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2021 AP English Exam – Literature 101: Literary and Poetry Terms Vocabulary Study Guide – 125 Most Common Literary Terms and Definitions

Literary Terms and Definitions

In this guide, we share 125 most common literary and poetry terms along with their definitions based on the greatest works of Literature and Poems in preparation for the AP English Exam. From dynamic characters and tragedy to comedy and alliteration, we explore the wide range of terminology and their definitions studied in high schools, colleges, and universities.

Reading Books: A Delightful Hobby!

Allusion — a reference to a statement, person, place, event, or thing well known from literature, history, religion, pop culture, etc.

Catharsis — an emotional release which brings about
renewal of the self or welcome relief from anxiety, tension, etc.

Character — a person in a story.

Antagonist — an obstacle to the protagonist or character who is involved in the most important conflict with the protagonist.

Protagonist — the main character, the one who “drives the action.”

Round — a realistic character that has many different character traits; fully developed; three-dimensional.

Flat — a character that, having only one or two traits, is easily described and one-dimensional (like a cardboard figure).

Static — a character who remains the same or changes very little from beginning to end.

Dynamic — a character who changes in some important way as a result of what happens in the story. Change may involve some new knowledge or a different way of behaving or feeling.

Archetype — An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype

          Foil
– A character that is used to contrast another character

Characterization — the process of revealing the
personality of a character in a story.

          Direct
— the author explains directly what the character is like (kind, evil, etc.).

Indirect — The author shows what the character is like by presenting the character’s:       1. Speech   2. Appearance  3. Inner thoughts and feelings

4.
What others think or say about the character 5. Actions 

Conflict — 
a struggle or clash between opposing characters or forces.

External (3 kinds) — person vs. person; person vs. society; person vs. nature/environment.

          Internal — person vs. self.

Connotation – All the meanings, associations or
emotions that a word suggests

Denotation – The literal, dictionary definition of a
word

Dialogue — lines of a conversation or speech
included in a literary work.

Diction –- A writer’s or speaker’s choice of words

Flashback – A scene in a movie, play, short story,
novel or narrative poem that interrupts the present action of the plot to
“flash backward” and tell what happened at an earlier time.

Foreshadowing — clues which hint at events to come in a
play or story.

Local Color — writing which presents the mannerisms,
dress, speech and customs of a particular geographical region.

Literature 101: Types of Genres

Genre — a kind of type of literature (poetry, drama, fiction, etc.)

Comedy — a story that ends happily.

Drama — a story that is written to be acted out in front of an audience.

Essay — a short piece of nonfiction prose that examines a single subject.

Epic — a long story told in poetry relating deeds of a larger-than-life hero who embodies the values of his society.

Fiction — a literary work (story, novel, play) portraying imaginary characters and events.

Myth — story involving fantasy to express ideas about life that cannot be expressed easily in realistic terms. 

Poetry – A kind of rhythmic, compressed language that uses figures of speech and imagery designed to appeal to our emotions and imaginations

Nonfiction — prose writing that deals with real people, events and places.

Novel — a long fictional story which uses all the elements of storytelling (plot, character, setting, point of view, theme).

Science Fiction — fiction of a highly imaginative or fantastic kind, generally involving some actual or projected scientific phenomenon.

Tragedy — a play, novel, or other narrative depicting serious events in which the main character comes to an unhappy end.

Hubris — arrogance; excessive self-pride and
self-confidence, especially in reference to Greek tragic heroes whose pride led
them to ignore warnings from the gods and thus invite catastrophe.

Imagery — language that appeals to any of the
senses.

Irony — a contrast or discrepancy between expectation and reality.

          Verbal
— words imply the opposite of what they literally mean. (Sarcasm)

Situational — the outcome of events or the state of affairs is the opposite of what one would expect.

Dramatic — the reader perceives something significant that the character misses.

Juxtaposition — The
arrangement of two or more ideas, characters, actions, settings, phrases, or words
side-by-side or in similar narrative moments for the purpose of comparison,
contrast, rhetorical effect, suspense, or character development

Metaphor — a figure of speech that compares two
unlike things in which one thing becomes another thing (or is another thing)
without the use of the words like, as, than, or resembles.

Extended Metaphor – A metaphor that is extended or developed, over several lines of writing or throughout an entire poem

Monologue — an extended speech given by one speaker

Mood — atmosphere; feeling created in the reader by a literary
work or passage.

Narrator — one who tells a story.

Paradox — a statement that appears contradictory
but which may be shown to contain a truth.

Personification — a metaphor in which a non-human thing
or quality is talked about as if it were human.

Literature 101: Plots and Components

Plot — the series of related events that make up a story.

Exposition (in plot) — the first part of a fictional story; the part in which characters, setting and their conflict are usually introduced.

Initial or Inciting Incident — the point in a story, play, etc., when conflict is introduced or initiated.

Rising Action — the portion of a story or play in which conflict intensifies, leading to the climax. (often contains many complications)

Climax — the most significant and exciting moment in a plot, a turning point when the outcome is decided one way or another.

Falling Action — the point in a story or play following the climax in which the intensity of action or conflict diminishes and leads to the resolution.

Resolution — the final part of the story where problems/conflicts are resolved and the story is “closed”

Denouement — the final part of the story where problems/conflicts are not necessarily resolved (i.e. cliff hanger)  

Point of View — the vantage point from which the writer
has chosen to tell the story.

          First
Person Narrator
— one of the characters tells the story
(“I”).

Third Person Limited — the narrator (not a character) focuses on thoughts and feelings of one of the characters.

Third Person Omniscient — the narrator knows everything about the characters and various situations. 

Prose — literary expression not marked
by rhyme or metrical regularity.

Pun – A play on the multiple meanings of a word, or two words that sound alike but have different meanings

Satire — writing which ridicules society, a
group, a social institution, etc., in
order to reveal a weakness.

Suspense — feeling of growing uncertainty about
the outcome of events (what will “happen next”) in a story or play.

Setting — the time and place of a story or play.

Simile (standard) — a figure of speech that makes a
comparison between two unlike things, using a term such as like, as,
resembles, or than.

Simile (Homeric/Heroic) — a comparison as described above except
that the comparison is extended and explains heroic or epic events in terms of
everyday happenings. 

Symbol — a person, place, thing or event that
stands for itself and for something beyond itself. 

Theme — the central idea of a literary work.

Tone —  the author’s attitude toward his or her subject, character or audience.

Drama 101: Literary Terms and Definitions

Drama — a story that is written to be acted out in front of an audience.

Aside — words spoken by a character in a play to the audience or
to another character (words, which supposedly, are not overheard by the others
on the stage). 

Iambic Pentameter — a line of poetry that contains five
iambs (units which consist of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed
one, as in the word, arise). (Shakespeare)

Monologue — an extended speech given by one speaker

Soliloquy — an unusually long speech in which a
character on stage alone expresses his or her thoughts.

Suspense — feeling of growing uncertainty about
the outcome of events (what will “happen next”) in a story or play.

Epic — a long story told in
poetry relating deeds of a larger-than-life hero who embodies the values of his
society.

Epithet – An adjective or other descriptive phrase
that is regularly used to characterize a person, place, or thing

Hubris — arrogance; excessive self-pride and
self-confidence, especially in reference to Greek tragic heroes whose pride led
them to ignore warnings from the gods and thus invite catastrophe.

Imagery — language that appeals to any of the senses.

Irony — a contrast or discrepancy between expectation and reality.

Verbal — words imply the opposite of what they
literally mean.

Situational — the outcome of events or the state of
affairs is the opposite of what one would expect.

Dramatic — the reader perceives something
significant that the character misses.

Juxtaposition — The
arrangement of two or more ideas, characters, actions, settings, phrases, or
words side-by-side or in similar narrative moments for the purpose of
comparison, contrast, rhetorical effect, suspense, or character development

Metaphor — a figure of speech that compares two
unlike things in which one thing becomes another thing (or is another thing)
without the use of the words like, as, than, or resembles.

Extended Metaphor – A metaphor
that is extended or developed, over several lines of writing or throughout an
entire poem

Simile (standard) — a figure of speech that makes a
comparison between two unlike things, using a term such as like, as,
resembles, or than.

Simile (Homeric/Heroic) — a comparison as described above except that the comparison is extended and explains heroic or epic events in terms of everyday happenings. 

Poetry 101: Terms and Definitions

Poetry – A kind of rhythmic,
compressed language that uses figures of speech and imagery designed to appeal
you our emotions and imaginations

Alliteration — the repetition of the same consonant
sounds in words that are close together, or the repetition of consonant sounds
that are very similar.

Assonance — the repetition of similar vowel sounds
enclosed in different consonant sounds (e.g., “same” and
“fade”).

Blank Verse — poetry written in unrhymed iambic
pentameter.

Connotation
All the meanings, associations or emotions that a word suggests

Consonance — the repetition of the same consonant
sounds before and after changing vowel sounds, as in “tick-tock” or
“step-stop”.

Couplet — two consecutive lines of poetry that
rhyme.

Denotation
– The literal, dictionary definition of a word

Diction –- A writer’s or speaker’s choice of words

Iambic Pentameter — a line of poetry that contains five
iambs (units which consist of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed
one, as in the word, arise).

Imagery — language that appeals to any of the
senses.

Metaphor — a figure of speech that compares two
unlike things in which one thing becomes another thing (or is another thing)
without the use of the words like, as, than, or resembles.

Extended Metaphor – A metaphor
that is extended or developed, over several lines of writing or throughout an
entire poem

Meter — a basically regular pattern of stressed
and unstressed syllables in poetry.

Mood — atmosphere; feeling created in the
reader by a literary work or passage.

Onomatopoeia — the use of a word whose sound imitates
or suggests its meaning (e.g.,
“fizz,” “crackle”).

Personification — a metaphor in which a non-human thing
or quality is talked about as if it were human.

Prose — literary
expression not marked by rhyme or metrical regularity.

Pun – A play on the multiple meanings of a word, or two words that sound alike but have different meanings

Rhyme — generally, sounds repeated through
stressed syllables (exception: see eye rhyme).

Exact — repetition of accented vowel sounds and
all sounds following them in words that are close together in a poem. 

Slant/Half/Approximate — words that do repeat some sounds but do
not have exact chiming sounds (“find” and “sign”).

Internal — rhyme inside (within) a line of poetry,
rather than at the end of the line.

Eye — words creating visual alikeness without
sounding at all alike (as in “cough” and “though”). 

Rhyme Scheme — the pattern of rhymes in a poem. To
indicate the rhyme scheme of a poem, we use a separate letter of the alphabet
for each rhyme.

Rhythm — a musical quality produced by the
repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables or by the repetition of other
sound patterns.

Setting — the time and place of a story or play.

Sonnet — a fourteen-line lyric poem, usually
written in iambic pentameter, that has a set rhyme scheme (Shakespearean: three
quatrains and one couplet).

Symbol — a person, place, thing or event that
stands for itself and for something beyond itself. 

Simile (standard) — a figure of speech that makes a
comparison between two unlike things, using a term such as like, as,
resembles, or than.

Simile (Homeric/Heroic) — a comparison as described above except
that the comparison is extended and explains heroic or epic events in terms of
everyday

Tone —  the author’s attitude toward his or her subject, character or audience.

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