Literary Terms You Need to Know


-Play – A narrative that is meant to be performed before an audience.

– Parable – A story that contains a moral and is meant to teach a lesson.

– Short story – Fictional narrative that is shorter in length than a novel and often centers on one central event.

– Satire – A work that points out absurdities and foibles in an individual, policy, work, or aspect of society.

Narrative – a sequence of events that a narrator tells in story form.

Narrator – a storyteller of any kind

-Omniscient narrator – All-knoing narrator. We enter into the thoughts of many characters.

-Limited narrator – Narrator not all knowing. The narrator provides the thoughts of a single character.

-Objective narrator – Narrator describes actions and scenes without allowing access into the thoughts of any    characters.

-Point of view – perspective that a narrative takes as it tells the events of a story

-First person narrative – Narrative told in the first person “I.”

– Second person – The reader is directly addressed in the story. The point of view is unconventional and rarely used, “you.”

-Third person narrative – Narrative told from the third person “she,” “he,” “they,” “it.”

-Protagonist – the main character of a story, or who the story is about – not necessarily the “god” character in a story. If the character is considered “good” he/she is referred to as the hero/heroine. If the protagonist is not considered admirable, he/she is known as the antihero/antiheroine.

-Antagonist – The force of person that opposes the protagonist – not necessarily the “bad” character/force in a story.

– Foil – Character who illuminates the traits of another character through contrast

– Round character – A character that has many dimensions or sides. An interesting character.

– Flat character – A character that is one dimensional.

-Dynamic character – A character that changes over the course of a piece of fiction.

– Static character – A character that doesn’t change over the course a piece of fiction.

-Setting – Where and when a story takes place. Not only the physical setting, also captures the time periods and the social attitudes of the time. In some stories, aspects of the setting -a house, for example – can become characters in a story.

– Plot – what happens in a given story or the events that make a story up

-Conflict- the central struggle that arises for the protagonist. Conflict fuels the plot.  Conflict can be broken into categories: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature, man vs. culture, man vs. society

-Inciting Incident – initial action in the plot that introduces the conflict and sets the story into motion.

– Rising action – early part of the narrative that builds the conflict and moves the plot.

-Climax – the turning point of a narrative. Often (but not always) the moment of highest intensity in a story.

– Denouement or Falling Action – Occurs after the climax where elements of plot introduced prior to the climax are resolved.

-Resolution – The end of the story. Sometimes stories do not have a clear resolution. Sometimes questions and incidents are left “unresolved.” Usually, the resolution is the point in the ending when the main questions of the story are resolved.


Figures of speech- expressions that stretch words beyond their literal meanings

Alliteration – The repetition of similar sounds, usually consonants, at the beginning of words. Example: mother mumbled mournfully.

Personification – The use of human characteristics to describe animals, things, or ideas. Example: THe tree stood proud and unafraid.

Metonymy – The substitution of one term for another that is usually associated with it. Example: Those suits have it all (suits is used to represent businessmen).

Synecdoche – A form of metonym in which a part or an entity is used to refer to a whole. Example: How do you like my new wheels? (wheels is used to refer to car).

Cliche’ – An expression that has been used so frequently it has lost its expressive power. Example: Busy as a bee.

Euphemism – The use of decorous language to express vulgar or unpleasant ideas, events, or actions. Example: “passed away” for “died”

Hyperbole – an excessive overstatement or conscious exaggeration of fact. Example: You gave me a heart attack!”

Metaphor- Comparison of two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” Example: The room is an oven.

Simile – a Comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.” Example: This rooms is like an oven/ This room is as hot as an oven.

Onomatopoeia – The use of words such as “pop,” “hiss,” and “boing,” that sound like the thing they refer to .

Paradox – A statement that seems absurd or contradictory on its face but often expresses a deeper truth. Example: “I can resist anything except temptation” (Oscar Wilde).


Allusion – A reference to a historical event, time, work or person (when one of these alluded to …). Allusions add depth and meaning to a work by implying symbolic or weighted meaning through the understood connection of another work. Example: “She’s a regular Eve” is a Biblical allusion to the Adam and Eve story and implies that the woman referenced is a temptress.

Foreshadowing – Suggestions or hints that are made by the author that refer to or preview events that will occur later in a narrative.

Irony – When the outcome of a perceived situation, event, saying, is different from what would be expected. Example:

Dramatic irony – Technique in which the audience is aware of circumstances outside a character’s knowledge. Example:    Simba is unaware of Scar’s plan to kill Mufasa, but the audience is in on the plan.

Verbal irony – A statement that stands in contrast with its meaning. Sarcasm is a direct form of verbal irony (though not the only form).


Theme- What a narrative is about – the essential meanings and ideas explored in a narrative.

Motif – A Recurring image, symbol, idea, saying or structure that is used to support a theme

Imagery – Language that engages the sense of the reader

Symbol – A character, figure, objective, or color that represents a larger idea or abstract concept.

Tone- The author’s attitude toward the subject, the story, or the reader that creates the atmosphere of the narrative.

Mood – The feeling or atmosphere of the narrative that is created through the tone.

Style – The unique way authors create a body of work. The way authors construct sentences, develop scenes, write dialogue, use imagery all work to produce their style. For example, we talk of Hemingway’s style – his distinct sentence patterns, use of repetition, etc.

Diction – the author’s choice of words. Ask: is the diction formal (using complex words) r more informal? Does the diction include much slang? Diction helps authors create tone and establish style.

Syntax – THe way words are put together to create sentences. Sentences can be simple or complex.

Thesis – The central argument of a work of non-fiction or fiction.


One thought on “Literary Terms You Need to Know

  1. Jackson
    Coming of Age: Themes to look for and questions to ask

    • Identity
    o Think about the narrator of the text you are reading and how they are trying to express an answer to this question.
    o The main character asks: Who am I?
    • Relationships with parents and guardians
    o Think about the characteristics of these relationships as revealed within the text:
    • Positive
    • Negative
    • Constructive
    • Destructive
    o Think about the characteristics of the parent country of the immigrants.
    • Family
    o What is the role of the main character in his or her family?
    • Does the role change?
    • What does the family expect of them?
    • Does the character separate from the family?
    • Gender rolls
    o What roles do men and women play in the text?
    o How do gender roles change and develop in the United States as this country comes of age?
    • Friendship
    o How do friendships or lack of friendships shape this character?
    o In what ways are these friendships a substitution, continuation or reflection of family?
    • Rebellion
    o In what ways does the character rebel?
    o Does their rebellion accomplish anything important?
    • Where is home?
    o How does this story or main character define home?
    o What about their definition of home stays with the person wherever they go?
    • Romance/sexuality
    o How big a role does this play in your text and the formation of the main character?
    • Political and social realities/outside world

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