Friday, September 7, 2012

Rhetoric, Part Two: Asyndeton, Climax, and Metaphor

by Jill Williamson
A few weeks ago I wrote a post introducing rhetoric to you all. Learning to use different types of rhetoric is fun because it gives more inspiration. Spontaneous creativity is awesome, but intentional creativity is cool too. And once you learn some of these, they'll start to come naturally as you write. Today we're talking about asyndeton, climax, and metaphor.
Click here for a more in-depth list.
Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses, in a list of items. Using "and" before the last item in the list tends to emphasize that last item. Omitting "and" at the end of the list implies to the reader that the list is endless.
Asyndeton seems to go on forever
Regular way: Mangy liked bananas, sausages, pickles, potato chips, ice cream, waffles, and dog food.
Asyndeton way: Mangy liked bananas, sausage, pickles, potato chips, ice cream, waffles.
See the difference? Here are some more examples of asyndeton:
He has provided the poor with jobswith opportunitywith self-respect.
On his return he received medals, honorstreasurestitlesfame.
He was a winnera hero.
Climax is arranging a series of items in order of importance so that each surpasses the preceding in force or intensity and the biggest emphasis is on the end. One of my favorites comes from one of my favorite novels, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
I have seven new notebooksa skirt I hate, and a stomachache.
We see that the main character is most concerned with how she feels (the stomachache) over how she looks (the skirt) or what she owns (new notebooks). The rhetoric climax doesn’t have to be in a single sentence form but can be used in several sentences. Here are some more examples.
The woman was ugly, a parasite, a demon, and my betrothed.
The concerto was applauded at the house of Baron von Schnooty, it was praised highly at court, it was voted best concerto of the year by the Academy, it was considered by Mozart the highlight of his career, and it has become known today as the best concerto in the world.
At 6:20 a.m. the ground began to heaveWindows rattled; then they brokeObjects started falling from shelvesWater heaters fell from their pedestals, tearing out plumbing.Outside, the road began to break upWater mains and gas lines were wrenched apart, causing flooding and the danger of explosionOffice buildings began crackingsoon twenty, thirty, forty stories of concrete were diving at the helpless pedestrians panicking below.
Metaphor compares two things by declaring they are the same. Unlike a simile which declares they are like each other, a metaphor declares they are each other. For example, “A mighty fortress is our God.” God is not a castle fortress, but when compared to a castle fortress in a metaphor we understand God’s character.
Consider the power of a metaphor. A good one can describe better than a paragraph of detailed description. Choose a carefully thought out metaphor and your reader gets it. Look at the differences in the metaphors below and notice how vast the contrast is between each fraternity because of one metaphoric word.
That fraternity is blossoming.
That fraternity is on fire.
That fraternity is cancerous.
That fraternity is your typical rated R movie.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson has some of the best metaphors and similes I’ve read in a young adult novel. I highly recommend it for the studying writer.
I stand in the center aisle of the auditoruim, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special, looking for someone, anyone, to sit next to. A predator approaches: gray jock buzz cut, whistle around a neck thicker than his head. Probably a social studies teacher, hired to coach a blood sport.”  
photo  ©2010  Mark Hunter, Flickr
Here are some more examples:
We are the trees whom shaking fastens more. ”  –George Herbert
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” –The Bible, John 6:51.
The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched with foreign matter. –Joshua Reynolds
You don’t always need to use the “a is b” form in writing a metaphor.
The fountain of knowledge will dry up unless it is continuously replenished by streams of new learning.
And one from my new spy novel The New Recruit
It felt like my heart was stopping and starting again, beating wildly, irregular. A generator running out of gas.
Care to share a metaphor from one of your works in progress?


  1. GREAT post!
    It's interesting: in all my years of grammar lessons and English classes, I don't think I ever learned the word for leaving out conjunctions in a phrase. I've used it plenty of times, just never knew the actual word. Asyndeton...sounds like a cool name!

    I can't think of a metaphor from my current work off the top of my head, but I usually spend an obsessive amount of time trying to create them. I agree with what you said; they can tell so much information in so few words. I love it when I read one, then go back and read it over and over because it's just so powerful.

    1. Agreed, Anna! They are powerful. Metaphors are my favorite.

  2. I don't know how you pronounce that...Asyndeton. Oh, well. I can make an attempt, and hey! That's a cool word to spring on somebody...hehehe!!! :)

    This is very understandable! You should re-write my English book. ;) Thanks for explaining this!

    1. LOL!
      If there was an English book out there that was understandable, I'd have better grammar!

  3. I cant think of any metaphores I've used, but I sure did enjoy this post. Love it!

  4. Wow I've been using Asyndetons without even noticing! And Speak is possibly my favorite book every.

  5. Awesome post! I love metaphors and similes, though I'll have to look through my writing to see if I've used any metaphors. I know I've used similes.

  6. I once compared shaking one's hand to holding a dead fish : )

    1. Nice! Or... no. Eww. LOL
      A strong metaphor evokes a strong reaction. :-)

  7. That's a great metaphor!

  8. Thanks for the great post!
    The word 'asyndeton' sounds cool - and I've now realised I've used it before without knowing what it was called.
    I can't think of a metaphor from my WIP right now, but there are definitely some in there...

  9. Other than metaphor, I didn't know these things had names, though now when I think about it, I probably overuse asyndetons. And I use climaxes too. I never thought these things might actually be types of figurative language, I just thought it fell under the giant category of writers' license to break the rules. Thanks for this post!

    1. Oh and I love "That fraternity is your typical R-rated movie" :)

  10. I really struggle with writing metaphors. I can write a simile okay, but I just can't seem to make metaphors work. Any tips or tricks?

    1. If you have a simile you like, just take out the "like" or "as" and you'll have a metaphor! Hope this helps!

  11. I really enjoyed reading this blog. Like the anonymous contributor above, I often overuse asyndetons. Like Anonymous, I didn't know it was an actual type of figurative language. I was often told by my English teacher that it was the wrong way to write. Little does she know...! Thanks for the great post, Jill, it was a real treat to read!

    1. You are very welcome. Next time your teacher says it's wrong, kindly point out your rhetoric style. :_)

  12. This doesnt really have to do with the post (it was great though!)
    Ive been writing stories since i was like 9. (btw im homeschooled and im 14) But recently i cant write ANYTHING. I cant get past the second chapter, my stories are deleted the day i try to start them, ane most of the time i just stare at a blank microsoft word document. Any ideas on how to help!? Cuz i loveee to write stories and this is depressing who i cant.

    1. I had that a while back, too, and I just tried to not write for a while, and read a lot. I was getting frusterated, and then one night (approximately 48 hours after getting writer's block) I went outside for a walk after dark and got struck by a story starter. I didn't finish the story, but it made me remember writing again. Sifting through writing prompts to find one you like works temporarily, and that might help.

    2. Like Katia says, sometimes some space can help give you new ideas. But being a writer is also about discipline, and you need to practice to get better. The best way to do this is pick your favorite story and make yourself write until you finish. Even if you only type 100 words a day, you'll get there if you don't give up.

      Now, it could be that you're feeling a little lost as to where the story should go. If that's the case, you might be the kind of writer who needs to do more outlining. I'm that way. I can't write a book unless I've thought through the full plot and have general idea of what's going to happen. I have a bunch of brainstorming worksheets on my blog that might help you. Check out these links and let me know if you have any questions:

  13. Once again, I winced when I saw the title because it looked a little complicated, but your way of simplifying (and showing concepts) saves the day, Jill! Thank you!

    And I'm currently reading New Recruit and have noticed you using metaphors that make my eyes pop. Wish I could think of a particularly good example but I'm a little fuzzy-brained after completing my public relations class homework, so I'll have to go hunt them down later. Maybe I'll include one or two dashing ones in my review. :)

    1. Thank you, thank you, Rachelle!

      I had SO MUCH FUN with Spencer's metaphors. One of my faves was:
      "I was wound up tighter than a torn ACL." --This is totally something a jock would think. And I was very proud of it! LOL

  14. Thanks for this post! It's so helpful for me to know about rhetoric so I can be deliberate about what I write instead of just saying whatever sounds good. Here's an examle of metaphor from one of my manuscripts: "The man was a shadow, sure to melt away with the morning sun. But morning was far away."