Literary Devices ‒ How To Use Them In Your College Essay

09.01.23 How to write a college essay Time to read: 6min

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One of the best ways to make your college essay and other academic writing assignments interesting is by using literary devices. They serve as essential tools that authors employ to enrich their narratives, engage readers, and convey complex thoughts and emotions in an accessible way. This article will explore what literary devices are, why they’re important, and the most common literary devices you can use to make your academic essays more interesting.

Literary Devices ‒ In a Nutshell

  • Literary devices are tools used by writers to elevate their writing skills.
  • Literary devices allow writers to communicate with their audiences from a unique angle.
  • Literary devices can upgrade your essay writing skills 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. 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.

Some common types of literary devices include:

  1. Figurative language – metaphors and similes create images and comparisons for better understanding.
  2. Sound devices – alliteration and onomatopoeia contribute to the rhythm, mood, and emphasis of the text.
  3. Narrative devices – foreshadowing and flashbacks affect the structure of the story and how it’s told.
  4. Stylistic devices – repetition and irony shape the overall voice, tone, and mood of the work.

In sum, literary devices enhance a piece of writing by making it more effective, memorable, and engaging in conveying its ideas and themes.

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Literary devices woven into the essay structure

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


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


  • A dove can represent peace
  • A sheep can mean conformity
  • A black cat can 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.


  • 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.


  • Choose the third metaphor you think of
  • Use a comprehensive comparison
  • Look for extended metaphors
  • Always keep it subtle


  • Don’t overuse extended metaphors
  • Don’t use clichés
  • Don’t use distracting metaphors
  • Don’t use weakening metaphors

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.


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.”


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.


  • 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”

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:


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.


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.”


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


As brave as a lion.

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.


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:


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


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


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


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.
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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.