Did you read a paragraph in a story, and came across a sentence that got stuck in your mind? Did you pause for a moment, and enjoyed the play of words? Perhaps that’s what the writer wanted, to hold your attention for a while, by using a literary device.
Literary devices are techniques that writers use to create special effects in their text. They are used to add depth to the words or to strike an emotional chord with the readers. You can also use literary devices to add layers to the character of a story or introduce a plot twist.
The use of literary devices adds a hint of uniqueness to your writing style. They turn an otherwise bland text into something mesmerizing and engaging. If you don’t remember what you studied about literary devices in school, it’s never too late. Read on to learn some interesting literary devices that you can use to enrich your work.
Alliteration is a common literary device that you must have come across plenty of times. Maybe you might not have known that it’s called alliteration. But it’s a quite commonly used.
Alliteration involves using words beginning from the same consonant in a succession. Nearly all tongue twisters employ alliteration
Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers!
You could also spot alliteration in many famous book titles (like Pride and Prejudice). And in brand names too! (Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme). But the use of alliteration is not limited to titles, poetry, or limericks. You can use it anywhere if you have a way with words.
It is a word that sounds like the sound it represents.
Like crash! honk! arrgh!
Comic books and stories for children are filled with examples of onomatopoeia.
The word oxymoron is made of two Greek words, oxy and moron, which means sharp and stupid. Oxymoron is a literary device, in which two words with opposite meanings are used together.
For example, Less is More is a phrase that uses oxymoron and means perfect sense.
A Hyperbole is an exaggeration. It used to stress or emphasis on something, but a reader must not believe in its literal meaning.
She ran faster than the wind!
5) Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a situation when a writer gives more information to the readers, and readers know a situation more clearly than the characters in the story. It is a popular trick used while writing plays or TV shows. It keeps the audience interested as they want to know how and when the characters will learn the truth.
Euphemism is a word or phrase that you write when you want to replace something that might be unpleasant or offensive. For instance, when you ‘let someone go’ from your workplace (rather than saying that you fired them) you are using a euphemism.
A simile is a literary device that compares two dissimilar objects using words like ‘like’ or ‘as’.
She sings like a nightingale.
Similes are quite often used in poetry and prose. You must have used them yourself even if you didn’t know there was a specific name for them. Similes are often confused with metaphors. But the two aren’t exactly the same thing.
(Keep reading to know why).
A simile suggests two non-similar things to be similar. But a metaphor out rightly declares one thing to be another.
“Books are the mirrors of the soul.” — Virginia Woolf
A metaphor doesn’t make use of ‘like’ or ‘as’. That’s an easy way to differentiate a metaphor from a simile.
Flashbacks are scenes that describe the past. They are used in a story when the past events have an implication on the present.
For example, in the classic book The Outsiders, the writer uses flashback in chapter 2 to tell readers more about Johnny, and why he always kept a knife with him.
Likewise, the entire sitcom How I Met Your Mother is presented in a flashback. The protagonist Ted (portrayed by Josh Radnor) narrates the story of his misadventures in love, and how he met their mother, to his two children.
Foreshadowing is the opposite of flashback. It’s a literary clue to what is going to happen in the future (or the coming chapters). A foreshadow should be a subtle hint instead of a blunt statement about what next.
For instance, a novelist would casually mention that one of the lead characters keeps a gun. A few chapters later, there would be a murder in the novel.
Cliffhanger is a writer’s way to trick (or torture) a reader into reading the next chapter or watching the next episode. It gets worse when a cliffhanger forces you to wait for an entire sequel! (Remember when the show writers killed Jon Snow at the end of season 5 of Game of Thrones?)
It is an unfinished ending that gives you the feeling of hanging on a cliff (though, it’s the plot that is left dangling at a crucial point).
Delivering universal wisdom in minimal words is what aphorism is.
Necessity is the mother of invention. (Plato)
Writers often use aphorisms to convey a message to their readers.
Another example is from Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch says-
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
It is a conversation between the father and the daughter in the book. The author has shared a message through it, that it is not right to judge an individual unless we know more about her life and thought process.
It is a literary device in which the writer put forwards a question and answers it immediately.
Why should you buy health insurance? To cover an unforeseen expenditure at the time of illness.
Imagery is the use of figurative language by a writer so that the readers could actually experience a scene. Writers try to convey the sight, smell, taste, or feelings to the audience through imagery.
It is an indirect reference to a person, place or event, which is not related to the present context.
A very common example of allusion is when people use the phrase ‘opening up Pandora’s box’, they are making an allusion to Pandora. She is the first woman according to Greek mythology, and she accidentally released evil into the world.
An allusion is external when the writer refers to something that’s not there in the document. It is internal when the writer alludes to something that has appeared before in the work.
In an allegory, a writer describes the generalized behavior of human beings through the action of fictional figures. The most famous example of allegory is George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’, where he described the state of affairs in communist Russia through the action of animals living on a farm.
Aesop’s Fables is another relevant example. Ancient Greek writer Aesop wrote these fables, which often had speaking animals and plants in addition to humans, to convey messages about the moral value and human life.
In anaphora, a word, word group, or a phrase is repeated for emphasis. Anaphora can be used to emphasize a specific idea or to add an artistic rhythm to a paragraph.
These lines from Charlie Chaplin serve as an example,
You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
– Charlie Chaplin
You can create an archetype to represent a situation or a character that almost everyone experiences or meet in the world. For instance, in almost every story there is a hero who braves a challenge. The hero is an archetypal character, cutting across languages and cultures.
When a writer uses asyndeton, she omits conjunctions like ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘but’ to stress the meaning of the sentence.
He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.
– On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
The word ‘chiasmus’ itself means crossed. Writers use chiasmus in a text by inversing the order of words in two sequential sentences or clauses.
All for one and one for all.
-The Three Musketeers
This phrase from the book The Three Musketeers is a simple and effective example of chiasmus. The line became so popular that you would still hear people chanting it during sports events and rallies.
21) Extended Metaphor
When you extend your metaphor, you get an extended metaphor! To simply put it, you are using metaphor over multiple sentences or paragraph or entire text!
Here are few lines from Emily Dickenson’s poem Hope is a Feather, a poem which contains an extended metaphor.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune –without the words,
And never stops at all…
Now, this is a literary device that made our childhood days merrier!
Anthropomorphism, in plain words, is giving human-like traits to non-human beings and objects. Mickie and Minnie, Winnie the Pooh, the Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland are some of the well-known examples.
The imagination of writers stops at nothing! They are quite fancy of giving animal-like traits to human beings and inanimate objects. This trick is called Zoomorphism.
If you are scratching your head, wondering when a writer ever did that, just remember Batman and Catwoman!
Personification is writing about a non-living or non-human being in a way one would write about humans. It differs from anthropomorphism, in which the writer makes a non-human being act and behave like a human.
That delicious cheese burst pizza told me to forget my diet plans.
Symbolism is the use of symbols to convey a deeper meaning. Symbolism can be used in the form of a literary device, or beyond the written words as colors, symbols, flags, etc.
If you have read The Great Gatsby, you can recall that the color green was used in the book as a symbol for the materialistic way of life on the North Shore of Long Island.
You can use symbolism in many different ways. It makes your writing vivid and relatable. You can use it to define a character in your story (through a favourite song) or use weather events to set a mood for the unfolding scene.
While using anastrophe, a writer alters the normal order in which a sentence is written.
Like, Beautiful like a flower you are!
This is done to stress a particular word or to add a rhythm to the sentence.
You don’t have to remember these literary devices by heart, or stuff them into your writing to prove yourself to be a better writer. This list is just to make you aware of their use. There are more of them, and we want you to discover them on your own.
We hope that you could recognize a few from our list when you next read a book or a poem. Their use, though, is not restricted to literary works. Perhaps, you could play with them in your blog as well. Your readers would be surely delighted.