Understanding the meaning behind literary devices is just as important as learning how to read.
Whether you are the writer or the reader, having a background in these different literary element would essentially help you in the long run.
Writers commonly use it to strengthen their narrative and enhance their piece; so as a reader, you would have a clearer picture and understanding of what the writer wants to say.
Some often mistake literary devices only being used in old pieces of literature, like the ones written by Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and so on.
When in reality, we hear, see, and use literary devices almost every day.
So in this article, we would discuss some of the common ones you are probably familiar with as well as other devices that we thought would be useful to know.
But before we proceed with the list, let us give you a quick refresher of what are literary devices and why you should know them.
What are literary devices and why should you know them?
Literary devices are different techniques used by writers to convey their ideas and emotions.
From narrative devices to poetic meters to figures of speech, these are the techniques used by writers to create their speeches, articles, poetry, stories, scripts, and so on.
It does not only add flair to their written works, but it also helps the readers to understand them more clearly.
With the help of literary devices, the readers can interpret, analyze, and appreciate the piece of writing more.
You can also view literary devices as a creative way to communicate with the readers.
Rather than directly writing the literal meaning of the story or piece, writers use these techniques to give readers something to look forward to.
They use it to hint at the larger themes and ideas as well as enhance the mood or setting of the whole story or piece.
Therefore, knowing when to use this technique and understanding what it means goes both ways.
Writers should be able to know when is the best time to use literary devices and readers should be able to understand the larger theme that the writer is trying to convey.
This way, both writers and readers would be able to fully appreciate every piece of writing or literature.
What are the most common literary devices used in writing?
We have listed some of the most common literary term used by writers.
You probably already learned some of this in school. But nevertheless, here are some of the top 5 common literary device
Writers used simile to further illustrate similarities between two things. They use the words “like” or “as” to establish that both things are so similar that it is almost equal.
It is an effective technique that would help the readers quickly identify the things that are being compared in the text. With the help of simile, they can easily connect the dots and understand what the writer is trying to say.
- Mad as a hatter
- Sly as a fox
- It hurts like the devil
- Her eyes are like the sea
- Brave as a lion
It is one of the most commonly used figures of speech by writers. A metaphor is an implicit comparison of two unrelated objects.
Unlike simile that uses the words “like” or “as,” metaphor does not need connecting words.
This type of literary device (which are also often called “extended metaphor”) asserts that the two things being compared are identical and not just similar.
That being said, metaphor is a more direct way to compare two different things.
- She is the black sheep in the family
- That man is a tall drink of water
- Mary now has blood in her hands
- Summer is hell
- Life is highway
Hyperbole is a figure of speech that describes a situation or a character far worse or better than it really is.
To put it simply, it is exaggerating a claim and boldly overstating the situation.
Writers and storytellers usually do this to add emphasis to seemingly simple but relevant information.
Other times, this literary technique is simply used for comic relief or ironic effect. It helps express and convey the strong emotions of the character or the writer.
So it is no longer surprising hyperbole is often found in tales, legends, myths, and folk stories. By using this technique, the characters, as well as their experiences, seem larger than life.
- She feels buried under a mountain of work.
- I love you to the moon and back.
- I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.
- She is more beautiful than the moon and stars.
- You’ll shoot your eye out.
- I’m so tired that I could sleep for a week.
It is a literary device that uses human characteristics or qualities to describe a nonhuman. This means that traits and other qualities only applicable to man are used in inanimate objects.
Since the readers cannot fully understand an object or other animal’s thought process, personification enables the readers to connect and be in tune with them.
In a way, personification helps bridge the gap between the animate and inanimate.
We have listed a few personification examples to help you further understand
- The stars winked at me.
- Her eyes speak to me.
A type of literary device that references the reader to a person, place, object, or event.
These types of references are usually common knowledge that everyone knows or anything that the reader is presumably familiar with.
Writers use this technique in order to connect or have something in common with the readers. This way, writers can easily build a connection with the readers and they would not easily lose interest.
However, it is worth noting that allusion can oftentimes just confuse the readers. Allusions are only effective when it is used properly.
Otherwise, readers would just misinterpret it or lose interest if they are not familiar with the person, place, object, or event that you are referring to.
Allusion can also be used in everyday conversations, and you might already be using this technique without even realizing it.
- Dairy is my kryptonite.
- His recommendations open up Pandora’s box of domestic problems
- Stop asking me questions about yesterday’s homework, I’m not Einstein!
- Mary does so much volunteer work, it’s like she is Mother Theresa.
What are the other examples of literary devices?
We have also included different literary devices that we thought would be helpful to know.
A technique commonly used by storytellers to convey their main idea or objective. Rather than literally telling the readers their main idea, writers would instead narrate or describe a chain of events or characters representing their main idea.
The characters, settings, objects, and events in the story often have a deeper meaning behind it or relation to the main idea that the writer is trying to convey.
This writing technique makes a literary text more interesting and entertaining, and it leaves readers no choice but to finish or hear the whole story.
In a way, allegory makes it easier for readers to understand complex and abstract ideas.
Given that the main theme or idea is presented through a story, readers can easily picture it or put themselves in the character’s shoes.
- Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Tells a story of how a group of people lives inside a cave. It is a philosophical representation of how humans understand their surroundings.
It is a rhetorical device that uses the same letters or sounds at the beginning.
Commonly used in nursery rhymes, writers use alliterations to make their pieces more memorable.
Aside from that, great pieces of literature also used alliteration to make their piece more inviting to readers.
Writers like Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Shakespeare often use alliteration in order to enhance and make their piece more impactful.
Some writers even use alliterations for their book title to make it more marketable to readers.
As for today’s modern era, it is often used in marketing and advertising.
Given that repetitive sounds are easy to memorize and hard to forget, marketers and advertisers often used alliteration in their business name, slogan, jingle, or any adverts.
- Brand names like Dunkin Donut, American Apparel, and Krispy Kreme.
“The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
From the Greek word “anachronous” which means “against time,” anachronism is a literary device that often comes across as an error in the story.
It commonly appears in paintings and literature where the timeframe and settings are explicitly stated.
To put it simply, anything that is out of time or place in the story is an anachronism.
At times, anachronism is an unintentional error by the writer; other times, they are intentionally misplaced for artistic purposes or just to catch the audiences’ attention.
It is like an Easter egg, although you are not always certain whether it has been intentionally placed there or not.
- A Renaissance King who wears Converse shoes.
- An ancient roman navigating to a lighthouse
- Act 2, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar
In this scene, Cassius says “the clock has stricken three” even though the clock has not been invented in the 44 A.D yet.
In general, anaphora is just a repetition of a word or phrase. This literary device is usually placed at the beginning of a successive sentence or clause.
Writers used this technique to give emphasis as well as reinforce their message to the readers.
When used effectively, readers can easily understand what the piece is trying to convey.
This type of repetition can strike a chord to the reader, which in turn makes the piece even more impactful and memorable.
It is especially effective and heavily used when writing speeches, scripts, lyrics, poetry, and prose.
Since these kinds of pieces are usually read aloud, anaphora is a great way to express and convey more emotions to the audience.
- I wish I may; I wish I might.
- Run far, run fast.
- We came, we saw, we conquered. (Julius Caesar)
- Lyrics to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”
Antimetabole comes from the Greek word “metabolḗ” which means change or turning about.
Like Anaphora, this literary device also uses repetition as a technique to convey its themes, ideas, or messages.
But instead of repeating words consecutively at the beginning like Anaphora, Antimetabole not only repeat words but also transpose and arrange their order.
You can effectively use it in your script, prose, poems, lyrics, and speeches to emphasize certain parts.
Since repetition can trigger deeper reflection, using this technique would help the readers understand the message of the writer more clearly.
Not only that, this literary device can also add a dramatic flair to your piece, making it look more appealing to readers.
- When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
- “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Shakespeare)
- “And we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” (Joe Biden)
This type of literary device is commonly used by storytellers and scriptwriters.
Archetypes are the characters in a long or short story created based on collective, specific, or familiar traits.
Oftentimes, the readers already have an idea of the characters’ role just halfway through the story.
It is like an ingrained unconscious or collective assumption of who and what are the characters’ role in the story.
Though some archetypes divert from their usual role, their main traits or characterization is still in line with the universal assumption for that role.
So to put it simply, archetypes are the type or role of the characters in a story.
- Jester – a character that provides comic relief or humor
In Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sancho Panza is the jester in the story.
- Hero – a character who rise to the challenge and saves the day
In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry Potter is the hero of the story
- Sage – a character with wisdom or mentor qualities
In George Lucas’ Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the sage in the story
In Greek, “asyndeton” means unconnected.
So it is no longer surprising why this literary device or writing technique does not often use connecting conjunctions (e.g. and, or, but, for) in a phrase or a sentence.
Writers use this kind of literary device in order to have a more precise piece and a memorable rhythm.
Since this literary tool reduces the words of a sentence or a phrase, the word choice is especially given a lot of thought and consideration.
To further understand what asyndeton is, it helps to compare and look at an example of syndeton.
Writing a syndenton would often look like this “She listens and observes and speaks”; while asyndeton writers would write it differently like this “She listens, observes, speaks.”
“Call up her father.
Rouse him. Make after him, Poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell…”Othello by William Shakespeare
This writing technique often comes across as confusing to other readers, but once you understand why a writer uses this technique, you would be amazed at how well their message comes across.
Chiasmus is comprised of two or more clauses that are inverted or reversed in structure.
Writers use this literary device not only for artistic effect but for emphasis as well.
The main goal of this technique is to highlight the message of the piece or work.
It is like antimetabole, however, rather than repeating words or phrases consecutively, chiasmus reverses the grammatical structure or ideas of the first clause instead.
Since the difference is so subtle and oftentimes not too noticeable, readers and even writers alike confuse antimetabole with chiasmus
- Live simply so that others might simply live. (Gandhi)
- Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” (John F. Kennedy)
Colloquialism is a literary device that we are all familiar with. It stems from the colloquial use of language that we use every day.
This type of literary device makes use of informal or conversational language in a literary work.
Colloquialism can also be an expression or common phrase used in a specific area or region in order to add personality or authenticity a piece.
Since written and spoken words are structured differently, colloquialism sometimes blurs these lines between.
Even when sometimes colloquial works are written, readers often feel like they are just having a face-to-face conversation with the piece or the writer.
Overall, colloquial words or phrases does not only add color and variety to a dull piece of literary work, but also helps establish connection or familiarity with the reader.
- My friend is wicked smart.
- Does she live in New York City? No, she lives upstate.
- “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” (James Joyce)
An epigraph is a great way to set the mood and briefly introduce yourself to the readers.
An epigraph is placed at the beginning of the writers’ text and it is usually a famous poem, line, lyrics, or phrases written or said by other people.
This gives readers a glimpse of who the writer is as well as a hint of what to expect from the writers’ text.
Writers use this technique to puzzle and intrigue the readers about their work.
Apart from that, the epigraph also provides more context to the readers because they would be able to understand where the writers’ inspiration came from.
All in all, it not only elicits attention but also sets the mood and gives more context to the readers.
- “You are all a lost generation.” (in The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway quote Gertrude Stein)
- “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once” (in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee quote Charles Lamb)
A literary device that makes use of figurative language to avoid uncomfortable situations.
When using a euphemism, writers replace words or phrases that make others uncomfortable and use indirect or polite words instead.
To put it simply, harsh or unpleasant words are replaced with polite words in order to soften the impact of what is being said.
Writers usually use euphemism for the sake of politeness and discretion. They avoid using literal language so that the audience would not feel uncomfortable.
Euphemism is especially effective in painful scenarios like death. This would allow readers to feel less confronted by the harsh and painful events in the real-world.
However, it is worth noting that not all readers are fond of euphemism. Some just want to hear the truth directly, without flowery words or figures of speech.
- Euthanize = put to sleep
- Died = passed away
- Accidental deaths = collateral damage
- Broke = negative cash flow
- Unemployed = between job
As you might already be familiar with, flashback means looking back on past or previous events.
Storytellers usually use this technique to interrupt the audience in order to provide more context or background.
It is worth noting that flashbacks are usually not in line with the chronological sequence of the plot. Writers just simply insert wherever or whenever.
Flashbacks allow readers to get to know the main character in the story. It can also provide the background or origin of the conflict in the story.
It broadens the readers’ perspective and widens the plot. Since flashbacks are often used to expose the protagonist true nature, it opens up a lot of possibilities and speculations about the narrative of the story.
- In a novel titled “Wuthering Heights,” the writer (Emily Bronte) uses several flashbacks to convey the message of the text.
- In his poem titled “Birches,” Robert Frost relives some of his memories and experiences when he was still a child.
Foreshadowing is a literary device used by writers to give hints on what was about to come. It allows readers or the audience to predict what would happen next.
If you are fond of thriller or scary movies, then chances are you might already be familiar with foreshadowing.
This literary device creates suspense and dramatic tension for the audience, putting them at the edge of their seat and allowing them to make several predictions about the plot.
One of the most popular movies that use blatant foreshadowing is the “Final Destination” series. Apart from pop movies like this, foreshadowing is also used in classic literature and even award-winning comedy films like Jojo Rabbit.
When used effectively, this literary technique not only excites the audience but also enhances the audience’s understanding of the literary work.
- “My life were better ended by their hate, than death prorogued, wanting of thy love” (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare)
- “Winter Is Coming” (Game of Thrones, George RR Martin)
- By the pricking of my thumb,
Something wicked this way comes (Macbeth, Shakespeare)
Irony is the disparity or inconsistency between what it seems and what it means.
In this type of literary device, words are used in a way that the intended meaning is different from what it actually means.
Situational irony is often used by writers to comic relief or to make the situation less serious. Others also used it as a dramatic irony to add more color and emotion to the story.
- The shoemaker wears shoes with holes in them.
- Someone living in the desert keeps a boat in her yard.
- A fire station that burns down
We hope you find this article on literary devices useful in your writing.
To briefly recap, we discussed the following
- What are literary devices and why should you know them?
- What are the most common literary devices used in writing?
- What are the other examples of literary devices?