When I first started trying to write fiction, about the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to tell a story. I had no idea what the basic rules for writing were, so I broke them all. I also came across many words and terms related to writing that remained undefined for a long time. As time passed, I started honing the craft and the terminology that goes with it. I’m still learning the craft today, but once a term is defined, it rarely changes. To help those that are just getting their feet wet in this wacky business of making stuff up in a dark room staring at a monitor and talking to imaginary people, here are a few terms that I wish someone would have defined for me back in the day. Hope there’s one here that you’ve wondered about but never knew for sure. Or maybe two or three. So let’s come to terms with writing terms.
Concept: A vague notion such as: A world ruled by apes.
High Concept: Usually verges on the outrageous or bigger-than-life “world” story such as: A world ruled by apes where humans are the subspecies.
Idea: A story description that sounds more like a short synopsis.
Premise: Similar to an idea, the premise is a one- or two-sentence reply to the question: “What is your story about?”
Genre: Categories of fiction (suspense, science fiction, horror, romance, etc.) that help create inherent expectations for the reader. Each genre will predetermine your basic story structure.
Mystery: Usually begins with an event and spends the rest of the story finding who caused it.
Thriller: Usually begins with the threat of an event and spends the rest of the story trying to stop it.
Plot: A series of events that determine the beginning, middle and end of a story.
Subplot(s): A secondary series of events that contribute to the main plot and characters.
Commercial Fiction: Plots that generally deal with externally driven characters and conflicts.
Literary Fiction: Plots that generally deal with internally driven characters and conflicts.
Plot Driven: A story that relies heavily on a series of events to push the characters forward.
Character Driven: A story that relies heavily on the characters to push the plot forward.
Story Question: A global question posed early in the story that intrigues the reader enough to keep reading. The story question signals to the reader when the story will end.
Theme: What the story says about the human condition.
Moral: A life lesson taught or insinuated at the conclusion of a story.
Suspense: Creates a desire in the reader for something to happen, delays the satisfaction of that desire, then delivers what the reader wants in an anticipated yet unexpected manner. Suspense is used to keep the reader wanting to read more.
Conflict: Conflict is the basic difference of goals between the protagonist and antagonist.
Foreshadow: The delivery of small hints about what’s going to happen later in the novel, and is used to heighten suspense.
Telegraphing: Revealing too much too soon. Telegraphing can diminish or destroy suspense.
Query Letter: A one- or two-page business letter to an agent or editor that serves as an introduction and selling tool for the writer and story.
Elevator Pitch: Similar to the premise, the elevator pitch is a short summary of the story that is meant to attract the attention of an agent or editor.
Copy Editor: An editor who addresses such story elements as word choice, plot points, paragraph flow, clichés and style issues. The copy editor will also point out a need for clarification and possible plot mistakes.
Line Editor: An editor who deals with the rules of grammar and punctuation along with addressing such issues as passive voice and formatting.
Acquisition Editor: an editor who reviews submitted manuscripts for possible purchase and publications. The acquisition editor also deals with global issues that might need addressing before the manuscript is accepted.
This is by no means a complete list of writing terminology. Additional lists can be compiled dealing with terms about publishing contracts, marketing, and so many other topics. So, Kill-Zoners, is there a term and definition you would like to contribute to today’s discussion? Perhaps a term you would like defined. Now’s your chance to come to terms.