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Basic Types of Literary Devices

Saying “the bag is brown” is boring. However, by adding literary elements like, “The oversized bag was a rich chocolate brown with gold trim” adds a lot more flavor to your writing. Explore the types of literary devices used in writing to add unique details. 

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Common Types of Literary Devices in Writing

Literary devices are like the dressing, cheese, and croutons that make a salad so delectable. They add flavor to writing like poetry and drama. This helps the readers to connect with the work on a deeper, more intimate level. Writers can use many different literary, but here are 20 common literary terms. 

Simile

Looking to spark a little reader interest? Similes work great for this because they make an interesting comparison between two things. For example: 

  • The toddler is as devious as a devil. 

  • The dog was as sneaky as a fox. 

Metaphor

Similar to a simile, a metaphor creates a comparison. However, these create a direct comparison like ‘the toddler was a devil’. A few other examples include: 

  • The kindergarten classroom was a zoo. 

  • The computers are dinosaurs. 

Irony

Irony is about how your perception is different from how something really is. Irony has disappointed many readers when they thought something would happen, but it didn’t. It comes in different forms like dramatic, verbal, or situational irony. Examples include: 

  • My old English mastiff dog is named  “Tiny”. (situational irony)

  • My son is as innocent as the devil. (verbal irony)

Imagery

Imagery is the reason you read fiction. Within the pages of the book, you get transported to a new land or dystopian society. The sensory words the author uses to create that image in your mind is imagery. 

  • The rich, warm smell of baking chocolate chip cookies reminded him of the soft smiling face of his grandmother. 

  • The blanket felt like the fur of a thousand kittens. 

Foreshadowing

Authors are sneaky. Sometimes, they give you just a hint something exciting or foreboding is going to happen. This foreshadowing of the events to come has us tapping our feet in anticipation. The following are some foreshadowing examples. 

  • The still evening sent a chill down her back. The air was just too calm. 

  • Looking away from her sick child, she tried to tell herself everything would be okay, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding that danced in her stomach. 

Allegory

Do you like hidden meanings in stories? An allegory is your type of literary device because it contains a hidden meaning or moral. A few famous allegories you might be familiar with. 

  • The Hunger Games is an allegory for reality TV and how it numbs us to horrors and suffering. 

  • The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe has a basic religious allegory of good vs. evil or God vs. Satan. 

Point of View

Writing can be told from all different points of view or perspectives. Three different points of view are found in writing, first, second, and third person. 

  • I scored the goal. (first person)

  • You scored the goal. (second person)

  • He scored the goal. (third person)

Symbolism

Symbolism is a fun literary technique. Writers use this to add meaning to an object or person within a story. Depending on the writer's creativity, the level of symbolism can be basic or unique. For example: 

  • Red roses symbolize love. 

  • In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the scar on his forehead symbolizes not only his past but his future. 

Allusion

An allusion is a passing reference in literature. It’s a fun type of literary device that keeps writing from getting bland or boring. 

  • He was her Romeo. (reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)

  • It was like I walked into the Garden of Eden. (biblical allusion)

Personification

Everyone understands traits people have. When you use personification, you give the traits of a person to an inanimate object. Personification can be fun, like these examples. 

  • The car woke up with a grumble. 

  • The stars danced happily in the night sky. 

Flashback 

You have flashbacks in life. For example, the smell of baking cookies takes you back to a time you spend with your grandmother. Flashbacks in literature are the same. These are story elements giving you insight to a previous moment or experience. 

  • Standing on the edge of the cliff, she was suddenly transported back to the time when she was two. She remembered the feeling of her heart pounding as she looked down at the ground, seconds before falling. 

  • The loud clang of the thunder sent him spiraling back into the war. He could remember every moment as the bombs raged around him. His captain screamed in his ear trying to get his attention. 

Tone

Has anyone ever reprimanded you for your tone? Tone tells us a lot about what a character is thinking, or the feeling the poem is trying to portray. It can be a happy, energetic, or even melancholy tone. 

  • Not even the brightness of the sun was enough to block out the dark cloud she could feel hovering over her head. (melancholy tone)

  • The exhilarated girl danced along the sidewalk making her way to her friend’s house. (upbeat, happy tone)

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition adds a unique twist to literature because it places two opposites next to each other. It could be positive and negative, like light or dark. A few examples of juxtaposition include: 

  • Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. (big vs. little)

  • The young child looked up into the wrinkled face of her grandmother smiling. (young vs. old)

Archetype

In literature, an archetype is something well-known like the story of good vs. evil, or the first of its kind. There are several great examples of archetypes, a few you know are: 

  • The hero’s journey like in the Lord of the Rings series

  • The innocent character like Pippin in Lord of the Rings

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used by writers to add emphasis to a phrase. While it is a fun literary device in literature, it’s used in real life too. 

  • I told you to do the dishes a million times. 

  • My teacher is older than dirt. 

Motif

Motifs are central elements writers repeat throughout a story. Similar to a theme, motifs come in the form of symbols, objects, sounds, or even settings. 

  • Lord of the Rings repeat use of light and dark to signal good vs. evil.

  • Harry Potter repeat of muggle vs. wizard born to illustrate racism and tolerance.

Mood

Moods set the overall tone. The words the writer uses to create the mood can make the book happy or the song melancholy. Great examples of mood include: 

  • In the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, the poem sets a gloomy mood. 

  • The song Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys has a happy mood. 

Repetition

Repetition is simply repeated words, letters, phrases, and sounds. Used correctly, repetition in writing and poetry can push the message or point of the writing. See repetition at work. 

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Bells poem “ Keeping time, time, time”

  • “Let it snow, let it show, let it snow” lyric in Dean Martin’s Let It Snow

Alliteration

A type of repetition, alliteration is when a letter is used repeatedly to add emphasis and interest to a work. For example: 

  • Sleepy sheep were shorn on Sunday. 

  • The big black bear banged blandly on the bark. 

Onomatopoeia

While this one might look unfamiliar, you know it. Onomatopoeia is words that mean a sound. Common ones include: 

  • Splat

  • Woosh

Other Types of Literary Devices

Literary devices are everywhere. Learn a few uncommon literary devices found in writing. 

  • Amplification - making something more important or larger

  • Anachronism - person or place in the wrong time period

  • Analogy - connections between familiar and unfamiliar things

  • Anaphora - repetition of a word at the beginning of a passage or lyric to add emphasis

  • Anthropomorphism - when something nonhuman acts human

  • Asyndeton - removing conjunctions purposefully for effect

  • Colloquialism - adding informal or literal elements or words

  • Conceit - creating drastic comparisons

  • Epigraph - adding a quote at the beginning of a work

  • Epistrophe - repetition of words or phrases at the end of the sentence or passage

  • Euphemism - polite words used in place of harsh sounding words (i.e. passing rather than death)

  • Malapropism - adding incorrect word with similar pronunciation

  • Metonym - using linked term for concept (i.e. pen for writing)

  • Oxymoron - using contradicting words

  • Paradox - contradictory statement that is true

  • Satire - works showing foolishness

  • Soliloquy - dramatic speech where character tells feelings

  • Synecdoche - using a part of an object to describe the whole object (i.e. wheels for car)

  • Synesthesia - Mixing sensations

  • Tragicomedy - piece of drama that mixes tragedy and comedy

  • Zeugma - using one word to mean multiple things

  • Zoomorphism - animal characteristics given to objects or humans

Literary Devices vs. Rhetorical Devices vs. Figurative Language

Are there differences between literary devices, rhetorical devices, and figurative language? Now that is the question. Why? Because the answer can get murky since these terms overlap. 

The easiest way to understand the difference between literary devices, rhetorical devices, and figurative language is to break each one down. 

  • Literary devices are an artistic technique used in literature to add interest and depth. 

  • Rhetorical devices are formative techniques used to evoke emotion or persuade. 

  • Figurative language is a type of literary device that adds color to our writing. It includes but isn’t limited to similes, metaphors, symbolism, hyperbole, and personification. 

While these terms are different, the concepts of each and intertwine and connect in writing. 

Knowing Your Literary Devices

Literary devices might not seem important, but could you imagine writing without them. How boring would that be? Now that you’ve mastered literary devices, explore examples of parallelism

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