Literary devices -Essential literary devices and how they should be applied while writing

Literary devices -Essential literary devices and how they should be applied while writing

From between the lines of a total of written sentences, whatever understanding pinched out from it can be attributed to the effective use of a literary mechanism. This is one of the most effective tools adopted by a number of world-class writers to depict meaning on a deeper level and exact a peculiar and pointed effect for the singular purpose of relaying information and unearthing intended expressions. Is this properly understood?

Literary devices are techniques used by a writer to give blunt and dryly engineered words another layer; they imprint expression and give sounds; they are the invisible connections that transmit the letterings embedded in scriptures and text to the reader’s mind while altering their perceptive ability and presenting words as images.

Mainly, the most potent and widely utilized literary devices are employed to inject clarity to a written work, with that as its initial purpose, some authors armed to the teeth with the knowledge of it do not hesitate to deploy such as a link that connects readers emotion to the whole concept of the story, characters, and theme and takes them beyond the ink on paper.

With that, it would only be appropriate to inquire, for personal purposes, why you, as a writer or an aspiring writer, should know a handful of literary devices and how, why, and where they should be applied. Aside from the sake of bragging rights and mastering any and all literary aptitude tests, your knowledge of it would help in discernment.

It would aid you in wiring sentences, not just mere sentences but the once most appealing, understanding and utilizing them effectively, as earlier stated, would breed meaning and understanding to your work.  Mastering this would help you connect with characters and understand which choice of word to elect that would most portray the circumstances you are trying to paint.

For example, metaphors are known to be the mother of all figures of speech, the manner in which this is applied creates a link that compares two individual elements by pronouncing one as the other. The purpose for this is seemingly lurking with an exhaustive desire to ingrain clarity into the given text; most renowned scribes of the golden ages have severally been noted to employ such.

We see William Shakespeare making use of imagery and metaphors for the sake of emphasis, from his works it can be easily noted that Michael Thomas Ford author of Suicide notes is abreast with more than the fundamentals of literary devices.

It is a thing of great concern that deaden stars aren’t seen only when you look up at the night sky, the whole notion of abolishing the common use of these literary devices among Nigerian contemporary and upcoming authors has indirectly murdered their creativity and likened them to a star that doesn’t shine.

Because it makes your work difficult to read doesn’t mean you should abhor the use of it, instead, overhaul the manner in which you use them and harpoon towards the expected audience that understands the concept of literary appreciation.

Has the above inculcated the purpose of literary devices in you? Do not proceed further unless you have familiarized yourself with the above.


Anachronism happens when there is an error, made consciously or not, in the timeline settings of a text. This, of course, could be an error in characterization—the way they dress, how they speak their choice of vehicle.

This is a literary device that abridges the prowess of time and transcends generations hurling along speech patterns and overall orientation from one timeline to another.  Imagine if Frank Miller and Lynn Varley the original authors of 300 had scribed that Leonidas and his brave band of 300 bodyguards boarded a war helicopter and it conveyed them to the centre of Greece where they would engage the unending deployment of Persian soldiers at the mountain pass of Thermopylae.

Indeed it appears erroneous because far back in history, they considered moving on foot as the most advanced means of both public and private transportation; another is if a painter arrays a picture of Plato wearing a watch or Gucci branded belt and announces it as his masterpiece.

A typical one seen in literature can be narrowed down to Act 2, scene 1 in Williams Shakespeare’s play; “Brutus: ‘Peace, count the clock’…Cassius:’the clock has stricken three’…”

The original setting of this play dates back to 44 A.D. in Rome; as of that point, there had not been any scientific breakthrough that revolved around the invention of a clock. Of course, you might be wondering what purpose such an error serves, well, it is used to keep a reader’s attention in check, at least draw it back to the succeeding, preceding, and unfolding scenarios.

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Literary allegories usually label circumstances and happenings or express immaterial ideas in terms of material objects, persons, and actions. Such early writers as Plato, Cicero, Apuleius, and Augustine made use of allegory.

Generally, it is used to represent a collective message about life, issues, and events using your not-so-typical characters as points for representing a typical idea; the entire book is usually used to buttress a single point. An allegory encompasses such forms of fables, parables, and apologue.

A basic example can be seen in George Orwell’s farm animal; the entire story plays around the early 20th century just preceding the Russian revolutionary era, most animals become symbolic of real historic figures, the likes of old major, who is employed as the representation of Karl Marx, founder of communism and communist leader Vladimir Lenin, the farmer likewise can be seen as the Russian Czar.

Another form of allegory is John Bunyan’s bestseller the pilgrim’s progress; their simple individual traits, emotions, and feelings were fashioned into characterization and given skin and bones, each being a representation of an idea, situation, and event acting accordingly with the moniker they identify with.

Take for example; there existed a situation following the death of a Christian friend and companion faithful, where he was opportune to encounter a fair lady by the name of hope; their meeting indeed wasn’t coincidental as it was pre-planned that at every slight moment where she can fit in, she appears—similar to every slight situation where hope can be built, it comes.

Faithful is killed for the crime of disrespecting the local Satan-worshiping religion, and Christian is put on a death roll; he shows the slightest form of belief that a brighter future awaits him and she comes and bails him out, they both elope, and somehow they find themselves in the snare of despair, a 7 ft. man-eating monster who entraps them for trespassing upon the castle of doubt and subsequently provides weapons wherefore they can use to harm themselves.

He puts them in a condition where there is seemingly no chance of survival it is at the final moment that they discover that he cannot harm them, that’s why he only threatens and vents words that would break the spirit so a common man would do the job and commit suicide. The typical effect of despair on a common man.


Alliteration is a literary device that includes the constant repetition of similar consonant sounds in a single line. The purpose of constant repetition once more is to stress on emphasis. A more composite pattern of alliteration is fashioned when consonants both at the beginning of words and at the beginning of stressed syllables within words are repeated see the poem Beowulf written by an anonymous 11th-century Anglo-Saxon poet.

  • “For fear of a feud was forced to disown him”
  • “The hell –spirit Humbled…”
  • “grisly and greedy that the grim one’s dominion”
  • “he bound to the bank then the broad-bosomed vessel”

As old as alliteration dates back it was only until the 15th century that a name for it was crooned by Italian humanist and writer Giovanni Pontano; subsequently it has been employed as a very powerful tool in children’s rhyme books and tongue twisters they also serve as memorable names for characters places and events, see J.K Rowling’s harry potter; “Helga Hufflepuff, “Salzar Slytherin”, “Godric Gryffindor.


This refers to an initiated comparison existing among two things that are grand in difference for the sake of drawing similar aspects by doing so one thing is used to explain the other.

Plato employed a practical analogy when he argued that the Idea of Good brand knowledge is possible in the intelligible world just as the Sun makes vision possible in the perceptual world.

We see from the above that there are two analogies presented one being that; good makes knowledge possible in the intelligible world, and the second; the sun makes vision possible in the perpetual world; it doesn’t require an in-depth explanation to understand that the sun analogy which is compared with the other is in similar comparison used to explain and shed more light on the other. With this, there would be a call to reasoning as to what difference exists between an analogy metaphor, extended metaphor, and simile? As you read on, there would be, undoubtedly an explanation that would bring about clarity.

Another example of this can be sourced from a 2021 poem written by subimal Sinha Roy, which reads,

“The winter storm savages the garden

Flowers fall crumpled on the ground

They’ll blossom with the touch of spring.

In turmoil the splintered heart

Scatters unpossessed like petals,

It’ll bloom with embrace of love”


This is the use of words and milder phrases as a substitute for abashed and vulgar words that are considered rather harsh, negative, or offensive. It at times has been employed to emplace sympathy to reduce the impact of harsh realities, take for example a number of sexual deviants find it difficult to entertain the idea of being called bi-sexual they rather prefer to be addressed with “sexually omnivorous” likewise the sundry amount of obese ladies frowns on being called fat, but rather find delight in being called “too present”. Funny as it may sound you find out that those substitute words are rather presentable and pleasing to hear and indeed, hide the unpleasant reality.


As a writer how does this affect your work?

This of course implants delights in the mind of the overly sensitive and victims of their circumstances; although you may not be writing to impress but express it is very essential that you use mild language while conveying information to readers. when they read about events or characters sharing similar plight, they don’t get offended; rather, they relate well.

Aside from that, it builds the interest of readers and makes the entire work presentable and non-atrocious. An example of this is seen as a basic idiom; he kicked the bucket, and he died. It can also be pointed out in Williams Shakespeare’s Othello where Iago states that Desdemona and Othello are making the beast of two back. Here beast of two back means they are having sex. Other examples are:

  • Porcelain throne- toilet
  • Bun in the oven- pregnant
  • He encountered a pale horse- death
  • Gentlemen of the highway- criminals
  • Economically challenged- poor
  • Being economical with the truth-lying
  • Big bone- overweight
  • Enhanced interrogation- torture
  • Adult entertainment- pornography
  • Thin on top-bald
  • Beast of 2 back-sex


This is the use of descriptive language in writing to create a mental image in the mind of readers. This, without doubt, could be considered one of the most-used literary devices owning to the essentiality of description when it comes to writing. The most vivid use of this comes in languages that appeal to senses, the likes of light, touch, sound, smell, taste, etc.

Now as a writer when describing an object you don’t just tell the reader “that is a box”, “that is a house” no! You are expected to describe the dimensions, colour, state of the matter, and every detail to the barest minimum, similar to an event. Here is an example of imagery

“The Cambodian main sanctuary stood tall, at least 17 ft. or so, for a record of 16 years it has permeated through thick and thin, heavy thunderstorms and sunny days, it has seen all calibre of individual enter and fall out till the once brightly coloured brown paint off it started to fade, with hazy glasses of windows marked with long lines of cracks and an old vintage door that fenced in a desert, the sanctuary where Thomas Schuler was born couldn’t look any more grander”


A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two totally unrelated subjects with similarities. The distinction is not simple. The metaphor makes a qualitative rise from a reasonable, perhaps straightforward comparison to an identification or fusion of two objects to make one different object partake in the characteristics of both.  Is this understandable?

To break it down further, a metaphor pronounces one object that is totally unrelated to a given direction but shares in similitude with the intended, as the intended. This, of course, sounds more like an analogy or simile but the difference between the three is that

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two different things, “Hercules is a beast on the battlefield” here, Hercules a human, is been compared to a beast which is clearly an

Unidentified animals because, in light of their attributes it is possible that they share similar aggression when it comes down to combat and survival.

An Analogy is the comparison of two things with similarities and differences; the comparison is used as a form of explanation with one using both similarities to explain the other “waking Jonathan up from slumber is like tapping a log of wood; you don’t usually expect him to respond”  and then a simile makes a comparison between two different things to propagate a dramatic effect, it can be easily noticed because it makes use of words like “like”, “as rather”, “as” to make a direct comparison, “Julius is as cold-hearted as the devil”

Here are more examples of a metaphor can be seen in Gbemisola Adeoti’s poem Ambush where he creates a figurative dimension by comparing the entire poem to the current situation in Nigerian society, the name ambush doesn’t necessarily connote the original lie and wait but rather denotes the measures of those wielding power which knowingly or unknowingly constitutes an obstacle to deter an individual from dream realizations.


There are 4 types of metaphors which are;

Standard: this is the typical one that compares two things by saying one is the other, this is the type we have been made abreast with right from the onset an example of such is a line from Gbemisola’s poem which reads “the land is a saber-toothed tiger” which we believe will devour the likes of any who treads on its domain

Visual: this type of metaphor makes comparisons suggesting something to being in association with an image, take for example the advertisement of red bull soda or power horse drink, they legit would portray the individual taking it to possess the ability of the animal liken him/her to having the strength, speed, and agility of a horse.

Implied: this type of metaphor makes a comparison between two things without mentioning the other for example “he tweeted violently at her” here “he” is compared to a bird without actually revealing the bird in words.

Extended: This is a type of metaphor that transcends over the course of multiple lines, stanza, paragraphs it can, in fact, be the entire write up an example of this is Emily dickens poem “hope” she adopts the entire poem and likens  hope to a bird, a line reads “Hope iS the thing with feathers .”


A simile makes a comparison between two different things to propagate a dramatic effect, and it can be easily noticed because it makes use of words like “like”, “as ” to make a direct comparison. This happens to be the easiest and most straightforward way used in describe something.  the use of this can be spotted in Birago Diop’s  piano and drum where he states in the first five lines of the poem

“When at break of day at a riverside

I hear jungle drums telegraphing

The mystic rhythm, urgent, raw

Like bleeding flesh, speaking of

Primal youth and the beginning”

The use of “LIKE” in line four makes a comparison between a drum and bleeding flesh, of course, more interpretation on this for the idea of what a simile is to be fully grasped the said poem discovers a dilemma through which he struggles to figure out which is more preferable to him among the European and African culture which are both represented by a piano and a drum respectively. He likens the metaphoric drum to a bleeding flesh, in likeness it is pure and a composition of him. Furthermore, there are other examples of simile that can be utilized, individually you can formulate yours there are no absolute types all that is required is to involve “like” “as” or “as rather” as a conjunction between the two entities you are comparing.

“Samson is as strong as a lion”


The idea of this can be easily ciphered, it is the representation of inanimate objects and abstracts ideas with the qualities and human characteristics of living things as if they were a person. This likewise imagery are very potent elements that aides in the description, every writer adopts the use of this to make their work relatable in the eye of readers, after all, that’s what it is all about, making it so understandable that it transports readers to the scene of action  an example of this can be seen as;

“as rowdy as nature had become she heaved a little, inflating her lungs and likewise collapsing it, emptying it of its content and a violent wind rocked the very anchored foundation of North Easter, the sea became tumultuous with anger did it toss the boat from one end to another, mother nature was pissed, she was bent on overthrowing their ship, it was evident Paul wasn’t falsifying his visions.”

From the excerpt above, we see that nature has been attributed to the lungs of a human; we find out that the image painted with words is one that endows nature with the respiratory ability of a human and that in its full essence, is what the idea of personification entails.


This is the use of meticulously planned sentences and wordings to exaggerate claims, points of references, and other statements, this, of course, are usually false and are not meant to be taken literally; relatively, the purpose of this is to emphasize meaning, a purpose, impression, and expressions on deeper grounds. E.g. we can see in the Popular Disney family animated movie “the lion king” where Simba voiced out his peckish condition to Timo

and Pumba saying “I can eat a whole zebra” which is clearly impossible owning to how little he was and how unimaginable it is for even a full-grown lion to consume an adult-sized zebra alone. Clearly, that was a use of hyperbole to emphasize his hunger-stricken condition.


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