Students and teachers need to analyze, understand, discuss, and explore the craft, style, and structures of literature at deepest levels. Most literary analysis presented or represented in basal reading programs today is superficial. Readers have always needed to dive deeper into the five elements of plot, literary themes, inferential language, and authors point of view. Today, if you want students to go beyond the basics of surface reading or skimming they need to develop their literary analysis skills; the skill, ability and background knowledge to identify and use literary devices, literary techniques, and literary elements.
Within literature, there are various techniques, devices, and elements we all use or experience on a day-to-day basis when we read or write. For example, authors will obtain the attention of the reader with certain writing techniques while relying on the themes to keep the attention afterwards. However, there is actually a difference between devices, techniques, and elements. As we continue our journey to better understand the language and how it is made up, we can see the definitions of the three down below;
Literary Elements - Essentially, this term describes certain characteristics within a piece of text. Instead of being used, they simply exist in texts such as a theme of a story. In every story, there will always be a theme, conflict, setting, and the piece will be written from a certain perspective. Although we can’t write these things directly, they are very much a by-product of what we do. Often, it is the literary elements that are discussed most for a piece of text.
Literary Techniques - On the other hand, this term describes the meaning that comes from deliberate constructions of the language. With literary techniques, these are like weapons authors can use at any time when writing whether it is a phrase or just one word. In addition to this, they also have another difference to elements in that they aren't always visible in every passage of text. Since they are actively inserted by the writer, they aren't always present.
Literary Devices - Thirdly, we have literary devices which is a particular section of work we can recognize and then analyze thereafter. In truth, this has a mixture of the two above but falls more closely on the side of techniques because they can be entered into text actively for the reader to then analyze.
Before we head any further, we should point out that ‘literary terms’ are the actual words used in the techniques and elements we discussed previously. While the ‘technique’ might cover a whole phrase or section of writing, the literary term will be the word/s used in this writing.
Today, we are going to bring you some of the main combinations and differences that often leave people confused. As an example, are you aware of the differences between an epilogue and a prologue? If you are, well done but stay tuned for many more like this to see the tools that authors have at their disposal. As you will see, we have separated them into sections depending on whether it discusses how the text is formed or details within text itself.
General Writing Structures
In this first section, we have comparisons of a general nature with writing. Rather than delving into the writing itself, we will compare and contrast what makes up a story or nonfiction work.
Nonfiction v Fiction - Let’s start with an easy one! With fiction, this is any piece of writing coming purely from the imagination so it could cover science fiction, fantasy books, romance, thrillers, and any other with no ounce of reality or truth. With nonfiction, this is based on fact and could be a detailed guide to butterflies or the wars throughout time.
Fairy tale v Folktale - Leading on from the previous point, fairy tales are often based around magical and mythical creatures such as witches, dragons, and unicorns. On the flip side, folktale is based around a truth or real-life phenomenon; they are both instructive.
The Crystal Ball (fairy tale)
A sorceress was afraid of her three sons. She turned the oldest into an eagle and the second into a whale, and each could take his human form for only two hours a day. The youngest son fled before he could suffer the same fate and went off to seek the king's daughter, bewitched and held prisoner in the Castle of the Golden Sun. He saw two giants quarreling over a wishing cap and they asked him to settle the dispute. He put on the cap, forgot he had it on, and wished himself to the castle.
The king's daughter told him that only a crystal ball would break the enchantment. She directed him to go down the mountain and fight a wild bull beside a spring. If he killed it, a bird would spring out of it. If the bird was forced to let free an egg in its body, the crystal ball was its yolk, but the egg would light everything about it on fire if dropped on the land.
He fought the bull. The bird sprang free, but his brother the eagle harried it until it dropped the egg. This landed on a fisherman's hut, setting it ablaze, but his brother the whale drowned the hut with waves. The youngest brother took the crystal ball to the enchanter, who admitted himself defeated and told him that the ball would also break the spell on his brothers. The youngest hurried to the princess, and they exchanged rings.
Prologue v Epilogue - Essentially, these are actually opposites with one coming before the bulk of the story and the other after. A prologue is an introduction to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, most often an earlier story that ties into the main one. If you look at the prefixes meaning ‘pro’ and ‘epi,' we see that the former is before the story while the latter appears at the end to tell the audience what happens to the characters or historical figures. An epilogue is different from an afterword. An afterword is a literary device that is found at the end of a piece of literature. It usually covers how the book or story was developed, or the inceptions of the characters, plot, themes, idea or source texts for the book.
Perspective v Point of View - Surprisingly, these two do have their differences and it can be a tricky topic. With point of view, the focus is on who is telling the story. In a work of fiction, you will often get first and third person writing (rarely with second person too). In terms of perspective, it looks into the background of the person telling the story and from what position they are talking.
Antagonist v Protagonist - As you may know, these terms describe characters, concepts, or groups of people in a story. For the good person and main character in the story, this will normally be the protagonist and the antagonist will be the opposition. Typically, the antagonist will oppose the protagonist.
Plot v Theme - With the plot, this will be the subject of a story and the meaning according to the author. On the other hand, a theme will be the noticeable recurring topic/s running through the text.
Resolution v Exposition - In every story, there will be a climax and everything preceding this helps to build anticipation. Ultimately, the exposition is an introduction and the starting point of the building; the resolution is after the climax where the antagonist and protagonist normally meet.
Mood v Tone - When reading a story, you sometimes get a feeling or some emotions and this explains the mood of the text. With tone, this is things the author chooses such as theme, word choice, setting, plot, etc.
Character Traits v Characterization - When you read a fictional story and notice the actions or behaviors of a character, these are the traits they portray. Sometimes, it could even be their attitude and personality. With each character, they will have both good and bad traits and this is what normally makes them so likeable or frustrating to the reader.
With characterization, this is the process of revealing the character’s personality through writing. With direct characterization, the author will tell the reader something about the character’s personality and indirect characterization comes through actions and various other tools.
Legend v Myth - Over time, these two words seem to be used interchangeably more and more but this shouldn't be the case. With a ‘legend’, you start with a story that is partly true. Eventually, it gets passed from one person to the next and it has meaning. Normally, there will always be an element of truth somewhere whereas a myth is purely speculation and doesn’t offer much in the way of truth at all.
Fable v Parable - In a parable, a religious or moral lesson will be shown in a prose or verse story. In fables, this is very different because they tend to rely upon plants, animals, and even inanimate objects to tell the story.
Parody v Satire - When the author uses humor, exaggeration, and perhaps even ridicule or irony to expose someone or something, this is known as satire. Not to be confused with parody, the latter can be a form of satire but it focuses more on mocking the style or personality of another. Most commonly, we see this with artists, musicians, and various other celebrities from impressionists.
With the general topics covered, we are now going to look into things that may appear within the writing itself starting with another fairly easy comparison.
Rhythm v Rhyme - When you are rhyming, you follow the first word with other similar-sounding words. Commonly, this is seen within poetry at the end of each line; i.e. bark, shark, and park. With rhythm, this is similar to the beats in a rhyme. When reading a poem, we normally fall into a rhythm subconsciously and this is down to the amount of syllables in a single line.
Stereotype v Archetype - A stereotype is having a belief or opinion about a whole group of society rather than judging them individually. Often, this is a prejudice based on a common theme or perhaps even a not-so-common theme. However, a stereotype doesn’t always have to be negative which is a common misconception today. On the other hand, discrimination can lead from stereotyping and this denies the rights of someone just because they belong in a particular group.
With archetype, this is actually an original pattern; from here, the copies or a prototype is then made. In writing, the author may suggest an ‘old-style diner’ since the original pattern has already been developed. Despite this realization or recognition, there is no judgement or stereotyping thereafter which is the important difference.
Irony v Paradox - When a writer uses a paradox, it is the bringing together of two seemingly opposite themes. Although both sides of the statement are true, they don’t quite fit together and prime examples of a paradox would be ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘bittersweet’. With irony, this is where the evident meaning is incongruous with the intended meaning.
Adage v Maxim - If an adage describes the general rule of conduct, this is seen as a maxim. However, the adage itself is perhaps an old saying or expression; for example, ‘you know the old adage…’.
Aphorism v Anecdote - While an anecdote explains a short story from a real incident or experience (relating to the topic of conversation in a written work) usually an amusing or interesting story about a poignant indecent, an aphorism portrays a concept or thought. Aphorisms are a laconic (few words) saying, expressing a simple truth or principle, it can also be an astute (accurately assess situations) observation.
Hyperbole v Tall Tales - With tall tales, they are somewhat hard to believe stories about folk heroes or legends that once existed. Over time, the story is told over and over again until certain stems become twisted or exaggerated. Normally, hyperbole's are the emphasized points themselves; for example, I could eat a horse I’m so hungry.
Literal v Rhetorical - With a rhetorical question, it doesn’t necessarily require an answer but it can be a technique used to start a conversation. Just as it suggests, literal means the art of saying exactly what you mean, no hidden meaning or "inferential reasoning" needed. When your teacher ask you, is this really your best work? That is a rhetorical question.
Symbolism v Imagery - In a story, the writer describes factors using the five senses and this is called ‘imagery’. In terms of symbolism, this is finding meaning in another abstract idea such as an animal, season, object, or even a season.
Allegory v Allusion - Often found in poetry, allegory is the act of providing two meanings. While the first is obvious and the main theme, the second is deeper and sometimes not found at all. Relying on the knowledge of the reader, an allusion assumes that the reference is known by the reader (i.e. they allude/hint at something).
Foreshadowing v Flashback - Hopefully, this is easy to decipher since foreshadowing suggests something that will occur later in the story, it is usually an ominous warning of future events to raise tension, suspense, or mystery in the story. A flashback is an interjected scene taking you back in time to make the plot more complex or to clarify a characters actions or thoughts.
Assonance v Alliteration - While alliteration is a sequence of words all beginning with the same letter, assonance looks at the same vowel sound repeated in the same way.
Hyperbole v Personification - Finally, neither of these are literal but personification gives an inanimate object human-like qualities; e.g. the ocean sighed. As we saw earlier, a hyperbole exaggerates a point to add emphasis.
There we have it, your guide to literary elements, techniques, devices, and terms. With this, you should now better understand the writing of famous authors as well as using it in your own writing!