Alliteration Examples in Fiction

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The word alliteration is derived from the Latin word“ latira" which means “letters of alphabet.” It is a stylistic device that writers use in which a number of words that start with the same first consonant sound are repeated close together in a series. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" is one famous example. 

Function of Alliteration

Unlike poets, fiction writers rarely discuss the uses of alliteration and how it can be used consciously to create more powerful fiction, but it does play a critical role in fiction as well as in poetry and prose.

Alliteration creates a musical effect, creating rhythm, mood and motion while also imbuing sentences with beauty and a certain flow. For example, repeating the "s" which sounds like a snake can imply danger. Repeating the "h" sound lends a soft, heavenly air whereas a repetitive "b" makes for a percussive consonant. 

A secondary type is called symmetrical alliteration which makes use of parallelism: the phrase contains a pair of words at the beginning and end of the phrase that start with the same sound, while the middle words are similar -- for example, "rust brown blazers rule."

Alliteration Examples in Fiction

In his lecture, "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place," Gary Lutz urges writers, "Avail yourself of alliteration . . . Such repetition can be soothing and stabilizing, especially in a sentence whose content and emotional gusts are anything but." He provides an example from Don DeLillo featuring h's: "He was here in the howl of the world," and from Christine Schutt: "He knew the kind of Kleenex crud a crying girl left behind."

But alliteration can also play a less subtle role. In Moby Dick, Melville uses alliteration to build character and to help the reader experience the scene on board a whaling ship. The character, Stubb, is described as having "rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general," and as saying "the most terrific things to his crew." Melville uses alliteration to help illustrates these claims.

"The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions," Stubb says. "Start her -- start her, my silver spoons!" In this last quote, we not only have alliteration in the repetition of the S sounds, but also an example of assonance in the words "start" and "marling," which is the repetition of a vowel sound.

Additional Examples of Alliteration

The soul selects her own society. - Emily Dickinson

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life. - Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." - The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

"My father brought to conversations a cavernous capacity for caring that dismayed strangers." The Centaur, John Updike

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." - The Dead, James Joyce

While you may use assonance in more poetic moments of your prose without even being conscious of it, Donald Westlake's alliteration in the "beautiful blonde bludgeoned" tends to call attention to itself. Unless you intend for this to happen -- in order to build character or drama or to create a comic moment -- it's wise to employ alliteration selectively to maximize the effect without overdoing it.