What is a Literary Device?
It isn’t pen, paper or a thesaurus. Literary devices are specific writing techniques used to add depth to a story. They can create atmosphere, convey information about persons, places, or things or provide in-depth psychological insight to a character’s motivation or ethical dilemmas. Literary devices also can work on a deeper intellectual level or merely aid the flow and pacing of a story.
Understanding the proper use of literary devices can helpful to an author. With proper use, a writer can emphasis a particular point or give clarity to a scene or help the reader relate to the author's choices.
Common Literary Devices in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Allegory is a narrative that uses characters and plot to exemplify abstract ideas and themes, such as racism, patriotism or illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Events and characters are more than they appear on the surface.
Animal Farm by George Orwell is a commentary on the events leading to Stalin's rise and the formation of the Soviet Union. The pigs represent figures such as Stalin, Trotsky, and Molotov.
Although Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss is a children’s story about a turtle who yearns for too much power, it’s actually a reference to Adolf Hitler and the evils of totalitarianism.
Anthropomorphism comes from combination of the Greek words for “human” and “form” and attributes human emotions and qualities to non-human elements. They can be characters like animals or objects like the weather. It's a common device in fantasy and science fiction.
Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Artoo-detoo. Anthropomorphism can also be used as a descriptive element such as calling the relationship between two countries a friendship or saying a storm caused an “angry” wind.
than the one expressed. Irony is often used in a humorous context and sorry, Alanis Morissette, rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic. It’s merely bad luck. There are three types of irony in literature:
Verbal irony: Words spoken with a hidden meaning. It’s similar to sarcasm, but not as mean. An example is using the phase “clear as mud” to describe confusion. In the movie, Annie, the orphans insist “We love you Miss Hannigan” when they obviously don’t.
Situational irony: An action occurs that's the opposite of what was expected or intended. It’s a surprise to the reader. At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends find out they had power to attain their hearts’ desires all along.
Dramatic irony: The reader is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not. As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings. This was a common tool for Shakespeare. Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan, but is actually plotting his murder. Romeo believes Juliet is dead but, being a dork, doesn’t bother to check her pulse before downing poison.
Foreshadowing is an excellent device to add tension to a narrative. It involves indirect hints to future action in the story through the use of dialogue, description, or characters’ actions. Often the foreshadowing event seems inconsequential, but in retrospect is a clue to what is to come.
The prologue of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton alludes to a settlement relating to a genetic crisis caused by a company called InGen that occurred off the coast of Costa Rica.
In the Lord of the Rings Frodo tells Gandalf it’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf responds pity stayed his hand. “Many that die deserve life, and some that live deserve death.”
stories. Symbols are typically objects or characters and often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is actually a Christian allegory with the symbolic use of Aslan as Jesus Christ and Edmund as Judas. Yeah, I know. That one blew my mind, too.
The first time Dark Vader strides on camera in Star Wars, no one can miss that he is a symbol for all that is evil in the empire, but his symbolic sacrifice at the end of the trilogy frees his son and his soul.