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.

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