Literary Terms

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Last updated: November 28, 2019

Epic
long narrative poem with a larger than life hero

In Medias Res
in the middle of things; starts with action

Epithet
a word or phrase used to characterize a person/place/thing

Kenning
a compound noun that replaces another noun such as ring-giver for king

Epic Hero
a huge ego; faces life and death struggles

Scop
anglo-Saxon oral poet

External Conflict
when a character stuggles against some outside force

Internal Conflict
a struggle within the mind of a character

Allusion
a reference to another piece of literature, religion, cultural fact, historical figure that lend meaning to the story

Symbol
when someone or something represents something greater than itself

Frame Story
a plot structure that includes the telling of a story within a story

Direct Characterization
the writer makes explicit statements about a character

Indirect Characterization
the writer reveals a character through his/her words, thoughts, and actions and through what other characters think and say about that character

Argument
a type of persausive writing or speaking in which logic or reason is used to influence a reader’s or listener’s ideas or actions. Does not resort to emotional appeals

Understatement
language that makes something seem less important than it really is

Dramatic Irony
occurs when readers or viewers know something that the characters do not

Situational Irony
exists when the outcome of a situation is the opposite of expectations

Verbal Irony
occurs when the meaning of a statement is the reverse of what is meant

Personification
figure of speech in which a non-human figure is given human characteristics

Pastoral
poetry that idealizes the simple lives of shepherds in a rural setting. Often exaggerates the rural pleasures and the innocence of country people living in harmony with nature

End Rhyme
the rhyming of words at the ends of lines

Internal Rhyme
rhyme that occurs within a single line of poetry

Alliteration
the repitition of consonant sounds, generally at the begginnings of words

Assonance
the repitition of the same or similar vowel sounds in stressed syllables that end with different consonant sounds

Stanza
a group of lines forming a unit in a poem or song

Couplet
two consecutive, rhymed lines of poetry that follow the same rhythmic pattern

Octet
the first 8 lines of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. Usually presents a situation, an idea, or a question

Quatrain
stanza of four lines

Sestet
a six-line stanza

Imagery
the “word pictures” that writers create to evoke an emotional response. Appeal to the 5 senses

Carpe Diem
a Latin phrase meaing “seize the day”; in other words, “makes the most of each moment”

Sonnet
A lyric poem of fourteen lines, typically written in iambic pentameter and usually following strict patterns of stanza divisions and rhymes

Shakesperean Sonnet
consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet

Simile
a figure of speech that uses like or as to compare seemingly unlike things

Metaphor
a figure of speech that compares or equates two seemingly unlike things to help readers perceive the first thing more vividly

Parody
a humorous imitation of a literary work that aims to point out the work’s short comings.

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