Helpful literary terms for students taking the New York State English Regents.
the sequence or order of events in a story
The introductory material which gives the setting, creates the tone, presents the characters, and presents other facts necessary to understanding the story.
The use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in the story. It builds suspense by raising questions that encourage the reader to go on and find out more about the event that is being foreshadowed. Foreshadowing is also a means of making a narrative more believable by partially preparing the reader for events which are to follow.
the struggle between two opposing forces; a problem
Rounds out and concludes the action.
Almost always round or three-dimensional characters. They have good and bad qualities. Their goals, ambitions and values change.
a character who changes as result of the action
The main character in the story
The character or force that opposes the protagonist.
A character who provides a contrast to the protagonist.
Almost always flat or two-dimensional characters. They have only one or two striking qualities. Their predominant quality is not balanced by an opposite quality. They are usually all good or all bad. Such characters can be interesting or amusing in their own right, but they lack depth.
A character who does not change as a result of the action.`
First-person point of view
The narrator is a character in the story who can reveal only personal thoughts and feelings and what he or she sees and is told by other characters. He can't tell us thoughts of other characters. Uses the pronoun "I."
Third-person objective point of view
The narrator is an outsider who can report only what he or she sees and hears. This narrator can tell us what is happening, but he can't tell us the thoughts of the characters.
Third-person limited point of view
The narrator is an outsider who sees into the mind of one of the characters.
Third-person Omniscient point of view
The narrator is an all-knowing outsider who can enter the minds of more than one of the characters.
The contrast between what is expected or what appears to be and what actually is.
The contrast between what is said and what is actually meant.
Irony of Situation
This refers to a happening that is the opposite of what is expected or intended.
This occurs when the audience or reader knows more than the characters know.
The author's attitude, stated or implied, toward a subject. Some possible attitudes are pessimism, optimism, earnestness, seriousness, bitterness, humorous, and joyful. An author's tone can be revealed through choice of words and details.
The climate of feeling in a literary work. The choice of setting, objects, details, images, and words all contribute towards creating a specific mood. For example, an author may create a mood of mystery around a character or setting but may treat that character or setting in an ironic, serious, or humorous tone
A person, place or object which has a meaning in itself but suggests other meanings as well. Things, characters and actions can be symbols. Anything that suggests a meaning beyond the obvious. Some symbols are conventional, generally meaning the same thing to all readers.
The main idea or underlying meaning of a literary work. It may be stated or implied. It is not the same as a subject or topic of a literary work in that it involves a statement or opinion about the topic.
Any language that appeals to at least one of the five senses. Descriptions of people or objects stated in terms to appeal to our senses.
Whenever you describe something by comparing it with something else, you are using figurative language. Any language that goes beyond the literal meaning of words in order to furnish new effects or fresh insights into an idea or a subject. The most common figures of speech are simile, metaphor, and alliteration.
A comparison between two unlike things that uses "like" or "as."
A comparison between two unlike things that does NOT uses "like" or "as."
Repeated consonant sounds occurring at the beginning of words or within words. It is used to create melody, establish mood, call attention to important words, and point out similarities and contrasts. Example: wide-eyed and wondering while we wait for others to waken.
A figure of speech which gives the qualities of a person to an animal, an object, or an idea. It is a comparison which the author uses to show something in an entirely new light, to communicate a certain feeling or attitude towards it and to control the way a reader perceives it. Example: a brave handsome brute fell with a creaking rending cry--the author is giving a tree human qualities.
The use of words that mimic sounds. They appeal to our sense of hearing and they help bring a description to life. A string of syllables the author has made up to represent the way a sound really sounds. Example: Crackle!
An exaggerated statement used to heighten effect. It is not used to mislead the reader, but to emphasize a point. Example: She's said so on several million occasions.
touch imagery (how something feels)
smell imagery (how something smells)
sight imagery (what something looks like)
sound imagery (what something sounds like)
taste imagery (how something tastes)
Free Verse Poem
A form of Poetry composed of either rhymed or unrhymed lines that have no set fixed metrical pattern. The early 20th-century poets were the first to write this way, which allowed them to break from the formula and rigidity of traditional poetry. The poetry of Walt Whitman provides many illustrations of Free Verse including his poem "Song of Myself".
A poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line.
One who tells a story, the speaker or the "voice" of an oral or written work. Although it can be, the narrator is not usually the same person as the author. The narrator is one of three types of characters in a given work, (1) participant (protagonist or participant in any action that may take place in the story), (2) observer (someone who is indirectly involved in the action of a story), or (3) non participant (one who is not at all involved in any action of the story)
A collection of events that tells a story, which may be true or not, placed in a particular order and recounted through either telling or writing.
A poem that tells a story.
A song-like poem written mainly to express the feelings of emotions or thought from a particular person, thus separating it from narrative poems. These poems are generally short, averaging roughly twelve to thirty lines, and rarely go beyond sixty lines. These poems express vivid imagination as well as emotion and all flow fairly concisely. Because of this aspect, as well as their steady rhythm, they were often used in song.
When a word is arranged in time order.
A recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of literature. A motif may also be two contrasting elements in a work, such as good and evil. In the Book of Genesis, we see the motif of separation again and again throughout the story.
How the story or poem is arranged: chronological order; flashbacks; ending first then the beginning; story with-in a story
A figure of speech which substitutes one term with another that is being associated with the that term. A name transfer takes place to demonstrate an association of a whole to a part or how two things are associated in some way. This allows a reader to recognize similarities or common features among terms. It may provide a more common meaning to a word. However, it may be a parallel shift that provides basically the same meaning; it is just said another way. Ex. "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me your ears" (ears stands in for listening in general)
"An interruption of the chronological sequence (as of a film or literary work) of an event of earlier occurrence" (Merriam, 288). A flashback is a narrative technique that allows a writer to present past events during current events, in order to provide background for the current narration. By giving material that occurred prior to the present event, the writer provides the reader with insight into a character's motivation and or background to a conflict. This is done by various methods, narration, dream sequences, and memories.
A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and was able to reply. Ex. "Stars, hide thy fires..."
A reference in a literary work to a person, place, or thing in history or another work of literature. They are often indirect or brief references to well-known characters or events.
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