Glossary of Narrative Terms

– # –

3D Rule: From Janet Burroway, Drama = Desire + Danger. The formula captures the power of conflict to drive tension in a narrative.

– A –

Adaptation: A work based on a story previously told in a different medium.

Agency: The capacity to act in an environment.

Agon: Ancient Greek term for conflict, particularly the conflict found in tragedy.

Allegory: A story that uses extended symbolism in order to communicate meanings, generally moral or abstract ideas, beyond the literal meaning of events, environments, and characters.

Antagonist: A character in the story that opposes the protagonist and struggles to frustrate his or her goals.

Archetype: A type that has become part of the psychology and culture of a society and appears in many different storyworlds.

Atmosphere: The quality of an environment that reflects meaningful relationships between things and events or characters.

– B –

Biography: A narrative of a person’s life.

– C –

Character: An entity with agency in a storyworld.

Characterization: The meaningful arrangement or presentation of the characters of the story.

Chronotope: The configuration of time and space in language and narrative discourse.

Cliché: A figure of speech that has been so overused that it has lost much of its original force and is perceived in negative terms.

Climax: Stage in the evolution of a plot in which the conflict achieves its maximum intensity and decisive events take place.

Collaborative fiction: A form of writing where two or more authors share creative control of the narrative.

Commentary: Any pronouncement of the narrator that goes beyond a description or account of the existents of the storyworld.

Conceit (also, Farfetched trope): A figure of speech that seems too strange, complex, awkward, or extreme to be effective, and tends to call attention to itself, often in a negative way.

Complication: (with Temporary Resolution), part of an alternating pattern that describes forward momentum in plots.

Conflict: Clash of two opposing wills or goals, sometimes (but not always) resulting in violent confrontation.

Connection: (with Disconnection), part of an alternating pattern that describes forward momentum in plots that focus on human relationships.

– D –

Dead trope: A figure of speech that has been incorporated into normal language and is no longer recognized as such.

Description: The textual representation of characters or environments.

Dialogism: The use in narrative of different perspectives or viewpoints, whose interaction or contradiction is important to the story’s interpretation.

Dialogue: Representation of verbal or speech interactions between characters, often accompanied by dialogue or speech tags.

Dialogue tags (also, Speech tags): Narrative indications that often accompany dialogue in prose fiction to provide information about the speakers, the quality and tone of speech, the environment, etc.

Didactic fiction: a classification of fiction based on moral content. Didactic fiction seeks to teach or enlighten readers.

Diegesis: a category of fiction where a story is recounted through narration. While all stories contain at least implied narrators, diegetic fiction “tells” through a distinct perspective.

Discourse: The means through which a narrative is communicated by the implied author to the implied reader.

– E –

Embedded narration: A story that is narrated within another story.

Emplotment: The arrangement of the events of the story into a plot.

Environment: Everything that surrounds the characters in the storyworld.

Epiphany: A sudden and life-changing moment of illumination that provides a new understanding of the world to the characters.

Event: A change of state occurring in the storyworld, including actions undertaken by characters and anything that happens to a character or its environment. Also called a “plot point.”

Exposition: Initial stage in the evolution of a plot where the setting and the characters are introduced.

External narrator or narratee: A narrator or narratee who is a figure of discourse but not an existent of the storyworld.

– F –

Falling action: Stage in the evolution of a plot where the conflict unravels and wanes, as it begins to move towards a resolution.

Farfetched trope: See Conceit.

Fiction: A narrative that represents imagined (or partially imagined) characters, events, and environments.

Figurative language: See Figure of speech.

Figure of speech (also, Figurative language, Rhetorical device, Trope): The use of language in ways that deviate from the literal meaning of words and sentences, exploiting connotations and associations with other words or sounds.

Flashback: The presentation at some point in the plot of a previous event from the story.

Flashforward: The presentation at some point in the plot of a future event from the story.

Focalization: From film studies, the perspective or point of view adopted by the narrator when telling the story.

Foregrounding: A set of linguistic features of discourse that deviate from the normal or ordinary use of language.

Foreshadowing: Anticipation of future events through hints given earlier in the plot.

– G –

Genre: Conventional grouping of texts (or other semiotic representations) based on certain shared features.

– H –

Hyperbole: A figure of speech that makes an exaggerated claim to emphasize a point or create an impression.

– I –

Ideology: An interconnected set of beliefs, ideas, values, and norms that structures the worldview of a person or group.

Imagery: visually descriptive or figurative language. Despite its association with vision, auditory, tactile, or olfactory imagery also exists but may sometimes be labeled sensory detail.

Implied author: The projection of the real author in the text, as can be inferred by the reader from the text itself.

Implied reader: The virtual reader to whom the implied author addresses its narrative, and whose thoughts and attitudes may differ from an actual reader.

Individuation: The ascription of mental, physical, or behavioral properties (characteristics) to a character.

In medias res: A Latin expression that refers to narratives that begin at some point in the middle of the plot (“in the middle of things”).

Internal narrator or narratee: A narrator or narratee who, besides being a figure of discourse, is also an existent of the storyworld, particularly a minor or major character.

Inward focalization: Narration from the subjective perspective or point of view of one or more focal characters.

Irony: Use of discourse to state something different from, or even opposite to, what is meant.

Ironic narrator: A narrator who makes statements about the characters or events in the story that mean something very different, even the opposite, of what is being stated.

– L –

Lifeworld: The world experienced by writers and readers in their lives.

Limited narrator: A narrator who has only limited knowledge about the internal or psychological states of one or some of the existents in the storyworld.

– M –

Metaphor: A figure of speech that establishes a relationship of resemblance between two ideas or things by equating or replacing one with the other.

Metonymy: A figure of speech that replaces an idea or thing with another idea or thing, with which it is somehow connected or related in meaning.

Mimetic fiction: a classification for literature that attempts to mimic the real world. Fiction that seeks verisimilitude.

Mise en abyme (from French, ‘placed into an abyss’): A literary device that embeds self-reflecting or recursive images to create paradoxical narrations.

Moral: See Thesis.

Motif: An existent that recurs throughout the story and often has a symbolic significance.

– N –

Narratee: The figure of discourse to whom a story is told by the narrator.

Narrative: Semiotic representation of a sequence of events, meaningfully connected by time and cause.

Narratology: The systematic study of narratives in order to understand their structure (how they work) and function (what they are for).

Narrator: The figure of discourse that tells the story to a narratee.

Nonfiction: A narrative that claims to represent characters, events, and environments drawn from the lifeworld of writers and readers.

Novel: A fictional narrative of book length, written in prose, and generally intended to be read in silence.

Novella: A fictional narrative longer than a short story but shorter than a standard novel, written in prose, and generally intended to be read in silence.

– O –

Objective narrator: A narrator who has no knowledge about the internal or psychological states of any of the characters in the storyworld and can only report what can be observed from the outside.

Omniscient narrator: A narrator who knows everything about the existents of the storyworld, including the internal or psychological states of all characters and the unfolding of events.

Outward focalization: Narration that avoids taking the subjective perspective or point of view of any of the characters.

Oxymoron: A figure of speech that connects or combines elements that appear to be contradictory, but which contain a concealed point or a paradox.

– P –

Personification: A figure of speech that attributes personal or human characteristics to a nonhuman entity, object, or idea.

Plot: The meaningful arrangement or representation of the events in the story in a temporal and causal sequence.

Polyphony: The inclusion in narrative of a diversity of points of view and voices.

Prose: Written or spoken language without metrical structure, typically without rhyme.

Protagonist: The main character of a story, the one who struggles to achieve a goal.

– R –

Realism: Narrative discourse that aims to construct a storyworld that is an accurate reflection of the lifeworld (i.e. the “real” world).

Red herring: Foreshadowing of an event that never takes place in the plot.

Resolution: The action of solving a conflict at the end of the plot.

Rhetoric: The art of crafting effective or persuasive discourse.

Rhetorical device: See Figure of speech.

Rising action: Stage in the evolution of a plot where the conflict becomes complex and increases in intensity.

– S –

Satire: similar to parody and caricature, a genre of fiction or a specific tone/mood in narrative that lampoons the status quo or powerful societal interests or people.

Scene: The narrative representation of an environment, set of characters, and sequence of events in enough detail to create the illusion that the events are unfolding in front of the narratee (and ultimately, the reader).

Semiotics: Study of meaning-making processes, especially the use of signs and signifying systems to communicate meanings.

Setting: The meaningful arrangement or representation of the environments in the story.

Short story: A fictional narrative of shorter length than a novel and a novella, written in prose, and generally intended to be read in silence.

Showing: The direct representation of the events, environments, and characters of a story without the intervention (or, in the case of narrative showing, with minimal or limited intervention) of a narrator.

Significant detail: A descriptive detail that reveals meaningful connections between the existents of the story and helps the reader to recreate the storyworld in her imagination.

Simile: A figure of speech that establishes a relationship of resemblance between two ideas or things through an explicit comparison using a connector (usually, ‘like’ or ‘as’).

Speech tags: See Dialogue tags.

Story: A complete chronological sequence of interconnected events.

Storyworld: The world of the story, which includes different types of existents (events, environments, and characters).

Style: A characteristic set of linguistic features associated with a text or group of texts.

Summary: The narrative representation of events by compressing their duration.

Surprise: A turn of the plot that disproves the reader’s anticipation of events.

Suspense: Reader’s anticipation and curiosity about future plot developments based on previous events.

Symbol: Anything that represents something else by virtue of an arbitrary association. In narrative, symbols are existents of the story that become arbitrarily associated with internal or external meanings.

Synecdoche: A figure of speech, closely related with metonymy, where a term for a part refers to the whole of something, or vice versa.

Synopsis: A brief summary of the events, environments, and characters of a story.

– T –

Telling: The representation of a story through the mediation of a narrator, who gives an account and often interprets or comments on the events, environments, or characters of the storyworld.

Theme: A relevant meaning identified by an interpreter in narrative discourse.

Thesis (also, Moral): A message or lesson explicitly or implicitly conveyed by narrative discourse. In essay writing: a central claim.

Topography: The arrangement of natural and artificial things laid out in space.

Trope: See Figure of speech.

Type: See Typical character.

Typical character (also, Type): A character that represents a particular aspect of humanity or a particular group of humans.

– U –

Universal character: A character that represents a general aspect of humanity or the whole human species.

Unreliable narrator: A narrator who makes statements that contradict what the implied reader knows (or infers) to be the real intention or meaning of the narrative discourse.

– V –

Verisimilitude: Features of narrative discourse that attempt to convince readers that the storyworld is a faithful imitation of the ‘real’ world.

Verse: Written or spoken language arranged in metrical rhythm, and often containing a rhyme.


– Z –

Zoomorphism: related to dehumanization and an inverse to personification, the description of human characters as animals.


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