Literary Devices to Elevate Your Writing in Grade 6+

Common Core Alligned Types of Literary Devices CCSSL.6.5, CCSS.L.7.5, and CCSS.L.8.5a

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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, boring set 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. Here we will focus on four of the main type of literary devices, sarcasm, irony, symbolism, and point of view, helping you elevate your writing from grades 6+.

What is Sarcasm?

Sarcasm is one of several literary devices that is used for satire or mockery. By 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.

Examples of Sarcasm in Literature

Sarcasm, as a literary device, is emotive and can tell the reader a lot about the way a character thinks and illustrates their feelings of frustration to the reader. You'll see examples of sarcasm in literature quite a lot. Here are a few examples, but next time you're reading, see if you can find any examples of this type of literary device.

Examples of Sarcasm in Literature

Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger

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 from how they phrase things. In "The Catcher in the Rye, the tone is sarcastic and judgemental throughout as Holden navigates his relationship with others. He uses sarcasm to give himself power over people he thinks are less intelligent. When he tries to chat up a female out-of-towner in the hotel bar, and she isn't particularly interested, he responds, “You’re a very good conversationalist.” His sarcasm and cynicism, however, hide his true feelings of wanting a connection with others.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is full of literary devices, including Irony. In chapter one when Mrs.Bennet complains that her husband is annoying her, he responds with a metaphorical statement about how her nerves are his friend.
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."
His comment is heavy in sarcasm and irony to mock his wife's feelings.

Examples of Sarcasm as a Literary Device

You see and hear sarcasm everywhere, but how can you detect sarcasm? Consider the following examples.

  • 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."
  • When something bad happens, you say, "that's just what I needed today."
  • When your friend tells you something obvious, and you say, "wow, really! I never knew that."

Detecting Sarcasm in Literature

Sometimes detecting sarcasm is easy, especially if it's verbal, because you can pick up on facial expressions and tone. But what happens if you want to detect sarcasm in older literature?

  1. Part of being able to understand and detect sarcasm in old literature is by familiarising yourself with the historical context of the time period it was written in.
  2. Reading out loud and reading more. The more you read, the more you'll be able to detect this type of literary device. Reading aloud also helps, as it gives a voice to the character.
  3. Work on your reading comprehension skills. If you start looking at context clues and the words behind what people are saying, it may get easier to detect sarcasm.

What is Irony?

There are three different types of irony. In situational irony, a character does something hoping to get a certain result. Instead, the opposite situation occurs due to the character's actions. In verbal irony, a speaker says something that is not what they mean or that is not what you would expect, given the situation. There is overlap with some types of literary devices, 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 a Literary Device

The Gift of Magi by O.Henry

In 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.

Everyday Irony

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!"

Example of Dramatic Irony in Movies and Novels

An example of dramatic irony would be a mystery novel or movie in which the murderer is 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 to represent another, deeper thing.
Some types of literary devices, such as similes, 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, or the symbolism could be so subtle you don't notice it; if this is the case, usually a second read-through will help once you know what the plot is.

How to Spot Symbolism in Literature

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 a 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.
  3. In the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R Martin, the Game of Thrones franchise, "winter is coming," is full of symbolism to reflect what hardships they are going to face.
  4. One infamous case of false symbolism is in The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, as many people believe the series of books to be symbolism for World War II. Despite Tolkien coming out himself and saying they aren't. As a writer, you can't prevent readers from making assumptions about your work once it's out there, so sometimes symbolism is given to a piece of work without the author's intention.

What is the 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 the 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 the third person point of view.

It is very rare, but a story can also be told from the second-person point of view, using "you." You might also have encountered a second-person point of view if you play text-based games.

Examples of Point of View as a 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.


Think you've got it? See if you can identify what each type of literary device does.

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.