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Learn to recognize and use unity of effect, a writing method that can produce an emotional response in your readers.

Read on to get a step-by-step introduction to Edgar Allan Poe’s description of this writing strategy.

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Definition of Unity of Effect

If you’ve read a poem or short story that really left you with a chill or a tear in your eye, then you understand how good writing can have an effect on people’s emotions. Edgar Allan Poe believed that you could recognize certain common features of writing that leave an emotional impact on readers. Not only that, but he outlined an approach to writing that can help you to touch your readers’ emotions as well. This approach is the unity of effect.

Poe was an American author and literary critic during the 19th century. He is generally considered a mystery, horror, and science fiction writer, and is well known for both poems and short stories. As one of the American Romantic writers (which is different from a romance writer), he strived to write pieces that evoked beauty and brought forth emotion. To that end, he promoted what is called the unity of effect in writing.Poe wrote about the unity of effect in his essay, ‘The Philosophy of Composition.

‘ Poe makes clear in this work that despite the romantic view of writers as being struck by inspiration, most must have some kind of structure in place for how they go about composing their work. The unity of effect is supposedly a method that he used in his own writing. Put simply, it is determining what effect you would like to have on a reader and carrying that effect through all the elements of your story or poem. The effect on the reader is, essentially, the purpose of your piece.In fact, in ‘The Philosophy of Composition,’ Poe quite clearly outlines the method he used to write his famous poem, ‘The Raven.

‘ The main thing to remember about this method is that it requires consistency. Poe, however, felt this unity was difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with longer works because of the discontinuity of having to put a book down in the middle of reading.

Achieving Unity of Effect

Think of the unity of effect like a target. Each concentric circle focuses your writing down to a point:the bullseye.

When every aspect of your writing is focused down to a consistent point, then your piece hits the bullseye. Employing the unity of effect focuses your writing to a central effect, like focusing on a target.Poe laid out the different parts of the unity of effect that a writer would use in order to maintain the desired emotions in readers:

  1. Determine the ending. You should know where you are going with your writing and keep the ending in mind as you write the piece. Poe emphasized that the d;nouement, or the resolution of the plot, should determine all else that happens in your story.

  2. Determine extent. This means that you should know ahead of time about how long your finished piece should take your reader to complete. You are choosing the length of your writing, and according to Poe, the unity of effect is best achieved in a piece that can be read in one sitting.

  3. Determine the effect. The effect is the atmosphere of your writing. You consciously decide upon the emotional impression you want your piece to have on readers.
  4. Determine tone.

    Poe argues for a consistent tone throughout a piece of writing. This involves carefully choosing your words to portray excitement or melancholy, for instance, in your overall piece.

  5. Determine and establish your artistry. Poe refers here to utilizing techniques that work with your desired effect, such as foreshadowing in a mystery. He gives the example of the refrain he used in ‘The Raven.’ The repetition of the refrain ‘Nevermore’ set a rhythm to his poem and kept readers returning to the mood.

  6. Invoke originality. Although he utilized a popular refrain in ‘The Raven,’ Poe encourages writers to experiment with such things as meter and stanzas. If you plan to use Poe’s techniques, look to literary traditions, but don’t be afraid to do something bold and original.

Lesson Summary

The unity of effect is determining what effect you would like to have on a reader and carrying that effect through all the elements of your story or poem. The effect on the reader is essentially the purpose of your piece.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote about the unity of effect in his essay, ‘The Philosophy of Composition’.The six elements of the unity of effect are:

  1. Determine the ending.
  2. Determine extent.
  3. Determine the effect.
  4. Determine tone.
  5. Determine and establish your artistry.
  6. Invoke originality.

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