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AP Structural Terms

Basic terms needed to write about literature

TermDefinition
Allegory story or poem in which characters, settings, and events stand for other people or events or for abstract ideas or qualities; a symbol story.
Antagonist A character who functions as a resisting force to the goals of the protagonist.
Anticlimax An often disappointing, sudden end to an intense situation.
Antihero A protagonist who carries the action of the literary piece but does not embody the classic characteristics of courage, strength, and nobility.
Bildungsroman A novel in which an adolescent protagonist comes to adulthood by a process of experience and disillusionment. (Coming of age novel)
Burlesque Broad satire; taking tragic drama and exaggerating it into ridiculousness.
Contrast One element is thrown into opposition to another for the sake of emphasis or clarity.
Conventions This term describes traditions for each genre, which, in turn, help to define each genre.
Deus ex machina A Latin term meaning "god out of a machine." By extension, the term refers to any artificial device or coincidence used to bring about a resolution.
Didactic Descriptive of fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking.
Epiphany Eureka! A sudden flash of insight. A startling discovery and/or appearance; a dramatic realization.
Genre The major category into which a literary work fits. The basic divisions of literature are prose, poetry, and drama.
Essay A short piece of nonfiction prose in which the writer discusses some aspect of a subject.
Fable A very short story told in prose or poetry that teaches a practical lesson about how to succeed in life.
Myth A story, usually with supernatural significance, that explains the origins of gods, heroes, or natural phenomena; they contain deeper truths, particularly about the nature of humankind.
Novel In its broadest sense, any extended fictional prose narrative focusing on a few primary characters but often involving scores of secondary characters.
Parable A relatively short, didactic story that teaches a moral, or lesson about how to lead a good life.
Parody A work that makes fun of another work by imitating some aspect of the writer’s style.
Romance a story in which an idealized hero or heroine undertakes a quest and is successful. It usually has a “once upon a time” aura to it.
Satire The use of humor to ridicule and expose the shortcomings and failures of society, individuals, and institutions, often in the hope that change and reform are possible.
Short Story "A brief prose tale," as Edgar Allan Poe labeled it. This work of narrative fiction may contain description, dialogue and commentary, but usually plot functions as the engine driving the art.
Tall tale An outrageously exaggerated, humorous story that is obviously unbelievable.
Flashback A scene that interrupts the normal chronological sequence of events in a story to depict something that happened at an earlier time.
Foil A character who acts as contrast to another character; these are characters who are essentially similar but who have one major difference or who make opposite choices.
Frame Story The result of inserting one or more small stories within the body of a larger story that encompasses the smaller ones.
Inclusio A literary device where words or concepts are repeated at the start and finish of an idea, and these work as bookends or an envelope to enclose a concept or idea.
In medias res “In the midst of things” – standard of epic poetry where the action begins in the middle instead of at the beginning.
Irony The discrepancy between appearances and reality.
Verbal Irony A trope in which the meaning ostensibly expressed “differs sharply from” what the speaker really means.
Situational Irony A plot device in which events turn out contrary to expectation yet are perversely appropriate.
Dramatic Irony The quality exhibited in words spoken by a character in a play or narrative who, because of his ignorance of present or future circumstances that the audience is aware of, does not realize how the words apply to his situation.
Cosmic Irony When situational irony is associated with the notion of fate, or a deity, manipulating events so as to “frustrate and mock” a character in a literary work, situational irony has become its near-twin.
Juxtaposition Poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, creating an effect of surprise and wit.
Kishotenketsu Narrative structure in which the moment of climax is an ironic twist.
Metamorphosis A radical change in a character, either physical or emotional.
Motif A recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, object, or situation used throughout a work (or in several works by one author), unifying the work by tying the current situation to previous ones, or new ideas to the theme.
Paradox A statement or situation that at first seems impossible or oxymoronic, but which solves itself and reveals meaning.
Pathetic Fallacy The tendency for writers to mirror human emotions or problems in the natural world.
Persona The narrator in a non first-person short story, novel, or poem. This is not the author, but the author’s creation--the voice “through which the author speaks.”
Prose Writing in which the printer determines the length of the line; in poetry, the poet determines the length of the line.
Protagonist The main or principal character in a work; often considered the hero or heroine.
Stream of Consciousness A form of writing which replicates the way the human mind works. Ideas are presented in random order; thoughts are often unfinished.
Symbol A concrete object, scene, or action which has deeper significance because it is associated with something else, often an important idea or theme in the work.
Natural Symbol Objects and occurrences from nature to symbolize ideas commonly associated with them.
Conventional Symbol Symbols that have been invested with meaning by a group.
Literary Symbol Type of symbolism which has been created by an author for use in that one literary piece.
Theme The central or dominating idea in a literary work; the abstract concept made concrete in persons, actions, or images.
Verisimilitude The sense that what one reads is "real," or at least realistic and believable.
Created by: erunion