lectured me. “You don’t have to believe in it or agree with it. But you must understand it. If you can understand the system, you will survive.”

The family is a system.

LISA GARDNER used the word SYSTEM eight times. Plus—one use of SUBSYSTEM.

She nails the reader again and again and again with that regimented word, system. And she brings it home with her last sentence: a spotlighted, stand alone sentence.

The family is a system.

There’s a page break after that line—then the story kicks in with a vengeance. ;-))

I’ll share one more rhetorical device – SYMPLOCE.

SYMPLOCE uses a combination of anaphora and epistrophe – in the same sentences.

The SYMPLOCE example below is from Christa Allan. Christa attended my Early Bird master class for ACFW in 2007. This is her prologue for her recently contracted first book, WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS.

PROLOGUE, by Christa Allan:
If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my words.

If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched or unseemly, can not be returned for replacement, I would have been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.

If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the moment out of time- if I had known, if I had known- I would have been more careful with my life.

KUDOS TO CHRISTA ALLAN! I’m looking forward to reading WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS. It will be released in the spring of 2010.

With anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce—once you’ve established the repetition three consecutive times, you can play with it. You don’t have to stop at three. You can have a sentence or two following the last repetition, that don’t carry the repetition. The last sentence could pick up the repetition and end with a rhetorical punch.

Anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce are three of the thirty rhetorical devices I cover in the Deep Editing course I offer on-line in May. Deep Editing has three power-loaded tracks: Deep Editing, the EDITS System (deeper than in ECE), and more deep editing goodies like my Five Question Scene Check List. ☺

This blog focused on using rhetorical devices to add power to first pages. They can be used to add power anywhere. Writers could use this stylistic power at the opening of any scene, at turning points, before a page break, at the end of a chapter.


If you have an example of an obscure rhetorical device in your work, please post it.

If you’d like to write an example of an obscure rhetorical device, one you may decide to use in your WIP, please post it!

Post a comment - and YOU COULD WIN A LECTURE PACKET!

Lectures from each of my on-line courses are offered as Lecture Packets through Paypal from my web site. For more information on my courses, lecture packets, master classes, and 3-day Immersion Master Class, visit my web site: .

The WINNERS will be drawn at 9PM Mountain Time tonight. I’ll post the winners on the blog.

Thank you for joining us today!

All smiles…………Margie
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