When you think of literary devices, what comes to mind? Foreshadowing? Personification? In this post I’m going to be breaking down what literary devices actually are, and how understanding them can help you in your writing endeavors.
To jump into it, you first need to understand that literary devices can actually be split into two categories, as suggested on literarydevices.net. I believe splitting it up can help us remember what their functions are and how best to use them. As the site describes, you have two categories: the literary elements and literary techniques. Both are different, but definitely needed when it comes to writing.
So, what’s the difference? The literary elements are vitally important when it comes to beginning the writing process. The elements are the things that basically create the foundation for your story; that would include things such as setting, your characters, plot points, etc. Think of them as the bits and pieces of a skeleton that you’re putting together when you sit down to write.
Literary elements seem to be pretty straight-forward, right? What do authors have to say about their importance and their role in writing?
Author, Icy Sedgwick, gives us a great look at the importance of character:
“Let’s face it, characters are the bedrock of your fiction. Plot is just a series of actions that happen in a sequence, and without someone to either perpetrate or suffer the consequences of those actions, you have no one for your reader to root for, or wish bad things on.”
So, character is pretty important, right? Hopefully you thought so before reading this quote, but it definitely helped solidify it for me. I believe it can be switched around as well to say that characters need plot, as they need something to do within the story.
Another example of literary elements comes from author David G. Allen when he talks about the importance of theme. He said, “For me, not knowing your theme until you’re finished is like using a scalpel to turn a kangaroo into Miss Universe – there will be a lot of deep cuts, and there’s a high chance it won’t work.”
Strange but true. These are just a few examples of literary elements, and hopefully you not only see their true importance in writing, but they help you differentiate between the elements and the techniques in the future.
Speaking of which, how about the literary techniques? As opposed to the elements, we are looking closer at the word choice. Are you familiar with how to use an allegory? This is where the characters or some other element can represent a larger problem or theme. Think of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It can be argued (and has been widely accepted) that the character of Doctor Jekyll and his struggles represent man as a whole and their struggle with internalized primal urges. Great example of allegory, right? Do you want to try throwing in some similes and maybe some alliteration to your work as well? These are but a few pulled from the cornucopia of techniques that can be used to make your work truly one-of-a-kind. And we all want that, right? Maybe need is a better word. Yes, we NEED that.
How important are the techniques? Well, think of something as simple, yet wonderful, as imagery. I myself NEED this technique to write. It not only helps my writing so much better, but it’s fun to use. Author, Adriana Trigiani, once spoke on the importance of imagery in her own work. She stated that, “And so, when I was a young writer I always worked hard on imagery, and I knew that the roots of imagery were the senses - and that if my readers could feel, taste and see what I was talking about, I would be able to tell them a story." I couldn’t have put it better myself, honestly. This is only one of the plethora of techniques that are there for you to use as you will. Learn and choose wisely!
After you get the gist of what I mean by literary elements and literary techniques, try to look through some of your favorite books. Focus on the things you just learned and try to pick them out. As for the elements, hopefully knowing a bit more about why they are so important to writing will help you see them clearly in other people’s work. The elements not only build the story from the ground up, but help us to see why and how the writer wrote what they did. What type of characters are in the story? What about the setting sticks out to you or seems to be of great import to the writer? Is there an underlying theme that the writer is trying to portray to their audience?
Move on to techniques. Can you pick out at least five of these within one chapter? How does the author use these devices to create something within their writing? Remember, you now have a newfound knowledge at which you can study and analyze not only your own work, but others as well.
Moving on, go to your own writing. Do you see the same elements or similar ones within your own writing? Are there places that lack these devices? Write down some ideas for how you can improve your own writing by implementing some of these techniques and elements. Remember, there’s always room for improvement, so even if you have a sufficient amount of these devices, you may want to swap some out for something more appropriate depending on the situating/setting/etc.
For myself, I love learning more about literary devices. It’s exciting coming across new ones and trying to figure out how to put that into my own writing. I see the elements as the cake and the techniques as the frosted layers throughout and on top. Altogether, it makes a delicious treat that is worth indulging in. Try to learn and to use these devices more often, and I know that they will help you improve your writing immensely. Keep on keepin’ on, writers!
For more information, visit the following websites:
Website for all literary devices and their definitions:
Site for literary devices and their categorization between elements and techniques: