• Terms about Writing


    The Major Categories


    Poetry:  writing usually characterized by the figurative use of language, the employment of sound devices, and a greater degree of rhythm than prose achieved through the manipulation of writing mechanics and line breaks in ways not ordinarily utilized in prose.  However, the distinction between poetry and prose is never as obvious as this definition (or any other definition for that matter) might suggest.


    Prose: writing that does not generally possess a rhythm which can be scanned by using any of the usual metrical schemes. Prose could be considered to be all writing that is not poetry.


    Rhetoric: the body of principles and theories having to do with the presentation of facts and ideas in clear, convincing, and attractive language. However, the word can also refer to oratorical emptiness.




    Line: the fundamental difference between poetry and prose, the place where rhythm begins


    Verse: both a unit of poetry (usually a line) and a name given to poetry in general


    End-Stopped: refers to lines of poetry where endings coincide with natural speech pauses – the opposite of run-on lines


    Feminine Ending: refers to a line of poetry that ends with an unaccented syllable


    Masculine Ending: refers to a line of poetry that ends with an accented syllable


    Run-On (Enjambment) : refers to lines endings that do not correspond to natural speech pauses


    Groups of Lines

    Stanza: a recurring group of lines combined according to a definite rhyme scheme or

     other distinguishing pattern

    Couplet: two consecutive rhyming lines – when written in iambic pentameter they are

                   called heroic couplets

    Triplet/Tercet: three line stanza or group of lines

    Quatrain: four line stanza or group of lines

    Sestet: six line stanza or group of lines

    Octave: eight line stanza or group of lines

    Refrain: a line or group of lines repeated at various intervals throughout a poem found in most songs and ballads


    Measuring Lines of Poetry


    Rhythm: more or less regular recurrence of accented and unaccented syllables


    Meter: more systematic than rhythm, arrangement of accented and unaccented syllables in regular repeated patterns


    Accent: emphasis in loudness, pitch, or duration with which a syllable is spoken – stress


    Scansion: The analysis of a poems metrical scheme


    Syllabic Meter: meter based on the number of syllables in each line


    Alliterative Meter: based on an equal number of stressed syllables on each side of a line

            of poetry, divided by a caesura


    Accentual Syllabic Meter: pattern of accented and unaccented syllables in a line


    Foot: elementary unit of measure in Accentual Syllabic Meter determined by the

              following combinations of accented and unaccented syllables


    Iamb: a foot consisting of two syllables, the first unstressed, and the second stressed

    Trochee: a foot consisting of two syllables, the first stressed and the second unstressed

    Anapest: a foot consisting of three syllables, the first two unstressed and the last stressed

    Dactyl: a foot consisting of three syllables, the first accented and the last two unaccented

    Spondee: a foot consisting of two accented syllables Double Iamb: a foot consisting of

        four syllables, two unaccented followed by two accented


    Monometer: a line containing one foot

    Dimeter: a line containing two feet

    Trimeter: a line containing three feet

    Tetrameter: a line containing four feet

    Pentameter: a line containing five feet

    Hexameter: a line containing six feet

    Heptameter: a line containing seven feet




    Types of Poems


    Lyric: derived from the Greek word lyre, the musical instrument, and given to any poetry which has the effect of communicating an emotion or mood, usually the personal feelings of the speaker or even the poet shorter than dramatic or epic poems


    Dramatic: a poem presenting characters and situations almost entirely through dialogue with no, or few, direct statements from a narrator

    Dramatic Monologue: A lyric poem which reveals a character through that characters own words in a dramatic situation with another silent character. By hearing one side of the discussion, the reader receives insights into the speaker’s personality.


    Pastoral: usually dealing with simple characters (commonly shepherds and their loves, not necessarily their sheep) in an idealized, unspoiled setting


    Narrative: poetry concerned with telling a story, containing dramatic and lyric elements


    Epic: long narrative poem centered on a representative hero taking part in a series of significant adventures, usually written in elevated language about a great theme (love or war, at least for the Greeks)


    Elegy: a lament for the dead, derived from Greek word “elegeia” meaning “song of mourning”


    Ode: long, lyric poem elevated in style and serious in theme -- often addressed to a person, place, object, or abstract idea

             In Greek poetry the ode was characterized by a particular form and meter; in English, however, no particular ode form exits. Therefore, this type of poem, in the English tradition, can only be defined in terms of tone and content.


    Blank Verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter


    Ballad: simple, narrative poem meant to be sung, built on Scottish and English forms


    Prose Poem: blocked as a paragraph — does not employ the poetic line


    Sonnet: 14 line lyric poem of iambic pentameter also defined by various rhyme schemes


    Italian (Petrarchan):  a,b,b,a,a,b,b,a, c,d,c,d,c,d or c,d,e,c,d,e with the division

     between the octave and sestet generally marking an abrupt

     change in thought or tone

    Elizabethan (Shakespearean): a,b,a,b,c,d,c,d,e,f,e,f,g,g Any change in tone or

        thought generally occurs in the couplet.



    Rhyme: repetition of concluding sounds in words

    End: two different words at the end of two different lines

    Feminine: between words that end with unstressed syllables

    Masculine: between words that end with stressed syllables

    Internal: occurring in words within one line of poetry

    Light: involving a masculine ending word and a feminine ending word

    Slant: imperfect -ex. breed and dread





    Elements of Fiction


    Plot: sequence of events

                Flashback: A method of narration in which present action is temporarily    interrupted so that the reader can witness past events--usually in the form of a character's memories, dreams, narration, or even authorial.

    Setting: time and place in which a work occurs


    Narrative Point of View: term used to describe the way a reader is presented with  

           information in a work of fiction, and how much information is


    A first-person narrator takes part in the action of apiece.

    A third-person narrator does not take part in the action of a piece.

    A narrator who is “all-knowing,” is called omniscient.

    A narrator who is not “all-knowing,” is called limited.


    Characterization: the creation and presentation of a character in a work of fiction, often employing three different means: (1) direct presentation of information through direct exposition, (2) presentation through actions, (3) presentation through internal means by the character in question,  a method determined to a large extent by point of view employed


    Static Characters: change very little throughout a work


    Dynamic Characters: change significantly during a work of fiction


    Flat Character: Also called a static character, a flat character is a simplified character who does not change or alter his or her personality over the course of a narrative, or one without extensive personality and characterization.

    Round Character: A round character is depicted with such psychological depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real" person.


    Tone: writer’s attitude toward material revealed by choice of words, images, or rhythms


    Mood:  (from Anglo-Saxon, mod "heart" or "spirit"): (1) In literature, a feeling, emotional state, or disposition of mind--especially the predominating atmosphere or tone of a literary work. Most pieces of literature have a prevailing mood, but shifts in this prevailing mood may function as a counterpoint, provide comic relief, or echo the changing events in the plot. The term mood is often used synonymously with atmosphere and ambiance. Students and critics who wish to discuss mood in their essays should be able to point to specific diction, description, setting, and characterization to illustrate what sets the mood

    Atmosphere (Also called mood): The emotional feelings inspired by a work. The term is borrowed from meteorology to describe the dominant mood of a selection as it is created by diction, dialogue, setting, and description.


    Theme: the central or dominating idea in a literary work, a thesis or general topic of discussion in most non-fiction prose pieces, in poetry, fiction, or drama, the abstract concept which is made concrete through its representation in the work


    Dialogue: The lines spoken by a character or characters in a play, essay, story, or novel, especially a conversation between two characters, or a literary work that takes the form of such a discussion

    Elements of Drama


    Dramatic Structure: according to the Greeks, the plot of a drama could be compared to the tying and untying a knot, resulting in action which could be diagramed as a pyramid with exposition, complication, conflict, climax, and denouement


    Exposition: introduction to a drama which creates the tone, gives the setting, introduces some characters, and supplies other facts necessary to the understanding of the play, such as events in the story supposed to have taken place before the action which is actually included in the play


    Complication: rising action which begins because of some force within the play leading to conflict and eventual climax

    Conflict: struggle resulting from complications presented in the plot, usually involving the protagonist

    Four common types of conflict:

    1.protagonist vs. nature

    2. vs. society

    3. vs. another character (antagonist)

    4. vs. self


    climax: (1) in rhetoric, used to indicate arrangement of words, phrases. and clauses in

           sentences to form a rising order of importance in the ideas expressed

     (2) in larger pieces, especially fiction, point of highest interest, and greatest

          emotional response

     (3) in drama, point at which the rising action ends and falling action (or

         denouement) inevitably begins, sometimes called the “crisis”


    Denouement: final, inevitable unraveling, or falling action, of plot in drama or fiction serves as explanation or outcome, and sometimes includes exposure of villain, clearing up of disguises or mistaken identities, or reuniting of family members


    Protagonist: chief character in a play or story tagonist: the protagonist’s opponent when plot involves a conflict between individuals


    Elements of Rhetoric


    Diction: use of words in oral or written discourse

    Formal – level of usage common in serious or academic writing

    Informal — level of usage found in relaxed but polite conversation

    Colloquial — everyday usage of a group, but not universally acceptable

    Slang — newly coined words not yet accepted as part of informal usage


    Style: manner in which words are combined in order to express the individuality of the author and the intent in the author’s mind, the adaptation of language to idea


    Structure: name given to the planned framework of a piece of literature


    Methods (Modes) of Development: strategies for structure and organization

    (1) narration — telling a story to make a point

    (2) description -- a verbal portrait

    (3) process analysis — discussion of how something is done, or an end is achieved

    (4) comparison — the systematic analysis of two or more things (if dissimilar, may be

          termed a“contrast”)

    (5) classification — organizing groups of information into groups or categories

    (6) causal analysis — the consideration of cause and effect

    (7) exposition — to explain the nature of an object, idea, or theme

    (8) argumentation — writing which seeks to persuade



    Tools and Devices Found in Most Forms of Writing


    Allegory: device in which characters, things, or happenings have other meanings, usually thematic in nature; more far-reaching in its influence than an image or symbol, even affecting the structure of some works


    Alliteration: repetition of consonant sounds (usually) at the beginning of words within a line of poetry


    Allusion: a reference to another work of literature or an historical event within another literary work in order to enrich imagery or theme


    Apostrophe: remark addressed to non-existent or absent person as though the person in question were actually present


    Assonance: repetition of vowel sounds within a line of poetry


    Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of poetry


    cliche: trite or hackneyed expressions


    Connotation: suggestions or implications of a word beyond its literal meaning


    Consonance: repetition of consonant sounds within words in a line of poetry; also known as alliterative effect


    Denotation: literal meaning of a word

    Epistle: (1) A poem addressed to a patron, friend, or family member, thus a kind of "letter" in verse. (2) An actual prose letter sent to another. (3) A distinct part or section of such a poem or letter.


    Epistolary: Taking the form of a letter, or actually consisting of a letter written to another. For instance, several books in the New Testament written by Saint Paul are epistolary--they were originally letters written to newly founded Christian churches. Sometimes, novelists will write an epistolary novel, in which the story is unveiled as a series of letters between the characters.

    Epistolary Novel: Any novel that takes the form of a series of letters--either written by one character or several characters. The form allows an author to dispense with an omniscient point of view, but still switch between the viewpoints of several characters during the narrative. The form enhances intimacy but hampers immediacy.

    Figure of Speech: form of expression distinguished by unusual use of language suggesting more than it states directly, not literal

    Foreshadowing: represent or suggest beforehand


    Hyperbole: conscious exaggeration used to produce a heightened or comic effect


    Image: literal an concrete representation of a sensory experience or of an object that can be known by one or more of the senses


    Imagery: language which embodies an appeal to the senses


    Irony: in its most fundamental sense, the unexpected or contrary occurrence, meaning, or


    Dramatic -- occurs when a character’s actions result from information unknown

                         to the character but known to the audience

    Situational — unexpected results

    Verbal — when a statement’s intended meaning is opposite of the literal meaning


    Metaphor: implied comparison between seemingly unrelated things, usually one tangible and one intangible


    Mixed Metaphor: confusing combination of metaphorical descriptions — ex. “An avalanche of students flocked into the corridor.”


    Onomatopoeia: use of words that suggest their literal meanings through their pronunciations


    Overstatement: asserts more than the situation seems to call for, often a type of irony or sarcasm


    Oxymoron: two contradictory terms in the same expression — ex. “pretty ugly”


    Pathos: from the Greek root for suffering or deep emotion, stimulating pity, tenderness, or sorrow in art


    Personification: endowing animals, ideas, abstractions, and inanimate objects with human characteristics


    Pun: play on words which sound alike but have different meanings or applications — ex. “He went and told the sexton, and the sexton tolled the bell.”

    Repetition: the use of the same sound, syllable, word, phrase, line, stanza, or metrical pattern as a basic unifying device in poetry.

    Satire: tone a writer takes blending critical attitudes with humor generally in an attempt to highlight problematic social or cultural issues or circumstances


    Symbol: object used to represent or suggest something beyond the literal


    Synecdoche: type of metaphor in which a part of something stands for the whole


    Synethesia: description of  the five senses in terms of another


    Syntax: way (especially order) in which words are put together forming phrases, clauses, or sentences


    Understatement: saying less than a situation seems to call for, a form of verbal Irony



    Sources:  Adventures in Poetry Edwin C. Custer

        A Handbook to Literature Thrall. Hibbard, Holman

       Handbook of Poetic Forms Ron Padgett

       Patterns of Poetry Miller Williams

      Writing Poems Robert Wallace

     Writing with a Purpose Trimmer, McCrimmon

    Carson-Newman Universtiy web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms.html

    University of Pennsylvania