Literary Terms and Techniques
Alliteration- repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or accented
syllables. Writers use alliteration to emphasize ideas and to create pleasing sounds.
Allusion- a reference to a well-known person, place, or event, literary work, or work of
art. By using allusions, writers can bring to mind complex ideas simply and easily.
Apostrophe- a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses an absent person or
a personified quality, object or idea. This technique is often used to add emotional
Assonance- the repetition of similar vowel sounds.
Blank Verse- poetry or drama written in unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Caesura- a pause or break in the middle of a line of poetry.
Climax- the turning point or high point in a plot.
Connotation- an association that a word calls to mind in addition to the dictionary
meaning of the word.
Characterization- the way in which an author develops the personality of a character.
Conflict- a struggle between opposing forces.
Consonance- the repetition of consonant sounds at the ends of words or accented
Couplet- a two-line stanza.
Denouement- that portion of the plot that reveals the final outcome of its conflicts or the
solution of its mysteries.
Deus ex machine (“god from the machine”)- the resolution of a plot by use of a highly
improbable chance or coincidence.
Dialect- the form of language spoken by people in a particular region or group.
Dialogue- a conversation between characters.
Diction- a writer or speaker’s word choice. Diction is part of a writer’s style.
Dilemma- a situation in which a character must choose between two courses of action,
Exposition- As a mode of communication, it is writing or speech that explains, informs,
or presents information. In terms of the dramatic structure of a literary work, the
exposition occurs in the beginning of the piece and acts as an introduction of the main
characters, the plot, and the setting.
Figure of Speech- way of saying one thing and meaning another.
Foil- a character who provides a contrast to another character.
Flashback- a section of a literary work that interrupts the chronological presentation of
events to relate an event from an earlier time.
Foreshadowing- a textual clue in a literary work to an upcoming event or character
Free Verse- poetry that lacks a regular rhythmical pattern or meter.
Gothic- refers to the use of primitive, medieval, wild, or mysterious elements in
Hyperbole- a deliberate exaggeration or overstatement.
Imagery- words or phrases that appeal to one or more of the five senses. Writers use
imagery to create word pictures and other sense experiences for the reader.
Irony- In verbal irony, a word or phrase is used to support the opposite of its usual
meaning. In dramatic irony, there is a contradiction between what a character thinks and
what the audience or reader knows to be true. In irony of situation, an event occurs that
directly contradicts the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience.
Lyric Poem- a poem that expresses the observations and feelings of a single speaker.
Metaphor- a figure of speech in which one thing is spoken of as though it were
something else. It is an implied comparison such as “the long sleep of death.”
Meter- the rhythmical pattern of a poem determined by the arrangement of stressed and
Metonymy- the use of something closely related for the thing actually meant. For,
example in the line “Life spilled from the wound,” the metonymy lies in the fact that life
is meant to signify blood.
Monologue- a speech delivered entirely by one person or character.
Mood- the atmosphere or feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage.
Motivation- a reason that explains a character’s thoughts, feelings, actions, or speech.
Narration- writing that tells a story.
Narrative Poem- a story in the form of verse.
Narrator- a speaker or character who tells a story.
Omniscient Point of View- an all-knowing third person narrator.
Onomatopoeia- the use of words that imitate sounds.
Oxymoron- a figure of speech that combines two opposing or contradictory ideas, such
as “freezing fire.”
Paradox- a statement that seems to be contradictory but that actually presents a truth.
Parallelism- the repetition of a grammatical structure. For example, the lines “What do
we want of these men?/What do we want of ourselves?” contain the parallel use of the
phrase “What do we want of…” Writers use parallelism to emphasize and link ideas.
Parody- a humorous imitation of a literary work, one that exaggerates or distorts the
Personification- a figure of speech in which a nonhuman subject is given human
Plot- a sequence of events in a literary work; the arrangement of the action.
Point of View- the perspective or vantage point from which a story is told.
Refrain- a repeated line or group of lines in a poem or song.
Rhyme Scheme- a regular pattern of rhyming words in a poem.
Rising Action- that part of the plot in a story that leads up to the climax. During the
rising action, suspense increases as complications of the conflict develop.
Satire- writing that ridicules or criticizes individuals, ideas, or institutions, social
conventions, or other works of art or literature.
Simile- a figure of speech that makes a direct comparison between two subjects using
like, as, or than.
Setting- the time and place of the action.
Soliloquy- a long speech made by a character who is alone and who reveals his or her
private thoughts or feelings to the audience.
Stanza- a group of lines in a poem, considered as a unit.
Stream of Consciousness- a narrative technique that presents thoughts as if they were
coming directly from a character’s mind. Instead of being arranged in chronological
order, the events of the story are presented from the character’s point of view.
Style- a writer’s typical way of writing. Style includes word choice, tone, degree of
formality, figurative language, sentence length, etc.
Suspense- a feeling of growing uncertainty about the outcome of events.
Symbol- anything that stands for or represents something else.
Synecdoche- a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to stand for the
whole thing. For example, in the line “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?,”
the word “face” represents the entire person of a beautiful woman-Helen of Troy.
Theme- a central message or insight into life revealed by a literary work.
Tone- the writer’s attitude toward his or her subject, characters or audience.
Understatement- saying less than is actually meant, generally in an ironic way.
Vernacular- the ordinary language of people in a particular region. It is also called
colloquial language. It is the informal, realistic language of the common man.