Literary Terms





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Literary Terms for Quiz #1


  • Plot: The structure used in a literary work; what happens in a story.

  • Character: An individual being in a story that helps move the story along.

  • Setting: The time and place in which a particular literary work establishes for the story to take place. The time and place may be somewhat vague or very specific.

  • Fable: A brief, often humorous narrative told to illustrate a moral. The characters are traditionally animals.

  • Parable: A brief, usually allegorical narrative that teaches a moral.

  • Tale: A short narrative without a complex plot.

  • Tall Tale: A humorous short narrative that provides a wildly exaggerated version of events.

  • Fairy Tale: A traditional form of short narrative folklore that features characters such as witches, giants, fairies, or animals with human personality traits.

  • Short Story: A prose narrative too short to be published in a separate volume.

  • Exposition: First stage of traditional plot structure; the opening portion of a narrative or drama where the scene is set, the protagonist is introduced, and the author discloses other background information.

  • Protagonist: The principal character in a story -- the character trying to resolve a problem or reach a goal. The protagonist may be very moral, may be immoral, or may be amoral.

  • Antagonist: "A character or force against which another character struggles" (DiYanni G-1). The character that opposes the protagonist.

  • Narrator: The speaker who tells the story. The narrator is not the author, but a voice that the author uses to relay the story.

  • Reliability: The trustworthiness of the voice telling the story. Are there ulterior motives that impact on the voice's perspective? Does the voice telling the story particularly like or dislike certain characters? How much can the reader depend upon the voice to be factual?

  • Omniscient Narrator: A narrator who claims to have full knowledge and understanding of all characters in the story. Attempting to appear god-like, the omniscient narrator unrealistically assumes full insight into the actions and motives of all characters.

  • Limited Omniscient Narrator: A narrator who has intimate knowledge about what the characters are thinking and feeling. The limited omniscient narrator does not claim full knowledge, but the narrator does have more knowledge about the characters than anyone else can claim.

  • Verisimilitude: "Likeness to the truth, and therefore the appearance of being true or real even when fantastic" (Cuddon 963).

Literary Terms for Quiz #2


  • Symbolism: A person, place, or thing in a narrative that suggests meaning beyond its literal sense.

  • Universal Theme: A recurring symbol, character, landscape, or event found in myth and literature across different cultures and eras.

  • Metaphor: A Statement that one thing is something else, which, in the literal sense, it is not.

  • Simile: A comparison of two things, indicated by some connective, usually like or as.

  • Analogy: Drawing a comparison between things to make one of them clearer and more recognizable.

  • Allusion: A brief reference in a text to a person, place, or thing, - fictitious or actual.

  • Characterization: The techniques a writer uses to create, reveal, or develop characters in a narrative.

  • Flat Character: A character with only one outstanding trait. The character helps to move the story along.

  • Round Character: We see nuances of his personality, even if we are not clear on why he thinks the way he does.

  • Stock Character: A common or stereotypical character that occurs frequently in literature.

Literary Terms for Quiz #3


  • Style: The way a writer chooses words and arranges them.

  • Colloquialism: The casual or informal language of ordinary native speakers. Slang; conversational speech.

  • Dialect: A particular variety of language spoken by an identifiable region or social class of persons.

  • Double-speak (doubl-voice): Often a euphemism. Used by feminist authors to introduce a controversial topic without alienating the general public.

  • Denotation: Dictionary or univeral meaning of a word.

  • Connotation: Usage or interpretation of a word in one particular instance.

  • Ambiguity: When something appears to have more than one plausible meaning or interpretation.

  • Vagueness: When not enough information is provided to establish meaning.

  • Hero: Once-used reference to a character with wholly-positive qualities.

  • Anti-hero: A protagonist who experiences conflict but who is not necessarily considered a positive individual.

  • Static character: A character who does not have the ability to change his/her beliefs or behaviors.

  • Dynamic character: A character who, because of experiences and/or events, has the ability to change his/her beliefs or behaviors, though he/she does not have to change.

  • Stereotype: Recognizable, familiar, time-tested characters used to move the story along.

  • Atmosphere: The dominant mood or feeling that that pervades all or a part of a particular literary work.

Literary Terms for Quiz #4


  • Irony: A literary device in which a discrepancy of meaning is masked between the face of the language - when the writer writes one thing but means something else.

  • Dramatic irony: Contrast between what a character believes to be true and what the audience or reader knows to be true.

  • Verbal irony: Contrast between what the speaker says and what he/she intended to say (i.e., sarcasm); contrast between what a speaker says and what the listener expected him/her to say.

  • Situational irony: Contrast between what an individual does and what he/she intended to do; contrast between what an individual does and what a witness expected him/her to do.

  • Cosmic irony: Contrast between what a character hopes or wishes for and what fate causes or allows to happen.

  • Catharsis: The purging of feelings that occur in the audience of a tragic drama.

  • Introduction of the complication: Establishes potential for conflict.

  • Rising action: Second stage of plot; characters engage in conflicts; antognism is heightened.

  • Climax: Third stage of plot; the turning point of the action in the play or story; point of greatest tension in the work.

  • Falling action: Fourth stage of plot; immediate consequences of crisis.

  • Resolution: Fifth stage of plot; unraveling of tensions; most questions are answered; characters left to deal with consequences of conflicts.

  • Conflict: Struggle between or among catharacters or entities; how characters deal with conflict helps reader interpret or reconcile characters.

  • Flashback: Representation of past event as if it is happening in real time.

  • Foreshadowing: References to things such as symbols that will have significance later in the plot.

Literary Terms for Quiz #5


  • Rhyme scheme: The pattern of end-rhymes in a poem.

  • Line: Words of a poem that stretch to the right margin of the paper.

  • Stanza: A "paragraph" in poetry, identified by skipped lines.

  • Meter: The patter of beats within a line of poetry.

  • Scansion: the analysis of a poem's meter.

  • Unstressed beat: syllables in a word that are not accented.

  • Stressed beat: The syllable in a word that is accented.

  • Foot: Grouping of syllables or beats which together make a line of poetry.

  • Iamb: A foot that includes an unstressed and a stressed syllable in that order.

  • Iambic pentameter: Popular meter used by Shakespeare; line of poetry containing 10 total syllables,
    5 iambs (-') of two syllables each.

  • Anapest: Poetic foot comprising three syllables with metter syllable (--'), two unstressed syllables or beats followed by one stressed beat.

  • Dactyl: Poetic foot comprising of three syllables with meter ('--), one stressed beat followed by two unstressed beats.

  • Trochee: Poetic foot comprising two syllables with meter ('-), one stressed beat followed by one unstressed beat.

  • Spondee: Poetic foot comprising of two syllables with meter (''), two stressed beats.

Literary Terms for Quiz #6


  • English Sonnet: Popular 14-line poetic form made famous by William Shakespeare with the following rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg).

  • Italian Sonnet: Popular 14-line poetic form made famous by Petrarch with the following rhyme scheme (abba abba cdcd dcd).

  • Perfect Rhyme: When two words have identical sounds (i.e. "heart" and "smart") at the end of the word.

  • Near Rhyme: When two words have similar sounds (i.e. "believe" and "relive") at the end of the word.

  • Sight Rhyme: When two words look like they should rhyme but they don't (i.e. "good" and "food").

  • Motif: An element that recurs significantly throughout a piece. It can be an image, idea, theme, situation, or action.

  • Refrain: Words or lines that are repeated in poetry.

  • End-stopped: When the wends of poetic lines signify the ends of complete thoughts generally through punctuation.

  • Enjambment: When complete thoughts run from one line of poetry into the next.

  • Tercet: A group of three lines of verse, usually all ending in teh same rhyme pattern.

  • Quatrain: A stanza consisting of four lines. This stanza is the most common stanza in English-language poetry.

  • Sestet: A stanza of six lines. This term is usually used when speaking of sonnets.

  • Octave: A stanza of eight lines. This term is usually used to describe the first eight lines of a sonnet.

  • Couplet: A two-line stanza of poetry, usually rhymed, which tends to have lines of equal length.

Literary Terms for Quiz #7


  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration to the point of ridiculous.

  • Oxymoron: Using two terms together that have opposing or conflicting meanings.

  • Personification: Attributing lifelike qualities to something not human.

  • Onomatopoeia: Words which signify sounds they represent (i.e. "bark").

  • Alliteration: When a series of words begin with a similar sound.

  • Pun: A play on words.

  • Assonance: When a series of words contain similar vowel sounds imbedded in them.

  • Consonance: When a series of words contain similar consonant sounds imbedded in them.

  • Blank verse: The most common and well-known meter of unrhymed poetry in English; written in iambic pentameter but not rhymed.

  • Caesura: A pause within a line of verse, usually occurring at a mark of punctuation.

Literary Terms for Quiz #8


  • Greek tragedy: A form of drama that depicts suffering of a heroic individual who is overcome by the obstacle he or she is trying to remove; most often based on characters drawn from myth.

  • Double plot: Also referred to as subplot. A second story in the plotline that is complete and interesting in its own right.

  • Unities: the three formal qualities recommended by Italian Renaissance literary critics to unify a plot: action, time, and place.

  • Soliloquy: In drama, a speech by a character alone on stage in which he or she utters his or her thoughts aloud. It gives the audience insight into the character's inner motivations and uncertainties.

  • Aside: In drama, a few words or short passage spoken in an undertone to the audience. By convention, other characters on stage are deaf to what is said.

  • Dues ex machine: The phrase refers to the Greek playwrights' frequent use of a god, mechanically lowered to the stage, to resolve human conflict. Now refers to any forced or improbable device in plot resolution.

  • Tragic flaw: A fatal weakness or moral flaw in the protagonist that brings him or her to a bad end.

  • Hubris: Overwhelming pride, or insolence, that leads to ruin. It is considered the opposite of moderation in Ancient Greek vocabulary.

  • Catastrophe: The "turning downward" of the plot in a classical tragedy. By tradition, it occurs in the fourth act after the climax.

Literary Terms that May Appear on Final


  • antagonist

  • plot

  • hubris

  • simile

  • static

  • dynamic

  • verisimilitude

  • catharsis

  • hyperbole

  • protagonist

  • denotation

  • connotation

  • metaphor

  • irony

  • ambiguity

  • rhyme scheme

  • motif

  • oxymoron

  • foreshadowing

  • personification



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