A literary technique (also known as literary device) is any standardized method an author uses to convey his or her message.1 This distinguishes them from literary elements, which exist inherently in literature.
Story that precedes events in the story being told—past events or background that add meaning to current circumstances.
Though "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy takes place towards the end of the Third Age, the narration in the beginning of the movie trilogy gives glimpses of the mythological/historical events which took place in the First and Second Age.
The author puts a concentrated amount of background material, all at once, into the story, often in the form of a conversation between two characters, both of whom should already know the material under discussion. This is the opposite of Incluing.
In each of the Harry Potter novels, Harry and his classmates learn a spell or about a facet of the Wizarding World that later comes into play at the climax of the book; e.g. in The Chamber of Secrets, the students are raising mandrakes in Herbology, which quite conveniently are able to cure petrification towards the end of the novel.
The narrative ends unresolved, to draw the audience back to a future episode for the resolution.
In almost every episode of the TV shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad ends with one of the characters in a predicament (about to be caught by thugs, about to be exposed by the authority, or a family member or a friend finds out the main character's dirty secret).
The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing.
Tristan Tzara created poetry on the spot incorporating random clips of cut-up newspaper in such a way that the short excerpt of the news becomes the backbone of the "poetic plot" in the process of creation.
Resolving the primary conflict by a means unrelated to the story (e.g., a god appears and solves everything). This device dates back to ancient Greek theater, but can be a clumsy method that frustrates the audience.
Coined by J. R. R. Tolkien, a climactic event through which the protagonist appears to be facing a catastrophic change. However, this change does not materialize and the protagonist finds himself as the benefactor of such a climatic event; contrast peripety/peripateia.
At the end of The Lord of the Rings, Gollum forcibly takes away the Ring from Frodo, suggesting that Sauron would eventually take over Middle Earth. However, Gollum celebrates too eagerly and clumsily and falls into the lava, whereby the ring is destroyed and with it Sauron's power. In a way, Gollum does what Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring intended to do through the whole plot of the trilogy, which was to throw the ring into the lake of fire in the heart of Mount Doom.
General term for altering time sequences, taking characters back to the beginning of the tale, for instance
The story of "The Three Apples" in Arabian Nights tale begins with the discovery of a young woman's dead body. After the murderer later reveals himself, he narrates his reasons for the murder as a flashback of events leading up to the discovery of her dead body at the beginning of the story.
Also called prolepsis, an interjected scene that temporarily jumps the narrative forward in time. Flashforwards often represent events expected, projected, or imagined to occur in the future. They may also reveal significant parts of the story that have not yet occurred, but soon will in greater detail.
This has been highly popularized by the television series Lost.
A narration might begin with a male character who has to break up a schoolyard fight among some boys who are vying the for attention of a girl, which was introduced to foreshadow the events leading to a dinner time squabble between the character and his twin brother over a woman, whom both are courting at the same time.
A single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at the beginning and end of a work. The use of framing devices allow for frame stories to exist.
In Arabian Nights, Scheherazade, the newly wed wife to the King, is the framing device. As a character, she is telling the "1,001 stories" to the King, in order to delay her execution night by night. However, as a framing device her purpose for existing is to tell the same 1,001 stories to the reader.
Beginning the story in the middle of a sequence of events. A specific form of narrative hook.
The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer are prime examples. The latter work begins with the return of Odysseus to his home of Ithaka and then in flashbacks tells of his ten years of wandering following the Trojan War.
Object or character whose sole purpose is to advance the plot
Indiana Jones chasing after some mystical object is a good example. The mere knowledge that a mystical device exists is what makes the plot progress. This is in contrast to the Ring in the LOTR plot. Whether The One Ring to Rule Them All can be considered a mere plot device is debatable because more than the Ring itself is Sauron's initiative to conquer Middle Earth that the character must do the things to progress the plot. In addition to driving the plot along, the Ring ends up representing a sinister symbol of the human greed for power.
Virtue ultimately rewarded, or vice punished, by an ironic twist of fate related to the character's own conduct
Wile E. Coyote coming up with a contraption to catch the Road Runner, only to be foiled and caught by his own devices. Each sin's punishment in Dante's Inferno is a symbolic instance of poetic justice.
Plot device based on an argument that an agreement's intended meaning holds no legal value, and that only the exact, literal words agreed on apply.
For example, William Shakespeare used a quibble in The Merchant of Venice: Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, so Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood.
A story told within another story. See also frame story.
In Stephen King's 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', of the Dark Tower series, the protagonist tells a story from his past to his companions, and in this story he tells another relatively unrelated story.
Character which is based on authors, usually to support their personal views. Sometimes an intentionally or unintentionally idealized version of them. A variation is the Mary Sue or Gary Stu, which primarily serves as an idealized self-insertion.
An author or character addresses the audience directly (also known as direct address). This may acknowledge to the reader or audience that what is being presented is fiction, or may seek to extend the world of the story to provide the illusion that they are included in it.
The characters in Sesame Street often break the fourth wall when they address their viewers as part of the ongoing storyline, which is possible because of the high level of suspension of belief afforded by its audience - children.
A sudden perspective or insight which is revealed to the reader (directly or through the epiphany that a character experiences) onto a problem which had previously eluded all attempts at understanding, which in turn, changes the interpretation of the plot, character, narrative perspective, tone, and/or the style of writing. Epiphanies occur spontaneously through an external stimulus or an internal reflection.
Archimedes bathing in a pool of water and realizing the solution to the problem of estimating the volume of a given object.
A text presented from the point of view of a character, especially the protagonist, as if the character is telling the story themselves. (Breaking the fourth wall is an option, but not a necessity, of this format.)
Describing events in a real-world setting but with magical trappings, often incorporating local customs and invented beliefs. Different from urban fantasy in that the magic itself is not the focus of the story.
Coined by Charles Dickens and, as used by G. K. Chesterton, meaning "the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle."
Entering through the door, the writer realized that the words Coffee Room spelled backwards was Moor Eeffoc. Inside, he sat down by the table and stared at the letters standing in mirror image and thought about what Moor Eeffoc could stand to mean.
The author uses narrative and stylistic devices to create the sense of an unedited interior monologue, characterized by leaps in syntax and punctuation that trace a character's fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings. The outcome is a highly lucid perspective with a plot. Not to be confused with free writing.
A text written as if by an impersonal narrator who is not affected by the events in the story. Can be omniscient or limited, the latter usually being tied to a specific character, a group of characters, or a location.
An allegory is a symbolism device where the meaning of a greater, often abstract, concept is conveyed with the aid of a more corporeal object or idea being used as an example. Usually a rhetoric device, an allegory suggests a meaning via metaphoric examples.
e.g. Faith is like a stony uphill climb: a single stumble might send you sprawling but belief and steadfastness will see you to the very top.
Repeating the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
In the film V for Vendetta the main character performs a couple of soliloquies with a heavy use of alliteration. e.g.. "Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."
Amplification refers to a literary practice wherein the writer embellishes the sentence by adding more information to it in order to increase its worth and understanding.
e.g. Original sentence- The thesis paper was difficult. After amplification- The thesis paper was difficult: it required extensive research, data collection, sample surveys, interviews and a lot of fieldwork.
Anagrams are an extremely popular form of literary device wherein the writer jumbles up parts of the word to create a new word. From the syllables of a phrase to the individual letters of a word, any fraction can be jumbled to create a new form. Anagram is a form of wordplay that allows the writer to infuse mystery and a little interactive fun in the writing so that the reader can decipher the actual word on their own and discover a depth of meaning to the writing.
e.g An anagram for "debit card" is "bad credit". As you can see, both phrases use the same letters. By mixing the letters a bit of humor is created.
When sentences do not use conjunctions (e.g.: and, or, nor) to separate clauses, but run clauses into one another, usually marking the separation of clauses with punctuation.
An example is when John F. Kennedy said on January the 20th 1961 "...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
A break, especially a sense pause, usually near the middle of a verse, and marked in scansion by a double vertical line. This technique frequently occurs within a poetic line grammatically connected to the end of the previous line by enjambment.
e.g. in "Know then thyself. ‖ Presume not God to scan."
Forming mental images of a scene using descriptive words, especially making use of the human senses.
When the boots came off his feet with a leathery squeak, a smell of ferment and fish market immediately filled the small tent. The skin of his toes were red and raw and sensitive. The malodorous air was so toxic he thought he could almost taste his toes.
Word or phrase in a figure of speech in which a noun is referenced by something closely associated with it, rather than explicitly by the noun itself. This is not to be confused with synecdoche, in which a part of the whole stands for the thing itself.
Metonomy: The boxer threw in the towel. Synecdoche: She gave her hand in marriage.
Emotional appeal, one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric that the author uses to inspire pity or sorrow towards a character—typically does not counterbalance the target character's suffering with a positive outcome, as in Tragedy.
In Romeo and Juliet, the two main characters each commit suicide at the sight of the supposedly dead lover, however the audience knows these actions to be rash and unnecessary. Therefore, Shakespeare makes for the emotional appeal for the unnecessary tragedy behind the young characters' rash interpretations about love and life.
Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, this provides a sense of exaggeration designed to wear down the audience.
An example of this is in the first chapter of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: "A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin".
The boot was tough and sinewy between his hard-biting teeth. There was no flavor to speak of except for the blandness of all the dirt that the boot had soaked up over the years. The only thing the boot reminded him of was the smell of a wet-dog.
Overall attitude an author appears to hold toward key elements of the work. Strictly speaking, tone is generally an effect of literary techniques, on the level of a work's overall meaning or effect. The tone of a whole work is not itself a literary technique. However, the tone of a work, especially in a discrete section, may help create the overall tone, effect, or meaning of the work.
The italicizing of words at the end of select sentences to remind the reader of a consequential moment in the narrative without adjusting the mechanics of the story to allow lengthy and potentially distracting text. First used by the American author Iimani David.
This discrepancy between expectation and reality occurs in three forms: situational irony, where a situation features a discrepancy between what is expected and what is actualized; dramatic irony, where a character is unaware of pivotal information already revealed to the audience (the discrepancy here lies in the two levels of awareness between the character and the audience); and verbal irony, where one states one thing while meaning another. The difference between verbal irony and sarcasm is exquisitely subtle and often contested. The concept of irony is too often misunderstood in popular usage. Unfortunate circumstances and coincidences do not constitute irony (nor do they qualify as being tragic). See the Usage controversy section under irony, and the term tragedy.
A person hears a prophecy about himself. His endeavor to stop the prophecy from coming true, makes it come true.
Distributing recurrent thematic concepts and moralistic motifs among various incidents and frames of a story. In a skillfully crafted tale, thematic patterning may emphasize the unifying argument or salient idea disparate events and disparate frames have in common.
Defined as the mimicking of dialogue by characters after a shifted context or place in time to underscore the importance of the dialogue and its relation to the theme. Also known as "shadowing". This technique, like foreshadowing, clues the reader to a portent of things to come only after the repetition is made later in the narrative. Used by the American author Iimani David.
Example, The Bastard published by The New York Literary Society
A type of novel concerned with education, development, and maturation of a young protagonist. Essentially, a bildungsroman traces the formation of a protagonist's maturity (the passage from childhood to adulthood) by following the development of his/her mind and character.
^Orehovec, Barbara (2003). Revisiting the Reading Workshop: A Complete Guide to Organizing and Managing an Effective Reading Workshop That Builds Independent, Strategic Readers (illustrated ed.). Scholastic Inc. p. 89. ISBN0439444047.