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Fancy Words for the Sophisticated Reader

Ever wanted to make your reviews sound just that bit more sophisticated?

Ever want to know the word for some trait you noticed in the book you’re reading, but you have no idea what it could be so you end up describing it in a round-about way?

Ever read someone else’s review of a book and not understood what they mean by “it’s an epistolary novel” or “the author has a great way with literary allusions”? (Nothing to be ashamed of, by the way – you could say “it’s all a load of wank anyway.” 😉 )

Well I certainly do, all the time! I have a great deal of trouble remembering the “proper” literary technical term for a literary device, or getting tangled up with allegory and allusion, or trying to remember what the difference between a trope and a metaphor is. Really, do we need to know? Well, sometimes it’s fun to know. Sometimes understanding these technical terms can actually help us read deeper, because it sharpens our minds and makes us more aware of the devices and tricks at play. So, here is a list of such terms, with my no-doubt inadequate definitions.

To be honest I don’t know if this will interest anyone but myself, and it win my blog the title of Most Boring Blog, but I’m a list nerd and a word nerd and it was fun to put together regardless 🙂


An allegory or allegoric story is when the characters, setting and events represent characters or events or settings, or a mix of these. One of the best examples of an allegoric story is Animal Farm, in which the animals represent Stalin, Trotsky etc., the farm Russia/the USSR, and the overthrowing of the farmer represents the Russian Revolution, which is itself taken over by the Stalin-pig character. Fairy tales are also allegorical – for example, in “Little Red Riding Hood”, the wolf represents the men of the court who will prey on young, naive ladies new to the court and seduce them (“all the better to eat you with, my dear!”) while pretending to be someone they can trust.

Alliteration is when you have three or more words in a sentence that all begin with the same letter. Tongue twisters tend to be over-the-top alliterations (“she sells sea shells by the sea shore”). The repetition of consonants can be inside words as well; using alliteration can create a rhythm or pattern that captures emotion, if used well.

To allude to something is to refer to it in an indirect way; a “literal allusion” is to refer to classical works or historical events or people. Allusions refer to stories or characters we’re more familiar with in order to conceptualise an obscure idea. Many authors allude to Biblical or historical characters or events like Cain, or the Trojan Horse – with one word, we understand a grander concept the author is trying to get across. Allusions are thick in our cultural understanding as westerners – many things common to our collective understanding are rooted in old texts such as Homer or Shakespeare.

Otherwise commonly known as “the bad guy”, the antagonist works against the protagonist to ruin or frustrate their plans, get in their way etc. Antagonists are as common in a story as a protagonist, though if the protagonist is “the bad guy” (like Dexter in Darkly Dreaming Dexter), the antagonist becomes a positive force for good.

Anthropormiphism is giving animals and other non-human things (like trees) human characteristics. It can be as simple as using words associated with human emotions or motions to the way grass moves in the wind, or bestowing human attributes to animals like in Watership Down .

You’re familiar with the word “thesis”, no doubt; well an “antithesis” (pronounced “an-TITH-esis”) is the anti-thesis, or contrasting, contradicting or countering idea – a juxtaposition. The opposite, in other words. Using an antithesis can make your actual meaning clearer and stronger. Examples of antithesis at work are old; what I like to do is use the word “antithesis” itself – “He’s the antithesis of cruelty” – except that, in my head, “antithesis” starts to mean “pinnacle”, or an extreme example (the opposite of it’s meaning), so I have to be careful of that.

When the world starts falling apart, that’s when you know it’s apocalyptic 😉 Seriously, though, it’s a handy word (from Genesis?) with strong religious roots that is very useful in describing books like Life As We Knew It, Blindness and Oryx and Crake. It can take the form of a natural disaster, a plague, a nuclear war, a virus – the possibilities, and the fears, are endless. Apocalyptic stories are survival stories, and the world generally is never the same again even if the human race triumphs.

A bildungsroman is a German term – it’s a literary genre that describes a life, a life story, a person’s journey through life. If you want to get fancy, instead of saying “this is a coming-of-age novel” you could say “this is a bilgungsroman”. It’s one of the few literary terms I remembered from my uni degree! I guess I liked it 😉

A phrase, expression, theme, saying, idea etc. that has been used so many times it’s lost meaning and depth – has become “old hat” or cheesy. They tend to be over-used precisely because they’re so perfect, and resonate so well, or say it so well, but they don’t engage the mind anymore because we’ve heard them so many times, they don’t even register anymore. It’s a shame really.

The ideas or qualities associated with a word, rather than a literal meaning of the word. Connotations work similarly to allusions – the difference is that the latter refers to history or other literary works, while connotations refer us to associations. Describing a character as a snake, for instance, brings forth several connotations: the character is sly, creepy, cold etc.

The opposite of “connotation” in that with denotation, words have only one plain meaning and don’t come with any connotations, allusions etc. in the way it is used. For example, “toothbrush” – the stick with bristle you use to brush your teeth.

You know when you watch a movie and there’s the big climax (or anti-climax, depending on the story), but it’s not the end of the film – there’s still five-ten minutes left in which all the loose ends need to be tied up? That’s the denouement, the tying-up of whatever’s left. A relationship is resolved, a last puzzle is understood, etc. Books have them too – characters have their final say, not related to the Big Plot but a smaller, side plot that needs resolution. To end a story at the thrust of the climax is like having an orgasm with no snuggling afterwards.

When you get a lot of instruction or information in a text, the text is didactic. A lot of hard sci-fi is didactic, when the author pauses the action to explain the technology behind a concept etc. You could argue that the Bible is didactic, because it contains moral etc. teachings (personally, it’s more like The Odyssey to me – a very early Fantasy/Quest narrative with a bit of Historical Fiction thrown in).

Dramatic Monologue
Hamlet is famous for its dramatic monologues, as anyone who’s sat through Kenneth Branagh’s uncut film version can attest to. In fact, plays are where you’ll commonly see dramatic monologues, because they serve the function of telling the audience what’s going on, what the character is thinking etc. They don’t tend to pop up in fiction because it’s a dull, clumsy way to narrate a story.

Another one of my favourite genres! 🙂 A dystopian world isn’t exactly the opposite of a utopian, or ideal, perfect, world. It is a world where a society or civilisation has been established that pretends to be perfect and ideal, but that in fact disguises, hides, represses less desirable aspects of society or individuals. FFahrenheit 451 is dystopian, as is Brave New World, We and The Handmaid’s Tale, as just a few examples of many – the world is meant to be a better world, the people have been convinced it is a better world, but the people have also had to sacrifice something that we, the reader, feel defines us as human beings and individuals. It’s become a popular YA genre too – the Uglies series, for example.

Quite simply, an epistolary novel is one told in the form of letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, other documents or a blend of them all. Letters is the most commonly used.

When something has been named after someone. Usually used in reference to a place or building that has been named after its founder, or a style that refers to a person – for example, a Victorian house or a Georgian house refers to the British monarch who ruled at the time the style was popular (yes, the Georgian style is named after the era of four King Georges, not the American state!).

A euphemism is using an innocent word or expression in place of one that might be offensive, or sacred (but in our society, it’s usually something naughty!). For example, people often use the expression “Number One” (or Two) in place of all the other choices for urination.

In short, background information. You might have read reviews where the reviewer has complained about “info dumping” – a more colloquial way of saying that there was too much exposition all at once. When reading a book in a series, especially an epic Fantasy series, there is often a lot of exposition at the beginning, or what you could call “recapping”.

This is usually a mathematical term, but can also be used to describe human experience – to expand the human experience. I’m not very confident with this one; I don’t really feel like I would know how to use “extrapolate” properly when talking about someone’s book!

The opposite of “literal”. Figurative language is “ornamental”, or pretty. Meaning is not straight-forward; it instead forces you to use your imagination to arrive at meaning, usually by way of a comparison or simile.

A type of literature. Typical genres are Fantasy, Romance, Horror, Science Fiction and Murder Mystery. The word “generic” can be synonymous with “formulaic” in the sense that something that’s generic is too “samey” – the formula for Romance novels, or Fantasy etc., is “generic” – thankfully, we are seeing more and more authors break the formula and get creative with genres.

A genre, popular in the 18th-19th century, that captures a certain style and atmosphere. Gothic architecture is also medieval architecture and contrary to how we think of the word now, “gothic” architecture was an architectural style that captured light with high vaulted ceilings and glass – gothic cathedrals is where you will see this. Because of its association with the Dark Ages (medieval period), “gothic” came to mean something more akin to horror, or oppression of your spirits, as well as feeding on our imagination of what “dark” things happened during the period of gothic architecture. Gothic stories are usually romances (for their love of the imaginary over the realistic), and were told from several points of view.

An extravagant exaggeration, or conscious overstatement. A hyperbole increases the effect of a description, as exaggerations are meant to.

Irony refers to when something is not as it seems, in fact, is usually the opposite of what it seems – inherent in that is a kind of sophisticated humour that is felt rather than described. It is not the same as sarcasm, being more subtle, and can be bleak just as much as it can be sharp and witty.

Another word for “juxtapose” is “contrast”. It’s used more for ideas than to describe someone – you don’t really see “the light colour of her hair juxtaposed with her dark eyes”, it sounds pretty silly (you’d probably say “contrast” instead); but when talking of ideas, themes, concepts, that sort of thing, it’s a handy word.

Not to be confused with simile (though we all get them confused at times!), a metaphor is an analogy – while a simile says “his body was tall and thin like a bean stalk”, a metaphor says “his body was a bean stalk”.

A recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of literature. When authors use motifs, their overall point, message or theme comes across more strongly.

A story that explains how the world came to be, or why it is the way it is. We can describe something as being “mythological” for its attempt to get to the root of the world’s creation or purpose. Myths commonly occur in fairy tales, Fantasy books etc.

Those events that, put together, make a story.

The person telling the story, usually in first-person point-of-view (see below). Narrators can be unnamed, and a story can also be told by an omniscient narrator or “voice” – in other words, by a god-like nobody who can see everything and knows everything.

A short story that conveys a moral or religious message.

This is one I’m never comfortable using – a pastiche is an imitation, or “hodgepodge” – if it combines many different works. One example of this are the spoof movies, like Date Movie (I haven’t seen it, but it was the first one that popped into my head) that cobble together bits of other stories to tell a new one. For movies, we call them “spoofs”. For books, we’re supposed to call them “pastiches”.

View-point, or point-of-view. Whose eyes are you seeing events or people through? What bias are you getting because of whose perspective it is? Some readers don’t like it when the perspective shifts between characters, and other people complain about the first-person point-of-view for being too limiting. I don’t have a problem with either; how successful it is depends on which way the author has chosen to tell a particular story. See “Point-of-View”, below.

There are three types of POV: first person, second person and third person. Third person point-of-view is the most common – that’s when you get “she”, “he” etc. First person is also common: that’s when the story is personally narrated by a character who refers to themselves as “I”. Second person is the least common, and when in unskilled hands it can be downright aggravating: it’s when the story is told from the perspective of “you” (doesn’t make much sense, I know, but some people feel it puts the reader in the story and can be powerful if used well).

After the world went to crap, a post-apocalyptic story is set a time when things have settled down and some new kind of civilisation has arisen. This may be a dystopian society, but it doesn’t have to be. The after-effects of whatever form the apocalypse took are usually still being felt, but one after-affect is that often the people don’t know about what happened in the past. It’s a clean slate, but without history, they’re doomed to repeat mistakes – which creates fertile ground for a story!

This is a big chunky literary theory that became the bane of my existence at uni. You learn to quickly hate anything post-modern! Era-wise, it’s post WWII, and that’s about all anyone can agree on. In fact, I’m borrowing this from Wikipedia: “… instead of the modernist quest for meaning in a chaotic world, the postmodern author eschews, often playfully, the possibility of meaning, and the postmodern novel is often a parody of this quest.”

The nice word for “straight-forward writing” or simply “writing”. All fiction is prose, just as all poetry is “verse”. That’s your two choices: prose or verse. To go a bit further, an author’s “prose style” is their stylistic voice, their style of writing, the way they use words.

Otherwise known as the main character. Some books are sly, and the main character is more of a shy observer than a true protagonist – a protagonist keeps the action moving, gives momentum to a book, does things. They are usually the hero, the character whose journey or story you are following.

This used to be one of the main subjects taught in universities, alongside mathematics. It is the art of using language effectively (i.e., to write, to argue a point!), though the word has taken on the stain of bullshit and so we tend to avoid it unless we’re being clever or disparaging. Another use is “rhetorical argument” or “rhetorical question”, to which there is no answer.

The study of meaning. The meaning of words. When someone says, “It’s just semantics”, it’s a dismissive way of saying “get to the point” or “you’re wasting your time focusing on the words rather than the real meaning of what’s going on here.”

Location. Where something takes place.

When one thing is “like” another. A simile should have the word “like” in it, as part of its structure. E.g. “her hair was like silk” is a simile; whereas “her hair was a waterfall, cascading down her back” is a metaphor (and truly cheesy to boot!).

A symbol is a word or object that represents something else. Rings or other jewellery are often used, especially in Fantasy. The dove is the symbol for peace; the rainbow the symbol for gay pride. When something is “symbolic”, it represents something bigger, grander than itself.

This is the grammar for time. There are three main tenses and a few other, less used ones. The main ones are of course present tense and past tense. There is also future tense, past perfect/participle, present perfect/participle and others I’ve forgotten just now. Like POV (first-person, third etc.), the choice of tense the author uses can break a novel. That is, the choice to use present or past tense can have a huge impact on the story, and our engagement and enjoyment of it.

Think of it like a thread, running all the way through the story. It’s an overall, recurring motif, bigger than a symbol – it’s a thought, an idea, that can’t be expressed fully in a single descriptive sentence but needs to be conveyed through larger actions, the story as a whole. Not every book has or has to have a theme, but it’s always satisfying to realise what a book’s theme is, like you’ve communicated with the author and experienced more than just the surface layer of a story.

A trope is a figure of speech, a way of shifting the meaning of words. As Wikipedia puts it, a figure of speech:

“is a use of a word that diverges from its normal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it such as a metaphor, simile, or personification. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation.”

Clear? Didn’t think so. “Figure of speech” is one of those phrases that I’ve never really stopped and tried to explain. It just is. It’s really another way of saying “metaphor”, isn’t it – so what’s the difference? An example of a metaphor is “drowning in debt”; this is also considered a trope, or “figure of speech” – you don’t mean that a person is literally drowning, only trying to capture the sense of how much debt they are in, and how much they are struggling. Ask me when I would use the word “trope”, though, and I couldn’t honestly tell you.

Unreliable narrator
Oh we love an unreliable narrator, don’t we? This is a narrator who isn’t trustworthy, who may be telling the truth or may not be, who we can’t rely on. A great modern example is the narrator of the YA novel Liar, who admits she lies but tells one version after another, adding and subtracting from her story – a character who you want to believe, but since she’s already lied to you (and admitted it), how can you be sure? Another type of less obvious unreliable narrator is someone who is prejudiced, blind to a truth, fixated, obsessed, mad, even idiotic. These are often, if well written, very engaging narrators and protagonists because they keep us guessing, and because we get to know them so deeply yet at the same time are on our guard, and unsure whether we can or should trust them.


Do you have any favourite words among these that you find yourself often using in your reviews?

Are there any words I missed that you’d like to see included? Any examples or clearer definitions you’d like to add?

46 comments to Fancy Words for the Sophisticated Reader

  • I love this post. Which, being an English teacher, kind of makes sense.. I teach this stuff all the time and I love teaching it!

    I was getting ready to answer this post by saying, ‘no, I don’t bother using technical terms when I review’ but after reading through the terms I think I do.. I don’t set out to use them, it just kind of happens. I guess since I spend my work days analysing texts with students and talking about metaphors, themes, point-of-view etc. these things are already ingrained into my vocabulary and I can’t help but think about them when I read a book.

    I used to worry when I first started studying literature at university that it would ruin reading for me. That I wouldn’t be able to pick up a text without analysing it and that would ruin the reading experience. Instead I have found it enhances it. I understand what I am reading better, I don’t purposely try to analyse while I am reading it just comes naturally. It makes reviewing a lot easier too, as I usually don’t have much problem finding the right words.

    Great post! 🙂


    Shannon Reply:

    @Rachel, I completely agree, being able to analyse a text enhances the reading experience rather than ruins it – you get so much more out of it because of this training on how to read. I still struggle with a lot of them, I’m out of practice and not teaching English – teaching it is one of the best ways to learn something isn’t it!


  • This is the best post that I have found for a very long time!!! Thanks.

    I like to use literary terms when I write my reviews, but it is so hard to know which is the right one


    Shannon Reply:

    @Becky (Page Turners), Thanks Becky – I really thought people were going to start throwing beer bottles at me for this one!

    I’m not that good at knowing when to use the right words either; there are some I’m more comfortable and confident with than others, but I’d like to have a bit more variety!


  • This post is beyond awesome. Kudos to you for putting it together and making it all so clear. I remember learning these terms in school and the teacher/professor didn’t present their meanings in such an accessible way.


    Shannon Reply:

    @Chelle, Thanks Chelle, so glad you don’t hate me! Remember being in high school and hearing the collective groan that went up every time grammar was attempted? 😉 I was better in uni, but unless you keep at it a lot of them just fade away in your head eh. I have a couple of books left over that make these terms even more intimidating than they need to be.


  • Excellent. I feel like I’m in English class all over again! The one I really liked was “Pathetic Fallacy”


    Shannon Reply:

    @janicu, Oooh that’s a good one! I should have included “phallacy” – I find myself using it a lot with people on Goodreads, when they get up in arms over the fact that I liked Twilight but hated A Game of Thrones… (“It’s a logical phallacy,” I keep telling them, “you can’t compare apples and oranges!” Tells me a lot about their education!!)


    janicu Reply:

    @Shannon, “Phallacy”? With a “ph”? HAH. (Also – I liked Twilight and hated A Game of Thrones”!!!)


    Shannon Reply:

    @janicu, *laughs and laughs at herself* oh wow I’m always doing that!! I always think it’s spelt with a “ph” – spell check usually spots it but I must have been in a rush and not noticed!

    Oh yay I’m glad to hear you also didn’t like A Game of Thrones – one of the things that bugs me is how people talk about it like it broke new ground and is oh-so-original – it’s not!! I think those people just haven’t read enough Fantasy. It just doesn’t deserve the accolades.


    janicu Reply:

    @Shannon, I think my complaint was more in my taste – not really into all that jumping between characters on top of all the angst and the death. I could sense things were going to go bad too and that it was going to be EPIC so I checked out after book 1. My best friend loved it though, which is weird because I think she’s pickier than me!

    Heh, you are always thinking “phallus” eh? *laughing*. 🙂


    Shannon Reply:

    @janicu, I don’t mind large casts of characters and multiple story lines – I’ve worked my way through all the Wheel of Time books except the most recent, and it can work if handled well (though Jordan often, especially the later books, dropped the ball completely).


    Shannon Reply:

    @janicu, (I spell it “ph” because, yeah, I’m always thinking “phallus”!! And they think women don’t think about sex all the time!)


  • I just happened to stumble upon your blog – and I’m glad I did!

    This post is wonderful. I’m definitely guilty of simplifying my reviews, but reading this list has gotten me to want to try a different reviewing style/approach.

    Thank you for taking the time to compile this list!


    Shannon Reply:

    @Alissa, Hi Alissa, thanks for stumbling! 😉

    It’s a good motivation for me too 🙂


  • Nice list and nice explanations, Shannon. Not boring at all! But then we’re all a bit book crazy, aren’t we?

    I don’t use many technical words. The only words from your list that I use are protagonist, setting, and dystopia/post-apocalyptic (given my interest in dystopian novels).

    I love the word extrapolation and in my view (but i could well be wrong) it’s taking one’s experience or a situation into a different setting. Something like “the writer extrapolated his own experiences in rural France to the urban jungle of New York”. I think. Maybe. Who knows better?


    Shannon Reply:

    @Leeswammes (Judith), Thanks Judith, that helps! I like the sound of the word “extrapolation” but I just don’t have experience using it… I should try I think 😀


  • Bloody brilliant post, Shannon! I’m going to print this off. You may now notice that my reviews become showered with (is that a metaphor? ;)) fancy words and phrases from now on. I am now, Boof Oh Wize One.


    Shannon Reply:

    @The Book Whisperer, *laughs* Oh Wize One, yes I believe that is a metaphor!! (and I think I just “got” the difference between metaphor and trope!) Glad it’s a helpful post after all!


  • I liked this post too! 🙂 Brought back lovely memories of my English degree and brief career as a grammar teacher.

    I have always understood “trope” to mean a literary convention or pattern common to many works in a genre. For example, the romance genre contains several tropes, like “friends become lovers” or “two characters hate each other at the beginning but grow to love each other.”


    Shannon Reply:

    @Christina, I didn’t know you were once a grammar teacher! How was that, fun, awful…?

    Now that you’ve said that, I think that’s how I understood “trope” too. I think that’s how I used it at uni, anyway! 😉


    Steph Reply:

    @Shannon, Me too.


    Christina Reply:

    @Shannon, I was a grammar teacher for one year. I usually tell people that it was a great experience but that I’m really glad it’s over! Some of the students were awesome, but some of them just didn’t care and performed terribly on tests as a result. It was frustrating trying to beat the concepts into their heads! You would not believe the number of 14-year-olds who didn’t know what a noun was!


    Shannon Reply:

    @Christina, I forget that I used to teach grammar as well – in Japan we were supposedly teaching “conversational English” but naturally there was lots of reading and writing and grammar too – I learnt more grammar through teaching English in Japan than I ever knew in high school or uni! Before Japan, the only grammar terms I knew were verb and noun and adjective. It is hard teaching kids who aren’t interested. You have to get sneaky and disguise it as something else 😉


  • Wow. I’m totally impressed. This is an incredible post. I don’t think I would have had the patience to write it, but it’s such a great one I can see myself posting ABOUT it!

    I’m trying to think of any terms or words I use in my reviews, but can’t come up with any. Whatever is there just comes out, most of the time.

    I especially loved your definitions for semantic and rhetoric but I have to say, postmodern lit was my very favourite!! And postcolonial…

    Might be good to have the definition of modern in there, too?

    Man, this post really made me miss my English degree days. 🙂 Well done!


    Shannon Reply:

    @Steph, Are people saying these nice things to me because I said I thought you’d all hate it? 😉 Wasn’t fishing, honest!

    Oh I forgot post-colonial! Well, I didn’t want to get into literary theory; not sure why I thought I’d include post-modern! Silly me.

    Oh wow, “modern” – I don’t think I know what that is! What would you say about it?

    I know, it made me nostalgic for my English degree days too… 🙂


    Steph Reply:


    Good question. Modern(ist) lit encompasses a ton and rather a long time period, so how do you define it? By style? Ideals? Philosophies?

    Maybe I’d just write the definition in stream of consciousness, after Joyce. Haha!


    Shannon Reply:

    @Steph, *GROAN* no Joyce, please no Joyce!!

    Sometimes, when I’m feeling really perverse, I think about trying to read Ulysses again. I think I got three chapters in at uni.


    Steph Reply:


    Dear God, no, I agree! Not a Joyce fan! Or really a fan of that sort of lit in general.


    Shannon Reply:

    @Steph, “Hear hear!” Joyce writes like a Jackson Pollock or something – or maybe wanted to write like that (or maybe it’s Picasso or some other painter who’s all over the place?)

    He makes me believe in wanky artists like never before!


  • Ha! I love this post — if it makes you a nerd, than I am right there with ya! I think I want to use the word “trope” sometime soon.. . I like the sound of it! 🙂


    Shannon Reply:

    @Coffee and a Book Chick, It’s fun being a nerd isn’t it?! “Trope” does sound like fun – rather like “trollop” isn’t it!

    I just finished writing a review and I realised how highly conscious I was of my word choices – a bit self-conscious, actually: I used the word “connotation” for instance, and suddenly wanted to duck or look over my shoulder like “oh dear now they’ll think I’m showing off!” I really do over-think things sometimes!


  • I guess I get motif and theme mixed up most often! And I’ve been using trope wrong! 🙁 Does that make me a bad English major? Will they revoke my degree now? 😉


    Shannon Reply:

    @Erika, Ha! If they revoke yours for that, they’ll be sure to revoke mine for using “antithesis” wrong all the time!! 😉


  • Thanks so much for this condensed English lesson! Believe it or not, English as a subject in my high school had nothing to do with literary terms or grammar–just reading! I didn’t like it much, in retrospect…

    I copied this post and put it in a document with all my book stuff, so I can look things up easily when it comes review time.


    Shannon Reply:

    @Kristie, I think we only once had a lesson on grammar in high school, and none before or after that!

    That’s a good idea! I hope you add to it when you come across new ones 🙂


  • I am going to tag your post somewhere on my blog so that I can refer back to the terms when I am writing my diaries. Even though I am an educator I never felt like I got a handle on all the literary terms and devices and often feel at a loss how to describe things.
    Thank you.


    Shannon Reply:

    @Anne, I’m glad you find it helpful! I know what you mean – I’m an English teacher and I still find myself struggling with some of these! (not to mention the ones I didn’t include!).


  • Excellent list and definitions! I like your definition of dystopia, and I agree that dystopias are more than just the opposite of utopia. I’m working on my major research paper on dystopian literature right now, so I’ve been trying to think about the definition of dystopia. Personally, I like Thomas Moylan’s definition of dystopia. In his book Scraps of the Untainted Sky, he draws on the distinction other theorists have made between the dystopia as an attack on particular ways of imagining utopias and the anti-utopia as an attack on utopian thinking as such. He argues that the dystopia navigates between the utopia and the anti-utopia, sometimes criticizing particular ways of imagining utopias from a utopian perspective, sometimes attacking utopianism from an anti-utopian perspective, and sometimes doing both at the same time. I find his approach very helpful, and very refreshing.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on! I should get back to work on my paper. Hope everything’s going well! *hugs*


    Shannon Reply:

    @Jill, Never apologise for rambling! I love long, thoughtful comments!!

    My understanding of dystopia borders on gut feeling, but I’m finding that people are calling books dystopias that to me are not dystopian at all. I don’t think we have that good a grasp on the concept.

    I wonder though about these definitions, whether they’re describing what the novels are doing, or what they should be doing?

    Hey, would you be interested in doing a guest post on this topic?


    Jill Reply:


    Dystopian literature is a hard genre to pin down. When I first read Oryx and Crake, it felt very dystopian to me, because it follows the struggles of a main character who’s alienated from his society, and it offers a scathing critique of flawed attempts to “better” society. But in working on my Major Research Paper, I came across an essay by Margaret Atwood in which she argues that Oryx and Crake isn’t really a dystopian novel in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale is, because it doesn’t really give us a structural overview of the society it’s set in, the way that 1984 does, for example. I do think she has a valid point, but I would still argue that its important to discuss Oryx and Crake together with more traditional dystopias like 1984. To me, the fact that Oryx and Crake doesn’t offer a structural overview reflects the fact that power in our world today doesn’t necessarily come from the top down, but emanates from many sources at once, making it harder to pin down. So, I think there’s a lot to be learned from comparing novels like Oryx and Crake with more traditional dystopias like 1984 that deal with more traditional forms of totalitarian power. At least, that’s how I’m justifying including both in my paper ;). I do think, though, that in comparing classic dystopias like 1984 with other kinds of novels that share certain dystopian elements, its important to understand the differences between the two.

    There’s a lot more to be said about the definition of dystopia, and I’d love to do a guest post on the topic! Why don’t I e-mail it to you once I have it written, and then you can post it whenever you’re ready?


    Shannon Reply:

    @Jill, I consider Oryx and Crake to be apocalyptic, but I’m learning I have a fairly limited idea of what exactly dystopian is! What you’re saying here is so interesting.

    Thanks Jill, that would be fantastic! I know you’re busy so there’s no rush, but I’m really looking forward to it! 😀


  • Good choice. I’ve already linked this post to my homepage.


  • (also) Shannon

    uhm…. hi, i was searching the enternet looking for “fancy words” to make my essay sound somewhat mature and i came across this website and the first thig i saw was ~ SHANNON and it kinda freaked me out because my name is also shannon… so i thought that like… i was being watched or followed through like cyberspace or something… so just wondering and for clarrification…. who is this “SHANNON” person???


    Shannon Reply:

    @(also) Shannon, Hello Also Shannon! It’s not that uncommon a name, though I find that I hate meeting people (in person) called Shannon; I get very jealous of my name! But I have several friends on Goodreads called Shannon and rest assured, no one’s stalking you. 🙂 (It would be quite the feat to set up this entire blog just to freak out other Shannon’s!)


  • wow im doing an essay in English and i came across your site its kinda interesting learning English it gives you more of an understanding of the language an your post was interesting our English teacher uses English as her own method of torture so it was nice being able to understand


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