Common Terms/Concepts in Literature

We will look at some common terms/concepts that may present themselves in literary discussions, and quite possibly on your English Literature exam.

Dramatic Significance

This refers to the elements of drama, acting in unity to effect the purpose of the play. If something is dramatically significant it may serve to advance the plot, develop a character, heighten the conflict, create audience expectancy and create irony.

Features and Characteristics of the genre

These are the features and uses that together create, the entity known as drama, poetry or prose fiction. For example, setting is a feature common to all three, but it can be characterised differently in each. In drama setting may depend on a stage direction in poetry it may be captured in one line, while in prose fiction, setting may be described at great length.

Figurative Devices

Any use of language where the intended meaning differs from the actual literal meaning of the words themselves in order to achieve some special meaning or effect is described as figurative use of language. Perhaps the two most common figurative devices are the simile and the metaphor. There many techniques which can rightly be called figurative language, including hyperbole, personification, onomatopoeia, verbal irony and oxymoron. Figures of speech are figurative devices.


A type or category of literature or film marked by certain shared features. The three broadest categories of genre include poetry, drama, and prose fiction. These general genres are often subdivided into more specific genres and sub-genres. for instance, precise examples of genres might include murder mysteries, romances, sonnets, lyric poetry, epics, tragedies and comedies.


The arrangement of two or more ideas, characters, actions, settings, phrases or words side-by-side or in similar narrative moments for the purpose of comparison, contrasts, rhetorical effect, suspense, or character development.

Literary Devices

Literary devices refer to specific aspects of literature, in the sense of their universal function as an art form that expresses ideas through language, which we can recognise, identify, interpret and/or analyse. Literary devices collectively comprise the art form’s components; the means by which authors create meaning through language, and by which readers gain understanding of and appreciation for their works. Both literary elements and literary techniques  can rightly be called literary devices. Literary elements refer to particular identifiable characteristics of a whole text. For example, every story has a theme, a setting, a conflict, and every story is written from a particular point-of-view. In order to be discussed legitimately as part of a textual analysis, literary elements must be specifically identified for that particular text.

Literary techniques refer to any specific, deliberate constructions or choices of language which an author uses to convey meaning in a particular way. An author’s use of a literary technique usually occurs with a single word or phrase, or a particular group of words or phrases, at one single point in a text. Unlike literary elements, literary techniques are not necessarily present in every text; they represent deliberate, conscious choices by individual authors.

Narrative Strategies/techniques

A narrative is a collection of events that tell a story, which may be true or not, placed in a particular order and recounted through either telling or writing. Narrative strategies/techniques are the means by which the story is told. A narrative has a sequence in which the events are told. Most novels and short stories are placed into the categories of first-person and third-person narratives, which are based on who is telling the story and from what perspective. Point of view is an example of a narrative strategy/technique.


A display that is large, lavish, unusual and striking, usually employed as much for its own effect as for its role in a work. Spectacle often occurs in drama, but can be found in the novel.


The appearance of the witches in Macbeth and the arrival of Banquo’s ghost at the feast.


The author’s words and the characteristic way that a writer uses language to achieve certain effects. An important part of interpreting and understanding fiction is being attentive to the way the author uses words. What effects, for instance, do word choice and sentence structure have on a story and its meaning? How does the author use imagery, figurative devices, repetition, or allusion? In what ways does the style seem appropriate to, or discordant with the work’s subject and theme? Some common styles might be labeled ornate, plain, emotive and contemplative. Most writers have their own particular styles.


This refers to how something is done rather than what is done. Technique, form and style overlap somewhat, with technique connoting the literal, mechanical, or procedural parts of the execution. Assonance and alliteration are techniques of sound. stream consciousness is represented through varying techniques of grammar, punctuation and use of imagery.

Use of Language

Written words should be chosen with great deliberation and thought, and a written argument can be extraordinarily compelling if the writer’s choice of language is appropriate, precise, controlled and demonstrates a level of sophistication.


Examine how the writer uses different elements (for example, literary device, stage props) to create effect and meaning. The overall effect on the piece of work must also be provided. The effect must take into account the writer’s purpose. and other elements of the piece of work, for example, theme, structure, diction and tone. A judgement must be made about the level of effectiveness of the element used. A link must be made between the writer’s intent and the outcome.


Comment on the significance of the title in relation to the poem.


Contrast expresses differences and distinction. In the act of contrasting, similarities are noted so that differences and distinction can be highlighted.


What TWO contrasting impressions of Louie are conveyed by the writer in this passage?

Identify TWO pairs of contrasting images and comment on the appropriateness of EACH pair.

Identify TWO images of opposition and comment on the appropriateness of each.


Provide detailed account, including significant characteristics or traits of the issue in question.


Describe Cliteroe’s state of mind as revealed in line 1 and give ONE reason why he is in this state.


Provide an extended answer exploring related concepts and issued using detailed examples but not necessarily drawing a conclusion.


In Gardening in the Tropics, Olive Senior’s use of language distinguishes her as a Caribbean poet. With reference to at least THREE poems, discuss the extent to which you agree with this statement.


Focus on what, how and why something occurred. State the reasons or justification, interpretation of results and causes.


Explain the effectiveness of the last line of the poem.

In a question like this a decision is required, that is whether the ending is effective or not, or the extent to which it is effective with appropriate reasons for the position taken.


These two verbs can be interchangeably. Provide short concise answers.


Give/State TWO reasons for your answers.


Extract the relevant information from the stimulus without explanation.


Identify the setting in this extract.

Some questions that ask for identification may also ask for explanation.


Identify TWO pairs of contrasting images and comment on the appropriateness of EACH pair.

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