List of literary terms

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List of literary terms: in alphabetical order.

Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z  

A[change | edit source]

Abecedarius[change | edit source]

An acrostic where the first letter of every word or verse follows the order of the alphabet. For example, in the sentence A Bear Climbed Down, the first letter of every word is in alphabetical order: A, B, C, D.

Acrostic[change | edit source]

A form of writing where the first letter of each line, paragraph, or verse spells out a word or a message.

Allegory[change | edit source]

A story or picture with two or more different meanings–a literal meaning and one or more symbolic meanings. The setting, characters, and things that happen inside an allegory are symbols for ideas or qualities.

Alliteration[change | edit source]

The repeating of consonant sounds. The repetition can be put side by side (for example, "sleepy sun sank slowly over the sea").

Allusion[change | edit source]

A short mention of a famous historical or literary person or event.

Anagnorisis[change | edit source]

A moment in a play or other work when a character makes a very important discovery - usually about the real situation, the real natures of the people around him, or his own feelings about his enemy.[1]

Analogy[change | edit source]

New words, ideas, or pronunciations become like the pattern of older or more familiar ones. Comparing two different things. The purpose of an analogy is to describe something unfamiliar or new with something that is more familiar.

Antagonist[change | edit source]

The character who the main character has the most conflict with. The antagonist is not always a person or animal, however: for example, the main character could have the most conflict against nature.

Anecdote[change | edit source]

A short and humorous (funny) story about a real event or person.

Antihero[change | edit source]

A protagonist who does not have many heroic qualities. For example, Tom Jones in Henry Fielding's book Tom Jones is an antihero. Sometimes antagonists who are surprisingly likable are called antiheroes, too.

Antonym[change | edit source]

A word that has the opposite meaning of another word (for example, up and down, or male and female).

Archetype[change | edit source]

The good example, pattern, blueprint, or model of a type or group. All other things of the same kind are made from this.

Argumentation[change | edit source]

The conversation or discourse in which the writer logically presents an opinion. It sometimes has the same meaning as persuasion.

Aside[change | edit source]

In a play, an aside is a speech that the actor says in a way that the other characters are supposed not to hear it. It usually shows the person's inner thoughts.

Autobiography[change | edit source]

A form of nonfiction. In an autobiography, a person tells his or her own life story. For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote his own famous autobiography.

Audience[change | edit source]

A group of people that experience a work of art or literature.

B[change | edit source]

Ballad[change | edit source]

A song or poem that tells a story in short stanzas and repeated simple words.

Bard[change | edit source]

A poet hired by a patron such as a ruler or nobleman to write or sing about the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own works.

Biography[change | edit source]

A form of nonfiction in which a writer tells the life story of a different person.

Blank verse[change | edit source]

Poetry that does not rhyme. Most of Shakespeare's plays are in blank verse. Milton's Paradise Lost is also written in blank verse.

C[change | edit source]

Carpe Diem[change | edit source]

Latin expression which means "seize the day". Literary works with a carpe diem theme are about enjoying life and not worrying about dying.

Character[change | edit source]

A person or an animal who is part of the action of a literary work. The main character is the one the work focuses on. The person with whom the main character has the most conflict is the antagonist. He is the enemy of the main character, who is usually called a protagonist.

Classicism[change | edit source]

A way of thinking in literature and other arts which especially focuses on the importance of reason, balance, clearness and neat, orderly form, like the arts of Greece and Rome.

Conflict[change | edit source]

A struggle between two forces against each other. It can be internal or external. When a conflict happens inside a character, it is called internal conflict. For example, in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, Jane is asking herself whether she should live with Mr. Rochester, whom she loves, or if she should go away. An external conflict is usually a conflict that is easy to see, happening between the protagonist and antagonist. Conflict is one of the most important elements of narrative literature.

Contradiction[change | edit source]

Two statements that do not seem to agree with one another. "I heard a soundless shout" is a contradiction.

Crisis or climax[change | edit source]

The moment or event in the plot where the conflict is most directly addressed. Here, the main character usually "wins" or "loses". After the climax, there is a denouement (falling action).

D[change | edit source]

Denotation[change | edit source]

The real, direct meaning of a word, like a "dictionary definition". For example, the word "dog" denotes a mammal from the family Canidae with four legs that is often kept as a pet.

Dialectic[change | edit source]

Looking at and thinking about opinions or ideas logically, often by questions and answers.

Digression[change | edit source]

Using material that is not related to the subject of the work. Henry Fielding often used digression in his novels.

Drama[change | edit source]

A story written to be performed by actors. The person who writes the play writes dialogue for the characters to speak and directions for costumes, lighting, setting, and the character's movements.

Dramatic monologue[change | edit source]

A poem or speech in which an imaginary character speaks to a silent listener.

E[change | edit source]

Elegy[change | edit source]

A solemn, formal poem about death, often for a dead person or thing. It often begins with "In Memory of..."

Ellipsis[change | edit source]

Ellipses are used often in everyday life as well as in literature. They usually look like this (...). It is usually used in leaving out or not using words.

Epic poetry[change | edit source]

An epic is a long narrative poem. The subject is usually serious, like something that was an important influence to a culture or nation.[2]

Epigraph[change | edit source]

A sentence, quotation, or poem that is put at the beginning of a written work.

Epilogue[change | edit source]

A piece of writing at the end of a work of literature, especially in drama. It is usually different from the whole work and is used to end it.

Essay[change | edit source]

A short nonfiction work about a special subject from the writer's point of view. Essay comes from the Old French word essai, meaning "a trial, try, or attempt".[3]

I[change | edit source]

Idyll[change | edit source]

A short poem about simple everyday life, sometimes written in a pastoral (about shepherd life) or sentimental style.

Imagery[change | edit source]

Imagery is strong describing language which helps us use our senses and memory when we read.

Irony[change | edit source]

Irony means to say something while meaning a different, contradictory thing.

References[change | edit source]

  1. Northrop Frye, "Myth, Fiction, And Displacement" p 25 Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, ISBN 0-15-629730-2
  2. Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature, St. Martin's, 2005, p 2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8
  3. "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymonline.com. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=essay&searchmode=none. Retrieved 18 September 2010.