Basic literary terms

Writing GuidesCreative Writing
Alex Ponomarenko
Jun 23, 2018
Basic literary terms

You are 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 are 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 – where the important parts of the story are introduced to the reader, such as the setting and the characters.
  • Rising action – where the problem or the conflict of the story is revealed or starts to happen. This leads to the climax.
  • Climax – where the conflict of the story takes place. It also serves as the turning point for the characters.
  • Falling action – where the conflict is resolved.
  • Dénouement – not to be confused with the falling action, 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 in 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.

Bear in mind, however, that the protagonist is not necessarily good, nor is the antagonist necessarily evil. Many stories have a heroic protagonist and a villainous antagonist; other stories have a villainous protagonist and a heroic antagonist.


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.

Writing service for students

These are only some of the many literary terms that college students must know. Other terms such as “bildungsroman” or “in medias res” may be thrown at you which, chances are, you might not understand completely. You do not have to be very stressed about it. Here at CustomEssayMeister, we believe that college students should enjoy their lives to the fullest. They should not worry themselves over memorizing highly technical literary terms. Hence, as an academic writing service, it is our utmost mission to help college students in need. Custom term papers, custom research papers, custom essays, custom dissertations—we offer a wide array of writing services, all with topnotch quality thanks to our roster of seasoned writers. Are you in need of some academic help? Send us a message, and your college life will feel more like a breeze!

Written by
Alex Ponomarenko
I am a content manager from California, US. I started as a content writer intern eleven years ago and became a content manager six years after. I joined CustomEssayMeister five years ago and enjoy being a part of the team every day.

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