Literary Term Definitions

A definition is an explanation of a word’s meaning, in this case, in regard to how it’s used in literature. With each of the terms defined, you can find detailed information regarding it, as well as examples in literature.

Home » Glossary of Literary Terms » Literary Term Definitions
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  • a
  • Abjection
    Abjection is a literary term that refers to subjective horror, or someone’s reaction to physically or emotionally disturbing subject matter. Read More
  • Abridgment
    An abridgment is a condensed or shortened version of a book. It contains the most important details and removes any digressions. Read More
  • Acatalectic
    Acatalectic refers to a line of poetry that has a complete number of syllables in the final foot. Read More
  • Act
    An act is a primary division of a dramatic work, like a play, film, opera, or other performance. The act is made up of shorter scenes. Read More
  • Actant
    The word “actant” is used in relation to the actantial model. This is a model that defines the roles of characters and objects. Read More
  • Affective
    The word “affective” is used to refer to the emotional qualities of a literary work. Read More
  • Afflatus
    The word afflatus is defined as a burst of sudden inspiration. A writer, artist, musician, or other creator is powerfully inspired. Read More
  • Agon
    The word “agon” refers to the conflict between two characters in a literary work. It is used to describe the protagonist and antagonist. Read More
  • Alazon
    The alazon is one of the three traditional characters in Greek comedy. They have an inflated sense of worth and often boast. Read More
  • Aleatory
    Aleatory refers to art that’s created through random chance. This kind of writing involves the author making random choices in regard to style, content, and characters. Read More
  • Alterity
    Alterity is a term used to refer to anything that’s different or “other.” It’s often used today to describe something, someone, or a group that does not conform to(...) Read More
  • Amoebean Verse
    Amoebean verse is poetry that uses alternating speakers. The writer creates two distinct voices that alternate speaking on a regular basis. Read More
  • Anagram
    An anagram is a rearrangement of the letters in a word or phrase to create a new word or phrase. Read More
  • Anatomy
    In literature, anatomies are the division of a literary work or idea into parts. This is done so that a reader might better analyze the individual pieces. Read More
  • Anthology
    An anthology is a collection of literary works that were chosen by a single compiler, a group of people, or an institution of some kind. Read More
  • Anti-Stratfordian
    “Anti-Stratfordian” is a blanket term given to all those who subscribe to a theory of alternative authorship in regard to the works ascribed to William Shakespeare. Read More
  • Appositive
    An appositive occurs when a word, sometimes a noun, is followed by another noun or phrase that names or changes it in some way. Read More
  • Arcadia
    Arcadia, in poetry, is a term that refers to an idealized, unspoiled natural landscape. It is a utopia and perfect in every way. Read More
  • Automatic Writing
    Automatic writing occurs when someone with a claimed psychic ability writes without consciously deciding which words to put down on paper. Read More
  • b
  • Bestiary
    A bestiary is a compendium of beasts that originated in the ancient world. Read More
  • Bias
    Bias is undue favor or support to a particular person, group, race, or one argument over another. Read More
  • Bibliomancy
    Bibliomancy is a literary divination practice. It uses a sacred text, such as the Bible, as a method to predict the future. Read More
  • Byronic
    The term “Byronic” is used to describe anything that exhibits the characteristics of Lord Byron’s writing or evokes the type of life he led. Read More
  • Byronic Hero
    The Byronic hero is a type of character inspired by the life and work of George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron. Read More
  • c
  • Canon
    A literary canon is a collection of materials that are considered to represent a specific period or genre. Read More
  • Cliché
    A cliché is a trite, overused expression that can be found in writing and everyday life. Read More
  • Climax
    The climax is the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story. Read More
  • Connotation
    A connotation is the feeling a writer creates through their word choice. It’s the idea a specific word or set of words evokes. Read More
  • Context
    The context is the setting in which a story, poem, novel, play, or other literary work is situated. Read More
  • Critique
    A critique is defined as an evaluation of something, whether that be visual or literary arts. It analyzes all of the writer's choices. Read More
  • d
  • Denotation
    Denotation is the literal definition of a word. It is the meaning that’s most commonly found in dictionaries and other academic sources. Read More
  • Denouement
    The denouement is at the end of a story, where the plotlines are tied up and resolved. Read More
  • Dialect
    A dialect is a form of a language spoken by a group of people. Read More
  • Didacticism
    Didacticism refers to a type of literature that’s mean to convey instructions or very specific pieces of information. Read More
  • Discourse
    Discourse is written or spoken words. It is communication that describes thought through language in everyday life and literature. Read More
  • Doppelgänger
    A doppelgänger is a person who looks like someone else but doesn't necessarily act like that person. Read More
  • e
  • Ekphrastic
    Ekphrastic is a type of poem that explores art. The poet engages with any type of visual art within their writing. Read More
  • Epilogue
    An epilogue is an extra chapter at the end of a literary work.  Read More
  • Ethos
    Ethos is one of the three modes of persuasion, along with logos and pathos. In rhetoric, it refers to an argument that appeals to the audience through empathizing(...) Read More
  • Eulogy
    A eulogy is a speech, or short piece of writing, created in honor of someone who has recently died. Read More
  • Existentialism
    In its simplest form, existentialism is the exploration of the nature of existence with emphasis on the experiences of humanity. Read More
  • Explication
    An explication is a literary technique that's used to create a close analysis. Usually, it’s related to the analysis of a portion of a text. Read More
  • f
  • Falling Action
    The falling action occurs near the end of the story, following the climax and before the resolution. Read More
  • Faulty Parallelism
    Faulty parallelism is the use of incorrect structures. It occurs when parts of a sentence mean the same thing but don't use the same form. Read More
  • Figurative Language
    Figurative language refers to figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing. Read More
  • g
  • Genre
    Genre is a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms. Read More
  • h
  • Hero
    In literature, a hero is the principal or primary character of a work. Read More
  • Hubris
    Hubris is a classical term used to refer to excessive pride in a story’s characters. Read More
  • i
  • Impressionism
    Impressionism in literature refers to stories dependent on a character’s subjective point of view. These stories are based around that character’s impressions of(...) Read More
  • Intertextuality
    Intertextuality is a feature of a text that references another text. It reflects upon the latter and uses it as a reference for the new written work. Read More
  • k
  • Kenning
    A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined to form a new expression. Read More
  • l
  • Literary Adaptation
    An adaptation occurs when a literary work, such as a poem or novel, is made into a new genre, such as a film or musical. Read More
  • Logos
    Logos is the use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing. Read More
  • m
  • Mood
    Mood is the feeling created by the writer for the reader. It is what happens within a reader because of the tone the writer used in the poem. Read More
  • Moral
    A moral is the meaning or message conveyed through a story. Read More
  • Morpheme
    A morpheme is the smallest meaningful part of any language. It might be a word, or it might be part of a word. Read More
  • o
  • Old English
    Old English is the earliest recorded version of the English language spoken in England and Scotland during the Middle ages. Read More
  • Omniscient Narrator
    An omniscient narrator knows what’s happening at all times, and all points, of the story. Read More
  • Ordinal Number
    Ordinal numbers are used in linguistics to represent the position or ranking of something, such as first and 1st. Read More
  • p
  • Paraphrasing
    Paraphrasing a poem means to simplify it down to its most basic elements, clarifying along the way and choosing less complicated language. Read More
  • Pedantic
    A pedant, or someone who exhibits pedantic behavior, will correct small mistakes that are not necessarily important in the broader scheme of things. Read More
  • Periodic Structure
    Periodic structure is form of writing in which the main clause of the sentence, or its predicate, are held till the end of the sentence. Read More
  • Plot
    The plot is a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works. Read More
  • Poem Subject
    The subject of a poem might also be called the main idea, goal, or thing about which the poem is concerned. Read More
  • r
  • Rhyme Scheme
    The rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme that’s used in a poem. It corresponds with the end sounds that feature in lines of verse. Read More
  • Riddle
    Riddles are tricky phrases or questions that have double meanings and are usually challenging to solve or answer. Read More
  • Rising Action
    The rising action comes after the exposition and before the climax. It includes the complicating or inciting incident. Read More
  • Run-On Sentence
    A run-on sentence is a long sentence that is made up of two independent clauses joined together. Read More
  • s
  • Scansion
    Scansion is the analysis of a poem’s metrical patterns. It organizes the lines, metrical feet, and individual syllables into groups. Read More
  • Semantics
    Semantics is the study of the meanings of words, symbols, and various other signs. Read More
  • Serendipity
    Serendipity is the experience of finding something joyful in that which came unexpectedly. Read More
  • Sesquipedalian
    Sesquipedalian is defined as the use of words that are overly long and have multiple syllables. Sometimes, they are neologisms. Read More
  • Snark
    Snark refers to a sarcastic comment. It is a combination the words “snide” and “remark.” Read More
  • Subjective
    The word “subjective” refers to a particular point of view. It is based on someone’s personal opinions and beliefs. Read More
  • Superlative
    A superlative is one degree of adverb and adjective. It refers to the adverb or adjective to the greatest degree. Read More
  • Syllogism
    A syllogism is a three-part argument. It is based in logic and on deductive reasoning. Read More
  • Syndeton
    Syndeton refers to a sentence that uses conjunctions to join phrases, words, and clauses. It is one of three different ways of using conjunctions, or not, within(...) Read More
  • Syntax
    Syntax is the rules that govern language. It is concerned with various parts of speech and the way that words are used together. Read More
  • t
  • Thesis Statement
    A thesis statement is the main argument of a piece of writing. It can be found in academic/formal writing novel writing. Read More
  • Tone
    Tone tells us how the writer feels about the text, at least to an extent. All forms of writing, aside from the academic have a tone of some sort. Read More
  • Tuffet
    A tuffet is “a tuft or clump of something” or "a footstool or low seat”. Read More
  • u
  • Undertone
    An undertone is the secondary tone or meaning of a literary work. Read More
  • v
  • Verisimilitude
    Verisimilitude is a concept that’s concerned with uncovering how truthful an assertion is. Read More
  • Verse
    Verse is a term that refers to various parts of poetry, such as a single line of poetry, a stanza, or the entire poem. Read More
  • w
  • Wax poetic
    “Wax poetic” is an English phrase that is used to describe someone’s overly flowery and longwinded style of speech. Read More
  • Wit
    When a writer uses wit in their work they’re attempting to provoke laughter by mocking someone or something. Read More
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