A STUDENT’S GLOSSARY OF LITERARY TERMS
The enumeration of words (attributes) having a similar meaning. ”The process is wasteful, dangerous, messy, and sometimes tragic.”
A single word, formed from the initial letters of other words (NATO = North Atlantic Treaty
The act is the major division of a drama/play, often divided further into scenes.
The acting time is the time from the beginning to the end of an episode or episodes in a fictional
text. The relationship between acting time and narrating time/reading time depends on the
mode of presentation.
The action of a story is a series of events usually arranged so as to have three recognizable
1. the beginning (introduction, exposition),
2. the middle (rising action, complication; crisis, climax, turning-point; falling action)
3. and the end (dénouement or solution, catastrophe, resolution).
In contrast to real life, action in fiction is ordered; it “imitates in words a sequence of human
activities, with a power to affect our opinions and emotions in a certain way”. It is the basic
principle in all fiction and arouses the reader’s interest: it makes him eager to learn what is going to happen and/or how the problems faced by the characters are going to be solved. Action
produces tension, suspense or surprise.
The allegory appears in fictional texts in which ideas are personified and a story is told to express some general truth.
Examples: Truth, Vice, Virtue, Justice.
An alliteration is a repetition of sounds (consonants) at the beginning of neighbouring words or
of stressed syllables within such words, e.g. ”fingers the small size of small spades.” Purpose:
rhythm and stress.
An allusion is a direct or indirect reference to some well-known historical person or event, saying, proverb, line or sentence from a work of literature.
An error in chronology: placing an event, item or expression in the wrong period. Shakespeare
referred to a cannon in King John, a play set in time long before those weapons were used in
England, and he placed a clock in Julius Caesar.
A word or phrase formed by the transposition of letters in another word. Samuel Butler’s novel
Erewhon derives its title from the word nowhere.
The anaphora is a repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of neighbouring sentences, lines, stanzas, etc.
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
And she forgot the blue above the trees, …
This is a stylistic device which involves a humorous descent from something serious or dignified to something frivolous or trivial.
A figure of speech in which opposing or contrasting ideas are balanced against each other in
grammatically parallel syntax.
The use of an old or obsolete word: albeit (though), quoth he (said he).
In a play, words spoken by an actor which the other persons on stage are not supposed to hear.
The assonance is a repetition of similar vowel sounds within stressed syllables of neighbouring
words, e.g. ”on the dole with nowhere to go.”
A condensed expression in which words or phrases are presented in series, separated by commas only: Caesar: Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Atmosphere is a feeling or mood created by a writer or speaker to evoke the reader’s or listener’s emotions. It may be, for example, pleasant or gloomy, peaceful or violent.
It is an adverb expressing a writer’s or speaker’s attitude towards his or her topic, e.g. ”certainly”, ”honestly”, ”obviously”, ”simply”. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
An omniscient author is capable of seeing, knowing, and telling whatever he wishes. He is free
to move his characters in time and place, to describe the physical action and private thoughts of
characters, to comment on what happens and to make clear the theme of his story in whatever
way he chooses (cf. point of view).
Originally a song accompanied by a dance. Later the name was applied to a narrative poem.
Ballads, passed down by word of mouth, were direct and simple, with romantic, historical or
supernatural setting. The literary ballad is a poem with the rhyme scheme abcb.
Unrhymed lines of mostly 10 syllables each; especially the iambic pentameter. Shakespeare
chiefly used blank verse in his dramas.
The break or pause between words within a metrical foot; a pause in a line of verse generally
near the middle.
One-sided over-emphasis of certain traits of character, used to mock or criticize.
In a fictional text, person developed through action, description, language and way of speaking.
1. flat character: Term coined by E.M. Forster; a flat character is not fully developed, it lacks
complexity, and may be referred to a type or a caricature.
2. round character: a person in a work of fiction who is so fully described as to be recognizable, understandable, and individually different from all others appearing in the book.
There are several different ways of presenting a character in fiction or drama:
1. Explicit presentation: Here the omniscient author describes the outward appearance and the
psychological nature of a character. If a character’s thoughts and/or his feelings are described we speak of introspection.
2. Implicit presentation: A character is presented in terms of his or her environment. If a person lives in strange surroundings he is assumed to be strange himself. Since the author does
not tell us explicitly, the reader is expected to draw his own conclusions.
3. Dramatic presentation: A character is presented through action, interaction or dialogue.
Here, too, the author seems to have withdrawn from the scene and the reader (or audience)
must form their own impressions.
A cartoon is a drawing, usually in a newspaper or magazine and often with a comment (or caption) underneath it, which is funny and/or makes a political point or criticism.
A figure of speech by which contrasted terms are arranged crosswise, the word order in the first
phrase is reversed in the second:
Example: Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike.
As fast as idylls seduce visitors, visitors reduce idylls.
Simple temporal order in which the action is presented in sequence, i.e. as it actually occurred
or is supposed to have occurred.
Way of structuring a text according to the importance of its items, leading to a climax.
Structural element of a text, the moment when the conflict is most intense. In fictional texts, the
climax follows the rising action and precedes the turning-point.
A melodramatic adventure serial (in magazines or films) in which each instalment ends in suspense.
A play or novel that deals with espionage or intrigue and is highly dramatic and romantic.
Duma’s The Three Musketeers is a famous example.
Kind of drama which deals with a light topic or a more serious topic in an amusing way. By
using comic elements, the author wants to entertain and sometimes criticize.
A comic, diverting element in a serious literary work, especially in a play, which relieves the
tension, and also by contrast, heightens the significance of the tragic theme.
Examples: the gravedigger scene in Hamlet and the episode of the drunken porter in Macbeth.
A comic strip is a sequence of drawings or cartoons that tell a story and have dialogue printed
in balloons. Comic strips are often serialised in newspapers.
Non-fictional text form in which the writer or speaker deals with one or more topics and offers
his or her own judgement in order to convince the reader or listener. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
The interplay between character and event which builds up a tension in the character and develops a problem out of the original situation given in a piece of fiction.
All fiction involves, at one level or another, conflict. A character struggles against a certain
environment or against others (external conflict), or he is engaged in a struggle with himself
(internal conflict). One important approach to the right understanding of any story is to determine the nature of the conflict involved and the pattern which the opposing forces assume.
Additional meaning of a word beyond its dictionary definition (Denotation).
Bringing together of opposing views in order to emphasize their differences or create tension.
Examples: Paradise’ loss is our gain.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
(Also called subplot) a secondary theme in a play or novel used as a variation of the principal
theme or in contrast to it.
A couplet consists of two consecutive lines of verse rhyming together, usually in the same metre.
Example: Cassius: And after this let Caesar seat him sure;
For we will shake him or worse days endure. (Julius Caesar, I, 3)
The highest point of the complication in the action, when forces and counter forces have met
and the direction which the action must now take is determined (cf. turning-point). In strict
terminology, crisis refers only to structural and plot elements, whereas climax refers to the
highest point of reader/audience interest.
Actual meaning of a word as defined in a dictionary (Connotaton).
(Solution) structural element of fictional texts in which the conflict is solved.
Tthe form of discourse in which the author tells the reader what a person, a place, or an object
looks like. The writer tries to evoke an image in the reader’s mind similar to the in his/her own
mind. A text of this nature is called a descriptive text.
A way of structuring a text by opening with the statement of an idea/action (= thesis), following
by its opposite (= antithesis) and solving the conflict between the two in a compromise (= synthesis). It is frequently used in argumentative texts.
A personal record of facts and experiences, kept daily or at frequent intervals, usually for private use.
Intended to teach a lesson.
A narrative build around a particular period or event in history or the present. In this type of
writing there are no fictional characters and the aim is to bring the event or period to life for the
Piece of fiction, also called play, presenting a conflict and. It is usually written for performance
on stage, in films or on TV. The drama usually falls into the following categories: play, comedy, tragedy. (Cf. act, scene, stage direction).
This is the device of putting into the speaker’s mouth words which have for the audience a
meaning not intended by the speaker.
Example from Macbeth: the drunken porter jestingly talks of being the porter at Hell’s gate.
Editorial or leader:
A newspaper article which is a comment on an event that the readers are already fully informed
about. It is often written by one of the top editors of a paper and reflects the policy of the paper.
The writer’s name is not mentioned. American and British papers reserve one or two inside
pages for editorials and often print letters from readers beside them.
A mournful, melancholy poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.
Ellipsis: A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
Shortening of sentences by dropping a word or words (often verbs) which can be understood
form the context. Purpose: focus the reader’s attention.
Example: ”’Been to the cinema lately?’ he asked”
Using words or expressions which have particular connotations in order to appeal to the
reader’s or listener’s emotions and influence him or her in some way.
Running on of a syntactical unit beyond the end of a line of a poem, also called run-on line.
In drama, the coming of a character onto the stage. The opposite is exit.
A lengthy narrative poem in which action, characters, and language are on a heroic level; the
style is exalted and even majestic.
Examples: Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Beowulf.
A witty, ingenious, and pointed saying that is expressed tersely. Aphorism is a related form.
Examples: ”I would live to study and not study to live.” (F. Bacon), and ”I can resist everything
except temptation.” (O. Wilde)
A text form in which the writer expresses his personal views on some topic in an artistic way.
Essays can be descriptive, narrative, argumentative, satiric, biographical, critical, or historical.
There are many possible varieties, from the serious to the light-hearted and entertaining.
Stylistic device used to hide the true nature of something unpleasant by expressing it in a more
pleasant, less direct way.
Examples: ”he passed away” instead of ”he died”, or ”mental home” instead of ”madhouse”.
Exaggeration means a strong overstatement, often used with an amusing effect (cf. understatement).
In drama, a character’s leaving the stage (cf. entrance).
It has to fulfil several requirements – to set the action going, suggest the theme, sketch the
background, introduce the main characters and their problems, arouse suspense. Generally
speaking, it sets forth the prerequisites from which the story will develop. –
The process of giving the reader necessary information concerning the characters and events
existing before the action proper of a story, drama or novel begins.
Expressionism in modern literature can be referred to as any deliberate distortion of reality. In
drama it applies to a style of play-writing emphasising emotional and symbolic or abstract representations of reality. In novels or short stories it involves the presentation of an objective
outer world through intensified impressions and moods of characters.
Examples: E. O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, T. Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, A. Miller’s
The Death of a Salesman.
Two words which, from the spelling, look as though they should rhyme, but which actually do
Examples: move – love; have – grave; stood – blood.
Usually short fictional narrative, commonly employing personified animals that represent human types. It us an allegorical text form with a clear didactic function that is either implicitly
expressed throughout the action or stated explicitly in the form of a moral.
Structural element of a fictional text, marked by a reduction of the suspense. It usually follows
the turning-point and precedes the solution/dénouement.
Variant of the text form report. Though based on facts, it does not emphasize generally newsworthy events, but rather an individual case and so it appeals to the emotions and arouses human interest. Feature story writers do not only give an account of an event but generally also
provide background and supplementary information. The feature story is often written in an
emotional, personal or humorous way.
meaning of a word that goes beyond its usual definition(s) and transfers the word from its normal context to a new one. Examples of figurative use of language are metaphors, similes and
A passage in the narrative which breaks the chronological sequence of events to deal with earlier events, i.e. dream, dialogue, or memory. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
The center around which the material of an imaginative work of art is concentrated. The focus
may be primarily upon character, upon an idea, upon a setting, or the like.
Unit of stressed and unstressed syllables within a line of a poem (cf. metre).
Forms of discourse:
Any piece of writing can be classified according to the writer’s main purpose. These types of
writing are called forms of discourse. The five major forms of discourse are description, exposition, narration, argument or persuasion, and instruction.
A story within a story.
Form of a poem whose structure is not established by rhyme and a regular metre, but, for example, by repetition, rhythm and sound elements such as alliteration and assonance.
A narrative form which attempts to re-create past events and includes both fictional elements
(imaginary characters and situations) and non-fictional or historical elements (historical characters, factual documentation). In this type of fiction the story element is important too.
Obvious and deliberate exaggeration, for the purpose of emphasis. It is not meant to be taken
literally, but is used figuratively to create humor or emphasis, e.g. ”I’ve told you a thousand
times not to do that.”
A metrical foot of two syllables, the first unaccented, the second accented ⏐∪ —⏐
Example: To be, or not to be – that is the question. (Hamlet)
Idiom (idiomatic speech):
A group of words which has a special meaning that cannot be literally translated into another
Example: ”Hold the line, please.” In German: ”Bleiben Sie bitte am Apparat.”
Basically the term denotes the images employed in a literary work (or any other text). A general
definition is: a picture in words which often strongly appeals to the senses. Specific devices are
symbol, simile and metaphor.
1. The act of initiation or the fact of being initiated; formal introduction or initial ceremony
into some office, into society, etc., or the participation in some principles or observances;
hence, instruction in the elements of any subject or practice.
2. Initiation story: the account of a boy’s/girl’s becoming a man/woman as he/she moves from
innocence and ignorance – through a difficult process of acquiring knowledge of the world –
to the practical but somewhat disillusioning wisdom of adulthood.
3. The first existential ordeal, crisis or encounter with the experience in the life of a youth. Its
ideal aim is knowledge, recognition and confirmation in the world, to which the actions of
the initiate, however painful, must tend. It is, quite simply, the viable mode of confronting
4. An initiation story may be said to show its young protagonist experiencing a significant
change of knowledge about the world of himself, or a change of character, or of both, and
this change must point or lead him toward an adult world. It may or may not contain some
form of ritual, but it should give some evidence that the change is at least likely to have
5. Initiation stories obviously center on a variety of experiences and the initiations vary in
effect. It will be useful, therefore, to divide initiations into types according to their power
and effect (tentative, incomplete and decisive initiation).
It is the form of discourse in which the writer tries to teach people something, usually by telling
them what to do or how to do something. A text of this nature is called an instructive text.
A form of presentation which reveals the feelings, thoughts and recollections of a character
without the intervention of the narrator. The reader directly ”overhears” the thoughts flowing
through the character’s mind. Sometimes the term stream of consciousness is used synonymously.
Special kind of dialogue, usually prepared in advance and later edited for publication or broadcast.
Irony:A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
A statement expressing the opposite of what is really meant, whereby the reader or listener is
expected to realize the true meaning.
Example: “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” said A to B, while a thunderstorm was tearing his umbrella
Technical expressions used among themselves by members of a particular profession or social
group (sports, truckers, youth groups).
Text form belonging to the expository text type, a systematic, condensed arrangement of important information from a text. It contains the main ideas of a paragraph or group of paragraphs,
their supporting ideas and often important details, visually structured according to their relative
Choice of print and general arrangement of written and/or pictorial material on a page of a
book, magazine, newspaper, etc. The layout determines the readability and attractiveness of the
Variant of the text type comment, usually written by the chief editor of a newspaper or magazine to state a particular opinion on some topic of current importance. The views expressed are
generally representative of the political and social tendency of the publication as a whole. Also
known as editorial.
Letter to the editor:
Variant text form of the text type comment, a letter written by a reader of a newspaper or magazine to its editor in order to express a personal opinion on some topic of general interest or to
react to an article which appeared in that newspaper or magazine, usually with he intention of
having the letter published.
In a poem, structural unit, usually classified by the number of feet it contains (cf. metre, stanza).
Way of structuring a text by enumerating its items, not necessarily according to their importance, often achieved by numbering the items or by introducing them with adverbs like ”first”,
Meaning of a word as defined in a dictionary (cf. figurative).
An ironically moderate speech. Sometimes a rhetorical understatement in which a negative is
substituted for the positive remark.
Example: ”not bad” instead of ”quite good”.
Element of imagery, the linking of two seemingly unlike things with one another in the form of
an implicit comparison, thus suggesting some kind of identity, e.g. ”the snow of his hair.” Such
figures of speech can be found in poetic language as well as in everyday language to create a
In everyday language one is no longer aware of the metaphorical quality because of too frequent use. Those expressions are called dead metaphors (e.g. ”bottle-neck, leg of a table, foot
of a mountain” etc.). In poetic language metaphorical expressions achieve a special effect: ”The
road was a ribbon of moonlight.”
Regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a line of a poem.
1. iambic foot ⏐∪ −⏐ The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
2. trochaic foot ⏐− ∪⏐ There they are, my fifty men and women.
3. anapaestic foot ⏐∪ ∪ −⏐ The Assyrian came down like a wolf on
4. dactylic foot ⏐ − ∪ ∪⏐ Eve, with her basket, was deep in the
bells and grass.
Mode of presentation:
Basically there are two different ways of narrating a story. The author may tell his story in a
very detailed fashion so that the reader has the feeling of participating in the action. That is
called scenic presentation. The use of dialogue is a typical feature of scenic presentation. – If
the author merely gives a selected summary of what happens within a certain period we call this
mode panoramic presentation.
Other terms: scenic presentation – scene
panoramic presentation – summary
See: interior monologue and stream of consciousness.
Lesson taught by a text with a didactic function, either expressed explicitly in a final statement
or implied by the action of the story (cf. fable, parable).
Narrating time: A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
Time it takes to relate a particular event or series of events in a narrative text, nearly the same
as reading time. The relationship between narrating time/reading time and acting time is dependent on the mode of presentation.
Narrator: cf. point of view
In literature, an attempt to achieve fidelity to nature by rejecting idealized descriptions of life.
Naturalistic writers believe that man’s existence is shaped by heredity and environment. Novels
and plays emphasize man’s animality and his brutal struggle for survival.
Writers: Th. Dreiser, E. O’Neill, F. Norris, St. Crane.
Non-fictional variant of the text form report, based on facts, but enriched by background information and story-like elements. If the writer of a news story brings in a great deal of subjective
statements and interpretation, it is called an interpretive news story.
Category of texts in which the writer or speaker refers only to persons and places that really
exist and to events that do or did take place. Common examples of non-fiction are comments
Long and complex fictional narrative written in prose.
Originally, an ode was a poem meant to be sung, but its meaning has been altered to apply to a
lyric poem with a dignified theme, written in a formal, elevated style.
Examples: Shelley: Ode to the West Wind, and Gray’s The Progress of Poesy.
The formation of words from sounds which seem to suggest and reinforce the meaning. Onomatopoeia is often used in imitation of natural sounds: bang, hiss, swish, buzz.
Structural element of fictional texts, the opposite of solution or dénouement. In a story with an
open ending the conflict is not solved: the final interpretation is left up to the reader or audience.
A specific method of historiography (historical research and writing). A broad range of people
are interviewed on how they experienced a certain period, historical development or event in
their daily lives. Their reports – often recorded – are edited and more or less directly presented
in print or on tape.
A figure of speech in which two contradictory words are combined to produce a rhetorical effect:
Examples: ”eloquent silence”
Be fare thee well, most foul, most fair! farewell,
Thou pure impiety and impious purity! (Shakespeare, Much Ado About
Usually a short fictional narrative with a didactic function, telling the story of some event in
order to make a general statement about human behaviour. This moral is not always stated explicitly; the reader or listener is expected to draw a parallel between the story and his/her own
experience. The parable is an allegorical text form that presents human types.
A statement that seems at first to be in itself contradictory, even senseless, but reveals some
hidden truth on second thought.
Repetition of the same or similar syntactical form in different sentences or parts of sentences
Fictional text which imitates the form and language of a well-known piece of writing while
changing its tone and context. It may be simply designed to ridicule the original or it may offer
serious, valuable criticism of it.
(The personification; to personify s.th.)
It is the technique of representing animals, plants, objects, the forces of nature or abstract ideas
as if they were human beings and possessed human qualities.
Play: see Drama
In fictional texts, the structure of the action as a set of events connected by cause and effect and
centered around one or more conflicts. Plot is typically composed of the following elements,
usually in this order: exposition, rising action, climax, turning-point, falling action, solution/dénouement or open ending. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
The structure of an action with its particular order and arrangement of facts. E.M. Forster in
Aspects of the Novel tries to differentiate between plot and story as the constituents of an action:
“We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also
a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died and then the queen died,’
is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot. (Aspects, p. 93.)
Fictional text structured by lines, often arranged in stanzas, employing such elements as metre,
rhyme, alliteration and assonance, as well as imagery and words rich in connotations.
Point of view:
The author who writes a story is always omniscient. He may choose to reveal his omniscience
(unlimited knowledge), reduce it, or give it up completely. Author and narrator are not identical. The author is the writer, the ”real man” with a personal biography, who remains outside the
story. The narrator is always a figure within the story, where he can adopt various roles.
1. Neutral omniscience: The narrative is told in the third person. The prevailing characteristic
is that the narrator knows everything about his characters, their thoughts, feelings, perceptions. The reader has access to all possible kinds of information.
2. Selective omniscience: The third-person narrator deliberately limits his total omniscience
and restricts himself to the viewpoint of one or several (multiple selective omniscience)
characters in the narrative. In the latter case he may shift from the viewpoint of one character to that of another (shifting point of view).
3. Observer-narrator: The narrator confines himself to the role of an observer, who tells only
those things that can be perceived from the outside. He has no access to the thoughts of
4. As witness: The author hands his job of story-telling completely over to another mediator.
The “I” as witness is a character in his own right within the story. The natural consequence
of this narrative form is that the witness has no more than ordinary access to the mental
state of others.
5. Narrator as protagonist: The main character tells his own story in the first person. He is
limited almost entirely to his own thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
6. Withdrawal of author and character: The total elimination of the narrator. The story comes
directly through the minds of the characters. The aim is to dramatize mental states. (Cf.
stream of consciousness).
7. The dramatic mode: Having eliminated the author, and then the narrator, we are now ready
to dispose of mental states altogether. The information available to the reader in the dramatic mode is limited largely to what the characters do and say, the “point of view” being
comparable to that of a camera. The characters’ appearance and the setting may be supplied
by the author as in the stage directions of a play (cf. scenic presentation).
The main character of a novel, story or drama.
Play on words, using either different meanings of the same word or the different meanings of
words having the same or similar sounds.
1. A theory of writing in which the familiar ordinary aspects of life are depicted in a matterof-fact manner designed to reflect life as it actually is.
2. Treatment of subject matter in a way that presents careful descriptions of everyday life,
often the lives of so-called middle or lower-class people (cf. naturalism).
A variety of language used for a specific purpose, as opposed to dialect (which varies by speakers).
Registers may be defined by reference to subject matter (filed of discourse, e.g. the jargon of
sport), to medium (mode of discourse, e.g. printed material, letter, message on tape, etc.), or to
level of formality (manner of discourse, e.g. formal, casual, familiar, etc.).
Repeated use of particular sounds, syllables, words, phrases, sentences etc., as a means of structuring a text (cf. alliteration, anaphora, assonance, parallelism).
Someone is a member of a certain group and speaks on its behalf.
1. She represented her fellow-workers at the conference.
2. Does Mr. Parker still represent Worcester in Parliament?
3. ”No taxation without representation!” (Catchword during the American Revolution)
4. House of Representatives
5. Phonetic symbols [sainz] (here: signs) represent sounds.
Non-fictional, journalistic text form belonging to the text type narration, often told in the past
tense. It provides factual answers to the questions ”who?”, ”what?”, ”when?”, ”where?” and
”why?”, the so-called ”five w’s”. These facts are verifiable, i.e. they can be checked on by the
reader or listener.
The act of using language for persuasion in speaking or writing, especially in oratory. The
writer or speaker can use various rhetorical or stylistic devices to achieve the desired effects.
These include: alliteration, allusion, anticlimax, antithesis, hyperbole, paradox, parallelism,
pun. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
Question to which the answer is obvious and therefore not expected. It forces the reader or listener to think in a certain direction and is characteristic of the persuasive style.
Identity of sounds between two words, extending form the last stressed syllable to the end of
the words. If this occurs at the end of two or more lines of a poem, we speak of end rhyme; if
within a line, it is known as internal rhyme.
Arrangement of rhymes in a poem, described by using the letters of the alphabet.
Natural flow of speech in its sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables. In a poem, rhythm is
often in conflict with the metre.
Structural element of fictional texts, marked by an increase in suspense and an intensifying of
the conflict. It usually follows the exposition and precedes the climax.
Sarcasm means a bitter or aggressive remark used to express disapproval or mockery (cf. irony,
A satire (satirical text) is a fictional text intended to criticize certain conditions, events or people by making them ridiculous, often by using humour, irony, exaggeration and sarcasm.
Subdivision of an act of a drama, usually established by a unity of time, place and action (Aristotle), often marked by the entrance and exit of one or more characters.
Stories and novels dealing, usually in a fanciful way, with scientific innovations such as space
travel, robots, genetic manipulation, etc. Some SF novels also deal with sociological and philosophical problems. Forerunners of this genre are Utopian novels of former centuries.
Among the classic SF writers are Jules Verne and H.G. Wells; prominent modern authors include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, R.A. Heinlein, James Blish, Kurt Vonnegut, and Arthur C.
Place, time and circumstances in which the action takes place.
A brief narrative written in prose, shorter than a novel. The short story often deals with one
main event and with the development of one character. While a short story is less complex and
detailed than most novels, it is more likely to produce ”a certain unique and single effect” (Edgar Allan Poe) in the reader. A conflict is frequently at the centre of the story. There is usually a
dramatic development comprising several stages: an opening situation (exposition), a developing conflict (rising action), a point where the conflict is most intense (climax), and the falling
action bringing about success or failure for the protagonist.
Element of imagery; connecting and comparing two things of different classes or categories by
”as” or ”like” to increase vividness and expression. An explicit comparison on the basis of a
resemblance in one or several aspects: ”his hair was like snow”.
A variety of familiar and colloquial speech, often new, picturesque, and strilking, sometimes
even vulgar; not yet fully recognized and accepted by the community as a permanent part of the
Examples: ”buck” – ”dollar”; ”gimme” – ”give (it to) me”; ”black maria – police van”
Incorrect use of grammar to characterize a person or create the feeling of closeness.
Example: ”… he don’t care much for music … ”
”I’m the one [who] takes Mom grocery shopping.”
Structural element of a fictional text in which the conflict is resolved (cf. dénouement, open
Poem consisting of fourteen lines (often: iambic pentameter), each usually containing five feet,
with a fixed rhyme scheme (often: abab/cdcd/efefgg), often divided into an octave (eight lines)
and a sestet (six lines). Famous sonnet writers were Shakespeare and Milton.
The speaker is the voice speaking to us in a poem. Even when the personal pronoun ”I” is used
in a poem, we cannot assume that the speaker is identical with the poet. As a rule we should
treat the speaker as a character invented by the poet. The speaker is also sometimes called ”persona”.
Verbal text form, a talk or address delivered to an audience, usually in formal style. A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
Author’s notes in a drama on how it is to be performed, often with important details about the
setting, the characters’ appearances, actions, movements, gestures, ways of speaking and attitudes, thus providing explicit as well as implicit characterization.
Group of lines in a poem (cf. rhyme scheme). In some poems, (especially in traditional ones),
each stanza has the same pattern. A two line stanza is called a couplet, a stanza of four lines is
known as a quatrain.
Stream of consciousness:
We may define stream-of-consciousness fiction as a type of fiction in which the basic emphasis
is placed on the exploration of a character’s consciousness for the purpose of revealing his
mental nature. The important characteristics of the movement of consciousness is its ability to
move freely in time and space, imitating the psychological principle of free association, controlled by memory, senses, imagination. There are two basic techniques used in presenting
stream of consciousness: reported thought and interior monologue.
1. Reported thought (also: indirect interior monologue or substitutionary narration): a presentation of thoughts, feelings, perceptions which contains elements of both direct speech
and reported speech. Typical features are the third person point of view, the past tense
group (as in reported speech) and the omission of introductory clauses such as “he said”,
“she thought”, etc.
2. Interior monologue (also: direct interior monologue): the type of monologue which presents consciousness directly to the reader. There is complete or near-complete disappearance of the author from the page. It is in the first person, the tense is as mind dictates.
Text form belonging to the text type exposition, a short continuous text presenting the most
important information from some other text. Although formulated in the summary writer’s own
words – sometimes on the basis of a keyword outline of the original text – it does not contain his
or her personal opinions or interpretations.
Feeling of tension or expectation aroused in the reader or audience about the further development of the characters, conflict and plot.
A writer’s characteristic use of language. Style includes:
∗ arrangement of ideas
∗ choice of vocabulary
∗ sentence structure and variety
∗ appropriate diction or register
∗ tone etc.
1. Formal style: Language used to address educated readers or listeners not known very
closely by the writer or speaker. Formal style shows detachment and respect. Typical of it
are a non-personal point of view, the use of precise and frequently difficult vocabulary, full
forms and often long, complex sentences.
2. Informal style: Language used to address readers or listeners with whom the writer or
speaker feels comfortable. Informal style is characteristic of relaxed, personal and subjective communication. Typical of it are a personal point of view, the use of fairly simple, even
slangy vocabulary, short forms, uncomplicated sentence patterns, ellipsis and fillers.
3. Neutral style: Language distinguished by a choice of words and sentence structures common to all text forms and appropriate to any situation.
4. Persuasive style: The persuasive style uses language intended to convince or persuade the
reader or listener. Characteristic elements are attitudinal and intensifying adverbs and rhetorical questions. Persuasive style is used in the text type argumentation and in subjective
forms of the text type instruction such as advertisements.
A symbol is an object, character, or incident which stands for something else or suggests something greater than itself, e.g. an idea or a quality. It establishes at least two levels of meaning,
the concrete and the spiritual one (cf. figurative meaning). Examples are:
1. apple symbol of (physical) love and fertility
2. book symbol of wisdom and knowledge; in Islamic countries also symbol of fate
3. dove symbol of peace
4. fountain connected with (deep) water -> deep secrets, knowledge, wisdom; but also
5. owl symbol of wisdom, science and knowledge
6. ring symbol of eternity (without beginning and end – cf. circle); symbol of marital unity, loyalty and membership of a certain group
7. rose symbol of love, but also of discreteness and secrecy
A part of something represents the whole to focus the attention.
Example: Two legs good – four wheels better.
Tautology: A Student’s Glossary of Literary Terms
An unnecessary accumulation of words of the same or similar meaning. It is a fault of style or a
figure that is employed deliberately. Pleonasm is often used synonymously.
Words and expressions from a special field of knowledge, frequent in technical description,
used for the sake of clarity and precision due to their lack of connotation.
Realization of one of the five text types in actual texts, e.g. as poems, short stories, novels, reports, comments. Though most text forms contain elements of several text types, one of them is
Classification of texts according to five different models based on the writer’s intentions.
1. The argumentative text type: The argumentative text type deals with controversial matter
and expresses a clear opinion. Comments, interviews, leading articles, letters to the editor
and pieces of criticism are common argumentative text forms.
2. The descriptive text type: The descriptive text type presents the physical characteristics of
living beings, objects and/or processes. The presentation can be either based on exact observation and objective information (= technical description), or it can give a suggestive
mental picture based on the writer’s subjective impressions (= impressionistic description).
3. The instructive text type: The instructive text type aims at influencing the reader’s or listener’s behaviour by advising or instructing him or her. Characteristic of instruction is the
use of commands or recommendations and the present tense group of verbs. Rules and
regulations are common text forms belonging to the type instruction.
4. The expository text type: In the expository text type the writer or speaker analyses and explains some relatively complex matter, mostly in an objective and precise way. Dictionary
definitions, entries in reference books, keyword outlines and summaries are common text
forms belonging to the expository text type.
5. The narrative type of texts: cf. The narrative text type presents actions or events in some
kind of temporal order. Novels, short stories and reports are common text forms belonging
to the text type narration.
Central topic of or idea of a text, holding all its elements together and giving them meaning.
In any piece of fiction there are two different kinds of ”time” to be distinguished. Reading time
is the time it takes to read a story or book which is dependent on the extent of a narrative (number of pages). Acting time is the time-span of the events of a story. The German literary terms
are “Erzählzeit” and “erzählte Zeit”.
Writer’s or speaker’s attitude towards his/her theme, character(s) and especially towards the
reader or listener, as reflected in the text. Tone can, for example, be serious or playful, humorous or solemn, arrogant or modest, emotional, ironical, critical, sympathetic (cf. atmosphere).
Way of structuring a text according to its main topics, often also subtopics, following logical
steps or categories.
Structural element of a fictional text, marking a change in the conflict or suspense. It usually
follows the climax and precedes the falling action.
Character in a fictional text who is not fully developed, but one-sided, representing a group of
people or some human trait.
Statement that is deliberately weak, putting less emphasis or importance on something than it
deserves, often used as a form of irony (cf. exaggeration).
Fictional text dealing with an ideal society, place or world. If this society is a negative one, we
usually call it an anti-utopia.