||Story that precedes events in the story being told—past events or background that add meaning to current circumstances
||Though "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy takes place towards the end of the Third Age, the narration gives glimpses of the mythological/historical events which took place in the First and Second Age.
||Insertion of an apparently irrelevant object early in a narrative for a purpose only revealed later. See foreshadowing and repetitive designation.
||In each of the Harry Potter novels, Harry and his classmates learn a spell or about a facet of the Wizarding World that later comes into play at the climax of the book; e.g. in The Chamber of Secrets, the students are raising mandrakes in Herbology, which quite conveniently are able to cure petrification towards the end of the novel.
||The narrative ends unresolved, to draw the audience back to a future episode for the resolution.
||In almost every episode of the TV shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad ends with one of the characters in a predicament (about to be caught by thugs, about to be exposed by the authority, or a family member or a friend finds out the main character's dirty secret).
||The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing.
||Tristan Tzara created poetry on the spot incorporating random clips of cut-up newspaper in such a way that the short excerpt of the news becomes the backbone of the "poetic plot" in the process of creation.
|Deus ex machina (a machination, or act of god)
||Resolving the primary conflict by a means unrelated to the story (e.g., a god appears and solves everything). This device dates back to ancient Greek theater, but can be a clumsy method that frustrates the audience.
||An example occurs in Mighty Aphrodite.
||Coined by J. R. R. Tolkien, a climactic event through which the protagonist appears to be facing a catastrophic change. However, this change does not materialize and the protagonist finds himself as the benefactor of such a climatic event; contrast peripety/peripateia.
||At the end of The Lord of the Rings, Gollum forcibly takes away the Ring from Frodo, suggesting that Sauron would eventually take over Middle Earth. However, Gollum celebrates too eagerly and clumsily and falls into the lava, whereby the ring is destroyed and with it Sauron's power. In a way, Gollum does what Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring intended to do through the whole plot of the trilogy, which was to throw the ring into the lake of fire in the heart of Mount Doom.
|Flashback (or analeptic reference)
||General term for altering time sequences, taking characters back to the beginning of the tale, for instance
||The story of "The Three Apples" in Arabian Nights tale begins with the discovery of a young woman's dead body. After the murderer later reveals himself, he narrates his reasons for the murder as a flashback of events leading up to the discovery of her dead body at the beginning of the story.
||Also called prolepsis, an interjected scene that temporarily jumps the narrative forward in time. Flashforwards often represent events expected, projected, or imagined to occur in the future. They may also reveal significant parts of the story that have not yet occurred, but soon will in greater detail.
||This has been highly popularized by the television series Lost.
||Implicit yet intentional efforts of an author to suggest events which have yet to take place in the process of narration. See also repetitive designation and Chekhov's gun
||A narration might begin with a male character who has to break up a schoolyard fight among some boys who are vying the for attention of a girl, which was introduced to foreshadow the events leading to a dinner time squabble between the character and his twin brother over a woman, whom both are courting at the same time.
|Frame story, or a story within a story
||A main story that organizes a series of shorter stories.
||Early examples include Panchatantra, Arabian Nights and The Decameron. A more modern example is Brian Jacques The Legend of Luke.
||A single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at the beginning and end of a work. The use of framing devices allow for frame stories to exist.
||In Arabian Nights, Scheherazade, the newly wed wife to the King, is the framing device. As a character, she is telling the "1,001 stories" to the King, in order to delay her execution night by night. However, as a framing device her purpose for existing is to tell the same 1,001 stories to the reader.
|In medias res
||Beginning the story in the middle of a sequence of events. A specific form of narrative hook.
||The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer are prime examples. The latter work begins with the return of Odysseus to his home of Ithaka and then in flashbacks tells of his ten years of wandering following the Trojan War.
||Story opening that "hooks" readers' attention so they will keep reading
||"In medias res" is an example.
||Object or character whose sole purpose is to advance the plot
||Indiana Jones chasing after some mystical object is a good example. The mere knowledge that a mystical device exists is what makes the plot progress. This is in contrast to the Ring in the LOTR plot. Whether The One Ring to Rule Them All can be considered a mere plot device is debatable because more than the Ring itself is Sauron's initiative to conquer Middle Earth that the character must do the things to progress the plot. In addition to driving the plot along, the Ring ends up representing a sinister symbol of the human greed for power.
||Unexpected change ("twist") in the direction or expected outcome of the plot. See also twist ending.
||An example occurs in The Crying Game.
||Virtue ultimately rewarded, or vice punished, by an ironic twist of fate related to the character's own conduct
||Wile E. Coyote coming up with a contraption to catch the Road Runner, only to be foiled and caught by his own devices. Each sin's punishment in Dante's Inferno is a symbolic instance of poetic justice.
||Time travel paradox where a time traveler is caught in a loop of events that "predestines" them to travel back in time
||In Doctor Who, the main character repeatedly finds himself under the obligation of having to travel back in time because of something his future character has done.
||Plot device based on an argument that an agreement's intended meaning holds no legal value, and that only the exact, literal words agreed on apply.
||For example, William Shakespeare used a quibble in The Merchant of Venice: Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, so Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood.
||A rhetorical tactic of diverting attention away from an item of significance.
||For example, in mystery fiction, an innocent party may be purposefully cast as highly suspicious through emphasis or descriptive techniques to divert attention from the true guilty party.
||Repeated references to a character or object that appears insignificant at first, but later suddenly intrudes in the narrative.
||Arabian Nights. See also foreshadowing and Chekhov's gun.
||Prediction that, by being made, makes itself come true.
||Early examples include the legend of Oedipus, and the story of Krishna in the Mahabharata. There is also an example of this in Harry Potter.
||Background narrative that explains the world of the main story.
||Examples include Mahabharata, Ramayana, Gundam, Doctor Who and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
|Story within a story (Hypodiegesis)
||A story told within another story. See also frame story.
||In Stephen King's 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', of the Dark Tower series, the protagonist tells a story from his past to his companions, and in this story he tells another relatively unrelated story.
|Ticking clock scenario
||Threat of impending disaster—often used in thrillers where salvation and escape are essential elements
||In the TV show "24", the main character, Jack Bauer often finds himself interrogating a terrorist who is caught in order to disarm a bomb.
||The narrator of the story is not sincere, or introduces a bias in his narration and possibly misleads the reader, hiding or minimizing events, characters, or motivations.
||An example is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
||Character who speaks for the author, usually to support the author's personal views. Sometimes an intentionally or unintentionally idealized version of the author. A variation is the Mary Sue or Gary Stu, which primarily serves as an idealized self-insertion.
||Socrates in the writings of Plato.
|Breaking the fourth wall
||An author or character addresses the audience directly (also known as direct address). This may acknowledge to the reader or audience that what is being presented is fiction, or may seek to extend the world of the story to provide the illusion that they are included in it.
||The characters in Sesame Street often break the fourth wall when they address their viewers as part of the ongoing storyline, which is possible because of the high level of suspension of belief afforded by its audience - children.
||Forcing the reader to recognize common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, to enhance perception of the familiar.
||A character who is trapped in a winter mountain cabin runs out of food and cooks his leather boots. While he is eating his own boots, he realizes how tough the leather of his boots was.
||A sudden perspective or insight which is revealed to the reader (directly or through the epiphany that a character experiences) onto a problem which had previously eluded all attempts at understanding, which in turn, changes the interpretation of the plot, character, narrative perspective, tone, and/or the style of writing. Epiphanies occur spontaneously through an additional external stimulus or through an internal reflection of a recurring thought from a new perspective.
||Archimedes bathing in a pool of water and realizing the solution to the problem of estimating the volume of a given object.
||A text presented from the point of view of a character, especially the protagonist, as if the character is telling the story themselves. (Breaking the fourth wall is an option, but not a necessity, of this format.)
||Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the title character as the narrator, while Sherlock Holmes is primarily told from Watson's perspective.
||Describing events in a real-world setting but with magical trappings, often incorporating local customs and invented beliefs. Different from urban fantasy in that the magic itself is not the focus of the story.
||Particularly popular with Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez. Elsewhere, Salman Rushdie's work provides good examples.
|Mooreeffoc (also written Moor Eeffoc)
||Coined by Charles Dickens and, as used by G. K. Chesterton, meaning "the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle."
||Entering through the door, the writer realized that the words Coffee Room spelled backwards was Moor Eeffoc. Inside, he sat down by the table and stared at the letters standing in mirror image and thought about what Moor Eeffoc could stand to mean.
||A text written in the style of a direct address, in the second-person.
||Rape: A Love Story.
|Stream of consciousness
||The author uses narrative and stylistic devices to create the sense of an unedited interior monologue, characterized by leaps in syntax and punctuation that trace a character's fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings. The outcome is a highly lucid perspective with a plot. Not to be confused with free writing.
||An example is "Ulysses".
||A text written as if by an impersonal narrator who is not affected by the events in the story. Can be omniscient or limited, the latter usually being tied to a specific character, a group of characters, or a location.
||A Song of Ice and Fire is written in multiple limited third-person narrators that change with each chapter. The Master and Margarita uses an omniscient narrator.
||The narrator of the story is not sincere, or introduces a bias in his narration and possibly misleads the reader, hiding or minimizing events, characters, or motivations.
||An example is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
||An allegory is a symbolism device where the meaning of a greater, often abstract, concept is conveyed with the aid of a more corporeal object or idea being used as an example. Usually a rhetoric device, an allegory suggests a meaning via metaphoric examples.
||e.g. Faith is like a stony uphill climb: a single stumble might send you sprawling but belief and steadfastness will see you to the very top.
||Repeating the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
||In the film V for Vendetta the main character performs a couple of soliloquies with a heavy use of alliteration. e.g.. "Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."
||Amplification refers to a literary practice wherein the writer embellishes the sentence by adding more information to it in order to increase its worth and understanding.
||e.g. Original sentence- The thesis paper was difficult. After amplification- The thesis paper was difficult: it required extensive research, data collection, sample surveys, interviews and a lot of fieldwork.
||Anagrams are an extremely popular form of literary device wherein the writer jumbles up parts of the word to create a new word. From the syllables of a phrase to the individual letters of a word, any fraction can be jumbled to create a new form. Anagram is a form of wordplay that allows the writer to infuse mystery and a little interactive fun in the writing so that the reader can decipher the actual word on their own and discover a depth of meaning to the writing.
||e.g An anagram for "debit card" is "bad credit". As you can see, both phrases use the same letters. By mixing the letters a bit of humor is created.
||When sentences do not use conjunctions (e.g.: and, or, nor) to separate clauses, but run clauses into one another, usually marking the separation of clauses with punctuation.
||An example is when John F. Kennedy said on January the 20th 1961 "...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
||Mood that overstates its own pathos or drama.
||A break, especially a sense pause, usually near the middle of a verse, and marked in scansion by a double vertical line. This technique frequently occurs within a poetic line grammatically connected to the end of the previous line by enjambment.
||e.g. in "Know then thyself. ‖ Presume not God to scan."
||The literary method of copying and improving on material provided by previous writers.
||In Ancient Greece was first formulated by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and the subsequent Latin rhetoricians adopted this literary method instead of Aristotle's mere imitation of nature.
||Alienating or distancing the audience from a play's emotional content.
||Popularized by 20th century playwright Bertolt Brecht.
||Representing an object or character with abundant descriptive detail, or mimetically rendering gestures and dialogue to make a scene more visual or imaginatively present to an audience.
||This technique appears at least as far back as the Arabian Nights.
||An artificial, highly elaborate way of writing or speaking. Named from Euphues (1579) the prose romance by John Lyly.
||"Is it not far better to abhor sins by the remembrance of others' faults, than by repentance of thine own follies?" (Euphues, 1, lecture by the wise Neapolitan)
||Exaggeration used to evoke strong feelings or create an impression which is not meant to be taken literally.
||Sally could no longer hide her secret. Her pregnant belly was bigger than the planet on which she stood.
||Forming mental images of a scene using descriptive words, especially making use of the human senses.
||When the boots came off his feet with a leathery squeak, a smell of ferment and fish market immediately filled the small tent. The skin of his toes were red and raw and sensitive. The malodorous air was so toxic he thought he could almost taste his toes.
||Purposefully repeating words that usually express a motif or theme important to the story.
||This dates back at least to the Arabian Nights.
||The rearrangement of words of the latter of two consecutive sentences so that the latter sentence adds color and mood to the former while borrowing its words to affirm or deny its existence.
||ie. "The large red room was gloomy. The gloomy redness of the room was due largely to..."
||Word or phrase in a figure of speech in which a noun is referenced by something closely associated with it, rather than explicitly by the noun itself. This is not to be confused with synecdoche, in which a part of the whole stands for the thing itself.
||Metonomy: The boxer threw in the towel. Synecdoche: She gave her hand in marriage.
||Exaggerating something, often for emphasis (also known as hyperbole)
||Sally's pregnant belly most likely weighed as much as the scooter she used to ride before she got pregnant.
||Word that sounds the same as, or similar to what the word means.
||"Boom goes the dynamite."
||A term made of two words that deliberately or coincidentally imply each other's opposite.
||A phrase that describes an idea composed of concepts that conflict.
||"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." (A Tale of Two Cities)
||Ridicule by overstated imitation, usually humorous.
||Using forms and styles from another author, generally as an affectionate tribute.
||Such as the many stories featuring Sherlock Holmes not written by Arthur Conan Doyle, or much of the Cthulhu Mythos.
||Emotional appeal, one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric that the author uses to inspire pity or sorrow towards a character—typically does not counterbalance the target character's suffering with a positive outcome, as in Tragedy.
||In Romeo and Juliet, the two main characters each commit suicide at the sight of the supposedly dead lover, however the audience knows these actions to be rash and unnecessary. Therefore, Shakespeare makes for the emotional appeal for the unnecessary tragedy behind the young characters' rash interpretations about love and life.
||Using words derived from similar roots or origins with different meanings or roles within the sentence.
||An example of polyptoton which by the nature of the root word used also contains alliteration and rhyme: His ambulation was not amble. It was more of a wobble and stumble.
||Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, this provides a sense of exaggeration designed to wear down the audience.
||An example of this is in the first chapter of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: "A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin".
||The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices.
||An example is Network.
||Imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
||The boot was tough and sinewy between his hard-biting teeth. There was no flavor to speak of except for the blandness of all the dirt that the boot had soaked up over the years. The only thing the boot reminded him of was the smell of a wet-dog.
||Overall attitude an author appears to hold toward key elements of the work. Strictly speaking, tone is generally an effect of literary techniques, on the level of a work's overall meaning or effect. The tone of a whole work is not itself a literary technique. However, the tone of a work, especially in a discrete section, may help create the overall tone, effect, or meaning of the work.
||The novel Candide makes fun of its characters' suffering, while The Sorrows of Young Werther takes its protagonist's suffering very seriously.
||A diminishing or softening of a theme or effect.
||The broken ends of the long bone was sticking through the bleeding skin, but it wasn't something that always killed a man.
||The italicizing of words at the end of select sentences to remind the reader of a consequential moment in the narrative without adjusting the mechanics of the story to allow lengthy and potentially distracting text. First used by the American author Iimani David.
||Anathema Rhodes: Dreams (2009). Published by The New York Literary Society
||Sounds of words used as an aspect of the work.
||A pun is a common example of word play.