Literary Devices ‒ How to Use Them in Your College Essay

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Literary-Devices-Definition

One of the best ways to make your academic essays and other writing assignments interesting is by using literary devices. So, what exactly are literary devices?

This article will explore what literary devices are, why they’re important, and the most common literary devices you can use to make your college essays more interesting.

Literary Devices ‒ In a Nutshell

  • Literary devices are tools used by writers to improve their writing skills.
  • Literary devices allow writers to communicate with their audiences from a unique angle.
  • Using literary devices can take your essay writing skills to the next level and get you good grades.

Definition: Literary devices

Literary devices are tools or techniques writers use to make their narrations more captivating and hint at bigger meanings than what’s on paper.1 While some literary devices are only used on a sentence level, others transform the entire story.

Most skilled writers use several literary devices to create a more powerful and memorable story.

Literary-Devices-overview

Literary devices woven into the essay structure

The following are some of the best literary devices for essay writing and how to use them:

Symbolism

This refers to using an object, person, place, or subject to represent a broader concept or idea.

For instance, you can use a dove to represent peace, a sheep to mean conformity or a black cat to represent bad luck.

Extended metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two, unlike things without using the words “like” or “as.”

On the other hand, an extended metaphor is a metaphor that continues the comparison across multiple sentences or paragraphs in the same piece of writing.

Example

  • Simple metaphor: “The truth is thorny.”

This metaphor compares the truth to something painful.

  • Extended metaphor: “The truth is thorny, but you have to embrace it even if it hurts. Sometimes it leaves a small puncture, sometimes a huge wound, but it eventually heals.”

With this extended metaphor, you’ve spread the comparison of truth to a thorn across two sentences.

✔ Do's of creating an extended metaphor ✘ Don'ts of creating an extended metaphor
• Go with the third metaphor you think of because it's likely that the first two have been overused.
• Use a comparison that the reader will understand
• Look for extended metaphors in the works of literature you read
• Always keep it subtle
• Don't overuse extended metaphors in your writing because they'll lose their power
• Don't use clichés
• Don't use an extended metaphor that will completely distract the reader from the story you're telling
• Don't use an extended metaphor if it will potentially weaken the description instead of strengthening it

Literary devices for storytelling

The following are some literary devices that work best with storytelling:

Into the action

“In medias res” is a Latin word that means “in the midst of things.” This writing style places the reader in the middle of the action or scene without providing any contextual information.

Beginning your story in the middle of the action helps immerse the reader into your story from the start. It makes them ask a lot of questions regarding the characters in the opening scene and what’s the reason behind the events that are unfolding.

Dialogue

Writers often use dialogue to show communication between two characters in the story.

You can use dialogue in your college essay to move your story forward, show different points of view, or engage the reader with your story at an emotional level.

Example:

The opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez reads:

  • “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”2

Example of dialogue in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde:

  • Algernon: I’m afraid I’m not that. That’s why I want you to reform me. You might make that your mission if you don’t mind, cousin Cecily.
  • Cecily: I’m afraid I’ve no time this afternoon.
  • Algernon: Well, would you mind me reforming myself this afternoon?
  • Cecily: It is rather Quixotic of you. But I think you should try.

Flashback

A flashback is a sudden interruption in the story’s narration that brings the reader to an earlier event to provide context or backstory of the present event.

You can use flashbacks in your essay to arm the reader with some important information about a character’s backstory that they might not have known.3

Quotes

Using a famous quote in your college essay provides the reader with more context of the topic you’re writing about and helps strengthen your argument.

Example:

The realtor handed me the keys to my new three-bedroom house. I was overjoyed to become a homeowner before my 30th birthday. It’s hard to imagine that I was living with my brother a year ago because I couldn’t afford to pay rent for my apartment.

Example:

As a parent, you want to raise well-behaved children who do well in school and are never in trouble. However, you should know that what you do or say in front of your children plays a major role in shaping their character. Pierre Corneille once said, “Remember: sooner or later, your son will follow your example and not your advice.”4

Literary devices: Imagery

Writers use imagery to engage the human senses or create a picture in the reader’s mind. The following are some of the literary devices used to create imagery:

Personification

This is a writing technique used to give human characteristics to non-humans. When used in essays, personification allows the reader to relate easily to the object the writer is talking about.

Similes

Similes compare two objects using the words “like” or “as.” Using similes in your college essay can help make it more interesting and descriptive.

Five senses

This writing technique describes a particular object’s taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound. Using the five senses in your essay helps immerse the reader in your story by creating vivid images in their mind.4

Example:

His heart danced when she walked into the room.

Example:

As brave as a lion

Example:

She wanted a taste of the sweet hot coffee.

Literary devices: Tone

The tone is the mood or atmosphere the writer’s words paint to the reader. The following are the literary devices used to portray the writer’s tone:

Hyperbole

This is using exaggeration to add more impact to a certain statement.

Colloquialisms

This refers to using informal phrases in a piece of writing.

Example:

I have a million things to do when I wake up.

Example:

Y’all ain’t giving me time to explain.

Sentence-integrated literary devices

The following are the most commonly used sentence-integrated literary devices:

Sentence-integrated literary devices Definition Example
Alliteration This is using words that start with the same letter of the alphabet or sound in quick succession. Mathew Murdock murdered the mad man.
Asyndeton This refers to the intentional omission of a conjunction between two phrases or parts of a sentence. You came, you lost.
Polysyndeton This refers to using conjunctions in quick succession without commas or other punctuation marks. We have stacks of cash and private planes and exotic cars.
Oxymoron This refers to using contradictory terms in quick succession. Virtual reality is taking over.
Amplification This is the act of elaborating a simple sentence using many details to emphasize its importance. A rich person can never be unattractive. You can be short, have long feet, and have no morals, but if you have money, people will still find you attractive.

FAQs

Literary devices are used to make pieces of writings more interesting to read.

You can use as many literary devices as you want, as long as they make sense and add something to the reader’s experience.

There are no restrictions when it comes to using literary devices.

You can use literary devices with all forms of formal and informal writing, including college essays, book reports, research papers, emails, and even text messages.

Sources

1 W., Anthony. “Why Are Literary Devices Important.” Help For Assessment. September 4, 2021. https://www.helpforassessment.com/blog/literary-devices/.

2 Adam, Claire. “On the Iconic First Line of One Hundred Years of Solitude.” LitHub. February 19, 2019. https://lithub.com/on-the-iconic-first-line-of-one-hundred-years-of-solitude/.

3 MasterClass. “What Is a Flashback? Definition and Examples of Flashbacks.” August 23, 2021. .https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-a-flashback.

4 Karan. “30 Best Quotes for Essay Writing.” UPSCBuddy. January 10, 2022. https://upscbuddy.com/quotes-for-essay-writing/.

5 MasterClass. “How to Use the Five Senses in Your Writing.” August 23, 2021. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-use-the-five-senses-in-your-writing.