Interpreting Figurative Language in Fiction

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  • 0:05 What Is Figurative Language?
  • 1:08 Types of Figurative Language
  • 3:00 Practice in Figurative…
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will discuss how to interpret figurative language in fiction. We will explore several types of figurative language and learn how to identify them.

What Is Figurative Language?

Which of the following descriptions do you prefer?

The purring black and white cat sat by the glowing fire.

The fuzzy, furry, friendly, fat black and white cat was purring like a motorboat as she sat beside the fire, which snapped and crackled as its sparks danced and played, traveling upwards to the black hole of the chimney and disappearing as they were sucked in.

Did you choose the second description? If so, you were probably attracted to its figurative language. Figurative language makes a piece of writing more vivid and interesting because it uses expressions and words in a way that goes beyond their actual, normal meaning. Figurative language draws readers into a story and invites them to play with language and search for meanings that are hidden beneath the surface of a text.

Types of Figurative Language

Readers encounter many different types of figurative language in a work of fiction. Here are just a few:

  • A simile uses the words 'like' or 'as' to draw a comparison between two things that are not particularly similar and to suggest a hidden likeness. A cat purring like a motorboat is an example of a simile.
  • A metaphor is also a comparison between two dissimilar things, but it paints a verbal picture instead of using the words 'like' or 'as.' A comparison between a chimney and a black hole is a metaphor.
  • Personification gives animals or inanimate objects human qualities or characteristics. Sparks are personified when they are portrayed as dancing and playing.
  • In onomatopoeia, words imitate sounds. For instance, the phrase 'the fire snapped and crackled' invites readers to remember the sound of a cozy fire.
  • Alliteration repeats consonant or vowel sounds, usually at the beginnings of words. The fuzzy, furry, friendly, fat cat repeats the 'f' sound to tickle readers' ears and focuses their attention in a special way on the cat's characteristics.
  • Hyperbole is an overstatement or exaggeration. It is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for dramatic effect. A surprised child, for instance, might have eyes as wide as dinner plates, and a hungry man might feel like he could eat a whole herd of cows.

Practice in Figurative Language

Let's practice identifying figurative language. Listen to each of the following sentences, and label it as simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, alliteration, or hyperbole (see the video beginning at 03:14 to hear the following sentences).

1. I was so excited that I jumped up and touched the moon. Did you say 'hyperbole'? If so, you're right!

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