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Lit. Crit. Terms

Literary Terminology

QuestionAnswer
Abstract Word or idea referring to a generality, state of being, or quality that cannot be reached by the five senses.
Allegory Writing that has a deeper meaning hidden beneath the obvious one.
Alliteration Repetition of sounds at the beginning of words.
Allusion Reference, without explanation, to previous, well-known literature, character, or common knowledge, assuming reader is familiar with its implications.
Anadiplosis Repetition of an important word in a phrase or clause (often ending word) in the next phrase or clause.
Analogy Comparison of two dissimilar things that alike is some way, often using simile or metaphor.
Antagonist Person who opposes or competes with the main character, hero, or heroine; often the villain.
Antihero Character, usually the protagonist, who faces a series of problems and events in a story, but often is going against traditional societal standards.
Antithesis Opposing view, view contrasted with thesis (main idea).
Aphorism Wise saying, usually short and written, reflecting a general truth.
Author Writer of the work.
Autobiography Story of someone's life written by that person.
Bibliography List of written works or sources on a particular subject.
Bildungsroman Fiction centering around idealistic protagonist's coming of age, and used for education and guidance of others.
Biography Book about someone's life written by another person.
Blurb Short publicity article on book jacket or brochure to promote book.
Bowdlerize To cull obscenity from a piece of writing.
Burlesque Literary form which ridicules or mocks.
Catharsis Therapeutic release of emotion upon identifying with and being moved by a piece of literature.
Catastrophe Final event, usually death.
Character Person or animal who appears in a work of fiction.
Characterization The process which is used to develop a character in a narrative or drama, often through the conflict of the plot.
Circumlocution Writing or speaking that goes around the subject instead of getting directly to the point.
Classicism Literature (and other arts) movements of ancient Greece and Rome, using strict forms, accenting reason, and characterized by restraint. Opposite of Romanticism.
Cliche Trite, overused idea or statement.
Climax High point in the plot where the reader is most intrigued and does not yet know the outcome.
Coherence Clearness in connecting ideas.
Comedy Fictional writing that has a happy ending for its major characters and contains humor.
Conciseness "Tight" writing; use of only the necessary words to express thoughts.
Concrete Opposite of abstract; refers to specific people and things that can be perceived with the five senses.
Conflict Opposing elements or characters in a plot.
Connotation Surrounding feelings and associations added to word meaning.
Consonance Repetition of similar consonant sounds, with changes in intervening vowel sounds.
Convention Accepted literary form of the past.
Copyright Legal rights to published works which stop anyone else from using the work without permission.
Critic Person who evaluates literature or other art.
Criticism Essays and critiques evaluating a writer or his work, based on set standards, according to philosophy of critic.
Denotation Dictionary meaning of word.
Denouement Outcome, resolution, solution of a plot.
Dialogue/Dialog Speaking and conversation between characters in stories, plays, and in person.
Didactic Describes literary works meant to teach a moral or lesson.
Doppelganger Personification of the personality of a character's darker side; ghost.
Double-entendre Double meaning of word, phrase, or sentence, often raucous or sexual in implication.
Editorial Newspaper or magazine article expressing opinion of an editor or publisher.
Ellipsis Three dots (...) to show words have been left out of a quotation or to indicate the passage of time.
Envoy/Envoi Brief postscript to book, essay, or poem; often the concluding stanza to a ballade, summarizing the poem.
Epigram Witty, often paradoxical, saying or brief poem.
Epitaph Inscription on tombstone or marker of the dead.
Eponym Person whose name is the source of a new word.
Essay Short prose work expressing author's views on a subject.
Euphemism More palatable word for less pleasant subject.
Fable Story with moral or lesson about life, often with animal characters with human characteristics.
Fabliau Short, metrical tale told by minstrels in twelfth and thirteenth centuries, often spicy and satiric.
Fiction Any literature about imaginary events or people.
Fiction, Interactive Stories that give the reader choices in the way the plot develops by making certain decisions along the way.
Fiction, Popular Fiction aimed at the mainstream of the population.
Fiction, Science Fiction concerning advanced technology, usually imagined, not actual scientific advancements.
First-Person Narrative Story told from first-person point of view, usually using "I."
Flashback Jumping backward in the chronology of a narrative, often through a dream or musing sequence.
Foil Character opposite or different from the protagonist, used to highlight the protagonist's traits; incidents or settings may also be used as foils.
Folklore/Folktales Stories and legends transmitted by word of mouth, rather in writing.
Foreshadow Hints during the narrative about what will happen later; can be literal hints or symbolic hints.
Genre, Literary Kind or type of literature; literary classification.
Hero Character, usually the protagonist, who rises above and conquers the series of problems and events in the story.
Homonyms Words that sound alike, are spelled alike, but have different meanings.
Homophones Words that sound alike (including homonyms and also words that have different spellings).
Hyperbole Use of extreme exaggeration for effect.
i.e. That is (followed usually by explanatory matter).
ibid. Used in footnotes and bibliographies to refer to the source mentioned directly above.
idiom Phrase in common use that does not literally mean what it says.
imagery Creation of mental pictures by pertinent word choice and heightened description.
in medias res Beginning in the middle of events.
irony Phrases or words with meanings quite different from what is actually stated.
jargon Words peculiar to any particular occupation.
juvenilia, literary Literature produced during youth; or literture suited to young readers.
kenning Short metaphorical expresssion referring to something without naming it, primarily used in Old English and Norse poetry.
legend Story handed down, generation to generation, often thought to be at least partially true historically.
liotes Understatement, where a positive is expressed as a negative.
malapropism Confusion of similar-sounding words which often ends up sounding humorous.
metaphor Comparison of unlike things without using the words like or as.
moral A lesson the literature is teaching; fables usually teach a lessson about life.
motif, literary Recurrent words or phrases.
Mythology Traditional tales about goddesses, gods, heroes and other characters, often telling about the creation of the universe, talking about death, or otherwise philosophically explaining human existence.
Narration Telling a story.
Narrator Person telling the story or narrative.
N.B. Note well (followed by important point to remember)
Nom De Plume Pen name or pseudonym used by author.
Novel Long, fictional prose story.
Novella Short novel with fewer characters than novel.
Novel, Gothic Novel with medieval setting suggesting mystery and/or horror.
Novel, Historical Full length fiction book, using historical facts as its basis for plot or setting, but including imaginary characters and dialogue.
Novel, Picaresque Novel characterized by young hero of lower-class, unrespectable background, who leaves home and is faced with a harsh, cruel world, and eventually conforms to its realities.
Naunce Slight shade of meaning or detail.
Op. Cit. Used in footnotes/bibliographies to refer to work previously cited or quoted.
Oxymoron Use of paradoxical or opposite words for effect.
Paradox Contradictory statement that makes sense.
Paraphrase Restatement of writing, keeping the basic meaning, but telling it in one's own words.
Parody, Literary Satire imitating, but mocking an author or work.
Passage, Purple Writing that contains flowery, ornate language, often in the midst of otherwise dull passages.
Personification Literary device where writer attributes human qualities to objects or ideas.
Plagiarism Using other people's work as one's own without crediting the true author.
Play Story written to be acted out by actors on a stage; directions; drama.
Play, Miracle Early drama based on religious stories; saint play.
Play, Morality Early drama involving teaching and preaching of moral principles, usually by allegorical characters.
Play, Mystery Early dramatizations of the Old and New Testaments.
Plot Structure of the literature; the way it is put together; the unfolding or sequence of the events.
Poetry Poem collection; genre characterized by rhythm, rhyme(sometimes), and stanzas, as opposed to prose.
Point of View Perspective from which the story is written; can be omniscient (all-knowing), first person("I"), shifting between characters, or other.
Prose Literature written in sentences and paragraphs, as opposed to poetry or verse.
Protagonist Main character, hero, or heroine in a written work.
Proverb Saying, adage, or maxim, usually short and generally believed to be true.
Pseudonym Name author uses instead of his/her real name; nom de plume.
Pun Play on words; words put together in such a way as to be humorous.
Question, Rhetorical Question asked without expecting an answer; used for effect.
Realism, Literary Literature reflecting real life, rather than imaginary or idealistic life.
Redundancy Repetition that is unnecessary and and awkward, as contrasted with intentional repetition for a particular effect.
Resolution Clarification, solution, or outcome of the conflict in a story.
Rhetoric Persuasive writing.
Roman A Clef Novel based on actual people and places, but written as fiction instead of fact.
Romance Story about heroic deeds, mysterious settings, or love.
Romanticism Literary movement characterized by emotion, imagination, and goodness of people; little emphasis on reason. Opposite of classicism.
Sarcasm Form of irony which seems to praise, but really criticizes.
Satire Literature that makes fun of social conditions or conventions, often for the purpose of creating change.
Sequel A subsequent writing similar to an original, often with the same characters.
Setting Time and place of a story.
Simile Comparison of one thing to another using the words like or as.
Spoonerism Sound reversal in words to produce a humorous effect. Named after William Spooner, English Preacher.
Story, Short Fiction story shorter than a novel, often having a surprise ending.
Style The way an author characteristically expresses him- or herself ( short sentences, flowery language, etc.)
Symbol A word or object that stands for something else.
Synonym Words meaning the same.
Synopsis Summary or condensed statement of a literary work.
Tale, Fairy Fanciful, imaginary story about a hero or heroine overcoming a problem, often involving mystical creatures, supernatural power, or magic; often a type of folktale.
Theme/Thesis Main idea in a piece of literature; topic or subject.
Thriller Story or movie filled with suspense.
Tone Mood brought forth by story or poem.
Tragedy Literature, often drama, ending in catastrophe for the protagonists after dealing with a series of problems.
Understatement Form of irony where the author intentionally understates the facts (says it less than it is).
Verse Writing with rhyme and meter, as opposed to prose; often verse refers to poetry of a less serious nature.
Villain Character in a story or play who opposes the protagonist; the "bad guy".
Created by: Kim Lemons