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Paul Graham's plain rhetoric

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article provides a detailed analysis of the writing style and rhetorical techniques used by Paul Graham, a widely-read internet writer. It examines Graham's plain yet persuasive style, which is influenced by the "how stuff works" genre, the personal essay tradition of Francis Bacon, and elements of content marketing. The analysis focuses on Graham's use of the plain style, his conversational yet carefully structured rhetoric, and his incorporation of narrative techniques from fiction writing.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Genre

1. What are the key elements of the genre that Paul Graham's writing belongs to?

  • Graham writes in the "how stuff works" genre, which demonstrates the mechanics of how things work, often in the context of technology, startups, and coding.
  • However, Graham's writing also has elements of the personal essay tradition, as seen in Francis Bacon's essays, where the author is present and draws on personal experience.
  • Graham's writing also incorporates aspects of content marketing, with a direct and persuasive style, though it is not "hard sell" marketing.

2. How does Graham's genre differ from the more impersonal "how stuff works" genre?

  • While many "how stuff works" essays are fairly impersonal and focused on information density, Graham's writing always has his personal presence and perspective.
  • Graham's essays share more in common with the older essay tradition of writers like Francis Bacon, who also wrote in a recognizable personal style while exploring a wide range of subjects.

[02] Style

1. What are the key characteristics of Graham's plain style of writing?

  • Graham writes in a plain, direct, and unornamented style, aiming for simplicity and clarity.
  • He writes in a conversational tone, as if delivering a speech, using anecdotes and a casual, expansive style rather than the shortest possible phrasing.
  • Graham's plain style is achieved through careful editing and structure, not just by transcribing speech verbatim.

2. How does Graham use rhetorical techniques to make his plain style persuasive and pleasant to read?

  • Graham employs various rhetorical techniques like parallelism, antipophora (self-debate), and tricolon (the power of three) to create a sense of rhythm and cadence in his writing.
  • These rhetorical devices help maintain the reader's attention and gradually build towards the key points, even as the language remains plain and conversational.

[03] Narrative

1. How does Graham incorporate narrative techniques from fiction writing into his essays?

  • Graham borrows techniques from novelists, such as opening with a dramatic or intriguing situation and then providing additional context in the following sentences.
  • His writing has a sense of a narrator or storyteller guiding the reader, with elements of foreshadowing and a conversational, almost fictional tone.
  • Graham admires writers like P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, and Nancy Mitford, and his use of language and narrative structure is influenced by their styles.

2. How do these narrative elements complement Graham's plain style and rhetorical techniques?

  • The narrative elements help make Graham's writing more engaging and accessible, while the underlying rhetorical structure ensures the writing remains persuasive and exploratory.
  • The combination of plain language, carefully crafted rhetoric, and fictional storytelling techniques results in a distinctive personal style that is both simple and sophisticated.
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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