Definitions of Literary Techniques

These are the techniques you can choose to highlight and analyze in the stories for our projects. You can certainly choose MORE THAN ONE for your presentation. Have another technique you'd like to look at? Just ask.

Flashback
An action that interrupts the story to introduce an event that took place in the past.

Foreshadowing
Hints in the story that certain events are going to happen later.

Dialogue
The conversations characters have with other characters.

Irony
The difference between what we expect or what seems suitable and what actually happens. There are three main types of irony.
• Verbal irony occurs when someone says something but means the opposite. “Nice day,” you say as you slog through flood water up to
your waist.
• Situational irony refers to an event that is contrary to, or the opposite of, what we expected. The firehouse burns. The winner of the wrestling match is the weakest team member.
• Dramatic irony takes place when we know what is going to happen to a character but the character does not know. Margo opens the door to a garage we know is filled with snakes. We know, but the robbers do not know, that the hotel they plan to rob is host to a police convention.

Ambiguity
A quality that allows something to be interpreted in several different or conflicting ways. For example, if you and a friend have completely different ideas about an ambiguous character or the ambiguous ending of a story, you both might be “right.” There is no single way to interpret an ambiguous story. That is part of its fun.

Imagery
Language that appeals to one or more of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. For example, this image—“the fish’s
slippery, shiny scales”—appeals to the senses of sight and touch. The words help us to picture the fish and to imagine how it would feel if we touched it.

Figurative language
A word or phrase that creates an imaginative comparison. Figurative language is not meant to be taken literally. There are several types of figures of speech.
• A simile compares two unlike things by using a word such as like or as: “The many-colored fish is like a rainbow.”
• A metaphor compares two unlike things without using a word such as like or as. “The fish is a rainbow.”
• Personification is a type of metaphor in which an object, animal, or idea is talked about as if it were human: “The fish smiles happily.”

Onomatopoeia
The use of words that sound like what they mean. The words hiss, crackle, gurgle, and pow are examples of onomatopoeia.

Alliteration
The repetition of consonant sounds (usually in the beginnings of words) in words that appear close together: “He had horse and harness for them all” (from “Johnny Armstrong”).

Surprise Ending
The ending is not what we expect--usually it shocks us.

Symbolism
An object, person, setting, or event in a story or poem that stands for itself and something beyond itself. Example: The American Flag represents the United States, but also stands for other things, such as liberty and patriotism. It can also stand for something negative to those who oppose us.

Adapted from Holt, Rinehart and Winston educational materials.