Glossary of 100 Literary Terms

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Glossary of


100 Literary Terms


  1. Allegory- a literary work in which characters, objects, or actions represent abstractions




  1. Alliteration- the repetition of initial sounds in successive or neighboring words




  1. Allusion- a reference to something literary, mythological, or historical that the author assumes the reader will recognize




  1. Ambiguity – Occurs when a word, phrase, situation, or event can be interpreted in more than one way; both interpretations must be supportable from the text.




  1. Analogy- a comparison of two different things that are similar in some way




  1. Anecdote- a brief narrative (story) that focuses on a particular incident or event




  1. Antagonist- a main character of a plot who is in opposition or conflict with the protagonist.  This person usually complicates the conflict and plot.




  1. Archetype- a detail, image, or character type that occurs frequently in literature and myth and is thought to appeal in a universal way to the unconscious and to evoke a response




  1. Aside- when a character is on stage with other characters, making side line comments that those on stage do not appear to hear or react to.




  1. Assonance – repetition of vowel sounds in the middle of words (NOT RHYME)




  1. Autobiography- a NONFICTION story written by an author about themselves




  1. Character (tragic) flaw- a habit, personality trait or practice that causes a character problems in his/her life again and again and again.




  1. Characterization - the introduction and development of the personalities of the individuals in a piece of literature.




  1. Cliché- an expression that has been overused to the extent that is freshness has worn off




  1. Climax- the point of highest interest in a literary work




  1. Conflict- a problem, issue or challenge that must be solved.  This is the driving force for all the action and events in the plot. Conflict may be either internal or external.




  1. Connotation- the implied or associative meaning of a word




  1. Couplet – two consecutive lines with words at the end that rhyme




  1. Denotation- the literal meaning of a word (dictionary definition)




  1. Dialect- a variety of speech characterized by its own particular grammar or pronunciation, often associated with a particular geographical region




  1. Dialogue- conversation between two or more people




  1. Diction- the word choices made by a writer



  1. Didactic- having the primary purpose of teaching or instructing (This is often a words used to describe tone.)





  1. Direct characterization – when the narrator or a character in the story tells us what we need to know about a character




  1. Drama- the formal name for a play




  1. Dramatic irony- when the audience or the reader knows details or information that the characters within the story or drama don't know




  1. Dynamic character - an individual who changes from what they have learned or experienced during the events of the story. 




  1. Elegy- a formal poem presenting a mediation on death or another solemn theme




  1. Epic- a long narrative poem written in elevated style which presents the adventures of characters of high position and episodes that are important to the history of a race or nation




  1. Epigraph- a saying or statement on the title page of a work, or used as a heading for a character or other section of a work




  1. Epithet- A characterizing word or phrase firmly associated with a person or thing and often used in place of the actual name or title, such as “man's best friend” for “dog”.




  1. Exposition – the part of the plot that introduces the setting, characters, conflict, etc.



  1. External conflict- a struggle or problem coming from outside a character. (person vs. person OR person vs. nature OR person vs. society)





  1. Fable- a brief story that leads to a moral, often using animals as characters




  1. Fiction- stories that include (1) characters, (2) settings and/or (3) events that have been created in the imagination of the writer.  If any of these three are invented, the entire story is deemed fiction.




  1. Figurative language- language employing one or more figures of speech (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.)




  1. Flashback- the insertion of an earlier event into the normal chronological order of a narrative




  1. Flat character- a character who embodies a single quality and who does not develop in the course of a story




  1. Foil - A character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight various features of the characters' personalities, throwing these characteristics into focus.




  1. Foreshadowing- hints or clues that give subtle hints or clues about what may happen later in the plot.  This can be achieved through symbolism, dialogue, imagery or other literary devices.




  1. Frame tale- a story within a story. An example is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the primary tales are told within the “frame story” of the pilgrimage to Canterbury.




  1. Genre- a major category or type of literature



  1. Hubris- excessive pride or arrogance that results in the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy





  1. Hyperbole- intentional exaggeration to create an effect




  1. Idiom- an expression in a given language that cannot be understood from the literal meaning of the words in the expression. EX: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”




  1. Imagery- the use of figures of speech to create vivid images that appeal to one of the senses




  1. Indirect characterization – when we find out about characters indirectly through thoughts, comments, or actions of the characters




  1. Inference- a conclusion one draws (infers) based on premises or evidence




  1. Internal conflict- a struggle or problem within a character.  (person vs. self)




  1. Irony- the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning; or, incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs




  1. Legend- a narrative handed down from the past, containing historical elements and usually supernatural elements




  1. Limited narrator- a narrator who presents the story as it is seen and understood by a single character and restricts information to what is seen, heard, thought, or felt by that one character




  1. Lyric poem – a poem written to express feelings or emotions. Most poems fall into this category.




  1. Memoir- a nonfiction story about certain moments or parts of an author's life about themselves




  1. Metaphor- a direct comparison of two different things




  1. Meter- the rhythm or syllable pattern in lines of poetry. The beat of the words. 




  1. Minor character- a character who has few lines or is in limited scenes but who is still important to the plot events




  1. Monologue: one character speaking to self or directly to the audience




  1. Mood- The emotional quality the reader experiences from the words, images and descriptions created by the writer.




  1. Motif- a standard theme, element, or dramatic situation that recurs in various works




  1. Motivation- a character’s incentive or reason for behaving in a certain manner; that which impels a character to act




  1. Myth- a traditional story presenting supernatural characters and episodes that help explain natural events




  1. Narrative- a story or narrated account




  1. Narrative poem – a poem that tells a story




  1. Narrator- the one who tells the story; may be first- or third-person, limited or omniscient




  1. Nonfiction- stories that include characters, settings AND events that are based on fact.  All three must be accurate and true for a piece to be considered nonfiction.



  1. Omniscient narrator- a narrator who is able to know, see, and tell all, including the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters





  1. Onomatopoeia- a word formed from the imitation of natural sounds




  1. Oxymoron- an expression in which two words that contradict each other are joined




  1. Parable- a simple story that illustrates a moral or religious lesson




  1. Paradox- an apparently contradictory statement that actually contains some truth




  1. Parody- a humorous imitation of a serious work




  1. Personification- giving non-human objects or creatures with human qualities or characteristics




  1. Plot- the sequence or order of events




  1. Point of view- the position from which the story is told. 

1st person- the voice is that of a character who is part of the story

3rd person- the voice is that of a narrator who is watching the story




  1. Prose – non-poetry, most writing falls into this category (short stories, novels, nonfiction, etc.)




  1. Protagonist- A main character of the plot who is usually considered the hero or positive individual




  1. Pun- a play on words, often achieved through the use of words with similar sounds but different meanings EX: In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio uses the following pun: “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” (Grave means serious/sad as well as dead.)


  1. Resolution- the part of the story's plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. This occurs after the falling action and is typically where the story ends.





  1. Rhyme scheme- a set pattern of rhyming words found at the ends of lines of poetry.  The rhyme scheme is indicated by assigning capital letters to pinpoint the pattern.




  1. Round character – a character that, like a real person, has many different character traits that sometimes contradict each other.




  1. Satire: ridicule intended to expose truth




  1. Setting- the location, time period, season, holiday during which the events of a plot take place




  1. Simile- the comparison of two or more related objects or events using the words "like' or "as" in the phrasing.




  1. Situational irony - a mismatch between what the reader thinks may happen and how the event or story actually is resolved; a surprise ending with a real twist.




  1. Soliloquy- when a character is ALONE (solo) on stage, speaking aloud their thoughts or emotions.  Soliloquies often reveal motivation and/or foreshadowing.




  1. Sonnet – a 14-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme.




  1. Speaker – the “narrator” of a poem; in poetry, we use the term “speaker” instead of “narrator”


  1. Stanza – the division of a poem similar to a “paragraph” in a work of prose





  1. Static character – a character that does not change through the course of a story




  1. Suspense- a building or rising sense of concern or interest in what will happen in a plot.




  1. Symbol- an object that is used to represent something else




  1. Symbolism- the use of objects, animals (especially birds), colors, etc. that have a greater or universal meaning beyond their simple existence.  The symbols can offer information and even create foreshadowing if the reader understands or notes their meaning.




  1. Theme- the message, advice or warning about life and/or relationships the author shares through their characters' experiences.  This message is often inferred; it is more than just a simple "moral to the story".




  1. Thesis- the primary position taken by a writer or speaker




  1. Tone- the attitude of a writer, usually implied, toward the subject or audience




  1. Tragedy- a work in which the protagonist, a person of high degree, is engaged in a significant struggle and which ends in ruin or destruction.




  1. Turning point- the point in a work in which a very significant change occurs




  1. Unreliable narrator – a narrator (often first person) who cannot be trusted or lacks believability for some reason



  1. Verbal irony- a type of dialogue in which what is being said has a hidden or secondary meaning to what is meant.  This can be a device used to achieve foreshadowing.

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