Protagonist: The main character in a story, the one with whom the reader is meant to identify. The person is not necessarily "good", but is the person whom the reader is most invested in.
Antagonist: Counterpart to the main character/protagonist and source of a story's main conflict. It may not even be a person.
Plot: Sequence of events in the story.
Setting: Time and place in which the story occurs.
Conflict: A struggle between opposing forces which drive the story. This is what keeps the reader reading! The outcome of the story is usually a resolution of the conflict. The opposing force does not have to be a person. The basic types of conflict are: Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society or Man vs. Machine.
Climax: The dramatic high of the story. Right before the climax is the turning point, usually where something goes wrong. The climax then ensues and comes to a resolution. A resolution does not necessarily mean the problem has been solved; only that the high point has ended.
Motifs, Themes and Symbols
A motif is a recurring important idea, structure or image; it differs from a theme in that it can be expressed as a single word or fragmented phrase. e.g. comparing a person's stages of life to seasons of the year.
A theme usually must be expressed as a complete sentence. A theme is a main universal idea or message conveyed by the piece. e.g. Little Red Riding Hood's theme may be "Don't talk to strangers".
A symbol is an object, colour, person, character or figure used to represent abstract ideas. A symbol, unlike a motif, must be tangible or visible.
Mood: The atmosphere or emotional condition created by within the setting. Mood refers to the general sense or feeling which the reader is supposed to get from the text and is not necessarily referring to the characters' state of mind.
Point of view: The identity of the narrator's voice, the point of view from which the reader sees the story. It may be first person (there is no narrator) or third person (the story is told by a character or direct observer in the story).
Common literary techniques
Allegory: Where an entire story is representative/symbolic of something else, usually a larger abstract concept or important historical/geopolitical event.
Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds, usually used consecutively in the same sentence.
Anthropomorphism: Where animals or inanimate objects are portrayed as people.
Deus ex machine: Latin for "God out of the machine", this term describes the primary conflict being solved out of nowhere, as if God or a miracle could only solve the complex conflict.
Dramatic irony: Where the audience or reader is aware of something important, of which the characters in the story are not aware. Situational irony is different in that the readers are not aware; the results are unexpected and mocking in relation to what was expected (the usual use of the term irony). Verbal irony is an expression that is opposite of what it is intended to.
Exposition: When an author interrupts a story in order to explain something - usually to provide important background information. An exposition can also be essential information which is given at the beginning of a play or short story, about the plot and the events which are to follow.
Foil: A character who is meant to represent characteristics, values or ideas which are opposite to another character (usually the protagonist).
Foreshadowing: Where future events in a story, or perhaps the outcome, are suggested by the author before they happen. This suggestion can be made in various ways such as a flashback, an object, or a previous minor situation which reflects a more significant situation later on. This sort of warning sign can also be called a red herring.
Hyperbole: A description which uses exaggeration or extremes to convey emphasize a characteristic.
Metaphor vs. Simile: A metaphor is direct relationship where one thing IS another. A simile, on the other hand, is indirect and usually only likened to be similar to something else. Similes usually use "like" or "as".
Parallelism: The use of similar or identical language, structures, events or ideas in different parts of a text.
Pathetic fallacy: When the mood of the character is reflected in the atmosphere (weather) or inanimate objects.
Personification: Where inanimate objects or abstract concepts are given human thoughts, actions, perceptions and emotions.
Repetition: When a specific word, phrase, or structure is repeated several times, usually in close proximity, to emphasize a particular idea.