Glossar englischer Fachbegriffe

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Die folgende Tabelle enthält die Fachbegriffe in alphabetischer Reihenfolge.

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Glossar literarischer Begriffe aus dem Englischunterricht

act Usually plays are subdivided into acts. They are units that reflect main stages in the development of the action. Each act may have one or more scenes.
rising action
falling action
outside action
inside action
The main story of a play, novel, short story etc. An important part of action is the development of plot and character. The action is what drives a story forward.
actor (male)
actress (female)
Person playing a character in a play on the stage. His / her performance represents an interpretation of the character provided by the producer or director.
allegory A story in verse or prose which has a double meaning, one on the surface and a hidden meaning under the surface of the story; therefore such a story can be read and understood at two different levels. Very often, characters, events and settings represent abstract qualities such as Truth, Hope, Perseverance, Modesty and so on: allegorical characters. The Pilgrim´s Progress, for example, by John Bunyan is a typical allegory.
alliteration The repetition of a consonant at the beginning of words close together in a literary piece of art
allusion An allusion refers to something without explaining it in detail, the reader is expected to understand the importance of the allusion.
alternate rhyme
Its rhyme scheme is abab cdcd ...
ambiguity Device which is used deliberately by an author: a word or phrase which may have two or more relevant meanings. "We call it ambiguous ... when we recognise that there could be a puzzle as to what the author meant, in that alternate views might be taken without sheer misreading ..." (William Empson)
analogy A comparison is made between two things in order to stress their similarities.
anaphora Very often used device in speeches or ballads. It means that the same words or groups of words are used in successive lines, sentences, or paragraphs.
anecdote A brief story about an incident or an individual, sometimes used funnily in longer literary pieces for illustration.
antagonist The opposite of protagonist. The antagonist opposes the protagonist or hero in a literary piece of art.
anthology Term used for a collection of short stories, other pieces of prose or poems chosen from various books and authors.
anti-climax A very sudden reduction of interest or importance in a literary work, meant to have a stylistic effect on the reader or spectator.
antithesis The balancing of contrasting ideas, principles, sentences, or words. Opposite ideas are used to emphasise more clearly one idea. Used effectively, antithesis is not only a contrast of ideas but also of grammatical structures.
anti-utopia Fictional text dealing with a negative place, society, or world. See utopia.
aside Theatrical convention: a few words or sentences are spoken in an undertone or to the audience, which are not meant for any other character present on the stage.
associations Connections in a character´s mind. Brainstorming works associatively.
assonance Repetition of similar sounds (esp. vowels) used for emphasis. Sometimes assonance is near onomatopoeia.
atmosphere Tone or mood conveyed to the reader or spectator in a story, novel, poem or play by the effective use of character, setting, or description
The writer of a literary piece. Must not be confused with the narrator who the author chooses to present his / her story.
autobiography An account of someone´s life in prose written by himself or herself.
ballad A song / poem that tells a story in verse in a very swift way. Very often the story is told through dialogue and action.
biography A book which covers a famous person´s life and character. In contrast to the autobiography that account of life is written by somebody else.
black comedy Form of drama that displays a great deal of cynicism and disillusionment. Its characters seem to have lost all confidence and hope; they are directed by fate and outside powers. Nevertheless there is humour underneath. The spectator cannot help so why not laugh about it?
black humour The method of making fun about unpleasant situations, dangerous people and the like. Black humour and black comedy have become noticeable in the 20th century with the theatre of the absurd.
blank verse
free verse
Old English verse form very close to everyday language without any rhyme. It was also Shakespeare´s standard verse form for his plays since it came up in the 16th century.
caricature A portrait in literature intended to make fun of a person by exaggerating the negative sides of his /her character: one-sided over-emphasis of certain character traits. An outstanding example of a caricature is Shakespeare´s Falstaff in Henry IV.
catastrophe The fifth act in a tragedy usually presents a catastrophe, when the protagonist dies (destructive ending). In comedies we speak of a dénouement.
caesura A pause in a line of a poem
central meaning In a formal analysis of a novel, short story etc. all formal elements (setting, character, atmosphere, structure ...) contribute to and focus on an overall idea or intention of a work, which is called central meaning.
chapter Just like a drama consists of acts and scenes, a novel may be subdivided into chapters to deal with things / events which belong together. Chapters are ,therefore, an element of structure.
main character
minor character
round character
flat character
A person who plays a certain role in a story.
direct characterisation
indirect characterisation
The way in which the narrator presents the characters in his story. Basically there are two ways of characterisation: indirect characterisation (implicit) through action, behaviour, and words, and direct characterisation (explicit) by the narrator himself who tells the reader about a character´s qualities.
chiasmus A crosswise placing of elements in prose or verse. It is the opposite of "parallelism".
choice of words Careful selection of words in a literary piece of art by the narrator / author in order to achieve the intended meaning.
chorus Term derives from Greek tragedy. A chorus can take part in the action or serve as a commentator on the action before the audience. Usually in English drama the chorus is reduced to a single person. A fine example of a chorus is the Fool in Shakespeare´s King Lear.
chronicle An account of historical events in chronological order usually written by contemporaries. An example is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (12th century); Holinshed´s Chronicles (1577) and Sir Walter Raleigh´s History of the World (1614) are later examples of this form of literature.
chronological order Presenting the action according to the temporal order of events as they are likely to have happened.
Augustan Age
Age of Reason
Literary Period between 1700 and 1770. In general a term used to refer to the ideas, conventions, themes, and rules of the classical writers who were idealised. Learning and the use of man´s reason replaced man´s passion for religion. A perfect society consisted, according to classical belief, in being well informed, highly educated, i.e. "enlightened". Order and clarity of thought were therefore characteristics in the literature of the Enlightenment.
cliché An expression or idea that has been used so often that everybody takes it for granted; near prejudice.
climactic order Way of structuring a text according to the importance of items, usually from the less important to the more important.
The highest point of tension in a story. That moment will decide whether the situation of the protagonist of a story or play will improve or get worse: turning-point
clothing imagery Dt. Kleidermetapher, Quotation from Shakespeare´s Macbeth: "Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?"
colloquialism Opposed to poetic language, colloquial style means the use of the language of everyday life both in speech and writing.
comedy A play with a happy ending, intended to be funny, with a lot of misunderstandings between characters. At the end everything is solved (dénouement).
comic relief Those short comic passages in tragedy (interludes or episodes) are intended to relieve tension for a moment, add a variety, counterpoint and heighten the tragic element by way of contrast.
comment Non-fictional text form: a writer or speaker treats a topic and tries to convince his / her reader or listener by giving away his / her own opinion.
comparison See simile.
complication "The interplay between character and event which builds up a tension and develops a problem out of the original situation given in the story." (Understanding Fiction).
composition The main types of composition are narration, description, and dialogue.
compression When the narrating time is shorter than the acting time. The narrator only picks out those events which seem important to him to serve his / her purpose (opposite: expansion)
In non-fictional texts a summary of arguments and an outlook into the future. In fictional texts the dénouement or solution to the conflict within a story.
internal conflict
external conflict
The backbone on which a story, play, novel etc. is built. Conflict means struggle of ideas, persons, interests, values and so on. Usually a conflict develops by stages which can be analysed: a conflict arises, reaches a climax, and may be resolved at the end.
connotation Emotions and associations which the use of a specific word evokes within the reader / listener.
consonance The identity of consonants in two or more words.
contemporary At the same time when an author was writing. The author himself is a contemporary, too.
continuous rhyme Its rhyme scheme is aa bb cc dd ...
contrastive order Used mainly in argumentative non-fictional texts: way of structuring a text by making use of contrasts.
adj: conventional
A frequently occurring feature in fictional books because a majority of writers have agreed upon it.
couplet A two-line stanza, not necessarily at the end of a poem.
crisis See conflict
criticism, literary ~ What a critic does. A critic decides about the good and bad points of an author´s writing.
alternate rhyme
See alternate rhyme
dactyl In poetry: one stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.
denotation Literal meaning of a word. See also connotation.
dénouement Final point in the plot of a comedy when everything is solved, misunderstandings are sorted out and made clear to the reader of a story or the audience of a play. It is the "unravelling" or "untying" of the "knot" of the action, the resolution of the conflict.
dialectical order Used in non-fictional argumentative texts: way of structuring a text starting with a thesis, continuing with an antithesis and reaching a compromise or synthesis towards the end.
dialogue Characters reveal themselves by what they say and how they say it. So dialogue is the exchange of words between at least two characters
diary A written record of daily events, facts, and experiences, usually for private use only.
diction The choice of words on the author´s part.
didactic literature All kinds of literature which are intended for teaching the reader a (moral) lesson; by reading a story the reader is supposed to learn something for his life.
digression The introduction of material into some literary work which is only partially or completely unrelated to its main subject (dt. Abschweifung).
Person responsible for the performance of a play on the stage.
documentary fiction An intermingling of fact and fiction in literature. An invention of post-modernism.
downstage The front part of a stage. See offstage, upstage, and backstage.
drama A story is presented through dialogue and action on the stage, on the radio, or on TV. A play usually consists of several acts and can be subdivided into scenes. The characters talk to each other in dialogues.
dramatic irony A reader or spectator may anticipate the tragic outcome for a character because of the rendering of the situation (difference between reality and appearance), but the character himself does not perceive his real situation. In order to do so, the reader or spectator must be aware of the double sense of words or actions.
A writer of plays, both comedies and tragedies.
dumbshow A mimed episode introduced into a spoken play, i.e. acting without speech.
dystopia See utopia.
edition The printing of a book with changes from time to time.
leading article
Non-literary form of texts: gives the opinion of a newspaper on a specific subject.
elegy A poem of mourning for someone who is dead: a meditative poem.
elision Technique used in poetry: vowels or syllables are left out in order to maintain the correct metre in a line.
Elizabethan Age
Literary period from the second half of the 16th century to the early part of the 17th century (Shakespeare´s time). A very creative time, especially for English drama. Renaissance means "rebirth" - the age showed the revival of the art and literature of the age of antiquity
ellipsis A writer´s technique of leaving out words intentionally which would give the full meaning of the phrase or line. The sentence or phrase can be understood from the context. Sometimes this means is simply used to avoid repetition.
emphasis Emphasis means the stress that is placed on special words or phrases by way of imagery, punctuation, structure, and other features of style. Emphasis tells the reader that a certain passage is more important than others.
enclosing rhyme Its rhyme scheme is abba cddc ...
open ending
happy ending
The final part in a literary piece. It can be a catastrophe or a dénouement, can come as a surprise or be an open ending.
end-rhyme Rhyme which occurs at the end of two or more lines of a poem.
end-stopped line Line of a poem with a pause at the end. See opposite: run-on line
run-on line
See run-on line
Age of Reason
Literary period between 1700 and 1770, characterised by a strong belief in the powers of human reason and clear thought. In literature characteristic features are balance, clarity, harmony, and proportion.
entrance In drama, the appearance of a character on the stage.
epic A long narrative poem about heroic adventures of some kind, or about history.
epic theatre Play in which a narrator tells and comments on what is happening on the stage (omniscient commentator).
epilogue An extra part after the end of a book or play. Very often addressed to the audience.
adj: episodic
A story within a story consisting of a separate event, usually an important one, in a novel, play and so on. The episode has a unity within itself.
epistolary novel A piece of fiction told to the reader mainly through the presentation of letters (dt. Briefroman).
era A period in history.
essay Non-fictional form of text: it shows the writer´s own opinion on a particular topic. Most essays follow the patterns of argumentative or expository text form.
euphemism Technique in which more pleasant, more beautiful, more positive words are used than the probably more fitting descriptions, which would be unpleasant or embarrassing. Dt. Schönfärberei
Technique of rendering something more important, greater, better or worse than it actually is.
exit In drama a character´s leaving the stage
expansion The narrating time is longer than the acting time (opposite: compression.
exposition Introduction to a story or play in which necessary information is given to the reader or audience about the main characters, the setting, and the conflict
Expressionism Literary conviction that expression determines form and therefore dominates it, which means that any of the formal rules and elements of writing can be distorted to suit the needs of an author. Expressionism took place in the first quarter of the 20th century as a reaction towards realism and aimed to show man´s inner psychological realities. Many very famous dramatists both of English and American literature are clearly expressionist, e.g. Eugene O´Neill and Samuel Beckett.
external action
outside action
Presentation of the sequence of events.
extrinsic approach Method of interpretation of literature which takes its findings from secondary material, i.e. sociology, the author´s biography etc. (opposite: intrinsic approach).
eye-rhyme At the end of the lines in poetry there may be words which are spelt alike but pronounced differently, like in Wordsworth´s Composed upon Westminster Bridge the words "by" and "majesty": an imperfect rhyme.
fable A story in which the characters are animals and not human beings. Fables are intended to convey typical human fallacies. Usually fables point to a moral, so fables belong to didactic literature.
fairy tale A narrative in prose about the fortunes and, very often more so, misfortunes of a hero / heroine, who having experienced various superhuman adventures, lives happily ever after. Fairy tales are part of folk literature, as ballads are. Sometimes supernatural creatures appear, such as fairies, gnomes or elves which have superhuman power to guide people in the direction of good or evil.
falling action Falling action follows the climax or turning point and leads to the dénouement.
fantasy An imaginative work that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.
farce Type of comedy which contains highly exaggerated, improbable situations which the reader or audience immediately understands as such. Very often the characters of a farce are stereotypes.
feature story Non-literary text form: kind of report but concentrating on a particular person. It takes an individual case as the starting point for the reader to draw general conclusions. Usually the facts presented are not worthy to be headlines of a newspaper but are chosen to appeal to the reader´s emotions or catch his interest for general topics.
fiction Anything that has nothing to do with reality; based on the imagination of an author / authoress. Contrast: non-fiction
figurative language Using images such as comparisons (similes), metaphors or symbols that must require a lot of "translation work" on the reader´s part in order to be understood.
figure of speech see imagery
flashback Sometimes in prose and drama the chronological order is interrupted in order to deal with past events that took place before the beginning of the story.
flat character A stereotyped character. He behaves in conventional ways, i.e. he / she is the typical drunkard, worker, middle-aged businessman, hen-pecked husband, gossiping woman ... Contrast: round character
foil A character which is used to contrast with another character.
folklore Folk tales, customs and beliefs of a national or racial group.
foot The rhythm within a line of poetry brought about by a unit of stressed and unstressed syllables: among the best known is the iambic foot (first syllable unstressed, second syllable stressed). Regular numbers of feet are characteristic in poetry: three (trimeter), four (tetrameter), five (pentameter), six (hexameter) and seven (heptameter).
foreshadowing Events are described and arranged in comedy or tragedy in such a way that future events are prepared for or shadowed forth in advance. In other words, the reader or audience feels the outcome of a plot. That requires that the narrator or author gives hints at what is about to happen later in the story.
formal analysis Modern method of interpreting literature: analysing character, action, setting and other formal elements makes clear the central meaning of a piece of literature provided the book is well written.
formal elements The main elements of analysing literature in a so-called formal analysis: action/plot, character, setting, atmosphere, point of view, choice of words, imagery, motifs, ...
free verse Verse without a regular rhyme, metre or length of lines. The rhythm here follows natural speech rhythms. A gifted poet is nevertheless able to convey the importance of his writing through words and his particular rhythm alone.
full-length play See opposite: one-act play.
genre Literary genres, categories or types are the short story, novel, novella, poem, and so on.
Gothic novel Eighteenth century story of mystery and horror set in lonely places (dt. Schauerroman).
head The first paragraph in a news story - usually in bold print - in which the most important information of the whole article is given.
Either very objectively the main character of a story or play or more subjectively a good and brave person.
heroic couplet Two lines in iambic pentameter that rhyme.
history A historical play, for example Shakespeare´s Richard III, Julius Caesar and so on.
humour The use of comic elements intended to amuse the reader or spectator.
hybrid A literary type which shows similarities to other literary types.
An idea is expressed in an exaggerated way, usually to create humour or to emphasise the idea. The reader will immediately feel that the writer´s words are not to be taken literally.
iamb In poetry: one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.
idiom A special way of expressing an idea, characteristic of the language at that particular time.
image A picture in the reader´s mind which is created by the author´s words. An image brings forth special reactions and evokes associations in the reader.
figurative language
clothing imagery
By using images a writer appeals to the reader´s senses and his imagination and gives him a new perspective on something. Imagery is a term that means the use of comparisons, similes, metaphors, personifications and symbols alike.
implied author The term reminds the interpreter to realise the difference between a real author and the narrator of a story. The author only adopts the role of the narrator when he sets out writing the story.
Impressionism A term usually applied in painting when painters were interested in the transitory effects of light and shade and the short-lived impressions they experienced. So their point of view is rather subjective.
The term has been applied to literary theory: it is regarded as a technique of concentrating on the inner life of characters rather than on external realities. Writers who used this kind of writing were Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.
inflection In drama the change in the tone or loudness of the voice.
story of initiation
An unexperienced child or adolescent is introduced to the world of adults by facing a key situation in his / her life in which the hero /heroine has to make an important decision. Literary critics have applied this term for both a type of short story and its theme. Basically the term is derived from anthropology, where it is employed to describe the puberty ceremonies which in many primitive communities centre around the passage from childhood or adolescence to maturity and full membership of the adult world. These rites and ordeals whereby a young person is formally invested with adult status often involve isolation, physical torture and the admission to the knowledge of secret tribal beliefs.
inside action
internal action
What goes on inside the character´s minds; it must be found out by the reader or listener who gains insight into character traits of a hero /heroine. Presentation of the maturing process reflected in the inner world of his thoughts, feelings, sensations.
inspiration What an author needs to allow a flow of good feelings or extraordinary thoughts which he can make use of in his writing.
adj: instructive
Non-fictional text type, intended to influence the reader by advising or instructing him. Characteristic of this type is the use of commands and the use of the present tense as in rules and machinery explanations.
interior monologue
stream-of-consciousness technique
Literary form of presenting a character´s feelings and thoughts (consciousness) without the interference of the narrator. The careful reader is therefore able to "feel" the thoughts of that particular character. The author has completely disappeared in this first-person narration.
interlude A play within a play. Short entertainment between the acts of a play. The interlude was very popular in the second half of the 16th century. Literary historians say that the interlude provides a link between the miracle play, the mystery play, and the morality play. Today it is a short pause in the action to make the time between one character´s exit from and his / her next entrance to the stage more plausible.
internal rhyme Rhyme which occurs within a line of a poem.
interpolation "Introduction of additional words in a text, as when an editor uses explanatory words. Such interpolations are normally enclosed in square brackets ..." (Duffy-Pettit, Dictionary of Literary Terms).
interview Special kind of dialogue, prepared in advance, following a special pattern, and broadcast or printed later.
intrinsic approach Method of interpretation of literature which relies only on the original text itself and not on secondary sources (opposite: extrinsic approach).
verbal irony
irony of situation
There is a contrast between what is said and what is meant. This is either done accidentally or on purpose by the author.
Daily record of the events in a character´s life.
journalism Writing for newspapers.
layout The layout is responsible for the attractiveness of some printed material. It comprises the choice of print and the general arrangement of text and pictures for a newspaper, book, or magazine.
leading article
See editorial
legend A story in which fact and fiction are intermingling, handed down orally from one generation to the next, about a hero / heroine, e.g. a saint, an adventurer, or a historical figure.
leitmotif The "red thread" of a literary piece; a motif that permeates the whole story and lends it unity. It may consist of a significant description, a phrase, an image and is a good starting point for any literary interpretation.
letter to the editor Non-fictional text form in which a reader of a newspaper or magazine writes his personal opinion on some topic of general interest or on an article in that paper. Its intention is to have his voice heard and published in the newspaper.
lighting Equipment for providing light for the stage.
lighting effects Effective use of lighting to bring about a change in the scenery or the atmosphere on the stage; additionally, to focus attention on one single detail or character.
Fundamental unit of rhythm in the stanza of a poem. A line may or may not have a regular beat or metre.
linguistics The intensive and indeed scientific study of language and how it works. Branches of linguistics are: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and word formation.
literal meaning The exact meaning of the words used in literature is intended. Opposite: figurative meaning
literature Literature refers to something imagined rather than factual, so it must be distinguished from journalistic and scientific texts, i.e. non-fictional texts. The three kinds of literature are the narrative, drama, and poetry.
local colour
Local colourists decorate their writings with the typical details of a particular region and environment in order to interest and motivate their readership. This may include local descriptions, customs, clothing, music and the like. The local colour movement was particularly popular in America (Mark Twain).
lyric A poem which expresses the poet´s thoughts and feelings.
lyrical I The "I-narrator" in a poem.
manuscript an author´s often hand-written original piece of writing.
melodrama A play or story in which the characters´ feelings are extremely overdone in order to render the effect more exciting.
metamorphosis A change of a character by development; it may also mean a change of form.
metaphor An implied comparison. A writer makes a comparison between two unlike things and are therefore not usually compared. In metaphors words like "like" or "as" are never used. Examples: "fountain of youth", "heart of stone"
metaphysical poetry The poetry of poets like John Donne and others in 17th century England. The Metaphysical Poets were deeply concerned with both religious questions and sensuality and intellectual wit.
metre Regular succession of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse: iambic, dactylic, trochaic, anapaestic ... The number of feet per line may vary, stress is more characteristic than quantity: monometre, dimetre, trimetre, tetrametre, pentametre, hexametre.
miracle play The drama of the late medieval times, always with religious subjects.
interior monologue
A speech by one person on the stage, heard but not interrupted by the other characters on the stage (theatrical convention).
moral Lesson taught by a didactic text, either explicitly stated like in fables (at the end) or implied by the action of a story.
morality play The drama of the 15th century in which different values acted on the stage, quarreling and fighting with each other such as Avarice, Righteousness, Vice, and Modesty and so on.
A idea which is always present in a literary piece, it can also be an image, or a literary device; it is something about its theme.
motive The reason for a character´s actions, movements, words ...
Modernism Literary period since the late 19th century when the writers freed themselves from established forms of literature and their restrictions and conventions. Modernism was accompanied by experiments in form and style, e.g. the stream-of-consciousness technique.
mystery play The drama of the late medieval times, always with religious subjects based on the Bible. These stories dealt with stories of man´s creation, Fall and Redemption. The earliest plays were conceived for a performance in the church, lasted a few minutes only and were presented on great religious festivals. Later, these plays were secularised and moved out into the church-yard and later the market-places.
myth An ancient story with magic elements included.
narration The way of telling a story.
first-person narrator
third-person narrator
observer narrator
omniscient narrator
The narrator is the person who tells the story in a novel or short story. Careful: the narrator must not be mixed up with the author of a book; usually a n author hides behind a narrator to keep a certain distance to his ideas and to the reader. A first-person narrator has a limited point of view, because he is too much involved in the action itself to be objective. Sometimes a narrator is not part of the action but stands outside it.
Naturalism Period of literature in which things, characters, situations, and social circumstances were presented as real as possible, especially in plays. Therefore science shows exactly how literature and art as such should present the world and the people living in it.
neoclassical A new or modern style of writing based on Greek or Roman models.
adj: non-fictional
A factual story, not invented or imagined. In it the writer (or speaker) refers to people, places which really exist and incidents which really took place. Typical examples are letters, comments, reports, rules, instructions, essays, newspaper articles, advertisements and so on. For detailed information on how to analyse non-fictional texts see my download page.
novel Long piece of fictional prose with a large number of characters, plots, settings. Sometimes the difference between a short novel and a long short story are not too great although the plot in a novel is usually rather complex.
novelist The writer of novels.
novella A narrative in prose longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. So one might say that a novella is a short novel. Originally a novella was a narrative in prose of the genre developped by Bocaccio in the 15th century.
observer When a narrator slips into the role of an observer, he adopts a limited point of view because he presents the story as it is seen by one of the characters of the story, so the information the reader gets is restricted to the knowledge and view of this character alone.
Series of eight lines with a fixed rhyme scheme, as in the sonnet.
ode Grand lyric poem in praise of something or some person. Originally odes were sung, not spoken.
offstage Behind the stage; place where the audience cannot see any of the characters or actions.
omniscient narrator He knows everything about the characters, their motives, their feelings (unlimited point of view); usually he also jumps in time and space, i.e. he narrates associatively. He is free in his decision what secret thoughts, feelings or sensations he reveals to the reader. Therefore he assumes an Olympian point of view.
one-act play
short play
A play which concentrates on one single dramatic situation and one single dramatic effect.
sound words
Use of words whose sound mirrors their meaning in a specific context (dt. Lautmalerei): for example, "meow" and "moo" are onomatopoeic words.
open ending The reader asks himself "So what?" and has to think about probable endings to a seemingly unfinished story. But if the story is well written, the likely outcome is clear to the reader. Sometimes, however, a story can be interpreted on various levels. So the outcome of the story neither solves all the problems nor does it answer all the reader´s questions. Some loose ends remain left which are not completely tied up.
oral history Reports from people who experienced a certain historical time themselves; recordings are made from interviews, and later on these recordings are printed. So people do not get the historian´s view but the view of contemporaries, i.e. witnesses of a historical period or event.
order Way of structuring material in a non-fictional text, e.g. chronological order, dialectical order, climactic order, contrastive order.
outside action
external action
see external action.
See hyperbole.
pamphlet Originally a treatise on a topical political or social subject which its author found interesting. It is a small unbound book of a few pages only.
parable A simple story that centres around a general truth, an idea, a moral lesson. Characters within a parable are often allegorical figures.
paradox A seemingly self-contradictory and therefore absurd and senseless statement; sometimes, however, a paradox can contain some universal and important truth which is revealed on second thought.
parallelism Sometimes a writer uses parallel structures for his paragraphs or sentences in which identical words or almost identical words are used; not restricted to sentence beginnings, s. anaphora.
parody An imitation of the plot, character, tone, or style of a literary work; by way of an alienating effect the original suddenly seems ridiculous and satirised.
pastoral literature Pieces of literature in which the natural world of country life is portrayed to be idyllic and ideal.
peripety See turning-point.
periphrasis Something in literature which could be expressed in simple words is written in a complicated or awkward way.
personification Non-human objects, animals, forces of nature, or abstract ideas are represented with human qualities as if they were human beings. Usually used to emphasise the central meaning.
perspective See point of view
picaresque novel Novel of the adventures of men who are lovable but bad characters; usually episodic in structure, the events happening in different places.
play A piece of the literary genre of drama; comedy or tragedy. It is meant to be read or performed on the stage of a theatre.
play within the play A theatrical performance within a play itself. The characters of the play are the spectators of the play within the play. Usually, this method is employed by a dramatist to confront the audience in the theatre with their own situation as spectators.
playwright Writer of plays for the theatre.
The sequence of events in a play, short story or novel (the structure of an action). Usually carefully arranged by the author. In longer pieces, esp. novels, we find more than one plot, i.e. subplots which interrupt the main plot for reasons of suspense.
poem Piece of imaginative writing in lines with a regular rhythm, usually with a rhyme scheme, less so in modern poetry. These pieces communicate the complete experience of a sensation, a situation, a mood, or an emotion to the reader.
poet Writer of poetry.
poetry Literary form of writing which is arranged in verse instead of prose. Typical types of poetry are the sonnet, the ballad, the limerick, or the ode. Wordsworth defines poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", and poetry "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity". For detailed information see my download page.
point of view
The perspective from which a narrator presents his story to the reader. Point of view can vary within a particular story or novel, the narrator can tell his story from a first-person perspective or a third-person perspective, which are the traditional forms of narration. If a narrator takes on the "camera eye" perspective, he / she is supposed to know none of the characters´ thoughts.
polysyndeton The use of a considerable number of conjunctions very closely together (opposite: asyndeton)
preface A writer´s explanatory introduction at the beginning of a book; it comes before the text actually starts.
stage properties
Articles used on the stage as parts of the scenery, e.g. telephones, chairs, beds, furniture, doors etc.
prose Any piece of writing that is not presented in lines but narrated in normal form of spoken or written language, e.g. short stories, novels, drama, but also newspaper reports, essays, speeches etc. The coherent text may only be interrupted by paragraphs.
The main character in a play or story.
prototype The original example of a literary form which through the ages has been copied and modified.
pun A play upon words mostly used for humorous reasons. Example: the use of one word that has two meanings or of two words that sound alike.
quatrain A four-line stanza.
Realism Literary period when writers tried to portray characters, events, situations, and social conditions as they really were.
register A typical language used in specific fields: scientific books, literary books, social dramas, or advertisements have their special registers from which words are taken. Very often the special relationship between a writer and his readers determines the use of a special register.
Renaissance The English Renaissance immediately followed the Middle Ages and is considered to last from about 1200 to about 1600. Its original meaning is "rebirth" of classical Greek and Latin literature and ideals.
repetition A very effective means of rhetoric in speeches (and a means of structuring a text). The main points of speech are repeated again and again, and therefore gain special emphasis.
reported action In drama events revealed from what certain characters say but unseen by the audience.
retrospection Act of talking about events that took place at a point in the past.
review Critical essay on new books or plays, written by a critic.
rhetoric The deliberate use of language for persuasion, especially in giving a speech. Important features of effective rhetoric are allusions, antitheses, hyperboles, rhetorical questions, parallelisms, and puns
rhetorical question A question which expects no answer because the answer is implicitly given in the question itself.
rhyme pattern / scheme
Similarity of sounds in two or more words, esp. at the end of the lines of a poem. The rhyme scheme is given like that: abba abba cdc dcd (example of a sonnet). See end-rhyme and internal rhyme.
rhythm If stressed and unstressed syllables of a text follow a particular pattern, a certain flow of the language is achieved which we call rhythm of the language.
rising action The part of a story or play which follows its exposition and leads to the climax or turning-point.
romance An imaginative story full of love and adventure.
Romantic Era
Literary period in England between 1770 and 1850. Some literary critics consider the beginning of romanticism in the year of William Wordsworth´s publication of Lyrical Ballads. Romanticism is determined by an increased interest in Nature, especially the beauty of wild, untouched and unspoilt nature. It also lays special emphasis on man´s subjective and spontaneous feelings evoked by the experience of nature. Romanticism was a period of great creativity and imagination which brought forth many well-known names such as Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott.
round character Contrast: flat character. A round character is individualised, life-like, original, unpredictable.
A thought does not end at the end of a line but goes on in the next line. Contrast: end-stopped line
adj: sarcastic
Bitter and aggressive form of irony which is intended to hurt a person´s feelings or group of persons. The writer of satires very often writes in a sarcastic tone.
satire Literature which mocks human weaknesses, social circumstances, and so on by using irony and sarcasm. Its basic means is exaggeration. It always takes on humorous form, but is usually intended to criticise and hurt people. It means "diminishing" a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement or contempt.
satirist An author who writes satires.
scene Subdivision in an act of a play, a sequence of uninterrupted action. An act consists of various scenes.
scenery In drama, the overall decoration of the stage comprising the props and the stage design
science fiction
utopian literature
Story set in the future or in an imaginary world. Science fiction often has a scientific touch to it, which means certain scientific machines or electronic inventions are foreseen. Science fiction may be utopian (about good and desirable places) or dystopian (about bad and unpleasant places).
self-irony Form of irony in which the writer makes fun of himself and proves that he has a good sense of humour.
sentimentalism Showing too great interest in intense feelings.
serial A story which appears in print (or on TV) in parts at regular intervals.
sermon A religious address to an audience, usually made in church.
sestet Series of six lines of a particular rhyme scheme as in the sonnet.
setting Time, place, and social circumstances of a plot.
short play See one-act play.
short story See unity of effect as well. Literary form which is very popular, esp. in the USA where it originated. It presents an important situation in a character´s life when a decision has to be made which very often changes his / her whole life. For more information see my download page.
simile An explicit comparison. A linking of two words or things because there are similarities in parts between them. In contrast to a metaphor which says that something is something else, a simile says that something is like something else. Similes are used in connection with words such as "like" or "as".
sketch A very short humorous scene intended for the entertainment of the audience. Very often part or subject of television shows.
slang Level of language which is lower than colloquialism; it is the language of the gutter, the street, the market place. It is also the language of intimacy, of everyday conversation, which may change very rapidly with the years.
slice-of-life story See short story.
social setting The term means the social class / minority group / ethnic group to which the characters belong
soliloquy A speech of considerable length, in which a character, alone on the stage, expresses his inner feelings, conflicts, and thoughts. Very often they take on the form of asides. Soliloquys are not meant to be overheard by other characters on the stage (theatrical convention).
Shakespearean sonnet
Petrarchan sonnet
A fourteen-line lyric poem. In the Petrarchan form (Italian sonnet) we find two quatrains and two triplets (abba abba cdc dcd), in the Shakespearean or English sonnet the rhyme scheme is usually abab cdcd efef gg (rhyming couplet at the end).
sound effects Sounds such as thunder, telephone ringing or water created artificially.
speaker The voice which speaks to the reader / listener in a piece of verse (not necessarily identical with the poet).
direct speech
indirect speech
free indirect speech
The way of narrating a story. See narrator also.
stage design It means the decoration of the stage, giving away place, time, and the atmosphere of the play.
stage directions They are contained in the written form of a play, the script, and consist of information for the actors and actresses on the stage, e.g. their entrances, exits, gestures, movements, words, actions, ways of speaking, attitudes, and so on. Therefore the stage directions provide for good characterisation.
stage set Props and scenery set up and arranged for a particular scene.
stanza A group of two (couplet) or more lines in a poem. It mainly uses regular patterns of rhyme and rhythm.
flat character
A flat character can be called a stereotype if he is a typical example of a special group, gender, class, race etc.
story of initiation See initiation.
stream of consciousness technique The unlimited flow of inner thoughts and experiences in a character. See interior monologue also.
structural device Any structural element of a text, e.g. exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
structure The elements of a literary piece are carefully and meaningfully arranged by the author. The different elements shape the meaning of the whole. Structure, therefore, can be a very important formal element for interpretation.
style A writer´s characteristic use of language which includes choice of words, rhythm of the language, imagery, tone, sentence structure etc. A style can be called humorous, formal, informal, literary, colloquial and so on.
stylistic devices
stylistic means
The means which a writer employs to render his style characteristic.
sub-genre A sub-division of a literary genre. For instance, thrillers, spy stories, and detective stories are subdivisions of the crime novel.
substitutionary narration Presentation of a character´s consciousness, his thoughts, secret motives, feelings, or sensations. These passages within a text are neither indicated by quotation marks nor by an introductory clause like "He said" (dt. Erlebte Rede).
summary In a summary you tell the reader what a story, a poem, a novel is about. It is not to be confused, though, with a retelling of a story, ...
surprise ending The ending of a literary piece reveals a twist in the plot that is completely unexpected for the reader and comes therefore surprisingly.
A means to keep the reader interested in one´s story, novel, newspaper report and so on. If a crime story weren´t written with a good amount of suspense, the reader would read to the end of the book.
symbol A symbol is a concrete object that stands for an abstract idea. Example: a white dove as a symbol of peace, an anchor as a symbol of hope, a heart / rose as a symbol of love.
symbolism The deliberate use of symbols in a piece of writing, meant to be taken literally or figuratively.
syntax The arrangement of sentences; sentence construction: coordination, subordination
An unnecessary accumulation of words of the same or a similar meaning. In essay papers this is marked "wrong" or "superfluous", but in literature it is a figure of style (!).
telling name An author may deliberately give his / her characters names which give away particular character traits.
tension See suspense
text form Text forms are for example poetry, drama, short story, novel, report, comment ...
text type Text types are means to classify non-fictional texts according to their intention: argumentative, expository, illustrative, descriptive, instructive, narrative.
theatre of the absurd In this kind of plays the traditional concepts of plot, character, time sequence, dialogue and so on are turned upside down. The theatre of the absurd describes human life as something absolutely without sense, i.e. nihilistic.
theme Message or central idea of a literary piece of art. It is found out indirectly by the reader. A number of different motifs may move around the central theme of the story. Examples of literary themes are love, war and peace, loneliness in the modern world, communication problems, man and woman, nature and industry, and so on.
thesis A proposition to be proved in an essay.
direct thought
free direct thought
indirect thought
free indirect thought
For detailed information see my download page.
reading time
acting time
Two kinds of time must be distinguished: reading time is the time it takes to read a story (dt. Erzählzeit), acting time is the time of the events in a story itself (dt. erzählte Zeit).
tone Tone conveys the writer´s emotions towards his work and is usually revealed by choice of words, imagery, presentation of details, arrangement of ideas etc. The tone can be described as ironic, emotional, humorous, serious, melancholy, critical, sympathetic etc.
topical order Way of structuring non-fictional texts according to its main topics.
adj: tragic
A play with a tragic ending. "In a tragic situation the sense of pity is complicated by an effect of struggle and conflict ... the tragic effect requires that the sufferer have strength enough to struggle vigorously against his situation." (Understanding Fiction)
transcendentalism Religious New England movement between 1840 and 1860. This movement emphasised the importance of individual conscience, and the value of intuition in matters of moral guidence.
trilogy A group of three books belonging together as a kind of series, but nevertheless independent of each other and complete without the others.
triple rhyme A rhyme which comprises three syllables, very often found in limericks.
trochee In poetry: one stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.
A point within a story or play when an important change takes place and the action takes another direction.
type Types are characterised by one dominant quality; they are not fully developed by the author, very often one-sided; see stereotype / character.
understatement A technique of saying less than necessary in a piece of writing (playing down rather than exaggerating) in order to make something clear. The writer or speaker presents some idea as being less important as it really is. Contrast: hyperbole / exaggeration / overstatement
unity The state of being one complete whole.
unity of effect In his review of Nathaniel Hawthorne´s Twice-Told Tales the famous short story writer Edgar Allan Poe demanded that in a short story every word, sentence or incident must serve to bring about a "certain single effect". "In the whole composition there should be no word written of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design." A story must also be short enough to "be read at one sitting". What Poe meant was that a pause in reading would "be sufficient to destroy the true unity". For more information see my download page.
upstage The rear part of the stage.
utopia Form of literature whose setting is an imaginary world, political state or ideal society. Utopias often play a role in science fiction literature. Notice the difference between eutopias (good imaginary places) and dystopias or anti-utopias (bad imaginary places).
verbal irony Irony comes about through a reversal of the literal meaning of words. The careful reader must therefore be able to discover the difference between what is said (literal meaning) and what is intended (ironical meaning). See also irony.
verse A general word for all kinds of poetry. Also a synonym for a line of poetry, or a synonym for a stanza, esp. in a song.
Victorianism Literary period named after the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901): victorian virtues are supposed to be hard work, respectability, earnestness and piety.
villain A bad character whose evil actions and motives are very important to the plot of the story.
wit Using language in a clever and funny way.

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