When you think about the phrase, “literary devices,” Comedy may not be your next thought. Literary devices are only used in serious, stuffy writing, right?
There are a number of literary devices writers can use to strengthen their comedic writings. Here are a few of them:
Ambiguity refers to a statement that is unclear or a statement that has more than one meaning.
In Romeo & Juliet, while Mercutio lies dying, he says:
Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man,
This statement (particularly the word “grave”) has two meanings. It means “somber,” and it also refers to the fact that tomorrow Mercutio will be dead.
Another form of ambiguity that is often used in comedy is the pun. Walter Redfern defined the pun by stating: “To pun is to treat homonyms as synonyms.” It is a deliberate confusion of similar words. Here are some examples:
Q: What instrument do fish like to play? A: A bass guitar.
Q: How do you make a tissue dance? A: Put a little boogie in it.
Remember, “A pun is the lowest form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself.” – Doug Larson
Alliteration refers to a repeating sound at the start of a word. The most common use of alliteration in comedy is seen in tongue twisters. The most well-known tongue twisters are “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers,” “Betty Botter” and “How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?”
Shakespeare also parodies alliteration in Peter Quince’s Prologue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely breach’d his boiling bloody breast.
Alliteration affects the “sound” of your writing, and when used in exaggeration, it creates a comedic tone to your writing.
A substitution of a mild word of phrase for another which would be undesirable because it is too direct, unpleasant, or offensive.
For example, there are several euphemisms you can use for comedic purposes in your writing if a character has died:
kicked the bucket
bit the big one
bitten the dust
bought the farm
By using euphemisms when referring to serious matters, you can lend a comedic tone to your writing.
There are many more literary devices that can be used to strengthen your comedy writing. In many cases, the simple use of exaggeration of a style or device will create a comedic effect on your writing. Often comedy writers uses devices without even knowing it. Next time someone tells you literary devices are boring, you can tell them you know different!