There are many literary techniques that can be used in your writing. They can help your prose or make it more cumbersome. Most are tools used to enhance your writing.
But, let’s start with the basic question — What is alliteration?
Alliteration deals more with the ears than the eyes though we can easily see it and get the effect of it visually. It is the use of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words in close proximity, usually right after each other. The best way to explain it is to show you. In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, a scene reveals, “Straight!” said Stryver, with a plump of his fist on the desk.” Notice the first three words in this quote. They all have an “s” sound. In Nathanial Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter, a sentence can be found that says, “Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.” You can see the “s” used in three words close together. That is alliteration.
Purpose of Alliteration
Alliteration is mostly used in poetry where the sound of it can add various elements to the poem. Most writers do not deliberately go out of their way to use alliteration in their novels, but some do. Why? It adds affect.
Let’ s look at the example above from The Scarlet Letter:
“Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.”
If Hawthorne had simply said, “Mr. Dimmesdale moved a little as he shook”, it wouldn’t have had near the effect on the reader. The repetitive ‘s’ sound makes the reader want to shudder and stir slightly. There is an emotion attached to the sound the alliteration brings to the table.
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville uses “neither of those can feel stranger and stronger emotions than the man does, who for the first time finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the hunted sperm whale.” See the ‘s’ again in ‘stranger’ and ‘stronger’ and then later in “for the first time finds” followed quickly by “charmed, churned circle.” The use of the alliteration here catches the reader’s eye subconsciously and pulls them in. We might not be reading the words out loud, but our mind is hearing them and they demand attention.
Alliteration also helps in creating a mood or an emotion. When a reader is going over the words, the alliteration helps them feel it. It takes a feeling and intensifies it.
Using Alliteration in Your Own Writing
Many writers use alliteration in their own writing without thinking about it. I’ve found myself creating several sentences using that writing style. But many authors will use alliteration intentionally for the affect it has on the reader.
Typically, intentional alliteration will not occur in the first draft or two of a book. That’s okay. Most of the good stuff doesn’t come that soon anyway.
When you want to use alliteration, you need to know why. What do you want to pull from your reader? Is there a certain feeling you want them to experience? You need to have a purpose behind your desire to use this writing tool.
Now, how does alliteration bring about a response?
Well, the ‘s’ sound typically gives a response that will cause you to catch your breath or shudder. It is active but not always in a good way. Remember that quote from The Scarlet Letter: “Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.” The alliteration here gets the reader’s attention and draws a reaction of pity for the man and a sense of foreboding. Yes, the definitions of the words help, but the alliteration gives it a more intense feeling.
Let’s look at this one: “The dull, drab house was lost in the darkness of the street.” Again, the words give a sense of despair, but the use of alliteration enhances it. It makes it even more so.
Think of your words as a red streak of paint. It stands out, but to really get it to pop, you outline it in gold. That is your alliteration. It is the golden enhancement.
The best way to get better at using alliteration is to study it. You’ll find the vast majority of this literary device in poetry which is designed to be emotional.
Check out Robert Frost’s poems as well as those of Edgar Allen Poe. Read poetry and look for the alliteration. When you find it, read it again forgetting about the literary device and let the emotions come forth. Then look at how the alliteration helped to evoke those feelings. That is you best teacher in how to use alliteration.