Know your craft! Know the terminology! The cry heard at writers’ conferences. It’s no small task, because writing and reading ( to analyze literature and authorial techniques) requires subject knowledge.
Many literary terms reference books are available (as a language arts teacher I have several). This is just a small sampling of a few personal favorites related to NOVEL writing–as opposed to novel analyzing or poetry writing.
From A to Z
Alliteration: Repetition of constant sounds at the beginning of words. This can be effective especially if used for a specific purpose.
Example: Let’s say, you introduce a character who is a snake (conniving, devious, evil), you might use words beginning with S when describing him or in his dialog. We equate the S sound with snakes.
Allusion: Referring to a historical, religious, Shakespearean, or literary event or character.
Ex: Beginning a novel with a description of an idyllic garden where the characters are innocent alludes to the Biblical Garden Of Eden. If you write a scene with three witches who tempt an ambitious man, it’s an allusion to Macbeth.
Antihero: Not your typical hero protagonist. The antihero lacks those virtues and morals we deem, well…heroic. The world may have ‘done them wrong’ or the antihero may be in a situation beyond their control. What the reader does have for them is sympathy and empathy. And we really want them to triumph.
Ex: Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind; Captain jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean; Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye; Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby; Tony Soprano from The Sopranos.
Atmosphere: Overall mood or tone of a work. Can be achieved with symbolism, setting, and/or dialog.
Ex: Foreboding, tragic, passionate,melancholy, uplifting
Bildungsroman: German for Coming of Age novel. Traces the protagonist from youth to experience.
Ex: David Copperfield, Portrait of the Artist as a Young man
Cliche: Expression used so frequently it’s “snoozeville!” Can also refer to a plot, situation, or theme that has been “done to death.”
Confidant/Confidante: In literature/plays, this is the person of trust the protagonists talks to, thereby revealing the protagonist’s motives and emotions.
Conflict: Internal conflicts refer to struggles the character faces within themselves like overcoming fears or biases etc. External conflicts refer to struggles the character faces with other characters, situations, cultures. Most novels have both!
Note: No conflict= no novel. Have one! Better yet, have several–both internal and external.
Denouement: Final resolution of the conflict.
Dystopia: describes undesirable imaginary societies. The opposite of a utopia.
- Ex: Hunger Games, Anthem, Brave New World
Epistolary novel: Novel created from letters or correspondence (emails, anyone?). May uses more than one POV.
Ex: Bridgett Jones Diary (uses diary entries) Dracula, Frankenstein, The Color Purple
Foil: Character whose personality is in direct contrast, thereby revealing another ( usually the protagonist) character’s traits.
Ex: Mercutio was a foil to Romeo in Romeo & Juliet.
Foreshadowing: Hints or clues as to what’s to come or expect later in the story. This can be accomplished with dialog, symbols, actions, and events. The saying, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there” (Anton Chekhov) is foreshadowing–and good writing.
Ex: In The Great Gatsby, 2 car accidents foreshadow Gatsby’s car running over Myrtle.
Gothic novel: Genre known for its mystery, honor, supernatural, psychological horror, creepy settings, tragic love, and brooding atmosphere.
Ex: Think Frankenstein. Dracula, Carrie, Pet Cemetary, The Shining (“red rum…”)
Imagery: Creating pictures with words. See Imagery post for examples.
Inciting moment: Event or impetus that sets the rising action into motion.
Invective: Imaginative name calling. Shakespeare was the master Invectinator!
Ex: Monty Python: ”blinkered philistine pig-ignorance…” >>> Princess Bride: “Queen of Refuse. Queen of Slime. Queen of Putrescence” >>>Shakespeare: “though lump of of foul humanity”>>>>” thou detestable maw” >>>, “thou womb of death”>>> “you blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things”
Note: I’ve included a Shakespearean Invective Maker–good times in Nerdville. Invective maker pdf
Irony: Difference between reality and appearance. There are 3 types. Socratic, Verbal, and situation.
Ex: NOT! Ironically the song “Isn’t It Ironic” does not give examples of irony, merely misfortune. Perhaps the irony is that the song is not about irony!
Kenning; Combining 2 nouns together to make a word phrase synonym.
Ex: serpent’s swan of blood= raven; whale road= sea; gas guzzler= car; couch potato= lazy person; cancer stick= cigarette; eye candy= something we are attracted to ; lair= gold
Motif: Recurring word, image, phrase, idea, object, or situation that appears in various works or one work.
Oxymoron: Figure of speech in which 2 contradictory words make a single expression.
Ex: Dead alive; bitter sweet; deafeningly silent; deceptively honest; friendly fire; freezer burn; good grief; loud whisper
Portmanteau: Combining 2 words to create a new word.
Ex: brunch, smog, motel, splurge. sheeple. ( my own: when & if = whinf: Whenf I become a widely-read author.)
Static character: Character who does not change much during the story.
Stereotype: Universally recognized type of character (not to be confused with archetypes).
Ex: bungling detective, hard-boiled private eye, ditzy blonde chick, spoiled brat
Syntax: Arrangement of words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence. Syntax is paramount in creating tone or indicates an author’s style. Hemingway had a lean style. Joseph Conrad wrote long complex sentences.
Theme: Overarching idea or message of a story. Seldom stated directly. Expressed though characters, their actions, plot setting, and symbols. Those stories written for sheer entertainment often do not have a theme. Click Themes for Novels for ideas about how to write one and why you need one.
Tone: Author’s attitude about his subject, characters, or readers.
Tragic flaw: Personality trait, mistake, or error which causes the downfall of a hero of a tragedy.
I’ll save the really obscure literary terms for another post!
Related Links: Rock Your Writing