L is for Literary Terms Writers Should Know
A reference within a literary work to another work of fiction, a movie, a piece of art, or an event. Used to provide greater context or meaning to the situation being written about. Carries a risk of alienating readers who don’t recognize the reference.
The character in fiction who opposes the protagonist (hero/heroine) and can provide the story’s conflict. Also known as the villain, bad guy, nemesis, anti-hero, and enemy.
The process through which a writer makes a character seem real to readers.
For more details, read Character Development: How Well Do You Know Your Characters.
The most dramatic, meaningful, and suspenseful moment in a story. All drama that has been developing reaches a breaking point when something or someone must change. Considered to be a moment of great intensity and point of maximum interest in a story. Generally brings events to a head and leads to the conclusion.
The result of competing desires or the presence of obstacles that need to be overcome. Conflict is necessary to propel a narrative forward; the absence of conflict amounts to the absence of story. Often considered to be the heart of a plot. Conflict can be internal or external.
Common types of conflict are: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, man vs. society, man vs. fate, and man vs. machine.
French word meaning an untying and represents the unraveling of the complexities of the plot and the clarification of the story’s details and misunderstandings. This is the series of events that follow the plot’s climax and can be the conclusion or resolution of the story. The exception is mystery novels, in which the denouement and climax may occur at the same time.
When words and actions of the characters have a different meaning for the reader than they do for the characters. The result is that the reader will have a greater knowledge of something than the characters.
A character who changes significantly and has obvious growth and/or development throughout the story.
The background information, or introduction, for the story and is usually related at the beginning of the story. The exposition should introduce the characters and reveal the setting. Conflict may sometimes be established.
The sequence of events that follows the climax and ends in the resolution.
First-person point of view
The narrator is a character in the story and pronouns such as I, me, we, and us are used.
For a more detailed description of first-person point of view, read How to Choose POV in Fiction Writing.
A technique used to provide more information about the present and to further develop plot and characters in a way that is more interesting and complicated than a simple chronological plot.
A moment when the linear story is interrupted and launched to an event that occurred in the past (an earlier moment in literary time), usually through a character reminiscing.
The presentation in a work of literature of hints and clues that tip the reader off as to what might come later.
A category or type of literature based on its content and style. Some common genres are Science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, short story, horror, romance, and historical fiction.
In general, refers to nonliterary works that tend to be written and read primarily for entertainment. Includes the categories of mystery, Science-fiction, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and horror.
The author’s use of descriptive and figurative language to create a picture in the reader’s mind’s eye.
A one-line summary of your story.
When a word is used incorrectly, often in place of one that sounds similar to the correct word. This shouldn’t occur in narrative, but it might occur in dialogue to “show” something about a character.
Some common malapropisms are: for all intensive purposes instead of for all intents and purposes, defiantly instead of definitely, and supposably instead of supposedly.
The person telling the story, who determines the story’s point of view. In first-person narrative, the narrator is a participant (character) in the story. A story told by a narrator who isn’t one of the story’s participants (characters) is called third-person narrative.
A figure of speech in which objects or nonhuman organisms are given human characteristics. Generally used to convey feelings about objects or set a mood.
The sequence of events told in a story or the organization of the main events of a work of fiction. Plot differs from story as it is concerned with how events are related and structured and how change is enacted in the major characters.
A plot line is usually contains five elements: exposition/background information, rising action, climax or crisis, falling action, and denouement/resolution.
Point of view
The perspective from which a story is told. This is the narrator’s position in relation to the story. There are three main points of view: first person, second person, and third person.
For a more detailed description of point of view, read How to Choose POV in Fiction Writing.
The main character in a story, novel, drama, or other literary work who opposes the antagonist. This is the character that gains a reader’s interest and empathy. A protagonist should be the most interesting, complex character.
The part of the story’s plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. Occurs after the falling action and is generally where the story ends.
The series of events that lead to the climax of the story, usually the conflicts and/or struggles of the protagonist.
The physical and social context in which the action of a story takes place. The major elements of setting are time, place, and social environment. The setting can also be used to evoke a mood or atmosphere to prepare readers for what is to come.
An occasion in which the outcome is significantly different from what was expected or considered appropriate.
A character who changes little and has no real growth and/or development throughout the story.
The way in which an author uses words that give his/her voice a distinctive manner of expression. Style is the combined qualities that can distinguish one writer’s work from another writer’s work.
The dominant idea a writer is trying to convey to readers. The theme is an abstract concept that is made concrete through images, characterization, and action in a story. The theme provides a unifying point around which plot, characters, setting, point of view, and other elements are organized.
Third-person point of view
The narrator isn’t a character in the story and pronouns such as he, she, it, they, and them are used.
For a more detailed description of third-person point of view, read How to Choose POV in Fiction Writing.
1) The author’s style. The quality that makes the author’s writing unique and conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.
2) The characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator.
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