Glossary of Literary Terms and Devices

Theme: the specific and central idea or ideas that a literary work explores or asserts about its subject

Tragedy: a literary work, beginning in prosperity and ending in adversity that recounts the fall of an individual

Tragic Flaw: the error, frailty, or flaw that causes the downfall of a tragic protagonist

Tone: the literary speaker’s attitude toward his subject, characters, or readers—formal or intimate, outspoken or reticent, abstruse or simple, serious or ironic, condescending or obsequious

Understatement: the deliberate underplaying or undervaluing of a thing for purposes of emphasis

Verisimilitude: a characteristic of literature, particularly fiction, that emphasizes the probable and lifelike


I.Exposition: provides background information needed to properly identify a story

II.Rising Action/Complication: the onset of the major conflicts in a work

III.Climax: high point in an action, where the conflict and consequent tension are brought out to the fullest extent; hence the turning point of a work at which the outcome is determined

IV.Falling Action: the conflict gradually unravels

V.Denouement/Resolution/Catastrophe: single moment of revelation or realization when everything falls into place


Aside: a short speech delivered by one character to the audience without the rest of the characters onstage being able to hear; represents an unspoken thought (see soliloquy)

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