Today, dear readers, I’d like to talk about literary devices, which my Oxford dictionary defines as “any literary technique deliberately employed to achieve a specific effect.” Literary devices are writing techniques that are standardized, which simply means each device has a consistent set of rules regarding what it is and how to use it.
There are lots of literary devices out there. I’m not kidding. Check out one of the resources at the bottom of this article to see for yourself. So I’ve chosen a handful of the more common ones, along with a couple of uncommon ones, to review. If you still aren’t sure what a literary device actually is, chances are you will recognize some of the following examples from your days in English class.
This literary device refers to the practice of deliberately leaving out conjunctions in a sentence. Asyndeton is used to create an impact, conveying the author’s message in a strong, succinct manner. Here are some examples:
- Eat, prey, devour.
- Come, see, conquer.
- Catch, probe, release.
The device hyperbole is when an author employs exaggeration to emphasize a point or an emotion. The effect is often comical or dramatic. For example:
- I am so hungry I could eat a hippopotamus.
- Igor, I’ve told you a million times not to electrocute strangers.
- If you don’t return my love I will surely die of heartache.
This is one of the most commonly used devices. It is when we take one thing (usually an identity or a concept) and compare it to another. The purpose of metaphor is to make our meaning clear by using an identity or concept that is well known to describe something lesser known. Here are some examples:
- That basilisk eats like a pig.
- Her anger was like a towering inferno.
- Evil oozed from him like pus from an infected wound.
This is one of my favourite literary devices — and not just because it has such a great name! When we use onomatopoeia, it refers to words that sound like the actual sound they represent. Obviously, onomatopoeia shows up frequently in comic books and graphic novels. Here are a few examples:
- The horseman’s head landed in the water with a splash.
- The enormous spider’s legs clicked across the floor.
- Outside, a dragon screeched.
When we use personification, it refers to the practice of combining human emotions and characteristics with inanimate objects. Here are some examples:
- The walls of the castle loomed sinisterly above him.
- A gentle breeze whispered in her ear.
- The chair grumbled under the monster’s weight.
The device syllepsis is when one word acts on two or more other words in a sentence. It is often used to create a comical, witty effect, as seen in the following examples:
- As Mr. Hyde took over, Dr, Jekyll lost his control and his girlfriend.
- The charming vampire took away my breath and then my life.
- Sheila was so angry she wanted to break his heart and his legs.
Now that you’ve seen some examples, you probably recognize some literary devices that you use regularly. Who knew they had a name? Well, now you do. Literary devices can be a great way to spice up your writing or express yourself verbally. They are another example of just how symbolic our language actually is.
If you want to learn about more literary devices, check out the following links:
- Literary Devices
- Saskatoon Online Learning Centre
- English Learning Hub
- Glossary of Literary Terms
- Wikipedia — Literary Techniques