Knowing Your Literary Terms

When you are constantly going from one project to another, you’ll hear different wants and needs. If the writing projects you are viewing are more like novels and documentaries, you may hear some terms that you have never known at all. So, let’s hone your knowledge of literary terms you may run into from time to time.



Imagery is an expression of images you would see in a literary work. But, it’s not merely mentioning how people look or how places look. It’s getting the reader involved in the scene. Certain scenes have significance to each of us as individuals and then there are scenes that carry similar significance to each reader.

For instance, most people would feel warm and comfortable if you were to talk about an autumn scene with the sun shining down on a yard full of fallen leaves. While most of us would welcome a description such as this, others might be distracted by their own experiences. A kid who was once homeless and had to sleep on park benches throughout the year would actually have a different reaction.

No matter what reaction a reader has to the imagery, the writer can’t be preoccupied. The art of meaningful imagery is all that matters. Create a picture with words and make it as descriptive as possible. How your readers receive your writing is their own issue.



Symbolism is a very close concept to imagery. In fact, symbolism can evoke images. And while those images mean the same things to certain people, they mean different things to different people. For instance, the swastika is a symbol of anti-Semitic sentiment to Jews. But, it’s a symbol of unity and power to neo-Nazis. The ironic fact is that the swastika was a symbol of peace before being adopted by Hitler.

That one symbol holds all that meaning. But, symbolism can be a bit more complex than that in literature. A bridge is a road built over a waterway or a deep valley, but in literature it can be a connection between people, families or communities. A pair of glasses is merely a looking device, but it can mean the ability to see in the future or see things more clearly than others. Anything can be given a greater meaning if the writer is masterful enough to bring the meaning into light.

Point of View


In each story, there is some kind of persona telling it. It is from that vantage point that point of view comes into play. There is of course a god-like persona who sees and knows all. Omniscient point of view knows the thoughts and actions of others. There is no limit in omniscient point of view.

But, a person who is telling one’s own story is talking in First Person point of view. A story told from a person’s own perspective is more informative on the main character in the story. The person knows why such actions were taken or such ideas were thought because they belonged to that person.

I might venture to say that most stories are told in Third Person. The Third Person perspective is one that stands at a distance and witnesses the story as it unveils. There might be some limit to thoughts, but often the Third Person perspective can see so much more than any character in the story.

You might ask, what about the Second Person point of view? It is a more difficult way of writing. The word “You” is used to describe the persona of the story. Some stories have actually accomplished it successfully. But, it’s a difficult concept. In other words, the reader is the subject of the story. So, think about that for a second and then figure how hard of a novel that would be to write.

There are plenty of literary terms. This is just a small sample of the kinds of concepts you would be expected to know if you ever decide to write on a professional level. From time to time, I’ll revisit this topic and talk more about other literary terms. But for now, start feeling more comfortable with doing research and learning certain terms for yourself. You can only make yourself a more qualified writer by understanding the terms your clients may use.