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					Literary Terms and Poetic Terms
 Literary terms are words or phrases that are often different from everyday language. While
poetry and literature have a lot of their devices in common, there are some terms that are
unique to poetry. Authors use literary elements to make comparisons, to make things more
clear in literature or poetry, or to give the story or poem a fresh look or sound. Literary
elements are tools that an author uses to help readers visualize what is happening in the
story or poem. Literary elements can be broken into figurative language, literary devices,
and sound devices.

Literary Elements

Antagonist
The antagonist is the person or thing working against the main character (usually the bad
guy or bad force).

Author’s Purpose
The author‟s intent or reason for writing: to explain or inform, to entertain, to persuade.

Character
A character is a person, or sometimes even an animal, who takes part in the action of a
short story or other literary work.

Character Traits
Authors develop characterization by describing various aspects of the character: physical
appearance; personality; speech, behavior/actions; thoughts and/or feelings, interaction
with other characters

Conflict
The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. The main character
is usually on one side of the central conflict.
        External conflict: a struggle between a character and an outside force
                Man vs. man (problem with another character)
                Man vs. society (problems with the laws or beliefs of a group of people)
                Man vs. nature (problem with the environment)
                Man vs. technology (problem with an invention or science)
                Man vs. “fate” (problem that seems uncontrollable)
        Internal conflict: a struggle within a character
                Man vs. self (problem with character‟s own actions, conflicting beliefs, etc)

Dialect
A representation of the language spoken by the people of a particular place, time, or social
group
Fiction
An imaginative narrative in any form that is designed to entertain, as distinguished from
writings that are meant to explain, argue, or merely describe.

Foreshadowing
A literary device in which the author presents hints or clues about future events

Flashback
The literary device opposite of foreshadowing in which the author presents information that
happened in an earlier time before the events currently taking place

Imagery
Figurative language that appeals to the five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight;
mental pictures evoked through use of simile and metaphor; sensory language

Jargon
Technical terms, acronyms, and language used by people of the same profession or
specialized interest group

Mood
The feeling created in the reading, evoked through the language of the text

Non-fiction
Writing that concerns real events and is intended to explain, inform, persuade, or give
directions

Plot
The action or sequence of events in a story; a plot is comprised of five basic elements:
exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution

Point of View
The perspective from which the story is told
   First person point of view: narrator participated in the action and refers to
himself/herself as “I”
   Second person point of view: not frequently used; the “you” in the directions,
explanations, or arguments
   Third person point of view: narrator is not a character in the story, and refers to the
characters as “he” or “she”
        Third person limited: narrator relates the inner thoughts and feelings of just one
character
        Third person omniscient: narrator is all-knowing and can relate the inner thoughts
and feelings of all the characters

Protagonist
The protagonist is the main character of a story (usually the good guy)
Setting
The geographic location and time period of a story. Authors often use descriptions of
landscape, scenery, building, seasons or weather to provide a strong sense of setting.

Slang
Informal words or phrases used in casual conversation

Subplot
A smaller story within a larger story

Symbolism
An object that holds a figurative meaning as well as its literal meaning; something that
stands for something else.


Theme
The central idea or belief in a story that the author wants to convey. The theme is an
underlying meaning, concept, or message in a text.

Tone
The attitude the author takes toward the subject, the characters, or audience.

Story Structure

Plot
The action or sequence of events in a story; a plot is comprised of five basic elements:
exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution

Exposition
The first part o a plot; the author establishes the setting, introduces the main characters, and
gives additional background information; the conflict is introduced during the exposition.

Rising Action
The series of conflicts or struggles that build a story toward its climax; the rising action
often has rising suspense.

Climax
The high point, or turning point, of a story; the conflict comes to a head.

Falling Action
The action that works out the decision arrived at during the climax.

Resolution
Often (but not always) the ending; how the conflict is ultimately resolved.
Sound Devices – Literature and Poetry

Alliteration
Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of a word: “Peter Piper picked a peck of
pickled peppers.”

Assonance
Repeated vowel sounds: “The cat sat on the mat.”

Imagery
Words or phrases that appeal to any sense or any combination of senses

Internal Rhyme
Rhyming within a line of poetry: “I had a good time eating a lime in the merry month of
May.”

Meter
The recurrence of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Onomatopoeia
Words whose sound suggests its meaning: “The bees buzzed”.

Repetition
The repeating of words, phrases, lines, or stanzas

Rhyme
Repetition of same sounds: “cat/hat”, “cow/now”.

Rhyme scheme
The sequence in which the rhyme occurs The first end sound is represented as the letter
“a”, the second is “b”, etc.

Rhyming Couplet
A pair of lines which end-rhyme expressing one clear thought

Rhythm
Internal „feel‟ of beat and meter perceived when poetry is read aloud

Figurative Language

Allusion
A reference to a specific person, place, or thing: “She‟s as pretty as the Mona Lisa”.

Connotation
The suggestive power of word; the meaning we bring to a particular word:; gold can
connote wealth; a dove can connote peace.
Denotation
The literal dictionary meaning of words.

Dialogue
Conversation between two or more characters in either fiction or non-fiction. The words of
the speakers are set off by [“ “].

Figurative Language
A strategy that authors use to employ literary devices such as metaphor, simile, repetition,
etc.

Figure of Speech
An example of figurative language that states something that is not literally true in order to
create an effect.

Genre
A literary type or form. Drama is a genre of literature.

Hyperbole
An extravagant exaggeration for effect: “My backpack weighs a ton!”

Irony
A special kind of contrast between what a reader and/or the character expects and what
actually happens or exists.

Metaphor
A comparison not using as or like when one thing is said to be another: “The book was a
passport to adventure.”

Oxymoron
A combination of contradictory terms: “Giant shrimp.”

Personification
A figure of speech which gives animals, ideas, or inanimate objects human traits or
abilities: “The sun peered down at me.”

Simile
A comparison using “like” or “as”: “As snug as a bug in a rug.”