Literary Terms - A through H
Alexandrine – A twelve-syllable line written in iambic hexameter.
Allegory – a text or narrative whose literal meanings can be read as coded signs of other meanings. A narrative that is an extended metaphor; the elements of the narrative carry significance on a literal and a figurative level.
Alliteration – The recurrence of the same sounds at the beginning of adjacent words.
Ambiguity – a word or piece of writing whose meaning is difficult to determine because it allows for alternative interpretations.
Ambivalence – the holding of two determinate but conflicting meanings in tension within an utterance.
Anapest – a metrical foot consisting of two short syllables followed by a long one. Di-di-dum. Opposite of dactyl.
Antagonist – The one who struggles against or contends with the protagonist; the antagonist may or may not be another individual or an obstacle or challenge, such as fear or death.
Assonance – a set of mutually echoing, half-rhyming sounds, usually vowel sounds, in the separate words of a line or phrase. Repetition of vowel sounds.
Bathos – a movement from the sublime to the commonplace or ridiculous. An abrupt change in style going from exalted to mundane; producing a ludicrous effect.
Blank verse – unrhymed iambic pentameters.
Bombast – pompous or extravagant language.
Cesura – a complete pause in a line of poetry.
Catharsis – a relieving or cleansing of the emotions.
Climax – the point in a story at which the main character changes and the story begins to fall. Where the momentum stops rising and instead begins to fall.
Closed Form – Poetry conforming to set requirements of rhyme, meter, line length, and number of lines. Such as a sonnet or haiku.
Complication – an element introduced into the story to alter its direction.
Conceit – an extended metaphor concerning an entire passage or poem.
Conclusion – Final division of a literary work that brings the work to a close; fifth part of plot structure.
Couplet – two lines of poetry usually with the same meter and often rhyming.
Crisis – turning point in a story; culmination of the events of the plot.
Dactyl – a metrical unit with one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. Dum-di-di. Opposite of anapest.
Denouement – conclusion of a story. The events between the falling action and the last scene.
Didactic – concerned to teach a moral of a lesson.
Dramatic monologue – a speech given by a character in a story to the reader or an internal character which reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of the speaker.
Dynamic character – a character who is capable of, and most times does, change.
Elegy – a mourning of lament. A sorrowful song. A funeral march.
Enjambment – a line with no punctuation whose meaning flows into the next line.
Epic – a lengthy poem which narrates the adventures of a hero or a legend. Usually written in an elevated way.
Epigram – a short narrative at the beginning of a work (novel, chapter, poem) which sets the tone or mood and reveals the coming theme.
Estrangement – Russian Formalist term for the kind of inventive or self-conscious language which compels us to refresh our experience of the reality portrayed.
Exposition – A narrative that clarifies the plot. Usually at the beginning of the plot.
Farce – a story or narrative that entertains by using absurdity, improbabilities and exaggeration.
Figurative – non-literal language. Metaphorical in nature.
Fixed form – Any one of the three French poetic forms: the ballad, the virelai, and the rondeau.
Foil – a character who highlights through contrast the opposite characteristics on another character.
Form – all of those aspects of a literary work, including tome, mood, texture, structure, mode of characterization and so on, which are relevant to how the work presents its materials.
Free verse – Poetry using natural rhythms of words and phrases instead of required metrical feet.
Heroic couplets – pairs of rhymed iambic pentameters.
Hubris – Excessive pride adversely affecting the protagonist’s judgment; the most common tragic flaw.
Hyperbole – poetic exaggeration or overstatement.