Literary Devices: 12 Literary Elements to Drastically Improve Your Writing

All writing is made up of literary devices whether you realize it or not.

But what if you could intentionally uplevel your writing, make it better, more impactful, and crafting it in a way to hook readers from the introduction?

What would it mean for you if you were able to guide your readers in a specific direction and interpret your words the way you want them to?

Using literary devices is exactly how you can do that…and we’ll teach you how with our list of literary devices.

literary devices

Although the term “literary devices” can be a wee bit intimidating, they’re actually pretty simple.

In fact, you’re likely using a ton when writing your book that you don’t even know you’re utilizing—and we’ll touch on which those are in a little bit.

These are the top 12 literary devices to use in order to improve your writing:

  1. Allusion
  2. Diction
  3. Alliteration
  4. Allegory
  5. Colloquialism
  6. Euphemism
  7. Flashbacks
  8. Foreshadowing
  9. Imagery
  10. Juxtaposition
  11. Metaphor/simile
  12. Personification

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What are literary devices?

Literary devices are various elements and techniques used in writing that construct the whole of your literature to create an 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 even publishing a book.

But there are some that every writer should be aware of.

Here are the literary terms every writer should know:

  • Imagery – The use of visually descriptive or figurative language in writing. One way to describe this is showing versus telling, and we’ll cover more on this later in this blog post.
  • Personification – When you give human characteristics to non-human objects or elements. This will also be covered in more detail below.
  • Point of view – How your story is told and through whose perspective is what your point of view is. This could be first person, second person, third person, or more that we’ll cover down below.
  • Protagonist – This is the “good guy” in your story or the person your readers will root for. Oftentimes, this is the main character or even you, if you’re writing a nonfiction book.
  • Antagonist – Also known as the “bad guy,” or the person trying to prevent your protagonist from succeeding. This person or group or organization will likely be the reason for your protagonist’s hardships in your book.
  • Foreshadowing – We’ll cover this in detail below but essentially, foreshadowing is the placement of clues about what will happen in the future of your story.
  • Conflict – This is a basic term to describe the difficulties your protagonist or you face in your book. Any issues between characters or elements are known as conflict.
  • Rising Action – Rising action is the events that directly lead up to the climax of your novel.
  • Falling Action – When writing a novel, this is often the last chapter or two after the climax to “tie up” loose ends in your story.
  • Climax – The biggest, most pivotal point in your novel. This is when your protagonist faced their challenges head-on and either “wins” or “loses.” Think of any time Harry Potter directed faces off with Voldemort at the end of the books. This is the climax.
  • Voice – A writer’s voice is the unique narrative of the writing. This is the way in which the author chooses to display sentences and even down to the phrasing they use.
  • Style – Much like the author’s voice, the style is the unique way the author writes but also encompasses the entirety of the novel and story as well. Their style can mean how they write, but also how they tell a story and the way in which they allow events to unfold.

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.

literary devices style

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 36 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.

literary devices alliteration

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.

Alliteration Literary Device Example:

Alliteration Example 1: “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

In this example, alliteration is present in both the “sh” sound and the “s” sound.

Alliteration 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.

#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:

Colloquialism Examples:

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:

Euphemism Examples:

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.

Foreshadowing Literary Device Example:

You can even use flashbacks as a plot device, like in the example below.

literary devices flashback

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.

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Imagery Literary Device Example:

Here’s an example of imagery from Hannah Lee Kidder’s anthology, Little Birds:

literary devices imagery

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:

  1. It creates a stronger visual
  2. It pulls readers further into your world
  3. It helps the readers relate to and understand what’s going on
  4. It can allow readers to have a new perspective
  5. You can give readers a new view on a typical visual/occurrence

Imagery Literary Device Example:

Imagery Example 1:

The wind whistled past my ears like a familiar tune I’d long forgotten.

Imagery Example 2:

The moon yanked a blanket of silver light over the forest.

Imagery Example 3:

Squatting in the corner was a felt chair covered in the dust and damp of abandonment.

#11 – Juxtaposition

literary devices list

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.

Metaphor

A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are NOT alike and replaces the word with another word.

Simile

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.

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Which are your favorite literary devices to use? Do you have examples of some you love?

Bella Rose Pope

Bella Rose Pope is the Content Creation Specialist here at Self-Publishing School. While she's not whipping up content here, she's creating her own Youtube videos, fiction writing tips blog posts, hanging out with her dog, and eating something with cheese!Give her a follow: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Youtube

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