Literary Terms Definitions
  1. Plot: the events of a story or narrative with a variety of sequencing patterns. The plot is what happens in the story.
  2. Exposition: the background information of a story, the story before the story.
  3. Conflict: the struggle between two forces, one generally being the protagonist of the story. The antagonist can be the self, another person, animal, nature, technology/machine, society, or the supernatural
  4. Climax: the point in the story where the conflict is at its peak, when the conflict has reached its crisis and one of the two forces "wins."
  5. Resolution: the conclusion of the story, the unfolding of the theme, the "happy ending," the tying together; what occurs in the resolution depends on the kind of story and the author's purpose.
  6. Foreshadowing: clues in the writing that lead the reader to predict what will happen later in the story.
  7. Suspense: the author intentionally leaves information out, or doesn't answer questions to prompt the reader to wonder, often anxiously, about what will happen next. Suspense is the quality of "being on the edge of our seat" as we read to see what will happen.
  8. Flashback: a strategy of plot sequencing where the author takes the reader back to events that occurred before the present time in the story.
  9. Protagonist: the main character of the story
  10. Antagonist: the force that works against the protagonist; the antagonist does not have to be a person (see types of conflicts)
  11. Foil: a foil character is either one who is in most ways opposite to the main character or nearly the same as the main character. The purpose of the foil character is to emphasize the traits of the main character by comparison or contrast.
  12. Dynamic character: a dynamic character is one who changes by the end of the story,  learning something that changes him or her in a permanent way. 
  13. Static character: A static character does not change; he or she is the same person at the end of the story as he was at the beginning.
  14. Round character: a round character is fully developed; readers may even be able to anticipate the actions of a round character if the characterization is well done and consistent.
  15. Flat character: we know very little about a flat character; flat characters are not meant to serve as main characters. They serve as necessary elements in plot or as elements of the setting.
  16. First person point of view: the narrator, usually the protagonist, tells the story from his/her perspective using I, me, we, etc.
  17. Second person point of view: a story told using "you," which places the reader immediately and personally into the story
  18. Third person omniscient point of view: the narrator uses third person pronouns (he/she/they etc.) and is God-like: all knowing (omniscient). This type of narrator is not limited by time or space.
  19. Third person limited point of view: the narrator tells the story using third person pronouns but limits herself to what one character can sense; the limitations are the same as in first person.
  20. Objective point of view: the narrator does not judge or interpret in any way; he/she simply presents the story as if recording it on film as it happens
  21. Tone: The author or poet's attitude or feeling toward a person, a thing, a place, event or situation. It is also the emotional feeling in the poem/story.
  22. Theme: The theme is what the author wants us to know about the general truth of the story. For example, if the story is about "love," the author probably knows something about love that he/she conveys through the story and the characters. Theme is an idea that is true for most people over time and across cultures.
  23. Imagery: Imagery is language that appeals to the senses. It is description that makes the reader feel he or she is "in the setting." There are six basic kinds of imagery: visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch), and kinesthetic (movement).
  24. Figurative Language: The general category of language meant to be taken symbolically or metaphorically, including metaphor, simile, personification, etc.
  25. Symbol/Symbolism: A symbol is a person, place, thing or idea that stands for something else. Water can symbolize purity. Light (as in sun light) often is used to symbolize knowledge or truth.
  26. Metaphor: a comparison of two generally unlike things meant to illuminate truth. Direct metaphors use "is" to make the comparison explicit. Implied metaphors suggest the comparison.
  27. Simile: a metaphor using like, as, than, or similar comparative words to make the connection between two generally unlike things. The intent of a simile is to illuminate truth.
  28. Allegory: an extended metaphor wherein the characters, events, and situations of the story can be taken on two levels: the literal level and the metaphoric/symbolic level, each thing representing something else. Ex: Animal Farm
  29. Motif: a motif is a recurring image or idea. The repetition of the idea reinforces the value of the image or idea and usually gets the reader to think about theme.
  30. Verbal irony: a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant
  31. Situational irony: a discrepancy between what is expected, as in action, or as regards the situation/setting, and what one would expect to happen
  32. Dramatic irony: a discrepancy between what the character knows and what the reader knows to be true; it's when the reader knows something the character does not know
  33. Diction: diction is the author's choice of words. If she chooses one word over another, it is probably because that word implies some social or connotative meaning.
  34. Denotation: the denotative meaning is the dictionary meaning of the word without its social connotations.
  35. Connotation: the connotative meaning of the word is the associated meanings that come from its use in various social contexts. Connotative meanings will vary from location to location. They will change or die over time. For example: if someone said, "I'm down with that" in 1955, no one would understand what he/she meant. Connotative meaning also means the emotional connections to words. For example, the word test often carries a negative meaning for students.
  36. Narrative poetry: The narration of an event or story, stressing details of plot, incident and action.
  37. Dramatic poetry: A composition in verse portraying a story of life or character, usually involving conflict and emotions, in a plot evolving through action and dialogue.
  38. Epic poetry: an extended narrative poem that includes heroic or romantic (adventures of the romantic hero) events or themes. Ex: The Odyssey
  39. Lyrical poetry: Lyric/lyrical poetry is perhaps the most common; it is that which expresses the emotional response of the poet to events, people and situations
  40. Sonnet: poems of strict form: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Two types: English or Shakespearean, consisting of  four quatrains (abab, cdcd, efef) and a couplet (gg) and Italian or Petrarchan, consisting of an octave (set of eight lines) ryhming abbaabba and a sestet (six lines) with a variety of schemes (cdecde, for example).
  41. Ballad: a poem that tells a story, usually in four line stanzas with a refrain; the subject of ballads is generally folk lore or popular legend.
  42. Haiku: A Japanese form of poetry, consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables. Haiku are very brief descriptions of nature that convey some implicit insight or essence of a moment. Traditionally, they contain either a direct or oblique reference to a season.
  43. Personification: giving human characteristics to non human things in order to give light to human action, emotion, ideas etc.
  44. Onomatopoeia: words that sound like what they mean. Ex: "hiss" sounds like the snake
  45. Hyperbole: exaggeration. The opposite of hyperbole is understatement. By using contrast, an idea can be emphasized.
  46. Alliteration: the repetition of beginning sounds in words. Ex: I rarely rush past red roses 
  47. Assonance: The repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line, as in the words, date and fade.
  48. Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds at the end of words. Ex: night, cat, plot
  49. Rhyme: words that sound alike. There are either exact rhymes, where the end sounds of the words are identical, like lark and spark, or there are slant rhymes where the words sound similar but are not identical, like lake and lark.
  50. Exact Rhyme: This is when words sound exactly alike: cat, hat, rat
  51. Slant or Approximate Rhyme: When words share the same vowel sound or similar vowel sound and same end sound, they "sort of" rhyme, but not exactly. Ex: which and fish have the same vowel sound, but the end sounds are not exactly the same. If you were scanning for a rhyme scheme, you could say that these two words do rhyme.
  52. End Rhyme: This is what we call it when the words at the ends of the lines rhyme. Ex: Line one: The maiden called to me/ Line two: As I went out to sea.
  53. Internal Rhyme: Words that rhyme can occur within a line. Ex: The cat sat on the hat.
  54. Rhythm: the regular or repetitive patterns of sounds created in language with stressed and unstressed syllables
  55. Meter: the rhythm created in poetry by the repetition of similar units of sound patterns (stressed and unstressed syllable combinations): iambic (U/), trochaic (/U), anapestic (UU/), dactyllic (/UU), spondaic (//), and pyrrhic (UU).
  56. Foot: a two or three syllable unit of meter. Ex: (U/) is one iambic foot.
  57. Iambic Pentameter: A five foot line of iambic meter. This is the most common meter in English.
  58. Blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter
  59. Free verse: lines of poetry that do not have exact patterns, either rhyme, meter or both
  60. Stanza: a group of lines in a poem that stand as one unit
  61. Couplet: two lines of a poem that rhyme; a couplet usually stands as a complete idea or grammatical "sentence" within the poem.
  62. Refrain: a phrase or stanza that repeats in a ballad or song lyric; a refrain may hold the main theme or idea of the poem or song.
  63. Structure: the structure of the poem is how the poet builds it from the various poetic elements. Think of the elements of a house: wood, windows, doors, bricks, shingles, etc. These elements do not always combine to make identical structures. Most houses look different from one another. A poet uses the building blocks of poems and creates a poem that is not exactly like any other.
  64. Scansion (scanning): the process of looking closely at a poem to determine meter, rhyme, rhyme scheme, or other patterns.
  65. Allusion: An allusion is a reference to something in history, culture, or literature (especially historical). An allusion adds to the depth of our understanding. If we know the reference then the poet or writer's comparison helps us to see the poem or prose piece more fully.

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