Figurative language is used in literature to create an image that allows readers to catch the meaning of the words quickly. They are used to break up the monotony of descriptive text and are the basis for poetic writing. Figurative language is used is everyday speak for much of the same reasons. Although there are several types of figurative speech, the techniques used to deploy them can be used in applying more than one type of this speech.
One of the most common uses of figurative language is to substitute the object being described for another that the reader can more readily identify with. Metaphor does this by substituting a word or phrase for another that conjures a similar image for the reader (“the cotton candy clouds” conjures an image of fat, fluffy could formations). Similes do so using prepositions “like” or “as”. Synecdoche does this by replacing common words in a sentence with less common, but more descriptive ones (a child “wolfing down his dinner” instead of just eating it). Periphrasis is a synecdoche using a phrase instead of a word. These and other figures of speech are designed to use imagery to imply a description of the object spoken of in the sentence or larger part of the text.
Another technique is opposition. Figurative language can also imply a description by evoking an image of the opposing word, phrase or idea. An oxymoron positions two words or ideas together in a sentence to imply another meaning by the opposition, a large man named Tiny for example. A paradox does the same, but using the entire sentence. Unlike an oxymoron, the meaning of a paradox may be unclear at first, as the statement seems contradictory. Understatement minimalizes the image in order create humor and make a description. An example is saying, “that’s going sting in the morning,” after a character is punched in the eye. The point of using figurative language in opposition is to bring emphasis to the aspect of the object being described.
A more direct approach to figurative language is exaggeration. This technique uses excess in order to describe the object. Hyperbole is the simplest form. It is a great overstatement in order to create the imagery or description. The statement, “my mother threw a screaming fit,” is another way to describe just how upset the mother was. Exaggeration draws attention to the object by “laying it on pretty thick.”
One of the most common figurative language techniques is comparison. Similes, metaphors, and personification are examples. Personification involves describing animals by giving them human traits. “The cat waltzed into the room like she owned the place,” is an example of personification. By using comparison, the speaker draws attention to the object being described by using a similar image through words and phrases.