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10 Literary Devices You need to Know

Did anyone else have to spend a school term analysing Lord Of The Flies by William Golding for literary devices?

While I groaned along with the rest of the class at the exercise, little did I know how useful it would be in my job today as an author (unlike mastering long division!)

So what is a literary device?

It’s a technique an author uses to produce a special effect in their writing, helping to express ideas and enhance the language.

When I was working on my first novel, I wrote instinctively and while I used literary devices, I wasn’t aware of them at the time of writing. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of my genre; I just wrote what I loved to read, which happened to be psychological thrillers.

However, a number of things happened that changed my approach when writing my second, third, and fourth novels.

Firstly, my agent and publisher feedback often referred to literary devices and as a result, I saw how these devices improved the narrative. Secondly, while I have a degree in linguistics and English language, I began actively learning from established authors and books about the principles of good story-telling.

This took my writing to a new level and even though I’ve published three novels, I continue to set aside time for learning; it’s an on-going process for me and I’m assuming it is for you by the simple fact you’re reading this post.

Here are ten of the most popular literary devices to help you strengthen your narrative, highlight important themes, and connect with your readers.

1. Foreshadowing

This is a fantastic way to keep your reader’s attention by hinting at something that is to come in the story. As a writer, you are alluding to a future event and therefore building suspense.

2. Flashbacks

One of my favourite devices, this technique interrupts the story to take the reader back to a past event helping readers connect and understand character motivation.

3. Juxtaposition

This technique is when two differing objects or concepts are placed near to each other in order to highlight their differences. It can be used for objects, concepts, ideas, actions or settings. For example, a wealthy person is having a lavish party that displays tons and tons of wastefulness, and across the street there is a poor family who is struggling to survive.

4. Imagery

Imagery is the use of figurative language that appeals to our physical senses to represent ideas or objects. It’s not just about what can be seen, it's about involving all five of the senses. When using imagery in your writing, you stir your reader's interest by engaging their sensory experience. Providing details related to sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, and smell is a great way to add depth to your work.

5. Cliffhanger

This is defined as a dramatic and exciting ending to a chapter, leaving the audience in suspense and anxious to keep reading. This device is often used to heighten the suspense and is often used in the thriller genres.

6. Allegory

Often referred to as a ‘story within a story,’ an allegory is a story that has a hidden meaning, usually of the moral or political kind. Using this device means writers can make complex ideas easier to understand. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a commonly used example, whereby the story of the animals mirrors the Russian Revolution.

7. Point Of View

This refers to the way in which the story is told; you can choose from first person, second person, or third person and it has a huge impact on your narrative! New writers often get confused about what point of view and I go into this topic in a lot of detail in Kick Start Your Book to help writers make the right choice.

8. Vignette

This is a short, descriptive piece of writing that brings us deeper into the story but is more focused on imagery and meaning rather than plot. A vignette (meaning little vine) is also defined by the fact that it captures a brief moment in time. It is used to give more visual context to a character, place, or event.

9. Symbolism

Using a symbol in your writing, whether that’s a word, object, character, or action, is a way to represent something beyond its literal meaning. We use and see symbols in our daily lives, for example if you wear a wedding ring, this is a symbol of commitment. In books, authors will often use the weather as a form of symbolism. For example, a dark, damp foggy morning sets the tone for something terrible that’s about to happen.

10. Metaphor and Simile

A metaphor is a comparison technique to show how two things that are not alike can be similar in another way for rhetorical effect. They are not intended to be interpreted literally. His words were like a knife to my heart, for example. A simile is a type of metaphor and is also used to compare but is differentiated by the use of like and as, for example, He’s as strong as an ox. Such figurative speech has become overused so use sparingly to avoid stepping into cliche territory.



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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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