Literary Devices

Elements of Fiction
What are literary devices? They include both the literary elements and literary techniques that the writer uses to craft a short story or novel. The literary devices also provide the reader with a conceptual framework to recognize, identify, and interpret fiction.
 
Literary Elements
They refer to the elements of storytelling that are common to the short story and novel. For example, every story includes setting, plot, conflict, theme, and point of view. The writer uses these literary elements to create a story. And the reader uses these elements to critically analyze the story.
 
Literary Technique
The writer can use various literary techniques to convey meaning to the reader. For instance, allusion, simile, or metaphor can be used to make a comparison. Unlike literary elements, the writer is not required to use all literary techniques in a work of fiction. It is the choice of the writer to determine which literary techniques are used. The literary techniques used by the writer are an important aspect of the writer’s style.

 

Here are the most common literary techniques that writers can use:

 

Allegory. It is a story that has two levels of meaning, a literal meaning and a hidden meaning. Often the characters and events in the story have symbolic meaning. The principle technique for creating an allegory is personification, whereby the writer assigns human qualities or attributes to animals, things, or abstract qualities to express deep meaning. Example: George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

 

In the allegory, every aspect of a story is symbolic of something else, usually a larger abstract concept or important historical event. Lord of the Flies provides a compelling allegory of human nature, illustrating the three sides of the psyche through its sharply-defined main characters.

 
Allusion. The writer makes reference to a famous person or event in life or literature, something well known, for the purpose of making a comparison or to expand the meaning. The writer can allude to a person, thing, event, or another work of art, such a song, poem, painting, novel, or name. Example: She is as pretty as the Mona Lisa.

 

Epiphany. A literary work or section of a literary work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation or insight.

 

Flashback. A technique used by the writer to move back in time.

 

Flashforward. A technique used by the writer to move from the current point of the story to some future time in the story. The writer can use flashforward to show events expected, projected, or imagined to occur in the future. They may also reveal significant parts of the story that has not yet occurred, but soon will in greater detail. This can be seen in the television series Lost.

Figurative language. Any use of language where the intended meaning differs from the actual literal meaning of the words themselves. Whenever the writer describes something by comparing it with something else, the writer is using figurative language. The most common figures of speech are simile, metaphor, and personification.There are many techniques which can be called figurative language, including metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, onomatopoeia, verbal irony, and oxymoron.

Foreshadowing. The writer uses clues to suggest events that will occur later in the story. Not all foreshadowing is obvious. Frequently, future events are merely hinted at through dialogue, description, or the attitudes and reactions of the characters.

Foreshadowing frequently serves two purposes. It builds suspense by raising questions that encourage the reader to go on and find out more about the event that is being foreshadowed. Foreshadowing is also a means of making a narrative more believable by partially preparing the reader for events which are to follow.

Hyperbole. An exaggerated statement used to heighten effect. It is not used to mislead the reader, but to emphasize a point.

 

Irony. There are several types of irony:
  • Verbal irony: Writing or saying the opposite of what is meant. It is often a form of sarcasm.
  • Dramatic irony: The audience knows more about the character’s situation than the character does, foreseeing an outcome that is different than what the character in the story expects.
  • Structural irony: The use of a narrator or naive hero whose view of the world is different than the reality of the world.
  • Cosmic irony: Is the idea that fate, destiny, or a God controls and toys with human hopes and expectations. It is also the belief that the universe is so large and man is so small that the universe is indifferent to the plight of man.

 

Symbolism. The writer uses a word or phrase to represent something other than its literal meaning. In fiction, the writer can use almost any word as a symbol. For instance:
  • A dove represents peace.
  • An owl represents wisdom
  • A cross stands for Christianity
  • Winter is symbolic of decay and death.

 

Imagery. The writer uses sensory images to create mental pictures in the mind of the reader. There are two types of imagery: Figurative Imagery and literal imagery.
  • Figurative imagery. The writer uses similes and metaphors to show meaning or develop detail.
  • Literal imagery. The writer uses concrete and specific details to describe and provide meaning. For the image to be effective, it should appeal to the readers’ sense of smell, sight, touch, taste, or sound. The author uses imagery to show and not tell details of the story.

 

Juxtaposition. The writer places two contrasting ideas, themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations side by side for the purpose of comparison or contrast.

 

Simile. The author makes a direct comparison between two different things by using “like” or “as.”Examples: Her cheeks are like red cherries.

 

Metaphor. The writer makes an indirect comparison by stating that “A” is “B.” The writer does this without using the words “like or “as”. Example: Bernie Madoff is the devil.

 

A metaphor can also be extended into several sentences or more. For instance:

In the game of life there are rules. Some people break them and win. Others follow them and lose. And a few make up their own rules and win or lose, depending on the strategy they use.

 

Oxymoron. The writer places two opposite terms together.

 

Paradox. The writer makes a contradictory statement that is false but is, in fact, true. Example: The Tale of Two Cities opens with the famous paradox, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

 

Personification. The writer gives an inanimate object or abstract concept human thoughts, actions, perceptions, or emotions. For instance: "The moon danced mournfully over the water".

 

Personification can also mean that an abstract concept, such as a particular human behavior or a force of nature, is represented as a person. The Greeks personified natural forces as gods.
 
 
Back to Characteristics of a Good Story.           Next, see Elements of Fiction.