Rhetoric has a bad wrap. At first, the concept puts me in mind of sleezy politicians, boring college lectures and heated debates.
All stereo-types aside, I listened to Modern Scholar's course "A Way with Words" taught by Prof. Michael C. Drout at Wheaton College. (available for check out through your local library) This man certainly has a way with words! He's the first person I've ever listened to who has a fervor for rhetoric. It's infectious!
Like it or not, rhetoric is a powerful and effective (if used well) form of communication. A Super Power! Able to change hearts, move nations and create a reality that was once believed impossible.
As writers, don't we all want to grab our reader so that they want to sit back and buckle up for the entire ride?
So, I asked myself, "How can the children's writer use this power for The Good in our novels?" Can the principles of rhetoric be used to capture the reader like an orator would want to capture their audience?
Here's how I applied the knowledge from the course "A way with Words"
Rhetoric as it applies to novel writing:
1) Find a starting place of common ground: What do we all care about? What makes us want to stay with the speaker (aka main character) It's not the action that draws us in as much as caring about/ relating to the character.
2) How do other authors do it? Example: In "A Wizard of Earthsea" the main character, Ged, isn't necessarily likable. He's an arrogant, careless and prideful youth. Yet, I was drawn to the character because I (as I'm sure many others) can relate to the consequences of youthful error. And Ged's redeemable qualities? He changes. Now humbled, scarred and regretful, Ged seeks to make right his wrongs.
So, I guess in a nuttshell, give your character both flaws and strengths as well as circumstances that most readers can relate to, not just at the beginning but scattered through out the book as well.
Now, go grab your Super Hero Cape or your Lasso and Go get 'em!