Literary Techniques and Definitions

TechniqueDefinition + Example
Aerial ShotExterior shot taken from above scene via an aircraft/crane
AllegoryUse of highly symbolic features to represent well-known ideas, such as death or love
AlliterationRepetition of consonants at the beginning of successive words or within sentences/phrases to create a sense of rhythm
E.g. Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
AllusionA subtle or passing reference to an event, person, place, other text, etc. that is intended to be noticed by readers
AmbiguityWhen something is left to the reader’s imagination, which often involves the author not stating explicitly what is happening, what has been said, etc
AmplificationAn expansion of detail to clarify a point
E.g. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
AnalogyUses two similar concepts or ideas to create a relationship, draw comparisons or contrast between the two ideas
E.g. A sword is to a warrior as a pen is to a writer
AnaphoraThe repetition of one or more words at the head of consecutive phrases, clauses or sentences
E.g. I came, I saw, I conquered
AnecdotesUse of a short tale or amusing bibliographical incident
AntimasqueA comic or grotesque dance presented before or between acts of masque to provide a direct contrast
AntistropheThe repetition of a word or phrase at the close of successive clauses
E.g. You said he was late — true enough. You said he was not prepared — true enough. You said he did not defend his statements — true enough.
AntithesisUsing two sentences with contradictory or contrasting meanings close to one another, sometimes even in immediate succession
Eg. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
AporiaA statement of hesitation, in which characters express themselves with actual or feigned doubt
ApostropheThe interruption of a though to directly address a person
ArchetypeAn archetype is an immediately recognisable character, concept or object that makes it easy for audiences to categorise them based on what they resemble in literature
Eg. Hagrid (Harry Potter) fits the ‘gentle giant’ archetype, while Batman is the ultimate ‘lone vigilante’ archetype.
AssonanceRepetition of vowel sounds within sentences/phrases to create a sense of rhythm
Eg. A long song
AsyndetonThe absence of conjunctions
BackgroundThe part of a picture, scene or design that forms a setting for the main figures or objects, or appears furthest from the viewer
BacklightingMain light source is behind subject, silhouetting it
CacophonyDeliberate use of harsh letter sounds
E.g. The clash and clang of steel jarred him awake
CaricatureA satiric technique in which a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect
ChiaruscuroThe use of strong contrasts between light and dark which affects the composition of the artwork or cinematography
ClicheA common and/or overused expression, often found in similes and metaphors
Eg. He ran like the wind
Close Shot/CloseupShows head/shoulders, providing clear detail of a person
CommoratioIs a rhetorical term for dwelling on a point by repeating it several times in different words
E.g. He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff!
ContrastAny situation wherein two different or opposing things are presented together in order to highlight their differences
Cumulative ListingListing of things/effects to emphasise a point
DiachopeThe repetition of a word or phrase with one or two intervening words
E.g. Put out the light, and then put out the light!
DialogueA conversation between two or more characters/people
Diegetic SoundBelonging on screen eg. Dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise
Dramatic IronyAny situation wherein the audience is privy to some sort of information that the characters do not know, building audience tension, suspense, etc
Eg. Romeo and Juliet uses dramatic irony to create audience tension and emotional reactions when Romeo believes Juliet to be dead and kills himself, as audiences know she’s actually alive and will wake up any moment.
Emotive LanguageWords chosen to create a specific emotional response in the reader, often linked to the word’s connotations and commonly used in highly emotional or descriptive scenes/situations
EpilogueA section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened
Epistrophe (or epiphora)The repetition of a word at the end of each phrase or clause
Eg. I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
EpithetThe illogical use of an adjective
Establishing ShotInitial shot of a scene, typically from a distance, letting viewer know where scene occurs and revealing everything that is happening in scene
EthosA rhetorical technique that is used to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character
EuphemismA mild or ‘proper’ expression used to replace one that is harsh, blunt or otherwise offensive in order to not cause trouble or appear vulgar
ExclamationA sentence ending with an exclamation mark or said with a tone of shock/excitement is used to express high emotion
Eg. “I can’t believe you!” may be said when someone has done something shocking or betrayed a character in some way and elicited a strong emotional response
ExordiumThe opening or introduction of a speech (personal favourite, just because of the name 😄)
Extreme Close-UpDetailed view of a person/thing (eyes/mouth)
Extreme Long ShotA view from an even greater distance, in which people appear as small dots in the landscape (if at all)
Figurative LanguageLanguage, words and/or expressions that have meaning beyond their literal interpretation, often used to express links between ideas, characters and concepts or subtly tie into overall themes
FoilA foil is another character in a story that specifically contrasts the main character in order to emphasise the main character’s attributes and values or compare the values of the two characters
Eg. Draco Malfoy is a foil to Harry Potter, as he represents the opposites of Harry’s values and experiences, though the two are tied together by their positions on opposite sides of the battle against Voldemort
ForegroundPart of the scene closest to viewer
ForeshadowingThe act of hinting at or setting up a situation, event or action that will later be extremely important in the narrative but doesn’t seem important at the time
FormThe construction and structure of a text based on the text type, the context and the author’s personal stylistic choices
Frame NarrativeThis is often used in film and is essentially a ‘story within a story’, wherein the main narrative is being told, remembered, etc. by someone in the ‘outside narrative’
E.g. “In fair Verona where we lay our scene… Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage.” As the introduction to Romeo and Juliet. Despite being part of the script, this monologue is outside of the actual plot. Therefore, the main story is in a “frame”, which is why it’s a frame narrative.
High-Angle ShotA cinematic technique where the camera looks down on the subject from a high angle and the point of focus often gets “swallowed up”
HyperboleThe purposeful over-exaggeration of a statement in order to create a more intense or over-the- top effect
E.g. I’m so exhausted I couldn’t move if I tried.
HypophoraA rhetorical question that is asked and answered by the speaker
Iambic PentameterA line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable
Eg. Two households, both alike in dignity
ImageryWords used to create an idea or mental image of something, most often found in descriptions or created through descriptive language
InnuendoImplying something that is not overtly stated
E.g. “If you know what I mean” *wink*
InterjectionAn additional thought or aside, often added in the heat of the moment
IntertextualityThis occurs when one text makes reference to another text, either obviously or in a more subtle way in order to make a point or draw links between the two
IronyA disconnect between what is said and what is meant, usually with the words said having a second insulting, humorous or satirical meaning
IsocolonThe use of clauses or phrases of equal length
JuxtapositionPlacing one character, idea, theme, object, setting, etc. parallel to another in order to compare and contrast the two
KairosA moment where the conditions are tight for crucial action; ie an opportunistic moment
LogosA form of rhetoric that appeals to logic as a means of convincing an audience through locial reasoning
Long ShotA view of a scene that is shot from a considerable distance, so that people appear as indistinct shapes.
MasqueA dramatic entertainment of the 16th to 17th centuries in England, consisting of pantomime, dancing, dialogue, and song, often performed at court
MetaphorComparing two things by saying that one ‘is’ the other in order to draw stronger comparisons and often add a level of figurative meaning
Eg. He was a crumbling ruin of a man; once great, then left to erode into dust
MidshotAlso called social shot, shows character from waist up — viewers can see character’s faces more clearly along with their interaction with other characters
MidgroundThe visual plane located between both the foreground and background
ModalityThe strength or force of a word, which low modality words being passive while high modality words are forceful
MonologueA long speech by one actor in a play or film, or as part of a theatrical or broadcast programme
MotifA motif is an idea, symbol, object, concept or theme that is always present throughout an entire text, playing a significant and/or symbolic role in the narrative
NarrationA commentary delivered to accompany a film, broadcast, etc
Narrative PerspectiveA set of features determining the way a story is told and what is told
Non-Diegetic SoundSound viewer can hear, but the characters can’t e.g. Music
OmissionWhat is left out of a text –- missing scenes, fade to blacks, conversations only mentioned in passing, etc
OnomatopoeiaA word that it the ‘sound’ of what it represents, allowing the reader to ‘hear’ what is occurring
E.g. Bang, crash, bam, screech, eek, etc
OxymoronTwo contradictory words or concepts used together to create a strange or complex thing/idea that still makes sense
Eg. Organised chaos
Panning ShotShot using moving camera to encompass full width of a scene
ParadoxAn apparent contradiction that in fact has an underlying truth
ParallelismComparing two objects, and object and a person, etc. to draw parallels between them, includes similes and metaphors
Eg. He was cold as ice
Pathetic FallacyGiving any non-human object some kind of human feeling or senses
PathosA rhetorical technique that persuades an audience by appealing to their emotions
PerorationThe concluding argument of a speech which recaps the speech and urges a greater force
PersonificationThe attributing of human characteristics to non-human objects, by which inanimate objects appear to have life and/or feelings
Eg. The tree branches thrashed against the window, their spindly, arthritic fingers creaking in the wind
PolyptotonRepetition of two or more forms of a word
Eg. You try and forget, and in the forgetting, you are yourself forgotten
PolysyndetonInsertion of conjunctions before each word in a list
Eg. I laughed and played and talked and failed
PysmaAsking a series of questions that require complex answers
RepetitionRestating key words or phrases to make the text more memorable
Rhetorical QuestionA question that is asked without the intent of receiving an answer because the answer itself is obvious
RhymeThe correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, especially when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry
RhythmA strong, regular repeated pattern of movement or sound
SalienceThe quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence
SatireIrony/Sarcasm/Ridicule with the intent of showing the foolishness/injustice of a situation, often political
SibilanceA specific form of alliteration involving the repetition of ‘s’ within a phrase or sentence
SoliloquyAn act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play
Stage DirectionsAn instruction in the text of a play indicating the movement, position, or tone of an actor, or the sound effects and lighting
SymbolA word or phrase that takes on a particular meaning for the audience and is used to represent something
SYMBOLISM!!!When an object, person, etc. represents a more complex idea, concept or theme
SyntaxThe way a sentence is constructed – short, long, fragmented, compound, complex, etc
TautologyRepeating the same idea in a different word to add emphasis
E.g. English is never bored or tedious
ThemeThe overall message or moral of a narrative which is intended to cause audiences to think on real-life issues or moral questions
ToneThe emotional state of the speaker’s voice which gives clues as to their attitude towards the subject
TricolonA series of three parallel words, phrases, clauses or statements
Eg. Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
Truncated SentencesBlunt, cut-off, shortened sentences to create emphasis
VectorObject that directs our eyes towards focal point e.g. subject in visual text is pointing or looking towards a certain direction
Verfremdungseffekt (Distancing Effect)A technique used in theatre and cinema that prevents the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative, instead making it a conscious critical observer, who is distanced from the emotion of the stage