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?

Melodrama: Story Drama That’s Gone Too Far

image by KlausHausmann
image by KlausHausmann

We want our scenes to be dramatic. We want our readers to live through events with our characters and experience our characters’ emotions. However, if we slide into melodrama, we rob our readers of emotional involvement.


Melodrama is: “a dramatic form that does not observe the laws of cause and effect and that exaggerates emotion and emphasizes plot or action at the expense of characterization.” (

Drama is: “any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results.” (

Melodrama can take the reader out of the story, when characters’ reactions are too exaggerated and separate the reader too far from real-life emotions.

image by WenPhotos
image by WenPhotos

Why Writers Use Melodrama

  • Writers don’t want to do the work to lead a reader through the character’s emotions. It’s easier to use many adverbs, screaming, and exclamation points.
  • Writers think melodrama will wow the reader.

Suggestions to Avoid Melodrama and Evoke Emotions

  1. For reactions, think understated, flattened, and subtle.

When a woman discovers her husband stabbed to death in bed, which says more about her emotions?

  • She runs through the neighborhood, waving her arms and screaming.
  • She huddles in a corner of the room. Her body trembles, her breaths come in pants, and the phone receiver in her hand lying in her lap emits muted words from the 911 operator.
  1. Make a list of reactions from extreme to mild. Choose the most appropriate, believable reaction to the event.

Alice has had her last chance to show she’s capable of handling her dream job. Her boss fires her. Her possible reactions:

  1. kneels, sobbing and begging for another chance
  2. wails that the boss is unreasonable and unfair
  3. marches from the office in a huff
  4. remains seated in the chair with her head bowed and one tear escaping her eye
  5. turns lifeless eyes to her boss, rises, walks to the door, rests her hand on the knob for a moment, straightens her back, and leaves.

These are only a few possibilities. Whether she’s fearful, angry, or stunned, the first two distract me from what is going on inside Alice.

Reaction 3 is less melodramatic, but could be expanded to better show her emotions. The last two allow me without all the noise and action to look at Alice more closely.

In number 4, I feel her sadness and a hint of shame. In number 5, I feel a realistic progression from:

All is lost → no need to stay → does she want to say something to the boss? → no → leaves with her dignity intact.

image by nrebocho0
image by nrebocho0
  1. Just as you tighten dialogue from wordy realism, avoid allowing reasonable, intense reactions to drag on, even if they would in real life.
  1. Avoid clichéd actions.
  1. Get inside your character and find behavior signs she’d display, even if she tries to hide her feelings.
  1. Listen to your character telling you she wouldn’t act like that.

For the reader’s greater empathy, flatten the melodrama. Click to tweet.

What do you find melodramatic in novels?

What to Put Into Your Story So a Great Pitch Comes Out

image by geralt
image by geralt

I read articles on high concept. The definitions varied widely, but I was more intrigued with the elements that create what are called high concept stories. These elements can help with what I funnel into my stories—the bling. A great pitch naturally comes out.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

First, what is high concept, which many publishers demand? Popular definitions mentioned:

  • It’s a term used to pitch anything, but mainly movies.
  • It’s the story’s premise or essence.
  • It’s a device to quickly communicate an idea.
  • It’s an attention-getting tagline or logline that evidences the story’s originality.
  • It’s five or less sentences describing the plot in an enticing way.

The most popular pitch elements that make a high concept story:

  1. Entertaining. High concept stories that are:
  • comedies make pitch listeners smile.
  • action stories make listeners imagine action scenes.
  • thrillers affect listeners like Houdini did.
  • any genre make listeners curious about the fun, the tension, or romance.

In my case, I want to tantalize my readers with humor and goose-bump romance.


image by Fotomek
image by Fotomek

2.  Emerge from a what-if question.

  • “High-concept stories often begin with a “what if” scenario, and then the hook becomes clear. What’s the hook, you ask? That part of the concept that grabs the reader by the scruff of the collar and doesn’t let go.” (Jeff Lyons’s article, “Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories”)

I want to brainstorm what-if scenarios until one truly stands out and will be fun to write.


  1. Originality. High concept stories offer

I want to brainstorm twists in my opposites attract (or distract) idea that will be a welcome slap in an acquisition editors face.

  1. Incites emotions and senses.
  • Listeners will react with intense emotion.
  • Listeners, emotionally charged, will remember the idea.

I want to entwine details, color, and emotional events that will make my story memorable to editors.

  1. image by Unsplash
    image by Unsplash
    Garners mass audience appeal.
  • “Mass appeal means that nine out of ten people who you pitch your story to would say that they’d pay ten dollars to see your movie first run based solely on your pitch.” (Steve Kaire’s article, “High Concept Defined Once and For All”)
  • Mass appeal suggests the stories would appeal to readers outside the book’s genre.

I want to present acquisition editors, women, and some men with a hard-to-resist tagline that the story genuinely backs.

Use the idea of high concept to add bling to your story and your pitch. Click to tweet.

Which element could you work on to add bling to your story?