Murmurs of Words

For all your writing needs

Month: January 2019

CPD Going Well

So, I passed the Headway stage of SfEP’s training programme. Very happy!


Just Do It

By Matthew Roy Davey

Remi lit a cigarette and moved to the window.  Below, on the opposite side of the street, an old man in a sheepskin coat was emerging from the Tesco Metro.

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Two for Sorrow

By Matthew Roy Davey

The magpies were in the road, pecking at something on the hot tarmac.  

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Literary Devices


A list of literary devices is a good resource for any writer to have on hand. This is because careful use of literary devices can help elevate a book from a story people forget, to a piece of literature that stays with them long after the last page.

Just think — Shakespeare could have written: “Everyone has a role in life.”

Instead, he used a literary device and quilled what is likely the most famous metaphor:

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players

And the rest is history.

What are literary devices?

Literary devices are tools used by writers to construct text that expresses their ideas with artistic depth. They can clarify and emphasize concepts, create resonance within a narrative, and invite readers to dig a little deeper into the story’s themes. While all of these tools fall under the umbrella of “literary devices” — the purpose and impact of each one ranges. Some might underscore a narrative and work on an intellectual level, while others have more of a subtle, visceral, or emotional effect. Finally, they might also work to simply enhance the flow and pacing of your writing.

Common literary devices

If you’re looking to inject a little more flare and depth to your prose, this list of literary devices is a good place to start.

1. Allegory

The Tortoise and the Hare is about more than just a turtle, a rabbit, and a race. It’s also a story that aims to teach the lesson: slow and steady wins the race. That’s what an allegory does: it’s a type of narrative that uses characters and plot to exemplify abstract ideas and themes — such as patience. In an allegorical story, events and characters tend to represent more than they appear to on the surface.

Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell. This dystopian novella is one of modern literature’s best-known allegories. A commentary on the events leading up to Stalin’s rise and the formation of the Soviet Union, the pigs at the heart of the novel’s rural uprising are blatantly representative of figures such as Stalin, Trotsky, and Molotov.

2. Alliteration

A series of words used in quick succession that all start with the same letters or sound. Used to lend a pleasing cadence to prose or poetry. And if you doubt whether they really have an impact on a reader’s experience, just think of the following unforgettable titles: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Sense and Sensibility, The Haunting of Hill House.

Example: She sells seashells by the seashore.

3. Allusion

You probably allude to things all the time in everyday speech. An allusion is a passing or indirect descriptive reference to something.

Example: “This list of literary devices will turn me into a bonafide Hemingway.”

4. Anastrophe

A figure of speech in which the traditional sentence structure is reversed. So a traditional verb-subject-adjective sentence such as as “Are you ready?” becomes a Yoda-esque adjective-verb-subject question: “Ready, are you?” Or a standard adjective-noun pairing like “tall mountains” becomes “mountains tall.”

Example: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing.” — Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

5. Anthropomorphism

When human traits or qualities are applied to non-human things — such as objects, animals, or weather — the thing becomes anthropomorphized.

Examples: In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Mrs. Potts the teapot, Cogsworth the clock, and Lumière the candlestick are all household objects that act and behave like humans (which, of course, they were when they weren’t under a spell).

Similar term: personification (see below)

The household items in “Beauty and the Beast” have been anthropomorphized (image: Disney)

6. Aphorism

A universally accepted truth stated in a concise, to-the-point manner. They’re typically said in a witty or humorous style that gives them sticking power — and can take the form of an adage or proverb.

Example: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” — Alexander Pope

7. Chiasmus

When two or more parallel clauses are inverted. “What does that mean and why would I do that?” you might be wondering. Well, a chiasmus might sound confusing in definition, but you’ve more than likely come across it in execution….

Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy

8. Colloquialism

The use of casual and informal language in writing — this can also include slang. Colloquialisms are used to provide further context to settings and characters. Imagine reading a YA novel that takes place in modern America, and the characters speak to each other like this:

“Good morning, Sue. I hope that you slept well and are prepared for this morning’s science exam.”

It’s not realistic. Inject colloquialisms for more believable dialogue.

“Hey Sue, what’d you get up to last night? This science exam is gonna suck.”

Example: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh takes place in Scotland — a fact undeniably apparent by simply glancing at the use of dialect: “Thing is, as ye git aulder, this character-deficiency gig becomes mair sapping. Thir wis a time ah used tae say tae aw the teachers, bosses, dole punters, poll-tax guys, magistrates, when they telt me ah was deficient: ’Hi, cool it, gadge, ah’m jist me, jist intae a different sort ay gig fae youse but, ken?’”

9. Euphemism

An indirect or “politer” way of describing something deemed inappropriate or awkward to address directly.

Example: When an elderly person is forced to retire, it’s often said that they’re being “put out to pasture.”

10. Foreshadowing

When authors hint at events yet to come. Foreshadowing is often used to create tension or suspense — leaving readers just enough breadcrumbs to keep them hungry for more.

Example: While there are many ways to foreshadow, a popular method is through partial reveals: the narrator says something, but leaves out key facts to prompt readers’ curiosity. This is done in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides: “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese, the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”

11. Hyperbole

An exaggerated statement that emphasizes the significance of the statement’s actual meaning.

Example: “At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” — Gabriel García Márquez,Living to Tell the Tale

12. Hypophora

Much like a rhetorical question, wherein a question is asked and an answer is not required. However, hypophora is where the person raises a question and answers it immediately. It’s often used when characters are reasoning something aloud.

Example: “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Musing Daisy Buchanan has a habit of hypophora — answering her own questions (image: Warner Bros)

13. Imagery

Imagery is a way of appealing to readers’ sense through descriptive language. It’s also crucial for any writer looking to follow the commonly cited rule “show, don’t tell.”

Example: “In the hard-packed dirt of the midway, after the glaring lights are out and the people have gone to bed, you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles, partially gnawed ice cream cones and wooden sticks of lollipops.” — E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

14. Irony

Creates contrast between how things seem and how they really are beneath the surface. There are three types of leterary irony ironydramatic (when readers know what will happen before characters do), situational (when readers expect a certain outcome, only to be surprised by a turn of events), and verbal (when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what was said).

Example: This opening scene from Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil is a great example of how dramatic irony can create tension.

15. Juxtaposition

Sometimes the best way for us to understand something is by understanding what it’s not. This is the point of juxtaposition: by placing two or more characters, themes, concepts, places, etc. side by side, their differences are highlighted through contrast.

Example: In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses juxtaposition to emphasize the societal disparity that led to the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

16. Metaphor

When it comes to literary devices, this one is a heavy hitter. Unlike juxtaposition, metaphors help us make sense of things by comparing the common characteristics of two unlike things.

Example: Metaphors are literature’s bread and butter (metaphor intended) — good luck finding a novel that is free from a single one. Here’s one from Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass: “Wishes are thorns, he told himself sharply. They do us no good, just stick into our skin and hurt us.”

Similar term: simile

17. Motif

Whatever form a motif takes, it is recurring throughout the novel and helps develop the theme of the narrative. This might be a symbol, concept, image, as well as many other things.

Example: In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, the yellow brick road is a motif that represents the journey of life and growing up.

Similar term: symbol

18. Onomatopoeia

Amusingly, this difficult-to-pronounce word refers to words that sound like the thing they’re referring to. Examples include whiz, buzz, snap, grunt, etc.

“Hark, hark!
The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, ‘cock-a-diddle-dow!”
— William Shakespeare, The Tempest

19. Oxymoron

When you put two contradictory words together in a sentence to describe something, you are using an oxymoron. While juxtaposition contrasts two story elements, oxymorons are about the actual words you are using.

Example: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

Similar terms: juxtaposition, paradox

For Romeo and Juliet, parting is — oxymoronically — such sweet sorrow (image: 20th Century Fox)

20. Paradox

From the Greek word paradoxon, which means “beyond belief.” It’s a statement that asks people to think outside the box by providing seemingly illogical — and yet latently true — premises. Often, authors use paradoxes themselves as a novel’s theme.

Example: In George Orwell’s 1984, the slogan of the totalitarian government is built on paradoxes: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” While we might read these statements as obviously contradictory, in the context of Orwell’s novel, these blatantly corrupt sentiments have become an accepted truth.

Similar terms: oxymoron, juxtaposition

21. Personification

While anthropomorphism applies human traits to non-human things (think of Donkey from Shrek — or any animal character from any cartoon), personification uses human traits to describe non-human things (such as animals, object, or natural phenomena). The behavior of the thing does not change.

Example: “Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin.” — Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Similar term: anthropomorphism

22. Point of View

The mode of narration that a story is told through. There are various types of point of view (POV) an author can choose, and each one will have a huge impact on the reading experience. To learn more about first, second, and third person POV, check out our comprehensive guide.

Example: Second person POV is the least common because it directly addresses the reader — not an easy narrative to pull off. One popular novel that manages to employ this perspective successfully is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”

23. Polysyndeton

This one is for authors looking to add a bit of artistic flare to their writing. Instead of using a singular, technically-necessary conjunction or connecting word, several are used in succession for a dramatic effect.

Example: “Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.” — William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

24. Satire

Used to make fun of some aspect of human nature or society — usually through exaggeration, ridicule, or irony.

Example: The famous adventure novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is a classic example of satire — criticizing English society: “As to the first, you are to understand, that for above seventy Moons past, there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the Names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan from the high and low Heels on their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves.”

25. Simile

While both metaphors and similes draw resemblances between two things, the former says that “Thing A is Thing B,” whereas the latter says that “Thing A is likeThing B.” It might also use the words “such as” or “as.”

Example: “Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.” — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Similar term: metaphor

26. Symbolism

To represent abstract concepts and ideas in their stories, authors turn to symbols, or symbolism. Symbols typically derive from objects — for instance, a dove might represent peace or raven might represent death.

Example: In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the Valley of Ashes — a barren wasteland between East and West Egg — as a symbol to represent the waste and moral decay of the elite.

Readers and writers alike can get a lot from understanding literary devices and how they’re commonly used. If you’re the former, you can use this knowledge to your advantage as you pour over fiction and gain a little additional insight into the author’s intended meaning and motivation behind the work. Meanwhile, writers can use literary devices to connect with readers, giving their words a boosted opportunity of providing audiences with lasting meaning.


How to Use A Freelance Proofreader


While planning your project

  1. Keep the manuscript simple. If you’re an author, consider how best to prepare your manuscript. If you’re an in-house editor, brief your authors on manuscript preparation.
  2. Be clear about the difference between editing and proofreading and why each is equally important.
  3. Be aware that getting a manuscript into shape takes time. Be upfront about your budget and be realistic about what you can expect me to do for the money that you have available.
  4. Know what different freelances do and be aware of our particular specialisms and skills.
  5. Choose someone who has good training and/or experience and the relevant subject specialism, where possible. Having chosen me, trust me. And if I’m willing and able to take on more responsibility, consider using me as a project manager.
  6. Smooth the way for a good author-editor relationship. If you’re an author, know what to ask me to do and be clear about what you expect from me. If you’re a desk editor, check that the author will be available at the right time to answer my queries or consider passing on my name and say that I’ll be in touch in due course.
  7. Recognise that, as well as editing and proofreading, a house style is essential to ensure a high-quality product.
  8. Please don’t send me a contract full of jargon and legalese that doesn’t apply to me as a self-employed freelance. If you don’t have a suitable contract, you may find that I have terms and conditions that are acceptable to you.
  9. Brief your freelances well, pay them reasonably and promptly, and make the most of their expertise. If you do, you will get the best freelances, who will ease your burden considerably, stay in business and be loyal to you.

When sending the work

  1. Keep me in the loop. Give plenty of notice of work that will be arriving on my desk and let me know in reasonable time if the schedule changes. I’m then much more likely to be able to rearrange my other work and deliver your work by your deadline.
  2. Don’t give artificial or short deadlines that make me work long hours when I don’t need to! But if you want me to work nights or weekends, please be prepared to pay extra for it.
  3. Please ensure that you provide me with all the necessary final documents to edit or proofread and the relevant information about the project and the people involved.
  4. A concise but comprehensive brief will allow me to make decisions without pestering you and will save you time, money and problems further down the line. Look over the whole text, or at least a couple of inner chapters, before writing a brief – the first chapter may not be representative of the whole text. Think through what you want me to do and, if you haven’t had time for a good look, tell me what you haven’t assessed.
  5. It pays to build a close working relationship with me. Ask me if there are ways that my job could be made easier or more efficient. You may not be able to do anything but occasionally something that doesn’t take up much of your time will save a lot of mine.
  6. Pick my brains. Many freelances have years of experience and varied client lists so I may well have come across similar issues before. You’re hiring an expert – I can save you from reinventing the wheel.

While I’m doing the work

  1. Treat me as part of the team that will bring your publication to fruition. Encourage me to ask questions as necessary to clarify the brief or devise solutions to any problems that I may spot.
  2. Be aware that I often have several projects on the go and I may not be able to start your job immediately.
  3. Please tell me if you’re going on holiday or on leave and whom to contact instead, especially if my deadline falls during your absence. If you work in house and are leaving your position, please introduce me to your replacement.

After I’ve signed off

  1. Please acknowledge receipt of work when it comes in. This is very important for both of us.
  2. Set aside some time to give constructive feedback at the end of the job. Let me know if I’ve done a good job or if there’s anything I did that wasn’t wanted or could have been done differently – including any areas in which I could have used the time better – and whether queries were phrased appropriately.
  3. Please send me a copy of the product when published. I’ll enjoy seeing it as much as you will!

What’s Special About Today?

Pretty much every day celebrates something. Whether it is worth celebrating is another matter. But, here is a fun (possibly useful) calendar of unusual days.


New Year

I hope everyone reading this had a great new year celebration and that this year will be a positive one for everyone.

For me, it’s not started out too badly. A couple more repeat clients have approached me for work. One offering me my first translation job. I previously proofread an article about Champagne producers for her, and this time I am translating an article about Californian wines. I have to admit, I am finding it quite interesting (and learning a lot about wine production in the process).

Anway, that’s all for now.



In the interest of gaining more insights and expertise in my field, I have embarked on the second SfEP proofreading course. It seems to be more demanding than the first If only I could get the hand of the proofreading signs (not that I ever have to use them in ‘real’ life)…


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