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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!