English 10/10AD

Name: _______________________________
English 9 - Fundamental Literary Terms
1. literal
The most obvious, dictionary definition of a word. For example:
“That diamond is a gem.” The dictionary definition of gem
is “a precious rock,” so the word gem is being used literally.
2. figurative
When a word is used to mean something other than its literal meaning.
For example: “My sister is a gem.” In this case, the word
gem is being used as a figure of speech to say that the
writer’s sister is very special, not that she is a precious rock.
3. plot
The sequence of events in a story. Example: in the “Tortoise and
the Hare” the plot is that there is a race between a tortoise
and a hare in which the tortoise wins despite his slow speed.
4. theme
A main idea or central message in a literary work.
Themes are often expressed in the form of a general
statement about life or about a specific subject, such as “No
one grows old without some regrets” or “True love can
conquer hatred.”
Often you can identify a theme in a literary work by asking
“What did the characters learn from their experiences?” as
you read. Example: a theme in “Tortoise and the Hare” is
that perseverance is more important than speed.
5. setting
The time and place in which a story takes place, including physical
surroundings, customs, and values. Setting is often
important because it affects the decisions that characters
make and the choices that they have.
6. conflict
A struggle between opposing forces.
 Inner conflict (also known as character vs. self
conflict) occurs when a character faces a decision.
 Outer conflict (character vs. character, character vs.
society, or character vs. nature) occurs when the
conflict is between a character and an external force.
7. climax
The turning point of a story, at which the outcome of the plot
becomes inevitable. For example, in the fable “The Boy
Who Cried Wolf,” the moment that the villagers decide to
no longer believe the boy is a turning point.
8. protagonist
The main character in a work (like the boy in “The Boy Who
Cried Wolf”). The protagonist is the character whose fate
we are most invested in; he or she is not always “good.”
9. antagonist
The person or force that opposes the protagonist to create the story’s
main conflict. “Forces” that oppose protagonists may include
personal characteristics like greed, envy, fear, and self-doubt.
10. characterization An author’s means of conveying (getting across) information about a
character’s personality, life history, values, physical traits, and the like.
Authors characterize their characters by showing what they
do, what they say, what other characters say about the
person, or through narrative description (such as “the
tortoise was a persistent animal”).
11. point-of-view
The identity of the narrative voice in a literary work; the person or
entity through which the reader experiences the story. Points
of view include:
 First-person: narrated by a character in the story (“I
looked down from the hill…”)
 Third-person: narrated from outside of the characters
(“She looked down from the hill…”)
12. symbol
A thing, character, or object used to represent an idea or something
greater than itself. For example, countries use flags as symbols
of shared national values and the ideas of patriotic duty. The
term symbolism refers to the use of symbols.