The Challenge of Persuasive Speech

Hello, SE readers. It’s been a month since I last wrote, and what a month it’s been. We’ve seen riots, listened to yelling pundits, been quarantined off and on, won or lost an election … need I go further? If you are like me, you’ve retreated. The six-foot distancing rule has extended to even online communication. There’s just too much negative stuff being thrown around, and this “stuff” is what prompts today’s post. Won’t you join me as I tiptoe into the dangerous waters of persuasive speech?

As writers, most of us stand at the sidelines and watch as the world shakes, explodes, twists, and turns. We’re observers, we’re dreamers. We sit at our computers much of the day and create imaginary stories. Most of the time, we avoid the polarizing topics of religion, politics, and race, but there’s a catch. People dominate our stories. Can we really ignore these life-defining matters?

Unless we’re creating an alternative world absent humans, I suspect not. So, what do we do?

Let’s start at the very beginning and look at what unites us. It seems pretty simple to me. What unites us is breath.

No matter who we are, where we live, or what we believe, we took our first breath in the same way anyone else takes their first breath. Similarly, we stop breathing just like everyone else. I might be born in and die in a hospital, and you might be born in an ambulance and die at home. But our first breath and our last is just the same.

The bookends of life are universal. Rich or poor, black or white, it is breath that unites us.

But what about all the other years, the in-between years? Suddenly, it matters – if I’m rich or poor, black or white, and so much more. Our formative years not only shape us, they divide us.

As writers, we talk easily about the beginning and the end, but we often struggle with the in-between years, wondering if we said too much or not enough or if we’re politically correct. This aspect of story writing can be distressing.

For instance, religion easily flags emotions, and the diversity of beliefs leaves everyone with an opinion or a judgment. Even creating the image below, I paused. A Muslim, an Orthodox Christian, a Jew, a Catholic, someone reading holy texts. Is it inclusive enough? Will someone object?

Then there’s the hated word – politics. We might talk politics with family, maybe a few select friends, but otherwise this is a thorny topic many of us avoid. But wouldn’t our characters have an affiliation, especially during an election year? Tied to politics is race, ethnicity and gender. Again, these topics can be very conflictual.

It seems to me that if our story carries a universal truth, then the task is to make sure our perspectives or affiliations remain just ours. So how do we harness our heartfelt beliefs and avoid the dangers of persuasive speech?

In thinking about this dilemma, I’ve identified four simple ways that might assist us as we write.  

  1. Review the draft for loaded words that push an agenda. Unless the point of view is needed for the story, a writer might replace the words with a less volatile alternative. For instance, consider damaging vs. hurtful. The words could be used interchangeably, but they carry different emotional impact.   
  2. Research the polarities. Republican, Democrat, Independent – is there common ground that could be acknowledged? Consider these two words, propaganda vs. message. The first is fraught with agenda, the second is unencumbered. The same is true of these two words, bureaucrat vs. public servant. They have the same meaning, but one could evoke contempt while other might conjure respect.
  3. Revise the story to highlight the tension and not the opinion. Perhaps situate the characters within a context that shows why the characters believe as they do. And, if helpful, consider using the antagonist to proffer the charged language and build the division. Maybe he’s a vigilante or is he a crime fighter? Two words that mean the same, or do they?
  4. Remember the proverb, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Persuasive language needs to be used gingerly, because it quickly elicits the same. If a writer can show the reader the back story of a character’s life, then you’ve won a follower – at least you’ve won me.

I hope this journey with persuasive speech offered helpful ideas. I learned a lot just writing it. If you have suggestions, I’d love to read them. Please consider sharing below.

‘Till next month, adieu!

41 thoughts on “The Challenge of Persuasive Speech

  1. Well said, Gwen. I try to focus on what we have in common over the ideas how to get there. My latest way to disfuse it is to reply there is too much hate and I dont want to add to it or be a part of it. Its stopped many rants;)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your post. I will include some controversy when it goes to that specific character. One of my characters is an anti-hero, and he makes a few disparaging racial remarks along the way. People love him, but there is no agenda to make his beliefs true to any degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Craig. I learned a lot from writing this post. It clarified things for me in terms of the subtly of words. Your idea of using the anti-hero for persuasive speech is perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to avoid hot button issues in my writing–primarily because there are too many in the real world. Fiction (as a reader and writer) has always been an escape for me, so I usually don’t address issues. There are times, however, where I’ve had to stop and consider if a passage I’ve written might offend someone. It’s especially hard when trying to stay true to an earlier time period. I remember worrying that I used the term “stewardess” rather than “flight attendant” for a passage set in the 1960s, but that was the term at the time. I stuck with the first one. Silly example, but I’ve encountered a lot of things like that because of writing in different time periods, especially when I’ve ventured into the 1700’s and 1800s.

    I definitely will NOT be writing anything that reflects the COVID era. Politics and religion I usually avoid addressing, but I’m sure some of “me” comes through in my characters.

    A thought-provoking post, Gwen!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very good post, Gwen. This is quite correct for most genres. Of course, some books are specifically aiming to make a huge political point such as 1984 by George Orwell or Ayn Rand’s books. I walk a narrow line with this because I have strong views on many things. My mom edits my books and makes me take all my ‘opinions’ out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do worry about offending readers once in a while when I write about a character with a serious flaw. I try to make the story about the character, not the topic, but it’s a tricky balance once in a while. Enjoyed the points you made.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You bring out some very valid points here today, Gwen. Words have the power to invoke emotions and by choosing them more carefully, we can transfer the emotions we are feeling to the reader. What a great post as it gives us pause for thought about how we tell our stories! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m all in for fiction that makes sense. To load an agenda into a story is an insult to the reader. However, to duck a situation for fear of offending one group or another is not being honest either. I had to laugh at your concern about inclusiveness regarding a depiction of religions. It does show the state of our PC world today. Super post, Gwen and is generating many thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. There is a certain amount of honesty that has to prevail. The current trend is to avoid or try to rewrite history. Today is a reminder for sure. I can’t tell you how many things I read about Pearl Harbor that omit the words Japanese or Japan as if that inclusion would somehow be seen as racist.


  8. Interesting topic, Gwen. I have no desire to write about politics or religion, but I can appreciate the importance of learning how to navigate those waters. I do think, however, that we need to remain true to the character. Say, for example, a serial killer hates a certain group and uses disparaging language. We’d then need to offset the remarks by showing our protagonist’s disgust. This gives the reader someone to root for while still remaining true to characterization. My 2c.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Gwen. I teach persuasive writing in my classes, and your tips are spot on. There is a fine line between message and propaganda. Too often, our world is riddled with propaganda that focuses on fear tactics instead of promoting a message. I love the way you broke it down and may borrow this for my class. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I read and write fiction to control the conflict in my life. To escape it and solve it in satisfactory and safe ways. I have no interest in writing something that fuels the flames of discontent. Maybe that means I’ll never write a generation-defining book that stands the test of time and is deemed a classic and studied in lit classes for several decades or centuries. That’s okay by me. I’m happy with not inciting riots and still being welcome at family holidays. (I mean, when we’re allowed to have family holidays again.)

    Thought-provoking post, Gwen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Staci. I identify with how you write. Inevitably, my stories attempt to resolve conflict and bring folks together. And, like you, I love to escape in fiction. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve never written about politics, but my books do contain a faith element. I try to avoid dating my manuscripts. Sometimes it’s difficult, particularly with things. It’s hard for us to imagine readers might not be familiar typewriters, phone booths or fax machines. I’m feeling old! I recently read a book that took place during COVID. I didn’t really care for it. Great thoughts here, Gwen. I laughed at Jenanita’s comment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t write about politics or religious beliefs in my books, but I think our views are subtly reflected in our work. This post gives much to ponder. I agree with Sarah about not dating our work. I’ve vowed I will not set a book in 2020 and mention COVID. I have dated past books because they relate to a certain real-life event. My WIP is set during a particular time for the same reason. However, going forward, I don’t see the need to do that.

    Great post, Gwen.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: The Challenge of Persuasive Speech | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  14. Jenanita’s comment made me chuckle.

    Gwen, you’ve made a number of valid points. They reminded me of my late father who always said “never talk about politics or religion”.

    I’ve written a novella this year to complete a romance series. It involves religion purely because, although it is contemporary, it has its roots in the life of a 16th century Scottish Queen, and she was a Catholic. I’m not – Church of England/Anglican – but I don’t criticize. It’s not part of my remit as a fiction writer.

    I’m also working on the final chapter of the pre-edit draft of a crime novel, all written this year and ignoring the pandemic. It’s hard enough living through it without writing about it! Seriously, we have vaccines now… rolling out slowly, but offering hope. Do we want months of hard worked dated? I don’t.

    I also dislike political correctness where it goes beyond the bounds of decency and common sense. Touching in the workplace, for example, can be unpleasant and bullying, but if it expresses genuine sympathy, must that be wrong too? My DCI doesn’t thing so –

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article. The illustrations were very well chosen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sarah. This is a tough topic for sure, and you’ve offered beautiful examples of why it can be so challenging. Your point about dating ourselves via events is a reminder for all writers. I just finished a political thriller, and though much of the story takes place in Washington, D.C., I never mentioned a political party. My memoir, however, includes just about all of the contentious areas – politics, religion, race, and gender. 💜

      Liked by 2 people

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