Literary Techniques are the techniques that composers use in their written texts to help convey or heighten meaning. Rather than writing in plain language, composers give more emphasis to their ideas by utilising literary techniques to make them stand out.
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Below is a list of the most common literary techniques used in texts (the techniques highlighted in red are clickable links that take you to expanded definitions and step-by-step tutorials on analysis):
|Allegory||Story with a double meaning: one primary (on the surface) and one secondary.|
|Allusion||A subtle or indirect reference to another thing, text, historical period, or religious belief.|
|Alliteration||Repetition of consonants at the start of words or in a sentence or phrase.|
|Cliché||An over-used, common expression.|
|Consonance||Repetition of consonants throughout a sentence or phrase.|
|Contrast||Paradox, antithesis, oxymoron, juxtaposition, contrast in description etc.|
|Didactic||Any text that instructs the reader or is obviously delivering a moral message.|
|Disjunction||A conjunction (e.g. ‘but’ or ‘yet’) that dramatically interrupts the rhythm of the sentence.|
|Ellipsis||A dramatic pause (…) creates tension or suggests words can’t be spoken.|
|Emotive language||Words that stir the readers’ emotions.|
|Enjambment||A poetic technique, when a sentence or phrase runs over more than one line (or stanza). This assists the flow of a poem.|
|Euphemism||Mild expression used to replace a harsh one.|
|Exclamation||Exclamatory sentence ending in “!” to convey high emotion.|
|Form||Purpose and features of a text influence its construction and will suggest its structure.|
|Figurative language & sound devices||metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, simile, personification, assonance, alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, etc. These devices have a powerful impact as they work on our senses to strengthen the subject matter of the text.|
|Fractured/truncated sentences||Incomplete sentences used to increase tension or urgency, or reflect the way people speak to each other.|
|Gaps & silences||What is not said; whose voice isn’t heard and whose voice dominates?|
|Humour||Incongruity, parody, satire, exaggeration, irony, puns etc. used to lighten the overall tone.|
|Icons||A single person, object or image that represents complex ideas and feelings.|
|Imagery||Vivid pictures created by words. Reader visualises character/setting clearly.|
|Imperative Voice||Forceful use of the verb at the start of sentence or phrase.|
|Intertextuality||A text makes a reference to other texts, may be explicit, implied or inferred.|
|Irony||Gap between what is said and what is meant.|
|Juxtaposition||Layering images/scenes to have a dramatic impact.|
|Level of usage of language||Slang, colloquial, informal or formal.|
|Linear||Sequential – in chronological order.|
|Metaphor||Comparison of 2 objects where one becomes another – adds further layers of meaning about object being compared.|
|Modality||The force the words are delivered at. High modality = forceful. Low modality = gentle.|
|Non-linear||Non-sequential narrative, events do not occur in chronological order|
|Onomatopoeia||A word that echoes the sound it represents. Reader hears what is happening.|
|Parody||Conscious imitation for a satiric purpose.|
|Person||First, second or third person.First person refers to the speaker himself or a group that includes the speaker (i.e., I, me, we and us).Second person refers to the speaker’s audience (i.e., you).Third person refers to everybody else (e.g., he, him, she, her, it, they, them), including all other nouns (e.g. James, Swedish, fish, mice).|
|Personification||Human characteristic given to a non-human object. Inanimate objects take on a life.|
|perspective||A particular way of looking at individuals, issues, events, texts, facts etc.|
|Plosive consonants||Harsh sounds in a sentence or phrase.|
|Repetition||Of words or syntax (order of words) for emphasis or persuasion.|
|Representation||How a composer conveys meaning through textual features.|
|Satire||Composition which ridicules in a scornful & humorous way.|
|Setting||Location of a story – internal and external.|
|Sibilance||Repetition of ‘s’ – can sounds melodious and sweet or cold and icy.|
|Simile||Comparison of 2 objects using ‘like’ or ‘as’.|
|Symbolism||When an object represents one or more (often complex) ideas.|
|Syntax – sentence structure||Short, simple sentences or truncated sentences create tension, haste or urgency; compound or complex sentences are slower, often feature in formal texts.|
|Tense||Present, past, future (events are predicted).|
|Theme||Message or moral of a story – makes us ponder bigger issues in life.|
|Tone||The way composer or character feels – conveyed by word choice.|
|Word choice or Diction||Emotive, forceful, factual, descriptive, blunt, graphic, disturbing, informative etc. E.g. use of forceful verbs ‘insist’ & ‘demand’ can be very persuasive.|
If you want to take your analysis further and expand your awareness of literary techniques, read the article: Literary Techniques Part 2: How to Analyse Poetry and Prose to learn how to analyse literary techniques in poetry and prose with reference to all the major techniques.
When you write an essay identifying the techniques used by a composer, you need to explain how that technique is creating meaning in the text. This process is called literary analysis, and is an important skill that Matrix English students are taught in the Matrix English courses. Great marks in essays are earned through detailed analysis of your texts and not merely listing examples and techniques.
Want to take your textual analysis to the next level?
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So you are a writer . . . and sometimes when you are on your game, the words flow freely as if a dam just broke. Then there are other times when you cannot write. Call it writer’s block, call it lack of inspiration, call it whatever you want but the bottom line is that you are not writing. Maybe a different approach to writing will help you break free from that dreaded writer’s block. You are not alone—there are dozens of famous writers who were stuck and here are some techniques from the pros. Try one, or try them all because in the end what matters most is if you write— the more you write, a better writer you will become. And one day, other inspiring writers could learn from your techniques.
Keep a Journal
This is your place where you can be you and you can write whatever you want. This is the place where you try out new things, say outrageous things and just be comfortable with the physical act of writing. And when you are stuck, just write what comes to mind—sometimes a block is just because you have nothing to write. Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, said, “You need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair.” Tara Moss shares this same sentiment about writing with freedom and to be wary of “writing rules and advice.”
How can daily quotas help you be a better writer? It taps into your innate ability to set small goals and accomplish those goals. For instance, you want to write novel, you may want to shoot for at 1500 words a day. Stephen King has a quota for 2000 words a day and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 3,000 words a day. Word quotas can help you stay motivated to keep writing. Remember the more you write, the easier the writing will become.
Write Standing or Laying
Writing got you down; do you find yourself not focusing while sitting at your computer or desk? Why not try Hemingway’s approach—he wrote all his novels while standing. Or you can be like Truman Capote, who wrote laying down. If you are used to doing one thing then changing the physicality of how you write may spark those creative juices. This could also work, if you are always too distracted by the internet, try writing in long hand like many authors did back in the past.
Read and then Read Some More
Many famous writers are well read. Stephen King always makes time to read. Why read when you want to be a writer? Simple, you learn the nuances of good or bad writing when reading another’s work. If you want to be a writer, make the time to be a reader.
Just going for a walk can help open your creative flood gate. Philip Roth walks a mile for every page that he writes. Now this may not be possible for you, just try going for a hike or walk near your house. If you have a dog, he will enjoy an extra walk.
Make an Office
Ever notice when you are at work, you are productive and get the things done that you need to get done? With writing, you may need to make your private office. It could be a shed with a light and desk, or you could rent space from an office—whatever it is to make it your own writing space. Phillip Roth also had a separate office for his writing life. Sometimes having fewer distractions from the outside world makes you a better writer.
What time is Writing Time
When you do write? Are you a night owl, or an early bird? Some writers swear by writing at a certain time. Ernest Hemingway wrote in the morning before the heat of the day started to rise. Joyce Carol Oats also writes primarily in the morning. What time are you most productive at writing? If you are not sure, then maybe write at different times and see what works the best for you. Remember, what work for you at this point in time may not work in the future. Try to always be flexible when it comes to writing time, but not too flexible—you don’t want to get off track completely.
Hopefully, you take something away from the professionals. Maybe after trying some of their techniques, will help you become a more productive and hopefully successful writer.