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 ways.

Consider this your crash course in common literary devices. Whether you’re studying for the AP Lit exam or looking to improve your creative writing, this article is crammed with literary devices, examples, and analysis.

What are Literary Devices?

  • Personification
  • Juxtaposition
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Common Literary Devices in Poetry
  • Common Literary Devices in Prose
  • Repetition Literary Devices
  • Dialogue Literary Devices
  • Word Play Literary Devices
  • Parallelism Literary Devices
  • Rhetorical Devices

Let’s start with the basics. What are literary devices?

Literary devices take writing beyond its literal meaning. They help guide the reader in how to read the piece.

Literary devices are ways of taking writing beyond its straightforward, literal meaning. In that sense, they are techniques for helping guide the reader in how to read the piece.

Central to all literary devices is a quality of connection : by establishing or examining relationships between things, literary devices encourage the reader to perceive and interpret the world in new ways.

One common form of connection in literary devices is comparison. Metaphors and similes are the most obvious examples of comparison. A metaphor is a direct comparison of two things—“the tree is a giant,” for example. A simile is an in direct comparison—“the tree is like a giant.” In both instances, the tree is compared to—and thus connected with—something (a giant) beyond what it literally is (a tree).

Other literary devices forge connections in different ways. For example, imagery, vivid description, connects writing richly to the worlds of the senses. Alliteration uses the sound of words itself to forge new literary connections (“alligators and apples”).

By enabling new connections that go beyond straightforward details and meanings, literary devices give literature its power.

What all these literary devices have in common is that they create new connections: rich layers of sound, sense, emotion, narrative, and ultimately meaning that surpass the literal details being recounted. They are what sets literature apart, and what makes it uniquely powerful.

Read on for an in-depth look and analysis at 112 common literary devices.

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Literary Devices List: 14 Common Literary Devices

In this article, we focus on literary devices that can be found in both poetry and prose.

There are a lot of literary devices to cover, each of which require their own examples and analysis. As such, we will start by focusing on common literary devices for this article: literary devices that can be found in both poetry and prose. With each device, we’ve included examples in literature and exercises you can use in your own creative writing.

Afterwards, we’ve listed other common literary devices you might see in poetry, prose, dialogue, and rhetoric.

Let’s get started!

1. Metaphor

Metaphors, also known as direct comparisons, are one of the most common literary devices. A metaphor is a statement in which two objects, often unrelated, are compared to each other.

Example of metaphor: This tree is the god of the forest.

Obviously, the tree is not a god—it is, in fact, a tree. However, by stating that the tree is the god, the reader is given the image of something strong, large, and immovable. Additionally, using “god” to describe the tree, rather than a word like “giant” or “gargantuan,” makes the tree feel like a spiritual center of the forest.

Metaphors allow the writer to pack multiple descriptions and images into one short sentence. The metaphor has much more weight and value than a direct description. If the writer chose to describe the tree as “the large, spiritual center of the forest,” the reader won’t understand the full importance of the tree’s size and scope.

Similes, also known as indirect comparisons, are similar in construction to metaphors, but they imply a different meaning. Like metaphors, two unrelated objects are being compared to each other. Unlike a metaphor, the comparison relies on the words “like” or “as.”

Example of simile: This tree is like the god of the forest. OR: This tree acts as the god of the forest.

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?

The obvious difference between these two common literary devices is that a simile uses “like” or “as,” whereas a metaphor never uses these comparison words.

Additionally, in reference to the above examples, the insertion of “like” or “as” creates a degree of separation between both elements of the device. In a simile, the reader understands that, although the tree is certainly large, it isn’t large enough to be a god; the tree’s “godhood” is simply a description, not a relevant piece of information to the poem or story.

Simply put, metaphors are better to use as a central device within the poem/story, encompassing the core of what you are trying to say. Similes are better as a supporting device.

Does that mean metaphors are better than similes? Absolutely not. Consider Louise Gluck’s poem “ The Past. ” Gluck uses both a simile and a metaphor to describe the sound of the wind: it is like shadows moving, but is her mother’s voice. Both devices are equally haunting, and ending the poem on the mother’s voice tells us the central emotion of the poem.

Learn more about the difference between similes and metaphors here:

Simile vs. Metaphor vs. Analogy: Definitions and Examples

Simile and Metaphor Writing Exercise: Tenors and Vehicles

Most metaphors and similes have two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor refers to the subject being described, and the vehicle refers to the image that describes the tenor.

So, in the metaphor “the tree is a god of the forest,” the tenor is the tree and the vehicle is “god of the forest.”

To practice writing metaphors and similes, let’s create some literary device lists. grab a sheet of paper and write down two lists. In the first list, write down “concept words”—words that cannot be physically touched. Love, hate, peace, war, happiness, and anger are all concepts because they can all be described but are not physical objects in themselves.

In the second list, write down only concrete objects—trees, clouds, the moon, Jupiter, New York brownstones, uncut sapphires, etc.

Your concepts are your tenors, and your concrete objects are your vehicles. Now, randomly draw a one between each tenor and each vehicle, then write an explanation for your metaphor/simile. You might write, say:

Have fun, write interesting literary devices, and try to incorporate them into a future poem or story!

An analogy is an argumentative comparison: it compares two unalike things to advance an argument. Specifically, it argues that two things have equal weight, whether that weight be emotional, philosophical, or even literal. Because analogical literary devices operate on comparison, it can be considered a form of metaphor.

For example:

Making pasta is as easy as one, two, three.

This analogy argues that making pasta and counting upwards are equally easy things. This format, “A is as B” or “A is to B”, is a common analogy structure.

Another common structure for analogy literary devices is “A is to B as C is to D.” For example:

Gordon Ramsay is to cooking as Meryl Streep is to acting.

The above constructions work best in argumentative works. Lawyers and essayists will often use analogies. In other forms of creative writing, analogies aren’t as formulaic, but can still prove to be powerful literary devices. In fact, you probably know this one:

“That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” — Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

To put this into the modern language of an analogy, Shakespeare is saying “a rose with no name smells as a rose with a name does.” The name “rose” does not affect whether or not the flower smells good.

Analogy Writing Exercise

Analogies are some of the most common literary devices, alongside similes and metaphors. Here’s an exercise for writing one yourself.

On a blank sheet of paper: write down the first four nouns that come to mind. Try to use concrete, visual nouns. Then, write down a verb. If you struggle to come up with any of these, any old word generator on the internet will help.

The only requirement is that two of your four nouns should be able to perform the verb. A dog can swim, for example, but it can’t fly an airplane.

Your list might look like this:

Verb: Fall Nouns: Rain, dirt, pavement, shadow

An analogy you create from this list might be: “his shadow falls on the pavement how rain falls on the dirt in May.

Your analogy might end up being silly or poetic, strange or evocative. But, by forcing yourself to make connections between seemingly disparate items, you’re using these literary devices to hone the skills of effective, interesting writing.

Is imagery a literary device? Absolutely! Imagery can be both literal and figurative, and it relies on the interplay of language and sensation to create a sharper image in your brain.

Imagery is what it sounds like—the use of figurative language to describe something.

Imagery is what it sounds like—the use of figurative language to describe something. In fact, we’ve already seen imagery in action through the previous literary devices: by describing the tree as a “god”, the tree looks large and sturdy in the reader’s mind.

However, imagery doesn’t just involve visual descriptions; the best writers use imagery to appeal to all five senses. By appealing to the reader’s sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, your writing will create a vibrant world for readers to live and breathe in.

The best writers use imagery to appeal to all five senses.

Let’s use imagery to describe that same tree. (I promise I can write about more than just trees, but it’s a very convenient image for these common literary devices, don’t you think?)

Notice how these literary device examples also used metaphors and similes? Literary devices often pile on top of each other, which is why so many great works of literature can be analyzed endlessly. Because imagery depends on the object’s likeness to other objects, imagery upholds the idea that a literary device is synonymous with comparison.

Imagery Writing Exercise

Want to try your hand at imagery? You can practice this concept by describing an object in the same way that this article describes a tree! Choose something to write about—any object, image, or idea—and describe it using the five senses. (“This biscuit has the tidy roundness of a lady’s antique hat.” “The biscuit tastes of brand-new cardboard.” and so on!)

Then, once you’ve written five (or more) lines of imagery, try combining these images until your object is sharp and clear in the reader’s head.

Imagery is one of the most essential common literary devices. To learn more about imagery, or to find more imagery writing exercises, take a look at our article Imagery Definition: 5+ Types of Imagery in Literature .

5. Symbolism

Symbolism combines a lot of the ideas presented in metaphor and imagery. Essentially, a symbol is the use of an object to represent a concept—it’s kind of like a metaphor, except more concise!

Symbols are everywhere in the English language, and we often use these common literary devices in speech and design without realizing it. The following are very common examples of symbolism:

A few very commonly used symbols include:

  • “Peace” represented by a white dove
  • “Love” represented by a red rose
  • “Conformity” represented by sheep
  • “Idea” represented by a light bulb switching on

The symbols above are so widely used that they would likely show up as clichés in your own writing. (Would you read a poem, written today, that started with “Let’s release the white dove of peace”?) In that sense, they do their job “too well”—they’re such a good symbol for what they symbolize that they’ve become ubiquitous, and you’ll have to add something new in your own writing.

Symbols are often contextually specific as well. For example, a common practice in Welsh marriage is to give your significant other a lovespoon , which the man has designed and carved to signify the relationship’s unique, everlasting bond. In many Western cultures, this same bond is represented by a diamond ring—which can also be unique and everlasting!

Symbolism makes the core ideas of your writing concrete.

Finally, notice how each of these examples are a concept represented by a concrete object. Symbolism makes the core ideas of your writing concrete, and also allows you to manipulate your ideas. If a rose represents love, what does a wilted rose or a rose on fire represent?

Symbolism Writing Exercise

Often, symbols are commonly understood images—but not always. You can invent your own symbols to capture the reader’s imagination, too!

Try your hand at symbolism by writing a poem or story centered around a symbol. Choose a random object, and make that object represent something. For example, you could try to make a blanket represent the idea of loneliness.

When you’ve paired an object and a concept, write your piece with that symbol at the center:

The down blanket lay crumpled, unused, on the empty side of our bed.

The goal is to make it clear that you’re associating the object with the concept. Make the reader feel the same way about your symbol as you do!

6. Personification

Personification, giving human attributes to nonhuman objects, is a powerful way to foster empathy in your readers.

Personification is exactly what it sounds like: giving human attributes to nonhuman objects. Also known as anthropomorphism, personification is a powerful way to foster empathy in your readers.

Think about personification as if it’s a specific type of imagery. You can describe a nonhuman object through the five senses, and do so by giving it human descriptions. You can even impute thoughts and emotions—mental events—to a nonhuman or even nonliving thing. This time, we’ll give human attributes to a car—see our personification examples below!

Personification (using sight): The car ran a marathon down the highway.

Personification (using sound): The car coughed, hacked, and spluttered.

Personification (using touch): The car was smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Personification (using taste): The car tasted the bitter asphalt.

Personification (using smell): The car needed a cold shower.

Personification (using mental events): The car remembered its first owner fondly.

Notice how we don’t directly say the car is like a human—we merely describe it using human behaviors. Personification exists at a unique intersection of imagery and metaphor, making it a powerful literary device that fosters empathy and generates unique descriptions.

Personification Writing Exercise

Try writing personification yourself! In the above example, we chose a random object and personified it through the five senses. It’s your turn to do the same thing: find a concrete noun and describe it like it’s a human.

Here are two examples:

The ancient, threadbare rug was clearly tired of being stepped on.

My phone issued notifications with the grimly efficient extroversion of a sorority chapter president.

Now start writing your own! Your descriptions can be active or passive, but the goal is to foster empathy in the reader’s mind by giving the object human traits.

7. Hyperbole

You know that one friend who describes things very dramatically? They’re probably speaking in hyperboles. Hyperbole is just a dramatic word for being over-dramatic—which sounds a little hyperbolic, don’t you think?

Basically, hyperbole refers to any sort of exaggerated description or statement. We use hyperbole all the time in the English language, and you’ve probably heard someone say things like:

  • I’ve been waiting a billion years for this
  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse
  • I feel like a million bucks
  • You are the king of the kitchen

None of these examples should be interpreted literally: there are no kings in the kitchen, and I doubt anyone can eat an entire horse in one sitting. This common literary device allows us to compare our emotions to something extreme, giving the reader a sense of how intensely we feel something in the moment.

This is what makes hyperbole so fun! Coming up with crazy, exaggerated statements that convey the intensity of the speaker’s emotions can add a personable element to your writing. After all, we all feel our emotions to a certain intensity, and hyperbole allows us to experience that intensity to its fullest.

Hyperbole Writing Exercise

To master the art of the hyperbole, try expressing your own emotions as extremely as possible. For example, if you’re feeling thirsty, don’t just write that you’re thirsty, write that you could drink the entire ocean. Or, if you’re feeling homesick, don’t write that you’re yearning for home, write that your homeland feels as far as Jupiter.

As a specific exercise, you can try writing a poem or short piece about something mundane, using more and more hyperbolic language with each line or sentence. Here’s an example:

A well-written hyperbole helps focus the reader’s attention on your emotions and allows you to play with new images, making it a fun, chaos-inducing literary device.

Is irony a literary device? Yes—but it’s often used incorrectly. People often describe something as being ironic, when really it’s just a moment of dark humor. So, the colloquial use of the word irony is a bit off from its official definition as a literary device.

Irony is when the writer describes something by using opposite language. As a real-life example, if someone is having a bad day, they might say they’re doing “ greaaaaaat ”, clearly implying that they’re actually doing quite un-greatly. Or a story’s narrator might write:

Like most bureaucrats, she felt a boundless love for her job, and was eager to share that good feeling with others.

In other words, irony highlights the difference between “what seems to be” and “what is.” In literature, irony can describe dialogue, but it also describes ironic situations : situations that proceed in ways that are elaborately contrary to what one would expect. A clear example of this is in The Wizard of Oz . All of the characters already have what they are looking for, so when they go to the wizard and discover that they all have brains, hearts, etc., their petition—making a long, dangerous journey to beg for what they already have—is deeply ironic.

Irony Writing Exercise

For verbal irony, try writing a sentence that gives something the exact opposite qualities that it actually has:

The triple bacon cheeseburger glistened with health and good choices.

For situational irony, try writing an imagined plot for a sitcom, starting with “Ben lost his car keys and can’t find them anywhere.” What would be the most ironic way for that situation to be resolved? (Are they sitting in plain view on Ben’s desk… at the detective agency he runs?) Have fun with it!

9. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition refers to the placement of contrasting ideas next to each other, often to produce an ironic or thought-provoking effect. Writers use juxtaposition in both poetry and prose, though this common literary device looks slightly different within each realm of literature.

In poetry, juxtaposition is used to build tension or highlight an important contrast. Consider the poem “ A Juxtaposition ” by Kenneth Burke, which juxtaposes nation & individual, treble & bass, and loudness & silence. The result is a poem that, although short, condemns the paradox of a citizen trapped in their own nation.

Just a note: these juxtapositions are also examples of antithesis , which is when the writer juxtaposes two completely opposite ideas. Juxtaposition doesn’t have to be completely contrarian, but in this poem, it is.

Juxtaposition accomplishes something similar in prose. A famous example comes from the opening A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of time.” Dickens opens his novel by situating his characters into a world of contrasts, which is apt for the extreme wealth disparities pre-French Revolution.

Juxtaposition Writing Exercise

One great thing about juxtaposition is that it can dismantle something that appears to be a binary. For example, black and white are often assumed to be polar opposites, but when you put them next to each other, you’ll probably get some gray in the middle.

To really master the art of juxtaposition, try finding two things that you think are polar opposites. They can be concepts, such as good & evil, or they can be people, places, objects, etc. Juxtapose your two selected items by starting your writing with both of them—for example:

Across the town from her wedding, the bank robbers were tying up the hostages.

I put the box of chocolates on the coffee table, next to the gas mask.

Then write a poem or short story that explores a “gray area,” relationship, commonality, or resonance between these two objects or events—without stating as much directly. If you can accomplish what Dickens or Burke accomplishes with their juxtapositions, then you, too, are a master!

10. Paradox

A paradox is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas that, while seemingly impossible, actually reveals a deeper truth. One of the trickier literary devices, paradoxes are powerful tools for deconstructing binaries and challenging the reader’s beliefs.

A simple paradox example comes to us from Ancient Rome.

Catullus 85 ( translated from Latin)

I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask. I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.

Often, “hate” and “love” are assumed to be opposing forces. How is it possible for the speaker to both hate and love the object of his affection? The poem doesn’t answer this, merely telling us that the speaker is “tortured,” but the fact that these binary forces coexist in the speaker is a powerful paradox. Catullus 85 asks the reader to consider the absoluteness of feelings like hate and love, since both seem to torment the speaker equally.

Another paradox example comes from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”

Here, “natural” and “pose” are conflicting ideas. Someone who poses assumes an unnatural state of being, whereas a natural poise seems effortless and innate. Despite these contrasting ideas, Wilde is exposing a deeper truth: to seem natural is often to keep up appearances, and seeming natural often requires the same work as assuming any other pose.

Note: paradox should not be confused with oxymoron. An oxymoron is also a statement with contrasting ideas, but a paradox is assumed to be true, whereas an oxymoron is merely a play on words (like the phrase “same difference”).

Paradox Writing Exercise

Paradox operates very similarly to literary devices like juxtaposition and irony. To write a paradox, juxtapose two binary ideas. Try to think outside of the box here: “hate and love” are an easy binary to conjure, so think about something more situational. Wilde’s paradox “natural and pose” is a great one; another idea could be the binaries “awkward and graceful” or “red-handed and innocent.”

Now, situate those binaries into a certain situation, and make it so that they can coexist. Imagine a scenario in which both elements of your binary are true at the same time. How can this be, and what can we learn from this surprising juxtaposition?

11. Allusion

If you haven’t noticed, literary devices are often just fancy words for simple concepts. A metaphor is literally a comparison and hyperbole is just an over-exaggeration. In this same style, allusion is just a fancy word for a literary reference; when a writer alludes to something, they are either directly or indirectly referring to another, commonly-known piece of art or literature.

The most frequently-alluded to work is probably the Bible. Many colloquial phrases and ideas stem from it, since many themes and images from the Bible present themselves in popular works, as well as throughout Western culture. Any of the following ideas, for example, are Biblical allusions:

  • Referring to a kind stranger as a Good Samaritan
  • Describing an ideal place as Edenic, or the Garden of Eden
  • Saying someone “turned the other cheek” when they were passive in the face of adversity
  • When something is described as lasting “40 days and 40 nights,” in reference to the flood of Noah’s Ark

Of course, allusion literary devices aren’t just Biblical. You might describe a woman as being as beautiful as the Mona Lisa, or you might call a man as stoic as Hemingway.

Why write allusions? Allusions appeal to common experiences: they are metaphors in their own right, as we understand what it means to describe an ideal place as Edenic.

Like the other common literary devices, allusions are often metaphors, images, and/or hyperboles. And, like other literary devices, allusions also have their own sub-categories.

Allusion Writing Exercise

See how densely you can allude to other works and experiences in writing about something simple. Go completely outside of good taste and name-drop like crazy:

Allusions (way too much version): I wanted Nikes, not Adidas, because I want to be like Mike. But still, “a rose by any other name”—they’re just shoes, and “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

From this frenetic style of writing, trim back to something more tasteful:

Allusions (more tasteful version): I had wanted Nikes, not Adidas—but “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

12. Allegory

An allegory is a story whose sole purpose is to represent an abstract concept or idea. As such, allegories are sometimes extended allusions, but the two common literary devices have their differences.

For example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory for the deterioration of Communism during the early establishment of the U.S.S.R. The farm was founded on a shared goal of overthrowing the farming elite and establishing an equitable society, but this society soon declines. Animal Farm mirrors the Bolshevik Revolution, the overthrow of the Russian aristocracy, Lenin’s death, Stalin’s execution of Trotsky, and the nation’s dissolution into an amoral, authoritarian police state. Thus, Animal Farm is an allegory/allusion to the U.S.S.R.:

Allusion (excerpt from Animal Farm ):

“There were times when it seemed to the animals that they worked longer hours and fed no better than they had done in [Farmer] Jones’s day.”

However, allegories are not always allusions. Consider Plato’s “ Allegory of the Cave ,” which represents the idea of enlightenment. By representing a complex idea, this allegory could actually be closer to an extended symbol rather than an extended allusion.

Allegory Writing Exercise

Pick a major trend going on in the world. In this example, let’s pick the growing reach of social media as our “major trend.”

Next, what are the primary properties of that major trend? Try to list them out:

  • More connectedness
  • A loss of privacy
  • People carefully massaging their image and sharing that image widely

Next, is there something happening at—or that could happen at—a much smaller scale that has some or all of those primary properties? This is where your creativity comes into play.

Well… what if elementary school children not only started sharing their private diaries, but were now expected to share their diaries? Let’s try writing from inside that reality:

I know Jennifer McMahon made up her diary entry about how much she misses her grandma. The tear smudges were way too neat and perfect. Anyway, everyone loved it. They photocopied it all over the bulletin boards and they even read it over the PA, and Jennifer got two extra brownies at lunch.

Try your own! You may find that you’ve just written your own Black Mirror episode.

13. Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis refers to a poem or story that is directly inspired by another piece of art. Ekphrastic literature often describes another piece of art, such as the classic “ Ode on a Grecian Urn ”:

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede Of marble men and maidens overwrought, With forest branches and the trodden weed; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ekphrasis can be considered a direct allusion because it borrows language and images from other artwork. For a great example of ekphrasis—as well as a submission opportunity for writers!—check out the monthly ekphrastic challenge that Rattle Poetry runs.

Ekphrasis writing exercise

Try your hand at ekphrasis by picking a piece of art you really enjoy and writing a poem or story based off of it. For example, you could write a story about Mona Lisa having a really bad day, or you could write a black-out poem created from the lyrics of your favorite song.

Or, try Rattle ‘s monthly ekphrastic challenge ! All art inspires other art, and by letting ekphrasis guide your next poem or story, you’re directly participating in a greater artistic and literary conversation.

14. Onomatopoeia

Flash! Bang! Wham! An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the noise it describes. Conveying both a playfulness of language and a serious representation of everyday sounds, onomatopoeias draw the reader into the sensations of the story itself.

Onomatopoeia words are most often used in poetry and in comic books, though they certainly show up in works of prose as well. Some onomatopoeias can be found in the dictionary, such as “murmur,” “gargle,” and “rumble,” “click,” and “vroom.” However, writers make up onomatopoeia words all the time, so while the word “ptoo” definitely sounds like a person spitting, you won’t find it in Merriam Webster’s.

Here’s an onomatopoeia example, from the poem “Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio” by Carl Sandburg .

The onomatopoeias have been highlighted in bold. These common literary devices help make your writing fresh, interesting, and vivid, creating a sonic setting that the reader can fall into.

Learn more about onomatopoeias here!

Onomatopoeia Writing Exercise

Onomatopoeias are fun literary devices to use in your work, so have fun experimenting with them. In this exercise, take a moment to listen to the noises around you. Pay close attention to the whir of electronics, the fzzzzzzz of the heater, the rumbling of cars on the street, or the tintintintintin of rain on the roof.

Whatever you hear, convert those sounds into onomatopoeias. Make a list of those sounds. Try to use a mix of real words and made up ones: the way you represent noise in language can have a huge impact on your writing style .

Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, and when you have a comprehensive list of the sounds you hear, write a poem or short story that uses every single word you’ve written down.

If you built your political campaign off of wordplay, would you be punning for president?

A pun is a literary device that plays with the sounds and meanings of words to produce new, often humorous ideas. For example, let’s say you used too much butter in your recipe, and it ruined the dish. You might joke that you were “outside the margarine of error,” which is a play on the words “margin of error.”

Puns have a rich literary history, and famous writers like Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, as well as famous texts like The Bible, have used puns to add depth and gravity to their words.

Pun Writing Exercise

Jot down a word or phrase that you commonly use. If you’re not sure of what to write down, take a look at this list of English idioms . For example, I might borrow the phrase “blow off steam,” which means to let out your anger.

Take any saying, and play around with the sounds and meanings of the words in that saying. Then, incorporate the new phrase you’ve created into a sentence that allows for the double meaning of the phrase. Here’s two examples:

If I play with the sound of the words, I might come up with “blowing off stream.” Then, I would put that into a sentence that plays with the original meaning of the phrase. Like: “Did you hear about the river boat that got angry and went off course? It was blowing off stream.”

Or, I might play with the meanings of words. For example, I might take the word “blowing” literally, and write the following: “someone who cools down their tea when they’re angry is blowing off steam.”

Searching for ways to add double meanings and challenge the sounds of language will help you build fresh, exciting puns. Learn more about these common literary devices in our article on puns in literature .

16–27. Common Literary Devices in Poetry

The following 12 devices apply to both poetry and prose writers, but they appear most often in verse. Learn more about:

  • Metonymy/Synecdoche
  • Alliteration
  • Consonance/Assonance
  • Euphony/Cacophony
12 Literary Devices in Poetry: Identifying Poetic Devices

28–37. Common Literary Devices in Prose

The following 10 devices show up in verse, but are far more prevalent in prose. Learn more about:

  • Parallel Plot
  • Foreshadowing
  • In Media Res
  • Dramatic Irony
10 Important Literary Devices in Prose: Examples & Analysis

38–48. Repetition Literary Devices

Though they have uncommon names, these common literary devices are all forms of repetition.

  • Anadiplosis
  • Anaphora (prose)
  • Antanaclasis
  • Antimetabole
  • Antistrophe
  • Epanalepsis
Repetition Definition: Types of Repetition in Poetry and Prose

49–57. Dialogue Literary Devices

While these literary elements pertain primarily to dialogue, writers use euphemisms, idioms, and neologisms all the time in their work.

  • Colloquialism
How to Write Dialogue in a Story

58–67. Word Play Literary Devices

The following literary devices push language to the limits. Have fun with these!

  • Double Entendre
  • Malapropism
  • Paraprosdokian
  • Portmanteau
Word Play: Examples of a Play on Words

68–72. Parallelism Literary Devices

Parallelism is a stylistic device where a sentence is composed of equally weighted items. In essence, parallel structure allows form to echo content. Learn all about this essential stylistic literary device below.

  • Grammatical parallelism
  • Rhetorical parallelism
  • Synthetic parallelism
  • Antithetical parallelism
  • Synonymous parallelism
Parallelism Definition: Writing With Parallel Structure

73–112. Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are literary devices intended to persuade the reader of something. You might have heard of ethos, pathos, and logos, but do you know your aposiopesis from your hyperbaton?

Many literary devices can also be considered rhetorical devices. After all, a metaphor can convince you of something just as well as a syllogism. Nonetheless, the following 40 rhetorical/literary devices will sharpen your style, argumentation, and writing abilities.

  • Anacoluthon
  • Polysyndeton
  • Procatalepsis
  • Reductio ad Absurdum
  • Amplification
  • Antiphrasis
  • Overstatement
  • Adnomination
  • Aposiopesis
  • Circumlocution
Common Rhetorical Devices List: The Art of Argument

Master These Common Literary Devices With Writers.com!

The instructors at Writers.com are masters of literary devices. Through masterful instruction and personal expertise, our instructors can help you add, refine, and improve your literary devices, helping you craft great works of literature. Check out our upcoming courses , and join our writing community on Facebook !

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Sean Glatch


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Very nice the litrery divices

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Brilliant litery devices

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thank you this was life-changing

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Broaden the vucablry it does

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enjoyed this (and learned some new things, too). HB

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It is very nice visiting this site.

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This was put together profoundly; thank you! As a writer, you can never learn enough. I will begin incorporating these into my stories. Words can’t express how helpful this was, and it was very efficiently put together as well, so kudos to that!

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I’m so happy this article helped you, Jalen! Happy writing!

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Thank you for this article! It really helped a lot! hands up to the good samaritan of understanding literature :D.

But I would have one last question: Would any sort of intertextuality be considered an Allusion? (Also when you refer to the author for example?)

Great questions! That’s a great way to think about allusion–any sort of intertextuality is indeed allusive. In fact, your use of “Good Samaritan” is an allusion to the Bible, even if you didn’t mean it to be!

And yes, because an allusion is anything referential, then a reference to another author also counts as an allusion. Of course, it can’t be directly stated: “She’s reading Shakespeare” doesn’t count, but “She worships the Immortal Bard” would be an allusion. (It’s also an allusion to the story of the same name by Isaac Asimov).

I’m glad to hear our article was helpful. Happy reading!

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This will help! Thanks!

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There is also Onomatopoeia, you can make the list 45

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This article really helped me, the techniques are amazing, and the detail is incredible. Thank you for taking your time to write this!

I’m so glad this was helpful, Gwen! Happy writing!

this was useful 🙂 thanks

I love personification; you can do so much with it.

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Hi, I’m really sorry but I am still confused with juxtaposition.

Hi Nate! Juxtaposition simply describes when contrasting ideas are placed next to each other. The effect of juxtaposition depends on the ideas that are being juxtaposed, but the point is to surprise or provoke the reader.

Take, for example, the opening line of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Here, happy and unhappy families are being juxtaposed, and the contrast between the two is meant to provoke the reader and highlight the differences between those families. This juxtaposition sets up the novel as a whole, which often discusses themes of family and happiness (among many other themes).

I hope this helps!

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very nice indeed

[…] 33 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises […]

[…] 44 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises […]

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Thanks a lot for this it was really nice, good and fun to read it and it was really helpful for me as a student👔so please keep up with the good work 😉🌹💖😚😍💝💞💐

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Really helping. It’s a wonderful article

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O mother Ghana, teach your children to change their negative attitudes towards you and what you have Please which literary device is this?

The device employed here is called apostrophe, which is when the writer addresses something not actually present for literary effect. Read more about it at this link .

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This was very effective towards my writing and my family really enoyed seeing how much I had learnt. Thanks a lot.

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so irony is literally sarcasm then

Sometimes! Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony.

Verbal irony occurs when a person intentionally says the opposite of what they mean. For example, you might say “I’m having the best day ever” after getting hit by a car.

Sarcasm is the use of verbal irony with the intent of mocking someone or something. You might say “Good going, genius” to someone who made a silly mistake, implying they’re not a genius at all.

Hope that makes sense!

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Love this article! I used to struggle in my literature class, but after reading though this article, I certainly improved! Thanks! However, I have one question I really need your help with- Can I assume that a phrase which is the slightest bit plausible, a hyperbole? For example, a young elementary student who is exceptionally talented in basketball, to such an extent that he was quite famous nation-wide, said that he would be the next Lebron James although he was still very young. Would this be considered as a hyperbole? It would be great if you can help me with this.

That’s a great question! Although that claim is certainly exaggerated, it probably wouldn’t be hyperbole, because the child believes it to be true. A hyperbole occurs when the writer makes an exaggerated statement that they know to be false–e.g. “I’ve been waiting a billion years for this.”

Of course, if the child is self-aware and knows they’re just being cheeky, then it would be hyperbole, but I get the sense that the child genuinely believes they’re the next Lebron. 🙂

I’m glad this article has helped you in your literature class!

That makes a lot of sense, thanks for your reply!

Sorry, I have another question related to hyperbole. This is an extract from Animal Farm:

“Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanation to the others. ‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well being of a pig. We pigs are brain-workers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,’ cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, ‘surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?’ Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious.”

May I know if the speech made by Squealer in this extract is a hyperbole, gaslight (I’m not sure if this is a literary device), or some other device(s)? I know this is very wordy so you can take your time, no rush.

(I am doing a chapter analysis of chapter 3 in Animal Farm)

By the way, if you have written any other articles, please let me know! I would like to read them, thanks!

Take a look at writers.com/writing-tips for our archive on the craft of writing!

It wouldn’t be hyperbole, as a hyperbole is usually a word or phrase, not an entire passage of text. It’s better to analyze this passage in terms of its rhetorical strategies: Squealer is appealing to nebulous ideas like Science and the return of Jones–appeals to logos and pathos, despite there being a lack of evidence.

These strategies are logical fallacies: arguments that are easily disproven through reasoning, but which often resonate when people don’t employ critical thinking. Some of the fallacies here are “appeal to fear” and the “false dilemma” that Jones will return if the pigs don’t eat apples and milk (this is also a “red herring”).

I can’t provide much more help than this, as I don’t want to write your assignment for you, but I’m happy to point you in this direction, because understanding how logical fallacies are abused is essential to being an informed reader and citizen. 🙂

Ok, thanks for your reply!

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Thank you! I am studying for an English final and this was a life saver!

My pleasure, Isla, good luck on your final!

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I have a literature exam coming up,so this was much needed.Thank you!

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Indeed this has been of great help to me.

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I am so greatful of this website it really helps me a lot about myself and my family

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This is awesome

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This website is very useful to understand litery devices…

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thanks it was helpful

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Hi what is the name of the literary device where you name a character after their personality eg. Mr Knighley, Miss honey or Miss Trunchball? Thank you

That’s called an “aptronym”!

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Mind blowing indeed. I had no idea there were so many names for patterns I hear people use with words. This lis is great as is. I am using it to probe further into what they are. I would only suggest that if the time ever allowed for someone to provide a brief detail or definition to each it would save a lot of time for many like me. None the less, I am grateful for the work provided. Thank you.

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It awesome and amazing

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It is personification as well as apostrophe, as Sean suggested. Ghana (the nation, I am assuming) is personified as a mother who is able to teach her citizens (children) to change their negative attitudes towards her.

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Helped alot😊

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This has truly helped me alot. Definitely great

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Thanks so much, I never knew the list to this was as tall as everest, way back in school I didn’t take lit lessons serious and forgot everything til it came to mind to revise these devices And here google landed me, and thanks again so much.

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This is awesome,it truly help me alot

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It was great fun I had an amazing time doing the literary exercises and they helped so much. They really expanded my knowledge of the entire topic it was a wonderful thing to read, it will definitely help me with any English essay I have in the future.

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It was very helpful. I must say that I have a better understanding of these literary devices. It was wonderful reading them.

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45+ Literary Devices and Terms That Everyone Should Know

Whether you're a writer, reader, student, or all of the above, it's important to know how literary devices work. For writers, strong device usage can elevate prose from meager to magnificent. For readers, they can provide a greater understanding of the text. And for students, knowing a few literary devices might just be the key to an A+ English paper!

But first, some of you may be wondering:  what is a literary device, anyway ? So for those of you who are new to the concept, let's go over the definition of literary devices and how they're typically used in writing.

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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, for instance, 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 and pacing 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.

Of course, for readers, literary devices can be difficult to identify. But here's a good rule of thumb: if you're reading a book and you find the author using language or narrative structure in an unusual way, there's probably a literary device at work. Indeed, some devices show up so frequently, you may not even register them as you're reading!

The most common literary devices are:

  • Foreshadowing
  • Juxtaposition
  • Point of view

You've probably heard of most (if not all) of the devices above. Again, they vary in terms of what they do: some of them relate to word usage and description, while others relate to how scenes play out. Some may be characteristic of specific genres — for example, you'll often see flashbacks and foreshadowing in psychological thrillers — while others, like similes and metaphors, can be found in just about any text.

We'll also note that some literary devices double as rhetorical devices , which are used to convey meaning and/or persuade readers on a certain point. The difference is that literary devices can be used to enhance writing in many different ways, not all of which involve trying to convince readers of something.

Basically, literary devices are artistic; rhetorical devices are informative and persuasive. That said, there can still be quite a bit of overlap between the two. Click here to learn more about rhetorical devices.

Now for the pièce de résistance: our full list of literary devices. We first recommend downloading the below free checklist to refer to as you read this post — let's get started!

literary writing devices


Literary Devices Cheatsheet

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

45+ literary devices everyone should know

Here are the literary devices you should know:

1. 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.

2. 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.

5. 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 a 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.”

Similar term: repetition

6. 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

7. 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).

Similar term: personification

literary writing devices

8. 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

9. 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.

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10. 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

11. 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. 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?’”

12. 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 , Ann Patchett

13. 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.

14. 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.”

15. 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 , J.K. Rowling

16. 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.

Similar term: foreshadowing

17. 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.”

Similar term: flashback

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18. 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.

19. 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

20. 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

literary devices

21. 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

literary writing devices


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22. 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

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.

24. 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”)

25. 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…”

Similar terms: oxymoron, paradox

26. 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)

27. 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.”

literary devices

28. 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.”

Similar term: simile

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

29. 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

Similar term: synecdoche

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.

Similar term: symbol

31. 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 .”

32. 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 Shakespeare. (Find 100 more examples of oxymorons here .)

Similar terms: juxtaposition, paradox

literary writing devices

33. 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.

Similar terms: oxymoron, juxtaposition

34. 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

Similar term: anthropomorphism

35. 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.”

literary writing devices

Understanding Point of View

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

36. Polysyndeton

Instead of using a single conjunction in a 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

37. 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.

Similar term: anaphora

literary devices

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.”

Similar term: metaphor

40. 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.

41. 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 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.

Similar term: motif

42. 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)

Similar term: metonymy

43. 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 , Edgar Allan Poe

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 , William Shakespeare

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.

47. 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.

48. 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.

Similar terms: anthropomorphism, personification

Readers and writers alike can get a lot out of understanding literary devices and how they're used. Again, 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. 😏)

Which literary devices are your favorites? Share any thoughts, questions, or soliloquies in the comments below!

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. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprosdokian)

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.

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literary writing devices


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List of 15 Literary Devices Famous Authors Use Most

Posted on Mar 15, 2023

by Bella Rose Pope

All writing is made up of literary devices.

Literary devices, like the good ‘ole flashback, intentionally uplevel your writing, make it better, more impactful, and craft your writing to hook readers from the introduction.

Literary devices are used to:

  • guide your readers in a specific direction to interpret your words the way you want them to
  • add color to your words to get more readers hooked from the first line
  • help you sell more of your self-published books (if you want to get serious about it).

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

In fact, you’re likely using a ton of these elements while writing your book and you don’t even realize it…( hint : your favorite TV shows use these all the time ).

15 Literary devices to make your writing stronger:

  • Alliteration
  • Colloquialism
  • Foreshadowing
  • Juxtaposition
  • Metaphor/simile
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia

What are literary devices?

Literary devices are various techniques used in writing to help you express yourself and your ideas in a slightly more creative way, making your writing and world stand out on-page.

Literary devices can be used to help you tell a story, keep your readers curious (so that they keep reading), and amp up the tension in your story or book. Ultimately, when used well, they can make your writing much stronger.

Authors use literary devices, like imagery, to help convey their intended perception of the writing for the reader.

You probably remember learning about literary devices like personification, foreshadowing, and metaphors in school.

While these are very common types of literary elements, there are many more you can use to make your writing stand out in comparison to others.

Using these devices will help your writing become stronger and better.

When it comes to writing, you always want to be learning more.

Why? Because the more you know, the better your writing will be.

There’s no need to use every single literary term in your book, but by knowing what’s available for you to use and how to use it strategically, your writing will become stronger and therefore, more captivating to readers.

Here is a list of 15 literary devices used by famous and successful authors who know great writing.

#1 – Allusion

No, this is not an illusion , though the two can be confused with one another.

An allusion is a literary device that references a person, place, thing, or event in the real world. You can use this to paint a clear picture or to even connect with your readers.

Allusions are often used as literary elements that help connect the reader to the works. By referencing something the reader may be familiar with within the real world, this invests them more than if you didn’t have any connections.

Allusion Examples: “Careful, now. You don’t want to go opening Pandora’s Box.” In this example, the allusion is Pandora’s Box. Because this is a reference to a real-life element, it’s considered an allusion. “He was a real goodguy ball-buster, the Deadpool of his time.” In this example, the narrator is using Deadpool as the allusion by referencing the person they’re describing as being like the super-hero (if you can call him that) Deadpool.

#2 – Diction

Diction is a literary device that’s the choice of words or style used by the writer in order to convey their message.

Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that diction is the way in which the author wants to write to a specific audience.

Here are the different types of diction and what they mean:

Diction Example: “I bid you adieu.” The diction present here is formal diction, as most people don’t use “bid” and “adieu” regularly in everyday speach. “ I remember her hair in particular, because it was on fleek! “ Here, “fleek” is a slang term used to describe a woman’s hair, which means it’s slang diction.

#3 – Alliteration

Alliteration is a literary device that uses the same letters or sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or title.

There are many nursery rhymes that use alliteration but this is also useful for creating something memorable within your writing.

You can also use alliteration when choosing the title of your book , as it makes it easier to remember, as you can see in the example of alliterative titles below.

Alliteration Examples  

#4 – Allegory

An allegory is a figure of speech where abstract ideas are described using characters, events, or other elements.

That’s more of a fancy way of saying that instead of being literal with an idea, you use characters, events, or other elements in order to describe it in a way the reader can better understand.

Think of it as a story within a story. You use characters, events, or other means to represent the literal meaning.

This one is a little better understood with examples than a definition.

Allegory Examples:   One of the most famous works using allegory is George Orwell’s Animal Farm . The perceived story is about a group of farm animals who rise up and defeat humans, but the underlying story is about the Russian Revoluation. Using an allegory is often telling a darker story in a way that’s easier to understand and for readers to receive.

#5 – Colloquialism

One way to increase the world-building in your book is to use colloquialisms.

Colloquialisms are expressions, words, and phrases that are used in informal, everyday speech, including slang.

You can use these in a couple of different ways. Firstly, you can use these as slang in the real world, and secondly, you can even create your book’s own colloquialisms for their world and culture, and even when writing dialogue .

Colloquialism Examples   Bamboozle – to deceieve Gonna – going to Be blue – to be sad Bugger off – go away Over yonder – over there Da bomb – the best You can create your own coloquialisms within your own world to increase the realism.

#6 – Euphemism

We tend to think of euphemisms as sexual euphemisms , which is how they’re often used. However, euphemisms are actually any terms that refer to something impolite or unpleasant.

We create phrases or other words in order to avoid using the actual term because they’re impolite, rude, or indecent. Those alternatives are considered euphemisms.

This is often why we think of sexual euphemisms when we hear of this literary device. Most individuals would rather make a much lighter comment when referring to something as “indecent” as sex, but the same case is made for when someone dies.

Euphemism Examples   Before I go – before I die Do the dirty – have sex Rear-end – butt perspiration – sweating Thin on top – bald Tipsy – drunk Having a loose screw – being dumb

#7 – Flashbacks

Flashbacks in literature are when the narrator goes back in time for a specific scene or chapter in order to give more context for the story.

Oftentimes, we see flashbacks in books where the past greatly impacts the present or as a way to start a story off on an interesting note. This is seen in Harry Potter whenever Harry gets to see a memory of the past from Dumbledore or even Snape.

Flashbacks Example For example, in Vicious by V.E. Schwab, she uses flashbacks as a recurring element in her book. Every other chapter goes back in time and then back to the present for the next chapter as a way to structure the story itself. So in this instance, Schwab is using this literary device to shape the entire narrative of her story instead of simply using it as a single piece, which is a unique take on flashbacks.  

#8 – Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is when the author places elements within the writing that gives clues about what will happen in the future of the story.

These can often be small bits and pieces that some readers might not pick up on the first read-through. They might even look back and realize that certain elements were foreshadowing once they hit the climax or a big plot twist was revealed.

Foreshadowing can be both literal and thematic.

You can write a scene where there’s a conversation that the reader can’t fully understand the meaning of until more is revealed.

You can also write a scene that has symbolic elements that foreshadow events, like placing a black crow in a scene that foreshadows a death, as crows are symbolic of this.

If you really want to up your creative writing , you can even create themes to foreshadow within your own world.

As an example of this literary device, you can create a culture in which rabbits are a “known” sign of change and conspicuously place a rabbit in a later scene.

Foreshadowing Examples In Back to the Future , one of the clocks in the opening credits has actor Harold Lloyd from the silem film Safety First hanging from the minute hand. This foreshadows Doc Brown hanging from the Hill Valley clock tower later in the movie as he tried to send Marty McFly back to the 1980s. In The Avengers Tony Stark makes a comment about one of the ship’s engineers playing a game called Galaga as they all get together for the first time. The objective of the game in real life is to defend Earth from alien invaders, which is what happens later in the movie.

We’ve also put together this really helpful video about using foreshadowing in your novels—specifically how to use it effectively without giving away the good stuff. If you like to learn from videos, I cover a ton of great info below:

#9 – Imagery

This is one that we briefly touched on above and also one you likely learned in school, though it may have been a while since then so we’ll give you a refresher.

Imagery is when you use visually descriptive or figurative language in your writing. Think of it more like showing versus telling in writing where you use more sensory language versus blunt, plain words.

You would also use stronger verbs in order to present stronger imagery in your writing.

Imagery Example Here’s an example of imagery from Hannah Lee Kidder’s anthology, Little Birds :     Notice how Kidder uses visuals to bring life to her words. You’re very easily able to picture where this scene takes place and exactly what those rocks look like.

#10 – Personification

Personification is a literary device where you give human-like qualities to non-human elements.

This is one of the most well-known literary devices and it’s useful for a number of reasons:

Personification Examples The wind whistled past my ears like a familiar tune I’d long forgotten. The moon yanked a blanket of silver light over the forest. Squatting in the corner was a felt chair covered in the dust and damp of abandonment.

#11 – Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition means placing contrasting elements next to one another in order to emphasize one or both, including words, scenes, or themes.

This literary device can sound overly fancy but it’s quite simple.

Many times, authors will use juxtaposition in order to create a stronger emotional reaction from readers.

Think of when a happy moment in a movie or book is followed by a sad, heart-wrenching scene. That scene is made even worse by the fact that we just had our emotions on a high.

Juxtaposition can also be used on a smaller scale, with contrasting words or phrases next to each other in order to emphasize both, like in the first example below.

However, when it comes to giving your book that “rollercoaster” ride of emotion effect, juxtaposition used on a larger scale can make a huge difference.

Juxtaposition Examples “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” -A Tales of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I hate loving you. You will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good. – The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

#12 – Metaphor/Simile

This is the most popular literary device that has to be used with caution because if used too much, metaphors and similes can reek of cliches and amateur writing.

Metaphors and similes are comparisons used to create better clarification and understanding for readers.

While these are similar, they’re quite different.

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

Similes are comparisons between two things that are NOT like and replace the word with another word but uses “like” or “as” within it.

Metaphor Examples   She was drowning in a sea of her own despair. His heart was lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.
Simile Examples It was like she was drowning in a sea of her own despair. His heart was as heavy as lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.

#13 – Onomatopoeia

While its name may be confusing, this literary device is actually easy to understand once you get past its difficult spelling.

An onomatopoeia is a word or phrase that shows you the sound something makes. Since we can’t hear books, this literary device is best used to paint a clear picture and include the sense of hearing in your writing.

When using this literary element in writing, the correct formatting is almost always to have the word italicized to show emphasis of the sound.

Onomatopoeia Examples   Buzz Zap Splat Boom Splash Zing Crank Whoosh Bang Creak

#14 – Symbolism

Every story uses symbolism in some way. This literary device is the use of a situation or element to represent a larger message, idea, or concept.

Many times, authors use symbolism as a way to convey a broader message that speaks to more readers. You can also use symbolism to foreshadow what will happen later in the story.

Symbolism Examples   Crows are used to symbolize a bad omen, like death The color purple symbolizes royalty The color red can symbolize death, struggle, power, passion Spiders can symbolize spying, sneaky, or untrustworthiness

#15 – Tone

The tone of a book is something that conveys the narrator’s opinion, attitude, or feelings about what is written.

This literary device has the power to shape the entire narrative.

For example, if you want to catch a reader off-guard when something traumatic or intense happens, keeping the tone light and humorous before the event can increase the sensation of shock and tension.

Tone can guide your readers right into the emotion you want them to feel in a particular scene.

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literary writing devices

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.

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28 Common Literary Devices to Know

Matt Ellis

Whether you’re improving your writing skills or studying for a big English exam, literary devices are important to know. But there are dozens of them, in addition to literary elements and techniques, and things can get more confusing than a simile embedded within a metaphor! 

To help you become a pro at identifying literary devices, we provide this guide to some of the most common ones. We include a one-stop glossary with literary device meanings, along with examples to illustrate how they’re used.

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.

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What are literary devices? 

“Literary device” is a broad term for all the techniques, styles, and strategies an author uses to enhance their writing. With millennia of literature in hundreds of different languages, humankind has amassed quite a few of these writing devices, which continue to evolve.

Literary devices can entail general elements that come back again and again in a work of literature, as well as the specific and precise treatment of words only used once. Really, a literary device is anything that can take boring or flavorless writing and turn it into rich, engaging prose! 

>>Read More:  What Type of Writer Are You?

Literary devices vs. literary elements vs. literary techniques

There are a few competing terms when discussing literary devices, so let’s set the record straight. Literary elements and literary techniques are both types of literary devices. 

Literary elements are “big-picture” literary devices that extend throughout the entire work, such as setting, theme, mood, and allegory . 

Literary techniques are the literary devices that deal with individual words and sentences, such as euphemisms and alliteration .

How to identify literary devices when you’re reading

You don’t necessarily need to understand literary devices to enjoy a  good book . Certain devices like personification, onomatopoeia, and anthropomorphism are still entertaining to read, even if you don’t know them by their proper name. 

However, identifying literary devices enables you to reflect on the artistry of a piece of writing and understand the author’s motives. The more literary devices you recognize, the more you comprehend the writing as a whole. Recognizing literary devices helps you notice nuances and piece together a greater meaning that you otherwise might have missed. 

To identify literary devices when reading, it’s best to familiarize yourself with as many as you can. Your first step is to know what to look for, and from there it just takes practice by reading different works and styles. With some experience, you’ll start to spot literary devices instinctively without disrupting your enjoyment or focus while reading. 

How to use literary devices in your writing

To use literary devices in your own writing, you first need to recognize them “in the wild.” Read the list below so you know what you’re looking for, and then pay extra attention when you’re reading. See how literary devices are used in the hands of expert writers. 

When you’re ready to experiment with literary devices yourself, the most important tip is to use them naturally. Too many literary devices stacked upon each other is distracting, so it’s best to use them only sparingly and at the most impactful moments—like a musical cymbal crash! (See what we did there?)

Oftentimes, novice writers will shoehorn literary devices into their writing to make them seem like better authors. The truth is, misusing literary devices stands out more than using them correctly. Wait for a moment when a literary device can occur organically instead of forcing them where they don’t belong. 

>>Read More: Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started

28 different literary devices and their meanings

Allegories are narratives that represent something else entirely, like a historical event or significant ideology, to illustrate a deeper meaning. Sometimes the stories are entirely fabricated and only loosely tied to their source, but sometimes the individual characters act as fictional stand-ins for real-life historical figures. 

Examples: George Orwell’s Animal Farm , an allegory about the Russian Revolution of 1917, is one of the most famous allegories ever written; a more modern example is the animated film Zootopia , an allegory about the prejudices of modern society.  


Alliteration is the literary technique of using a sequence of words that begin with the same letter or sound for a poetic or whimsical effect.  

Examples: Many of Stan Lee’s iconic comic book characters have alliterative names: Peter Parker, Matthew Murdock, Reed Richards, and Bruce Banner. 

An allusion is an indirect reference to another figure, event, place, or work of art that exists outside the story. Allusions are made to famous subjects so that they don’t need explanation—the reader should already understand the reference. 

Example: The title of Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 is itself an allusion to George Orwell’s novel 1984 . The Japanese word for the number nine is pronounced the same as the English letter Q . 


Amplification is the technique of embellishing a simple sentence with more details to increase its significance. 

Example: “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” —Roald Dahl, The Twits

An anagram is a word puzzle where the author rearranges the letters in a word or phrase to make a new word or phrase. 

Example: In Silence of the Lambs , the antagonist Hannibal Lector tried to trick the FBI by naming the suspect Louis Friend, which the protagonist realized was an anagram for “iron sulfide,” the technical term for fool’s gold. 

An analogy compares one thing to something else to help explain a similarity that might not be easy to see. 

Example: In The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan compares the universe’s entire history with a single Earth year to better demonstrate the context of when major events occurred; i.e., the Earth formed on September 9, humans first appeared at 10:30 p.m. on December 31. 


Anthropomorphism is when non-human things like animals or objects act human, exhibiting traits such as speech, thoughts, complex emotions, and sometimes even wearing clothes and standing upright. 

Example: While most fairy tales feature animals that act like humans, the Beauty and the Beast films anthropomorphize household objects: talking clocks, singing teapots, and more.

Antithesis places two contrasting and polarized sentiments next to each other in order to accent both. 

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

The literary technique of chiasmus takes two parallel clauses and inverts the word order of one to create a greater meaning. 

Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” —John F. Kennedy (adapted from Khalil Gibran)


Colloquialism is using casual and informal speech, including slang, in formal writing to make dialogue seem more realistic and authentic. It often incorporates respelling words and adding apostrophes to communicate the pronunciation. 

Example: “How you doin’?” asked Friends character Joey Tribbiani. 


Circumlocution is when the writer deliberately uses excessive words and overcomplicated sentence structures to intentionally convolute their meaning. In other words, it means to write lengthily and confusingly on purpose.

Example: In Shrek the Third , Pinocchio uses circumlocution to avoid giving an honest answer to the Prince’s question.  

An epigraph is an independent, pre-existing quotation that introduces a piece of work, typically with some thematic or symbolic relevance.

Example: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man,” a quote by Samuel Johnson, is the epigraph that opens Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , a novel that deals largely with substance abuse and escapism. 

A euphemism is a soft and inoffensive word or phrase that replaces a harsh, unpleasant, or hurtful one for the sake of sympathy or civility. 

Example: Euphemisms like “passed away” and “downsizing” are quite common in everyday speech, but a good example in literature comes from Harry Potter , where the wizarding community refers to the villain Voldemort as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” in fear of invoking him. 


Foreshadowing is the technique of hinting at future events in a story using subtle parallels, usually to generate more suspense or engage the reader’s curiosity. 

Example: In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker’s vision of himself wearing Darth Vader’s mask foreshadows the later revelation that Vader is in fact Luke’s father.  

Hyperbole is using exaggeration to add more power to what you’re saying, often to an unrealistic or unlikely degree. 

Example: “I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity.” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Imagery refers to writing that invokes the reader’s senses with descriptive  word choice to create a more vivid and realistic recreation of the scene in their mind.

Example: “The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell­ as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.” —E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web  

Similar to an analogy, a  metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things to show their similarities by insisting that they’re the same. 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts. . .”

—William Shakespeare, As You Like It

A story’s mood is the emotional response the author is targeting. A writer sets the mood not just with the plot and characters, but also with tone and the aspects they choose to describe. 

Example: In the horror novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, the literary mood of vampires is scary and ominous, but in the comedic film What We Do In Shadows , the literary mood of vampires is friendly and light-hearted. 

A motif is a recurring element in a story that holds some symbolic or conceptual meaning. It’s closely related to theme , but motifs are specific objects or events, while themes are abstract ideas. 

Example: In Shakespeare’s Macbeth , Lady Macbeth’s obsession with washing her hands is a motif that symbolizes her guilt.  


Fancy literary term onomatopoeia refers to words that represent sounds, with pronunciations similar to those sounds. 

Example: The word “buzz” as in “a buzzing bee” is actually pronounced like the noise a bee makes. 

An oxymoron combines two contradictory words to give them a deeper and more poetic meaning. 

Example: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” —William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Similar to an oxymoron, a paradox combines two contradictory ideas in a way that, although illogical, still seems to make sense. 

Example: “I know only one thing, and that is I know nothing.” —Socrates in Plato’s Apology  


Personification is when an author attributes human characteristics metaphorically to nonhuman things like the weather or inanimate objects. Personification is strictly figurative, whereas anthropomorphism posits that those things really do act like humans. 

Example: “ The heart wants what it wants—or else it does not care . . .” —Emily Dickinson


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. 

Puns are a type of  comedic wordplay that involve  homophones (different words that are pronounced the same) or two separate meanings of the same word. 

Example: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” —Groucho Marx

Satire is a style of writing that uses parody and exaggeration to criticize the faults of society or human nature. 

Example: The works of Jonathan Swift ( Gulliver’s Travels ) and Mark Twain ( The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) are well known for being satirical . A more modern example is the TV show South Park , which often satirizes society by addressing current events. 

Like metaphors, similes also compare two different things to point out their similarities. However,  the difference between similes and metaphors is that similes use the words “like” or “as” to soften the connection and explicitly show it’s just a comparison. 

Example: “Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.” —Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Closely related to motifs, symbolism is when objects, characters, actions, or other recurring elements in a story take on another, more profound meaning and/or represent an abstract concept. 

Example: In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit ), it is said the ring of Sauron symbolizes evil, corruption, and greed, which everyday people, symbolized by Frodo, must strive to resist. 

Tone refers to the language and word choice an author uses with their subject matter, like a playful tone when describing children playing, or a hostile tone when describing the emergence of a villain. If you’re confused about  tone vs. mood , tone refers mostly to individual aspects and details, while mood refers to the emotional attitude of the entire piece of work. 

Example: Told in the first person, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye uses the angsty and sardonic tone of its teenage protagonist to depict the character’s mindset, including slang and curse words.

literary writing devices

Literary Devices and Terms

literary writing devices

Better Creative Writing – 10 Most Common Literary Devices

Creative writing Literary devices and the 10 most commonly used literary devices

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As a creative writer, you must captivate your reader’s attention and enhance their experience by providing ways to better understand the text. For this, creative writing experts use literary devices to help them evoke the admiration of the text and make their writing impressive.

What are the literary devices? and why do we need literary devices for creative writing?

Literary devices are tools used by writers to better express their ideas and enhance their creative writing. These devices help highlight special concepts and ideas using text. As a result, it enhances the readers understanding of the text.

10 most common literary devices used in creative writing

Personification, foreshadowing.

Now let’s learn more about each literary device.

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things by highlighting the similarities. Similes use “ like ” and “ as ” to establish the similarity relationship. Whenever you see the use of “as” in a sentence, it is most likely a simile.

Examples “The truck parked on the driveway was as big as an elephant.” “Martha won the race. She was as fast as lightning.” “Zak is a shy boy but as soon as he starts singing he is as brave as a lion.”

The purpose of a simile is to help paint the picture in the readers’ mind by comparing the characteristics with another well-known subject. For example, by comparing something with snow you help the reader imagine how white that thing is.

A  metaphor  is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true but helps explain an idea or make a point. It states that one thing is another thing even when literally it is not.

A metaphor should not be confused with a simile . Both are ways to compare a subject with another thing. A metaphor states that the subject “ is ” another thing whereas a simile highlights the similarity.

Examples “Martha’s new school English teacher is a dragon” “When Evie’s mum returned from work, she found the children’s room was a war zone.” “The next day of Christmas was amazing. The streets were covered with a white blanket of snow.”

The purpose of a metaphor is to paint striking images in the readers’ mind to help better express the ideas and to make the writing more effective.

Personification is when something non-human, object or animal, is given human-like qualities like yelling, howling, waving, crying etc. It’s a way of describing something as if it was a person to make the sentence sound more exciting.

Examples “I could not get enough sleep as the wind was howling all night” “My clock yelled at me in the morning and scared me to death” “When we returned from a weekend holiday, the plants in the pots were begging for water”

The purpose of personification is to evoke human emotions for non-human things so that the readers can better connect to the things. It helps to convey ideas in a way that people can relate to.

The art of exaggerating or stretching the truth to express a feeling or idea even though literally it is not possible.

Examples “ Jack will live for a hundred years.” “I’m so tired that I can sleep for a week.” “This suitcase weighs a ton.” “I’m dying of thirst. Can you please get me something to drink?” “We have waited decades for you to release an update. “

The purpose of hyperbole is to amplify personal response by the method of exaggeration. Hyperbole is used commonly in everyday speech and you are sure to have encountered or even used it without realising.

Imagery is a powerful sensory language technique that helps the reader imagine the world using descriptive details of the five senses i.e. taste ,  touch ,  sight ,  smell , and  sound . Imagery can also pertain to movement, emotions and feelings.

Examples “We carefully held hands as we crawled through the prickly bushes surrounding us.” “On our way back to the camp site we saw a black bear standing 8 feet tall with claws clamped on the trunk of a tree.” “The repulsive sweaty odour of his workout clothes made it difficult to continue the conversation.”

The purpose of imagery is to bring the writing to life, create the mood, help the reader visualise the imaginary world and make the reader feel like they are part of the experience that the author has created.

Symbolism is the use of symbols to depict deeper meanings and qualities. Like, the dove is the symbol of peace, black is the symbol of evil. Most symbols are not universal and may be used to signify different ideas and qualities. Like, the colour white can be used to signify a death in one context and purity in another context.

Examples “A river of red flowed through the battleground” “Everyone was asked to dress in white at the funeral of the famous Bollywood actor.”

The purpose of symbolism is to signify ideas and qualities that are different from their literal sense.

Flashbacks are used to introduce past events. It is either used to introduce events that happened before the story or to reflect on the events that happened earlier in the story.

Examples “As she fastened the seat belt, she remembered the time when she fell off of the top of a slide in her childhood.”

The purpose of a flashback is to convey to the reader some information about the characters background or the motives for the existing conflicts in the story.

Foreshadowing is the technique used by writers to inform their readers about an event that has to happen later in the story. It is a hint to what is going to happen later in the story.

Examples “Parents who recently moved to San Fransisco, reassures their daughter that everything at her new school is going to be fine.” – foreshadows that something might happen at the school. “The main character always looks worried and careful when going out” – foreshadows of something bad happening later and keeps the readers thinking of what may happen later.

The purpose of the foreshadowing is to help readers develop some expectations from the story or build suspense.

A motif is a recurring pattern or an idea that repeats in the story to reinforce the theme.

Examples In the Harry Potter movie, Harry’s scar is highlighted multiple times throughout the story.

The purpose of a motif is to reinforce the core theme and remind the readers of what the whole idea of the story is about.

An allegory is a literary device to express a deeper meaning, concept or a hidden idea. In other words, it is a type of writing that speaks to imply a different idea that represents a larger point about human nature or society.

Examples In Animal Farm by George Orwell, the author shows how animals fight for equality which mirrors the Russian revolution of 1917 is a good example of allegory.

The purpose of the allegory is the make the reader understand a deeper concept that is not directly represented in the surface story. Like, you can use allegory to express the pain and suffering experienced by the characters without explicitly talking about it.

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More reading

A Simple Guide To Personification With Examples Symbols in Literature: Definition and Examples of Symbolism Examples of Figurative Language: Guide to 12 Common Types Allusion Defined: 25+ Allusion Examples from Literature & Life Onomatopoeia Definition and Examples – Sound Words Oxymorons – A Writers Secret Weapon Explained Examples of allegory BBC Bitesize – What is symbolism Rhetorical Devices – 10 most common rhetorical devices Comprehensive list of adjectives for kids

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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:



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.

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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 !

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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.

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