Literary Devices - Types and Examples

Literary devices are word tools used by writers to make their writing more vivid, interesting or meaningful. Literary devices help describe things in a way that makes them easier to imagine than a dry recitation of facts would.
There are dozens of different types of literary devices, and you will encounter various kinds within a single work of fiction, poetry or nonfiction. We'll focus on four of them below.

literary devices

What is Sarcasm?

Sarcasm is one of several literary devices that is used for satire or mockery. Through saying something that the speaker actually doesn't mean, a different meaning is conveyed instead of what is actually said. It is sometimes intended to belittle or make fun of the person who is being spoken to.
Sarcasm is often conveyed by tone of voice and can be misunderstood in writing. For this reason, as a tool in writing, sarcasm is best used either in first-person narration or dialogue. In first-person narration, you can establish sarcasm as a regular mode of speaking for the narrator. This is the case with the novel "The Catcher in the Rye," in which the narrator, teenager Holden Caufield, often expresses his views about things or people sarcastically. In both first-person narration and dialogue, you can also use other context clues to establish that someone is being sarcastic.

Examples of Sarcasm as Literary Device

  • Julio said, "I forgot to buy tickets to the show. Now we can't go."
    "Great!" said Charlene.
  • "My dog flunked out of obedience school, bit the neighbor and tore up three pairs of shoes," Andrea said.
    Russell replied, "You must be so proud."

What is Irony?

There are three different types of irony.
In situational irony, a character does something in hopes of getting a certain result. Instead, the opposite situation occurs as a result of the character's action.
In verbal irony, a speaker says something that is not what they mean or that is not what you would expect given the situation. With some types of literary devices, there is overlap, and you may sometimes see sarcasm and hyperbole described as types of irony.
Finally, in dramatic irony, the reader knows a piece of important information that the character in the story does not.

Examples of Irony as Literary Device

1. The early 20th century writer O. Henry was famous for his stories that employed situational irony. One of the best-known, "The Gift of the Magi," was about a poor husband and wife who wanted to buy Christmas presents for each other. The wife sold her hair to buy her husband a watch chain and the husband sold his watch to buy his wife a hairbrush. The ironic outcome is that neither can use the gifts that they have been given.
2. Sometimes, when people are given an extravagant gift, they will say something like "Thank you so much, you really shouldn't have!" An example of verbal irony would be a person who had just been given a speeding ticket saying to the police officer, "You really shouldn't have!"
3. An example of dramatic irony would be a mystery novel in which the murderer was revealed to the reader in the first chapter but not to the characters until much later.

What is Symbolism?

Symbolism uses an object, a word, a person, a place or just about anything else as a representation of another, deeper thing.
Some types of literary devices, such as simile, can be easily identified. Symbolism, on the other hand, can be harder to identify for a few reasons.
Not everyone agrees on what is symbolic in a story or poem or on what the symbol means. Writers themselves are not always forthcoming about what elements of their work may be symbolic. Furthermore, while some symbols can be fairly universal, at least within cultures, others are entirely personal to the writer.
However, it is a little easier to grasp the concept of symbolism if you consider that it doesn't just occur in writing. A red rose is often considered a symbol of love, for example, while if you saw a skull and crossbones, you would probably think of pirates.
Symbolism is important as one of several common poetic devices, but it is used in prose as well.

Examples of Symbolism as Literary Device

Here are a couple of famous examples of symbolism in literature:
1. In the Shakespeare play "Macbeth," Lady Macbeth becomes obsessed with the idea that she cannot wash the blood off her hands. This is a symbol of her guilt for having murdered the king.
2. In the poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, the raven that is tormenting the narrator is a symbol of death.

Point of View

Point of view is the perspective from which a story or poem is related. All stories have points of view, even if that point of view is the omniscient narrator--an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator who can tell you everything about any of the characters in the stories.
That type of point of view can encompass several or even dozens of characters, but point of view can also be narrow, the viewpoint of a single character.
A story that is narrated by a character using "I" is in first person point of view. Stories that are written from the point of view of one or more characters but that are not told by those characters, using such pronouns as "he," "she" and "they," are in third person point of view.
It is very rare, but a story can also be told from second person point of view, using "you." You might also have encountered second person point of view if you play text-based games.

Examples of Point of View as Literary Device

1. First person point of view:
I am writing this in the hopes that someone, somewhere will find it.
2. Second person point of view:
You are lost in the woods, and you don't know how you got there.

3. Third person point of view:
He wondered whether she would come to class that day.

Literary devices are powerful tools for giving the reader a more profound experience. Learning to recognize them will help make your own reading experience more rewarding.

More Literary Device Topics:

  • Sarcasm
  • Irony
  • Symbolism
  • Point of view