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What Are Literary Devices? A Beginner’s Guide

Have you ever read a piece of literature so well put-together and artistically crafted that it has left you in awe? Perhaps you’ve put hours of effort into an essay or story but been unhappy with the result, constantly feeling as if something is missing.

Literary Devices

Fortunately, this may be a simple case of not utilizing the correct language aspects, which is an easily-solvable problem. Using various literary devices is key to enhancing the meaning, aesthetic, structure, and overall quality of a piece of writing.

Literary devices are certain techniques used by writers to show important ideas, make a text more interesting and help readers understand characters and themes. Find the literary device definition here for further explanation.

Literary Devices Everyone Should Know

Most people were probably taught the basic forms of these elements in school, such as similes, metaphors, and puns. However, the list of literary devices is far more extensive than that, including techniques such as anaphora, chiasmus, zoomorphism, and much more.

First, here is a shortlist of common literary devices and examples that every reader and writer should know about.

Alliteration

A sequence of words in close proximity to one another, that start with the same consonant sound.

E.g: Barbara baked banana bread but it burned.

Allusion

An indirect or implied reference to something else. Usually requires a reader to have some background knowledge or understanding, to make sense of the reference.

Eg: You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand poetry.

Here, one would have to have some understanding that Albert Einstein was a very clever individual. This would allow the realization that the said poetry is really not that difficult.

Euphemism

 A polite way of stating something that is hard or sensitive to discuss, such as death.

Eg: My friend’s uncle passed away.

‘Passed away’ is a lighter way of referring to death. It makes the conversation about certain topics easier and more tactful.

Hyperbole

A highly exaggerated statement.

Eg: I’m so tired I could sleep for a year!

Obviously, someone cannot sleep for that long, but the statement emphasizes the extent of one’s fatigue.

Irony

A statement that creates a contrast between what is said and what is meant.

Eg: Stating what “great weather” it is during a storm.

It is clear that the weather is not actually “great”, thus creating the humorous contrast in the statement.

While the above list only scrapes the surface of these elements, here are more examples of literary devices for further reading: https://self-publishingschool.com/literary-devices/.

Everyday Use

Although one might not realize it, these language techniques are all around us. They play a large role in marketing, social media, and of course, most forms of writing.

Companies will often use techniques such as alliteration, puns, anaphora, and another wordplay to build up their image. Humor can also be produced using these elements, such as a bar with the name Tequila Mockingbird or a flower shop called Florist Gump.

Marketing makes particular use of these devices to entice customers and create catchy advertisements. A food company could use personification to create the phrase “The snack that smiles back.” Similarly, a razor brand could use a simile to claim their product leaves one feeling “as smooth as silk.”

These various elements help produce and build a memorable brand. Applying this thinking to an essay or story would prove that a text with many literary devices will be a memorable one.

Benefits of Using Literary Devices

These techniques are not just unnecessary additions one can add to their writing to please teachers or bosses. Think of these devices are critical to a text. They are the essential life-blood of good writing, and here is why.

Literature techniques are useful to both reader and writer, showing the author’s creativity and giving deeper understanding to readers. While they may seem complicated, adding these elements gives an entirely new poetic and artistic element to a text. Adding depth, evoking emotion, and producing imagery, allow a special aesthetic quality to be brought to the surface.

Take this sentence for example:

“The sun was setting in the west.”

A pretty plain and boring explanation of the sunset. Yes, an image of a sunset is created, but it lacks any form of creativity or enjoyment for readers. It is simply a statement.

Now take this version of the same statement:

A quote from William Golding’s book The Lord of the Flies reads: “The sun in the west … nearer the sill of the world.”

Here, Golding is painting a vivid image in readers’ minds of a scenario they can relate to. The sun is compared to a raindrop sliding down a windowpane; something readers can clearly visualize. Simultaneously, the world is being compared to a windowsill, another layer of depth and complexity to the writing.

Furthermore, instead of being referred to as bright, the sun is now “burning gold,” bringing forth ideas of beauty, power, and awe. This individual sentence is both beautiful and powerful, showing the vast effects of a single literary device.

While this example comes from great literature, these devices can be applied on even the simplest levels.

Here is a more common example:

“His words cut deeper than a knife.”

The simple comparison of hurtful words to a knife-wound is very effective in portraying emotional distress. To omit the metaphor would omit almost all the creativity, resulting in a boring statement. This exhibits the beauty and power that language holds.

Learn more about the benefits of a literary device in this Q&A.

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Uncommon Examples:

With these basic tools to enhance one’s writing, a noticeable change is sure to come about. Here are some of the more uncommon literary devices that can be used after mastering the beginner’s guide to leave off.

Anthropomorphism – giving human qualities to an animal, object or god.

Analogy – creating a connection between familiar and unfamiliar things.

Conceit – creating a drastic comparison.

Epigraph – the addition of a quote at the beginning of a piece of work.

Epistrophe – repeating words at the end of a sentence or paragraph.

Synesthesia – mixing sensations in a text.

Zeugma – using one word that has multiple meanings.

As shown above, writing would be completely uninteresting and bland if it weren’t for literary devices. Keep these elements in mind next time an essay or story is due, and it’ll make a world of difference.

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