What Are Dramatic Techniques in Literature?

Literary techniques are used in literature for a variety of purposes. Certain literary techniques are used to increase the dramatic tension in a novel or short story. This can be done by placing the characters in time-sensitive situations, diverting the reader's attention or appealing directly to the reader's emotion to elicit sympathy for the main character.


The cliffhanger was popularized with serialized fiction and occurs when characters are left in precipitous situations, or have a revelation, as an episode of the serial ends. For example, at the end of an episode of Thomas Hardy's 1873 serial novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes," a main character is left literally hanging off a cliff.


Foreshadowing, also referred to as Chekhov's gun or formal patterning, is a literary technique in which a reference is made to something that will play an important role in future events of the story. Foreshadowing can be as subtle as an unrelated reference to a loaded gun on the wall or occur through the use of an oracle, as in Sophocles' oracles in "Oedipus the King."


Pathos is a literary technique in which the author directly appeals to the emotion and imagination of the reader to elicit sympathy for a character in the story or the writer's perspective. For instance, Charlotte Bronte uses pathos in "Jane Eyre" when the protagonist must leave her lover for moral reasons as soon as their affair begins.

Plot Twist

A plot twist occurs when a sudden, unexpected change happens that has a direct impact on the outcome of the story. A plot twist can occur during any portion of the narrative, but it also frequently happens as a surprise ending.

Ticking Clock Scenario

The ticking clock scenario elicits dramatic tension by placing a character in a dangerous, or otherwise intense situation, in which time is of the essence. As time passes, the stakes of the outcome of the story are raised, increasing dramatic tension.

Red Herring

A red herring is a literary technique in which the reader's attention is drawn to insignificant details in order to divert attention from what is actually occurring in the plot. The red herring is commonly used in mystery fiction and can lead to a plot twist at the end of the work of literature.

Cite this Article