Guide to literary terms & devices



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Handy-dandy guide to literary terms & devices

Point of View is the narration of the story.

Two main types are FIRST PERSON (told through the eyes of the main character, uses “I”) and THIRD PERSON (told through a reporter’s point of view). NOTE: Third person can be broken down into third person limited (knowing the thoughts of only one character), third omniscient (the narrator is God-like and knows all characters’ thoughts. Third objective does not reveal any thoughts, but is just what the narrator can see or hear.


Setting – the time and the place of the story
Characterization – the way the author reveals the character (examples: through the character’s actions or words.
Theme – the main idea or message of the story. Often can be told in one word: Some of the themes in Rules are disabilities, friendship, and family.
Conflict – the struggle between two or more opposing forces. Types of struggle include: Human v. Human; Human v. Nature; Human v. Society/Technology; and Human v. Self
Plot – The way the story moves along.

Alliteration – the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of the words, in a group: PETER PIPER
Assonancethe repetition of vowel sounds, any place in the word.

How now brown cow – or – I ate eight fake grape apes.


Consonance – repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or end of words

Middle children need adored like older kids.


Onomatopoeia – a word representing a sound. MOO!
Dialogue – conversation between characters or when a character speaks aloud to him/herself

Foreshadowing – a hint by the author about what is to come

Flashback – when the story goes back in time to a previous event
Imagery – writing that appeals to the five senses. The author makes you see what is hiding in the closet, or smell the bread, or taste the bitter medicine
Irony – the contrast between what is expected and what occurs

Dramatic irony – the reader knows something the character doesn’t (think: “Scream” and other scary movies)

Situation Irony – The results of an action or event are different than what is expected (The watch/comb story – “Gift of the Magi”) (a lifeguard drowns)

Verbal Irony – intended meaning of words is opposite of what is spoken
Figurative Language – Describing something by using a comparison…this includes metaphors, similes, and personification
Metaphor – A comparison of two unlike things, in order to give added meaning to the other. The moon is a tiger. My son is a monkey.
Simile – a comparison using LIKE or AS (also: than –or– resembles)

My cousin is as smart as a brick.  My daughter’s mind is like a filing cabinet.


Personification – giving an inanimate object or animal human characteristics. The tractor leapt with joy as the farmer approached. The dog winked conspiratorially when he knew I would keep his secret.
Mood/Atmosphere – Emotional feeling of the story (happy, romantic, scary)
Refrain/Repetition – used to emphasize the message or point made by author

Symbol/Symbolism – using one item to stand for something else. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom. In Snow White the apple represents evil
Tone – the author’s attitude toward the subject, character, or audience. (passionate, humorous, angry)
Allusion – a reference in a work of literature to another work, event in history, art, sports, science, etc.
Idiom – an expression in a particular language that the meaning is different from the words. In English: It is raining cats & dogs; hold your tongue




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