Friday, July 17, 2015

Rhetoric in the Real World: A Writer Shares Her Process

I teach my writing students all about the rhetorical situation as I'm sure most of you do- whether you use that term or not.  However, I think they feel it only has to do with writing papers and they don't really believe that people in "the real world" use it.  I try to explain that they do even if they don't use the same terms we use in the academic realm.  Then, the other day, I was thinking about different modes of composition and thought I should do a series of blog posts where I talk to people who compose in their daily lives about how they use the general concepts of the rhetorical situation.  A thus, this series was born.  Each guest has chosen a specific composition of theirs to reflect on.  This is my first post, and I'm excited to share it with you.

Here are Arwen Mitchell, a playwright/writer's responses:

1.  What type of composition did you create?
A novel.

2.  Audience:  Did you consider who your audience was?  Who was your audience?  How did that impact your choices? 
I considered women, primarily, who are interested in female-centered, popular fiction.  I wanted (want) to have as broad a reach as possible.  The novel focuses on beauty culture and relationships.  I didn't choose these topics because of my audience, but I developed the novel with my audience in mind.

3.  Purpose:  When you began what was your purpose?  How did your purpose influence your choices when creating your work?
To write something highly readable.  To show how beauty culture has been a form of empowerment and self-discovery for women in times where they had limited options- as opposed to just being about attracting a husband, for instance.  This is the heart of the work- to establish the main character's relationship with herself, with a handful of men, and a large group of women.

4. What is the subject matter of your piece?  Does it take a stance on the subject?  If so what?  How did you portray that in your work?
See above.  My main character doesn't explicitly take a stance- instead, she uses the cosmetics she creates to help women deal with their situations and feel better about themselves.  She's almost therapeutic- not didactic, but instead, questioning.

5.  Strategy/Genre: What strategy did you use to compose this piece?  What genre do you consider it?  Why did you choose this strategy/genre instead of another?
I outlined the heck out of it, studied other fiction (long and short), read some craft books, developed the different story lines. It's historical fiction. I chose this strategy because I don't know how else to do it - it's what I've been trained to do, and it works for me.

5.  Media/Design: What about the media/design of your piece?  What elements add to your work?

6.  What area do you start with when creating?  Audience? Purpose? Genre? etc.
Narrative craft. What has gone "wrong" in this world - who wants something badly but isn't getting it? How does this propel them into action? Who/what gets in the way?

7.  In your field are there other words you'd use to describe these categories?  What are they?
Reader. Narrative focus. Thrust of the story. Narrative arc.

To read more about Arwen, check out her website:

My takeaways....

The rhetorical situation is alive and well.  It is also much more complicated than just one word responses that students like to give.  I like that she started with genre- she wanted to write a novel but she also had a clear audience and purpose to help guide her writing.  Can you imagine reading a book where the author didn't know who they were writing for or why they were writing?  Well actually, I think I have read a few of those books- and I didn't like them for precisely that reason!

I think it's key to point out here that Arwen used outlining, did a lot of research, and tried out different story lines!  Too often I think our students don't believe that people actually use the writing process or that research has a place in creative and fiction writing!

If you'd like to be a part of this series let me know by emailing me at missfuller at gmail dot com!

Thanks for reading!

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