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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Crash! Crunch! Cabang! Where have all the Literary Devices Gone?

by Gila Green

Writers are forever hearing they need to improve their writing skills. No matter what we produce and how frequently, there’s always some well-meaning editor, fellow writer or classmate hinting that you can never learn enough about writing.

Interpret that as you wish. Perhaps, you see great writing as an exercise bike you need to ride forever, or like a sink in which dishes grow (if it’s anything like my kitchen sink). Either way most of these messages are downers.

The answers we’re given repeatedly once we ask that inevitable question—How does a writer improve her craft?—are often framed as more of a chore than a bowl of cherries.

No doubt you’ve read that writers have to be voracious readers, readers so starved for reading material that only the dry end of a book cover or sharp end of a kindle is true nourishment. Food is blasé in comparison, simply providing enough fuel for you to swallow the next page.

The other most common response I’ve read to this question of how to improve your writing is to simply write. Write we are told! Even if your words are headed for the trash, eventually the cream will rise to the top, the garbage will fall to the dregs, either metaphor, the route to victory is to produce yet more writing.

Number three on my list of most popular advice is to review grammar and sentence structure, to shake the cobwebs off of an old Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and commit it to memory.

All of this advice has some merit.

But never do I read what I think is equally good advice (if not better, OK, I think it’s better): brush up on your literary devices. Yes! It bears repeating: brush up on your literary devices.

There are a variety of reasons why this is my number one, though far less popular answer. I’ll give you three here. First, they are fun. When you are having fun and enjoying the writing process, you will automatically improve your writing. Your mood and enjoyment will sizzle onto the page. It’s fun to attempt an alliteration (repeated consonants). Try it right now. Here’s my stab: “They appeared chained to their chairs, like anesthetized chimpanzees.” Pure amusement.

What is more merry: memorizing the difference between its and it’s or manipulating onomatopoeia into a sentence? Ker-plash! The wet towel smacked him in the face. Crunch! Uh oh. What did she just sit on? That has to motivate you to write better far more than reading about evil adverbs for the umpteenth time. I had to stop myself from adding another example because let’s face it: boing, snort, plop, plop, fizz fizz are fun to write.

Then there’s one of my favorite literary devices: description. Consider how delightful it is to experiment with vivid verbs. The bus bleated for the passengers to board, instead of the usual honked; or she melted onto her chair, instead of sat down. Is it possible that this might encourage better writing and be just as effective as reading every genre, including the telephone directory or writing, possibly for years, until your best works jumps out at you or doing another spellcheck? Absolutely.

There are so many literary devices to choose from; even a quick review should jazz up your work in no time.


Canadian Gila Green moved to Israel in 1994. Her novel King of the Class was released in April 2013 by NON Publishing, Vancouver. Her stories and articles appear in tens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, UK and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten's TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award and the Ha'aretz Short Fiction Award. Gila has an MA in Creative Writing and an undergraduate journalism and English literature degree. Please visit:


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  1. I love how you frame improving our craft as something fun vs. a chore. Literary devices are a delicious part of writing.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Fun is a far better motivator-yes!


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