Section Introduction

Chapter Vocabulary



a rhetorical mode that emphasizes eye-catching, specific, and vivid portrayal of a subject. Often integrates imagery and thick description to this end.

a rhetorical mode involving the construction and relation of stories. Typically integrates description as a technique.

a rhetorical gesture by which an author looks back, through the diegetic gap, to demonstrate knowledge or understanding gained from the subject on which they are reflecting. May also include consideration of the impact of that past subject on the author’s future—“Looking back in order to look forward.”

the circumstances in which rhetoric is produced, understood using the constituent elements of subject, occasion, audience, and purpose. Each element of the rhetorical situation carries assumptions and imperatives about the kind of rhetoric that will be well received. Rhetorical situation will also influence mode and medium.

Storytelling is one of few rituals that permeates all cultures. Indeed, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a well-told story. But what exactly makes for a well-told story?

“Stories” by Rebecca O’Connor is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Of course, the answer to that question depends on your rhetorical situation: your audience, your sociohistorical position, and your purpose will determine how you tell your story. Perhaps your story is best told in traditional writing; maybe it is a story best told orally, among friends or family; it could even be a story that uses images or technology.

By creating your own story in this unit, you will be negotiating a distinct rhetorical situation. As you learn techniques and concepts for effective storytelling, so too will you practice asking the critical questions of any rhetorical situation.

The following section explores three useful rhetorical tools—description, narration, and reflection—that often contribute to effective storytelling. Each chapter will provide techniques and activities to help you decide which stories you can tell and the ways in which you can tell them. The assignment at the end of this section, a descriptive personal narrative essay, encourages you to synthesize all three rhetorical tools to share one of your stories in writing.