Glossary of Literary Terms

Language Arts

 

antagonist:

 

The bad person in a story; opposes the protagonist.

 

character:

 

A person portrayed in a novel, short story, or play.  Characters can be animals or objects, also, but those are almost always personified.

 

characterization:

 

The way the author describes a character.  Direct characterization involves the author telling you what a character is like; indirect characterization is done through dialogue or actions, and is considered the best form of characterization.

 

chronological order:

 

When a story is told in the order that the events actually happened.

 

climax:

 

The point of highest action and suspense in a story.

 

conflict:

 

The problem in the story.  Usually, the protagonist struggles against 1. nature 2. him/herself or 3. another character (the antagonist) or 4. against society.

 

connotation:

 

The meaning we give a word.

 

denotation:

 

The dictionary definition of a word.

 

dialogue:

 

Words spoken by a character, offset with quotation marks.

 

fiction:

 

A story that is not true.

 

figurative language:

 

Words that mean more than their literal meaning.  For example, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  Literally, it is not raining cats and dogs.

 

flashback:

 

When the action of a story is interrupted by a scene from the past.  The scene from the past is the flashback.

 

foreshadowing:

 

Hints in a story of what is going to happen to the plot or a character.

 

imagery:

 

Words the author uses to put a picture in the reader’s mind.

 

irony:

 

When the opposite of what you expect happens, or when you say the opposite of what you mean, usually for humorous effect (as opposed to sarcasm).

 

literal language:

 

When words mean exactly what they say.

 

metaphor:

 

Saying something is something else for comparison.  He was a monster.  Compare with simile.

 

mood:

 

The way the reader feels when reading a story.

 

moral:

 

The lesson being taught by the story.

 

narrator:

 

The person telling the story.  May or may not be a character in the story.  Be sure to separate the author from the narrator.  They usually aren’t the same person.

 

onomatopoeia:

 

Words imitating sounds.

 

personification:

 

Attaching human characteristics to something that is not human.

 

plot:

 

Sequence of events in a story where each event causes the next event to happen.  Otherwise, you just have a story.  Example:  The king died, and then the queen died.  That’s a story.  The king died and then the queen died of grief.  That’s a plot.

 

point of view:

           

The angle from which a story is told.

 

            first-person:

 

The narrator is a character in the story and refers to himself as “I.”

 

            second person:

 

            The reader is the main character.  Narrator uses the pronoun “you” when referring

            to the main character.

 

            third person:

 

            Neither the reader nor the narrator is the main character.  Narrator uses the

            pronoun “he” or “she” when referring to the main character.

 

            third-person omniscient:

 

            The narrator can tell what is going on in the minds of all the characters.

 

            third-person limited:

 

            The narrator can tell what is going on in one or two of the characters,

            usually the main character.

 

prose:

 

Writing that isn’t poetry.

 

 

protagonist:

 

The good person in a story.  Usually the central character.

 

sarcasm:

 

Saying the opposite of what you mean to pretend to praise someone.  Designed to hurt.

 

satire:

 

Making fun of something with humor and wit for the purpose of improving it.  Satire may be offensive, but generally, when done in the right spirit, the people it makes fun of should not be offended.  But they might be.

 

setting:

 

Where the story takes place.

 

short story:

 

A story from 500-15,000 words.  After that you are leaving short story country and entering Novelville.

 

simile:

 

A comparison using like or as.  Hungry as a bear.  Compare to metaphor.

 

stereotype:

 

Preconceived idea of what a person or thing is like.

 

symbol:

 

Something representing something else.

 

theme:

 

The main idea of a story.  A theme must be written as a complete sentence.  “Friendship” is an idea, but “Friends stick together” is a theme.

 

tone:

 

The author’s attitude towards the characters or the story.  The author may not like the characters, and may make fun of them in a subtle way.  Tone is different from mood because it describes how the author feels about the characters, whereas mood describes how the reader feels when reading the story.