ALA Youth Media Awards

Each year the American Library Association honors books and media for children and teens. Major awards include the Alex Awards, theRandolph Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and John Newbery Medal.

More information on all ALA Youth Media Awards is available on the ALA website.


“In literature, an extended metaphor in which characters, objects, incidents, and descriptions carry one or more sets of fully developed meanings in addition to the apparent and literal ones. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, is apparently about a man named Christian who leaves his home and journeys to the Heavenly City. However, it is clear that Christian stands for any Christian man and that the incidents of his journey represent the temptations and trials that beset any Christian man throughout his life on earth.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 26.

alternative history

alternate term: alternate history

“A species of fiction – also called allohistory – in which much depends on some major reversal of known geography or history.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 15. 

Examples: novels in which Germany won World War II.

Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. For over 80 years, the distinguished books earning Anisfield-Wolf prizes have opened and challenged our minds.

Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf established the book prizes in 1935, in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf, to reflect her family’s passion for issues of social justice. Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. 

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

Anthony Awards

The Anthony Awards are presented annually in various categories to mystery writers at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. The awards are named for Anthony Boucher (1911-1968), a founder of the Mystery Writers of America.



Also see: climax.

““An arrangement of details such that the lesser appears at the point where something greater is expected.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 246. 

The term may also refer to a resolution that does not deserve all the build-up it has received.


Also see: hero, protagonist.

“A protagonist who lacks traditional heroic virtues and noble qualities and is sometimes inept, cowardly, stupid, or dishonest, yet sensitive” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 40.

“A protagonist of a modern play or novel who has the converse of most of the traditional attributes of the hero. This hero is graceless, inept, sometimes stupid, sometimes dishonest” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 30.


“Generally, a prototype or original pattern or a paradigm or abstract idea of a class of things that represents the typical and essential elements shared by all varieties of that class. In literature, myth, folklore, and religion, the term can be applied to images, themes, symbols, ideas, characters, and situations that appeal to our unconscious racial memory. T.S. Eliot explains this memory as civilized man’s ‘pre-logical mentality’…Archetypes can be primitive and universal and consist of general themes like birth, death, coming of age, love, guilt, redemption, conflict between free will and destiny, rivalry between members of the family, fertility rites; of characters like the hero rebel, the wanderer, the devil, the buffoon; and of creatures like the lion, serpent, or eagle.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 46.

Bancroft Prizes

“The Trustees of Columbia University award the Bancroft Prizes annually. Winners are judged in terms of the scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation they present in the areas of American history and diplomacy.”

Source: Columbia University Libraries


“A figure of speech which descends from the sublime to the ridiculous in an attempt to create a grandiose or pathetic effect. The term describes an unintentional anticlimax.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 83.

Bechdel test

“a set of criteria used as a test to evaluate a work of fiction (such as a film) on the basis of its inclusion and representation of female characters

“NOTE: The usual criteria of the Bechdel Test are (1) that at least two women are featured, (2) that these women talk to each other, and (3) that they discuss something other than a man.”

Source: “Bechdel Test.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster 

“The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. 

Source: Bechdel Test Movie List


“A type of novel, common in German literature, which treats the personal development of a single individual, usually in youth.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 109.

Also commonly called a coming-of-age story.

black humor

alternate terms: black comedy, dark humor, dark comedy, gallows humor

“A substantial aspect of …much modern fiction. The term describes sardonically humorous effects derived from mordant wit and morbid or grotesque situations that deal with anxiety, suffering, or death.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 112.

Example: The Ax by Donald E. Westlake


alternate term: framed narrative

A narrative structure that sandwiches a large central section (which usually makes up the bulk of the work) between two smaller sections that introduce and conclude the work. The two smaller sections thus stand on both sides of the main narrative, like a set of bookends propping up a row of books on a shelf.

Authors may choose this type of structure for two reasons:

  • to provide another perspective on the action. The narrator of the two bookend sections is often different from the narrator of the main section. This technique therefore offers another person’s perception of the events and their significance, or another character’s comments about the main narrator. Sometimes the narrator of the bookend sections offers information that the main narrator does not or could not know but that the reader needs to understand the full significance of the story.
  • to indicate the passage of time. Many authors use this narrative structure to present a main narrative that occurred in the past; the bookend sections then provide a current comment on the main story, for example a person describing a diary written by an ancestor found in an old trunk.

Sometimes the bookend or framed narrative structure serves both of these purposes. For example, an adult may provide a current commentary on a main narrative written from his point of view as a child.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Booker Prize

Also see: International Booker Prize

“The Booker Prize awards any work of long form fiction originally written in English and published in the UK and Ireland in the year of the prize, regardless of the nationality of their author. The work of long form fiction must be an original work in English (not a translation) and published by a registered UK or Irish imprint.”

Source: The Booker Prizes


The annual world mystery convention held in a different U. S. city each year. Named after Anthony Boucher, distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor, and author, the convention brings together the mystery and crime fiction community. 

Source: Bouchercon

Bram Stoker Awards

“Each year, the Horror Writer’s Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula. The Bram Stoker Awards were instituted immediately after the organization’s incorporation in 1987.”

“The twelve Bram Stoker Award categories are: Novel, First Novel, Short Fiction, Long Fiction, Young Adult, Fiction Collection, Poetry Collection, Anthology, Screenplay, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction, and Short Nonfiction.”

Source: Bram Stoker Awards


“The subgenre in which the narrative interest is centered on a person or a group of people attempting to steal something, break in somewhere, or otherwise interfere with a seemingly impregnable stronghold has become known as a caper. There are comic capers and serious capers. Donald E. Westlake writes the former under his own name in his novels about John Dortmunder; he writes the latter as Richard Stark in Parker novels.” 

Source: DeAndrea, William L. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television (N.Y.: Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 401.


See characterization.

Carnegie Medal

The American Library Association annually awards the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction for the previous year’s best fiction and nonfiction books written for adult readers and published in the United States.

Source: Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction & Nonfiction

Carol Shields Prize for Fiction

The first annual Carol Shields Prize for Fiction will be awarded in 2022 for a work published in English or translated from French or Spanish in the United States or Canada. Writers must be citizens and current residents for at least five years of the United States or Canada. Finalists for and winners of the prize will be chosen by a judging panel that will include one writer each from the United States, Canada, and one other country.

The prize was started by Canadian novelist Susan Swan and Janice Zawerbny, who works in book publishing, to address gender imbalance in literary awards and book publication. The prize will be funded for its first three years by an anonymous corporate donor. Swan and Zawerbny have started a foundation to administer the prize and raise additional money.

The amount of the prize will exceed that of other major awards such as the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the National Book Award. The prize will also foster mentorship, as each winner will be asked to select another writer “to mentor and work with on writing fellowships.”

The prize is named after Carol Shields, author of more than 20 books, including The Stone Diaries, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Shields, who died in 2003 from breast cancer, held dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship. Her work centered on domestic life, which “has often been wrongly dismissed as lightweight or unimportant by male critics.”

Source: The New York Times


See characterization


alternate term: character development

“The creation of imaginary persons so that they seem lifelike.

“There are three fundamental methods of characterization: (1) the explicit presentation by the author of the character through direct exposition, either in an introductory block or more often piecemeal throughout the work, illustrated by action; (2) the presentation of the character in action, with little or no explicit comment by the author, in the expectation that the reader can deduce the attributes of the actor from the actions; and (3) the representation from within a character, without comment by the author, of the impact of actions and emotions on the character’s inner self.

“Regardless of the method by which a character is presented, the author may concentrate on a dominant trait to the exclusion of other aspects of personality, or the author may attempt to present a fully rounded creation. If the presentation of a single dominant trait is carried to an extreme, not a believable character but a caricature will result…On the other hand, the author may present so convincing a congeries of personality traits that a complex rather than a simple character emerges; such a character is three-dimensional or, in E.M. Forster’s term, ‘round’…

“Furthermore, a character may be either static or dynamic. A static character is one who changes little if at all. Things happen to such a character without things happening within…A dynamic character, on the other hand, is one who is modified by actions and experiences, and one objective of the work in which the character appears is to reveal the consequences of these actions.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 89.

The term character-driven is sometimes used to describe a work in which character seems more important than plot.

Also see:

Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

See RBC Taylor Prize


Also see: anticlimax.

“A rhetorical term for a rising order of importance in the ideas expressed…In large compositions—the essay, the short story, the drama, or the novel—the climax is the point of highest interest, whereat the reader makes the greatest emotional response. In dramatic structure climax designates the turning point in the action, the crisis at which the rising action reverses and becomes the falling action.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 99.


“A principle demanding that the parts of any composition be so arranged that the meaning of the whole may be immediately clear and intelligible. Words, phrases, clauses within the sentence; and sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in larger pieces of writing are the units that, by their progressive and logical arrangement, make for coherence or, contrariwise, by illogical arrangement, result in incoherence. Literature has no need, however, of unilateral coherence in all its particulars. Occasional incoherence—or even unsuitable coherence—may perfectly register uncertainty, anxiety, terror, confusion, illness, or other common states.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 102.

Lack of coherence marks much postmodern fiction.


Also see: plot

“The struggle that grows out of the interplay of two opposing forces. Conflict provides interest, suspense, and tension. At least one of the opposing forces is customarily a person. This person, usually the protagonist, may be involved in conflicts of four different kinds: (1) a struggle against nature . . . (2) a struggle against another person, usually the antagonist . . . (3) a struggle against society . . . or (4) a struggle for mastery by two elements within the person…Seldom do we find a simple, single conflict, but rather a complex one partaking of two or even all of the preceding elements…Conflict implies not only the struggle of a protagonist against someone or something, but also the existence of some motivation for the conflict or some goal to be achieved thereby. Conflict is the raw material out of which plot is constructed.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 115-116.

Costa Book Awards

Coffee company Costa took over sponsorship of the Whitbread Book Awards, begun in 1971, in 2006. Open to books written by authors based in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the prize has five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the Year.


alternate term: English drawing-room mystery

This type of mystery characteristically involves a group of people brought together, usually in a large house, for a specific purpose. When one member of the group turns up dead, all the others immediately are suspects and become suspicious of each other. The detective, frequently an amateur sleuth, deduces the murderer’s identity through shrewd observation of the participants. The story often ends with all participants gathered in the drawing room; the sleuth examines in turn each one’s motives for the murder, saving the guilty party for last.

In a cozy, the unpleasant business of the murder usually occurs “off stage.” Someone discovers a corpse, but readers are spared the details of how the killing and death occur.

“This term describes the underlying attitude behind a certain type of mystery story. Although it is frequently treated as the opposite of hard-boiled, that impression is inaccurate. The proper antonym of cozy is noir. A cozy supposes a benign universe: These murders we have before us are unsettling, but once we figure out who the killer is, we can get back to living our decent and pleasant lives.” 

Source: DeAndrea, William L. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television (N.Y.: Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 401.

David Cohen Prize

The David Cohen Prize is awarded every two years to a living UK or Irish writer for the entire body of work.

According to The Guardian, the award was founded in 1993 by cultural philanthropist David Cohen “in the hopes of starting an equivalent of the Nobel prize for UK and Irish authors.”

Source: The Guardian

Dayton Literary Peace Prize

“The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, inaugurated in 2006, is the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize invites nominations in adult fiction and nonfiction books published within the past year that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view.”

Source: Dayton Literary Peace Prize

deus ex machina

A Latin phrase that translates as “god out of a machine.” In ancient Greek drama, plays often ended with one of the gods being lowered onto the stage in a basket. The god would then step out of the basket and end the drama by pronouncing judgment on the characters. This kind of ending did not seem strange to the ancient Greeks, who believed that the gods did in fact control everything and were responsible for the workings of the world.

However, today we expect action to arise from the characters and plot of a literary work. The phrase deus ex machina has therefore come to mean any contrived ending that introduces a person or a fact that the reader hasn’t previously known about to explain some aspect of the work.

© 2011 by Mary Daniels Brown


“Literally, ‘unknotting.’ The final unraveling of a plot; the solution of a mystery; an explanation or outcome. Dénouement implies an ingenious untying of the knot of an intrigue, involving not only a satisfactory outcome of the main situation but an explanation of all the secrets and misunderstandings connected with the plot complication.” 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 146.


Opposite: utopia

A society run by a repressive, totalitarian government that claims to offer its citizens the best possible existence.

Examples: 1984 by George Orwell, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Edgar Awards

“Each spring, Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre.” The awards are named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, inventor of the detective story.


epistolary novel

“A novel told as a series of letters written by one or more of the characters. [. . .] One of the earliest types of the novel, it offered readers an immediate entry into the world of the characters through the inherently social medium of correspondence. [. . .] Contemporary use is rare, perhaps related to the waning of letter-writing as a social phenomenon.” 

Source: The New York Public Library Literature Companion, ed. Anne Skillion (N.Y.: Free Press, 2001), p. 642.


“A 20th-century movement in philosophy . . . All existentialists are concerned with ontology, the study of being. The point of departure is human consciousness and mental processes. In contrast to most previous philosophical systems, which maintain that an a priori essence precedes or transcends the individual existence of people or of objects, the existentialists conclude that existence precedes essence. The significance of this for human beings is that the concept that one has an essential self is shown to be an illusion. A man’s self is nothing except what he has become; at any given moment, it is the sum of the life he has shaped until then. The ‘nothing’ he begins with is thus the source of man’s freedom, for at each moment it is man’s will that can choose how to act or not to act. However, each such decision affects the future doubly: a man is or should be responsible for the consequences of his actions; and each action necessarily excludes the other potential actions for that moment, and their consequences, and thus at least partially limits the potentialities for future actions.

“By what standards, then, should a person make decisions? The mind cannot discern any meaning for this existence in the universe; when a person abandons his illusions, he finds himself horrified by the absurdity of the human condition…a person must create a human morality in the absence of any known predetermined absolute values.” 

Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 334-335.


“. . . the introductory material that creates the tone, gives the setting, introduces the characters, and supplies other facts necessary to understanding” a work of literature. 

Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 204.

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