6 Literary Terms Definition List

To discuss and analyze literature it is important to know some of the basic terms and expressions used within the subject area. The following glossary covers the most widely used terms.

Literary Terms
Term Definition
Allegory Simply put, an allegory is a narrative that has a symbolic meaning. That is, the whole story, its plot, characters and often setting, are all elements that signify a second correlated narrative.
Alliteration Alliteration is when a text (most often poetry, but also prose) has three or more succeeding words that start with the same sound. It is usually applied to consonants, either at the beginning of the word or on a stressed syllable within the word.
Allusion In a literary work there will often be a brief reference to a person, place, event or to another literary work. This is called an allusion, and was very common in classic and romantic poetry which had many references to ancient mythology.
Analogy An analogy is a comparison between twot things meant to highlight one aspect between one or both. For example, meow is to kitty as woof is to puppy.
Antagonists Character or force opposing the protaganist.
Assonance Assonance is repition of vowel sounds in a line.
Atmosphere The word covers the mood or ambience that the writer creates in his narrative. The intention is to give the reader a feeling (often dark and foreboding) of what is going to happen.
Blank verse Blank verse is when a poem (of a certain metric pattern) has no end rhymes. Many of Shakespeare’s texts, both his plays and poems are in blank verse. It will then have a certain melodic rhythm that comes alive when it is recited.
Character and Characterization Character refers to the person(s) in a narrative or a play. They can be described directly (through the narrator) or indirectly (through the eyes of other characters. We also use the terms flat or round characters to indicate their complexity.
Clichè A verbal clichè is a fixed and often used expression. A structural clichè is a common and predictable element of a narrative. It can be either a character or a turn of the plot. In film and literature clichès are negative elements, since they indicate lack of creativity, both in terms of language and plot arrangements.
Conflict Conflict is the challenge main characters need to solve to achieve their goals.
Connotation Connotation means that a word  has a different meaning than it has in everyday use. E.g. “cold” will in colloquial settings mean low temperature, but as a connotation it may also mean e.g. heartless or unfeeling.
Consonance Repitition of consonant sounds in a line.
Constrast When certain opposites are juxtaposed, or put up against each other, e.g., two scenes in a film, this will highlight the contrast between them. The effect is that the two elements will mutually amplify each other.
Dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English[1]) is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people, and a literary and theatrical form that depicts such an exchange.
Diction / Voice Voice describes the conscious word choices an author uses to communicate to their reader.
Denotation Common or dictionary definition of a word.
Epiphany Epiphany in Greek means “manifestation of God.” In literature it means a sudden and often spiritual awakening, like when a character suddenly sees with clarity the way out of a predicament or a dilemma.
Foreshadow To foreshadow is to place hints or bits of information that will lead the reader to an anticipation of the outcome of the narrative. The opening parts of a novel or a short-story will often hold elements of foreshadowing.
Genre Genre is French and means type or form; it is used to categorize literature in groups according to certain criteria.
Gothic In architecture, Gothic means the pointed style that broke with the traditional Roman rounded form of arches and ceilings in cathedrals. In literature the word is used about the type of novels of the late 18th century, containing eerie ingredients like ghosts in derelict castles with dark hallways and hidden doors. Other elements would include violent action, occultism and sorcery.
Humanism This is an alternative denotation of the Renaissance (1550-1650), and it signifies the human as a master of his universe; man is able to seek within himself for answers, but must also appreciate his own shortcomings and inner contradictions.
Hyperbole and Understatement Hyperbole comes from Greek and means to exaggerate, as opposed to an understatement, which is a blunt way of making a statement by giving it less significance than it really has; e.g., to say “bad luck” when a disaster has struck.
Iamb An iamb is a metrical foot used in various types of poetry comprised of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as in a-bove).
Imagery Imagery is a common term in modern literary theory; it describes poetry that is rich with suggestive images and associations.
Irony In colloquial speech irony means to say the opposite of what one really means (verbal irony). In literature one also has this verbal irony, but also what is called structural irony, where the writer gives his plot a turn that can be read with a double meaning. In a short-story there may be an ironic twist at the ending to sum up the theme.
Line A line is a unit of language into which a poem or play is divided.
Melodrama Originally a melodrama was a drama with song. In literature the term will denote a plot which is a bit over the top when it comes to effects. The plot will often be sentimental and not strictly credible, and the characters are more exaggerated “types” than believable persons.
Metaphor / Figurative Language A metaphor is a figure of speech where two or more elements of a different nature are compared with each other, but without “like” or “as”. If the comparison includes “like” or “as” it is called a simile.
Meter Meter is a collective term for the rhythmic pattern of a poem. There are a number of metric systems. A text written in meter is called a verse.
Motif Note the spelling. A motif is a recurring element in a literary text. It may be an incident or a phrase that occurs in different situations and settings through the text.
Narrator and Narrative The narrator is the one that relates the story, and whose information unfolds the plot. The narrative is the story itself.
Omniscient To be omniscient means “to know it all,” and is used about a narrator who is everywhere in the story and can reveal the thoughts of all the characters.
Paradox A paradox is a phrase or statement which seems self-contradictory, but turns out to have a valid meaning after all. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) is an example of a literary paradox.
Plot The plot is the structure and order of actions in a narrative text or a play.
Point of View The point of view is also called “angle” and signifies the way a narrative is told, and from where. The point of view will be the eyes through which we see the narrative.
Protagonist The protagonist is the main character of a narrative. There will also be sub-characters that the protagonist relates to.
Rhyme A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds (or the same sound) in two or more words.
Satire A satire is a narrative which will expose a questionable practice or element in a subtle and “concealed” way. A satire can be funny, but has a serious intent.
Setting The setting of a narrative or a play will define where and when the plot takes place. The setting will always be strongly related to the plot, and will include description of weather and light / dark.
Soliloquy This term is used in dramatic literature and means that the actor is speaking to himself, or “aside” as it also is called. It is widely used in many of Shakespeare’s plays.
Speaker The persona we hear delivering the words of a poem.
Stanza A stanza is a grouped set of lines within a poem, usually set off from other stanzas by a blank line or indentation.
Stream of Consciousness “Stream of consciousness” was a term which was introduced during modernism, and means that the narrative is based on what goes on in the mind of a protagonist. It is also called interior monologue.
Style The style is the way the writer arranges his narrative and his choice of words. The style will be closely connected to the mood and atmosphere.
Symbol A symbol is an object, expression or event that represents an idea beyond itself. The weather and light/darkness will often have a symbolic meaning.
Theme The theme of a narrative or a play is the general idea or underlying message that the writer wants to expose.
Tone The narrator’s or speaker’s disposition (attitude) towards the subject.
Tragedy n a tragedy an innocent protagonist will be involved in escalating circumstances with a fatal result. The tragic development is either caused by a flaw in the character’s personality or by events that evolve beyond his control.

Remixed and Adapted from  https://courses.lumenlearning.com/introliterature/chapter/literary-terms-2/ and Wikipedia.


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