Literary Terms


Vocabulary for Writing about Novels


  • fiction: a story that an author imagined and wrote; it could be very life-like, but it did not really happen and the characters in the story do not exist in real life
  • character: a person, animal, or thing presented as a person in fiction
    • protagonist: the main character, the hero
    • antagonist: the opponent of the protagonist, the villain, the bad guy
  • setting: the time, place, and circumstances that form the background of the story
  • plot: the sequence of related events or actions in a story
    Stories can be classified by the kind of plot they have, for example, tragedy, comedy, romance, disaster, historical-fiction, Western, mystery, horror, fantasy, or science-fiction (sci-fi).
    • rising action: the tension builds as each event of the story happens
    • conflict: A problem or a struggle of some kind. Conflict may be with other people, with nature, with fate, or even internal within the character's own mind. In a story there may be a single conflict or several related conflicts.
    • climax: the point in the story with the most tension
    • falling action: the resolution of the problem after it has come to a climax
    • the ending: the suspense ends, the mystery is solved, or a misunderstanding is cleared up
  • genre: a way to classify literature: poetry, drama, novel, essay, biography
  • theme: The message about human nature that the writer is trying to get across to the reader through the telling of the story
    Note: Write "The theme of the novel is..." rather than "From reading this book, I learned...". You probably knew it before you read the book, but the author has something to say about it.
  • narrator: the story-teller
  • point of view: The angle from which the story is told. Is the narrator a character in the story, an outside observer, or even an all-knowing outside observer?