used by permission of the author, Robert Harris http://www.virtualsalt.com/litterms.htm
Adventure novel. A novel where exciting events are more
important than character development and sometimes theme. Examples:
Allegory. A figurative work in which a surface narrative carries
a secondary, symbolic or metaphorical meaning. In The Faerie Queene,
for example, Red Cross Knight is a heroic knight in the literal narrative,
but also a figure representing Everyman in the Christian journey.
Many works contain allegories or are allegorical in part, but not many
are entirely allegorical. A good example of a fully allegorical work is
H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines
Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
Apologue. A moral fable, usually featuring personified animals or
inanimate objects which act like people to allow the author to comment
on the human condition. Often, the apologue highlights the irrationality
of mankind. The beast fable, and the fables of Aesop are examples. Some
critics have called Samuel Johnson's Rasselas an apologue rather
than a novel because it is more concerned with moral philosophy than with
character or plot. Examples:
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
Autobiographical novel. A novel based on the author's life experience.
Many novelists include in their books people and events from their own
lives because remembrance is easier than creation from scratch. Examples:
George Orwell, Animal Farm
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book
Blank Verse. Unrhymed iambic pentameter.
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
Burlesque. A work designed to ridicule a style, literary form,
or subject matter either by treating the exalted in a trivial way or by
discussing the trivial in exalted terms (that is, with mock dignity). Burlesque
concentrates on derisive imitation, usually in exaggerated terms. Literary
genres (like the tragic drama) can be burlesqued, as can styles of sculpture,
philosophical movements, schools of art, and so forth. See Parody, Travesty.
Caesura. A pause, metrical or rhetorical, occurring somewhere
in a line of poetry. The pause may or may not be typographically indicated.
Canon. In relation to literature, this term is half-seriously
applied to those works generally accepted as the great ones. A battle is
now being fought to change or throw out the canon for three reasons. First,
the list of great books is thoroughly dominated by DWEM's (dead, white,
European males), and the accusation is that women and minorities and non-Western
cultural writers have been ignored. Second, there is pressure in the literary
community to throw out all standards as the nihilism of the late 20th century
makes itself felt in the literature departments of the universities. Scholars
and professors want to choose the books they like or which reflect their
own ideas, without worrying about canonicity. Third, the canon has always
been determined at least in part by political considerations and personal
philosophical biases. Books are much more likely to be called "great" if
they reflect the philosophical ideas of the critic.
Children's novel. A novel written for children and discerned
by one or more of these: (1) a child character or a character a child can
identify with, (2) a theme or themes (often didactic) aimed at children,
(3) vocabulary and sentence structure available to a young reader. Many
"adult" novels, such as Gulliver's Travels, are read by children.
The test is that the book be interesting to and--at some level--accessible
by children. Examples:
Christian novel. A novel either explicitly or implicitly informed
by Christian faith and often containing a plot revolving around the Christian
life, evangelism, or conversion stories. Sometimes the plots are directly
religious, and sometimes they are allegorical or symbolic. Traditionally,
most Christian novels have been viewed as having less literary quality
than the "great" novels of Western literature. Examples:
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Coming-of-age story. A type of novel where the protagonist is initiated
into adulthood through knowledge, experience, or both, often by a process
of disillusionment. Understanding comes after the dropping of preconceptions,
a destruction of a false sense of security, or in some way the loss of
innocence. Some of the shifts that take place are these:
Charles Sheldon, In His Steps
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe
Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis
Par Lagerkvist, Barabbas
Catherine Marshall, Christy
C. S. Lewis, Perelandra
G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday
Bodie Thoene, In My Father's House
ignorance to knowledge
innocence to experience
false view of world to correct view
idealism to realism
immature responses to mature responses
Conceit. An elaborate, usually intellectually ingenious poetic comparison
or image, such as an analogy or metaphor in which, say a beloved is compared
to a ship, planet, etc. The comparison may be brief or extended. See Petrarchan
Conceit. (Conceit is an old word for concept.) See John Donne's "Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning," for example: "Let man's soul be a sphere, and then,
in this, / The Intelligence that moves, devotion is."
Jane Austen Northanger Abbey
Detective novel. A novel focusing on the solving of a crime,
often by a brilliant detective, and usually employing the elements of mystery
and suspense. Examples:
Dystopian novel. An anti-utopian novel where, instead of a paradise,
everything has gone wrong in the attempt to create a perfect society. See
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison
End-stopped. A line that has a natural pause at the end (period,
comma, etc.). For example, these lines are end stopped:
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.
Enjambed. The running over of a sentence or thought into the next
couplet or line without a pause at the end of the line; a run-on line.
For example, the first two lines here are enjambed:
Coral is far more red than her lips red. --Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Epic. An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures,
and heroic episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction,
for example). It may be written in hexameter verse, especially dactylic
hexameter, and it may have twelve books or twenty four books. Characteristics
of the classical epic include these:
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove. . . . --Shakespeare
Typical in epics is a set of conventions (or epic machinery). Among them
The main character or protagonist is heroically larger than life, often
the source and subject of legend or a national hero
The deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, revealing his failings
as well as his virtues
The action, often in battle, reveals the more-than-human strength of the
heroes as they engage in acts of heroism and courage
The setting covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universe
The episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation
for some of the circumstances or events in the history of a nation or people
The gods and lesser divinities play an active role in the outcome of actions
All of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates
in some way to the central theme
Poem begins with a statement of the theme ("Arms and the man I sing")
Invocation to the muse or other deity ("Sing, goddess, of the wrath of
Story begins in medias res (in the middle of things)
Catalogs (of participants on each side, ships, sacrifices)
Histories and descriptions of significant items (who made a sword or shield,
how it was decorated, who owned it from generation to generation)
Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in
its own right as well as serving to clarify the subject).
Frequent use of epithets ("Aeneas the true"; "rosy-fingered Dawn"; "tall-masted
Use of patronymics (calling son by father's name): "Anchises' son"
Long, formal speeches by important characters
Journey to the underworld
Use of the number three (attempts are made three times, etc.)
Previous episodes in the story are later recounted
Epistolary novel. A novel consisting of letters written by a character
or several characters. The form allows for the use of multiple points of
view toward the story and the ability to dispense with an omniscient narrator.
Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered
Milton, Paradise Lost
Euphemism. The substitution of a mild or less negative word or phrase
for a harsh or blunt one, as in the use of "pass away" instead of "die."
The basic psychology of euphemistic language is the desire to put something
bad or embarrassing in a positive (or at least neutral light). Thus many
terms referring to death, sex, crime, and excremental functions are euphemisms.
Since the euphemism is often chosen to disguise something horrifying, it
can be exploited by the satirist through the use of irony and exaggeration.
Samuel Richardson, Pamela
Samuel Richardson, Clarissa
Fanny Burney, Evelina
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Hannah W. Foster, The Coquette
Euphuism. A highly ornate style of writing popularized by John
Lyly's Euphues, characterized by balanced sentence construction,
rhetorical tropes, and multiplied similes and allusions.
Existentialist novel. A novel written from an existentialist
viewpoint, often pointing out the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence.
Fantasy novel. Any novel that is disengaged from reality. Often
such novels are set in nonexistent worlds, such as under the earth, in
a fairyland, on the moon, etc. The characters are often something other
than human or include nonhuman characters. Example:
Albert Camus, The Stranger
Flashback. A device that allows the writer to present events that
happened before the time of the current narration or the current events
in the fiction. Flashback techniques include memories, dreams, stories
of the past told by characters, or even authorial sovereignty. (That is,
the author might simply say, "But back in Tom's youth. . . .") Flashback
is useful for exposition, to fill in the reader about a character or place,
or about the background to a conflict.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Foot. The basic unit of meter consisting of a group of two or
three syllables. Scanning or scansion is the process of determining the
prevailing foot in a line of poetry, of determining the types and sequence
of different feet.
Types of feet: U (unstressed); / (stressed syllable)
Iamb: U /
Trochee: / U
Anapest: U U /
Dactyl: / U U
Spondee: / /
Pyrrhic: U U
See also versification, below.
Frame. A narrative structure that provides a setting and exposition
for the main narrative in a novel. Often, a narrator will describe where
he found the manuscript of the novel or where he heard someone tell the
story he is about to relate. The frame helps control the reader's perception
of the work, and has been used in the past to help give credibility to
the main section of the novel. Examples of novels with frames:
Free verse. Verse that has neither regular rhyme nor regular meter.
Free verse often uses cadences rather than uniform metrical feet.
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter
Gothic novel. A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere
of unknown terror pervades the action. The setting is often a dark, mysterious
castle, where ghosts and sinister humans roam menacingly. Horace Walpole
invented the genre with his Castle of Otranto. Gothic elements include
Ancient prophecy, especially mysterious, obscure, or hard to understand.
Mystery and suspense
High emotion, sentimentalism, but also pronounced anger, surprise, and
Supernatural events (e.g. a giant, a sighing portrait, ghosts or their
apparent presence, a skeleton)
Omens, portents, dream visions
Fainting, frightened, screaming women
Women threatened by powerful, impetuous male
Setting in a castle, especially with secret passages
The metonymy of gloom and horror (wind, rain, doors grating on rusty hinges,
howls in the distance, distant sighs, footsteps approaching, lights in
abandoned rooms, gusts of wind blowing out lights or blowing suddenly,
characters trapped in rooms or imprisoned)
The vocabulary of the gothic (use of words indicating fear, mystery, etc.:
apparition, devil, ghost, haunted, terror, fright)
Heroic Couplet. Two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter. Most of
Alexander Pope's verse is written in heroic couplets. In fact, it is the
most favored verse form of the eighteenth century. Example:
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
William Beckford, Vathek
Anne Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
u / u / u / u / u /
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
u / u / u / u / u /
Appear in writing or in judging ill. . . .
[Note in the second line that "or" should be a stressed syllable if the
meter were perfectly iambic. Iambic= a two syllable foot of one unstressed
and one stressed syllable, as in the word "begin." Pentameter= five feet.
Thus, iambic pentameter has ten syllables, five feet of two syllable iambs.]
Historical novel. A novel where fictional characters take part
in actual historical events and interact with real people from the past.
Horatian Satire. In general, a gentler, more good humored and sympathetic
kind of satire, somewhat tolerant of human folly even while laughing at
it. Named after the poet Horace, whose satire epitomized it. Horatian satire
tends to ridicule human folly in general or by type rather than attack
specific persons. Compare Juvenalian satire.
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Sir Walter Scott, Waverly
James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe
Humanism. The new emphasis in the Renaissance on human culture,
education and reason, sparked by a revival of interest in classical Greek
and Roman literature, culture, and language. Human nature and the dignity
of man were exalted and emphasis was placed on the present life as a worthy
event in itself (as opposed to the medieval emphasis on the present life
merely as preparation for a future life).
Humours. In medieval physiology, four liquids in the human body
affecting behavior. Each humour was associated with one of the four elements
of nature. In a balanced personality, no humour predominated. When a humour
did predominate, it caused a particular personality. Here is a chart of
the humours, the corresponding elements and personality characteristics:
The Renaissance took the doctrine of humours quite seriously--it was their
model of psychology--so knowing that can help us understand the characters
in the literature. Falstaff, for example, has a dominance of blood, while
Hamlet seems to have an excess of black bile.
blood...air...hot and moist: sanguine, kind, happy, romantic
phlegm...water...cold and moist: phlegmatic, sedentary, sickly,
yellow bile...fire...hot and dry: choleric, ill-tempered, impatient,
black bile...earth...cold and dry: melancholy, gluttonous,
Hypertext novel. A novel that can be read in a nonsequential
way. That is, whereas most novels flow from beginning to end in a continuous,
linear fashion, a hypertext novel can branch--the reader can move from
one place in the text to another nonsequential place whenever he wishes
to trace an idea or follow a character. Also called hyperfiction. Most
are published on CD-ROM. See also interactive novel. Examples:
Interactive novel. A novel with more than one possible series of
events or outcomes. The reader is given the opportunity at various places
to choose what will happen next. It is therefore possible for several readers
to experience different novels by reading the same book or for one reader
to experience different novels by reading the same one twice and making
Michael Joyce, Afternoon
Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden
Invective. Speech or writing that abuses, denounces, or attacks.
It can be directed against a person, cause, idea, or system. It employs
a heavy use of negative emotive language. Example:
Irony. A mode of expression, through words (verbal irony) or events
(irony of situation), conveying a reality different from and usually opposite
to appearance or expectation. A writer may say the opposite of what he
means, create a reversal between expectation and its fulfillment, or give
the audience knowledge that a character lacks, making the character's words
have meaning to the audience not perceived by the character. In verbal
irony, the writer's meaning or even his attitude may be different from
what he says: "Why, no one would dare argue that there could be anything
more important in choosing a college than its proximity to the beach."
An example of situational irony would occur if a professional pickpocket
had his own pocket picked just as he was in the act of picking someone
else's pocket. The irony is generated by the surprise recognition by the
audience of a reality in contrast with expectation or appearance, while
another audience, victim, or character puts confidence in the appearance
as reality (in this case, the pickpocket doesn't expect his own pocket
to be picked). The surprise recognition by the audience often produces
a comic effect, making irony often funny.
I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious
race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the
surface of the earth. --Swift
An example of dramatic irony (where the audience has knowledge that
gives additional meaning to a character's words) would be when King Oedipus,
who has unknowingly killed his father, says that he will banish his father's
killer when he finds him.
Irony is the most common and most efficient technique of the satirist,
because it is an instrument of truth, provides wit and humor, and is usually
at least obliquely critical, in that it deflates, scorns, or attacks.
The ability to detect irony is sometimes heralded as a test of intelligence
and sophistication. When a text intended to be ironic is not seen as such,
the effect can be disastrous. Some students have taken Swift's "Modest
Proposal" literally. And Defoe's contemporaries took his "Shortest Way
with the Dissenters" literally and jailed him for it. To be an effective
piece of sustained irony, there must be some sort of audience tip-off,
through style, tone, use of clear exaggeration, or other device.
Juvenalian Satire. Harsher, more pointed, perhaps intolerant
satire typified by the writings of Juvenal. Juvenalian satire often attacks
particular people, sometimes thinly disguised as fictional characters.
While laughter and ridicule are still weapons as with Horatian satire,
the Juvenalian satirist also uses withering invective and a slashing attack.
Swift is a Juvenalian satirist.
Lampoon. A crude, coarse, often bitter satire ridiculing the
personal appearance or character of a person.
Literary quality. A judgment about the value of a novel as literature.
At the heart of this issue is the question of what distinguishes a great
or important novel from one that is less important. Certainly the feature
is not that of interest or excitement, for pulp novels can be even more
exciting and interesting than "great" novels. Usually, books that make
us think--that offer insight into the human condition--are the ones we
rank more highly than books that simply titillate us.
Metaphysical Poetry. The term metaphysical was applied
to a style of 17th Century poetry first by John Dryden and later by Dr.
Samuel Johnson because of the highly intellectual and often abstruse imagery
Chief among the metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert, Richard
Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan. While their poetry is widely
varied (the metaphysicals are not a thematic or even a structural school),
there are some common characteristics:
Metaphysical poetry represents a revolt against the conventions of Elizabethan
love poetry and especially the typical Petrarchan conceits (like rosy cheeks,
eyes like stars, etc.).
1. Argumentative structure. The poem often engages in a debate or
persuasive presentation; the poem is an intellectual exercise as well as
or instead of an emotional effusion.
2. Dramatic and colloquial mode of utterance. The poem often describes
a dramatic event rather than being a reverie, a thought, or contemplation.
Diction is simple and usually direct; inversion is limited. The verse is
occasionally rough, like speech, rather than written in perfect meter,
resulting in a dominance of thought over form.
3. Acute realism. The poem often reveals a psychological analysis;
images advance the argument rather than being ornamental. There is a learned
style of thinking and writing; the poetry is often highly intellectual.
4. Metaphysical wit. The poem contains unexpected, even striking
or shocking analogies, offering elaborate parallels between apparently
dissimilar things. The analogies are drawn from widely varied fields of
knowledge, not limited to traditional sources in nature or art. Analogies
from science, mechanics, housekeeping, business, philosophy, astronomy,
etc. are common. These "conceits" reveal a play of intellect, often resulting
in puns, paradoxes, and humorous comparisons. Unlike other poetry where
the metaphors usually remain in the background, here the metaphors sometimes
take over the poem and control it.
Meter. The rhythmic pattern produced when words are arranged
so that their stressed and unstressed syllables fall into a more or less
regular sequence, resulting in repeated patterns of accent (called feet).
See feet and versification.
Mock Epic. Treating a frivolous or minor subject seriously, especially
by using the machinery and devices of the epic (invocations, descriptions
of armor, battles, extended similes, etc.). The opposite of travesty. Examples:
Multicultural novel. A novel written by a member of or about a cultural
minority group, giving insight into non-Western or non-dominant cultural
experiences and values, either in the United States or abroad. Examples:
Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock
Mystery novel. A novel whose driving characteristic is the element
of suspense or mystery. Strange, unexplained events, vague threats or terrors,
unknown forces or antagonists, all may appear in a mystery novel. Gothic
novels and detective novels are often also mystery novels.
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife
Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree
Margaret Craven, I Heard the Owl Call My Name
James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
Chaim Potok, The Chosen
Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Penitent
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Novel. Dare we touch this one with a ten foot pole? Of course
we dare, provided that you accept the caveat that novels are so varied
that any definition is likely to be inadequate to cover all of them. So
here is a place to start: a novel is an extended prose fiction narrative
of 50,000 words or more, broadly realistic--concerning the everyday events
of ordinary people--and concerned with character. "People in significant
action" is one way of describing it.
Another definition might be "an extended, fictional prose narrative
about realistic characters and events." It is a representation of life,
experience, and learning. Action, discovery, and description are important
elements, but the most important tends to be one or more characters--how
they grow, learn, find--or don't grow, learn, or find.
Compare the definition of a romance, below, and you will see
why this definition seems somewhat restrictive.
Novella. A prose fiction longer than a short story but shorter
than a novel. There is no standard definition of length, but since rules
of thumb are sometimes handy, we might say that the short story ends at
about 20,000 words, while the novel begins at about 50,000. Thus, the novella
is a fictional work of about 20,000 to 50,000 words. Examples:
Novel of manners. A novel focusing on and describing in detail the
social customs and habits of a particular social group. Usually these conventions
function as shaping or even stifling controls over the behavior of the
Henry James, Daisy Miller
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Henry James, Turn of the Screw
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Parody. A satiric imitation of a work or of an author with the idea
of ridiculing the author, his ideas, or work. The parodist exploits the
peculiarities of an author's expression--his propensity to use too many
parentheses, certain favorite words, or whatever. The parody may also be
focused on, say, an improbable plot with too many convenient events. Fielding's
Shamela is, in large part, a parody of Richardson's Pamela.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Persona. The person created by the author to tell a story. Whether
the story is told by an omniscient narrator or by a character in it, the
actual author of the work often distances himself from what is said or
told by adopting a persona--a personality different from his real one.
Thus, the attitudes, beliefs, and degree of understanding expressed by
the narrator may not be the same as those of the actual author. Some authors,
for example, use narrators who are not very bright in order to create irony.
Petrarchan Conceit. The kind of conceit (see above) used by Italian
Renaissance poet Petrarch and popular in Renaissance English sonnets. Eyes
like stars or the sun, hair like golden wires, lips like cherries, etc.
are common examples. Oxymorons are also common, such as freezing fire,
burning ice, etc.
Picaresque novel. An episodic, often autobiographical novel about
a rogue or picaro (a person of low social status) wandering around and
living off his wits. The wandering hero provides the author with the opportunity
to connect widely different pieces of plot, since the hero can wander into
any situation. Picaresque novels tend to be satiric and filled with petty
Pseudonym. A "false name" or alias used by a writer desiring not
to use his or her real name. Sometimes called a nom de plume or
"pen name," pseudonyms have been popular for several reasons.
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild
First, political realities might make it dangerous for the real author
to admit to a work. Beatings, imprisonment, and even execution are not
unheard of for authors of unpopular works.
Second, an author might have a certain type of work associated with
a certain name, so that different names are used for different kinds of
work. One pen name might be used for westerns, while another name would
be used for science fiction.
Lastly, an author might choose a literary name that sounds more impressive
or that will garner more respect than the author's real name. Examples:
Pulp fiction. Novels written for the mass market, intended to be
"a good read,"--often exciting, titillating, thrilling. Historically they
have been very popular but critically sneered at as being of sub-literary
quality. The earliest ones were the dime novels of the nineteenth century,
printed on newsprint (hence "pulp" fiction) and sold for ten cents. Westerns,
stories of adventure, even the Horatio Alger novels, all were forms of
Samuel Clemens used the name Mark Twain
Mary Ann Evans used the name George Eliot
Jonathan Swift used the name Lemuel Gulliver (once)
Regional novel. A novel faithful to a particular geographic region
and its people, including behavior, customs, speech, and history. Examples:
Rhyme. The similarity between syllable sounds at the end of two
or more lines. Some kinds of rhyme (also spelled rime) include:
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native
Ridicule. Words intended to belittle a person or idea and arouse
contemptuous laughter. The goal is to condemn or criticize by making the
thing, idea, or person seem laughable and ridiculous. It is one of the
most powerful methods of criticism, partly because it cannot be satisfactorily
answered ("Who can refute a sneer?") and partly because many people who
fear nothing else--not the law, not society, not even God--fear being laughed
at. (The fear of being laughed at is one of the most inhibiting forces
in western civilization. It provides much of the power behind the adolescent
flock urge and accounts for many of the barriers to change and adventure
in the adult world.) Ridicule is, not surprisingly, a common weapon of
Couplet: a pair of lines rhyming consecutively.
Eye rhyme: words whose spellings would lead one to think that they
rhymed (slough, tough, cough, bough, though, hiccough. Or: love, move,
prove. Or: daughter, laughter.)
Feminine rhyme: two syllable rhyme consisting of stressed syllable
followed by unstressed.
Masculine rhyme: similarity between terminally stressed syllables.
Roman a clef. [French for "novel with a key," pronounced roh
MAHN ah CLAY] A novel in which historical events and actual people are
written about under the pretense of being fiction. Examples:
Romance. An extended fictional prose narrative about improbable
events involving characters that are quite different from ordinary people.
Knights on a quest for a magic sword and aided by characters like fairies
and trolls would be examples of things found in romance fiction. Examples:
Aphra Behn, Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
In popular use, the modern romance novel is a formulaic love story (boy
meets girl, obstacles interfere, they overcome obstacles, they live happily
ever after). Computer software is available for constructing these stock
plots and providing stereotyped characters. Consequently, the books usually
lack literary merit. Examples:
Sarcasm. A form of sneering criticism in which disapproval is often
expressed as ironic praise. (Oddly enough, sarcastic remarks are often
used between friends, perhaps as a somewhat perverse demonstration of the
strength of the bond--only a good friend could say this without hurting
the other's feelings, or at least without excessively damaging the relationship,
since feelings are often hurt in spite of a close relationship. If you
drop your lunch tray and a stranger says, "Well, that was really intelligent,"
that's sarcasm. If your girlfriend or boyfriend says it, that's love--I
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Sir Philip Sidney, The Arcadia
Satire. A literary mode based on criticism of people and society
through ridicule. The satirist aims to reduce the practices attacked by
laughing scornfully at them--and being witty enough to allow the reader
to laugh, also. Ridicule, irony, exaggeration, and several other
techniques are almost always present. The satirist may insert serious statements
of value or desired behavior, but most often he relies on an implicit moral
code, understood by his audience and paid lip service by them. The satirist's
goal is to point out the hypocrisy of his target in the hope that either
the target or the audience will return to a real following of the code.
satire is inescapably moral even when no explicit values are promoted in
the work, for the satirist works within the framework of a widely spread
value system. Many of the techniques of satire are devices of comparison,
to show the similarity or contrast between two things. A list of incongruous
items, an oxymoron, metaphors, and so forth are examples. See
"The Purpose and Method of Satire" for more information.
Science fiction novel. A novel in which futuristic technology
or otherwise altered scientific principles contribute in a significant
way to the adventures. Often the novel assumes a set of rules or principles
or facts and then traces their logical consequences in some form. For example,
given that a man discovers how to make himself invisible, what might happen?
Sentimental novel. A type of novel, popular in the eighteenth century,
that overemphasizes emotion and seeks to create emotional responses in
the reader. The type also usually features an overly optimistic view of
the goodness of human nature. Examples:
H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
Sequel. A novel incorporating the same characters and often the
same setting as a previous novel. Sometimes the events and situations involve
a continuation of the previous novel and sometimes only the characters
are the same and the events are entirely unrelated to the previous novel.
When sequels result from the popularity of an original, they are often
hastily written and not of the same quality as the original. Occasionally
a sequel is written by an author different from that of the original novel.
See series. Examples:
Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield
Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling
Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Thomas Day, The History of Sandford and Merton
Series. Several novels related to each other, by plot, setting,
character, or all three. Book marketers like to refer to multi-volume novels
as sagas. Examples:
Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Detective
Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett
Setting. The total environment for the action of a fictional work.
Setting includes time period (such as the 1890's), the place (such as downtown
Warsaw), the historical milieu (such as during the Crimean War), as well
as the social, political, and perhaps even spiritual realities. The setting
is usually established primarily through description, though narration
is used also.
Anthony Trollope, Barsetshire novels
C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia novels
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea novels
James Fenimore Cooper, The Leatherstocking Tales
Sonnet. A fourteen line poem, usually in iambic pentameter, with
a varied rhyme scheme. The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan
(or Italian) and the Shakespearean. The Petrarchan Sonnet is divided
into two main sections, the octave (first eight lines) and the sestet (last
six lines). The octave presents a problem or situation which is then resolved
or commented on in the sestet. The most common rhyme scheme is A-B-B-A
A-B-B-A C-D-E C-D-E, though there is flexibility in the sestet, such as
The Shakespearean Sonnet, (perfected though not invented by Shakespeare),
contains three quatrains and a couplet, with more rhymes (because of the
greater difficulty finding rhymes in English). The most common rhyme scheme
is A-B-A-B C-D-C-D E-F-E-F G-G. In Shakespeare, the couplet often undercuts
the thought created in the rest of the poem.
Spenserian Stanza. A nine-line stanza, with the first eight lines
in iambic pentameter and the last line in iambic hexameter (called an Alexandrine).
The rhyme scheme is A-B-A-B B-C-B-C C. Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene
is written in Spenserian stanzas.
Style. The manner of expression of a particular writer, produced
by choice of words, grammatical structures, use of literary devices, and
all the possible parts of language use. Some general styles might include
scientific, ornate, plain, emotive. Most writers have their own particular
Subplot. A subordinate or minor collection of events in a novel
or drama. Most subplots have some connection with the main plot, acting
as foils to, commentary on, complications of, or support to the theme of,
the main plot. Sometimes two opening subplots merge into a main plot.
Symbol. Something that on the surface is its literal self but
which also has another meaning or even several meanings. For example, a
sword may be a sword and also symbolize justice. A symbol may be said to
embody an idea. There are two general types of symbols: universal symbols
that embody universally recognizable meanings wherever used, such as light
to symbolize knowledge, a skull to symbolize death, etc., and constructed
symbols that are given symbolic meaning by the way an author uses them
in a literary work, as the white whale becomes a symbol of evil in Moby
Tone. The writer's attitude toward his readers and his subject;
his mood or moral view. A writer can be formal, informal, playful, ironic,
and especially, optimistic or pessimistic. While both Swift and Pope are
satirizing much the same subjects, there is a profound difference in their
Travesty. A work that treats a serious subject frivolously--
ridiculing the dignified. Often the tone is mock serious and heavy handed.
Utopian novel. A novel that presents an ideal society where the
problems of poverty, greed, crime, and so forth have been eliminated. Examples:
Verisimilitude. How fully the characters and actions in a work of
fiction conform to our sense of reality. To say that a work has a high
degree of verisimilitude means that the work is very realistic and believable--it
is "true to life.".
Thomas More, Utopia
Samuel Butler, Erewhon
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward
Versification. Generally, the structural form of a verse, as
revealed by scansion. Identification of verse structure includes the name
of the metrical type and the name designating number of feet:
The most common verse in English poetry is iambic pentameter. See foot
for more information.
Monometer: 1 foot
Dimeter: 2 feet
Trimeter: 3 feet
Tetrameter: 4 feet
Pentameter: 5 feet
Hexameter: 6 feet
Heptameter: 7 feet
Octameter: 8 feet
Nonameter: 9 feet
Western. A novel set in the western United States featuring the
experiences of cowboys and frontiersmen. Many are little more than adventure
novels or even pulp fiction, but some have literary value. Examples:
Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident
Owen Wister, The Virginian
Copyright 1997, 2002 by Robert Harris
author: Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years
of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris@virtualsalt.com