Writer's devices develop direction

April 12, 2012|Lisa Prejean

What do the movie "Avatar" and John Bunyan's book "Pilgrim's Progress" have in common?

If you say both focus on man's journey to understand life and the world around him, you would be correct.

If you say that both are allegorical accounts — one focusing on current cultural and political concerns and the other focusing on a faith-based journey through life — you would also be correct.

Allegory uses objects, persons, and actions in a story so a reader can understand a related concept.

By writing allegorical tales, an author makes a story come alive and become more interesting for the reader.

My students are learning how to identify the devices used by authors and why these are effective. By doing so, the students become stronger writers themselves.

Here are some other terms we are exploring:

 Alliteration: repetition of a beginning sound. My favorite example of this device comes from Stan and Jan Berenstain: Big Brown Bear, Blue Bull, Beautiful Baboon ... a tale using 33 different words that start with "B" in  —what else? —"The B Book." Alliteration is often used in poetry, greeting cards and newspaper headlines.

 Allusion: Not to be confused with a magician's illusion, allusion refers to something else. In the midst of a busy day, the off-handed comment, "Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh, My!" is an allusion to the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" where Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion are navigating the Yellow Brick Road together. (The implication is that the journey is challenging, but at least we're in this together.)

 Anaphora (un-NAF-er-uh): the repetition of words at the start of successive clauses. This rhetorical device keeps the reader focused on the message. Martin Luther King Jr. used this technique as part of his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

 Antithesis: the juxtaposition of sharply contrasting ideas in balanced/parallel words. Charles Dickens employs this technique in the familiar start to "A Tale of Two Cities":

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."

 Aphorism: concise statement designed to make a point. Statements such as "A watched pot never boils," fall into this category. Grandparents are great sources for these.

 Apostrophe: In addition to that little mark that shows possession — as in Harry's hat — the word apostrophe can also refer to a rhetorical device in which some absent or nonexistent person or thing is addressed. This technique is used in the song "Blue Moon," as if the moon will soothe a lonely heart:

"Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone. Without a dream in my heart. Without a love of my own."

There are so many ways to express oneself. The possibilities are endless.

(So, did you learn anything from reading this column? Which rhetorical device did I use most often? Friendly teacher hint: All the defined words start with the same letter.)

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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