“In literature, a comic or satirical imitation of a piece of writing, exaggerating its style and content, and playing especially on any weakness in structure or meaning of the original.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 778.
“. . . the tendency to credit nature with human emotions. In a larger sense the pathetic fallacy is any false emotionalism resulting in a too impassioned description of nature. It is the carrying over to inanimate objects of the moods and passions of a human being.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 379.
“The quality in art or literature that evokes sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow in the viewer or reader.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 783.
“. . . in common usage it describes an acquiescent or relatively helpless suffering or the sorrow occasioned by unmerited grief, as opposed to the stoic grandeur and awful justice of the tragic hero.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 380.
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
“The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a national prize that honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year.” Chosen by a panel of three writers, it is “the largest peer-juried award in the country.”
Source: PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Also see: conflict
“The minimal definition of plot is ‘pattern.’ Only slightly less simple is ‘pattern of events.’ Plot is an intellectual formulation about the relations among the incidents and is, therefore, a guiding principle for the author and an ordering control for the reader.
“Because the plot consists of characters performing actions in incidents that comprise a ‘single, whole, and complete’ action, this relation involves conflict between opposing forces…Without conflict, plot hardly exists…These forces may be physical (or external), or they may be spiritual (or internal); but they must in any case afford an opposition. The struggle between the forces, moreover, comes to a head in one incident—the crisis—that forms the turning point and usually marks the moment of greatest suspense.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 394.
The term plot-driven is sometimes used to describe a work in which plot (or action) seems more important than characterization.
A short story, because of its restricted length, usually contains only one conflict, story line, or plot. However, novels usually contain one or more subplots in addition to the major plot. Subplots are mini-stories within the main story. They usually complement the main plot line in some way, either by reinforcing or contrasting with it. For example, if the main plot involves the way the protagonist reacts to a particular threat, subplots might demonstrate the way other characters deal with similar situations. Their reactions to and methods of coping with the situation may be similar to the protagonist’s or may demonstrate other possibilities that the protagonist is unaware of or considers but rejects.
For more information, see these posts:
- The Interplay of Plot and Character in Fiction
- How Narrative Structure Works in Fiction: And How It Differs from Plot
point of view
Also see: narrator, narrative perspective
“The vantage point from which an author presents a story. If the author serves as a seemingly all-knowing maker, the point of view is called omniscient. At the other extreme, a character in the story—major, minor, or marginal—may tell the story as he or she experienced it. Such a character is usually called a first-person narrator; if the character does not comprehend the implications of what is told, the character is called a naïve narrator. The author may tell the story in the third person and yet present it as it is seen and understood by a single character, restricting information to what that character sees, hears, feels, and thinks; such a point of view is said to be limited. . . . If the author never speaks in his or her own person and does not obviously intrude, the author is said to be self-effacing. In extended works, authors frequently employ several methods.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 400.
“Despite persistent disagreement regarding its definition, the term ‘postmodernism’ was accepted by the mid-1970s as a comprehensive sociocultural paradigm. . . . Reacting against the traditional master narratives that projected an orderly and coherent universe, the postmodern writers have chosen narrative openness over closure, fiction over truth, and fragmentation over unity and coherence.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. George Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leiningter (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 874.
. . .
The following information is from Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, ed. Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron, Andrew Levy (N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998):
Cultural and literary postmodernism, which began in the 1960s, is “a tentative grouping of ideas, stylistic traits, and thematic preoccupations that set the last four decades apart from earlier eras” (p. x). “In postmodern fiction, World War II, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the atom bomb appear often as metaphors for . . . [a] failure of reason, as historical markers to explore how we manage to live with . . . absolute contradiction, or simply as spectral presences that remind us that nuclear arsenals still exist, and that our lives remain charged and threatened by visions of apocalypse” (p. xi).
Characteristics of postmodern fiction:
- “an assault upon traditional definitions of narrative . . . particularly those that created coherence or closure” (p. xii)
- the theme of the suburbanization of America, the decline of the city, and apocalyptic visions of the devastated city (p. xiv)
- “fascination about how the public life of the nation intersects with the private lives of its citizens” (p. xviii)
- “questioning of any belief system that claims universality or transcendence” (p. xx)
- the rise of the nonfiction novel, which “extends the experiments of the New Journalism and further undermines the distinctions between journalism and literature, fact and fiction” (p. xxv)
- the creation of “ruptures, gaps, and ironies that continually remind the reader that an author is present” (p. 1); this characteristic is particularly evident in the postmodern tendency to blend memoir and fiction to show “how individuals use fictional constructions to make order of real-life events” (p. 126)
James Wood, writing about modern British literature in The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing (John Sturrock, ed.; Oxford UP, 1996), describes America as “the locus of Post-Modernity and its discontents—vulgar films, trashed cities, the congestions of cliché and other degradations of language, the clotting of the soul with cultural debris, the submersion of the individual” (p. 137).
“A sequel that is set at an earlier time than the work it follows.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 407.
Note that a prequel is a book that was written after the original work to explain events that had occurred before the events of the original story.
alternate term: program novel
“A novel dealing with a special social, political, economic, or moral issue or problem and possibly advocating a doctrinaire solution. If the propagandistic purpose dominates the work so as to dwarf or eclipse all other elements, such as plot and character, then the novel belongs to the realm of the didactic and probably cannot be understood or appreciated for its own sake as a work of art. It may be good propaganda and bad literature at the same time.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 412.
The main character in a literary work.
Established in 1917, the Pulitzer prizes honor excellence in journalism and the arts. Normally 21 Pulitzers are awarded annually in the areas of journalism, letters (books), drama, and music.
For books, prizes are awarded in the following categories:
- For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.
- For a distinguished and appropriately documented book upon the history of the United States.
- For a distinguished and appropriately documented biography or autobiography by an American author.
- For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author.
- For a distinguished and appropriately documented book of nonfiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.
- The award for poetry was established in 1922, and that for nonfiction in 1962.
Source: The Pulitzer Prizes
alternate terms: purple prose, purple writing
“A piece of notably fine writing. Now and then authors in a strongly emotional passage will give free play to most of the stylistic tricks in their bag. They will write prose intensely colorful and more than usually rhythmic. When there is an unusual piling up of these devices in such a way as to suggest a self-conscious literary effort, the section is spoken of as a purple patch—a colorful passage standing out from the writing around it. . . . Although sometimes used in a nonevaluative, descriptive sense, the term is more often employed derogatorily.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 421.
RBC Taylor Prize
The RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing. It was founded in memory of the late Charles Taylor, one of Canada’s foremost essayists and a prominent member of the Canadian literary community.
Source: RBC Taylor Prize
“This kind of criticism suggests that a piece of writing scarcely exists except as a text designed to be read; indeed, scarcely exists until somebody reads it. The reader-response approach does not so much analyze a reader’s responding apparatus as scrutinize those features of the text that shape and guide a reader’s reading.” This form of criticism postulates the “concept of a hypothetical reader different from any real reader—a hypothetical construct of norms and expectations that can be derived or projected or extrapolated from the work and that may even be said to inhere in the work. This hypothetical reader becomes, in effect, a part of the fiction itself.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 427.
“. . . literature that attempts to depict life in an entirely objective manner. In English, realism may be said to have…become a definite literary trend in the 19th century. In America, realism became an important movement in the 1880s.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 858.
“An action, theme, or piece of information meant to lead a character or the reader astray. Mysteries often employ red herrings to complicate the plot and draw the reader’s attention away from the real solution, thus prolonging the pleasure of reading. The term derives from hunters’ use of the smoked fish to distract their dogs.”
Source: The New York Public Library Literature Companion, ed. Anne Skillion (N.Y.: Free Press, 2001), p. 671.
roman à clef
“Literally, a novel with a key, or secret meaning. Such a work of fiction contains one or more characters and situations based upon actual persons and their lives.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 882.
. . .
The roman à clef is a “novel that has the extraliterary interest of portraying well-known real people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters.” The necessary key refers to knowledge of the actual events and people being referenced. For example, “Primary Colors (1996) drew widespread attention in the United States as much for its protagonist—based closely on U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton—as for its anonymous author, later revealed to be political journalist Joe Klein.”
Source: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Roman à clef, Encyclopaedia Britannica
“The term romance has had special meanings as a kind of fiction since the early years of the novel . . . In common usage, it refers to works with extravagant characters, remote and exotic places, highly exciting and heroic events, passionate love, or mysterious or supernatural experiences. In another and more sophisticated sense, romance refers to works relatively free of the more restrictive aspects of realistic verisimilitude . . . In America particularly, the romance has proved to be a serious, flexible, and successful medium for the exploration of philosophical ideas and attitudes, ranging through such differing works as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Moby-Dick, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, and Warren’s World Enough and Time.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 450.
Note that romance in this sense is not the same as a romance novel.
A work of literature that aims to “expose human or institutional vices and in which a corrective is either implied or directly proposed.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 914.
. . .
“A work or manner that blends a censorious attitude with humor and wit for improving human institutions or humanity. Satirists attempt through laughter not so much to tear down as to inspire a remodeling.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 461.
Example: Moo by Jane Smiley is a satire on academic life.
“The effort to induce an emotional response disproportionate to the situation, and thus to substitute heightened and generally unthinking feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgment.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 475.
“The background against which action takes place. The elements making up a setting are: (1) the geographical location, its topography, scenery, and such physical arrangements as the location of the windows and doors in a room; (2) the occupations and daily manner of living of the characters; (3) the time or period in which the action takes place, for example, epoch in history or season of the year; (4) the general environment of the characters, for example, religious, mental, moral, social, and emotional conditions.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 477.
For more information, see 6 Illustrations of How Setting Works in Literature
The Shamus Awards are given annually by the Private Eye Writers of America to honor excellent work in the private eye genre.
“The Shamus Award was first presented in 1982 for work published in 1981. Bill Pronzini was the first winner in the Best Novel Category. In 1982 the awards were given for Best Novel and Best Paperback Novel. The Short Story award was added in 1983. In 1985 the Best First Novel category was added.”
Source: The Private Eye Writers of America
Shirley Jackson Awards
The Shirley Jackson Awards honor outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. The awards are given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: novel, novella, novelette, short story, single-author collection, and edited anthology.
Source: The Shirley Jackson Awards
See also: gothic
“A lurid or macabre writing style native to the American South. Since the middle of the 20th century, Southern writers have interpreted and illuminated the history and culture of the region through the conventions of the Gothic narrative (or Gothic novel), which at its best provides insight into the horrors institutionalized in societies and social conventions. Foremost among these authors are William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Carson McCullers.”
Source: The New York Public Library Literature Companion, ed. Anne Skillion (N.Y.: Free Press, 2001), p. 678.
Speculative fiction is an amorphous term. According to Wikipedia, “Speculative fiction is a broad category of fiction encompassing genres with certain elements that do not exist in the real world, often in the context of supernatural, futuristic or other imaginative themes. . . . These include, but are not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction, as well as combinations thereof (e.g. science fantasy).”
In “The Best of Speculative Fiction” author Ken Liu defines the term this way: “to me, speculative fiction is generally the type of fiction that uses the technique of literalizing some aspect of reality that we usually speak of as metaphorical. By making that aspect literally true—by making that metaphor literally true—we are able to gain a different perspective and understanding of reality.”
Here’s how the Speculative Literature Foundation describes itself: “The SLF is a non-profit arts foundation, modeled on the National Endowment for the Arts, but focused specifically on serving the speculative literature (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) community. We aim to encourage promising new writers, assist established writers, facilitate the work of quality magazines and small presses, and develop a greater public appreciation of speculative fiction.”
For more insight, see “What Is Speculative Fiction?”
The Stella Prize is an annual award for Australian women writers that celebrates “the best book by an Australian woman, whether fiction or nonfiction, in the previous calendar year.”
The prize was first awarded in April 2013. It originated in early 2011 out of a panel held at Readings, an independent bookstore in Melbourne, on International Women’s Day. Panel members were concerned about “the underrepresentation of women on the literary pages of the major Australian newspapers, both as reviewers and as authors of the books reviewed” and “the underrepresentation of women as winners of literary prizes.” The Stella Prize organization continues to champion cultural change.
A standardized and simplified characterization applied to someone on the basis of assumptions about qualities such as race, class, or gender.
In literature, stereotypes are characters that are not fully developed into distinct individuals.
stream of consciousness
“A narrative technique developed toward the end of the 19th century, employed to evoke the psychic life of a character and depict subjective as well as objective reality . . . As a literary term, “stream of consciousness” generally refers to the presentation of a character’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc., on an approximated preverbal level and with little or no direct comment or explanation by the author . . . In general, the term “stream of consciousness” is used as the description of mental life at the borderline of conscious thought and is characterized by the devices of association, reiteration of word- or symbol-motifs, apparent incoherence, and the reduction or elimination of normal syntax and punctuation to simulate the free flow of the character’s mental processes . . . aspects of stream-of-consciousness techniques are evident in the work of most of the important writers to appear since the 1930s.”
Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Bruce Murphy (N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1996), pp. 988-989.
Example: Ulysses by James Joyce
“A symbol is something that is itself and also stands for something else . . . In a literary sense a symbol combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract or suggestive aspect…Literary symbols are of two broad types: One includes those embodying universal suggestions of meaning, as flowing water suggests time and eternity, a voyage suggests life. Such symbols are used widely (and sometimes unconsciously) in literature. The other type of symbol acquires its suggestiveness not from qualities inherent in itself but from the way in which it is used in a given work. Thus, in Moby-Dick the voyage, the land, the ocean are objects pregnant with meanings that seem almost independent of Melville’s use of them in his story; on the other hand, the white whale is invested with meaning—and differing meanings for different crew members—through the handling of materials in the novel.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 507.
See Otherwise Award
“. . . the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, sombre, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many another possible attitude.”
Source: Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 520.