What Is Alliteration?

Alliteration is a stylistic literary device that refers to the repetitious use of sounds in words that are closely connected. This repetition may occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the word and may involve consonants or vowels. Alliteration is used in both prose and poetry, but it is often most effective in poetry due to the rhythm it creates.

Repetitious consonant sounds are called consonance. Consonance is found in the following lines from “T was later when the summer went” by Emily Dickenson using the letters c, p, s, t, and w: ‘T was later when the summer went/Than when the cricket came,/And yet we knew that gentle clock/Meant nought but going home./‘T was sooner when the cricket went/Than when the winter came,/Yet that pathetic pendulum/Keeps esoteric time.”

Repetitious vowel sounds are called assonance. Assonance is especially used in poetry to add rhythm or alter mood. The following is an example using the letter e from “Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: “Hear the mellow wedding bells,/Golden bells!/What a world of happiness their harmony foretells.”

Writers use alliteration to call readers’ attention to a particular passage. The use of alliteration creates a musical rhythm, slows down the pace, and sets the mood of that passage. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe uses d and l sounds in the opening sentence, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day…” in order to slow down the pace and create a melancholy tone. The repetition of the letter s in a work can conjure up images of snakes, hissing, and deceitfulness.

Alliteration is related to onomatopoeia because both engage the sense of sound. In onomatopoeia, the word imitates the natural sound of something, such as “bam” or “giggle.”

Do you use alliteration in your writing? Do you find alliteration more effective in prose or poetry? Share examples of your favorite passages of alliterative sounds in the comments below.

The Fall Festival

Fall has arrived! Use the following writing prompt for inspiration.

You and your significant other take a road trip to enjoy the fall foliage. You’ve rented a cabin for the night. Just as you’re about to fall asleep, you hear scratching on the window in the next room. What is it, and what do you do?

What Is Active Voice?

As writers, we hear the advice to use active voice early in our careers. For new writers, this can be a challenge. Even those of us who have been writing for a while can use a refresher.

What is active voice? In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. This is in opposition to passive voice, in which the subject receives the action. To decide if you have an active voice or passive voice sentence, find the subject first and then decide if the subject is the one doing the action or receiving the action.

Using active voice means avoiding “to be” verbs: is, was, were, are, be, being, and been. These verbs tell instead of show. The active voice also allows you to be specific about character or setting. Using active voice clarifies meaning for readers and provides succinct sentences. Passive voice, on the other hand, can be wordy and cloud the meaning of your sentences. For example, “I have a puppy,” provides little detail, but “I chose the runt of the litter, a small, feisty Yorkshire terrier,” gives you a glimpse of a tiny dog with a big attitude.

Occasionally, you may wish to use a “to be” verb. Using a “to be” verb is not a grammatical error and may be necessary in some instances. However, you will want to be aware not to overuse passive voice because this will weaken your writing.

Years ago, I asked one of my English professors to critique an essay I had written for his class. I had revised it several times and thought it was pretty good. He ripped it apart. His advice: change all passive voice sentences to active voice and watch my transitions (a blog topic for another day). As I revised the essay again, I was surprised to see the number of times I had used the passive voice without even realizing it. By the time I was done with my revisions, I had an A paper.

How do you ensure that you use active voice? Do you make a conscious effort to use active voice in your first draft, or do you go back and revise to eliminate passive voice sentences? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

The County Fair

It’s county fair time, so this week’s writing prompt incorporates the fair into a scene. Use the following prompt for inspiration.

You and your friends decide to visit the county fair. You tour the fair grounds, eating fried candy bars and funnel cakes along the way. As you come around the corner of the fair barn, you hear loud squealing. You see someone wrestling with something to get it into a trailer. What is it, and what do you do?


What Is Allegory?

Most of us are familiar with allegory through high school English classes. But if you’re like me, that may have been the last time you even thought about allegory as a storytelling device.

Throughout history, allegory has been used in all forms of art. So what is an allegory? It is a story or tale with two or more levels of meaning: a literal level and one or more symbolic levels. As an extended metaphor, allegory uses symbols to represent characters, places, or events. While allegory uses symbols, it is different from symbolism in that allegory tells a complete story. Allegories are used to share a moral, teach a lesson, or impart a principal.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is part of his larger work, The Republic, is one of the most famous allegories. In this work, a group of people have been chained up inside a cave for their entire lives. They stare at a blank wall with shadows of the outside world dancing across it. One person escapes the cave and sees the items producing the shadows for the first time. When he goes back into the cave and tries to describe the outside world, the people inside do not believe him. This allegory symbolizes the difficulty a philosopher has expanding the worldview of common man.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most important Christian allegories in literature. The names of the characters and places in this work represent character traits of each one. For example, the protagonist, Christian, meets Evangelist, Obstinate, and Pliable on his journey. Christian is from the City of Destruction (the world) and is seeking the Celestial City (heaven).

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of the most famous recent examples of allegory. In this work, the farm represents Russia, the practice of Animalism represents Communism, and the animals represent various sectors of Russian society. An example of Communism is found in the following line: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

What are your favorite stories that are allegories? What do these represent? Do you use allegory in your own work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!