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Literary Devices

TermDefinition
ALLEGORY A story illustrating an idea or a moral principle in which objects take on symbolic meanings.
ALLUSION A reference to historical or fictional characters, places, or events, or to other works the writer assumes the reader will recognize
CHARACTERIZATION The ways in which an author reveals a character
FLAT CHARACTER has only one outstanding trait or feature
ROUND CHARACTER complex, shown in detail
PROTAGONIST the main character in a work of fiction, drama, or narrative poetry
ANTAGONIST character who opposes or blocks the protagonist
ANTIHERO protagonist who is a non-hero or the antithesis (opposite) of a traditional hero
DYNAMIC CHARACTER changes or grows during the course of the story
STATIC CHARACTER remains the same from beginning to end
DIRECT CHARACTERIZATION overt; the author describes the character directly
INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION the author reveals the character through his or her thoughts, words, and actions
FOIL character used to contrast another character
COMEDY narrative in which the main characters manage to avert an impending disaster and have a happy ending
DICTION A writer or a speaker’s choice of words. Diction varies according to the effect the writer wants to achieve. Writers use diction to create tone.
DENOTATION the literal, dictionary definition of a word
CONNOTATION the associations and emotions a words suggests
FLASHBACK/FLASHFORWARD A scene that interrupts the present action of the plot to “flash backward” and explain what happened at an earlier time, or “flash forward” to tell what will happen in the future
FORESHADOWING Clues that hint at what will happen later in the story
HYPERBOLE figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration to express strong emotion or to create a comic effect
IMAGERY Language that appeals to the five senses
VERBAL IRONY occurs when words say one thing but mean something else
SITUATIONAL IRONY what actually happens is the opposite of what you expect or are led to believe
DRAMATIC IRONY occurs when the reader or the audience knows something important that a character doesn’t know
METAPHOR figure of speech in which one things is spoken or written about as if it were another, inviting the reader to make a comparison between the two things
EXTENDED METAPHOR a metaphor continued for several lines
MOOD The atmosphere or feeling created for a reader by a literary work.
MOTIF Anything (word; character; object; image; metaphor, etc.) repeated over and over throughout a story, lending it unity and suggesting thematic meaning
OXYMORON figure of speech combining contradictory ideas
PARADOX situation or a statement that seems to contradict itself, but on closer inspection, does not. For example, the statement “be cruel to be kind” is a paradox.
PERSONIFICATION figure of speech in which non-human objects or abstract ideas are given human qualities or action
PLOT A series of related events that make up a story or drama
EXPOSITION The beginning of the story, which sets the scene and introduces the characters
RISING ACTION The introduction of the inciting incident of the conflict, followed by events that add complexity to the problem
CLIMAX The point in the story where the conflict is at its most intense or suspenseful
FALLING ACTION The sequence of events that leads to the solving of the conflict
RESOLUTION The actual ending of the conflict
DENOUEMENT the opposite of the exposition, it explains any remaining mysteries and often gives us a look into the future
POINT OF VIEW perspective from which a story is seen or told
FIRST PERSON the story is told by one of the characters in the story (“I”)
THIRD PERSON LIMITED the narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of just one character
THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT literally meaning “all knowing,” this third person narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of several major characters
PUN (PARONOMASIA) A word used to convey two meanings at the same time, also known as a ‘play on words.’
ALLITERATION the repetition of beginning consonant sounds in words close to each other
ASSONANCE repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by different consonant sounds in words close to each other
CONSONANCE repetition of consonant sounds with different preceding vowel sounds.
METER the pattern of stressed (long) and unstressed (short) syllables within the lines of a poem
IAMBIC PENTAMETER the meter used most often by Shakespeare, five feet of unstressed, stressed iambs
ONOMATOPOEIA words that imitate sounds, such as bang, snap, crack, pop.
RHYME the repetition of similar or duplicate sounds at regular intervals in lines of verse
RHYME SCHEME the pattern of rhyme in a poem
INTERNAL RHYME when the rhyming word appears in the middle of a line
EXTERNAL RHYME when the rhyme falls on the last syllable of a poem's lines
SETTING the time and place in which the action of a story or a play takes place.
SIMILE A figure of speech that compares two things, indicated by some connective, usually like, as, than, or a verb such as resembles.
SUBJECT The abstract topic the writer addresses in a piece of fiction.
SYMBOL A person, place, thing, or event that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself
SYNECDOCHE Using part of an object to represent the whole, such as referring to your car as “your wheels.”
THEME What the author is saying about his/her subject, generally a statement about life or human nature that the reader learns along with the protagonist.
TONE The attitude a writer or speaker takes towards his or her subject, audience, or both.
TRAGEDY A serious narrative in which a tragic hero (the chief character), because of a tragic flaw (personal fault or error in judgment), passes through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe.
UNDERSTATEMENT The opposite of hyperbole; a figure of speech that says much less than is really meant; a form of irony.
Created by: msbremner