Tips for Writing Cautionary Tales
Ariele Huff | May 23, 2017, 8:07 p.m.
Tips for Writing Cautionary Tales
I’m asking for “cautionary tales” from those who’d like a publishing credit or just to be part of an anthology. An example of one of these is in my July-August 2017 Writing Corner. That tale is a straightforward “telling” in a chronological and narrative form.
Many other ways to share such wisdom and warnings exist; here are some of them:
1) Poem mode is often used: a poignant and dramatic way to make a point.
2) Another genre that is more “showing” than “telling” is the short story. A narrative nonfiction short story can lure the reader with fictional elements while delivering a message.
3) Even more “showing” happens when cautioning is the theme for a novel or novella.
4) Humor is a great way to “help the medicine go down.” I’ve used humor to blunt the edge of agendas—things I really want readers to hear.
5) A similar element that can operate with humor or not is humbleness. In that method, the author uses him or herself to demonstrate mistakes. Comedians have told me that as long as you are laughing or telling on yourself, you can get away with delivering even hard lessons.
6) Another useful genre is process rhetoric. Often called “how-to” pieces, these nonfiction writings can be essays, articles, columns, or speeches. (How-to is the most popular form of webinars, like TED talks.) How-to can cover a huge variety of topics. From how-to make the best spaghetti sauce to how-to live a more spiritual life.
7) Persuasion rhetoric is powerful too, though it is a direct confrontation between the writer’s values or beliefs and those of some “other.” Best advice: Don’t define the “other” you are attempting to transform as the reader. “Some people” make a much better target!
8) Two other types of rhetoric are compare and contrast. (Comparison shows similarities between things and contrast shows differences.) This can be a nicely nonconfrontational strategy.
9) This can also be true of combining Cause and Effect rhetoric styles. However, careful handling is required. A connection between an action and an outcome needs to be supported by some kind of outside statistics. A blind source works for other methods, but cause and effect should be bolstered by real experts, book or article titles, studies, or other references.
Remember that all cautionary tales (as I’m using the term) are advice, warnings, or wisdom that was shared with you first and that made a difference in your life. And due to the impact these words had on you, sharing them with others is something you’d like to do...so kind of Secondhand Wisdom.
Ariele Huff leads ongoing writing groups at Senior Centers: Shoreline, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, and Greenwood. A third generation Seattleite, she offers classes through four local community colleges too: Shoreline, Everett, Cascadia, and Lake Washington Voc Tech (Kirkland). Her eBooks and paperbacks are available through Amazon and CreateSpace.
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