The fiction writer’s choice of “literary techniques” is an important element of fiction. There are many techniques available to the writer, such as allusion, alliteration, allegory. Some popular techniques/devices include symbolism, imagery, and figurative language–such as simile, metaphor, and personification. The writer can use any number of literary techniques to tell his/her story. Unlike the other elements of fiction, which must be part of the story, the fiction writer has a choice about the literary techniques to use. The writer’s choice often depends on the type of genre he/she is writing and personal preference. As well, the writer uses more techniques in a novel than a short story. The writer uses these techniques in his/her writing for the purpose of creating a more interesting, meaningful, authentic, and entertaining story. The following identifies the most common literary techniques that fiction writers use:
- Allegory. The writer creates a story in which the characters and events form a system of symbolic meaning. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is a story in which each animal represents a specific person from the Russian Bolshevik Revolution.
- Symbol. The fiction writer can use a word, object, action, or character in the story to suggest or mean something other than its dictionary or literal meaning. For instance, an owl can represent “wisdom.”
Symbols can be universal or cultural. These types of symbols are known to both the writer and the reader.
The writer can aslo be use contextual symbols. These are created by the writer for the story, and must be discovered by the reader. For instance, a motif is a recurring symbol that is incorporated by the writer into the story to express deep meaning.
As well, a contextual symbol can be an archetype. An archetype is a recurring symbol that embodies some essential aspect of human experience. An archetype can be a theme, symbol, setting, or character. Essentiallly,the archetype is an “original model” or “type” after which other similar things are patterned.For instance, “‘Frankenstein’ , ‘Dracula’ , ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ are archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories. The archetype has a dual nature, in the sense that it has its literal meaning and another meaning, such as wind, sun, fire, water, and the four seasons. Examples of archetypal symbols include the snake, whale, eagle, and vulture. An archetypal theme is the passage from innocence to experience; archetypal characters include the blood brother, rebel, and loving prostitute. There are many others.
- Irony. The writer can use three types of irony. The first is verbal irony. Essentially, the intended meaning of a statement is different from the actual meaning. It is often a form of sarcasm. The second type is situational Irony. It occurs when the expected outcome of an action is different than the actual outcome. The last type is dramatic irony. Essentially,the audience knows more about the character’s situation than the character does.
- Imagery. The writer uses language that appeals to the senses to create “word pictures” in the mind of the reader. The writer can use imagery that appeals to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
Imagery can be figurative or literal. Example: “The war zone looked like the moonscape” is an image that is based on a simile. Figurative imagery is based on figurative language. Literal imagery is the use of concrete and specific language to create vivid images. Example: The boy walked along the muddy, wet, gravel road, as the red maples and crimson birch blew in the cold autumn wind.
Some other popular literary devices include alliteration, foreshadowing, juxtaposition, word play, and stream of consciousness.
A writer can also use figurative language to create a more interesting and meaningful story. Figurative language is language used to make a comparison between two different things. Common figures of speech include the following:
- Simile. A figure of speech in which the writer makes a direct comparison between two unlike things, usually with the words” like” or “as.” Example: Her cheeks were as red as cherries…He runs like a race horse.
- Metaphor. A figure of speech in which the writer makes an implied comparison between two unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”Examples: Love is a treasure box…Life is a journey, not a destination.
- Personification. A figure of speech in which the writer assigns human qualities or attributes or abilities to an animal, an object, or an idea. Example: The angry wind knocked over the chair and slammed the shutters.
- Hyperbole. A figure of speech in which the writer uses to exaggeration or overstatement for emphasis. Examples: The journey took forever…He was so hungry that he ate everything in the refrigerator.
Resources for Writing Fiction
There are several good books available to help you learn about the elements of fiction. The following books—and resources that I recommend— were used to research this article:
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
- Creative Writing: A Guide and Glossary to Fiction Writing by Colin Bulman
- The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
- How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
- The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
- A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction by Jack Hodgins
Next, I will discuss “dialogue”, an essential component of fiction and one that the aspiring writer needs to master, in order to craft memorable fiction.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please post them to this blog.
Tags:allegory, archetype, Elements of Fiction, hyperbole, imagery, literary devices, literary techniques, metaphor, motif, personification, simile, symbolismBy Dave Hoodin Creative Writing, Fiction on .
In the last post, I discussed how to structure a personal essay. In this post, I identify the important techniques for writing a personal essay.
The techniques that you will use to write a personal essay are the same as other types of creative nonfiction, such as a memoir, travel article, or literary journalistic essay. Two of the most important techniques are storytelling and scene-building. Before you write your personal essay, you will need to choose a topic. There are several techniques that can help you.
If you are writing a personal essay based on a personal experience, you will need to write the story. Your story requires an inciting incident, complications, conflict or obstacles, a climax, and resolution. For more information, see my section on “Fiction” in this blog.
You must also use the techniques of fiction (literary devices), in particular the scene-building technique. Scene building involves showing, not telling. It is not a narrative summary, which collapses events and time. It is not an exposition, which is based on explanation and analysis. A scene includes the following elements:
- Specific time and place
- Sensory images
- Specific details
You will want to make your readers aware of the time and place. This is your setting.
If you are writing a personal essay based on a personal experience or milestone, you will want to include important dialogue between you and other people.
You will also want to describe the important action that takes place in the scene or scenes that you include. Remember, you are writing a short personal essay, which is between 500 and 1500 words long, so you are only going to include scenes that are essential to your personal essay.
You also want to use sensory images to make your story come alive. Thus, you will include language that appeals to the reader’s sense of smell, taste, sight, touch.
A good scene also includes vivid descriptions, which helps the reader visualize the story. Vivid descriptions also help to make your essay believable and truthful.
In the conclusion, you can write about the insight, understanding, or lesson that you learned from the experience or milestone. Often your personal experience results in a universal truth about human nature or the human condition.
Techniques for Finding a Topic
Your personal essay can be based on a personal experience or milestone, or a topic or subject that you are passionate about. If you are writing about a true story, your memory will play an important role in uncovering the facts and the truth. Here are a few ways to “mine your memory.”
- Keep a personal journal, and look through it. Use it to remember events and experiences that happened in the past.
- Take photos of events and experiences that are important to you. Use the photos to mine your memory. Or look through old photo albums to find your story.
- Visit the place where the event took place.
- Interview friends or family who also experienced the event or experience.
- Use a time line. Take one year of your life and then list all the events or experiences that took place in that year.
- Use the technique of mindmapping. For more information, check out www.mindtools.com .
- Write about a milestone, anniversary, loss, death, or new experience. Ask yourself: What did you learn? What insight have you gained? Is there a universal truth?
Another way to write a personal essay is to write about topics, social issues, or events making news. Margaret Wente, a writer for the Globe and Mail, often uses this approach. Here are a few ways to find topics to write about:
- Keep a journal. Write in it whenever something of interest or important happens to you. Refer to your journal when you want to write a personal essay.
- Stay informed. Read magazines, newspapers, books, and watch and listen to the news. Browse the Web. When you unearth something interesting, write a personal essay.
- Write about social issues, such as crime, capital punishment, -marriage, racism, gay rights, rape, child abuse, alcoholism, sexual equality, immigration, divorce, and so forth.
- Write about something in the news or public consciousness.
- Write about holidays, tradition, vacations, Christmas, Halloween, anniversaries, and so forth.
Finally, write truthfully and honestly. If something never happened, you cannot write about it as though it were true. This is lying. As well, disclose your views and personal opinions on the event or topic or personal experience. A personal essay is all about your perspective, your thoughts, your views. It doesn’t need to be objective. You don’t have to prove a thesis.
Resources for Writing a Personal Essay
The following books will provide you with the techniques for writing a personal essay:
- Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoir, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature by Bill Roorbach
- Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Philip Gerard
- The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
- The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lapote
In the next few posts, I will write about travel writing, a popular form of creative nonfiction.