Literary Techniques

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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: June 10, 2024

Literary Techniques

A literary technique refers to a specific method or approach employed by writers to enhance their storytelling and effectively communicate their message or theme to the reader. These techniques include a wide array of strategies, such as metaphor, which draws a direct comparison between two unrelated subjects without using “like” or “as” to deepen understanding; simile, which uses “like” or “as” to make comparisons clearer; alliteration, which repeats consonant sounds at the beginning of words to add a rhythmic quality; and imagery, which vividly describes scenes to evoke sensory experiences. Writers also use irony to express a contrast between expectation and reality, and symbolism to imbue objects or actions with deeper meanings. These techniques enrich the text, making it more engaging and thought-provoking for the reader.

What Is a Literary Techniques?

A literary technique is a special way writers use words to make their stories more interesting and meaningful. These techniques help make the writing more lively and can help you picture scenes, feel emotions, and understand ideas better. Examples include metaphors, which compare two different things to show what they have in common; similes, which do the same thing but use “like” or “as”; and alliteration, where words starting with the same sound are placed close together. There are also techniques like imagery, which creates vivid pictures in your mind, and symbolism, where something stands for a bigger idea. Writers use these tools to make their stories and messages clearer and more enjoyable to read.

List of Literary Techniques

Literary techniques are tools that authors use to convey deeper meanings and enhance their storytelling.

Here are 20 common techniques with detailed explanations:

1. Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison. For example, saying “time is a thief” suggests time can steal moments from us, just like a thief.

2. Simile

A simile compares two different things to illustrate a point or clarify an idea, using words like “as” or “like.” For instance, “Her smile is as bright as the sun” helps readers visualize the intensity and warmth of her smile.

3. Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial consonant sound in multiple words close together. It is often used to create rhythm and mood. An example is “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

4. Personification

Personification involves giving human traits, ambitions, or feelings to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract concepts. This can make descriptions more vivid, as in “the wind howled in the night.”

5. Imagery

Imagery uses descriptive language to create pictures in the mind of the reader. It appeals to the sensory experience to make the reader feel as if they are part of the scene, e.g., “The lake was a glassy expanse, reflecting the clear blues of the sky.”

6. Irony

Irony is a broad term that encompasses three types: verbal irony (saying the opposite of what one means), dramatic irony (when the audience knows something that the characters do not), and situational irony (when the opposite of what is expected occurs). It often produces a surprise or humor.

7. Symbolism

Symbolism uses symbols, objects, or events to represent bigger ideas or concepts. For instance, a chain can symbolize imprisonment or restriction.

8. Hyperbole

Hyperbole involves exaggerated words or statements not meant to be taken literally, used for the sake of emphasis, humor, or dramatic effect, like “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

9. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing hints at future events or outcomes in a story. This technique builds suspense and prepares the reader for what is coming next, such as mentioning storm clouds as a hint of a future dramatic event.

10. Flashback

A flashback interrupts the normal chronological flow of a story to narrate an event that happened earlier. This provides background or context to the current events.

11. Oxymoron

An oxymoron combines two contradictory terms in a brief phrase, such as “jumbo shrimp” or “deafening silence.” It is used to present a paradox for reflective or humorous effect.

12. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. Such as “buzz,” “whisper,” or “clang,” helping to bring a scene to life with sound.

13. Allegory

An allegory is a narrative technique in which characters and events represent broader themes and concepts. Often used to teach moral lessons or critique social institutions.

14. Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences for rhetorical or poetic effect. Example: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds…”

15. Epiphany

An epiphany is a moment of sudden revelation or insight that a character experiences. This is often a turning point in the story that alters the character’s view.

16. Euphemism

A euphemism is a polite, indirect expression that replaces words and phrases considered harsh or impolite, or which suggest something unpleasant. For example, “passed away” instead of “died.”

17. Pun

A pun is a play on words in which a humorous effect is produced by using a word that suggests two or more meanings or by exploiting similar sounding words having different meanings. Humorous exploits of this kind are common in literature.

18. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition places two elements close together to present a comparison or contrast. For example, placing a description of a calm village next to a chaotic city scene highlights the differences between the two.

19. Motif

A motif is a recurring symbol which takes on a figurative meaning. This is often a critical element of the themes of the work, such as repeated references to darkness and light.

20. Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. It is used to reinforce the meanings of words or to set the mood. Example: “The early bird catches the worm.”

Elements of Literary Techniques

8 Elements of Literary Techniques

Literary techniques are the structures within language that writers use to effectively convey their messages and entertain their audiences. Here are some fundamental elements of literary techniques that are crucial to crafting compelling narratives and expressive poetry:

1. Diction

Diction refers to the choice of words and style of expression that an author uses. This includes the vocabulary used, the formality of the language, and the way individual sentences are constructed. Diction can influence the tone and mood of a piece and contribute to its overall impact on the reader.

2. Syntax

Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. It dictates how words from different parts of speech are put together in order to convey a complete thought. Varying syntax can affect the pace of the text and the readability, thereby influencing the reader’s engagement and interpretation.

3. Tone

Tone is the attitude or approach that the author takes towards the theme of the message. Tone can be serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, solemn, or objective, among others. The tone is conveyed through the choice of words and details.

4. Point of View

Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story is told. The main points of view used in literature are first person, second person, and third person, which can be further divided into third person omniscient, limited, or objective. Each point of view offers different advantages and affects how much the reader knows about the characters and events in the story.

5. Setting

The setting is where and when the story takes place. It includes the geographical location, the time period, the socio-economic backdrop, and the specific environment of the story. The setting can create the mood and influence the characters and the plot.

6. Theme

The theme is the underlying message or the big idea of a story. It is a universal concept that the text explores, such as love, war, betrayal, loyalty, or justice. Themes are usually implied rather than explicitly stated, and they offer deeper insights into the human condition.

7. Characterization

Characterization is the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character. This can be done directly through the narrative or indirectly through the actions, thoughts, and speech of the character. Effective characterization is crucial as it helps readers relate to the characters and understand their motivations.

8. Plot

The plot is the sequence of events that make up a story. It includes the conflict, the climax, and the resolution. The plot drives the narrative forward and is a crucial element in keeping the reader engaged.

9. Conflict

Conflict is a key element of the plot and involves any struggle between opposing forces. The main types of conflict include man versus man, man versus nature, man versus society, and man versus self. Conflict is essential as it creates tension and interest in the story.

10. Imagery

Imagery involves the use of descriptive language to create visual representations of actions, objects, and ideas. This helps the reader to visualize what the author wants to convey, making the text more memorable and engaging.

11. Symbolism

Symbolism uses symbols, objects, or actions that signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. Symbols help to convey complex ideas and add layers of meaning to the narrative.

When Do We Use Literary Techniques

Literary techniques are employed in writing and speech to enhance expression, convey complex ideas, and engage audiences more deeply. Here are some key situations when these techniques are particularly useful:

1. To Create Vivid Imagery

When authors want to paint a vivid picture in the minds of their readers, they use techniques like imagery, simile, and metaphor. These tools help describe scenes and settings in ways that appeal to the senses, making the reader feel as if they are part of the story.

2. To Emphasize a Point

Techniques such as hyperbole (exaggeration for effect) and repetition are useful when an author wants to emphasize a particular point or emotion. These techniques make the idea stand out and ensure it catches the reader’s attention.

3. To Add Depth to Characters

Personification and dialogue help in fleshing out characters, making them more relatable and multidimensional. By giving objects or abstract concepts human characteristics, or by showcasing interactions through dialogue, writers can convey emotions and motivations more effectively.

4. To Enhance the Plot

Foreshadowing and flashbacks are techniques used to build suspense or provide background information that enhances the story. Foreshadowing hints at what will come later, adding tension and keeping readers interested, while flashbacks provide context to the current events, enriching the reader’s understanding of the plot and characters.

5. To Create Irony

Irony is a powerful tool used to add humor or critical depth to a narrative. It involves saying one thing but meaning another, or presenting a situation where the outcome is contrary to what one would expect. Irony can be used to criticize societal norms, highlight issues, or simply add a layer of complexity to the story.

6. To Convey Themes

Symbolism and motifs are often used to subtly convey broader themes and messages throughout a piece of literature. By embedding symbols that represent larger concepts, writers can communicate complex themes in a digestible and often impactful way.

7. To Improve Rhythm and Flow

Alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia are techniques that enhance the musicality of the prose or poetry. These tools help in creating a rhythm that improves the flow of reading, making the text more enjoyable and memorable.

8. To Engage the Reader’s Intellect

Puns, analogies, and paradoxes engage the reader’s thought processes and encourage deeper consideration of the text. These techniques challenge the reader to think beyond the surface and appreciate the nuances of language and argument.

9. To Reflect Cultural or Historical Contexts

Authors use specific language, references, or established literary conventions to ground their work in a particular time period or cultural context. This helps the reader understand the broader social and historical influences that shape the characters’ actions and the plot’s development.

Literary Techniques in Poetry

Literary techniques in poetry are used to evoke emotions, create rhythm, and enhance the imagery and meaning of the poem. Here are some common literary techniques used in poetry, along with examples to illustrate each:

1. Metaphor

A metaphor makes a direct comparison between two unrelated things by stating one thing is another, enhancing the imagery and suggesting deeper meanings.

  • Example: In Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy,” she writes, “I have always been scared of you, / With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.” Here, her father is metaphorically compared to a Nazi, conveying her fear and complex feelings.

2. Simile

Similes compare two different things using “like” or “as,” helping to make the description more vivid and understandable.

  • Example: In “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “O my Luve is like a red, red rose,” uses a simile to express the deep, fresh love the speaker feels.

3. Alliteration

Alliteration involves the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words in a line or verse. This can create a musical effect, making the poem more memorable.

  • Example: “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,” from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

4. Personification

Personification gives human characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas, making the poem more relatable and vivid.

  • Example: In “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson, death is personified as a kind gentleman taking the speaker on a carriage ride.

5. Imagery

Imagery uses descriptive language to create pictures in the reader’s mind, appealing to the senses.

  • Example: In “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, “The chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,” evokes visual and tactile sensations that enhance the grandeur and decay themes.

6. Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within words close to each other. This can enhance the mood and the musical quality of the poem.

  • Example: “Hear the mellow wedding bells” by Edgar Allan Poe features assonance with the repetition of the “e” sound, contributing to a soft, melodic quality.

7. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia uses words that mimic the sounds they describe, making the description more expressive and effective.

  • Example: In “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe, “the tinkling of the bells” effectively conveys the light, clear sound of small bells.

8. Hyperbole

Hyperbole involves deliberate exaggeration for emphasis or effect.

  • Example: In “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, “Love you ten years before the Flood,” exaggerates to emphasize the enormity and timelessness of his love.

9. Rhyme

Rhyme is the repetition of similar sounding words occurring at the end of lines in poems or songs, which can create a rhythm and facilitate memorability.

  • Example: “Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village, though;” from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

10. Repetition

Repetition involves repeating the same words or phrases to make an idea clearer and more memorable.

  • Example: In “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, the repetition of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” emphasizes the poem’s theme of fighting against death.

Literary Techniques in Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is renowned for its complex storytelling and rich use of literary techniques that deepen the narrative and enhance thematic expressions. Here are some key literary techniques used in “Hamlet,” along with examples to illustrate each:

Literary TechniqueDescriptionExample from ‘Hamlet’
SoliloquyA speech given by a character alone on stage to reveal their inner thoughts to the audience.“To be, or not to be” soliloquy, where Hamlet contemplates life and death.
MetaphorA figure of speech that makes a direct comparison between two unrelated subjects without using “like” or “as.”Denmark is described as “an unweeded garden” to symbolize decay and corruption.
IronyThe use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning, often for humorous or emphatic effect.Hamlet’s feigned madness, which most characters believe is real, while the audience knows it is an act.
AllusionA brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing, or idea of historical, cultural, literary, or political significance.Hamlet’s reference to Hyperion and a satyr, comparing his father to Hyperion and his uncle Claudius to a satyr.
ForeshadowingA literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story.The appearance of the ghost foreshadows the tragic events that unfold throughout the play.
SymbolismThe use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.Yorick’s skull represents death and the inevitability of human mortality.
PunA joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.Hamlet’s response to Claudius, “Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun,” playing on the word “son.”
JuxtapositionThe fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.The contrasting characters of Fortinbras and Hamlet highlight themes of action versus inaction.
Pathetic FallacyThe attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things or animals, especially in art and literature.The stormy weather during the ghost’s appearances mirrors the internal turmoil in Denmark.
AnagnorisisA moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery.Hamlet’s realization of his fate and his decision to take action in the final scene of the play.

Literary Techniques Examples in literature

Literary techniques are the tools that writers use to craft their narratives and convey messages more effectively. Below are ten common literary techniques, each accompanied by an example from literature, demonstrating how these devices can be skillfully employed:

1. Foreshadowing

Example: In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the prologue outlines the entire plot, including the tragic deaths of the main characters, setting the stage for the unfolding drama.

2. Metaphor

Example: In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus says, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” using the bird as a metaphor for innocent people who should not be harmed.

3. Simile

Example: In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald uses the simile “as quiet as a mouse” to describe the secretive and cautious nature of Jay Gatsby’s business operations.

4. Alliteration

Example: In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the phrase “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,” uses alliteration to enhance the rhythmic and lyrical quality of the poem.

5. Personification

Example: In 1984 by George Orwell, Big Brother is personified throughout the novel, despite never appearing in person. This personification represents the oppressive power and surveillance of the totalitarian regime.

6. Hyperbole

Example: In A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, Swift uses hyperbole to suggest that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies.

7. Irony

Example: In The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin, there is dramatic irony when the main character, Mrs. Mallard, dies from the shock of seeing her husband alive, whom she thought was dead, just after she felt joyful about her newfound freedom.

8. Symbolism

Example: In The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the conch shell symbolizes law, order, and civilization among the boys stranded on the island.

9. Allegory

Example: In Animal Farm by George Orwell, the farm and its inhabitants serve as an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the early Soviet Union, with characters representing historical figures such as Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.

10. Onomatopoeia

Example: In The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, words like “crash”, “bang”, and “smash” are used to mimic the sounds associated with the actions they describe, enhancing the vividness of the battle scenes.

Literary Techniques Examples in Sentences


  • Example: “The world is a stage where everyone must play their part.”

2. Simile

  • Example: “Her smile is as bright as the sun.”

3. Alliteration

  • Example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

4. Personification

  • Example: “Opportunity knocked on his door.”

5. Hyperbole

  • Example: “I could sleep for a year.”

6. Irony

  • Example: “He’s as helpful as a screen door on a submarine.”

7. Symbolism

  • Example: “In the poem, the journey up the mountain symbolizes life’s challenges.”

8. Onomatopoeia

  • Example: “The bacon sizzled in the pan.”

9. Oxymoron

  • Example: “She greeted him with a deafening silence.”

10. Anaphora

  • Example: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields.”

Literary Elements vs. Literary Techniques

Literary Elements vs. Literary Techniques
CategoryLiterary ElementsLiterary Techniques
DefinitionBasic components of literature that are universally present and necessary to build the structure of a literary piece.Specific methods employed by the writer to convey messages, convey meaning, or enhance the artistic presentation of the narrative.
PlotThe sequence of events in a story. It includes the setup, conflict, climax, and resolution.Foreshadowing: A technique used to hint at events that will occur later in the story.
CharacterThe beings who carry out the action of the story. This element includes the main character, antagonist, and supporting characters.Characterization: The process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character, which can be direct or indirect.
SettingThe time and place in which the story occurs, including the historical period, culture, and specific locations.Atmosphere: The feeling, emotion, or mood that an author conveys through the descriptive details and setting.
ThemeThe central idea, message, or insight into life expressed through the story. Often conveys the author’s worldview or commentary.Symbolism: Using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.
Point of ViewThe perspective from which the story is told, such as first person, third person limited, or third person omniscient.Stream of Consciousness: A narrative mode that attempts to capture the flow of thoughts and feelings running through a character’s mind.
ToneThe attitude the writer takes towards a subject or character, ranging from serious and grave to humorous or ironic.Irony: A technique involving an expression of meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

What is the most common Literary Technique?

Most Common Literary Technique: Symbolism is widely used across genres for its powerful ability to convey deeper meanings.

What are Literary Techniques in a text?

Literary Techniques: Tools like metaphor, irony, and alliteration that enhance text’s impact and meaning.

What Literary Technique is used in short sentences?

Technique in Short Sentences: Ellipsis effectively creates suspense or impact through brevity.

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