Allusion: A Literary Device Used in a Passing Comment

image by PIRO4D

What Allusion Is 

  • The word allusion comes from the Latin a playing with. Allusions play with a reference from another material source for use in a current writing.
  • An allusion is a literary device that makes a brief, passing reference to a real or imaginary place, person, thing, quote, or event found in such items as works of art, literature, folklore, mythologies, historical works, news stories, or religious manuscripts. It’s used in a cursory comment that the writer expects the reader to recognize and understand.
  • Many common allusions pop up from Greek Mythology or the Bible.

Common Examples of Allusion

   “Twenty dollars! Put the book back, Allison.” 
   Allison returned the book she’d wanted to buy for her grandmother to the shelf. “You’re such a Scrooge, Lane.”

Miser Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the reference.

image by falco

   Jackson ended the phone call, dropped his hoe in the garden, and headed for the house. “I’m taking Mrs. Santini to the doctor.”
   He didn’t like it, but we called him the Good Samaritan of the family.

The Good Samaritan references a parable Jesus told about a man from Samaria being the only passerby who helped a man who lay beaten and robbed on the side of the road.

   Angie opened the box and groaned. Alex knew doughnuts were her Achilles’ heel.

In Greek Mythology, Achilles’ mother dipped him into a river that had special powers to protect him from his foretold early death. But where she held him by his heel was unprotected, and Achilles died from a poisonous arrow shot into his heel—his weak spot.

Why Use Allusion 

  • Writers use allusions as a ready-made device to describe something or make a point without having to go into lengthy details.
  • Allusions can broaden the reader’s understanding of something— connecting emotions or thoughts already associated with the object or event in the allusion to the current object or situation.
  • Allusions can simplify complex ideas by boiling them down to a commonly accepted reference.

Caution in Using Allusions

  • Allusions depend on the reader’s familiarity with the thing or event referenced, especially from older works of literature. However, if a reader is curious to know the connection, he can easily turn to the Internet.
  • Allusions can become overused clichés such as the two below.
image by thfinch

A loose cannon.

Cannon’s breaking loose from their moorings on ships of yesteryears during battles or storms and causing damage to the ship or crew is the reference. The phrase often alludes to an out of control person.

 

It was a dark and stormy night.

The opening phrase of the 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is the reference.

An allusion can make a thing or event easy to understand in few words. Click to tweet.

What’s a common allusion you’ve used in speech or writing?

Consider Your Creative Stamp: Adds Positive Flair or Destructive Flare?

“Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A+ Rubber Stamp on Notebook Paper

Creative types love to put our unique stamp on whatever we do. But all personality types have an upside to embrace and a downside to control. So how do we know when an injection of our creativity helps or hurts?

Here are examples that will show you when a creative stamp is an enhancer and perhaps when it burns.

MP900177808The Scripture Reader

I love to read to others. I enjoy putting my creative stamp on making the story come alive for my listener(s).

I jumped at the call to become a Scripture reader for our church services. Over the years, I’d listened to Scripture readers. Some had resonating voices but little inflection. Others enunciated the words but never paused between important phrases.

When my turn came to read, I tried to understand the gist of the message. I worked to portray what speakers in the passages felt. I experimented with the right places to pause for emphasis. I looked for times to boom and times to whisper.

After I’d felt good about several readings, I wondered whether I promoted God’s word or me. I started to see how the other readers whose styles differed from mine seemed effective. Could I be obedient and remove my creative stamp from the readings?

Then we Scripture readers received a memo with suggestions on how to read Scripture. It mentioned all the things I considered to make the Scriptures come alive. I rejoiced.

When I worked my creative stamp to draw listeners into the Scriptures, my enjoyment in adding flair thrived.

Happy BirthdayThe Jamaican Server

During our family vacation, eleven of us often sat at the same round table in the buffet restaurant. All the servers were gracious, especially to my young grandchildren. The Jamaican resort is all-inclusive, so no possibility of tips incented their good natures.

One young server wore a huge smile as he poured water and brought us flatware. Our grandson told him he would turn three the following day.

Before we left, the young server asked if we’d lunch at the same table the next day. We assured him we would.

At noon the following day, we gathered at the outdoor grill for jerk chicken. As we ate, someone remembered our promise to the young server. We exchanged guilty looks until someone suggested we have our dessert in the buffet restaurant.

When we arrived, the young server’s smile beamed. He’d decorated the table for my grandson’s birthday with red hibiscuses. He’d fashioned palm fronds into an H and a B for Happy Birthday. His creative flair delighted my grandson (and the rest of us).

Except for the enjoyment of having a servant’s heart, the young server added his creative stamp, his flair, for the purpose of making us happy.

The Actress in the Red Gown

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This last example has kept me wondering over the years whether the creative stamp added extra flair or destructive flare.

In ninth grade, I starred in the school play. During the last performance in the big scene with a kiss, I wore a figure-fitting red gown. Another student played a smaller role, the droll maid. For some reason, she decided, unscripted, to enter the scene and dust the furniture. I was distracted and furious. But titters rose from the audience.

Then she carried the flower vase over and pretended to trip and the water drenched my face and hair. I had the final scene to go and my hair would be limp. But the audience howled.

Those who attended and were unaware the maid’s antics were unscripted thought they were the funniest parts of the play. Was I upset because she acted off script or because her ad-libs stole my creative stamp?

Were her ad-libs creative flair or destructive flare or both? Please share.

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The Secret Ingredient to Engaging Your Audience

“Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.” —Nancy Duarte

Hot Dog and Chopsticks

You step back from your creative work and, no matter how hard you rationalize its appeal, you know in your heart something is missing. The ingredient that takes it from dull to fascinating.

Most of us know the secret ingredient already. Then why don’t we use it? I’ll address reasons why we overlook the secret ingredient after I give you some examples of how it’s been employed.

Secret Ingredient: CONTRAST.

Musical Instrument Keyboard KeysExample 1: My favorite rhythm activity with preschoolers is freeze dance. In Bible Study Fellowship and Sunday school, we danced to music pieces on the small keyboard I carried. Then I’d punch the stop button. The children froze arms, legs, and face expressions. I tried to catch them in a stumbling stop or moving when silence dropped. They enjoyed the dancing, the anticipation, and avoiding getting caught.

The freeze dance provides these contrasts:

  • freely moving bodies vs. rigid frozen bodies
  • doing our own thing vs. obeying the rule to stop
  • anticipation vs. fun result

When we solely put on music and let them dance with scarves, the children didn’t stay engaged very long. Unless they used their scarves as whips (creating their own contrast).

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Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example 2: If you sat in a waiting room with a blue wall in front of you, how long would you stare at the wall with interest? Now, say the wall was white with a foot-by-foot blue square painted on it. Would your eye wander to that blue square now and then? Would you wonder why someone painted a blue square on the white wall? Might you imagine what you would have put on the wall instead of the blue square? Or what you’d add to the blue square?

The contrast of blue and white, big and small, and the why and why not of the blue square creates more interest than a solid blue wall. That’s why artists use light and dark, shadows and highlights.

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Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example 3: Would you sit through a movie or play where the actors constantly shouted? Or issued nonstop dramatic emotion—always whining or always blubbering or always laughing? Actors and storytellers know sprinkling subtle and dramatic emotions, shouts and whispers, and movement and stillness engages their audiences.

??????????????????????????Too much of anything gets old and audiences lose interest.

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Example 4: And for me, the greatest contrast of all: Creator and created. If the Bible were only about humans and their sinful natures and fleeting brief lives on earth, our future would be hopeless. But the Bible reveals the nature of the almighty Creator who sent His Son to earth to save us from our sins, give us eternal life in His kingdom, and make us whole.

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Why doesn’t a writer, an artist, or presenter use contrasts? Here’s reasons that came to my mind:

  • He does, but uses less than polar contrasts. The contrasts fall short of appearing different to the audience. The actor reduces his screams to shouts.
  • He fails to put the contrasts he sees in his mind into his work. This is a common problem of novice writers. They imagine a scene and its emotions but fall short of transferring what they’ve created in their minds to the page.
  • He uses an experience in his personal life. His emotional struggles with the experience convince him to avoid one side of the contrast. Contrasting costs too much pain.
  • He thinks the one element that intrigues him is sufficient to attract his audience. He forgets his passion must be related to the audience. Contrasting that element to its opposite helps the audience see his viewpoint.

Can you share an example of how you’ve contrasted elements in your creative work?

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