Writers, both professional and casual, regularly use literary devices. These techniques are tools used by writers to help them create engaging works such as poems, short stories, or novels. There are a large number of literary devices, and it can be helpful to brush up on them occasionally. Whether one is signed up for an online bachelor’s degree program, taking classes on campus, or a college graduate, having a source of reference for some of the more common literary devices can be beneficial and serve to sharpen and improve one’s writing.

  • Allegory: When writers use characters, figures, or events to represent abstract principles or ideas
  • Alliteration: The use of the same consonant sounds at the beginnings of two or more closely grouped words in the same sentence
  • Allusion: A reference made by the writer to a real or imaginary person, place, or event that is likely to be recognized by the reader
  • Assonance: The repetition of a pattern of vowel sounds
  • Atmosphere: The mood or feeling that readers get from reading the description or setting of a literary work
  • Ballad: A narrative poem that is told in song
  • Blank Verse: A non-rhyming poem that uses iambic pentameter
  • Consonance: Repeating similar consonant sounds or patterns in close proximity
  • Diction: Word choices used in writing or in speech
  • Elegy: A serious or sorrowful poem that is often lamenting someone who is dead
  • Enjambment: When a writer’s use of a phrase goes over a line break without a comma or any other form of punctuation for emphasis
  • Epitaph: An inscribed verse or phrase on a tombstone or a monument that’s written in memory of someone who has died
  • Epiphany: The point in literature when a sudden realization occurs that serves as a turning point for the character
  • Euphemism: The use of understated or inoffensive words to say something that is considered offensive or harsh
  • Foreshadowing: When clues or events occur that hint at changes in the plot that will occur at a later point in the storyline
  • Free Verse: Poetry that is non-rhyming and without a regular meter
  • Hyperbole: An exaggeration that is used for effect but not meant to be taken seriously
  • Idiom: Phrases or expressions that have a widely accepted meaning other than the literal meaning of each individual word
  • Imagery: Descriptions that are used to appeal to the readers’ five senses
  • Irony: A technique that uses words in a way that contradicts what they actually mean
  • Juxtaposition: Placing two ideas or characters side by side in a narrative for contrast or comparison
  • Lyric: A poem that expresses the writer’s emotion in a style or form that’s song-like
  • Metaphor: A figure of speech that implies a comparison between two unlike things, often by speaking of something as if its meaning were something else
  • Monologue: A speech made by a single character
  • Ode: A type of poem that’s addressed to, and often praises, a particular person or subject that the poet admires or has deep feelings for
  • Onomatopoeia: The use of words that sound like the thing that they refer to
  • Oxymoron: A figure of speech that joins two words that contradict each other
  • Paradox: A statement that seems false and appears to contradict itself but is actually true to some degree
  • Pun: A play on words that uses similar-sounding words that have different meanings and is often done for the purpose of humor or irony
  • Repetition: Using the same words or phrases two or more times for emphasis
  • Rhetorical Question: A question that does not require an answer but is expressed to make a point or for dramatic effect
  • Rhyme: When two or more words end with identical or similar sounds, often occurring at the ends of lines of poetry
  • Sarcasm: When a harsh remark is used to mock for the purpose of amusement and to hurt someone’s feelings
  • Satire: Writing that uses humor, derision, or irony to ridicule human vices and other faults
  • Sonnet: A poem of 14 lines that uses one of several rhyme schemes and is written in iambic pentameter
  • Stream of Consciousness: A narrative technique in which a writer attempts to illustrate a character’s subjective and random observations, feelings, and commentary in a continuous flow
  • Symbol: An object or character that’s written to represent something else
  • Tone: The writer’s attitude toward a character, a subject, or the reader
  • Understatement: When a writer deliberately makes something seem smaller or less important than what it is for effect
  • Wit: Elements in literature meant to amuse readers using insightful or cynical humor that can be harmless or aggressive and may include clever banter or dry one-liners