Posts Tagged ‘literary terms’

Literary Terms Library

In our Literary Terms series, we examine the definitions of frequently used (and misused) words. What is the difference between horror and terror? Apocalyptic and dystopian? Magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy? In this series, we tackle questions such as these. Today, we present our full Literary Terms archive so that you can refresh your vocabulary for the new year. So go ahead: dive in, and enjoy!

Horror and Terror

Terror is the feeling of dread and apprehension at the possibility of something frightening, while horror is the shock and repulsion of seeing the frightening thing.

Internal Monologue and Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a narrative device that is the written equivalent to a character’s thought process—or a stylized way of thinking out loud. It is often written in first person and is less ordered and occasionally more jumbled than an internal monologue, which is most often written in third person and follows a slightly more structured flow of thoughts to depict a characters’ opinions of his environment.

Legend, Myth, and Fairy Tale

Legends, myths, and fairy tales all have a place in folklore, the main difference between them being content, and whether or not that content has a historical basis.

Apocalyptic, Dystopian, and Post-Apocalyptic

The future of mankind has been imagined and reimagined in literature for decades, but it seems lately there has been an influx of stories on the topic . . . we’ll examine three end-of-the-world terms that are often used synonymously, but are really quite different.

Magical Realism, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

Magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy all construct their own unique realities in different ways. It may seem like it would be easy to distinguish these genres, but the lines are not as clear as you might think.


Gothic, Grotesque, and The Uncanny

Here at TMR, we love scary stories, and it is useful to examine the vocabulary we use to describe the fiction that frightens us.


Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is generally considered to be a story of 1000 words or less (though there is even some debate about this), but within this category alone there are several subsets.

Symbol, Motif, Theme

All three of these nouns take residence in one another, making their distinctions difficult, but each one has its own specific and correct use.



Narrative Nonfiction, Autobiography, and Memoir

There’s something special about excellent nonfiction, but the water gets muddy when you try to label works under its large umbrella.

Literary Terms: Magical Realism, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

In past literary terms posts, we have discussed: the difference between terror and horror; apocalyptic, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic fiction; and legend, myth, and fairy tale. We are happy to continue our studies with the latest addition to our literary terms series. One of our favorite things about fiction is its ability to build new worlds, ones which we (literally) can’t access in our everyday lives. Magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy all construct their own unique realities in different ways. It may seem like it would be easy to distinguish these genres, but the lines are not as clear as you might think. We love the way that these genres are working their way into popular “literary” fiction. We think that’s all the more reason to take a close look at how magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy differ from one another.

Imagination Concept

Magical Realism – Magical realist fiction takes place in a world that resembles our own, except for the introduction of a magical element, which cannot be explained by the conventions of our reality. For example, Aimee Bender’s novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is about a girl whose life is realistic in every way, except that she can taste the feelings of the chef in the foods that she eats. Ramona Ausubel’s story “Chest of Drawers” is another great example. In it, a husband whose wife is pregnant is envious of her ability to create life. The only unreal element of this story is that a set of drawers materializes in the husband’s chest. The joy is in seeing this magical element play out against a very real backdrop, such as the moment when the wife asks her husband to carry her lipstick in one of his chest-drawers at a party. Magical realism is often associated with Latin American literature and of course Gabriel García Márquez’s name looms large over the genre. Magical realism is infused into the world of his circular, spellbinding novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. In one powerful instance, yellow flowers fall from the sky, in mourning, it seems, for a powerful character’s death. Magical realism is becoming increasingly popular in contemporary American fiction, as well, and we could not be more thrilled about this.

Science Fiction – Science fiction also describes altered worlds, but in this case the elements that differ from our current reality are explained by developments in science. Karen Russell’s novella Sleep Donation, for example, takes place in a world in which insomnia has become an epidemic with no cure. Insomnia is treated as a scientific phenomenon: people can donate their sleep in hours, a process that is described clinically; nurses at the sleep banks can literally smell the sleep streaming out of the donors. This novella has sometimes been classified as magical realism, perhaps because other works of Karen Russell’s fall into that genre. But, because all of the unreal elements of Sleep Donation’s world are explained by the (hypothetical) workings of science, it falls into the camp of science fiction. Another hugely popular author whose work contains elements of sci-fi is George Saunders. In his story “Escape from Spiderhead,” for example, inmates are administered drips that contain concoctions capable of making them fall in and out of love. And, of course, TV shows and movies like Star Trek and Interstellar, that imagine futures in which new levels of space travel are possible, fall into the sci-fi category as well. While genre definitions are helpful, genre lines are not absolutes. For example, a story could have elements of both magical realism and science fiction.