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English Language Arts 9: Literary Terms Glossary
Many of these terms are used in short stories, poetry, and novels.
Alliteration: The repetition of beginning sounds, or letters in words, within a sentence.
Allusion: A reference to a familiar literary or historical person or event
Antagonist: A character or force that opposes the major character of a story.
Antecedent Action: Events that have taken place before the story begins.
Archetype: A pattern that appears repeatedly in literature.
Aside: A short speech in a play that is heard only by the audience, not by other characters.
Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds, usually close together, not necessarily at the beginning of
the word.
Atmosphere: The general mood or feeling in a story (see Mood).
Cacophony: The effect created by sounds that are dissonant or harsh.
Caption: Block of text that accompanies a visual.
Caricature: A deliberate satirical exaggeration of a person’s characteristics.
Catastrophe: The point in a tragedy where disaster strikes and the protagonist dies.
Citation: A quotation or reference incorporated into a paper from another source for which credit must
be given.
Cliché: An overused phrase or expression.
Climax: The highest point of emotional intensity, or the turning point in a story. The point where the
protagonist (main character) must face their most important conflict, and either overcomes or is defeated
by the conflict they are facing.
Complication: Any obstacle that leads to increased conflict.
Conflict: A struggle between opposing characters or forces, a problem that must be resolved.
Connotation: An implied, suggested, or associated meaning of a word or expression.
Denotation: The literal meaning of a word or expression.
Dialect: Special speech patterns, often showing that a character is from a certain place or setting.
Dialogue: Conversation between two characters, usually shown with quotation marks (“ “).
Dilemma: A situation in which a character must make a difficult choice between two undesirable
Denouement: The ending to the story where any loose ends or questions remaining after the resolution
are solved by the characters or explained by the author.
Dynamic Character: Someone who grows and changes throughout the story.
Empathy: The ability to enter, through imagination, into another person’s feelings or motives; being able
to identify with a character.
End Rhyme: The rhyming of words at the ends of two or more lines.
Eulogy: A speech that praises a person who has just died.
Exposition: The writer introduces setting, character, and mood, providing description and background.
This sets the “normal” state of the world for the protagonist.
Falling Action: Events that happen as a result of the climax.
Flashback: A plot device which shifts the story from the present to the past.
Foil: A character that serves as a contrast for another character.
Foreshadowing: A device that gives a hint of what is to happen later in the story.
Free Verse: Poems that can be written as the author chooses; they do not follow a specific rhyme
scheme or pattern.
Genre: Classification of the types of stories, books, or films.
Hyperbole: An exaggeration that goes beyond the truth.
Idiom: A coded message that has a special meaning. Most idioms have a cultural understanding.
Imagery: Mental pictures and vivid impressions that are created with descriptions and figures of speech.
Indeterminate ending: An ending to a story with no definite conclusion.
Indirect presentation (of character): A method of revealing characters’ personalities through what they
say, do, and think.
Initial Incident: The event which introduces the conflict and starts the rising action. This event changes
the “normal” for the protagonist and sets up the obstacle to overcome, or the goal to achieve.
Irony: A means of expression where there is a difference between what is expected and what really
happens. There are three variations, Dramatic Irony, Situational Irony, and Verbal Irony.
Dramatic Irony: Occurs when the author shares with the reader information not known by a
Situational Irony: Occurs when there is a difference between what is expected to happen, and
what really happens.
Verbal Irony: A contrast is evident between what a character says and what the character
actually means.
Metaphor: A comparison of two things without using “like” or “as.”
Mood: The emotion you feel when you read a poem or prose.
Motivation: What causes a character to do what he does; the reason behind a character’s actions.
Narrative: Poem or prose that tells a story.
Onomatopoeia: The use of words to imitate natural sounds.
Oxymoron: A phrase that combines two seemingly contradictory elements.
Parallel Plot: Two or more major plots that occur within a story and usually intersect.
Parody: The humorous imitation of someone or something.
Personification: A description of non-human objects or ideas using human characteristics.
Plagiarizing: Presenting someone’s words or ideas without providing proper acknowledgement.
Plausible: Believable; seeming to be likely or at least possible.
Playwright: The author of a play.
Plot: The series of events that make up the action of a story.
Poetry: Words arranged in a rhythm that express ideas and emotions.
Point of View: The perspective from which the story is told.
Prose: Written or spoken language in its ordinary form.
Protagonist: The main character of a story who faces the conflict and goes through a change.
Pun: A play on words with similar sounds, or a play on one word with multiple meanings.
Repetition: The repeating of words or phrases to create meaning.
Representing: A method of communication that involves conveying ideas through non-verbal means –
using, for example, visuals, tone of voice, music, and sound effects.
Resolution: The conclusion of a story or novel plot; the answer to the conflict.
Rhetorical question: A question asked only for effect and not expecting an answer.
Rhyme: Two or more words that have the same sound.
Rising Action: The events preceding the climax.
Sarcasm: A form of irony, but used in a way intending to hurt or ridicule someone or something.
Satire: The ridicule of an idea, person or situation usually to provoke change.
Screenplay: A script, written for a film or television production, which includes camera shots as well as
dialogue, action, and audio.
Script: A story, consisting of dialogue and stage directions, written to be performed as a play, film,
television show, or radio production.
Setting: The time and place of the story.
Simile: A comparison of two things using “like” or “as.”
Stage directions: The information given in a script, usually written in italics, to help readers visualize
what is happening and to instruct actors and directors how to perform the work.
Stanza: A number of lines that divide a poem into sections.
Static Character: Someone who stays the same throughout the story.
Stereotype: An oversimplified, standardized, and often exaggerated portrayal of a type of person, group,
race, or issue.
Stereotyping: Attributing characteristics to individuals simply because they are members of particular
Stock character: A stereotyped figure who occurs over and over in works of fiction (for example, the
aggressive mother-in-law, the dumb blonde, or the boorish cop).
Sub-Plot: A secondary story in a narrative; it may provide emphasis for, or relief from, the main plot.
Suspense: The feeling of anxiety and uncertainty regarding the outcome of a situation.
Symbol: An object, person, action, or situation used to represent something else.
Theme: The central idea of a story. It is not always fully stated, but sometimes implied (the reader has to
figure it out). It often makes a comment about life.
Tone: In spoken or written communication, an attitude reflected in word choices, sentence structures,
and emphasis; in visual communication, the effect created by the degree of light used
Verisimilitude: The quality of seeming realistic – of appearing to be true and plausible.
Voice: In writing, the personal and recognizable style of a writer, ranging from natural to stiff, from
honest to insincere.