Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

Ethos, Pathos, Logos: A Guide to Persuasive Writing

Have you ever thought about what makes an argument persuasive? There’s usually one of three devices at play, and today we’re going to teach you how to use all three!

We'll explore ethos, pathos, and logos, and how these rhetorical tools can help us craft compelling stories that resonate with our audience. So, open a new SoCreate Writer story, and let's get started!

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

A Guide to Persuasive Writing

The Origins of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Before we delve into how these concepts apply to screenwriting, let's take a moment to understand their origins.

Ethos, pathos, and logos are principles of persuasion that were first defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In his work "Rhetoric," Aristotle identified these three modes of persuasion as crucial elements of effective communication.

Ethos, from the Greek word "ēthos," refers to character and credibility. Pathos, from "pathos," signifies emotion and empathy. Logos, from "logos," denotes reason and logic. These principles have been used for centuries in various forms of communication, from political speeches to judicial arguments, and yes, even in storytelling and screenwriting.

Ethos in Screenwriting

Ethos is about establishing credibility and trust. It's the ethical appeal that convinces an audience of the author's credibility or character. In screenwriting, ethos can be established through a character's background, actions, and words. It's about making the character believable and trustworthy.

A character's ethos can be established through their profession, their experience, or their reputation. It can also be established through their actions and decisions. A character who consistently makes moral and ethical decisions will be seen as having a strong ethos.

Once you've established your character's ethos, it's important to maintain it throughout your story. Any actions or decisions that contradict the established ethos can confuse the audience and weaken your story.

For example, in "The Social Network," written by Aaron Sorkin, Mark Zuckerberg's character is portrayed as a tech genius, which gives him the authority to speak about creating Facebook. His ethos is established through his knowledge and experience in coding and his ambition to create something groundbreaking.

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Pathos in Screenwriting

Pathos is all about emotional appeal. It's what makes your audience laugh, cry, or gasp in surprise. It's about creating an emotional connection between your characters and your audience to gain their agreement or provoke a response.

In screenwriting, pathos can be achieved through the situations you put your characters in, the relationships between your characters, and the dialogue. It's about making your audience feel what your characters are feeling.

Pathos can be a powerful tool in screenwriting because it allows the audience to form an emotional connection with the characters and take sides, rooting for them or against them. This emotional connection can make the audience care about what happens to the characters, making them more engaged in the story.

A great example of pathos in a movie is the iconic scene in "The Lion King," written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton, where Simba experiences the loss of his father. The scene is designed to evoke strong emotions, making the audience feel sympathy for Simba and root for him throughout the rest of the story.

Logos in Screenwriting

Logos appeals to logic and reason. It's about constructing a logical argument or situation in your story. It's about making your audience think and making them understand your characters' decisions and actions because facing the same circumstances, the audience might make those choices, too.

In screenwriting, logos can be achieved through the plot and the characters' decisions and actions. It's about creating a story that makes sense and is believable. It's about making sure that the characters' decisions and actions are logical and consistent with their character development.

Logos can be a powerful tool in screenwriting because it can make your story more believable and relatable. It can make your audience understand your characters and their decisions, making them more engaged in the story.

In "12 Angry Men," written by Reginald Rose, the entire plot is based on logical arguments. The jurors have to decide whether there's reasonable doubt about the guilt of the defendant, and their discussions are filled with logical reasoning and rational arguments.

Identifying Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Writing

Recognizing ethos, pathos, and logos in writing can help you understand how the writer is persuading their audience.

For ethos, look at how the writer either demonstrates credibility themselves, or builds credibility for their characters. Are they an expert in the field? Do they use reputable sources?

For pathos, look at how the writer appeals to the emotions of their reader. Do they use individual's stories to "put a face" on the problem? Do they use charged language that carries appropriate connotations?

For logos, look at how the writer uses facts and statistics, logical quality of their argument, and how they avoid logical fallacies.


As screenwriters, we are not just storytellers, but also persuasive speakers crafting arguments through our characters to appeal to our audience. By understanding and using ethos, pathos, and logos, we can create more compelling characters, more engaging plots, and ultimately, better stories.

Remember, the ideal candidate for a compelling character is one that uses a balanced argument, appeals to the audience's emotions and logic, and carries an authoritative ethos. So, the next time you're crafting

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