Literary Elements
Plot is the sequence of related events in a work of literature. It may be simple or complex,
and it includes what characters do, think, and say. The word first used by Aristotle for plot
in Poetics was mythos (origin of the word myth). According to Aristotle, plot was the "soul
of tragedy": its "first principle." The general structure of plot is as follows:
 Exposition: gives information about settings and characters
 Conflict: struggle between characters or forces (ideas, actions, desires, wills, goals,
etc.) that brings about action
internal conflict: occurs within an individual
external conflict: when an individual struggles against an outside force
(an animal, a force of nature, another character, etc.)
 Complications: new conflicts or setbacks for the main character
 Climax: decisive turning point in a narrative; the "high point," or moment of
greatest intensity
rising action: leads up to the climax
falling action: occurs after the climax (between the climax and
 Denouement: the resolution; the aftermath or outcome of the plot; how things are
settled in the end

Suspense: curiosity about the plot's outcome; makes us want to know what happens next
Foreshadowing: technique in which an author plants clues about what will happen next
Detective story: story in which the plot consists of solving a mystery; Edgar Allan Poe's "The
Murders in the Rue Morgue" is recognized as the first American detective story
Flashback: a scene that interrupts the action to show an event that happened earlier
Epiphany: a moment of understanding, insight, or revelation experienced by a character
concerning what is happening to him or her
Tall Tale: story in which the plot contains wild exaggerations, vivid settings, the use of
dialect, and a "hero" with superhuman characteristics
Plot manipulation: occurs when an author overuses chance or coincidence; in other words,
the outcome of the plot is not justified by the situations or characters involved in the story
(the author is "manipulating" the events); one method of plot manipulation is deus ex
machina (literally "god from the machine"), a technique by which Greek dramatists would
have a god or goddess descend from heaven at the last possible moment to rescue the main
character from an impossible situation (This was accomplished in Greek theater by use of a
stage machine)
Chronological order: the narration of events in the order they occur in time
Stream of consciousness: a writing style that attempts to imitate the natural flow of a
character's thoughts, feelings, memories, and mental images as the character experiences
them; the term was first applied to the human mind by William James in Principles of
Psychology; James Joyce, Katherine Anne Porter, and William Faulkner are among the
authors most closely associated with this technique

A character is a person (or animal or natural force presented as a person) in a work of
literature. Characterization is the way an author presents a character. An author using
direct characterization makes statements about the characters and tells us what characters
are like. In indirect characterization, the author lets us draw our own conclusions about a
character based on what the character says or does, how he or she is dressed, or what other
characters think about him or her. When characters speak directly to one another, they
engage in dialogue. To be convincing, characters should be consistent in behavior, clearly
motivated (we must understand the reasons characters talk and act as they do), and
believable in their actions. Below are some character types.
Protagonist: the main character in a work of literature
Antagonist: a character or force opposing the protagonist; not necessarily a villain or "bad
Foil: a type of antagonist that offsets the protagonist or other characters by comparison or
by stopping a plan
Static Character: a character who does not change
Dynamic Character: a character who changes in an important way
Flat Character: a "one-sided" character; displays only one or two distinguishing traits;
usually can be summed up in one sentence
Round Character: a character presented in-depth from many angles; may be complex and
Stock Character: a familiar character type requiring little or no imagination on the part of
the author (mad scientist, silent sheriff, cruel stepmother, eccentric detective)
Stereotype: a conventional, oversimplified opinion or image of a person or group of people;
related to stock character
Archetype: a prototype, model, or "perfect example"; i.e., Daniel Boone as an archetype of
the American frontiersman
Tips for Understanding Character
1. Recognize and consider physical
characteristics and behaviour.
2. How do characters change during the course
of the story?
3. What causes characters to change?
4. How are changes demonstrated in what
characters do and say?
5. Are there any similarities between or among
the characters?
6. What are the differences between or among

Irony is a general term for the contrast between appearance and reality; a contrast between
what appears to be true and what is true.
Verbal Irony: occurs when a character says one thing and means something
Dramatic Irony: occurs when the reader knows something a character does
not know; the character is unaware of how things he or she does and says
contrast with the truth
Irony of Situation (Situational Irony): occurs when a character's actions bring
unexpected results; events turn out opposite of what is expected or what
should be

Point of View
A story's point of view is the angle or position from which a narrative is told.
First-person point of view: the narrator is one of the characters and tells the
story in his or her own words; uses the words I, me, we, and us; the reader
only knows what the narrator knows and observes
Third-person point of view: the narrator is not one of the characters (an
outside observer) and uses the words he, she, it, they, and them; the two
types of third-person point of view are limited and omniscient; third-person
limited focuses on the feelings and thoughts of one character; third-person
omniscient has an "all-knowing" narrator who can describe the thoughts and
feelings of all characters (omni- means "all")
Objective/Dramatic point of view: the narrator does not reveal the feelings
and thoughts of any character; the narrator only records what is seen and
heard; the reader, like a spectator at a movie or play, can only infer what
characters feel

The setting is the time and place in which events of a literary work take place (geographical
location, weather conditions, historical context, time, psychological state of characters, way
of life of characters, etc.); not just where events take place; settings may be symbolic,
representing ideas larger and more significant than the literal time and place.
Verisimilitude: the appearance of reality (time and place) in fiction
Local colour writing: general name for a writing style that uses details associated with a
particular setting; therefore, readers get ideas about the dress, speech, customs, and
scenery of a location; Mark Twain was the "pioneer" of local color writing in American
Vernacular Style: writing style that imitates or suggests the everyday spoken language of
people in a particular locality; would be used by someone writing local color fiction
Dialect: the characteristic speech of a particular time, region, or social group; "the way
people talk"
Voice: the language style adopted by an author to create the effect of particular speaker

A work's theme is its main, controlling idea: its central insight or understanding about
life. The theme of a literary work my be implied or stated.
Didactic literature: literature that is designed to teach a moral lesson; didactic comes from
the Greek word for "teaching"; the Bible is an example of didactic literature
Moral: a practical lesson about right or wrong conduct or a rule for living in general
Cliché: a familiar, overused expression; begin as fresh, powerful expression but lose their
impact over time; many rely on figurative language; some common clichés are as follows:

quiet as a mouse busy as a bee deep, dark secret
as cold as ice needless to say crack of dawn
out of the blue get the lead out
after all is said and
at a loss for words easier said than done light as a feather
bored to death time is money raining cats and dogs
You can't judge a book by its

Sentimentality: when an author makes an insincere appeal to the reader's emotions using
faked tender feeling, oversimplification, emotion, or exaggeration; a type of plot
Pathos: refers to qualities designed to arouse pity or sorrow in the reader (hint: think of
the word pathetic)
Tips for Stating the Theme of a Literary Work
1. Express the theme as a complete statement,
not a word or phrase.
2. The theme should be a generalization, but
not too broad or specific. Be sure your
statement is supported by setting, tone, plot,
and symbolism.
3. Avoid words like always, never, all, or none.
4. Do not express the theme as a cliché or
moral, unless the story is designed to be

Tone and Style
Tone is the general attitude a writer takes toward the subject. Style is the author's way of
writing. An author may use a variety of words and sentence structures. Sentence length
(short or long), the amount of action versus the amount of description, and the amount of
dialogue used to tell the story are among the elements of a writer's style. Whereas a plain
style contains simple words in clear order, an ornate style consists of learned references,
odd sentence structures, and/or parallelisms (think: ornaments are decorations, so an
ornate style is "decorated").
Diction: word choice in speech or writing; may be formal or informal; may be elementary or
"elevated," depending on the audience
Colloquial language: informal language; language that is "conversational"

Oxymoron: the use of two opposite or contradictory ideas; the plural is oxymora; some
examples are as follows:
plastic glasses small crowd found missing tight slacks
good grief pretty ugly
sanitary landfill peace force friendly fire small fortune
gentle giant act naturally
soft rock
resident alien definite maybe sweet sorrow same difference
diet ice cream
honest thief student teacher
white grapes jumbo shrimp night light

Denotation: the literal or "dictionary" meaning of a word
Connotation: the unspoken or unwritten meanings associated with a word beyond the
"dictionary" definition
Syntax: the way phrases and clauses are structured in writing; a writer should vary
sentence structure as much as possible
Parallelism: the repetition of phrases and sentences that are similar in structure or
meaning; most frequently used in persuasive writing; for example, each of the Ten
Commandments begins with "Thou shalt. . . ." or "Thou shalt not. . . ."
Rhetorical Question: a question to which the answer is obvious; the person asking the
question knows the answer; frequently used in persuasive writing
Euphemism: an expression or "phrase" that is "prettier" or less harsh than the word or
word it represents; often used in place of words considered unpleasant, painful, or offensive;
when courtesy and tact are required, euphemisms are properly used; if the euphemism is
misleading or being used to cover up the truth, however, you should use the more precise,
original term; the adverb form of the word is euphemistically, and the adjective form is
euphemistic; some examples are as follows:
Unpleasant Term Euphemism
die pass away
false teeth dentures
to arrest to detain
to spy to do intelligence work
propaganda information
retreat strategic withdrawal to the rear
garbage collector sanitation engineer
old age golden years
poor economically disadvantaged
sneak attack pre-emptive strike
lay off workers restructure/downsize
garbage dump landfill
public toilet comfort station
prison correctional facility
library learning resource centre
short vertically challenged

Sarcasm: language that expresses an idea by saying the opposite
Archaic words: words that are no longer in actual use (thou for you, shalt for shall, etc.)

Jargon: specialized vocabulary for technical or professional fields; may be unfamiliar or
confusing to "outsiders"; frequently found in magazines and newspaper articles; avoid using
jargon that is unfamiliar to your audience.
Sports Arts Science Business
bullpen harmony black hole capital
gridiron choreography nova debit
line drive abstract biosphere commodity
rebound epic enzyme monopoly
squeeze play ballad quasar prime rate
blitz cast quantum recession
safety melodrama fission overhead
face-off merger

Gobbledygook: difficult words or complicated sentences (unintelligible, nonsensical
language); often used to sound well-informed and impressive; found frequently in
professional, public, and private statements (officialese)
This policy is issued in consideration of the application therefore, a copy of
which application is attached hereto and made part hereof. Payment for said
insurance is on file of the above-named issued. The previous statement's
meaning is as follows: Here is your insurance policy, and our record shows
that you have paid for it.
Redundant Expressions: express the same meaning twice
advance warning Jewish rabbi
join together advance planning
new innovation leave from
close scrutiny completely unanimous
proceed forward return back
same identical sudden impulse
end result exact same
share together unexpected surprise
tuna fish young child
new baby

Wordiness and "Padded Language": the use of more words than are necessary to express
an idea; unnatural, imprecise
Her olfactory system was suffering from a temporary inconvenience means the
same as Her nose was blocked.
Below are some examples of wordy, "padded" expressions:
at the end of = after
at the present moment/at this moment in time = now
because of the fact that = because, since
what I want is = I want
with the exception of = except
by means of = by
in view of the fact that = because
is located in = is in
rarely ever = rarely
which was when = when
due to the fact that = because
for the reason that = because

"Padded": Pat hasn't been to school due to the fact that he is sick.
Revised: Pat hasn't been to school because he is sick.
"Padded": The statue that is in the plaza towers over the capital.
Revised: The statue in the plaza towers over the capital.

General/Other Terms and Concepts
Escape Literature: literature written for pleasure or entertainment; designed to take us
away from the real world and help us pass time
Interpretive Literature: literature written to bring pleasure, as well as broaden, deepen, or
sharpen our awareness of life
Artistic unity: when nothing irrelevant is included in a work of literature; nothing is there
for its own sake or its own entertainment
Literary analysis: an explanation of a literary work; should be written in present tense
Genre: a category with shared characteristics; literary genres include mystery, romance,
western, science fiction, etc.
Prose: any type of writing organized into sentences and paragraphs; in other words,
"normal" writing (not poetry)
Narrative: a collection of events telling a story; may or may not be true
Persona: a personality created by the author to tell a story or provide the voice of a poem;
the narrator is the persona in a story; the speaker is the persona in a poem
Epigraph: a brief quotation which appears at the beginning of a literary work
Allusion: a meaningful, indirect reference to a well-known character, place, quotation, or
situation for the sake of comparison; most commonly biblical, historical, musical, and
mythological; success determined by the level of the reader's knowledge of the thing being
alluded to (you have to "get it" for it to be effective)
Analogy: a comparison between two things similar in a number of ways; a way to explain
unfamiliar things by using familiar things (heart's structure to a pump, a camera to the
human eye, etc.); in argument by analogy, a writer compares two similar situations, implying
that the outcome of one will resemble the outcome of another; an analogue is a piece of
writing that is similar in some way to another
Paradox: a statement that seems to contradict itself, yet makes sense when considered
thoughtfully (A tiger is a beautiful, dangerous creature.); the adjective form is paradoxical,
and the adverb form is paradoxically
Anecdote: an interesting story told to make a point; may be humorous or serious; often a
biographical incident
Juxtaposition: the act of placing two items side-by-side, often for contrast; often done with
characters; the verb is juxtapose
Inference: a conclusion based on the evidence available; figuring out something by using
what you already know; infer is the verb (past tense is inferred)
Aphorism, or Proverb: a brief statement, usually one sentence in length, that expresses
some truth about life in short, easily remembered form
Parody: humorous, exaggerated imitation of another work; written merely to amuse the
Satire: a work that uses mockery, irony, and wit to make fun of something (habit, idea,
custom) or someone; written to arouse contempt (make someone angry) or lead to a
Imagery: the use of vivid descriptions that appeal to the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste,
and smell); produces mental images (lively sensory impressions); authors enhance the
imagery of writing through the use of sound devices and figurative language

Sound Devices
Sound devices may draw attention to words a writer wants to emphasize, connect words, or
create special moods.
Onomatopoeia: the use of a word that suggests the sound it makes; creates clear sound
images and helps a writer draw attention to certain words; examples include buzz, pop, hiss,
moo, hum, murmur, crackle, crunch, and gurgle
Alliteration: the repetition of initial (first) consonant letters or sounds in word groups; term
comes from the Latin word allitera, meaning "adding letters"; examples include wild and
wooly, sweet sixteen, through thick and thin, dime a dozen, and big blue balloon; recognized
by sound, not by spelling (know and nail alliterate, and know and key do not)
Assonance (partial rhyme, near rhyme): the similarity or repetition of similar vowel sounds
in word groups; examples include right-hive and pane-make; lake and stake rhyme, while
lake and fate contain assonance
Consonance: the repetition of inner or end consonant sounds in word groups, without a
similar correspondence of vowel sounds; similar to alliteration, except consonance does not
limit the repeated sound to the first syllable (Margaret got a velvet hat)
Euphony: pleasant combination of sounds; smooth-flowing meter and sentence rhythm
give lines euphony; generally, lines with a high percentage of vowel sounds in proportion to
consonant sounds tend to be more melodious, or "euphonic"
Cacophony: "bad-sounding"; refers to the unpleasant discordant (cacophonous) effect of
sounds or words; sometimes used by writers to give their writing a special effect;
Dissonance is the arrangement of cacophonous sounds in words or rhythmical

Figurative Language
Literal language, straightforward and matter-of-fact, means exactly what it says. A writer
using literal language states an idea directly. Figurative language, on the other hand, uses
figures of speech to go beyond literal meanings. Authors using figurative language make
comparisons and indirect statements to help us see things in vivid, imaginative ways. A
figure of speech is any way of saying something other than the literal, ordinary way. Some
commonly-used figures of speech are given below.
Metaphor: a figure of speech comparing things that are basically unalike to make the
reader see them as similar in some way; metaphor is Greek for "transfer" (meta means
"across," and phor/pher means "carry")
Stated (direct) metaphor: stated directly (The thief was a fox. She is a doll.);
metaphors may follow linking verbs such as become or remain (The boy
remained a rock for his family during the tragedy. The offensive line became
an effective wall to run behind during the game.)
Implied metaphor: the connection between two things is suggested rather
than stated (He strutted across the room.)
Extended metaphor: a comparison developed in detail, i.e., throughout an
entire poem
Simile: a comparison of things that are basically unalike by using the words like, as, as if,
than, such as, or resembles; technically, a simile is a type of stated metaphor; most similes
begin with like or as
The unkind words struck like a knife in the girl's heart.
His hands are like leather.
She eats like a bird.
He is skinny as a rail.
The cave was as dark as a tomb.
It is important to know that not all phrases beginning with like or as are
similes. Look at the following sentence and notice that two unalike items are
not compared: He got some shoes like Bill's. In that sentence, the author is
speaking literally, not figuratively.
Symbol: a person, place, thing, or event that means more than it is; a dove is a symbol of
peace, a heart is a symbol of love, an eagle is a symbol of the United States, a skull and
crossbones is a symbol of poison, etc.; symbolism is the use of something to stand for more
than it is; a work of literature may have a symbolic meaning
parable: a short narrative that illustrates a moral or religious lesson; uses
everyday situations
fable: a story (with animals as characters) that illustrates a moral (usually a
short, simple lesson); for example, "slow and steady wins the race" in "The
Tortoise and the Hare"
allegory: a narrative or description that serves as an extended metaphor (has
a symbolic meaning beneath the surface); contains characters, actions, or
settings representing ideas abstract qualities or ideas; stories are usually long
and complex; meant to explain or teach a moral idea or lesson; may be
written as fables, parables, poems, stories, and almost any other style or
genre; John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and Edmund Spenser's The
Faerie Queen are the most famous allegories in English literature, and the
American author most closely associated with allegory is Nathaniel Hawthorne
Personification: technique in which an author gives human characteristics to nonhuman
things (animals, natural forces, objects, ideas, etc.); examples are Jack Frost, Old Man
Winter, Mother Nature, etc.; sentences with personification are as follows:
The angry sky thundered overhead.
The land was glad rain finally came.
The waves danced upon the beach.
The tree stood tall like an old warrior.
Pun: a figure of speech involving a play on words; a word used to express two meanings at
the same time; a joke based on words with several meanings or words that sound the same
but have different meanings.
The gorilla went ape when he saw the bananas.
On the side of the diaper delivery truck was written "Rock a Dry Baby."
A plumber's advertisement said, "A flush is better than a full house."
Synecdoche: the use of part of a thing to stand for the whole, or vice-versa
Give me a hand with this, please.
I got pulled over by the law.
Metonymy: when an author substitutes the name of one thing for that of another closely
associated with it
The White House decided. . . . (meaning The President decided. . . .)
Lands belonging to the crown. . . . (meaning Lands belonging to the king. . . .)
Hyperbole: overstatement; a deliberate exaggeration used for an ironic or humorous effect
to emphasize a point; from the Greek word for "overcasting"
I'm starved. I'll die if I don't pass English.
He calls a million times a day. He's older than dirt.
Conceit: a type of hyperbole; an extended comparison or metaphor between
two startlingly different things; examples include the works by the English
metaphysical poets, as well as Edward Taylor's "Huswifery"
Understatement (litotes): when a serious matter is treated as a small one for an ironic or
humorous effect (a statement which lessens or minimizes the importance of what is
meant); used frequently in everyday speech; usually has a negative assertion and ironic
intentions; examples would be calling a slow person "speedy," calling a fat boy "Skinny," etc.
Antithesis: the balancing or contrasting of one term against another; an example is found in
Shakespeare's words, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair."
Apostrophe: device in which the narrator addresses a personified abstraction (an absent or
imaginary person, quality, or something intangible), as if the thing was present and could
reply; in "The Rhodora," for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson addresses a flower as if the
flower were a person; at Christmas, many people sing "O, Christmas Tree" (they are singing
to a tree); children may say "Rain, Rain, Go Away!" (they are talking to rain)

Basic Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Rhythm, and Meter
Poetry as a literary form may be defined simply as a patterned expression of ideas in
concentrated or imaginative terms, usually (but not necessarily) containing rhyme and a
specific meter.
Form: a poem's design as a whole; its shape or structure
closed form: the poet follows some sort of pattern
open form: the poet does not follow a pattern; instead, the poem is shaped
as is moves along, often adding emphasis as it goes
Subject: the central topic of a poem
Speaker: the voice telling the poem; a poem may have more than one speaker; the speaker
and the poet are not necessarily the same
Persona: a "mask" the poet creates to provide the speaker of a poem; when analyzing
poetry, be sure to distinguish between the poet and the speaker (if there is a difference)
Satiric Poetry: poetry that makes fun of human corruption, wickedness, or foolishness
Repetition: the recurrence of sounds, words, phrases, or lines in poetry
Rhyme: the similarity or likeness of sound existing between two words; the repetition of
sounds that are similar or identical; expresses strong feelings and enhances the meaning
and impact of poetry
masculine rhyme: the rhyme of one-syllable words or words with a final
stressed syllable (light/sight, defeat/retreat)
feminine rhyme: occurs in words of two or more syllables; stress is placed on
a syllable other than the last (better/setter, Cindy/windy)
internal rhyme: the repetition of similar sounds within lines
end rhyme: the repetition of similar sounds at the end of lines
perfect/exact/true rhyme: different initial consonant sounds are followed by
similar vowel sounds (tie/lie, meet/feet)
approximate/slant/off rhyme: only the final consonant sounds are identical
(comb/tomb, cat/cot, hope/cup); see consonance
rhyme scheme: the pattern of rhymes formed by the end rhyme in a poem;
first sound is a, second sound is b, third sound is c, etc.
Rhythm: the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (beats) we hear in poetry;
stress is simply the greater amount of emphasis we give to a syllable in speaking; stressed
syllable is accented (long); unstressed syllable is unaccented (short)
Meter: the pattern of rhythm in a line of poetry; from the Greek word meaning "measure";
the type of meter depends upon the placement of stress within each poetical foot (see chart
Poetical foot: unit used to measure rhythm in a line of poetry; consists of two or three
syllables; lines of poetry consist of a series of feet; poetic lines are classified according to the
number of feet per line (clues in prefixes)
monometer: 1 foot trimeter: 3 feet pentameter: 5 feet heptameter: 7 feet
dimeter: 2 feet tetrameter: 4 feet hexameter: 6 feet octameter: 8 feet
Scansion: the process of analyzing rhythm in a poem and marking poetical meter and feet
as stressed ( ¯ or ’ ) and unstressed (

Types of Meter
Foot Description Example
iamb (iambic meter)
2 syllables: unstressed - stressed
"rising meter" (pro-CEED, be-LOW)
the most common foot in English
trochée (trochaic
2 syllables: stressed - unstressed
"falling meter" (FIF-ty, NEV-er)
Edgar Allan Poe,
"The Raven"
anapest (anapestic
3 syllables: 2 unstressed - 1 stressed
"rising meter" (o-ver-COME)
James Russell
Lowell, A Fable
for Critics
Byron, "The
Destruction of
dactyl (dactylic meter)
3 syllables: 1 stressed - 2 unstressed
"falling meter" (PAR-a-graph)
spondée (spondaic
2 stressed syllables; often used to slow
rhythm of line; two spondées combined
into one unit is a dispondée
compound words
2 unstressed syllables; also called a
dibrach, the shortest metrical foot in
Classical verse
usually found
interspersed with
other poetical
Meter can be "mixed" within lines of a poem. For example, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's
"The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" contains two trochées and two iambs per line. Iambic
pentameter, the basis of English verse, is a line with five poetic feet (10 syllables).
Caesura : a deliberate pause within a line designed to help express meaning; plural caesurae;
means "a cutting" in Latin; may be created by punctuation, but may also result from the
meanings of words or the natural rhythms of language; line may or may not have caesura;
can be initial (at the beginning), medial (near the middle), or terminal (near the end) of a
line; accented (masculine) caesura follows an accented syllable and unaccented (feminine)
caesura follows an unaccented syllable

Verse Forms Based on Meter and Rhyme
1. Rhymed Verse: contains end rhyme and usually has a regular meter and rhyme
scheme; rhyming couplets means that every two lines rhyme; an example of "closed

2. Blank Verse: contains a fixed rhythm and regular line length - unrhymed iambic
pentameter (10 syllables per line and no rhyme); an example of "closed form";
often found in poetry dealing with complex subjects; commonly used in narrative
and dramatic poetry; because of its regular rhythm, it may become monotonous and
"sing-songy" (many poets vary the rhythm to add emphasis and avoid monotony);
originated in England with Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey; other examples are
Shakespeare's dramatic poetry (plays), John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), William
Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis," and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses"

3. Free Verse: poetry free of traditional metrical and stanzaic patterns; no fixed
rhythm or rhyme scheme; uses everyday (colloquial) language, natural speech
rhythms, and differing line lengths; key feature is its departure from traditional
meters; an example of "open form"; examples are Psalms and Song of Solomon in
the King James Bible, John Milton's Samson Agonistes and Lycidas, the poetry of
Walt Whitman, and the work of the nineteenth century French symbolists; other
poets using free verse include Stephen Crane, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Ezra
Pound, and E.E. Cummings

Stanza Forms
A stanza (Italian for "station," "stopping place," or "room") is a unit of poetry longer than a
line; it is a way of arranging lines of poetry in a pattern based on thought or form, usuall y
according to rhyme and meter. A stanza serves the same function as a paragraph in
prose: it allows the poet to organize his or her thoughts into a unit. A refrain is a group of
words, phrases, or lines repeated at regular intervals in a poem. Types are as follows:
terminal refrain: the most common; occurs at the end of a stanza
incremental refrain: the words change slightly with each recurrence
internal refrain: appears within a stanza, usually in a position that stays fixed
within the poem

couplet: 2-line stanza; 2 successive lines that rhyme (a-a)
triplet (tercet): 3-line stanza (usually a-b-a or a-a-a)
quatrain: 4-line stanza; most common form in English (a-a-a-a; a-b-a-b; a-b-b-a; a-a-b-b; a-
quintet: 5-line stanza (may be one of a number of rhyme schemes)
sestet: 6-line stanza (sometimes used to refer to last 6 lines of sonnet)
septet: 7-line stanza
octave: 8-line stanza (often used to refer to first 8 lines of sonnet)

Heroic Couplet ("closed couplet"): two successive rhyming verses that contain a complete
thought within the two lines; usually iambic pentameter (poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer and
John Dryden and Anne Bradstreet's "Upon the Burning of Our House")
Terza Rima: 3-line stanzas (tercets) with interlaced or interwoven rhyme scheme (a-b-a, b-
c-b, c-d-c, d-e-d, etc.); usually iambic pentameter (Dante's Divine Comedy, Shelley's "Ode to
the West Wind")
Villanelle: French verse form; 19 lines; 5 tercets (all a-b-a) and one quatrain (a-b-a-a);
entire first and third lines are repeated alternately as final lines of tercets 2, 3, 4, and 5 and
together to conclude the quatrain (Edwin Arlington Robinson's "The House on the Hill,"
Theodore Roethke's "The Waking," Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good
Rime Royal: 7-line stanza in iambic pentameter rhyming a-b-a-b-b-c-c (so named because it
was used by King James I)
Ottava Rima: 8 iambic pentameter lines with rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c; borrowed
from the Italians (used by Lord Byron in Don Juan)
Spenserian Stanza: 9-line stanza; 8 lines of iambic pentameter and one line of iambic
hexameter (the alexandrine); rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c (gets name from Edmund
Spenser, who started the form in The Faerie Queen)
Limerick: 5-line nonsense poem with anapestic meter; rhyme scheme usually a-a-b-b-a;
first, second, and fifth lines contain three stresses; third and and fourth lines contain two
stresses; made popular by British painter and author Edward Lear (1812-88)
Ballad Stanza: four lines with rhyme scheme of a-b-c-b; first and third lines in tetrameter;
second and fourth lines in trimeter
Haiku: about 17 syllables; usually three lines (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables); means
"beginning verse"; mostly rhymeless imagery; originated in the sixteenth century in Japan
Tanka: 5 lines of 31 syllables (5, 7, 5, 7, 7)
Concrete Poetry: poem visibly resembling the object which it describes; key is the
arrangement of words
Acrostic: initial letter of each line, read downward, spells out word or words
Types of Poetry
1. Lyric Poetry: expresses the personal thoughts and feelings of a single speaker (a
single emotional event); may or may not contain definite stanza forms and patterns
of rhyme and rhythm; may be "open" or "closed" form (rhymed verse, blank verse,
or free verse); may tell a story, but shorter than a narrative or dramatic poem;
generally between 12 and 30 lines, and rarely over 60 lines; emphasizes sound and
imagery over dramatic and narrative content; often rich in musical devices; once had
a narrow meaning: it was "musical" poetry (name comes from the Greeks, who sang
the poems to the music of the lyre; some notable Greek lyric poets were Anacreon,
Sappho, and Archiolochus
Sonnet: 14-line stanza, usually in iambic pentameter, following a specific
rhyme scheme
Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet: contains eight lines (octave)
following the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a a-b-b-a, followed by six
lines (sestet) with a varying rhyme scheme (c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-
d-c-d); turn between the octave and the sestet is the volta;
usually divided into comparison/contrast or question/resolution
according to the divisions of the octave and sestet; used in
American literature by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Shakespearean (English) Sonnet: contains three quatrains and
one couplet following the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-
g-g; each quatrain is usually a variation of the basic theme of the
poem, and the couplet is usually a conclusion
Note: while both types follow a rhyme scheme and (usually) are
written in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare ended his sonnets
with a couplet
A sonnet cannot be written in blank verse because a sonnet
rhymes and blank verse does not.

Ode: long lyric poem in stanzas of varied metrical patterns; often a serious
poem on a dignified theme; formal, lofty language and admiration for the
subject; generally celebrates a subject of public interest and involves the
performance of a group of people; sung in honor of gods or heroes in Greek
and Roman literature
Elegy: sadly meditative poem dealing with the subject of death, often telling
what a deceased person was like, expressing sorrow for the loss, and offering
consolation; in the past, an elegy (from the Greek word elegus meaning "a
song of mourning or lamentation") was any meditative poem dealing with a
serious theme; the most famous examples are Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written
in a Country Churchyard" and Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the
Dooryard Bloom'd"
2. Narrative Poetry: tells a story; often has a strong dramatic element
Epic Poem: most famous type of narrative poem; a long narrative poem
about a national or legendary hero; examples are the Iliad, Odyssey, Aenead,
Columbiad, Beowulf, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Milton's Paradise Lost; a
Homeric Simile, common in epic poetry, is an extended comparison of two
actions or objects that develops mounting excitement and usually ends in a
climax; a canto is a subdivision of an epic poem
Ballad: a narrative poem in short stanzas (often rhymed and in quatrains)
sometimes set to music; among the most common subjects are love, jealousy,
revenge, death, adventure, mystery, and war; frequently focuses on a
dramatic or tragic incident and contains dialogue of characters; often involves
historical or legendary figures; commonly uses a refrain to add emphasis or
suspense; the French word for ballad once meant "to dance"; Bishop Thomas
Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) increased popular interest

Folk ("popular") Ballads: composed to be sung; arose from
anonymous folk origins; strong and simple rhythms; passed
down orally for generations before ever written down (because
of widespread illiteracy); storytellers told different versions of
these ballads (ninety-two variations of "Bonny Barbara Allan"
are part of of Virginia folklore)
Broadside Ballads: printed on one sheet of paper; often set to
traditional tunes (Lord Byron, Andrew Marvell, Jonathan Swift)
Literary Ballads: unlike folk ballads, have known authors; not
meant for singing; written by sophisticated poets for book-
educated readers (Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the
Ancient Mariner" and John Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci")
3. Dramatic Monologue: a poem written as a speech made at some decisive or
revealing moment; usually addressed by the speaker to someone else; first
developed by Robert Browning in "My Last Duchess"; also used by T. S. Eliot, Carl
Sandburg, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Allen Tate

Basic Elements of Drama
Narrator: a character in some plays who speaks directly to the audience, introducing the
action and providing commentary between scenes; may or may not be a character in the
Dramatic Convention: any dramatic device which is accepted by the author and audience
as a means of representing reality
Monologue: a long speech by a character; allows characters to express complicated
thoughts or develop extensive arguments; in fiction, one person speaks in a monologue
Soliloquy: a type of monologue in which a character, alone on stage,
addresses himself; "thinking out loud" lets the audience know a character's
true thoughts and feelings
Aside: a brief remark or speech; when a character on stage turns from the
person he is addressing to speak directly to the audience; audience alone
hears his thoughts (rest of characters cannot); lets the audience know what
the character is really thinking and feeling, as opposed to what he or she
pretends; two characters addressing one another may speak in asides to the
Chorus: a group of actors speaking or chanting in unison, often while going through steps of
elaborate, formalized dance; usually used to express views and emotions of the public;
sometimes pose questions to characters or audience; sometimes used as a narrator; a
characteristic device of Greek drama for conveying communal or group emotion
Realistic Drama: attempts, in context and presentation, to preserve the illusion of actual,
everyday life; characters are not "superhuman"; situations or plots are usually believable
Nonrealistic Drama: departs from presenting the outward, visible appearance of life;
characters sometimes have "superhuman qualities"; plots sometimes border on the absurd;
good parallel is a soap opera
Tragedy: a type of drama in which the protagonist (someone of unusual moral or
intellectual stature or ability) suffers a fall in fortune because of some error of judgment,
excessive virtue, or flaw in his nature (tragic flaw); sometimes warns of excess in any one
personality trait; most of the time, a reconciliation takes place in the end
Aristotle's Guidelines for Tragedy (in Poetics)
1. tragic hero: someone of high standing, but
not perfect
2. flaw (i.e., hubris [excessive pride]) or
weakness in hero that leads to downfall
3. recognition scene: hero realizes what he has
4. catastrophe: sudden, inevitable disaster;
protagonist's death or moral destruction
Catharsis: a term (first used by Aristotle) that describes some sort of
emotional release experienced by the audience at the end of a successful
tragedy; "wisdom gained from tragedy" (waste of human life, waste of human
greatness, etc.)
Traits of Shakespearean Tragedy
1. tragic hero: main character; his tragic character flaw leads to a fatal
mistake; flaw: hamartia ("act of injustice") in Greek drama; makes
character vulnerable to fate; done through ignorance or to
accomplish the greater good (benefits outweigh expense);
punishment for hero usually exceeds the degree of flaw
2. conflict: internal or external
3. humor: used to relieve somber mood of tragedy
4. supernatural event: ghost, witch, storm, etc.
5. revenge: often serves as motivation for characters
6. chance happening: leads to an end

Melodrama: (related to tragedy); contains sensational incidents and
emphasizes plot over characters; conflicts are often "crude (virtuous
protagonist versus villainous antagonist); resolutions are emotionally
satisfying and "happy" (good winning out over evil); issues are oversimplified;
adjective form is "melodramatic"
Comedy: a type of drama (opposed to tragedy) normally having a happy ending and
emphasizing human limitation, rather than human greatness; the main purpose of a scornful
comedy is to expose and ridicule human corruption, folly, vanity, and hypocrisy; in a
romantic comedy, a likeable and sensible main character is placed in difficult circumstances
from which he or she is rescued at the end, either attaining his or her goals or having
fortunes reversed
Drama of the Absurd: closely related to comedy; radically non-realistic in content and
presentation; emphasizes the absurdity, emptiness, or meaninglessness of life.
Farce: related to comedy; improbable situations, violent conflicts, physical action, and
coarse wit; the situation (rather than the plot or characters) provides humour

Non-Fiction Literature
Non-fiction literature is a type of prose literature dealing with real people and real life
situations. This is not to say, however, that non-fiction literature is necessarily "fact" or
"truth." Among the varieties of non-fiction literature are biographies, autobiographies,
speeches, histories, essays, diaries, journals, newspapers, and even cookbooks or car repair
manuals. An author's purpose may be to entertain, inform, persuade, or explain. The
chief uses of non-fiction literature are as follows:
Descriptive Literature (description): uses imagery to give us a picture about
the subject
Narrative Literature (narration): tells about a series of events
Expository Literature (exposition): presents information or explains a subject
Persuasive Literature (persuasion): designed to change people's ideas or

Major Forms of Non-Fiction Literature
Essays. An essay is a piece of prose of various length dealing with a subject
briefly and from a personal point of view. An essay attempts to say
something, but not everything, about a subject. The author of an essay
should have evidence for his or her ideas. A critical essay deals with a topic
of literature or any of the arts. The major styles of essays are formal and
Formal Essay: serious in tone, tightly-organized, generally
objective; frequently designed to instruct (didactic); major parts
(introduction, body, conclusion) work together to make up a
complete idea or thing; develops theme according to principles
of unity, coherence, and emphasis
Informal Essay: may be relaxed, serious, or humorous;
conversational style (colloquial), digressions, humorous
anecdotes; writer's personality and point of view are as
important as the subject; E. B. White and James Thurber are
among the American "masters" of the informal essay
Speeches. Speeches are mostly intended for oral presentation, but some are
meant to be read silently. In either case, the key element is the author's
ability to be persuasive (often use rhetorical questions and parallelisms)
Biographies (including Autobiographies). The subject of a biography is
someone's life. A biographer may use a variety of source materials: diaries,
letters, archives, memoirs, personal knowledge, books, etc. For the distinction
between primary and secondary source materials, see below.

Types of Source Materials
The two major categories of source materials are primary sources and secondary sources.
Primary Sources: original documents written by someone who participates in
or has direct knowledge of something. Examples include speeches, diaries,
letters, novels, legislative bills, laboratory studies, field research reports,
eyewitness reports, or newspaper articles.
Secondary Sources: commentaries on primary sources, often written by a
non-participant in an event or after the fact about someone or something
For example, if you were writing a research paper about the assassination of
President Kennedy, you might examine both primary and secondary sources (a
report on the assassination and a biography published in 1980, for example);
your paper would be a type of secondary source. Although a primary source is
not necessarily more reliable than a secondary source, it has the advantage of
being a "firsthand account." Naturally, you can better evaluate what a
secondary source says if you have first read and are familiar with the primary
Paraphrasing and Plagiarism
Paraphrasing is restating someone else's language in your own words; it
makes ideas clearer and avoids plagiarism.
Plagiarism is the stealing and passing off as your own someone else's ideas
or words without crediting (acknowledging, citing) the source. In other
words, presenting as "your work" or "your idea" something that came from
someone else is plagiarism. Plagiarizing someone else's work can get you
expelled from a college or university.
Basic Guidelines for Avoiding Plagiarism
1. Give credit for facts that someone else discovered,
someone's original theory or idea, or research that proves
a story.
2. Give credit for information gained from photographs,
tables, or graphs.
3. Give credit for a direct or an indirect quotation from a
4. Do not give credit for things that are "common
knowledge." (The sun rises in the East. Abraham Lincoln
was elected President in 1860.)
5. Do not give credit for sayings that are so much a part of
our culture (clichés) that no one knows who said
them. ("You can't judge a book by its cover.")
Tips for Reading and Analyzing Non-Fiction
1. Ask yourself, "What is the author's purpose?" Is the writer
trying to entertain, to inform, to persuade, or to explain
something? Does it seem to be more than one of these
2. Is the tone formal or informal? Is it some of both? How do
you know?
3. What impressions do you form of the writer and his or her
personality? Why do you feel this way?
4. Examine what the author does with language. How does the
language affect you as a reader? Explain.
5. In your own words, what is the main idea that the author is
trying to express?
6. How do elements of style (imagery, figurative language, irony,
etc.) help express the author's attitude toward the subject, as
well as your response?
7. Read the work more than once. On the first reading, think
about the main point (thesis) of the essay and whether or not
the author uses sufficient evidence to support his or her
ideas. How does the author support his or her claims? Is it
with relevant and sufficient evidence or with just a few
anecdotes or emotional examples? Are any of the author's
assumptions questionable? Does the author consider
opposing arguments and refute them persuasively? Are there
any reasons to be suspicious of the author's motives or to
question his or her objectivity? As you read, also think about
the author's style and your personal response to the writing.
8. Be aware of what types of source materials (primary and/or
secondary) provide the bases of the author's arguments.

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