Literary Devices


Literary Devices refer to the words or structures used by writers in their works to convey a message(s) to the readers in a simple manner.  Literary devices is a technique such as elements from figures of speech to narrative devices to poetic rhythms that writers use to create narrative literature, speeches, poetry, or any other form of writing. A writer uses literary devices to bring an effect in the writing. When used properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, understand and evaluate a literary work. Literary devices make writing clearer and more descriptive. They can add special effects to writing and change the experience of readers.
Literary Devices are devices used to make poetry and writing better. These help the writer tell a story or make a point. 
Literary devices are often used for importance or clarity; they are also used to get the reader to more strongly connect with either the story as a whole or specific character, themes, etc. Being able to identify literary devices can make a written work's overall purpose clear. Finally, literary devices are important to know because they make texts more interesting and more fun to read. If a reader were to read a novel without knowing any literary devices, chances are that he/she wouldn’t be able to appreciate any of the layers of depth and meaning interwoven into the story via different devices. 

Here’s an example of a literary device — 

“The rain was heavy this evening as I walked to my car.”
“The rain played tag with me as I ran to my car to get shelter.”

The first sentence is just a statement about the rain. It’s like a reporter sharing his observation about today’s weather, and it doesn’t lead the reader to think anything specific about the rain.

The second sentence mostly says the same thing. To make the rain come alive (“The rain played tag”), the example uses a literary device known as personification to create an image in the mind of the reader. I mean, who hasn’t tried to run away from the rain?

Kinds of Literary Devices

Literary Devices have two aspects. They can be treated as either Literary Elements or Literary Techniques

Literary Elements —have an inherent existence in the literary piece and are extensively employed by writers to develop a literary piece e.g. plot, setting, narrative structure, characters, mood, theme, moral etc. Writers simply cannot create his desired work without including Literary Elements in a thoroughly professional manner.
Common Literary Elements
  • Plot: It is the logical sequence of events that develop a story.
  • Dialogue: Where characters of a narrative speak to one another.
  • Mood: A general atmosphere of a narrative.
  • Setting: It refers to the time and place in which a story takes place.
  • Antagonist: It is the character in conflict with the Protagonist e.g. Claudius in the play Hamlet
  • Protagonist: It is the  main character of the story, novel or a play e.g. Hamlet in the play Hamlet
  • Narrator: A person who tells the story.
  • Narrative method: The manner in which a narrative is presented comprising a plot and setting.
  • Conflict. It is an issue in a narrative around which the whole story revolves.
  • Theme: It is a central idea or concept of a story.

Literary Techniques — on the contrary, are usually a word or phrases in literary texts that writers employ to achieve a greater understanding and appreciation of their literary works. Example:  metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, allegory etc. In contrast to Literary Elements, Literary Techniques are not an unavoidable aspect of literary works.

Below is a list of literary techniques, most of which you’ll often come across in both prose and poetry:

  • Allegory: An allegory is a story that is used to represent a more general message about real-life and historical issues and/or events. It spans over the entire book, novel, play, etc.
  • Alliteration: The same sound starts a series of words or syllables. These sounds are typically consonants to give more stress to that syllable. Ex. The cold clammy hands clasped my neck.
  • Allusion: Allusion is when an author makes an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Ex: "Stop acting so smart—it’s not like you’re Einstein or something."
  • Anachronism: An anachronism occurs when there is an intentional error in the timeline of a text. Anachronisms are often used for comedic effect. Ex: A character appearing in a different time period than when he actually lived, uses language or technology before it was invented.
  • Colloquialism: Colloquialism is the use of informal language and slang. It's often used by authors to lend a sense of realism to their characters and dialogue. Example: "Hey, what’s up, man?"
  • Epigraph: An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous poem, quotation, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text.
  • Euphemism: A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is vulgar, harsh, blunt, or unpleasant.
  • Flashback: A flashback is an interruption in a narrative that depicts events that have already occurred, either before the present time or before the time at which the narration takes place.
  • Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing is when an author indirectly hints at—through things such as dialogue, description, or characters’ actions—what’s to come later on in the story.
  • Hyperbole: Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that's not meant to be taken literally by the reader. It is often used for comedic effect and/or emphasis.
  • Imagery: Imagery is when an author describes a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to our senses (taste, sight, smell, touch, or hearing).
  • Irony: Irony is when a statement is used to express the opposite meaning than the one literally expressed by it.
  • Juxtaposition: Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different usually opposite ideas, characters, objects, etc.
  • Malapropism: Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. Example: "I just can't wait to do the flamingo dance!" Here, a character has accidentally called the flamenco (a type of dance) instead of the flamingo (an animal).
  • Metaphors: A metaphor is an implied comparison in which something is said to be compared with something else which we normally don't do. Ex. She was fishing for compliments.
  • Similes: A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as". Ex. Watching the show was like watching grass grow.
  • Metonym: A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring.
  • Onomatopoeia: The sound of the word imitates the original sound. Ex. The sheep went, “Baa.”
  • Oxymoron: An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humour, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox
  • Paradox: A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible.
  • Personification: Personification is making a non-living object seem alive, like a person. Ex. The wind groaned.
  • Repetition: Repetition is when a word or phrase is written multiple times, usually for the purpose of emphasis. It is often used in poetry (for purposes of rhythm as well).
  • Soliloquy: A type of monologue that's often used in dramas. A soliloquy is when a character speaks aloud to himself (and to the audience), thereby revealing his inner thoughts and feelings.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, situation, or another idea in a written work to represent something else—typically a broader message or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning.
  • Synecdoche: A synecdoche is a literary device in which part of something is used to represent the whole or vice versa. It's similar to a metonym.
  • Rhyme: Some poems have a pattern rhyme at the end of each line. For example, words rhyme in pairs (AABB) or some have a skip-skip pattern (ABAB). Check out the rhyming patterns of your favourite poems or make up some of your own.
  • Free Verse: Poetry can be free of any rhyme, and can have different numbers of words on each line.
  • Refrain: Some poems have a refrain, or repeated words or phrases. This is similar to the chorus in a song.
Thus, literary devices are a collection of artistic structures that are employed by writers to give meanings to their works through language. They beautify the piece of literature and give deeper meanings to it, along with giving them the enjoyment of reading. Besides, they help motivating readers’ imagination to visualize the characters and scenes more clearly.