Let's Learn Literary Techniques and Terms!

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Kitti, Mar 6, 2012.

  1. [SIZE=+1]Literary Terms and Techniques are important to understanding elements of poetry, novels, and even roleplay posts. Understanding them and being aware can help you use these effectively in your own writing. That's why I've decided to make a guide here with references and as much example as possible!

    Read and enjoy! [/SIZE]

    • Allegory
      Definition: A figurative work in which a surface narrative carries a secondary, symbolic or metaphorical meaning.

      Kitti's Explanation: Often without actually telling the reader that it is being done, the author of the work is writing in multiple layers. The surface layer is the actual words, the text that you are reading, but there is more meaning to it than what you actually see. An allegory is writing about a different situation than this surface layer. This is one of the words that's easiest to understand with examples.

      Examples: George Orwell's Animal Farm is one of the best known allegorical novels. The surface layer is the animal farm and if you don't look further than that, you'll miss the point of the story and it will seem rather silly! The allegory, beneath the surface layer, is the animals who embody aspects of the Russian Revolution. Even though Orwell doesn't say as much in the novel, it is easy to place his "fictional" characters as actual figures. For instance, the initial farmer, Mr. Jones in the novel, has several qualities associated with Czar Nicholas II and the events that befall Mr. Jones can be associated easily with the displacement of the Czar from his "farm", Russian leadership.

    • Dynamic Character
      Definition: A character who changes by the end of the story, learning something that changes him or her in a permanent way.

      Kitti's Explanation: These are the most fun characters, the ones that start the story in one mental place and end in another! These characters progress through their story, changing their initial ideas, opinions, or perception of the world around them!

      Examples: Most protagonists will show the signs of being a dynamic character, so let's go with one of those! A cute film released by Disney called "Brother Bear" has a dramatically altered dynamic character. Kenai begins with a hatred toward bears because he blames them for the death of his brother. Through a magical tale of self-discovery, initiated by his transforming into a bear himself, Kenai changes his views and learns to see both sides of the story. He loses his hatred for bears, comes to terms with his own involvement in his brother's death, and ends the story a radically different person.

    • Eiron
      Definition: In Greek comedy, the eiron was a stock male character known for his ironic understatement. This character deliberately pretended to be less clever than he actually was, yet his superior verbal skills and cunning allowed him to win out over braggarts and bullies.

      Kitti's Definition: This is a character who pretends to not have any knowledge on a subject, usually contrasted with a character who appears to be very confident in their own knowledge and who willingly accepts the impression that the other is truly ignorant. The first character, who feigned ignorance, often wins the argument because his opponent has underestimated him.

      Examples: There are few characters who consistently play the part of the eiron, most exhibiting the trait only from time to time. A good example, however, is a character called Columbo, from an old TV series of the same name. Columbo is an American detective who appears unkempt and is very talkative and friendly. By appearing incompetent, absentminded, and gullible or naive, he tends to reassure those he is investigating and lulls the criminals into a false sense of security with which he can more easily obtain the evidence that he needs to convict them.

    • Archetype
      Definition: A generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated.

      Kitti's Definition: An archetype is essentially the basic mold of every character, a skeleton frame for a character that individualism can be poured into to add on and personalize it.

      Examples: To truly see the pattern of the archetype, multiple characters must be laid out for a comparison of traits. For an examination of this, I chose to cover the archetype of the Anti-Hero, whose broad definition is:
      "A protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero"
      • From the comic universe, a good example is "The Punisher". In order to mete out justice, he utilizes often extremely violent tactics. Sure, he's fighting crime, but he's no Superman while he's doing it. If one didn't know that he was delivering justice, he could easily be misconstrued as a villain himself.
      • Sweeney Todd begins as an anti-hero, plotting to exact revenge against a corrupt man for his cruel actions, remaining this way until he transitions into a full villain at the end.
      • Edmund, from the Chronicles of Narnia, is a bully to his younger sister and greedy enough to sell his siblings out for personal gain but later redeems himself and works toward the greater good (though retaining many of his bad qualities).

    • Connotation
      Definition: An association that comes along with a particular word. Connotations relate not to a word's actual meaning, or denotation, but rather to the ideas or qualities that are implied by that word

      Kitti's Definition: The things which are associated with a word through the influence of the culture that are not, by definition, related to the word.

      Think of the different ways you would imagine a person in these two sentences:

      Her childish nature often influences the way others act around her.
      Her childlike nature often influences the way others act around her.

      If you are like most of the English speaking world, the first sentence suggested a girl with immature tendencies and a spoiled manner while the second invoked images of innocence and naivety.

      Consider this now:

      Her legs were so skinny!
      Her legs were so slender!

      Skinny often carries with it a negative and unattractive connotation while slender has a very positive and pretty one.

    • Paranomasia
      Definition: A pun is a play on words wherein one word is used to convey two meanings at the same time. Puns are often intended for a humorous or rhetorical effect.

      Kitti's Definition: Think back to every time someone said "pun not intended"! But more seriously, this is when a word can have two different interpretations, one of which makes sense in the context and the other is typically related.

      "Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now."
      The joke is in that the final sentence makes sense on more than one level.
      "All right now" is a phrase used to state that he was feeling better and relates to that he had part of him amputated.
      The other level is that, without his left side, he would only be "right".

    • Chekhov's gun
      Definition: Insertion of an apparently irrelevant object early in a narrative for a purpose only revealed later.

      Kitti's Definition: Sometimes, you will notice that the author or something (or the director!) makes a specific point of talking about an object that seems to have no value at the time that it was mentioned so that later, it can be used for the plot and is often akin to foreshadowing.

      Quickly, an embodiment of the principle:
      "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." - S. Shchukin

      A good example of this is the first Harry Potter novel.
      There is a seemingly random scene at around halfway through the book with Harry Potter discovering a magical mirror. He is happened upon by Dumbledore, who explains then how the mirror works and then mentions that it is being moved.
      Later, this mirror and the principles of how it works are used as a major plot point in the ending of the story.

    • Nemesis
      Definition: 1: The principle of retributive justice (sometimes referred to as "poetic justice") by which good characters are rewarded and bad characters are appropriately punished; 2: The agent or deliverer of such justice, who exacts vengeance and metes out rewards. 3: Nemesis was the patron goddess of vengeance; the expression often denotes a character in a drama who brings about another's downfall.

      Kitti's Definition: With so many meanings for nemesis, two of which are fairly different from one another, context is important! When referring to a noun, which is the most common nemesis I've seen, it is necessary to distinguish whether they will be a character who dispatches just punishment and reward or one who brings the downfall of another. It is important to understand the distinction between nemesis and archenemy. Arch means primary, and is thus the primary enemy. Nemesis has a meaning that corresponds more with the destiny of the two characters, that one will be the downfall of the other.

      Nemesis was often seen as one of righteous indignation who gave reward where it was deserved and punishment where it was due. As such, there are poems to her, in that light:
      "Come, blessed, holy Goddess, hear my prayer, and make thy mystics' life thy constant care: give aid benignant in the needful hour, and strength abundant to the reasoning power; and far avert the dire, unfriendly race of counsels impious, arrogant, and base."

      As for the role of a character in being a nemesis, Harry Potter is a strong example with this, set next to Voldemort. It was foretold, predicted, and plays out that one of them must kill the other.

    • Periphrasis

      Definition: The use of excessive language and surplus words to convey a meaning that could otherwise be conveyed with fewer words and in more direct a manner.

      Kitti's Definition: Describing something instead of using the one or two words which would achieve the same effect.


      These two sentences mean the same thing. The first is how the sentence would typically be expressed if spoken in conversation. The second is the same sentence, with periphrasis:

      "Recently I've noticed that the grade 12 class has been misbehaving."

      "In the course of the past several days, it has come to my attention that some certain members of the
      soon-to-be-graduating class have been behaving in what can only be described as an unseemly manner."


    • Subplot

      Definition: Secondary action that is interwoven with the main action in a play or story.

      Kitti's Definition: Story lines that are going on at the same time as the main story, but are not the main center of focus.

      In Pride and Prejudice, the main story revolves around the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from its beginning to the eventual reconciliation of the two. However, throughout the novel, a subplot romance between the sister of Elizabeth, Jane, and Darcy's friend, Bingley, is detailed.

      Another example is The Great Gatsby. The main plot revolves around Gatsby and his attempts to win the affections of Daisy, but a subplot between Nick Caraway and Jordan Baker is also part of the novel and is an occasional point of focus for the main characters.


    • Ekphrasis

      Definition: A literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art

      Kitti's Definition: Using words to describe or talk about paintings, sculptures, drawings, or any other form of art that is experienced with the eyes.

      Starry Night
      Vincent van Gogh (1889)

      "The Starry Night"
      Anne Sexton (1961)

      The town does not exist
      except where one black-haired tree slips
      up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
      The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
      Oh starry starry night! This is how
      I want to die.

      It moves. They are all alive.
      Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
      to push children, like a god, from its eye.
      The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
      Oh starry starry night! This is how
      I want to die:

      into that rushing beast of the night,
      sucked up by that great dragon, to split
      from my life with no flag,
      no belly,
      no cry.

    • Unreliable Narrator

      Definition: In fiction, as in life, the unreliable narrator is a narrator who can't be trusted. Either from ignorance or self-interest, this narrator speaks with a bias, makes mistakes, or even lies..

      Kitti's Definition: Someone who is telling the story but might not be giving you an accurate picture of what's going on.

      In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", the narrator attempts to claim that he is not mad and provide reasoning for why he murdered a man and hid him beneath the floorboards but as the story progresses, the narrator undergoes increasing levels of anxiety believing that the heartbeat of the man is still audible and growing louder.

      Another example is the Joker in The Dark Knight, who has a new story every time he recounts how he got his scars.
    #13 Kitti, Oct 16, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: May 27, 2013

    • Out Of Character
      1)This term means that somebody is acting largely against his or her established personality. How and why this occurs has a pretty wide range.
      2) Chatting as yourself, not in roleplay format.

      Kitti's Explanation: This term has two definitions, both of which apply to writing. The first concerns writing a character acting in a way that he/she/it would not typically act as established by their personality/history.

      The second usage of this is often what you will find people referring to the plot/character bio/excuses thread they make for their roleplay. Posting "out of character" blurbs in threads devoted to roleplay is often frowned upon.

      The first definition of this gets many examples when fanfiction is written about a book, movie, game, etc. The characters are often adapted for the author's own ends and it sometimes has terrible and hilarious results. Hopefully, your characters don't end up this bad, but take care if you're writing a sweet and lovely character and you suddenly decide they need to have a strong will or aggressive streak!

      For the second, Out of Character sections can be found in your very own Iwaku. This is where plot magic and character biographies happen. These threads are in the signup and plot discussion sections.

    • NPC
      Definition: Non-playable character. This is when the player controls the actions of a character that may not be tied to the story permanently, such as pedestrains, waiters, office workers, etc. These may also be side characters that are tied to the story, though only controlled by one player.

      Kitti's Explanation: Most of the characters you'll find in roleplays will be NPCs - the barmaid at the tavern or the policeman investigating a crime, these are characters who are typically viewed in third person limited perspective so we only see what they're doing and saying, often a device used to impact the story. After all, it would be lonely if your world weren't populated by other people who just don't factor into your story as important characters.

      Examples: Non-playable characters are everywhere! The waitress in a roleplay where the characters stop by the bar one night for a drink is probably an NPC who only existed to serve your characters a beer while your characters had a deep conversation. Sometimes these seemingly unimportant characters can later become a "Chekhov's gun".

    • Authorial Intrusion
      Definition: Authorial Intrusion is a literary device wherein the author penning the story, poem or prose steps away from the text and speaks out to the reader.

      Kitti's Definition: This occurs when the reader is addressed by the person writing the story. It can be used to relay crucial information to the reader that the characters do not know or to establish a point out of time and context.

      Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events frequently uses authorial intrusion. The story is told in the third person about three children, but the author very often speaks to the reader about the events taking place and offers commentary, insight, and sometimes clarification into what is happening.

      "No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don't read is often as important as what you do read. "

    • Hamartia
      Definition: In a simple sense, hamartia can be termed as a character’s flaw that leads to his tragic downfall.

      Kitti's Definition: The idea that your ultimate downfall will occur as a result not of willfully being bad, but of problems in one's character.

      Macbeth is a common example of hamartia as it is very blunt and easily placed against the common model of the definition of the word. Macbeth is a very ambitious man, which serves him well in some regards but leads him to eventual tragedy as his ambition causes him to kill his uncle and leads him to an ultimately unfortunate ending for Macbeth.


    • Portmanteau
      Definition: The combination of two or more words to create a new word.

      Kitti's Definition: Think of terrible tabloid magazines mashing two celebrity names together to make them one cutesy whole - it's like that, but with words, and usually less cutesy.

      The origin of the word "smog" is a portmanteau. It's actually a result of combining "smoke" and "fog".


    • Epiphora
      Definition: The emphatic repetition of a word or phrase, at the end of several sentences or stanzas.

      Kitti's Definition: Repeating the same word at the end of phrases for emphasis.

      "Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don’t give me the same idiot.”
      -Aaron Broussard


    • Anastrophe
      Definition: Anastrophe is a form of literary device wherein there is reversal of the normal word order in a sentence. In standard parlance and writing the adjective comes before the noun but when one is employing an anastrophe the noun is followed by the adjective. This reversed order creates a dramatic impact and lends weight to the description offered by the adjective, the verb if put before a noun, and so on.

      Kitti's Definition: Placing the adjective after the noun, the verb before a noun, or the object before a noun instead of after it, to lend a greater impact on that part of the sentence.

      Yoda is a fantastic example of anastrophe and this is the proper term for how he speaks, much of the time!
      "When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not." - Return of the Jedi
      (There are TWO anastrophes there, separated by the comma.)