Literary devices: dramatic, poetic and narrative devices

Dramatic Devices/Features of drama

  1. Action: this refers to what the characters in a play do and how they do them.
  2. Antagonist: this is a person who opposes the protagonist in play.
  3. Anti-hero: this is a character in a play, who lacks the qualities of a hero. He is a central character that is not identified by any braveness, strength or success.
  4. Aside: a character speaks to the audience assuming that fellow characters in the play do not hear him.
  5. Audition: this is the process of selecting characters to participate in a play. The people are called to practice.
  6. Cast: the actors or performers in a play that are recognized by the specific role they play.
  7. Catharsis: this is an effect on the emotional expression of the audience or readers which may lead to shedding of tears. The shedding of tears becomes a means to ease tension.
  8. Characterisation: this is the process of creating characters where their roles are specified.
  9. Characters: this are the people through the playwright communicates his thought to his readers or his audience
  10. Chorus: this is where two or more characters express similar opinion at the same time usually in support or rejection of a common situation.
  11. Climax: this refers to the peak of the tension in the story. This is the time that the audience are very eager to know what happens next and it is usually close to the end of the play. It introduces the denouement.
  12. Conflict: this refers to the issue that has to be resolved between the protagonist and the antagonist in a play. It is the major problem that needs to be solved or the questions that have been created in the mind of the reader or audience which needs to be answered.
  13. Denouement: this is the event that comes after the is the moment where the conflict in the play is resolved. It is also known as resolution.
  14. Deus ex machine: this is where a most wanted help comes at a much unexpected time in an unexpected way. This can be linked to providences and the intervention of a supernatural force.
  15. Dialogue: this is the process of interaction among characters in a play.
  16. Dramatic irony: this is a device used in drama, where a character acts out of ignorance whereas the audience know the real outcome of the situation.
  17. Dramatis personae: The list of actors in a play usually presented before a play begins.
  18. Dramatist: this person writes and direct plays written by him or someone else.
  19. Epilogue: this is a concluding comment that comes at after a play has ended.
  20. Flashback: a recall of an event that had occurred before the present event usually used to explain the link between the present situation and something that had occurred in the past.
  21. Peripety: this is period of sudden change in the experience of a succeeding hero that leads to a sad ending.
  22. Playwright: this is a person who writes a play.
  23. Plot: the sequential arrangement of events in a play showing the connection between the events in the play.
  24. Poetic drama: this is a play written in poetic verse. It can be performed or read dramatically.
  25. Producer: this is a person whose work is to finance and organize the performances of a play.
  26. Projection: this is the opposite of flashback. The writer reveals an event in the future which is likely to be the result of an action in the present.
  27. Prologue: this an introductory comment that comes before a play begins.
  28. Prompter: this person’s activity is off-stage. He reminds the actors of lines they forget.
  29. Proscenium Arch: the front of the stage before the place where the audience are siting.
  30. Protagonist: the most prominent character in a play or novel. This can also be referred to as hero (for a male) or heroin (for a female).
  31. Soliloquy: this is when the actor speaks out his thought so that the audience know what he/she is thinking.
  32. Stage directions: these are the instructions decided and given by the playwright on how the play should be done. They include the designing of the state, the activities of the actors etc.
  33. Suspense: this is the state of anxiety and expectation created in the audience as the activities in a play unfold. It leaves the audience eager to know what will happen next.
  34. Tragic Flaw: this refers to the shortcoming or weakness of a hero, like pride, which leads to his downfall.
  35. Tragic Hero: this is a hero who starts off well and later falls into trouble that he does not get out of. The end of his life is sad.
  36. Eponymous character: a major character whose name is used as the title of a novel.
  37. Flat character: this character lacks complex features in his/her activities. It is easy to predict his actions.
  38. Round character: this character is not easily predictable because of the possibility of change in his/her action. This character can easily change from evil to good or good to evil; strong to weak or weak to strong.
  39. Setting: this can be seen as the physical, social or periodic relation of the story. That is, it refers to the place, social dispensation or time when the event takes place.
  40. Diction: this refers to the writer’s choice of words. The writer would always choose special words to use in his story in order to capture specific message or create an effect in the reader.
  41. Theme: this can also be called subject matter. It is the basic idea in the story.
  42. Symbol: this is used in narratives to pass information without necessarily using words for explanation. For instance, when red is used to describe a situation, that situation is known to be dangerous.
  43. Satire: this is a writing style that the writer uses to criticise evil in the society.
  44. Allegory: this is another feature of prose where characters and events depict certain qualities or ideas related to human activities.
  45. Fable: they are stories that usually have animal characters that are made to represent humans. Such stories address social or political issues in the society.
  46. Biography: this is a story written about a person by a different person.
  47. Autobiography: this is a story written about a person by the same person.
  48. Epistle: this is a literary work that is written as a letter.
  49. Memoir: this is an autobiography of an important person who has been part of a major event in the history of a people.
  50. Atmosphere: this refers to the psychological background of a literary work. The atmosphere may be tense or relaxed as felt by the reader. It can even be ecstatic.
  51. Canto: a canto is a division of a poem that is longer than a normal stanza. That is, if what is to be called a stanza becomes as long as a chapter, it is referred to as conto.
  52. Couplet: this refers to two successive rhyming lines in a poem.
  53. Enjambment: this is also known as run-on line. It refers to a situation where one idea runs from one line to the next. That is, the two lines must be read to capture the full idea.
  54. Metre: it is a sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. A line of five syllables can be written in a way that a weak syllable comes between every two strong syllables.
  55. Mood: this is the attitude expressed in a poem.
  56. Quatrain: this is a group of four lines in a poem.
  57. Rhyme: this refers to a situation where two or more lines of poetry end with the same sound.
  58. Rhyme scheme: this refers to the sequence by which rhyme occurs in a poem. The two first lines may end with the same sound and the next two with a different sound. The alternation can also be between single lines.
  59. Refrain: this refers to a word, phrase or sentence that is repeated at intervals in a poem.
  60. Stanza: this is one of the groups of words into which a poem is divided.
  61. Tone: this is the attitude of the poem expressed through the words in a poem.
  62. Subject matter: this refers to the direct meaning of the poem.
  63. Triplet: this is a group of three lines in poetry.
  64. Verse: this is a line of poetry or a composition written in metre.
  65. Sestet: this is a group of six lines in poetry.
  66. Octave: this is a group of eight lines in poetry.
  67. Pentameter: a line of poetry that contains five feet.
  68. Metonymy: a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself e.g. “laurels” when it stands for “glory”.
  69. Pun

This is a play on words e.g. “what is the longest sentence you know?” where sentence could refer to the prison sentence or an aspect of grammar.

  1. Oxymoron

This is a combination of two seemingly contradictory or incongruous words, as in the line by the English poet Sir Philip Sidney in which lovers are said to speak “of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires.” (Compare with paradox, below.)

  1. Figure of Speech

This refers to word or group of words used to emphasize an idea. The speaker decides to use a combination of words that would not express its exact literary meaning. The use of figurative expressions has existed since the ancient times. Writers and orators or praise singers use it to paint a more vivid picture of their inner expression. They used it to achieve a greater effect than a literal expression can express. Only few words with figurative quality can send a message that would require a thousand words; that is why poetry cannot be done without it.

  1. Anticlimax

This is a sequence of ideas that abruptly diminish in dignity or importance at the end of a sentence or passage, generally for satirical effect. The following sentence illustrates anticlimax: “Among the great achievements of Benito Mussolini’s regime were the revival of a strong national consciousness, the expansion of the Italian Empire, and the running of the trains on time.” (Compare with climax, below.)

  1. Antithesis

It is a juxtaposition of two words, phrases, clauses, or sentences contrasted or opposed in meaning. An example of antithesis is the following line by the English poet Alexander Pope: To err is human, to forgive is divine.

  1. Apostrophe

This is a device by which an actor turns from the audience, or a writer from readers, to address a person who usually is either absent or deceased, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea. The English poet John Milton, in his poem Il Penseroso, invokes the spirit of melancholy in the following words: “Hail divinest Melancholy, whose saintly visage is too bright to hit the sense of human sight.”

  1. Climax

arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences in the order of their importance, the least forcible coming first and the others rising in power until the last, as in the following sentence: “It is an outrage to bind a Roman citizen; it is a crime to scourge him; it is almost parricide to kill him; but to crucify him—what shall I say of this?”

  1. Conceit

This is an elaborate, often extravagant metaphor or simile, making an analogy between totally dissimilar things. The term originally meant “concept” or “idea.” The use of conceits is especially characteristic of 17th-century English metaphysical poetry. An example occurs in the poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” by the English poet John Donne, in which two lovers’ souls are compared to the prongs of a drawing compass.

  1. Euphemism

Substitution of a delicate or inoffensive term or phrase for one that has coarse, sordid, or otherwise unpleasant associations, as in the use of “lavatory” or “rest room” for “toilet,” and “pass away” for “die.”

  1. Hyperbole:

A form of inordinate exaggeration according to which a person or thing is depicted as being better or worse, or larger or smaller, than is actually the case, as in the sentence from an essay by the English writer Thomas Babington Macaulay: “Dr. Johnson drank his tea in oceans.” (Compare with litotes, below.)

  1. Irony

This refers to humorous or lightly sarcastic mode of speech, in which words are used to convey a meaning contrary to their literal sense. An instance of irony is the suggestion, put forward with apparent seriousness by the English satirist Jonathan Swift in his “A Modest Proposal”, that the poor people of Ireland should rid themselves of poverty by selling their children to the rich to eat.

  1. Litotes:

Understatement employed for the purpose of enhancing the effect of the ideas expressed, as in the sentence “The English poet Thomas Gray showed no inconsiderable powers as a prose writer,” meaning that Gray was in fact a very good prose writer. (Compare with hyperbole, above.)

  1. Metaphor

Use of a word or phrase denoting one kind of idea or object in place of another word or phrase for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two. Thus, in the biblical Book of Psalms, the writer speaks of God’s law as “a light to his feet and a lamp to his path.” Other instances of metaphor are contained in the sentences “He uttered a volley of oaths” and “The man tore through the building.” (Compare with simile, below.)

  1. Metonymy

The use of a word or phrase for another to which it bears an important relation, as the effect for the cause, the abstract for the concrete, and similar constructions.

Examples: “He was an avid reader of Chaucer,” when the poems of the English writer Geoffrey Chaucer are meant, and “The hostess kept a good table,” when good food is implied. (Compare with synecdoche, below.)

  1. Onomatopoeia

Imitation of natural sounds by words. Examples in English are the italicized words in the phrases “the humming bee,”” the cackling hen,” “the whizzing arrow,” and “the buzzing saw.”

  1. Paradox

Statement or sentiment that appears contradictory to common sense yet is true in fact. Examples of paradox are “mobilization for peace” and “a well-known secret agent.” (Compare with oxymoron, above.)

  1. Personification

Representation of inanimate objects or abstract ideas as living beings, as in the sentences “Necessity is the mother of invention,” “Lean famine stalked the land,” and “Night enfolded the town in its ebon wings.”

  1. Rhetoric

This refers to theory and practice of eloquence, whether spoken or written. Spoken rhetoric is oratory. Rhetoric defines the rules that should govern all prose composition or speech designed to influence the judgment or the feelings of people. It therefore treats of all matters relating to beauty or forcefulness of style (see Figure of Speech). In a narrower sense, rhetoric is concerned with a consideration of the fundamental principles according to which oratorical discourses are composed: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. This article deals primarily with the theory of rhetoric.

  1. Rhetorical question

Asking of questions not to gain information but to assert more emphatically the obvious answer to what is asked. No answer, in fact, is expected by the speaker. The device is illustrated in the following series of sentences: “Did you help me when I needed help? Did you once offer to intercede in my behalf? Did you do anything to lessen my load?”

  1. Simile

Specific comparison by means of the words “like” or “as” between two kinds of ideas or objects. Examples of the simile are contained in the sentence “Christianity shone like a beacon in the black night of paganism” and in the line by the English poet William Wordsworth: “But, like a thirsty wind, to roam about.” (Compare with metaphor, above.)

  1. Synecdoche

Figurative locution whereby the part is made to stand for the whole, the whole for a part, the species for the genus, and vice versa. Thus, in the sentence “The president’s administration contained the best brains in the country,” ’brains” is used for intellectually brilliant persons.

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