Tag Archives: rhetorical modes

Tuesday Tryouts: The Modes

8:32 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Hanohano ‘O Maui sung by Keali’i Reichel

Hello, everyone. We have lovely autumn weather (for San Antonio). I’m in a long sleeved shirt, three layers, and my wooly socks. Yay! With coffee in hand let us peruse. Today’s exercise is adapted from Jack Penha’s adaptation of Richard Jackson’s “five easy pieces” from The Practice of Poetry.

  • Think of people you know well. – for the sake of the exercise, you need to have someone you can easily visualise. Pick someone.
  • Imagine a place where you can picture the person. This does not have to be a place the person has been.

Whether you are a NaNoWriMo-er or poet, we are going to write five sentences taking us through the four modes of writing: description, narration, reverie, and dialogue.

1. Describe the person’s hand or hands in one sentence.

Description takes place in no time; i.e. time stands still for description. So do not let that hand or those hands move. You can describe what they look like or how they are poised or where they lie. But time in description does not move.

2. Narrate something she does with her hands, in one sentence.

Narration takes place over time. That’s what distinguishes it from description. So let time move. Describe the person eating a crab, or shaving, or tending to a plant.

3. Reverie takes place in the mind of a character or a narrator.

Your person is thinking of something that, although he may not know it, is a symbol for something he experienced in the past. Or something he dreams of experiencing in the future. In one sentence, write about the metaphor in the person’s mind–without telling us what it stands for. Indeed, you do not even need to know what it stands for.

4. These next two are examples of dialogue—the rhetorical mode of drama.

a. (probably relevant to numbers two and three above,) Write the question you would love to ask this person. Just the question—as a sentence. Not, I would love to ask. Just the question. As if it were in quotation marks.

b. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggests she didn’t entirely hear or understand your question. One sentence.

NaNos, you can stop there or expand on what you started. Poets, find the poem in your sentences. Feel free to make changes—small or radical—that seem to make it a better poem. Feel free to leave out bits.

I don’t usually show examples, but this exercise might cause furrowed brows, so here’s my take:

1] Her hands are translucent with age, her skin leafy to the touch.

2] Spidery fingers poke the earth around the bottom of the plant.

3] Once a deep purple, now faded to pale blue, veins like spikes of delphinium.

4] It’s cold; are you coming in?

The weather has changed; I must prepare the bonsai.

The poem:

Her Hands

Spider fingers
poke the earth
around the bonsai’s base.

Once a deep purple,
now faded
to pale blue,
veins like spikes
of delphinium,

hands translucent with age,
her skin leafy to the touch.

Go forth and write and I will see you again, Thursday for links and then, my friends, not for a week. My husband, having decided we need a break, booked us into a hotel in New Orleans. Who am I to argue?

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 10/11/2015 in exercises, poetry


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Poetics Serendipity: Rhetorical Modes

8:01 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Joseph’s Dreams sung by Jason Donovan (when my Library is on shuffle, I get an odd mix)

Hello, everyone. There is no way, I can find, to make the following shorter, or snazzier, but rhetoric lies at the heart of what we do, whether poetry or prose. Rhetoric is the art of communicating with an audience which, for us, means communicating with readers using literary  and compositional techniques. There are many modes of rhetorical writing, but the following are the four main ones.

DESCRIPTION is a report of appearances, of how places or persons or objects strike the senses of an observer.

NARRATION is a report of actions, of what people do separately or to each other on a given occasion.

DRAMA (DIALOGUE) is a report of conversation, of people talking back and forth.

REVERIE (REFLECTION, STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS) is a report of thoughts and feelings, of what goes on in a particular person’s mind.

The following schemes are adapted by James Penha from Leo Rockas’ thinking and book, Modes of Rhetoric.

The various modes of DESCRIPTION, NARRATION, DIALOGUE, and REVERIE are often separate from each other, but also often mixed. REVERIE–the representation of a character or narrator thinking–tends to dominate the other modes it’s mixed with. Why? Because anything anyone thinks–thinking of the description of a garden once seen, thinking of the narration of an event that once happened, thinking of the dialogue of a conversation once overheard–tends to be subjective. Thus, reverie tends to bind the other modes mixed with the reverie to a particular “point of view.”


TIME comparison of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: No story time.
NARRATION: Story time >/= reading time.
DIALOGUE:  Story time = reading time.
REVERIE:  Story time < reading time.

 SUBJECT/PRONOUN tendencies of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: Things/people described as things; it.
NARRATION:  People/things described as people; he/she/they.

VERB & TENSE tendencies of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: Being verbs in the past or present.
NARRATION:  Active verbs in the past.
DIALOGUE: Verbs of feeling in the present.
REVERIE: Future, hypothetical, or speculative forms of verbs.

TYPICAL FORMULAS of the four modes:
NARRATION:  he ran.
DIALOGUE:  you love.
REVERIE:  I will.
Notice that each mode gets closer to the self.

II.    LITERARY ELEMENTS & MODES.  Each of the four major literary elements tends to correspond to one of the modes:
SETTING is most easily rendered by DESCRIPTION.
PLOT is most easily rendered by NARRATION.
CHARACTER is most easily rendered by DIALOGUE.
THEME is most easily rendered by REVERIE.

REVERIE is subjective.

The point of view is objective when there is no reverie.
The point of view is subjective when there is reverie.
The point of view is omniscient when there is reverie of more than one character.
The point of view is limited when there is the reverie of only one character.
“First-person” point of view almost always results in reverie.
In “third-person” point of view, the character with the reverie is talked about in third-person.


No recognizable genre—save perhaps haiku and list poems—is predominantly DESCRIPTION.
Short stories, novels, epics, and narrative poems are dominated by NARRATIVE.
Plays and dramatic monologues (Browning, Eliot, Tennyson) and dialogue poems (Frost) are dominated by DRAMA.
Lyric poems are dominated by REVERIE.

Whew! We will return to normal links and such Thursday after next. Meanwhile, I shall see you tomorrow for the roundup; Tuesday for an image prompt; and the following Tuesday for a regular poetry prompt. We’ll be dark next Thursday and Friday.

Happy ingesting and writing, all.

What? One link? Okay. If you don’t know about Galley Cat, the site is giving tips specifically for NaNoWriMo, but many apply to the writing of poetry. They are not long and there are several nuggets. I’ll give you the general address for the tips and you can scroll around.

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Posted by on 20/11/2014 in writing


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