Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

17 Jun 2009, 9:34 a.m.

The Cool Old Rhetorical Technique That's Sweeping The Discourse

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

From yesterday's co-working session:

Toby was working on her novel. In one scene, she got stuck: she wanted to express one character's mental response to what another character said, but not actually state it out loud as "What she thought of what he had just said was blah blah blah."

I suggested paralipsis, perhaps in the form "she narrowly avoided saying [x]" or "'That's terrible,' she didn't say." Common examples of paralipsis: "I'm not going to say 'I told you so'" and the "I come to bury Caesar..." speech. I ended up bringing out A Perfect Vacuum by Lem as a reference.

It worked! Paralipsis: I don't have to tell you how great it is.


17 Jun 2009, 10:34 a.m.

my favorite example of this technique is from Shakespeare's sonnets:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"<br/> -- W.S.

"Well you just did, Willie"<br/> -- (paraphrasing the aesthetic critique of one of my professors)


17 Jun 2009, 13:10 p.m.

And sometimes in this kind of scene in fiction you don't even have to specify what it was they didn't say--sometimes a character biting their tongue, or biting back a retort, or looking away to avoid betraying their thoughts, or similar sorts of silences, can convey to the reader all that needs conveying.

17 Jun 2009, 14:14 p.m.

Jed, I remember too late that I suggested body language first, and that Toby specifically didn't want to use body language because it would be too diffuse. But yes!

17 Jun 2009, 17:52 p.m.

It's good, but it's no synecdoche.

18 Jun 2009, 15:06 p.m.

Rachel, doesn't that go without saying?

Sumana, I think I got your point about SF reader strategies when I read "body language... would be too diffuse" and wondered if the character in question was gaseous.