I’ve worked as a teacher for over two decades. Every year several different students ask me for the correct format to use in writing. How should a paragraph be structured? How should a speech be built? I really dislike this question. Every paragraph, every speech will be constructed differently, as fits the material and occasion. Quintilian seems to think the same.
Quintilian, and J.S. Watson. Institutes of Oratory. Edited by Lee Honeycutt, 2010. Kindle Electronic Edition. Book II, Chapter 13.
In this chapter Quintilian denies the reader a certain fixed structure for a piece of oratory. Though there are some fairly standard orders of speech they are not invariable (Quintilian II.13.1). A speaking situation is more like a battlefield in which any number of different possibilities exist (Quintilian II.13.3-5). He urges, rather, “that an orator, in all his pleadings, should keep two things in view: what is becoming and what is expedient; but it is frequently expedient and sometimes becoming to make some deviations from the regular and settled order” (Quintilian II.13.8). He then compares speeches to sculpture and painting where motion is indicated by various postures and where some ideas are purposely emphasized. Good speaking “is assisted by rules, provided that they point out a fair road and not on single wheel-rut” (Quintilian II.13.16).
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