5 Basic Literary Devices That Will Deepen Your Fiction

5 Basic Literary Devices That Will Deepen Your Fiction

We all know the basic elements of stories. First you have your characters, then you have places for those characters to go, and then you have things for the characters to do. Now let’s take a deeper look. How can you add depth to your characters, settings, and events? The answer is simple: develop literary devices within your story.

Easier said than done, right? No worries. Here are some effective literary devices that will transform your readers from page skimmers into full-blown story analyzers.

Literary Device #1: Foil and Mirror Characters

This is arguably the simplest of the devices. Foil characters share few or no values or traits. Maybe one character is lazy and boring, and his best friend is energetic and a go-getter. These are foil characters. Put them together, and they’ll highlight each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The most common foil characters are the heroes and villains, who stand for different values and want to achieve separate goals.

Mirror characters are used for a similar purpose. They tend to share several qualities and are used to complement and highlight each other’s traits. Common mirror characters embark on parallel plots, sometimes to achieve a single goal, which tests them and highlights their traits in different ways.

Literary Device #2: Static and Dynamic Characters

Having a variety of characters brings flavor and depth to every story, but you don’t need to dive into the lives of every character in the story, showing every flaw they could possibly have, and explaining their family histories in detail. You don’t know the lives of every person you meet. Some you pass on the street and never see again, some you engage in small talk, and some become your friends.

Stories are the same way. Some characters will be static: background characters who serve basic roles. Most likely they are strangers to the main cast. They don’t have arcs, and readers usually won’t grow attached to them.

Dynamic characters are the people at the forefront of the story. These characters experience the most change throughout the stories. Villains who grow to have remorse, heroes who undergo tragedy. These characters will be the most developed. They will form friendships and serve major roles in the events of the story. Readers relate to dynamic characters because their traits are much more developed on emotional levels.

Literary Device #3: Symbolism

Attach meaning to objects. Things represent other things, usually societal, emotional, or personal. Country flags, the American Eagle, the Holy Land, the Nile River, and more. These all contain meaning. People look at these “objects” and see their country, or pride, or life sustenance. There are thousands of meanings. Death, freedom, sacrifice, love, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, help, savior, bravery, treachery… the list goes on and on.

Attach meanings to objects. Ground that into your story. Make it concrete. Symbolism will improve the quality because it can crop up at certain points to remind the main characters what they believe in and are fighting for.

Literary Device #4: Repetition of Ideas

Repeating certain events or structures will always help ground truth and reality into your story. Things that happen more than once will not go unnoticed by readers, so use that to your advantage and make those things important.

Literary Device #5: Parallelism of Events

Parallelism is my personal favorite story element.  Why?  Because parallelism makes light bulbs go off. Here’s a prime example: in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we’re told the Tale of the Three Brothers. The first brother died for power, the second died for lost love, and the third greeted death like an old friend. Well, look at the Second War. Voldemort sought ultimate power and died as a result. Snape died for lost love (Lily Potter died at Voldemort’s hand). Harry walked into the forest, ready to die, ready to greet death for the benefit of all.

Parallelism can also be between events, characters, settings, and dialogue. There is no limit. You can easily foreshadow something using parallelism if you an event early on that leads to a similar point later in the story. Readers will be able to analyze events and make connections to other parts of the story. Because parallelism allows for so much flexibility in the plot, you can weave multiple events together.

Have fun with these important literary devices, and most of all, be creative!

Tell me your opinion: What are some of your favorite literary devices? Do you have any others to add?

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About S. Alex Martin

Alex is a senior at Duquesne University studying Math, Physics, and English. He has written four novels over the past nine years and self-published three of them. Alex also runs the Get it Write Tonight blog, and is a co-admin of the YA Writers Alumni blog. Find Alex on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Alex!

  2. I love using symbolism. An example from my current WIP (first draft done!) are the dogs in the worker’s camp. One in particular, who is given the name Loner, stays away from the other dogs and is fearful, even though he’s bigger than all of them. Loner represents my protagonist, who keeps to himself and is fearful of others, even though he is a born leader. The name of the book is Camp Dogs, so it’s a fairly important symbol throughout the story.

    • Exactly, it’s especially cool that you can allude to it in your title. I think this could also be a form of parallelism/mirror characters

      • I’m coming into this conversation late (just came across it tonight). However, I have a question. How about metaphor? Is it considered a device that will give the story depth? What role can it play in a story’s development. Say, for instance, the poem & the bridge used in Sophie’s Choice. Thanks. #HopeIsContagious

        • thomas h cullen says

          The answer to this question can be various. Certainly, metaphor will deepen your text, but there’s always the risk of over-doing it.

          My advice is to make sure that your intent to use what you understand to be a metaphor is ‘well-founded’.

          (Make sure you know your story, in full, from the beginning: this then will allow you better ability to employ metaphors, themes, motifs and the like.)

  3. well done, and the examples are wonderful. Thanks for sharing, Alex. (and KM)

  4. thomas h cullen says

    Devices 4 and 5 – these are the two you offered which resonate with me the most.

    And two that I can most unequivocally claim to have made the very best use of in The Representative.

  5. Tina Goodman says

    My favorite device is literary irony.

  6. Tina Goodman says

    I love dramatic irony and foreshadowing.

    • thomas h cullen says

      Foreshadowing – the absolute prime literary device of The Representative Tina.

      I presume you’ve gone out of your way to define whatever you’ve written around them.

  7. Nice observation about Harry Potter. I never made that connection before, but it makes me all the more excited to read the last book again. Good tips to point out in general too. I myself love parallelism, symbolism (when done subtly) and foreshadowing.

    • Yeah, the Tale of the Three Brothers in HP is just one of a thousand examples. JK Rowling has so many parallel plots, symbols, easter eggs, and other devices. It’s fun to dig into HP to find all that stuff

      • Never realized that either. Do you know any other sites where they dig deeper into her stuff? Would be interesting to see how she’s woven all of that together.

  8. Great post! Thank you! I love villains redeemed btw, rock on Regina from OUAT!

  9. Alex, thanks for sharing your insights. K.M., thanks for bringing Alex and his ideas to our attention.

    I try to use all five of the devices you mentioned. I also like to use a novel title that can mean more than one thing as relates to the story. For my first novel, I used the title Chantal’s Call, which had to do with both the phone call that brought her back to her hometown and the larger call to return to her faith, which she had strayed from because of certain life experiences.

  10. Yeah, I think that HP reference is a bit of stretch. Personally I like the Casablanca ‘ran off with the senator’s wife, absconded with church funds, killed a man’ Louis came up with that would mirror Rick’s journey.

  11. I like what you said about repetition. In my first book, “Rock And Roll Children,” I was criticized for overpounding my point about how those were into heavy metal were discriminated against back in the 80s. The thing is they were and worse than some people imagine. What you say justifies me.

  12. Thanks, Alex and KM. I am using symbolism in my WIP by making use of light and dark in scenes. Key scenes feature characters walking into dusky settings or direct sunlight, depending on the scene and the mood I am trying to achieve. This use of symbolism also highlights the theme of the gray areas of morality. Thanks again.

  13. Thank you for this post! Very intriguing ideas some of which have naturally formed in my current writing. When I read HP, I will now hunt for different literary devices. Question: Can coffee be used as a symbol of an idea awakening? Again, thank you and best wishes!

  14. Useful blog…I like mirroring the beginning and endings – same/similar scene but with fundamental changes resulting from what the MC’s been through in the course of the story.

    What also surprises me, particularly with symbolism, is how sometimes, you never intend as the writer to make something deliberatley symbolic, but the reader sees something more. For eg, I had a tavern called The Broken Apple; it’s sign was of an apple cut in two by a silver cleaver. Just an image…but the readers read that as being indicative of the MC’s foiled plan when she goes inside…

  15. Great tips! The only thing I would say differently are foil characters- from my understanding, foil characters don’t have to be exact opposites. In fact, to deepen characterization, the best foil characters are those who are raised the same way, or have similar lives or back stories, but prove their true character by the slight difference in choices that make the story possible, like in, say, Hamlet: contrasting Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet, and their different reactions to their fathers’ murders. Great tips though!

  16. Thanks for the great tips Alex 🙂 That’s what I’m exploring in my current WIP ~ it’s a Dystopian novel and I’m working on attaching meaning to certain symbols… need to look at where I can use parallelism… I love those kind of ‘light bulb moments!’ Great post 🙂

  17. I’ve noticed that I tend to use a lot of foreshadowing in my paranormal mysteries, usually through a character’s dreams or just a sensing that something isn’t quite right. Also, my FMC often comments that she is quite capable of taking care of herself (she has brothers and a boyfriend who are overprotective to the point of being overbearing), which almost always leads into her getting in over her head with whatever she is investigating.

  18. Ted Miller says

    I am curious about the device which gave rise to the fictional Edgar Rice Burroughs. In nearly all of his books, Burroughs prefaces with a story about how the tale is actually true, and under what circumstances the manuscript was delivered to him. He started this with his first book in 1915, but he’s not the only one to use it. 6 years before Gaston Leroux claims his Phantom of the Opera actually happened, and that his book was the result of careful research. I’m curious how this device got its start.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a common device in classic novels (Dracula also comes to mind), but I’m not entirely sure where it originated.


  1. […] How can you add depth to your characters, settings, and events? The answer is simple: develop literary devices within your story.  […]

  2. […] We all know the basic elements of stories. First you have your characters, then you have places for those characters to go, and then you have things for the characters to do. Now let’s take a deeper look. How can you add depth to your characters, settings, and events? The answer is simple: develop literary devices within your story.  […]

  3. […] 5 Basic Literary Devices That Will Deepen Your Fiction by S. Alex Martin via @KMWeiland […]

  4. […] stumbled across this awesome link on 5 Basic Literary Devices That will Deepen Your Fiction. No matter your skill level, this information comes in […]

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  6. […] if you want more of her tips on how to use great literary devices to better your story structure, just click here. Or buy her book Structuring Your […]

  7. […] if you want more of her tips on how to use great literary devices to better your story structure, just click here. Or buy her book Structuring Your […]

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