Episode 191: Choose Your Weapon

On July 9, 2022, Kasie and Rex picked up where they’d left off with literary devices. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Literary Devices Until We Run Out of Time


  • What are literary devices?
  • SCWA’s Annual Conference is open for registration
  • The long list of literary devices until we run out of time
Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

It’s been a while since we worked on literary devices (episode 125) so here’s a run down: Here’s the link for that silly blog (from episode 125) which actually does have a great list of devices we’re going to work off of today:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadow
  • Juxtaposition

So then we added:

  • Allusion – refer to other literature
  • Anachronism – put something out of place in the era
  • Anthropomorphism (personification) – give an object or nature human characteristics
  • Archetype – we did a whole show on the female catalogue of these
  • Frame story – a play within the play
  • Hyperbole – exaggeration
  • Hypophora – the character asks a question and then immediately answers it himself
  • Irony – the difference between how things are perceived and how they really are: dramatic (readers knows before the character does), situational (characters and reader are surprised by events), verbal (when the intended meaning of a statement is the exact opposite of what is said)

Last week we worked personification and anthropomorphism. So this week we’re going to go through the list until we run out of time.

  • Simile
  • Metaphor

We’ll work these two together like they do in English classes. What is a simile? A simile is a phrase or comparison to describe something. They’re spotted when you see the word “like” or “as” to create the comparison.

Metaphors, on the other hand, are figures of speech that describe something through comparison without using “like” or “as.”  

  • You act like a dog | You ain’t nothin but a hound dog
  • Life is like a box of chocolates  |  Life is a box of chocolates
  • Like the back of my hand  |  better than I know myself
  • She walks in beauty like the night  |  Hela is night and darkness and fear.
  • I wandered lonely as a cloud  |  I am a feather on the breeze.
  • What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  |  Our dreams had pruned.

Segment 2

What are some benefits of similes and metaphors?

What are some pitfalls or things to worry about?

Jericho Writers has these do’s and don’ts on similes and metaphors:

  • Watch out for mixed metaphors (in the ninth hour we needed a home run)
  • Use sparingly but mix them up throughout your work (what’s the right number per page?)
  • Look for common metaphors and try to reconfigure them
  • Avoid cliches (don’t you love that advice?)

Before we move on, let’s remind you that the SCWA’s annual conference is open for registration at myscwa.org. What do you get at SCWA’s Fall Conference? 

  • Keynote and workshop from author, cultural critic, and book editor Leigh Stein whose Twitter account is on fire as she examines exactly what social media is doing to us as individuals and collectively. 
  • The youngest and first black female poet laureate in Alabama history, Ashley M. Jones keynotes and teaches a workshop. 
  • Not one, but TWO literary agents will give keynotes as well so all those “How do I get an agent?” questions will be answered. 

The conference is at Pawley’s Island at the beach so that might be reason enough. It’s October 21-23 and more faculty and details can be found here.

For those of you who are travel shy or just prefer to learn from the comfort of your own home, SCWA is offering a virtual option as well. It’s not the same conference, but it does feature some of our faculty from the IRL version. Check out the virtual conference – it’s a cheaper option. October 7-9 featuring Hub City’s Meg Reid, agent Michaela Whatnall, editor Katoya Ellis Fleming, and many more.

Next on the list of literary devices? It’s Imagery

The use of figurative language to evoke sensory emotions to draw a picture for a reader. (link)

This quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter:

“Love, whether newly born or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.”

Like last week’s discussion on personification, some really good writers don’t even realize they’re doing this. It just comes naturally as you write. Some common ones:

  • The autumn leaves are a blanket on the ground.
  • Her lips tasted as sweet as sugar.
  • His words felt like a dagger in my heart.
  • My head is pounding like a drum.
  • The kitten’s fur is milky.
  • The siren turned into a whisper as it ended.

Segment 3

Motifs – while looking for imagery I came across this article on motifs and thought we could unpack them, too. Motifs are a recurring element in the work that often has a symbolic element. The key to a motif is its repetition, frequent references that help illuminate dominant themes in the work.

The one that comes to mind immediately is the trains in Anna Karenina which are both a modern marvel – underscoring the transition from the old Russia to the new, modern Russia, but also the capabilities of transportation of offering both freedom – speed and distance – but confined to pre-laid terms – tracks, cars, tickets and platforms. Everytime we encounter a train in Anna Karenina we’re reminded of her struggle against the confines of her own society and also the excitement and terror of the modern life tugging at all of Russian society.

Themes, symbols, and motifs are frequently treated together when taught, but they’re different (link):

  • Themes are abstract or conceptual and live in the backdrop of a story as a main idea.
  • Symbols are objects that represent something else: a white dove, a skeleton key, a snake
  • Motifs are symbolic, but not objects rather, phrases or words repeated: the scent of oranges in Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris is used to indicate the triggering of a migraine by the characters’ mother. The smell of peanuts at the circus is used to taunt the little girl who wants to be part of proper society in The Greatest Showman.

What other motifs can we think of?

Segment 4

Let’s do this week’s “how to” on motifs. Next week we’ll take on flashback and foreshadow and juxtaposition. From the earlier link, here are some steps/tips for using motifs in your work – and remember they might be there without you knowing. Readers will find them and you’ll be like, “Hot damn! Look at me go!” But if you plan to be intentional, here are four “rules”:

  1. Start by knowing what your story’s central theme is. Some central themes we can think of are …
  2. After thinking about those themes, write them down (is that really step 2? yes).
  3. Brainstorm any imagery you can think of that relates to the themes
  4. Refine the brainstorm list into some motifs you can use.

So those instructions were kind of weak. I’d say be careful about overuse and don’t hit your reader over the head with them.

Motifs sometimes emerge when you see the connection between two scenes and you want to reinforce the theme between them. Some times we’ve used them in our own writing are ….

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