Literary Devices You Can Use to Make Your Writing Resonate (Just Don’t Overdo Them)

You see them in poetry, but they work in fiction and memoir as well


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If you read a lot of poetry and have studied it, you may know of some of these devices I am about to describe. “Devices” is the term we use in literature, but I think lots of writers would be more likely to think of these as “imaginative or heightened language”. Just because they are used in poems, doesn’t mean we can’t make great use of them in other writing.


Similes are probably the things I see used (and misused) the most. The challenge is to move beyond clichés and yet not create similes that are bizarre and don’t fit. Cliched similes are “as green as grass”, “as black as night”, “as hot as Hades” etc. We say them all the time — they’re like shortcuts that everyone gets. But in fiction and poetry, they’re lazy writing.

On the other hand, you can overdo them. “The paint dribbled down the walls like green blood trickling from a gunshot wound to an alien being.” It’s just paint. Keep it simpler. “She sizzled like a yellow egg grilling on the bonnet of a 1964 Mustang on a searing day in Death Valley.” If you’re trying to describe someone very sexy, fried eggs aren’t it.

The key to a great simile is to think about the character or place/object you are describing as well as the tone and genre of your writing. If I was writing a dark crime novel, I might write something like “The blood spread across his white shirt like a blooming poisonous flower.” However, if the story was meant to be humorous, I might write instead “The blood spread across his white shirt faster than the tomato soup he’d spilled on it yesterday.” (OK, not great writing but examples only!)


Really, metaphors are like similes, but instead of using like or as, you make the comparison straight out, using imagery. “The blood bloomed on his white shirt, a flower opening deadly red petals.” Instead of saying their marriage was like a tornado, you can go a little further and say something like “Their marriage was a tornado, whirling and tearing their family apart.”



Sherryl Clark - writer, editor, poet.

Writer, editor, book lover — I've published many children's books and three crime novels for adults so far. I edit other people's fiction and poetry.