95 terms

Literary Terms: A Quick Review

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Ad Misericordiam
An appeal to the audience's sympathy, an attempt to persuade another, using a hard-luck story rather than logic or reason.
Alliteration
The repetition of accented consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to each other.
Allusion
A reference in literature or in art to previous literature, mythology, pop culture/current events, or the Bible.
Ambiguity
Quality of being intentionally unclear. Events or situations that are ambiguous can be interpreted in more than one way.
Anachronism
An element in a story that is out of its time frame; sometimes used to create a humorous or jarring effect.
Analogy
Clarifies or explains an unfamiliar concept or object, or one that cannot be put into words, by comparing it with one which is familiar.
Analysis
The process of examining the components of a literary work
Anapest
The poetic foot (measure) that follows the pattern unaccented, unaccented, accented. The poet it usually trying to convey a rollicking, moving rhythm with this pattern.
Anecdote
A short and often personal story used to emphasize a point, to develop a character or a theme, or to inject humor.
Antagonist
A character who functions as a resisting force to the goals of the protagonist.
Antecedent
The word or phrase to which a pronoun refers. It often precedes a pronoun in prose (but not necessarily in poetry).
Anticlimax
An often disappointing, sudden end to an intense situation.
Antihero
A protagonist who carries the action of the literary piece but does not embody the classic characteristics of courage, strength, and nobility.
Antithesis:
A concept that is directly opposed tia previously presented idea.
Aphorism
A terse statement that expresses a general truth or moral principle, sometimes considered a folk proverb.
Apostrophe
A rhetorical figure of direct address to a person, object, or abstract entity.
Apotheosis
Elevating someone to the level of a god.
Archetype
A character, situation, or symbol that is familiar to people from all cultures because it occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore.
Aside
A short speech or remark made by an actor to the audience rather than to the other characters, who do not hear him or her.
Assonance
The repeated use of a vowel sound.
Attitude
The author's feelings toward the topic he or she is writing about. Often used interchangeably with tone.
Aubade
A poem or song about lovers who must leave one another in the early hours of the morning.
Ballad
A folk song or poem passed down orally that tells a story which may be derived from an actual incident or from legend or folklore.
Blank Verse
Unrhymed poem of iambic pentameter (five feet of two syllables each - unstressed and stressed).
Cacophony
Harsh, discordant sounds, unpleasant to the ear.
Carpe Diem
Latin for "seize the day." Expresses the idea that you only go around once; refers to the modern saying that "life is not a dress rehearsal."
Catharsis
Refers to an emotional cleansing or feeling of relief.
Chiasmus
The opposite of parallel construction; inverting the second of two phrases that would otherwise be in parallel form.
Colloquial
Of or relating to slang or regional dialect, used in familiar everyday conversation. In writing, an informal style that reflects the way people spoke in a distinct time and/or place.
comic relief
Humor that provides a release of tension and breaks up a more serious episode
Connotation
Associations a word calls to mind
Consonance
Same consonant sound in words with different vowel sounds.
Conventional Character
A character with traits that are expected or traditional.
Couplet
Two successive rhyming lines of the same number of syllables, with matching cadence.
Dactyl
Foot of poetry with three syllables, one stressed and two short or unstressed. Waltz rhythm.
Denotation
The dictionary or literal meaning of a word or phrase.
Denouement
The outcome or clarification at the end of a story or play; the winding down from climax to ending
Deus ex machine
Literally, when the gods intervene at a story's end to resolve a seemingly impossible conflict. Refers to an unlikely or improbable coincidence; a cop-out ending.
Diction
The deliberate choice of a style of language for a desired effect or tone.
Didactic
A didactic story, speech, essay or play is one in which the author's primary purpose is to instruct, teach or moralize.
Distortion
An exaggeration or stretching of the truth to achieve a desired effect.
Enjambment
In poetry, the running over of a sentence from one verse or stanza into the next without stopping at the end of the first.
Epigram
A short, clever poem with a witty turn of thought.
Epigraph
A brief quotation found at the beginning of a literary work.
Epiphany
Eureka! A sudden flash of insight. A startling discovery and/or appearance; a dramatic realization.
Epistolary novel
A novel in letter form written by one or more of the characters. The novelist can use this technique to present varying first-person points of view and does not need a narrator.
Essay
A short composition on a single topic expressing the view or interpretation of the writer on that topic.
Euphemism
Substitution of an inoffensive word or phrase for another that would be harsh, offensive, or embarrassing. A euphemism makes something sound better than it is but is usually more wordy than the original.
Euphony
The quality of a pleasant or harmonious sound of a word or group of words as an intended effect. Often achieved through long bowels and some consonants, such as "sh."
Farce
A kind of comedy that depends on exaggerated or improbable situations, physical disasters, and sexual innuendo to amuse the audience. Many situation comedies on television today might be called farces.
Figurative language
Unlike literal expression, figurative language uses figures of speech such as metaphor; simile, metonymy, personification, and hyperbole. Figurative language appeals to one's senses. Most poetry contains figurative language.
First person
A character in the story tells the story, using the pronoun I.
Flashback
Interruption of a narrative by the introduction of an earlier event or by an image of a past experience.
Flat character
A simple, one-dimensional character who remains the same, and about whom little or nothing is revealed throughout the course of the work. Flat characters may serve as symbols of types of people, similar to stereotypical characters.
Foil
A character whose contrasting personal characteristics draw attention to, enhance, or contrast with those of the main character.
Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing hints at what is to come.
Free verse
Poetry that does not have regular rhythm or rhyme.
Genre
The category into which a piece of writing can be classified - poetry, prose, drama.
Heroic couplet
In poetry, a rhymed couplet written in iambic pentameter (five feet, each with one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable).
Hubris
Insolence, arrogance, or pride. In Greek tragedy, the protagonist's hubris is usually the tragic flaw that leads to his or her downfall.
Hyperbole
An extreme exaggeration for literary effect that is not meant to be interpreted literally.
Iambic pentameter
A five-foot line made up of an unaccented followed by an accented syllable. It is the most common metric foot in English-language poetry.
Imagery
Anything that affects or appeals to the reader's senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell.
In medias res
In literature, a work that begins in the middle of the story.
Interior monologue
A literary technique used in poetry and prose that reveals a character's unspoken thoughts and feelings.
Internal rhyme
A rhyme that is within the line, rather than at the end. The rhyme may also be within two lines, but again, each rhyming word will be within its line, rather than at the beginning or end.
Inversion
A switch in the normal word order, often used for emphasis or for rhyme scheme.
Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet
Fourteen-line poem divided into two parts; the first is eight lines (abbaabba) and the second is six (cdcdcd or decade).
Litotes
Affirmation of an idea by using a negative understatement. The opposite of hyperbole.
Lyric poem
A fairly short emotionally expressive poem that expresses the feelings and observations of a single speaker.
Metamorphosis
A radical change in a character, either physical or emotional.
Metaphor
A figure of speech which compares two dissimilar things, asserting that one thing is another thing, not just that one is like another.
Meter
The rhythmical pattern of a poem.
Metonymy
A figure of speech that replaces the name of something with a word or phrase closely associated with it.
Myth
A story, usually with supernatural significance, that explains the origin of gods, heroes, or natural phenomena.
Narrative poem
A poem that tells a story.
Near, off, or slant rhyme
A rhyme based on an imperfect or incomplete correspondence of end syllable sounds.
Parable
A short story illustrating a moral or religious lesson
Parody
A comical imitation of a serious piece with the intent of ridiculing the author or his work.
Pastoral
A poem, play, or story that celebrates and idealizes the simple life of shepherds and shepherdesses.
Periodic sentence
A sentence that delivers its point at the end; usually constructed as a subordinate clause followed by a main clause.
Quatrain
Four-line stanza
Refrain
Repetition of aline, stanza, or phrase.
Satire
The use of humor to ridicule and expose the shortcomings and fallings of society, individuals, and institutions, often in the hope that change and reform are possible.
Sestet
A six-line stanza of poetry; also, the last six lines of a sonnet.
Shift
In writing, a movement from one thought or idea to another; a change.
Soliloquy
A character's speech to the audience, in which emotions and ideas are revealed. A monologue is a soliloquy only if the character is alone on the stage.
Sonnet, English or Shakespearean
Traditionally, a fourteen-line love poem in iambic pentameter, but in contemporary poetry, themes and forms vary.
Stock character
A stereotypical character; a type. The audience expects the character to have certain characteristics.
Stream of consciousness
A form of writing which replicates the way the human mind works. Ideas are presented in random order; thoughts are often unfinished.
Synecdoche
A figure of speech where one part represents the entire object, or vice versa. ex: all HANDS on deck, lend me your EARS.
Syntax
The way in which words, phrases, and sentences are ordered and connected.
Tongue in cheek
Expressing a thought in a way that appears to be sincere, but is actually joking.
Tragic flaw
Traditionally, a defect in a hero or heroine that leads to his or her downfall.
Transition/segue
This means to get from one portion of a poem or story to another; for instance, to another setting, to another character's viewpoint, to a later or earlier time period.