I’ve written about improving the big picture of students’ writing with themes, archetypes, types of conflict, and plot structure. But what about the details?
Students’ elementary education about literary devices seems to max out with personification, similes, and other types of figurative language. Let’s introduce three more complex tools:
- in media res
In Media Res
In media res is latin for “in the middle of things,” and is a commonly used literary device for hooking the reader. Unexplained action kicks the story off, leaving the reader to wonder, “Wow! What’s going on?” They’re then primed to sit through exposition and character development to get to an explanation of that exciting beginning.
Law and Order episodes always begin with unknown characters and an exciting crime. After the credits, the pace drops dramatically as the main characters begin to investigate the crime.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is famous for its in media res beginning, in which Indy avoids rolling rocks and dangerous traps.
And any James Bond film opens “in the middle of things,” as Bond finishes a mission with a spectacular stunt (here’s all of Bond’s opening scenes, in case you need to kill an hour).
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When we place two opposites right next to each other, we create juxtaposition. The nearness of the two items highlights their differences.
Sounds complex, but your students will get it right away if you use some common pairs of characters:
- Star Wars’ C3PO and R2d2
- Finding Nemo’s Dorie and Marlin
- Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie
Each duo features opposite colors, size, shapes, and personalities. Their differences are enhanced by being next to each other. C-3PO seems more anxious and uptight when paired with R2-D2, Ernie seems more wild and unpredictable when he’s next to Bert, and Dorie’s easy-going attitude is emphasized when she’s by Marlin.
Juxtapositions are not limited to characters. Settings, vocabulary, and pace can all utilize this literary technique.
Imagine a scene set in a noisy circus immediately followed by a shot of silent prayer in a church. Or a character who uses Ph.D. level vocabulary talking to a character who dropped out of school in first grade. These types of juxtapositions add interesting details to students’ writing.
Symbolism, while complex, can be introduced simply using colors. Colors act as symbols in many different domains: holidays, teams, countries, and schools.
Colors can also act as more abstract symbols:
- green: envy, money, or someone who’s feeling sick
- white: purity
- red: danger or passion
Then, I would bring in an object that students understand: my wedding band. The ring represents love and commitment. Then I’d discuss the ring from Lord of the Rings, showing how the same object can represent something completely different.
I have a couple more articles on symbolism here.
Hopefully you can challenge your students to include more sophisticated details in their stories using these techniques. And these are also natural tools for up-leveled literary analysis.