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What are Literary Techniques: A Concise Guide

Are you tired of reading books that feel flat and uninspired? Do you ever wonder how some writers capture your attention and keep you hooked from the first page to the last? The secret lies in their use of literary techniques. These tools of the trade allow writers to craft stories that are engaging and rich with meaning and emotion. From the way they structure their plot to the words they choose to describe their characters, every element of a writer’s craft is carefully chosen to create a reading experience that is both satisfying and thought-provoking. In this article, we’ll dive into literary techniques, exploring how writers use language and structure to tell their stories. So grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and get ready to discover the magic behind some of your favorite books.

Overview of Literary Techniques

Literary Devices

Literary devices are tools writers use to enhance their work and enable readers to understand better and appreciate the world created within a specific piece of literature. They are often employed to bring stories to life, reveal more profound meanings, and convey emotions and ideas with clarity and imagination. Some common literary devices include:

  • Metaphor: a comparison between two seemingly unrelated objects, concepts, or ideas to reveal a hidden meaning or more profound understanding.
  • Simile: comparing two things using “like” or “as” to highlight their similarities.
  • Imagery: using vivid, descriptive language to form mental images that appeal to the senses.
  • Alliteration: the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a series of words or phrases.
  • Personification: attributing human qualities or emotions to non-human objects, animals, or abstract ideas.
  • Irony: a situation, event, or expression with a meaning opposite to or significantly different from its literal or expected meaning.

These literary devices are essential to developing engaging and meaningful narratives, each serving a specific purpose to enhance the reader’s experience.

Literary Elements

Literary elements are the foundation of a piece of literature and serve as the building blocks that give a work its structure and form. These elements include:

  • Plot: the sequence of events that make up a story, usually consisting of a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Setting: the time and place where a story takes place, which can be crucial to understanding the context and mood of a piece.
  • Character: the individuals who inhabit a story, each with their personalities, emotions, and motivations.
  • Theme: the underlying message or core idea the writer wishes to convey through the narrative, often dealing with universal human experiences.
  • Conflict: the struggle between opposing forces, either internal (man vs. self) or external (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society), that drives the action of a story.
  • Point of view: the perspective from which a story is told, often determined by the narrator’s relationship to the story and the degree of knowledge they possess about the events and characters.

Understanding and employing these literary techniques, whether through the use of devices or elements, allows writers to create compelling, thought-provoking, and engaging works of literature that resonate with readers on a deeper level.

Language-Based Techniques

Language-based techniques are essential for writers to convey meaning, create emphasis, and enrich their storytelling in literature. This section will discuss various language-based literary techniques, providing examples for each.


Imagery involves using descriptive language to evoke vivid images in the reader’s mind. This may include appealing to the reader’s senses, such as sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell.

Example: The sun cast warm rays of light through the trees, casting a golden glow onto the dew-covered grass.


A simile directly compares two dissimilar objects using “like” or “as.” It helps the reader to envision a specific aspect of one object in terms of another.

Example: Her smile was as bright as the sunlight breaking through the clouds.


A metaphor indirectly compares two unlike objects without using “like” or “as.” It asserts that one thing is another, highlighting certain qualities of the subject.

Example: Time is a thief, stealing moments away from us.


Personification attributes human characteristics to non-human objects, animals, or abstract concepts. It allows the reader to relate to these entities more personally.

Example: The wind whispered softly through the leaves.


Hyperbole is an exaggeration used to emphasize a point, often employed for humor or dramatic effect.

Example: I must have told you a million times to close the door!


Irony refers to a discrepancy between what is expected and what occurs. It can be verbal (saying the opposite of what is meant), situational (when the opposite outcome of what was expected occurs), or dramatic (when the audience knows more than the characters).

Example (situational irony): The fire station burned down.


An oxymoron pairs two contradictory words together for dramatic or comedic effect, emphasizing a particular point or concept.

Example: The silence in the room was deafening.


A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory or absurd but may reveal a hidden truth.

Example: To gain control, you must first relinquish control.


A pun is a play on words that relies on multiple meanings or similar sounds of words to create humor.

Example: Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field!


Alliteration occurs when several words in a sentence or verse begin with the same consonant sound, creating a musical or rhythmic effect.

Example: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within words that are close together, which creates a sense of internal rhyme or harmony.

Example: The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

Narrative Techniques

Point of View

Point of view is an essential literary technique determining who is telling the story and how it is presented to the reader. There are various viewpoints writers may use, such as first person (I), second person (you), and third person (he, she, they). The choice of perspective can significantly impact the reader’s experience, as it dictates the level of intimacy and insight into the characters and plot.


Metonymy is a narrative technique where another word replaces a word or phrase with a similar meaning but isn’t the same. For example, referring to the government as “the White House” or a businessperson as a “suit.” This technique often allows for more concise and imaginative expression in writing.


Symbols are powerful narrative techniques writers use to convey deep meanings or complex ideas through concrete, often visual, representations. They can represent abstract concepts or themes and evoke emotions in the reader, such as love, death, or freedom. For example, a dove may symbolize peace, while a storm might represent turmoil.


Allegory is a literary device where characters, objects, and events in a story hold a secondary, symbolic meaning, often representing moral, political, or social truths. This technique allows writers to impart important messages or lessons to their readers, often subtly and engagingly.

Backdrop Settings

Backdrop settings are a narrative technique highlighting the surrounding environment, culture, or society in which a story occurs. These settings help establish the plot and characters’ mood, tone, and context. They can also effectively reflect or contrast the internal struggles and emotions experienced by the characters.

External Settings

External settings are the physical locations in which a story’s events occur. These settings can deeply affect the characters and the unfolding of the plot. For example, a cityscape may create a sense of chaos and anonymity, while a rural landscape might elicit feelings of peace and connectedness.

Narrative techniques such as point of view, metonymy, symbols, allegory, and different settings are essential tools in a writer’s arsenal. They enhance the story, elicit emotions, portray themes, and create engaging works of literature that captivate and resonate with readers.

Rhetorical Devices


Rhetoric is an essential aspect of writing, encompassing the art of using language effectively and persuasively. Writers employ various rhetorical devices to enhance their storytelling and to create a lasting impact on the readers. Examples of rhetorical devices include anaphora, chiasmus, and juxtaposition. These tools are implemented precisely to enrich the dialogue and imagery throughout a narrative.


One of the primary goals of writing is to persuade readers in specific ways. A writer may use rhetorical devices to evoke emotions, convince readers to adopt a particular viewpoint, or generate a desired response. Persuasive techniques can be employed to enhance the impact of a story or argument. For instance, a writer can use irony to highlight the absurdity of a situation or create emphasis to draw attention to a crucial point.


Emphasis in writing involves placing emphasis on specific words, phrases, or ideas to make them stand out. Rhetorical devices like repetition and parallelism are often used to create emphasis, providing clarity and reinforcing a particular message. By strategically employing these tools, a writer can intensify the narrative and heighten the reader’s engagement.


The musical quality of a text can also contribute to its effectiveness. Rhythmic patterns, sounds, and the overall flow of the narration can create an engaging, lyrical experience for readers. Literary techniques such as alliteration and assonance can be used to achieve auditory harmony, adding another dimension to a written work.


Writers may also draw upon scientific principles and phenomena to add depth and credibility to their stories. Incorporating accurate scientific information and concepts can make a narrative more compelling and relatable. However, ensuring that any scientific elements included in a story do not mislead or confuse the reader is crucial.


Hyperbole is a rhetorical device used to exaggerate or emphasize a point for dramatic or comedic effect. By intentionally overstating a situation or idea, writers can create a memorable impact on the readers. However, it is essential to use hyperbole judiciously to avoid overuse or the risk of undermining the story’s credibility.

In summary, the skillful use of rhetorical devices and literary techniques can significantly enhance the effectiveness of a written work. A writer can craft an engaging narrative that captivates and influences readers by carefully selecting and employing these tools in rhetoric, persuasion, emphasis, music, science, and hyperbole.

Storytelling Techniques

Storytelling involves applying various literary techniques and devices to create engaging and compelling stories. These methods serve multiple purposes, such as enhancing the plot, developing characters, and adding depth to a narrative. The following sub-sections will explore some common storytelling techniques.


A glossary is valuable for writers to introduce and explain specific terms, concepts, or jargon related to their story’s theme or subject matter. This can involve using repetition for emphasis or employing unique words to evoke specific emotions, such as the dramatic techniques of foreshadowing and flashbacks.

For example:

  • Foreshadowing: Gives clues or hints about what will happen later in the story.
  • Flashback: Recounts past events to reveal important information about a character or plot.


Experimentation in storytelling involves pushing the boundaries of traditional writing by incorporating unconventional elements or new approaches. For instance, writers might employ non-linear narratives, play with perspective, or use antithesis, a Greek literary technique, to create contrast in their story.

Examples of experimental techniques include:

  • Non-linear narratives: Presenting events in a non-chronological order.
  • Antithesis: Opposing two contrasting ideas in close proximity for emphasis.


Reflection allows writers to delve deeper into their characters’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This type of storytelling encourages readers to empathize with characters and better understand their motivations and emotions. Techniques like inner monologue and litotes, a form of understatement, can aid reflection.

Some examples are:

  • Inner monologue: A character’s thoughts and feelings are expressed directly to the reader.
  • Litotes: A form of understatement using double negatives to convey a positive message.


Effective communication in storytelling involves presenting information clearly and engagingly. This can be achieved through proper pacing, dialogue, and description. Literary techniques like exposition, narrative voice, and characterization facilitate communication between the writer and reader.

For example:

  • Exposition: Provides background information and sets the stage for a story.
  • Narrative voice: The unique perspective or style of the author is expressed through narration.


As a storytelling technique, persuasion aims to influence the reader’s opinions or emotions regarding a character or event in the story. Writers use a combination of literary techniques, such as rhetoric, imagery, and symbolism, to evoke an emotional response and sway readers’ perceptions.

Notable techniques include:

  • Rhetoric: The art of using language effectively to persuade or influence readers.
  • Symbolism: Using symbols or motifs to represent an abstract idea adds depth to the story.

By employing these storytelling techniques, writers can create stories that resonate with readers on a deeper level and leave a lasting impact.

Miscellaneous Techniques

Descriptive Language

Descriptive language is a key component in a writer’s toolbox to enrich and enliven the writing. This technique involves using vivid, sensory language that helps the reader imagine and experience the story. Some common elements of descriptive language include:

  • Adjectives and adverbs: Words that describe nouns and verbs, respectively, adding details and specificity to the writing.
  • Imagery: Using words and phrases that appeal to the reader’s senses, creating a vivid picture.
  • Figurative language: Using non-literal expressions to convey a deeper meaning, such as similes, metaphors, and personification.
  • Allusion: A reference to other works, events, or ideas to evoke emotions or additional meanings.
  • Amplification: The process of elaborating on a point or idea to add emphasis or intrigue.
  • Juxtaposition: Placing two contrasting ideas or elements next to each other to highlight their differences.

Using descriptive language effectively can enhance a story’s plot and engage the reader more deeply in the fictional world.

Narrative Technique

Narrative techniques are writers’ various methods and devices to tell a story. They involve a writer’s choices regarding point of view, structure, and style to convey the plot effectively. Some common narrative techniques include:

  • First, second, and third-person perspectives: Choosing the point of view from which the story will be told, either through the eyes of a character (first-person), addressing the reader (second-person), or using an external narrator (third-person).
  • Foreshadowing: Hinting at future events in the story, building suspense and anticipation.
  • Flashbacks and flash-forwards: Using shifts in time to reveal background information or possible future outcomes adds depth and complexity to the plot.
  • Repetition: The deliberate use of a particular word, phrase, or action to emphasize a point or create a pattern.
  • Hyperbole: The use of exaggeration to create humor or emphasize a point.
  • Cliffhangers: Ending a scene or chapter on a suspenseful note to encourage the reader to continue with the story.

Implementing various narrative techniques can make the writing more engaging and dynamic, captivating the reader and enriching their story experience.