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LITERARY DEVICES

Literary devices are techniques or methods used by authors to enliven or inform their prose. They are identifiable conventions or structures employed in literature and storytelling. Not all literary devices will be used within one work.

ALLEGORY

A story that has a deeper meaning in addition to its surface meaning. Allegories are composed of symbols or metaphors, often with a moral or spiritual meaning.

ALLITERATION

Two or more words of a word group with the same letter or sound. For example, "big brown bears bounce back."

ALLUSION

A reference to well-known characters, events in history, or another work of literature. They are often indirect or brief. (e.g. The phrase "Surrender Dorothy" from The Wizard of Oz movie was changed to "surrender piggies” by illustrator Howard Fine in Piggie Pie (1995) by Margie Palatini.)

AMBIGUITY

Usage that allows for varied interpretations of a word or statement.

ANACHRONISM

An object or person that does not belong or is not appropriate to the period in which it exists; a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.

ANALOGY

Comparing one thing to another on the basis that some similarity exists between the two.

ANECDOTE

A short story, either amusing or interesting, about a real incident or person.

ANTIHERO

A character in who lacks conventional heroic attributes. An antihero is not necessarily a villain, but rather a flawed character.

APHORISM

A concise, sometimes witty, statement expressing a general truth or observation. For example, " I think, therefore I am." (Descartes)

APTRONYM

A word used for a proper name that matches its owner’s occupation or character, such as Mr. Green for a frog character.

ARCHETYPE

Examples of literary archetypes include themes such as birth and death and characters such as the Earth Mother.

CLICHÉ

A phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused, losing its intended influence.

CONNOTATION

An association that comes along with a particular word. For example, "snake" is often associated with devious and underhanded behavior.

COUNTERPOINT (ANTITHESIS)

Any element that is juxtaposed and contrasted with another; a foil or conflict.

DIALOGUE BALLOONS

Dialogue balloons (a.k.a speech balloons, speech bubbles) are a visual tool used to represent the speech or thoughts of a character.

FLASHBACK

A technique that allows an author to refer to past events in order to enhance understanding of the narrative or a character's motivation.

FLASH FORWARD

A technique in which the main story is interrupted with an expected or imagined event that may occur at a later time in the narrative.

FORESHADOWING

Statements or clues provided ahead of time that offer insight to events that will occur later in the narrative.

HYPERBOLE

A technique used to exaggerate the obvious. Opposite of understatement.

IDIOM

Sayings and phrases that are grammatical and natural to native speakers of a language.

IMAGERY

Descriptive or figurative language that evokes mental images and engages the senses.

INFERENCE

Drawing conclusions or making logical judgments about characters and events based on interpretation rather than information provided by the author.

IRONY

expression of something which is contrary to the intended meaning; the words say one thing but mean another.

METAFICTION

A type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. This is done to perfection in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

METAPHOR

implied comparison achieved through a figurative use of words; the word is used not in its literal sense, but in one analogous to it.

MOTIF

A recurring theme, character, or idea. For example, motifs in Cinderella tales include a downtrodden protagonist, a fairy godmother, and magical transformation.

ONOMATOPOEIA

The use of words to represent or imitate natural sounds, such as "buzz," "hiss," and "zzz."

OXYMORON

Two words with contradictory meanings used together intentionally for effect, such as "bad luck," "false hope," and "alone in a crowd."

PARADOX

an assertion seemingly opposed to common sense, but that may yet have some truth in it.

PARODY

The imitation of elements of one work in another for humorous purposes.

PERSONIFICATION

Giving of human qualities to animals and inanimate objects. Fro example, "Morning peeked through the clouds, promising a good day."

POETIC JUSTICE

An outcome in which a bad character is punished and a good character is rewarded; when one character plots to undermine another, but ends up caught in his or her own trap.

POINT OF VIEW

The way a story gets told and who tells it. For example, first person (I, my, we) and third person (he, she, they).

PORTMANTEAU

A combination of two or more words to create a new word. For example, "spork" is a combination of "spoon" and "fork."

PUN

A play on words that sound similar or exactly the same.

REBUS

A puzzle consisting of pictures or symbols representing syllables and words. For example, "I can hear you, but I cannot see you." The "hear" would be represented by a picture of an ear and "see" with a picture of an eye.

SATIRE

The use of sarcasm, exaggeration, wit, or ridicule to expose and criticize people or institutions.

SERENDIPITY

A happy accident or discovery that occurs at just the right moment' luck or good fortune.

SIMILE

A comparison between two things using "like" or "as."

STEREOTYPE

Assuming that a person or thing is the same as all others of its type, often predictable and oversimplified. A nagging wife and absent-minded professor are stereotypes.

SYMBOLISM

The use of one object to represent another; used to create an added level of meaning. For example, a flag may be used to symbolize a nation.

UNDERSTATEMENT

A technique used to understate the obvious. Opposite of hyperbole.

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