Choose Your Test

  • Search Blogs By Category
  • College Admissions
  • AP and IB Exams
  • GPA and Coursework

The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know

author image

General Education


Need to analyze The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, but fumbling for the right vocabulary and concepts for literary devices? You've come to the right place. To successfully interpret and analyze literary texts, you'll first need to have a solid foundation in literary terms and their definitions.

In this article, we'll help you get familiar with most commonly used literary devices in prose and poetry. We'll give you a clear definition of each of the terms we discuss along with examples of literary elements and the context in which they most often appear (comedic writing, drama, or other).

Before we get to the list of literary devices, however, we have a quick refresher on what literary devices are and how understanding them will help you analyze works of literature.

What Are Literary Devices and Why Should You Know Them?

Literary devices are techniques that writers use to create a special and pointed effect in their writing, to convey information, or to help readers understand their writing on a deeper level.

Often, literary devices are used in writing for emphasis or clarity. Authors will also use literary devices to get readers to connect more strongly with either a story as a whole or specific characters or themes.

So why is it important to know different literary devices and terms? Aside from helping you get good grades on your literary analysis homework, there are several benefits to knowing the techniques authors commonly use.

Being able to identify when different literary techniques are being used helps you understand the motivation behind the author's choices. For example, being able to identify symbols in a story can help you figure out why the author might have chosen to insert these focal points and what these might suggest in regard to her attitude toward certain characters, plot points, and events.

In addition, being able to identify literary devices can make a written work's overall meaning or purpose clearer to you. For instance, let's say you're planning to read (or re-read) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. By knowing that this particular book is a religious allegory with references to Christ (represented by the character Aslan) and Judas (represented by Edmund), it will be clearer to you why Lewis uses certain language to describe certain characters and why certain events happen the way they do.

Finally, literary techniques are important to know because they make texts more interesting and more fun to read. If you were to read a novel without knowing any literary devices, chances are you wouldn't be able to detect many of the layers of meaning interwoven into the story via different techniques.

Now that we've gone over why you should spend some time learning literary devices, let's take a look at some of the most important literary elements to know.

List of Literary Devices: 31 Literary Terms You Should Know

Below is a list of literary devices, most of which you'll often come across in both prose and poetry. We explain what each literary term is and give you an example of how it's used. This literary elements list is arranged in alphabetical order.

An allegory is a story that is used to represent a more general message about real-life (historical) issues and/or events. It is typically an entire book, novel, play, etc.

Example: George Orwell's dystopian book Animal Farm is an allegory for the events preceding the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist era in early 20th century Russia. In the story, animals on a farm practice animalism, which is essentially communism. Many characters correspond to actual historical figures: Old Major represents both the founder of communism Karl Marx and the Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin; the farmer, Mr. Jones, is the Russian Czar; the boar Napoleon stands for Joseph Stalin; and the pig Snowball represents Leon Trotsky.


Alliteration is a series of words or phrases that all (or almost all) start with the same sound. These sounds are typically consonants to give more stress to that syllable. You'll often come across alliteration in poetry, titles of books and poems ( Jane Austen is a fan of this device, for example—just look at Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility ), and tongue twisters.

Example: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." In this tongue twister, the "p" sound is repeated at the beginning of all major words.

Allusion is when an author makes an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Many allusions make reference to previous works of literature or art.

Example: "Stop acting so smart—it's not like you're Einstein or something." This is an allusion to the famous real-life theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.


An anachronism occurs when there is an (intentional) error in the chronology or timeline of a text. This could be a character who appears in a different time period than when he actually lived, or a technology that appears before it was invented. Anachronisms are often used for comedic effect.

Example: A Renaissance king who says, "That's dope, dude!" would be an anachronism, since this type of language is very modern and not actually from the Renaissance period.

Anaphora is when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple sentences throughout a piece of writing. It's used to emphasize the repeated phrase and evoke strong feelings in the audience.

Example: A famous example of anaphora is Winston Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Throughout this speech, he repeats the phrase "we shall fight" while listing numerous places where the British army will continue battling during WWII. He did this to rally both troops and the British people and to give them confidence that they would still win the war.


An anthropomorphism occurs when something nonhuman, such as an animal, place, or inanimate object, behaves in a human-like way.

Example: Children's cartoons have many examples of anthropomorphism. For example, Mickey and Minnie Mouse can speak, wear clothes, sing, dance, drive cars, etc. Real mice can't do any of these things, but the two mouse characters behave much more like humans than mice.

Asyndeton is when the writer leaves out conjunctions (such as "and," "or," "but," and "for") in a group of words or phrases so that the meaning of the phrase or sentence is emphasized. It is often used for speeches since sentences containing asyndeton can have a powerful, memorable rhythm.

Example: Abraham Lincoln ends the Gettysburg Address with the phrase "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth." By leaving out certain conjunctions, he ends the speech on a more powerful, melodic note.


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. Forms of colloquialism include words, phrases, and contractions that aren't real words (such as "gonna" and "ain't").

Example: "Hey, what's up, man?" This piece of dialogue is an example of a colloquialism, since it uses common everyday words and phrases, namely "what's up" and "man."

An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous quotation, poem, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text (e.g., a book, chapter, etc.). An epigraph is typically written by a different writer (with credit given) and used as a way to introduce overarching themes or messages in the work. Some pieces of literature, such as Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick , incorporate multiple epigraphs throughout.

Example: At the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises is an epigraph that consists of a quotation from poet Gertrude Stein, which reads, "You are all a lost generation," and a passage from the Bible.

Epistrophe is similar to anaphora, but in this case, the repeated word or phrase appears at the end of successive statements. Like anaphora, it is used to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Example: In Lyndon B. Johnson's speech, "The American Promise," he repeats the word "problem" in a use of epistrophe: "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem."


A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is considered harsh, blunt, vulgar, or unpleasant.

Example: "I'm so sorry, but he didn't make it." The phrase "didn't make it" is a more polite and less blunt way of saying that someone has died.

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. This device is often used to give the reader more background information and details about specific characters, events, plot points, and so on.

Example: Most of the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a flashback from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, as she engages in a conversation with a visitor named Lockwood. In this story, Nelly narrates Catherine Earnshaw's and Heathcliff's childhoods, the pair's budding romance, and their tragic demise.


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. This device is often used to introduce tension to a narrative.

Example: Say you're reading a fictionalized account of Amelia Earhart. Before she embarks on her (what we know to be unfortunate) plane ride, a friend says to her, "Be safe. Wouldn't want you getting lost—or worse." This line would be an example of foreshadowing because it implies that something bad ("or worse") will happen to Earhart.

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.

Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." The speaker will not literally eat an entire horse (and most likely couldn't ), but this hyperbole emphasizes how starved the speaker feels.

Imagery is when an author describes a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to our senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, or hearing). This device is often used to help the reader clearly visualize parts of the story by creating a strong mental picture.

Example: Here's an example of imagery taken from William Wordsworth's famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden Daffodils; Beside the Lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Irony is when a statement is used to express an opposite meaning than the one literally expressed by it. There are three types of irony in literature:

  • Verbal irony: When someone says something but means the opposite (similar to sarcasm).
  • Situational irony: When something happens that's the opposite of what was expected or intended to happen.
  • Dramatic irony: When the audience is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not . As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings for the audience than they do for the characters involved.
  • Verbal irony: One example of this type of irony can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." In this short story, a man named Montresor plans to get revenge on another man named Fortunato. As they toast, Montresor says, "And I, Fortunato—I drink to your long life." This statement is ironic because we the readers already know by this point that Montresor plans to kill Fortunato.
  • Situational irony: A girl wakes up late for school and quickly rushes to get there. As soon as she arrives, though, she realizes that it's Saturday and there is no school.
  • Dramatic irony: In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo commits suicide in order to be with Juliet; however, the audience (unlike poor Romeo) knows that Juliet is not actually dead—just asleep.



Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different (usually opposite) ideas, characters, objects, etc. This literary device is often used to help create a clearer picture of the characteristics of one object or idea by comparing it with those of another.

Example: One of the most famous literary examples of juxtaposition is the opening passage from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities :

"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, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …"


Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. This misuse of the word typically results in a statement that is both nonsensical and humorous; as a result, this device is commonly used in comedic writing.

Example: "I just can't wait to dance the flamingo!" Here, a character has accidentally called the flamenco (a type of dance) the flamingo (an animal).


Metaphors are when ideas, actions, or objects are described in non-literal terms. In short, it's when an author compares one thing to another. The two things being described usually share something in common but are unalike in all other respects.

A simile is a type of metaphor in which an object, idea, character, action, etc., is compared to another thing using the words "as" or "like."

Both metaphors and similes are often used in writing for clarity or emphasis.

"What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." In this line from Romeo and Juliet , Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. However, because Romeo doesn't use the words "as" or "like," it is not a simile—just a metaphor.

"She is as vicious as a lion." Since this statement uses the word "as" to make a comparison between "she" and "a lion," it is a simile.

A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring. This device is usually used for poetic or rhetorical effect .

Example: "The pen is mightier than the sword." This statement, which was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, contains two examples of metonymy: "the pen" refers to "the written word," and "the sword" refers to "military force/violence."

Mood is the general feeling the writer wants the audience to have. The writer can achieve this through description, setting, dialogue, and word choice .

Example: Here's a passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: "It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors." In this passage, Tolkien uses detailed description to set create a cozy, comforting mood. From the writing, you can see that the hobbit's home is well-cared for and designed to provide comfort.


Onomatopoeia is a word (or group of words) that represents a sound and actually resembles or imitates the sound it stands for. It is often used for dramatic, realistic, or poetic effect.

Examples: Buzz, boom, chirp, creak, sizzle, zoom, etc.

An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humor, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox (see next entry for more information on paradoxes).

Examples: Deafening silence, organized chaos, cruelly kind, insanely logical, etc.


A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible.

Note that a paradox is different from an oxymoron: a paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words.

Example: Here's a famous paradoxical sentence: "This statement is false." If the statement is true, then it isn't actually false (as it suggests). But if it's false, then the statement is true! Thus, this statement is a paradox because it is both true and false at the same time.


Personification is when a nonhuman figure or other abstract concept or element is described as having human-like qualities or characteristics. (Unlike anthropomorphism where non-human figures become human-like characters, with personification, the object/figure is simply described as being human-like.) Personification is used to help the reader create a clearer mental picture of the scene or object being described.

Example: "The wind moaned, beckoning me to come outside." In this example, the wind—a nonhuman element—is being described as if it is human (it "moans" and "beckons").

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).

Example: When Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the score for the hit musical Hamilton, gave his speech at the 2016 Tony's, he recited a poem he'd written that included the following line:

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.

Satire is genre of writing that criticizes something , such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. Satire often employs irony, humor, and hyperbole to make its point.

Example: The Onion is a satirical newspaper and digital media company. It uses satire to parody common news features such as opinion columns, editorial cartoons, and click bait headlines.

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.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet , Juliet's speech on the balcony that begins with, "O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" is a soliloquy, as she is speaking aloud to herself (remember that she doesn't realize Romeo's there listening!).

Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, situation, or other idea in a written work to represent something else— typically a broader message or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning.

The things used for symbolism are called "symbols," and they'll often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.

Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby , the green light that sits across from Gatsby's mansion symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams .

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 (see above); however, a metonym doesn't have to represent the whole—just something associated with the word used.

Example: "Help me out, I need some hands!" In this case, "hands" is being used to refer to people (the whole human, essentially).

While mood is what the audience is supposed to feel, tone is the writer or narrator's attitude towards a subject . A good writer will always want the audience to feel the mood they're trying to evoke, but the audience may not always agree with the narrator's tone, especially if the narrator is an unsympathetic character or has viewpoints that differ from those of the reader.

Example: In an essay disdaining Americans and some of the sites they visit as tourists, Rudyard Kipling begins with the line, "Today I am in the Yellowstone Park, and I wish I were dead." If you enjoy Yellowstone and/or national parks, you may not agree with the author's tone in this piece.


How to Identify and Analyze Literary Devices: 4 Tips

In order to fully interpret pieces of literature, you have to understand a lot about literary devices in the texts you read. Here are our top tips for identifying and analyzing different literary techniques:

Tip 1: Read Closely and Carefully

First off, you'll need to make sure that you're reading very carefully. Resist the temptation to skim or skip any sections of the text. If you do this, you might miss some literary devices being used and, as a result, will be unable to accurately interpret the text.

If there are any passages in the work that make you feel especially emotional, curious, intrigued, or just plain interested, check that area again for any literary devices at play.

It's also a good idea to reread any parts you thought were confusing or that you didn't totally understand on a first read-through. Doing this ensures that you have a solid grasp of the passage (and text as a whole) and will be able to analyze it appropriately.

Tip 2: Memorize Common Literary Terms

You won't be able to identify literary elements in texts if you don't know what they are or how they're used, so spend some time memorizing the literary elements list above. Knowing these (and how they look in writing) will allow you to more easily pinpoint these techniques in various types of written works.

Tip 3: Know the Author's Intended Audience

Knowing what kind of audience an author intended her work to have can help you figure out what types of literary devices might be at play.

For example, if you were trying to analyze a children's book, you'd want to be on the lookout for child-appropriate devices, such as repetition and alliteration.

Tip 4: Take Notes and Bookmark Key Passages and Pages

This is one of the most important tips to know, especially if you're reading and analyzing works for English class. As you read, take notes on the work in a notebook or on a computer. Write down any passages, paragraphs, conversations, descriptions, etc., that jump out at you or that contain a literary device you were able to identify.

You can also take notes directly in the book, if possible (but don't do this if you're borrowing a book from the library!). I recommend circling keywords and important phrases, as well as starring interesting or particularly effective passages and paragraphs.

Lastly, use sticky notes or post-its to bookmark pages that are interesting to you or that have some kind of notable literary device. This will help you go back to them later should you need to revisit some of what you've found for a paper you plan to write.

What's Next?

Looking for more in-depth explorations and examples of literary devices? Join us as we delve into imagery , personification , rhetorical devices , tone words and mood , and different points of view in literature, as well as some more poetry-specific terms like assonance and iambic pentameter .

Reading The Great Gatsby for class or even just for fun? Then you'll definitely want to check out our expert guides on the biggest themes in this classic book, from love and relationships to money and materialism .

Got questions about Arthur Miller's The Crucible ? Read our in-depth articles to learn about the most important themes in this play and get a complete rundown of all the characters .

For more information on your favorite works of literature, take a look at our collection of high-quality book guides and our guide to the 9 literary elements that appear in every story !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.

Trending Now

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Get Your Free


Find Your Target SAT Score

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

How to Get a Perfect SAT Score, by an Expert Full Scorer

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading and Writing

How to Improve Your Low SAT Score

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading and Writing

Find Your Target ACT Score

Complete Official Free ACT Practice Tests

How to Get a Perfect ACT Score, by a 36 Full Scorer

Get a 36 on ACT English

Get a 36 on ACT Math

Get a 36 on ACT Reading

Get a 36 on ACT Science

How to Improve Your Low ACT Score

Get a 24 on ACT English

Get a 24 on ACT Math

Get a 24 on ACT Reading

Get a 24 on ACT Science

Stay Informed

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Follow us on Facebook (icon)

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!


Write your book in Reedsy Studio. Try the beloved writing app for free today.

Craft your masterpiece in Reedsy Studio

Plan, write, edit, and format your book in our free app made for authors.

Reedsy Community

Blog • Perfecting your Craft , Book Design

Last updated on May 22, 2024

100 Literary Devices With Examples: The Ultimate List

Literary devices are perhaps the greatest tools that writers have in literature. Just think — Shakespeare could have written: Everyone has a role in life.

Instead, he used a literary device and penned what is likely the most famous metaphor in literature:

All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players

And the rest is history.

eN0dwIdqYmo Video Thumb

What are literary devices?

A literary device is a writing technique that writers use to express ideas, convey meaning, and highlight important themes in a piece of text. A metaphor, like we mentioned earlier, is a famous example of a literary device.

These devices serve a wide range of purposes in literature. Some might work on an intellectual level, while others have a more emotional effect. They may also work subtly to improve the flow  of your writing. No matter what, if you're looking to inject something special into your prose, literary devices are a great place to start.

How to identify literary devices

A writer using a literary device is quite different from a reader identifying it. Often, an author’s use of a literary device is subtle by design —you only feel its effect, and not its presence. 

Therefore, we’ve structured this post for both purposes:    

  • If you’re a reader, we’ve included examples for each literary device to make it easier for you to identify them in the wild. 
  • If you’re a writer, we’ve included exercises for the literary devices, so that you can practice using them in your works. 

Let’s get to it.

100 common literary devices, with examples

1. alliteration.

Alliteration describes a series of words in quick succession that all start with the same letter or sound. It lends a pleasing cadence to prose and Hamlet and the dollar as currency in Macbeth .

Example: “ One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” — “Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne

Exercise: Pick a letter and write a sentence where every word starts with that letter or one that sounds similar. 

2. Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a series of clauses or sentences. It’s often seen in poetry and speeches, intended to provoke an emotional response in its audience.

Example: Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.

"… and I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

"… I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Exercise: Pick a famous phrase and write a paragraph elaborating on an idea, beginning each sentence with that phrase. 

Related term: repetition

3. Anastrophe

Anastrophe is a figure of speech wherein the traditional sentence structure is reversed. So a typical verb-subject-adjective sentence such as “Are you ready?” becomes a Yoda-esque adjective-verb-subject question: “Ready, are you?” Or a standard adjective-noun pairing like “tall mountain” becomes “mountain tall.”

Example: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing.” — “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

Exercise: Write a standard verb-subject-adjective sentence or adjective-noun pairing then flip the order to create an anastrophe. How does it change the meaning or feeling of the sentence?

4. Chiasmus

Chiasmus is when two or more parallel clauses are inverted. “Why would I do that?” you may be wondering. Well, a chiasmus might sound confusing and unnecessary in theory, but it's much more convincing in practice — and in fact, you've likely already come across it before.

Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy

5. Congeries

Congeries is a fancy literary term for creating a list. The items in your list can be words, ideas, or phrases, and by displaying them this way helps prove or emphasize a point — or even create a sense of irony. Occasionally, it’s also called piling as the words are “piling up.”

Example: "Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?" — Monty Python’s Life of Brian

6. Cumulative sentence

A cumulative sentence (or “loose sentence”) is one that starts with an independent clause, but then has additional or modifying clauses. They’re often used for contextual or clarifying details. This may sound complex, but even, “I ran to the store to buy milk, bread, and toilet paper” is a cumulative sentence, because the first clause, “I ran to the store,” is a complete sentence, while the rest tells us extra information about your run to the store.

Example: “It was a large bottle of gin Albert Cousins had brought to the party, yes, but it was in no way large enough to fill all the cups, and in certain cases to fill them many times over, for the more than one hundred guests, some of whom were dancing not four feet in front of him.” – Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Example: Write three sentences that are related to each other. Can you combine the information into a cumulative sentence? 



Literary Devices Cheatsheet

Master these 40+ devices to level up your writing skills.

7. Epistrophe

Epistrophe is the opposite of anaphora, with this time a word or phrase being repeated at the end of a sentence. Though its placement in a sentence is different it serves the same purpose—creating emphasis—as an anaphora does. 

Example: “I’ll be ever’where – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there . If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build, why, I’ll be there .” — The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Related terms:  repetition, anaphora

Exercise: Write a paragraph where a phrase or a word is repeated at the end of every sentence, emphasizing the point you’re trying to make. 

8. Erotesis

Erotesis is a close cousin of the rhetorical question. Rather than a question asked without expectation of an answer, this is when the question (and the asker) confidently expects a response that is either negative or affirmative. 

Example: “ Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them?” — Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Related term:  rhetorical question

9. Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton is the inversion of words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence that differs from how they would normally be arranged. It comes from the Greek hyperbatos, which means “transposed” or “inverted.” While it is similar to anastrophe, it doesn’t have the same specific structure and allows you to rearrange your sentences in whatever order you want. 

Example: “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.” — “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Related terms:  anastrophe, epistrophe

10. Isocolon

If you’re a neat freak who likes things just so , isocolon is the literary device for you. This is when two or more phrases or clauses have similar structure, rhythm, and even length — such that, when stacked up on top of each other, they would line up perfectly. Isocolon often crops up in brand slogans and famous sayings; the quick, balanced rhythm makes the phrase catchier and more memorable.

Example: Veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)

11. Litotes

Litotes (pronounced lie-toe-teez ) is the signature literary device of the double negative. Writers use litotes to express certain sentiments through their opposites, by saying that that opposite is not the case. Don’t worry, it makes more sense with the examples. 😉

Examples: “You won’t be sorry” (meaning you’ll be happy); “you’re not wrong” (meaning you’re right); “I didn’t not like it” (meaning I did)

12. Malapropism

If Shakespeare is the king of metaphors, Michael Scott is the king of malapropisms . A malapropism is when similar-sounding words replace their appropriate counterparts, typically to comic effect — one of the most commonly cited is “dance a flamingo,” rather than a “flamenco.” Malapropisms are often employed in dialogue when a character flubs up their speech.

Example: “I am not to be truffled with.”

Exercise: Choose a famous or common phrase and see if you can replace a word with a similar sounding one that changes the meaning. 

literary devices

13. Onomatopoeia

Amusingly, onomatopoeia (itself a difficult-to-pronounce word) refers to words that sound like the thing they’re referring to. Well-known instances of onomatopoeia include whiz, buzz, snap, grunt, etc.

Example: The excellent children's book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type . “Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears: Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety, clack, moo. ”

Exercise: Take some time to listen to the sounds around you and write down what you hear. Now try to use those sounds in a short paragraph or story. 

14. Oxymoron 

An oxymoron comes from two contradictory words that describe one thing. While juxtaposition contrasts two story elements, oxymorons are about the actual words you are using.

Example: "Parting is such sweet sorrow.” — Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. (Find 100 more examples of oxymorons here .)

Related terms: juxtaposition, paradox

Exercise: Choose two words with opposite meanings and see if you can use them in a sentence to create a coherent oxymoron. 

in literature device

15. Parallelism

Parallelism is all about your sentence structure. It’s when similar ideas, sounds, phrases, or words are arranged in a way that is harmonious or creates a parallel, hence the name. It can add rhythm and meter to any piece of writing and can often be found in poetry. 

Example: “ That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong

Which famous author do you write like?

Find out which literary luminary is your stylistic soulmate. Takes one minute!

16. Polysyndeton

Instead of using a single conjunction in lengthy statements, polysyndeton uses several in succession for a dramatic effect . This one is definitely for authors looking to add a bit of artistic flair to their writing, or who are hoping to portray a particular (usually naïve) sort of voice.

Example: “Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.” — The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Exercise: Write three or four independent sentences. Try combining them using conjunctions. What kind of effect does this have on the overall meaning and tone of the piece?

17. Portmanteau

A portmanteau is when two words are combined to form a new word which refers to a single concept that retains the meanings of both the original words. Modern language is full of portmanteaus. In fact, the portmanteau is itself a portmanteau. It’s a combination of the French porter (to carry) and manteau (cloak). 

Example: Brunch (breakfast and lunch); cosplay (costume and roleplay); listicle (list and article); romcom (romance and comedy)

Exercise: Pick two words that are often used together to describe a single concept. See if there’s a way to combine them and create a single word that encompasses the meaning of both.

18. Repetition

Repetition , repetition, repetition… where would we be without it? Though too much repetition is rarely a good thing, occasional repetition can be used quite effectively to drill home a point, or to create a certain atmosphere. For example, horror writers often use repetition to make the reader feel trapped and scared.

Example: In The Shining , Jack Torrance types over and over again on his pages,  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In this case, obsessive repetition demonstrates the character’s unraveling mind.

Related term: anaphora

Exercise: Repetition can be used to call attention to an idea or phrase. Pick an idea you want to emphasize and write a few sentences about it. Are there any places where you can add repetition to make it more impactful? 

literary devices

19. Tautology

A tautology is when a sentence or short paragraph repeats a word or phrase, expressing the same idea twice. Often, this is a sign that you should trim your work to remove the redundancy (such as “frozen ice”) but can also be used for poetic emphasis.

Example: "But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door" – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

20. Tmesis 

Tmesis is when a word or phrase is broken up by an interjecting word, such as abso-freaking-lutely. It’s used to draw out and emphasize the idea, often with a humorous or sarcastic slant.

Example: "This is not Romeo, he's some-other-where." – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

21. Allegory

An allegory is a type of narrative that uses characters and plot to depict abstract ideas and themes. In an allegorical story, things represent more than they appear to on the surface. Many children's fables, such as The Tortoise and the Hare , are simple allegories about morality — but allegories can also be dark, complex, and controversial. 

Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell. This dystopian novella is one of modern literature’s best-known allegories. A commentary on the events leading up to Stalin's rise and the formation of the Soviet Union, the pigs at the heart of the novel represent figures such as Stalin, Trotsky, and Molotov.

Exercise: Pick a major trend or problem in the world and consider what defines it. Try and create a story where that trend plays out on a smaller scale. 

For more inspiration for how to use allegories to explore your themes, check out this guide on themes. 

22. Anecdote

An anecdote is like a short story within a story. Sometimes, they are incredibly short—only a line or two—and their purpose is to add a character’s perspective, knowledge, or experience to a situation. They can be inspirational, humorous, or be used to inspire actions in others. Since anecdotes are so short, don’t expect them to be part of a main story. They’re usually told by a character and part of the dialogue. 

Example: Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way , part of his series of novels, In Search of Lost Time, deals with the themes of remembrance and memory. In one section of this book, to illustrate these ideas, the main character recalls an important memory of eating a madeleine cookie. “Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell.”

23. Deus Ex Machina

Literally meaning “god in the machine” in Greek, deus ex machina is a plot device where an impossible situation is solved by the appearance of an unexpected or unheard of character, action, object, or event. This brings about a quick and usually happy resolution for a story and can be used to surprise an audience, provide comic relief, or provide a fix for a complicated plot. However, deus ex machinas aren’t always looked upon favorably and can sometimes be seen as lazy writing, so they should be used sparingly and with great thought. 

Example: William Golding’s famous novel of a group of British boys marooned on a desert island is resolved with a deus ex machina. At the climax of The Lord of the Flies, as all threads converge and Ralph is about to be killed by Jack, a naval officer arrives to rescue the boys and bring them back to civilization. It’s an altogether unexpected and bloodless ending for a story about the boys’ descent into savagery. 

Exercise: Consider the ending of your favorite book or movie and then write an alternate ending that uses a deus ex machina to resolve the main conflict. How does this affect the overall story in terms of theme and tone?

If you struggle to write consistently, sign up for our How to Write a Novel course to finish a novel in just 3 months. 



How to Write a Novel

Enroll in our course and become an author in three months.

24. Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony is when the readers know more about the situation going on than at least one of the characters involved. This creates a difference between the ways the audience and the characters perceive unfolding events. For instance, if we know that one character is having an affair, when that character speaks to their spouse, we will pick up on the lies and double-meanings of their words, while the spouse may take them at face value.

Example: In Titanic , the audience knows from the beginning of the movie that the boat will sink. This creates wry humor when characters remark on the safety of the ship.

25. Exposition

Exposition is when the narrative provides background information in order to help the reader understand what’s going on. When used in conjunction with description and dialogue, this literary device provides a richer understanding of the characters, setting, and events. Be careful, though — too much exposition will quickly become boring, thus undercutting the emotional impact of your work.

Example: “The Dursley’s had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Exercise: Pick your favorite story and write a short paragraph introducing it to someone who knows nothing about it. 

26. Flashback

Flashbacks to previous events split up present-day scenes in a story, usually to build suspense toward a big reveal. Flashbacks are also an interesting way to present exposition for your story, gradually revealing to the reader what happened in the past.

Example: Every other chapter in the first part of Gone Girl is a flashback, with Amy’s old diary entries describing her relationship with her husband before she disappeared.

Related term: foreshadowing

27. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is when the author hints at events yet to come in a story. Similar to flashbacks (and often used in conjunction with them), this technique is also used to create tension or suspense — giving readers just enough breadcrumbs to keep them hungry for more.

Example: One popular method of foreshadowing is through partial reveals — the narrator leaves out key facts to prompt readers’ curiosity. Jeffrey Eugenides does this in The Virgin Suicides : “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide — it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese, the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”

Related term: flashback

Exercise: Go back to your favorite book or movie. Can you identify any instances of foreshadowing in the early portions of the story for events that happen in the future? 

28. Frame story

A frame story is any part of the story that "frames" another part of it, such as one character telling another about their past, or someone uncovering a diary or a series of news articles that then tell the readers what happened. Since the frame story supports the rest of the plot, it is mainly used at the beginning and the end of the narrative, or in small interludes between chapters or short stories.

Example: In The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Kvothe is telling Chronicler the story of his life over the span of three days. Most of the novel is the story he is telling, while the frame is any part that takes place in the inn.

29. In Medias Res

In medias res is a Latin term that means "in the midst of things" and is a way of starting a narrative without exposition or contextual information . It launches straight into a scene or action that is already unfolding. 

Example: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” — The opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Exercise: Pick a story you enjoy and rewrite the opening scene so that it starts in the middle of the story. 

30. Point of view

Point of view is, of course, the mode of narration in a story. There are many POVs an author can choose, and each one will have a different impact on the reading experience.

Example: Second person POV is uncommon because it directly addresses the reader — not an easy narrative style to pull off. One popular novel that manages to employ this perspective successfully is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”

Exercise: Write a short passage in either first, second, or third person. Then rewrite that passage in the other two points of view, only changing the pronouns. How does the change in POV affect the tone and feel of the story? 



Understanding Point of View

Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.

31. Soliloquy 

Soliloquy involves a character speaking their thoughts aloud, usually at length (and often in a Shakespeare play). The character in question may be alone or in the company of others, but they’re not speaking for the benefit of other people; the purpose of a soliloquy is for a character to reflect independently.

Example: Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech, in which he ruminates on the nature of life and death, is a classic dramatic soliloquy.

Exercise: Pick a character from your favorite book or movie and write a soliloquy from their point of view where they consider their thoughts and feelings on an important part of their story or character arc. 

Which writing app is right for you?

Find out here! Takes 30 seconds

Tone refers to the overall mood and message of your book. It’s established through a variety of means, including voice, characterization, symbolism, and themes. Tone sets the feelings you want your readers to take away from the story.

Example: No matter how serious things get in The Good Place , there is always a chance for a character to redeem themselves by improving their behavior. The tone remains hopeful for the future of humanity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Exercise: Write a short paragraph in an upbeat tone. Now using the same situation you came up with, rewrite that passage in a darker or sadder tone. 

33. Tragicomedy

Tragicomedy is just what it sounds like: a blend of tragedy and comedy. Tragicomedy helps an audience process darker themes by allowing them to laugh at the situation even when circumstances are bleak.

Example: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events uses wordplay, absurd situations, and over-the-top characters to provide humor in an otherwise tragic story.

34. Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a person, place, thing, concept, or other literary work that a reader is likely to recognize. A lot of meaning can be packed into an allusion and it’s often used to add depth to a story. Many works of classic Western literature will use allusions to the Bible to expand on or criticize the morals of their time. 

Example: “The two knitting women increase his anxiety by gazing at him and all the other sailors with knowing unconcern. Their eerie looks suggest that they know what will happen (the men dying), yet don’t care.” The two women knitting in this passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are a reference to the Fates from Greek mythology, who decide the fate of humanity by spinning and cutting the threads of life.

Exercise: In a relatively simple piece of writing, see how many times you can use allusions. Go completely crazy. Once you’re finished, try to cut it down to a more reasonable amount and watch for how it creates deeper meaning in your piece. 

35. Analogy

An analogy connects two seemingly unrelated concepts to show their similarities and expand on a thought or idea. They are similar to metaphors and similes, but usually take the comparison much further than either of these literary devices as they are used to support a claim rather than provide imagery. 

Example: “ It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” — P.G. Wodehouse

Exercise: Pick two seemingly unrelated nouns and try to connect them with a verb to create an analogy. 

36. Anthropomorphism

To anthropomorphize is to apply human traits or qualities to a non-human thing such as objects, animals, or the weather. But unlike personification, in which this is done through figurative description, anthropomorphism is literal: a sun with a smiling face, for example, or talking dogs in a cartoon.

Examples: In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast , Mrs. Potts the teapot, Cogsworth the clock, and Lumière the candlestick are all household objects that act and behave like humans (which, of course, they were when they weren’t under a spell).

Related term: personification

Exercise: Pick a non-human object and describe it as if it was human, literally ascribing human thoughts, feelings, and senses to it. 

in literature device

37. Aphorism

An aphorism is a universally accepted truth stated in a concise, to-the-point way. Aphorisms are typically witty and memorable, often becoming adages or proverbs as people repeat them over and over.

Example: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” — Alexander Pope

38. Archetype

An archetype is a “universal symbol” that brings familiarity and context to a story. It can be a character, a setting, a theme, or an action. Archetypes represent feelings and situations that are shared across cultures and time periods, and are therefore instantly recognizable to any audience — for instance, the innocent child character, or the theme of the inevitability of death.

Example: Superman is a heroic archetype: noble, self-sacrificing, and drawn to righting injustice whenever he sees it.

Exercise: Pick an archetype — either a character or a theme — and use it to write a short piece centered around that idea. 

To learn more about archetypes, check out these 12 common ones that all writers should know.

A cliché is a saying or idea that is used so often it becomes seen as unoriginal. These phrases might become so universal that, despite their once intriguing nature, they're now looked down upon as uninteresting and overused. 

Examples: Some common cliches you might have encountered are phrases like “easy as pie” and “light as a feather.” Some lines from famous books and movies have become so popular that they are now in and of themselves cliches such as Darth Vader’s stunning revelation from The Empire Strikes Back, “Luke, I am your father.” Also, many classic lines of Shakespeare are now considered cliches like, “All that glitters is not gold” from The Merchant of Venice. 

Exercise: Write a short passage using as many cliches as possible. Now try to cut them out and replace them with more original phrasing. See how the two passages compare. 

40. Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of casual and informal language in writing, which can also include slang. Writers use colloquialisms to provide context to settings and characters, and to make their writing sound more authentic, especially in spoken form . Imagine reading a YA novel that takes place in modern America, and the characters speak to each other like this:

“Good morning, Sue. I hope that you slept well and are prepared for this morning’s science exam.”

It’s not realistic. Colloquialisms help create believable dialogue:

“Hey Sue, what’d you get up to last night? This science test is gonna suck.”

Example: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh takes place in Scotland, a fact made undeniably obvious by the dialect: “Thing is, as ye git aulder, this character-deficiency gig becomes mair sapping. Thir wis a time ah used tae say tae aw the teachers, bosses, dole punters, poll-tax guys, magistrates, when they telt me ah was deficient: ’Hi, cool it, gadge, ah’m jist me, jist intae a different sort ay gig fae youse but, ken?’”

Exercise: Write a dialogue between two characters as formally as possible. Now take that conversation and make it more colloquial. Imagine that you’re having this conversation with a friend. Mimic your own speech patterns as you write. 

41. Euphemism

A euphemism is an indirect, “polite” way of describing something too inappropriate or awkward to address directly. However, most people will still understand the truth about what's happening.

Example: When an elderly person is forced to retire, some might say they’re being “put out to pasture.”

Exercise: Write a paragraph where you say things very directly. Now rewrite that paragraph using only euphemisms. 

42. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that emphasizes the significance of the statement’s actual meaning. When a friend says, "Oh my god, I haven't seen you in a million years," that's hyperbole.

Example: “At that time Bogotá was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” — Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez

Exercise: Tall tales often make use of hyperbole to tell an exaggerated story. Use hyperbole to relate a completely mundane event or experience to turn it into a tall tale. 

43. Hypophora

Hypophora is much like a rhetorical question, wherein someone asks a question that doesn't require an answer. However, in hypophora, the person raises a question and answers it immediately themselves (hence the prefix hypo, meaning 'under' or 'before'). It’s often used when characters are reasoning something aloud.

Example: “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.” — Daisy in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

literary devices

An idiom is a saying that uses figurative language whose meaning differs from what it literally says. These phrases originate from common cultural experiences, even if that experience has long ago been forgotten. Without cultural context, idioms don’t often make sense and can be the toughest part for non-native speakers to understand. 

Example: In everyday use, idioms are fairly common. We say things like, “It’s raining cats and dogs” to say that it’s downpouring. 

Exercise: Idioms are often used in dialogue. Write a conversation between two people where idioms are used to express their main points. 

45. Imagery

Imagery appeals to readers’ senses through highly descriptive language. It’s crucial for any writer hoping to follow the rule of "show, don’t tell," as strong imagery truly paints a picture of the scene at hand.

Example: “In the hard-packed dirt of the midway, after the glaring lights are out and the people have gone to bed, you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles, partially gnawed ice cream cones and wooden sticks of lollipops.” — Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Exercise: Choose an object, image, or idea and use the five senses to describe it. 


Show, Don't Tell

Master the golden rule of writing in 10 five-minute lessons.

Irony creates a contrast between how things seem and how they really are. There are three types of literary irony: dramatic (when readers know what will happen before characters do), situational (when readers expect a certain outcome, only to be surprised by a turn of events), and verbal (when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what was said).

Example: This opening scene from Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil is a great example of how dramatic irony can create tension.

47. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition places two or more dissimilar characters, themes, concepts, etc. side by side, and the profound contrast highlights their differences. Why is juxtaposition such an effective literary device? Well, because sometimes the best way for us to understand something is by understanding what it’s not .

Example: In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities , Charles Dickens uses juxtaposition to emphasize the societal disparity that led to the French Revolution: “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…”

Related terms: oxymoron, paradox

Exercise: Pick two ideas, objects, places, or people that seem like complete opposites. Introduce them side by side in the beginning of your piece and highlight their similarities and differences throughout. 

48. Metaphor

A metaphor compares two similar things by saying that one of them is the other. As you'd likely expect, when it comes to literary devices, this one is a heavy hitter. And if a standard metaphor doesn't do the trick, a writer can always try an extended metaphor: a metaphor that expands on the initial comparison through more elaborate parallels .

Example: Metaphors are literature’s bread and butter (metaphor intended) — good luck finding a novel that is free of them. Here’s one from Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass : “Wishes are thorns, he told himself sharply. They do us no good, just stick into our skin and hurt us.”

Related term: simile

Exercise: Write two lists: one with tangible objects and the other concepts. Mixing and matching, try to create metaphors where you describe the concepts using physical objects.

One metaphor example not enough? Check out this post , which has 97 of ‘em!

49. Metonymy

Metonymy is like symbolism, but even more so. A metonym doesn’t just symbolize something else, it comes to serve as a synonym for that thing or things — typically, a single object embodies an entire institution.

Examples: “The crown” representing the monarchy, “Washington” representing the U.S. government.

Related term: synecdoche

Exercise: Create a list of ten common metonymies you might encounter in everyday life and speech.

Whatever form a motif takes, it recurs throughout the novel and helps develop the theme of the narrative . This might be a symbol, concept, or image.

Example: In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, trains are an omnipresent motif that symbolize transition, derailment, and ultimately violent death and destruction.

Related term: symbol

Exercise: Pick a famous book or movie and see if you can identify any common motifs within it. 

51. Non sequitur

Non sequiturs are statements that don't logically follow what precedes them. They’ll often be quite absurd and can lend humor to a story. But they’re just not good for making jokes. They can highlight missing information or a miscommunication between characters and even be used for dramatic effect. 

Example: “It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.” — Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen 

Exercise: Write a conversation that gets entirely derailed by seemingly unrelated non sequiturs. 

52. Paradox

Paradox derives from the Greek word paradoxon , which means “beyond belief.” It’s a statement that asks people to think outside the box by providing seemingly illogical — and yet actually true — premises.

Example: In George Orwell’s 1984 , the slogan of the totalitarian government is built on paradoxes: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” While we might read these statements as obviously contradictory, in the context of Orwell’s novel, these blatantly corrupt sentiments have become an accepted truth.

Related terms: oxymoron, juxtaposition

Exercise: Try writing your own paradox. First, think of two opposing ideas that can be juxtaposed against each other. Then, create a situation where these contradictions coexist with each other. What can you gather from this unique perspective?

53. Personification

Personification uses human traits to describe non-human things. Again, while the aforementioned anthropomorphism actually applies these traits to non-human things, personification means the behavior of the thing does not actually change. It's personhood in figurative language only.

Example: “Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin.” — The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Related term: anthropomorphism

Exercise: Pick a non-human object and describe it using human traits, this time using similes and metaphors rather than directly ascribing human traits to it. 

54. Rhetorical question

A rhetorical question is asked to create an effect rather than to solicit an answer from the listener or reader. Often it has an obvious answer and the point of asking is to create emphasis. It’s a great way to get an audience to consider the topic at hand and make a statement. 

Example: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” — The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Writers use satire to make fun of some aspect of human nature or society — usually through exaggeration, ridicule, or irony. There are countless ways to satirize something; most of the time, you know it when you read it.

Example: The famous adventure novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is a classic example of satire, poking fun at “travelers' tales,” the government, and indeed human nature itself.

A simile draws resemblance between two things by saying “Thing A is like Thing B,” or “Thing A is as [adjective] as Thing B.” Unlike a metaphor, a similar does not posit that these things are the same, only that they are alike. As a result, it is probably the most common literary device in writing — you can almost always recognize a simile through the use of “like” or “as.”

Example: There are two similes in this description from Circe by Madeline Miller: “The ships were golden and huge as leviathans, their rails carved from ivory and horn. They were towed by grinning dolphins or else crewed by fifty black-haired nereids, faces silver as moonlight.”

Related term: metaphor

57. Symbolism

Authors turn to tangible symbols to represent abstract concepts and ideas in their stories  Symbols typically derive from objects or non-humans — for instance, a dove might represent peace, or a raven might represent death.

Example: In The Great Gatsby , Fitzgerald uses the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg (actually a faded optometrist's billboard) to represent God and his judgment of the Jazz Age.

Related term: motif

Exercise: Choose an object that you want to represent something — like an idea or concept. Now, write a poem or short story centered around that symbol. 

58. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is the usage of a part to represent the whole. That is, rather than an object or title that’s merely associated with the larger concept (as in metonymy), synecdoche must actually be attached in some way: either to the name, or to the larger whole itself.

Examples: “Stanford won the game” ( Stanford referring to the full title of the Stanford football team) or “Nice wheels you got there” ( wheels referring to the entire car)

Related term:  metonymy

Zeugma is when one word is used to ascribe two separate meanings to two other words. This literary device is great for adding humor and figurative flair as it tends to surprise the reader. And it’s just a fun type of wordplay. 

Example: “ Yet time and her aunt moved slowly — and her patience and her ideas were nearly worn out before the tete-a-tete was over.” — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

60. Zoomorphism 

Zoomorphism is when you take animal traits and assign them to anything that’s not an animal. It’s the opposite of anthropomorphism and personification, and can be either a physical manifestation, such as a god appearing as an animal, or a comparison, like calling someone a busy bee .

Example: When vampires turn into bats, their bat form is an instance of zoomorphism.

Exercise: Describe a human or object by using traits that are usually associated with animals. 

Related terms: anthropomorphism, personification

61. Enjambment

French for “straddle,” enjambment denotes the continuation of a sentence from one poetic line to the next. It’s the opposite of an end-stopped line. 

Example : The first line in T.S. Eilot’s “The Waste Land” is an example of enjambment: 

“April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing.”

Related terms: end-stop

62. Euphony

Euphony is the acoustic effect of a combination of words that’s pleasing to the ear. Indeed, it leads by example: if you say “euphony” out loud, the assonance of the word itself is harmonious.

Example: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

Related terms: cacophony, alliteration

63. Pathetic fallacy   

Pathetic fallacy is a form of personification, where an author gives human emotions to an inanimate object. 

Example: “The sky wept.”

64. Anagram

If you like puzzles, you might have already heard of an anagram : a new word or phrase a writer can form by re-ordering the letters of another word. Note that an anagram is not the same as a palindrome or a semordnilap, as the letters need to come in a different order, and not simply read back to front.

Example: “brag” is an anagram of “grab,” and vice versa. We can go on. “Night” is an anagram of “thing”!

Related terms: palindrome, semordnilap

65. Antithesis

Made up of two different words (“anti” and “thesis”), antithesis is a literary device that juxtaposes opposing ideas, words, or images. Usually, these two contrasting ideas will be written with similar grammatical structure for dramatic effect.

Example: Neil Armstrong perhaps unintentionally created an example of antithesis when he famously said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Related terms: juxtaposition

66. Circumlocution

Circumlocution is the opposite of saying something directly: instead, it’s when a writer states something in an ambiguous, unclear, or roundabout way. “Talking in circles” is the end result.

Example: Look to any politicians for examples of circumlocution. The pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm , for instance, vaguely say in many words, “For the time being it has been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations,” in order to mask the fact that they’ve simply stolen food from the other animals.

Related terms: periphrasis

67. Epigraph

In literature, an epigraph is the quotation (or sometimes the phrase) at the beginning of a book or chapter. It’s entirely optional on the author’s part, but can offer a thematic direction for the reader.

Example: In The Sun Also Rises , Ernest Hemingway uses Gertrude Stein’s “You are all a lost generation” quote to kick off a chapter.

Related terms: intertextuality

Mood in writing refers to the emotions that the writer makes a reader feel through the text. Many factors contribute to this effect, but the writer’s use of language is perhaps the most primary of them.

Example: When you read an Agatha Christie novel, what do you feel? Happy? Excited? Joyous? Probably not. You’re more likely to be nervous, anxious, and tense because of her stories — and that’s in part due to the suspenseful mood she successfully creates through her language.

Related terms: atmosphere

69. Diction

Diction refers to the words that an author chooses to put in writing. This linguistic choice helps the writer express an idea, or achieve a certain effect. In speech, it also refers to the style of enunciation.

Example: The diction that an author chooses for their characters is important, and can tell you about the characters themselves — whether they’re rich or poor, where they’re from, and how old they are. “

Related terms: tone, dialogue, narrative voice

70. Vignette

As a literary device, a vignette is a short scene without a beginning, middle, or end. Instead, it starts in medias res and captures a certain moment in time or is a character-creating detail.

Example: The cold opens of many sitcoms are great examples of vignettes. They are short scenes unrelated to the main plot of the episode, but set the humorous mood that will follow.

Related terms: in medias res  

A foil character is a supporting character whose main purpose is to provide contrast to the protagonist in some shape or form, whether it’s the protagonist’s traits, dreams, or goals.

Example: In Pride and Prejudice , Mr. Wickham serves as Mr. Darcy’s foil. Without Wickham’s decadent, gold-digging ways, we’d never learn the extent of Darcy’s honesty, or his goodness.

72. Antistrophe

The term antistrophe describes a specific type of repetition — that of a word, or a phrase, repeating at the end of consecutive sentences. You’ll commonly see it used in poetry, although books and speeches will also make use of it.

Example: “Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. […] An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.” — John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

73. Polyptoton

As you’re reading this post, do you find it readable? Congrats: you just encountered a case of polyptoton , which is otherwise known as the repetition of two words that share the shame root (“reading” and “readable,” for instance, “trick” and “trickery,” or “ignorant” and “ignorance.”)

Example: In the phrase, “Who shall watch the watchmen?”, the repetition of “watch” and “watchmen” is an example of polyptoton.

74. Anthimeria

Anthimeria captures the act of turning a word from one part of speech into another: for instance, when an author uses a word that was originally a noun as a verb.

Example: “Chill” is perhaps a popular example by now. Originally a noun, it’s now used everywhere as a verb that means “to relax.”

75. Double entendre

A double entendre is exactly what it says on the tin: a word with two, or double, meanings. What’s more? Often the second meaning is something a tad risqué.

Example: William Shakespeare was a master when it came to double entendres. Just take Mercutio’s statement: “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” Here, the word “grave” pulls double duty, as it means both to be  “serious” and hints at death.

Related terms: pun

76. Paraprosdokian

Paraprosdokian literally means “against expectations” in Greek—so you might be able to guess how it functions as a literary device. Yep, that’s right: it describes a sentence with an unexpected ending.

Example: As Oscar Wilde once said, “Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”

Related terms: paradoxical

77. Intertextuality

Whenever a text is referenced, either directly or indirectly, in another text, that’s an instance of intertextuality : the derived relationship between two works. 

Example: Every reference that the musical “Hamilton” makes to another musical is an example of intertextuality. 

78. Palindrome

A palindrome is the easiest literary device on your eyes: it’s a word or phrase that you can read the same either backward or forward.

Example: “Madam, I’m Adam” is exactly the same read backward as it is read forward. “Radar,” meanwhile, is an example of a word that’s a palindrome. Or the famous “Redrum” from The Shining . 

79. Spoonerism

If you’ve ever mispronounced a phrase before, you might’ve accidentally created a spoonerism , which refers to a person swapping the sound of two or more words.

Example: You’d be committing a spoonerism if, instead of “bunny rabbit,” you said “runny babbit.”

80. Ellipsis

As a narrative device, an ellipsis means the omission of certain words or parts of the plot, so as to give the readers an opportunity to fill in the gaps themselves.

Example: In The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald lets the ellipsis form a time lapse that is up to the reader to interpret: “ ... I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.”

81. Parataxi

Literally, a parataxi describes the placing of consecutive words without a connecting word to show the relationship between them. It is different from hypotaxi, as you’ll soon see.

Example: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” — Julius Caesar.

Related terms: hypotaxi

82. Hypotaxi

A hypotaxi is the opposite of a parataxi in that it adds connecting words (or conjunctions) to show readers exactly what the relationship between two clauses is.

Example: In the sentence, “I ate an apple because I was hungry,” the word ‘because’ makes it a hypotaxi.

Related terms: parataxi

Aporia captures the moment when the speaker pretends not to know something, or expresses doubt, in order to prove a point. Often this confusion is completely feigned when used rhetorically, bordering on irony, although sometimes it can be genuine.

Example: As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once asked, “How do I love thee?”. Or, like when someone replies “I don’t know, can you?” when you ask if you can use the bathroom.

Related terms: irony

84. Asyndeton

We’ve covered polysyndetons. Now get ready for its sibling, the asyndeton , which describes the act of intentionally omitting conjunctions in a sentence.

Example: “Live, laugh, love.”

Related terms: polysyndeton, syndeton, parataxi

85. Meiosis

Nope, this isn’t the kind of meiosis you learned about in high school biology! In literature, meiosis is instead a rhetorical device where the speaker understates something to belittle a undermine or situation.

Example: You’d be using meiosis if you said “Oh, it’s only a scratch” to describe a deep, gaping wound that’s bleeding out of the bone.

86. Paralipsis

A paralipsis is what it’s called when you emphasize something about a situation, person, or topic by claiming that you don’t know much about it. Yes, it’s a little passive-aggressive, if that’s what you’re also thinking right now.

Example: “Of course, that’s not to mention my most hated enemy’s billion-dollar debt, nor their complete unwillingness to pay it.”

Related terms: apophasis

87. Overstatement

An overstatement is the best literary device of all time. There’s nothing better in the world than an overstatement (which is when you exaggerate your language to make your point in some shape or form).

Example: “This is officially the worst day of my life,” one says, upon accidentally dropping one’s ice cream cone on the ground with a splat.

Related terms: understatement

88. Apophasis

As another rhetorical device that’s just slightly passive-aggressive, an apophasis does the trick of bringing up a subject by denying that you’re bringing it up.

Example: “We won’t speak of his absolute inability to be a decent human being. Nor will we even begin to speak of his atrocious gambling problem.”

89. Cacophony

The opposite of euphony, cacophony is the term used to describe a combination of discordant tones that do not sound good together.

Example: You’ll see this literary device used a lot in poetry, for instance, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

"With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,

Agape they heard me call:

Related terms: euphony

90. Connotation

Connotation refers to what an author or speaker implies through the use of a particular word. It’s usually non-literal, and up to the reader to interpret.

Example: The connotation of the word “miserly” is quite negative, and evokes the image of a Grinch hoarding money, while “frugal” connotes someone who’s merely thoughtful about saving money.

91. Dysphemism

When you choose to use an offensive or derogatory term in place of a neutral or agreeable one, you’re using a dysphemism .

Example: “He’s a nerd” instead of positively describing that someone is smart or factually stating that someone often studies is an instance of a dysphemism. 

Related terms: euphemism

92. Hyperbaton

Inverting the regular sequence of words is called a hyperbaton . Authors generally do this to call emphasis to a certain phrase, or part of the sentence.

Example: Yoda from Star Wars is a famous abuser of hyperbaton, with his Go you must’s and Miss them, do not’s .

Related terms: anastrophe

93. Metanoia

In literature, metanoia is a self-correction, or when a writer deliberately takes back a statement they just made in order to re-state it.

Example: In the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take before getting their credentials, they promise “To help, or, at least, to do no harm.” The second half of it is the instance of metanoia.

You know them. You love them. Yes, puns , or jokes that are wordplays on the different meanings or sounds of a word, are also literary devices that authors use to add humor to a piece of writing.

Example: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”

95. Parenthesis

Parentheses are a form of punctuation, but when used in literature, they can insert information that authors would like to add for detail.

Example: Author Sarah Vowell once wrote in her book, Take the Cannoli , "I have a similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I still like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period)."

96. Synesthesia

Like its psychological definition, synesthesia in literature describes the conflation of two senses. This might materialize in the author using one sense to describe another, or blend the two altogether.

Example: "The silence that dwells in the forest is not so black." — Oscar Wilde

97. Eutrepismus

Eutrepismus is a long word for a simple concept: stating your points in a numbered list, so as to structure your speech, or dialogue.

Example: “Firstly, you’ll want to read this post. Secondly, you’ll want to memorize every single literary device on it.”

98. Epizeuxis

Epizeuxis is another hard-to-spell-and-pronounce literary device that captures a very simple concept: it’s the repetition of a word to emphasize it.

Example: “Hark, hark! The Lark!” — William Shakespeare

99. Narrative voice

Narrative voice is the voice from which a story in literature is told. It encompasses all of the decisions that an author makes in regards to voice, including tone, word choice, and diction.

Example: First-person books like Catcher in the Rye provide good examples of books written in a strong narrative voice. 

100. Syllepsis

We saved one of the most obscure (and best!) literary devices for last. Syllepsis is another form of wordplay (similar to a pun) where a word, usually a verb, is used in multiple ways.

Example: “She blew my nose, and then she blew my mind.” — The Rolling Stones

Related terms: zeugma, pun

Readers and writers alike can get a lot out of understanding literary devices and how they're used. Readers can use them to gain insight into the author’s intended meaning behind their work, while writers can use literary devices to better connect with readers. But whatever your motivation for learning them, you certainly won't be sorry you did! (Not least because you'll recognize the device I just used in that sentence 😉)

6 responses

Ron B. Saunders says:

16/01/2019 – 19:26

Paraprosdokians are also delightful literary devices for creating surprise or intrigue. They cause a reader to rethink a concept or traditional expectation. (

ManhattanMinx says:

17/01/2019 – 02:07

That's pore, not pour. Shame.....

↪️ Coline Harmon replied:

14/06/2019 – 19:06

It was a Malapropism

↪️ JC JC replied:

23/10/2019 – 00:02

Yeah ManhattanMinx. It's a Malepropism!

↪️ jesus replied:

07/11/2019 – 13:24

Susan McGrath says:

10/03/2020 – 10:56

"But whatever your motivation for learning them, you certainly won't be sorry you did! (Not least because you'll recognize the device I just used in that sentence. 😏)" Litote

Comments are currently closed.

Continue reading

Recommended posts from the Reedsy Blog

in literature device

450+ Powerful Adjectives to Describe a Person (With Examples)

Want a handy list to help you bring your characters to life? Discover words that describe physical attributes, dispositions, and emotions.

in literature device

How to Plot a Novel Like a NYT Bestselling Author

Need to plot your novel? Follow these 7 steps from New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt.

in literature device

How to Write an Autobiography: The Story of Your Life

Want to write your autobiography but aren’t sure where to start? This step-by-step guide will take you from opening lines to publishing it for everyone to read.

in literature device

What is the Climax of a Story? Examples & Tips

The climax is perhaps a story's most crucial moment, but many writers struggle to stick the landing. Let's see what makes for a great story climax.

in literature device

What is Tone in Literature? Definition & Examples

We show you, with supporting examples, how tone in literature influences readers' emotions and perceptions of a text.

in literature device

Writing Cozy Mysteries: 7 Essential Tips & Tropes

We show you how to write a compelling cozy mystery with advice from published authors and supporting examples from literature.

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.

in literature device

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

  • Literary Terms
  • Literary Device
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Use Literary Devices

I. What is a Literary Device?

In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device . Typically, these devices are used for an aesthetic purpose – that is, they’re intended to make the piece more beautiful. However, it’s a very broad term and isn’t strictly limited to this meaning.

The term rhetorical device has almost exactly the same meaning, but it’s a little broader: whereas literary devices occur in literature, rhetorical devices can occur in any kind of speech or writing. So all literary devices are rhetorical devices , but not all rhetorical devices are literary devices. The specific devices used are almost all the same, though.

II. Examples of Literary Devices

The foil is a structural-level literary device in which a supporting character forms a striking contrast to the main character. If the main character is intelligent but physically frail, the foil can be a brawny dimwit. This makes the characters seem more vivid and helps their attributes stand out.

Able-bodied antelopes ambled along the alleyway.

Alliteration is a sentence-level literary device in which several (or all!) the words start with the same letter. It’s especially common in poetry, and can range from extremely obvious (as in the sentence above) to much more subtle.

Alexander marched to Persia with a thousand spears at his back.

This is a metonym – a word-level literary devices in which a part stands in for the whole. In this case, the spear is part of the armed soldier. So the sentence really means that there are a thousand soldiers carrying spears, but expressing it this way is more poetic and evocative.

III. Types of Literary Device

The varieties of literary devices are basically infinite – since the invention of storytelling, people have been honing the craft of literature and have come up with all sorts of tricks. For simplicity’s sake, we can separate the types of literary device based on scale:

  • Word Level: many literary devices affect individual words or short phrases. For example, a metaphor is when one word stands in for another. So, for example, “The sun was a golden jewel ” would be a metaphor, and a word-level literary device.
  • Sentence Level: There are also many literary devices that apply to sentences or long phrases. Parallelism is a good example: “I enjoyed the play , but I preferred the intermission .” The two underlined phrases have identical grammatical structure, so the sentence as a whole demonstrates parallelism.
  • Structural Level: These devices apply to the entire piece, whether it’s a poem, novel, or creative nonfiction. Character development is a good example of a structural literary device: the character begins as one sort of person, but learns and grows throughout the story so that by the end she’s someone quite different. This device applies to the story as a whole rather than to a single word or sentence.

IV. The Importance of Literary Devices

Literary devices are the author’s whole toolkit: whatever you want to do in your story, you do it with literary devices. That could mean setting an emotional tone, making a poem more relatable, or just stretching your own creative muscles. Literary devices can do it all. Without such devices, we could barely even talk to each other, let alone create great works of literature and philosophy! Because literary devices serve such a broad range of functions, there’s no single overarching “purpose” to literary devices as a whole, other than just to improve the quality of writing.

V. Examples  of Literary Devices  in Literature

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun ! (William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”)

This famous line contains a metaphor – a literary device where a word is used in a non-literal sense to stand in for something else. In this case, Romeo is catching his first glimpse of Juliet as he stands below her balcony, and he’s so overcome by her beauty that he calls her “the sun.” Obviously he doesn’t mean this literally, or he’d be burned to a crisp.

He was a f our f old f ather, this f ighting prince: (“Beowulf”)

The Anglo-Saxons used alliteration the way classic English poets used rhyme. It was one of the most basic literary techniques defining their craft. In this line, we find repeated F sounds, which give the line a soft, flowing quality – it would sound very different if it were full of hard, percussive consonants like K’s and B’s.

When Harry Potter gets his first letter from Hogwarts, it’s an exciting moment, but also full of mystery. This is an example of a literary device called the call to adventure . If you pay close attention, you can find this device in countless stories: the hero is going about his ordinary life, needing a change, when all of a sudden an unexpected message comes from a mysterious source. From that moment on, the hero’s life is never the same.

VI. Examples of Literary Devices in Pop Culture

The Joker is a perfect foil for Batman. Batman is dark and brooding; Joker smiles all the time. Batman fights for a purpose and lives by a strict code of honor; Joker is pure chaos and respects no rules or codes. Batman dresses all in black and grey; Joker has a colorful wardrobe of purple and green. The two characters make a great pair because of the sharp contrasts between them.

As a specimen, yes, I’m in timidating! (Gaston, “Beauty and the Beast “ )

Gaston’s Song from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast contains an internal rhyme . Notice how “specimen” rhymes with “yes I’m in-” It’s a subtle rhyme buried in the middle of the line rather than at the end of the line, where rhymes are normally found. The can be considered a sentence-level literary device.

The original Star Wars movies demonstrate great character development. Luke Skywalker starts off as a bratty, self-centered child, but over the course of the trilogy he grows into a noble Jedi Knight. Similarly, Han Solo starts off as a mercenary who doesn’t care about anyone other than himself (and maybe Chewbacca), but by the end of the story he’s a respected general, deeply committed to the cause of the Rebel Alliance.

VII. Related Terms

Literature is anything written for artistic value. It typically refers to novels, but can also include short stories, poems, and creative nonfiction. But it doesn’t include formal essays , scientific research papers, etc., since these forms of writing are usually not written for artistic effect – they’re written to get a point across, to make an argument, or to inform the reader.

Rhetoric means the art of persuasion. It’s an ancient art form consisting of various techniques (“rhetorical devices”) for swaying the audience to the speaker’s point of view. Rhetoric was originally created for speeches, but with the invention of writing it came to cover written arguments as well. Sometimes this term is used more broadly to refer to the manner of presenting an idea (instead the idea itself), but it’s strict meaning has to do with persuading others.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

litdevices logo

Every Author wants to write a good book . That’s a given.

But you don’t need to know the names and definitions of 30 or 40 literary devices to accomplish that goal.

Knowing the difference between alliteration, onomatopoeia, and hyperbole won’t make or break your book.

Literary devices are especially common in novels, where writers need to use flashbacks, foreshadowing, or figurative language to keep the reader enthralled.

But most nonfiction doesn’t need literary devices to be effective.

As an Author, your goal is to explain how your knowledge can solve a reader’s problems in a clear, concise manner. If you can toss in some good storytelling, so much the better.

Remember, being a good writer isn’t about checking off every writing trick on the list. It’s about expressing your information in an authentic, clear way.

This literary device crash course is a helpful tool, but if you want to publish a great book, devices shouldn’t be your primary focus.

What Are Literary Devices?

Literary devices, also known as literary elements, are techniques that writers use to convey their message more powerfully or to enhance their writing.

Many Authors use literary devices without even realizing it. For example, if you exaggerate and say, “This method has the potential to revolutionize the world,” that’s hyperbole. Your method may be impactful, but it probably isn’t really going to upend the way every single country does things.

More complicated literary devices are a common feature in fiction, but most nonfiction books don’t need them. A nonfiction Author’s job is to deliver information in an engaging way. “Engaging” doesn’t necessarily mean “literary.”

Still, literary devices can add a lot to a text when they’re used correctly.

For example, in The Great Gatsby , Fitzgerald uses the following metaphor to describe human struggle: “So we beat on, boats against the current…”

The image of boats fighting against the current is a powerful way to express the simple idea that “life is hard.”

Literary devices are especially effective when they’re used sparingly. Don’t overdo it.

If your entire book is written in metaphors, it’s not only going to be an overkill of flowery language, but it’s probably going to be confusing too.

If you can incorporate literary devices in a way that makes sense and adds something to the readers’ experience, great. But don’t force it.

30 Common Literary Devices

1. alliteration.

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds within a group of words. For example, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Nonfiction Authors can use alliteration to create catchy chapter or subsection titles. For example, “4 Best Bets for Better Business.”

Alliteration is also particularly effective for highlighting concepts you want your readers to remember. For example, if the takeaway of your chapter is a pithy, one-line sentence, alliteration can really make it stand out. Think, “Clear communication is key.”

Be careful not to overuse alliteration, or your book will start to sound like a nursery rhyme.

2. Onomatopoeia

An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates, suggests, or resembles the sound it’s describing. Common onomatopoeias include “gurgle,” “hiss,” “boom,” “whir,” and “whizz.”

In storytelling, onomatopoeia is an effective way to draw your reader into the environment. For example, if you’re telling an anecdote about a meeting you had with a client, it’s more vivid to say, “He plopped a sugar cube into his coffee and slurped,” than to say, “He drank his coffee with sugar.”

3. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is an advance warning about something that’s going to happen in the future.

In fiction, foreshadowing can be subtle. For example, something that happens in the first chapter of a murder mystery can come into play at the end of the book.

But in nonfiction, foreshadowing tends to be more obvious. Authors often use it to tell readers what they can expect to learn. For example, an Author might say, “We’re going to talk more about this example later,” or “I’ll discuss this at length in Chapter Three.”

4. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggeration that’s not meant to be taken literally. For example, if my friend surprised me by eating a lot of pizza, I might say, “Hey man, remember that time you ate, like, fifteen pizzas in one night?”

Good nonfiction Authors often use hyperbole to emphasize the power of their statements. For example, “We all know how miserable it can be to work 24/7.” Do we really all know that? And it’s impossible to literally work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Nonfiction Authors have to be careful with hyperbole, though. If you’re using data, you want it to seem credible. In nonfiction, readers often want precision, not exaggeration.

5. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech where seemingly contradictory terms appear together. For example, “the dumbest genius I know.”

Oxymorons are useful if you want to create an unexpected contrast. For example, “Your unhappiest customers are often your business’ happiest accident.”

6. Flashback

A flashback is a scene set in an earlier time than the main story. They’re often used to provide important context or backstory for an event you’re discussing.

Because most nonfiction books aren’t chronological ( unless it’s a memoir ), you probably won’t have many opportunities to use flashbacks. But in anecdotes, a touch of flashback can be effective.

For example, “My boss congratulated me for landing the largest account our company had ever seen. It was hard to believe that only seven months earlier, I was struggling to keep the few clients I already had.”

7. Point of View

Point of view is the perspective you use to tell your story.

A lot of nonfiction is written with a first-person point of view, which means writing from an “I” perspective. For example, “I’ve developed the following ten-point system to improve your finances.”

It’s much rarer, although possible, to write nonfiction from the third-person perspective. For example, “They saw how powerful their methods could be.” Sometimes co-authors choose this method to avoid first-person confusion.

Nonfiction writers occasionally use second person (“you”) to directly address their readers. For example, “You know how hard it can be to fire someone.”

8. Euphemism

A euphemism is a polite way of describing something indirectly.

Many Authors use euphemisms to vary their language or soften the blow of a difficult concept. For example, “passed away” is a euphemism for “died.”

Some Authors use euphemisms to keep their texts more palatable for a general audience.

For example, if an Author is writing about sexual harassment in the workplace, they may not want to repeat lewd phrases and could use euphemisms instead. Or, an Author who wants to avoid the political controversy around the term “abortion” might opt for “pregnancy termination.”

9. Colloquialism

A colloquialism is a word or phrase that’s not formal or literary. It tends to be used in ordinary or familiar conversation instead. For example, it’s more colloquial to say, “How’s it going?” instead of “How are you doing?”

Slang is also a form of colloquialism. If you say something was “awesome,” unless you literally mean it inspired awe, you’re being colloquial.

No matter how professional your audience is, some colloquialism can make your book feel more relatable. Readers like to feel as if they’re talking with the Author. Colloquialism can help you create that personal, one-on-one feeling.

10. Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is when you give human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human creatures or things.

If you think of your dog as having a “funny personality,” you’re anthropomorphizing him. The same goes for your “stubborn” toaster or “cranky” computer.

In nonfiction, you generally won’t encounter a lot of opportunities for anthropomorphism, but some Authors may want to humanize their products or services. For example, your software may be “friendly” or “kind” to new users.

11. Anaphora

Anaphora is a rhetorical device where you repeat a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. This is a great way to draw emphasis to a certain portion of text.

For example, Charles Dickens uses anaphora in the opening of A Tale of Two Cities : “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…”

12. Anachronism

An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency where you juxtapose people, things, or sayings from different time periods. If you were reading a book about colonial America where characters talk about cars, that would be anachronistic.

In nonfiction, you might want to use anachronism to make it easier for a current audience to relate to people in your stories.

For example, if you’re writing about the history of the banking industry, you might refer to certain individuals as “influencers” or talk about ideas that were “trending.”

13. Malapropism

A malapropism is the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one. This usually creates some kind of humorous effect. Imagine a person saying, “I know how to dance the flamingo,” instead of, “I know how to dance flamenco.”

There aren’t a lot of good reasons to use malapropism in nonfiction, but you could do this if you’re trying to amuse or delight your reader in an unexpected way. It’s a lot like using a pun.

For example, if you’re writing a book about sports, you might say, “The client and I saw things so eye-to-eye, it was almost like we had ESPN” (instead of “ESP”).

14. Figurative Language

Figurative language is language that dresses up your writing in an attempt to engage your readers. Figurative language is often more colorful, evocative, or dramatic.

For example, “She was chained to her desk for sixty hours a week.” Let’s hope not.

Still, it conjures a vivid image that’s more exciting for readers than, “She worked a lot.”

figure in tuxedo

Figurative language is like taking your everyday language and putting it in a tuxedo.

15. Dramatic Irony

Irony is a literary technique where what appears to be the case differs radically from what is actually the case.

Dramatic irony is a type of irony that occurs when an audience understands the context more than the character in a story.

Let’s say you’re telling a story about an interaction with a client that didn’t go the way you expected. You might write, “Things seemed to be going well, but little did I know, she had already hired someone else.”

At the moment you were meeting with the client, you didn’t have that information. But now, the reader does. So, they get to follow along with the rest of the story, knowing more than you did at the time.

16. Verbal Irony

Verbal irony occurs when a person says one thing but means another. Sarcasm is a good example of verbal irony. For example, you might say, “It was a wonderful dinner,” when, in fact, the food was terrible, and your partner showed up an hour late.

Depending on the tone of your book, verbal irony can help create humor or make you more relatable.

17. Figure of Speech

Think of “figure of speech” as a kind of catch-all term for any word or phrase that’s used in a non-literal sense to create a dramatic effect.

For example, it’s a figure of speech to say that it was “raining cats and dogs” or that something stands “an ice cube’s chance in Hell” of happening.

A lot of the devices we’ve already discussed (e.g., alliteration, oxymoron, and metaphors) also fall into the category of figures of speech.

18. Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things in an interesting way. It often highlights the similarities between two different ideas.

Take, for example, “The classroom was a zoo.” It wasn’t literally a zoo, but this metaphor expresses the wild energy of a room full of children.

Or, “the curtain of night fell.” Night doesn’t have a curtain, but we can all imagine darkness falling like one.

Metaphors form direct comparisons by saying something is something else. (Similes, explained below, form comparisons by saying something is like something else.)

Metaphors are a useful tool for “showing” your reader something instead of just “telling.” They help your reader see and feel the scene, and they paint a vivid picture.

If you use a metaphor, though, make sure it’s intelligible. There are a lot of bad ones out there. The point of a metaphor is to make a scene clearer, not to confuse your reader.

A simile is also a figure of speech that compares two different things in an interesting way. But unlike a metaphor, a simile uses comparison words like “like” or “as.”

“She was as bright as a lightbulb.”

“He was stubborn like a mule.”

Using similes can make your writing more interesting. The comparisons can spark your readers’ imagination while still getting your information across clearly.

20. Metonymy

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept.

For example, a businessman is sometimes known as “a suit.”

Or, in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar , “lend me your ears,” is a metonymy for “give me your full attention.”

People use metonymy all the time without being conscious of it. For example, if you get in a car wreck, you’re likely to say, “That car hit me,” instead of, “That car hit my car.”

If you’re writing in relatable, colloquial language, your book will probably have metonymy in it.

21. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something stands in for the whole or vice versa. It’s a subset of metonymy.

For example, if you have “hungry mouths to feed,” you actually need to feed people. Their mouths are just a stand-in for the whole person.

Or, you might say, “All of society was at the gala,” when you really mean, “All of high society was there.”

Typically, synecdoche will come out in your writing naturally. When you force synecdoche, it can sound strange.

For example, what do you think I mean when I say, “I sat on the legs?” I’m guessing a chair didn’t come to mind, even though “legs” is a part of the whole “chair.”

22. Aphorism

An aphorism is a concise statement of a general truth or principle. For example, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Most aphorisms are handed down over time, so chances are, you won’t coin your own. Think of these as the tried-and-true statements people already know.

For example, if you’re describing toxic leadership, you could quickly say, “After all, power corrupts,” and your audience would immediately know what you mean.

Aphorisms are great for emphasis because they’re quick, clear, and to the point. They aren’t flowery, and their simplicity makes them memorable.

23. Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question asked for effect, not because you want an answer.

“Do you want to make money? Do you want to sleep better at night? Do you want to run a successful company?”

Who wouldn’t say yes? (See what I did there?)

Be careful not to overuse rhetorical questions because too many can get tedious. But used sparingly, they’re a great way to invite your reader into the conversation and highlight the benefits of your knowledge.

24. Polysyndeton

Polysyndeton comes from the Ancient Greek for “many” and “bound together.” As its name implies, it’s a literary technique in which conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or) are used repeatedly in quick succession.

Here it is in action: “I wanted an employee who was self-motivated and enterprising and skilled. I needed someone who could write and talk and network like a pro.”

In most cases, you’ll use a regular list instead of polysyndeton (e.g., “I like cats, dogs, and ferrets.”). But when it’s used correctly, polysyndeton is useful for drawing emphasis to different aspects of a sentence.

One common way to use polysyndeton is, “You’ll find everything in this book, from billing and buying to marketing and sales.”

25. Consonance

Consonance occurs when you repeat consonant sounds throughout a particular word or phrase. Unlike alliteration, the repeated consonant doesn’t have to come at the beginning of the word.

“Do you like blue?” and “I wish I had a cushion to squash” are examples of consonance.

Consonance can help you build sentences and passages that have a nice rhythm. When a text flows smoothly, it can subconsciously propel readers forward and keep them reading.

26. Assonance

Assonance is similar to consonance, except it involves repeating vowel sounds. This is usually a subtler kind of echo. For example, the words “penitence” and “reticence” are assonant.

Like consonance, assonance can help you build compelling, rhythmic language.

27. Chiasmus

Chiasmus is a rhetorical device where grammatical constructions or concepts are repeated in reverse order.

For example, “Never let a kiss fool you or a fool kiss you.” Or, “The happiest and best moments go to the best and happiest employees.”

In nonfiction, chiasmus can be an effective way to make a significant point. It often works because it’s unexpected and punchy.

28. Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech closely related to verbal irony. With litotes, you use understatement to emphasize your point. They often incorporate double negatives for effect.

For example, “You won’t be sorry” is the litotes way of saying, “You will be glad.”

If I say, “He wasn’t a bad singer,” you can probably assume that he was actually a good singer. But the negative construction conveys a different tone.

If hyperbole lends more force to your claims, litotes diminishes your statement. In nonfiction, there are situations where you might want to downplay your judgment.

Take this statement, for example: “He wasn’t the worst lawyer I had ever seen, but he could have been more organized.” You aren’t completely bashing the lawyer, but you’re still showing there’s room for improvement.

Still, I recommend using litotes sparingly if you don’t want people to think you’re constantly damning with faint praise.

29. Epigraph

An epigraph is a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme.

For example, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather begins with a quotation from the French writer Balzac: “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.”

An epigraph is a great way to honor a writer or thinker you admire. It also immediately puts your work in conversation with theirs. In nonfiction, an epigraph can be a great way to signal to readers, “Hey, Tim Ferriss’ book has informed mine!”

But don’t rely too heavily on epigraphs. The point of writing a book is to show that you are an expert. You don’t want to constantly defer to other Authors to contextualize your ideas.

Also, epigraphs are only effective when they are truly relevant to your book. Don’t just pick a person that you think readers will recognize. Pick a quotation that really adds something to your book.

30. Epistrophe

Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word or words at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. It’s sometimes called epiphora or antistrophe.

Epistrophe is the cousin of anaphora, where the repetition happens at the beginning of successive phrases.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a great example of a text that uses epistrophe: “… that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

His repetition of “the people” really drives home the importance of “the people” to American government. They are central, no matter how you slice it.

Epistrophe can be very dramatic, and it’s a great way to draw attention to crucial concepts or words in your book. But because it’s so impactful, it should be used in moderation.

in literature device

The Scribe Crew

Read this next.

Never Stop Launching [How to Make Your Book Successful]

Authors Receive Authority – What does ‘The Medium Is the Message’ Really Mean?

Audiobooks: Who Benefits Most and Why Authors Should Consider Them

Improve your writing in one of the largest and most successful writing groups online

Join our writing group!

Literary Devices List: 33 Main Literary Devices with Examples

in literature device

by Fija Callaghan

If “literary devices” sounds like a throwback to something you slept through in your English Lit 101 class, you’re not alone. Maybe breaking down the finer points of metaphor, perspective, and juxtaposition sounds like a fast track to sucking all the fun out of actually enjoying creative writing.

On the other hand, it might surprise you to learn that these literary devices are present in all stories, from epic poetry to Saturday morning cartoons to those guilty-pleasure paperbacks you pick up at the airport and then “accidentally” leave behind on the plane.

If you’re reading, watching, or listening to a story and find yourself engaged for even a moment… that’s literary devices at work. They’re tools that the writer uses to engage with the reader on a visceral level, to make them look at the story—and the world around them through the story—in a completely different way.

Here we’ll show you multiple literary devices and rhetorical devices, with examples, that you can use to create powerful stories.

What are literary devices?

Literary devices are tools and techniques that a writer can use to elevate their story beyond the literal meaning of the words on the page. These techniques work on an unconscious level to enhance characterization, heighten tension, and help your story’s theme create a more powerful impact on the reader.

There are many types of literary devices that writers can use to create different effects in their work. The skilled writer uses them to create a powerful, lasting work of art; without them, a story would be much more basic, less enjoyable, and less memorable.

In other words, literary devices are the techniques that turn a literal, step-by-step retelling of events into a rich, engaging, and memorable piece of literature.

Some common literary devices are metaphors, similes, irony, and symbolism.

What’s the difference between literary devices and literary elements?

You’ll sometimes hear these terms being used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same thing. We’ve looked at how literary elements are the structural skeleton of our story ; you can think of them as the blank canvas, the first washes of colour, the rough outlines that help us understand the shapes we’re seeing and what they have the potential to become.

Literary devices are everything that gives these outlines life and form. In a painting, these devices would be the play of light, shadow, and perspective; the use of contrasting and complimentary colour theory; the cool stuff you do with your sparkly gel pens at the very end that makes the finished piece really jump out. They’re tools that the writer uses—sometimes bold, masterful turns and sometimes nothing more than small nudges—to guide and engage the reader.

Or, consider a house. Literary elements are the house’s structure: They’re the foundation, the beams, the drywall, the roof. Without these elements there’s no physical house. Literary devices are what you do to a a building to turn it from a house into a home: the wallpaper you select, the style of furniture, the books on the shelf, the comfy couch, the good smells in the kitchen.

You probably won’t use all of the literary devices we’re going to show you here in your own work. Most writers will come back to the same ones again and again, mastering them as they keep using them. This is what becomes their distinctive storytelling style, or voice.

Having a basic understanding of the ideas on this literary devices list, however, will help you see why other storytellers make the choices they do so that you can begin developing a storytelling voice of your own.

33 literary devices (with examples!) you can use to strengthen your writing

Once you’ve formed the bones of your story, you can use these literary devices to add shape and style to your work. It’s worth exploring all of these literary devices in your practice, though you’ll likely find a handful of them that become your writer’s toolkit—devices that you come back to again and again.

As you grow in your skill, these literary devices will become a part of your storytelling voice.

1. Allegory

Allegory is kind of like a cross between metaphor (which we’ll talk about a little further on) and theme. It’s the practice of telling a real, true, relevant story through the filter of fiction.

Often these stories stand in place for something the author can’t say, due to political or cultural barriers; other times it’s simply a way to get the reader or viewer to consider an issue in a different light.

This doesn’t mean that the story is being told as a direct comparison to a central idea; it means the story on the surface is composed of a complex web of metaphors that tell a second story with a deeper meaning underneath.

An classic example of allegory is Dante’s Divine Comedy , where Dante uses his fictional journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven as an allegory for the journey of a person’s soul to God.

2. Allusion

Allusion is a common literary device that indirectly references a real life person, place, or event.

It invites the reader to meet you, the author, in the middle, piecing together a cultural clue that you’ve left for them. Sometimes this is done because the idea is too sensitive to lay out overtly. Other times allusions can be used for light, comedic effect.

For example, in Eoin Colfer’s The Wish List, several repeated references are made to “the rockstar with the hair.” For a while the author lets the reader hypothesize as to whom he might be referring to, before dropping in a detail where a character begins humming “Blue Suede Shoes.” We talk about the value of repetition a little farther on.

3. Anachronism

Anachronism is a conflict of time within a single work —for example, describing a character as “zipping up her dress” if the story is set at a time before the invention of zippers, or causing national outrage by leaving a plastic water bottle on a 1920s film set .

Generally, anachronism is a negative thing that will cause your readers and viewers to delight in calling you out for it. This is why it’s so important, when writing historical pieces, to thoroughly research all the minute details of your story. However, anachronism as a literary device can sometimes be used quite effectively for comedic effect or to create a sense of displacement.

Character and story archetypes communicate universal human attributes and a broader message about how we see the world.

4. Archetypes

In literature, a character archetype is a standardized pattern that we instantly recognize from generations upon generations of storytelling.

Contrary to stereotypes , which are oversimplifications of an archetype’s most extreme personality traits, archetypes work because they speak to a universal truth. All character archetypes exist and, on some level, exist in us .

Examples of archetypes are the warrior, the mentor, the damsel, the lost child, and, of course, the villain. These archetypes can take on many different faces and sometimes a character can embody more than one archetype at the same time.

In Robert Munsch’s groundbreaking feminist page turner The Paper Bag Princess , the typical damsel-and-dragon story is turned on its head as none of the three central characters fit into the roles they’re expected to. This is an example of using archetypes in an unexpected way, inverting them to delight the reader.

5. Cliffhanger

A cliffhanger is a literary device in which the author ends a segment of the story on a dramatic question. This segment might be smaller, like a chapter, or larger, like the first novel in a continuing series. It holds the reader’s attention and makes them wonder what happens next.

You may recognize cliffhangers from your favourite TV series—they’re one of the most common literary devices in TV storytelling because they’re what gets the show pilot picked up by the network and then, once the show is running, they’re what keeps the viewers engaged and coming back again and again.

An example of a cliffhanger in literature is where the literary device got it’s name: In Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes , a chapter ends with the main character hanging from a cliff by his fingers. The reader has to start the next chapter to discover the protagonist’s fate.

Cliffhangers are one of the many literary devices that are beloved by filmmakers and creative writers alike.

Dialect is a fantastic literary device to use when crafting strong, distinctive, believable characters. It’s essentially the sound of someone’s voice—not an easy feat to achieve when all you have to work with is paper and ink. It’s their regional accent, but also their upbringing, their level of education, their mood, the sort of people they’ve been exposed to.

When done well, and done sparingly, individual dialects can give your characters more life and lend a wonderful richness to their world.

D. H. Lawrence was famous for his use of dialect in his novels, which preserve the unique vocabulary and pronunciation of Victorian-era coal miners in the north of England.

Diction is related to dialect in that it’s a reflection of the sound of the story’s voice—which, again, you as the writer need to accomplish with nothing more than twenty-six letters. The difference between dialect and diction is that while dialect is a part of characterization, diction is the voice of the narrator.

The author makes choices about how to convey their voice in a story based on the mood and the world they’re trying to create. Very formal language creates distance between the author and the story; more colloquial word choices and regional slang make the story more intimate and immediate.

8. Euphemism

Euphemism is a word or phrase that uses figurative language to reference something that would otherwise be indelicate. “Passed away” is a common euphemism for dying; being “let go” or “made redundant” is a nicer way of saying you’ve been fired. “Cognitively challenged” refers to a stupid person, and “in the family way” is a sensitive way of saying that a woman is pregnant.

These all use informal language to convey something with a different meaning.

Although euphemisms were more commonly used in the eras of banned books, church censorship, and general societal timidity than they are today, they’re still a great way to show characterisation (as an important aspect of dialect, as we discussed above) and the time and place in which your story is happening.

A euphemism is a figure of speech that uses a word or phrase to mean something else entirely.

9. Exposition

Exposition is the act of working relevant information into the events of your story —whether that’s through dialogue, observation, narrative detail, or flashbacks .

Exposition can be a tricky literary device to master, but it’s important in helping your readers understand your world, your characters, and what drives your characters to make the choices they do. Too much of this can bog down the reader and take them away from the present action, but just enough will give them a fuller understanding of the world you’re trying to create.

10. Flashback

Flashbacks are interruptions in the narrative that bring the reader to a past point in time in order to create tension and arm them with important information.

You may recognize flashbacks in TV series like crime shows or sitcoms, accompanied by subtitles like “earlier that day,” “three days ago,” etc. This is a way to communicate with the viewer that they’re being taken out of the present moment and redirected to another time.

Sometimes flashbacks are used as dramatic devices, like when the opening shows something horrible or unexpected, and then the flashback shows us what brought our characters to that moment.

11. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a wonderful literary device that gives the reader hints of what is to come later in the story , either through subtle clues based on narrative events or by simply using thematic elements like symbolism and tone. It can help build suspense and keep the reader engaged by making them guess what’s going to happen.

You might foreshadow a turn of events in your story by placing symbolic images and colours through your story. For example, in her fairytale retelling The Bloody Chamber , Angela Carter uses a ruby choker to suggest a cut throat and give hints of what might come later on.

Don’t confuse foreshadowing with the rule of Chekhov’s Gun ; the two are very different concepts! But you can use both literary techniques to give depth to your story.

12. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement used for emphatic effect. It’s different than simply overstating something, where the context teeters on the edge of being a lie. Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally.

For example, a child waiting for a parent too long after school might say, “I was waiting for fifty years!” Obviously, no one in this context actually believes they were waiting for fifty years—the child hasn’t even been alive that long. It’s using figurative language to emphatically say, “I’ve been kept waiting for too long and I am less than pleased about it.”

13. Imagery

Imagery is the art of making a moment come alive for the reader. We see this literary device in both fiction and poetry. To create an image that’s vivid and engaging, use a range of senses to create your world such as sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste (this is called visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory imagery, respectively).

In addition to making the world more real for the reader, the details that you focus on can influence the mood of the story. Well-placed images can also support foreshadowing in the story , as we saw previously.

Powerful imagery can create an emotional response in your readers.

14. In Medias Res

In media res is a Latin term you might hear in literary analysis that means “in the midst of things.” This means placing the reader in the middle of an exciting event, without any previous backstory or buildup. In other words, this can mean showing the middle of your story first, and then later revealing the events leading up to that moment.

For example, Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants opens with an action-packed scene that takes place towards the end of the novel; then she doubles back to the beginning and shows the reader the events that took place to arrive there.

Other times it simply means dropping your reader in the middle of things that are happening, rather than starting with a lot of flowery description and exposition. Any information the reader needs can be slowly released throughout the scene, and the following scenes.

This immerses your reader in your story’s world right from the beginning. It makes them ask questions about who the people are in the scene and what’s causing the events to unfold—things they’ll learn as they read on through the entire book to the end.

There are different types of irony in literature , but all of them come down to an inversion of belief. The three types of irony you see most often in stories are dramatic irony, where the audience knows some essential piece of information that the characters don’t; situational irony, where the events of the story contradict what we would normally expect; and verbal irony, the contrast of speech and intention.

Verbal irony might be something like sarcasm, where someone says the opposite of what they mean.

Dramatic irony happens when the story reveals information but keeps it hidden from the characters—for example, the dramatic irony of watching someone open a door in a horror film when you know the monster’s waiting behind it.

Situational irony happens when two elements contradict to create a surprising result: for example, a policeman vowing to uphold the law and then giving in to corruption.

16. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is a useful literary device that deals in contrast —in other words, putting two characters, images, or ideas side by side to draw attention to their differences.

You see this often in central and supporting characters, such as Batman and Robin—Batman’s dark, silent moodiness contrasts Robin’s bright, youthful energy. You can see this in their personalities as well as their costumes, with Batman all in black and Robin in positive primary colours. It’s this juxtaposition between the two that makes them such an engaging team.

Juxtaposition can also be used in sensory imagery, such as placing a happy event underneath a dark and stormy sky or using a tactile sensation that seems out of place in its environment.

17. Language

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably intending to write your stories in English. But using language as a literary device by adding in glimmers of other languages can add depth to your characters and your world.

A great example is J. R. R. Tolkien, who creates richness in the world of his English-language work by inventing entirely new languages and referencing them just enough to make them seem real.

Cara Black, in her Parisian mystery series, writes in English but uses the occasional French word or phrase here and there to more fully immerse the reader in her Francophone world.

Language can also be useful literary device for characterisation; for example, an elderly family member who struggles with English might have dialogue almost entirely in another language, or a bilingual character might revert to their native language in times of overwhelming stress.

18. Metaphor

As a writing technique, metaphor is quite close to simile . Both are common literary devices used to draw comparisons between two seemingly unrelated ideas. But unlike a simile, which draws a comparison between two things, a metaphor goes a step further and uses one image to literally serve in place of another.

One of the most famous metaphors of all time is Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage,” which uses a literal theatrical performance as a comparison to illustrate the tragedies and comedies of everyday life.

Metaphors draw direct comparisons between unrelated ideas in a new, interesting way.

19. Misdirection

Also called the “red herring,” misdirection is one of the most satisfying literary devices in storytelling of all kinds. It involves laying out clues as the story progresses, and nudging the reader towards the wrong deductions instead of the right ones.

The very important key to making this literary device work is to ensure the reader doesn’t feel cheated at the end—they should be able to look back at the path you’ve laid out and see that the true answer does make sense after all. This might mean working backwards after your first draft and sneaking in hints of what’s to come amidst other worldbuilding details.

Understanding the principle of Chekhov’s Gun can help avoid unwanted red herrings in your story . The risk of creating an unsatisfying red herring makes misdirection one of the trickiest literary devices to use.

A motif is a literary device in which recurring symbols, story elements, or ideas support the overall theme.

This could be something small and concrete, like apples popping up here and there throughout the story to symbolize a theme of battling temptation, or it could be something broader, like showing characters eating grander or sparser meals depending on the stage of their character arc.

You can use motifs to connect with readers on a subconscious, cultural level and help them immerse themselves even deeper in the story world.

A myth is a story that explains why things are how they are in the world—for instance, the creation myth of the Bible, or the story of how Raven stole the moon and stars in Indigenous mythology. Myths and legends are a fantastic archive of character archetypes and big, thematic ideas.

Unlike myths, legends are stories of something that may or may not have happened at some point in history, like the legends of Robin Hood or King Arthur’s knights. More importantly, both myths and legends are stories that stay with us for the long game because they represent values, needs, and desires that transcend generational divides.

Many stories—if not all stories—have their roots somewhere in this collective library of imagination. When composing your own work, try using old myths and legends to ground your story as you retell them from a new perspective. You could retell of a familiar story, or you could simply use myths and legends as inspiration for the sort of values, strengths, and weaknesses you want to explore in your own characters.

22. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a way of communicating sounds in a way that relates to what they actually sound like. “Buzz” for the sound of a bee, “ruff” for the bark of a dog, and “plop” for the sound of a drop of water are all words that sound like the action they’re describing. “Slam,” “pop,” and “pow” are other common words you see in superhero comics.

Onomatopoeia is a literary device used most often in children’s literature and in the comic book medium, though we find it in just about everything including our everyday dialect. It’s best approached sparingly in literature, but the right word choices can add a lot of depth to your sensory environment: describing a stream as “burbling” or a wind as “shrieking” (notice the harsh “ee” vowel followed by the hard “k”) makes the scene clearer and more vibrant to the reader.

23. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a literary device closely related to a paradox , in that they both present two seemingly contradictory ideas. Unlike a paradox, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that having to do with two words one after the other: a “deafening silence” is an oxymoron, because it combines two words that contradict each other. A “friendly argument,” “act natural,” and “openly deceptive” are some oxymorons.

Although they would appear to be impossible contradictions, many of us have experienced these ideas in our own lives and know that there is a deeper meaning lying behind them.

As a figure of speech, oxymorons can be used in humour and to convey an aspect of a character’s personality—sometimes at the same time.

Oxymorons and paradoxes use comparison words to convey meaning you might not expect.

24. Paradox

A paradox is quite similar to an oxymoron , but it presents two contrasting ideas instead of two contrasting words.

Oscar Wilde’s famous on-brand quote, “I can resist anything except temptation,” is an example of a paradox. By its very nature it can’t be true, and yet one feels that there is some resonant truth hidden somewhere within it.

Others examples are the sayings “the only constant is change” and “the louder you shout, the less they hear.” Both of these examples are composed of ideas that appear to be in conflict with each other, and yet both can be true statements.

The first tells us the only thing that never truly changes is the fact that things are always changing, and the second shows us that causing a scene isn’t always the way to get your voice across.

Paradoxes are useful literary devices that help readers see ideas from a new perspective.

25. Personification

Personification is a literary device that uses figurative language to give recognizable human-like qualities to inanimate or non-human entities.

The most extreme example of this is anthropomorphism, which is giving human traits to an animal or other non-human character. This is a very popular literary device in children’s literature, as it tends to make the ideas and lessons in these stories feel more accessible (this is the same device used to give life to a French candelabra in Beauty and the Beast ).

However, personification can be done on a smaller scale in order to make sensory images more vivid and easier for the reader to understand. A “weeping willow” is an example of attaching a human action to a non-human thing, and to say the weeping willow’s boughs were “lazily sweeping the dust from the road” is another.

26. Perspective

Perspective is the view from which the story is being told .

For instance, if you were to set your story in an old country manor house, you could tell a story following the same events in several different ways.

The matriarch of the house would be one perspective; a small, privileged child another. What would the housemaid see that no one else would? What about the cook or the gardener? What secrets, prejudices, or knowledge would they give to the story?

Not only would all of these people contribute different worldviews, cultural upbringings, and dialects, but they might genuinely believe in different series of events.

27. Repetition

In fiction writing and story structure, repetition is a literary device used to emphasize central themes and to create a subtle kind of rhythm.

The most famous example of repetition is in the “three wishes” often found in faerie tales, as well as three quests, three trials, three paths to choose from. This is because three is the number in which our brains start to recognize patterns. In your own writing, you can use this kind of repetition to support your story’s theme and character arcs.

You can also use targeted repetition of a word or phrase to emphasise an idea or create rhythm (which we’ll look at next!)

In prose writing, rhythm is all about the pacing of your story . Slow, languid writing can feel like being wrapped up in a snuggly blanket. Too much of this, however, becomes suffocating.

Short sentences are more like quick footsteps against a sidewalk. Readers like them because they make us feel like we’re going somewhere, but too many of them for too long and it starts to get hard to keep up.

It’s your job as a writer to use sentences of varying lengths to keep the reader engaged. Longer sentences will slow down the pace, so they’re best used for quiet, reflective moments. Short sentences will kick up the pace, so lean into them for action scenes.

While all good writers use both longer and shorter sentences to some degree, you’ll find that some tend to rely more on one than the other. This is part of what forms their signature voice . Experimenting with sentences of all rhythms will help you find yours.

Rhythm and tone are part of a writer’s natural voice.

Satire has been around since its inception in ancient Greece and shows no sign of slowing down. It’s a literary device that uses irony and humour as a way to draw attention to prevalent cultural and societal flaws .

Sometimes this can be done in a lighthearted way: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was considered a gentle satire of the upper classes of that time period. But sometimes satires are darker and more biting, such as in dystopian fiction like George Orwell’s 1984 .

Much like a metaphor , a simile is a literary device that compares two unrelated concepts to create vivid, sense-driven imagery. While a metaphor is used to stand in place for something else, a simile is used only in description: “he was as brave as a lion,” for instance, is a simile, while “he had a lion’s heart” is a metaphor.

Similes are great in descriptive passages because you have a whole world in which to draw inspiration from. Is the new girl at school like a “cascading waterfall”? A “fire hydrant”? A “broken chair”? She could be reminiscent of any one of those things, and you as the writer are going to tell us why.

A well-placed simile can give the reader a better sense of a character or place than pages and pages of telling us what it looks like.

31. Suspense

One of the most marvelous literary devices for engaging your readers is suspense —creating a darkly indulgent sort of tension between the reader and the story that keeps them turning page after page. The writer accomplishes this by posing one dramatic question after another.

Cliffhangers are one great way to make this happen. Putting time constraints on your characters is another, as well as shifting perspectives to reveal more information to the reader.

32. Symbolism

Symbolism is the act of using a person, place, or object to convey a larger, more abstract idea . When used repeatedly in a story to emphasise this idea, it’s called a motif .

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet , the skull of Yorik is a symbol of death and fate—it serves as a tangible, physical representation of these things in the context of the story.

Symbolism can also be used in setting—for instance, a rising sun to symbolize a new beginning—or in character, like a young child symbolising a parent’s lost innocence.

A writer can also use colours, animals, or icons that have made their way into our cultural consciousness in order to support the mood and theme of the story. Symbols that we see in our everyday lives include things like red roses for love, butterflies for transformation, or the the caduceus for medicine.

Tone is the way your story world feels to the reader. In film this would be a combination of lighting, cinematography, and soundtrack.

“It was a dark and stormy night” is an infamous opening line that immediately sets the tone for the story. In addition to giving us some context as to the setting of the scene, words like “dark,” “stormy,” and “night” naturally resonate with us in a particular way.

When trying to create an atmospheric tone for your story, you can try brainstorming words that you associate with the feeling you want to evoke, and then working them into your story.

In longer works, it’s a good idea to use different tones for different scenes or chapters. This helps each one stand out from the rest, and keeps them fresh and vibrant for the reader.

How to use literary devices to craft your own story

Now that you have an understanding of the literary devices available to you as a writer, you’re ready for the next part: putting it into practice in your novel, poem, or short story. The literary device examples we’ve looked at are a great starting point for thinking about how to apply them in your own writing.

Plus, we have dedicated lessons on all of these techniques waiting for you in our writing academy !

Practicing using literary devices and techniques will make your writing stronger.

Every writer is unique, and the literary devices you see other authors using to fantastic effect might not be the ones that bring out the best in your own writing. The sort of imagery, dialect, and characterization we bring into our own work as storytellers is directly related to the way we view the world around us.

Finding your own unique style and voice is an exciting journey that can only be travelled by trying things out, finding what feels right deep in your bones, and practicing them again and again.

To get an idea of what literary devices will work best for you, take a look at the stories that you’ve written so far. Most likely, many of the things on this literary devices list will already be present in some form or another—you’ll be naturally drawn to them because of the powerful stories you’ve absorbed over your life.

Once you see where these literary devices are beginning to take shape, you can work on refining, enriching, and mastering them to create powerful stories of your own.

Get feedback on your writing today!

Scribophile is a community of hundreds of thousands of writers from all over the world. Meet beta readers, get feedback on your writing, and become a better writer!

Join now for free

in literature device

Related articles

in literature device

What is Hyperbole? Examples & Definition in Literature

in literature device

Show, Don’t Tell: Meaning, Examples & Differences

in literature device

What is Foreshadowing? Definition, Types, Examples, and Tips

in literature device

What Is Allegory? Definition and Examples from Literature

in literature device

Cliché vs. Trope in Writing: How They Differ, with Examples

in literature device

What is a Metaphor? Definition, Examples & Types of Metaphors

Literary Devices

An allegory uses symbols, characters, or events to represent abstract ideas or themes. It is a narrative that operates on two levels – the surface level and the symbolic level. The surface level tells a story, while the symbolic level conveys a deeper meaning. Allegories are often used to convey complex ideas or moral lessons in a way that is more accessible to the reader. They allow the reader to explore a subject in a more engaging and relatable way, Read More …


Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound or letter at the beginning of multiple words in a sentence or phrase. It is used to create a musical or rhythmic effect, to add emphasis to certain words, or to make a phrase more memorable. Alliteration can be found in poetry, song lyrics, and even in everyday speech. It is often used for its poetic qualities, to create a sense of harmony or to draw attention to certain words or ideas. Read More …

An allusion involves referencing or making a brief, indirect reference to a person, place, event, or thing that is outside the text. It is up to the reader to make a connection to the subject being mentioned. Allusions can be direct or indirect, and are often used to add complexity and depth to a narrative, to create a sense of familiarity or nostalgia, or to establish a connection between the author and the reader. Examples of allusion: “She had a Read More …


Amplification involves expanding upon a word or phrase in order to clarify, emphasize, or add detail. By repeating or elaborating upon a word or phrase, amplification can create a sense of importance, urgency, or emotional impact, and can be a powerful tool for persuasion or argumentation. Amplification can also be used to add richness and depth to a narrative, by providing additional information or detail that can help to create a more vivid and immersive world for the reader. Examples Read More …

An anagram is a literary device that involves rearranging the letters of a word, phrase, or sentence to create a new word or phrase. The resulting words or phrases usually have some connection or relevance to the original word or phrase. An anagram is a form of wordplay that allows the writer to infuse mystery and a little interactive fun in the writing so that the reader can decipher the actual word on their own and discover a depth of Read More …

Analogy involves drawing a comparison between two things in order to clarify or explain something. Analogies are often used to help readers understand complex or abstract ideas by comparing them to something more familiar. Examples of analogy: Life is like a rollercoaster, with its ups and downs. Love is like a rose, delicate and beautiful but with thorns that can hurt. The human brain is like a computer, processing and storing information. Writing is like painting a picture, using words Read More …

Anastrophe is a form of literary device wherein the order of the noun and the adjective in the sentence is exchanged. In standard parlance and writing the adjective comes before the noun but when one is employing an anastrophe the noun is followed by the adjective. This reversed order creates a dramatic impact and lends weight to the description offered by the adjective. Examples of anastrophe: “Excited, the children were” – In this sentence, the usual subject-verb-object order is inverted, Read More …

Anecdote is a literary device that involves a short and often personal story or account that is used to illustrate a particular point or theme. Anecdotes can be humorous, serious, or poignant, and can be found in various forms of literature, from memoirs and essays to speeches and advertising. They are often used to create a sense of connection or empathy with the audience, and can be a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and emotions in a simple and Read More …


Anthropomorphism is a literary device that involves attributing human characteristics, emotions, or behaviors to non-human entities, such as animals, objects, or natural phenomena. It is used to create a sense of familiarity or empathy with the audience, and can make non-human entities more relatable and understandable. It can also be used to make a particular point or to convey a certain message, such as the idea that animals have personalities or that objects can have a life of their own. Read More …

Antithesis involves the writer employing two sentences of contrasting meanings in close proximity to one another. Whether they are words or phrases of the same sentence, an antithesis is used to create a stark contrast using two divergent elements that come together to create one uniform whole. An antithesis plays on the complementary property of opposites to create one vivid picture. The purpose of using an antithesis in literature is to create a balance between opposite qualities and lend a Read More …

Aphorism is a literary device that refers to a concise and memorable statement that expresses a universal truth or a wise observation about life. Aphorisms are often used to convey complex ideas in a simple and direct way, and can be found in various forms of literature, from poetry and prose to speeches and advertising. They are often used as a form of advice or guidance, and can offer insights into human nature, morality, and the human condition. Aphorisms are Read More …

Archetype refers to a universal symbol or pattern that recurs in myths, stories, and other forms of literature across different cultures and time periods. Archetypes can be characters, motifs, themes, or symbols that represent a particular idea, trait, or experience that is shared by humans. They are often used to create a sense of familiarity or resonance with the audience, and can convey complex meanings and emotions in a simple and direct way. Examples of archetype: The Hero – This Read More …

Assonance refers to repetition of sounds produced by vowels within a sentence or phrase. In this regard assonance can be understood to be a kind of alliteration. What sets it apart from alliteration is that it is the repetition of only vowel sounds. Assonance is the opposite of consonance, which implies repetitive usage of consonant sounds. Examples of assonance: “The light of the fire is a sight” – In this sentence, the repetition of the long “i” sound in “light,” Read More …

Asyndeton involves the deliberate omission of conjunctions (such as “and”, “or”, and “but”) between words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence. It is often used to create a sense of speed, urgency, or emphasis, by creating a rapid and staccato rhythm in the language. Asyndeton can also be used to create a sense of fragmentation or disconnection between ideas or clauses, emphasizing their independence or contrasting nature. Examples of asyndeton: “I came, I saw, I conquered” – This famous phrase Read More …

Authorial Intrusion

Authorial intrusion is a literary device in which the author directly addresses the reader, interrupting the narrative flow of the text. It involves breaking the fourth wall and momentarily stepping out of the story to offer commentary, explanation, or personal opinion. This technique is often used to provide additional context or clarification, to create a sense of intimacy or connection with the reader, or to convey the author’s worldview. Authorial intrusion can be found in various forms of literature, from Read More …


Bibliomancy involves using books or texts as a means of divination or seeking guidance. It is a form of fortune-telling that involves opening a book at random and interpreting the words or passage that one’s finger lands on. Bibliomancy has a long history, and has been used by various cultures and religions throughout the centuries. It is often associated with spiritual or mystical practices, and is used as a means of seeking guidance or insight from a higher power or Read More …


Bildungsroman refers to a novel or story that tells the coming-of-age or development of a young protagonist. This genre typically follows the protagonist’s journey from youth to adulthood and the various challenges and experiences that shape their personal growth and development. The term “Bildungsroman” is a German word that translates to “novel of education” or “novel of formation,” emphasizing the educational and developmental aspects of the genre. Examples of bildungsroman: “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini – The story follows Read More …

Cacophony is a literary device that refers to the use of harsh, discordant, or jarring sounds in language, often for artistic effect. It involves intentionally using words or phrases that create a harsh or grating sound when spoken, such as words with harsh consonants, repeated syllables, or unusual combinations of sounds. Cacophony can create a sense of chaos, conflict, or discomfort in the language, and is often used to evoke a particular emotion or tone in a literary work. Examples Read More …

Caesura is a pause or break in a line of poetry or prose, usually marked by a punctuation mark or a natural rhythm of speech. This pause can be used to create emphasis, contrast, or a sense of division or separation between different parts of a sentence or verse. In poetry, caesura is often used to create a sense of rhythm and structure, and can be found in various forms of verse, such as haiku, sonnets, and blank verse. Caesura Read More …


Characterization refers to the process by which a writer reveals the personality, traits, and motivations of a character in a story. This can be accomplished through various means, including direct description, dialogue, actions, and interactions with other characters. Characterization is a fundamental element of storytelling, as it allows readers to understand and relate to the characters in a narrative. It also helps to drive the plot, as character traits and motivations often shape the decisions and actions taken by characters. Read More …

Chiasmus involves the repetition of words or grammatical structures in reverse order to create a parallel and balanced phrase or sentence. This device creates a symmetrical and memorable effect in the language, often used for emphasis or to add a poetic or rhetorical quality to the writing. Chiasmus can involve a range of linguistic elements, such as words, phrases, clauses, or even entire sentences. Examples of chiasmus: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can Read More …


Circumlocution is a literary device that involves the use of indirect or roundabout language to express an idea, often with the intention of being more polite, tactful, or evasive. Rather than stating something directly, circumlocution involves using a series of words or phrases to hint at or imply the intended meaning. This device can be used to convey a variety of emotions, from diplomacy and politeness to sarcasm and criticism. Circumlocution is often used in literature, particularly in dialogue and Read More …

Conflict is the struggle between opposing forces in a story, such as characters, ideas, or emotions. Conflict is a fundamental element of plot, and it drives the narrative forward by creating tension and drama. There are several types of conflict in literature, including internal conflict (a struggle within a character’s own mind or emotions), external conflict (a struggle between a character and an outside force), and interpersonal conflict (a struggle between two or more characters). Conflict can be used to Read More …


Connotation refers to the emotional, cultural, and social associations that are attached to a word, beyond its literal definition. Unlike denotation, which is the objective, dictionary definition of a word, connotation includes the subjective and often implicit meanings that words can carry based on the context in which they are used. Connotations can be positive, negative, or neutral, and can be influenced by factors such as culture, history, and personal experience. Examples of connotation: “The smell of fresh-cut grass reminded Read More …

Consonance is a literary device that involves the repetition of consonant sounds, typically at the end of words or stressed syllables within words. Unlike alliteration, which repeats the initial sounds of words, consonance emphasizes the similarity of consonant sounds throughout a phrase or sentence, creating a rhythmic and musical effect. This device is often used in poetry and prose to add emphasis to certain words, create a specific mood or tone, or to simply make the language more memorable and Read More …

Denotation refers to the literal or dictionary definition of a word, without any additional connotation or associated meanings. It is the objective and factual meaning of a word, rather than its emotional, cultural, or symbolic significance. Denotation can be used deliberately by authors to create precision and clarity in their writing, or to convey a specific message or tone. Examples of denotation: “They built a house.” In the above sentence, house is meant literally as in a building where a Read More …

Deus ex Machina

Deus ex machina is a plot device in which a seemingly unsolvable problem or conflict is resolved suddenly and unexpectedly by the introduction of a new character, event, or object. This resolution is often contrived, improbable, or artificial and does not arise organically from the story. The term originates from ancient Greek theater, where a god would be lowered onto the stage by a machine to resolve the conflicts of the play. Deus ex machina is often considered a flawed Read More …

Diction is the author’s choice and use of words in a literary work. It encompasses the author’s style of writing and their selection of words, phrases, and expressions that convey a particular tone or mood. Diction can be formal or informal, abstract or concrete, technical or colloquial, and it can have a significant impact on the reader’s interpretation of the work. An author’s diction can reflect their purpose, audience, and the message they are trying to convey. Examples of diction: Read More …


Doppelganger refers to the appearance of a character that is a double or counterpart to another character in the same story. The doppelganger is usually similar in appearance and sometimes also in personality, but with a significant difference that highlights the contrasting traits of the two characters. This literary device is often used to create tension or suspense in a story, as the doppelganger may be a harbinger of danger or foreshadow a character’s downfall. The doppelganger is a powerful Read More …

Ekphrastic involves the description or interpretation of a visual work of art in a written form, such as a poem, a story, or an essay. The aim of ekphrastic writing is to convey the meaning or significance of the artwork to the reader, often by exploring themes or ideas that are suggested by the work. Ekphrastic writing can help to create a deeper appreciation of the visual arts by providing an alternative perspective or interpretation of the artwork. Examples of Read More …

An epilogue appears at the end of a book, play, or other written work. It is a section that provides additional information, reflection, or commentary on the events that have unfolded throughout the work. Epilogues can take many forms, including letters, diary entries, or prose. They are often used to tie up loose ends in the narrative, provide closure for the reader, or offer final thoughts on the themes or messages of the work. Epilogues are a useful device for Read More …

Epithet involves the use of a descriptive word or phrase that highlights a particular characteristic of a person, place, or thing. Epithets are often used to create a more vivid and memorable image in the reader’s mind, and to emphasize a certain aspect of the subject. They can be either positive or negative, depending on the intended effect. Epithets are remarkable in that they can become a part of common parlance over time. Examples of epithet: “Swift-footed Achilles” – Homer, Read More …

Euphemism uses mild or indirect words or expressions to replace ones that are considered too harsh, blunt, or offensive. Euphemisms are often used to convey delicate or sensitive topics, such as death, sex, bodily functions, or social taboos, in a more polite or socially acceptable manner. They can also be used to avoid causing offense or discomfort to the listener or reader. Examples of euphemism: “He passed away” instead of “He died” – a common euphemism for death. “She’s expecting” Read More …

Euphony is refers to the use of words and phrases that are pleasing to the ear and create a harmonious, melodious effect in language. Euphony can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including the use of alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia. It is often used in poetry and other forms of creative writing to create a sense of musicality and beauty in language. Euphony can also be used to convey a sense of calmness, peace, and tranquility, and to Read More …

Faulty Parallelism

Faulty parallelism is a literary device that involves an incorrect or inconsistent use of parallel structure in a sentence or passage. Parallel structure is the repetition of similar grammatical forms or patterns within a sentence or passage, which creates a sense of balance and symmetry. Faulty parallelism occurs when the structures being repeated are not truly parallel, leading to confusion or awkwardness in the writing. This can include errors in verb tense, subject-verb agreement, or use of conjunctions. Faulty parallelism Read More …

Flashback involves a shift in the narrative to a scene from an earlier time. It is a technique used to provide background information or to reveal important details about the plot or characters. Flashbacks can take many forms, including memories, dreams, or even historical events. Examples of flashback: In Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved,” the character Sethe has several flashbacks to her time as a slave and the traumatic events that led to her escape. In Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” the Read More …

Foil is a literary device that involves the use of a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight certain qualities or traits of the other character. The foil character is often portrayed as a contrast to the protagonist or another important character in the story. This contrast can be used to emphasize the differences between the two characters, highlight certain themes or motifs, or provide a better understanding of the protagonist’s qualities. Foil characters can be similar Read More …


Foreshadowing refers to the use of clues or hints to suggest what will happen later in the story. It is a way for authors to create anticipation and build suspense by hinting at future events or outcomes. Foreshadowing can take many forms, including symbolic objects or actions, dialogue, or descriptions of setting or characters. It is often used in literature, particularly in mystery, suspense, and horror genres, but can be found in all types of writing. By providing subtle hints Read More …

Hubris is a literary device that refers to excessive pride or arrogance that leads to a character’s downfall. It is a common theme in literature, particularly in tragic plays and epic poetry. Characters with hubris often have an inflated sense of their own abilities or importance, and they disregard the warnings of others or the consequences of their actions. They may believe that they are invincible or above the laws of the gods or society. Hubris is often used to Read More …

Hyperbaton involves the deliberate rearrangement of words in a sentence to create a different meaning or emphasis. This can include changing the order of adjectives, adverbs, or verbs, and can involve splitting a word or phrase between two parts of a sentence. Examples of hyperbaton: “To die, to sleep— To sleep, perchance to dream—” – This line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” uses hyperbaton to emphasize the repetition of “to sleep”. “Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree Read More …

Hyperbole is a literary device that involves using exaggerated statements or claims to emphasize a point or create a dramatic effect. It is an intentional exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally, but rather used to make a point or create a vivid image in the reader’s mind. Hyperbole can be used to express strong emotions, create humor, or to emphasize a particular point in a text. Examples of hyperbole: In “The Odyssey” by Homer, the protagonist Odysseus Read More …

An idiom is a figure of speech that has a different meaning from the literal definition of the words used. Idioms are commonly used in language and are often specific to a particular culture or region. They can be used to express a wide range of emotions, ideas, and concepts, from humor and sarcasm to affection and respect. Idioms can take many forms, including similes, metaphors, and hyperbole. Examples of idioms: “Break a leg” – This idiom is used to Read More …

Internal Rhyme

Internal rhyme is a literary device in which two or more words within the same line of poetry rhyme with each other. This is different from end rhyme, which occurs at the end of a line of poetry. Internal rhyme is often used to create a musical or rhythmic effect in poetry, and can also serve to connect ideas or reinforce themes. Internal rhyme can be subtle or pronounced, and can occur with different types of rhyme, such as identical Read More …

Inversion involves reversing the usual word order of a sentence to create a different effect or emphasis. This can involve placing the verb before the subject or using a different word order to create a more dramatic or poetic effect. Inversion can be used to create emphasis, suspense, or to draw attention to a particular word or phrase. Examples of inversion: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – This Read More …

Imagery uses sensory details to create a vivid and concrete description of a scene, object, person, or idea. It appeals to the reader’s senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, and is used to create a specific mood or atmosphere in a literary work. By using descriptive language, similes, metaphors, and other literary techniques, imagery helps the reader to visualize and experience the story in a more immersive way Examples of imagery: “She walks in beauty, like the night Read More …

Irony is contradiction between what is said or done and what is actually meant or expected. It is often used to create a humorous, dramatic, or sarcastic effect, or to highlight a discrepancy between appearance and reality. Irony can take many forms, including verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony. Verbal irony involves saying something that is the opposite of what is meant, while situational irony occurs when events turn out differently than expected. Examples of irony: “Oedipus Rex” by Read More …


Juxtaposition involves placing two contrasting things or ideas side by side to highlight their differences or similarities. Juxtaposition can be used to create irony, tension, or humor, or to highlight social or political commentary. It can be used to compare and contrast characters, settings, themes, or ideas. Examples of juxtaposition: In “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, the main character Holden Caulfield is described as both cynical and idealistic, which creates a juxtaposition of conflicting personality traits. In Read More …

The use of kennings in literature is characteristically related to works in Old English poetry where the author would use a twist of words, figure of speech or magic poetic phrase or a newly created compound sentence or phrase to refer to a person, object, place, action or idea. The use of imagery and indicative, direct and indirect references to substitute the proper, formal name of the subject is known as kennings. The use of kennings was also prevalent in Read More …

litotes is a rhetorical device that is used to make an understatement by negating the opposite of what is being said. It is a form of understatement that can be used to create a subtle or ironic effect. By using a double negative or negating the opposite of what is being said, litotes can add nuance, complexity, or irony to a statement. It is often used in literature to express modesty, soften criticism, or create a sense of humor or Read More …


Malapropism is a figure of speech in which a word is used incorrectly in place of a word that sounds similar but has a different meaning. It is often used for humorous effect, as the resulting phrase or sentence can be nonsensical or absurd. The term “malapropism” comes from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals, who frequently used incorrect words to humorous effect. Malapropisms can be intentional or unintentional, and they can occur in both Read More …

A metaphor asserts that one thing is another thing, even though the two things are not literally the same. Unlike simile, which uses “like” or “as” to make a comparison, a metaphor creates a direct relationship between the two things being compared. Examples of metaphor: “The world is a stage, and we are all merely players.” – William Shakespeare “The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.” – Alfred Noyes “My life is a desert, barren and Read More …

Metonymy is a literary device that involves using a word or phrase to represent something else that is closely associated with it, often based on context or cultural significance. For example, using the phrase “the White House” to refer to the U.S. government or “the crown” to refer to the monarchy. Metonymy is often used in literature to create vivid and concise descriptions. Examples of metonymy: “The Oval Office was in turmoil.” This example from a news article uses the Read More …

Mood is the emotional atmosphere or feeling that a work of literature creates for the reader. It is often created through the use of descriptive language, setting, tone, and imagery, and can be used to convey a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to fear and despair. The mood of a work of literature can be crucial in creating a sense of engagement and immersion for the reader, and can help to establish the tone and theme of Read More …

A motif is a recurring element, image, or idea in a work of literature that has symbolic significance and contributes to the overall meaning of the work. A motif can be a word, phrase, object, or concept that appears repeatedly throughout the text, and can help to develop themes, characters, and plot. Motifs can add depth, complexity, and unity to a work of literature, and can create a sense of continuity and coherence. Examples of motif: In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Read More …

Negative Capability

Negative capability is a literary concept introduced by poet John Keats, which refers to the ability of a writer to embrace uncertainty, doubt, and ambiguity in their work. It involves the willingness to accept and tolerate contradictions and paradoxes without seeking a definitive resolution. Negative capability is a way of thinking that emphasizes the value of imagination and intuition, and allows for multiple interpretations and meanings in a work of literature. Examples of negative capability: The best references of the Read More …

Nemesis refers to a character or force that is an opponent or enemy of the protagonist in a work of literature. This character or force represents the main obstacle or challenge that the protagonist must overcome in order to achieve their goals. Nemesis is often used to create tension and conflict in a story, and to challenge the protagonist’s beliefs, values, or abilities. Nemesis can take many forms, from a rival character to a natural disaster or societal structure. Examples Read More …


Onomatopoeia is a literary device that involves the use of words that imitate the sound of the object or action they refer to. These words are intended to evoke the sound that they describe and create a sensory experience for the reader. For example, words such as “buzz,” “hiss,” and “boom” are examples of onomatopoeia. This literary device is often used in poetry, where it can create vivid images and sensory experiences, but it can also be used in prose Read More …

An oxymoron uses the combination of two contradictory terms to create a new meaning or effect. This device is often used to create a sense of irony or humor, and to emphasize the contrast between two seemingly opposite concepts. An oxymoron can also be used to convey a deeper meaning or message, and to challenge the reader’s assumptions about the world. Examples of oxymoron: “Jumbo shrimp” “Living dead” “Deafening silence” “Open secret” “Act naturally”

A paradox involves a statement or situation that contradicts itself or seems to go against common sense. It is often used to create an element of surprise or confusion in a work of literature, and to challenge the reader’s assumptions about the world. A paradox can also be used to highlight an underlying truth or irony in a situation, and to convey a deeper meaning or message. This device is commonly used in poetry, prose, and drama, and can add Read More …

Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which human emotions, traits, or intentions are attributed to inanimate objects or natural phenomena. This device is often used to create a sense of mood or atmosphere in a work of literature, and to reflect the emotional state of the characters or events. Pathetic fallacy can also be used to create symbolism and allegory in a work, and to enhance the overall meaning and impact of the writing. This device is commonly used Read More …

Periodic Structure

Periodic structure involves structuring a sentence or paragraph so that the main point or idea is not revealed until the end. This creates a sense of suspense and anticipation for the reader, as they are kept in suspense until the end of the sentence or paragraph. Periodic structure is often used in persuasive writing, speeches, and other forms of rhetoric to create a sense of drama and emphasize key points. By delaying the reveal of the main idea, writers can Read More …


Periphrasis uses a roundabout or indirect way of expressing something, rather than stating it directly. It involves using more words than necessary to describe a simple concept, often to create a more elaborate or poetic effect. Periphrasis is commonly used in poetry, but can be found in other forms of writing as well. By using periphrasis, writers can create a more complex and nuanced meaning, or convey a sense of richness or depth in their writing. Examples of periphrasis: “The Read More …


Personification gives human qualities, characteristics, and emotions to non-human objects, animals, or concepts. It is a form of figurative language that uses metaphorical language to convey meaning and create vivid imagery. By personifying non-human entities, writers can help readers relate to them on a more personal level and make abstract concepts more concrete. Personification is often used in poetry and fiction, but can be found in many forms of writing Examples of personification: “The wind howled through the night, rattling Read More …

Plot is the sequence of events that make up a story. It includes the main events, conflicts, and resolutions that move the story forward and create tension and drama for the reader. The plot is typically structured around a central conflict or problem that the characters must confront and overcome, and is often divided into distinct acts or chapters. A well-crafted plot can engage the reader and create a sense of emotional investment in the story, while also conveying important Read More …

Point of View

Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story is told. It determines the narrator’s relationship with the characters, events, and themes of the story. There are several types of point of view in literature, including first-person, second-person, and third-person, which can be further divided into limited or omniscient perspectives. Each point of view has its own advantages and disadvantages, and authors may choose a particular point of view based on the needs of their story. Examples of Read More …


Polysyndeton involves the repeated use of conjunctions (such as “and,” “or,” or “but”) to create a sense of emphasis, rhythm, or continuity in a sentence or passage. Unlike asyndeton, which omits conjunctions for effect, polysyndeton adds extra conjunctions to create a deliberate effect. This can give a sense of accumulation, amplification, or urgency to the words being connected. Polysyndeton is a common device in both prose and poetry, and can be used to create a range of effects, from the Read More …


A portmanteau combines two or more words or parts of words to create a new word with a blended meaning. The term “portmanteau” itself is a combination of the French words “porter” (to carry) and “manteau” (cloak), and was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass. Portmanteaus are often used in literature and popular culture to create new words that express a concept more succinctly than existing words can. They can also add humor or playfulness to language and Read More …

A prologue is used to introduce a story or play, often providing background information and setting the stage for the events to come. It is typically found at the beginning of a piece of literature and is often written in a different style or tone than the rest of the work. Prologues can be used to establish the themes and tone of the work, introduce the main characters or conflicts, or provide historical or cultural context for the story. They Read More …

Puns play with words in a humorous or clever way by using a word or phrase that has multiple meanings, or by using words that sound similar but have different meanings. Puns are often used to create wordplay and humor in literature, jokes, and advertisements. They can be used to create double entendres, where a phrase can have both a literal and a figurative meaning. Puns are a common form of wordplay that can add wit and humor to writing Read More …

Rhyme Scheme

Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern of rhymes at the end of each line of a poem or song. It is often represented by a series of letters, where each letter corresponds to a particular rhyme. For example, the rhyme scheme of a poem might be ABAB, meaning that the first and third lines rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines. Rhyme scheme can be used to create a sense of structure and order in a Read More …

Rhythm and Rhyme

Rhythm and rhyme are two closely related literary devices that are often used in poetry and song lyrics. Rhythm refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse, which can create a musical or metrical effect. Rhyme, on the other hand, refers to the repetition of sounds at the end of words, which can create a pleasing or memorable effect. Together, rhythm and rhyme can enhance the musicality of language and add emphasis and structure Read More …

The use of satire in literature refers to the practice of making fun of a human weakness or character flaw. The use of satire is often inclusive of a need or decision of correcting or bettering the character that is on the receiving end of the satire. In general, even though satire might be humorous and may “make fun”, its purpose is not to entertain and amuse but actually to derive a reaction of contempt from the reader. Examples of Read More …

Setting refers to the time, place, and environment in which a story takes place. It includes physical and geographical details, historical context, and cultural background, all of which can shape the characters and events in the story. The setting can affect the mood and atmosphere of a story and help to create a sense of authenticity and realism. By using specific details and descriptions, writers can transport readers to different places and times and immerse them in the world of Read More …

Simile is a literary device that involves comparing two things using “like” or “as” to create a vivid and imaginative picture in the reader’s mind. By likening one thing to another, similes can enhance a description, add depth to a character, or convey a specific mood or tone. Similes are often used in poetry, but they can also be found in prose and everyday speech. Examples of simile: “Her smile was like sunshine on a rainy day.” – This simile Read More …

Spoonerism is a literary device in which the initial sounds or letters of two or more words are switched to create a new and often humorous meaning. It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who was known for accidentally mixing up the sounds of words while speaking. Spoonerisms can occur intentionally or unintentionally and are often used for comedic effect. They can also be used to draw attention to a particular word or phrase, or to create a Read More …

A stanza is used in poetry to create a division within a poem. It is a group of lines that are separated from other groups of lines by spacing, indentation, or other visual cues. Stanzas are often used to structure a poem, to create a sense of rhythm, to emphasize certain words or ideas, or to indicate a change in tone or subject matter. The number of lines in a stanza can vary, and different types of stanzas have different Read More …

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is used to depict the continuous flow of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a character’s mind. It is often used in modernist literature and is characterized by a lack of linear structure, punctuation, or grammar rules. The technique seeks to replicate the disjointed, fragmented, and often chaotic nature of the human mind. It can be used to convey a character’s innermost thoughts and emotions, providing the reader with insight into their psyche. By immersing the reader in Read More …

Suspense creates a feeling of tension or anticipation in the reader. It is often used in literature, film, and other storytelling mediums to engage the audience and keep them invested in the story. Suspense is created by withholding information or revealing it slowly, creating a sense of mystery or uncertainty about what will happen next. This can be achieved through various techniques such as foreshadowing, cliffhangers, and dramatic irony. By using suspense, writers can heighten the emotional impact of their Read More …

Symbol is a literary device where an object, action, or event represents a larger concept, idea or emotion. A symbol can be a concrete object, like a rose, or an abstract concept, like freedom, and it carries a deeper meaning beyond its literal interpretation. Symbols are used in literature to create layers of meaning and to convey themes, ideas, or messages to the reader in a more subtle way. Through the use of symbols, writers can give their greater emotional Read More …

Synecdoche uses a part of something to represent the whole, or vice versa. It is a type of figurative language that can create a more specific or impactful image, and is often used to highlight a particular aspect of the thing being described. For example, referring to a car as “wheels” or a worker as “hands” are both examples of synecdoche. Synecdoche can also be used to refer to a category of things using a specific example, such as saying Read More …


Synesthesia involves the blending or crossing of two or more sensory experiences or perceptions, such as sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. It is often used to create vivid and evocative descriptions that appeal to multiple senses and create a more immersive reading experience for the audience. Synesthesia can be achieved through the use of metaphors, similes, and other forms of figurative language that compare or combine sensory experiences, such as “the sound of her voice was like velvet” or Read More …

Syntax refers a  to the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. It is concerned with the structure of language, including the rules and principles that govern how words are combined to create meaning. Syntax can be used to create a range of effects, such as emphasizing certain words or ideas, creating rhythm and flow, and conveying tone and mood. The use of syntax in literature can help to establish a particular style or voice, Read More …

Theme refers to the underlying message or meaning of a work of literature. It is the central idea or insight that the author is attempting to convey to the reader through the characters, plot, and other elements of the text. Themes can be expressed in a variety of ways, such as through symbolism, imagery, and metaphor, and can explore complex issues such as love, death, power, identity, and morality. The use of themes in literature can serve to provide a Read More …

Tone refers to the author’s or narrator’s attitude towards the subject matter or audience. It is conveyed through the use of language, word choice, syntax, and other stylistic elements, and can create a specific emotional response in the reader. Tone can be used to convey a wide range of emotions, such as humor, irony, sadness, anger, or nostalgia, and can shape the reader’s interpretation of the text. The use of tone in literature can serve to emphasize themes and ideas, Read More …

Tragedy depicts a character’s downfall or destruction, usually as a result of their own actions or flaws. Tragic narratives often involve a central character who possesses admirable qualities but is ultimately undone by their own hubris, ignorance, or circumstance. Tragedies typically evoke feelings of pity, sorrow, and even fear in the reader or audience, as the character’s fate is often seen as inevitable or unavoidable. The use of tragedy in literature can serve to explore universal themes such as morality, Read More …


Understatement is used to convey a situation or description that is less significant, intense, or extreme than it really is. It involves deliberately downplaying or minimizing the importance or impact of something, often for comedic or ironic effect. Understatement is achieved through the use of language that is less expressive or emotional than what is expected, and it can create a sense of understated humor, sarcasm, or satire. This technique is often used to subvert expectations and to highlight the Read More …


Verisimilitude is used to create the appearance of truth or reality in a work of fiction or nonfiction. It involves presenting characters, events, and settings in a way that is believable and authentic, even if they are fictional or imaginary. Verisimilitude can be achieved through the use of descriptive detail, realistic dialogue, and accurate depictions of social and historical contexts. This technique helps to immerse readers in a story, allowing them to suspend their disbelief and fully engage with the Read More …

Verse refers to a single line or stanza of poetry. It is used to create rhythm, meter, and structure in a poem. Verses are often characterized by their rhyme scheme, syllable count, and the arrangement of stresses and accents. Poets use verses to convey meaning, evoke emotions, and create a musical quality in their writing. A poem may contain multiple verses, each with its own unique structure and purpose. Verses can be used in a variety of poetic forms, from Read More …

in literature device

An A to Z Guide to Literary Devices and Tools

' src=

Kelly Jensen

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen .

View All posts by Kelly Jensen

One of my favorite magazines is the creativity-based  Uppercase . This quarterly publication offers a look at various artists, art forms, and design across the world, and it’s packed with colors and shapes that make it not just fabulous to read, but inspiring to simply page through.

Each issue contains an A–Z feature on a topic and no matter what the focus is, I find myself revisiting this particular piece again and again. It’s a highly designed double spread, and always leads me to leaning new things about arts and crafts I never knew before.

I wanted to take that idea and see it applied to the book world, running a periodic A–Z feature. Last time, I highlighted the parts of a book . This time, let’s take a look at various literary devices and tools used by authors to write. Many of these tools are valuable for readers to think about because they offer insight into what it is that makes a book memorable or effective.

Some of these you likely learned in high school or college English classes, but some might be new to you. In any case, pocket some little nuggets of wisdom for your next game of Jeopardy and prepare to dominate in any literary category.

An A to Z of Literary Devices and Tools

Allusion : An object or phrase used in writing to draw a connection to another object, idea, or circumstance without stating it overtly. This could be a turn of phrase meant to bring to mind a Shakespeare play to the reader’s mind or a popular song or movie at the time of the book’s publication. These are typically included without context to the original work and readers draw the connections themselves.

Thank you for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox. By signing up you agree to our terms of use

Bildungsroman : Any coming-of-age story. Though typically realistic or historic in setting, a bildungsroman can be a work of genre fiction as well. This German phrase refers to a story where an adolescent main character — and it doesn’t matter whether it’s an adult, young adult, or middle grade novel — loses their sense of innocence and comes to maturation through the shedding of those illusions.

Canon : What’s often seen as the essential and most important works within literature. Over the years, though, it’s become clear that the canon is biased toward white male authors whose works were most widely distributed and studied and not necessarily representative of the best of literature nor the depth of literature. Titles included within a canon can be deconstructed through philosophical and political lenses, which can be far more interesting than what the canon itself may be.

Deus Ex Machina : From the Greek for “The God Out Of The Machine,” deus ex machina is when something completely unexpected or unrealistic for the story appears to save the main character and/or the story’s conclusion. Though often seen as a disappointment or easy way to resolve a story, in certain genres, the deus ex machina is a hallmark.

Euphemism : The use of a word or phrase in place of another, meant to soften the impact of said word or phrase and be read as more neutral. A common example is “passed away” or “left for a better place” instead of “died” or “dead.”

Fourth Wall : This term comes from theater but has been used throughout books as well. It’s an imaginary wall separating the characters from the audience, and when a character or story “breaks the fourth wall,” it means they’re directly addressing the audience. An excellent example of breaking that wall is the children’s title The Monster At The End of This Book by Jon Stone.

Genre : Books, films, and other media within a category with shared tropes and conventions. Genres may include poetry and fiction, as well as become more specific, including romance, mystery, or science fiction. Genre is not the same as category — e.g. adult books, young adult books — nor is it the same as mood .

Homage : Far from being plagiarism, an homage is a work that honors, elevates, and/or plays with the conventions used in a previous work. There are dozens upon dozens of retellings or remixes of classic literature that could be considered an homage to the original. The key is that an homage pays honor and respect, as opposed to making fun of it (and indeed, a good parody can also be an homage, such as with the film Spaceballs ).

Imagery : A broad, umbrella term for the mental pictures, sounds, smells, and other sensations a reader experiences with a work. A writer evokes imagery for the reader through direct descriptions of images or through any number of literary tools, including simile, metaphor, allusion, and more.

Jargon : If you’ve ever written a book and wondered how you are to understand it, given all of the technical and specific terms used throughout, chances are you’ve read a book loaded with jargon. Jargon is a language specific to an industry or setting. Think: a textbook for database designers or even a cookbook for a specific type or cooking or tool for cooking. Sports, medicine, and other industries each have their own jargon.

Kenning : When a single word is replaced by a compound phrase. This tool of figurative writing was popular in Norse and Old English, but there are a number of kennings used commonly today, including gum-shoe, brown-noser, bookworm, head-hunter, and more.

Literal : It’s likely you know what it means to be literal: you’re giving an account that isn’t metaphorical or exaggerated. In many cases, a literal account is seen as factual, but literal and factual aren’t exclusively synonyms. A literal account and a factual account may or may not be true, either. The term allegory can help differentiate the terms.

Meme : Though the term may be modern, the concept certainly isn’t. A meme is an idea, phrase, or thought that is passed from one person to another. In the internet and social media age, we’ve seen memes on a visual level, as well as on numerous literary levels.

Non sequitur : Latin for “it does not follow.” When something said or mentioned has nothing to do with the conversation or what was previously said. Sometimes these are used as a tool of confusion and other times, they’re for comedic effect. Non sequiturs happen in everyday conversation — scroll your Twitter feed for how that works — and they’re seen in literature.

Oeuvre : The life work of an artist. You can describe all of Shakespeare’s work as his oeuvre, for example.

Purple Prose : Writing that is over-the-top in terms of its use of similes, metaphors, and other imagery such that it becomes silly and potentially nonsense.

Quest : A motif — a recurring element or in this case, style — in which a hero undergoes a challenging journey to benefit their people. These quests can be about seeking knowledge, tools, treasures, or someone who may be in danger. Gilgamesh undergoes a quest, as does Odysseus, among so many others in classic and contemporary storytelling.

Red Herring : Especially popular in thrillers or mysteries, a red herring is an element used to throw readers off about their conclusions in a story. The red herring in a mystery is the character or situation readers are lead to believe is the culprit, but in reality, the writer has used the red herring to distract from the true conclusion.

Satire : Scathing humor or criticism used as a critique. It’s frequently used toward politics or moralities that the satirist disagrees with or finds dangerous. Modern satire is most common in the visual form — The Simpsons and many Saturday Night Live sketches utilize this tool — but it’s also used in classical and modern literature. Satire typically punches up, rather than punches down, meaning that it’s aimed toward those in charge, as opposed to those oppressed or hurt by whatever is the subject at hand.

Trope : Trope has two definitions. The first refers to a literary device used throughout a work of literature or a word used in a figurative sense. A trope within a novel might be the recurring bird imagery or allusions. The second definition for trope is a theme that emerges over and over within a genre. For some, a trope gets tired or cliche, but for other readers, tropes are what make that genre what it is. Dig into a host of tropes , both good and bad.

Understatement : Words or phrases used to minimize the significance of what’s actually happening. A euphemism is an example of an understatement. Understatements are common in speech and can be used with great effect in literature.

Vignette : A short but effective piece of writing. Often a vignette doesn’t have a plot or narrative arc, but it gets a point across on its own or, as has been seen in literature, can be linked with other vignettes to tell a bigger story. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros or Buried Beneath The Baobab Tree by  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza utilize the vignette in the telling of the story. Vignette is French for “little vine.”

Wanderjahr : This German term for “wander year” has emerged in memoir and similar nonfiction more frequently than in fiction in contemporary times. It simply means a period of time in a character’s life when they travel or do something out of their ordinary routine. Think Eat Pray Love or any experimental memoir of trying out a lifestyle or talent for a year.

Xanaduism : Inspired by the 1927 book The Road to Xanadu by John Livingstone Knowles, Xanaduism is academic research about the sources behind fantasy and other imaginative literature — the word is in reference to Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” This word has a less-than-positive connotation, as well, referring to scholarship without credible sources (which makes sense, when you consider the purpose of Xanaduism is to look at fictitious sources).

Yarn : A long, rambling story. The tone of a yarn, which is often an adventure, is colloquial. Some of the characters within Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales may be experts at spinning a yarn.

Zeitgeist : Everything related to a certain time period, but with a particular emphasis on popular culture and trends. The German word for “time ghost” is worthwhile when thinking about popular authors of a particular era, as well as for understanding allusions and descriptions made in books.

If literary devices and tools are something you nerd out over, you might want to pick up a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms or similar tool to expand your knowledge.

in literature device

You Might Also Like

The Most Read Books on Goodreads This Week

in literature device

Theme Definition

What is theme? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths about human experience that readers can apply to their own lives. For instance, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (about a family of tenant farmers who are displaced from their land in Oklahoma) is a book whose themes might be said to include the inhumanity of capitalism, as well as the vitality and necessity of family and friendship.

Some additional key details about theme:

  • All works of literature have themes. The same work can have multiple themes, and many different works explore the same or similar themes.
  • Themes are sometimes divided into thematic concepts and thematic statements . A work's thematic concept is the broader topic it touches upon (love, forgiveness, pain, etc.) while its thematic statement is what the work says about that topic. For example, the thematic concept of a romance novel might be love, and, depending on what happens in the story, its thematic statement might be that "Love is blind," or that "You can't buy love . "
  • Themes are almost never stated explicitly. Oftentimes you can identify a work's themes by looking for a repeating symbol , motif , or phrase that appears again and again throughout a story, since it often signals a recurring concept or idea.

Theme Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce theme: theem

Identifying Themes

Every work of literature—whether it's an essay, a novel, a poem, or something else—has at least one theme. Therefore, when analyzing a given work, it's always possible to discuss what the work is "about" on two separate levels: the more concrete level of the plot (i.e., what literally happens in the work), as well as the more abstract level of the theme (i.e., the concepts that the work deals with). Understanding the themes of a work is vital to understanding the work's significance—which is why, for example, every LitCharts Literature Guide uses a specific set of themes to help analyze the text.

Although some writers set out to explore certain themes in their work before they've even begun writing, many writers begin to write without a preconceived idea of the themes they want to explore—they simply allow the themes to emerge naturally through the writing process. But even when writers do set out to investigate a particular theme, they usually don't identify that theme explicitly in the work itself. Instead, each reader must come to their own conclusions about what themes are at play in a given work, and each reader will likely come away with a unique thematic interpretation or understanding of the work.

Symbol, Motif, and Leitwortstil

Writers often use three literary devices in particular—known as symbol , motif , and leitwortstil —to emphasize or hint at a work's underlying themes. Spotting these elements at work in a text can help you know where to look for its main themes.

  • Near the beginning of Romeo and Juliet , Benvolio promises to make Romeo feel better about Rosaline's rejection of him by introducing him to more beautiful women, saying "Compare [Rosaline's] face with some that I shall show….and I will make thee think thy swan a crow." Here, the swan is a symbol for how Rosaline appears to the adoring Romeo, while the crow is a symbol for how she will soon appear to him, after he has seen other, more beautiful women.
  • Symbols might occur once or twice in a book or play to represent an emotion, and in that case aren't necessarily related to a theme. However, if you start to see clusters of similar symbols appearing in a story, this may mean that the symbols are part of an overarching motif, in which case they very likely are related to a theme.
  • For example, Shakespeare uses the motif of "dark vs. light" in Romeo and Juliet to emphasize one of the play's main themes: the contradictory nature of love. To develop this theme, Shakespeare describes the experience of love by pairing contradictory, opposite symbols next to each other throughout the play: not only crows and swans, but also night and day, moon and sun. These paired symbols all fall into the overall pattern of "dark vs. light," and that overall pattern is called a motif.
  • A famous example is Kurt Vonnegut's repetition of the phrase "So it goes" throughout his novel Slaughterhouse Five , a novel which centers around the events of World War II. Vonnegut's narrator repeats the phrase each time he recounts a tragic story from the war, an effective demonstration of how the horrors of war have become normalized for the narrator. The constant repetition of the phrase emphasizes the novel's primary themes: the death and destruction of war, and the futility of trying to prevent or escape such destruction, and both of those things coupled with the author's skepticism that any of the destruction is necessary and that war-time tragedies "can't be helped."

Symbol, motif and leitwortstil are simply techniques that authors use to emphasize themes, and should not be confused with the actual thematic content at which they hint. That said, spotting these tools and patterns can give you valuable clues as to what might be the underlying themes of a work.

Thematic Concepts vs. Thematic Statements

A work's thematic concept is the broader topic it touches upon—for instance:

  • Forgiveness

while its thematic statement is the particular argument the writer makes about that topic through his or her work, such as:

  • Human judgement is imperfect.
  • Love cannot be bought.
  • Getting revenge on someone else will not fix your problems.
  • Learning to forgive is part of becoming an adult.

Should You Use Thematic Concepts or Thematic Statements?

Some people argue that when describing a theme in a work that simply writing a thematic concept is insufficient, and that instead the theme must be described in a full sentence as a thematic statement. Other people argue that a thematic statement, being a single sentence, usually creates an artificially simplistic description of a theme in a work and is therefore can actually be more misleading than helpful. There isn't really a right answer in this debate.

In our LitCharts literature study guides , we usually identify themes in headings as thematic concepts, and then explain the theme more fully in a few paragraphs. We find thematic statements limiting in fully exploring or explaining a the theme, and so we don't use them. Please note that this doesn't mean we only rely on thematic concepts—we spend paragraphs explaining a theme after we first identify a thematic concept. If you are asked to describe a theme in a text, you probably should usually try to at least develop a thematic statement about the text if you're not given the time or space to describe it more fully. For example, a statement that a book is about "the senselessness of violence" is a lot stronger and more compelling than just saying that the book is about "violence."

Identifying Thematic Statements

One way to try to to identify or describe the thematic statement within a particular work is to think through the following aspects of the text:

  • Plot: What are the main plot elements in the work, including the arc of the story, setting, and characters. What are the most important moments in the story? How does it end? How is the central conflict resolved?
  • Protagonist: Who is the main character, and what happens to him or her? How does he or she develop as a person over the course of the story?
  • Prominent symbols and motifs: Are there any motifs or symbols that are featured prominently in the work—for example, in the title, or recurring at important moments in the story—that might mirror some of the main themes?

After you've thought through these different parts of the text, consider what their answers might tell you about the thematic statement the text might be trying to make about any given thematic concept. The checklist above shouldn't be thought of as a precise formula for theme-finding, but rather as a set of guidelines, which will help you ask the right questions and arrive at an interesting thematic interpretation.

Theme Examples

The following examples not only illustrate how themes develop over the course of a work of literature, but they also demonstrate how paying careful attention to detail as you read will enable you to come to more compelling conclusions about those themes.

Themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald explores many themes in The Great Gatsby , among them the corruption of the American Dream .

  • The story's narrator is Minnesota-born Nick Caraway, a New York bonds salesman. Nick befriends Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, who is a wealthy man who throws extravagant parties at his mansion.
  • The central conflict of the novel is Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy, whom he met and fell in love with as a young man, but parted from during World War I.
  • He makes a fortune illegally by bootlegging alcohol, to become the sort of wealthy man he believes Daisy is attracted to, then buys a house near her home, where she lives with her husband.
  • While he does manage to re-enter Daisy's life, she ultimately abandons him and he dies as a result of her reckless, selfish behavior.
  • Gatsby's house is on the water, and he stares longingly across the water at a green light that hangs at the edge of a dock at Daisy's house which sits across a the bay. The symbol of the light appears multiple times in the novel—during the early stages of Gatsby's longing for Daisy, during his pursuit of her, and after he dies without winning her love. It symbolizes both his longing for daisy and the distance between them (the distance of space and time) that he believes (incorrectly) that he can bridge. 
  • In addition to the green light, the color green appears regularly in the novel. This motif of green broadens and shapes the symbolism of the green light and also influences the novel's themes. While green always remains associated with Gatsby's yearning for Daisy and the past, and also his ambitious striving to regain Daisy, it also through the motif of repeated green becomes associated with money, hypocrisy, and destruction. Gatsby's yearning for Daisy, which is idealistic in some ways, also becomes clearly corrupt in others, which more generally impacts what the novel is saying about dreams more generally and the American Dream in particular. 

Gatsby pursues the American Dream, driven by the idea that hard work can lead anyone from poverty to wealth, and he does so for a single reason: he's in love with Daisy. However, he pursues the dream dishonestly, making a fortune by illegal means, and ultimately fails to achieve his goal of winning Daisy's heart. Furthermore, when he actually gets close to winning Daisy's heart, she brings about his downfall. Through the story of Gatsby and Daisy, Fitzgerald expresses the point of view that the American Dream carries at its core an inherent corruption. You can read more about the theme of The American Dream in The Great Gatsby here .

Themes in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

In Things Fall Apart , Chinua Achebe explores the theme of the dangers of rigidly following tradition .

  • Okonkwo is obsessed with embodying the masculine ideals of traditional Igbo warrior culture.
  • Okonkwo's dedication to his clan's traditions is so extreme that it even alienates members of his own family, one of whom joins the Christians.
  • The central conflict: Okonkwo's community adapts to colonization in order to survive, becoming less warlike and allowing the minor injustices that the colonists inflict upon them to go unchallenged. Okonkwo, however, refuses to adapt.
  • At the end of the novel, Okonkwo impulsively kills a Christian out of anger. Recognizing that his community does not support his crime, Okonkwo kills himself in despair.
  • Clanswomen who give birth to twins abandon the babies in the forest to die, according to traditional beliefs that twins are evil.
  • Okonkwo kills his beloved adopted son, a prisoner of war, according to the clan's traditions.
  • Okonkwo sacrifices a goat in repentence, after severely beating his wife during the clan's holy week.

Through the tragic story of Okonkwo, Achebe is clearly dealing with the theme of tradition, but a close examination of the text reveals that he's also making a clear thematic statement that following traditions too rigidly leads people to the greatest sacrifice of all: that of personal agency . You can read more about this theme in Things Fall Apart   here .

Themes in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken

Poem's have themes just as plot-driven narratives do. One theme that Robert Frost explores in this famous poem,  The Road Not Taken ,  is the illusory nature of free will .

  • The poem's speaker stands at a fork in the road, in a "yellow wood."
  • He (or she) looks down one path as far as possible, then takes the other, which seems less worn.
  • The speaker then admits that the paths are about equally worn—there's really no way to tell the difference—and that a layer of leaves covers both of the paths, indicating that neither has been traveled recently.
  • After taking the second path, the speaker finds comfort in the idea of taking the first path sometime in the future, but acknowledges that he or she is unlikely to ever return to that particular fork in the woods.
  • The speaker imagines how, "with a sigh" she will tell someone in the future, "I took the road less travelled—and that has made all the difference."
  • By wryly predicting his or her own need to romanticize, and retroactively justify, the chosen path, the speaker injects the poem with an unmistakeable hint of irony .
  • The speaker's journey is a symbol for life, and the two paths symbolize different life paths, with the road "less-travelled" representing the path of an individualist or lone-wolf. The fork where the two roads diverge represents an important life choice. The road "not taken" represents the life path that the speaker would have pursued had he or she had made different choices.

Frost's speaker has reached a fork in the road, which—according to the symbolic language of the poem—means that he or she must make an important life decision. However, the speaker doesn't really know anything about the choice at hand: the paths appear to be the same from the speaker's vantage point, and there's no way he or she can know where the path will lead in the long term. By showing that the only truly informed choice the speaker makes is how he or she explains their decision after they have already made it , Frost suggests that although we pretend to make our own choices, our lives are actually governed by chance.

What's the Function of Theme in Literature?

Themes are a huge part of what readers ultimately take away from a work of literature when they're done reading it. They're the universal lessons and ideas that we draw from our experiences of works of art: in other words, they're part of the whole reason anyone would want to pick up a book in the first place!

It would be difficult to write any sort of narrative that did not include any kind of theme. The narrative itself would have to be almost completely incoherent in order to seem theme-less, and even then readers would discern a theme about incoherence and meaninglessness. So themes are in that sense an intrinsic part of nearly all writing. At the same time, the themes that a writer is interested in exploring will significantly impact nearly all aspects of how a writer chooses to write a text. Some writers might know the themes they want to explore from the beginning of their writing process, and proceed from there. Others might have only a glimmer of an idea, or have new ideas as they write, and so the themes they address might shift and change as they write. In either case, though, the writer's ideas about his or her themes will influence how they write. 

One additional key detail about themes and how they work is that the process of identifying and interpreting them is often very personal and subjective. The subjective experience that readers bring to interpreting a work's themes is part of what makes literature so powerful: reading a book isn't simply a one-directional experience, in which the writer imparts their thoughts on life to the reader, already distilled into clear thematic statements. Rather, the process of reading and interpreting a work to discover its themes is an exchange in which readers parse the text to tease out the themes they find most relevant to their personal experience and interests.

Other Helpful Theme Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page on Theme: An in-depth explanation of theme that also breaks down the difference between thematic concepts and thematic statements.
  • The Dictionary Definition of Theme: A basic definition and etymology of the term.
  • In this instructional video , a teacher explains her process for helping students identify themes.

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Theme

  • PDFs for all 136 Lit Terms we cover
  • Downloads of 1964 LitCharts Lit Guides
  • Teacher Editions for every Lit Guide
  • Explanations and citation info for 41,397 quotes across 1964 books
  • Downloadable (PDF) line-by-line translations of every Shakespeare play
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Anadiplosis
  • Polysyndeton
  • Red Herring
  • Alliteration
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Point of View
  • Antimetabole
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Blank Verse
  • End-Stopped Line

The logo.

Any writer looking to master the art of storytelling will want to learn the literary devices in prose. Fiction and nonfiction writers rely on these devices to bring their stories to life, impact their readers, and uncover the core truths of life. You can, too, with mastery over the different literary devices! 

If you’re not familiar with the common literary devices, start with this article for definitions and examples. You may also benefit from brushing up on the six elements of fiction , as most prose stories have them. Combined with the following literary devices in fiction and nonfiction, these framing elements can help you write a powerful story.

10 Important Literary Devices in Prose

We’ve included examples and explanations for each of these devices, pulling from both contemporary and classical literature. Whether you’re a writer, a student, or a literary connoisseur, familiarize yourself with the important literary devices in prose.

1. Parallelism (Parallel Plots)

Parallelism refers to the plotting of events that are similarly constructed but altogether separate.

Are you familiar with the phrase “history often repeats itself”? If so, then you’re already familiar with parallelism. Parallelism refers to the plotting of events that are similarly constructed but altogether separate. Sometimes these parallels develop on accident, but they are powerful tools for highlighting important events and themes.

A surprising example of parallelism comes in the form of the Harry Potter series. As an infant, Harry is almost killed by Voldemort but is protected by his mother’s love. Eighteen years later, Harry must die in order to defeat Voldemort, thus shouldering the burden of love himself.

What does this parallelism do for the story? Certainly, that’s open to interpretation. Perhaps it draws attention to the incompleteness of love without action: to defeat Voldemort (who personifies hatred), Harry can’t just be loved, he has to act on love—by sacrificing his own life, no less.

This is unrelated to grammatical parallelism , a different literary device.

2. Foil Characters

A foil refers to any two characters who are “opposites” of each other.

A foil refers to any two characters who are “opposites” of each other. These oppositions are often conceptual in nature: one character may be even-keeled and mild, like Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet, while another character may be quick-tempered and pugnacious, like Tybalt.

What do foil characters accomplish? In Romeo & Juliet , Benvolio and Tybalt are basically Romeo’s devil and angel. Benvolio discourages Romeo from fighting, as it would surely end in his own death and separation from Juliet, whereas Tybalt encourages fighting out of family loyalty.

Of course, foils can also be the protagonist and antagonist, especially if they are character opposites. A reader would be hard-pressed to find similarities between Harry Potter and Voldemort (except for their shared soul). If you can think of other embodiments of good versus evil, they are most assuredly foils as well.

Foil characters help establish important themes and binaries in your work.

Foil characters help establish important themes and binaries in your work. Because Shakespeare wrote Benvolio and Tybalt as foils, one of the themes in Romeo & Juliet is that of retribution: is it better to fight for honor or turn the other cheek for love?

When considering foil characters in your writing, consider which themes/morals you want to turn your attention towards. If you want to write about the theme of chaos versus order, and your protagonist is chaotic, you might want a foil character who’s orderly. If you want to write about this theme but it’s not central to the story, perhaps have two side characters represent chaos versus order.

Learn more about foil characters here:

What is a Foil Character? Exploring Contrast in Character Development

You’ll often hear that “diction” is just a fancy term for “word choice.” While this is true, it’s also reductive, and it doesn’t capture the full importance of select words in your story. Diction is one of the most important literary devices in prose, as every prose writer will use it.

Diction is best demonstrated through analyzing a passage of prose, so to see diction in action, let’s take apart the closing paragraphs of The Great Gatsby . 

literary devices in the great gatsby

Take a look at the highlighted words, as well as the opposition between different highlights. F. Scott Fitzgerald juxtaposes many different emotions in this short, poignant passage, resulting in an ambivalent yet powerful musing on the passage of time. By focusing the diction of this passage on emotions both hopeful and hopeless, Fitzgerald masterfully closes one of the most important American novels.

For a further analysis of diction, as well as some great examples, check out our article expanding upon word choice in writing !

The mood of a story or passage refers to the overall emotional tone it invokes.

The mood of a story or passage refers to the overall emotional tone it invokes. When writers craft a mood in their work, they’re heightening the experience of their story by putting you in the characters’ shoes. Since mood requires using the right words throughout a scene, mood can be considered an extended form of diction.

The writer cultivates mood by making consistent language choices throughout a passage.

The writer cultivates mood by making consistent language choices throughout a passage of the story. Take, for example, the cliché “it was a dark and stormy night.” That phrase wasn’t clichéd when it was first written; in fact, it did a great job of opening Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford . The narrator’s dark, bleak description of the weather brings the reader into the bleary, tumultuous life of its protagonist, building a mood in both setting and story.

Or, consider this excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:

literary devices in prose: jane eyre

Charlotte is quick to build the mood, keying in on Jane’s sombre beginnings before juxtaposing it against the ironic perfection of her siblings. Jane’s world is clear from the beginning: a cloudy house amidst a sunny street.

Learn more about this device at our article on mood in literature.

What is Mood in Literature? Creating Mood in Writing

5. Foreshadowing

A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story.

Foreshadowing is a powerful literary device in fiction, drawing readers ever-closer to the story’s climax. A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story, often underscoring the story’s suspense and conflict.

Sometimes foreshadowing is obvious, and sometimes you don’t notice it until rereading the story.

Sometimes foreshadowing is obvious, and sometimes you don’t notice it until rereading the story. For example, the foreshadowing in Harry Potter makes it fairly obvious that Harry will have to die. Once the idea of horcruxes, or “split souls,” was introduced in the books, it was only a matter of time before readers connected these horcruxes to the psychic connection Harry shared with Voldemort. His mission—to die and be reincarnated—becomes fairly obvious as the heptalogy comes to a close.

However, sometimes foreshadowing is much more discreet. In Jane Eyre , for example, it’s clear that many of the people in Jane’s life are keeping secrets from her. Rochester doesn’t let anyone know about his previous marriage but it gets alluded to several times, and St. John is reluctant to admit that he does not actually love Jane, foreshadowing Jane’s return to Rochester. All of this combines to reinforce Jane’s uncertain place in the world and the journey she must take to settle down.

6. In Media Res

In Media Res refers to writing a story starting from the middle

From the Latin “In the middle of things,” In Media Res is one of the literary devices in prose chiefly concerned with plot. In Media Res refers to writing a story starting from the middle; by throwing the reader into the center of events, the reader’s interest piques, and the storytelling bounces between flashback and present day.

Both fiction and nonfiction writers can use In Media Res, provided it makes sense to do so. For example, Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale begins in the middle of a dystopian society. Atwood leads us through the society’s establishment and the narrator’s capture, but all of this is in flashback, because the focus is on navigating the narrator’s escape from this evil world.

In Media Res applies well here, because the reader feels the full intensity of this dystopia from its start. Writers who are writing stories in either alternate worlds or very private worlds may benefit from this literary device in fiction, as it helps keep the reader interested and attentive.

7. Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience understands more about the situation than the story’s characters do.

Dramatic irony is a literary device in prose in which the audience understands more about the situation than the story’s characters do. This is an especially important literary device in fiction, as it often motivates the reader to keep reading.

We often see dramatic irony in stories which involve multiple points-of-view.

We often see dramatic irony in stories which involve multiple points-of-view. For example, the audience knows that Juliet is still alive, but when Romeo discovers her seemingly dead body, he kills himself in grief. How ironic, then, for Juliet to wake up to her lover’s passing, only to kill herself in equal grief. By using dramatic irony in the story, Shakespeare points towards the haphazardness of young love.

8. Vignette

A vignette is a passage of prose that’s primarily descriptive, rather than plot-driven.

A vignette (vin-yet) refers to a passage of prose that’s primarily descriptive, rather than plot-driven. Vignettes throw the reader into the scene and emotion, often building the mood of the story and developing the character’s lens. They are largely poetic passages with little plot advancement, but the flourishes of a well-written vignette can highlight your writing style and the story’s emotions.

The story snippets we’ve included are striking examples of vignettes. They don’t advance the plot, but they push the reader into the story’s mood. Additionally, the prose style itself is emotive and poetic, examining the nuances of life’s existential questions.

9. Flashback

A flashback refers to any interruption in the story where the narration goes back in time.

A flashback refers to any interruption in the story where the narration goes back in time. The reader may need information from previous events in order to understand the present-day story, and flashbacks drop the reader into the scene itself.

Flashbacks are often used in stories that begin In Media Res, such as The Handmaid’s Tale. While the main plot of the story focuses on the narrator’s struggles against Gilead, this narration frequently alternates with explanations for how Gilead established itself. The reader gets to see the bombing of Congress, the forced immigration of POC, and the environmental/fertility crisis which gives context for Gilead’s fearmongering. We also experience the narrator’s separation from her daughter and husband, supplying readers with the story’s highly emotive world.

10. Soliloquy

A soliloquy is a long speech with no audience in the story.

Soliloquy comes from the Latin for self (sol) and talking (loquy), and self-talking describes a soliloquy perfectly. A soliloquy is a long speech with no audience in the story. Soliloquies are synonymous with monologues, though a soliloquy is usually a brief passage in a chapter, and often much more poetic.

Shakespeare’s plays abound with soliloquies. Here’s an example, pulled from Scene II Act II of Romeo and Juliet .

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

Romeo isn’t talking to anyone in particular, but no matter: his soliloquy is rife with emotion and metaphor, and one can’t help but blush when he expresses how his love for Juliet makes her like the sun to him.

As a literary device in prose, soliloquy offers insight into the characters’ emotions. Soliloquy doesn’t have to be in dialogue, it can also take the form of private thoughts, but a soliloquy must be an extended conversation with oneself that exposes the character’s own feelings and ideas.

Write Powerful Literary Devices in Prose with

The literary devices in Jane Eyre , Romeo & Juliet, and The Great Gatsby help make these stories masterful works of fiction. By using these literary building blocks, your story will sparkle, too. Take a look at our upcoming courses in fiction and nonfiction , and take the next step in writing the great American novel. Happy writing!

' src=

Sean Glatch

' src=

So amazing to here, it has helped me

' src=

Thanks, it is helpful.💯

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Literary Devices

Literary devices, terms, and elements, definition of diction, common examples of diction, significance of diction in literature, examples of diction in literature.

MACBETH: Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
MACBETH: I have done the deed. – Didst thou not hear a noise? LADY MACBETH: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak? MACBETH: When? LADY MACBETH: Now. MACBETH: As I descended? LADY MACBETH: Ay.

This is an interesting example of diction from Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Macbeth . As modern readers, we often consider Shakespeare’s language to be quite formal, as it is filled with words like “thou” and “thy” as well as archaic syntax such as in Macbeth’s questions “Didst thou not hear a noise?” However, there is striking difference in the diction between these two passages. In the first, Macbeth is contemplating a murder in long, expressive sentences. In the second excerpt, Macbeth has just committed a murder and has a rapid-fire exchange with his wife, Lady Macbeth. The different word choices that Shakespeare makes shows the different mental states that Macbeth is in in these two nearby scenes.

It seemed to me that a careful examination of the room and the lawn might possibly reveal some traces of this mysterious individual. You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected.
You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.

( To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

This is a quote from Atticus Finch, the father of To Kill a Mockingbird ’s narrator, Scout. Atticus uses very formal language in his profession, as he is a celebrated lawyer. When speaking to his daughter, though, he changes his diction and uses short, simple phrases and words. He also uses the clichés “hold your head high” and “don’t you let ‘em get your goat.” This informal diction shows his close relationship to his daughter and makes him seem more approachable than if we only saw him in his lawyerly role.

His adolescent nerdliness vaporizing any iota of a chance he had for young love. Everybody else going through the terror and joy of their first crushes, their first dates, their first kisses while Oscar sat in the back of the class, behind his DM’s screen, and watched his adolescence stream by. Sucks to be left out of adolescence, sort of like getting locked in the closet on Venus when the sun appears for the first time in a hundred years.

Contemporary writer Junot Díaz is noted for using a very distinct diction in his books. He often sprinkles in Spanish words and phrases in his works to make his characters—many of whom are from the Dominican Republic—seem more authentic. In this excerpt from his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , Díaz uses very informal language, even creating the word “nerdliness.” He uses the slang term “sucks” to reinforce the sense of his character Oscar’s youth.

Test Your Knowledge of Diction

Consider the following excerpt from Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

He told them that it was only because of her love that he’d been able to do the thing that he had done, the thing they could no longer stop, told them if they killed him they would probably feel nothing and their children would probably feel nothing either, not until they were old and weak or about to be struck by a car and then they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he’d be a hero, an avenger.

A. He told them that it was only because of her love… B. …if they killed him they would probably feel nothing… C. He wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork… [spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]Answer: C is correct.[/spoiler]

Join our mailing list and receive your free eBook. You'll also receive great tips on story editing, our best blogs, and learn how to use Fictionary software to make your story unforgettable.

  • Phone This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Blogs / Poetry / 15 Poetic Devices in Literature with Examples

Perfect Your Storytelling

15 poetic devices in literature with examples.

Ever wondered why some writing makes your soul sing while other prose puts you to sleep faster than a lullaby on repeat? The secret, dear word enthusiasts, lies in the mystical realm of poetic devices. These linguistic Swiss Army knives are the unsung heroes of literature, transforming mundane mumblings into magical masterpieces.

Whether you’re a budding bard, a curious bookworm, or just someone who thinks words are nifty, this article is your golden ticket to the Willy Wonka factory of wordplay. 

Prepare to see language in a whole new light—sunglasses recommended, because things are about to get meta phorically dazzling: You’re diving into an article about poetic devices that’s so stuffed with poetic devices, it’s practically a turducken of literary techniques. We’ve got alliteration aplenty, similes so smooth they’ll make silk jealous, and enough personification to make your dictionary feel like it needs a therapist. 

So brace yourself for a self-referential rollercoaster ride through the landscape of language, where the medium isn’t just the message—it’s also a massage for your mind!

What Is a Poetic Device?

From Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (where alliteration throws a word party) to Shakespeare’s sonnets (where metaphors run wild), poetic devices have been jazzing up literature since quills were cutting edge technology. 

And they’re not just for dusty old poems either—you’ll find these linguistic acrobats somersaulting through novels, pirouetting in song lyrics, and even sneaking into your everyday chitchat. (Ever told someone you’re “so hungry you could eat a horse”? Congrats, you’ve just used hyperbole!)

So what exactly is a poetic device?

Picture language as a blank canvas, if you will. Now, imagine poetic devices as a set of fantastical paintbrushes, each with its own superpower. One brush adds sparkles, another creates 3D effects, and yet another makes words do backflips off the page. That, my friends, is the essence of poetic devices—linguistic tools that turn plain Jane sentences into literary supermodels.

These verbal vitamins serve multiple purposes:

  • Enhancing musicality: They make your words dance the cha-cha and sing opera. Sometimes simultaneously.
  • Creating imagery: They paint pictures so vivid, your readers might need to check if their books are actually TVs.
  • Evoking emotions: They pluck heartstrings and tickle funny bones with the precision of a master puppeteer.
  • Adding complexity: They give your writing more layers than a wedding cake made by an overachieving baker.
  • Emphasizing ideas: They shine spotlights on your themes brighter than a disco ball at a rave.

Mastering these tools isn’t just about impressing your English teacher (though that’s a nifty side effect). It’s about unleashing your inner word wizard. Whether you’re penning the next great American novel, crafting a heartfelt haiku, or just trying to make your work emails less snooze-worthy, poetic devices are your trusty sidekicks in the battle against boring writing.

So, sharpen your quills (or charge your laptops), and get ready to explore the nooks and crannies of language. We’ll uncover the tricks that make alliteration alluring, metaphors mesmerizing, and personification positively perplexing. Whether you’re a seasoned wordsmith or a curious newcomer to the world of writing, there’s something here for everyone.

In the following sections, we’ll serve up some of our favorite poetic devices, complete with definitions and examples. We’ll also share tips on how to wield these linguistic weapons without accidentally poking someone’s eye out (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Ready to transform your writing from meh to magnificent? Let’s embark on this literary adventure! 

Just remember—with great poetic power comes great responsibility. Use your newfound skills wisely, or you might find yourself speaking in iambic pentameter at the grocery store. And trust us, no one wants to hear a sonnet about choosing the perfect avocado.

Actually, a sonnet about avocados sounds pretty nifty. 

15 Poetic Devices with Examples

Imagine a world where words don’t just sit on the page—they dance, they sing, they paint pictures in your mind. That’s the magic of poetic devices. They’re the secret ingredients that turn ordinary sentences into literary feasts, and we’re about to raid the pantry!

Are you ready to see your words transform from caterpillars to butterflies? To watch your paragraphs pirouette and your chapters cha-cha? Then let’s dive into the dazzling world of poetic devices. Your journey to becoming a literary legend starts here!

Alliteration (The Tongue Twister’s Delight)

Definition: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in neighboring words. It’s like a linguistic conga line for your mouth!

Example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” 

(Poor Peter. Has anyone checked if he’s okay? That’s a lot of peppers.)

Fun fact: Alliteration is the secret weapon of comic book creators. Just ask Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, or Lois Lane!

Assonance (Vowel Harmony for Word Nerds)

Definition: The repetition of similar vowel sounds in nearby words. It’s like your words are having a karaoke night!

Example: “Light bright night” 

(The ‘i’ sound is really having its moment here, isn’t it?)

Pro tip: Use assonance to make your poetry flow smoother than a buttered eel sliding down a waterslide.

Consonance (The Repeated Rhythm of Rhetoric)

Definition : The repetition of consonant sounds within words. It’s like a secret handshake for your sentences.

Example : “Pitter-patter, pitter-patter” 

(Is it raining, or is there a tap-dancing mouse in the house?)

Warning : Excessive use may result in tongue-tying and uncontrollable urges to become a beat poet.

Metaphor (The Shapeshifter of Speech)

Definition : A comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” It’s linguistic alchemy, turning the ordinary into gold!

Example : “Life is a roller coaster.” 

(Complete with unexpected loops, screaming, and the occasional need for a barf bag.)

Remember : Choose your metaphors wisely. “Life is a box of chocolates” sounds much more appealing than “Life is a public restroom.”

Simile (Metaphor’s More Obvious Cousin)

Definition : A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” It’s the linguistic equivalent of pointing and saying, “See? See?”

Example : “Her voice is as smooth as silk.”

(As opposed to “as smooth as sandpaper,” which is a whole different story.)

Caution : May cause sudden outbreaks of clarity and understanding. Use responsibly.

Personification (Bringing Inanimate Objects to Life—No Mad Science Required!)

Definition : Attributing human characteristics to non-human things. It’s like playing dress-up with the entire universe!

Example : “The wind whispered through the trees.”

(Let’s hope it’s not spreading gossip. Those trees can’t keep a secret to save their lives.)

Side effect : May result in talking to your houseplants more than your human friends.

Onomatopoeia (Words That Go Boom, and Fizz, and Swoosh)

Definition : Words that phonetically imitate the sound they describe. It’s like verbal cosplay for your sentences!

Example : “The bees buzz busily.”

(Fun fact: If you say this three times fast, a swarm of bees might actually appear. Proceed with caution.)

Warning : Excessive use may result in people mistaking you for a walking sound effects machine.

Hyperbole (Because Sometimes the Truth Just Isn’t Dramatic Enough)

Definition : An exaggeration used for emphasis or effect. It’s the drama queen of the literary world!

Example : “I’ve told you a million times.”

(Fact check: Unless you’re several centuries old and have nothing better to do, this is probably not accurate.)

Pro tip: Use hyperbole when the truth is boring. “I waited forever” sounds much more exciting than “I waited for 7 minutes and 36 seconds.”

Imagery: Painting Pictures with Words (No Actual Paint Required)

Definition : Vivid descriptive language that appeals to the senses. It’s like Instagram filters for your brain!

Example : “The sun-warmed peach felt like velvet against my fingertips, its sweet aroma filling the air”

(Warning: This description may cause sudden cravings for peaches and/or velvet.)

Side effect : May lead to vivid daydreams and an inexplicable desire to lick your Kindle.

Rhyme (Making Words Play Nice Together)

Definition : The repetition of similar sounds at the end of words. It’s like matchmaking for syllables!

Example : “Twinkle, twinkle, little star / How I wonder what you are”

(Spoiler alert: It’s a giant ball of burning gas. But that doesn’t rhyme as well, does it?)

Caution : Addictive. May lead to spontaneous limerick outbursts in public places.

Meter (The Rhythmic Heartbeat of Poetry)

Definition : The rhythmic structure of a poem, often based on stressed and unstressed syllables. It’s like a linguistic dance party!

Example : Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

(Shakespeare: making your love life sound fancy since 1592.)

Fun fact: Mastering meter gives you the superpower to tap your foot to any poem. Use this power wisely.

Repetition (Because If You Say It Once, Why Not Say It Again?)

Definition : The deliberate use of words, phrases, or ideas multiple times for emphasis. It’s like a verbal echo chamber!

Example : “I have a dream” in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech

(He had a dream, folks. And it wasn’t about showing up to school in his underwear.)

Warning : May cause earworms. Use sparingly unless you want your words stuck in people’s heads for days.

Allusion (The Inside Joke of the Literary World)

Definition : A reference to a well-known person, place, event, or work of art. It’s like dropping Easter eggs in your writing!

Example : “He was a real Romeo”

(Hopefully without the tragic ending. Let’s aim for “Romeo minus the family feud and poison” vibes.)

Pro tip: Use allusions to make yourself sound smart at parties. Just make sure your audience gets the reference, or you’ll end up explaining jokes. Awkward.

Irony (When Words Say “Zig” But Mean “Zag”)

Definition : The use of words to convey a meaning opposite to their literal sense. It’s the poker face of literary devices!

Example : Saying “Oh, great!” when something goes wrong

(Because nothing says “This is terrible” quite like pretending it’s wonderful.)

Caution : May cause eye-rolling in literal-minded individuals. Use with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Symbolism (Where Everything Means Something Else)

Definition : The use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. It’s like a secret code for literature nerds!

Example : A dove representing peace

(Because nothing says “cease fire” like a bird that poops on statues.)

Warning : May lead to overthinking every object in your vicinity. Suddenly, that pencil isn’t just a pencil anymore, it’s a metaphor for the fragility of human knowledge. Deep, right?

How to Use Poetic Tools

So, you’ve got your poetic devices all shiny and ready to go. But how do you use them without sounding like you swallowed a thesaurus? 

  • Start small, dream big: Don’t try to cram every device into one sentence. That’s like trying to fit an entire wardrobe into a fanny pack. Start with one or two devices and build from there. Remember, you’re aiming for Shakespeare, not Dr. Seuss on steroids.
  • Know your audience: Using allusions to obscure 18th-century Romanian poetry might impress your literature professor, but it’ll leave your romance novel readers scratching their heads. Know who you’re writing for, unless your goal is to confuse and alienate. In that case, go wild!
  • Practice makes perfect(ish): Like any art form, using poetic devices takes practice. Don’t expect to wake up one day writing like Maya Angelou. Start by peppering your grocery lists with metaphors. “Eggs (the fragile orbs of potential)” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
  • Mix and match: Poetic devices are like spices. A pinch of alliteration here, a dash of imagery there, and suddenly your writing is a literary feast. Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with the written equivalent of a curry that’s 90% turmeric.
  • Read, read, and then read some more: The best way to learn how to use poetic devices is to see how the masters do it. Read widely and shamelessly steal—er, we mean “get inspired by”—techniques you admire.
  • Don’t force it: If you’re trying so hard to use a device that your brain starts to hurt, step back. Forced metaphors are about as pleasant as forced laughter at your uncle’s bad jokes. Let it flow naturally.
  • Revise with ruthlessness : Your first draft might look like a poetic device explosion. That’s okay! Writing is rewriting. Go back and cut the devices that don’t serve the piece. Be a gold miner, not a hoarder.
  • Remember the purpose: Poetic devices are tools, not the end goal. They should enhance your message, not obscure it. If your reader is more focused on your clever alliteration than your actual point, you might need to dial it back a notch.
  • Break the rules: Once you know the rules, feel free to break them. Sometimes a well-placed mixed metaphor or an intentionally overused device can be just the ticket. Just make sure it’s intentional, not a happy accident.
  • Have fun with it: Writing should be enjoyable, not a chore. Play with words, experiment with devices, and don’t be afraid to be a little silly. Some of the best writing comes from a place of joy and playfulness.

Remember, dear word-wranglers, poetic devices are your friends. They’re here to help you express yourself, not to make your life difficult. Use them wisely, use them well, and who knows? You might just be the next literary sensation. At the very least, you’ll be able to write birthday cards that make people cry (in a good way).

Now go forth and sprinkle your prose with the magic dust of poetic devices. Just don’t inhale too much of it, or you might start speaking in iambic pentameter. And trust us, that gets old real fast.

List of Poetic Devices Conclusion

Well, dear wordsmiths and language lovers, we’ve journeyed through the whimsical world of poetic devices, from the alliterative plains to the metaphorical mountains. We’ve laughed, we’ve learned, and hopefully, we haven’t scared you off from ever writing again.

So, what have we discovered on this literary expedition? That poetic devices are more than just fancy terms to impress your English teacher. They’re the spice that transforms your writing from meh to marvelous, from blah to brilliant.

These linguistic acrobats—from personification to hyperbole, from onomatopoeia to symbolism—are the tools that can help you paint pictures with words, evoke emotions stronger than a double espresso, and create rhythms smoother than a jazz saxophone solo.

But remember, with great power comes great responsibility. (Yes, that was an allusion. See what we did there?) Don’t go overboard and turn your writing into a circus of poetic devices. Use them wisely, like a chef uses spices—to enhance, not overpower.

As you go forth into the world, armed with your new knowledge of assonance and irony, we encourage you to experiment. Play with words. Have fun with language. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—some of the best metaphors come from happy accidents. (Just ask the person who first said “it’s raining cats and dogs.” We bet they didn’t expect that one to stick.)

Whether you’re crafting the next great American novel, penning a heartfelt poem, or just trying to make your work emails a little less boring, these poetic devices are now part of your literary arsenal. Use them to inspire, to provoke thought, to make people laugh, or simply to make your writing sing.

And if all else fails, remember: when in doubt, throw in a simile. It’s as easy as pie. (See? We’re doing it already.)

Now go forth and conquer the literary world, one poetic device at a time. Who knows? The next time you hear someone say, “That writing is pure poetry,” they might just be talking about yours.

Class dismissed, wordsmiths. May your metaphors be mighty, your alliterations audacious, and your readers thoroughly entertained. Write on!

In order to continue enjoying our site, we ask that you confirm your identity as a human. Thank you very much for your cooperation.


Personification Literary Device

Ai generator.

in literature device

In the vast realm of literary techniques, personification stands as a sentinel, inviting readers to envision a world where inanimate objects and abstract notions come alive. Through this age-old device, writers bestow human characteristics upon the non-human, weaving a tapestry of emotions and vivid imagery. Dive deep into the universe of personification, uncovering its illustrious personification examples , the art of crafting it, and the nuanced tips that transform prose into poetic brilliance.

What is Personification Literary Device? – Definition

Personification is a literary device wherein non-human objects, animals, or abstract concepts are given human attributes or emotions. It serves to create more relatable scenarios, induce empathy, or simply paint a vivid picture in a reader’s mind. By attributing human characteristics to these entities, writers can convey complex emotions, create strong imagery, and breathe life into otherwise inanimate elements of a story or poem.

What is the Best Example of a Personification Literary Device?

One of the most iconic examples of personification is in William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” where the daffodils are described as “dancing” in the breeze. The poet doesn’t merely describe the flowers’ movement; he gives them the joyous, human-like quality of dancing. This portrayal enriches the scene, encapsulating the poet’s sense of awe and the flowers’ liveliness, making the moment more poignant and memorable.

100 Personification Literary Device Examples

Personification Literary Device Example

Size: 124 KB

Personification, an evocative literary device, bestows human traits upon the inanimate, rendering vivid imagery and depth. This tool creates a bridge, connecting readers to abstract concepts or objects, enriching narratives with human essence and relatable emotions.

  • The wind whispered secrets through the trees.
  • Time flies when you’re having fun.
  • The sun smiled down on the children playing.
  • The alarm clock screamed, jolting me from sleep.
  • The waves danced along the shore.
  • The old house groaned under the weight of years.
  • The flowers nodded their heads in agreement.
  • The stars winked in the night sky.
  • The door protested with a creaky moan when opened.
  • The chocolate cake was calling my name.
  • My car grumbled before finally starting.
  • The camera loves her every angle.
  • The mountains reach for the sky.
  • The tree’s fingers stretched to touch the heavens.
  • The fire swallowed the entire forest.
  • The storm raged outside.
  • The teapot sang as it filled up.
  • The leaves rustled their tales of old.
  • The shadows danced in the firelight.
  • The old boots sighed with weariness.
  • The river wept as it flowed.
  • Fear gripped the village.
  • The kettle whistled its impatience.
  • The book contains a world, waiting to be discovered.
  • The wind howled in anger.
  • The fog crept silently into the town.
  • The moon guarded the night.
  • The pen poured out stories of adventure.
  • The curtains whispered secrets of the past.
  • The clock’s hands raced each other.
  • The night sang lullabies of starry dreams.
  • The city never sleeps.
  • The old bridge groaned under the pressure.
  • The rain kissed the parched earth.
  • The blizzard’s fingers numbed everything they touched.
  • The window pane’s tears reflected its sadness.
  • The rocks stood as ancient watchers.
  • The forest held mysteries of old.
  • The fire spat sparks angrily.
  • The guitar cried a melancholic tune.
  • The thunder spoke of the storm’s fury.
  • The fields danced with golden wheat.
  • The roses blushed at the gardener’s praise.
  • The clouds lazed around in the blue.
  • The volcano’s anger spewed over the village.
  • The ocean whispered tales of distant lands.
  • The car’s heart roared to life.
  • The snow blanketed the world in silence.
  • The flowers reached thirstily for the morning dew.
  • The ruins echoed with memories.
  • The world turned its back on the fading star.
  • The computer hums with potential.
  • The bells sang out the hour.
  • The castle’s walls held stories of battles long gone.
  • The old chair sighed under its burden.
  • The staircase creaked tales of the past.
  • The hurricane’s eyes saw devastation.
  • The mailbox waited eagerly for letters.
  • The radio buzzed with tiny voices.
  • The grapevines intertwined in a lover’s embrace.
  • The path meanders through life’s adventures.
  • The night sky cloaked the earth in mystery.
  • The keys chuckled at the typist’s mistakes.
  • The apple beckoned from the tree.
  • The stairs complained under the weight.
  • The ruins whispered of a glorious past.
  • The ship sailed on, brave and resolute.
  • The lamp watched over the room.
  • The moonlight tiptoed through the window.
  • The blanket enveloped me in warmth.
  • The breeze played with her hair.
  • The map charted adventures untold.
  • The motorway’s stretch yearned for travelers.
  • The tower reached for eternity.
  • The desert held secrets in its sands.
  • The attic’s dust whispered of bygone days.
  • The island dreamt of visitors.
  • The pages held treasures of words.
  • The lighthouse stood as a beacon of hope.
  • The pebbles murmured underfoot.
  • The notebook held my deepest secrets.
  • The engine roared with anticipation.
  • The painting captured the sun’s very soul.
  • The piano sighed with memories.
  • The meadow dreamed under a summer’s day.
  • The coffee aromas beckoned the sleepy traveler.
  • The road traveled on, weaving stories.
  • The barn guarded its old secrets.
  • The old clock remembered many moments.
  • The mirror reflected a world unknown.
  • The shoes remembered every journey.
  • The mountains whispered old legends.
  • The pot bubbled with excitement.
  • The radio relayed tales from distant lands.
  • The suitcase held memories from a lifetime.
  • The river’s song spoke of distant mountains.
  • The sky painted a canvas of wonders.
  • The walls bore witness to history.
  • The wind sang lullabies to the meadow.
  • The old diary hid tales of adventure.

What is personification used for?

Personification is a literary tool where human qualities are attributed to non-human entities, ideas, or objects. This technique is employed for several reasons:

  • Enhanced Imagery: By assigning human traits to non-human entities, writers can paint a more vivid picture, making abstract or unfamiliar concepts easier to understand.
  • Emotional Connection: Assigning human emotions or actions to an object or idea can evoke a deeper emotional response from the reader. It makes the abstract tangible and relatable.
  • Bring Objects to Life: Through personification, inanimate objects or natural elements become active participants in a story or poem, often furthering the narrative or contributing to the theme.
  • Elevate Language and Tone: Personification can elevate the language of a piece, giving it a more poetic or sophisticated feel.

Why do writers use personification?

  • Engagement: Personification can capture readers’ attention by presenting the world in a new or unexpected way.
  • Relatability: Humans are naturally inclined to understand and interpret the world through their own experiences and emotions. By giving human characteristics to non-human entities, authors bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar.
  • Symbolism: Often, personified elements can symbolize larger ideas or themes. For instance, a raging storm can represent turmoil or conflict.
  • Emphasis: By personifying a particular element, authors can emphasize its importance or role in the narrative.
  • Conveying Complex Ideas: Difficult or abstract concepts can become clearer and more approachable when personified.

How do you Write Personification Literary Devices?

  • Identify the Purpose: Before using personification, determine why you’re using it. Do you want to evoke a certain emotion, clarify a concept, or add depth to a scene?
  • Choose the Right Subject: Not all objects or concepts will benefit from personification. Some naturally lend themselves to this literary device more than others.
  • Be Consistent: Once you’ve decided to give an object a certain human quality, be consistent with it throughout your narrative.
  • Avoid Overuse: While personification can be powerful, using it too frequently can dilute its impact.
  • Stay Relevant: Ensure that the human trait you’re assigning to an object or concept is relevant and adds value to your narrative.

Tips to Using Personification as Literary Device

  • Practice Observation: Think about how objects around you might move, sound, or react if they had human qualities.
  • Read Widely: To understand how personification is effectively employed, read diverse literature. Note how different writers use this device and to what effect.
  • Avoid Clichés: Phrases like “time flies” or “the wind whispered” are commonly used. While they are valid examples of personification, try to invent fresh comparisons.
  • Be Precise: The more specific and vivid your description, the more impactful your personification will be.
  • Revise and Refine: Writing is a process. After using personification, revisit your work to see if it fits or if another literary device might be more effective.

By understanding and mastering the use of personification, writers can bring depth, emotion, and clarity to their narratives, engaging readers in profound ways.


Text prompt

  • Instructive
  • Professional

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting

in literature device

  • Kindle Store
  • Kindle eBooks
  • Literature & Fiction
Kindle Price: $4.99 Services LLC

Promotions apply when you purchase

These promotions will be applied to this item:

Some promotions may be combined; others are not eligible to be combined with other offers. For details, please see the Terms & Conditions associated with these promotions.

Buy for others

Buying and sending ebooks to others.

  • Select quantity
  • Buy and send eBooks
  • Recipients can read on any device

These ebooks can only be redeemed by recipients in the US. Redemption links and eBooks cannot be resold.

Sorry, there was a problem.

in literature device

Download the free Kindle app and start reading Kindle books instantly on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required .

Read instantly on your browser with Kindle for Web.

Using your mobile phone camera - scan the code below and download the Kindle app.

QR code to download the Kindle App

Image Unavailable

Return of the Raptor: America in the Dark

  • To view this video download Flash Player

Return of the Raptor: America in the Dark Kindle Edition

  • Reading age 10 - 18 years
  • Print length 278 pages
  • Language English
  • Publication date July 9, 2024
  • Page Flip Enabled
  • Word Wise Enabled
  • Enhanced typesetting Enabled
  • Sticky notes On Kindle Scribe
  • See all details

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0CW1GLYWM
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 9, 2024
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 1837 KB
  • Simultaneous device usage ‏ : ‎ Unlimited
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 278 pages

Customer reviews

5 star 0%
4 star 0%
3 star 0%
2 star 0%
1 star 0%

Customer Reviews, including Product Star Ratings help customers to learn more about the product and decide whether it is the right product for them.

To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyzed reviews to verify trustworthiness.

No customer reviews

Report an issue.

  • About Amazon
  • Investor Relations
  • Amazon Devices
  • Amazon Science
  • Sell products on Amazon
  • Sell on Amazon Business
  • Sell apps on Amazon
  • Become an Affiliate
  • Advertise Your Products
  • Self-Publish with Us
  • Host an Amazon Hub
  • › See More Make Money with Us
  • Amazon Business Card
  • Shop with Points
  • Reload Your Balance
  • Amazon Currency Converter
  • Amazon and COVID-19
  • Your Account
  • Your Orders
  • Shipping Rates & Policies
  • Returns & Replacements
  • Manage Your Content and Devices
  • Conditions of Use
  • Privacy Notice
  • Consumer Health Data Privacy Disclosure
  • Your Ads Privacy Choices

in literature device

Definition of Wit

Examples of wit in literature, example #1:  the good morrow (by john donne).

“My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; Where can we find two better hemispheres, Without sharp north, without declining west? Whatever dies, was not mixed equally; If our two loves be one, or, thou and I Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.”

Example #2: Canto-I,  The Rape of the Lock (by Alexander Pope)

“Say what strange motive, goddess! could compel A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle? O say what stranger cause, yet unexplored, Could make a gentle belle reject a lord? In tasks so bold, can little men engage? And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?”

Example #3:  The Importance of Being Earnest (by Oscar Wilde)

Example #4:  a modest proposal (by jonathan swift), related posts:, post navigation.


  1. A Handy List of Literary Devices in English with Examples • 7ESL

    in literature device

  2. PPT

    in literature device

  3. Literary Devices List With Definitions And Examples

    in literature device

  4. Learn all about the 28 common types of literary devices

    in literature device

  5. Literary Devices Poster

    in literature device

  6. Literary Devices: 15 Literary Elements With Examples & Tips to Use Them

    in literature device


  1. Literary Devices #74: Paradox

  2. Allegory

  3. Literature| Role of Literature| English Literature| Ahmad Tutorials

  4. What is Filigree|Literary device|#englishliterature2022 #urduhindi #viral #ytshorts#literary_terms

  5. Literary Terms and device of English Literature

  6. NanostimTM LEADLESS II Clinical Trial Available at Mercy Hospital St. Louis


  1. The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know

    Tip 1: Read Closely and Carefully. First off, you'll need to make sure that you're reading very carefully. Resist the temptation to skim or skip any sections of the text. If you do this, you might miss some literary devices being used and, as a result, will be unable to accurately interpret the text.

  2. 112 Common Literary Devices: Definitions & Examples

    112 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises. Common literary devices, such as metaphors and similes, are the building blocks of literature, and what make literature so enchanting. Language evolves through the literary devices in poetry and prose; the different types of figurative language make literature spark in different ...

  3. 100 Literary Devices With Examples: The Ultimate List

    A literary device is a writing technique that writers use to express ideas, convey meaning, and highlight important themes in a piece of text. A metaphor, like we mentioned earlier, is a famous example of a literary device. These devices serve a wide range of purposes in literature. Some might work on an intellectual level, while others have a ...

  4. Literary Devices and Terms

    Literary Devices & Terms. Literary devices and terms are the techniques and elements—from figures of speech to narrative devices to poetic meters—that writers use to create narrative literature, poetry, speeches, or any other form of writing. All.

  5. 22 Essential Literary Devices and How to Use Them In Your Writing

    22. Vignette. A writer's job is to engage readers through words. Vignettes—poetic slices-of-life—are a literary device that brings us deeper into a story. Vignettes step away from the action momentarily to zoom in for a closer examination of a particular character, concept, or place.

  6. 28 Common Literary Devices to Know

    Portmanteau. Portmanteau is the literary device of joining two words together to form a new word with a hybrid meaning. Example: Words like "blog" (web + log), "paratrooper" (parachute + trooper), "motel" (motor + hotel), and "telethon" (telephone + marathon) are all portmanteaus in common English.

  7. Literary Device: Definition and Examples

    Example 1. The foil is a structural-level literary device in which a supporting character forms a striking contrast to the main character. If the main character is intelligent but physically frail, the foil can be a brawny dimwit. This makes the characters seem more vivid and helps their attributes stand out.

  8. Literary Devices and Literary Terms

    literary devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her messages in a simple manner to the readers. When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work. Below is a list of literary devices with detailed definition and examples.

  9. Literary Devices

    From the very first time humans began sharing stories, literary devices have played a key role in our history. Along with the creation of storytelling came the development of narrative elements like plot, character, and tone. As storytelling evolved over the millennia, so too did the range and complexity of techniques available to authors.

  10. The Definitive Guide to Literary Devices ️

    The Definitive Guide to Literary Devices. Welcome to the wondrous world of literary devices! Here, we will dive deep into the realm of language and explore the many weapons in a writer's arsenal. From metaphor to alliteration, personification to hyperbole, we've got it all. If you're an aspiring writer, you'll want to bookmark this page ...

  11. Literary Devices: 30 Elements & Techniques for Writers (With Examples)

    30 Common Literary Devices. 1. Alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds within a group of words. For example, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.". Nonfiction Authors can use alliteration to create catchy chapter or subsection titles. For example, "4 Best Bets for Better Business.".

  12. Literary Devices List: 33 Main Literary Devices with Examples

    An classic example of allegory is Dante's Divine Comedy, where Dante uses his fictional journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven as an allegory for the journey of a person's soul to God. 2. Allusion. Allusion is a common literary device that indirectly references a real life person, place, or event.

  13. Literary Devices with Definitions & Examples

    Pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which human emotions, traits, or intentions are attributed to inanimate objects or natural phenomena. This device is often used to create a sense of mood or atmosphere in a work of literature, and to reflect the emotional state of the characters or events.

  14. Literary Devices and Literary Terms

    Introduction. Commonly, the term Literary Devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her message (s) in a simple manner to his or her readers. When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work.

  15. Literary Devices

    Literary devices and figures of speech are both techniques used in writing and speaking; however, they serve different purposes and are used in different ways. Literary devices are techniques or tools that a writer uses to create a specific effect or convey a certain meaning. These devices include elements of language, structure, style, and ...

  16. Basic Types of Literary Devices

    Adding different types of literary devices to your writing can take it to the next level. Learn about these devices and how to use them to your advantage.

  17. An A to Z Guide to Literary Devices and Tools

    T. Trope: Trope has two definitions. The first refers to a literary device used throughout a work of literature or a word used in a figurative sense. A trope within a novel might be the recurring bird imagery or allusions. The second definition for trope is a theme that emerges over and over within a genre.

  18. Theme

    Leitwortstil: Leitwortstil is a literary device—less common than motif—in which writers use a repeated phrase to underscore important themes and concepts in a work. A famous example is Kurt Vonnegut's repetition of the phrase "So it goes" throughout his novel Slaughterhouse Five, a novel which centers around the events of World War II ...

  19. 10 Important Literary Devices in Prose: Examples & Analysis

    5. Foreshadowing. A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story. Foreshadowing is a powerful literary device in fiction, drawing readers ever-closer to the story's climax. A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story, often underscoring the story's suspense and conflict.

  20. Diction Examples and Definition

    A. The choice of words an author makes in writing a piece of literature. B. The enunciation that a speaker uses. C. The way the reader feels when reading a work of literature. Answer: A is correct. While B is another definition of diction, it does not relate to diction as a literary device. [/spoiler] 2.

  21. Plot

    Definition of Plot. Plot is a literary device that writers use to structure what happens in a story. However, there is more to this device than combining a sequence of events. Plots must present an event, action, or turning point that creates conflict or raises a dramatic question, leading to subsequent events that are connected to each other ...

  22. 15 Poetic Devices in Literature with Examples

    Now, imagine poetic devices as a set of fantastical paintbrushes, each with its own superpower. One brush adds sparkles, another creates 3D effects, and yet another makes words do backflips off the page. That, my friends, is the essence of poetic devices—linguistic tools that turn plain Jane sentences into literary supermodels.

  23. Video: Literary Devices

    What are literary devices? See literary device examples and a literary devices list. Learn about literary devices in poetry and common literary...

  24. Examples and Definition of Setting in Literature

    Definition of Setting. Setting is a literary device that allows the writer of a narrative to establish the time, location, and environment in which it takes place. This is an important element in a story, as the setting indicates to the reader when and where the action takes place.As a result, the setting of a narrative or story helps the reader picture clear and relevant details.

  25. Personification Literary Device

    What is Personification Literary Device? - Definition. Personification is a literary device wherein non-human objects, animals, or abstract concepts are given human attributes or emotions. It serves to create more relatable scenarios, induce empathy, or simply paint a vivid picture in a reader's mind. By attributing human characteristics to ...

  26. Return of the Raptor: America in the Dark Kindle Edition

    Literature & Fiction Kindle $4.99 . Available instantly . Hardcover $24.99 . Paperback $15.99 . Other New from $15.99 . Hardcover from $24.99 . Paperback from $15.99 . ... Update your device or payment method, cancel individual pre-orders or your subscription at Your Memberships & Subscriptions.

  27. Wit

    Example #2: Canto-I, The Rape of the Lock (by Alexander Pope) "The Rape of the Lock" has an abundance of scintillating and sparkling wit. In fact, through his wit, Alexander Pope has made a comic assault on a society preoccupied with superficialities. It is a witty satire that ridicules idleness, laziness, follies, frivolities, shallowness ...