Images from the Book of Kells
Bouree (Bach)
Johann Sebastian Bach (Music Box Archives vol 01)
John Donne 1572-1631
Alfred Noyes 1906
Published in 1960
"The Walrus and the Carpenter"
The Highwayman
Thomas Parnell 1679-1719
Homer 800-701 B.C.
John Donne at burial 1631
William Blake 1757-1827

Literary Terms in Alphabetical Order



Allegory: A narrative in which characters and settings stand for abstract ideas or moral qualities. An allegory is a symbolic meaning.



Alliteration: Repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginnings of words that are close together



Allusion: Reference to a statement, a person, a place, or an event from literature, history, religion, mythology, politics, sports, science, or pop culture



Ambiguity: a word, image, or event generating two or more different meanings


Anachronism: Something outside of its proper historical time period.

Analogy: a comparison of two or more like objects that suggests if they are alike in certain respects, they will probably be alike in other ways as well.


Anaphora: A rhetorical figure involving the exact repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive lines or sentences. this is a type of parallelism. For example: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

Antagonist: character in the story who is the "evil" character, the one who provides conflict with the protagonist (hero).

Antithesis: A rhetorical figure in which two ideas are directly opposed. For example: "I long and dread to close." 

Archetype: The original model from which something is developed (images, characters, settings, story patterns). For example: The snake is the archetypal image of the trickster. Doctor Who is an archetype of the Wandering Jew.


Aside: Words that are spoken by a character in a play to the audience or to another character but that are not supposed to be overheard by the others onstage



Assonance: Repetition of similar vowel sounds that are followed by different consonant sounds, especially in words that are close together in a poem



Ballad: A song or poem written by an unknown author that tells a sensational story of tragedy or adventure and uses repetition and rhyme; a type of narrative poem


Bildungsroman: A novel that recounts the development of an individual from childhood to maturity, to the point at which the protagonist recognizes his place/role in the world.


Blank Verse: A poem written in unrhymed iambic pentameter


Cacophony: Harsh, unpleasant, or discordant sounds (the opposite of Euphony). For example: "The nasal whine of power whips a new universe... Stars prick the eyes with sharp ammoniac proverbs..."

Caesura: a pause or a sudden break in a line of poetry that is not dictated my meter but by natural speaking rhythm. For example:

I will arise and go now, ll for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping ll with low sounds by the shore...

Canon: a body of written works accepted as authoritative or authentic.

Caricature: an exaggeration of an individual's prominent features or characteristics that makes the person appear ridiculous.

Catharsis: The emotional effect a tragic drama has on its audience. It explains the feeling of relief that playgoers experience during and after the catastrophe in a play; it purges or cleanses their emotions of fear and pity, resulting in relief.

Cliche: an overused expression no longer considered original


Climax: moment of great emotional intensity or suspense in the plot



Character: a person who is responsible for the thoughts and actions within a story, poem, or other form of literature



Character Traits: the characterization of the characters; both physical and non-physical (personality, mental ability, etc.)


Conceit: an extended metaphor

Concrete Poetry: a poem whose physical form takes on the shape of the poem's meaning


Couplet: Two consecutive lines of poetry that rhyme



Conflict: struggle or clash between opposing characters or opposing forces (man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. self)



Connotation: all the meanings, associations, or emotions that have come to be attached to some words, in addition to their literal dictionary definitions, or denotations



Consonance: Like assonance and alliteration, consonance is the repetition of certain sounds (in this case, consonants in the middle of the words) in close proximity to each other. i.e. pitter patter



Denotation: literal definition of the word



Denouement: the final outcome of the main complication in the plot



Description: type of writing intended to create a mood or emotion or to re-create a person, a place, a thing, an event, or an experience



Dialect: way of speaking that is characteristic of a particular region or a particular group of people



Dialogue: The conversation between characters in a story



Diction: A writer's or speaker's choice of words



Direct Characterization: the writer directly tells the reader what a character is like



Drama: Story that is written to be acted for an audience



Dramatic Irony: when the audience or the reader knows something important that a character in a play or story does not know (Romeo does not know that Juliet is NOT dead, but the audience does).



Dramatic Monologue: A poem in which a speaker addresses one or more silent listeners, often reflecting on a specific problem or situation



Dynamic Character: a character whose personality changes during the course of the story; a character who grows, emotionally, due to the actions in the story (usually a round character)



Elegy: a type of literature defined as a song or poem that expresses sorrow, usually for one who has died.

Enjambment: The continuation of one line of poetry to the next without punctuation


Epigram: a short poem that seeks to ridicule a though or event, usually with witticism or sarcasm


Epiphany: a sudden moment of understanding that causes a character to change or to act in a certain way.

Exposition: the beginning part of a plot that gives background information about the characters and their problems or conflicts



Epic: Long story told in elevated language (usually poetry) which relates the great deeds of a hero. Most epics include elements of myth, legend, folk tale, and history.



Epic Hero: A hero in an epic tale that is of legendary abilities (often having great strength and/or wisdom) and sometimes even having a connection to the deities.



Epithet: Adjective or descriptive phrase that is regularly used to characterize a person, place, or thing. i.e. Honest Abe; Alexander the Great; America the Beautiful.



Extended Metaphor: A metaphor that is developed over several lines of writing or even through an entire poem


Fable: a brief tale that teaches a lesson about human nature. Fables often feature animals.


First Person Point of View: one of the characters is telling the story, using the pronoun "I". We get to know this narrator very well, but we can know only what this character knows.



Flat Character: a character whose actions are predictable; he acts in a set pattern from which he never deviates



Foil: Character who is used as a contrast to another character; he/she "sets off" the qualities of another character


Folklore: traditions, customs, and stories that are passed down within a culture. Folklore contains various types of literature such as legends, folktales, bytes, and fables.

Foot: a unit of meter within a line of poetry


Foreshadowing: the use of clues to hint at events that will occur later in a plot



Free Verse: Poetry that does not have a regular meter or rhyme scheme



Haiku: Japanese verse form consisting of three lines and seventeen syllables (5-7-5). A haiku often presents an image of daily life that relates to a particular season.



Homeric Epithet: A compound adjective that is regularly used to modify a particular noun. i.e. "the grey-eyed goddess Athene; rosy-fingered dawn



Homeric Simile: An extended simile over a few lines of poetry or more.



Iambic Pentameter: Line of poetry that contains five iambs. An iamb is a metrical foot, or unit of measure, consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Pentameter comes from the Greek penta (five) and meter (measure). This is by far the most common verse line in English poetry.



Imagery: language that appeals to the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)



Indirect Characterization: the writer shows us a character, but allows us to interpret for ourselves the kind of person we are meeting



Internal Rhyme: a rhyme that occurs in the middle of a line - i.e. "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary" (Poe)



Irony: contrast between expectation and reality - between what is said and what is really meant, between what is expected to happen and what really does happen, or between what appears to be true and what is really true (can be in these forms: verbal, situational, and dramatic)



Lyric Poetry: Poetry that does not tell a story but expresses a speaker's emotions or thoughts. They are usually short. i.e. a sonnet



Metaphor: figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, in which one thing becomes another thing without the use of the word "like" or "as"



Meter: Generally regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry (see iambic pentameter and class notes on this)

Metonymy: the metaphorical substitution of one word or phrase for another related word or phrase. For example, "The pen is mightier than the sword." The word "pen" is used in place of "words" and the word "sward" is used to represent the idea of fighting or war.


Mood: a story's atmosphere or the feeling it evokes



Motif: a recurring image or concept in a work of literature


Myth: a traditional story that attempts to explain how the world was created or why the world is the way that it is. Myths are stories that are passed on from generation to generation and are of unknown authorship.


Narration: Type of writing or speaking that tells about a series of related events



Narrative Poetry: A poem that tells a story. This type of poem is typically longer. Two types are ballads and epics.


Ode: a lyric poem of some length, usually of serious or meditative nature and having an elevated style and formal structure.


Omniscient Point of View: the person telling the story knows everything there is to know about the characters and their problems.



Onomatopoeia: a word whose sound imitates its meaning. i.e. crackle, pop, fizz



Oxymoron: a figure of speech containing contradictory terms. i.e. brawling love; loving hate;



Paradox: a statement that seems contradictory, but represents the way things actually are.


Parallelism: the use of similar grammatical constructions to express ideas that are related or equal in importance. For example: The sun rises. The sun sets.


Parody: a literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author's work for comic effect or ridicule.

Persona: mask or voice assumed by a writer when the writer himself is not the speaker of the poem



Personification: kind of metaphor in which a nonhuman thing or quality is talked about as if it were human



Persuasion: a type of writing written to convince an audience of one's argument



Plot: series of related events that make up a story; includes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement (sometimes called "resolution")



Point of View: Vantage point from which a writer tells a story. In broad terms there are three possible points of view: omniscient, first person, and third person limited


Propaganda: text that uses false or misleading information to present a slanted point of view 

Protagonist: main character in fiction



Refrain: A repeated word, phrase, line, or group of lines - used to build rhythm.



Repetition: intentional repeating of a word, words, or ideas for emphasis



Resolution: see Denouement



Rhyme: Repetition of accented vowel sounds, and all sounds following them, in words that are close together in a poem. (variations: end, internal, approximate/slant)



Rhythm: Musical quality in language produced by repetition



Round Character: a character capable of surprising the reader with his actions; not predictable


Satire: a literary technique in which ideas or customs are ridiculed for the purpose of improving society. 

Setting: the time and place of a story



Simile: figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, using a the words "like" or "as"



Short Story: short, concentrated, fictional prose narrative



Soliloquy: Long speech in which a character who is onstage alone expresses his/her thoughts aloud (the audience gets to overhear the private thoughts of a character)



Sonnet: Fourteen-line lyric poem that is usually written in iambic pentameter and that has one of several rhyme schemes. The oldest kind of sonnet is called the Italian sonnet, or Petrarchan sonnet, after the fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch. Another important sonnet form is the Shakespearean sonnet. It has three four-line stanzas (quatrains), followed by a concluding two-line couplet. The most common rhyme scheme for the Shakespearean sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. An Italian or Petrarchan sonnet has a scheme of abbaabbacdecde.



Speaker: Voice that is talking to us in a poem. Sometimes the speaker IS the poet, sometimes not.



Stanza: Group of consecutive lines in a poem that form a single unit (like a paragraph)



Static Character: a character who does not change throughout the course of the story; a character who does not grow, but remains the same at the end as the beginning (usually a flat character)



Symbolism: when a person, place, thing, or event that stands for something other than what it is

Synecdoche: a literary technique in which the whole is represented by naming one of its parts, or vice versa. For example: "You've got to come take a look at my new set of wheels."



Tension: the linking together of opposites to make a point


Theme: central idea of a work of literature (not the same as the subject), rather the idea the writer wishes to reveal about that subject



Third Person - Limited Point of View: the narrator, who plays no part in the story, zooms in on the thoughts and feeling of just one character. With this point of view, we observe the action through the eyes and with the feelings of this one character.



Tone: attitude a writer takes toward a subject, a character, or the audience. Tone is conveyed through the writer's diction and the details.



Tragedy: Play that depicts serious and important events in which the main character comes to an unhappy end



Tragic Hero: main character who is dignified and courageous, but usually has a downfall due to a character flaw (often hubris); usually wins some self-knowledge and wisdom, even though he/she suffers defeat or death



Universal Theme: a theme that crosses all cultures and all ages. i.e. love conquers all



Unreliable Narrator: narrator either doesn't know the truth or may purposefully choose to deceive the audience



Verbal Irony: when someone says the opposite of what he truly means



Voice: the writer's distinctive use of language in a text. Voice is created by a writer's tone and diction.