Diction and Syntax, Fiction, Poetry, Tone and Irony Basic Terms

deliberate choice of words and a style of language for a desired effect

words one syllable in length

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words more than one syllable in length

slang words
– Examples: ate up, fam, rugrat, head honcho, yap

conversational words
– Examples: bug, folks, job, kid, boss, get across

academic or literary words
– Examples: germ, relatives, employment, child, superior, communicate

words no longer in common use
– Examples: poorly, kith and kin, billet, urchin, consul, impart

words containing an exact meaning
– Examples: wedding dress, law officer, public servant

words containing a suggested meaning
Examples: wedding gown, cop, bureaucrat

a word capturing or approximating the sound of what it describes
– Examples: buzz, swish

words that are specific in meaning
– Examples: gaze, stride, slump, weep, hurl, black Labrador retriever, tall boy

words that are general in meaning
– Examples: look, walk, sit, cry, throw, dog, boy

words that sound pleasant
– Examples: butterfly or cloud

words that sound harsh
– Examples: pus or maggot

the way in which words, phrases, and sentences are ordered and connected in a literary work

declarative sentence
a sentence makes a statement
– Example: The queen is sick.

imperative sentence
a sentence that gives a command
– Example: Cure the queen!

interrogative sentence
an independent clause that asks a question
– Example: Is the queen sick?

exclamatory sentence
a sentence provides emphasis or expresses strong emotion
– Example: The queen is dead! Long live the queen!

simple sentence
contains one independent clause (i.e. one subject and one verb)
– Example: The singer bowed to her adoring audience

compound sentence
contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet) or a semicolon
– Example: The singer bowed to the audience, but she sang no encores.

complex sentence
contains an independent clause and one or more subordinating clauses
– Example: Because the singer was tired, she went straight to bed after the concert.

compound-complex sentence
contains two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses
– Example: While the audience applauded, the singer bowed, but she sang no encores.

loose (cumulative) sentence
makes complete sense if brought to a close before the actual ending
– Example I: We reached Paris that morning after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences, tired but exhilarated, full of stories to tell our friends and neighbors.

– Example II: We reached Paris that morning after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences.

– Example III: We reached Paris that morning.

periodic sentence
makes sense fully only when the end of the sentence is reached
Example: That morning, after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences, we reached Paris.

rhetorical question
a question that requires no answer; it is used to draw attention to a point and is generally stronger than a direct statement

rhetorical fragment
a sentence fragment used deliberately for a persuasive purpose or to create a desired effect
– Example: Something to consider.

telegraphic sentences
shorter than five words in length

short sentences
approximately five words in length

medium sentences
approximately eighteen words in length

long and involved sentences
thirty or more words in length

natural order
involves constructing a sentence so the subject comes before the predicate (the part of a sentence containing the verb and that, often, says something about the subject)
– Examples: Oranges grow in California.
He was strong.

inverted order
involves constructing a sentence so the predicate comes before the subject
– Examples: In California grow the oranges.
Strong he was.

split order
involves dividing the predicate into two parts with the subject in the middle
– Example: In California oranges grow.

balanced sentence
the phrases or clauses in a sentence balance each other by virtue of their likeness of structure, meaning, or length
– Example: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

parallel structure (parallelism)
involves an arrangement of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs so that elements of equal importance are equally developed and similarly phrased
– Example: He loved swimming, running, and playing tennis.

involves a direct contrast of structurally parallel words groupings generally for the purpose of contrast
– Example: You can either sink or swim.

the opposite of parallel construction- inverting the second of two phrases that would otherwise be parallel in form
– Example: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country – John F. Kennedy

a device in which words, sounds, and ideas are used more than once to enhance rhythm and to create emphasis
– Example: “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” from “Address in Gettysburg” by Abraham Lincoln

a type of repetition; repeats the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses
– Example: We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills – Winston Churchill

a poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, often creating an effect of surprise and wit
– Example: “The apparition of these faces in a crowd: / Petals on a wet, black bough” from “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

the use of a verb that has two different meanings with objects that compliment both meanings
– Example: He stole both her car and her heart that fateful night.
My teeth and ambitions are bared – Scar in The Lion King

classification of writing into poetry, prose (fiction and nonfiction), and drama

“education novel” or a novel that depicts the intellectual, emotional, and moral development of its protagonist from childhood into adulthood

epistolary novel
a novel written in the form of letters sent and exchanged between people

frame narrative
a narrative that recounts and thus frames the telling of another narrative or story

the practice in literature of attempting to describe nature and life as they are without idealization or distortion

psychological realism
a literary attempt to accurately represent the workings of the human mind

magical realism
a type of fiction in which the familiar, plausible action and characters that one might find in a more straightforward realist fiction coexist with utterly fantastic ones straight out of myths and dreams

gothic fiction
a kind of fiction that features plots involving mystery and the supernatural as well as large, gloomy, and often antiquated buildings as settings

a fictional story with supernatural significance that contains deeper truths, particularly about the nature of humankind

a short story illustrating a moral or religious lesson

an ancient type of short fiction illustrating a moral or satirizing human beings; in a fable, the characters are often animals

a comical imitation of a serious piece of literature with the intent of ridiculing the author or work

a literary work characterized by broad humor, wild antics, and often slapstick, pratfalls, or other physical humor

a work of fiction that ridicules and exposes the shortcomings of society, individuals, and institutions in the hope that change is possible

a poem, play, or story that celebrates and idealizes simple rural life

the insight about a topic communicated by an author in his or her literary work; usually implicitly communicated through the work

a rule of conduct or a maxim for living communicated through a literary work; usually explicitly stated in the work

a recurrent device, formula, or situation within a literary work

the particular way in which the parts of a written work are combined

in media res
a narrative that begins “in the middle of things”

interruption of a linear narrative by the introduction of an earlier event or image of past experience

interruption of a linear narrative by the introduction of a future event or image into the present plot

hints at what is to come; sometimes noticeable only in hindsight

the first part of plot, which sets the scene, introduces and identifies the characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a literary work

rising action
the second part of plot, in which events complicate the situation that existed at the beginning of a work, intensifying the initial conflict or introducing a new one

the third part of plot, known as the turning point or the crisis; the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing

falling action (denoument)
the fourth part of plot, in which the conflict or conflicts move toward resolution

conclusion (resolution or denoument)
the fifth and last phase of plot, the point at which the situation that was destabilized at the beginning becomes stable once more and the conflict is resolved

a short section or chapter that comes after the conclusion that ties up loose ends and often describes what happens to the characters after the resolution of the conflict

any event or series of events depicted in a literary work; may be verbal or physical

inciting incident (destabilizing event):
an action that sets a plot in motion by creating conflict

an action or event that introduces a new conflict or intensifies the existing one, especially during the rising action of a plot

deus ex machina
any improbable plot contrivance introduced late in a literary work to resolve the conflict

the most neutral and broadly applicable term for the main character of a work

a character or nonhuman force that opposes or is in conflict with the protagonist

a character in a literary work who is especially virtuous, usually larger than life, and sometimes godlike

a protagonist who is in one way or another the very opposite of a traditional hero

a character that serves as a contrast to another

a character, situation, or symbol that is familiar to people from all cultures because it occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore

round characters
complex and multifaceted characters who act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible

stock characters
familiar types that occur frequently in literary works, especially in a particular genre

dynamic characters
change over the course of a literary work

static characters
do not change over the course of a literary work

direct characterization
occurs when a narrator tells us what a character is like

indirect characterization
occurs when a character’s traits are revealed implicitly, through his or her speech, behavior, thoughts, appearance, etc.

point of view
the individual who tells the story; provides the reader with one perspective about the events of the story; may or may not be the same attitude of the author

the teller of the story in a literary work, not necessarily the author of the work

the verbal aspect of point of view; the way the narrator of a story speaks

first person point of view (participant point of view):
the narrator participates in the plot of the story; uses first person pronouns (I, me, my, we, us, our)

major character
the story is told by and is chiefly about the narrator

minor character
the narrator tells a story that focuses on someone else, but the narrator is still a character in the story

faulty narrator
a narrator who the reader does not trust and the author does not support

innocent-eye narrator
the character telling the story may be a child or otherwise naïve; the contrast between what the narrator perceives and what the reader understands about a story may produce an ironic effect

unreliable narrator
a narrator whose account in a story is suspicious

stream of consciousness
a narrative method in which the author tells the story through an unbroken flow of thought and awareness; the techniques attempts to capture exactly what is going on in the mind of the character

third person point of view (nonparticipant)
the narrator of a story does not participate in its plot or action; uses third person pronouns (he, him, she, her, they, them)

omniscient narrator
the narrator can enter the minds of all the characters

limited (selective) narrator
the narrator can enter the mind of only a few or just one character

objective narrator
the narrator does not enter a single mind, but instead records what can be seen and heard

a reference in literature to previous literature, history, mythology, or pop culture

a prayer to the gods or muse for inspiration at the start of a literary piece, such as a book of epic poetry

a source of inspiration, particularly for epic poetry

a brief quotation found at the beginning of a literary work, often reflective of a theme

figures of speech
the use language that deviates from the literal, denotative meanings of words in order to suggest additional, connotative meanings or effects

figurative language
language that is not literal in its expression but uses figures of speech

the use of figurative language to evoke a feeling, call to mind an idea, or describe an object; appeals to the five senses

a figure of speech that addresses a person not present or one who is dead and who therefore cannot listen; a figure of speech that addresses an inanimate object or animal that cannot comprehend

a figure of speech that makes a comparison without a connective such as like or as or a verb such as appears; the comparison is between two things that are literally incompatible or dissimilar

indirect metaphor
only one of the items in a metaphor is stated; the other is implied

direct metaphor
both parts of a metaphor are directly stated

controlling or extended metaphor
a metaphor that runs throughout an entire work

a literary work in which characters, actions, and even settings have two levels of connected meaning; elements of the literal level serve as symbols for a figurative level that often imparts a lesson or moral to the reader

a figure of speech that replaces the name of something with a word or phrase clearly associated with it

the whole of something is replaced by the part, or the part of something is replaced by the whole

a figure of speech that makes an explicit comparison between two unlike items using a connective such as like, as, or than or a verb such as appears or seems

epic simile
an elaborate comparison extended over several lines, usually in epic poetry

a type of comparison similar to a metaphor and a simile but one in which the relationship between the two parts of the comparison is clear and understood

a figure of speech that attributes human feelings or characteristics to non-human abstractions or inanimate objects

a concrete object, scene, or action which has deeper significance because it is associated with something else

traditional symbol
one that recurs frequently in literature and thus is immediately recognizable to those who belong to a given culture

invented symbol
symbols that accrue a particular complex meaning only within a particular literary work
Example: the letter A in The Scarlet Letter

a verse narrative that is, or originally was, meant to be sung; characterized by simple diction, meter, and rhyme scheme; by stock imagery; and by repetition and refrain

concrete poetry
also known as shaped verse; poetry in which the words on the page are arranged to look like an object

dramatic monologue
poetry in which a speaker addresses a silent listener/audience in a specific situation and setting that is revealed entirely throughout the speaker’s words
a poem in the form of a speech or narrative by an imagined person, in which the speaker inadvertently reveals aspects of their character while describing a particular situation or series of events.

a lyric written in a sorrowful mood with death as its primary subject, mainly focusing on the speaker’s efforts to come to terms with his or her grief over the death of a specific person

a long narrative poem that celebrates the achievements of mighty heroes and heroines, usually in founding a nation or developing a culture; uses elevated language and a grand, high style

mock epic
a form of satire in which epic language and conventions are used to convey characters, actions, and settings utterly unlike those in conventional efforts, with the goal of ridiculing society or the types of people portrayed in the poem

a very short, usually witty verse with a quick turn at the end
– Examples: “Little strokes / fell great oaks” by Benjamin Franklin
“I can resist everything but temptation” by Oscar Wilde
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue” by Dorothy Parker

a short statement on a serious subject; generally expresses a truth or moral principle

a Japanese poetic form that consists of seventeen syllables arranged in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables

a light or humorous poem consisting of mainly anapestic lines, i.e. the first, second, and fifth are three feet long while the third and fourth lines are two feet long; the rhyme scheme is: aabba
There was a young girl from St. Paul,
Wore a newspaper-dress to a ball.
The dress caught on fire
And burned her entire
Front page, sporting section and all.

a relatively short poem in which the speaker expresses his or her thoughts and feelings in the first person, rather than recounting a narrative or portraying a dramatic situation

a lyric poem characterized by a serious topic and formal tone but without a prescribed formal pattern in which the speaker talks about, and often to, an especially revered person, or thing

narrative poem
a poem in which a narrator tells a story

a poem that is the same forwards and backwards

an elaborate poem written in blank verse that consists of six stanzas of six lines each followed by a three line stanza; the final words of each line in the first stanza appear in a different order at the ends of the lines in the next five stanzas, and they are repeated in the middle and the end of the three lines in the final stanza

a poem consisting of fourteen lines, divided into rhymed stanzas, and written according to a formal meter

Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet
consists of an octave and a sestet, with either an abbaabba cdecde or abbacddc defdef rhyme scheme

Shakespearean (English) sonnet
consists of three quatrains and a couplet, with an abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme

a list used in poetry as a demonstration of a poet’s skill to name angels, trees, etc.

the narrative voice of the poem; not the same as the author

internal structure
created by a shift in focus, subject matter, or tone in a poem

external structure
created by stanzas

a section of a poem, marked by extra line spacing before and after, that often has a pattern of meter and rhyme

two consecutive lines of verse linked by rhyme and meter

heroic couplet
a couplet written in iambic pentameter

a four-line unit of poetry

a six-line unit of poetry

an eight-line unit of poetry

the repetition of initial consonant sounds through a sequence of words

the repetition of vowel sounds through a sequence of words with different endings

the repetition of the same consonant sound in words with different vowel sounds

blank verse
poetry characterized by unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter

free verse
poetry characterized by varying line lengths, lack of tradition meter, and non-rhyming lines

end rhyme
poetry in which the ends of the lines rhyme

internal rhyme
poetry in which rhymes occur within a line of poetry

the basic unit of poetic meter, consisting of various patterns of one-to-three stressed and unstressed syllables; a foot may contain more than one word or just one syllable of a multisyllabic word

a foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables; one foot is known as a dactyl

a foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable; one foot is known as an iamb

a foot consisting of a pair of stressed syllables

a foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable

the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry; determined by the kind of foot (iambic, trochaic, etc.) and the number of feet per line

the process of analyzing and sometimes marking poetry to determine its meter

a line of poetry consisting of three feet

a line of poetry consisting of four feet

a line of poetry consisting of five feet

a line of poetry consisting of eight feet

terza rima
translates to “third rhyme” from Italian; a poetic form consisting of three-line stanzas in which the second line of each stanza rhymes with the first and the third in the next

a short pause within a line of poetry, often but not always signaled by punctuation; the effect of a caesura is to create shift in rhythmic pattern of a line, which parallels a shift in focus

end stopped
a line of poetry that contains or concludes a complete clause and usually ends with a punctuation mark

complete thoughts or sentences span multiple lines of poetry
My heart leaps up when I behold
a rainbow in the sky

An author’s, narrator’s, speaker’s, or character’s attitude toward a subject, his or herself, and the audience

Tone of voice
The specific attitude/emotion of the author, narrator, speaker, or character. Ex. happy or sad

Tone intensity
The level of attitude/emotion changing within the work. Ex. happy vs joyful vs ecstatic or sad vs gloomy vs depressed

Tone shift
The attitude/emotion changing within the work. Ex. happy to sad tone shift halfway through a work.
Signaled by:
keywords: but, yet, however, although
punctuation: dashes, periods, colons
structure: stanza and paragraph division, changes in line, stanza, or sentence length

A deliberate contrast between two levels of meaning.
A contrast between what is said and what is meant.
A contrast between what happens and what is expected to happen. Often marked by grim humor and unemotional detachment or coolness on the part of the speaker, narrator, character, or author.
Allows author to suggest complex meanings without explicit stating them.

Verbal irony
Implying a different meaning from, and often the complete opposite of, what is explicitly stated.

A deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration; may be used for either serious or comic effect; intended to imply the intensity of a speaker’s feelings or convictions by putting them in uncompromising or absolute terms.

Opposite of hyperbole; the author deliberately says something much less forcefully what she means.

A type of understatement in which one negates the contrary of what one means. Ex. not bad

A person appears to be praising something when they are actually insulting the thing; the purpose if to hurt or injure. Ex. As I fell down the stairs head first, I heard her say, “Look at that coordination.”

Situational irony
The opposite of what is expected occurs; discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, appearance and reality, or what occurs and what would seem appropriate. PLOT TWIST

Cosmic irony
Similar to situational irony; characters are led to embrace false hopes of aid or success, only to be defeated by some larger force, such as God or fate.

Structural irony
Occurs in a literary work with a naive protagonist or unreliable narrator who continually misinterprets events and intentions in ways that the author signals are mistakes. Ex. The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is unaware of reality.

Dramatic irony
Occurs when the audience or reader knows more of a character’s situation than the character does; also a discrepancy in a poem between what the speaker says and what the poem means.

A statement of situation containing apparently contradictory or incompatible elements, but one that usually has a coherent meaning and reveals a truth which is normally hidden. May be verbal or situational

Paradoxical situation
Ex. You blow on your hands to warm them up; you blow on your soup to cool it down.

Verbal Paradox
The paradox usually stems from one of the words used figuratively or with more than one denotation. Ex. “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

a short verbal paradox that combines a pair of contrary terms into a single expression; usually serves the purpose of shocking the reader into awareness, conveys a truth. Ex. Jumbo shrimp

A play on words with the same sound (Homonyms) or similar sounds, but have sharply contrasted meanings; effect is usually witty and humorous