What is really diction, imagery, detail, and figurative language (metaphors, similes, personification,...)? How can I regconize them in stories?I'm working on A&P by John Updike this week and...

What is really diction, imagery, detail, and figurative language (metaphors, similes, personification,...)? How can I regconize them in stories?

I'm working on A&P by John Updike this week and learned these material elements to help form the setting of a story, but I didn't actually understand them (only imagery and diction)... I mean I can understand them in some particular examples, but when the teachers ask me to look for them in another examples or stories, I got stuck for at least an hour, then I have to come home and struggle with it all night... not even to talk about using them to write my own essay. I need to figure out how these elements work in the essay, what they help develop or what effect they do in the essay. Every single piece of advice is appreciated at the moment.

Expert Answers
ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello Paul!

I feel your pain on this, I really do.  English teachers have the best of intentions with these types of assignments but sometimes, if someone is struggling, they can take a lot of the fun out of reading literature.  I hope that you troubles in understanding these "writing tricks" don't turn you off to enjoying a good book!

Most of the time people don't think about how as story is created...we are mostly interested in what it has to say and how entertaining it is.  Things like metaphors work in our brains on a subconscious level a lot of the time and we don't often stop to pick them apart (and that's what makes it hard!)

Let's look at diction: "An author's choice of words. Since words have specific meanings, and since one's choice of words can affect feelings, a writer's choice of words can have great impact in a literary work. The writer, therefore, must choose his words carefully."  That's kind of a general one.  A writer might like to use lots of big words, or stick with smaller ones.  They might be words that are kind of vague or they might be ones that are very specific.  To figure this out, just read a paragraph of something and take a look at the words the writer is using.  Are they short or long, complex or simple?

Let's look at imagery: these are words that are used to activate your 5 senses.  Any time you see a word (or group of words) that makes you smell, taste, feel, or see something clearly you are working with imagery.  These types of words help to give writing a stronger impact.  The one to be most careful of is sight..."the car is blue" is not really imagery, even though it helps you to see the car.  It has to be a bit more "dramatic" than that.

Let's look at metaphors: this is when you refer to one thing as another.  "My sister is a pig."  Or, "Why are you such a crab?"  You are saying one thing (your sister) is another thing with the characteristics you feel your sister has (a pig.)  Look for the key words "is a," "were a" or "are a" when two things are compared.  They are not always there, but they can provide clues if you are hunting.  "You're a tiger!  You can find the metaphors!" (see, that's another way of saying You are a tiger.)

Let's look at similes: this is the same kind of thing as a metaphor, the comparing of two things that seem like they wouldn't be alike, but it uses the words "like" or "as".  Using our examples from the last paragraph, we could say "My sister eats like a pig," or "You act like a crab when you wake up!"  "You're as hungry as a pig!"  "You're as mean as a crab when you wake up!"  To find these, just look for two things being compared and the telltale "like" or "as."

Let's look at personification: that's taking something not human and pretending that it has human qualities. "The sun shined down angrily."  (suns can't be angry.) "When I fell it was like the trees were laughing at me." (trees don't laugh.)  Just look for something non-human that is doing something humans are known to do.

Well, I hope you might have gotten a clue from this explanation.  It sure is long enough.  Don't let these confusing terms turn you off to the fun of reading...it's like looking under the hood of a car to see how it runs.  You can still love cars even if the engine is confusing.