Narratives as useful Rhetorical Devices
We all love to tell stories. In fact, when we come together for the Transitioning to College Writing symposium, we are going to share many stories from our classrooms. These stories will range from frustration to joy, and everywhere in between, for we’ve all chosen a profession that’s as rewarding as it is taxing. The stories we share with one another at the conference will enable us to better understand the struggles and successes some participants are experiencing, as well as help to establish a healthy ethos amongst us as we develop common ground as concerned educators.
A narrative is a story, and narratives have long been taught to students as personal writing, a way to express their thoughts and feelings on a particular experience. But I believe we are missing a great opportunity for our students. Narratives should be approached as rhetorical devices, and like any rhetorical device, we should teach our students to use narratives well when it’s appropriate. As I mentioned earlier, narratives are a great way to establish ethos with an audience, while also maintaining audience interest. Readers want to be informed, but they also want to be able to relate to the topic. When a student can relate an issue they are researching to their own personal experience, and do so formally, they are building a bridge to the audience. This bridge enables the student to create ethos while also illustrating a deep understanding of the complexity of an issue they’ve researched – specifically how it affects others in the real world.
For these reasons, I’ve always encouraged my students to provide a brief narrative in the majority of their writing. A well-executed narrative, along with insightful and thorough research on an issue, can produce a paper well-balanced with logos and pathos, thus creating a sustained and credible ethos. The problem is most students tend to think of narratives as passive and personal. But with the proper instruction and practice, we can enable our students to become skillful users of narrative, using it to persuade and relate to an audience in a powerful and compelling way.
I look forward to discussing this idea with you more at the conference this September.