Basic literary terms

You’re probably here because you need to write a literary analysis essay for your Literature class. A literary analysis requires you to break down the story into its different elements and analyze what they mean. The goal of a literary analysis is to help you better understand what the writer is trying to convey. Whether you’re analyzing a novel or a poem or a play, you need to know the basic literary terms and what they mean.

Important Literary elements


The plot is the arrangement of events in a story. These series of events comprise the beginning, middle, and end. More specifically, the parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. 

Exposition - this is where the important parts of the story are introduced to the reader, such as the setting and the characters. 

Rising action - this is where the problem or the conflict of the story is revealed or starts to happen. This leads to the climax. 

Climax - is where the conflict of the story takes place. It also serves as the turning point for the characters. 

Falling action – is where the conflict is resolved 

Dénouement – not to be confused with the falling action; this is the conclusion of the story or where the outcome of the resolution is implied, if not shown.


This literary term is an integral part of the plot as this is how the author gives clues to the reader about what will happen in the story.


As mentioned earlier, the conflict takes place in the climax of the story. The conflict is the problem faced by the characters in the story or the struggle between two characters or two opposing forces. The conflict is one of the most commonly used literary term because it is central to the story’s meaning and theme.

Point of view

The point of view is the way through which the author tells the story. Depending on the author’s intentions, he or she may opt to tell the story through one of the following: 

First person – where the narrator is part of the story, and often has limited knowledge of the events that transpire or transpired 

Second person – where the narrator addresses the reader directly as they tell the story. Often, in this style, the narrator expresses his or her commentary on the story. 

Third person – where the narrator is unknown and is not part of the story, and often tells the story in an objective manner. 

Omniscient – this narrator also tells the story in third person, however he or she knows everything about the story and the characters.


The characters are the actors in the story. They have different personalities and impact in the story. There are two main types of characters: 

Protagonist – around whom the story revolves.

Antagonist – is the character that opposes the protagonist.


This literary term refers to the main idea or concept that the story is trying to convey. Some of the most commonly explored themes are “human versus nature,” “you are your own worst enemy,” and “good versus evil.”


This is when the author places two things side by side in order to compare them. This is a technique used to show the differences between the two things. More than just being literary terms, these are also the main elements of the story that you can analyze in your literary analysis. Together, these elements form and convey the meaning that the author wants his or her reader to think about or to understand. Likewise, you can use these literary terms to convey what you understood or want to say about a piece of literature. A good literary analysis requires effective writing, too. If you need further assistance, don’t hesitate to ask for advice from professionals.