List of literary terms

List of literary terms: in alphabetical order.



An abecedarius is an acrostic where the first letter of every word or verse follows the order of the alphabet. For example, in the sentence A Bear Climbed Down, the first letter of every word is in alphabetical order: A, B, C, D.


A form of writing where the first letter of each line, paragraph, or verse spells out a word or a message.


A story or picture with two or more different meanings – a literal meaning and one or more symbolic meanings. The setting, characters, and things that happen inside an allegory are symbols for ideas or qualities.


The repeating of consonant sounds. The repetition can be put side by side (for example, "sleepy sun sank slowly over the sea").


A figure of speech which refers indirectly to a situation, and leaves the reader (or audience) to make the connection.


New words, ideas, or pronunciations become like the pattern of older or more familiar ones. Comparing two different things. The purpose of an analogy is to describe something unfamiliar or new with something that is more familiar.


The character who the main character has the most conflict with. The antagonist is not always a person or animal, however: for example, the main character could have the most conflict against nature.


A short and humorous (funny) story about a real event or person.


A protagonist who does not have many heroic qualities. For example, Tom Jones in Henry Fielding's book Tom Jones is an antihero. Sometimes antagonists who are surprisingly likable are called antiheroes, too.


A word that is the opposite of another. (example: Love,Hate).


The good example, pattern, blueprint, or model of a type or group. All other things of the same kind are made from this.


The conversation or discourse in which the writer logically presents an argument. It sometimes has the same meaning as persuasion.


In a play, an aside is a speech that the actor says in a way that the other characters are supposed not to hear it. It usually shows the person's inner thoughts. Similar to the function of the ancient Greek chorus.


A non-fiction story that describes ones life, written by the person themselves.


A group of people that experience a work of art or literature.



A song or poem that tells a story in short stanzas and repeated simple words.


A poet hired by a patron such as a ruler or nobleman to write or sing about the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own works.


A form of nonfiction in which a writer tells the life story of a different person.

Blank verse

Poetry that does not rhyme. Most of Shakespeare's plays are in blank verse. Milton's Paradise Lost is also written in blank verse.


Carpe diem

Latin expression which means "seize the day". Literary works with a carpe diem theme are about seizing the moment because life is uncertain. "Do it now" is the sense of the phrase.


A person or an animal who is part of the action of a literary work. The main character is the one the work focuses on. The person with whom the main character has the most conflict is the antagonist. They are the enemy of the main character, who is usually called a protagonist.


Characterization is the manner in which an author develops characters and their personalities. Characters can be presented by description. They can also be presented through their speech, thoughts, or actions.


A way of thinking in literature and other arts which especially focuses on the importance of reason, balance, clearness and neat, orderly form, like the arts of Greece and Rome.


A struggle between two forces against each other. It can be internal or external. When a conflict happens inside a character, it is called internal conflict. For example, in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, Jane is asking herself whether she should live with Mr. Rochester, whom she loves, or if she should go away. An external conflict is usually a conflict that is easy to see, happening between the protagonist and antagonist. Conflict is one of the most important elements of narrative literature.


Two statements that do not seem to agree with one another. "I heard a soundless shout" is a contradiction.


The opposite of denotation, refers to an associated meaning or feeling of a word or expression.

Crisis or climax

The moment or event in the plot where it is or he/she is in stress. Here, the main character usually "wins" or "loses". After the climax, there is a denouement (falling action).



The real, direct meaning of a word, like a "dictionary definition". For example, the word "dog" denotes a mammal from the family Canidae with four legs that is often kept as a pet.


Looking at and thinking about opinions or ideas logically, often by questions and answers.


Using material that is not related to the subject of the work. Henry Fielding often used digression in his novels.


A story written to be performed by actors. The person who writes the play writes dialogue for the characters to speak and directions for costumes, lighting, setting, and the character's movements.

Dramatic monologue

A poem or speech in which an imaginary character speaks to a silent listener.



A solemn, formal poem about death, often for a dead person or thing. It often begins with "In Memory of..."


Ellipses are used often in everyday life as well as in literature. They usually look like this (...). It is usually used in leaving out or not using words.

Epic poetry

An epic is a long narrative poem. The subject is usually serious, like something that was an important influence to a culture or nation.[1]


A sentence, quotation, or poem that is put at the beginning of a written work.


A piece of writing at the end of a work of literature, especially in drama. It is usually different from the whole work and is used to end it.


A short nonfiction work about a special subject from the writer's point of view. Essay comes from the Old French word essai, meaning "a trial, try, or attempt".[2]



Foreshadowing is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come. It is used to avoid disappointment, and sometimes used to arouse readers.



A figure of speech that uses an incredible exaggeration or overstatement, for effect.



A short poem about simple everyday life, sometimes written in a pastoral (about shepherd life) or sentimental style.


Imagery is strong describing language which helps us use our senses and memory when we read.


Irony means to say something while meaning a different, contradictory thing.



Ji-amari uses one or more extra syllables than the usual 5/7 outline in Japanese poetry formats of waka and haiku.[3]


Jitarazu uses less syllables than the usual 5/7 outline in Japanese poetry formats of waka and haiku.[4]



Kigo is a term of Japanese poetry meaning the requirement of using a seasonal word or phrase in haiku and renku.



Lyric is short and formal sing-song like poem that expresses moods and feelings.



A plot means the events that make up a story. It is important how the events connect to each other. The path of the way the events connect make up the plot of a story or book.[5]


  1. Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature, St. Martin's, 2005, p 2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8
  2. "Online Etymology Dictionary" . Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  3. Mostow, Joshua S. Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image. University of Hawaii Press, 1996. ISBN 9780824817053 p12
  4. Crowley, Cheryl. Haikai Poet Yosa Buson and the Bashō Revival. Brill, 2006. ISBN 978-9004157095 p54
  5. "Plot - Examples and Definition of Plot" . Literary Devices. 3 November 2013.

Categories: Literary terms | Glossaries

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