Definition of Literary Devices and How to Use Them

Categories: Linguistics

Concrete Details

Language that describes specific, Observable things, people or places, rather than ideas or qualities. Example: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert- clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West...“ from Capote’s In Cold Blood. The specific details give the reader a concrete understanding of the setting.

How it is used/what is the effect: A detailed visual is painted for the reader to emphasize the calmness of the village of Holcomb.


General name given to literary techniques that involve differences between appearance and reality, expectation and result, or meaning and intention— types are dramatic, situational, and verbal. “She’d been tied, too. But differently—with her hands in front of her, so that she looked as though she were praying—.

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.. and a robe, and a white nightgown, and white socks.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. The white attire and the way Mrs. Clutter was positioned at the time of death was ironic in the symbolism of an angel or one who has passed. She had already been wearing the clothing. How it is used/what is the effect: this subtle irony is used to enhance the situation and severity of the crimes committed against a good and innocent person.


sed in a literary work of clues that suggest events that have yet to occur.

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“At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them - four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives." from Capote’s In Cold Blood. The reader is given a calm setting prior to this. How it is used/what is the effect: this foreshadowing is used to show the reader how the inhabitants of Holcomb were oblivious to the events that occurred and are yet to occur as the story develops.

Non Sequitur

Latin term which refers to a conclusion or inference that is not logically follow. Fallacy Where disconnect occurs between a conclusion and the reasons/premises that lead to it. “He was, however, the community’s most widely known citizen, prominent both there and in Garden City, the close-by county seat, where he had headed the building committee for the newly completed First Methodist Church, an eight- hundred-thousand-dollar edifice. He was currently chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organizations, and his name was everywhere respectfully recognized among Midwestern agriculturists, as it was in certain Washington offices, where he had been a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board during the Eisenhower administration. “ from Capote’s In Cold Blood. As Mr. Clutter was introduced, a description went into detail of how successful and well off this man was. How it is used/what is the effect: This description is used to stop the reader, taking into consideration that this man was well off and the fate he had alongside his family. It does not add up for the reader and leaves them disconnected/lost.

Appeal to Emotions

Quality in a real situation or in a literary work which evokes sympathy and feelings of sorrow/pity, usually indicating a helpless suffering caused by outside forces. “I’d been dazed, too numb, to feel the full viciousness of it. The suffering. The horror. They were dead. A whole family. Gentle, kindly people, people I knew – murdered." from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This quote dives into the emotional response of Alfred Stoecklein. How it is used/what is the effect: this personal connection Stoechlein had in the quote is used to evoke sympathy from the reader.

Appeal to ethics: one of the three types of persuasion along with logos and pathos,. Ethos, a Greek term from which the word ethics derives, refers to an appeal based on establishing the speakers ethics, trustworthiness, and credibility. “Just nothing scares you,' she said, commenting upon a generally recognized quality of Mr. Clutter's: a fearless self-assurance that set him apart, and while it created respect, also limited the affections of others a little.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This demonstrates how Mr. Clutter was appreciated. How it is used/what is the effect: His image is used to establish an ethical trustworthiness.

Appeal to logic: appeal that is an attempt to argue based in logical relationships that are hard to refute. In academic argumentation, logical appeals are made primarily through the use of acceptable proof; or logical relationship (example, cause/effect, deductive reasoning) to demonstrate how various forms of proof should be interpreted or to make a commonsense argument. “Mrs. Clutter despaired of surviving either project. Both involved the necessity of making decisions—a process she had always disliked, and had learned to dread, for when her husband was off on one of his business journeys she was continually expected, in his absence, to supply snap judgments concerning the affairs of the farm, and it was unendurable, a torment. What if she made a mistake? What if Herb should be displeased? Better to lock the bedroom door and pretend not to hear, or say, as she sometimes did, “I can’t. I don’t know. Please.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. Her reasoning made a commonsense reasoning. How it is used/what is the effect: This appeal is used to achieve a logical conclusion for Mrs. Clutter.


Manner of expression in speaking or writing created by LIDDS (language, imagery, diction, detail, and syntax) some examples of tone would be: irrational, pedantic, Conciliatory, out raged, exuberant, authoritative, contemptuous, deliberative, didactic, etc.”When the meal was over, the three male members of the family settled in the parlor to watch a televised basketball game. The broadcast had only begun when the father was startled to hear Dick snoring; as he remarked to the younger boy, he never thought he’d live to see the day when Dick would rather sleep than watch basketball. But, of course, he did not understand how very tired Dick was, did not know that his dozing son had, among other things, driven over eight hundred miles in the past twenty-four hours.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. Suspense arises in this last paragraph. How it is used/what is the effect: The suspenseful tone is used to achieve a cliffhanging and thought-bringing effect for the reader and characters.


Use of language to create mental images; words that paint a picture that cannot be taken literally. “...a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them." from Capote’s In Cold Blood. The author illustrates the Kansas landscape before bad events. How it is used/what is the effect: The mental pictures are used to give the reader the feeling of being there. He also compared it to the Greek, which had a time of beauty yet a time of tragedies.


Not logical or reasonable “Because the old man was around,” said Dick, answering Perry, who wanted to know why he had been late in meeting him at the Little Jewel. “I didn’t want him to see me taking the gun out of the house. Christ, then he would have knowed I wasn’t telling the truth.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. Sometimes, the murderers would have to come up with something unreasonable to cover their tracks. How it is used/what is the effect: this is used to direct the attention to their efforts.


Tone that manifests reliance on book learning and formal rules over understanding or experience of practical affairs. “Civilization's going to pieces, . . . I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read "The Rise of the Colored Empires" by this man Goddard? . . . Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to...” from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Tom’s character is clearly displayed in this quote. How it is used/what is the effect: This tone is used to dive the reader further into Tom’s pedantic personality.


Short, often autobiographical, narrative told to achieve a purpose such as to provide an example, an illustration, or a thematic truth. “And that Perry could not abide: anyone’s ridiculing the parrot, which had first flown into his dreams when he was seven years old…” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This quote dives into Perry’s past and his dreams of the parrot. This symbolism of hope comes with what Perry desires. How it is used/what is the effect: this anecdote is used to show a side of Perry that one may not see. It gives the reader an insight of his dreams and hopes that he never obtains, such as the parrot.


Figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses an inanimate object or an absent person or a personified quality. “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night...” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This quote gives the word life meaning. How it is used/what is the effect: These specific examples are used to equate life to the a firefly’s flash.

Rhetorical Question

Question posed for persuasion, to which the answer is obvious and usually only one answer is possible--- not intended to induce a reply. “After he’d hung up, a colleague asked, ‘What’s wrong? Marie scared?’ ‘Hell, yes,’ Dewey said. ‘Her, and everybody else.'” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This quote is rhetorical because it is quite obvious that all of Holcomb is wrecking havoc over the gruesome event. How it is used/what is the effect: This question is used to achieve the severity of the crime, which was truly dire.


Reference to a well-known person, place, event, literary work, or work of art—they sometimes refer to Biblical or mythological people, places, etc. “The family cat had attacked the cocker spaniel that lived across the street, and now it seemed as if one of the spaniel’s eyes might be seriously damaged. And Paul, their nine-year-old, had fallen out of a tree. It was a wonder he was alive. And then their twelve-year-old Dewey’s namesake, had gone into the yard to burn rubbish and started a blaze that had threatened the neighborhood.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. A biblical inference could be stringed to this quote. How it is used/what is the effect: The details about a cat, falling and being injured due to a single tree, and fire are used to allure the reader to think of biblical references such as fire with hell.


Figure of speech in which one thing is spoken of as though it were something else.“He and Dick were ‘running a race without a finish line’” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This is a straight forward metaphor which infers the struggles that Perry and Dick are facing at the time. How it is used/what is the effect: These specific metaphor was used to show the reader the point in which these two stand. They are in a standstill and have no way to cover up.


Form of metaphor in which a part of something is used to stand for the whole thing.“Things hadn’t changed much. Perry was twenty-odd years older and a hundred pounds heavier, and yet his material situation had improved not at all. He was still…an urchin dependent, so to say, on stolen coins.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This form of metaphor is showing the reader the changes in Perry. How it is used/what is the effect: This is used to achieve the image of Perry and how his situation was still in the same stance.


Form of understatement in which a thing is affirmed by stating the negative of its opposite.“The crime was a psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered. And Dewey could not forget their sufferings. Nonetheless, he found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger - with, rather, a measure of sympathy - for Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage or another.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. Agent Dewey has sympathy for Perry because of his past. How it is used/what is the effect: this sympathy is used to show another side to Perry’s story; full of unhappy childhood memories that could have ultimately turned his character into what he was now.


Type of figurative language in which a nonhuman subject is given human characteristics. “The sound of Dick’s voice was like an injection of some potent narcotic, a drug that, invading his veins, produced a delirium of colliding sensations: tension and relief, fury and affection” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. The narcotic like injection is being compared to a voice. How it is used/what is the effect: This comparison is used to humanize the drug that can symbolize the reactions within Dick as well.

Bandwagon Appeal

Bandwagon Appeal: Strategy used to convince someone to do something just because that thing is popular. It plays on people’s desire to be on the winning side and tries to argue that they should support or oppose a particular issue. Often, it capitalizes on people’s urge to merge with the crowd. “Slightly more than five thousand people attended the Clutter auction.” from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This is an example of people following in the footsteps of others for the appeal. How it is used/what is the effect: bandwagon is used to show how the murder has taken its toll on people that may not have even been associated with the victim-family at all.

Ad Hominem

An argument against a person’s character rather than the subject of the argument: “And it wasn't because of anything the Clutters did. They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people all my life. Maybe it's just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it." from Capote’s In Cold Blood. In this quote from Perry, he claims that his crime was because of the wrongdoings done to him in his past. How it is used/what is the effect: This argument is used to apply his abusive past to the crimes against the Clutter family.


Expressing the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. “Am I sorry? If that's what you mean - I'm not. I don't feel anything about it...Maybe we're not human. I'm human enough to feel sorry for myself.'" from Capote’s In Cold Blood. This quote strongly displays the feeling that Perry may not care. How it is used/what is the effect: This feeling is used to question the reader because though he seems to be sorry for the crimes committed, but in other instances, he is in cold blood.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Definition of Literary Devices and How to Use Them. (2024, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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