How to seduce people by writing sentences that sing

Persuasive writing

Persuasion is using words to win over your reader and make them act.

To do it, first understand them. Consider their fears and desires, their motivations and frustrations.

Have purpose with your words. Be short, clear and relevant and have great visual impact.

Then craft intriguing headlines, captivating slogans and inspiring phrases. You can draw on a tempestuous troupe of ten techniques to tickle your reader with your utterances.

Ten linguistic lures

Rhetoric is “the art of persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques”. So exploit the following:

1. Alliteration

Write with your ears by repeating consonants for dramatic and memorable effect.

Brands use it:

how to seduce people by writing

Find it in headlines:

Alliteration to persuade


From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life. —William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

And slogans:

Alliteration to persuade

2. Anaphora and Epiphora

Intentional repetition of the first sounds in a phrase is anaphora, Greek for “carrying back” or “offering”. Writers of the most memorable and impassioned speeches have used it, from Churchill (We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches) to Martin Luther King (I Have a Dream) to Walter White:

Anaphora to persuade

I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks! —Walter White, Breaking Bad

As have advertisers:

Anaphora to persuade

Repeat the last sound for epiphora, which is Greek for “return”:

Epiphora to persuade

Epiphora to persuade
3. Hypophora

This is raising a question then answering it, and comes from the Greek for “carrying under” or “putting under”.

Winston Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister was Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat on 13 May 1940. France was being attacked and things were not looking good for the Allies in Europe.

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

And of course loads of ads use it:

Hypophora to persuade

4. Asyndeton and Polysyndeton

Removing ands, buts and other conjunction (linking) words for effect is asyndeton, which means “unconnected”.

I came, I saw, I conquered. —Julius Caesar

Asyndeton to persuade

Add extra ands, buts and other conjunctions for polysyndeton. It means “many bound together”:

If there be cords, or knives, or poison, or fire, or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it. —Shakespeare’s Othello

This year we’ve sold more, and we’ve expanded, and we’ve won new contracts, and we’ve seen off a potential merger.

5. Chiasmus

When you flip a phrase. Chiasmus is Greek for “crossing”.

Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends. —Francis Bacon

Chiasmus to persuade

Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. —John F Kennedy

Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful. —Warren Buffett

6. Anadiplosis

Use the last part of a phrase as the first part of the next one. Means “double” or “fold”.

Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. —Henry James, The Middle Years

Anadiplosis to persuade

7. Metanoia

Correct yourself, “change one’s mind”.

The project went well. Actually, no it didn’t, it went brilliantly.

8. Sour Candy

Starts off sour then turns sweet:

Horribly happy

Disgustingly beautiful

Devilishly delicious

9. Synesthesia

Use metaphors that mix up the five senses. “Sensations together”:

I smell trouble.

You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

Back to the region where the sun is silent. —Dante, The Divine Comedy

10. Antithesis

Balance opposites, or “set against something put forth”.

To err is human; to forgive, divine. —Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Part II

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Alliteration to persuade

Keep an eye out for rhetoric and think about how you can apply it to your work.

For further reading, Literary Devices has a long list of writing devices. For practice charming your reader, take a look at my Writing to Persuade workshop.

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