Basic Literary Terms

(Adapted from Literature: Reacting, Writing)

The Novel and Short Story - Basic Terminology

Novel  an extended narrative in prose. Typically the novel relates to a series of events or follows the history of a character or group of characters through a period of time.
Short Story a fictional narrative generally centering on one climactic event and usually developing only a single character in depth; its scope is narrower than that of a novel.
Plot the way in which the narrative events are arranged. Generally, plots have the same basic elements:
  • Exposition - the explanation of the story's premise and background material necessary for the reader to understand the story;

  • Crisis - the peak in the story's action--the moment of highest dramatic tension;

  • Climax - the scene which presents the story's decisive action;

  • Resolution or denouement - the outcome of the story--the information that ties up all (or many) of the story's loose ends.

Point-of-View the angle from which a story is told; i.e., the type of narrator the author chooses to use 
  • In first-person narration the narrator uses "I" to tell his or her story. The first-person narrator may be a major character in the story or simply an observer. In third-person narration narrators are not actually characters in the story. 
  • Omniscient third-person narrators can reveal the thoughts of all their characters; they are "all-knowing." 
  • A limited omniscient narrator only reveals the thoughts and feelings of one (or possibly a limited few) character(s). 
  • An objective third-person narrator does not reveal anyone's thoughts and provides the sort of external, objective information that a camera (or an objective reporter) might record.
Character a fictional representation of a person (or animal). Characters may be described as either flat or round
  • Round characters are usually main characters and are fully developed so that the reader can understand their personality and motivations. 
  • Flat characters are usually minor characters who are barely developed or may be stereotypes. 
  • A foil is a character who serves to contrast with another character. A hypocritical character, for example, may help emphasize the hero/heroine's honesty.
Theme the central or dominant idea of a work of fiction
Setting   the historical, physical, geographical, and psychological location where a fictional work takes place
Style   the way a writer selects and arranges words to express ideas
Tone the attitude of the speaker or author of a work toward the subject matter
Symbol   a person, object, action, place, or event that in addition to its literal or denotative meanings suggests a more complex meaning or range of meanings
Allegory   a story with two parallel and consistent levels of meaning, on literal and one figurative


Poetry terms

Drama terms

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