Tag Archives: Literary devices

Using Rhetorical Devices, Part II

Using Rhetorical Devices, Part II

Writers use a lot of devices. (I’m not talking about electronics, I’m talking about words.) These devices include rhetorical devices, poetic devices, and literary devices. What are the differences among them? Well, rhetorical devices are used to convince the reader. Poetic devices are used in poetry, and literary devices are used in literature. But you know what? There is a lot of crossover; a creative writer can use the same device in all three situations. So let’s not quibble.

I first wrote about using rhetorical devices two years ago. I’m trying not to duplicate that article here, so if you want to go deeper, please click the above link.

Rhetorical devices are useful for making writing more colorful, more sensual, and more understandable. Here are some examples:

Imagery: description that appeals to the senses. The snow clung to the roof like a layer of vanilla icing. Her lips were as sweet as sugar. The waves roared.

Symbolism: using a word, object, or character to represent an important concept, as in the old Westerns where the good guy wears a white hat, and the bad guys wear black hats.

Motif: a recurring image, symbol, or object that has significance to the theme. In the movie Forrest Gump, a feather repeatedly appears, swirling in the breeze, separating the extraordinary experiences of the very simple protagonist.

Euphemism: substituting a word or phrase for one that might disturb or offend someone. Passed away instead of died. Rest room instead of toilet. Laid off instead of fired.

Foreshadowing: dropping a hint of what is to come, setting up a future event. It can create suspense or dramatic tension. For example, before a woman leaves her home, she slips a gun into her handbag.

Allusion: a brief reference to a song, work of literature, movie, or historical event that the reader would probably be familiar with. This allows the author to squeeze a great deal of meaning into few words. For example, a worker might refer to his superior as he who must not be named.

Colloquialism: informal language, local dialect, or slang of the time. This can aid in making the setting more vivid, as when an Arkansas matron says, “Y’all come in and set awhile.”

Hyperbole: exaggeration to make a point. For example, you are on fire or that cake is so good I want to eat the whole thing.

Onomatopoeia: a word that imitates a sound. For example, the wind whooshed through the trees; his armload of firewood thumped to the floor.

Anastrophe: a reversal of traditional sentence structure, like Yoda-speak. It can distinguish a character, or emphasize one part of the sentence over another. For example, Into the water dove he; or Excited the children were.

Chiasmus: a flipped set of parallel clauses. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country (John F. Kennedy). When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Take care of your health, and your health will take care of you.

Aphorism: a concise, witty, or proverb-like statement of truth. Two halves make a whole. The pen is mightier than the sword. Autumn is the falling-leaf season.

Hypophora: a rhetorical question immediately answered by the same speaker. Do you like puppies? I looove puppies. Or Will this be on the test? Yes, this will be on the test.

Paradox: a contradictory statement that also, upon reflection, appears to be true. Youth is wasted on the young. Or, The louder you speak, the less they hear. Paradox can be wry, or funny, or profound.

Anthropomorphism: giving human characteristics to something non-human. Often used in children’s literature and animation, such as when animals talk, drive, and wear clothing.

Point of view: also an element of fiction. The perspective from which the story is told; the narrative voice filtered through the narrator’s eyes. This is a critical choice for the author to make, because it determines what can or cannot be revealed to the reader. Virtually everything that is written employs a point of view.

As you work on your writing, try incorporating some of these devices to make your words come alive on the page.

Now it’s your turn. What is a favorite literary device that you like to use, or that you appreciate when you’re reading? It can be one of the above, or one which was not mentioned. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Guest Post: Motifs and Symbols and Themes…by Laura Drake

Guest Post: Motifs and Symbols and Themes…by Laura Drake

Many thanks to guest blogger Laura Drake. This article first appeared on Romance University’s website on January 15, 2016.

Motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative (or literary) aspects such as theme.

Theme is what the author is trying to tell the reader. For example, the belief in the ultimate good in people, or that things are not always what they seem. This is often referred to as the “moral of the story.”

Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.

Thematic patterning means the insertion of a recurring motif in a narrative.

I’ve used all of them in my books: An ugly scar, to remind the readers of the protagonist’s guilt and shame (Nothing Sweeter). A Laura Drakecowgirl hat to signify the protagonist’s reluctance to change (Sweet on You). White roses, to remind a mother of her grief (The Sweet Spot). Even a motorcycle, to show a character’s running from her past (Her Road Home).

These are powerful and fun to use, because they’re shortcuts; you don’t have to keep reminding the reader with flashbacks and backstory – you can have them look at the symbol, and the reader gets it.

They’re everywhere in literature. The ring, in Tolkien’s series – it’s a symbol of power, good and evil, all rolled into one. The Silence of the Lambs had lambs, but shoes, too. Speaking of shoes, how about The Wizard of Oz? Hey, this could be a nerdy game for writers on a long road trip – say the book, and the others have to guess the motif!

But before I get carried away with that, hopefully the examples above convince you of the power of these devices.

You can even use more than one symbol or in your novel, to weave a strong theme through the story. It helps deepen the emotion and glue the reader to the page.

I did this with my first women’s fiction book (released on the 11th of this month!), Days Made of Glass, I used the symbolism of glass – these are two sisters, on their own at 17 and 13. They live on the edge of society, the edge of disaster – their lives are fragile. The protagonist is a rodeo bullfighter; her teacher tells her that she has to be faster, better than the men – they’re wood, she’s glass. Then there’s her mentally ill sister, who’s shatters glass, and tries to commit suicide by slitting her wrists with it.

The symbol I used was a small glass box, a cheap trinket with a yin yang symbol on the lid.

yin yang

Yin yang represents forever, which is how the sisters think of their relationship. They’re very close. When Harlie, the eldest, has to leave her catatonic sister in a mental care facility to travel to Texas to train to be a bullfighter, she takes the glass box with her. When it’s broken, it’s the beginning of Harlie understanding that she can’t keep her sister safe – she can’t save her.

What do you think? Have you used symbols, motifs or themes in your writing? How?

What about my nerdy writer’s game? Do you have any books you can name with motifs?


Days Made of GlassDays Made of Glass – January 2016

Shared blood defines a family, but spilled blood can too.

Harlie Cooper raised her sister, Angel, even before their mother died. When their guardian is killed in a fire, rather than be separated by Social Services, they run. Life in off the grid in L.A. isn’t easy, but worse, there’s something wrong with Angel.

Harlie walks in to find their apartment scattered with shattered and glass and Angel, a bloody rag doll in a corner. The doctor orders institutionalization in a state facility. Harlie’s not leaving her sister in that human warehouse. But something better takes money. Lots of it.

When a rep from the Pro Bull Riding Circuit suggests she train as a bullfighter, rescuing downed cowboys from their rampaging charges, she can’t let the fact that she’d be the first woman to attempt this stop her. Angel is depending on her.

It’s not just the danger and taking on a man’s career that challenges Harlie. She must learn to trust—her partner and herself, and learn to let go of what’s not hers to save.

A story of family and friendship, trust and truth.


Bio: In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Connect with Laura via Twitter and Facebook or visit her website and her group blog Writers in the Storm.