I know this is late, but I should probably do some meditation on my theory of writing.
The textbook references rhetorical situation as the confluence of genre, purpose audience, voice, medium, and design. That was a big definition, let me try isolating some terms (Blau, Burak).
First we will define genre. Earlier I defined genre as a variety of meme that uses other memes as a sort of shorthand for more abstract concepts such as mood and tone. For example, a hat and revolver can be used to convey the concept of the old western gunslinger.
You can go even bigger than that. The words “Dear X” can be used to convey the concept of intimacy or formality, as in Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail (King). In video games, my native artform, the genre tropes “first person” is intended to project the player directly into the environment. The first person genre is used to say “Okay, this girl is called Samantha but she isn’t her own person, she is you, now explore the world using the body of Samantha”. Similarly, the genre trope referred to as “leveling up” is most commonly used as shorthand for a character’s journey of personal development. For example, in Undertale, there are 2 stats called LV and EXP. Killing monsters rewards EXP and gaining enough EXP will increase your LV, which usually stand for Experience and Level (respectively). At the end of the game its revealed that EXP actually stands for “Extermination Points” and LV is “Level (of) Violence”. in other words, they are measures of how well or how poorly you treated the denizens of the Underground, with a lower score earning you the title “pacifist” and a higher score earning you the title “murderer”. As I said before, in both of these examples, apparently simple uses of genre memes are used as a subtle way of discussing the type of person the player is portraying.
Even here, in this paper, I use genre to inform my style. I chose to break the last discourse into 2 paragraphs because a hallmark of the blog post is it’s ability to divide larger concepts into bite size chunks.
Moving on to purpose. in short, purpose is what you intend to achieve with your writing. The example I’ll use is the pecha kucha “Every 60 minutes in Africa” (Aggad) which uses a sort of short form video poetry as a way to keep viewers entertained for the 6 minutes 40 seconds allotted. Furthermore, the short form video-essay is a great means of providing short and to-the-point summation of a subject that the writer plans to cover.
Voice and tone are means of implying deeper meaning to simple phrase. Things like punctuation, volume, spacing, and cadence are all elements of these concepts. How to tame a wild tongue (Anzaldua) uses conceptual repetition to convey a her distaste for her old teachers. She uses metaphorical concepts, words like “licks” instead of lashings, imagery like “flies in mouths” to illustrate how she was taught that her manner of speech was revolting.
George Orwell spent his life elaborating on the concept that I’m about to spend the next paragraph completely butchering, so buckle up. In Orwell’s famous book, 1984, Ingsoc has mastered the use of voice and tone and bent that mastery into completely reworking all of history’s art and philosophy to eliminate certain concepts; concepts like liberty, love, compassion. This is the power of carefully modulating your voice and tone. Inflection, timing, symmetry, cadence, all of these can be used to drastically change the meaning of any set of individual words. To conclude this particular section, I will use a simple example. I am sure everyone here has heard the difference between “Oh! you’re home!” and “Oh… you’re home…”
Medium is also super important. From music to code, your medium and the tools you use are paramount to your message.
Want to make a landscape that changes in real time? Better start in a computer language that allows you to control memory in real time.
Want to make it look cold? Better not focus on hot colors like reds and yellows.
Want a sad tone? A minor chord will add that hint of loss to your score.
The very canvas on which you paint your (metaphorical) picture should be a consideration when you are designing your piece. As a game designer Ive labored for hours over what engine to use for a project because I have to be able to “predict” needs I might have from whatever languages are available. Similarly, if you decide on a Pecha Kucha as your medium and realize the time constraint will make it such that you can’t say everything that needs to be said, that could present an issue in the message you are trying to send.
In conclusion, great care should be taken when designing for your rhetorical situation. While it won’t always be possible to pin down your perfect piece, this should be a good start to figuring it out.
Blau, Susan/ Burak, Kathryn. Writing In The Works. Wadsworth, 2013.
King, Martin Luther “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Aggad, Faten “Every 60 seconds in Africa…”
Pecha Kucha http://www.pechakucha.org/presentations/every-60-seconds-in-africa-dot-dot-dot