Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the effect of staccato sentences, asyndeton, and anaphora in writing?

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Staccato sentences can be used for a variety of effects in writing; they are, by nature, short and often emphatic. For example: "I said no." "Just no." "No!" This series of three staccato sentences have three words, two words, and one word, respectively, that convey the same message with gradually increasing vehemence. Staccato sentences are concise and focus the reader or listener on content because there are no unnecessary words to obscure meaning.

Asyndeton is especially effective in speech writing because of the quickened, rhythmic pace it produces with the omission of conjunctions. Here is a before and after example:

Without asyndeton: "Our country values government of the people and by the people and for the people."

With asyndeton: "Our country values government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Anaphora, the repetition of a word, words, phrases, or clauses at the beginning of a succession of sentences, is also highly effective in speech writing because repetition makes for emphasis, rhythm and memorability. A well-known example is "I have a dream," a phrase that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repeats at the beginning of sentences in his iconic speech.

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The effect of staccato sentences in writing is to break up the text of the novel, short story, poem or play into mon-syllabic short sharp sounds. This technique helps to convey certain kinds of emotions in particular, namely fear, anxiety, anger, confusion and stress. Example of writers who have used the effects of staccato sentences in writing are W.H. Auden, Shakespeare and Chekhov("The Lottery. ) Staccato sentences can also be effective in suddenly changing the mood of a piece - an example of a poet who has done this is Wilfred Owen in "Dulce Et Decorum Est." He moves from slow, dragging descriptive phrases to the sudden "Gas,gas - quick boys" to show how the exhausted soldiers must swiftly find the strength to protect themselves from a sudden poison gas attack.

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Staccato sentences: a plain, tough style of narration leads to greater believability; the audience trusts a writer more who doesn't use excessive words; Hemingway said he "distrusted adjectives, like some people."  This style of writing moves action along; it speeds up the rhythm.

Asyndeton: Emily Dickinson and friends use this and ellipsis to put the reader in a position of filling in the gaps and, therefore, making meaning.  This inductive method also adds an air of mystery and gnosis to the subject matter.

Anaphora: used in oratory for emphasis and prosodic effect (helps audience remember phrases); used for stylistic effect (to emphasize a series of ideas, usually in a crescendo order).

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