Creative writing uses several literary devices to influence the reader. Writers can impact the reader’s emotions and pull them into the scene with comedy, drama, horror, and more. Pathos and bathos are two of the most common literary tools, but their similar names often confuse people.

In creative writing, pathos is used to influence the reader’s emotions to create sadness, empathy, and other immersive feelings. Bathos is used to sharply alter a serious situation into a ridiculous or comically anti-climactic one. Both literary devices are added to impact the reader’s experience.

Throughout this article, we’ll discuss the differences between pathos and bathos, why they’re crucial for creative writing, and when you should implement them into your writing. We’ll also talk about why people mix them with each other.

What Is Pathos in Writing?

Pathos is typically much more common than bathos. You might’ve used it even if you weren’t aware of it. Pathos is used to influence the reader’s emotions, so anything you’ve written with the intention of evoking emotion is considered pathos.

However, there are a couple of things you should know before using it again:

  1. According to Master Class, pathos is a persuasive technique, much like logos and ethos. When you’re applying it to your creative writing, it’s important to know it can have lasting effects. Readers will associate places, characters, and other elements with the motions you created earlier in the writing process.
  2. Pathos is often associated with sadness, despair, trauma, and other negative emotions, but it can be any emotion you want it to be. Most creative writers use pathos to go through an experience that shaped the people, places, or things in the story. These stories can be childhood memories, newfound friends, and almost anything else.

So, how can you use pathos? Consider these examples:

  • The Fault in Our Stars: “The marks humans leave are too often scars.” This quote (provided by Literary Devices) evokes sadness and an idea that people typically don’t create long-lasting, positive experiences; But rather pain and long-term suffering or despair for those around them.
  • “If you donate $X to this company, you might save this puppy’s life.” You’ve probably read or seen commercials using these lines hundreds of times. It might not seem like creative writing, but it’s an incredibly influential version of pathos that’s definitely considered creative writing!

As you can see, pathos is one of the best persuasive writing methods available. Whether you’re creating a sad story, pulling customers to open their wallets, or designing a happy plot, pathos can be used in every writing project.

If you’re interested in learning about how you can use bathos, read on.

Examples of Bathos in Creative Writing

While it’s not as well-known or used in creative writing, bathos can be an integral tool to get your message across to your readers. It doesn’t directly impact someone’s emotions as a persuasive effect, but it can lighten the mood, make people laugh, and provide a better understanding of your intentions with the story or experience.

Here’s what you should know about bathos:

  1. Thought Co. described bathos as a change from an immersive or unique experience to something basic, predictable, or anti-climactic. While writers can accidentally create a bathos experience in an attempt to implement pathos, it’s usually a literary device used to be funny or ironic.
  2. Much like pathos, bathos has long-lasting effects. Readers will almost instantly take the character or experience much less seriously since their most recent encounter took a shocking turn in an underwhelming way. You can dig out of a bathos situation with pathos, but it’d take a while to prove the situation is serious and not anti-climactic.

Below, you’ll find a handful of bathos examples in creative writing.

  • Literary Terms shows an example of bathos: “He spent his final hour of life doing what he loved most: arguing with his wife.” In a situation when most people would be something they truly loved, such as listening to music, writing, or spending time with their families, this man does mundane things.
  • Another example of bathos follows, “She spent the whole year getting in shape to enter the toughest competition of a food eating contest.” Rather than reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, the character cuts down to their desired weight because they wanted to leave room to gain it back.

Bathos is a little trickier than pathos, but it’s equally as effective. Whether you’re writing a comedy script or want to show how depressingly simple someone’s life can be, bathos should always have a place in your literary repertoire.

When Should You Use Pathos and Bathos?

When you’re writing, you should use pathos to influence the way someone feels about your piece and bathos when you want to lower the seriousness or expectations. Bathos can be quite hilarious when used correctly, but it can also be used to bring someone’s emotions down and line them up for a pathos line.

The primary issue beginning writers have with bathos is that it needs to be placed in a timely manner. Using bathos too often will make it expected and boring. The reader won’t be surprised by it, making it not nearly as useful as it could’ve been.

On the other hand, pathos can be used quite frequently. You can go line after line explaining how sad, happy, or dramatic a situation is. Pathos is so useful because it shapes a character or situation, giving the reader a clear idea of what you’re trying to display.

Before you dive into pathos and bathos in creative writing, it’s best to write a handful of standalone sentences or paragraphs with them. Show them to friends and family to see if they have the desired effect. Good luck!

Conclusion

Now that you know the differences between pathos and bathos and when to use them, you can improve your writing with new techniques. Whether you’re drawing your readers into the words with heartfelt emotions or making a comedy out of a surprising scenario, you can create a unique piece unlike any other.

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Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.