10 Common Literary Devices (With Examples)

There are certain literary devices that I use often in my writing because they are simple and seem to make it flow. I never bothered to intentionally use them when I wrote in the past, but now I find that they just add that extra something. A literary device has to do with the sound, repetition, meaning, and description of words or phrases. Used wisely, these devices can really enhance your work and create a deeper level of meaning that readers will enjoy decoding. Try some of these in your next poem or story.

(Mini Magnum by hobvias sudoneighm via CC)
  1. Alliteration. This is one of the easiest go-to devices to use. Alliteration involves the quick repetition of the first letters, and therefore the first sounds, of words. 
    • The white witch wanted to write a new spell.
    • New aunt Anita aimed to avoid annoying her tired sister.
  2. Personification. Giving inanimate objects and other phenomena human traits.
    • The leaves danced in the wind, twirling round and round before bowing out and resting on the cold ground.
  3. Simile. Comparing two unrelated things to creating new understanding and meaning. They are marked by the use of “like,” “as,”or “such as.”
    • She ran like the wind.
    • His eyes were as blue as the sky.
  4. Foreshadowing. Words, phrases, or events that hint or suggest to the reader what’s going to happen in the story.
    • In To Kill a Mockingbird, finding the presents in the oak tree foreshadows the truth about Boo Radley.
    • Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” foreshadows the narrator’s actions from the start of the story: I can’t say how the idea first entered my brain, but once it was there, it haunted me day and night. There wasn’t any reason for it. I liked the old man.
  5.  Satire. Using humor, wit, or sarcasm to expose human vice or folly.
    • In television, the creators of South Park have built their success on satire.
    • My favorite example is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”
  6. Symbolism. Using objects or action to mean something more than what appears on the surface.
    • The dawn of a new day often is used to symbolize a new beginning.
    • The albatross in in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” symbolizes a burden: Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks / Had I from old and young ! / Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung
    • In daily life, people often associate colors with ideas. Black with death. Red with love. White with purity or peace.
  7. Onomatopoeia. Words whose sound mimics natural sounds or sounds of an object. These words help bring the reader into the scene by working on the senses.
    • Bang! Flutter. Buzzzzz! Hum.
    • The birds tweet in chipper chatter outside the window.
    • A loud bang jarred me from sleep.
  8. Metaphor. A device that asserts that one object is another, bringing new meaning to the original subject for a fresh understanding.
    • A common metaphor: it’s raining cats and dogs.
    • From Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
    • Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. – George Orwell
  9. Hyperbole. Exaggerating a statement or idea to emphasize a point or emotion.
    • If I take another step, my feet will fall off.
    • She’s so thin she could thread a needle.
    • If his teeth were any whiter, I’d be blind.
  10.  Oxymoron. A device that puts two contradictory ideas together to create complex meaning. (See top photo)
    • Their relationship was an open secret.
    • The sight of the living dead shuffling below sent a blazing chill down her spine.
    • It’s hard to explain that comforting pain to those who don’t understand.

What are some of your favorite literary devices? Do you have a favorite example of one of these? Please share in the comments!

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      2 years ago


      2 years ago