Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's in a Word...or your story

I am the proud recipient of two awards. I received the Stylish Blogger Award from LM Preston. I’ll reciprocate this award on Thursday of this week. Thanks LM, you’re great!!!

Next, I received the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award from LisaAnn at Kicked, Cornered, Bitten, and Chased (Isn’t that name totally cool). I’ll reciprocate this award on Friday of this week. Thanks, LisaAnn you’re totally awesome!!!

I hadn’t posted any substantial writing tips, so I thought I’d post something today. I thought about the Literary Devices we could employ as writers to ensure our audience’s full attention would be on our book.

What is a literary device? A literary device is a method of story telling that expresses ideas through language and can be analyzed or interpreted. Simply put, it is the manner in which writers tell the story. You probably use some of these techniques in your own manuscripts but didn’t know the technical terms for them:

Cliffhanger - The story/chapter ends unresolved. This device is used to keep the reader reading. Example: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Witch and Wizard by James Patterson are great examples of this device at work. Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger.

Foreshadowing - To give the reader a sense of things to come. Example: You hint at a past love or a thought of a past love right when the MC’s boyfriend proposes to her. The reader automatically thinks that there might be a connection or that she still has feelings for this other mystery guy. Later at a crucial time in the story, you introduce this guy and wham – instant tension.

Hyperbole – this device is used in poetry but can be used to sprinkle your dialogue with. Not too much though, it can weigh the MS. It is exaggeration and not to be taken literally. Example: My stomach had started eating my surrounding organs I was so hungry. (Bad example, but you get it, right.)

Narrative hook – The elusive “hook” we hear so much about. It is the opening sentence of your MS and must grab the reader’s attention and make it impossible for them to put down your book. Example: (this is from my MS) If the Twilight Zone was a place, then I was there.

Plot Twist – this is an unexpected shift in what happens in the story. No *dues ex machina here, though. The twist must make sense and be apart of the logical clues and points left throughout the plot. Example: The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis had a great plot twist. If you hadn’t seen the movie, shame on you. Go rent it and you will understand what I mean. There are a number of clues that led up to the conclusion and it made total sense but we were so enthralled with the main plot that we forgot everything else. This is genius if pulled off correctly.

Ticking clock scenario – This device has to do with pacing. You up the stakes for your protagonist by making him/her have to accomplish the goal (they must have some goal/desire for a compelling read) within a specified amount of time. This device can be employed throughout the story or in a particular scene. Example: Nick of Time (movie) with Johnny Depp or Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyers

Irony – this device presents a difference in what is expected and what actually occurs. Situational irony is where a discrepancy between what is expected and what is actualized occurs, Example – Your MC has a lifelong fear of flying at night. So he/she avoids the red eye flights at all cost, but is in a plane crash on his/her noon flight. Dramatic irony occurs when a character is unaware of important information already revealed to the audience Example – Horror films are great for this one. We know Michael Myers is behind the MC and we wish we could scream for her/him to run. The MC however is not aware of him lurking behind, waiting to spring. (This is also a third person point of view device. First person perspectives couldn’t do this, as the MC is the head you’re in – unless this was done to a secondary character) Lastly, Verbal Irony is irony in dialogue. It’s when someone says one thing but mean another. (No explanation necessary, right)

Setting – a richly imagined setting can act as a third character. And setting does not simply mean where the story takes place. It is the car the MC drives, the bed that they sleep in, the period of time the story takes places…Examples – The Hunger Games and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling are great examples of richly drawn settings.

There are more, many more devices. Can you think of more? Did I get a detail wrong? Leave a comment.

Have a great day. Read a book and laugh!!!!

***deus ex machina - is a literary device that is evidence of weak writing. It is when the story/controversy/plot is resolved by some random act not associated with the story. Example: The villain has beaten the protagonist and an act of God rescues the protag - yeah this sucks and is a clear sign of a weak plot and writing. Don't do this!!!


  1. Great explanations! I love cliffhangers and foreshadowing. I'm also a huge fan of fast paced books.

  2. All good tips. I often tell my students to add a "ticking clock" to raise the stakes.

  3. Thanks Kelly. I am an adrenaline junkie and love fast paced stories.

    Thanks, Catherine.

  4. ahhh very good tips - thanks for the great post

  5. Thanks for the tips Dawn!! Great advice!

  6. Thanks, Michelle.

    Thanks, Adrian.

  7. Awesome reminders! And congrats on your awards. I'm hopping by, late from the laughter blogfest. But I think I've seen you around YALit too. Nice to meet you! :)

  8. Nice to have all of these gathered into one place. Thanks.

  9. PK, yes I am on YALit too. Nice to meet ya!!! Thanks for commenting.

    C.Lee, your welcome. LOL Thanks for commenting.


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