Style Guide #3: Rhetorical Figure- Ominatio

Through reading the various scenes from the Storium stories written by fellow students, I find that many include ominatio. As defined by Dr. Gideon Burton, Ominatio is a rhetorical figure meaning a prophecy of evil, or an ominous foreshadow. (Burton) The use of Ominatio creates the center of the stories’ conflicts. By foreshadowing future conflicts, and creating plot twists, Ominatio allows authors to manipulate the emotions of the audience, and thereby enrich the reader’s reading experience.

The use of ominatio foreshadows conflicts in Unexpected Love, a school romance short story about the unexpected love that forms between the school’s most popular girl, Marissa, and the nerdy social outcast, Dexter, during prom night. In the story, the conflict is created by Dexter’s malicious brothers: Jack, Max, and Steve, whose outstanding athletic prowess and popularity cause them to see Marissa as nothing but a trophy to be earned on prom night. In scene 2, after the three’s unsuccessful attempt to attract Marissa, they’re enraged by the sight of Dexter dancing with Marissa: “…Like dogs whose bones have been snatched right from their mouths, the disgruntled trio advances towards Dexter and Marissa, attempting to break up the two. Dexter made a bold move, stealing their “trophy”, and for that, he must pay.” (TheArtist14. Et al, Scene 2) While enjoying Dexter and Marissa’s conversations, and interactions, the audience constantly gains insights into the brothers’ plans to disrupt the pair, through Ominatio. This brings the emotion of anxiety and apprehension in the next section, where the authors describe the joy and bliss Dexter and Marissa feels in each other’s presence. Due to dramatic irony endowed by the preceding prophecy, while the audience observe the love bloom between the protagonists, they become more alert, and worried about the upcoming disaster, created by the audience’s drawing upon existing clichés of jocks beating up nerds.

A similar prophecy is used again in Scene 3, when Dexter and Marissa meets again after prom in a diner: “The jocks, eager to get their overdue revenge on Dexter, are on their way to the restaurant…” (TheArtist14. Et al, Scene 2) Here, while Dexter and Marissa confess their love for each other, the audience is also aware that the brothers are on their way to confront two. Using Ominatio, the authors create an opposite dimension of emotions, causing the audience to swing between the extremes of relief and worry as the two finally finds love, while an opposing force is coming to destroy it. This allows the audience to become attached to the characters, and emotionally invested in the protagonists, transforming the story from a silly clichéd school romance, to an emotional love story.

The use of ominatio creates a powerful plot twist in The Tape, a horror short story about 2 brothers and sisters who experience supernatural events in the house, that seem to be caused by their watching the trending horror film, the Fatal Cleansing. The use of ominatio, surprisingly, is at the end of the story, in the final narration in Scene 3. Until now, the siblings, Becca and James finally found their mother, Stacy, after wandering around the dark house due to the power outage caused by an unexpected storm, but found that their mother “didn’t seem the same as when she’d put us (them) into bed a few hours ago…” (4EverGreen. Et al, Scene 2).

Indeed, their mother became possessed while fixing the broken window and power box. In the end, Becca and James deduced that the source of the possession was the tape of The Fatal Cleansing, which was still playing on the television, despite the power outage, and smashed the taped, hoping to return their mother to normal. Here, the authors create a plot twist using ominatio: “…Her eyes meet the clouded moonlight. A strange red glimmer flickers in her eyes, and a wicked grin overcomes her face. Revenge is in effect. In a matter of minutes, the siblings’ childhood home filled with loving memories becomes a haunted house with no escape.” (4EverGreen. Et al, Scene 2). While the audience, like James and Becca, think that the family is safe now, that all evil is destroyed along with the tape, Stacy remains possessed, and is now unstoppable. The authors end the story here, with a prophecy of the traumatic horror that ensues, creating a cliffhanger that juxtaposes with our assumption that all conflicts have been resolved. The authors’ use of ominatio deliberately conceals the meaning of “revenge”. As the audience, we only know that the evil force remains, and is now preying on the children.

Just like in Unexpected Love, in The Tape, the authors use ominatio to exercise a form of mind control. The ominatio creates uncertainty about the children’s fate, and implications from phrases like “no escape”, or “strange red glimmer”, which along with the surprise due to the sudden change in mood from relief to fear, form the final, and strongest scare for the audience, creating a lasting impact from the psychological terror. With the previously set eerie and suspenseful mood, the audience primed to generate concern for the wellbeing of the children, which transfers the fears of the children to the audience, as they become more emotionally invested in the outcome of the story. The plot twist onset by the ominatio deprives the audience of the sense of closure, which strikes fear in their hearts.

As can be seen, the use of ominatio is present in both The Tape and Unexpected Love. In Unexpected Love, ominatio is used to enhance the dramatic irony, which causes more satisfaction for the readers when all conflicts are resolved. On the other hand, in The Tape, ominatio is used to create a plot twist that unexpectedly strikes the audience, conveying the sense of despair and fear as the story ends abruptly afterwards. In conclusion, the authors use ominatio to emotionally effect their audience, making them more invested in the conflicts of the story, thus, elevating the audience’s reading experience.






Works Cited:

Burton, Gideon. “Ominatio.” Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric, 19 Apr. 2018,

4EverGreen, P1xie_Stranger, sophieahn, showersensation. “The Tape”. Storium. Scene 3. game/                 group-4–2/act-1/scene-2.

TheArtist14, FinesseGod3416, I_AM_ME, dann59. “Unexpected Love”. Storium.                 love-revised/act-2/scene-1