Grammar: Literary Device / Technique

Posted January 5, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Revised as of:
31 Jan 2017;
links for “Character” should be up by mid-Feb

One of the frustrating aspects of the English language is the number of names that mean the same thing, such as literary device which is also referred to as a literary technique. Neither of which is to be confused, *eye roll* with literary element.

A literary device is an overall category of literary techniques that add texture, energy, and excitement to the narrative, grip the reader’s imagination, and convey the author’s messages in a simple manner to the readers. When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret, and analyze a literary work.

Subcategories include figure of speech, rhetorical device, and word play.

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Literary Devices include Figures of Speech, Rhetorical Devices, and Word Play

A figure of speech alters the meanings of words, going beyond a word’s or phrase’s literal interpretation, like simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and more. It becomes a device in rhetoric when it is aimed at persuading the readers or listeners.

A rhetorical device is used in the art of discourse in which the writer (or speaker) uses different methods to convince, influence, or please an audience. This helps explain why rhetorical devices and figures of speech occasionally swap categories.

Word play is a verbal game of wit and fun that brightens and enhances the reader’s understanding.

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Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on an area of grammar with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

If you found this post on “Literary Device” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

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Literary Device / Technique
Part of Speech: Writing, Grammar
Definition: Any of several specific techniques or strategies a writer uses to produce a special effect in their writing whether it’s providing the reader with information or developing the narrative to make it more complete, complicated, or interesting.

Not all works contain instances of literary devices, i.e., not all stories or poems contain both simile and irony.

CAUTION: A literary device is not a literary element, although the components of literary elements are literary devices.


  • Dialogue
    (check out “Properly Punctuated: Dialogue“)
  • Diction
  • Distancing Effect
  • Dramatic Visualization
  • Epithet
  • Figure of Speech (“Figure of Speech“)
  • Motif
  • Negative Capability

    A.k.a., narrative technique, literary technique, fictional device, literary fictional narrative, stylistic device, linguistic technique, stylistic element

    Antonomasia Definition: A descriptive phrase replaces a person’s name, which can range from lighthearted nicknames to epic names.

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    Oh, look! The great chef has arrived!

    Mr. Grumps doesn’t want to listen to anyone, and definitely doesn’t want to help anyone.

    I sure hope this one is Mr. Right.

    Winston Churchill was referred to as “The Great Commoner”.

    The Bard, the man we know as William Shakespeare, was a prolific playwright and poet.

    Examples courtesy of Literary Terms.

    Connotation Definition: Associations people make with words that go beyond the literal or dictionary definition. Many words have connotations that create emotions or feelings in the reader.

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    snake Slithering evil
    poodle A toy poodle may indicate an indulgent owner, while a standard poodle may evoke thoughts of hunting
    Paris Ahh, gay Paree, the city of romance
    rose More romance, love, l’amour…
    river An unending flow of time

    “And once again, the autumn leaves were falling.”

    “Autumn” signifies something coming to an end.

    Denotation Definition: Literal meaning of a word, the “dictionary definition”.

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    snake Any of numerous scaly, legless, sometimes venomous reptiles, having a long, tapering, cylindrical body and found in most tropical and temperate regions
    poodle A particular kind of dog
    Paris The city of an old tribe called the Parisii
    rose A particular flower
    river A body of water
    Descriptivism Definition: The realities of how natural language is used. (Descriptivists describe, systematically record, and analyze the endlessly changing ways people speak and write.)

    Its opposite is prescriptivism.

    Stan Carey: “Descriptivism vs. prescriptivism: War is over (if you want it)”

    Ethopoeia Definition: Putting oneself in the shoes of another and imagining their feelings, capturing their ideas, words, and style of delivery…and adapting the speech to the exact conditions under which it is to be spoken.

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    A.k.a., aetopeia, moralis confictio, description of manners, progymnasmata, impersonation

    James J. Murphy; Brigham Young University; About: Ethopoeia

    “Do thou stand for me, and I’ll play my father…” – Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1

    If I were Jane, I’d weep for weeks in anguish for the loss.

    How might they feel? What is it like to stand in their shoes and walk that final mile alone?

    Examples courtesy of About: Ethopoeia and Changing Minds.

    Dialogue Definition: Characters communicating with another through speech or writing.

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    How a character speaks reveals their level of education, their social status, and their emotions. Speech “hints at their underlying psychoses, desires, motivations, opinions, and so on, [making dialogue] a fundamental way in which characters interact, change, reach conclusions, and make decisions to act”.

    “Dialogue is also handy in advancing the plot. Interactions within, between, or among characters help to give insight to the storyline.

    Well-written dialogue also makes a text realistic. In the real world, people interact and have conversations. This is critical to a successful text.”


    1. Try to avoid Q&A dialogue as it has almost no conflict. And conflict is necessary on every page
    2. Do not base your style/grammar/etc., on what a name-brand/bestselling author does as they have earned the right to break the rules
    3. Nothing can ever be easy for the protagonist: gaining information should be like pulling teeth, BUT tailor the conflict to the value of what s/he’s after
    4. Pose story questions again and again and again and again and again and again…

    A.k.a., dialog [U.S.], dialogism, sermocinatio

    Literary Devices: Dialogue; Writing Explained: What is Dialogue in Literature? Definition, Examples of Literary Dialogues

    James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, and William Faulkner are excellent examples of dialogue. There are two basic types of dialogue:

    1. Inner Dialogue
    2. Outer Dialogue

    Be sure to examine the “Properly Punctuated: Dialogue” post. Inner Dialogue Definition: The characters speak or think to themselves and reveal their personalities.

    Use inner dialogue with literary techniques such as:

    Dramatic Monologue Definition: Usually a type of poem in which the speaker is directly addressing and talking to some other person. The speaker in such poems usually speaks alone, in a one-way conversation.

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    John Donne
    Robert Browning’s Dramatic Monologues, “A Grammarian’s Funeral“, and “My Last Duchess
    Tracey Ball’s Kids Are So Dramatic Monologues

    Definition and examples courtesy of Bachelor and Master.

    Stream of Consciousness Definition: Creates the sense of an unedited interior monologue, characterized by leaps in syntax and punctuation that trace a character’s fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings to provide a narrative in the form of the character’s thoughts instead of using dialogue or description.

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    The outcome is a highly lucid perspective with a plot.

    Not to be confused with free writing.

    A.k.a., interior monologue, internal monologue, stream of consciousness narration James Joyce’s Ulysses

    “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” – Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

    Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

    E.B. White’s “The Door

    William Faulkner

    Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

    Marcel Proust

    The funeral scene in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors Thought Definition: “Thought” dialogue reveals what the character is thinking.

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    Rule: There are two ways to distinguish thought dialogue from spoken:

    1. Leave the quotes off
    2. If the thought is part of a spoken dialogue, put it in italics.
    “Did you think to ask Margaret if he had indeed gone out?” Paul asked. Must I think of everything?

    He is such a dork, Miriam thought. “How is your foot this morning, George?” Outer Dialogue Definition: A simple conversation between two characters, which is used in almost all types of fictional works.

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    It can be difficult to achieve a natural sounding dialogue, so be sure to speak it out loud when you’re proofreading.

    CAUTION: Only encase actual direct dialogue in quotation marks. See “Properly Punctuated: Dialogue“.

    There are several types of outer dialogue:

    There are a number of tips on using punctuation to cope with quoting multiple paragraphs, quoting someone else inside someone’s dialogue, and creating the effects of trailing off, pausing, interrupting, stuttering, stumbling, slurring, and mumbling.

    A.k.a., direct dialogue “Rosencrantz: ‘What are you playing at?’
    Guildenstern: ‘Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.'” – Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Rule: Beware of dialogue tags that aren’t possible. One cannot “snort”, “nod”, “laugh”, nor “smile” words. Instead, add it as a descriptor to the actual dialog tag. “How’s it hangin’?” I asked.
    “As you see,” old Martha said, as she smiled, “alive.”

    “Said the little boy, ‘Sometimes I drop my spoon.’
    Said the old man, ‘I do that too.’
    The little boy whispered, ‘I wet my pants.’
    ‘I do that too,’ laughed said the little old man with a laugh.
    Said the little boy, ‘I often cry.’
    The old man nodded and replied, ‘So do I.’
    ‘But worst of all,’ said the boy, ‘it seems grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.’ And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
    ‘I know what you mean,’ said the little old man.” – Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

    Example courtesy of Dialogue

    Rule: Create a new paragraph each time you switch speakers. And no, I don’t care if it’s only one word.

    This is one of two formatting rules too many writers ignore and the willful ignorance of this rule drives me mad…it drives most readers mad, as it generally forces one to go back and re-read the text trying to figure out who is speaking and/or doing. Can you tell who’s speaking?

    “And then I drove around. I’ve had… a lot on my mind. But I’m fine now. Fine.”

    “You didn’t go?” he asked, turning to face her. “No. Look, I’m freezing. Let’s go inside.”

    George insisted. “We have to go.” “But I’ve had such a terrible —”

    “We have to go. Now.”

    “Oh. Oh, god. She’s all right, isn’t she?”

    “And then I drove around. I’ve had… a lot on my mind. But I’m fine now. Fine.”

    “You didn’t go?” he asked, turning to face her.

    “No. Look, I’m freezing. Let’s go inside.”

    George insisted. “We have to go.”

    “But I’ve had such a terrible —” Mary whined.

    “We have to go. Now.”

    “Oh. Oh, god. She’s all right, isn’t she?”

    Rule: When there is a lot of back and forth between characters with one-liners, avoid using a tag at all, except when you need to ensure that whoever is speaking hasn’t gotten lost amidst the tagless dialogue. Too many times, I have found myself going back and using my finger to track who said what. I hate that. It interferes with the story.

    See dialogue tag for more. Which is easier to follow?

    “And then I drove around. I’ve had… a lot on my mind. But I’m fine now. Fine.”

    “You didn’t go?”

    “No. Look, I’m freezing. Let’s go inside.”

    “We have to go.”

    “I’ve had a terrible —”

    “We have to go. Now.”

    “Oh. Oh, god. She’s all right, isn’t she?”

    “And then I drove around. I’ve had… a lot on my mind. But I’m fine now. Fine.”

    “You didn’t go?” George asked

    “No. Look, I’m freezing. Let’s go inside.”

    “We have to go.”

    “I’ve had a terrible —” Mary cried.

    “We have to go. Now.”

    “Oh. Oh, god, George. She’s all right, isn’t she?”

    Echoing Definition: 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.

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    This technique, like foreshadowing, clues the reader into a portent of things to come only after the repetition is made later in the narrative.

    The echo question is similar, but repeats part or all of something which someone else has just said.

    A.k.a., shadowing, echo utterance


    “Claire Dunphy: ‘All right, everybody back to work!’
    Gloria Delgado-Pritchett: ‘Everybody back to work!’
    Claire Dunphy: ‘I just said that.’
    Gloria Delgado-Pritchett: ‘And I co-said it.'” – Julie Bowen and Sofía Vergara, “Dance Dance Revelation“, Modern Family, 2010

    “Olivia: ‘If the temperature is dropping, this mess could freeze up. We got to get outta here.’
    Cassie: ‘We got to get out of here.’
    Olivia: ‘I just said that. Where are you going?’
    Cassie: ‘If the temperature is dropping, this mess could freeze up.’
    Olivia: ‘I just said that.’
    Cassie: ‘We got to get out of here.’
    Olivia: ‘I just said that!'” – Marsha A. Jackson, “Sisters”, The National Black Drama Anthology

    Examples courtesy of Echo Utterance.

    Macrology Definition: Verbose but meaningless talk.

    Collins Dictionary

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    Talking, talking, talking without saying anything at all.

    A bunch of politicians or inexperienced young professionals arguing for argument’s sake, to display their knowledge or make their voice heard yet without contributing any value to the discussion at large, or worse, derailing it entirely.

    So, I says to her, I says, however do you manage a career, a family, and all the committees you belong to. And she says that it’s a simple matter of time management. And I says “Time management?!” However do you find the time to manage your time? So she says that…

    In Erich Segal’s Love Story, the relationship of the two protagonists is handled with such beauty, delicacy, and sensitivity that the reader is compelled to feel the trials and tribulations of the characters. Stichomythia Definition: Rapid, stylized dialogue in an ancient Greek arrangement of dialogue in drama, poetry, and disputation in which single lines of verse or parts of lines are spoken by alternate speakers.

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    It is particularly well suited to sections of dramatic dialogue where two characters are in violent dispute.

    The rhythmic intensity of the alternating lines can be quite powerful.

    A.k.a., stichomythy, cut-and-thrust, cut-and-parry Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon
    Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex
    Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and the exchange between Richard and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, Act IV, Scene iv
    Noël Coward Telegraphic Speech Definition: “A simplified manner of speech in which only the most important content words are used to express ideas, while grammatical function words (such as determiners, conjunctions, and prepositions) as well as inflectional endings are often omitted.

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    “Telegraphic speech is a stage of language acquisition — typically in a child’s second year.”

    Frequently used in headlines.

    A.k.a., baby talk

    The term was coined by Roger Brown and Colin Fraser in “The Acquisition of Syntax”, Verbal Behavior and Learning: Problems and Processes, ed. by C. Cofer and B. Musgrave, 1963.

    “Sure enough, I hear a little voice from the other side of the room: ‘No, mummy — no go sleep!'”

    “A preschooler who called 911 on Thursday to report ‘mom and daddy go bye bye’ helped authorities find three young children left unattended in a home with drug paraphernalia.

    Chair broke.

    That horsie!

    “Cop Shot” (headline in the New York Post, July 26, 2009)

    “Headless Body in Topless Bar” (headline in the New York Post, 1983)

    “Fire Kills Teenager After Hoax” (headline in NEWS)

    “Job interview tip: ‘Tell them you’re not an applicant, you’re an appliCAN. Lick your finger, hold it against buttock. Make sizzling noise.'” – Tweet by Michael Spicer, 1 October 2013; quoted by James Manning in The Telegraph [UK], 30 December 2013

    The definition and examples are courtesy of Telegraphic Speech and Block Language.

    Diction Definition: The author’s choice of words aids in creating a sense of realism that pulls the reader into the story and can include the mood, attitude, dialect, and style of writing.

    Read up on how diction affects dialect.

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    Diction is usually judged with reference to the prevailing standards of proper writing and speech and is seen as the mark of quality of the writing. It is also understood as the selection of certain words or phrases that become peculiar to a writer.

    Types of diction include, but are not limited to:

    • Contractions
    • Profanity
    • Conversational or colloquial language
    Certain writers in the modern day and age use archaic terms such as thy, thee, and wherefore to imbue a Shakespearean mood to their work.

    Gritty urban stories may include vulgarity or profanity

    Military stories would include military jargon

    Stories in the schoolyard reflect teenspeak

    More formal language is used in more formal situations, to create a sense of separation, to emphasize a message

    Examples courtesy of Literary Devices.

    Distancing Effect Definition: The author directly addresses the reader, deliberately preventing the reader from identifying with characters in order to let them be coolly scrutinized.

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    Popularized by 20th century playwright Bertolt Brecht.

    A.k.a., alienation effect, estrangement effect, a-effect, German Verfremdungseffekt (V-effekt) Uses:

    • Explanatory captions
    • Illustrations

    Plays by Bertolt Brecht. Dramatic Visualization Definition: Represents an object or character with abundant descriptive detail or mimetically rendering gestures and dialogue to make a scene more visual or imaginatively present to an audience — very useful in showing.

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    Holly Lisle has a great visualization exercise, “Visualization for Writers, you may want to explore. I liked her tip about shadows.

    Popularized by 20th century playwright Bertolt Brecht. Arabian Nights

    Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

    Plays by Bertolt Brecht Epithet Definition: A descriptive device that describes a place, setting, a thing, or a person in such a way that it helps in making it more prominent, more vivid with richer meaning than they actually are.

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    Types of Epithet:

    CAUTION: Take extra care when using epithets, as you could be accused of using racial or abusive epithets.

    You may also want to explore the posts, “Word Confusion: Epigram vs Epigraph vs Epitaph vs Epithet” and/or “Properly Punctuated and Grammar Explanation: Ellipsis“.

    A.k.a., by-name, descriptive title “Thou mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!” – Shakespeare, Henry IV

    “Death lies on her like an untimely frost. Upon the sweetest flower of all the field…” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

    Distinguish bearers without using numbers: Richard the Lionheart, Charles the Fat, Charles the Bald, Alexander the Great, the Black Prince, the Virgin Queen

    Nicknames: Unferth is known as a brother-killer, Unferth Son of Ecglaf, Sideways-Walker – Beowulf

    George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series contains many examples

    Argumentative Epithet Definition: A descriptive literary device used by expert orators. It’s also useful in short arguments to give hints about what is to come.

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    “We ought to take warning from the bloody revolution of France,” – Richard Whately, Elements of Rhetoric, 6th ed., 1841 Fixed Epithet Definition: Found in epic poetry, it involves the repeated use of an adjective or phrase for the same object.

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    In Homer’s Odyssey, the wife is prudent, Odysseus himself is many-minded, and their son Telemachus is sound-minded. – Stephen Adams, Poetic Designs

    Ivan the Terrible may be referred to as dear father, white tsar, great sovereign, protector of stone-built Moscow, custodian of all Russia Kenning Epithet Definition: Usually a two-word phrase that describes an object by employing a figure of speech such as metaphors, a twist of words, a poetic phrase, or a newly created compound sentence or phrase to refer to a person, object, place, action or idea.

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    Most popular in Old English, Old Norse, and Germanic poetry.

    A.k.a., kennings

    Literary Devices

    sail road
    swan-road (Beowulf)
    blood battle-sweat
    sun sky-candle
    sword light-of-battle

    “I’ve come,
    As you surmise, with comrades on a ship,
    Sailing across the wine-dark sea to men
    Whose style of speech is very different…” – Homer, The Odyssey Smear Word Epithet Definition: A derogatory word or name for someone or something.

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    “You’re a dirty Commie for saying that!” he exclaimed.

    “She turned me down flat…must be a dyke.” Hank growled.

    Fatty, fatty two-by-four… Figure of Speech Definition: Implies ideas and meanings that are more complicated than if you used literal language and can be more effective, persuasive and impactful.

    See the post, “Figure of Speech.

    Motif Definition:

    Literary Devices has some great examples of motif.

    A recurrent, noticeable image, idea, concept, or symbol that develops or explains a theme or mood and plays a significant role in defining the nature of the story, the course of events, and the very fabric of the story and building up multiple layers of meaning which are essential to the story.

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    Motifs develop, reinforce, or explain the central idea of the theme and helps readers comprehend the underlying messages that writers intend to communicate to them.

    CAUTION: Motifs are not symbols.

    Literary Devices.

    Exploring Themes, Motifs and Symbols In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the main plot revolves around:

    • Two themes (the central message, statement, or idea) exist within the story:
      1. The ever-present possibility of resurrection
      2. The necessity of sacrifice to bring about a revolution
    • Motifs (a detail repeated in a pattern of meaning that helps to explain the theme) include:
      • The presence of doubles:
        • The action takes place in two cities
        • Two opposed doubles in the form of female characters, i.e., Lucie and Madame Defarge
      • Recurrent images of darkness that adds to the gloomy atmosphere
      • Imprisonment as each and every character struggles against some kind of imprisonment
    • Symbols (represents something else and helps to understand an idea or a thing) include:
      • The broken wine cask is a symbol of people’s hunger
      • Madame Defarge knitting is a symbol of revenge
      • The marquis is a character that stands for social disorder
    Examples: You may read references to an author’s work:

    • “the nautical motif of his latest novel”
    • “a recurring motif in her work”

    The “handsome prince” falls in love with a “damsel in distress” with the two being bothered by a wicked stepmother, evil witch, or beast and ending with “live happily ever after”.

    The simple, pretty peasant girl or the girl from a modest background in fairytales discovering that she is actually a royal or noble by the end of the tale.

    The flute in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman is a recurrent sound motif that conveys rural and idyllic notions.

    The green light found in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

    Shakespeare’s play Macbeth uses a variety of narrative elements to create many different motifs:

    • Imagistic references to blood and water are continually repeated
    • The phrase fair is foul, and foul is fair is echoed at many points in the play, a combination that mixes the concepts of good and evil
    • A central motif of the washing of hands, one that combines both verbal images and the movement of the actors

    The sled in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane

    The scars borne by Anita Blake and Jean-Claude in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series

    The black worn in so many special ops or vampire stories that indicate characters who are bad ass or require stealth Leitwortstil Definition: Purposefully repeats words that usually express a motif or theme important to the story.

    A.k.a., key word style

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    Hebrew poetry

    The recurring phrase, “Are we there yet?” when you go on a trip with kids or impatient adults.

    Arabian Nights, so it goes in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

    Gordon Livingston’s Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, which repeats the phrases: “Don’t do the same thing and expect different results”, “It is a bad idea to lie to yourself”, and “No one likes to be told what to do”. Negative Capability Definition: A willingness on the part of the writer to let what is mysterious or doubtful remain just that, an unanswered question, leaving the mystery a mystery.

    The Write Answer

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    J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe of magic isn’t explained. Rowling simply expects the reader to accept the witches and wizards, giants and dwarves, goblins and ghosts, that Platform 9¾ exists, where the name Muggle comes from, simply that magic exists.

    “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

    Urban fantasies and paranormal tales Nemesis Definition: Refers to a situation of poetic justice wherein the positive characters are rewarded and the negative characters are penalized.

    It can also refer to the character or medium by which this justice is brought about as Nemesis was the patron goddess of vengeance according to classical mythology.

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    In the Harry Potter series, the protagonist Harry Potter is the nemesis of the evil Lord Voldemort.

    Literary Devices

    Paradox Discover more in the post, “Figure of Speech“, and have less to lose. Parody Need an excuse to stop writing? Read the entry on parody in the post, “Figure of Speech: Parody“. Parallel Structure Definition: Places sentence items in a parallel grammatical format wherein nouns are listed together, specific verb forms are listed together, etc.

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    It can be a word, a phrase, or an entire sentence repeated. It helps organize ideas, makes a text or speech easier to understand, and creates a satisfying rhythm in the language an author uses.

    For a more grammatical look, read “Parallel Construction, a.k.a., Parallelism“.

    A.k.a., parallelism

    Faulty Parallelism Proper Parallelism
    This article will discuss:

    1. How to deal with corporate politics
    2. Coping with stressful situations
    3. What the role of the manager should be in the community
    This article will tell managers how to:

    1. Deal with corporate politics
    2. Cope with stressful situations
    3. Function in the community


    King Alfred tried to make clear laws that had precision and were equitable.

    Using the verbs in front of the adjectives does not create parallelism.

    King Alfred tried to make the law clear, precise, and equitable.

    Use of the adjectives makes this a parallel structure.

    Create this effect by repeating the same pattern of words at key points in the text “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” – William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…
    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech Isocolon Definition: Uses two parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses.

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    The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

    Easy come, easy go.

    No pain, no gain.

    Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    “Never hurry and never worry!” – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web Alliosis Definition: The rhetorical use of any isocolon parallel sentence that presents two choices to the reader.

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    You can eat well, or you can sleep well.

    You can smoke now and die sooner or quit now and live longer.

    You’re either with us or against us.

    You can eat here or go hungry.

    America: Love it or leave it.

    “It is by logic we prove, but by intuition we discover.” – Leonardo da Vinci

    Some examples courtesy of Quizlet, parallel structure (grammar), and Prezi.

    Tricolon Definition: Uses three parallel structures of the same length in independent clauses and of increasing power.

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    That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

    Her purpose was to impress the ignorant, to perplex the dubious, and to startle the complacent. Combining Isoclon with Tricolon Rule: Parallel structures can be combined in unique ways.

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    Isocolon parallelism in individual lines that are further built upon in tricolon pattern:
    “I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads,
    My gorgeous palace for a hermitage,
    My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown,
    My figured goblets for a dish of wood …” – Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 3, Scene 3, 170-73 Exergasia Definition: Restating a point in different words, a different delivery, or changing the general treatment it is given. It is a method for amplification, variation, and explanation.

    A.k.a., expolitio, exargasia, epexergasia, expolicio, refining, working out

    Brigham Young University

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    “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy;
    now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice;
    now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood;
    now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.
    The idea of correcting injustice is repeated in all four lines to emphasize this idea.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”

    “Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer…” – Psalm 17:1

    We must return. We need to go home now as it is the end of the holidays.

    I think they should take time to analyze the situation and discover the many variants that they may be discovered and so understand the possibilities and choose the best way forward. In other words, they should explore all options.

    Examples courtesy of Wikipedia: Exergasia and Changing Minds.

    Faulty Parallelism Definition: A construction in which two or more parts of a sentence are roughly equivalent in meaning but not parallel (or grammatically similar) in form.

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    It most often occurs with paired constructions and items in a series.

    To correct faulty parallelism, match nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases or clauses with similarly constructed phrases or clauses. On the TV show The Simpsons, the lead character Bart Simpson says, “they are laughing, not with me”. Parison Definition: An even balance of elements in a sentence in a series of phrases, clauses, or sentences — adjective to adjective, noun to noun, and so on.

    A.k.a., parisosis, membrum, compar

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    “The closer you get, the better you look.” – advertising slogan for Nice ‘n’ Easy Shampoo

    “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship”

    “He that is to be saved will be saved, and he that is predestined to be damned will be damned.” – James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans

    “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.” – slogan of the Florida Citrus Commission

    “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth — not in your hand.” – advertising slogan for M&Ms candy

    Definition and examples courtesy of About: Parison.

    Syncrisis Definition: Comparison and contrast in parallel clauses.

    May Use Other Literary Devices including:

    1. Antitheses
    2. Parallelism

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    We support the victory; they decry the cost.

    Definition and examples courtesy of Brigham Young University.

    Plot Plot is frequently referred to as a literary device. In truth, it’s a literary element, one of the pillars used in creating the story, whereas a literary device is a tool used in writing the story to make it more interesting or complicated.

    The post, “Writing: Plot, Its Beats and Devices” goes into lots and lots of detail and includes Story Arc and Plot Devices. Prescriptivism Definition: Ideas about how language should be taught and how it should be used, some of which is can be ascribed to zombie rules, a.k.a., Miss Thistlebottom’s hobgoblins or classroom folklore.

    Its opposite is descriptivism.

    Stan Carey: “Descriptivism vs. prescriptivism: War is over (if you want it)”

    Rhetorical Device Definition: The art of discourse in which the writer (or speaker) uses different methods to convince, influence, or please an audience.

    See the post, “Rhetorical Device. Satire Definition: A piece of writing that makes fun of an individual, society, country, or world by exposing and/or criticizing the corruption, stupidity, shortcomings, or foolishness using humor, irony, exaggeration, parody, caricature, or ridicule.

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    It generally uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, and frequently professes to approve of or accept as natural the very things the satirist wishes to attack.

    The satirist hopes to improve the target by criticizing its follies, issues, and/or weaknesses.

    The difference between satire and parody is:

    • Satire
      • Tries to improve humanity and its institutions by arousing the reader’s disapproval of a vice, abuse, or faulty belief
    • Parody
      • Imitates the style of another writer, normally for comic effect
    May Use Other Literary Devices including:

    1. Metaphor: Analogy
    2. Comparison
    3. Word Play: Double Entendre
    4. Rhetorical Device: Euphemism
    5. Exaggeration
    6. Figure of Speech: Irony
    7. Character: Juxtaposition
    8. Mock epic
    9. Figure of Speech: Sarcasm
    10. Figure of Speech: Understatement

    Types of satire include:

    George Orwell’s Animal Farm ridicules the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

    Voltaire’s Candide attacks the philosophy of Optimism.

    Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels satirizes the “high-class” tastes, social expectations, and popular philosophies of his time. Horatian Definition: Clever, humorous, and generally mocks and makes fun of others, of human behavior in a comic way.

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    Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

    Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

    Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

    Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock Innuendo Definition: The most thinly-veiled form of satire, it is an indirect or subtle observation generally used to attack or insult somebody or some section of society. It is generally critical (when strong), disparaging, or salacious in nature, and its use is almost always derogatory.

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    It’s a type of ambiguous and roundabout language.

    Particularly popular in romantic poetry, novel, and drama, and ideal when you don’t want to be direct. It is an effective way to destroy someone’s character.

    Types of Innuendo

    • Accidental Innuendo
    • Innuendo in everyday life
    • Innocent innuendo
    • Innuendo in nature
    • Sexual innuendo
    Naming a character to reflect an aspect:
    A school teacher named Mr. Choakumchild reflects his criticism of the educational system of that time. – Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

    A union leader named Slackbridge which shows how he viewed dishonest workers of that time. – Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

    Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry
    Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.” – Shakespeare, “Venus and AdonisNews Definition: Commonly used by newspapers, blogs, websites, and television programs, news satire mimics a credible news source and relies heavily on irony and deadpan humor.

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    The Onion

    That Was the Week That Was

    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Trevor Noah Political Definition: Pokes fun at politics and is frequently used with subversive intent when a regime forbids political speech and dissent.

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    Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

    George Orwell’s Animal Farm

    Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Setting Definition: An environment or surrounding establishing where and when and under what circumstances the story is taking place and includes the action and the mood.

    Read more in “Literary Elements: Setting“. Symbolism Definition: Symbols are images, ideas, sounds or words that represent (and help to understand) much more complex, and generally more abstract ideas and/or qualities. The symbol will have a meaning that is different from its literal definition, generally an object that represents another. Be aware that the meaning of a symbol can change depending upon the context in which it is used.

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    • Has a symbolic value or represents something else and helps to understand an idea or a thing
      • Can be visual: an action, a character, an event, an image, an object
      • Can be a sense: a word spoken by someone, a smell, a sound, a taste, or a touch
      • Can be an action, idea, or event
    • Appears throughout a work as a major part of the theme
    • Are not specific or definitive in their interpretation
    • Meaning is inferred from context

    Explore your story for a common symbol that reinforces what your story is about — and be sure that the symbolism is one that will be understood by your readers.

    For inspiration, consider symbols — the white flag that indicates surrender or I come in peace — that are relevant to the culture of the characters within the book.

    May Use Other Literary Devices including:

    1. Metaphor: Allegory
    2. Figure of Speech: Imagery
    3. Metaphors

    It may appear once or twice in a literary work, whereas a motif is a recurring element.

    Rosebud in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane Rosebud, as a symbol, was the brand name of the sled Kane was playing with when his world changed forever and was repeated throughout the movie.
    Water Cleansing
    An eye Indicates all-seeing
    Crosses, angels
    Bats Prosperity, horror, rebirth and death
    Pentagrams The five Greek elements: idea, heat, air, earth, and water

    The five senses: hearing, smelling, speaking, tasting, and touching

    The five wounds of Christ



    A reversed pentagram is evil

    Prevents leaving a room

    A symbol of the Bahá’í Faith

    A symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    A religious symbol for Wiccans

    A religious symbol for the Druze

    A symbol of the Serer religion and the Serer people of West Africa

    Symbols on the national flags of Morocco and Ethiopia

    A smile A symbol of friendship, affection, approval, happiness
    Someone frowning at you A symbol of dislike, disapproval, disagreement, anger, etc.
    A chain A symbol for union, imprisonment, a coming together
    A dove A symbol of peace
    Icons There are roadside symbols, computer symbols, cellphone symbols, logos, a slash mark across indicating a “no go” area, etc.
    Uniforms Think of how often a character dons the disguise of the meter reader, a delivery man, etc.
    Flags The U.S. flag stands for America; the Union Jack means British; the red plus sign on a white background is the Red Cross, etc.
    Bathroom signs Silhouettes of dancers, cowboy and cowgirls, a wheelchair silhouette, pointers versus setters, the standard man/woman silhouettes, a high heel versus a pipe
    Finger symbols Touching forefinger to thumb to form a circle for “OK”

    The middle finger extended from a closed fist, flipping someone off

    Forefinger pointing at someone

    Forefinger moving back-and-forth, etc.

    The color black
    Note that different cultures assign different meanings to colors.
    Represents death or evil
    The color green Represents life or envy
    The flower rose Represents romance, love
    The flower lily Represents death, rebirth, royalty, humility
    Something long and roughly cylindrical Phallic
    “Time is money.” As a symbol, the phrase warns you that when you spend your time, you are giving up the opportunity to be doing something else with that time or that spending the money on that item means you can’t spend it on something else.

    As a metaphor, it indicates that time, like money is not infinite.

    “Life is a roller-coaster.” As a symbol, this phrase indicates that there will be ups and downs in life that you have to weather.
    “He is a rock.” As a symbol, it signifies that he is strong and dependable.
    “Love is a jewel.” As a symbol, this phrase suggests that love is rare and precious.

    Faith, Brown’s wife, “thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap.”

    “Faith’s pink ribbons in Young Goodman Brown carry cultural connotations of innocence and purity, but the fact that the wind plays with the ribbons in one key image also brings to mind temptation, alluring chaos, the struggle with natural forces. Red is also a significant color in the story’s final temptation scene, with its basin of ‘water, reddened by the lurid light? Or was it blood?’ Faith’s pink ribbons carry, of course, a tinge of red” (Virtual Lit).

    Examples are courtesy of “Examples of Symbolism“.

    Archetype Definition: A recurring symbol, setting, or character with a dual nature that incorporates literal meaning and another meaning, some essential aspect of human experience:

    has an excellent section on archetypes. It would be very good for my Author Resources subscription side. I’ll have to scroll down quite a bit.

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    • Wind, sun, fire, water, the four seasons
    • The snake, whale, eagle, vulture
    • Passage from innocence to experience
    • Characters such as the blood brother, the rebel, and the loving prostitute
    “Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
    Had I from old and young!
    Instead of the cross, the Albatross
    About my neck was hung” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

    The albatross symbolizes a big mistake of the mariner or a burden of the sin just like the cross on which Christ was crucified. Therefore, all the people on the ship agreed to slay that bird.

    Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc., have influenced all subsequent horror stories (Literary Devices).

    Meme Definition: Cultural symbols that are an idea, pattern of behavior, practice, or style that spreads quickly from person to person within a given cultural context. The primary intent is to either make people laugh or to make fun of others.

    Coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976. Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange

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    The meme content itself is usually something of minor everyday consequence: jokes, urban legends, TV and movie references, human and animal oddities. In rare cases, memes can be profound art and music curiosities, and even philosophical ideas.
    Most memes are transmitted by 20-something millennials, as this age group is hyperconnected and enamored with social media, although the usage is increasing among Generation X and Baby Boomers.

    It is expected that memes will become progressively more intellectual and philosophical. A link to a YouTube video of Rick Astley

    A file attachment with a Stars Wars Kid movie

    An email signature with a Chuck Norris quote…

    Paul Gil’s “50 Internet Memes that Have Won Our Hearts

    The graphics and video links inserted into book reviews.

    Grumpy cat images

    Examples courtesy of Paul Gil’s “What is a Meme?“.

    Syntax Definition: A set of rules that dictates how words from different parts of speech are put together in order to convey a complete thought.

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    In English, syntax usually follow a pattern of subject-verb-object agreement, but sometimes authors play around with this to achieve a lyrical, rhythmic, rhetoric, or questioning effect.

    It is not related to the act of choosing specific words or even the meaning of each word or the overall meanings conveyed by the sentences.

    Syntax and diction are closely related:

    • Diction refers to the choice of words in a particular situation
    • Syntax determines how the chosen words are used to form a sentence

    In combination, syntax and diction help writers develop tone, mood, and atmosphere in a text along with evoking the readers’ interest.

    Standard Syntax Nonstandard Syntax
    “The man drives the car.” “The car drives the man”.
    “I cannot go out.” “Go out I cannot.”
    “What light breaks from yonder window?” “What light from yonder window breaks?”
    – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
    “We are going to the movies.” “To the movies we are going.”

    Examples courtesy of Your

    Theme The literary element theme with its host of literary devices can be found on “Literary Element: Theme“. Tone Tone is a literary device which is part of the narrative mode of voice in “Literary Element: Tone (of Voice)“. Trope Definition: While trope can be a figure of speech, in this sense, it refers to a literary theme that has turned into a cliché, referring to actions and events which are predictable because of some previous events.

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    The villain dying at the end of a crime story

    The lead male and female getting together by the end of a romance novel

    A city being destroyed in an apocalypse story

    Some genres practically have to be formulaic — police procedurals and romances are the most obvious — and readers have come to expect the cliché in such genres. They know what’s coming, and they’re comfortable with that. Just be sure to give your readers some great characters and great stories.

    Of course, there’s always Sal Glynn‘s note about the anti-cliché in his post, “How to Avoid Clichés“, which suggests twisting it into something new.

    A.k.a., theme trope As a Common, Sometimes Overused Theme or Device Horror

    • Abandoned buildings as per the Friday the 13th movies
    • Going down into basements as in Home Alone
    • The Scary Movies with their parodies of horror films
    • The monster is shot, stabbed, burned, and impaled on a spike, only to rise again
    • Older stories “required” that the heroine is raped by the “hero” so she can escape the guilt of wanting sex
    • The arranged marriage that either forces the hero and heroine to work together or causes one of them to run
    • The girl is always a virgin
    • The man is tamed by the love of a good woman
    • The I-don’t-want-you-but-don’t-you-dare-ignore-me
    • I’m-protecting-you-for-your-own-good
    • If-only-he-could-be-mine-but-I’m-too-self-sacrificing
    • The virginal heroine who goes from naive to sex kitten in one night
    • The heroine who has blissful sex and then suddenly runs off because of a silly misunderstanding
    • The wounded hero who has hot sex despite the bullet wound, knife wound, and broken wrist

    Some examples courtesy of Writing World.

    Paranormal / Urban Fantasy
    • The fated mate in which the hero and heroine must bond or one or both will die or live forever without ever knowing love and/or sex.
    • There’s the insta-love trope which appears in romances as well in which the hero and heroine see the other and are instantly in love.
    • The sexual side in which the man always knows how to bring the woman to orgasm — and satisfies her first.
    • There’s the trope in which he’s a were and she’s a human with the ending changing her to suit him…or vice versa. Or s/he receives immortality as a reward or gift.
    • The one in which the protagonist is too arrogant to change his/her method of operations when there are numerous opportunities.
    • Good versus Evil
      • Heroes (and heroines) who don’t know they are of royal blood, have a need to mature/grow, or be capable of extraordinary behavior
      • Dark Lords are evil
    • Quest
    • Magic:
      • Have the ability to work magic or are psychic
      • Self-fulfilling prophecy
    • Medieval inspiration from European folklore and romances:
      • Dragons, griffins, unicorns, etc.
      • Monsters such as giants, goblins, Red Caps, etc.
      • Races of intelligent beings such as elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and gnomes
    • Ancient world inspirations from Egypt, Persia, India, Mesopotamia, Rome
      • Gods and goddesses
    Science Fiction Stupid
    • Don’t tell anyone important information in order to heighten the tension, drama, what have you
    • Expecting a character to know how to do something because it’s part of their bloodline, race, etc.
    • The heroine who can’t stay put
    • The heroine who has to push her way into danger despite having no skills, can’t take instruction, and puts people in danger because she knows nothing
    • I can’t possibly take the time to eat, because, gasp, whatever would we do for drama? (October Daye and Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter)
    • I’m-too-stupid-to-stay-safe
    • The tall building getting knocked down by a giant wave
    Verisimilitude Definition: Appears or is close to being real or the truth, but is not.

    It can be used in a variety of different ways to describe something, as well; a way of implying the believability or likelihood of a theory or narrative.

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    The works of Karl Popper

    “While some dislike the content of the novel due to its graphic nature, you cannot deny that the content certainly gives the book some Verisimilitude.”

    A doubtful statement in a court of law

    A false testimonial for a restaurant

    If something “seems” like it’s all well and good, but you can’t quite decide, then it can be said to have Verisimilitude. Verse Definition: Refer to any single, lone line of a poetry composition:

    • A metrical writing line
    • A stanza
    • Any other part of the poetry
    • A piece written in meter

    You may want to explore “Word Play: Rhyme” for more about verse’s inner structures.

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    “After the white-gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,” – a single line from “After the Sea-Ship” by Walt Whitman

    “It’s wrong, and I still can’t see your point.” – a single line from “Washed Away” by Katherine Foreman

    “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” – a single line from “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth

    Examples courtesy of Your and SoftSchools.

    Word Play Definition: The witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words.

    Submerge in depth in the post, “Word Play“.

    A.k.a., verbal game

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    Resources for Literary Devices

    For some background reading on prescriptivism, explore “Dr. Shadyah A. N. Cole’s article on the historical development of prescriptivism, which shows how social and economic conditions influenced scholarly and popular attitudes to the English language; and Geoffrey Pullum’s “Ideology, Power, and Linguistic Theory“, in which the author assesses justifications for prescriptivist claims, and shows that ‘in grammar the 19th century never really went away’.”

    Online Resources for Clichés

    Know Your Phrase has an A–Z guide has a slideshow of 45 Most Annoying Business Jargon phrases they’d like to see retired

    Pearl Luke at Be a Better Writer’s “681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing

    The most useful, Cliché Finder allows you to paste your text into the box. Click the “Find Clichés” button at the bottom, and it bolds any clichés; in your text.

    Cliché Finder helps you to find clichés.

    The Writing Center at the University of Richmond is rather brief and mentions why students want to avoid clichés with a few examples of better choices along with a short list of common clichés.

    A U.K. site, has an A to Z of clichéd phrases.

    Pinterest Photo Credits:

    “Jemima Puddle-Duck” by Beatrix Potter is in the public domain, via The Gutenberg Project and Wikimedia Commons.