What is meant by "literary techniques"? Please provide examples.

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary techniques or devices are used by writers to add interest and drama to their work. They express meaning and give depth to what could otherwise be ordinary events and occurrences. Unfortunately, sometimes they overcomplicate literature for those who do not understand them and many students never finish reading classic pieces of literature, novels and poems because they cannot decipher the writer's meaning.

Easily recognizable techniques are simile and metaphor where the intention is to compare

John Donne's Twickenham Garden:

And take my tears, which are love’s wine

is an example of a metaphor. Note the two unlike things that are being compared directly. Tears ARE "love's wine." A simile is also a comparison but is recognizable by the use of the words like or as; for example,

running like a bat out of hell

Alliteration is another easily spotted literary technique used to increase the pace of the writing or emphasize what is being referred to. The first letter of each word in a sequence, or words that follow each other closely although not necessarily consecutively, is repeated.  In A Midsummer Night's Dream alliteration is used

 bravely broached his boiling bloody breast. (V,i:155 – 156)

There are many techniques and some are fairly complex. Foreshadowing, irony and allusion are commonly used but as you have not mentioned which novel, it may confuse rather than clarify the use of these techniques.

Refer to the eNotes study guides which will help you understand the different techniques and when they are used to best advantage.  


chrisyhsun | Student

Overall, literary techniques are recognized tools authors use in their writing to deliver their messages. They add voice to literary works and allow the author to be more expressive to better share their thoughts, ideas, and world with readers. While some passages may be more nuanced and be up for debate as to what particular "literary technique" they fall under, others are very clear whether in their word choices or their subjects. Some examples of more clear-cut literary techniques include:

  • Simile - a comparison of two objects using the words "like" or "as". An example of this is "His eyes were as big as saucers". Here, the size of his eyes are being compared to the size of saucers and the sentence uses the word "as" when making this comparison.
  • Metaphor - a comparison of two objects (like a simile) but without the use of either "like" or "as". An example of a metaphor is "His legs were twigs", since the sentence says his legs are as skinny as twigs yet doesn't use the same word choice as a simile would.
  • Personification - giving human-like characteristics to inanimate objects. This gives authors the opportunity to better describe what they mean by relating the action to something a human would do, which is much easier to understand by readers. An example of this technique is "The wind whispered in the dark forest".