Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

TL;DR – no one ever talks about the language unless you are Mark Forsyth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

An essential (I repeat essential) book for every writer, budding author, lyricist/songwriter, screenwriter or individual who is curious about what makes a phrase stand out from another. A writer without this book is like a pianist without a piano.

Review

Mark Forsyth has gone to the effort of demystifying how the greatest writers write. What makes a convincing argument? How did the masters of rhetoric (e.g. Greek philosophers, American presidents, famous musicians like The Beatles etc.) capture audiences and have them listening to their every word? Why is Shakespeare considered the greatest playwright in the English language?

Did they have angels (or demons) on their shoulders whispering turns of phrase into their ears? Did some higher power bestow upon them a gift greater than the gab? Or were they all individuals of destiny guided by a clarity of purpose that was beyond us mere mortals?

The answer is no.

It is none of these things. Forsyth not only breaks down the tools that makes a sentence eloquent, but he demonstrates that even, what the world considers, the greatest writer that ever lived in Shakespeare came about his creations through the in-depth study of formal rhetoric.

From alliteration to hyperbole to anaphora, Forsyth is able to summarise each and every one of these tools and provide a plethora of examples to demonstrate its effectiveness.

For example, an epistrophe is the repetition of words at the end of consecutive sentences for emphasis. The Pulitzer prize-winning Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck uses this technique:

“Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there. […] And when our folk eat the stuff they raise and live in the houses they build – why, I’ll be there.”

Forsyth does much more than explain these tools to the reader. One would think dissecting passages from great works would be a dry topic, and understanding the difference between polyptoton and antanaclasis would not aid in one’s writing but instead just give you a mild headache. But what Forsyth does is he explains these tools not only in an accessible way but also with humour.

It is a genius piece of work and actually gives hope to anyone looking to tell a story and get published. I cannot recommend this book any more highly.

5 out of 5.

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