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5 Fun Literary Devices You Should Play With Today

Five colored playing pieces

A healthy arsenal of literary devices is something a writer can’t be without. This isn’t only because certain elements are necessary for standard storytelling, but also because switching up your technique enriches the experience.

From tension to humor, confusion, sadness, and even outright fear, employment of literary devices is what turns plain, matter-of-fact writing into the involving narrative that fiction readers expect.

As the writer, it’s only fair you get to enjoy yourself while you work – so in that spirit, today we’re taking a look at five fun literary devices (across style, perspective, and plotting) that you should have a play with today. Try employing them in your next story, or even as a quick exercise.

You never know – having a bit of a play might set you down the path of your next great piece.

Give them a try, create your own examples and drop them in the comments!

 

1. Unreliable Narrator

A favorite of the mystery and horror genres, this is when the narrator of the story is found be misleading the reader – either through bias, intentional or unintentional insincerity, or even outright malevolence.

Used correctly, this device can masterfully twist and turn the reader’s expectations, creating a compelling narrative that leads to slam-bang revelations when the truth is revealed.

You’ll see this often in film as well as literature – usually when the story is revealed to have taken place in the protagonist’s mind, or through the lens of mental impairment.

 

2. Anacoluthon

Anacoluthon is the act of shifting abruptly from one sentence to another in a manner that is unexpected and/or doesn’t directly follow the preceding statement, leading to a syntactical break.

Whilst this device has a huge range of possible uses, it’s often seen adding humorous effect, especially when indicating sudden distraction or flippancy, for example: What? I don’t have a problem keeping attention at—oh, look, a squirrel!

 

3. Eucatastrophe

A term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien, Eucatastrophe refers to the story device wherein something perceived to be a catastrophic event actually proves to be beneficial to the protagonist.

Going back to the source, a prime example would be the confrontation between Frodo and Gollum at Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. Gollum seizes the ring, an event that appears to signal a dire turn for the story… but then you likely know what happens from there.

Eucatastrophe can be used to create incredibly tense and exciting story climaxes – but it does take some careful tempering to ensure the reader doesn’t feel cheated by an overly convenient resolution.

 

4. Bathos

A term coined by Alexander Pope, bathos pokes fun at attempts to spur emotion (pathos) that fall flat due to poor payoff.

The term itself does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional bathos. Intentional use of the device is highly effective in satire and absurdist humor, where a topic may be approached in a grand or highly evocative manner – only to suddenly switch to a more mundane or vulgar comment.

For an almost constant stream of intentional bathos, just sit down and watch the various works of the Monty Python team, or enduring television phenomenon The Simpsons.

On the unintentional side of things, bathos is the effect felt when a narrative swings between deadly serious, intellectual rumination and ill-fitting everyday topics, to the degree that it becomes unintentionally funny – highlighting the serious elements as forced or melodramatic. This was, in fact, Pope’s original intention when he coined the term – to criticize the overly sentimental poets and authors of his time.

Example: There he goes; the greatest hero of our time. A man above men, the epitome of the infallible will to which we should all aspire: The DMV desk clerk.

 

5. Frame Story

This one has nothing to do with bank robberies or murder mysteries (not directly, anyway), but makes for a highly involving thread you can run through any collection of shorter tales.

Simply put, the frame story acts as a companion piece to the central narrative(s), often dipping the reader in and out to increase/decrease tension, expand upon thematic elements, or simply branch between disparate threads or stories.

A staple of the anthology filmmaking style, you’ll often see frame stories presented as campfire tales or the contents of a storybook being read by a central character, whose interaction with the frame’s protagonist doubles as interaction with the reader without directly breaking the fourth wall.

The Canterbury Tales, One Thousand and One Nights and The Decameron all make use of the frame story device.

The next time you’re putting together a short story collection, why not try adding a frame story – with its own specific payoff – to the mix?

 


What are your favorite devices to play with? Can you come up with a few original examples of your own? Leave them in the comments and let’s have some fun!

 

Join the Discussion on “5 Fun Literary Devices You Should Play With Today”

  1. Lauren Napa says:

    The ‘Unreliable Narrator’ did it for me! I intend to weave that into my story today. Tantalizing!!

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Tantalizing it is, Lauren! Immediately sets your mind racing with all kinds of nefarious tricks…

  2. Bev Hanna says:

    My favourite frame story is The Princess Bride, in which the entire tale is narrated to a bedridden young boy by his grandfather. It allows for all kinds of cliffhangers and commentary outside of the actual story, while keeping the reader as involved as the child.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      One of the all-time classics, there, Bev. Wonder if anyone has ever read this book (or seen the film) and NOT loved it?!

  3. Chris says:

    One of my favourite devices is using multiple plot lines, some of which turn out to be red herrings, though characters involved in these threads may still contribute to the plot line that becomes the climax of the story, even by simple comment or conversations they may have with each other – for example, one character in the sub plot may reveal expertise that becomes relevant later to another thread. He may turn out to be nothing more than a supplier or a contact of one of the ‘bad guys’ in the thread that becomes the main plot, but he’s necessary nonetheless.
    Another device I love using is the recurring oddball character and location that pops up throughout the story, but appears to not have anything to do with the main plot, but doesn’t appear to have a plot line of their own. They simply appear every now and then, going about what looks like their normal life, but within their scenes are clues for the reader which will become apparent later on as the other threads come together for the climax. – For example: A character called Ibrahim appears in chapter one of my novel ‘Transactions’ for a couple of scenes. He’s in Nouakchott (Mauritania)… not even on the same continent, let alone the same country, as the story’s apparent setting. Through the plot, the reader may have varied ideas about what he was loading into his battered pick-up truck, if they remember him at all, but they won’t be certain till later. He reappears towards the end of the book in an minor role, where a little more is revealed, but in actual fact, he is incidental, and has nothing to do with the final fatal scene in the book itself (though he does get a mention in the epilogue). However, he along with others elsewhere, does serve to show how wide ranging the influence of the ‘bad guys’ really is.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Thank you very much for sharing, Chris. Great strategies.

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