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Literary Devices & Terminology. A’s. Acatalectic A verse having the metrically complete number of syllables in the final foot. Accent The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others.

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  • AcatalecticA verse having the metrically complete number of syllables in the final foot.
  • AccentThe rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others.
  • Accentual VerseVerse in which the metrical system is based on the count or patter of accented syllables, which establish the rhythm.
  • Acrostic PoemA 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.
  • ActA 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.
  • AdonicA verse consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee or tronchee.
  • AdynatonA 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."
Aestheticism(1870-c.1900) An awareness of aestheticism in British artistic and literary society in the late 19th century. Led by figures like James Whister (1834-1903) 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.
  • AfflatusA creative inspiration, as that of a poet; a divine imparting of knowledge, thus it is often called divine afflatus.
  • Alcaic VerseA 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 feet.
  • AllegoryWestern 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)
  • Examples:
  • John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress (1678)
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy
  • William Langeland, Piers Plowman
  • Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1590-1596)
AlliterationAlso 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.
  • Examples:
  • "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 VersePoetry 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 one.
  • AllusionAn indirect reference in a text which activates a second text, the relationship between the two enriching the interpretation of the alluding text.
  • Examples:
  • "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
AmbiguityA potential for more than one meaning of a word, phrase, action, or situation. Ambiguity is usually resolved by context.
  • AmphibrachA metrical foot consisting of a long or accented syllable between two short or unaccented syllables, as condition or infected.
  • AmphigouriA verse composition which, while apparently coherent, contains no sense or meaning.
  • AnachronismThe placement of an event, person, or thing out of its proper chronological relationship, sometimes unintentional, but often deliberate as an exercise of poetic license.
  • Examples:
  • William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
  • AnadiplosisA 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 Sidney
AnalogyThe 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.
  • Examples:
  • "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
  • AnaphoraThe repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences, commonly in conjunction with climax and with parallelism:
  • "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
  • AntagonistAny 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.
Anti-heroThe 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).
  • Anti-literatureCoined by the British poet David Gascoyne (1916- ) to describe writing which reverses and transgresses the conventions of traditional literary forms.
  • Anti-novelA 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.
  • Examples:
  • Laurence Sterne, Tristam Shandy
  • AntimetaboleReversal 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.
AntithesisEstablishing 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 ideas:
  • "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
  • ApologueA 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.
  • Examples:
  • 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.
ApostropheA figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something non-human is addressed as if alive and present and could reply.
  • Examples:
  • "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
  • ArchetypeThe 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 (1893-1984).
  • 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 deautomatization.
  • AsideA 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.
AssonanceThe use of similar vowel sounds repeated in successive or proximate words containing different consonant.
  • Asyndeton 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.
  • Examples:
  • "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
  • AubadeA poem about dawn, a morning love song, or a poem about the parting of lovers at dawn.
  • Author, Death ofProclaimed 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 reading.
Autobiographical novelA 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 TextA 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.
  • Ballad A fairly short narrative poem written in a song-like stanza form.
  • BathosEstablished 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 anticlimax.
  • Bildungsroman(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 opportunities.
  • Examples:
  • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
  • Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
  • BiographyThe 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 VerseUnrhymed iambic pentameter.
  • BricolageTerm 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 styles.
  • Examples:
  • T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
  • BurlesqueA 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.
  • Caesura A pause, metrical or rhetorical, occurring somewhere in a line of poetry. The pause may or may not be typographically indicated.
  • CanonFrom 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.
  • CarnivalizationTheory 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".
  • Examples:
  • F. Rabelais, Gargantua and PantagruelL. Sterne, Tristram ShandyW.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 inventory. 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.
  • CharacterThe 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.
  • ChiasmusA 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."
  • Examples:
  • "Polished in courts and hardened in the field, Renowned for conquest, and in council skilled." -- Joseph Addison
Children's novelA 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.
  • Examples:
  • Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
  • L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
  • ChorusA 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 novelA 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.
  • Examples:
  • 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 mythologyA 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, ClassicalA 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.
  • ClimaxThe 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 public.
  • ColloquialCasual conversation, informal, or regional writing, often includes slang expressions.
  • ComedyA type of drama, opposed to tragedy, usually having a happy ending, and emphasizing human limitation rather than human greatness.
  • Comic reliefA 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 storyA 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
  • Example:
  • Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
  • ConceitAn 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."
  • ConclusionThe 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 PoetryA 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.
ConflictA 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.
  • ConnotationImplied, 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.
  • ConsonanceThe repetition at close intervals of the final consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words. ConventionA 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.
  • CoupletTwo successive lines, usually in the same meter, linked by rhyme. A heroic couplet is a couplet written in rhymed iambic pentameter.
  • DactylIn poetry, a metrical pattern consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.
  • Examples:
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
  • DenotationLiteral or dictionary meanings of words.
  • Denouement (French--"the untying of the knot") That portion of a plot that reveals the final outcome of its conflicts or the solution of its mysteries.
  • Detective novelA novel focusing on the solving of a crime, often by a brilliant detective, and usually employing the elements of mystery and suspense.
  • Examples:
  • 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).
  • DiacopeRepetition of a word or phrase after an intervening word or phrase.
  • Dialect.A variety of language spoken by a social group or spoken in a certain locality.
  • DialogueThe conversation among characters, which can show how they interact and suggest why they act as they do.
  • DictionAn 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 carefully.
  • Didactic LiteratureLiterature designed explicitly to instruct.
  • Drama(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 MonologueIn 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.
Dramatization. The presentation of character or of emotion through the speech or action of characters rather than through exposition, analysis, or description by the author.
  • Dystopian novelAn anti-utopian novel where, instead of a paradise, everything has gone wrong in the attempt to create a perfect society. See utopian novel.
  • Examples:
  • George Orwell, 1984
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • ElegyA lyric poem lamenting death.
  • End-stopped 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
  • EnjambedThe 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
  • EnumeratioThe detailing of parts, causes, effects, or consequences to make a point more forcibly.
  • 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.
EpanalepsisRepeating 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.
  • EpicA 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.
  • EpigramA brief, pointed, and witty poem that usually makes a satiric or humorous point, oftentimes written in couplets.
  • EpigraphA brief quotation which appears at the beginning of a literary work.
  • EpiphanySome moment of insight, discovery, or revelation by which a character's life of view of life is greatly altered.
  • Epistolary novelA 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.
  • Examples:
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela
  • Samuel Richardson, Clarissa
  • Fanny Burney, Evelina
  • C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
  • Hannah W. Foster, The Coquette
EpistropheThe 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
  • EpithetAn 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
  • EpizeuxisThe repetition of a word (for emphasis).
  • EponymSubstitutes 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-and-attribute relationship needs to be well established.
EuphemismThe 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.
  • EuphonyA smooth, pleasant-sounding choice and arrangement of sounds.
  • EuphuismA highly ornate style of writing popularized by John Lyly's Euphues, characterized by balanced sentence construction, rhetorical tropes, and multiplied similes and allusions.
  • Existentialist novelA novel written from an existentialist viewpoint, often pointing out the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence.
  • Example:
  • Albert Camus, The Stranger
ExpletiveA 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 Johnson
  • ExpositionIn 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 plot.
  • FableA brief tale designed to illustrate a moral lesson. Often the characters are animals as in the fables of Aesop.
  • Falling ActionThe falling action is the series of events which take place after the climax.
  • Fantasy novelAny 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 characters.
  • Example:
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • FarceA type of drama related to comedy but emphasizing improbable situations, violent conflicts, physical action, and coarse wit over characterization or articulated plot.
  • Figurative languageHyperbole, 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 formAny form of poem in which the length and pattern are prescribed by previous usage or tradition, such as sonnet, limerick, villanelle, sestina, etc.
  • FlashbackA 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.
  • FoilA character in a play who sets off the main character or other characters by comparison.
  • FootThe 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
ForeshadowingIn drama, a method used to build suspense by providing hints of what is to come.
  • FrameA 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.
  • Examples:
  • Mary ShelleyFrankenstein
  • Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter
  • Free verseVerse that has neither regular rhyme nor regular meter. Free verse often uses cadences rather than uniform metrical feet.
  • GenreA literary type or form. Drama is a genre of literature. Within drama, genre include tragedy, comedy and other forms.
  • Gothic novelA novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of unknown terror pervades the action.
  • Examples:
  • Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
  • William Beckford, Vathek
  • Anne Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
  • HaikuShort poem of Japanese origins, frequently 17 syllables in length.
  • Hamartia(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 CoupletTwo 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.
  • Example: u / u / u / u / u / 'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill u / u / u / u / u / 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.]
  • HeteroglossiaA term referring to the many voices in a work.
  • Historical novelA 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 SatireIn 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.
  • Hubris(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.
  • HumanismThe 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).
HumoursIn 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.
  • HyperbatonAny 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.
  • HyperboleExaggeration 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 novelA 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 novel.
  • Examples:
  • Michael Joyce, Afternoon
  • Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden
  • IambA metrical pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.
  • ImageThe 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 authorThe "author" that is inferred from or implied by the text, as distinct from the real person/author.
  • In Medias ResThe 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 FallacyThe judging of the meaning of success or a work of art by the author's expressed or ostensible intention in producing it.
  • Interactive novelA 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.
  • IntertextualityThe system of references in one text to other text through quotations, allusions, parodies, or thematic references.
  • InvectiveSpeech 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.
  • Example:
  • "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
  • IronyA 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 SatireHarsher, 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.
  • KenningA compound word or phrase similar to an epithet, but which involves a multi-noun replacement for a single noun, such as wave traveller for boat or whale-path for ocean, used especially in Old English, Old Norse and early Teutonic poetry. A type of periphrasis, some kennings are instances of metonymy or synecdoche.
  • King's EnglishThe standard, pure or correct English speech or usage, also called Queen's English.
  • Kunstlerroman(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.
  • LaiA 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 two-syllabled 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 Poets."
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • William Wordsworth
  • LampoonA 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.
LayOriginally 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 VerseNamed 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 VerseA 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 riddles.
  • LimerickA 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 qualityA 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 ColorA detailed setting forth of the characteristics of a particular locality, enabling the reader to "see" the setting.
  • Lyric PoemA short poem wherein the poet expresses an emotion or illuminates some life principle.
  • MelodramaA 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 evil.
  • MetaphorA 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 PoetryThe 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.
  • MeterThe 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.
  • MetonymyAnother 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.
  • Examples:
  • Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
  • Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock
  • ModernismUsually 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.
MoodThe 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.
  • MoralA rule of conduct or maxim for living expressed or implied as the "point" of a literary work.
  • MotivationThe 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 novelA 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.
  • Examples:
  • 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 novelA 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.
MythologyIn 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 phenomena.
  • MythosA 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 PoemA poem which tells a story. Usually a long poem, sometimes even book length, the narrative may take the form of a plotless dialogue
  • NarratorThe person telling the story. In poetry, the narrator is known as the speaker. Both narrator and speaker can be referred to as the persona.
  • Nonrealistic dramaDrama that, in content, presentation, or both, departs markedly from fidelity to the outward appearances of life.
  • NovelAn 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.
NovellaA 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 mannersA 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
  • OdeA poem in praise of something divine or expressing some noble idea.
  • OnomatopoeiaA literary device wherein the sound of a word echoes the sound it represents. The words "splash." "knock," and "roar" are examples.
  • Oxymoron 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.
  • Examples:
  • "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
  • ParableA brief story, told or written in order to teach a moral lesson.
  • ParadoxA seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.
  • Parallel StructureA repetition of sentences using the same structure.
  • ParodyA 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.
  • PastoralA literary work that has to do with shephards and rustic settings.
  • Examples:
  • Christopher Marlowe, "The Passionate Shephard to His Love"
  • Robert Burns, "Sweet Afton"
  • Pathetic FallacyA 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 motivation.
PersonaThe 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.
  • PersonificationThe 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 ConceitThe 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 novelAn 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
PlotThe 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 outcome.
  • 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 narrator.
  • Protagonist The hero or main character, often opposed by an antagonist.
  • PseudonymA "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.
  • Examples:
  • Samuel Clemens used the name Mark Twain
  • Mary Ann Evans used the name George Eliot
  • Jonathan Swift used the name Lemuel Gulliver (once)
Pulp fictionNovels 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.
  • Examples:
  • Danielle Steele
  • John Le Carre
  • PunA 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 novelA 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
  • ResolutionThe 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.
  • RhymeThe 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 unstressed.
  • Masculine rhyme: similarity between terminally stressed syllables.
  • RhythmRecurrences 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.
RidiculeWords 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 ActionThe 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 play.
  • 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.
  • Examples:
  • Aphra Behn, Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister
  • Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
RomanceAn 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 fiction.
  • Examples:
  • 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.
  • Examples:
  • Harlequin Romance series
  • SagaA story of the exploits of a hero, or the story of a family told through several generations.
  • SarcasmA form of verbal irony, expressing sneering, personal disapproval in the guise of praise.
  • SatireA 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 OnomatonA 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 novelA 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?
  • Examples:
  • H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man; Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
  • Sentimental novelA 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
  • SequelA 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
SeriesSeveral 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
  • SettingThe 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 StoryA 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.
  • SimileA 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.
  • SoliloquyIn drama, a moment when a character is alone and speaks his or her thoughts aloud.
SonnetA 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-D-C-D E-F-E-F G-G. In Shakespeare, the couplet often undercuts the thought created in the rest of the poem.
  • Spenserian StanzaA 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-A-B B-C-B-C C.
  • Example:
  • Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene
  • SpondeeA metrical pattern characterized by two or more successively-placed accented syllables.
  • StanzaA division of a poem: a four-line stanza is called a quatrain; a two-line stanza, a couplet.
StyleThe 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.
  • SubplotA 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.
  • SuspenseSuspense 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.
  • SymbolSomething 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.
  • SymbolismThe use of one thing to represent another thing or idea, as the flag symbolizes patriotism.
SymploceA 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 sentences.
  • SynecdocheA 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).
  • SynesthesiaOne sensory experience described in terms of another sensory experience.
  • ThemeA major and often recurring idea; the larger meaning of a work, including any thoughts or insights about life or people in general.
  • ToneThe 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.
  • TragedyAccording to A. C. Bradley, a tragedy is a type of drama which is pre-eminently the story of one person, the hero.
  • TravestyA work that treats a serious subject frivolously-- ridiculing the dignified. Often the tone is mock serious and heavy handed.
  • TrocheeA metrical pattern in a line of poetry characterized by one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable.
  • UnderstatementExpressing 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 novelA novel that presents an ideal society where the problems of poverty, greed, crime, and so forth have been eliminated.
  • Examples:
  • Thomas More, Utopia
  • Samuel Butler, Erewhon
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward
  • VerisimilitudeThe 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.
  • VersificationGenerally, 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.
  • WesternA 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
x y z
X – Y – Z
  • ZeugmaAny 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
Works Cited
  • Literary Times and Terms, 22 August 2005,
  • NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms