8 Common Literary Devices Used In Fiction

Literary devices are the literary techniques that authors use them either for the expression of ideas or the addition of depth to the writing. They make the reader feel a lot closer. Such tools range from various hierarchies of text or method which leads to increased effectiveness of text by improving its narrative, emotional aesthetics and better life history.

1- Foreshadowing

A literary device which shows about upcoming happening in the story. The technique appears at the beginning of a story. It helps to build anticipation in the mind of the reader and prepare him for how the story will unfold.

Foreshadowing can be delicate, for example, through an exchange of a few words which heralds events to come, or rather bolder, such as a prophecy or a gloomy description. 

Authors employ foreshadowing to create the calculated level of suspense and to make more complex the nature of their narrative, ensuring that the plot is more interesting and the fate of characters is more captivating for the reader..

Example from fiction

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone” by J.K. Rowling

“The Sorcerer’s Stone is said to be destroyed, yet who can say if that is really true?”

In this line, the author uses foreshadowing to anticipate unknown and mysterious elements around the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

The sentence is is indeed a rhetorical question revealing doubt about the unforeseen impact which may create a sense of curiosity and anxiety in the reader’s mind. It brings up doubts about the Stone’s destiny and if it will have a connection with any forthcoming storylines or within the entire story.

These questions are explicitly left unanswered by the showrunners, leaving audiences to debate on this matter. This technique helps to keep the reader intrigued with a sense of curiosity, as it forces the audience to ponder the possibilities. This, in turn, makes them desire to know the truth and as a result read through the whole story.

2- Metaphor

A metaphor makes a direct comparison between two unrelated subjects, asserting that one thing is another.

See also: 100 Examples of Metaphor

Example from fiction

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“The events of the summer hung over us like a smoke in a closed room.”

By using this poem from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we see that the story goes beyond the trial’s tense final day and portrays the atmosphere surrounding the war. 

The way smoke would spill into a room, and how it would then settle and linger as it fills it in, is a good analogy to the kind of impression the incidents leave behind with the characters as they face the musk of the tension and discrimination in the community. 

The metaphor implies the limitation of the surroundings which the race relations issues have on the characters, underlining the manifestative character of the racism-induced oppression in their lives.

3- Symbolism

Symbolism uses symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.

Example from Fiction

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.”

The green light symbolizes Gatsby’s hope and aspirations about future. The light is indeed, beyond the horizon but can be seen, suggesting that his goals are so distant and they become very hard to reach, especially his dreams of having the former harmony with Daisy and the past. 

Fitzgerald uses this green light to describe the idea of American dream, which means that in America every individual can achieve his/her goals just by staying determined and not giving up even if the real life is as one puts up a barrier. 

This symbolism is the key in the grasp of Gatsby’s character and the implied message of the need to pour over dreams in the American society.

4- Irony

Irony involves saying something that is contrary to what is intended or expected, often highlighting a contrast between appearances and reality.

Example from Fiction

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet declares,

“Mr. Darcy is the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

This sentence seems to be ironical as the plot goes on; Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy actually fall in love and get married. 

The ironic meaning of Elizabeth’s statement not only amuses the reader but also shows that the way she is going to think about Mr. Darcy will be considerably different than now. It adds to the symbolic perspective of the novel that deal with misjudgment and misinterpretation as the key themes.

5- Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial consonant sounds in successive or closely connected words, often used to create rhythm or aural effect.

Example from fiction

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Deep down in the dark damp dungeon doom waited, but it was not yet.”

It is a wonderful illustration of how a poet can create rhythm using alliteration effectively. The line has different words with ‘d’ sound which can be noticed easily. The words include “deep”, “down”, “dark”, “damp”, “dungeon” and “doom”. The listeners will pay attention to the sound as they listen to. 

In this line, the alliteration creates the very frightening and awful euphoria of the cell in the story. It makes the scene more vivid and powerful through tensed atmosphere and this increases the expectation and fear the reader may have. 

6- Flashback

A flashback is a method of narration in which the chronological sequence of events is interrupted to recount an event from the past.

Example from fiction

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

“I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don’t blame them. I really don’t. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it.”

The passage serves as a retrospection in the consciousness of the main character, Holden Caulfield, to show an event that happened before. 

Holden expresses his response to the death of his brother Allie, which includes sparkles of glass, and in the setting of Dad’s garage. It is however, comprehensive in giving the audience an insight on Holden’s current psychic and emotional stability. 

It conveys the level of the depth of his sadness and wrath over the loss of his brother that is critical to his growth as a character and the emotional motive of the story as a whole. 

Literary Devices Used In Fiction
Literary Devices Used In Fiction

7- Anaphora

Anaphora is a rhetorical device where a word or expression is repeated at the beginning of multiple clauses or sentences. It is used to emphasize a concept and create a rhythmic structure.

Example from Fiction

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

In the novel the famous opening line uses anaphora:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …”

The use of “It was” at the starting of each clause, makes us to realize how contrasting and sharp is the era portrayed in the novel. This introduction of anaphora not only set the scene but also created a foundation of in-and-out conflict which the story told afterward.

8- Epistrophe

Epistrophe, also known as antistrophe, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences. It is often used to create emphasis through repetition, similar to anaphora, but at the end rather than the beginning.

Example from Fiction

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

A pattern of epistrophe is used when he writes:

” And the banks are made of marble, With a guard at every door, And the vaults are stuffed with silver, That the farmer sweated for.”

In this case, the line end repetition of the sentence “That the farmer he endured” is an echo of the fact that the farmers worked perilously hard as opposed to the wealth of banks and the guards, the marbles and the vaults.

The insinuation that the richer banks exploit the poorer farmers serves as a rhetorical disguise for inequality. Besides this protests act as an eye opener to the unjust of the farmers, at the same time the readers is gripped with an empathic and frustrating feeling. 

Steinbeck repeats the phrase in a way that he is trying to explain that the money collected in banks is because of laborers’. Thus, he has harnessed the phenomenon of economic inequalities during the Great Depression.

Read also: List of 50 Figures of Speech With Examples

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