Literary Devices and Figures of Speech
Literary devices are specific techniques writers use to create meaning, enhance a story or poem, or evoke a particular emotion or response from readers. A literary device, on the other hand, refers to specific techniques and methods used by authors to convey meaning or to create a specific effect in their writing. Symbolism, imagery, and characterisation are examples of Literary devices that writers use to create meaning, enhance a story or poem, or evoke a particular emotion or response from readers. Examples of literary devices include symbolism, imagery, and characterisation. They are used to convey deeper meanings, add depth to characters, and create a more engaging story. For example, in J.D. Salinger’s book “The Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield’s red hunting hat symbolises his alienation and longing for connection.
Figures of speech, on the other hand, are a type of literary device in which language is used in an unusual or imaginative way to create a particular effect or emphasis.
Examples of figures of speech include simile, metaphor, and hyperbole. For example, in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo compares Juliet to the sun saying, “Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon” This simile creates an image of Juliet as a radiant and desirable being.
While there is some overlap between figures of speech and literary devices, the two terms generally refer to different types of techniques used in literature:
- Figures of speech are a type of literary device, but not all literary devices are figures of speech.
- The distinction between the two terms is that literary devices are broader and more general, while figures of speech are a specific type of literary device that uses language in an unusual or imaginative way.
In summary, literary devices and figures of speech are tools authors use to create meaning and evoke a response in their readers. They are used to create depth, enhance the story, and make it more engaging. Understanding these techniques can help readers appreciate the nuances of literature and poetry.
The list that follows below is not exhaustive because it is impossible to include every single literary device and term that exists. Literature is a vast and constantly evolving field, and new devices and terms are being created all the time by writers and scholars. Additionally, different fields and traditions may have their own unique devices and terms that are not included in this list. Furthermore, some devices and terms may be specific to a certain language or culture, which would not be included in this list. Finally, even in well-studied forms like poetry, new forms, techniques, schools, and movements are being added.
- Allegory: A story or poem in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract ideas or moral concepts.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the initial sounds of words that are close together in a sentence or verse.
- Allusion: a reference to a literary, historical, mythological, or biblical text, event, or person that the writer assumes the reader will recognise.
- Amplification: A rhetorical strategy in which a speaker or writer provides additional information or details to emphasise a point or idea.
- Anagram: A word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase.
- Analogy: A comparison between two things to explain something or to point out a similarity.
- Anapest: A metrical pattern consisting of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.
- Anaphora: The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of several consecutive lines or sentences.
- Antagonist: An antagonist is a character, group of characters or force that opposes the protagonist or main character in a story. The antagonist is usually the “villain” or the character that creates obstacles and conflicts for the protagonist. The antagonist can also be a force of nature, society, or the protagonist’s own inner conflicts. The presence of an antagonist is essential for a story to have a clear and meaningful conflict. The antagonist can be a complex and multi-dimensional character or a simple representation of an idea or concept. The antagonist’s actions and motivations drive the plot and create tension, making the story more interesting and engaging for the reader.
- Antithesis: A figure of speech in which contrasting ideas are juxtaposed in a balanced or parallel phrase or grammatical structure.
- Aphorism: A short, clever, and memorable statement that expresses a truth or piece of advice.
- Archetype: A universal symbol or motif that is present in the mythology, literature, and culture of various societies.
- Assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close together in a sentence or verse.
- Asyndeton: a figure of speech in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted in a series of related clauses.
- Cacophony: harsh or discordant sound combination in words.
- Chiasmus: A figure of speech in which the order of words in one clause is reversed in the following clause.
- Circumlocution: Circumlocution is a roundabout or indirect way of expressing something, often used to add emphasis or to be more formal or polite. It is a figure of speech that uses many words when fewer would do, often in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive. For example, instead of saying, “I am angry,” someone might use a circumlocution and say, “I am feeling a strong emotion of displeasure.”
- Climax: The turning point in a narrative or the most intense moment in an argument or speech.
- Connotation: The emotional or cultural associations that a word or phrase carries in addition to its literal or denotative meaning.
- Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds in words that are close together in a sentence or verse.
- Contrast: The act of comparing two or more things to point out their differences.
- Couplet: A couplet is a literary device that consists of two lines of poetry that rhyme and have the same meter. The two lines are usually independent and self-contained and convey a complete thought or idea. Couplets are commonly found in traditional poetry forms such as sonnets and ghazals, but they can also be found in other forms of poetry and even in prose.Couplets can also be used to convey a specific mood or tone and to create a sense of unity within a poem. For example, in William Shakespeare’s sonnet 18, the couplet “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”, concludes the poem and gives a sense of finality and immortality to the subject. In summary, a couplet is a pair of rhyming lines of poetry that often convey a complete thought or idea, and it is often used to create a sense of balance and symmetry, convey a specific mood or tone, and create a sense of unity within a poem.
- Cumulative sentence: A cumulative sentence is a sentence in which the clauses or phrases are piled up one on top of the other, with each adding to the impact of the sentence as a whole. This type of sentence structure is often used to create a sense of build-up or climax. For example, in the sentence “He walked through the door, down the hallway, and into the room, where he finally saw the surprise party,” each phrase adds to the sense of progression and movement towards the final revelation.
- Denotation: Denotation is a word’s literal or primary meaning, as opposed to its connotation, which is the emotional or cultural association with the word. Denotation is the meaning that can be found in a dictionary, and it is the objective meaning of a word. It is the specific and concrete meaning of a word. It can be used to establish the literal meaning of a word or phrase and to avoid confusion or misinterpretation. For example, when writing a scientific paper, it is important to use denotation to ensure that technical terms are used consistently and correctly. It is worth noting that words and phrases often have multiple meanings or connotations, and the denotation may differ from the intended meaning in a specific context. In literature and poetry, authors often use denotations in a symbolic way to give a deeper meaning to the text. Examples of denotation are: The denotation of the word “bat” is a flying mammal. The denotation of the word “book” is a bound collection of written or printed pages. The denotation of the word “love” is a strong affection towards someone.
- Dependent clause: A clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, but it modifies or gives more information about the independent clause.
- Dialect: A variety of a language spoken by a particular group of people, characterised by its own unique grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
- Diction: The choice and use of words in speech or writing. It encompasses the level of formality, the choice of vocabulary, and the grammatical structures used in speech or writing. Diction can be formal, informal, colloquial, or technical, depending on the context and the intended audience. Formal diction is characterised by the use of complex vocabulary, grammatical structures, and a more elevated tone, and it is often used in academic writing or in formal speeches. Informal diction, on the other hand, is characterised by the use of colloquial language, contractions, and informal vocabulary, and it is often used in conversation or in creative writing. A writer or speaker’s choice of diction can affect the tone and the overall style of their writing or speech. It can also convey their attitude, personality, and perspective towards the subject matter. Additionally, the choice of words can influence the audience’s perception of the writer or speaker and their message, making it more persuasive or less credible.
- Didactic: This refers to literature or art intended to instruct or teach rather than entertain or emotionally engage the audience. It is often characterised by a strong moral or educational purpose, and it aims to impart knowledge or wisdom to the audience. Didactic literature or art can take many forms, including essays, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. It can be aimed at children, adults, or any age group, and it can cover a wide range of subjects, such as science, history, or morality. Didactic literature or art is often criticized for being overly preachy or moralistic, but it can also be seen as a valuable tool for education and personal growth. Famous examples of didactic literature include Aesop’s Fables, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.
- Digression: A deviation from the main subject or topic in a piece of writing or speech.
- Diphthong: A dipthong is a speech sound formed by combining two vowel sounds in the same syllable, usually in a gliding motion, such as the “ou” sound in “house” or the “oy” sound in “boy”. Diphthongs are common in the English language, but not all languages have diphthongs – some languages like Spanish, Italian and French only have pure vowels. Diphthongs are important in phonetics and phonology, which study the sounds of languages. They are also important in English pronunciation, as they can be tricky for non-native speakers to pronounce correctly.
- Dramatic Irony: Dramatic irony is a literary device in which the audience or reader knows something that the characters in a play or story do not. This creates a sense of tension or suspense as the audience waits for the characters to catch up to the information they already have. For example, in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” the audience knows that Juliet is not really dead, but Romeo does not, leading to his tragic decision to take his own life.
- Epigraph: A quotation or short statement at the beginning of a literary work, usually used to set the tone or provide a context.
- Epiphany: A moment of sudden realisation or insight.
- Epistrophe: The repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences.
- Epitaph: A brief statement or poem written in memory of a deceased person, usually inscribed on a tombstone or monument.
- Epithet: A descriptive word or phrase that is used to characterise a person or thing.
- Euphemism: a mild or indirect word or expression used in place of one considered too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
- Euphony: pleasing and harmonious sound in words.
- Euphuism: An overly elaborate and affected style of writing or speaking.
- Exclamation: An interjection or exclamatory word or phrase used to express strong emotion.
- Exposition: Exposition is the background information or introduction to a story or scene, often used to provide context and establish characters and setting. This information is typically presented at the beginning of a story, but can also be interspersed throughout. For example, in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the first chapter provides a lot of exposition about the setting and characters, which sets the stage for the rest of the story.
- Fable: A short story that teaches a moral or lesson through the use of animals or other inanimate objects as characters.
- Figurative language: Language that deviates from the literal meaning of words to create imagery or emphasis.
- Flashback: A flashback is a literary device in which a scene or event from the past is inserted into the present narrative. It can be used to provide background information or to add depth to a character’s motivations. For example, in the novel “The Great Gatsby,” the character Gatsby’s past is revealed through a series of flashbacks, which helps explain his current actions and behaviour.
- Foreshadowing: A literary device in which the author gives hints or clues about future events in the story.
- Free verse: Poetry not written in a formal meter or rhyme pattern.
- Homonyms, Homographs and Homophones: A homonym is a word that is pronounced or spelt the same as another word but has a different meaning. Examples include “bass” (a type of fish) and “bass” (a low-frequency sound), and “flower” (a plant) and “flower” (to bloom or flourish). In addition to homonyms that are spelt the same but have different meanings, some homonyms are pronounced the same but have different meanings. These are called homophones. Examples include “flower” (a plant) and “flour” (a powder used in baking), and “break” (to snap or shatter) and “brake” (a device used to slow or stop a vehicle). Homonyms and homophones can create confusion in writing and speaking. Another type of homonym is a homograph, which is a word spelt the same but with different meanings and is pronounced differently, like “lead” (verb) and “lead” (noun) or “wind” (verb) and “wind” (noun). In general, homonyms, homophones, and homographs are words that are identical or similar in form but have different meanings, which can lead to confusion and errors in communication, especially in written form. It is important to understand the context and usage of these words to use them correctly.
- Hyperbole: Extreme exaggeration for emphasis or rhetorical effect.
- Iambic Pentameter: A poetic meter consisting of five iambic feet per line. In the iambic meter, an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. In pentameter, there are five feet per line. So in iambic pentameter, each line contains five sets of unstressed followed by stressed syllables. It is commonly used in traditional English poetry and is considered a natural meter for the English language. An example of a line of iambic pentameter is Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be, that is the question.” In this line, each pair of syllables “To be”, “or not”, “to be”, “that is”, and “the question” is a foot, and each foot is an iamb, which is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
- Imagery: Imagery is the use of descriptive language to create visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, or kinesthetic representations in literature. It can be used to create a sense of atmosphere or to provide insight into a character’s emotions. For example, in the poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost uses imagery of nature to create a sense of the protagonist’s journey.
- Induction: A logical process in which a general principle is inferred from specific examples or observations.
- Inference: The act of deducing or deriving a conclusion from evidence or premises.
- In Medias Res: In Medias Res is a Latin phrase meaning “in the midst of things,” referring to a narrative technique in which a story begins in the middle of the action rather than at the beginning. It can be used to create a sense of immediacy or to avoid a lot of background information. For example, the epic poem “The Iliad” begins in medias res, with the Trojan War already underway.
- Invective: Language that is intended to insult or denounce someone or something.
- Irony: A situation or outcome that is the opposite of what is expected.
- Isocolon: Isocolon is a literary device in which two or more clauses or phrases have the same grammatical structure. It can be used to create a sense of balance or parallelism. For example, in the sentence “I came, I saw, I conquered,” the three clauses have the same structure and the same verb tense, creating a sense of symmetry.
- Juxtaposition: Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side by side, often used to create contrast or to highlight similarities. It can be used to create a sense of irony or to make a comparison. For example, in the novel “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, the juxtaposition of the lives of the wealthy humans and the poor animals is used to create a sense of contrast and to highlight the theme of class struggle.
- Literal language: The use of words in their primary and most basic sense, free from any additional meaning. It is the opposite of figurative language.
- Litotes: Litotes is a literary device in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, often used to achieve understated emphasis. It can be used to create a sense of irony or to make a point without being too direct. For example, in the sentence “That’s not a bad idea,” the speaker is actually saying that the idea is good but using the negation “not” to make it less direct.
- Meiosis: downplaying the significance of something.
- Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that is not literally applicable.
- Metonymy: The use of a related term to refer to something instead of using its proper name, usually by substituting a word or phrase with something to which it is related or associated.
- Minimalism: A literary style characterised by simple, spare language and a focus on essential elements.
- Mood: The emotional atmosphere or feeling of a literary work.
- Motif: A recurring element or theme in a literary work, such as a symbol or image.
- Ode: A type of poem that expresses strong feelings or emotions, often in a formal or elevated style.
- Oddysey: An Odyssey is an epic journey, typically a long and eventful one marked by many changes of fortune and often involving a return home. The word “odyssey” comes from the Greek epic poem “The Odyssey,” which tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. The term “odyssey” can be used to refer to a physical journey or a metaphorical one. It is often used to describe a journey filled with challenges, obstacles, and adventures. It can also describe a journey of self-discovery or personal growth. In literature, the term “odyssey” is often used to describe a narrative structure where the protagonist embarks on a journey and faces several challenges before returning home. The Odyssey by Homer is the most famous example of this narrative structure, and it has been used as a model for many other works of literature, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is also an odyssey, but it is set in Dublin instead of ancient Greece.
- Onomatopoeia: The use of words that imitate sounds that suggests their meaning.
- Oxymoron: a combination of two words that appear contradictory but convey a deeper meaning.
- Palindrome: A word, phrase, or sequence of characters that reads the same backwards as forwards.
- Paradox: a statement that contradicts itself or that its opposite can be true.
- Parallelism: The use of similar grammatical structures or phrases in a piece of writing to create emphasis or balance.
- Parody: A work that imitates the style of another work for comedic or satirical effect.
- Pathos: An emotional appeal or an attempt to evoke emotions in an audience.
Image Credit: “Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, 1632, Frontispiece title page” by CRC, University of Edinburgh is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- Pentameter: A line of poetry that has five metrical feet.
- Personification: Personification is a literary device in which non-human things are given human qualities. It can be used to create a sense of empathy or to make an object more relatable. For example, in the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, the raven is personified as a melancholic and wise creature, which adds to the eerie atmosphere of the poem.
- Point of View: Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story is told. The three most common types of point of view are first-person, second-person, and third-person point of view. First-person point of view is when the story is told from the perspective of a character using “I,” second-person point of view is when the story is told from the perspective of addressing the audience using “you,” and third-person point of view is when the story is told from an outside perspective using “he,” “she,” or “they.” For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is told from the first-person point of view of Scout Finch.
- Polyptoton: repetition of the same word or a word derived from the same root in different forms.
- Polysyndeton: Polysyndeton is a literary device in which conjunctions are used excessively, often to create a sense of speed or urgency by using multiple conjunctions in close succession for emphasis or to slow the pace of a sentence. It can be used to create a sense of rhythm or to add emphasis to a list of items. For example, in the sentence “I will eat apples and pears and bananas and grapes,” the conjunctions “and” are used excessively to create a sense of a long list.
- Portmanteau: A Portmanteau is a word or phrase that combines two or more words to create a new word. It is a blending of two or more words, or their sounds, resulting in a new word. The new word is often a combination of the meanings of the original words. For example, “smog” is a portmanteau of “smoke” and “fog,” and “brunch” is a portmanteau of “breakfast” and “lunch.” These literary devices are often used in poetry and literature to create a new word that evokes a specific image, sound or connotation.
- Prose: Written or spoken language in its ordinary form, as opposed to poetry. Prose and poetry are two different forms of written language. Prose is the form of written language that is not poetry but the ordinary form of written language and is used in writing such as novels, short stories, and essays. It is characterised by its natural flow of speech and its grammatical structure. On the other hand, Poetry is a form of writing that uses literary techniques such as meter, rhyme, and imagery to create a musical or rhythmic effect. Poetry is often more condensed and intense than prose and uses figurative language to create imagery and evoke emotion. Poetry can take many forms, including sonnets, haikus, and free verse.
- Protagonist: The main character in a story, novel, play, or other literary works. Protagonists are often referred to as the “hero” or “heroine” and typically drive the action and conflict of the story. The protagonist is usually the character with whom the audience is meant to identify and support. They are often complex and multi-dimensional, with flaws and personal struggles that make them relatable. The protagonist is often but not always the main character in the story as sometimes the main character is an antagonist who, in contrast, is a character or force that opposes the protagonist, creating conflict and tension in the story. The antagonist is typically the “villain” or “bad guy” in the story but can also be a natural force, a societal institution, or even the protagonist’s own inner demons. The relationship between the protagonist and antagonist is often central to the story and drives its conflicts and resolution.
- Pun: A pun is a form of wordplay that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or similar-sounding words, for an intended humourous or rhetorical effect. Plays on words often rely on verbal humour and can be used to create puns in written or spoken language, to be used in literature, poetry, and comedy. An example of a pun is: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” This pun works by using the phrase “like an arrow”, a common idiomatic expression, and “flies like a banana”, a non-idiomatic expression, and creating a play on words.
- Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-line stanza or poem. It can be rhymed or unrhymed and follows a specific metrical pattern. Quatrains are often used in poetry to create a sense of structure and to divide a longer poem into manageable sections. They can also be used to convey a specific idea or emotion. An example of a quatrain is:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
- Refrain: A repeated word, phrase, or line in a poem or song.
- Repetition: Repetition uses the same word or phrase multiple times, often used to create emphasis or a sense of rhythm. It can be used to stress the importance of or to make a point more memorable. For example, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the phrase “I have a dream” is repeated multiple times to emphasise the importance of his message.
- Rhetoric: The art of using language effectively and persuasively in speech or writing.
- Rhetorical Question: a question asked to make a point rather than to elicit an answer, usually used for persuasive effect.
- Rhyme Scheme: The pattern of rhyming sounds in a poem.
- Rhyme: The repetition of similar sounds in words that are close to each other.
- Sarcasm: the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
- Satire: A literary work that uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticise or comment on human vice or folly.
- Simile: A figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, often in the form of “like” or “as”.
- Symbolism: Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or concepts in a literary work. A symbol is an object, person, or situation that has a meaning in itself but also stands for something else. Symbolism is used by authors to add depth and complexity to their work and to create layers of meaning for readers to discover. Symbols can be universal, such as the rose, which often symbolises love and beauty, or they can be specific to the work in which they appear. For example, a specific object in a story may symbolise a specific character’s emotions or experiences. Symbolism can be used in various forms of literature, such as poetry, novels, plays and short stories. It can also be used in visual arts and film.
- Synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole or the whole is used to represent a part or vice versa.
- Syntax: The structure and organisation of words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence.
- Tautology: The unnecessary repetition of the same idea using different words. It is a type of redundancy where the same idea is expressed twice, making the statement unnecessarily repetitive and often unenlightening. Tautologies can take many forms and can appear in both written and spoken language. For example, “It was the same exact thing” or “It was a free gift, given at no cost” are examples of tautologies. Tautologies can also appear in logical statements, such as “All bachelors are unmarried men” or “A round square is a contradiction in terms“, are examples of tautologies because the predicate is already included in the subject.
- Theme: A theme is a central idea or message in a piece of literature, film, or other artistic work. It can be a universal concept that explores human nature, such as love or death, or a specific social or political issue. Themes can also be implied rather than explicitly stated.
- Tmesis: Tmesis is a literary device in which a word is separated by other words, often used for emphasis or to create a colloquial or informal tone. It can be used to create a sense of emphasis or to make a point more memorable. For example, in the phrase “abso-blooming-lutely,” the word “absolutely” is separated by “abso” and “blooming” to create emphasis and informality.
- Tone: The attitude or feeling a writer conveys towards the subject of their work.
- Tragedy: A type of drama that deals with serious and important themes and often ends in the death of the main character.
- Tragicomedy: Tragicomedy is a genre of literature that combines elements of tragedy and comedy. It can be used to create a balanced blend of serious and humorous elements. For example, in the play “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare, the tragic ending of the two main characters is balanced by the comic relief provided by the characters of the Nurse and the Mercutio.
- Tropes: A common or overused literary device, theme, or motif used to create meaning or evoke a particular emotion or response from readers. It is a conventional or formulaic element found in many different works of literature, film, and other forms of media. A trope can also be used to describe a cliché or an overused theme or idea. Examples of tropes include the hero’s journey, the damsel in distress, the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in film, the “Chosen One” in fantasy literature, the “Evil Empire” in science fiction, and many others. These conventions can be used to create a sense of familiarity and comfort for the audience, but they can also be used to subvert expectations and create new meanings.
- Understatement: the opposite of exaggeration. Understatement is a literary device in which a writer or speaker intentionally makes a statement less forceful or dramatic than what would be expected. This is done by using language that is deliberately mild or moderate when describing something that is actually significant or intense. The purpose of an understatement is to create a subtle, nuanced effect rather than to make a bold or obvious statement. In short, an understatement is a figure of speech used to express something less forcibly than expected to create a subtle, nuanced effect.
- Verse: A line or group of lines of poetry.
- Vignette: A vignette is a short, descriptive passage, often in literature and film, that provides a snapshot of a particular scene, character, or mood. The vignette may focus on a single moment or image or paint a broader picture of a setting or situation. In literature, a vignette is a small illustration, often an unimportant but colourful incident, and a short descriptive passage. It can be used to create atmosphere or mood, to introduce a character or setting, or to provide a glimpse into the past or future.
- Villanelle: A Villanelle is a traditional form of poetry that originated in France in the late 19th century. It is a 19-line poem consisting of five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four-line stanza) with a strict rhyme scheme and a repeated line at the end of each stanza. The rhyme scheme of a Villanelle is typically aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa, where the first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately at the end of each subsequent stanza, and the final stanza has the repeated lines as its first and third lines. The repetition of the lines creates a sense of musicality and a building of tension that is a characteristic of the Villanelle. It is known for its expressiveness and ability to convey deep emotions in a simple yet powerful way.
- Voice: The point of view or perspective from which a story is told or the tone or personality conveyed by the writer.
- Zeugma: the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it applies to one of them only. This creates a rhetorical effect and can be used for comedic or dramatic effect. For example, “She closed the door and her heart.” Here, the verb “closed” applies only to the door but is also used to describe the speaker’s emotional state. It contrasts the physical action of closing the door and the emotional state of closing one’s heart, and adds depth to the meaning of the sentence. Another example is “He caught the train and the thief” – here, “caught” applies only to the thief but is used to describe the action of catching the train as well, creating an effect of surprise.
- Zoomorphism: Zoomorphism is a literary device in which animals or non-human things are given human qualities or characteristics. It can be used to create a sense of empathy or to make an object more relatable. For example, in the novel “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, the animals are given human characteristics such as the ability to speak, think and reason, which highlights the theme of class struggle.
These examples of figures of speech can be used to add literary, rhetorical or poetic effects on a language. You may find them in poetry, prose, speeches and everyday conversation. They can add meaning, emphasis, and interest to the language, making it more vivid and memorable.
Many examples of figures of speech were common in the past and have since become less used or fallen out of use because the activities or traditions they were related to are no longer part of people’s lives. Listed below are a few examples, and there may be many other figures of speech that have become less common as society and culture have changed. It’s also possible that certain figures of speech are still used in certain regions or communities and are not widely recognised by others:
- Agricultural Metaphors: In agrarian societies, figures of speech related to farming and agriculture were very common, but as societies have become more urbanised and industrialised, these figures of speech have become less relevant and are not as widely used.
- Nautical Metaphors: These were commonly used in past centuries when seafaring and naval trade were a big part of daily life and commerce. Nowadays, with the advances in technology and transportation, these figures of speech have become less common.
- Guild- and Trade-related figures of speech: In medieval times, figures of speech and vocabulary related to the guilds and trades were common, but as the industrial revolution occurred, most of these trades became obsolete, and so did the figures of speech associated with them.
- Religious figures of speech: In the past, many figures of speech were related to Christianity and other religions, but as society has become more secular, these figures of speech have become less common.
- Military figures of speech: In past centuries, figures of speech related to warfare and military tactics were common, but as warfare has evolved and society has become more peaceful, these figures of speech have become less used.
A narrative technique (known for literary fictional narratives as a literary technique, literary device, or fictional device) is any of several specific methods the narrative creator or writer uses to convey what they want—in other words, a strategy used in the making of a narrative to relay information to the audience and particularly to develop the narrative, usually to make it more complete, complex, or interesting. Literary techniques are distinguished from literary elements, which exist inherently in written works.
Narrative techniques can be broken down into six sub-headings: Setting, Plots, Perspective, Style, Theme, and Character. These subheadings are all important aspects of a narrative and can be used by a writer to convey meaning, create an atmosphere, develop characters, and control the pacing of a story:
- Setting refers to the time and place where the story is set and can be used to create a specific atmosphere or to reveal information about the characters.
- Plots refers to the sequence of events that make up a story and can be used to create tension or reveal the story’s theme.
- Perspective refers to the point of view from which the story is told and can be used to control the audience’s understanding of the events.
- Style refers to how a story is written and can be used to create a specific tone or mood.
- Theme refers to the underlying message or meaning of a story.
- Character refers to the people or beings that populate the story and whose actions and interactions drive the plot.
There is a seventh sub-heading called A Plot Device. It’s a technique used in a narrative to move the plot forward. Clichéd or contrived plot devices can detract from the story and break the suspension of disbelief, while well-crafted or natural plot devices can enhance the story and go unnoticed by the reader. Additionally, plot devices can be distinguished from literary devices, figures of speech and narrative techniques, as these are elements that are used to enhance the story and create meaning, rather than solely advancing the plot.
Examples in popular culture are:
- In the story “The Catcher in the Rye,” the character Holden Caulfield is kicked out of his prep school and decides to run away from home. This event serves as a plot device that propels the story forward, as it sets in motion the series of events that make up the rest of the novel. Holden’s decision to leave school and his subsequent actions and interactions with various characters drive the narrative and reveal more about his character and the themes of the story.
- In the film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne’s false imprisonment for the murder of his wife and her lover serves as a plot device that drives the story forward. It’s the initial event that sets in motion all the actions and interactions between characters, and it ultimately leads to the story’s resolution.
- In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the trial of Tom Robinson serves as a plot device that propels the story forward. The trial serves as the centrepiece of the story and drives the narrative, as well as highlighting the themes of racism and injustice.
- In the movie “The Matrix,” the revelation that the world the characters are living in is actually a simulated reality controlled by machines serves as a plot device that propels the story forward. This revelation leads to the characters discovering the truth about their world and drives the action and conflict in the rest of the movie.
- In the TV series “Game of Thrones,” the death of King Robert Baratheon and the subsequent power struggle for the Iron Throne serves as a plot device that drives the story forward. The death of the king sets in motion the various political and military conflicts that make up the series, as well as the character development of the different players vying for the throne.
Miscellaneous Storytelling Techniques
Storytelling is a craft that involves the use of various techniques to engage the audience and create a compelling narrative. From the events that occurred before the start of the story, to the sudden change in the direction of the story, there are a wide variety of techniques that writers can use to craft an engaging story. In this piece, we will explore some of the most popular miscellaneous storytelling techniques, including backstory, Chekhov’s gun, cliffhanger, eucatastrophe, flashback, flashforward, foreshadowing, frame story, framing device, narrative hook, Ochi, plot twist, Poetic justice, predestination paradox, red herring, self-fulfilling prophecy, story within a story, ticking time bomb scenario, unreliable narrator, audience surrogate, author surrogate, breaking the fourth wall, defamiliarization, first-person narration, and many more. Understanding these different techniques can help writers create a narrative that is both engaging and meaningful.
Here’s a list of miscellaneous storytelling techniques:
- A Framing Device is a technique where the story is presented through a specific point of view or perspective.
- A Narrative Hook is a technique used to grab the audience’s attention and make them want to continue reading or watching the story.
- A Plot Twist is a sudden change in the direction of the story or a revelation that changes the audience’s understanding of events or characters.
- A Predestination Paradox is a narrative trope that occurs when the characters seem to be acting in a way that is predetermined, but their actions ultimately lead to the very event that was supposed to have predetermined their actions.
- A Red Herring is a technique used to mislead the audience and create false expectations or suspicions.
- A Self-Fulfilling prophecy is a narrative trope where a prediction or belief influences the characters’ actions and ultimately leads to the predicted outcome.
- A Ticking Time Bomb Scenario is a narrative trope where a character is faced with a difficult decision and a limited amount of time to do something about it.
- An Unreliable Narrator is a narrator whose credibility is questionable, either because they are intentionally deceitful or because their perception of events is distorted.
- Audience Surrogate is a character who represents the audience and helps the audience understand the story and identify with the characters.
- Author Surrogate is a character who represents the author and their views or beliefs.
- Backstory refers to the events that occurred before the start of the story, and that provide context and background information for the current events in the story. It is often used to provide insight into the motivations, beliefs, and experiences of the characters.
- Bathos is a literary device that refers to a sudden shift from a serious or elevated tone to a commonplace or trivial one.
- Breaking the fourth wall is a technique where a character directly addresses the audience or acknowledges that they are in a fictional work.
- Caesura is a pause or break in a line of poetry, often indicated by punctuation.
- Chekhov’s Gun is a principle in storytelling that states that if an object or detail is introduced at the beginning of a story, it must be important and have a purpose later in the story. It is often used as a technique for foreshadowing.
- Cliff-Hanger is an ending of a chapter, episode, or story that leaves the audience in suspense, making them eager to discover what happens next. It is often used as a technique to keep the audience engaged and coming back for more.
- Defamiliarisation is a literary device where familiar elements of a story are presented in an unfamiliar or unexpected way, making the audience see them in a new light.
- Distancing Effect is a technique that creates emotional distance between the audience and the characters to create a sense of detachment or objectivity.
- Dramatic Visualisation is a technique where the story is presented as if it were a play or a movie, using stage directions and visual imagery.
- Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe a sudden and favourable turn of events in a story, often at the climax, that leads to a happy or hopeful ending.
- First-Person Narration is a technique where the story is told from the perspective of one of the characters, using “I” or “we” to narrate the story.
- Flashback (or Analepsis) is a technique where the story is interrupted to show events that occurred in the past. It is often used to provide background information or reveal important information about the characters or events.
- Flashforward (or Prolepsis) is a technique where the story jumps ahead to show events that will occur in the future. It is often used to create suspense or reveal important information about the characters or events.
- Foreshadowing is a technique where hints or clues are provided about future events in the story. It is often used to build suspense and create a sense of uncertainty about what will happen next.
- Frame story: A frame story is a story within a story, where one narrative frames or sets the context for another. It can be used to add layers to a story or to create a sense of distance between the audience and the main story. For example, in the collection of short stories “The Canterbury Tales,” the stories are all told by different characters within the frame of a pilgrimage.
- Hamartia is a literary device that refers to a tragic flaw or error in judgement that leads to the downfall of a tragic hero.
- Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to make a point or create emphasis.
- Hypodiegesis (a story within a story) is a literary device where a character tells a story within the main story, where the outer story serves as a frame or a context for the inner story. This technique is used to provide background information, to create a sense of mystery, or to comment on the outer story. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator tells the story of how he killed an old man and hid his body under the floorboards, but he is also telling the story of his own descent into madness. The inner story serves to reveal the narrator’s state of mind and to create a sense of tension and unease.
- Hypophora: Hypophora is a literary device in which a speaker poses a question and then immediately answers it. It can be used to create a sense of immediacy or to emphasize the importance of the answer. For example, in the speech “I Have a Dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. asks, “When will the Negro be free?” and then answers, “Not long, because no lie can live forever.”
- Imagery is the use of descriptive language to create a visual representation of the story.
- Leitwortstil is a technique where a word or phrase is repeated throughout a text to create a unifying theme or motif.
- Magical Realism is a literary genre where magical or fantastical elements are incorporated into an otherwise realistic story. The genre is also known for its use of symbolism, imagery and metaphor, which can be used to convey deeper meanings. Magical Realism is often used to explore the relationship between the real world and the world of the imagination, it can also be used to explore cultural, social, and political issues uniquely and creatively. The genre is particularly associated with the literature of Latin American authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Jorge Luis Borges.
- Multi-Perspectivity is a technique where the story is told from multiple points of view. Iain Pears’ book “An Instance of the Fingerpost” is a good example of multi-perspectivity. The book tells the story of a murder in 17th century England, but it is narrated by four different characters, each with their own perspective and voice. Each narrator tells the story from their own point of view, and the story is revealed in a non-linear fashion, with each narrator providing new information and insights that change the reader’s understanding of the events. This technique of multiple narrators allows the author to explore the same events from different angles, providing a deeper and more complex understanding of the story, its characters, and its themes. It also creates a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity, as the reader is not sure which narrator to trust, and it allows the author to explore the idea of truth and how it can be subjective.
- Ochi is a term used in literature to describe a story where the protagonist’s main goal is thwarted by an unexpected event or twist.
- Overstatement is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis.
- Pastiche is a literary or artistic work that imitates the style of another work or artist.
- Pathetic Fallacy is a figure of speech where human emotions are attributed to inanimate objects or nature.
- Pathos is a technique that evokes emotions in the audience.
- Poetic justice is a literary device where the outcome of the story is seen as deserved or appropriate for the characters’ actions.
- Polysyndeton is a technique where conjunctions are used in close succession for emphasis.
- Second-Person Narration is a technique where the story is told from the reader’s perspective, using “you” to narrate the story.
- Sensory Detail is the use of descriptive language to create a sensory experience for the reader or audience.
- Stream of Consciousness is a technique where the story is told from the perspective of a character’s thoughts and feelings, without linear structure or logical order.
- Thematic patterning is the repetition of a specific theme or motif throughout a story.
- Third-Person Narration is a technique where the story is told from an objective point of view, using “he,” “she,” or “they” to narrate the story.
- Title Drop is a technique where the story’s title is included in the dialogue or events of the story.
Books you might find helpful
- “A Glossary of Literary Terms” by M.H. Abrams. This classic text provides a clear and concise definition of literary terms and concepts, making it an essential reference for students and scholars of literature.
- “Narrative Theory: An Introduction” by David Herman. This book provides an overview of narrative theory and its application to various forms of literature and media.
- “The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers” by John Gardner. This book offers guidance and insight for aspiring writers on how to improve their fiction writing skills, and it covers the elements of fiction, such as characters, plot, point of view, and style.
- “The Bedford Introduction to Drama” by Lee A. Jacobus. This book covers the history of drama and theatre, as well as the elements of drama, such as plot, character, dialogue, and stagecraft.
- “The Bedford Introduction to Literature” by Michael Meyer. This book is an introduction to the study of literature, covering the different genres, literary movements, and literary elements and including a selection of literary texts from around the world.
- “The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism” by Donald Pizer. This book provides an overview of the literary movements of Realism and Naturalism in American literature, including a discussion of the major writers and works associated with these movements.
- “The Cambridge Companion to the Gothic” by Jerrold E. Hogle. This book provides an overview of the Gothic literary tradition, including its origins, development, and influence on literature and popular culture.
- “The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet” by A. Kent Hieatt and Cecelia Tichi. This book offers a thorough introduction to the sonnet form, including its history, structure, and function, as well as a discussion of the major sonnet sequences and the poets who wrote them.
- “The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing” by David Morley. This book covers the basics of creative writing, including poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting, and it offers practical advice on the creative process and the craft of writing.
Image Credit: “Children’s Literature is Central to Children’s Literacy” by mrsdkrebs is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- “The Cambridge Introduction to the Novel” by John Rignall. This book offers an introduction to the history and development of the novel, including a discussion of the major genres, themes, and techniques used by novelists.
- “The Longman Dictionary of Literary Terms” by Chris Baldick. This dictionary provides clear and concise definitions of literary terms and concepts, along with examples from classic and contemporary literature.
- “The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy” by Michael Neill. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the tragedies of Shakespeare, including a discussion of the historical and literary context, the characters, and the themes.
- “The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics” by Alex Preminger, T.V.F. Brogan, and Frank J. Warnke. This comprehensive reference work covers the history and theory of poetry and poetics from ancient times to the present day.
Figures of Speech
- “A Dictionary of Figures of Speech” by E.S. Rozenberg. This book provides clear and concise definitions of figures of speech, along with examples of their use in literature and everyday speech.
- “A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices” by Robert A. Harris. This book provides a comprehensive list of rhetorical devices, along with explanations and examples of how they are used in literature and speech.
- “Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase” by Arthur Quinn. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the most important figures of speech, including simile, metaphor, irony, and more, and includes examples from literature, popular culture, and everyday speech.
- “Figures of Speech: A Handbook for the Art of Poetry” by Edward Hirsch. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the figures of speech used in poetry, including metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and more, and includes examples from classic and contemporary poetry.
- “Rhetorical Figures in Science” by Jeanne Fahnestock. This book examines how figures of speech are used in scientific writing and how they can be used to improve scientific communication.
- “The Art of Rhetoric” by Aristotle. This ancient Greek text is considered one of the earliest and most influential treatises on rhetoric, including figures of speech and the art of persuasion.
- “The Cambridge Handbook of Figurative Language” by Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk. This book provides a comprehensive overview of figurative language, including the latest research on metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, and other figures of speech.
- “The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought” by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier. This book explores the role of metaphor in thought and language and includes a discussion of the latest research on the cognitive and neural basis of metaphor.
- “The Oxford Guide to the History of English Literature” by Margaret Drabble. This book provides a historical overview of English literature and discusses the various figures of speech used by authors throughout history.
- “The Oxford Handbook of Figurative Language” by Andrea Tyler and Vyvyan Evans. This book provides a comprehensive overview of figurative language, including the latest research on metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and other figures of speech.
- “The Power of Metaphor” by Mark Turner. This book explores how metaphors shape our understanding of the world and how they are used in literature, science, and everyday language.
- “The Rhetoric of Fiction” by Wayne C. Booth. This book examines how figures of speech are used in fiction to create meaning, and includes a discussion of the reader’s role in interpreting figures of speech.
- “Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. This book provides guidance on using data visualisation to tell powerful and persuasive stories.
- “The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller” by John Truby. This book provides a step-by-step guide to creating powerful and effective stories, from the initial idea to the finished product, including character development, structure, and dialogue.
- “The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story” by John D. Walsh. This book provides practical tips and techniques for telling effective stories, whether in business, education, or personal contexts.
- “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. This classic study of mythology explores the common elements and techniques of storytelling across cultures and throughout history.
- “The Power of Narrative: Techniques for Crafting Compelling Stories” by Mark Dunford. This book provides practical guidance on how to create compelling stories using a variety of narrative techniques.
- “The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers” by John Dufresne. This book provides guidance on creating powerful and effective stories, from the initial idea to the finished product.
- “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories” by Christopher Booker. This book explores the seven basic narrative plots that underlie all stories, from myths and fairy tales to modern novels and films.
- “The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling” by Annette Simmons. This book explores how storytelling can be used to influence and persuade others in a variety of contexts, including business, education, and personal relationships.
- “The Storyteller’s Art: From Homer to the Modern Novel” by Brian Stock. This book explores the history of storytelling and its techniques, from ancient oral tradition to the modern novel.
- “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human” by Jonathan Gottschall. This book explores the science of storytelling and how it is an integral part of human nature.
- “The Storytelling Coach: How to Listen, Praise, and Bring Out People’s Best” by Doug Lipman. This book provides guidance on using storytelling to build relationships, inspire others, and bring out the best in people.
- “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” by Christopher Vogler. This book provides guidance on structuring stories using the mythic narrative patterns found in many of the world’s great myths and stories.
- “Narrative Theory: An Introduction” by David Herman. This book provides an overview of narrative theory and its application to various forms of literature and media.
- “The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV” by David Corbett. This book provides guidance on creating compelling and believable characters for fiction, film, and TV, including the use of motivation, backstory, and dialogue.
- “The Art of Description: World into Word” by Mark Doty. This book explores the use of description in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including sensory details, figurative language, and other techniques.
- “The Art of Exposition” by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. This book explores the use of expository writing, including argument, evidence, and other techniques to convey information and ideas effectively.
- “The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers” by John Gardner. This book offers guidance and insight for aspiring writers on how to improve their fiction writing skills, and it covers the elements of fiction, such as characters, plot, point of view, and style.
- “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr. This book provides guidance on how to write a memoir, including the use of dialogue, setting, and characterization.
- “The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes” by Joan Silber. This book explores the use of time in fiction, including the manipulation of time, the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards, and the creation of a sense of time in a story.
- “The Art of Voice: Voice and the Writing of Fiction” by John Casey. This book explores using voice in fiction, including creating a distinct narrative voice, using dialogue, and manipulating point of view.
- “The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative” by H. Porter Abbott. This book provides an overview of the history and theory of narrative, including a discussion of the elements of narrative, such as plot, character, and point of view.
- “The Craft of Fiction” by Percy Lubbock. This classic book offers guidance on the techniques of fiction writing, including character development, plot, and point of view.
- “The Narrative Construction of Reality” by Theodore R. Sarbin. This book explores the relationship between language, culture, and the construction of reality through narrative.
- “The Techniques of Fiction Writing” by Robie Macauley and George Lanning. This book provides a comprehensive guide to fiction writing techniques, including plot, character, dialogue, and point of view.
These books cover different aspects of books covering literary devices, figures of speech, and other storytelling techniques and provide practical tips and guidance. They include examples and explanations that could be helpful.
Image Credit: The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) is a canonical piece of children’s literature and one of the best-selling books ever published.
Attribution: Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pinocchio.jpg
Sources and Further Reading
- Artificial Intelligence: https://chat.openai.com/chat
Book (see other books listed under – Books you might find helpful Literary Terms)
Revisiting the Reading Workshop: A Complete Guide to Organizing and Managing an Effective Reading Workshop That Builds Independent, Strategic Readers (Scholastic Teaching Strategies) Paperback, by Barbara Orehovec (Author), Marybeth Alley (Author), published by Teaching Resources (1 July 2003), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Revisiting-Reading-Workshop-Organizing-Independent/dp/0439444047
- What are metaphors, at: https://youtu.be/JPEmbt8Qoy0
- Similes, at: https://youtu.be/LjcTBNljHxk
- LITERARY DEVICES | Learn about literary devices in English | Learn with examples | Figure of speech, at: https://youtu.be/OY2zPFQsKSI
- Literary Devices: How to Use Literary Elements to Improve Writing, at: https://youtu.be/JIFG3ojJSug
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source and Acknowledgement: Various Wikipedia websites and also Machine-based artificial intelligence at: https://chat.openai.com/chat (for most definitions) and other references as shown. ↑
- Source: Orehovec, Barbara (2003). Revisiting the Reading Workshop: A Complete Guide to Organizing and Managing an Effective Reading Workshop That Builds Independent, Strategic Readers (illustrated ed.). Scholastic Inc. p. 89. ISBN 0439444047. ↑
- Explanation: The Catcher in the Rye started as an American novel by J. D. Salinger that was partially published in serial form from 1945–46 before being novelised in 1951. Originally intended for adults, it is often read by adolescents for its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique of superficiality in society. The Catcher in the Rye has been translated widely. About one million copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million books so far. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2003, it was listed as number 15 on the BBC’s survey “The Big Read“. The Catcher in the Rye has famously avoided a Hollywood adaptation because of the author’s refusal to sell the movie rights. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Catcher_in_the_Rye ↑
- Explanation: The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is wrongly sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murders of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. Over the following two decades, he befriends a fellow prisoner, contraband smuggler Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and becomes instrumental in a money-laundering operation led by the prison warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton). William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, and James Whitmore appear in supporting roles. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shawshank_Redemption ↑