Top Tips for Everyday Writing - Linguistic Devices
A great way to perk up your everyday writing and improve the impact of your words is to use linguistic devices. There is a whole range to explore and you can use as many or as few as you like in each piece depending on what you feel is appropriate.
Some exciting pieces of writing, where you are trying to keep the reader’s close attention, might demand a mixture of them thrown in, whereas you may feel that for another, more specific piece, or for essay writing, you choose to use just one device and repeat it over and over again for added impact and effect.
So what are linguistic devices, and how do you use them? Here are my top picks!
A metaphor is one of the best of all linguistic tools for descriptive writing. It allows you to really create a strong image and sensation in the reader’s mind and bring your text alive for them.
When you use a metaphor, you simply describe something by saying that it was or is something else. You rely on the reader’s common sense to realise that you are taking poetic license, and are not actually suggesting that it is that thing.
For example: “The sun was a burning ruby, sinking into the glass mirror of the sea”
Metaphors are often most powerful in descriptive passages, where you can really let your imagination run wild, but they can also be especially useful for helping to describe character and personality (think of how many characteristics you would immediately associate with somebody described as a mouse, lion or snake for example!)
Top metaphor tip: remember not just to pick an object out of thin air for your metaphor, but try to choose something that really embodies the characteristics and feel of the thing you are describing.
For example: “The castle was a crouching ogre” is much more effective than “The castle was a mountain”.
Like metaphors, similes provide description by associating something with another object, but in this case, it is a comparison . So you say something is ‘like’ something else.
For example: “The bird’s feathers were as soft as snow and gleamed like silver!”
Some writers think similes are inferior or less powerful than metaphors, but they can be really useful for gentle, more subtle description.
Top simile tip: similes are easy to recognise as they will almost always contain the word ‘like’ or ‘as’.
Alliteration is a technical device where a writer groups together several words which all start with the same letter. It gives strength and impact to a sentence or phrase, and can be used for a variety of different effects.
Alliteration is often useful in headlines or journalistic-style writing, where it is used to create a catchy, attention-grabbing summary to get people interested in a story.
For example: “Fans furious at footballer’s fancy footwork”
It can also be particularly effective in descriptive language, where it gives a cumulative effect, making your description more immediate and intense.
For example: “The lemon coloured lizard lightly licked its tongue along the ledge”.
(No, not every word has to start with the same letter, it’s ok to slip some others in between!)
Finally alliteration can be particularly powerful when you are writing persuasively, whether a text or a speech, in helping you to influence the emotions of your reader and really push your point.
For example: “These children desperately need your hope, your heart, your hands and your help.”
Onomatopoeia sounds pretty complex, but it actually just means using a word that sounds like its meaning. This can mean loud, impact-type noises like ‘crash’, ‘bang’, ‘thump’, but it also has more subtle uses, such as ‘slippery’ and ‘slither’ or ‘squelch’ and ‘flutter’.
Onomatopoeia is a great way to really bring your writing to life for the reader, because it draws on other senses rather than just visual description. One particularly famous and effective example is Seamus Heaney’s use of the technique in his poem “Death of a Naturalist ”.
For example: “The mud squelched and farted between my toes and my legs were sucked into the slippery, belching bog”
Is much more effective than:
“The mud rose up all around my legs and my feet were pulled down into it”
Personification is a very helpful, yet little-used linguistic device. It means describing an inanimate object in a way that suggests it actually has life, personality or feelings. It is often extremely useful in conveying subtle emotion within your descriptive writing and characterisation.
For example: “The mirror gleamed cruelly back at her, harshly amplifying every single one of her wrinkles.”
By using personification like this we project the character’s feelings onto the mirror, thereby demonstrating that she is unhappy about her appearance so irrationally implies that the mirror is being deliberately unkind in its reflection. This is a much more subtle and effective way of displaying the character’s emotions than if the writer simply said “she hated her reflection and thought she looked old”.
Personification can also be extremely effective in setting the atmosphere of a scene, as it can give a sense of real character and feeling to the place you are describing, adding a great deal to the intensity of the reader’s imagination.
For example: “The wood bristled with hostile shadows and the trees towered sternly above her. The leaves crunched crossly under her feet and the few shafts of sunlight pierced harshly and accusingly through the canopy.”
The best thing of all about linguistic devices is that there are no rules, so you can enjoy playing around with them in different ways, practising methods of including them in your writing, and most excitingly of all, coming up with new ones of your own!
You can find some great help and advice online on how to write well and it can be really helpful to look at custom essays as examples.
My other online resource for writing, elly naylor on Squidoo has some helpful hints you may find useful too!
Please let us know if you have any great writing techniques to share using the guestbook!