Action and Events


The sequence of events and actions in a literary work


The pattern formed by the events and actions in a literary work

  • Introduction: The beginning of a work, which usually suggests the setting (time and place) and shows on or more of the main characters.
  • Complications: Events or actions that establish the conflict in a literary work.
  • Climax: The turning point, often signified by a character’s making a significant decision or taking action to resolve a conflict.
  • Conclusion: The ending of a work, which often shows the effects of the climactic action or decision.


A struggle between internal and/or external forces in a literary work.

Irony of Situation

A discrepancy between what is said and what is done or between what is expected and what actually happens.


Adapted from:

Stanford, Judith. Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays. 4th edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2003.



The fictional (or fictionalized) people who are part of the action of a literary work.

Listening and Observing

  • Dialogue: Conversation between two or more characters
  • Dialect: A variety of a language different from that generally taught in school; may include distinctive pronunciations of words, original vocabulary, or grammatical constructions that are not considered standard.
  • Monologue: A speech by one character addressed to a silent or absent listener.
  • Soliloquy: A speech by one character, usually in a play, given while the character is alone on stage or standing apart from other characters and intended to represent the inner thoughts of the character.

Growing and Changing

  • Motivation: The reason or reasons that cause a character to think, act, or speak in a certain way.
  • Dynamic character: A character who changes in some significant way during the course of the work.
  • Static character: A character who does not change in any significant way during the course of the work.
  • Round character: A character who shows many different facets; often presented in depth and with great detail.
  • Flat character: A character who usually has only one outstanding trait or feature.
  • Protagonist: The major character with whom we generally sympathize.
  • Antagonist: The character with whom the protagonist is in conflict, generally not a sympathetic character.

Points of View

  • Authors/speaker/persona/narrator:. Authors write the literary work. Not to be confused with the speaker or persona, the voice that might be heard in the text, or the narrator, the voice that tells the story.
  • Third-person omniscient narrator: A disembodied narrator who knows everything about the narrative, across both time and space, and can report both external actions and conversations as well as internal thoughts of all characters and who often provides evaluations and judgments of characters and events.
  • Third-person limited omniscient narrator: A disembodied narrator who does not know everything. Usually this narrator can report external actions and conversations but can only report the internal thoughts of only one character. A limited omniscient narrator may offer evaluations and judgments of characters and events.
  • Objective narrator: A narrative point of view that acts like a camera, reporting only external events and conversations but without access to the inner thoughts and feelings of any of the characters and without offering evaluations or judgments.
  • First-person narrator: A narrator who is also a character in the work and who uses “I” or “we” to tell the story. First-person narrators can report their own thoughts and feelings but cannot directly report the thoughts of other characters.
  • Reliable/unreliable narrators: All first person narrators are to some extent unreliable, but some are more reliable than others. Narrators might be unreliable because they are mistaken, lying, mentally diminished, prejudiced, pushing a particular agenda, or for a number of other reasons.
  • Free indirect discourse: A third-person narrator that combines some aspects of the first person narrator. The third-person narrator is still a disembodied voice but as it slips in and out of the characters’ consciousnesses, their attitudes filter into the voice of the narrator. Usually associated with limited omniscient narration, where the narrative point of view looks deceivingly like it’s in the first person.

Adapted from:

Stanford, Judith. Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays. 4th edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2003.

Places and Times

Setting: The time, place, and mood of a literary work that establish its context. It basically helps in establishing where and when and under what circumstances the story is taking place. Setting includes both specific rooms or buildings or geographic locations, but also the world or milieu in which the events occur (in other words, to describe the setting of the first Harry Potter novel would include describing the space under the Dursley’s staircase and the Hogwarts potions classroom, but would also include description of a world divided between wizards and muggles.)

Time: Time in fiction similarly includes small and large scale sense of time. Does the work span a matter of moments, hours, or eons? Is it set in an identifiable historical period? Is it slow or fast paced and does the pacing change in different sections?

Flashback: A flashback is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point in the story (there are also flashforwards).

Framing: (a.k.a frame tale, framing narrative, or framing device.) A framing story introduces one narrative in order to set up or frame another story that occurs as a story-within-the-story or serves to enclose a series of shorter stories within the larger narrative frame. Some examples include One Thousand and One Nights, Don Quixote, or The Uncle Remus stories. The film Princess Bride is a framed narrative–the frame device is the grandfather reading the story to a sick grandson, while the framed narrative is the story of the Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts, Inigo Montoya, and the rest.