Friday, April 6, 2012

Writing about Literary Tools and Devices

Paper 1 – Unseen Commentary: Students often seem to overlook literary devices almost entirely. This is a course in literature, people. You’re writing a literary commentary. How could you not mention literary devices?

Here are some literary devices that you can find in pretty much any extract:

Narrator – easy-peasy. Who is narrating? Usually not the poet or author.  First, second, or third-person, an all-seeing narrator (who can see things from different characters’ points of view) is referred to as an omniscient narrator. If the narrator is not omniscient, then he/she/it could be treated as a character. Eg: In “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” the narrator is second-person, probably a child, who is looking at a star at bedtime. Who is the narrator talking to? Well, the star! What is the effect? Perhaps the reader can relate by remembering how he/she felt while stargazing as a child.

Mood, tone, atmosphere – What kind of feeling is built in the extract? How? Probably through words and sentence structure. Does it change or shift? Effect? Eg: In this paragraph from  "Bag of Bones" by Stephen King, the author builds a tense atmosphere:
                Jo left the register, walked out into the bright, hammering sun again, swapping her regular glasses for her prescription sunglasses as she did, and just as she stepped from beneath the drugstore's slight overhang (I am imagining a little here, I suppose, crossing over into the country of the novelist a little, but not by much; only by inches, and you can trust me on that), there was that shrewish howl of locked tires on pavement that means there's going to be either an accident or a very close call. 
I highlighted the words and phrases that add to the tension in this paragraph. King also builds suspense through his use of an aside (the comment in parenthesis, which causes the reader to pause on their way to finding out what the heck happened just as she stepped from beneath the overhang), and a long complex sentence with lots of modifiers, leading up to the point, which is stated last, and even still leaves the reader anticipating what happened next.

Structure, form – In poetry, comment on line lengths, stanzas, patterns, rhythm, rhyme, or lack of. What is the effect? Probably it adds to the meaning of poem in some way. In prose, comment on types of sentences used, and punctuation, paragraphs (short or long), whether the extract includes dialogue... and of course the effect. How do these add to the mood, atmosphere, character development, voice (narrator’s), plot development... what does the structure of the passage tell the reader about the whole piece?

The following are some typical literary devices that you can find in many poems and prose, with illustrations to, well, illustrate:

Metaphor – compares two unlike things or ideas by saying that one is the other.
Extended metaphor – a literary work that is entirely metaphorical.

Symbolism – What does your nail polish colour say about you? Remember, poets and authors love symbolism. You should be able to find at least one example of symbolism in your extract.

Imagery – creates an image in your mind; puts you there (in the work... like magic.) Look at specific words/ phrases used to create imagery. These are the different types of imagery you might come across, illustrated with photos from when we went to the Calgary Scampede last summer:
                Visual - lets you see: colourful awnings, bright, sunny, crowds of visitors,games: 

                Aural - lets you hear: twangy guitars, beefy bass, two-stepping tune

                Tactile or Kinaesthetic - lets you feel: stomach-lurching backwards spin

                Olfactory - lets you smell: rich floral perfume wafting

                Gustatory - lets you taste: warm, doughy, sugar-crunch

Here's a fun activity you can do to practice with imagery. Find five objects. Write a paragraph to describe each, focusing on a different type of imagery from above in each paragraph, but without actually saying what each object is. Give your paragraphs to a friend to read. Could your friend figure out what you were writing about? Yes? Then you used effective imagery!

Thanks for reading... learn more about my inner nerd at my website:


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