Ever wonder why you have that song stuck in your head? Or why that annoying TV commercial is playing on repeat while you’re trying to focus? Or how about the infamous movie quotes that no one seems to ever forget?
Today I’ll be walking you through three literary devices that good writers use to write those memorable movie quotes and double-take headlines of the world.
And yeah, I get it, literary devices? You didn’t sign up for an English class. But trust me, if you want to be a better writer, you’re going to want to stick around.
First up, we have the tricolon. The Meririam-Webster dictionary defines the tricolon as, “a period in classical prosody composed of three cola.” Wait, what!? What does that even mean?
Let’s start with some examples, shall we…
Eat, drink, and be merry.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
What do all of these have in common, you ask? These phrases and titles are grouped into threes. Why threes? Because three things sound better than two. Like with many forms of art, the rule of three or thirds applies even to writing. Barack Obama even used 21 tricolons in his short victory speech.
We like things that come in threes so much it’s why one of Winston Churchill’s speeches didn’t carry the impact he intended it to because he said “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Sounds weird even in your head right?
You know what would have worked: “Nothing to offer but blood, sweat, and tears.”
Is this phrase overused? Yes. But is it effective? Absolutely.
How To Use This
Remember the rules of thirds.
When listing things in a sentence, try to group things into threes. Not twos, or fours. Threes.
Cliches, like the phrase above, are more impactful when used sparingly. Don’t overdo it.
This next one is one of my all time favourites. Anadiplosis is defined as the “repetition of a prominent and usually the last word in one phrase or clause at the beginning of the next,” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Why is this effective? Because it offers a sense of logic - even if the phrase is illogical. It appears to us as “put-together,” as something to be taken seriously, so we pay close attention.
Here are some examples:
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering. - Yoda
Once you change your philosophy, you can change your thought pattern. Once you change your thought pattern, you can change your attitude. Once you change your attitude, you can change your behaviour pattern and then you go on into some action. - Malcolm X
The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor. - The totally fictitious Emperor Commodus from Gladiator (2000)
How to Use This
Let’s start with an example. Say you’re writing a book description but don’t know where to start. Think of three or more things that are pertinent to the story and try creating an anadiplosis around them, or...
Think about writing a set of values for a business. Try writing them as an anadiplosis, similar to the quote from Malcolm X. We value hope, because it leads to discovery. We value discovery because it leads to change. And we value change because it helps make the world a better place. Or something like that. I don’t know, you do you.
One of the more popular devices that you just might recognize from that high school English class is the alliteration, or “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables,” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Similar to the tricolon, the alliteration is all about being pleasing to the ear. As feeble as it might be, human beings like things that sound nice and for some reason that includes hearing the same consonant sounds in a sentence.
Here are some examples:
Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade, He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast. - A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Ok that last example is a little much with nine repeated B’s. But it was Shakespeare.
How To Use This
Similar to the above examples, alliterations work well for book titles. And let’s just all admit that coming up with a title is the worst part of writing, so maybe start with some alliterations to get the ball rolling.
Writing a promotional piece, a catchphrase, a tagline? Play around with the alliteration, like Jaguars' tagline: Don't dream it. Drive it.
There are dozens more literary devices and figures out there. From similes and metaphors, to diacopes and zeugmas. Even paradoxes and hyperboles. I have just covered the three that I’ve come across most throughout my writing career (that haven’t been beaten into our brains since that fifth grade poetry class that we all, collectively, hated).
Anyway...if you found this blog interesting, like this post and share it with your friends. If you have something interesting to add? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what you have to say.