HB's English Links--Classical Magnet School

A Pretty Good List of Literary Terms

Research Links for CAPSTONE
Writing Links & Resources
Audio Links for American Literature
Teacher Assistants at Classical Magnet School
"American Literature" 11th Grade English @ CMS
SAT Information & Practice
Reading Links
Words, Glorious Words
AP Literature Exam Prep
How to Run a Seminar
A Pretty Good List of Literary Terms
"Modern Mythology" 10th Grade English @ CMS

Literary Devices

Literary Archetype Quiz

Literary Terms List (Excel)

Rhetorical Devices (link)

HUGE AWESOME OVERWHELMING List of Literary Terms & Definitions

Alpha & Omega List of Literary Terms

AESTHETIC responsive to or appreciative of what is pleasurable to the senses 
ALLEGORY  a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.
ALLITERATION the deliberate repetition of initial consonant sounds; e.g. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. 
ALLUSION  brief reference to a person, event, or place, real or fictitious, or to a work of art. Casual reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event.
AMPLIFICATION use of bare expressions, likely to be ignored or misunderstood by a hearer or reader because of the bluntness. Emphasis through restatement with additional details.
ANAGNORISIS when a hero/ine realizes his/her tragic mistake
ANAGRAM a word or phrase made by transposing the letters; eg. Wired to weird
ANALOGY comparison of two pairs which have the same relationship
ANAPHORA The deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs;  the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order 
ANASTROPHE Inversion of the normal syntactic order of words, for example: To market went she.
ANTAGONIST character in a story or poem who deceives, frustrates, or works again the main character, or protagonist, in some way. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be an person
ANTHROPMORPHISM a form of personification, giving human-like characteristics to both living and non-living objects; describing of gods or goddesses in human forms and possessing human characteristics such as jealousy, hatred, or love
ANTIMETABOLE the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order 
ANTITHESIS opposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.
ANTONYM words that are opposite in meaning
APHORISM a brief saying embodying a moral, a concise statement of a principle or precept given in pointed words.
APOSTROPHE is when an absent person, an abstract concept, or an important object is directly addressed (AUTHORIAL INSTRUSION)
ARCHETYPE usage of any object or situation as it was originally made - think of it as the biggest cliché ever, but one that never dies
ASSONANCE deliberate repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds; eg. fleet feet sweep by sleeping geeks.
ASYNDETON omission of conjunctions from constructions in which they would normally be used, as in "Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,/Shrunk to this little measure?
AUTHOR SURROGATE  a character who acts as the author's spokesman. Sometimes the character may intentionally or unintentionally be an idealized version of the author. A well known variation is the Mary Sue or Gary Stu (self-insertion). 
BACK-STORY  the story "behind" or "before" the events being portrayed in the story being told; past events or background for a character that can serve to color or add additional meaning to current circumstances. Provides extra depth to the story by anchoring it to external events, real or imagined. 
BIBLIOMANCY prediction based on a Bible verse or literary passage chosen at random.
BILDUNGSROMAN story in which the protagonist undergoes growth throughout the entire narrative, generally starting off by being removed or chased from their home. Their growth is often impeded by opposition of their desires by other characters
BLANK VERSE A line of poetry or prose in unrhymed iambic pentameter.
BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL when the author or a character addresses the audience directly (also known as direct address). May acknowledge to the reader or audience that what is being presented is fiction, or may seek to extend the world of the story to provide the illusion that they are included in it. 
CACOPHONY harsh, discordant sounds
CAESURA a natural pause or break.
CANON or CANONICAL "literary canon" refers to a classification of literature:  group of literary works that are considered the most important of a particular time period or place
CATASTROPHE The final clarification of a dramatic or narrative plot in a tragedy
CATHARSIS emotional closure of a tragedy
CHARACTERIZATION the method used by a writer to develop a character. The method includes (1) showing the character's appearance, (2) displaying the character's actions, (3) revealing the character's thoughts, (4) letting the character speak, and (5) getting the reactions of others.
CHEKHOV'S GUN the insertion of an object of apparent irrelevance early on in a narrative, the purpose of which is only revealed later on in the story. 
CHIASMUS A type of rhetoric in which the second part is syntactically balanced against the first; e.g. Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike. 
CIRCUMLOCUTION use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression; a roundabout or indirect manner of writing or speaking
CLICHÉ An idea or expression that has become tired and trite from overuse, its freshness and clarity having worn off 
COLLOQUIAL referrint to language that is used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary
CONCEIT an extended metaphor, associated with metaphysical poetry, designed to push the limits of the imagination in order to portray something indescribable. 
CONFLICT the struggle found in fiction. Conflict/Plot may be internal or external and is best seen in (1) Man in conflict with another Man: (2) Man in conflict in Nature; (3) Man in conflict with self.
CONNOTATION The personal or emotional associations called up by a word that go beyond its dictionary meaning, an implied meaning of a word
CONSONANCE the repetition of consonant sounds, but not vowels
DEFAMILIARIZATION  technique of forcing the reader to recognize common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. 
DELETED AFFAIR telling of a romantic relationship, but not referred to in current story. 
DENOTATION literal meaning of a word, the dictionary meaning
DENOUEMENT the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels; also called "falling action; might contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt
DEVICE identifiable rule of thumb, convention or structure that is employed in literature and storytelling.
DEUS EX MACHINA (God out of the Machine), an improbable contrivance (happening) in a story; a plot device dating back to ancient Greek theater, where the primary conflict is resolved through a means that seems unrelated to the story (i.e. a God comes down out of nowhere and solves everything, saving the character from peril). In modern times, the Deus ex machina is often considered a clumsy method, to be avoided in order not to frustrate readers or viewers. 
DIALOGUE discussion between two or more characters
DICTION poet's distinctive choices in vocabulary; formal diction consists of a dignified, impersonal, and elevated use of language
DICTION, ARCHAIC or archaism; the choice of words from earlier eras in contemporary poetry 
DIDACTIC refers to literature or other types of art that are instructional or informative
DOPPLEGANGER ghostly double of another character, especially if it haunts its counterpart
ECHO repetition of key word or idea for effect
ELEGIAC of, relating to, or comprising elegy or an elegy; especially: expressing sorrow often for something now past 
ELLIPSIS omission of words 
EPIC THEATER  a technique popularized by 20th century playwright Bertolt Brecht, in which the audience is "alienated" or "distanced" from the emotion of the play. 
EPIGRAM pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way
EPILOGUE short addition or concluding section at the end of a literary work, often dealing with the future of its characters
EPIPHANY literary work or section of a literary work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight. 
EPISTOLARY NOVEL a novel in the form of a series documents, usually letters exchanged between the characters. Classic examples include Pamela by Samuel Richardson (1740), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett (1771), Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782) and Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897). 
EPITHET word which makes the reader see the object described in a clearer or sharper light. It is both exact and imaginative.
EPONYM person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named
EUPHEMISM substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the listener
EUPHONY soothing pleasant sounds
EYE-RHYME Rhyme between words of similar spelling, though of different sound; eg. From stone and from wood / From fire and from flood 
FALSE DOCUMENTS fiction written in the form of, or about, apparently real, but actually fake documents. Examples include Robert Graves's I, Claudius, a fictional autobiography of the Roman emperor, H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon, and the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser. The short stories of Jorge Luis Borges are often written as summaries or criticisms of books that in actuality do not exist. 
FAULTY PARALLELISM occurs when the elements put into pairs and series "go in different directions" because they do not have the same form
FICTIONAL FICTIONAL CHARACTER a character whose fictional existence is introduced within a larger work of fiction, or a character in a story within a story. Early examples include Panchatantra and Arabian Nights. 
FIGURATIVE   non-literal; departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE A catch-all term for language use in which writers and speakers mean something other than the literal meaning of their words. (E.g. hyperbole, metaphor, and simile)
FIGURE OF SPEECH word or phrase used in a nonliteral sense to add rhetorical force to a spoken or written passage
FINGER POSTING where casual details are inserted so that a revealation will not seem disconnected from the story. 
FLASHBACK general term for altering time sequences, taking characters back to the beginning of the tale, for instance; action that interrupts to show an event that happened at an earlier time which is necessary to better understanding.
FOIL character whose personality and attitude is opposite the personality and attitude of another character
FOOT (METER) The metrical unit by which a line of poetry is measured. A foot usually consists of one stressed and one or two unstressed syllables. An iambic foot, which consists of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable ("away"), is the most common metrical foot in English poetry. A trochaic foot consists of one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable ("lovely"). An anapestic foot is two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed one ("understand"). A dactylic foot is one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones ("desperate"). A spondee is a foot consisting of two stressed syllables ("dead set"), but is not a sustained metrical foot and is used mainly for variety or emphasis. 
FORESHADOWING use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in literature
FORM the arrangement, manner or method used to convey the content, such as free verse, couplet, limerick, haiku
FRAME STORY a story within a story, where a main story is used to organize a series of shorter stories. Early examples include Panchatantra and Arabian Nights. A more modern example is Brian Jacques The Legend of Luke. 
FRAMING DEVICE the usage of a single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at the beginning and end of a work. 
FREE VERSE Poetry without a regular pattern of meter, format, or rhyme.
GENRE a classification of literature
HAMARTIA the mistake made by a tragic hero/ine
HOMONYM Two or more distinct words with the same pronunciation and spelling but with different meanings
HOMOPHONE two or more words with the same pronunciation but with different meanings and spellings.
HUBRIS excessive pride, usually leading to the hero/ine's downfall
HYPERBOLE an exaggeration of the truth for dramatic effect
HYPOPHORA figure of speech in which the speaker poses a question and then answers the question
IAMBIC PENTAMETER A metrical pattern in poetry which consists of five iambic feet per line. (An iamb, or iambic foot, consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.)
IDIOM group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words 
IMAGE  A concrete representation of a sense impression, a feeling, or an idea.
IMAGERY figurative language that evokes one or all of the five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching; used to create particular mental images
IN MEDIAS RES when the story begins in the middle of an intense action sequence. 
INCLUING describing a different world, such as Brave New World. 
INTERNAL RHYME two or more rhyming words within a line of poetry; eg "Could ever dissever the soul from my soul…"  
INVERSION changing of the usual order of words
IRONY the discrepancy between expectation and reality. The three forms of irony are: situational irony, where a situation features a discrepancy between what is expected and what is actualized; dramatic irony, where a character is unaware of pivotal knowledge which has already been revealed to the audience (the discrepancy here lies in the two levels of awareness between the character and the audience); and verbal irony, where one states one thing while meaning another.
ISOCOLON figure of speech or sentence having a parallel structure formed by the use of two or more clauses, or cola, of similar length
JARGON special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand
JUXTAPOSITION when the author places two dissimilar themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations parallel to one another for the purpose of comparison, contrast, or rhetoric. 
KENNINGS magic poetic phrase, a figure of speech, substituted for the usual name of a person or thing
LAMPSHADE HANGING  a technique used in many forms of fiction to deflect attention from implausible or just plain bad writing by having a character point out how strange or unlikely it is. Once acknowledged in-character, the audience accepts it. 
LINE the specific "unit" of a poem--all the words that are on one line of a poem
LITOTES understatement for rhetorical effect (especially when expressing an affirmative by negating its contrary)
MAGIC REALISM a form particularly popular in Latin America but not limited to that region, in which events are described realistically, but in a magical haze of strange local customs and beliefs. Gabriel García Márquez is a notable author in the style. 
MALAPROPISM act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, esp. by the confusion of words that are similar in sound
MAXIM short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct
METAPHOR a direct comparison using the verb "to be," and not using like or as, when one thing is said to be another; an association of two completely different objects as being the same thing; intent of giving clearer meaning to one of them. Often forms of the "to be" verb are used, such as "is" or "was", to make the comparison; eg. The moon was a ghostly galleon / Tossed upon the cloudy sea (Noyes) 
METAPHOR, IMPLIED comparison without mentioning both elements
METER The recurrence of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables; Metrical patterns are determined by the type and number of feet in a line of verse; combining the name of a line length with the name of a foot concisely describes the meter of the line. Rising meter refers to metrical feet which move from unstressed to stressed sounds (examples: iambic foot and  anapestic foot) Falling meter refers to metrical feet which move from stressed to unstressed sounds (examples: trochaic foot and  dactylic foot)
METONYMY substituting a word for another word closely associated with it; Metonymy may be instructively contrasted with metaphor. Both figures involve the substitution of one term for another. In metaphor, this substitution is based on similarity, while in metonymy, the substitution is based on contiguity.  Metaphor example: The ship ploughed through the sea (using ploughed through instead of navigated).  Metonymy example: The White House phoned (using White House instead of President).
MOOD emotional feelings of a READER as he/she reads a piece of literature (the mood was created by the WRITER + the READER)
MOTIF recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of literature. A motif may also be two contrasting elements in a work, such as good and evil (kind of like Paideia values!); *A dominant theme or central idea; *A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.
NARRATIVE HOOK opening of a story that "hooks" the reader's attention so he or she will keep reading 
NEMESIS expression often denotes a character in a drama who brings about another's downfall
ONOMATOPOEIA "sound echoing sense"; use of words resembling the sounds they mean; also called imitative harmony
OVERSTATEMENT exaggeration of something, often for the purpose of emphasis (also known as a hyperbole). 
OXYMORON Two-three contradictory words placed next to one another; eg. hot ice, cold fire, wise fool, sad joy, military intelligence, eloquent silence
PARABLE A brief and often simple narrative that illustrates a moral or religious lesson
PARADOX a seeming contradiction that surprisingly reveals a kind of truth with its pithiness. Two opposing ideas;  something that seems contradictory on the surface, but on closer inspection actually holds a truth.
placing of clauses or phrases one after another, without words to indicate coordination or subordination
PARODY ridicule by imitation, usually humorous, such as MAD Magazine. 
PASTICHE using forms and styles of another author, generally as an affectionate tribute, such as the many stories featuring Sherlock Holmes not written by Arthur Conan Doyle, or much of the Cthulhu Mythos. 
PATHETIC FALLACY The attribution of human emotions or characteristics to inanimate objects or to nature; for example, angry clouds; a cruel wind. (origin of the phrase:  human beings' need to make everything human in order to understand it = an artistic mistake according to Ruskin);  is the reflection of the mood of a character (usually the protagonist) in the atmosphere or inanimate objects. A good example is the storm in William Shakespeare's King Lear, which mirrors Lear's mental deterioration. 
PATHOS is used by the author to inspire pity or sorrow in the reader towards a character(s); Pathos typically does not couterbalance the suffering of the target character with a positive outcome, as in Tragedy. 
PERIPETEIA when the hero/ine's fortune changes (usually from good to bad)
PERIPHASIS Adding in superfluous words to extend the message you are trying to give - "beating around the bush", so to speak
PERSONIFICATION  A figure of speech which endows animals, ideas, or inanimate objects with human traits or abilities; eg. And twilight silver footed creeps / Down the dimming paths (Alex Waugh) 
PLOT the series of events in a piece of literature
PLOT TWIST is a change ("twist") in the direction or expected outcome of the plot of a film or novel. 
POETIC JUSTICE  is a literary device in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished, often in modern literature by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character's own conduct. 
POINT OF VIEW  the vantage point of the speaker, or "teller", of the story or poem; 1st person:  the speaker is a character in the story or poem and tells it from his/her perspective (uses "I"); 3rd person limited: the speaker is not part of the story, but tells about the other characters but limits information about what one character sees and feels; 3rd person omniscient: the speaker is not part of the story, but is able to "know" and describe what all characters are thinking.
POLYSYNDETON repetition of connectives or conjunctions in close succession for rhetorical effect, as in the phrase here and there and everywhere.
PORTMANTEAU combination of two or more words to create a new word
PREDESTINATION PARADOX a paradox of time travel when a time traveler is caught in a loop of events that "predestines" him or her to travel back in time. 
PROLOGUE An introduction or preface
PROSE written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure.
PROTAGONIST main character or lead figure in a novel, play, story, or poem.  It may also be referred to as the "hero" of a work
PUNS figure of speech which consists of a deliberate confusion of similar words or phrases for rhetorical effect, whether humorous or serious
QUIBBLE a common plot device, used to fulfill the exact verbal conditions of an agreement in order to avoid the intended meaning. Used commonly in legal bargaining. 
something, esp. a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting
REALISM Broadly defined as "the faithful representation of reality" or "verisimilitude," literature devoted to accurate representation and an exploration of American lives in various contexts
REPITITION the repeating of words, phrases, lines, or stanzas; eg. chit chit chatter chatter 
RHETORICAL QUESTION A question asked that does not require an answer; eg. Could I but guess the reason for that look? 
RHYME   The matching of final vowel or consonant sounds in two or more words; a. the vowel sound and the following consonant sound are the same; eg. mind-kind; b. the consonants preceding the vowel are different; eg. make-lake 
RHYME SCHEME The sequence in which the rhyme occurs. The first end sound is represented as the letter "a", the second is "b", etc.
RHYMING COUPLET a pair of lines which end-rhyme expressing one clear thought
RHYTHM  words have a movement or beat to them (think music!); the recurrence of accent or stress in lines of verse; internal 'feel' of beat and meter perceived when poetry is read aloud
SARCASM a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain 
SATIRE literary tone used to ridicule or make fun of human vice or weakness, often with the intent of correcting, or changing, the subject of the satiric attack.  (Gulliver's Travels)
SCHEME term in classical rhetoric for any one of the figures of speech: a deviation from conventional word order
SELF-FULFILLING PROPHESY a prediction that, in being made, actually causes itself to become true. Early examples include the legend of Oedipus, and the story of Krishna in the Mahabharata. 
SENSORY DETAIL OR IMAGERY the usage of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
SETTING The time and place of a literary work that establishes its context.
SIDE STORY a form of narrative that occurs alongside established stories set within a fictional universe. Examples include Mahabharata, Ramayana, Gundam, Doctor Who and The Matrix. 
SIMILE A figure of speech which compares  two seemingly dissimilar objects using a specific word or comparison such as "like", "as", "as thought", or "than".
SLANG very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language
SOLILOQUY a dramatic speech given by one character (also referred to as "monologue")
SONNET a type of poem which has 14 lines, iambic pentameter, specific rhyme scheme
SPOONERISM shuffling of the first letters of words to make different words and therefore change the actual meaning of the sentence
STANZA a "paragraph" in a poem; a unified grouping of lines of two or more lines in terms of length, metrical form, or rhyme scheme
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS the unbroken flow of thought and awareness of the waking mind; a special mode of narration that undertakes to capture the full spectrum and the continuous flow of a character's mental process; an attempt to portray all the thoughts and feelings of a character
STRETCH RHYME an "almost" rhyme
STRUCTURE The design or form of a literary work.
SYLLEPSIS a single word that governs or modifies two or more others must be understood differently with respect to each of those words
SYMBOL  An object or action in a literary work that means more than itself, that stands for something beyond itself.
SYMBOLISM the applied use of symbols: iconic representations that carry particular conventional meanings. 
SYNECDOCHE when a part or portion of something represents the whole item or idea; or a whole is standing in for a part of something
SYNONYM One of two or more words that have the same or nearly the same meanings.
SYNTAX the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)
THEME general idea or insight about life that a writer wishes to express
TONE author’s implied attitude toward the reader or the people, places, and events in a work as revealed by the elements of the author’s style: serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, tongue-in-cheek, solemn, objective
TRAGEDY story that presents courageous individuals who confront powerful forces within or outside themselves with a dignity that reveals the breadth and depth of the human spirit in the face of failure, defeat, and even death. Tragedies recount an individual’s downfall; they usually begin high and end low. 
TRAGIC FLAW character defect that causes the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy
TRAGIC HERO A tragic hero has the potential for greatness but is doomed to fail. He is trapped in a situation where he cannot win. He makes some sort of tragic flaw, and this causes his fall from greatness. Even though he is a fallen hero, he still wins a moral victory, and his spirit lives on.  Qualities:  BORN INTO NOBILITY, RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN FATE, ENDOWED WITH A TRAGIC FLAW, DOOMED TO MAKE A SERIOUS ERROR IN JUDGEMENT, FALL FROM GREAT HEIGHTS OR HIGH ESTEEM, REALIZE THEY HAVE MADE AN IRREVERSIBLE MISTAKE, FACES AND ACCEPTS DEATH WITH HONOR, MEET A TRAGIC DEATH, THE AUDIENCE IS AFFECTED BY PITY and/or FEAR
UNDERSTATEMENT when the obvious is “played down” for comic or dramatic effect
UNRELIABLE NARRATOR a technique in which the narrator of the story is not sincere or introduces a bias in the way he tells it and possibly misleads the reader, hiding or minimizing some events, characters or motivations. 
VERISIMILITUDE The appearance of truth; the quality of seeming to be true
VERSE writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme
WORD PLAY in which the nature of the words used themselves become part of the work. 
WRITER'S VOICE a literary technique combining various structural aspects of an author's writing style.