ENGL-CW 101 The Rhetorical Situation

Did you ever pay attention to your composition teacher? To be honest, even as a writer, I ignored that class. It just never registered as something important for a creative writer. Ironically, I am now writing an article on something you’d learn early in a composition class. But please, before you run away, hear me out. Sometimes, some concepts from a different type of writing can make your writing a lot more effective, especially the concept of “the rhetorical situation.”

First, what is the darn thing? In short, it’s everything surrounding the act of writing that is not really the act of writing. In other words, the things you should know before you begin writing. For example, if I’m going to write something, I need to ask whether I’m going to write a short story or a novel. Depending on what I choose, different techniques change. I mean, a novel is extremely different from a short story, right? That’s why there’s writers who dedicate themselves to only short stories or novels. So, when you’re about to write, you should ask yourself, what is my current rhetorical situation?

This should lead to several more specific questions, which I’ll go through in order of importance (as I see them anyway). First, you have the question of “audience.” Who are you writing for? Depending on your answer, your style will change. You don’t talk to your parents in the same way that you talk to your friends after all. At least, I know I wouldn’t. Second, “what medium are you working in?” That’s the question from the previous paragraph. Are you writing a novel, a short story, flash fiction, poetry, or something entirely different? Remember, even a web novel is different than a regular novel. Chapter length, page length, and some other things change depending on medium. Thirdly, “what genre are you writing?” This one is pretty straight forward. Are you writing horror? Are you writing science fiction?

Now, the last two are a bit less straightforward, but more important in the background, by which I mean that they matter more than a lot of people give them credit for. “Context” is everything that has already been written within your genre and audience. I mean, there can only be so may vampire romance bestsellers before people roll their eyes at your story. How could you ever write a romance novel if you don’t know what romance novels have been written already? And lastly, there’s the concept of “purpose.” Now, purpose is a little bit stranger because, in my opinion, this is not one that all creative writers should concern themselves until after they’ve finished writing the story. If you worry too much about why you’re writing something, sometimes you end up confusing yourself and creating unnecessary writing blocks. I don’t know how many stories have ended in purgatory (aka, the folder “incomplete” inside my desktop’s hard drive) because I wasn’t sure what was the point of them. Sometimes stories just need to exist, regardless of what you think about them.

The gist of it is simple. When you’re about to write, prepare yourself. Take some notes on your work. Look at your project in its little project eyes and ask it some of the most important questions in its little life. What’s your audience, medium, genre, context, and purpose? Never forget, a writer’s secondary job is researching. So, study up on the different answers to these questions, and get ready. When you are, hit the page and write your next best seller.