Parallelism (Structure)


Parallelism (Structure) - There are many ways that we can rearrange the typical syntax of a sentence for some literary effect, whether hifalutin, funny, moving, memorable, or weird. “Syntax” simply means “the rules of how words fit together to make language,” word order. In English, subject (noun, doer, agent) usually precedes predicate (verb, action), followed sometimes [...]


Semicolons – Semicolons are unexpected. They force us to do more work. I personally like them and use them. But there’s a lot to be said for the tighter control offered by periods and comma-and/comma-but conjunctions. These tend to disappear, foregrounding your story. Semicolons and other rare beasts tend to highlight themselves—or, more accurately, to [...]

Realism, Intellectual, versus Realism, Sensory (AKA Realism, Visual)


Realism, Intellectual versus Realism, Sensory (AKA Realism, Visual) – In Fuquet’s intellectual realism: The drawing contains elements of the model that are not seen but that the artist judges indispensable; conversely, the artist neglects elements of the model that are blindingly obvious but devoid of interest for the artist. So, for example, X-ray art is [...]


Sprezzatura – Sprezzatura describes “the well-practiced naturalness, the rehearsed spontaneity, which lies at the center of convincing discourse of any sort, and which has been the always-sought but seldom well-described center of rhetorical ‘decorum,’ since Aristotle first tried to describe it” (Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd Ed., 143). The Book of the Courtier [...]

Sign, Signifier, Signified

Sign, Signifier, Signified – The sign is the basic unit of text, and thus of thought. A sign is a thing that means something. All words are signs. All images intended to represent something are signs. All sounds that mean something are signs. Signs have two halves: Signifier – The thing that does the meaning: A red [...]

Symbol, levels of


Symbol, levels of - All of our metaphorical ways of relating to aspects within and outside of stories are symbolic: They assume that we can hold in our heads some idea or image which stands in place of some other idea or thing. Symbolic ideas and images represent other ideas and images—letting us write about the search [...]


Structuralism - In literary criticism, structuralism links various texts via a big idea about the elements and narrative shapes that are common among them. For example, one structure common to most (but not all) fiction is “a protagonist goes through some type of emotional change.” We can examine how the protagonist varies across genres and styles while [...]



Text – A group of signs. In literary and other types of criticism, a text can be a book (a group of written signs), a film (a group of cinematically recorded images and sounds—visual and auditory signs), or even a set of sculptures (think of braille; think of the pieces on a chessboard read as [...]


Protagonist – The model (proto, as in prototype) for our emotions (agon, as in agony). The protagonist is not necessarily the most interesting character, the most likeable character, or the character with whom we spend the most time—though very often she is all of these things. In Benito Cereno, however, the protagonist (the person we [...]

Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic Fallacy – The fallacy (wrong-thought) that the world changes when you change; that when you are sad, it rains outside; when you are happy, the rabbits chirp and the sun smiles and everyone sings. Often tied to mood, this is a major tactic of musicals and of Romantic literature, though it is usually toned [...]