Literary devices are essential to writing; understanding them can help you become a better writer. This list will explore the different types of literary devices and how they can be used to enhance your writing.
What is a literary device?
Literary devices are essential tools authors use to convey their message more effectively and interestingly. They are any specific aspect of literature that stands out to readers, such as a figure of speech, imagery, or plot structure. It can be used to help create meaning in a text and add interest to the reader.
Literary devices are the ingredients in your recipe for writing. They add flavor, texture, and depth to your work. By comparing cooking to writing, we are using a metaphor.
List of Literary devices
the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of several words in a sentence or phrase. Example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
A story or poem in which characters, objects, or actions represent abstract ideas or moral qualities. Example: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism.
Allusion refers to a well-known person, event, or work of literature. Example: “He had the strength of Hercules.”
Comparing two things is often used to explain or clarify a complex idea. Example: “Life is like a box of chocolates” is an analogy Forrest Gump uses to explain the unpredictability and variety of experiences in life.
The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Example: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where the color of their skin will not judge them….”
A character or force opposing a story’s protagonist. Example: In “Harry Potter,” Lord Voldemort is the antagonist.
A universal symbol or theme that recurs in literature, art, or mythology. Example: The hero archetype can be seen in many stories, such as Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” or Harry Potter in the eponymous series.
The repetition of vowel sounds in a sentence or phrase. Example: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
The emotional feeling or mood that a work of literature creates for the reader. Example: In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the atmosphere is one of melancholy and foreboding.
The events in a character’s life that occurred before the story begins help provide context and explanation for their actions. Example: In “Harry Potter,” the backstory of Voldemort’s rise to power and Harry’s parents’ murder is gradually revealed throughout the series.
A novel that follows the growth and development of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. Example: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is a bildungsroman that follows the growth of Scout Finch.
The release of emotional tension or anxiety through art or literature. Example: Watching a tragic play or reading a sad novel can provide a cathartic experience for the audience or reader.
An obstacle or problem in a story often leads to further conflict and plot development. Example: In “The Lord of the Rings,” the complication is discovering that the One Ring must be destroyed to defeat Sauron and save Middle-earth, leading the protagonist Frodo on a perilous journey.
The process by which an author creates and develops a character in a story. Example: In “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald uses direct and indirect characterization to reveal the complex personality of the protagonist, Jay Gatsby.
An ending to a section of a story that leaves the reader in suspense and wanting to know what happens next. Example: The ending of each chapter in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is a cliffhanger that keeps the reader engaged and eager to continue reading.
The turning point or highest point of tension in a story. Example: In William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the climax occurs when Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished from Verona.
A story’s struggle between two opposing forces often drives the plot forward. Example: In “The Hunger Games,” the conflict is between the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, and the Capitol, which controls and oppresses the districts of Panem.
The emotional or cultural associations a word carries beyond its literal meaning. Example: The word “snake” has a negative connotation in many cultures, as it is often associated with deceit and danger.
The resolution or outcome of a story usually occurs after the climax. Example: In Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the denouement occurs when Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy confess their love for each other and marry.
The choice of words and phrases in a work of literature. Example: The formal diction of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” reflects the social conventions of the time period in which it was written.
A situation in which the audience or reader knows that the characters in the story do not, creating tension and suspense. Example: In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the audience knows that Juliet has taken a potion to feign her death, but Romeo believes that she is indeed dead, creating a tragic irony.
The series of events in a story that occurs after the climax and leads to the resolution. Example: In “The Great Gatsby,” the falling action includes the aftermath of Gatsby’s death and the final confrontation between Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan.
A scene or event from the past that is inserted into a narrative. Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the character of Jay Gatsby is revealed through several flashbacks.
An exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. Example: “I’ve told you a million times” is a hyperbolic statement used in everyday speech.
The placement of two contrasting elements next to each other highlights their differences. Example: The juxtaposition of light and dark imagery in William Blake’s poetry illustrates the contrast between good and evil.
Using hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in a story. Example: In John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” the death of Candy’s dog foreshadows the tragic ending of the novella.
an exaggeration used to emphasize a point or make something sound more interesting. For example, someone might say “I am so hungry I could eat a horse,” when they are actually only slightly hungry.
A story’s opening sentence or paragraph captures the reader’s attention and draws them into the narrative. Example: “It was a dark and stormy night” is a famous hook many writers use throughout history.
Using vivid and descriptive language to create sensory experiences for the reader. Example: “The sun set behind the mountains, casting a warm orange glow across the valley.”
A metrical pattern in poetry consisting of five iambs, or metrical feet, per line, with each iamb consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Example: “To be or not to be, that is the question” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is written in iambic pentameter.
A Contrast between what is expected or intended and what actually happens or is said. Example: In “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother, despite his attempts to avoid this fate.
A comparison between two unlike things, often using “is” or “are” to link them. Example: “Life is a journey” is a common metaphor used in literature and everyday speech.
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is substituted for another word or phrase closely associated with it. Example: “The White House declared a state of emergency” uses “White House” as a metonym for the executive branch of the U.S. government.
A recurring symbol or theme in a work of literature. Example: In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the mockingbird is a motif that represents innocence and vulnerability.
Using objects, characters, or actions to represent abstract ideas or qualities. Example: The green light in “The Great Gatsby” symbolizes Gatsby’s unattainable dream of winning back his lost love, Daisy.
The use of words that imitate the sounds they describe. Example: “The buzzing bee flew by.”
A figure of speech that combines two contradictory terms. Example: “Sweet sorrow” is an oxymoron used by Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet.”
A statement that seems to contradict itself but may be true. Example: “I am nobody” is a paradoxical statement used by Emily Dickinson in her poetry.
The use of similar grammatical structures or patterns in a sentence or passage. Example: “I came, I saw, I conquered” is an example of parallelism used by Julius Caesar.
The attribution of human qualities to non-human objects or animals. Example: “The wind howled through the trees.”
Point of view
The perspective from which a story is told. Example: “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger is narrated in first person point of view by the protagonist, Holden Caulfield.
The main character or hero in a story. Example: In “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo Baggins is the protagonist.
The series of events in a story that builds tension and leads up to the climax. Example: In “Romeo and Juliet,” the rising action includes the two lovers’ initial meeting, secret marriage, and the escalating feud between their families.
A work of literature that uses humor, irony, or ridicule to criticize or expose human folly or vice. Example: “Animal Farm” by George Orwell is a satire criticizing the Soviet Union and Stalinism.
A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” Example: “She sings like an angel.”
A figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent the whole. Example: “All hands on deck” uses “hands” as a synecdoche for the entire crew of a ship.
The central idea or message of a work of literature. Example: The theme of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the importance of empathy and understanding in overcoming prejudice and discrimination.
The author’s attitude toward the subject or audience of a work of literature. Example: The tone of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is one of reverence for the old fisherman and his struggle against nature.
A work of literature that portrays a protagonist’s downfall or destruction, often resulting from a tragic flaw or external circumstances. Example: “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is a tragedy that follows the downfall of the titular character.
A metrical foot in poetry consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Example: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright” by William Blake exemplifies the trochaic meter.
The quality of realism or believability in a work of literature. Example: The verisimilitude in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” contributes to the magical realism style of the novel.
A figure of speech in which a single word modifies or governs two or more words in a sentence. Example: “She broke his car and his heart” uses “broke” as a zeugma to describe how the subject caused damage.