Literary Vocabulary Word List

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Last updated: April 22, 2019

Protagonist
The central character of a narrative, the character through whom the lesson of the story is learned

Simile
A comparison of two items using “like” or “as”

Point of View
The vantage point from which a story is told (first and third person)

Connotation
Another significant meaning of a word, often steeped in symbol or feeling

Characterization
The manner by which an author develops a character within a narrative

Dialogue
The spoken words of two or more character within a narrative

Imagery
The picture in your mind that the words from the page create; can be figurative, symbolic, or literal

Situational Irony
An EVENT where the opposite of what’s expected happens

Dramatic Irony
When the reader or audience knows something a character does not know, and that knowledge in important to the flow of events

Ego
Represents and enforces principle reality.

Oriented towards perceptions in the real world and associated with reason and sanity

Historical Fiction
A narrative which tells the story of a real moment in history but embellishes it at least slightly (factual, dated)

Theme
The main idea of a work of literature; the message is the author sending to the reader

Paradigm
A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

Dialect
A regional variety of language, often with distinct accents and usage, including but not limited to whole phrases

Oedipus Complex
A psychological aspect where a child, usually male, has strong, even desirous feelings for the parent of the opposite sex

Denotation
The EXPLICIT meaning of a word or a particular meaning of a symbol

Allusion
A reference to another work of literature or to a part of another work of literature or to a moment in history

Conflict
The struggle between two opposing forces in a piece of literature, which the story is built around- The forces are the protagonist and the antagonist

Setting
The time and the place of the action of the story

Catharsis
The releasing of certain emotions in the audience: a feeling of pity and hatred for the actions of the tragic hero

Act
A division within the drama, usually seen as the “chapter” of a novel

Autobiography
A truthful account of the life of a person, as told and written by that person

Tone
The attitude the author has toward the work, displayed through the language being used

Colloquialism
A local variation of language, as in a word or phrase, found within particular dialects

Paradox
A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true

Dynamic Character
A character who undergoes growth and development during the literary work in which he/she resides

Static Character
A character of one dimension and personality trait who remains unchanged by the events of the literary work in which he/she resides

Biography
A truthful account of the life a person, told and written by another person

Scene
A small division of drama within an act, usually of the same setting as the act, but not by definition

Stereotype
A conventional and oversimplified opinion or belief about a person or group of people who may share similar characteristics; taking one characteristic of an individual and spreading that characteristic over the group that individual belongs to

Virtue
The quality of moral excellence, righteousness, and responsibility, probity; goodness

Vice
An evil, degrading or immoral practice of habit; a serious moral failing

Complex Character
A character w/ different traits and aspects of personality but who neither grows nor changes during the literary work in which he resides

Superego
The part of the personality which acts as a moral monitor to the behaviors of the individual. It is the faculty that seeks to police what it deems unacceptable desires; it represent all moral restrictions

Direct Quotation
Using the words of a source directly, in a word-for-word borrowing

Plot
The events which make up a story line, in order of their happening

Style
The language used by the writer, as well as the narrative techniques used, working together to form the full aspect of the printed material in front of us

Omniscient
The third person narrator who sees all and know all -even the thoughts- about the character of the story

Nemesis
That force which restores order within a tragedy, named for the goddess of retributive justice

Metaphor
A comparison of unlike things without using ‘like’ or ‘as’

Irony
A contrast between what is stated and what is meant; there are verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony

Foreshadow
To use details and images to hint at events to come in the narrative

Analysis
The separation of an intellectual whole into its component parts in order to better understand and to reach a truth

Indirect Quotation
Using the words of the author, though not in a direct, word-for-word borrowing

Paraphrase
To put the words of the author into your own words

Novella
A prose fictional narrative containing all the elements of a novel but much shorter

Tragic Hero
A person of noble birth whose personal destruction is in some way involved w/ the well being of his/her world and who faces a battle of morals; her/his destruction comes from a flaw with his/her personality

Insight
The act of outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things which in turn tells the grasper a significant message about herself/himself; makes the learning personal, owned

Stream-of-consciousness
The unbroken flow of thought and awareness of the waking mind; a special mode of narration that undertakes to capture the full spectrum and the continuous flow of a character’s mental processes

Rhetoric
The body of principles and theory having to do with the presentation of the facts and ideas in clear, convincing, and attractive language

Ad hominem
Appealing to persona considerations rather than to logic or reason

A priori
Involving deductive reasoning from a general principle to a necessary effect; not supported by facts

Purple patch
A selection of writing which contains an unusual piling up devices in such a way as to evidence a self-conscious literary effort; a colorful passage standing out from the writing around it

Euphemism
The act or an example of substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive

Apostrophe
When an absent person, an abstract concept, or an important object is directly addressed.

Dichotomy
Division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions

Tragedy
A literary work, usually a drama, which deals with human themes; several elements are involved: hamartia, hubris, catharsis, nemesis; in a tragedy, a hero will fall due to elements within the personality

Hubris
Excessive pride, especially found within the tragic hero

Local color
The interests or flavor of a specific locality as expressed in a story through language

Narrative
The story of a fictional or actual events as told by the teller

Naturalism
A factual representation, conforming to nature, especially in art and literature

Realism
A truthful representation, with an inclination toward pragmatism, that is accurate to life’s xpression

Short Story
A fictional prose, dealing essentially with a single conflict, which can be read in a single session

Pleasure Principle
The concept that pleasure is the only thing that matters and any manner of attaining it is fine; often this is the role of the Id, the earliest part of the developing personality

Reality Principle
The function which monitors the Id; the concept that some things are more important than immediate pleasure, namely, the continuation of pleasure after the initial gaining of it.

Denouement
The point in the story after the conflict is resolved

Drama
A full-length work of fiction that is written in dialogue, meant to be performed upon a stage

Flashback
Stopping the flow of the narrative to return to a setting or even earlier in the tale, even to events that predate the earliest part of the plot

Hamartia
The tragic flaw of a tragic hero; that which will make the hero fall; this needs to be a trait that is generally considered a good thing

Description
The words the author uses to fully detail a place or thing; these words will bring pictures to the mind

Symbol
Something which stands for and represents itself but also stands for something much greater than itself

Climax
The point in the story when the conflict is resolved- where we know who wins this conflict, the protagonist or the antagonist

Novel
A full-length prose fiction where the narrative is the chief story-telling element and several conflicts, settings, and characters will dwell

Parallelism
A structural arrangement of parts of a sentence, sentences, paragraphs, and larger units of composition by which one element of equal importance with another is similarly developed and phrased

Pathetic Fallacy
False emotionalism in writing resulting in a too impassioned description of nature; it is the carrying over to inanimate objects the moods and passions of a human being

Histrionics
A deliberate display of emotion for effect

Hagiography
A biography that idealizes or idolizes the person (especially a person who is a saint)

Idiomatic
Of or pertaining to, or conforming to, the mode of expression peculiar to a language

Metonymy
Substituting a word for another word closely associated with it

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