J. Fernandez/English11 Literary Elements and Techniques The term

J. Fernandez/English11
The term Literary Elements refers to particular identifiable
characteristics of a whole text. They are not “used,” per se, by
authors; they represent the elements of storytelling which are
common to all literary and narrative forms. For example, every story
has a theme, every story has a setting, every story has a conflict,
every story is written from a particular point-of-view, etc. In order
to be discussed legitimately as part of a textual analysis, literary
elements must be specifically identified for that particular text.
The term Literary Techniques refers to any specific,
deliberate constructions or choices of language which an
author uses to convey meaning in a particular way. An
author’s use of a literary technique usually occurs with a
single word or phrase, or a particular group of words or
phrases, at one single point in a text. Unlike literary
elements, literary techniques are not necessarily present in
every text; they represent deliberate, conscious choices by
individual authors.
Allegory – a work of literature in which people, objects, and events
stand for abstract qualities such as evil, compassion, or greed. An
allegory is written not only to entertain but to teach a lesson or
moral principle.
Alliteration – the repetition of initial sounds in neighboring words.
Ex: sweet smell of success, a dime a dozen, jump for joy.
Anaphora (uh NAF uh ruh) - the repetition of a word, phrase, or
clause at the beginning of word groups occurring one after the
other. Examples: (1) Give me wine, give me women and give me
Antagonist – a character that is against the main character or
protagonist. Antagonists are usually villains, but an antagonist may
also be a force of nature, a set of circumstances, an animal, or other
force that is in conflict with the protagonist.
Aphorism - short, often witty statement presenting an observation
or a universal truth; an adage. Example: Many hands make light
work.–John Heywood.
Aside - words an actor speaks to the audience which other actors on
the stage cannot hear. Sometimes the actor cups his mouth toward
the audience or turns away from the other actors. An aside serves
to reveal a character's thoughts or concerns to the audience
without revealing them to other characters in a play.
Assonance – the repetition of vowel sounds but not
consonant sounds. Ex: John met his fate by the lake.
Characterization – describes a writer’s revelations of a character’s
personality traits. Authors bring an imaginary person or creature to
life through characterization. An author creates and develops
characters by describing physical appearance gestures, thoughts
and feelings, speech and behavior, and interactions with other
characters. The author may state characteristics directly through
the words used, or indirectly through words, actions or responses of
other characters. Fiction has different types of characters who
relate and interact with each other.
J. Fernandez/English11
a. Main Characters – around whom the plot revolves. These
characters tend to be more complex or ROUND. They are referred
to as DYNAMIC and often change as a result of their experiences.
Dramatic Irony: Where the audience or reader is aware of
something important, of which the characters in the story
are not aware.
b. Minor Characters – interact with main character or play a key
role. These characters are often one-dimensional or FLAT. They are
referred to as STATIC as they often remain the same with things
happening to them but not within them.
Dystopian Novel - An anti-utopian novel where, instead of a
paradise, everything has gone wrong in the attempt to create a
perfect society. Ex: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World. See
Utopian novel.
Cliché – a widely overused expression. Ex: Saying that something
cost “An arm and a leg”. *Clichés should be avoided whenever
possible in your writing.
Euphemism – A word or phrase that softens the hard reality of the
truth, such as senior citizen for old person, passed away for died,
misstatement for lie.
Climax: The turning point in a story, at which the end result
becomes inevitable, usually where something suddenly goes
terribly wrong; the “dramatic high point” of a story. (Although it
is technically a literary element, the term is only useful for
identification, as part of a discussion or analysis of structure; it
cannot generally be analyzed by itself.)
Flashback – When characters go back in time.
Conflict: A struggle between opposing forces which is the
driving force of a story. The outcome of any story provides
a resolution of the conflict(s); this is what keeps the reader
reading. Conflicts can exist between individual characters,
between groups of characters, between a character and
society, etc., and can also be purely abstract (i.e.,
conflicting ideas).
Denouement (day-noo-man) – the final outcome of the main
complication in a play or a story. It literally means the action of
Foil – A character that contrasts with another character, usually the
protagonist. In doing this, the foil highlights various facets of the
main character’s personality.
Foreshadowing – When a narrator hints at events that will occur
later in the story.
Hyperbole – An exaggeration or overstatement. Ex: I’m so hungry I
could eat a horse.
Imagery - Language which describes something in detail, using
words to substitute for and create sensory stimulation. The two
most common types of imagery are visual and sound, but imagery
may also appeal to our sense of taste and touch.
J. Fernandez/English11
Irony – An implied discrepancy between what is said and what is
meant: Verbal Irony is when an author says one thing and means
another. Dramatic Irony is when an audience perceives something
that a character in the literature does not know. Situational Irony is
a discrepancy between the expected result and the actual result.
Jargon - vocabulary understood by members of a profession or
trade but usually not by other members of the general public.
Litotes - Creation of a positive or opposite idea through negation.
Examples: (1) I am not unaware of your predicament. (2) This is no
small problem. (3) I'm not forgetful that you served me well.–John
Metaphor - A comparison of two unlike things without using the
words “like” or “as”. Ex: He is a pig.
Metonymy - Substitution of a word or phrase to stand for a word or
phrase similar in meaning. Examples: Wall Street welcomes the
reduction in interest rates. ("Wall Street" represents investors.)
Sweat, not wealth, earned her the respect of her peers. ("Sweat"
stands for hard work.)
Personification – treating abstractions or inanimate objects as
human by giving them human attributes, powers, or feelings. Ex:
Nature wept; the wind whispered many truths to me.
Point of View – the perspective from which the narrator tells the
a. First person – When the narrator uses “I” and is a character in the
b. Third person (limited) – When the narrator is a storyteller that
does not know everything. The narrator is outside of the story and
tells the story from only one character’s view.
c. Third person (omniscient) – When the narrator knows all the
facts. An example of this is when a narrator makes a statement like
“little did he know” or “Harold thought”. This shows that the
narrator has all the information on a character’s thought processes,
Onomatopoeia – A word that imitates the sound it represents. Ex:
splash, wow, gush, buzz, crash, whirr, hush, boom.
d. Second person – Rarely used; when the narrator refers to the
protagonist or another main character by using second person
pronouns such as “you”. Ex: (narrator speaking to character) “You
are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time
of the morning.”
Oxymoron – When two contradictory words are placed side by side.
Ex: honest lawyer, jumbo shrimp, same difference
Protagonist – the main character whose actions are the primary
focus of a story.
Paradox – An assertion that reveals a kind of truth which at first
seems contradictory. Ex: “It was the best of times; it was the worst
of times.”
Sarcasm – a type of irony; it is praise that is really an insult.
Sarcasm generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down.
Ex: This is my brilliant son, who dropped out of college.
J. Fernandez/English11
Satire – A literary tone used to ridicule or make fun of human vice
or weakness, often with the intent of correcting, or changing, the
subject of the satiric attack.
Setting - The total environment for the action of a work. Setting
includes time period (such as the 1890's), the place (such as
downtown Warsaw), and the time in history (such as during the
World War II). The setting is usually established
Simile – A comparison of two unlike things using the words “like” or
“as”. Ex: Tough as leather; pretty as a picture.
Soliloquy - Recitation in a play in which a character reveals his
thoughts to the audience but not to other characters in the play.
Stream of Consciousness – When the character’s thoughts and
feelings are presented by the narrator (a type of point-of-view).
Symbolism - The use of specific objects or images to represent
ideas. A symbol must be something tangible or visible, while the
idea it symbolizes must be something abstract or universal. In other
words, a symbol must be something you can hold in your hand or
draw a picture of, while the idea it symbolizes must be something
you can’t hold in your hands or draw a picture of.
Synecdoche - substitution of a part to stand for the whole, or the
whole to stand for a part. Examples: (1) The Confederates have eyes
in Lincoln's government. (The word "eyes" stands for spies.) (2) Jack
bought a new set of wheels. ("Wheels" stands for a car.) (3) The law
pursued the bank robbers from Maine to Florida. ("Law" stands for
Theme – A universal message that unifies and controls an entire
literary work.
Tone – The attitude that a writer takes towards a subject or
character: serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, tongue-incheek, solemn, objective.
Tragedy - where a story ends with a negative or unfortunate
outcome which was essentially avoidable, usually caused by a
flaw in the central character’s personality. Tragedy is really
more of a dramatic genre than a literary element; a play can be
referred to as a tragedy, but tragic events in a story are
essentially part of the plot, rather than a literary device in
themselves. When discussing tragedy, or analyzing a story as
tragic, look to the other elements of the story which combine to
make it tragic.
Tragic hero/tragic figure - A protagonist who comes to a bad
end as a result of his own behavior, usually caused by a specific
personality disorder or character flaw. (Although it is technically
a literary element, the term is only useful for identification, as
part of a discussion or analysis of character; it cannot generally
be analyzed by itself.)
Tragic flaw - The single characteristic (usually negative) or
personality disorder which causes the downfall of the
Utopian Novel - a novel that presents an ideal society
where problems like poverty, greed, and crime have been