Literary Devices & Terminology
A verse having the metrically complete number of syllables in the final foot.
The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some
syllables more relative prominence than others.
Accentual Verse
Verse in which the metrical system is based on the count or patter of accented
syllables, which establish the rhythm.
Acrostic Poem
A poem in which certain letters of the lines, usually the first letters, form a
word or message relating to the subject. Examples of acrostic poems date
back as far as the 4th Century.
A major division in the action of a play, typically indicated by lowering the
curtain or raising the houselights. Playwrights employ acts to indicate changes
in time, setting, mood, etc.
A verse consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee or tronchee.
A type of hyperbole in which the exaggeration is magnified so greatly that it
refers to an impossibility, as "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles."
(1870-c.1900) An awareness of aestheticism in British artistic and literary
society in the late 19th century. Led by figures like James Whister (18341903) and Irish writer Oscar Wilde (1857-1900), the movement was important
for its cult of "art for art's sake" which pervaded all forms of art and literature.
A creative inspiration, as that of a poet; a divine imparting of knowledge, thus
it is often called divine afflatus.
Alcaic Verse
A Greek lyrical meter, said to be invented by Alcaeus, a lyric poet from about
600 B.C. Written in tetrameter, the greater Alcaic consists of a spondee or
iamb followed by an iamb plus a long syllable and two dactyls. The lesser
Alcaic, also in tetrameter, consists of two dactylic feet followed by two iambic
Western allegorical literature and interpretation are based on literature and
interpretations of the Old and New Testament.
"A form of extended metaphor in which objects and persons in a narrative,
either in prose or verse, are equated with meanings that lie outside the
narrative itself. Thus it represents one thing in the guise of another -- an
abstraction in that of a concrete image. The characters are usually
personifications of abstract qualities...." (William Thrall, et al, Handbook to
Literature, NY Odyssey, 1960)
John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress (1678)
Dante, The Divine Comedy
William Langeland, Piers Plowman
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1590-1596)
Also called head rhyme or initial rhyme, the repetition of the initial sounds
(usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words or at short
intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings.
"I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company
of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in
vain." -- Samuel Johnson
" I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with
writers, as with wells; a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the
deepest, provided any water be there; and that often, when there is nothing in
the world at the bottom, besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and
a half underground, it shall pass, however, for a wondrous deep, upon no
wiser a reason than because it is wondrous dark." -- Jonathan Swift
Alliterative Verse
Poetry in which alliteration is a formal structural element in place of rhyme; it
was prevalent in a number of old literatures prior to the 14th century,
including Anglo-Saxon. In alliterative verse, the first half-line is united with the
second half by alliterating stressed syllables; in the first half-line generally two
(but sometimes three) syllables alliterate, while in the second half usually only
An indirect reference in a text which activates a second text, the relationship
between the two enriching the interpretation of the alluding text.
"You must borrow me Gargantua's mouth first. 'Tis a word too great for any
mouth of this age's size." -- William Shakespeare
"Plan ahead: it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." -- Richard Cushing
A potential for more than one meaning of a word, phrase, action, or
situation. Ambiguity is usually resolved by context.
A metrical foot consisting of a long or accented syllable between two
short or unaccented syllables, as condition or infected.
A verse composition which, while apparently coherent, contains no
sense or meaning.
The placement of an event, person, or thing out of its proper
chronological relationship, sometimes unintentional, but often
deliberate as an exercise of poetic license.
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
A rhetorical trope formed by repeating the last word of one phrase,
clause, or sentence at or very near the beginning of the next. It can
be generated in series for the sake of beauty or to give a sense of
logical progression:
"Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,/
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain. . . " -- Philip
The comparison of two things, which are alike in several respects, for the
purpose of explaining or clarifying some unfamiliar or difficult idea or object by
showing how the idea or object is similar to some familiar one. While simile
and analogy often overlap, the simile is generally a more artistic likening, done
briefly for effect and emphasis, while analogy serves the more practical
purpose of explaining a thought process or a line of reasoning or the abstract
in terms of the concrete, and may therefore be more extended.
"For answers successfully arrived at are solutions to difficulties previously
discussed, and one cannot untie a knot if he is ignorant of it." -- Aristotle
"You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a
carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It
is not your trade to make tables." -- Samuel Johnson
The repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive
phrases, clauses, or sentences, commonly in conjunction with climax and with
"In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee things to
come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come the forth laws of
peace." -- Richard de Bury
"The wish of the genuine painter must be more extensive: instead of
endeavoring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of his imitations, he
must endeavor to improve them by the grandeur of his ideas; instead of
seeking praise, by deceiving the superficial sense of the spectator, he must
strive for fame by captivating the imagination." -- Sir Joshua Reynolds
Any force in a story that is in conflict with the protagonist. An antagonis may
be another person, an aspect of the physical or social environment, or a
destructive element in the protagonist's own nature.
The term occurs in Notes from Underground (1864) by the Russian novelist
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881).
The fictional character embodies the reversal of the qualities of the "noble"
hero: witless, clumsy, incapable of coping or of keeping quiet. The classic
example of the anti-hero is the hero of Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605, 1615).
Coined by the British poet David Gascoyne (1916- ) to describe writing which
reverses and transgresses the conventions of traditional literary forms.
A form of fictional writing which ostentatiously deviates from the technical
conventions of the novel The classic example is Tristam Shandy (1759-1767)
by English writer Laurence Sterne (1713-1768).
Many different kinds of departures from the norms of the novel may be
employed: deviations in narrative technique such as lack of a story, or a
labyrinthine one, distortions of time, overlong, high specific descriptions, etc.
Laurence Sterne, Tristam Shandy
Reversal of the order of repeated words or phrases (a loosely chiastic
structure, AB-BA) to intensify the final formulation, to present alternatives, or
to show contrast.
Establishing a clear, contrasting relationship between two ideas by joining
them together or juxtaposing them, often in parallel structure. Human beings
are inveterate systematizers and categorizers, so the mind has a natural love
for antithesis, which creates a definite and systematic relationship between
"To err is human; to forgive, divine." -- Alexander Pope
"I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil." -Romans 16:19b
"Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures." -- Samuel Johnson
A moral fable, usually featuring animals or inanimate objects which act like
human beings in order to shed light on the human condition. Often, the
apologue highlights the foolishness of mankind. The beast fable, and the
fables of Aesop are examples. Some critics have called Samuel Johnson's
Rasselas an apologue rather than a novel because it is more concerned with
moral philosophy than with character or plot.
George Orwell, Animal Farm; Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book
Apocalyptic literature--writings that aim to reveal the future history of the
world and the ultimate destiny of the earth and its inhabitants. Examples: the
prophetic books of the Old Testament; Revelations. From the sermons of
Puritan ministers to the latest popular work of science fiction, American
literature has always had a pronounced apocalyptic tendency.
A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something non-human
is addressed as if alive and present and could reply.
"O value of wisdom that fadeth not away with time, virtue ever flourishing,
that cleanseth its possessor from all venom! O heavenly gift of the divine
bounty, descending from the Father of lights, that thou mayest exalt the
rational soul to the very heavens! Thou art the celestial nourishment of the
intellect. . . ." -- Richard de Bury
"With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!" -- Sidney
The term has sources in anthropology and Jungian Theory. It is a "primordial
image" residing in the collective imagination of a people, expressed in myths
and in the figurative dimension of literature: exile, rebirth, earth goddess, etc.
Art as Device
(1917) Literary theory of Russian formalists, defined by Viktor Shklovsky
Objecting to the late 19th/early 20th century theories which saw poetry in
terms of symbols and images, the formalists argued for the centrality of
rhetorical devices, such as parallelism, archaism, metaphor, which cast the
text into a "poetic language" distinct from ordinary language," causing
A brief speech in which the character turns from the person he is addressing
to speak directly to the audience. An aside is a dramatic device that lets the
audience know what the character is really feeling and thinking. This device
often provides the opportunity for comic relief.
The use of similar vowel sounds repeated in successive or proximate words
containing different consonant.
Consists of omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. In a list
of items, asyndeton gives the effect of unpremeditated multiplicity, of an
extemporaneous rather than a labored account.
"If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at
transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom
we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we
fear." -- John Henry Newman
"In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee things to
come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come forth the laws of
peace." -- Richard de Bury
"We certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom our love and
veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn,
towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and
waste away." -- John Henry Newman
A poem about dawn, a morning love song, or a poem about the parting of
lovers at dawn.
Author, Death of
Proclaimed by French critic Roland Barthes (1915-1980), revised and refined
by French philosopher Michael Foucault (1926-1984). The traditional notion of
an author preexisting the text and inscribing a fixed set of meanings in it is
challenged; "author" is an illusion produced by the reader's constructive act of
Autobiographical novel
A novel based on the author's life experience. Many novelists include in their
books people and events from their own lives because remembrance is easier
than creation from scratch. 'Examples:
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
Autonomy of Literary Text
A literary work is an independent aesthetic object, autonomous in the sense of
being free of its author's determination, independent of social and historical
context, "self-reflexive" in the sense of referring only to itself and not to the
phenomenal world.
A fairly short narrative poem written in a song-like stanza form.
Established by the English poet and critic Alexander Pope (1688-1744),
parodying Longinus's On the Sublime (1st century AD). A mishandled attempt
at an elevated style, flopping from a rhetorical height to a ludicrous
(c.1750) The term emerges in German criticism in the second half of the 18th
century, and is synonymous with the "novel of development" or "novel of
education" or "apprenticeship novel". It refers to a variety of the novel in
which the plot traces the development of a young person's ideas and
sentiments toward maturity in relation to a series of obstacles and
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
The story of a person's life written by someone other than the subject of the
work. Katherine Drinker Bowen's "Yankee from Olympus" which details the life
and work of the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is an example. A
biographical work is supposed to be rigorously factual. However, since the
biographer may by biased for or against the subject of the biography, critics,
and sometimes the subject of the biography himself or herself, may come
forward to challenge the trustworthiness of the material.
Black humor--comedy mingled with horror or a sense of the macabre;
extremely bitter, morbid, or shocking humor. Examples (increasingly common
in post-WWII film and literature) include Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle
and the recent films Pulp Fiction and Misery.
Blank Verse
Unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Term coined by French structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908- )
for processes of myth-formation in pre-literate, pre-scientific cultures. As a
metaphor-making process, bricolage has been extended to language as such;
also applied to Modernist texts which are "patchworks" of other writings and
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
A work designed to ridicule a style, literary form, or subject matter either by
treating the exalted in a trivial way or by discussing the trivial in exalted terms
(that is, with mock dignity). Burlesque concentrates on derisive imitation,
usually in exaggerated terms. Literary genres (like the tragic drama) can be
burlesqued, as can styles of sculpture, philosophical movements, schools of
art, and so forth. See Parody, Travesty.
A pause, metrical or rhetorical, occurring somewhere in a line of poetry. The
pause may or may not be typographically indicated.
From the Greek work kanon, meaning "rule." Various ecclesiastical usages, the
most relevant (dating from the 4th century AD) denoting the set of
acknowledged biblical scriptures. In modern English literary theory, the ideas
is most associated with critics Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and Frank
Raymond (1895-1978). In the Arnold-Leavis tradition, the moral and spiritual
value of the literature is affirmed as against philistinism.
In relation to literature, this term is half-seriously applied to those works
generally accepted as the great ones. A battle is now being fought to change
or throw out the canon.
Theory of Russian Mikhail M. Bakhtin (1895-1975). Development of Dialogism
in which the metaphor of carnival is applied to the structure of those
narratives which invert conventional relationships, subvert power, and
celebrate a "grotesque canon of the body".
F. Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
L. Sterne, Tristram Shandy
W.S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
Carpe diem
(Latin--"sieze the day") A theme, especially common in lyric potery, that
emphasize that life is short, time is fleeting, and that one should make the
most of present pleasures.
Catalogue--a traditional epic device consisting of a long rhetorical list or
Homer's catalogue of ships in the Iliad is probably the most famous example,
though almost any poem by Whitman will supply a prize specimen or two.
The people in a story, who may act, react, and change during the course of a
story. "Character" also refers to the distinguishing moral qualities and personal
traits of a character.
Characterization The method a writer uses to reveal the personality of a
character in a literary work: Methods may include (1) by what the character
says about himself or herself; (2) by what others reveal about the character;
and (3) by the character's own actions.
A crossing parallelism, where the second part of a grammatical construction is
balanced or paralleled by the first part, only in reverse order. Instead of an A,B
structure (e.g., "learned unwillingly") paralleled by another A,B structure
("forgotten gladly"), the A,B will be followed by B,A ("gladly forgotten"). So
instead of writing "What is learned unwillingly is forgotten gladly," you could
write, "What is learned unwillingly is gladly forgotten." Similarly, the parallel
sentence, "What is now great was at first little," could be written chiastically
as, "What is now great was little at first."
"Polished in courts and hardened in the field, Renowned for conquest, and in
council skilled." -- Joseph Addison
Children's novel
A novel written for children and discerned by one or more of these: (1) a child
character or a character a child can identify with, (2) a theme or themes
(often didactic) aimed at children, (3) vocabulary and sentence structure
available to a young reader. Many "adult" novels, such as Gulliver's Travels,
are read by children. The test is that the book be interesting to and -- at some
level -- accessible by children.
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
A group of actors speaking or chanting in unison, often while going through
the steps of an elaborate formalized dance; a characteristic device of Greek
drama for conveying communal or group emotion.
Christian novel
A novel either explicitly or implicitly informed by Christian faith and often
containing a plot revolving around the Christian life, evangelism, or conversion
stories. Sometimes the plots are directly religious, and sometimes they are
allegorical or symbolic. Traditionally, most Christian novels have been viewed
as having less literary quality than the "great" novels of Western literature.
Charles Sheldon, In His Steps
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe
Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis
Par Lagerkvist, Barabbas
Catherine Marshall, Christy
C. S. Lewis, Perelandra
G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday
Bodie Thoene, In My Father's House
Classical mythology
A term often used to designate the myths belonging to the Greek and Roman
traditions. The myths are believed to have been acquired first by oral tradition,
entering since Homer and Hesiod (ca 700 BC) the literate era; later works by
those who studied or collected the myths, or sometimes all literary works
relating to mythology, are known as mythography and those who wrote them
as mythographers.
Classicism, Classical
A movement or tendency in art, music, and literature to retain the
characteristics found in work originating in classical Greece and Rome. It
differs from Romanticism in that while Romanticism dwells on the emotional
impact of a work, classicism concerns itself with form and discipline.
The decisive moment in a drama, the climax is the turning point of the play to
which the rising action leads. This is the crucial part of the drama, the part
which determines the outcome of the conflict. In Shakespeare's "Julius
Caesar" the climax occurs at the end of Marc Antony's speech to the Roman
Casual conversation, informal, or regional writing, often includes slang
A type of drama, opposed to tragedy, usually having a happy ending, and
emphasizing human limitation rather than human greatness.
Comic relief
A humorous scene or incident that alleviates tension in an otherwise serious
work. In many instances these moments enahnce the thematic significance of
the story in addition to providing laughter.
Coming-of-age story
A type of novel where the protagonist is initiated into adulthood through
knowledge, experience, or both, often by a process of disillusionment.
Understanding comes after the dropping of preconceptions, a destruction of a
false sense of security, or in some way the loss of innocence. Some of the
shifts that take place are these:
ignorance to knowledge
innocence to experience
false view of world to correct view
idealism to realism
immature responses to mature responses
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
An elaborate, usually intellectually ingenious poetic comparison or image, such
as an analogy or metaphor in which, say a beloved is compared to a ship,
planet, etc. The comparison may be brief or extended. See Petrarchan
Conceit. (Conceit is an old word for concept.) See John Donne's "Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning," for example: "Let man's soul be a sphere, and then, in
this, / The Intelligence that moves, devotion is."
The point in a drama to which the entire play has been leading. It is the logical
outcome of everything that has come before it. The conclusion stems from the
nature of the characters.
Concrete Poetry
A poem that visually resembles something found in the physical world. A poem
about a wormy apple written so that the words form the shape of an apple, as
in the following, is an example.
A clash of actions, desires, ideas, or goals in the plot of a story. Conflict may
exist between the main character and some other person or persons, between
the main character and some external force--physical nature, society, or
"fate", or between the main character and some destructive element in his
own nature.
Implied, associated, or suggested meaning(s), usually derived in context. For
example the word "eagle" connotes liberty and freedom, which has little to
with its dictionary definition.
The repetition at close intervals of the final consonant sounds of accented
syllables or important words.
A usual device or feature of a literary work (often unrealistic) that is
understaood and accepted by audiences because it has come, through usage
and time, the be recognized as a familiar technique.
Two successive lines, usually in the same meter, linked by rhyme. A heroic
couplet is a couplet written in rhymed iambic pentameter.
In poetry, a metrical pattern consisting of one stressed syllable
followed by two unstressed syllables.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
Literal or dictionary meanings of words.
(French--"the untying of the knot") That portion of a plot that
reveals the final outcome of its conflicts or the solution of its
Detective novel
A novel focusing on the solving of a crime, often by a brilliant
detective, and usually employing the elements of mystery and
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison
Deus ex machina
(Latin--"god from the machine") The resolution of a plot by use of a highly
improbable chance or coincidence (so named from the practice of some Greek
dramatists of having a god descend from heaven in the theater by means of a
stage machine to rescue the protagonist from an impossible situation at the
last possible minute).
Repetition of a word or phrase after an intervening word or phrase.
A variety of language spoken by a social group or spoken in a certain locality.
The conversation among characters, which can show how they interact and
suggest why they act as they do.
An author's choice of words. Since words have specific meanings, and since
one's choice of words can affect feelings, a writer's choice of words can have
great impact in a literary work. The writer, therefore, must choose his words
Didactic Literature
Literature designed explicitly to instruct.
(Greek--"to do" or "to perform") Drama is designed to be performed, as
opposed to plays, which is a term for a work of dramatic literature.
Dramatic Monologue
In literature, the occurrence of a single speaker saying something to a silent
audience. Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is an example wherein the
duke, speaking to a non-responding representative of the family of a
prospective new duchess, reveals not only the reasons for his disapproval of
the behavior of his former duchess, but aspects of his own personality as well.
The presentation of character or of emotion through the speech or action of
characters rather than through exposition, analysis, or description by the
Dystopian novel
An anti-utopian novel where, instead of a paradise, everything has gone
wrong in the attempt to create a perfect society. See utopian novel.
George Orwell, 1984
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
A lyric poem lamenting death.
A line that has a natural pause at the end (period, comma, etc.). For example,
these lines are end stopped:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.
Coral is far more red than her lips red. -- William Shakespeare
The running over of a sentence or thought into the next couplet or line without
a pause at the end of the line; a run-on line. For example, the first two lines
here are enjambed:
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove. . ." -- William Shakespeare
The detailing of parts, causes, effects, or consequences to make a point more
Envoy (or Envoi)
A conventionalized stanza appearing at the close of certain kinds of poems.
The envoy usually repeats the refrain line, consists of four or fewer lines,
usually rhymes bcbc, and is sometimes addressed to a person of importance.
Repeating the beginning word of a clause or sentence at the end. The
beginning and the end are the two positions of strongest emphasis in a
sentence, so by having the same word in both places, you call special
attention to it.
A long narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic
episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example). It
may be written in hexameter verse, especially dactylic hexameter, and it may
have twelve books or twenty four books.
A brief, pointed, and witty poem that usually makes a satiric or humorous
point, oftentimes written in couplets.
A brief quotation which appears at the beginning of a literary work.
Some moment of insight, discovery, or revelation by which a character's life of
view of life is greatly altered.
Epistolary novel
A novel presented in the form of letters written by one or more of the
characters. The form allows for the use of multiple points of view without the
intrusion of an omniscient narrator.
Samuel Richardson, Pamela
Samuel Richardson, Clarissa
Fanny Burney, Evelina
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Hannah W. Foster, The Coquette
The repetition of the same word or words at the end of successive phrases,
clauses or sentences. Epistrophe (also called antistrophe) is thus the
counterpart to anaphora.
"All the night he did nothing but weep Philoclea, sigh Philoclea, and cry out
Philoclea." -- Philip Sidney
An adjective or adjective phrase appropriately qualifying a subject (noun) by
naming a key or important characteristic of the subject, as in "laughing
happiness," "sneering contempt," "untroubled sleep," "peaceful dawn," and
"life-giving water." Sometimes a metaphorical epithet will be good to use, as in
"lazy road," "tired landscape," "smirking billboards," "anxious apple." Aptness
and brilliant effectiveness are the key considerations in choosing epithets. Be
fresh, seek striking images, pay attention to connotative value. A transferred
epithet is an adjective modifying a noun which it cannot logically modify, yet
which works because the metaphorical meaning remains clear:
"At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth of thieves and murderers. . . " -George Herbert
"Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold/ A sheep hook . . ." - John Milton
The repetition of a word (for emphasis).
Substitutes for a particular attribute the name of a famous person recognized
for that attribute. By their nature eponyms often border on the cliché, but
many times they can be useful without seeming too obviously trite. Finding
new or infrequently used ones is best, though hard, because the name-andattribute relationship needs to be well established.
The substitution of a mild or less negative word or phrase for a
harsh or blunt one, as in the use of "pass away" instead of "die."
The basic psychology of euphemistic language is the desire to put
something bad or embarrassing in a positive (or at least neutral
light). Thus many terms referring to death, sex, crime, and
excremental functions are euphemisms. Since the euphemism is
often chosen to disguise something horrifying, it can be exploited by
the satirist through the use of irony and exaggeration.
A smooth, pleasant-sounding choice and arrangement of sounds.
A highly ornate style of writing popularized by John Lyly's Euphues,
characterized by balanced sentence construction, rhetorical tropes,
and multiplied similes and allusions.
Existentialist novel
A novel written from an existentialist viewpoint, often pointing out
the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence.
Albert Camus, The Stranger
A single word or short phrase, usually interrupting normal syntax,
used to lend emphasis to the words immediately proximate to the
expletive. (We emphasize the words on each side of a pause or
interruption in order to maintain continuity of the thought.)
Expletives are most frequently placed near the beginning of a
sentence, where important material has been placed.
"All truth is not, indeed, of equal importance; but if little violations
are allowed, every violation will in time be thought little." -- Samuel
In drama, the presentation of essential information regarding what
has occurred prior to the beginning of the play. In the exposition to
William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," two servants of the
house of Capulet discuss the feud between their master and the
house of Montague, thereby letting the audience know that such a
feud exists and that it will play an important role in influencing the
A brief tale designed to illustrate a moral lesson. Often the characters are
animals as in the fables of Aesop.
Falling Action
The falling action is the series of events which take place after the climax.
Fantasy novel
Any novel that is disengaged from reality. Often such novels are set in
nonexistent worlds, such as under the earth, in a fairyland, on the moon, etc.
The characters are often something other than human or include non-human
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
A type of drama related to comedy but emphasizing improbable situations,
violent conflicts, physical action, and coarse wit over characterization or
articulated plot.
Figurative language
Hyperbole, metaphor, simile, personification, and other figures of speech that
enrich description and create meaning.
Figure of Speech An example of figurative language that states something
that is not literally true in order to create an effect. Similes, metaphors and
personification are figures of speech which are based on comparisons.
Metonymy, synecdoche, synesthesia, apostrophe, oxymoron, and hyperbole
are other figures of speech.
Fixed form
Any form of poem in which the length and pattern are prescribed by previous
usage or tradition, such as sonnet, limerick, villanelle, sestina, etc.
A device that allows the writer to present events that happened before the
time of the current narration or the current events in the fiction. Various
methods can be used, including memories, dream sequences, stories or
narration by characters, or even authorial sovereignty.
Flashback is useful for exposition, to fill in the reader about a character or
place, or about the background to a conflict.
A character in a play who sets off the main character or other characters by
The basic unit of meter consisting of a group of two or three syllables.
Scanning or scansion is the process of determining the prevailing foot in a line
of poetry, of determining the types and sequence of different feet.
Types of feet:
U (unstressed); / (stressed syllable)
Iamb:U /
Trochee: / U
Anapest: U U /
Dactyl: / U U
Spondee: / /
Pyrrhic: U U
In drama, a method used to build suspense by providing hints of
what is to come.
A narrative structure that provides a setting and exposition for the
main narrative in a novel. Often, a narrator will describe where he
found the manuscript of the novel or where he heard someone tell
the story he is about to relate. The frame helps control the reader's
perception of the work, and has been used in the past to help give
credibility to the main section of the novel.
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter
Free verse
Verse that has neither regular rhyme nor regular meter. Free verse
often uses cadences rather than uniform metrical feet.
A literary type or form. Drama is a genre of literature. Within drama,
genre include tragedy, comedy and other forms.
Gothic novel
A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of
unknown terror pervades the action.
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
William Beckford, Vathek
Anne Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
Short poem of Japanese origins, frequently 17 syllables in length.
(Greek) The error, frailty, mistaken judgement, or misstep through which the fortunes of a
tragic are reversed; this error is not necessarily a flaw in character.
Heroic Couplet
Two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter. Most of Alexander Pope's verse is written in
heroic couplets. In fact, it is the most favored verse form of the eighteenth century.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill. . . .
--Alexander Pope
[Note in the second line that "or" should be a stressed syllable if the meter were perfectly
iambic. Iambic= a two syllable foot of one unstressed and one stressed syllable, as in the
word "begin." Pentameter= five feet. Thus, iambic pentameter has ten syllables, five feet
of two syllable iambs.]
A term referring to the many voices in a work.
Historical novel
A novel where fictional characters take part in actual historical events and interact with
real people from the past. Examples:
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Sir Walter Scott, Waverly
James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe
Horatian Satire
In general, a gentler, more good humored and sympathetic kind of
satire, somewhat tolerant of human folly even while laughing at it.
Named after the poet Horace, whose satire epitomized it. Horatian
satire tends to ridicule human folly in general or by type rather than
attack specific persons. Compare Juvenalian satire.
(Greek) Extreme pride, leading to overconfidence, that results in the
misfortune of a tragic hero. Hubris leads the hero to break a moral
law, vainly attempt to transcend human limits, or ignore a divine
warning with disastrous results.
The new emphasis in the Renaissance on human culture, education
and reason, sparked by a revival of interest in classical Greek and
Roman literature, culture, and language. Human nature and the
dignity of man were exalted and emphasis was placed on the
present life as a worthy event in itself (as opposed to the medieval
emphasis on the present life merely as preparation for a future life).
In medieval physiology, four liquids in the human body affecting behavior.
Each humour was associated with one of the four elements of nature. In a
balanced personality, no humour predominated. When a humour did
predominate, it caused a particular personality. Here is a chart of the
humours, the corresponding elements and personality characteristics: and moist: sanguine, kindly, joyful, amorous
phlegm...water...cold and moist: phlegmatic, dull, pale, cowardly
yellow and dry: choleric, angry, impatient, obstinate, vengeful
black and dry: melancholy, gluttonous, backward, lazy,
sentimental, contemplative
The Renaissance took the doctrine of humours quite seriously -- it was their
model of psychology -- so knowing that can help us understand the characters
in the literature. Falstaff, for example, has a dominance of blood, while Hamlet
seems to have an excess of black bile.
Any of several rhetorical devices involving departure from normal word order. One device,
a form of inversion, might be called delayed epithet, since the adjective follows the noun.
If you want to amplify the adjective, the inversion is very useful.
Some rhetoricians condemn delayed epithet altogether in formal writing because of its
potential for abuse. Each case must be tested carefully, to make sure it does not sound
overly poetic.
Exaggeration used for emphasis. Hyperbole can be used to heighten effect, to catalyze
recognition, or to create a humorous perception. In formal writing the hyperbole must be
clearly intended as an exaggeration, and should be carefully restricted.
Hypertext novel
A novel that can be read in a nonsequential way. That is, whereas most novels
flow from beginning to end in a continuous, linear fashion, a hypertext novel
can branch -- the reader can move from one place in the text to another
nonsequential place whenever he wishes to trace an idea or follow a character.
Also called hyperfiction. Most are published on CD-ROM. See also interactive
Michael Joyce, Afternoon
Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden
A metrical pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.
The mental impression or visualized likeness summoned up by a word, phrase,
or sentence. The term "image" should not be taken to imply a visual
reproduction of the object referred to; some readers of the passage
experience visual images and some do not! Also, imagery includes auditory,
tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), or kinaesthetic (sensations
of movement), as well as visual qualities.
Inference A judgement based on reasoning rather than on direct or explicit
statement. A conclusion based on facts or circumstances.
Implied author
The "author" that is inferred from or implied by the text, as distinct from the
real person/author.
In Medias Res
The first scene of William Shakespeare's Cymbeline opens in the middle of all
the action, a literary technique called in medias res. This literary technique is
commonly used in epic poetry, and was originated with the poet Horace.
"In Medias Res: In the middle of the subject. In novels and epic poetry, the
author generally begins with some catastrophe, which is explained as the tale
unfolds. In history, on the other hand, the author begins ab ovo." (The
Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894).
John Milton's Paradise Lost also used in medias res to begin the epic of Man's
original sin and the loss of Paradise. For instance, the action of Milton's story
begins with Satan and the other fallen angels.
Examples: John Milton, Paradise Lost; William Shakespeare, Cymbeline
Intentional Fallacy
The judging of the meaning of success or a work of art by the author's
expressed or ostensible intention in producing it.
Interactive novel
A novel with more than one possible series of events or outcomes. The reader
is given the opportunity at various places to choose what will happen next. It
is therefore possible for several readers to experience different novels by
reading the same book or for one reader to experience different novels by
reading the same one twice and making different choices.
The system of references in one text to other text through quotations,
allusions, parodies, or thematic references.
Speech or writing that abuses, denounces, or vituperates against. It can be
directed against a person, cause, idea, or system. It employs a heavy use of
negative emotive language.
"I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race
of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of
the earth." -- Jonathan Swift
A mode of expression, through words (verbal irony) or events (irony of
situation), conveying a reality different from and usually opposite to
appearance or expectation. A writer may say the opposite of what he means,
create a reversal between expectation and its fulfillment, or give the audience
knowledge that a character lacks, making the character's words have meaning
to the audience not perceived by the character.
Juvenalian Satire
Harsher, more pointed, perhaps intolerant satire typified by the
writings of Juvenal. Juvenalian satire often attacks particular people,
sometimes thinly disguised as fictional characters. While laughter and
ridicule are still weapons as with Horatian satire, the Juvenalian
satirist also uses withering invective and a slashing attack. Swift is a
Juvenalian satirist.
A compound word or phrase similar to an epithet, but which involves a multinoun replacement for a single noun, such as wave traveller for boat or whalepath for ocean, used especially in Old English, Old Norse and early Teutonic
poetry. A type of periphrasis, some kennings are instances of metonymy or
King's English
The standard, pure or correct English speech or usage, also called Queen's
(German) A novel or tale of apprenticeship, in which the protagonist ia an artist
struggling from childhood to maturity toward an understanding or her or his
creative mission.
A medieval narrative or lyric poem which flourished in 12th century France,
consisting of couplets of five-syllabled lines separated by single lines of two
syllables. The number of lines and stanzas was not fixed and each stanza had
only two rhymes, one rhyme for the couplets and the other for the twosyllabled lines. Succeeding stanzas formed their own rhymes.
Lake Poets
The term was a derogatory one, used to describe William Wordsworth, Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, and Southey. A December 1809 review called them "The
Bards of the Lake"; other terms applied included "Naturals" and "Simple
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
William Wordsworth
A crude, coarse, often bitter satire ridiculing the personal appearance or
character of a person. Motivated by malice, it is intended solely to reproach
and distress.
Originally the Anglicized term for the French lai. It became popular in 14th century England
as the Breton lay, written in a spirit similar to the French lais. In the 19th century the term,
lay, was sometimes used by English poets for short historical ballads or narrative poetry of
moderate length.
Leonine Verse
Named for a 12th century poet, Leonius, who first composed such verse, it
constists of hexameters or of hexameters and pentameters in which the first
syllable rhymes with one preceding the ceaesura, in the middle of the line.
Light Verse
A loose catch-all term describing poetry written with a relaxed attitude and ordinary tone
on trivial, mundane, or frivolous themes. It is intended to amuse and entertain and is
frequently distinguished by sophistication, wit, word-play, elegance, and technical
competence. Among the numerous forms of light verse are clerihews, epigrams, limericks,
nonsense poetry, occasional poetry, parodies, society verse, and verse with puns or
A light or humorous verse form of five chiefly anapestic verses of which lines one, two and
five are of three feet and lines three and four are of two feet, with a rhyme scheme of
aabba. The limerick, named for a town in Ireland of that name, was popularized by Edward
Lear in his Book of Nonsense published in 1846.
Literary quality
A judgment about the value of a novel as literature. At the heart of this issue is the
question of what distinguishes a great or important novel from one that is less important.
Certainly the feature is not that of interest or excitement, for pulp novels can be even more
exciting and interesting than "great" novels. Usually, books that make us think -- that offer
insight into the human condition -- are the ones we rank more highly than books that
simply titillate us.
Local Color
A detailed setting forth of the characteristics of a particular locality,
enabling the reader to "see" the setting.
Lyric Poem
A short poem wherein the poet expresses an emotion or illuminates
some life principle.
A type of drama related to tragedy but featuring sensational
incidents, emphasizing plot at the expense of characterization,
relying on cruder conflicts (virtuous protagonist versus villainous
antagonist), and having a happy ending in which good triumphs over
A comparison which imaginatively identifies one thing with another
dissimilar thing, and transfers or ascribes to the first thing (the tenor
or idea) some of the qualities of the second (the vehicle or image).
Unlike a simile or analogy, metaphor asserts that one thing is
another thing, not just that one is like another. Very frequently a
metaphor is invoked by the to be verb:
"Affliction then is ours; / We are the trees whom shaking fastens
more." -- George Herbert
"Thus a mind that is free from passion is a very citadel; man has no
stronger fortress in which to seek shelter and defy every assault.
Failure to perceive this is ignorance; but to perceive it, and still not
to seek its refuge, is misfortune indeed." -- Marcus Aurelius
"The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted and
will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized
and enriched with foreign matter." -- Joshua Reynolds
Metaphysical Poetry
The term metaphysical was applied to a style of 17th Century poetry first by John Dryden
and later by Dr. Samuel Johnson because of the highly intellectual and often abstruse
imagery involved. Chief among the metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert,
Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan.
The rhythmic pattern that emerges when words are arranged in such a way that their
stressed and unstressed syllables fall into a more or less regular sequence; established by
the regular or almost regular recurrence of similar accent patterns (called feet). See feet
and versification.
Another form of metaphor, very similar to synecdoche (and, in fact, some rhetoricians do
not distinguish between the two), in which a closely associated object is substituted for the
object or idea in mind.
Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock
Usually considerd to begin with Worls War I in 1914, to be marked by the sense of
catastrophe and fin-de-siecle of that experience and the flowering of talent and artistic
experiemnt that came during the boom of the twenties and fall away during the ordeal of
the economic depression. Modernism is marked radical new formal innovations and the
sense of dislocation and alientaion, the sense that centuries-old accepted ways of
understanding the world were disintegrating: standards of religion, politics, family, gender,
science, economic progress, increased urbanization were all called into question.
The atmosphere or feeling created by a literary work, partly by a description of
the objects or by the style of the descriptions. A work may contain a mood of
horror, mystery, holiness, or childlike simplicity, to name a few, depending on
the author's treatment of the work.
A rule of conduct or maxim for living expressed or implied as the "point" of a
literary work.
The incentives or goals that, in combination with the inherent natures of
characters, cause them to behave as they do. In poor fiction actions may be
unmotivated, insufficiently motivated, or implausibly motivated.
Multicultural novel
A novel written by a member of or about a cultural minority group, giving
insight into nonwestern or non-dominant cultural experiences and values,
either in the United States or abroad.
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart; Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife
Forrest Tucker, The Education of Little Tree
Margaret Craven, I Heard the Owl Call My Name
James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain; Chaim Potok, The Chosen
Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Penitent; Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Mystery novel
A novel whose driving characteristic is the element of suspense or mystery.
Strange, unexplained events, vague threats or terrors, unknown forces or
antagonists, all may appear in a mystery novel. Gothic novels and detective
novels are often also mystery novels.
In one sense, mythology is just a collection of myths. As scientific
research increased during the 19th and 20th centuries, this research
has also been called mythology. So the term mythology has come to
denote both the body of myths and the study of myths.
A myth is an unverifiable story based on a religious belief. The
characters of myths are gods and goddesses, or the offspring of the
mating of gods or godesses and humans. Some myths detail the
creation of the earth, while others may be about love, adventure,
trickery, or revenge. In all cases, it is the gods and goddesses who
control events, while humans may be aided or victimized. It is said
that the creation of myths were the method by which ancient,
superstitious humans attempted to account for natural or historical
A Greek word, referring to the spoken word or speech. It also
denotes a tale, story or narrative, different from the historic tale
which is called logos and is regarded as verifiable. The narrated
events which form a mythic tale are not normally verifiable, their
origin is nearly always unknown, and yet they have a claim to truth,
which the purely fictitious narrative, for example a novel, lacks.
Narrative Poem
A poem which tells a story. Usually a long poem, sometimes even
book length, the narrative may take the form of a plotless dialogue
The person telling the story. In poetry, the narrator is known as the
speaker. Both narrator and speaker can be referred to as the
Nonrealistic drama
Drama that, in content, presentation, or both, departs markedly
from fidelity to the outward appearances of life.
An extended prose fiction narrative of 50,000 words or more,
broadly realistic -- concerning the everyday events of ordinary
peopler -- and concerned with character. "People in significant
action" is one way of describing it. Another definition might be "an
extended, fictional prose narrative about realistic characters and
events." It is a representation of life, experience, and learning.
Action, discovery, and description are important elements, but the
most important tends to be one or more characters -- how they
grow, learn, find -- or don't grow, learn, or find.
A prose fiction longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. There is no
standard definition of length, but since rules of thumb are sometimes handy,
we might say that the short story ends at about 20,000 words, while the novel
begins at about 50,000. Thus, the novella is a fictional work of about 20,000
to 50,000 words. Examples:
Henry James, Daisy Miller
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Henry James, Turn of the Screw; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Novel of manners
A novel focusing on and describing in detail the social customs and habits of a
particular social group. Usually these conventions function as shaping or even
stifling controls over the behavior of the characters. Examples:
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
A poem in praise of something divine or expressing some noble idea.
A literary device wherein the sound of a word echoes the sound it represents.
The words "splash." "knock," and "roar" are examples.
A paradox reduced to two words, usually in an adjective-noun ("eloquent
silence") or adverb-adjective ("inertly strong") relationship, and is used for
effect, to emphasize contrasts, incongruities, hypocrisy, or simply the complex
nature of reality.
"I do here make humbly bold to present them with a short account of
themselves and their art. . . " -- Jonathan Swift
"The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, With loads of learned lumber in his
head. . ." -- Alexander Pope
"He was now sufficiently composed to order a funeral of modest magnificence,
suitable at once to the rank of a Nouradin's profession, and the reputation of
his wealth." -- Samuel Johnson
A brief story, told or written in order to teach a moral lesson.
A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.
Parallel Structure
A repetition of sentences using the same structure.
A satiric imitation of a work or of an author with the idea of ridiculing the author, his ideas,
or work. The parodist exploits the peculiarities of an author's expression -- his propensity
to use too many parentheses, certain favorite words, or whatever. The parody may also be
focused on, say, an improbable plot with too many convenient events. Fielding's Shamela
is, in large part, a parody of Richardson's Pamela.
A literary work that has to do with shephards and rustic settings.
Christopher Marlowe, "The Passionate Shephard to His Love"
Robert Burns, "Sweet Afton"
Pathetic Fallacy
A fallacy of reason in suggesting that nonhuman phenomena act from human
feelings, as suggested by the word "pathetic" from the Greek pathos; a
literary device wherein something nonhuman found in nature-a beast, plant,
stream, natural force, etc.-performs as though from human feeling or
The person created by the author to tell a story. Whether the story is told by
an omniscient narrator or by a character in it, the actual author of the work
often distances himself from what is said or told by adopting a persona -- a
personality different from his real one. Thus, the attitudes, beliefs, and degree
of understanding expressed by the narrator may not be the same as those of
the actual author. Some authors, for example, use narrators who are not very
bright in order to create irony.
The metaphorical representation of an animal or inanimate object as having
human attributes -- attributes of form, character, feelings, behavior, and so
on. As the name implies, a thing or idea is treated as a person.
Petrarchan Conceit
The kind of conceit (see above) used by Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch and
popular in Renaissance English sonnets. Eyes like stars or the sun, hair like
golden wires, lips like cherries, etc. are common examples. Oxymorons are
also common, such as freezing fire, burning ice, etc.
Picaresque novel
An episodic, often autobiographical novel about a rogue or picaro (a person of
low social degree) wandering around and living off his wits. The wandering
hero provides the author with the opportunity to connect widely different
pieces of plot, since the hero can wander into any situation. Picaresque novels
tend to be satiric and filled with petty detail. Examples:
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild
The events selected by the writer to reveal the conflicts, or struggles, among
or within characters, often arranged chronologically but sometimes including
flashbacks to past events. Traditionally, the plot begins with exposition, which
presents background information; rises to a climax, the point of greatest
tension; and ends with a resolution and denouement, which contain the
Point of view
The perspective from which the work is presented by a character in the work
or by a narrator or speaker; terms relating to point of view include omniscient
narrator, limited third-person narrator, first-person narrator, and unreliable
The hero or main character, often opposed by an antagonist.
A "false name" or alias used by a writer desiring not to use his or her real
name. Sometimes called a nom de plume or "pen name," pseudonyms have
been popular for several reasons. First, political realities might make it
dangerous for the real author to admit to a work. Beatings, imprisonment, and
even execution are not unheard of for authors of unpopular works. Second, an
author might have a certain type of work associated with a certain name, so
that different names are used for different kinds of work. One pen name might
be used for westerns, while another name would be used for science fiction.
Lastly, an author might choose a literary name that sounds more impressive or
that will garner more respect than the author's real name.
Samuel Clemens used the name Mark Twain
Mary Ann Evans used the name George Eliot
Jonathan Swift used the name Lemuel Gulliver (once)
Pulp fiction
Novels written for the mass market, intended to be "a good read,"-often exciting, titillating, thrilling. Historically they have been very
popular but critically sneered at as being of sub-literary quality. The
earliest ones were the dime novels of the nineteenth century, printed
on newsprint (hence "pulp" fiction) and sold for ten cents. Westerns,
stories of adventure, even the Horatio Alger novels, all were forms
of pulp fiction. Modern pulp fiction consists of the racy, sometimes
soft-core pornographic novels seen everywhere on paperback racks.
Danielle Steele
John Le Carre
A play on words wherein a word is used to convey two meanings at
the same time.
Quatrain A four-line stanza which may be rhymed or unrhymed.
Regional novel
A novel faithful to a particular geographic region and its people, including
behavior, customs, speech, and history. Examples:
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native
The part of a story or drama which occurs after the climax and which
establishes a new norm, a new state of affairs-the way things are going to be
from then on.
The similarity between syllable sounds at the end of two or more lines. Some
kinds of rhyme (also spelled rime) include:
Couplet: a pair of lines rhyming consecutively.
Eye rhyme: words whose spellings would lead one to think that they rhymed
(slough, tough, cough, bough, though, hiccough. Or: love, move, prove. Or:
daughter, laughter.)
Feminine rhyme: two syllable rhyme consisting of stressed syllable followed by
Masculine rhyme: similarity between terminally stressed syllables.
Recurrences of stressed and unstressed syllables at equal intervals, similar to
meter. However, though two lines may be of the same meter, the rhythms of
the lines may be different.
Words intended to belittle a person or idea and arouse contemptuous laughter.
The goal is to condemn or criticize by making the thing, idea, or person seem
laughable and ridiculous. It is one of the most powerful methods of criticism,
partly because it cannot be satisfactorily answered ("Who can refute a
sneer?") and partly because many people who fear nothing else -- not the law,
not society, not even God -- fear being laughed at. (The fear of being laughed
at is one of the most inhibiting forces in western civilization. It provides much
of the power behind the adolescent flock urge and accounts for many of the
barriers to change and adventure in the adult world.) Ridicule is, not
surprisingly, a common weapon of the satirist.
Rising Action
The part of a drama which begins with the exposition and sets the stage for
the climax. In a five-act play, the exposition provides information about the
characters and the events which occurred before the action of the play began.
A conflict often develops between the protagonist and an antagonist. The
action reaches a high point and results in a climax, the turning point in the
Roman a clef
(French for "novel with a key," pronounced roh mahn ah clay). A novel in
which historical events and actual people are written about under the disguise
of fiction.
Aphra Behn, Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
An extended fictional prose narrative about improbable events
involving characters that are quite different from ordinary people.
Knights on a quest for a magic sword and aided by characters like
fairies and trolls would be examples of things found in romance
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Sir Philip Sidney, The Arcadia
In popular use, the modern romance novel is a formulaic love story
(boy meets girl, obstacles interfere, they overcome obstacles, they
live happily ever after). Computer software is available for
constructing these stock plots and providing stereotyped characters.
Consequently, the books usually lack literary merit.
Harlequin Romance series
A story of the exploits of a hero, or the story of a family told through several
A form of verbal irony, expressing sneering, personal disapproval in the guise
of praise.
A manner of writing that mixes a critical attitude with wit and humor in an
effort to improve mankind and human institutions. Ridicule, irony,
exaggeration, and several other techniques are almost always present. The
satirist may insert serious statements of value or desired behavior, but most
often he relies on an implicit moral code, understood by his audience and paid
lip service by them. The satirist's goal is to point out the hypocrisy of his
target in the hope that either the target or the audience will return to a real
following of the code. Thus, satire is inescapably moral even when no explicit
values are promoted in the work, for the satirist works within the framework
of a widely spread value system. Many of the techniques of satire are devices
of comparison, to show the similarity or contrast between two things.
Scesis Onomaton
A rhetorical trope that emphasizes an idea by expressing it in a string of generally
synonymous phrases or statements. While it should be used carefully, this deliberate and
obvious restatement can be quite effective.
Scesis onomaton does have a tendency to call attention to itself and to be repetitive, so it
is not used in formal writing as frequently as some other devices. But if well done, it is
both beautiful and emphatic.
Science fiction novel
A novel in which futuristic or otherwise altered scientific principles form the basis
for adventures. Often the novel posits a set of rules or principles or facts and
then traces their logical consequences in some form. For example, given that a
man discovers how to make himself invisible, what might happen?
H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man; Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
Sentimental novel
A type of novel, popular in the eighteenth century, that overemphasizes emotion
and seeks to create emotional responses in the reader. The type also usually
features an overly optimistic view of the goodness of human nature. Examples:
Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield; Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling
Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Thomas Day, The History of Sandford and Merton
A novel incorporating the same characters and often the same setting as a
previous novel. Sometimes the events and situations involve a continuation of
the previous novel and sometimes only the characters are the same and the
events are entirely unrelated to the previous novel. When sequels result from the
popularity of an original, they are often hastily written and not of the same
quality as the original. Occasionally a sequel is written by an author different
from that of the original novel.
Examples: Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad; Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Detective
Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind; Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett
Several novels related to each other, by plot, setting, character, or all three.
Book marketers like to refer to multi-volume novels as sagas. Examples:
Anthony Trollope, Barsetshire novels
C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia novels
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea novels
James Fenimore Cooper, The Leatherstocking Tales
The environment in which the action of a fictional work takes place. Setting
includes time period (such as the 1890's), the place (such as downtown
Warsaw), the historical milieu (such as during the Crimean War), as well as
the social, political, and perhaps even spiritual realities. The setting is usually
established primarily through description, though narration is used also.
Short Story
A short fictional narrative. It is difficult to set forth the point at which a short
story becomes a short novel (novelette), or the page number at which a
novelette becomes a novel.
A direct, expressed comparison between two things essentially unlike each
other, but resembling each other in at least one way. In formal prose the
simile is a device both of art and explanation, comparing the unfamiliar thing
(to be explained) to some familiar thing (an object, event, process, etc.)
known to the reader. There is no simile in the comparison, "My car is like your
car," because the two objects are not "essentially unlike" each other. When a
noun is compared to a noun, the simile is usually introduced by like.
In drama, a moment when a character is alone and speaks his or her thoughts
A fourteen line poem, usually in iambic pentameter, with a varied rhyme
scheme. The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan (or Italian) and the
Shakespearean. The Petrarchan Sonnet is divided into two main sections, the
octave (first eight lines) and the sestet (last six lines). The octave presents a
problem or situation which is then resolved or commented on in the sestet.
The most common rhyme scheme is A-B-B-A A-B-B-A C-D-E C-D-E, though
there is flexibility in the sestet, such as C-D-C D-C-D. The Shakespearean
Sonnet, (perfected though not invented by Shakespeare), contains three
quatrains and a couplet, with more rhymes (because of the greater difficulty
finding rhymes in English). The most common rhyme scheme is A-B-A-B C-DC-D E-F-E-F G-G. In Shakespeare, the couplet often undercuts the thought
created in the rest of the poem.
Spenserian Stanza
A nine-line stanza, with the first eight lines in iambic pentameter and the last
line in iambic hexameter (called an Alexandrine). The rhyme scheme is A-B-AB B-C-B-C C.
Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene
A metrical pattern characterized by two or more successively-placed accented
A division of a poem: a four-line stanza is called a quatrain; a two-line stanza,
a couplet.
The manner of expression of a particular writer, produced by choice of words,
grammatical structures, use of literary devices, and all the possible parts of
language use. Some general styles might include scientific, ornate, plain,
emotive. Most writers have their own particular styles.
A subordinate or minor collection of events in a novel or drama. Most subplots
have some connection with the main plot, acting as foils to, commentary on,
complications of, or support to the theme of, the main plot. Sometimes two
opening subplots merge into a main plot.
Suspense in fiction results primarily from two factors: the reader's
identification with and concern for the welfare of a convincing and sympathetic
character, and an anticipation of violence.
Something that is itself and yet also represents something else, like an idea.
For example, a sword may be a sword and also symbolize justice. A symbol
may be said to embody an idea. There are two general types of symbols:
universal symbols that embody universally recognizable meanings wherever
used, such as light to symbolize knowledge, a skull to symbolize death, etc.,
and invested symbols that are given symbolic meaning by the way an author
uses them in a literary work, as the white whale becomes a symbol of evil in
Moby Dick.
The use of one thing to represent another thing or idea, as the flag symbolizes
A rhetorical trope combining anaphora and epistrophe, so that
one word or phrase is repeated at the beginning and another word
or phrase is repeated at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or
A form of metaphor in which the part stands for the whole, the
whole for a part, the genus for the species, the species for the
genus, the material for the thing made, or in short, any portion,
section, or main quality for the whole thing itself (or vice versa).
One sensory experience described in terms of another sensory
A major and often recurring idea; the larger meaning of a work,
including any thoughts or insights about life or people in general.
The writer's attitude toward his readers and his subject; his mood or
moral view. A writer can be formal, informal, playful, ironic, and
especially, optimistic or pessimistic. While both Swift and Pope are
satirizing much the same subjects, there is a profound difference in
their tone.
According to A. C. Bradley, a tragedy is a type of drama which is
pre-eminently the story of one person, the hero.
A work that treats a serious subject frivolously-- ridiculing the
dignified. Often the tone is mock serious and heavy handed.
A metrical pattern in a line of poetry characterized by one stressed
syllable followed by one unstressed syllable.
Expressing an idea with less emphasis or in a lesser degree than is
the actual case. The opposite of hyperbole. Understatement is
employed for ironic emphasis. Example:
"Last week I saw a woman flay'd, and you will hardly believe how
much it altered her person for the worse." -- Johnathan Swift
Utopian novel
A novel that presents an ideal society where the problems of
poverty, greed, crime, and so forth have been eliminated.
Thomas More, Utopia
Samuel Butler, Erewhon
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward
The semblance to truth or actuality in characters or events that a novel or
other fictional work possesses. To say that a work has a high degree of
verisimilitude means that the work is very realistic and believable.
Generally, the structural form of a verse, as revealed by scansion.
Identification of verse structure includes the name of the metrical type and the
name designating number of feet:
Monometer: 1 foot
Dimeter: 2 feet
Trimeter: 3 feet
Tetrameter: 4 feet
Pentameter: 5 feet
Hexameter: 6 feet
Heptameter: 7 feet
Octameter: 8 feet
Nonameter: 9 feet
The most common verse in English poetry is iambic pentameter. See foot for
more information.
A novel set in the western United States featuring the experiences of
cowboys and frontiersmen. Many are little more than adventure
novels or even pulp fiction, but some have literary value. Examples:
Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident
Owen Wister, The Virginian
Any of several similar rhetorical devices, all involving a
grammatically correct linkage (or yoking together) of two or more
parts of speech by another part of speech. Thus examples of
zeugmatic usage would include one subject with two (or more)
verbs, a verb with tow (or more) direct objects, two (or more)
subjects with one verb, and so forth. The main benefit of the linking
is that it shows relationships between ideas and actions more
clearly. In one form (prozeugma), the yoking word precedes the
words yoked.
The utility of the zeugmatic devices lies partly in their economy (for
they save repetition of subjects or verbs or other words), and partly
in the connections they create between thoughts. The more
connections between ideas you can make in an essay, whether those
connections are simple transitional devices or more elaborate
rhetorical ones, the fewer your reader will have to guess at, and
therefore the clearer your points will be.
Works Cited
Literary Times and Terms, 22 August 2005,
NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms

Literary Devices - The Woodlands High School