Literary Terms & Rhetorical Strategies

Allegory
story or poem in which characters, settings, and events stand for people or events or abstract ideas or qualities.

Alliteration
repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in words that are close together

Allusion
reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature, religion, politics, sports, science, or another branch of culture. An indirect reference to something, usually literature.

Ambiguity
Deliberately suggesting two or more different, and sometimes conflicting, meanings in a work.

Analogy
Comparison made between two things to show how they are alike

Anaphora
Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row. This is a deliberate form of repetition and helps the writer’s point more conherent.

Anastrophe
Inversion of the usual, normal, or logical order of the parts of a sentence. Purpose is rhythm or emphasis or euphony.

Antagonist
Opponent who struggles against or blocks the hero, or protagonist in a story.

Antimetabole
Repetition of words in successive clauses in reverse grammatical order.

Antithesis
Balancing words, phrases, or ideas that are strongly contrasted, often by means of grammatical structure.

Antihero
Central character who lacks all the qualities traditionally associated with heroes. May lack courage, grace, intelligence, or moral scruples.

Anthropomorphism
Attributing human characteristics to an animals or inantimate object.

Aphorism
Brief, cleverly worded statement that makes a wise observation about life, or of a a principle or accepted general truth. Also called maxim, epigram

Apostrophe
Calling out to an imagery, dead, or absent person, or to a place or thing, or to a personified abstract idea.

Apposition
Placing in immediately succeeding order of two or more coordinate elements, the latter of which is an explanation, qualification, modification of the first (often set off by a colon)

Assonance
The repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by different consonant sounds especially in words that are together.

Asyndeton
Commas used without conjunction to separate a series of a words, thus emphasizing the parts equally: instead of X, Y, and Z the writer uses X, Y, Z

Balance
Constructing a sentence so that both halves are about the same length and importance.

Characterization
the process by which the author reveals the personality of a character.

Chiasmus
In poetry, a type of rhetorical balance in which the second part is syntatctically balanced against the first, but with the parts reversed.

Cliche
A word or phrase, often a figure of speech, that has become lifeless because of overuse.

Colloquialism
A word or phrase in everyday used in conversation and informal writing but is inappropriate for formal situations.

Comedy
In general, a story that ends with a happy resolution of the conflicts faced by the main character or characters

Conceit
an elaborate metaphor that compares two things that are startingly different. Often an extended metaphor

Confessional Poetry
a twentieth century term used to describe poetry that uses intimate material from the poet’s life.

Conflict
The struggle between opposing forces or characters in a story

Connotation
The associations and emotional overtones that have become attached to a word or phrase, in addition to its strict dictionary definition.

Couplet
Two consecutive rhyming lines of poetry

Dialect
A way of speaking that is characteristic of a certain social group or of the inhabitants of a certain geographical area.

Diction
A speaker or writer’s choice of words

Didactic
Form of fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking

Elegy
A poem of mourning, usually about someone who has died.

Epanalepsis
device of repetition in which the same expression (single word or phrase) is repeated both at the beginning and at the end of the line, clause, or sentence.

Epic
A long narrative poem, written in heightened language, which resounds the deeds of a heroic character who embodies the values of a particular society.

Epigraph
A quotation or aphorism at the beginning of a literary work suggestive of a theme

Epistrophe
Device of repetition in which the same expression (single word or phrase) is repeated at the end of two or more lines, clauses, or sentences; is the opposite of anaphora

Epithet
an adjective or adjective phrase applied to a person or thing that is frequently used to emphasize a characteristic quality.

Fable
A very short story told in prose or poetry that teaches a practical lesson about how to succeed in life

Farce
a type of comedy in which ridiculous and often sterotyped characters are involved in silly, far-fetched situations

Figurative Language
Words which are innaccurate if interpreted literally, but are used to describe.

Flashback
A scene that interrupts the normal chronological sequence of events in a sory to depict something that happened earlier in time

Foil
A character who acts as contrast to another character. often a funny side kick to the dashing hero, or a villain contrasting the hero

Foreshadowing
the use of hints and clues to suggest what will happen lated in a plot

Free Verse
Poetry that does not conform to a regular meter or rhyme scheme

Hyperbole
a figure of speech that uses an incredible exaggertaion or overstatement, for effect

Hypotactic
Sentence marked by the used of connecting words between clauses or sentences, explicitly showing the logical or other relationships between them

Imagery
The use of language to evoke a picture or concrete sensation of a person, a thing, a place, or an experience

Inversion
the reversal of the normal word order in a sentence or phrase

Irony
a discrepancy between appearances and reality

Juxtaposition
normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, creating an effect of surprise and wit

Litotes
Understatement in which the positive form is emphasized by the negation of the negative form

Local Color
applied to fiction or poetry which tends to place special emphasis on a particular setting, including its customs, clothing, dialect, and language

Metaphor
a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things without the use of such specific words of comparison as like or as

Metonymy
a figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing is referred to by something closely associated with it.

Mood
an atmosphere created by a writer’s diction and the details selected

Motif
a recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, object, or situation used throughout a work (or in several works by one author) unifying the work by tying the current situations to previous ones, or new ideas to the theme

Motivation
the reason for a character’s behavior

Onomatopoeia
The use of words whose sound echo their sense

Parable
A relatively short story that teaches a moral, or lesson about how to lead a good life

Paradox
A statement that appears self-contradictory, but that reveals a kind of truth

Parallelism
the repetition of words or phrases that have similar grammatical structures

Paratactic Structure
Simply juxtaposes clauses or sentences

Parody
a work that makes fun of another work by imitating some aspect of the writer’s style

Personification
a figure of speech in which an object or animal is given human feelings, thoughts, or attitudes

Point of View
the vantage point from which the writer tells the story

Polysyndeton
sentence which uses a conjunction with NO commas to separate the items in a series.

Protagonist
the central character in a story, the one who initiates or drives the action

Pun
Play on words, based on the multiple meanings of a single word or on words that sound alike but means different things

Quatrain
A poem consisting of four lines, or four lines of a poem that can be considered a unit

Refrain
a word, phrase, line, or group of lines that is repeated for effect, several times in a poem

Rhythm
a rise and fall of the voice produced by the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables in language

Rhetoric
art of effective communication, especially persuasive discourse

Rhetorical Question
a question asked for an effect, adn not actually requiring an answer

Romance
in general, a story in which an idealized hero or heroine undertakes a quest and is successful

Satire
A type of writing that ridicules the shortcomings of people or institutions in an attempt to bring about a change

Simile
a figure that makes an explicit comparison between two unlike things using words such as like, than, or resembles

Soliloquy
a long speech made by a character in a play while no other characters are on stage

Symbol
a person, place, thing or event that has meaning in itself and that also stands for something more than itseld

Synecdoche
a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole

Syntactic Fluency
ability to create a variety of sentence structures, appropriately complex and/or simple and varied in length

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