Allegory – a story or tale with two or more levels of meaning – a literal level and one or more symbolic levels. The events, setting, and characters in an allegory are symbols for ideas and qualities. Ex: alliteration

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Literary Terms A-Z

allegory – a story or tale with two or more levels of meaning – a literal level and one or more symbolic levels. The events, setting, and characters in an allegory are symbols for ideas and qualities. Ex:
alliteration – the repetition of initial consonant sounds, used to give emphasis to words, imitate sounds, and create musical effect. Ex: “Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary…” (Poe)
allusion - a reference to a well-known person, place, event, literary work, or work of art.
anachronism – an event or detail existing out of its proper time in history. Ex: a knight wearing Nike tennis shoes.
analogy - makes a comparison between two or more things that are similar in some ways but otherwise unalike. Used to clarify something.
anecdote - a brief story about an interesting, amusing, or strange event told to entertain or to make a point.
antagonist – a character or force in conflict with a main character, or protagonist.
anticlimax - like a climax in a story, anticlimax is a turning point, but it is always a letdown. It is the point in the story when you find out that the story will not turn out the way you anticipated.
archetype – a type of character, detail, image, or situation that appears in literature from around the world and throughout history. Ex:
aside – words spoken by a character in a play to the audience or another character, but are not meant to be heard by other actors on the stage
assonance – the repetition of vowel sounds followed by consonants in two or more stressed syllables. Ex: “weak and weary”
autobiography – form of nonfiction in which a writer tells about his or her own life story.

ballad – a songlike poem that tells a story, often one dealing with adventure and romance. Most ballads are written in 4-6 line stanzas and have regular rhythms and rhyme schemes, and often feature a refrain. Ex:

biography – an account of a person’s life written or told by another person.
blank verse – poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter lines. This verse form was widely used by Shakespeare.
character - person or animal that takes part in the action of a literary work.

Static character – does not change

Dynamic character – undergoes a change, often extreme change

Round character – many traits, virtues and faults

Flat character – shows only one trait

characterization – the act of creating and developing a character.

Direct characterization – the author directly states character traits

Indirect characterization – the author provides clues for the reader to draw conclusions about the character
cliché – overused word or phrase
climax – the high point of interest in a story, play, novel, etc.
comedy – is a literary work, especially a play that has a happy ending. Often ordinary characters are in conflict with society and the conflicts are resolved through misunderstandings, delusions, and concealed identities, which result in the correction of moral faults or social wrongs. Ex: “Much Ado About Nothing”
conflict – is a struggle between opposing forces. Characters in conflict form the basis of stories, novels, and plays. External/internal conflicts
connotation – all the meanings, associations, or emotions that a word suggests
consonance – repetition of final consonants sounds in stressed syllables with different vowel sounds, as in hat and sit.
couplet – a pair of rhyming lines, usually of the same length and meter.

denotation – the dictionary definition of a word, independent of other associations.

dialect – speech patterns of a particular region or social group.
diction – author’s choice of words, especially with regard to range of vocabulary, use of slang, and colloquial language, and level of formality.
drama – story written to be performed by actors.
dramatic irony – when the reader knows something that a character in the story does not know.
dramatic poetry – uses the techniques of drama, like “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe.
epic – a long narrative poem about the deeds of gods or heroes.
epiphany – sudden flash of insight, realization into a conflict or situation.
essay – a short nonfiction work about a particular subject; descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive, or visual.
exposition – writing or speech that explains a process or presents information. In the plot of a story or drama, the exposition is the part of the work that introduces the characters, the setting, and the basic situation.
extended metaphor – like a metaphor where the writer speaks or writes about something as though it were something else, but continues on for several lines or for an entire poem.
fantasy – highly imaginative writing that contains elements not found in real life, involve supernatural elements, imaginary people, places, and resemble fairy tales.
farce – type of comedy that takes a humorous situation and exaggerates it to the point of silliness or absurdity.
fiction – prose writing that tells about imaginary characters and events. The term is usually used for novels and short stories, may also apply to drama and narrative poetry.

figurative language – writing or speech not meant to be interpreted literally. It is often used to create vivid impressions by setting up comparisons between dissimilar things.

flashback – a means by which authors present material that occurred earlier than the present tense of the narrative. Authors may include this material in a character’s memories, dreams, or accounts of past events.
foil – a character who provides a contrast to another character.
foreshadowing – the use in a literary work of clues that suggest events that have yet to occur. This technique helps create suspense, keeping readers wondering about what will happen next.
free verse – poetry that is not written in a regular pattern of meter or rhyme, although it may contain parallelism and various sound devices.
genre – category or type of literature (fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, prose…)
haiku – Japanese poetry, 3-line verse form, 1st and 3rd lines have five syllables, the 2nd line has 7 syllables. A haiku seeks to convey a single vivid emotion by means of images from nature.
Homeric simile (epic simile) – elaborate comparison of unlike subjects.
hyperbole – a deliberate exaggeration or overstatement, often used for comic effect. Ex: I would walk a million miles to hear him sing…
image – a word or phrase that appeals to one or more of the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. Writers use images to re0create sensory experiences in words.
imagery – is the descriptive or figurative language used in literature to create word pictures for the reader... these pictures, or images, are created by details of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, or movement.

irony - is the general term for literary techniques that portray differences between appearance and reality, or expectation and result. In verbal irony, words are used to suggest the opposite of what is meant. In dramatic irony, there is a contradiction between what a character thinks and what the reader or audience knows to be true. In irony of situation, an event occurs that directly contradicts the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience.

literal language – uses words in their ordinary senses. It is the opposite of figurative. Ex: You tell a swimmer to jump in the pool (literal), go jump in a lake (figurative).
lyric poem - a highly musical verse that expresses the thoughts, observations, and feelings of a single speaker.
metaphor – is a figure of speech in which one thing is spoken of as though it were something else. Unlike a simile, which compares two things using like or as, a metaphor implies a comparison between them. “Life is a broken-winged bird…”
meter- is the rhythmical pattern of a poem. This pattern is determined by the number and types of stresses, or beats, in each line. In order to determine meter, you must scan the lines of the poem. Scanning involves marking the stressed and unstressed syllables. Each strong stress is marked with a slanted line (΄) and the unstressed syllables with a horseshoe (˘). The stressed and unstressed syllables are then divided by vertical lines into groups called feet.
monologue- is a speech in a play by one character that unlike a soliloquy, is addressed to another character or characters.
mood- also known as atmosphere, is the feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage. The mood is often suggested by descriptive details. Mood can often be expressed in one word, like lighthearted, eerie, dark, etc.
moral- is a lesson taught by a literary work, especially a fable – many fables have a stated moral at the end.
motivation- is a reason that explains or partially explains why a character thinks, feels, acts, or behaves in a certain way.
myth- is a fictional tale that describes the actions of gods and heroes or explains the causes of natural phenomena. Unlike legends, myths emphasize supernatural rather than historical elements.

narration- is writing that tells a story. The act of telling a story in speech is also called narration. Novels and short stories are fictional narratives. News stories, biographies, and autobiographies are nonfiction narratives.

narrative- is a story told in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.
narrative poem- is one that tells a story, like “Casey at the Bat” or “The Raven.”
narrator- is a speaker or character who tells a story. The writer’s choice of narrator determines the story’s point of view, which directs the type and amount of information the writer reveals.

1st person point of view – the story is told by one of the characters in the story, from the “I” point of view.

3rd person point of view –the narrator focuses on the thoughts and feelings of one character.
3rd person omniscient – the narrator is “all-knowing,” he/she can comment on all the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
2nd person point of view – used in newspaper editorials… uses the word “you.”
nonfiction- is prose writing that presents and explains ideas or that tells about real people, places, ideas, or events. To be classified as nonfiction, a work must be true.
novel – is a long work of fiction. It has a plot that explores characters in conflict. A novel may also have one or more subplots, or minor stores, and several themes.
novella- is a work of fiction that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.
onomatopoeia – is the use of words that imitate sounds. Whirr, thud, sizzle, and hiss are typical examples. Writers can deliberately choose words that contribute to a desired sound effect.
oral tradition - is the passing of songs, stories, and poems from generation to generation by word of mouth. Many folk songs, ballads, fairy tales, legends, and myths originated in the oral tradition.

oxymoron- is a combination of words, or parts of words, that contradict each other. Examples are “deafening silence,” honest thief,” wise fool,” and “bittersweet.”

paradox- is a statement that seems contradictory but actually may be true. Because a paradox is surprising, it catches the reader’s attention.
parallelism- is the repetition of a grammatical structure in order to create a rhythm and make words memorable. Ex: see Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a Dream.”
personification- is a type of figurative language in which a nonhuman subject is given human characteristics.
persuasion- is writing or speech that attempts to convince the reader to adopt a particular opinion or course of action.
plot- is the sequence of events in a literary work.
prose – is the ordinary form of written language. Most writing that is not poetry, drama, or song is considered prose.
protagonist- is the main character in a literary work
pun- is a play on words involving a word with two or more different meanings or two words that sound alike but have different meanings.
quatrain- is a stanza or poem made up of four lines, usually with a definite rhythm and rhyme scheme.
repetition - is the use of any element of language - a sound, word, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence – more than once. (Assonance, alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme are certain sounds and sound patterns.)
rhetorical devices- are special patterns of words and ideas that create emphasis and stir emotion, especially in speeches or other oral presentations. Rhetorical question- a question posed for emphasis of a point with an obvious answer, but not looking for an answer.
rhyme- is the repetition of sounds at the ends of words. End rhyme occurs when the rhyming words come at the ends of lines. Internal rhyme occurs when the rhyming words appear in the same line.
rhyme scheme- is a regular pattern of rhyming words in a poem. (ababc…)

rhythm- is the pattern of beats, or stresses, in spoken or written language. Some poems have a very specific pattern, or meter, whereas prose and free verse use the natural rhythms of everyday speech.

satire- is a literary work that ridicules the foolishness and faults of individuals, an institution, society, or even humanity in general. (Gulliver’ Travels)
science fiction- is writing that tells about imaginary events involving science or technology. Many science-fiction stories are set in the future.
sensory language – is writing or speech that appeals to one or more of the senses.
setting- (of a literary work) is the time and place of the action. Time can include not only the historical period – past, present, or future – but also a specific year, season, or time of day. Place may involve not only the geographical place – a region, country, state, or town – but also the social, economic, or cultural environment. In some stories, setting serves merely as a backdrop for action, a context in which the characters move and speak. In others, however, setting is a crucial element.
short story- is a brief work of fiction. In most short stories, the main character faces a conflict that is resolved in the plot of the story. Great craftsmanship must go into the writing of a good story, for it has to accomplish its purpose in relatively few words.
simile- is a figure of speech in which the words like
or as are used to compare two apparently dissimilar items. The comparison, however, surprises the reader into a fresh perception by finding an unexpected likeness.
soliloquy- is a long speech expressing the thoughts of a character alone on stage.

sonnet- is a fourteen-line lyric poem, usually written in rhymed iambic pentameter. The English, or Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains (4- line stanzas) and a couplet (2 lines), usually rhyming abab cdcd efef gg. The couplet usually comments on the ideas contained in the preceding twelve lines. The sonnet us usually not printed with the stanzas divided, but a reader can see distinct ideas in each/

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave (8- line stanza) and a sestet (6-line stanza). Often, the octave rhymes abbaabba and the sestet rhymes cdecde. The octave states a theme or asks a question. The sestet comments on or answers the question.

speaker- is the imaginary voice assumed by the writer of the poem. In many poems, the speaker is not identified by name. When reading a poem, remember that the speaker within the poem may be a person, an animal, a thing, or an abstraction. The speaker of the poem should not be assumed to be the author of the poem.
stanza- is a repeated grouping of two or more lines in a poem that often share a patter of rhythm and rhyme. Stanzas are sometimes named according to the number of lines they have.
style- refers to an author’s unique way of writing. Elements determining style include diction; tone; characteristic use of figurative language, dialect, or rhythmic devices; and syntax, or typical grammatical structures and patterns.
suspense- is a feeling of uncertainty about the outcome of events in a literary work.
symbol- is anything that stands for something else. In addition to having its own meaning and reality, a symbol also represents abstract ideas. For example, a flag is a piece of cloth, but it also represents the idea of a country.
tall tale- is a type of folk tale that contains some or all of these features: humor, hyperbole, far-fetched situations, highly imaginative language, and a hero who performs outrageous feats. Tall tales originated during the development of the American frontier and are a particularly American form of folk tale.
theme- is a central message or insight into life revealed through a literary work. The theme of a literary work may be stated directly or implied. When the theme of a work is implied, readers think about what the work suggests about people or life.
tone- of a literary work is the writer’s attitude toward his or her audience and subject. The tone can often be described by a single adjective, such as formal, or informal, serious or playful, bitter or ironic.

tragedy- is a work of literature, especially a play, that results in a catastrophe, a disaster of great misfortune, for the main character, or tragic hero.

understatement- is a figure of speech in which the stated meaning is purposely less than (or “under”) what is really meant. It is the opposite of hyperbole, which is a deliberate exaggeration.
universal theme- is a message about life that cane be understood by most cultures.
villanelle- is a nineteen-line lyric poem written in five three-line stanzas and ending in a four-line stanza. It uses two rhymes and repeats two refrain lines that appear initially in the first and third lines of the first stanza. These lines then appear alternately as the third line of subsequent three-line stanzas and, finally, as the last two lines of the poem.
visual essay – is an exploration of a topic that conveys its ideas through visual elements as well as language. Like a standard essay, a visual essay presents an author’s views of a single topic. Unlike other essays, however, much of the meaning in a visual essay is conveyed through illustrations or photographs.

voice- is a writer’s distinctive “sound” or way of “speaking” on the page. It is related to such elements as word choice, sentence structure, and tone. It is similar to an individual’s speech style and can be described in the same way – fast, slow, blunt, meandering, breathless, and so on. Voice resembles style, an author’s typical way of writing, but style usually refers to a quality that can be found throughout an author’s body of work, while an author’s voice may sometimes vary from work to work.

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