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Magical Musical Tour (part 5)

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Literary elements and terminology

The stuff you need to know to sound like you know what you're talking about Like many areas of expertise (such as sports, cooking or music), books have their own vocabulary. Here is a short introduction to this language so that you, too, can speak "book."

The practice of beginning several consecutive or neighboring words with the same sound (Sally sells seashells by the seashore).
Reference to something in the past (the Bible, mythology, etc.) that the writer assumes the reader will recognize ("Your nose is growing" [allusion to Pinocchio]).
Figure of speech in which the absent or dead are spoken to as if present and the inanimate as if animate ("Then come, sweet death, and rid me of this grief." — Edward II, Christopher Marlowe).
A character, action or situation that is a prototype or pattern of human life generally; a situation that occurs over and over again in literature (the hero, the maiden in distress, the faithful dog, etc.).
The people of the story that the writer created particularly for that story. The protagonist is the central or main character who causes or is the center of most of the action — the one who struggles for something. The antagonist may be a person or an abstract quality, such as fate or nature; it is someone or something that struggles against the protagonist. A foil is a secondary character who contrasts with a major character. If the character changes during the story, it is a dynamic character. If the character does not change, it is a static character.
Coming-of-age story
A type of novel where the protagonist is initiated into adulthood through knowledge, experience or both, often by a process of disillusionment. Understanding comes after the dropping of preconceptions, a destruction of a false sense of security, or in some way the loss of innocence. Some of the shifts that take place are these: ignorance to knowledge; innocence to experience; false view of world to correct view; idealism to realism; immature responses to mature responses.
The struggle between opposing forces. Conflict forms the basis of virtually all literature, and it is rare for a story to have only one type of conflict displayed. Conflict can be divided into two categories, external and internal.
  • External: This is conflict between a character and an outside opposing force.
  • man v. nature: a struggle against natural forces such as cold, heat, or distance
  • man v. man: a struggle against another person
  • man v. society: a struggle against the rules and mores of society
  • man v. destiny/fate: a struggle against one's future
  • Internal: This is conflict within the character him- or herself, and can be represented as man v. self.
The feelings and attitudes associated with a word.
Dictionary definition of a word.
A description of scenes representing events that happened before the point at which the story opens.
The dropping of hints by the author of things to come.
A deliberate, extravagant and often outrageous exaggeration.
A word or group of words in a literary work which appeal to one or more of the senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell.
When something is not what is expected. Can take these forms:
  • Situational: When something happens differently to what is expected.
  • Verbal: The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning. This can take the form of sarcasm, understatement, or hyperbole.
  • Dramatic: When the audience knows something the characters don't know.
Comparison of two like objects without using the words "like", "as", "than", or verbs such as "resembles."
The emotional quality of the story that influences the attitudes of the characters and the readers.
The telling of the story. Each story has a narrator who talks about the events, characters and describes the setting. This is called the narration. The narrator is NOT necessarily the author. Just because a story is told using "I" doesn't mean the narrator is the author. Every narrator has a point of view (see below).
Use of words that mimic the sounds they describe (e.g. hiss, buzz, bang).
Use of words that mimic the sounds they describe (e.g. hiss, buzz, bang).
A statement that seems absurd or self-contradictory but turns out to be true.
Attributing human characteristics to things that are not human.
The pattern of action in a story. It has specific parts, or elements.
  • Exposition: The presentation of essential information regarding what has occurred prior to the beginning of the story. This is the "backstory."
  • Inciting Incident: The act or action that sets the story and conflict in motion.
  • Rising Action: The part of a story which begins with the exposition and sets the stage for the climax. A conflict often develops between the protagonist and an antagonist.
  • Climax: The decisive moment in a work of literature, the climax is the turning point of the play to which the rising action leads. This is the crucial part of the work, the part which determines the outcome of the conflict. (realization, decision, action)
  • Falling Action: The falling action is the series of events which take place after the climax; it is where the protagonist must react to the changes that occur during the climax of the story.
  • Resolution: The part of a story or drama which occurs after the climax and which establishes a new norm, a new state of affairs — the way things are going to be from then on. The author often ties up the loose ends of the story to have the plot reach a conclusion.
Point of View
Point of view is the focus from which the story is told. It can be first-person or third-person point of view, and it can be all-knowing (omniscient) or limited knowing.
  • First-person point of view is when the narrator speaks using "I."
  • Third-person point of view is when "he" or "she" is used.
  • Omniscient is when the narrator knows everything about everyone, what they think, feel and what their psychology is like. This is also called "all-knowing", just like Mrs. Van.
  • Limited Omniscience is when the narrator knows as much as the reader (or maybe a little bit more) it's called limited omniscience. Sometimes this is called selective omniscience.
Play on words that are identical or similar in sound but have different meanings.
The use of verbal irony in which a person appears to be praising something but is actually insulting it.
Use of humorous devices such as irony, understatement and exaggeration to highlight a human folly or a societal problem.
The time, place and culture in which the story takes place.
Comparison of two unlike things using words such as "like", "as", "than", or verbs such as "resembles."
The selection of words, sentence structures and language arts that the writer uses for details and descriptions. The way the writer uses language such as irony, symbolism and metaphor.
Anticipation caused by concern for the characters and/or uncertainty of their fate.
The use of symbols to stand for something else; the symbols may be people, objects or the action itself.
It's the major idea of the story. It's what the story is about. It's what it MEANS. To identify this, you'll have to think. Don't panic. I know you can do it.
The author's attitude shown toward his characters, their actions and his plot. Tone may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, serene, depressed, etc.
Deliberate lessening of impact and truth to make a point.


Types of characters

The "main" character (from the Greek, agon, meaning "contest" — the protagonist and antagonist are "contestants" in a story.
The character acting against the protagonist (see Protagonist).
Characters who are static do not experience basic character changes during the course of the story.
Characters who are dynamic experience changes throughout the plot of a story. It can be sudden, or the change can occur subtly throughout the story.
A character whose traits are in direct contrast to those of the principal character and highlight the traits of the protagonist. A foil is usually a minor character, although if there are two protagonists, they may be foils of each other.
A character who possesses expected traits of a group rather than being an individual (the mean boss, the nerd, etc.).
A character who is not fully developed; we know only one side of the character.
A fully-developed character with many traits (bad and good) shown in the story. We feel that we know the character so well that he or she has become a real person.

How we learn about characters

Direct Characterization
The writer makes direct statements about a character's personality and tells what the character is like.
Indirect Characterization
The writer reveals information about a character and his personality through that character's thoughts, words, and actions, along with how other characters respond to that character, including what they think and say about him.
Physical description | Speech and actions of the character | Direct comment from the narrator | Speech and actions of other characters

What to look for when analyzing characters

What is the cause of the character's actions?
What are the actions of the character?
What happens as a result of the character's actions?
Does the character display moral, legal, or emotional accountability?
What is expected of the character by others? What does the character expect from him- or herself or others?

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