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Incorporate 3 literary devices into narratives
September 7, 2022
Narrative writing can be compared to a roller-coaster ride. It begins with the introduction of character and setting. Then, a problem or conflict is revealed. The problem is played out through rising action and leads to a climax. The story ends with a solution or resolution to the original problem.
While this is the basic plot map for all narrative writing, the story comes alive when writers are selective about using literary devices. These include inserting character dialogue, hinting at what’s to come with a foreshadow, or creating a surprise or twist ending.
Three additional techniques to teach older writers include: suspense, pacing, and tension.
Suspense makes the reader feel great concern for a character’s future. In order to create this reader anxiety, the writer must first reveal a major situation or big event to come (e.g., a surprise party, an impending storm, a secret known to everyone else, etc.). As the event gets closer or its outcome is jeopardized, the suspense builds.
Pacing is a second literary device. This technique is especially valuable for stories that include many repeating events and/or span beyond a single day.
The audience only has so much mental energy. Consequently, writers need to linger on the most important information but also manipulate time to move faster over the lesser important details. Teach students how to pick up the pace and advance the clock by minutes, hours, days, or years—all in a single sentence.
Everything seemed normal until she came home from school.
He checked the mailbox every day for weeks.
The carpet path between their apartments thinned as their plans thickened.
His emotional struggle could be between himself and a goal, between his head and his heart, or between what’s legal and what’s moral. The tension builds each time the writer reveals the character’s emotional dilemma, his escalating feelings, and his wavering thoughts. The character is emotionally stretched to a breaking point.
These same literary devices taught to student writers are elements to analyze when reading literature. But knowing these techniques is one thing. Executing them is another! So here’s the secret—prewriting.
Plan for literary devices
Narrative techniques must be planned into a story from its conception; they are not sprinkled in haphazardly later. In other words, they are incorporated into first drafts—not saved for revision.
When the pre-write is created, first determine the problem the character will face and its resolution. Then consider ways that the conflict could “get worse” before it gets better. Creating episodes of conflict and tension extends the audience’s emotional “ride,” and this is where narrative techniques live—in the middle.
Adding suspense, tension, or pacing to the rising action will also make students’ stories longer. These “storm cloud” scenes and episodes occur after the conflict. Each one added stretches the middle and pushes the climax and resolution farther down the path.
By inserting these techniques in the middle of a story, it increases audience engagement.
- Suspense requires the addition of little obstacles that jeopardize the future event.
- Pacing requires a combination of slow-motion moments and fast-forwarding through time.
- Tension requires additional inner dialogue from the character expressing his fears, worries, wonderings, and questions.
Although the basic map of every story is essentially the same, incorporate any of these narrative techniques to create a story that is more suspenseful, moves faster, and/or is emotionally engaging for the reader.