AP English Glossary of Literary Terms


writing that formulates a concentrated, compressed, imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through its meaning, sound, and rhythm


non-poetry writing that is distinguished from poetry by its greater irregularity, variety of rhythm, and closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech. Prose refers to both fiction and nonfiction.


writing in verse (poetry) or prose intended to portray life or character or to tell a story involving conflicts through action and dialogue; typically designed for theatrical performance.


the plan or sequence of events in a novel, short story, play or poem


the central idea or message of a work; insight it offers into life. the theme is the sum total of all the elements of a selection working together to convey the author's interpretation of life. Usually theme is unstated in fictional works, but in nonfiction, the theme may be directly stated, especially in expository or argumentative writing.


the clash of people, ideas, principles that moves the story toward climax


the final resolution of the strands of plot complications or problems


the emotional quality created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly but the setting and partly by the author's choice of details that are described. Frequently atmosphere foreshadows events and creates a mood


the state of mind or feeling represented in the story


refers to the author's creation of individuals and personalities. Characterization may be "flat" where the characters are only types representing ideas. Or characters may be realistic, fully developed individuals whose background, personality traits, and motives are all important. the way an author develops his characters can tell a great deal about his thematic purpose


an interruption in a narrative sequence to present earlier action


a preliminary hint of a later development


a contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant

verbal irony

the words literally state the opposite of the writer's (or speaker's) true meaning "bill's a real scholar" when actually Bill is a very poor student

Situational Irony

events turn out the opposit of what is expcted. one boy is always in trouble the other is angelic-- the second becomes a criminal and the first becomes a civic leader

dramatic irony

facts or events are unknown to a character in the story but known to the reader, audiance, or other characters in the work Romeo drinks poison because Juliet appears to be dead but the audience knows about the drug that only makes her seem dead


something which stands for something other than itself. Usually a symbol is something concrete such as an object, acton, character, or scene that represents something more abstract


the physical and psychological environment in which action takes place. writers include in setting the historical period, year, season and details of geographical location and physical arrangements; the social, moral, religioius and economic environments which influence the characters and events


the author's attitude toward his material, the audience, or both. tone is easier to determine in spoken language than in written language. considering how a wok would sound if it were read aloud may help in identifying the tone


the recreation of an experience through language that arouses the sense-taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing

point of view

in literature the perspective from which a story is told. the story will vary greatly depending on from whose "eyes" the events are being viewed./ There are two general divisions of point of view (fist person and third person) and many subdivisions within those [see first person subjective, first person observer, third person objective, third person omniscient, third person limited]

first person subjective

a character tells his own story using the pronoun I the story includes all the emotional, psychological and perceptual filters of the narrator.

first person observer

a character tells someone else's story as he observed it . the narrative has the quality of more detached reporting. An examle is Dr. Watson's narration of Sherlock Holmes's adventures

third person objective

the author relates the events using the third person pronouns 'he/she/it' the author presents the story from the outside by reporting events but not thoughts and feelings of the characters

Third person omniscient

the narrator with godlike knowledge presents the thoughts and actions of any or all the characters. this all knowing narrator can reveal what each character feels and thinks at any given moment

third person limited omniscient

the narrator presents the thoughts and feelings of only one character, presenting only the actions of all the remaining characters.

stream of consciousness

an attempt on the part of the author to reproduce the unembellished and uninterrupted flow of thoughts in the human mind with its feelings judgements associations and memories


a direct or indirect reference to something the author presumes is commonly known, such as a person, place, event, myth, literary work, or work of art. Allusions may also be historical, literary, religious, mythical, or topical


a conventional literary device ; that is a feature occurring repeatedly in literature (a traditional character type, plot pattern, thematic motif, etc)


attributing human qualities to an inanimate object or idea


using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent abstracted ideas in addition to their literal meanings. allegorical meanings usually deal with moral truths or generalizations about human existence. (for example an author may intend for a character to personify an abstraction like hope or evil) the events in an allegory may be realistic or supernatural


similar to allegory but shorter, a parable is a simple story with events that can occur in the real world in which the author intends that the reader will relate the events of the story to some moral or spiritual truth


similar to allegory but the simple imaginative story is not realistic and may contain elements of magic or the supernatural. the author intends that the reader will relate the imaginative events to moral or spiritual truths in the real world


a character type, symbol, or story that occurs frequently in literature and is expected to evoke the reader's recognition. according to the psychology of Carl Jung, there are basic human primitive archetypes that are timeless; they transcend cultures and historical periods ie the wizard, the temptress, the hero's journey


conventional, stock characters that appear over and over in stories so that their natures are apparent to the reader; stereotypes are more culture and time bound than archetypes (the jock, the nerd, the hippie, the computer wiz etc.)


a fictional identity adopted by the author in a particular literary work. a fifty-year old male poet, for example, may adopt the role and speech patterns of an old woman or child ie. Huck in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye


the major category into which a literary work fits. the basic divisions of literature prose, poetry and drama. within these broad boundaries exist many subdivisions that are often called genres themselves. for example prose can be divided into ficton, or nonfictoin poetry can be divided into lyric, narrative, epic etc drama can be divided into tragedy, comedy, melodrama or farce


an attribute or quality of a thing; a work or literature may be written in a particular stylistic mode such as romanticism, realism, naturalism, fantasy, or satire


the most important character usually the hero of the story


a character in a story who in some way is trying to prevent the protagonist from doing something or achieving his goal


the reasons conscious or unconscious for a characters actions. most serious stories are concerned with the why than the what of human behavior, but even simple action stories demand adequate motivation for character behavior to be believable.

dramatic situation

the circumstances of the speaker, especially in a poem


a figure of speech in which an absent or dead person or abstracted idea or something inanimate or intangible is addressed directly in the work


from the greek meaning "substitute name" metonymy is a figure of speech in which the name of one object is substituted for another closely associated with it.


the use of words whose sound suggest their meanings