Literary Devices and Terms

Devices and Terms

Literary devices and terms, refer to structures that are used by writers to illustrate messages and visions that they wish to convey, to the reader. These structures assist the reader in envisioning the picture or situation, that the writer has in mind. This is not a complete list of all literary devices and terms, but instead, is a list of some of the more common ones. Please contact us if you wish any added to this list. 


Ad Hominem is a personal attack on an individual rather than on that individual’s position or viewpoint. This logical fallacy is often used by someone who is unable to logically refute someone’s opinion/statement.

Alliteration is the constant repetition of a letter or a sound at the beginning of words which follow, or are close to each other. There is a reason that the writer does this and figuring out why will often give an insight, into what the writer has in mind. A slimy snake slithers slowly on the sandy seashore.

An Allegory is a story or poem containing a moral or political hidden meaning. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” the protagonist, Dorothy, meets a lion who represents cowardice, a strawman/scarecrow who represents the farming past and a tin man who represents the technology of the future.

An Allusion is an indirect reference, causing something to come to mind without actually mentioning it. It is often found with metaphors or similes.

Anaphora as a literary technique is performed by the writer by repeating the same word, or group of words at the beginning of a sentence. “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Another example,  this one found in The Tale of Two Cities,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” 

An Analogy is a comparison between two things used to further explain, how those two things are alike in a certain situation. It is similar to a metaphor or a simile, but, it is usually deeper in meaning and provides a logical argument. In the movie, “Forest Gump,” Forest famously says, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” 

An Anecdote is a short amusing story. It can often be used in an introduction to an essay, presentation, or discussion.

The Antagonist in a book, play or movie, is the main opposition, with which the protagonist (hero) must contend. It is important to note, that the antagonist is not necessarily evil. Two people can have opposing ideas, with neither being evil.

Antithesis is the direct opposite of a person or thing, in at least one aspect. The most obvious example is found in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” when it is said, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

An Antonym is a word that is the opposite of another word.  Just a few examples include, good/ bad, above/below, borrow/lend.


A Cacophony is a mixture of sounds resulting in a harsh sound. Read Lewis Carroll’s, “Jabberwocky.” Life itself is a cacophony of sounds, as you walk down the street you hear people talking, others yelling, cars honking, tires screeching, dogs barking, and so much more.

Characterization occurs when a writer, (or speaker), creates an imaginary character, or, creates an imaginary feature, often an exaggerated feature of the character.

An Epilogue is a portion at the end of a book, that often serves as the conclusion.

A Euphemism is a more gentle way of saying something that is too harsh or too rude. We often say someone has “passed away” instead of saying that they are “dead.”

A Flashback is part of a movie or book which takes place earlier than the main part.

Foreshadowing is a warning of future events.

The Genre of the story, poem, movie or music, is the category to which the creation belongs. Mystery, fantasy or comedy are just a few examples of genre.

A Homograph (homo = same, graph = writing) is a word that is spelled the same as another but is pronounced differently and has a different meaning. Lead (a metal) vs lead ( from the verb to lead, go before others), wind (blowing air) vs wind ( to wind a toy, watch or string). 


A Homonym (homo = same, nym = name), is a word that is pronounced the same as another word, but is spelled the same as the other word but has a different meaning. Bear (the animal) and bear (ability to carry)


A Homophone (homo = same, phone = sound) is a word that has the same sound, but different meaning. Heir (successor) vs air (the oxygen and nitrogen that surrounds the earth), two (the number) vs too (also) vs to (expressing motion)


Hubris is excessive pride which often causes a person’s downfall. It is usually included by the author, as a moral lesson, in order to show the reader how one should not act. It is considered by many as the greatest tragic flaw.

Hyperbole is a vastly exaggerated statement, not meant to be taken literally. We may sometimes hear someone say “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse,” “That was so heavy, it must weigh a ton,” “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times.”

It is considered Irony (ironic), when a situation occurs that is completely opposite to what one would believe would happen. Irony can be used for dramatic or humorous effect. It was believed that the Titanic was unsinkable, but it hit an iceberg and sank on its “first” voyage.

A Metaphor compares two things or ideas that are not alike. Time is money. A metaphor vs a simile

The Mood is the emotional feeling the reader gets when reading or watching a book, poem, or movie.

The Narrator of a story is the person who narrates (tells) the story.

A Nemesis is a person that is and has been an opponent for a long period of time. The nemesis is often the result of a person’s downfall.

Onomatopoeia is creating words based on the sounds they seem to make. Bang! Boom! Crash!

An Oxymoron is a combination of two words that contradict one another. In an attempt to be politically correct, the army now refers to the situation where a soldier in one army, accidentally shoots or kills another soldier in the same army as friendly fire. “Jumbo shrimp” or a “small crowd,” are those possible?

A Paradox is a self-contradictory group of statements, that may seem to be true but both cannot possibly be true. If time travel were possible, could you go back in time and prevent your parents from meeting each other? If time travel is possible, then, in theory, you could. But as soon as you did, you would no longer exist, which means you couldn’t go back in time in the first place. Another example of a paradox, by John Lennon, “It’s weird not to be weird.”

Further Explanation of a Paradox

Personification is the act of giving human qualities or attributes to non-human things. The skies opened up and wept. 

The Plot, in general terms, is a description of the events that take place within a story.

The Point of View in a story refers to the position of the narrator in the story or poem. In some writings, the narrator is an active participant in the story and is spoken in the first person.  The narrator in other stories does not participate in the story and instead speaks in the third person.

The Prologue is found in the introduction, in order to give us a preview as to what is to come in the story.

The Protagonist is the leading character (hero or champion) in a book, play or movie.

Satire involves the use of humour in order to criticize a person, group or situation and usually refers to politics.

A Simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as.” My friend Pablo, eats like a pig.

A Symbol is an object or person that is representative of another person or place or thing.

A Synonym is a word which has the same or almost the same meaning as another word.


The Theme is the main or central idea of a story, poem or movie. Some common examples include chaos versus order,  fear of failure, growing up, identity crisis, love lost, the power of wealth, just to name a few.

Tragic Flaw is a characteristic of the protagonist that eventually causes his downfall. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is consumed with self-pride, to such a degree that he ignores the prophecy of the gods, and ends up mistakingly marrying his own mother.

Understatement is the opposite of exaggeration. It is minimizing something and making it smaller or less important than it really is. An example of an understatement is saying “Oh, its just a scratch,” after smashing your car into a building and causing a great deal of damage.

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