Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Literary Devices in the Non-Literary Novel

fingerlickindead--smallMy son’s Language Arts class is required to do a literary analysis at the end of each quarter on whatever novel they’ve read for fun.

I got an email yesterday from one mom in the class, saying that her son had chosen Delicious and Suspicious to analyze.

My first reaction was, “Uh oh.” The assignment states:

A literary analysis is not merely a summary of a literary work. Instead, it is an argument about the work that expresses a writer’s personal perspective, interpretation, judgment, or critical evaluation of the work. This is accomplished by examining the literary devices, word choices, or writing structures the author uses within the text. The purpose of a literary analysis is to demonstrate why the author used specific ideas, word choices, or writing structures to convey his or her message. It is a careful evaluation of the work.

This is one of those things that tends to make me feel insecure because I’m not writing literary fiction. I didn’t write the book by planning out specific literary devices that I was going to include. I was focusing on the story.

What was my theme for the story? Murder happens? Hmm. Good versus evil? And how had I conveyed this message? Literary devices? Bleh.

Then I started thinking about it. Although I might not have planned to include different elements in my book, I think most of us include them without really thinking about it. Maybe this comes from years of reading.

Simile and metaphor? At first I thought figurative language counted among elements that I didn’t include very often in my books. But then I started thinking about it—I’m fond of using them for my character descriptions. I’m not a huge fan of description, so if I can say a character’s mustache makes him ‘look like Captain Kangaroo,’ then I’m going to go that route instead. Same with casual use of metaphors…the backyard was a furnace, not just ‘hot.’

Imagery? My first reaction was that I don’t use much imagery in my books because I avoid graphic depictions of crime scenes. But I do use imagery to set up scary scenes, humorous scenes, etc. Really, imagery is just getting our readers to picture and experience our made-up world by incorporating all of the senses in our writing. That’s just something that comes naturally to writers, I think.

Allusion? That’s one of my character, Myrtle Clover’s, favorite things. She’s a former English teacher and she’s always muttering literary allusions under her breath and feeling clever.

Alliteration is sort of fun—I’ll occasionally stick in a few examples (mostly, again, when I’m trying to be funny.)

Tone? Oh we all use specific word choices to create tone. And I don’t think we’re actually sitting down to analyze what we’re doing, either. It’s almost automatic.

Foreshadowing? I like to use a touch of it.

Flashbacks? Those have been sort of looked down on lately (and they can make life complicated for readers). I usually try to steer away from them.

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we’re all using a lot more literary devices, elements, and figurative language than we might think. So no worries about Language Arts projects! In our pursuit of story, literature happens. :)

What literary devices do you use in your writing? Are you even really aware that you’re including them?