A few years ago, when my creative writing teacher was explaining the use of literary devices in novels or poems, she showed us this picture:
Yes, that’s a before-and-after shot of a movie scene — a fantastic example of special effects (SFX) and visual effects (VFX) in cinematography.
So, the tutor asked us to look at the ‘before’ shot and tell if we could recognize the film without the added special effects.
No, we couldn’t.
Then, she showed us some more pictures, and pretty soon we came to the conclusion that it’s the special effects that enhance the cinematic experience for a viewer and help the movie stand out.
Now, that’s the same with the literary devices. They are the SFX of literary work. So, when used properly, they add meaning to your writing, help the reader interpret the scenes, and understand the message more poignantly, with greater depth.
There are dozens of literary devices, but let’s talk about some of the ones that will not only embellish but add depth to your writing.
Mastering these seventeen popular literary devices is a great place to beef up your skillset, add special effects to your writing, and transform the experience for your readers.
1. Adnomination — Literary Device Example
Adnomination is the repetition of root words — the difference lies in one letter or sound. It is used to achieve a nice euphony in fiction writing and poems.
Adnomination Literary Device Example:
Root Word: No
He is nobody from nowhere and he knows nothing.
Root Word: Some
News is that somebody somewhere wants to suppress something.
2. Allusion — Literary Device Examples
An allusion an indirect descriptive reference to a person, place, thing, or idea of a historical, political, cultural, or literary items. We allude to things all the time in everyday speech, without even noticing.
It’s more of a passing comment used in literature and the writer expects the reader to have knowledge about the referred item/person to spot the allusion and grasp its importance in a text.
Allusion Literary Device Example:
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Here, Robert Frost makes an allusion to the Biblical Garden of Eden to strengthen his idea that nothing—not even Paradise—can last forever.
1Q84 By Haruki Murakami
The allusion here isn’t a specific quotation but rather the title of bestselling novel 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
While readers might not see the connection right away, the title of this dystopian novel is an allusion to George Orwell’s 1984.
3. Flashbacks — a Literary Device Example
Probably the most commonly used literary device, Flashbacks are when the narrator goes back in time for a specific chapter or scene to give more context for the story.
Flashback literary device example:
J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has a lot of information about many events that occurred before Harry was even alive.
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights starts off with Cathy, one of the main characters, dead. Mr. Lockwood sees Cathy’s name written all over the windowsill, and then has a vexing dream about her.
4. Anachronism — Literary Device Examples
An anachronism is an intentional or unintentional error of timeline or chronology in a literary piece. In other words, anachronism (against time) is anything that is out of time & out of place.
For example, if a writer writes about Aristotle’s appearance, and mentions him using a smartphone, it would be an example of anachronism, as we are all aware that smartphones did not exist during Aristotle’s time.
Anachronism literary device example:
The Prince and the Pauper By Mark Twain
“In truth, yes, so please you, sir, save when one is hungry. There be Punch-and-Judy shows, and monkeys—oh such antic creatures! and so bravely dressed!—and …”
“Punch-and-Judy show” is an anachronism because this how took place in the late 17th-century, making it impossible for Twain’s characters to have watched it as early as in 1547, the year in which Twain’s book is set.
Emily Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
“Brutus: Peace! Count the clock. Cassius: The clock has stricken three.”
Shakespeare writes of a clock in Julius Caesar, when clocks would not have existed in ancient Rome.
5. ‘Alliteration’ — Poetic Device Example
Alliteration is the repetition of the same kind of sounds at the beginning of words, in the phrase, or in stressed syllables.
Alliteration Poetic Device example:
J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing. Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.
6. Anaphora —Poetic Device Example
Anaphora is the repetition of words at the beginning of sentences.
Anaphora Poetic Device example:
Martin Luther King
“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.”
Charles Dickens’ 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.”
7. Anastrophe —Poetic Device Example
Anastrophe is a order of words in a sentence in which the writer inverts the words, saying, or idea. Simply put, words are written out of order. Poets use this literary device to help maintain a rhyme scheme.
Anastrophe literary device example:
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
In this famous sonnet, Shakespeare changes around some of the word order to make lines more poetic and stylized.
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
I celebrate myself and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Whitman’s inversion of “as good” in the middle of that phrase rather than at the end sets up a nice parallel of the two clauses with “belonging” and “belongs.”
8. Foreshadowing —Literary Device Example
Through Foreshadowing, the author places hints and elements within the writing that gives readers clues about what will happen later in the story.
These are the small pieces and bits that most readers might not be able to pick up on the first read, but when a big plot twist is revealed, they look back and realize a certain character trait or element was foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing Poetic device examples:
The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls, By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew call …
And the tide rises, the tide falls.”
The title of the poem foreshadows the entire poem, how nature and life start and end. It is about the tides, their motions, and the circle of life. The darkness and ups and downs of tides foretell that the travelers would never return.
The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees…
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”
The above lines are entirely filled with melancholic tone and foreshadowing. The very first line calls wind “a torrent of darkness,” where darkness is a foreshadowing danger. The depiction of night and weather as ‘darkness’ foretells the coming of a dark tale.
9. Anthropomorphism —Literary Device Example
By using Anthropomorphism as a literary device, the author ascribes human traits, ambitions, emotions, or entire behaviors to non-human beings, animals, inanimate things, or natural phenomena.
Anthropomorphism literary device examples
Animal Farm By George Orwell
Orwell uses anthropomorphism in the novella Animal Farm to portray people of power and the ordinary people during the Soviet Revolution.
A Dog’s Tale By Mark Twain
The protagonist of Twain’s story is a dog, who describes his life as a puppy. The dog possesses human traits like anguish, happiness, emotions, shame, fear,and hopelessness.
10. Allegory — Literary Devices Example
An allegory is a figure of speech where abstract ideas are described using events, characters, and other elements so that a reader can understand better.
You can think of it as a story within a story.
Usually, authors use allegory to tell dark stories in a way that it is easier for readers to understand — for this, they use different events, characters, or other means to convey the literal meaning.
Allegory Literary Device Example:
Animal Farm, By George Orwell
Animal Farm by George Orwell is an allegory for the Russian revolution where anthropomorphic characters represent the key historical figures of the time.
Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is an example of a spiritual allegory. The ordinary sinner, Christian, leaves the City of Destruction, and travels towards Celestial City, where God resides, for salvation
11. Archetype — Literary Devices Example
An archetype is a “universal symbol,” that seems to represent universal pattern of human nature. It may be a character, a theme, a symbol, or even a setting. Archetypes having a common representation in a particular human culture, shape the structure of a literary work.
The use of archetypical situations or characters gives literary work a universal acceptance since readers can identify the situations or characters in their social context. Simply put, writers impart realism to their works through archetypical references.
Archetypical literary device example:
Archetypical Character: Hero
Hero is a character who predominantly exhibits goodness, and struggles against evil in order to restore harmony and justice to society. Examples of hero include:
Hercules, in the book Hercules, Beowulf, in the book Beowulf, and d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers.
Archetypical Situation: Good Versus Evil
This archetypical situation represents the clash of forces that represent goodness with those representing evil. Examples of archetypical situation include:
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, William Shakespeare’s King Lear
12. Metaphor — Poetic Devices Examples
Through Metaphor, authors make an implied, implicit, or hidden comparison between things that are otherwise unrelated, but share some common characteristics.
Metaphor Poetic device example:
I Carry Your Heart with Me by E. E Cummings
It’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
ROMEO: But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
13. Chiasmus — Literary Devices Example
Chiasmus is a literary device where the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase — it’s done with the purpose to explain two key concepts and to produce an artistic effect.
Chiasmus is applied to “criss-cross” structures but in its strict classical sense, the function of this rhetorical device is to reverse ideas of sentences, given that the same phrase is not repeated.
Chiasmus Literary Device Examples:
Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? By Oscar Hammerstein
“Do I love you because you’re beautiful?
Or are you beautiful because I love you?”.
Das Capital By Karl Marx
In the pre-capitalist stages of society, commerce rules industry. In a capitalist society, industry rules commerce.
14. Hyperbole — Literary Devices Example
The term Hyperbole means ‘excess.’
So, when authors use hyperbole as a literary device, they use extreme exaggeration to show emphasis or make a point.
Hyperbole Literary Device example:
The Adventures of Pinocchio, By C. Colloid
“He cried all night, and dawn found him still there, though his tears had dried and only hard, dry sobs shook his wooden frame. But these were so loud that they could be heard by the faraway hills …”
Babe the Blue Ox, By American Folklore
“Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid before they could be heard.”
15. Onomatopoeia — Literary Devices Example
Onomatopoeia refers to a word that phonetically resembles the sound of the thing it describes. For example, these words that describe animal sounds are onomatopoetic — a coo’s “moo,” a dog’s “bark,” a cat’s “meow.”
Ulysses by James Joyce
“I was just beginning to yawn with nerves thinking he was trying to make a fool of me when I knew his tattarrattat at the door.”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died by Emily Dickinson
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –
16. Antithesis Examples — Literary Devices Example
When authors use Antithesis as a literary device, they emphasize the contrast between two fictional characters or things.
Antithesis Literary Device Example:
An Essay on Criticism, By Alexander Pope
“To err is human; to forgive divine.”
Making mistakes is a trait of humans, and God is most forgiving. Through these antithetical ideas, Pope wants to say that God is forgiving because his creation is erring.
Paradise Lost, By John Milton)
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n.”
The contrasting ideas of reign/serve and Hell/Heaven are placed in this sentence to achieve an antithetical effect.
17. Colloquialism — Literary Devices Example
Colloquialisms are words, expressions, slangs and phrases that are used in everyday speech. These words tend to sneak in as authors, being part of a society, get influenced by the way people speak in their society.
Colloquialism Literary Device Examples:
Gonna – going to
Be blue – to be sad
Over yonder – over there
Da bomb – the best
Bo bananas, or go nuts – go insane or be very angry
Bamboozle – to deceive
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and it ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?
Henry V, By William Shakespeare
BARDOLPH. Well met, Corporal Nym.
NYM. Good morrow, Lieutenant Bardolph.
Quite an interesting list, right?
With all these literary devices, your stories and writings can potentially be so much more attractive.
Have you used any of these literary devices in your writing? Or perhaps there’s a favourite you swear by? Let us know in the comments below.