Understanding Literary Devices: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Identify Figurative Language
  2. Use of Symbolism
  3. Learn about Irony
  4. Explore Imagery in Literature
  5. Understanding Alliteration
  6. Appreciate the Use of Allusion
  7. Meaning and Use of Metaphor
  8. Importance of Personification
  9. Utilizing Foreshadowing in Literature
  10. Hyperbole for Emphasis

Have you ever been left scratching your head by a line in a book that seemed to hold more meaning than the words directly conveyed? It's highly likely that you stumbled upon a literary device. This post will serve as your friendly guide to understanding the definition of literary device and how they enliven our favorite works of literature, making them more impactful and enjoyable. From figurative language to irony, all the way to the clever usage of hyperbole for emphasis, we'll walk you through each step of this fascinating literary journey. So grab a comfy chair, your favorite book, and let's get started!

Identify Figurative Language

Figurative language is like the secret spice that chefs add to their dishes—it transforms a simple meal into a gastronomic delight. In the same way, authors use figurative language to add flavor to their writing, making it more interesting and engaging. But what does figurative language mean in the context of the definition of literary device?

Simply put, figurative language is a way of expressing something more than the literal meaning of words. It provides new ways of looking at the world by creating vivid images, suggesting comparisons, and offering fresh perspectives. Let's look at some common types of figurative language:

  • Simile: This is when you compare one thing to another using words like 'as' or 'like'. An example is "She sings like an angel."
  • Metaphor: Here, a direct comparison is made without using 'as' or 'like'. For instance, "Life is a journey."
  • Personification: This is when you give human qualities to non-human things or ideas. "The wind whispered through the trees."
  • Hyperbole: This involves extreme exaggeration to make a point. "I've told you a million times to tidy your room!"
  • Onomatopoeia: This is when a word sounds like what it means. Examples include 'buzz', 'sizzle', and 'pop'.

Learning to identify these elements will not only deepen your understanding of the definition of literary device but also enhance your appreciation of literature. It's like having a decoder ring for books—once you know the code, a whole new world of understanding opens up.

Use of Symbolism

Now that we've decoded figurative language, let's move on to another interesting part of the definition of literary device - symbolism. If you've ever wondered why authors are so fond of certain objects or ideas in their stories, you've come across symbolism.

Symbolism is all about using objects, characters, or even colors to represent deeper, more abstract ideas. It's what makes you go "Aha! I see what you did there!" when reading a book. Here's a simple way to understand symbolism:

Imagine you're reading a story about a young girl who often dreams about a bluebird. On the surface, it's just a bird, right? But the author might be using the bluebird as a symbol of freedom, hope, or even the girl's aspirations. So, every time you come across the bluebird in the story, you'll know there's something more to it than just feathers and flight.

Symbolism is a powerful literary device that can add layers of meaning to a story. It's like a secret handshake between the author and the reader—you're in on the deeper meaning, and that makes the reading experience all the more rewarding. So next time you're reading, keep an eye out for symbolism—you never know what you might discover!

Learn about Irony

Speaking of secret handshakes, let's talk about another literary device that authors love to use—irony. It's like the spice in a well-cooked dish—it adds an unexpected twist and makes the story more flavorful. But what exactly is the definition of this literary device called irony? Let's break it down.

Irony happens when there's a difference between what appears to be and what actually is true. This could be a difference between what a character thinks is going to happen and what really happens, or between what the character says and what they actually mean. The great thing about irony is that it often leads to surprising and humorous situations in a story.

Let's take a simple example. Suppose a character is terrified of dogs and goes to great lengths to avoid them. One day, he adopts a small, scruffy stray animal, thinking it's a cat—and it turns out to be a dog! That's irony for you.

Irony is a fun literary device to spot, and it keeps you on your toes as a reader. So the next time you come across a situation in a book that makes you chuckle or raise your eyebrows, you might be looking at irony in action. Remember, the unexpected is what makes reading so much fun!

Explore Imagery in Literature

Now let's move on to a literary device that is as colorful as a painter's palette—imagery. But wait, what is the definition of this literary device known as imagery? Let's dive into it.

When we talk about imagery in literature, we aren't exactly referring to images you can hang on a wall. Instead, we're talking about the images that words can paint in your mind. Imagery is the use of descriptive language to create vivid mental pictures. It appeals to our five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste—to make the reader feel like they are part of the story.

Imagine you're reading a book, and you come across this sentence: "She walked into the damp, musty attic, the wooden floorboards creaking under her weight, the air thick with the smell of old books and dust." You can almost see the attic, can't you? You can smell the mustiness, hear the creaking floorboards. That's imagery at work!

Imagery makes a story more relatable and engaging. It helps you to visualize the story in your mind's eye, making it more than just words on a page. So the next time you find yourself lost in a book, pay attention to the imagery. You might be surprised at the vivid pictures your mind can paint!

Understanding Alliteration

Ever heard of tongue twisters? "She sells seashells by the seashore." Not only is it a fun phrase to say, but it's also a perfect example of alliteration, a fascinating literary device. But what exactly is the definition of this literary device called alliteration? Let's get into it.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. It's a technique often used in poetry and prose to create a rhythmic effect or to highlight a particular part of the text.

Let's play a game. Try to spot the alliteration in this sentence: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." Did you notice how the 'P' sound repeats at the start of most words? That's alliteration for you!

Alliteration can add a musical quality to a piece of writing. It can make your reading experience more enjoyable and memorable. So, the next time you read a catchy slogan or a memorable book title, remember—there's a good chance alliteration is at play!

Appreciate the Use of Allusion

Let's take a walk down the literary device lane and meet allusion, another brilliant tool in a writer's toolkit. But what's the definition of this literary device named allusion? Let's dive right in.

Allusion is a reference, explicit or implicit, to something or someone famous—think historical events, literary works, myths, or even popular culture. It's like a secret handshake between the author and the reader. If you get the reference, you feel like you're in on a private joke.

For example, imagine you're reading a book and come across the sentence, "He was a real Romeo with the ladies." Here, "Romeo" is an allusion to Shakespeare's Romeo, a character known for his passionate love for Juliet. The author expects you to understand this reference, adding depth to the character description.

Allusions can add a layer of richness and depth to writing, allowing authors to build on existing stories and ideas. So, as a reader, having knowledge about famous works of literature, historical events, and cultural references can enhance your reading experience. It's like being part of an exclusive club with a secret language!

Meaning and Use of Metaphor

Next on our literary adventure is the metaphor, a device that packs a powerful punch. But what's the definition of this literary device named metaphor? Let's go step by step.

In simple terms, a metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things without using the words "like" or "as". It says that one thing is another. For example, if an author writes, "Time is a thief", they don't mean that time is literally a thief sneaking around in a black mask. Instead, they're suggesting that time, like a thief, can take things away unexpectedly and quickly.

Metaphors help us understand complex ideas by relating them to familiar concepts. They make abstract ideas more tangible and concrete, turning words into vivid pictures in our minds. They can add beauty to the language, evoke strong emotions, and make the text more engaging and memorable. Who wouldn't want to read a book that paints pictures in their mind?

So, next time you come across a metaphor in a book, take a moment to appreciate the mental image it creates. It's a testament to the creativity of the author and the beauty of language!

Importance of Personification

Have you ever read a sentence in a book like "the wind whistled through the trees" and thought about how lively that wind sounds? Well, you've just stumbled upon personification, a fascinating literary device. Let's dissect the definition of this literary device called personification.

Simply put, personification is a device that gives human characteristics to non-human things. It's like dressing up your dog in a fancy suit—it doesn't make him human, but it's fun to pretend! By giving human traits to nature, objects, or ideas, authors can bring them to life and make them more relatable.

Personification can make the setting of a story more vivid, and it can help us understand abstract concepts by relating them to human experiences. For example, when an author says, "The sun smiled down on the city," it's easier for us to picture a warm, sunny day. Plus, it adds a touch of whimsy and creativity to the writing.

So, the next time you read about a "crying sky" or a "whispering wind," remember—it's not just a quirky way of describing the weather. It's an important literary device that adds depth and richness to the text. And who knows? You might even start seeing the world around you in a whole new light!

Utilizing Foreshadowing in Literature

Ever had that feeling while reading a book where you just knew something was going to happen? You might not have known what, but you felt a sense of anticipation? That, my friend, is the power of foreshadowing. But what exactly is the definition of this literary device?

Foreshadowing is a technique that hints at events yet to come in the story. It's like the calm before the storm or the music in a horror movie that plays right before the villain jumps out. It builds suspense and keeps readers hooked, making them eager to find out what happens next.

Think about the last mystery or thriller book you read. The author probably dropped little hints along the way about the big reveal at the end. Those hints? That's foreshadowing in action. It's a device that's vital to creating a gripping, engaging story that keeps readers turning the page.

So, next time you're reading and you get that little nudge of anticipation, take a moment to appreciate the foreshadowing at work. It's one of the many tools in a writer's toolbox that transforms a simple story into an unforgettable journey.

Hyperbole for Emphasis

If I've told you once, I've told you a million times — hyperbole is a fantastic literary device! But what does that mean? What's the definition of this literary device?

Hyperbole, simply put, is an extravagant exaggeration used for effect. It's when you're so hungry you could eat a horse, or you've laughed so hard you thought you'd die. It's all in the name of emphasizing a point, making your feelings clear, and adding a little fun to your language.

Think back to a time when you've been so surprised you could've jumped out of your skin. Were you literally going to jump out of your skin? Of course not! But by using hyperbole, you've just made your feelings of surprise much more interesting and dramatic. You've invited your listener or reader into your extreme experience, even if it's just for a moment.

So next time you're telling a story or writing a description, remember the power of hyperbole. It's your ticket to a more engaging, colorful conversation or piece of writing. Remember, it's not lying—it's exaggerating for effect!

If you enjoyed delving into the world of literary devices and want to further expand your creative writing toolbox, consider exploring the workshop 'Using Drawing as a Tool for Writers Block' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. While it may seem unconventional, this workshop can provide you with a creative approach to overcoming writer's block and tapping into new ideas for your writing projects.