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Poetic devices in creative writing

List of 15 Literary Devices Famous Authors Use Most

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 line 1
  • 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:

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.

List of 15 Literary Devices Famous Authors Use Most

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:

  • Formal diction – This is when the word choice is more formal or high class. Oftentimes, writers use formal diction as a literary device when more educated individuals are speaking or the content is for those with higher education.
  • Informal diction – When your characters (or you writing a nonfiction) are speaking directly to everyday people, this type of diction would be use as it’s more conversational.
  • Slang diction – Slang is commonly used for a younger audience and includes newly coined words or phrases. An example of this would be use of the word, “fleek” or other new slang phrases.
  • Colloquial diction – This is when words that are used in everyday life are written. These may be different depending on the culture or religions present in the writing.
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

#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:

  1. Creates a stronger visual
  2. Pulls readers further into your world
  3. Helps the readers relate to and understand what’s going on
  4. It can allow readers to have a new perspective
  5. You can give readers a new view on a typical visual/occurrence
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.

Metaphor

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

Simile

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
#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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Better Creative Writing – 10 Most Common 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

Now let’s learn more about each literary device.

Simile

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.

Metaphor

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

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.

Hyperbole

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

Imagery

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

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

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

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.

Motif

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.

Allegory

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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Master the use of literary devices in your creative writing and know when to use them. Too less use would be an injustice to your writing and too much use can result in melodramatic text.

An Introduction to Creative Writing Literary Devices and Elements

In this article, I talk about the basics of creative writing. We will be analyzing important terminology and how to use certain techniques of writing. I’ll be using all the knowledge my training has left me, along with some other sources. We will start with a rundown of literary devices and elements.

What Are Literary Devices?

You have probably heard about this in any of your Literature courses, or even some English classes. If not, where have you been?! Literary devices, or literary terms, are tools of language used by authors to deliver their message more effectively. These tools also give writing a more rich and vivid feeling.

This means that instead of delivering plain, boring, tasteless text, authors give us interesting and compelling stories adorned with these tools. Literary devices can be used for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but in this case, we will concentrate on the use of literary devices in fiction works. The first thing to know about literary terms is that they are divided into two categories: Literary Elements and Literary Techniques.

Literary Elements

A story can’t exist without literary elements. Any written or spoken story will have them. The definition of literary elements is: the parts that form a story. Any written story has plot, a setting, characters, and other elements. These are highly used by writers to make a story more compelling, interesting, and overall more complete. Some important literary elements, and their brief definitions are listed down bellow.

  • Plot: The arrangement of events in a narrative, carefully crafted by an author.
  • Setting: Place, time, and social environment in which the story takes place.
  • Characters: The participants of a story, or the people involved in it.
  • Narrator: The person telling the story.
  • Point of View: Stance from which the story is told.
  • Dialog: Conversations between characters in a narrative.
  • Protagonist: The character the story focuses on.
  • Antagonist: Anything that opposes the protagonist, and intervenes between the protagonist and his/her goals.
  • Archetype: A recurrent symbol, theme, setting, or character-type that recurs in different times and places in myth, literature, and folklore.

Literary Techniques

These are tools used by authors to give depth to their writing. Literary techniques are specific aspects of literature used to deliver a message of any written work more effectively. The difference between literary elements and techniques is that these techniques are only found in written works. Also, stories can exist without them. Furthermore, think of literary techniques as clues to a deeper meaning. Many techniques let the reader know what will happen in the story later on, or if a character will be delicate or strong.

Down below, you will find the literary techniques we will focus on.

  • Flashback: Presentation of events that occurred in the past, either at the beginning of the story or before the story took place.
  • Voice: A characteristic, unique form of narrative that each author has.
  • Characterization: The method by which a writer presents the personality, appearance and the other traits of a character.
  • Symbol: An object or situation that represents something beyond itself.
  • Motif: Recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, or object that manifests repeatedly during the course of a story.
  • Theme: Idea that the author repeats in the story to point to a deeper meaning.
  • Foreshadowing: Tool used by authors to hint what is to come, or one possible outcome of a story.
  • Stream-of-consciousness: Technique that allows the reader to see the continuous, chaotic, and half-formed thoughts, memories, senses, images, and reflections that constitutes a character’s consciousness.

Learning About Literary Devices

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Learning About Literary Devices

So why is it important to learn about literary devices? This is not only something wanna-be-writers should learn, this is important for experienced writers to remember, and for everyone to know about. Learning about these tools allows us to analyze works of literature.

Sure you might enjoy reading, but what about the deeper meaning of a novel, the meaning behind the story? To enjoy a literary piece to the fullest, it is important to understand many other aspects of it beyond the story it’s telling. For example, by which social issues was it surrounded, what is the message the writer wanted to convey, what do us—the audience—feel when reading it, and overall why this story was written.

Now that we understand the importance of literary devices, we can learn how to use them. If we want to analyze a novel, for example, we don’t have to take the whole thing and analyze everything at once. That’s suicide. Instead, we divide the novel by identifying its parts, or its literary elements. We separate the plot, setting, type of narrator, point of view, and so on.

We might also want to look to the historical context. After identifying all the parts of the novel, we must identify any literary techniques that might be present in the book and analyze them. Why are these techniques in the book? What the author wanted us to understand? What do we feel when we approach each technique separately?

As writers, literary terms should be the foundation of our work. They allow us to look at other authors’ works from which we need to learn– because we know how important it is for a writer to be an avid reader– and understand them better. Learning about these tools will add beauty, meaning, and depth to our own works.