Basic Types of Literary Devices

Saying “The bag is brown.” is boring. However, adding literary elements like, “The oversized bag was a rich chocolate brown with gold trim.” provides a lot more flavor to your writing. Explore more than 40 types of literary devices used in writing to add unique details.

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What Are Literary Devices?

Literary devices are techniques a writer uses to convey meaning to readers. An author's skillful use of literary devices allows readers to glean meaning beyond just what is denoted by the words on each page. Writers could convey meaning just by relying on minimal literary elements like plot, theme and setting, but that would not lead to the most interesting stories or poems.

That's where literary devices come in. They are like the dressing, cheese and croutons that make a salad so delectable. They add flavor to writing like poetry and drama, which helps readers connect with the work on a deeper, more intimate level.

20 Key Types of Literary Devices in Writing

A single book or other literary work will include multiple literary devices, as it generally takes several literary techniques to effectively communicate the overall meaning of a piece of literature. Layering in literary devices leads to a richer experience for readers and writers alike.

Archetype

In literature, an archetype represents universal truths about human nature or patterns that regularly occur. There are many examples of archetypes, including things like battles of good vs. evil, or never-before, first of their kind achievements. An archetype could be a character, setting, situation, or symbol.

  • The hero’s journey, such as the situation in the Lord of the Rings series.
  • An innocent character such as Pippin in Lord of the Rings.

Allegory

Do you like hidden meanings in stories? If so, then an allegory is your type of literary device because it uses symbols to reveal a hidden meaning that conveys the overall moral of the story. Many literary works contain allegories.

  • The Hunger Games is an allegory for reality TV and how it numbs us to horrors and suffering.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has a basic religious allegory of good vs. evil or God vs. Satan.
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Alliteration

A type of repetition, alliteration is when a letter is used repeatedly to add emphasis and interest to a literary work. Sentences or phrases that have several words that begin with the same letter are examples of alliteration.

  • Sleepy sheep were shorn on Sunday.
  • The big black bear banged blandly on the bark.

Allusion

An allusion is a passing reference in literature. It simply involves making a passing reference to a person or another event in a story or other work. It’s a fun type of literary device that keeps writing from getting bland or boring.

  • He was her Romeo. (a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)
  • It was like I walked into the Garden of Eden. (biblical allusion)

Flashback

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

Foreshadowing

Authors are sneaky. Sometimes, they give you just a hint that something exciting or foreboding is going to happen. This foreshadowing of the events to come has us tapping our feet in anticipation. Almost every scary story or crime novel includes examples of foreshadowing.

  • 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 that danced in her stomach.
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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. Discover examples of hyperbole and how to use it.

  • I told you to do the dishes a million times.
  • My teacher is older than dirt.

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. There are several types of irony. It comes in different forms like dramatic, verbal or situational irony.

  • 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 people enjoy reading 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 are examples of 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.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition adds a unique twist to literature because it places two opposites next to each other. Examples of juxtaposition could be positive and negative, like light or dark or yin and yang

  • 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)
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Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that creates a direct comparison. For example, saying, "the toddler was a devil" is an example of a metaphor. The toddler is not literally a devil; the metaphor is used to say that the child was behaving badly in a figurative way.

  • The kindergarten classroom was a zoo.
  • The computers are dinosaurs.

Mood

Every literary work incorporates examples of mood to some degree. Mood sets the overall tone for a literary work. The words the writer uses to create the mood can make the book happy or the song melancholy.

  • 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.

Motif

Motifs are central elements writers repeat throughout a story. They are woven throughout a story and usually relate to one or more of a literary work's major themes. Motifs come in the form of symbols, objects, sounds, or even settings.

  • Lord of the Rings repeats the use of light and dark to signal good vs. evil.
  • Harry Potter repeats the use of muggle vs. wizard born to illustrate racism and tolerance.

Onomatopoeia

While this one might look unfamiliar, you know what it is. Everyone is familiar with at least a few examples of onomatopoeia. It occurs when the name of a word describes a sound, with the word itself sounding similar to the actual sound.

  • The way the word splat is pronounced sounds very similar to the sound something makes when it splats.
  • When you say the word woosh, it sounds very much like the sound something makes when it wooshes by.
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Personification

Most people are familiar with various character and personality traits that people have. Writers capitalize on readers' prior knowledge by using examples of personification in their work. Personification involves giving the traits of a person to an inanimate object. It can be a fun literary device to use.

  • The car woke up with a grumble.
  • The stars danced happily in the night sky.

Point of View

Writing can be told from different points of view or perspectives. Writers use three different points of view: first, second and third person. The point of view used in a story greatly impacts how the story is conveyed.

  • I scored the goal. (first person)
  • You scored the goal. (second person)
  • He scored the goal. (third person)

Repetition

As a literary device, repetition is simply repeated words, letters, phrases, or sounds. Used correctly, examples of repetition in writing and poetry can push the message or point of the writing.

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Bells poem repeats “ Keeping time, time, time.”
  • The “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” lyric in Dean Martin’s Let It Snow is repetitive.

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.

  • Red roses symbolize love.
  • In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the scar on Harry's forehead symbolizes not only his past but his future.
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Simile

Looking to spark a little reader interest? Similes work great for this because they make an interesting comparison between two things using the word like or as.

  • The toddler is as devious as a devil.
  • The dog was sneaky like a fox.
literary device example of simile
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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. There are many examples of tone, including 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)

22 Additional Kinds of Literary Devices

Literary devices are everywhere. The examples above are used quite a bit, but they are certainly not the only ones. Discover less common, but still fairly basic, 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 an incorrect word with similar pronunciation
  • metonym - using a linked term for a concept (i.e. pen for writing)
  • oxymoron - using contradicting words
  • paradox - contradictory statement that is true
  • satire - works showing foolishness
  • soliloquy - dramatic speech where a character tells feelings
  • synecdoche - using a part of an object to describe the whole object (i.e. wheels for a car)
  • synesthesia - Mixing sensations
  • tragicomedy - a piece of drama that mixes tragedy and comedy
  • zeugma - using one word to mean multiple things
  • zoomorphism - animal characteristics given to objects or humans
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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. Rhetorical devices can be used as literary devices, but they are not limited to literature.
  • 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 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.