Literary Glossary

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This glossary has definitions of genres and terms.

Allegory: A metaphorical narrative in prose or verse in which characters and parts of the narrative usually represent moral or spiritual values.

Anansi Tale: A series of folktales of African origin that describe the adventures of Anansi. These tales are popular in Jamaica.

Anecdote: A short, amusing narrative of an entertaining or curious incident that is often biographical.

Autobiography: A biography of a person, written by the person.

Ballad: A narrative poem composed of short verses, intended to be sung or recited.

Beast Tale: A story in which animals play the roles of human beings in human settings.

Biography: A written account of a person's life.

Black Comedy: A story that substitutes morbid, unfunny situations for carefree, funny ones.

Classic: A literary work meriting the highest praise.

Description: A composition that presents graphic detail on a subjective or objective experience.

Dilemma Tale: A story that ends in a problem rather than a solution.

Editorial: A newspaper or periodical article that expresses the views of the author on a matter of current interest.

Epic: A long, narrative poem that is generally about the deeds of an heroic figure.

Essay: A brief composition, usually in prose, that gives the author's views.

Fable: A short tale that teaches a moral. It usually has animals or inanimate objects as characters.

Fairy Tale: A tale of fiction, usually for children, with fanciful characters.

Fantasy: A highly imaginative tale about somewhat believable, but nonexistent, characters, places, and events.

Farce: A light, funny play that usually emphasizes improbable situations rather than characters to make a point.

Feminist Literature: Writings by and about women.

Fiction: Imaginative narrative that is designed to entertain.

Fictionalized Biography: A person's life story based partly on fact and enhanced by the author's imagination.

Folktale: A narrative that has been retold and is well known within a culture.

Haiku: Unrhymed Japanese poetry with three lines that have five, seven, and five syllables, respectively.

Historical Fiction: A story based partly on events from the past.

Idyll: A short prose piece or poem that describes simple times in romantic ways.

Jingle: A short rhyme or verse with catchy sounds or rhymes.

Juvenile Book: A book for children or adolescents.

Legend: A traditional, historical tale, first told orally and later in written form.

Melodrama: A play with exaggerated characters and plot.

Memoir: An account of one person's observations and experiences.

Monograph: A well-documented, detailed study of a limited subject or aspect of a subject.

Monologue: A long speech by one character.

Morality Play: A medieval, allegorical play with the struggle for a character's soul as a theme.

Mystery Play: A medieval, religious play about the scriptures.

Mystery Story: A narrative in which the plot is usually built around a crime.

Myth: An anonymous story designed to explain the mysteries of life. It usually has exaggerated characters.

Narration: A composition in writing or speech that tells a story or gives an account of something.

Narrative: A story told orally or in writing.

Narrative Poem: A poem, usually long, that tells a story.

Nonfiction: A piece designed to explain, argue, or describe a real event.

Nonsense Verse: Verse that defies meaning either by using invented words or misusing meaningful words.

Novel: Extended, fictional prose narrative with full character and plot development.

Novelization: A novel based on a movie.

Novella: Fictional, prose narrative that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

Ode: A formal, elaborate lyrical poem.

Parable: A short story intended to teach a moral lesson.

Parody: An imitation of an author or work for comic effect.

Pastoral: Poetry dealing with idealized, rural life.

Pattern Book: A book with predictable plot and/or text.

Persuasive Writing: A piece that proves something or someone to be true, credible, essential, or worthy.

Picaresque: Spanish fiction that tells of rogues or adventurers.

Picture Book: A book with illustrations that are as important as the text.

Pourquoi Story: A folktale that explains certain events, customs, or behaviors.

Problem Literature: A piece of written work in which the action is focused on difficult choices.

Propaganda: Written or spoken pieces that are intended to influence the reader or listener strongly.

Prose: Written or spoken language that is not verse.

Psychological Novel: A story in which the characters' motivations are of primary importance.

Pun: A play on words that are the same or similar in sound but different in meaning.

Quatrain: A poem of four lines or verses.

Realistic Fiction: A story that portrays characters and events as they are.

Satire: Scorn or ridicule, used humorously in writing to show follies or vices.

Science Fiction: A story based on fictional, scientific possibilities.

Sequel: A complete story that is a continuation of an earlier story.

Serial: A story or play presented in parts.

Short Story: A brief, fictional prose narrative.

Soliloquy: A speech given by a character as if he were alone.

Sonnet: A 14-line poem that usually rhymes in a formal way and is in iambic pentameter.

Story: An imaginative tale that is shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story.

Supernatural Story: A narrative with events and situations that cannot be explained by known causes.

Survival Story: A fiction or nonfiction narrative about characters who overcome great odds.

Technical Writing: A piece intended to give specific information.

Tragedy: A work that presents serious or sad events.

Tragicomedy: A literary work that contains elements of both comedy and tragedy.

Trickster Tale: A story about a mischievous, supernatural being.

Yarn: A long true or imaginary tale of adventure.

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