How to Arrange Words: 20 Literary Devices


SCHEMES: Unusual patterns of words.

Yesterday, I talked about How to Use Words, or Tropes: any literary use of a word that is other than it’s literal meaning.

Today, we’ll look at how to arrange words. Schemes are the arrangement of words into patterns of some sort. Common schemes look at how words are balanced, inverted, omitted, repeated or subordinated.

As Clive said in the comments, I may not think about these consciously as I write; but when I revise, I try to keep them in mind as options for better ways to express something. Especially here in the arrangement of words, I might think about repetition as a way to emphasize, or subordination as a way to show relationships among ideas, etc. Or think of these as exercises to try. It’s interesting to take one ideas and try to express with each of these structures and how it creates subtle changes in the idea itself.

Balance Schemes

  1. Parallelism: Grammatical elements similar in structure.

    Ex. Singing a song or writing a poem is joyous.

  2. Antithesis: use of parallel structure to emphasize contrasting ideas.

    Ex. It can’t be wrong if it feels so right. Debbie Boone.

  3. Isocolon: Use of grammatical elements equal in structure and length (equal # words)

    Ex. The snow was pure, blazing white and sheer, freezing cold.

  4. Unusual or Inverted Word Order Schemes

  5. Anastrophe: Inverted word order.

    Ex. Something wicked this way comes. Ray Bradbury

  6. Parenthesis: Insertion of a phrase or clause that interrupts the main part of a sentence.

    Ex. The apple, a Granny Smith variety, was sour.

  7. Schemes of Omission

  8. Ellipsis: Deliberate omission of a word(s) that can be understood by the reader from context and grammar.

    Ex. I’d rather look like Mary McCarthy or Georgia O’Keefe, face not an issue. Just my pal, my consort, my partner in crime. Patricia Volk

    With the omitted words:
    I’d rather look like Mary McCarthy or Georgia O’Keefe, [a woman for whom] face [is] not an issue. [Instead, my face is] just my pal, my consort, my partner in crime.

  9. Asyndeton: deliberate lack of conjunctions between parallel or related clauses.

    Ex. I came; I saw; I conquered. Julius Caesar

  10. Polysnydeton: Intentional use of many conjunctions.

    Ex. I came and I saw and I conquered.

  11. Repetition Schemes

  12. Alliteration: Repetition of initial consonants.

    Ex. The soul selects her own society. Emily Dickinson

  13. Assonance: Repetition of similar vowel sounds.

    Ex. The spider skins lie on their sides, translucent and ragged and their legs drying in knots. Annie Dillard.

  14. Consonance: Repetition of similar consonants.

    Ex. Dark, deep dread crept in.

  15. Polyptoton: Repetition of words with same root but different endings or different forms.

    Ex. Poverty and isolation produce impoverished and isolated minds. William Gass

  16. Anaphora: Repetition of same word or phrase at the beginning of clauses or sentences.

    Ex. Goodnight moon, goodnight room. Margaret Wise Brown.

  17. Epistrophe: Repetition of words or phrases at the end of subsequent clauses or sentences.

    Ex. A government of the people, by the people and for the people.

  18. Epanalepsis: Use of same word or phrase at the beginning and end of a clause or sentence.

    Ex. Blood hath bought blood, and blows have answer’d blows. William Shakespeare

  19. Anadiplosis: Repetition of the last word of a clause (or sentence) in the first word of the following one, thereby joining the units.

    Ex. He was big, big as a mountain.

  20. Tricolon: use of three parallel phrases or clauses, usually climactically arranged.

    Ex. But in the larger sense, we cannot dedicate we cannot consecrate we cannot hallow this ground. Abraham Lincoln.

  21. Chiasmus: Repetition in which the order of words in one clause is reversed in the second.

    Ex. It’s not the word made flesh we want in writing, in poetry and fiction, but the flesh made word. William Gass.

  22. Subordination Schemes

  23. Parataxis: Clauses or sentences not connected by subordination or logical, explicit transitional words

    Ex. In the morning it was raining. A fog had come over the mountains from the sea. You could not see the tops of the mountains. Ernest Hemingway.

  24. Hypotaxis: Clauses or sentences are deliberately subordinated one to another.

    Ex. Because it was raining, a fog had come over the mountains from the sea. Consequently, you could not see the tops of the mountains.

Also, see how Winston Churchhill effectively uses these and other schemes.

  • Clive
    August 8, 2007

    Here’s an example of how I do this, but not consciously. The following is a bite from my novel which includes Parallelism and Anastrophe. This is the end of chapter three, a pivotal moment in the story and depending on the protagonist’s decision, the entire adventure springboards…

    ‘What are you going to do?’ asked Lizzie. ‘If you want to turn back, I will understand.’
    ‘The journey has already begun,’ Charles wiped the wetness from his blushing cheeks and forced a grin that he didn’t really feel. ‘If this voyage kills me it matters not. I’m dead anyway.’

  • Sarah
    August 8, 2007

    Wow. A list of technical names for how words are arranged, with wonderful examples. I have heard of a few of these terms, and have seen examples, even chapter length applications of parallelism and chiamus. But most of these terms are new to me.

    I recognize most of these patterns and naturally use them in my own writing, but now I need to study them and consciously apply them.