All writing is made up of literary devices.
Literary devices, like the good ‘ole flashback, intentionally uplevel your writing, make it better, more impactful, and craft your writing to hook readers from the introduction.
- guide your readers in a specific direction to interpret your words the way you want them to
- add color to your words to get more readers hooked from line 1
- and help you sell more of your self-published books (if you want to get serious about it).
Although the term “literary devices” can be a wee bit intimidating, they’re actually pretty simple.
In fact, you’re likely using a ton of these elements while writing your book and you don’t even realize it…(hint: your favorite TV shows use these all the time).
15 Literary devices to use in your writing:
What are literary devices?
Literary devices are various techniques used in writing to help you express yourself and your ideas in a slightly more colorful way than just standard words on a page.
They can be used to help you tell a story, keep your readers curious (so that they keep reading), and amp up the tension in your story or book.
Authors use literary devices, like imagery, to help convey their intended perception of the writing for the reader.
You probably remember learning about literary devices like personification, foreshadowing, and metaphors in school.
While these are very common types of literary elements, there are many more you can use to make your writing stand out in comparison to others.
Using these devices will help your writing become stronger and better.
Literary Terms Every Writer Should Know
You don’t have to know every single literary term in order to be considered a writer.
In fact, most people are writers before they discover the detailed nuances of writing and publishing a book.
But there are some that every writer should be aware of.
Here we’ll explore literary terms every writer should know
Here’s a quick example of what different writing voices and style look like between two famous authors, Stephen King’s The Outsider and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
List of Literary Devices to Use in Your Writing
When it comes to writing, you always want to be learning more.
Why? Because the more you know, the better your writing will be.
There’s no need to use every single literary device in your book, but by knowing what’s available for you to use and how to use it strategically, your writing will become stronger and therefore, more captivating to readers.
Here is a list of 15 literary devices to use in your writing.
#1 – Allusion
No, this is not illusion, though the two can be confused with one another.
An allusion is a literary device that references a person, place, thing, or event in the real world. You can use this to paint a clear picture or to even connect with your readers.
Allusions are often used as literary elements that help connect the reader to the works. By referencing something the reader may be familiar with in the real world, this invests them more than if you didn’t have any connections.
Allusion Literary Device Example:
Allusion Example 1: “Careful, now. You don’t want to go opening Pandora’s Box.”
In this example, the allusion is Pandora’s Box. Because this is a reference to a real-life element, it’s considered an allusion.
Allusion Example 2: He was a real goodguy ball-buster, the Deadpool of his time.
In this example, the narrator is using Deadpool as the allusion by referencing the person they’re describing as being like the super-hero (if you can call him that) Deadpool.
#2 – Diction
Diction is a literary device that’s the choice of words or style used by the writer in order to convey their message.
Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that diction is the way in which the author wants to write to a specific audience.
Here are the different types of diction and what they mean:
- Formal diction – This is when the word choice is more formal or high class. Oftentimes, writers use formal diction as a literary device when more educated individuals are speaking or the content is for those with higher education.
- Informal diction – When your characters (or you writing a nonfiction) are speaking directly to everyday people, this type of diction would be use as it’s more conversational.
- Slang diction – Slang is commonly used for a younger audience and includes newly coined words or phrases. An example of this would be use of the word, “fleek” or other new slang phrases.
- Colloquial diction – This is when words that are used in everyday life are written. These may be different depending on the culture or religions present in the writing.
Diction Literary Device Example:
Diction Example 1: “I bid you adieu.”
The diction present here is formal diction, as most people don’t use “bid” and “adieu” regularly in everyday speach.
Diction Example 2: I remember her hair in particular, because it was on fleek!
Here, “fleek” is a slang term used to describe a woman’s hair, which means it’s slang diction.
#3 – Alliteration
Alliteration is a literary device that uses the same letters or sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or title.
There are many nursery rhymes that use alliteration but this is also useful for creating something memorable within your writing.
You can also use alliteration when choosing the title of your book, as it makes it easier to remember, as you can see in the example of alliterative titles above.
#4 – Allegory
An allegory is a figure of speech where abstract ideas are described using characters, events, or other elements.
That’s more of a fancy way of saying that instead of being literal with an idea, you use characters, events, or other elements in order to describe it in a way the reader can better understand.
Think of it like a story within a story. You use characters, events, or other means to represent the literal meaning.
This one is a little better understood with examples than a definition.
Allegory Literary Device Example:
Allegory Example: One of the most famous works using allegory is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The perceived story is about a group of farm animals who rise up and defeat humans but the underlying story is about the Russian Revoluation.
Using an allegory is often telling a darker story in a way that’s easier to understand and for readers to receive.
#5 – Colloquialism
One way to increase the world building in your book is to use colloquialisms.
Colloquialisms are expressions, words, and phrases that are used in informal, everyday speech, including slang.
You can use these a couple of different ways. Firstly, you can use these as slang in the real world and secondly, you can even create your book’s own colloquialisms for their world and culture, and even when writing dialogue.
Colloquialism Literary Device Example:
Bamboozle – to deceieve
Gonna – going to
Be blue – to be sad
Bugger off – go away
Over yonder – over there
Da bomb – the best
You can create your own coloquialisms within your own world to increase the realism.
#6 – Euphemism
We tend to think of euphemisms as sexual euphemisms, which is how they’re often used. However, euphemisms are actually any terms that refer to something impolite or unpleasant.
We create phrases or other words in order to avoid using the actual term because they’re impolite, rude, or indecent. Those alternatives are considered euphemisms.
This is often why we think of sexual euphemisms when we hear of this literary device. Most individuals would rather make a much lighter comment when referring to something as “indecent” as sex, but the same case is made for when someone dies.
Euphemism Literary Device Example:
Before I go – before I die
Do the dirty – have sex
Rear-end – butt
perspiration – sweating
Thin on top – bald
Tipsy – drunk
Having a loose screw – being dumb
#7 – Flashbacks
Flashbacks in literature are when the narrator goes back in time for a specific scene or chapter in order to give more context for the story.
Oftentimes, we see flashbacks in books where the past greatly impacts the present or as a way to start a story off on an interesting note. This is seen in Harry Potter whenever Harry gets to see a memory of the past from Dumbledore or even Snape.
Flashbacks Literary Device Example:
You can even use flashbacks as a plot device, like in the example below.
For example, in Vicious by V.E. Schwab, she uses flashbacks as a recurring element in her book. Every other chapter goes back in time and then back to the present for the next chapter as a way to structure the story itself.
So in this instance, Schwab is using this literary device to shape the entire narrative of her story instead of simply using it as a single piece, which is a unique take on flashbacks.
#8 – Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is when the author places elements within the writing that gives clues about what will happen in the future of the story.
These can often be small bits and pieces that some readers might not pick up on the first read through. They might even look back and realize that certain elements were foreshadowing once they hit the climax or a big plot twist was revealed.
Foreshadowing can be both literal and thematic.
You can write a scene where there’s a conversation that the reader can’t fully understand the meaning of until more is revealed.
You can also write a scene that has symbolic elements that foreshadow events, like placing a black crow in a scene that foreshadows a death, as crows are symbolic of this.
If you really want to up your creative writing, you can even create themes to foreshadow within your own world.
As an example of this literary device, you can create a culture in which rabbits are a “known” sign of change and conspicuously place a rabbit in a later scene.
Foreshadowing Literary Device Example:
Foreshadowing Example 1:
In Back to the Future, one of the clocks in the opening credits has actor Harold Lloyd from the silem film Safety First hanging from the minute hand. This foreshadows Doc Brown hanging from the Hill Valley clock tower later in the movie as he tried to send Marty McFly back to the 1980s.
Foreshadowing Example 2:
In The Avengers Tony Stark makes a comment about one of the ship’s engineers playing a game called Galaga as they all get together for the first time. The objective of the game in real life is to defend Earth from alien invaders, which is what happens later in the movie.
#9 – Imagery
This is one that we briefly touched on above and also one you likely learned in school, though it may have been a while since then so we’ll give you a refresher.
Imagery is when you use visually descriptive or figurative language in your writing. Think of it more like showing versus telling in writing where you use more sensory language versus blunt, plain words.
You would also use stronger verbs in order to present stronger imagery in your writing.
Imagery Literary Device Example:
Here’s an example of imagery from Hannah Lee Kidder’s anthology, Little Birds:
Notice how Kidder uses visuals to bring life to her words. You’re very easily able to picture where this scene takes place and exactly what those rocks look like.
#10 – Personification
Personification is a literary device where you give human-like qualities to non-human elements.
This is one of the most well-known literary devices and it’s useful for a number of reasons:
- Creates a stronger visual
- Pulls readers further into your world
- Helps the readers relate to and understand what’s going on
- It can allow readers to have a new perspective
- You can give readers a new view on a typical visual/occurrence
Personification Literary Device Example:
Personification Example 1:
The wind whistled past my ears like a familiar tune I’d long forgotten.
Personification Example 2:
The moon yanked a blanket of silver light over the forest.
Personification Example 3:
Squatting in the corner was a felt chair covered in the dust and damp of abandonment.
#11 – Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition means placing contrasting elements next to one another in order to emphasize one or both, including words, scenes, or themes.
This literary device can sound overly fancy but it’s quite simple.
Many times, authors will use juxtaposition in order to create a stronger emotional reaction from readers.
Think of when a happy moment in a movie or book is followed by a sad, heart-wrenching scene. That scene is made even worse by the fact that we just had our emotions on a high.
Juxtaposition can also be used on a smaller scale, with contrasting words or phrases next to each other in order to emphasize both, like in the first example below.
However, when it comes to giving your book that “rollercoaster” ride of emotion effect, juxtaposition used on a larger scale can make a huge difference.
Juxtaposition Literary Device Example:
Juxtaposition Example 1:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” – A Tales of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Juxtaposition Example 2:
I hate loving you.
Juxtaposition Example 3:
You will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good. – The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
#12 – Metaphor/Simile
This is the most popular literary device that has to be used with caution because if used too much, metaphors and similes can reek of cliches and amateur writing.
Metaphors and similes are comparisons used to create better clarification and understanding for readers.
While these are similar, they’re quite different.
A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are NOT alike and replaces the word with another word.
Similes are comparisons between two things that are NOT like and replaces the word with another word but uses “like” or “as” within it.
Metaphors VS Similes Examples:
Metaphor Example 1:
She was drowning in a sea of her own despair.
Simile Example 1:
It was like she was drowning in a sea of her own despair.
Metaphor Example 2:
His heart was lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.
Simile Example 2:
His heart was as heavy as lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.
Literary devices are used to make your writing stronger. However, you don’t have to use every single device out there. These are the best to strengthen your writing.
#13 – Onomatopoeia
While its name may be confusing, this literary device is actually easy to understand once you get past its difficult spelling.
An onomatopoeia is a word or phrase that shows you the sound something makes. Since we can’t hear books, this literary device is best used to paint a clear picture and include the sense of hearing in your writing.
When using this literary element in writing, the correct formatting is almost always to have the word italicized to show emphasis of the sound.
Onomatopoeia Literary Device Example:
#14 – Symbolism
Every story uses symbolism in some way. This literary device is the use of a situation or element to represent a larger message, idea, or concept.
Many times, authors use symbolism as a way to convey a broader message that speaks to more readers. You can also use symbolism to foreshadow what will happen later in the story.
Symbolism Literary Device Example:
- Crows are used to symbolize a bad omen, like death
- The color purple symbolizes royalty
- The color red can symbolize death, struggle, power, passion
- Spiders can symbolize spying, sneaky, or untrustworthiness
#15 – Tone
The tone of a book is something that conveys the narrator’s opinion, attitude, or feelings about what is written.
This literary device has the power to shape the entire narrative.
For example, if you want to catch a reader off-guard when something traumatic or intense happens, keeping the tone light and humorous before the event can increase the sensation of shock and tension.
Tone can guide your readers right into the emotion you want them to feel in a particular scene.
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