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Glossary of Literary Terms
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accent poetic term The stress given to a syllable in a line of poetry. In the line, "And fired the shot heard round the world," the stressed syllables are: fired, shot, round, and world.
adventure fiction genre A novel or short story in which exciting events are the most important aspect, rather than character development or theme. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
alexandrine poetic term A line of poetry made up of twelve syllables. The form is common in French and German poetry, but quite rare in English. Alexander Pope wrote:
"A needless alexandrine ends the song / that like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along"
to illustrate the use of an alexandrine line.
allegory literary device A figurative work in which a surface narrative carries a secondary, symbolic or metaphorical meaning; may be poetry or prose. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
alliteration poetic term The repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words. "Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."
allusion literary device A brief reference to a person, place, event, quote, or literary work assumed to be recognized by the reader. An allusion is used to associate the work in which it appears with an event or work from the past. The title of Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury is an allusion to a line from Shakespeare's Macbeth.
anachronism literary device The representation of something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time. See parachronism, prochronism, prolepsis. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Cassius says, "The clock hath stricken three." Because there were no clocks that strike the hour in Roman times, this is an anachronism.
anagram literary term

A word, phrase, or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters.

Anagrams is a game in which the players build words by transposing and, often, adding letters. The game's name was inspried by its linguistic meaning, not the other way around.

Angel is an anagram of glean.
anapest poetic term A foot of verse having three syllables, the first and second unstressed and the third stressed. "You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak.." from the poem You are old, Father William by Lewis Carroll
antagonist literary term The character, force, or collection of forces in fiction or drama that opposes the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story. In the original Star Wars film, the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, was opposed by the antagonist, Darth Vader.
anticlimax literary term An outcome that is strikingly less important or dramatic than expected. "The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money." — Mark Twain
antistrophe literary term A figure of speech in which the same word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive clauses. "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth…" — Abraham Lincoln
antithesis literary term A figure of speech in which sharply contrasting ideas are juxtaposed in a balanced or parallel phrase or grammatical structure. "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." from speech by Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
apologue literary term A moral fable, usually featuring personified animals or inanimate objects which act like people to allow the author to comment on the human condition. Aesop's Fables
apostrophe figurative language Words that are spoken to a person who is absent or imaginary, or to an object or abstract idea. “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean - roll!" from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron
archetype literary term C.G. Jung defined archetypes as primordial images formed by repeated experiences in the lives of our ancestors, inherited in the collective unconscious of the human race. Those archetypes are often expressed in myths, religion, dreams, fantasies, and literature. The trickster, the scarlet woman, and the wise old man are some archetypes often found in literature.
aside literary device A remark made by a person on stage that the other players are not supposed to hear. "Though this be madness, yet there's method in it." Polonius speaking of Hamlet from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
assonance poetic term The repetition of vowel sounds, especially in stressed syllables. In the line, "Old age should burn and rave at close of day;" from Do by Dylan Thomas, the words age, rave, and day all use the same vowel sound.
atmosphere literary term The mood pervading a literary work, usually established through setting. The brooding presence of the heath in The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy establishes the mood of the characters and the plot.
autobiographical fiction genre A novel or short story based on an author's own life experience. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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