Glossary of Literary Devices

 Allegory – a figurative story in which the principal subject is depicted by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances; a symbolic representation; a narrative in which abstract ideas are personified; a sustained metaphor, e.g., Pilgrim’s Progress, Everyman

Anaphora – the stylistic repetition of the initial words of a sentence for dramatic effect

Antagonist – the character who impedes the progress of the protagonist towards his goal. Note that this is not necessarily a villain.

Anthropomorphism – Ascribing human qualities to animals or non-human beings

Anti-hero – a protagonist who fails to demonstrate the typical heroic qualities (Charlie Brown, for example)

Archetype – the original pattern after which a thing is made; a model or first form

Authorial Intrusion – a device by which the narrator inserts comments regarding the characters and story in a direct address to the reader

Bard – an oral storyteller

Caesura – a dramatic, poetic pause; most notable in Anglo-Saxon verse in which each line divides neatly in two with two stressed syllables on either side of the break

Cacophony – intentional creation of dissonant sound through syntax

Catharsis – an emotional release provided by an artistic or aesthetic experience

Character – one of the people in a story

Characterization – the creative act of describing and developing a fictional character

Chiasmus – a rhetorical device in which clauses or phrases are repeated in reverse order for effect

Climax – the turning point of a story; the highest point of interest; the peak of tension

Close Reading – reading a second time, paying attention to details; careful reading

Comedy – a dramatic composition which portrays light and humorous characters or utilizes satire, typically with a happy ending

Conflict – the problem that drives the plot of a story forward toward its conclusion

Connotation – the implied meaning of an author’s words

Context – text surrounding words that provide significance and communicate meaning; historical and cultural factors surrounding events that give them significance

Criticism – a philosophy that encompasses well-developed viewpoints on the proper way to read, understand, and interpret literature

Dénouement – the disentangling of the intricacies of the plot of a story; also referred to as Falling Action

Dialogue – written conversation between two or more characters

Dramatic Monologue – type of poem in which the poet assumes a persona and delivers a speech (either aloud in soliloquy, or in conversation with an implied listener) the nature of which reveals his ambitions, motives, or personal character

Euphemism –the use of words with positive connotations to disguise a darker meaning

Euphony – the arrangement of words to create harmonious, pleasant sound

Exposition – the introduction of a story, in which the author presents his characters in their setting and places them in an initial conflict that will drive the story forward

Fiction – narrative prose that is not factual. Examples include novel, short story, myth and fable.

Figurative Meaning – meaning that lies beneath the surface; implicit meaning

Figure – a stock character within a story. Examples include the Christ-Figure, the Hero, the Villain, and the Everyman.

Flashback – a device by which an author breaks from a temporal scene to retrospectively fill in narrative details from an earlier event

Foil – a character created to demonstrate the qualities of the hero through comparison and contrast

Foreshadowing – early hints within the text of events that will take place in later in the story

Frame – the external story or context in which the story takes place

Genre – a type of literature, distinguished from other types by form, technique, and subject matter. Genres include fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and poetry.

Hero – a “superman” whose deeds aid the protagonist and resolve the story’s conflict

Inversion – a figure of speech by which the writer inverts words for rhetorical effect

Irony – a mode of speech or writing expressing a literal sense contrary to the meaning intended by the speaker (verbal irony), or a situation contrary to what was expected (circumstantial irony), or a theatrical scene in which the audience knows more about a character’s words or circumstances than the character himself (dramatic irony)

Juxtaposition – placing two things in close proximity for the sake of comparison; similar to the concept of the literary foil

Kennings – compound word metaphors that suggest abstract ideas, abundant in Anglo-Saxon verse, e.g., whale road to signify ocean, ring giver to suggest a king

Literal Meaning – the face value of words or idea

Literary Device – a verbal tool employed by an author to enhance the effect of his story. Examples include imagery, alliteration, metaphor and rhyme

Literary Period – the historical era that was the scene of the development of a particular type of literary expression

Litotes – a sarcastic understatement created by a use of a negative expression to convey a positive comment, e.g., “you won’t go hungry” for “you will feast”

Malapropism – an intentional syntactical misuse of a word for the sake of humor

Metonymy – a figure of speech by which a thing is named by something commonly associated with it, e.g., boiling water for tea is referenced as putting on the kettle

Meter – the rhythmical composition of a poetic line

Mood – the atmosphere or emotional tone of a work of art

Motif – a theme or idea that appears repeatedly throughout a story and characterizes it

Negative Capability – Keats’s idea of the artistic ability to hold two seemingly contradictory truths in tension, not demanding scientific clarity; the ability to live with uncertainty

Non-Fiction – writing that is based in fact. Examples include biographies, news stories, encyclopedia articles, and research papers.

Novel – a long work of fiction

Novella – a short novel or lengthy short story

Paradox – an apparent contradiction

Pathetic Fallacy – the artistic attribution of emotion to inanimate things or animals. This is narrower than personification, as it communicates emotion very specifically.

Persona – Latin for “mask;” the personality assumed by a poet; the voice in which a poet speaks

Personification – a comparison in which human qualities are assigned to inanimate things

Plot – the sequence of events in a story; the simple story line without all of the details

Poem – a verse composition, especially one characterized by economy of linguistic expression, vivid imagery, and intense emotional tone; generally characterized by adherence to rules of structure and form, including rhythm and sometimes rhyme

Point of View – the perspective from which a story is told. Examples include first-person (written from the perspective of the narrator using the first-person pronoun “I”), third-person narrative (written from the perspective of a third party using third-person pronouns like he, she, they, and it), third-person omniscient narrative (written from the perspective of a third-party witness to the story who has a God’s eye view of the events, allowing them to access the internal thought processes of the characters), and third-person limited (written from the perspective of a third party who has a God’s eye perspective of the main character, but a view of the other characters which is limited to what may be observed or overheard).

Prose – writing that is not poetry. Examples include essays, novels, history, scientific treatises, journal articles and literary criticism.

Protagonist – the main character in a story; the character whose goals drive the plot

Pun – a play on words, often resulting in humorous effects

Satire – the use of irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to expose, denounce, or deride a particular vice or folly; a literary composition in verse or prose in which such vices or abuses are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule

Setting – the place and time in which the action of the story occurs

Soliloquy – a monologue delivered by a performer alone onstage, during which he reveals his innermost thoughts to the audience, but not to the other performers

Stock Characters – familiar characters used regularly and interchangeably in a wide variety of stories. Examples include the young lovers, the snake oil salesman, the court jester, and the stiff butler.

Stream of Consciousness – a narrative device by which an author expresses the disordered thoughts running through the mind of a character

Symbolism – the use in literature of a physical object to represent an abstract idea. The object usually carries both a figurative and literal meaning, e.g., a flag represents the ideals of a nation, patriotism, etc.

Synecdoche – a rhetorical device by which a part references a whole, e.g., referring to a car as wheels

Tautology – repetition of something syntactically self-evident; redundancy; in logic, a statement necessarily true due to its form

Theme – the underlying universal idea the author hopes to communicate by his story; the author’s message; the author’s thoughts on his leading subject. Some universal themes include: The Danger of Mob Rule, The Evils of Prejudice, The Pain of Betrayal, The Value of Innocence, Materialism vs. Idealism, The Nature of Pride and Humility, The Folly of Ambition, The Inevitable Triumph of Good Over Evil, The Process of Coming of Age, The Praiseworthiness of Personal Honor, Loyalty, and Survival.

Tragedy – a drama portraying the struggle of a strong-willed protagonist against fate. The downfall of the protagonist usually hinges upon the fatal flaw in his otherwise heroic character.

Voice – the tone of the author; the product of his vocabulary and syntax