Literary Devices that Start with D

List of literary devices that start with D.

Dactyl

A dactyl is a metrical foot containing one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, creating a “DA-da-da” rhythm. Lines of poetry written in dactylic hexameter, meaning six dactyl feet per line, were very common in ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry and odes. For example, Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid used dactylic hexameter to give the epics a sense of rhythm and movement.

Example: “DA-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da” (Homer’s Iliad)

Deductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning refers to logical thinking and reasoning that starts with a broad premise and extrapolates to reach specific conclusions. In literature, detectives like Sherlock Holmes epitomize the deductive reasoning process. They begin with general observations and evidence and systematically deduce specifics about a crime.

Example: In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes uses step-by-step deductive reasoning to solve complex mysteries.

Denotation

Denotation is the explicit, direct, literal definition of a word as defined in the dictionary, devoid of any associated interpretations, connotations, or emotional suggestions. Denotation is the precise, exact meaning of a word.

Example: “Child” has a different connotation than “kid”, but the denotation of both words is the same – a young person.

Denouement

The denouement is the final portion of a story’s plot structure in which mysteries, doubts, entanglements and questions about the conclusion are resolved and explained. The denouement comes after the climax and falling action, revealing outcomes and tying up loose ends before the actual ending.

Example: In mystery novels, the denouement details how and why the crime was committed, resolving the core mystery.

Deus Ex Machina

Deus ex machina refers to an unexpected, artificial or improbable character, event, action or solution introduced suddenly near the end of a story to resolve its conflict and tie up loose ends. The use of deus ex machine is generally viewed as a clumsy, lazy plot device reflecting poor writing.

Example: In some Greek tragedies, a god would swoop down at the last minute and miraculously solve problems facing the characters.

Deuteragonist

The deuteragonist is the second most important character in a narrative after the protagonist. The deuteragonist plays a pivotal supporting role, sometimes assisting the protagonist on a quest or journey, other times acting as the villain or nemesis.

Example: In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Samwise Gamgee serves as the deuteragonist to protagonist Frodo Baggins.

Diacope

Diacope is a rhetorical device wherein a word or phrase gets repeated multiple times with only one or two intervening words in between each repetition. Diacope serves to emphasize ideas, reinforce arguments, or heighten dramatic effects.

Example: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” (Winston Churchill)

Dialect

Dialect refers to the distinctive vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation used by a specific social, ethnic, or regional group. Writers sometimes use highly exaggerated, phonetic spelling of dialect in dialogue to represent the sounds of the particular regional accent.

Example: Mark Twain employed over-the-top Southern American English dialects when writing the dialogue for Huck Finn and many characters.

Dialogue

Dialogue refers to the conversational exchange between two or more characters in a literary work. This dialogue reveals details about plot points, background information, inner thoughts, and the unique personalities of the different characters based on their word choice, speech patterns, tone, and mannerisms.

Example: Jane Austen wrote witty, ironic dialogue that revealed insights about her characters.

Diatribe

A diatribe is a forceful, bitter, abusive speech or piece of writing. It angrily denounces and attacks its subject in a one-sided fashion, often in a self-righteous tone. Diatribes are often harangues that express criticism, censure, or condemnation.

Example: The prophet Jeremiah delivers harsh diatribes against the sinfulness of Judah in the Old Testament.

Dichotomy

A dichotomy refers to a sharp contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed, radically contradictory, or entirely separate. It implies mutual exclusivity between the two halves of the dichotomy.

Example: In Star Wars, the Force is portrayed in a dichotomy between good (the Light Side) and evil (the Dark Side).

Diction

Diction refers to a writer’s choice and style of words based on correctness, clarity, effectiveness, and appropriateness for the particular audience, purpose and context. Diction determines the overall style of speech or writing. Proper diction is the standard formal use of language.

Example: Jane Austen used refined diction fitting her early 19th century English gentry characters.

Didacticism

Didacticism refers to a pedantic, moralizing literary style that is overly instructional and focused on teaching moral, ethical, theological or political lessons. Didactic works sacrific negative qualities like subtlety and artistry in order to preach a message.

Example: Aesop’s fables like The Tortoise and the Hare are short didactic tales teaching simple life lessons.

Digression

A digression is a temporary departure or diversion from the main subject, topic, argument, or narrative in a written work, speech, argument, or conversation. Digressions provide background information, shift to a related topic, or offer a new perspective before returning to the original topic.

Example: John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost contains digressions recounting biblical history and mythology.

Dilemma

A dilemma refers to a difficult circumstance or complex problem requiring a choice between options that seem equally unfavorable or mutually exclusive. A dilemma implies a tension between reasonable but contradictory demands. Creating moral or ethical dilemmas is a common plot element in literature.

Example: Hamlet deliberates over whether or not to kill Claudius in Shakespeare’s play due to his dilemma.

Direct Characterization

Direct characterization refers to explicit descriptions, commentary, details, labels or explanations provided directly by the author or narrator about a character. Direct characterization directly states information about a character’s appearance, thoughts and feelings, personal background, behaviors and traits.

Example: Jane Austen directly characterizes Emma Woodhouse as “handsome, clever, and rich” in the novel Emma.

Discourse

Discourse refers broadly to patterns of human thought represented in both written and spoken language. More narrowly, discourse refers to modes of dialogic communication like formal speeches, debates, or casual conversation.

Example: Michel Foucault analyzed societal power dynamics through the concept of discourse in disciplines like medicine, law, and politics.

Dissonance

Dissonance refers to inconsistencies, discrepancies, clashes or conflicts between differing things like ideas, values, perspectives, actions, or situations. Dissonance creates tension and drama in a narrative. Incongruities may exist between characters, plot elements, or themes.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet, there is dissonance between the families’ ongoing feud versus Romeo and Juliet’s love.

Distortion

Distortion refers to the act of twisting, deforming, reshaping, or exaggerating something radically from its true, natural, original, or realistic shape, meaning or depiction. In literature, distortion may result from dreams, faulty memory, mental illness, or creative embellishment meant to evoke a feeling in the reader.

Example: In The Metamorphosis by Kafka, Gregor’s transformation into an insect is an absurd distortion of reality reflecting his alienation.

Doppelganger

A doppelganger is a ghostly double, look-alike, or counterpart to a living person. Doppelgangers may portend imminent death or an evil alter-ego. The word comes from the German for “double goer” and the motif remains common in supernatural fiction.

Example: Dr. Jekyll’s evil persona Mr. Hyde acts as his doppelganger in Stevenson’s novella.

Double Entendre

A double entendre is a word or phrase that contains a second meaning beyond its surface meaning, typically something risqué, ironic, or inappropriate. The second meaning is conversational implicature. Writers frequently use double entendres for humorous effect.

Example: “We need to go deeper” has an innocent primary meaning along with a sexual double entendre.

Drama

Drama refers to written plays and works meant to be performed on stage, containing elements like engrossing plots, vivid dialogue, and dynamic characterization. Drama depicts human conflicts through actors impersonating characters. Tragedy and comedy are dramatic genres.

Example: Shakespeare excelled at writing Elizabethan drama ranging from comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream to tragedies like Hamlet.

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is an effective literary technique wherein the reader or audience understands something about present or future story circumstances, relationships, or character motivations that characters do not yet know. This creates suspense, humor, and poignancy.

Example: In Oedipus Rex, the audience knows Oedipus killed his father long before he discovers it.

Dramatic Monologue

A dramatic monologue is a type of lyrical poem in which a fictional first-person speaker addresses a silent listener. The lengthy speech reveals the speaker’s personality and state of mind through key details. Robert Browning perfected the form.

Example: Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” has a Duke speaking and revealing his controlling nature.

Dynamic Character

A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal development, evolution, and change over the course of a narrative. A dynamic character’s personality transforms as a result of their experiences, reflections, and growth in reaction to plot developments.

Example: Ebeneezer Scrooge is a dynamic character who transforms from miserly to generous in A Christmas Carol.

Dysphemism

Dysphemism refers to substituting an offensive, objectionable, or disparaging word, phrase or expression for a more neutral one in order to add a caustic, harsh, or ugly connotation. Dysphemisms may potentially offend readers.

Example: A character describing an ugly person as a “beast” instead of just “unattractive” is using dysphemism to be purposefully harsh.

Dystopia

A dystopia refers to an imagined futuristic society or setting depicting oppressive, impoverished, violent, disease-ridden, and bleak conditions or experiences. Dystopias serve as warnings and reflect anxieties about trends in society and technology. They are the antithesis of utopias.

Example: Futuristic dictatorial settings in classic dystopian novels like 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

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