Literary Terms and Definitions

Reading 8 Literary Terms


  1. Allusion – A reference to a historical or literary figure or event.


2. Ambiguity- a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression


3. Anecdote- a usually short story of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident


4. Antagonist - is the character that is directly opposed to the protagonist (a rival, opponent, enemy). The antagonist can be another character in the work, the forces of nature, fate, chance, or any combination of these things.


5. Autobiography- the life story of a person told by himself or herself


6. Anti-hero - is the protagonist who is the opposite of what we would expect a hero to be.


7. Aside- a character’s speech in a play, directed to the audience, that is not supposed to be heard by other characters on stage


8. Ballad- a narrative poem written in rhythmic verse suitable for singing


9. Biography- a written history of a person’s life written by another person


10. Carpe Diem- (Seize the Day) the enjoyment of the moment without concern for the future


11. Character – The people, animals, or figures in a story.


12. Characterization - is the creation of imaginary persons so that they seem lifelike. The author creates and reveals the characters personality through the following:

1. Physical characteristics

2. Character’s speech and behavior

3. Opinions and reactions of other characters to the individual

4. Character’s thoughts and feelings


13. Comedy- an amusing story with a happy ending

14. Conclusion-plot resolution


15. Conflict - is the struggle between two opposing forces. The five basic types of conflicts are:

  • Person vs. Nature is where man struggles with weather, wind, water or other natural elements.
  • Person vs. Person is where humans struggle against other humans or human forms.
  • Person vs. Self is where a human struggles against two or more elements within himself. Internal and external struggles.
  • Person vs. Society is where man struggles against society’s institutions (such as IRS, legal systems, prejudice, peer pressure etc.)
  • Person vs. Supernatural is where a human struggles with some opposing force outside of the ordinary (such as ghosts, “magical forces,” etc.)


16. Climax - is always the point of highest interest where the reader feels the greatest emotional response. It is usually the turning point in the action.


17. connotation - an association that comes along with a particular word


18. denotation -  the exact meaning of a word, without the feelings or suggestions that the word may imply.


19. Denouement - is usually the unraveling of the “knot” created by the struggle between the main characters. It is the solution of the mystery or the explanation or outcome of what happens because of the climax or crisis.

20. Dialogue – When 2 or more characters engage in conversation.


21. Drama- Also called a play, this writing form uses dialogue to share its message and is meant to be performed in front of an audience.


22. Dramatic Monologue- a literary device where a character reveals his or her innermost thoughts and feelings through a long speech


23. Elegy- a poem that expresses sorrow or loss usually for someone who has died


24. Epic- an extended narrative poem that celebrates the feats of a hero


25. Exposition- The part of the story, usually near the beginning, in which the characters are

introduced, the background is explained, and the setting is described


26. Fable- a narration intended to enforce a useful truth


27. Falling Action- the part of a literary plot that occurs after the climax has been reached and the conflict has been resolved


28. Fantasy- A story set in an imaginary world in which the characters usually have supernatural

powers or abilities.


29. Farce- a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot


30. Figurative Language – the use of words outside of their usual way. It means an intentional departure from the normal meaning of the words. The most common figures of speech are simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification.


31. First Person Narrator- the story is told by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves. The words “I” and “me” are used.  


32. Flashback – An interruption in the major action of a story, play or nonfiction work to show an episode that happened at an earlier time and place. A flashback can shed light on the characters and events of the present by providing background information.


33. Flat Character- is a character constructed around a single idea.


34. Foil- a character whose personality and attitude is opposite the personality and attitude of another character. Because these characters contrast, each makes the personality of the other stand out.


35.  Foreshadowing - is the technique an author uses of giving the reader, listener, or viewer of a story hints of what is to come later in the work.


36. Genre - is used to designate the categories into which a work of literature may be placed (romance, science fiction, adventure, etc.).


37. Hero - is the central character in a work that overcomes or conquers a challenge.


38. Hyperbole - is a great exaggeration to emphasize strong feeling (ex. I can’t believe that lunch is 30 minutes away, I’m going to starve to death!).


39. Idiom - is the figurative use of words in a certain way that has meaning that should not be taken literally. “Stop pulling my leg!” means stop joking, NOT that someone is actually physically pulling your leg.


40. Imagery – The use of concrete details that appeal to the five senses. This collection of images that is painted by words in a given work, establish a mood, arouse a reader’s emotions, and leave the reader with a deeper meaning of the work.


41. Inference - A logical conclusion or an assumption about a character or an event in a story, based on limited details (clues) within the story and/or your own experience (background knowledge).


42. Irony - A contrast between two things. Three types of irony are:

  • Verbal is a contrast between what is said and what is meant (sarcasm).
  • Dramatic Irony happens when the reader or viewer is aware of something that the characters involved are unaware of.
  • Situational Irony is when the opposite of what we expect to happen, happens.


43. Literal - means keeping accurate, exactly to the letter without embellishing.


44. Main Idea- The point the author is making about a topic.


45. Metaphor - is a figure of speech that implies comparison between two different things (WITHOUT using like or as).


46. Mood - is the overall feeling or atmosphere the writer creates in a work through the choice of setting, imagery, details, and descriptions.


47. Moral-  a lesson relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior


48. Motif - is a term for a reoccurring theme or idea in a piece of literature. In The Outsiders, one reoccurring motif is the repeated reference to literary works in an attempt by the main character to make a connection with the reader about the characters within the story.


49. Mystery- A novel, story, or play involving a crime

or secret activity and its gradual solution.


50. Myth- any story that attempts to explain how the world was created or why the world is the way that it is


51. Narrative- a collection of events that tell a story


52. Narrative Poem- a poem that tells a story


53. Narrator-  one who tells a story, the speaker or the “voice” of an oral or written work.


54. Narrative hook - is any device at the opening of a work to capture the interest of the readers and make them continue reading.


55. Novel- story that is usually long and complex and deals with human experience through a connected sequence of events


56. Oxymoron - is a combination of contradictory terms (silent scream, civil war, jumbo shrimp, freezer burn).


57. Parable- a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude


58. Paradox- a statement that is apparently self-contradictory or absurd but really contains a possible truth


59. Paraphrase - is a restatement of an idea that keeps the same meaning but uses different words.


60. Parody-an imitation of another work in order to be humorous

61. Personification- when you give human characteristics to animals or objects


62. Plot - A series of related events which form a story. The usual pattern of plot is (conflict), introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.


63. Poetry- writing that formulates an imaginative awareness in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm

64. Point of view - is the viewpoint from which an author presents a story.

1. First person – The narrator “I” is a character in the story who can reveal only his own thoughts and feelings and what he/she sees. “I couldn’t believe my eyes and wondered how she could let that happen.”

2. Third person objective – The story is told by someone outside of the story. The outsider can only report what he/she sees and hears: “He scanned the crowded restaurant, obviously searching for a familiar face.”

3. Third person omniscient – The voice telling the story can enter the minds of all or most of the characters. This POV is able to relates feelings, thought, and emotions of all the characters with a god-like intuition: “Gary was afraid; he had never felt like this before. His heart felt like it would beat right out of his chest. She silently took his hand and instantly understood. They both knew they would never forget what happened.”

4. Third person limited – The narrator is an outsider who can only enter the minds of a limited number of characters. (Knows the thoughts of 1 or 2 characters) “Lynn looked very angry and David instinctively knew he shouldn’t mess with her when she got that way.”


65. Protagonist - is the chief or main character in a short story, play, or novel.


66. Pun – A play on words…humorous use of words that have different meanings. (ex. “A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it’s two tired.”)


67. Resolution- the part of the story's plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out


68. Rising action - includes events that complicate the conflict and it leads the story to the climax. This is where the tension builds and the suspense grows in a story.


69. Saga- a lengthy narrative or legend about heroic or historical events


70. Satire- a story written to ridicule some vice or imperfection


71. Setting – The time and place in which the action of a narrative occurs.


72. Science Fiction- Writing based on real or imaginary scientific developments and often set

in the future.


73. Short Story- a fictional narrative generally centering on one climactic event


74. Simile – A figure of speech involving a comparison using the words like or as.


75. Soliloquy- is a reflective monologue given by a character when he or she is alone on the stage


76. Stereotype – A conventional character or plot with little or no individuality


77. Style- a distinctive manner of expression, a distinctive technique

78. Suspense- That quality of a literary work that makes the reader or audience uncertain or tense about the outcome of events


79. Symbol – Something concrete, such as an object, person, place or happening, that stands for or represents something beyond itself. For example, a dove is a bird, but it may also be a symbol for peace.


80.Theme - The central idea or underlying meaning of a work. It is the message about life or human nature, but it is not always directly stated.


81. Third Person Narrator- The person telling the story is not a figure in the story, but an "observer" who is outside the action being described.

82. Third Person Omniscient Narrator- is a method of storytelling in which the storyteller knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. They are not a figure in the story, just an observer.

83. Tone - The way in which a writer uses their choice of words or arrangement of ideas and events to convey the writer’s attitude toward a subject.

84. Turning Point- The point at which a very significant change occurs; a decisive moment; the climax

85. Understatement- to represent as less than is the case