Literary devices can be great tools in your writer’s arsenal to help you illustrate your stories and points in a way that invites engagement and reflection.
And yet what’s the difference between a simile and a metaphor? Metaphor and personification? How much of that English 101 class can you really remember?
These terms are all interrelated, and the lines between them can get pretty murky.
That's why in this post, we're going to refresh you on three literary devices you should be using in your writing (plus one bonus device at the end!).
Quick List of Literary Devices for Your Writing
As school goes back into session, it seems like a great time to brush up on some of the most commonly literary devices. Let’s take a look at our quick list of literary devices:
Definition: “A figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.” (All definitions are from Dictionary.com.)
Metaphors are a way of exploring complicated ideas in creative writing by comparing one thing to something else that may seem totally different, but is thematically similar.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
—As You Like It, William Shakespeare.
Definition: “A figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared.”
Similes are similar to metaphors but they specifically use the term “like” or “as” to make the comparison.
Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.
—Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov.
Definition: “The attribution of human nature or character to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract notions,especially as a rhetorical figure.”
When inanimate things are treated as human beings… like when you named your car in college (that wasn't just me, right?).
Is a tractor bad? Is the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor were ours it would be good—not mine, but ours.
—The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.
Bonus: Extended Metaphor
Definition: “A metaphor introduced and then further developed throughout all or part of a literary work.”
An extended metaphor, but drawn out throughout your entire writing piece.
Extended Metaphor Example: The full content of Emily Dickenson’s poem “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” which compares hope to a little bird throughout the full poem.
Literary Devices Can Overlap
Can a comparison be a metaphor even if it’s not any of its subcategories? Yes!
Can a simile also be personification? You betcha!
How about an extended metaphor? I can’t think of an example of extended personification, but sure, it could be done.
Do You Really Need to Know These Literary Devices?
One last question:
But knowing literary devices and how to use them can broaden your writing and reading experience, making your stories that much more powerful.
What is your favorite literary device? Let me know in the comments section!
Pick one of the literary devices above. Then, either write a quick story for fifteen minutes using the device or find an example from a book you know. Share both the device and example in the comments!
By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.