All Literary Terms You Need To Know For College
Provided by Lonnie Lee Best

These key terms will help you describe what you have read when writing papers on literature.  This is a list of literary terms that I was required to know in my Composition II class with Professor Linda Byrd at Sam Houston State University in the Fall of 1994.  The Terms are listed in the order in which I learned them.

1. Setting The context in time and place in which the action of a story occurs.

2. Plot The sequence of incidents or events of which a story is composed.

3. Subplot A subordinate plot in a play.

4. Theme The central idea of a literary work.

5. Point of view The angle of vision from which a story is told. The four basic points of view are as follows:

Omniscient point of view The author tells the story, using the third person, knowing all and free to tell us anything, including what the characters are thinking or feeling and why they act as they do.

Limited omniscient point of view The author tells the story, using the third person, but is limited to a complete knowledge of one character in the story and tells us only what that one character thinks, feels, sees, or hears.

First person point of view The story is told by one of its characters, using the first person.

Objective (or Dramatic) point of view The author tells the story, using the third person, but is limited to reporting what the characters say or do; the author does not interpret their behavior or tell us their private thoughts or feelings.

6. Protagonist The central character in a story.

7. Antagonist Any force in a story that is in conflict with the protagonist. An antagonist may be another person, an aspect of the physical or social environment, or a destructive element in the protagonist's own nature.

8. Pun A humorous use of a word to suggest another that sounds the same.

9. Parody A comic imitation of a well-known person or literary work or style.

10. Narrator In drama a character, found in some plays, who, speaking directly to the audience, introduces the action and provides a string of commentary between the dramatic scenes. The narrator may or may not be a major character in the action itself.

11. Style The manner of writing or speaking or doing something (contrasted with the subject matter or the thing done).

12. Exposition Expounding, and explanatory account of a plan or theory.

13. Climax The turning point or high point in a plot.

14. Resolution (Denouement) That portion of a plot that reveals the final outcome of its conflicts or the solution of its mysteries.

15. Denotation The basic definition or dictionary meaning of a word.

16. Connotation What a word suggests beyond its basic definition; a word's overtones of meaning.

17. Personification A figure of speech in which human attributes are given to an animal, an object, or a concept.

18. Allusion A reference, explicit or implicit, to something in previous literature or history. (The term is reserved by some writers for implicit references only; but the distinction between the two kinds of reference is not always clear-cut.)

19. Metaphor A figure of speech in which an implicit comparison is made between two things essentially unlike. It may take one of four forms: (1) that in which the literal term and the figurative term are both named; (2) that in which the literal term is named and the figurative term implied; (3) that in which the literal term is implied and the figurative term named; (4) that in which both the literal and the figurative terms are implied.

20. Simile A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two things essentially unlike. The comparison is made explicit by the use of some such word or phrase as like, as, than, similar to, resembles, or seems.

21. Hyperbole (Overstatement) A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used in the service of truth.

22. Symbol (Symbolism) Some thing that means more than what it is; an object, person, situation, or action that in addition to its literal meaning suggests other meanings as well, a figure of speech which may be read both literally and figuratively.

23. Imagery The representation through language of sense experience.

24. Run-on sentence A line which has no natural speech pause at its end, allowing the sense to flow uninterruptedly into the succeeding line.

25. Sentence fragment An incomplete sentence; lacking the quality of being complete in itself as an expression of thought.

26. Optimistic Showing a tendency to take a hopeful view of things, or to expect that results will be good.

27. Pessimistic Showing a tendency to take a gloomy view of things, or expect that results will be bad.

28. Genre A particular kind or style of art or literature.

29. Thesis statement A statement or theory put forward and supported by arguments.

30. Antithesis Contrast of ideas emphasized by choice of words or by their arrangement.

31. Ambiguity Having two or more possible meanings.

32. prologue An introduction to a poem or play etc; an act or event serving as an introduction to something.

33. Foil A person or thing that contrasts strongly with another and therefore makes the other's qualities more obvious.

34. local color Details characteristic of a place or of the scene in which a novel etc. is set, added to make it seem more real.

35. Synopsis A summary, a brief general survey.

36. Dialogue The words spoken by characters in a play or story.

37. Foreshadow To be a sign or (something that is to come).

38. Conflict A clash of actions, desires, ideas, or goals in the plot of a story or drama. Conflict may exist between the main character and some external forcephysical nature, society, or "fate"; or between the main character and some destructive element in his or her own nature.

39. Round (developing) character Any of the persons involved in a story or play whose distinguishing moral qualities and personal traits are complex and many sided.

40. Static (flat character) A character who is the same sort of person at the end of a story as at the beginning.

41. Prose Non-metrical language; the opposite of verse.

42. Mood The feeling or tone conveyed by a literary work.

43. Satire A kind of literature that ridicules human folly or vice with the purpose of bringing about reform or of keeping others from falling into similar folly or vice.

44. Flashback A changing of the scene in a story to a scene at an earlier time.

45. Diction A person's manner of uttering or pronouncing words.

46. Analogy A partial likeness between two things that are compared.

47. Alliteration The repetition at close intervals of the initial consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words (for example, map-moon, kill-code, preach-approve). Important words and accented syllables beginning with vowels may also be said to alliterate with each other inasmuch as they all have the same lack of an initial consonant sound (for example, "inebriate of air am I").

48. Rime (Rhyme) The repetition of the accented vowel sound and all succeeding sounds in important or importantly positioned words (for example, old-cold, vane-reign, court-report, order-recorder). The above definition applies to perfect rime and assumes that the accented bowel sounds involved are preceded by differing consonant sounds. If the preceding consonant sound is the same (for example, manse-romance, style-stile), or if there is no preceding consonant sound in either word (for example, aisle-isle, alter-altar), or if the same word is repeated in the riming position (for example, hill-hill), the words are called identical rimes. Both perfect rimes and identical rimes are to be distinguished form approximate rimes.

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