Let’s start with the meat and potatoes of what a rhetorical question actually is. I can think of no better offering than the Merriam Webster’s Definition. It states: nothing. There is no definition for a ‘Rhetorical Question’ in the online dictionary. So I did the next best thing. I broke it down even further for you kids. According to the online version of the famed dictionary the word ‘rhetorical’ can be defined like so:
Main Entry: rhe*tor*i*cal
Date: 15th century
1 a : of, relating to, or concerned with rhetoric b : employed for rhetorical effect; especially : asked merely for effect with no answer expected <a rhetorical question>
But what good is the definition if you are left without any examples? I’ve made a little list of some popular rhetorical questions you’ve probably come across a few times over the course of your life. If you haven’t, I’d like to shake your hand and bake you a pie because you deserve a gold star.
If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?
Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
If practice makes perfect, and no one’s perfect, then why practice?
A lot of us writers feel that throwing in a well thought out rhetorical question will add a certain je ne sais quoi to our query letter. If Shakespeare could use them in his plays (like the Merchant of Venice where he throws this gem out there: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”) then why shouldn’t we?
From all of the blogs and print literature I have read on this subject, it’s like dousing your query letter with poison and watching it die a slow, painful query letter death. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT use a rhetorical question as the opening line to your query letter or you can kiss that agent goodbye. The verdict is out on this one, and it’s a definite kiss of death for your query, so fellow writers take a look at your query letter. If it starts off asking a rhetorical question, it’s time for another revision.
7 thoughts on “Rhetorical questions…useful metaphor, or query kiss of death?”
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