Literary Analysis Terms – Selected Glossary

Literary Terms Glossary:

Ambiguity – A vagueness of meaning; a conscious lack of clarity meant to evoke multiple meanings or interpretations.

Analogy – A comparison of two situations usually used to define or describe 

Concrete Details – The use of vivid and concrete details can help to bring a story to life and create a realistic atmosphere. The selection of specific details can also shape the atmosphere of a story, making a story somber and dark or light and open. 

Criticism – in literary studies, criticism is any work analyzing or commenting on works of literary art

Critical theory – this term refers to schools of thought, often academic in nature, which represent defined approaches to the interpretation (and sometimes uses) of literature and art; critical theory can be understood as the theory that defines the goals and shapes the outcomes of criticism

Exegesis and Explication – these terms refer to the act of explaining the meaning of a text via an investigation of the details, elements, and contexts of a text; the act of extracting meaning from a textor opening a text to the light of comprehension

Exaggeration – This technique is often used ironically and appears when what is stated in a narrative is not to be taken literally but instead understood as hyperbole or intentional overstatement.

Exclamation – This technique is punctuated often with an exclamation mark and is used to create emphasis and also used to demonstrate a certain pitch of attitude in a narrative voice

Figurative Language – Language that is not intended to be understood literally. This category of language includes metaphor, simile, hyperbole and other non-literal devices.

Irony – irony takes several forms all of which rely on the co-existence of multiple meanings or ways of understanding a given circumstance.

Dramatic irony occurs when a character or characters (and the audience) has possession of information that other characters do not (as in the end of Romeo & Juliet where the audience knows that Juliet has taken a sleeping serum but Romeo believes she is dead).

Situational Irony occurs when a highly unexpected outcome occurs, which seems to revise or refute the meaning of the events leading up to the outcome (as in the case of “The Story of an Hour” wherein the protagonist dies in response to discovering  that the person she believed to be dead is actually alive).

Verbal Irony occurs when a term or phrase is used to express an opposite idea (as in the use of sarcasm).


  • a long speech by one actor in a play or movie, or as part of a theatrical or broadcast program.

Narrative Perspective (Point of View) – Point of view in literature refers to the position of the narrative voice in relation to the events of a story. If the narrator is involved in the story, then the story is being told from the first person perspective. If the narrator is outside the story “looking in,” then the story is being told from the third person narrative point of view.

Types of Narrative Perspective
  • First Person Point of View
    • a narrative perspective that speaks with the voice of a character inside the story (or one character at a time)
    • this perspective will often use “I” (the first person pronoun)
  • Second Person Point of View
    • a narrative perspective that uses the assumed “you” (second person pronoun)
    • usually limited in its use to instructional guides and things like that
  • Third Person Omniscient Point of View
    • a narrative perspective where the narrative voice stands outside the story but has access to the thoughts and feelings of most (or all) of the characters
  • Third Person Limited Point of View 
    • a narrative perspective where the narrative voice stands outside the story and has limited access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters         
    • in this perspective, the narrator may have access to the thoughts and feelings of one character but will not have access to many or most characters

Prose – writing that takes the form of whole sentences is known as prose (as opposed to poetry or “verse”)

Refrain – a form of repetition that functions much like the chorus of a song, a refrain is an exact (or nearly exact) repetition of a particular line or set of lines across various moments in a text

Repetition – This is both a plot technique and a rhetorical device. When used as a plot technique, repetition can help to communicate the nature of a story’s conflict as a scene or set of events is repeated and the specific details that change in subsequent repetitions stand out from what is repeated. Repetition can also demonstrate a narrator’s state of mind in the case of a first-person narrative.

Symbolism – The use of one object or idea to represent another object or idea. The idea of representation is key here and for symbolism to be effective the correlation between the symbol and the idea it represents should be relatively clear. Common, generic examples of symbolism are the rose as a symbol of love, new leaves as a symbol of spring and darkness as a symbol for mystery.

Verse – writing that takes the form of poetry is known as verse


Plot Devices & Plot Elements

Conceit – the essential basis for a work of fiction; a foundational metaphor, analogy or imaginative concept carried throughout a work of poetry or fiction; an extended metaphor that effectively characterizes an entire creative work

Flashback & Flash-forward – a flashback occurs when the present moment of a narrative is interrupted with an episode from the past and a flash-forward occurs when the present moment is interrupted by an episode from the future (not to be confused with foreshadowing, see below)

Foreshadowing – hints, clues or intimations that point to certain outcomes in a narrative; foreshadowing is distinct from a flash-forward because foreshadowing will not include whole scenes or actual action from the future but instead is limited to hints and innuendo

Frame Story – a frame story is a narrative device wherein an initial fictional setting is provided and a character in that setting then tells the larger story as in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” where a character arrives at a wedding and tells a wedding guest the story of time lost at sea. In this example the wedding setting is a frame within which the central narrative is told

Plot Structure – this term refers to the arrangement of a narrative and so describes how a story is told from a functional standpoint; the manner in which a story is put together or in which the parts of a story are arranged

Linear Narratives – a linear narrative follows a story forward through time without ever deviating from the progression via flashback or other shifts in time or significant changes in narrative point of view

Non-Linear Narratives – a non-linear narrative is characterized by shifts in time of narrative point of view; a non-linear narrative does not follow a straight line or otherwise progress directly forward in time

Episodic Narratives – an episodic narrative uses a segmented story-telling style wherein the flow of time is noticeably choppy; episodic narratives can be linear or non-linear, but will always present gaps in a story’s time-line; instead of moving fluidly from one moment to the next in the life of a character, an episodic narrative will jump from one period of time to another (sometimes jumping back and forth)

Stream of Consciousness – a version of first-person narration, this stylized method of narration takes the form of a free-flowing style that mimics the way a person thinks, often used to emphasize the subjectivity of experience and the idiosyncrasies of a person’s experience of life


Published by eric m martin

A writer, teacher and coffee shop owner living in the southern reaches of the Mojave Desert.

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