Writer’s Glossary, Part III: The Business of Writing

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

This is the third installment in the ongoing Writer’s Glossary series. Part I covered Elements of Fiction Construction and Part II covered Genres, Subgenres and Supergenres.

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

People:

Elements:

  • Hook: the opening sentence or sentences that involve a reader. A narrative hook may be found in a novel. The hook of a query letter is a single sentence that intrigues the recipient.
  • Synopsis: shares what the work is about, including the major characters and plot points (including the ending). Synopses can vary in length. Some synopses should be two or three paragraphs; some should be two or three pages. Synopses are most often used in query letters. (See: 10 Secrets Of A Synopsis That Sells)
  • Pitch: usually a single paragraph, a pitch is used to “sell” a novel to an agent or publisher. Pitches are often spoken synopses and allow for flexibility as they’re a form of verbal communication. Include the opening conflict, the journey and the opposition. Pitches come in handy at conferences and other face-to-face interactions with agents or publishers. (See: Your First Writers Conference: A Guided Tour)
  • Query: a letter (increasingly in e-mail form) asking an agent or publisher if there would be interest in reading a full manuscript. Query letters generally include a synopsis, contact information, and a brief biography, including publishing credits (if any), a.k.a. “backlist.” Every agent is different and many are strict about what to include in (and exclude from) a query. (See: The short, sweet guide to writing query letters)
  • Cover letter: accompanies a submission, including contact information and a brief biography. Summarizing this story or poem is not always necessary; check the submission guidelines of the publication. (See: Please and Thank You: The Purpose of a Cover Letter)

Word count standards:

These vary by publication but this is a basic guideline. Always check on the expectation of word count with the publication. For example, Toasted Cheese has a maximum word count of 500 words for flash, 5000 words for fiction.

  • Micro-Fiction: up to 100 words
  • Flash Fiction: 100 – 1,000 words
  • Short Story: 1,000 – 7,500 words
  • Novellette: 7,500 – 20,000 words
  • Novella: 20,000 – 50,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 -110,000
  • Epics: Over 110,000 words

Submissions:

(See: Five Quick Tips for Getting Your Story Published )

  • Page Counts: industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page (ex: a 400-page novel = 100,000 words)
  • Simultaneous submission: a single piece sent to several publications at once
  • Multiple submission: more than one piece sent to a single publication at once
  • Slush pile: a collection of unsolicited manuscripts
  • Lede/lead: the introductory sentence; this term is most often used in journalism
  • Byline: a printed line giving the author’s name
  • WIP: Work-in-progress
  • Manuscript: the raw copy
  • (Un)solicited manuscript: When someone asks you for your manuscript, either via your query or other means, it becomes a “solicited manuscript.” Otherwise, it is “unsolicited.”
  • Partial: A portion of a manuscript. The length varies. Standard is up to 25 pages or perhaps up to 10,000 words, likely less. Partials are usually requested or you will be given other indication as to what the length of your partial should be.
  • Pseudonym: a false name under which an author’s work is published/credited

Rights:

  • Copyright: the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.; as a verb “copyright” means “to secure a copyright.” Copyright is automatically created with the creation of the work. (See: Automatically Yours: Introduction to Copyright)
  • First Rights: the right to be first to publish the material in either a particular medium or a particular location
  • FNASR: “First North American Serial Rights.” When submitting a piece for publication, the author sells or gives the publication the right to be the first in North America to publish the material once. Unless the author grants other rights or licenses as well, all copyright to that material reverts to the author.
  • First American rights: the right to publish a piece first within the United States
  • First Canadian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Canada
  • First British rights: the right to publish a piece first within Britain
  • First Australian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Australia
  • First World English rights: The right to be the first in the entire English-speaking world to publish the piece including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US (including FNASR)
  • One-time rights: the publication is purchasing the right to print the piece once and only once (not necessarily first)
  • Reprint Rights, or Second Serial rights: the right to print as a reprint
  • Nonexclusive Reprint Rights: the right to sell reprint rights to the same piece to more than one publication, even at the same time
  • Anthology Rights: the right to publish a piece in a collection or anthology, often as a reprint
  • Translation Rights: the right to print the piece in a non-English language
  • Excerpt Rights: the right to use excerpts from the piece in other instances (example: an educational environment, such as a standardized test)
  • First Electronic Rights or First World Electronic Rights: the right to be the first to publish the piece on the Internet, via e-mail, as a downloadable file or program, on CD or tape, etc. FER/FWER are negotiated separately from other First Rights like FNASR.
  • Archival Rights: the right to archive or make archived works available on the Web
  • All Rights: the author remains nominally the copyright holder but without economic rights left to exploit including reprints, anthologizing, electronic publishing and further sales without further remuneration
  • Moral Rights: include the right of attribution and the right to the integrity of the work; generally, moral rights cannot be assigned to another party like economic rights can, but they can be waived
  • Work for Hire rights: “work for hire” rights apply to writing done within the scope of employment (such as a newspaper journalist or textbook writer) wherein the actual copyright belongs to the employer
  • Exclusive rights: the publisher asks that the piece not appear anywhere else while they are exercising their right to it, usually a set period of time
  • Nonexclusive rights: the piece may be displayed, published, copied, transmitted, etc. elsewhere while under right.

Publishing:

  • Print Run: a batch of copies of a book, produced by the same single set-up of the print equipment
  • Lead time: the time between the undertaking and completion of a project. For example, the lead time on a newspaper article would be from the assignment of the story until the print deadline.
  • Advance: payment given in anticipation of the completion of a project
  • Royalty: a percentage of sales given to the creator of the work (i.e. the author)
  • Self-publication: the publication of material by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher, vanity presses, or print on demand (POD). Many authors began or continued their literary careers as self-publishers.
  • Vanity Press (a.k.a. “subsidy” or “joint venture” presses): appealing to the “vanity” of authors, these publishers make the majority of their money from fees charged authors rather than from sales, paying little to no attention to quality of the work or of the published product
  • POD: Print on Demand, a form of technology that allows small print runs of media. Unlike vanity presses, POD publishers generally have connections to booksellers and have a reputation for creating quality finished products but also pay little attention to the quality of the content. Sales and fees are both sources of income for POD publishers. (See: Publishing and Print-on-Demand: What POD is, what it isn’t, and when it might be right for you)
  • ARC: Advance Review Copy; a type of galley
  • Galley: an unformatted version of a manuscript, usually distributed for review purposes
  • ISBN: International Standard Book Number. Defined by ISBN.org as a way to “establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.”

Bookstores:

  • Sell-through: the percentage ratio of the number of copies produced/sold to the number of copies returned to the publisher for credit. Basically supply and demand.
  • Modeled: A book is “modeled” when it remains available in a store, typically on the shelf. “In line” generally refers to a store’s available stock, including their warehouses or possibly other locations. So while the book might not have a full table of copies near the door, a single copy available for purchase on a shelf in its genre section means it’s “modeled.”
  • Remainder: a book no longer selling well, reduced for sale by the publisher, distributor or bookseller and marked in a distinctive way (usually with a felt marker slashmark on the page edges near the spine)
  • Stripped book: a mass market paperback stripped of its cover and meant to be pulped or recycled. The covers are returned to the publisher as evidence that the book has been destroyed although “stripped books” may not always be pulped
  • Chapbook: a small, pocket-sized book, usually with a flexible cover (of cloth or paper). Most often chapbooks are collections of poetry although they may also contain short stories or other creative media, usually with a unifying theme.
  • Zine: a small circulation publication usually created by hand instead of by a press; cost of creation usually exceeds profit. (See: Been There, Zine That)

Final Poll Results

Writer’s Glossary, Part II: Genres, Subgenres and Supergenres

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Part two of our “Writer’s Glossary” series concerns what we write, specifically genre. The examples given are by no means all-inclusive but are designed to give an overview of genre, subgenre and supergenre. This article is meant to answer general questions about genre and to inspire exploration of new-to-you themes, character motivations, settings and more. If you’d like to talk about additional genres, subgenres or supergenres, join the discussion on Just the Place For A Snark or create a new discussion on our genre board.

The liquidity of genre allows for hybrids of any kind the writer can imagine. Think of genre as banks that guide the river of your story as it goes along, maybe merge with other rivers to create vivid new bodies of work, branching off in new directions or staying a central course. For ideas of melding genre or exploring new-to-you genres, try our A Pen In Each Hand exercises that accompany this article.

Click here for more information on any of the books mentioned in this article.

Writer's Glossary, Part II

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).


Genre: the style, form or content of the work. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Adventure: Physical danger and risk are main themes with strong focus on the hero’s actions.
    • Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Hoot
  • Biography: An account of someone’s life (an account of the author’s life is an autobiography).
    • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Theodore Rex, Lulu In Hollywood
  • Comic books: features a story told using art as visual narrative and relying more heavily on dialogue.
    • Seduction of the Innocent, The Killing Joke, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
  • Creative non-fiction (CNF): Uses literary technique to tell a true story (compare to journalistic writing); when the story follows a fiction-like arc, it is sometimes called “narrative nonfiction.”
    • Coming Into The Country, The Accidental Buddhist
  • Crime: Criminal activity, motive and detection are main themes.
    • The Big Sleep, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Get Shorty
  • Diary / journal / personal weblog writing: Meant as a method of personal reflection, often only available to the author.
    • The Diary of Anne Frank, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery
  • Epic: Action takes place over a long period of time, centered on a heroic character or group of characters and exceptional events. Compare to epic poetry.
    • The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), War and Peace
  • Erotica: Uses literary technique to tell a story with action centered on sexual arousal and activity.
    • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Story of O, Delta of Venus
  • Essay: “A literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything, usually on a certain topic. By tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece”[1] Essays may be non-literary, such as photo-essays. Narrative essays use literary techniques like arcs and transitions (compare with academic essays).
    • Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim, James Baldwin: Collected Essays
  • Fan fiction (fanfic): Uses established characters to tell original stories not written by the creator of the characters.
    • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
  • Fantasy: Uses magic and supernaturalism as central to the plot and setting. Compare to science fiction and horror.
    • The Wizard of Oz, The Mists of Avalon, The Hobbit, The Earthsea novels
  • Horror: Uses literary techniques to frighten, unsettle or horrify the audience; employs macabre and/or supernatural themes. Compare with fantasy and science fiction.
    • Dracula, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Frankenstein
  • Journalism: Conveys news without opinion. News conveyed with opinion is “editoral journalism” or “op-ed.”
    • The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008, The Best Newspaper Writing series
  • Literary fiction (lit fic): Character-driven—this story could only happen to the characters in it—often appealing to a narrower readership than mainstream fiction but is not aimed at any specific audience.
    • The Great Gatsby, Beloved, The Corrections
  • Literary realism: Everyday activity and experience are central to the story.
    • Middlemarch, Sister Carrie, The Jungle
  • Mainstream fiction: Closely identified with literary realism, mainstream fiction appeals to a general audience and is plot-driven—the action of the story could happen to any character—as opposed to character-driven (literary fiction). Mainstream fiction may coexist in a single work along with another genre.
    • The DaVinci Code, The Lovely Bones, The Poisonwood Bible
  • Memoir: Differs from autobiography in that autobiography is an overview of the subject’s life whereas memoir is focused on certain aspects of the subjects personality or experience.
    • On Writing, The Glass Castle, Wild Swans, Running With Scissors, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper
  • Romance: Main theme is the growth of romantic love between two main characters, with an upbeat ending. Sexual activity is less graphically described and intrinsic to the plot than in erotica. “Category romances” or “series romances” are shorter and rotate out of print at a faster rate than “single-title romances.” Specific guidelines about word count, shelf life, etc. vary by publisher; generally category romance runs 60,000 words or less.
    • The Flame and the Flower, Daddy, Sweet Starfire, A Knight In Shining Armor
  • Science fiction: Uses imaginary yet possible elements as aspects of the plot or setting, such as space or time travel, alternate timelines or dimensions, psionics or technology. Compare to fantasy and horror.
    • The Handmaid’s Tale, The Time Machine, The Man in the High Castle, Starship Troopers, The Road
  • Speculative fiction (spec fic): Explores new/imagined worlds that are unlike the real world, generally an umbrella genre for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. Slipstream: combines spec fic and mainstream/lit fic. For examples, see entries for cited genres.

Subgenre: more specific distinction within the genre. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

Action subgenre examples:

  • Western: set in the American frontier (usually west of the Mississippi River), often with an antihero as a main character.
    • Lonesome Dove, The Leatherstocking Tales, Riders of the Purple Sage, No Country For Old Men
  • “Space Westerns” are spec fic pieces that use “western” themes and characters but are set in space or in alternate worlds.
    • Time Enough For Love, the TV shows Star Trek and Firefly
  • Thriller: Uses action and fast pacing to thrill the audience. The hero’s journey climaxes with his defeat of the villain (compare to mystery).
    • The Bourne Identity, Lazarus Strain

Comic book subgenre examples:

  • Graphic novels: a type of comic book using narrative and dialogue more like traditional novels.
    • Watchmen, The Sandman series, Maus, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  • Manga: Japanese comics, which may be any genre and are often published as serials. Manga outside Japan may be written in any language but the art maintains a strong Japanese aesthetic; manga translates to “whimsical pictures.”
    • Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Ronin, The Dirty Pair, Oh My Goddess

Erotica or fan fiction subgenre example:

  • Slash: fan fiction that depicts romantic/sexual homosexual relationships. Slash is almost always between two male characters; the terms “femslash” and “saffic” have come into use to distinguish slash fiction about female characters.

Crime subgenre example:

  • Mystery: Plot is a puzzle to be solved by reader and protagonist; climaxes with the solution of the crime (compare to thriller).
    • A is for Alibi, Murder On the Orient Express, the Nancy Drew series, The Maltese Falcon

Horror subgenre examples:

  • Gothic: Combines elements of horror (the supernatural, the grotesque, etc.) and romance to create suspense.
    • Wuthering Heights, The Shining, Rebecca
  • Southern gothic: Uses the same devices to explore social issues rather than to create suspense. The setting is usually (but not always) the American south.
    • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Wise Blood, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Green Mile
  • Paranormal: uses ghosts, hauntings and other supernatural elements.
    • Carrie, Interview With The Vampire, The Shining, The Amityville Horror

Journalism subgenre examples:

  • New journalism: movement in the 1960s for journalism using literary techniques. Compare to “creative nonfiction” today.
    • In Cold Blood, The Right Stuff
  • Gonzo journalism: subjective journalistic reporting using a first person narrator and blends fact and fiction, favoring style over accuracy.
    • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Paper Lion

Sci-fi subgenre examples:

  • Hard SF: emphasizes scientific detail; hard science (chemistry, physics, etc.) is intrinsic to the story.
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Ringworld series
  • Soft SF: emphasizes character, emotion and story; sciences intrinsic to the story are generally social sciences (sociology, economics, etc.).
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Dystopian/utopian: Setting is an alternate society, either ideal (utopia) or nightmarish (dystopia), that serves to reflect elements of contemporary society.
    • Gulliver’s Travels, Brave New World, The Time Machine, V For Vendetta
  • Steampunk: Set in a time when steam power is still used, often in Victorian England; may additionally use alternate history.
    • The Difference Engine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Cyberpunk: Combines cybernetics and technology with societal breakdown, often in a “near-future” time period.
    • Necromancer, Blade Runner, Trouble And Her Friends
  • Alternate history: plot concerns a deviation in actual history that creates an alternate society.
    • Men Like Gods, The Man In The High Castle, Night Watch
  • Apocalyptic/post-Apocalyptic: explores “end of the world” scenarios and society.
    • The Last Man, The Road, The Stand, Oryx and Crake

Fantasy subgenre examples:

  • Dark fantasy: combines fantasy and horror.
    • Coraline, Imaro, The Vampire Chronicles
  • High Fantasy: an entire imagined world at stake. Compare to S&S and Epic.
    • His Dark Materials, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Low Fantasy: uses the real world as a setting but adds supernatural elements.
    • The Borrowers, The Indian in the Cupboard, Pippi Longstocking
  • Note: The Harry Potter novels and The Chronicles of Narnia combine low and high fantasy. The “world within a world” of these series is high fantasy, with an entire world at stake, but the frame of the stories is low fantasy; the high fantasy world is entered through a portal in the real world.
  • Sword/sorcery (S&S): combines adventure and personal stakes. Compare to high fantasy.
    • Sword and Sorceress, Conan the Barbarian
  • Urban fantasy: set in real world contemporary urban society; cities may be real or imagined.
    • War For the Oaks, Dreams Underfoot, The Heir Trilogy

Romance subgenre examples: Note: romance has many subgenres, most of which are hybrids with other genres (ex: paranormal romance, mystery romance); these are fairly self-explanatory.

  • Contemporary: set after 1945.
    • A Love Of My Own, Perfect Match, The Trouble With Valentines Day
  • Historical: set before 1945 and includes many subgenres (ex: Regency romance)
    • Dedication, The Ruby Ghost, November of the Heart, Company of Rogues series

Some subgenres can be found under any genre. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Comedy: uses humor to amuse the reader and has an upbeat ending. Dark/black comedy utilizes taboo subjects for humor (ex: death, rape, war, disease). Blue comedy utilizes crude or sexual topics or risqué language.
    • A Confederacy of Dunces, Summer Lightning, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slaughterhouse Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Discworld novels
  • Coming of age (found most often in YA, mainstream and literary fiction): concerns the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
    • The Catcher In The Rye, The Secret Life of Bees, Treasure Island
  • Historical fiction: Attention is paid to historical detail and accuracy and may utilize historical figures or situations.
    • Ivanhoe, A Tale of Two Cities, The Remains of the Day, The Outlander series
  • Pomo: “post-modern”—after 1945—often parodies the “modernist” movement, which employs literary realism. Pomo is likely to use metafiction and magical realism.
    • Howl, Naked Lunch, Catch-22, Fight Club
  • Metafiction: the conscious address of fiction devices within the work.
    • Misery, Wicked, From Hell, Atonement, Slaughterhouse Five
  • Magical realism: illogical action or settings juxtaposed with real world action or settings; originated in Latin American and Spanish literature.
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude, The House of the Spirits
  • Satire: “Artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.”[2] Satire often employs humor.
    • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, The Discworld series.
  • Tragedy: dramatizes human suffering—which could be avoided by different choices by the characters rather than external influence—with a downbeat ending, often the death of the protagonist and other principal characters.
    • King Lear, Hamlet, Phaedra, Antigone, The Crucible
  • Transgressional: Features characters who live outside the mainstream of normal society and often deals with taboo subjects.
    • American Psycho, Naked Lunch, Trainspotting

Supergenre: based on intended demographic rather than the work itself. This is a relatively new term and not yet widely used. Works in a supergenre may be part of a genre as well, such as horror, biography or sci-fi. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Children’s literature (kid lit): Targeted at readers age 12 or younger, Often divided into the following categories:
    • Picture books (ages 0–5)
      • The Big Red Barn, Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
    • Early Reader Books (age 5–7)
      • The Dick and Jane series, Where The Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat
    • Short chapter books (ages 7–9)
      • The Winnie the Pooh series, The Little Bear series, the Fancy Nancy series
    • Longer chapter books (middle grade novels) (ages 9–12)
      • Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Heidi, Coraline, the Little House series, the Goosebumps series, the Heir Chronicles, the Harry Potter series
  • Young adult literature (YA): Targeted at teenaged readers.
    • The House On Mango Street, The Outsiders, Forever, the Twilight series, the Uglies series
  • Chick lit: Targeted at women (increasingly including teens), usually light in tone and often humorous.
    • Good In Bed, The Shopaholic series, Trust Me, Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Christian lit: Targeted at Christian readers, religious faith is intrinsic to the plot, themes and characters.
    • The Left Behind series, The Purpose Driven Life

Societal, political and personal constructs and experience are explored in several genres. In addition to major genres, this fiction may also be subcategorized according to the sex, race, ethnic identity or country of origin of the author. These works are not targeted at any specific audience and are not compromised by the primary genre under which they are categorized. Within the examples cited above, you will find feminist, African-American, Chicano, LGBT and similar subcategorizations.


[1] Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays, “Preface”
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica: Satire

Final Poll Results

Writer’s Glossary, Part I: Elements of Fiction Construction

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Welcome to the first of Toasted Cheese’s new “Writer’s Glossary” series.

This article defines elements of fiction construction (characters and story elements). These are some of the most common storytelling elements, ones that writers and readers use when speaking about the story. If you don’t know what an editor meant when she said “the narrative didn’t work for me” or “I enjoyed the relationship between the nemesis and the antagonist,” this article might be the resource you’ve been hoping to find. Of course this glossary is not all-inclusive but it should give you a good foundation for you to perform further research.

The second Writer’s Glossary is scheduled for October 2009 and will be about the business of writing and publishing.

Writer's Glossary, Part I

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

People in the Story

Narrator: the voice within the work telling the story.

  • Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby
  • Holden Caulfield, The Catcher In the Rye
  • Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Chief Bromden, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Unreliable narrator: a narrator whose credibility is compromised.
    • Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
    • Dr. James Sheppard, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Protagonist: the main character.

  • Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind
  • Jake Barnes, The Sun Also Rises
  • Celie, The Color Purple
  • Hero: a protagonist who faces and overcomes extraordinary challenges.
    • Harry Potter, the Harry Potter series
    • Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings
  • False protagonist: a character who seems to be the protagonist until he is disposed of and a new protagonist takes over.
    • Bernard Marx, Brave New World (new protagonists: Helmholtz Watson, John)
    • Mary Crane, Psycho (new protagonist: Norman Bates)

Antagonist: a main character (or group) working against the protagonist.

  • Mister, The Color Purple
  • Randall Flag, The Stand
  • Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Villain: a main character who works in opposition to a hero.
    • Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series
    • Sauron in The Lord of the Rings
    • Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs
  • Nemesis: A character who creates trouble for the protagonist but is not necessarily opposed to his goals.
    • Fagin, Oliver Twist
    • Gollum, The Hobbit, The Two Towers and Return of the King
    • Severus Snape, the Harry Potter series.

Foil: a character whose contrast with another character, usually the protagonist, underscores aspects of the other character’s personality. The characteristics they share are often superficial, such as appearance or a shared history.

  • In Hamlet, Laertes acts as a foil to Hamlet in that both men experience the loss of their fathers via murder (Polonius by Hamlet and King Hamlet by Claudius, respectively) but while Hamlet has spent the play deciding what to do to avenge his father, Laertes acts immediately by challenging Hamlet to a duel, underscoring Hamlet’s indecision.

Archetype: a generalization about individuals as created and reflected by the whole of a culture.

  • Father/Mother Figure (Sirius Black/Molly Weasley, The Harry Potter series)
  • Trickster (Peeves the Poltergeist, The Harry Potter series)
  • Mentor (Remus Lupin, The Harry Potter series)

Stereotype: a generalization about a group of people, which varies among cultures often based on prejudice. Common stereotypes tend to be applied to ethnic, racial or economic groups or classes.

Stock character: more narrowly defined than archetypes, stock characters can act as shorthand for an author to introduce a character about whom the reader already has an expectation or knowledge.

  • The hooker with the heart of gold, the ugly duckling or the “redshirt” (i.e. an expendable character who appears only to be eliminated, referring to the red shirts worn by undeveloped Star Trek characters who appeared as part of the crew for away missions during which they would be killed).

 

Elements of the Story

Narrative: the telling of the events of the story by the narrator; the way in which the narrator communicates the story to the reader

Prose: a free form writing style which uses full sentences and paragraphs, reflective of everyday language.

Voice: the unique way in which a writer uses elements like syntax (word order), character development, plot structure, etc.

Plot: The main sequence of events. (See also.)

  • Subplot:a secondary storyline, usually involving secondary characters
  • Plot hole: a gap in the logic established by the story
  • Plot device: an element introduced in order to move the story forward. Examples include deus ex machina or a MacGuffin.
    • Deus ex machina: literally “God from the machine” – an unexpected event which serves to alter action in the story or solve conflict
    • MacGuffin: an object that is not as important as the motivation of the characters to acquire it. Examples include the Maltese Falcon or the “papers of transit” in the film Casablanca.

Act: a unit of the overall story. There are usually three acts: the first act establishes character, place and scenario, the second introduces and perpetuates conflict and the third includes the climax and dénouement (ending). Acts tend to take up ¼, ½ and ¼ of the story respectively.

Pace: the rate of flow for the action.

Theme: an idea or message conveyed in the work, usually conveyed in an abstract way. Themes may be simple or complex and there may be several minor themes in addition to a main theme in a long work.

Atmosphere: the mood of the story

Symbolism: something in your story used to evoke something else. Symbolism may be cultural/universal or contextual/authorial.

Tone: the feel of the work.

  • serious, humorous, sarcastic, playful, etc.

Cliché: a saying or expression that is so common it lacks substantial meaning.

  • cuts like a knife
  • thick as pea soup

Dialogue/dialog: words spoken by characters; written conversations.

Dialect: speech patterns, determined by factors like region or social class, including vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar.

Flashback: shifts the action of the story to a previous point in time and then back to current action.

Foreshadowing: hinting at an event which will come later in the story.

Frame: “surrounds” the main story as a narrative technique that provides context for the story within.

  • Frankenstein
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Turn of the Screw

Metaphor/simile: connects seemingly unrelated objects (simile uses “like” or “as” to accomplish this). Specific metaphor types include:

  • allegory: an extended metaphor that illustrates an important attribute of the subject
  • catachresis: mixed metaphor, one that connects two disparate identifications (ex: While looking for the needle in the haystack, make sure you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater)
  • parable: extended metaphor that teaches a moral lesson

Persona: usually refers to a unifying force throughout a book, linking different situations and narratives and guiding the reader through the work, sometimes subtly suggesting conclusions or opinions the reader should have about characters or situations, in the opinion of the author. The persona is not the same as the narrator.

  • Authors who have used regularly personas include James Joyce (Ulysses) , William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying) and Charles Dickens.

Exposition: Opening narrative used to orient readers in the story.

Rising action: Narrative leading up to the climax.

Crisis: a turning point; a moment of decision; there may be several crises in long works of fiction or drama.

  • Celie standing up to and leaving Mister, The Color Purple
  • Janie shoots Tea Cake, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Climax: The height of action, the ultimate crisis or turning point where several elements combine to create “fireworks” (even though the climax may be a quiet moment with little action).

  • The fight over Daisy, between Tom and Gatsby, The Great Gatsby
  • Holden gives his red hunting hat to Phoebe, The Catcher In The Rye

Falling action: Narrative following the climax, leading to the dénouement.

Dénouement: the resolution of the plot (sometimes called “catastrophe” in tragedy).

Catharsis: purification, cleansing or purging, often symbolic in literature.

  • Brutus’s death in Julius Caesar
  • Gatsby’s body floating in the pool, The Great Gatsby

POV: Point of view. Point of view is either first person (“I” or “we”), second person (narrative voice addresses the reader as “you”) or third person (calls characters by name). Third-person POV may be limited (action shown through one character) or omniscient (action may be shown through any character’s experiences).

  • First person POV: Rebecca; The Great Gatsby
  • Second Person POV: Bright Lights, Big City
  • Third person limited POV: Harry Potter series
  • Third person omniscient POV: The Lord of the Rings

Narrative mode: encompasses POV and includes elements like stream of consciousness or the reliability of the narrator

Sequel/prequel: The events of a sequel fall after the events in a previous work. The events of a prequel come before the events of the previous work.

  • The Silence of the Lambs (sequel to Red Dragon).
  • The Magician’s Nephew (prequel to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, both part of The Chronicles of Narnia).

Info dump: A chunk of information, usually exposition, not integrated into the story, usually superfluous to the action

AYKB: “As you know, Bob…” Implausible dialogue often used to explain something to the reader that the characters already know; an “info dump” disguised as dialogue. Here are some examples from Dracula:

“It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?” She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally, she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. –Bram Stoker, Dracula, Ch 1

When all was ready, Van Helsing said, “Before we do anything, let me tell you this. It is out of the lore and experience of the ancients and of all those who have studied the powers of the Un-Dead. When they become such, there comes with the change the curse of immortality. They cannot die, but must go on age after age adding new victims and multiplying the evils of the world. For all that die from the preying of the Un-dead become themselves Un-dead, and prey on their kind. And so the circle goes on ever widening, like as the ripples from a stone thrown in the water. Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die, or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern Europe, and would for all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have filled us with horror. The career of this so unhappy dear lady is but just begun. Those children whose blood she sucked are not as yet so much the worse, but if she lives on, Un-Dead, more and more they lose their blood and by her power over them they come to her, and so she draw their blood with that so wicked mouth. But if she die in truth, then all cease. The tiny wounds of the throats disappear, and they go back to their play unknowing ever of what has been. But of the most blessed of all, when this now Un-Dead be made to rest as true dead, then the soul of the poor lady whom we love shall again be free. Instead of working wickedness by night and growing more debased in the assimilating of it by day, she shall take her place with the other Angels.” –Bram Stoker, Dracula, Ch 16

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