Literary Devices Essay
AlliterationRepeating the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. AllusionA figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. BildungsromanA type of novel concerned with education, development, and maturation of a young protagonist. Essentially, a Bildungsroman traces the formation of a protagonist’s maturity (the passage from childhood to adulthood) by following the development of his/her mind and character.
Breaking the fourth wallAn author or character addresses the audience directly (also known as direct address). This may acknowledge to the reader or audience that what is being presented is fiction, or may seek to extend the world of the story to provide the illusion that they are included in it. An example is found in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the main character speaks to the audience by looking directly into the camera. Chekhov’s gunInsertion of an apparently irrelevant object early in a narrative for a purpose only revealed later.
See foreshadowing and repetitive designation. Cliff-hangerThe narrative ends unresolved, to draw the audience back to a future episode for the resolution. Deus ex machina (From Latin: a machination, or act of god)Resolving the primary conflict by a means unrelated to the story (e. g. , a god appears and solves everything). This device dates back to ancient Greek theatre, but can be a clumsy method that frustrates the audience. This has come to mean that a force steps in to ‘save the day’ or a helicopter shows up just as the hero must jump off a building.
EpiphanyA sudden revelation or insight—usually with a symbolic role in the narrative—in a literary work. First Person NarrationA text presented from the point of view of a character (esp. the protagonist) and written in the first person. Oftentimes, the first-person narrative is used as a way to directly convey the deeply internal, otherwise unspoken thoughts of the narrator. Occasionally this narrator can be seen as unreliable. In some cases, the narrator gives and withholds information based on his/her own viewing of events.
It is an important task for the reader to determine as much as possible about the character of the narrator in order to decide what “really” happens. Important note: See page 4 for point form recap. Flashback (or analeptic reference)General term for altering time sequences, taking characters back to the beginning of the tale, for instance Flash-forwardAlso called prolepsis, an interjected scene that temporarily jumps the narrative forward in time. Flash forwards often represent events expected, projected, or imagined to occur in the future.
They may also reveal significant parts of the story that have not yet occurred, but soon will in greater detail. This has been highly popularized by several television shows. ForeshadowingHinting at events to occur later. See also Chekhov’s gun. Frame story, or a story within a storyA main story that organizes a series of shorter stories or a short story that is used within another to add meaning to the other. Framing deviceA single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at both the beginning and end of a work.
HamartiaThe character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall. HyperboleExaggeration used to evoke strong feelings or create an impression which is not meant to be taken literally. ImageryForming mental images of a scene using descriptive words, especially making use of the human senses. In medias resBeginning the story in the middle of a sequence of events. The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer are prime examples. The latter work begins with the return of Odysseus to his home of Ithaka and then in flashbacks tells of his ten years of wandering following the Trojan War.
IronyThis discrepancy between expectation and reality occurs in three forms: situational irony, where a situation features a discrepancy between what is expected and what is actualized; dramatic irony, where a character is unaware of pivotal information already revealed to the audience (the discrepancy here lies in the two levels of awareness between the character and the audience); and verbal irony, where one states one thing while meaning another. The difference between verbal irony and sarcasm is exquisitely subtle and often contested.
The concept of irony is too often misunderstood in popular usage. Unfortunate circumstances and coincidences do not constitute irony (nor do they qualify as being tragic). Reader’s note: “Isn’t it ironic? ” by Alanis Morisette contains several examples, but many of them are not ironic at all. JuxtapositionUsing two themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations together for comparison or contrast Narrative hookStory opening that “hooks” readers’ attention so they will keep reading OverstatementExaggerating something, often for emphasis (also known as hyperbole)
OnomatopoeiaWord that sounds the same as, or similar to what the word means, e. g. , “boom” or “squish” OxymoronA term made of two words that deliberately or coincidentally imply each other’s opposite, e. g. “terrible beauty” ParadoxA phrase that describes an idea composed of concepts that conflict. A good example occurs in the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (1).
ParodyRidicule by overstated imitation, usually humorous, as in MAD Magazine Pathetic fallacyReflecting a character’s (usually the protagonist) mood in the atmosphere or inanimate objects—for example, the storm in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, which mirrors Lear’s mental deterioration. PathosEmotional appeal, one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric that the author uses to inspire pity or sorrow towards a character—typically does not counterbalance the target character’s suffering with a positive outcome, as in Tragedy.
PersonificationUsing comparative metaphors and similes to give living characteristics to non-living objects. Plot twistUnexpected change (“twist”) in the direction or expected outcome of the plot. Poetic justiceVirtue ultimately rewarded, or vice punished, by an ironic twist of fate related to the character’s own conduct Self-fulfilling prophecyPrediction that, by being made, makes itself come true. Early examples include the legend of Oedipus. There is also an example of this in Harry Potter.
SatireThe use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices. Sensory detailImagery, sight, sound, taste, touch, smell Stream of consciousnessTechnique where the author writes down their thoughts as fast as they come, typically to create an interior monologue, characterized by leaps in syntax and punctuation that trace a character’s fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings. An example is “Ulysses”. SymbolismApplied use of symbols: iconic representations that carry particular conventional meanings.