Ethos, pathos, logos: Adding Depth to Character

When I left the military and began college I had to take a basic English composition course.  At the time, I was pretty frustrated.  In the military, your training and experience is converted into applicable credits, which normally transfer when you start college.  I was a journalist; why was I having to take basic English?

Ethos, pathos, logos.jpgI remember thinking, “Why waste my time with this when I’ve been writing professionally for eight years?”  What a pretentious blow-hard I was.  I learned things in that course I still use in my writing today.  One of the biggest takeaways was the use of ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos, pathos, and logos was the brain child of Aristotle.  He believed if a person was to sway another their argument needed to have an ethical appeal and come from someone with credibility (ethos), it needed to invoke emotion (pathos), and it needed to be logical (logos).  Many people refer to these traits as artistic proofs.  This website here, does a great job of explaining these traits in more depth.

Whether you are writing a blog/novel/whatever, or having a conversation with someone, you would do well to consider using these artistic proofs.  For example, in the first paragraph I wrote today I have covertly employed this tool.  Ethos (my credibility/expertise): I was in the military.  I was in for eight years.  I wrote professionally.  I’m building my credibility.  Pathos (my emotional appeal): It’s not fair to make me take a course I already know so much about. I relayed a personal experience to invoke sympathy.  Logos (my logic and why you should care): I learned something I still use to this day.  It lends to the value of the information I am going to share.

ethos pathos logos.jpgIf you are still reading, then I have properly invoked the power of Aristotle.  Let’s talk about how we can use this in our writing.  After all, what is writing but an appeal to the reader to view things from our perspective?

We want our readers to relate to our characters.  Whether they are the hero, villain, or even a supporting character, we need to relay to the reader their viewpoints and invoke some sort of response.  A good way of doing this is jotting down a pyramid, like you see in the photo, and throw our characters into it.  Write down facts about them, which bolster their ethos, pathos, and logos.  I recommend doing this on a piece of paper and putting it somewhere where it is visible while you write.  As your character interacts glance at it every now and then to ensure what they are saying and doing coincides with their blueprint.

This does a few things for you.  One, it helps ensure characters are driven by a certain set of principles.  Whether those principles are flawed or not, it helps build continuity.  Also, it helps you note paradigm shifts in character viewpoints.  Just like normal people, your fictional creations will likely grow and change throughout your work.  These shifts in outlook often can have great impact on the reader when taken advantage of by the writer.

femal super villain.jpgLastly, it makes you really inspect the strength of your characters persuasiveness.  Could your hero or super villain sit down, pour a cup of coffee, and discuss why they do the things they do?  Could they convince a neutral party why they are right?  The stronger their argument, the stronger their connection with the reader.

In closing, I challenge you to employ this tool in your everyday life.  Take news articles, social media rants, books, and even your own interactions and look at them through the eyes of Aristotle.  Would he be convinced of their merit – are you?  If the answer is no, take some time and build up that pyramid fortification.

That’s it for today.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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11 responses

  1. Pingback: Ethos, pathos, logos: Adding Depth to Character | Jacky Dahlhaus – Writer

  2. Pingback: Write to Market: Book, Blurb & Collage « Quintessential Editor

  3. Along these lines, rhetoric has also influenced my capacity as a writer. Question: (If you know..) where did those symbols originate? And how did they come to be associated artistic proofs.. They are similar to designs of the H.C. Agrippa’s Celestial scrips..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, I don’t know where those symbols originate. I will do something searching around and see if I can find some information. You’ve got me curious!

      Thanks for reading and leaving some thoughts. Happy reading and writing.


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