Literary devices – Improve your narrative - Part 2

In part 1, we looked at the most common literary devices; the kind that most of us have used regularly perhaps, things like symbolism, metaphor or foreshadowing.
There are less well known ones too, ones we may have heard of but probably don’t know too much about. But knowing about them and how they can enliven your narrative is a positive thing, after all, the more knowledge the writer has, the better the writing in general. Therefore, an overall knowledge of as many literary devices as possible is a good thing.
So, which are the less common ones, and what do they do?

  • Euphony
  • Connotation
  • Allusion
  • Assonance
  • Motif
Euphony refers to pleasant sounds created, particularly with soft vowels and soft consonants. It derives from the Greek word “euphonos”, which loosely means sweet-voiced. In other words, it’s about words or phrases that are noted for their charm, harmony or melody in the sounds that they create.

It is often found in literary novels or poetry and writers use it to make the narrative melodious and lovely so that the words in the sentence really do roll off the tongue when you read them. For example, a couple of lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Lotos-Eaters’:

‘In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon…’

Of course, you don’t have to be a literary author to encompass euphony. Whatever the genre, euphony will definitely make your narrative sound more melodious and pleasant.

You may have heard of connotation, but exactly does it mean? Connotation is the association people make with words that are in addition to its literal definition. Those associations could be emotional and cultural, personal or universal, good or bad.

For example, take the word ‘kill’.  Everyone knows what it means. But it has other connotations. ‘Oh my god that joke killed me!’ or ‘the pain is killing me’. What about ‘I could kill for a drink…’ or ‘You’re so funny, you just kill me.’

Think of the connotations of other words; they are not necessarily what you think they mean. Blue isn’t just a colour. It’s a mood, a state of emotional being, too. Animal can mean different things; a creature, or it can symbolise a negative, primitive human trait.

As writers we don’t always see these connections when writing, but if you want to give your reader something more to think about, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use connotations – readers will use their own personal emotions in association with certain words to interpret those meanings.

Allusion means the author is making a reference to a subject matter such as a place, event or person in order to make a point or get a message across. It can be a reference to pretty much anything; it can be inferred or direct and it is interesting way to engage the reader.

For example, by comparing a character to Mother Teresa, whether through description of dialogue, the allusion is that the character in question is someone who is morally sound and good. If you compared somewhere to looking like the desolate sands of a desert, then the reader would sense somewhere that is barren and lifeless.

Read any book and it will be sprinkled with allusions. Some are subtle, some are quite obvious, but they are a way for writers to make a point, ones that readers will remember.

Assonance is another literary device you may have heard of, but probably don’t realise the role it can play in creative narrative. It refers to the repetition of certain sounds produced by vowels within neighbouring words in a sentence or phrase.

Although it is very similar to alliteration, assonance is about the repetition of vowels in words and is particularly attractive to poetic or literary writers, who spend a great deal of time and effort giving their narrative such flourishes.

Here’s a simple example: ‘Waves pushed against the bow, to crush the sound to a simpering hush’.  Here the vowel ‘u’ is repeated in neighbouring words, giving the sentence a slight harmony.

The thing about assonance is that is it about ‘sound’ and the way we want the narrative to sound to the reader. It is yet another creative way to add those lovely brushstrokes to otherwise flat story-telling.

What is a motif?  Playwrights and literature graduates should be familiar with this particular literary device, because it appears a lot in plays and literary works. A ‘motif’ is any subject, object, action or sound that is present throughout the story. Writers use it to establish a mood or a developing theme, something that will resonate with the reader.

Motifs are not to be confused with symbolism, because symbols should appear only a few times in the story to evoke imagery and emotion; however a motif is a recurring element within the story.

They can be anything, as long as they appear as a constant throughout the story, so for instance a full moon could be a motif. Or a painting could. Maybe the ocean is the motif, or even a colour or sound. Just make sure that the motif is part of the story and therefore helps develop the main theme or characters.

A sprinkling of these different literary flourishes only enhances and enriches your narrative.  Some happen quite naturally during the course of writing, others need some thought, but however you do it, they add a fresh dimension to the story, themes and the characters.

Next week: How to avoid bad writing


  1. Some new ones there for me. Interested and useful post thanks.

  2. Very useful, thank you :)


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