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Glossary of Literary Terms - Fiction


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A work in which related symbols work together to produce a moral lesson or indication of progress. Usually, characters, events, and settings will represent certain moral qualities or will personify certain abstractions.
A comparison that uses a recognizable concept or image to explain something unfamiliar.
The counterforce or opponent who provides conflict in the play or story, confronting or attempting to complicate the life of the central character, or protagonist.
A recurrent image that emerges from deep-seated associations that are anchored in universal patterns or structures of experience. Usually, a common, universal role assumed by a character (e.g., the prodigal son, damsel in distress, or knight-errant.)
From the Italian meaning "exaggeration." Term used to describe characters who are comically distorted by the exaggeration of key traits that make them seem ridiculous or worthy of parody.
Person in a literary work, sometime referred to as flat or round.
The way in which an author represents or portrays a character for the reader. This can be revealed through the author's description of the character or through the character's speech, actions, and thoughts.
The culmination of events in the story, novel, or play. The highest point of interest or intensity. The point at which the events take an important and irrevocable turn.
The central tension and point of suspense in a literary work. For example, the central character may be in conflict with another character or characters or may be confronting a certain belief system or institution. In addition, it is possible that a character may be in conflict with himself or herself, struggling with a decision or attempting to work with divided loyalties or internal motivations that are pulling him or her in differenct directions.
Any association or attitude that is embedded in a word's meaning or is brought to mind by the mention of a word or phrase. For example, the word "odor" might mean the same thing as "scent," but "odor" would never be used to market cologne because of its negative connotation.
Dark Humor
A sardonic, sarcastic, paradoxical form of humor that allows readers or audiences to observe and find comedy in disastrous or sobering events such as death, illness, misforture, or other events that normally sadden and disturb.
The literal definition of a word, devoid of contextual or emotional issues or connotations.
The conclusion, or untying and unraveling of events in a story.
Regional variations in speech of a common language. Writers will often employ vernacular writing to denote dialect (e.g., writing in a Southern dialect by depicting the Southern drawl). Dialect can help place characters by race, place of birth, gender, or background.
A verbal exchange between two or more people.
The writer's choice or use of words.
A kind of sympathy that allows us to identify with the experiences, emotions, situations, and motives of another person or character.
A moment of sudden realization or understanding in which the true meaning of certain events is revealed.
The part of a play, story, or novel in which the author establishes setting, situations, and often central characters and themes.
Falling Action
Action that is usually composed of the characters' immediate reactions and responses to the climactic events of a story. The characters have not yet resolved their conflicts, but the events are heading toward a conclusion.
First Person Narrative
A narrative in which one of the characters narrates the story knowing only information that he or she can observe based on his or her limited perspective.
A reversion back to events that have previously taken place. This allows the writer to interrupt normal chronological order in the narrative.
Flat Character
A character who is easily describable or represented with a one-track personality or who is representative of a stereotype.
A prediction within the text. Usually occurring toward the beginning of the narrative, this is often a hint at some event or situation that will develop later in the story. This may take the form of a particular mood created by the setting, such as a sense of foreboding or doom experienced by the character, or it may occur as the author focuses repeatedly on an object or symbol that seems to acquire certain significance or importance.
A type or mode of writing. Different kinds of genres include drama, short stories, essays, poems, novels, etc.
A disparity between what is said and what is meant, what is expected and the actual outcome, or what a character understands and what the reader or audience understands.
From the Latin for "mirror." This refers to the author's means of representing or mirroring reality in fiction.
The overriding, dominant emotional quality present in a literary work, created by the author's description of theme, setting, or character.
In a story, the person speaking to the reader or telling the reader the story.
All knowing or able to see everything at once. Usually used in reference to an omniscient narrative voice.
The way an author represents a chain of events within a literary work. The plot may be tightly structured with a chain of cause and effect that leads to a certain conclusion, or it may be used to surprise readers with unexpected or unforeseen twists and turns.
Point of View
The perspective or vantage point by which the reader is able to see or experience certain events within a story or poem. There are several different kinds of point of view: first person, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient, and third person objective.
Language that is not obviously musical in beat or rhyme and that is printed from the left to the right margin.
The central character in a piece of drama or fiction. The root of this word, "agon," is Greek and means "contest." The protagonist is the hero, the main character in contest or conflict with his or her situation or another character (the antagonist).
Rising Action
The increasing conflict or struggle within a story, the culmination of which will result in the climax. This is also the means by which the suspense in a story is established.
Round Character
A character who is more developed or complicated, exhibiting a range of responses, emotions, and loyalties.
The use of humor, wit, and ridicule to criticize, attack, or hold up for scorn. Often, satires are meant to expose some folly in human behavior for the pourpose of social change, reform, or awareness.
Second Person Narrative
Considerably more rare than first or third person. To identify this point of view, look for the subjective pronoun "you" as the subject or primary character of the piece.
The place where a story occurs. (May refer to the time as well as the place of a story.)
Stream of Consciousness
A narrative technique that attempts to simulate the complete flow of a charater's thoughts. In this form of writing, ideas, thoughts, memories, dreams, sensory impressions, and conversations may combine or intermingle without clear transition or conventions.
The way an author expresses or presents his or her subject matter, including diction (word choice), syntax (word order), figurative language, dialogue, and all of the decisions an author makes.
A second plot, usually one that involves minor characters. This plot is subordinate to the main plot but often affects or is resolved by certain events that occur in the primary plot.
Anything that represents more than itself or is invested with meaning. An object, action, or even a person may serve as a symbol. Symbols may be contextual, deriving from certain events within the story or poem, or they may be public symbols that refer to objects, actions, or persons that history, religion, myth, or legend has infused with meaning.
A unifying, central subject or idea that provides a literary work with its stance or approach. The theme may be a theory or an answer provided by the story based on the questions it raises (what the work seems to say about a particular subject). In a story, themes can be overt and fairly obvious, or they may provode the reader into evaluating implied or suggested meanings.
Third Person Limited Narrative
A narrative in which the narrator focuses on the actions and thoughts of one or more of the characters. There will be no first person pronoun "I" to refer to the narrator. Instead, look for third person pronouns like "he" or "she" or proper names.
Third Person Objective Narrative
A narrative in which the narrator will act as an impartial observer, providing very little comment on the events of the story or behavior of the characters.
Third Person Omniscient Narrative
A narrative in which the writer uses an all seeing or all knowing narrator who is aware of all of the private thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of each character.
The emotional approach or attitude that the writer chooses to use to color the work. The tone of a piece may be one of bitterness, sorrow, anger, irony, joy, etc.
Turning Point
The point in a story at which things change irrevocably for the characters.

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