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Writer's Glossary

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Below are listed terms and their definitions associated with Writing. Currently, the SF critique lexicon is the working source for this glossary.


1st person

See first person

2nd-order idiot plot

See second-order idiot plot

2nd person

See second person

3rd person

See third person

3-act structure

See three-act structure

7-point plot

See seven-point plot

10,000 hour rule

The 10,000 hour rule is a statement that it requires approximately 10,000 hours of real work (study, practice, etc.) to become an expert in something. (e)


abbess phone home

Takes its name from a mainstream story about a medieval cloister which was sold as SF because of the serendipitous arrival of a UFO at the end. By extension, any mainstream story with a gratuitous SF or fantasy element tacked on so it could be sold. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Also see Slipstream (e)


Action-adventure fiction, appealing mainly to male readers, feature physical action and violence, often around a quest or military-style mission set in exotic or forbidding locales such as jungles, deserts, or mountains. The conflict typically involves commandos, mercenaries, terrorists, smugglers, pirates, and the like. Stories include elements of technology, weapons, and other hardware. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)

action outline

Action outline presents the plot and conflicts with little regard for staging. The writer is describing a world idea, not telling the story. An action outline is a synopsis of a book not yet written; it is a precursor to a scene outline. (Original source: ) (e)

Adam and Eve story

Nauseatingly common subset of the "Shaggy God Story" in which a terrible apocalypse, spaceship crash, etc., leaves two survivors, man and woman, who turn out to be Adam and Eve, parents of the human race!! (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


Any word that describes or modifies a noun. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A word which modifies or describes a verb. Typically, adverbs end in "ly." (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

affect the reader

Affecting the reader is the ultimate goal of writing (barring therapeutic writing, of course). Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, the writer wants to influence the reader, to create an emotional or intellectual response.(Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

agent (literary)

Template:Agent (literary) (e)


AM/FM is an engineer's term distinguishing the inevitable clunky real-world faultiness of "Actual Machines" from the power-fantasy techno-dreams of "Fucking Magic." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


An anachronism is an event, concept, person, object, technology, or word / phrase / idiom set in the wrong historical period. (e)

and plot

Picaresque plot in which this happens, and then that happens, and then something else happens, and it all adds up to nothing in particular. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


An antagonist (from Greek ἀνταγωνιστής - antagonistēs, "opponent, competitor, enemy, rival", from anti- "against" + agonizesthai "to contend for a prize,")[1] is a character, group of characters, or institution that represents the opposition against which the protagonist or protagonists must contend. In other words, an antagonist is a person or a group of people who oppose the main character(s).[2] -- (Source: Antagonist at Wikipedia ) (e)

"As you know Bob"

"As you know Bob" is a pernicious form of infodump through dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very common technique is also known as "Rod and Don dialogue" (attr. Damon Knight) or "maid and butler dialogue" (attr. Algis Budrys). (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

at stake

Drama is powerful if something is at stake: that is, if the characters involved have something to gain and something to lose. The reader must have something at stake as well -- a desire to see the outcome. Usually this is either a stake in the theme, in the characters and their aspirations, or in the resolution of the conflict. When nothing is at stake, there is no drama. (Jim Morrow) (Original source: ) (e)

atmosphere (literature)

Atmosphere (or mood (literature)) is a literary element that evokes certain feelings in a reader using one or more aspects of the work, such as setting, word choice, sentence structure, imagery, figurative devices, repetition, metaphors, or allusions. (e)


A writer who has been published. As (arbitrarily) distinguished from a writer. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

authorial laziness

Authorial laziness is when the writer cuts corners. This typically leads to cheating the reader. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

author surrogate

An author surrogate (or writer surrogate) is a character who acts as the writer's spokesman. Sometimes the character may intentionally or unintentionally be an idealized version of the writer. A well known variation is the Mary Sue or Gary Stu (i.e. self-insertion). (Source: literary technique at Wikipedia ) (Source: author surrogate at Wikipedia )
A character whom the writer, consciously or unconsciously, models after himself. Such characters (e.g. Jubal Harshaw, Stranger in a Strange Land) often dominate the story when they should not, or acquire too many positive attributes, too few faults. Author surrogates often hog the point of view to the detriment of other characters. See Mary Sue. (Original source: ) (e)


Authorism is an inappropriate intrusion of the writer's physical surroundings, mannerisms, or prejudices into the narrative. Overtly, characters pour cups of coffee whenever they're thinking, because that's what the writer does. More subtly, characters sit around doing nothing but complaining that they don't know what to do ... because the writer doesn't know either. (Tom Disch) (Original source: ) (e)


backfill (writing)

Backfill is the process of providing background in the storyline flow, rather than in a prolog. Many devices are available: flashback, incluing, lecture (generally static and to be avoided), dream sequence, explanation to an ignorant character (beware of the "as you know Bob"). A subset of Exposition. (Original source: ) (e)


The background of a story is the combination history and context that supports or deepens the setting and/or provides a backdrop for the action. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


In narratology, a backstory (also back story or back-story) is part of the background or history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This literary device is often employed to lend the main story depth or verisimilitude. A back-story may include the history of characters, objects, countries (see Worldbuilding) or other elements of the main story. Back-stories are usually revealed, sketchily or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a writer may also create portions of a backstory or even an entire backstory that is solely for his or her own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story. (Source: back-story at Wikipedia ) (Updated by: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

bait and switch (writing)

Bait and switch is when a writer encourages the reader to invest attention in a developing emotional or suspenseful situation ('bait'), only to substitute ('switch') a high-action payoff which has nothing to do with the previous development, or a POV cut so that the expected climax is unresolved but instead left to the reader's imagination. A bad habit because it leaves the reader feeling vaguely unfulfilled and unwilling to invest energy in future setups, because the reader doubts that paying attention will be rewarded. (CSFW: Alex Jablokov.) (e)

barf and polish

A mechanism for writing where the writing process is split into two phases. During the 'barf' or first phase the writer focuses on putting as many words on the paper (or into the word processor file) as possible. During the 'polish' or second phase, the writer focus on turning the output into cohesive, smooth, and professional product. There are a number of sub-techniques to help improve this technique, see barf and polish. The barf and polish process is compatible with both edit down and edit up. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

barf phase

When writing, or pursuing some other creative process, the barf phase (as part of the barf and polish writing process) is the period when the focus is on getting as much of the story (or other "artifact") out without engaging ones critical or editorial faculties. It is followed by the polish phase. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A sudden, alarming change in the level of diction. "There will be bloody riots and savage insurrections leading to a violent popular uprising unless the regime starts being lots nicer about stuff." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

beat (dialogue)

A beat in dialogue, also called "business", is an action by the speaker closely associated with or replacing the dialogue tag. Derived from beat (film). -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

begin fallacy

Describing action that is introduced to the reader for the first time by saying that so-and-so 'began to' <verb>. Eliminating the 'began to' almost always strengthens the text. A detail of style. (Original source: ) (e)


Acronym for Bug-Eyed Monster. (e)

beta phase

In the beta phase, the polished manuscript is distributed to a set of beta readers for critique and feedback. The term "beta" comes from "beta software", which is software that is given a limited release for final testing and feedback before it is released for general use. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

beta reader

An early reader of a work (short story or novel), as in the notion of a software beta tester. Beta readers are an important filter for a writer as they help point out problems with the work that the writer can't (easily) see. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

big scene

A big scene is 'big' when its drama is powerful and when the drama is central to the theme. Big scenes should occur at regular intervals, neither bunched too closely together nor strung too far apart. (Jim Morrow) (Original source: ) (e)

black box scene analysis

Black box scene analysis is a convenient means of evaluating how important a scene is. Think of the scene as a black box: characters go in to it and come out of it. What have they gained or lost? What irrevocable things have happened? How are they different people afterwards than before? The black-box scene analysis is a useful means of separating local dexterity (entertaining imagery) from important plot or character development. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


Originally from the term web log, a blog is a web way to communicate, usually on a daily or weekly basis. - (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Template:Blogging (e)

blood and guts

Blood and guts describes an event or scene which involves characters in their fundamental, primal desires, stripped of convention, artifice, or propriety. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

bogus alternatives

List of actions a character could have taken, but didn't. Frequently includes all the reasons why or why not. In this nervous mannerism, the writer stops the action dead to work out complicated plot problems at the reader's expense. "If I'd gone along with the cops they would have found the gun in my purse. And anyway, I didn't want to spend the night in jail. I suppose I could have just run instead of stealing their car, but then ... " etc. Best dispensed with entirely. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Cumbersome narration of infeasible actions which a character didn't take because it would mess up the story. Usually goes overboard and includes long-winded explanations why. If you're going to handwave past a dumb choice, the faster you do it, the better. (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)


A feature of a setting that only appears to support some plot idea without its implications being followed and propagated to their logical conclusions and natural integration with greater society. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

brand name fever

Use of brand name alone, without accompanying visual detail, to create false verisimilitude. You can stock a future with Hondas and Sonys and IBM's and still have no idea with it looks like. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

Brenda Starr dialogue

A form of authorial laziness where long sections of talk have no physical background or description of the characters. Such dialogue, detached from the story's setting, tends to echo hollowly, as if suspended in mid-air. Named for the American comic-strip in which dialogue balloons were often seen emerging from the Manhattan skyline. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

bridge (writing)

A bridge is a sentence or paragraph which connects two different scenes together. Often used to get into and out of flashbacks. (Original source: ) (e)

bug-eyed monster

Template:Bug-eyed monster (e)

"burly detective" syndrome

This useful term is taken from SF's cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne's proper name, preferring such euphemisms as "the burly detective" or "the red-headed sleuth." This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as "vertiginous." Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

business (narrative)

"Business" in a narrative are the actions performed by the characters that are intended to fill the "space" (i.e. give the characters something to do) but don't move the story along (although it may bring verisimilitude to the characters performing the business). "Business" can be used to replace or supplement dialogue tags and is more narrowly defined as dialogue beats. The term "business" is derived from acting, where an actor performs small activities not included in the script so they aren't just standing there delivering their lines. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Caesar's palmtop

Caesar's palmtop is a handy device a writer introduces, in all innocence, whose existence in this particular fictional universe implies a huge offstage infrastructure that demands so much overhead explanation that it knocks the reader out of paying attention to the story. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

"Call a rabbit a smeerp"

A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

caper (story)

Template:Caper (story) (e)

card tricks in the dark

Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punchline of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the writer. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the writer, but it serves no visible fictional purpose. (Attr. Tim Powers) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Card tricks in the dark is authorial cleverness to no visible purpose. Wit without dramatic payoff. (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)

careful reader

A reader who pays attention to the details and/or implications of what they are reading. Some authors will reward the careful reader, and some will punish the careless reader. Contrast with careless reader. (e)

careless reader

Template:Careless reader (e)

chapter (story)

Template:Chapter (story) (e)


A character is any person, persona, identity, or entity whose existence originates in a work of fiction. The process of creating and developing characters in a work of fiction is called characterization. (Source: Fictional_character at Wikipedia )
Those who people the story, affect it and are affected by it. The best characters are complex, with good and bad points, triumphs and tragedies. They face moral choices. Over the course of the story, they evolve and their evolution mirrors the theme the writer is after. They care strongly and face obstacles, and because of these the reader cares strongly for them. Examples of excellence: Frank Herbert, The Dragon in the Sea, Sparrow, Ramsey, Bonnett; Robert Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, Muller, Boardman, Rawlins. (Original source: )
Any representation of an individual being presented in a dramatic or narrative work through extended dramatic or verbal representation. The reader can interpret characters as endowed with moral and dispositional qualities expressed in what they say (dialogue) and what they do (action). E. M. Forster describes characters as "flat" (i.e., built around a single idea or quality and unchanging over the course of the narrative) or "round" (complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety; capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative). The main character of a work of a fiction is typically called the protagonist; the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends (if there is one), is the antagonist. If a single secondary character aids the protagonist throughout the narrative, that character is the deuteragonist (the hero's "side-kick"). A character of tertiary importance is a tritagonist. These terms originate in classical Greek drama, in which a tenor would be assigned the role of protagonist, a baritone the role of deuteragonist, and a bass would play the tritagonist. Compare flat characters with stock characters. -- (Source: K. Wheeler's Literary Terms and Definitions ) (e)

character driven

Template:Character driven (e)

cheating the reader

Depriving the reader of rich an experience as they might have had. Unfortunately, not all readers realize when they are being cheated. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

Chekhov's gun

Chekhov's gun is the literary technique, similar to foreshadowing, whereby an element is introduced early in the story forming an expectation or contract with the reader that will be resolved at a later point in the story. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (Also see Wikipedia Chekhov's gun at Wikipedia)
An example can be found in the twin pistols of the title character in Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler, which make an appearance in the first act, but are not used to important effect until the last act. (Source: Chekhov's_gun at Wikipedia ) (e)

chewing the furniture

Characters who are over-emoting for their situations. The term is adapted from the theater, where it is used to describe poor actors who ham it up. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


The term chrome is derived from the chrome decoration on an automobile. Scenic detail which has no plot significance but brings a place, character or period to life. Contrast with parsimony of detail. (CSFW: David Smith) -- (Original source: ) updated by (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

clever-author syndrome

Clever-author syndrome is where a writer shows off with some literary fireworks -- ten-dollar vocabulary, obscure references, overly artful constructions -- which remind us how smart the writer is but detract from the story. (CSFW: David Smith). (Original source: ) (e)


A cliché (from French, klɪ'ʃe) is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel. The term is generally used in a negative context. (Source: Cliché at Wikipedia ) (e)

climax (narrative)

The climax (from the Greek word “κλῖμαξ” (klimax) meaning “staircase” and “ladder”) or turning point of a narrative work is its point of highest tension or drama or when the action starts in which the solution is given. -- Source Climax (narrative) at Wikipedia (e)


To conflate is 'to blow together'; to combine two similar dramatic elements (such as characters or scenes) to eliminate dramatic redundancy. (Original source: ) (e)


Conflict is a common (some say necessary) element of fiction. It is often classified according to the nature of the antagonist. These include Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. God, and Man vs. Machine.
When an entity is in conflict with his, her, or itself, the conflict is categorized as internal. Otherwise, it is external. (Source: Conflict (narrative) at Wikipedia ) (Updated by: Fritz Freiheit)
Conflict -- The opposition of forces between focus characters and their surroundings: either other focus characters or 'natural forces' (which include, in addition to the elements, peripheral characters). One can have conflict without drama, but it is almost impossible to have drama without conflict. -- (Original source: ) (e)

contract with the reader

The reader's set of expectations that the writer must fulfill. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A cookie is an element, not necessary to the plot, which rewards the reader who has been paying careful attention. Ideally, a cookie is a clever turn of phrase, an image, an allusion, or some other element of richness which the lazy reader will pass by Then the careful reader, who finds it, realizes that the writer has left this small package just as a reward for paying attention ... and that, in turn, encourages the reader to pay even more attention. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


A copyedit (or copy edit), is to edit a manuscript to prepare it for publication. This includes correcting grammar, typos, spelling errors, etc. (e)

copyedit phase

In the copyedit phase the work undergoes scrutiny for typos, homonym, grammatical, spelling, continuity errors. Consistency of voice and verbage should also be monitored. That is, copyediting. The output of this phase should be a reasonably clean publishable version of the work.
Contrast with polish phase. (e)


Template:Copyeditor (e)

consensus reality

Useful term for the purported world in which the majority of modern sane people generally agree that they live -- as opposed to the worlds of, say, Forteans, semioticians or quantum physicists. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


A form of expositional redundancy in which the action clearly implied in dialogue is made explicit. "'Let's get out of here,' he said, urging her to leave." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Countersinking is expositional redundancy, usually performed by a writer who isn't confident of his storytelling: making the actions implied in the story explicit. "'Let's get out of here,' he said, urging her to leave." (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)

cover letter

A cover letter is a letter attached to another document, such as a resume, that introduces the writer, the purpose for writing, and the attached document. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

cozy catastrophe story

A story in which horrific events are overwhelming the entirety of human civilization, but the action concentrates on a small group of tidy, middle-class, white Anglo-Saxon protagonists. The essence of the cozy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off. (Attr. Brian Aldiss ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

crime (genre)

Crime stories, centered on criminal enterprise, are told from the point of view of the perpetrators. They range in tone from lighthearted "caper" stories to darker plots involving organized crime or incarcerated convicts. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e) / crime


A critique is constructive criticism or feedback, generally divided between positive and negative critiques. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

cyberpunk (genre)

Cyberpunk is a science fiction genre and movement noted for its focus on "high tech and low life". It is also a musical subgenre of industrial rock. The name is derived from cybernetics and punk and was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story "Cyberpunk" published in 1983(see The Etymology of "Cyberpunk"), though the style was popularized well before its publication by editor Gardner Dozois. It features advanced science such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or a radical change in the social order. (Source: cyberpunk at Wikipedia )
Primary exponents of the cyberpunk field include William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, and John Shirley. (e)


dare to be stupid

'Dare to be stupid' is an exhortation by a critic to a writer whom the critic thinks is not stretching enough. Writers grow by daring to write bolder, more imaginative, more personal, or more emotionally powerful situations and confrontations. Since writing that stretches is by definition unpracticed, the result may be rougher than a less ambitious effort. The writer must trust the critics to recognize the stretch and help the writer build or expand his talents. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)

deal with the Devil story

A story in which the the main character strikes a bargain with the Devil, typically exchanging his or her soul for fame, wealth, long life, skill, or something else they desire. This doesn't work out well for the character, where they find out that it isn't really what they wanted or is cheated somehow. (e)

Dennis Hopper syndrome story

A story based on some arcane bit of science or folklore, which noodles around producing random weirdness. Then a loony character-actor (usually best played by Dennis Hopper) barges into the story and baldly tells the protagonist what's going on by explaining the underlying mystery in a long bug-eyed rant. (Attr. Howard Waldrop ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


The events following the climax of a narrative containing a resolution or clarification. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Destage is to move offstage action which has been shown onstage. Things can be intentionally destaged (when they're undramatic) or unintentionally (when the writer's staged the wrong things). (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)


Destination is the emotional endpoint of a story: where the writer's intent coincides and rings with the action in the story, where the experiential contract between writer and reader is fulfilled. The writer sets out to create certain responses in the reader; the destination is the place where the writer does so. One may have plot destinations (Frodo gets to the Crack of Doom), character destinations (Frodo masters the Ring and himself), or understanding destinations (Frodo learns he's adult and strong enough to scour the Shire). But stories must always have destinations. In the best writing, the characters' struggle involves multiple destinations that relate to one another (inner and outer journeys echo each other). (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)

detective (genre)

Detective fiction has become almost synonymous with mystery. These stories relate the solving of a crime, usually one or more murders, by a protagonist who may or may not be a professional investigator. This large, popular genre has many subgenres, reflecting differences in tone, character, and setting. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)

deus ex machina

Or "God from the Box"
A story featuring a miraculous solution to the story's conflict, which comes out of nowhere and renders the plot struggles irelevant. H G Wells warned against SF's love for the deus ex machina when he coined the famous dictum that "If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting." Science fiction, which specializes in making the impossible seem plausible, is always deeply intrigued by godlike powers in the handy pocket size. Artificial Intelligence, virtual realities and nanotechnology are three contemporary SF MacGuffins that are cheap portable sources of limitless miracle. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Deus ex machina -- Miraculous (often offstage) solution to an otherwise insoluble problem. "Look, the Martians all caught cold and died!" (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: )
Contrast with Diabolus ex machina (e)


A dialogue (or dialog) is a conversation between two or more (as versus monologue) characters. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

dialogue tag

A dialogue tag is the verb attached to dialogue that indicates the speaker. For example: "He reminds of Godzilla, but not in a guy-in-a-rubber-suit way," Kim said. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Intended to instruct or moralize. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


The unwitting intrusion of the writer's physical surroundings, or the author's own mental state, into the text of the story. Writers who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision -- when this is actually the writer's condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. "Dischism" is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M. Disch ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

disengage (to)

Disengage (to) -- A reader who is not paying close attention to the text is disengaged. Offstage action or a poorly-realized fictional dream disengage the reader: he skips or skims sentences, paragraphs, pages or whole chapters. The ultimate disengagement is the reader who puts down the book without bothering to finish it.
A writer must use both carrot and stick with the reader. Punish a reader who disengages, by making sure that necessary material is woven throughout the book, so that nothing may be skipped. Reward a reader who engages, by making every scene alive, tight, and well-written. (Original source: ) (e)


A document is an organized collection of information, primarily in written form. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

don't break the chain

"Don't break the chain" is one of the many ways of getting writing done. The core of this technique is to create momentum by giving yourself an incentive for adding the link to the "writing chain". For instance, every day that you writer, mark the day a calendar with a big red 'X' and when you're tempted to not write on a given day, you remind yourself that doing so will break the chain of Xs. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Drama is the ability to create powerful scenes, to present conflicts in a way which grips the reader, whether or not the storyline is believable. The tension of conflict forms the bedrock of drama. Example: Bester, The Demolished Man. Drama differs from conflict because drama takes place exclusively onstage, and in a manner the reader engages. Drama differs from staging to the extent that the drama is the conflict present in the situation, staging the extent to which it is realized in front of the reader. Badly staged conflict loses most of the force of its inherent drama. (Original source: ) (e)

dramatic element

Dramatic or narrative elements are aspects of a drama or narrative. They include plot, character, setting, and theme. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

dramatic purpose

The dramatic purpose of a scene or passage is its goal, such as establishing setting, character relationship, characterization, or advancing the plot. (e)

dramatic structure

Dramatic structure is the plot structure of a dramatic work such as a play or screenplay. Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics. This article focuses primarily on Gustav Freytag's analysis of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama. -- Source Dramatic structure at Wikipedia (e)

Driving in the Dark

Driving in the dark is a metaphor for an unstructured writing process that is common among panster. It represents a parallel between driving without being able see the entire course and ultimate destination and writing without knowing the details of the story. (e)


Template:Dystopia (e)


Easter egg

An Easter egg is some hidden aspect of a work that even a careful reader will miss, but once deciphered, reveals some message from the writer. (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
Adapted from computer programming, a specialized form of cookie in which the writer 'hides' some surprise, not germane to the story (indeed, often irrelevant or irreverent), deep within the text, to be discovered only by the closest possible reading. For instance, in Quest of the Three Worlds, Cordwainer Smith encoded, as the first letters of consecutive sentences, the phrases KENNEDY SHOT and OSWALD TOO, without disrupting the flow of his narrative. Tuckerizing is a form of Easter egg. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

Earth is but a pale shadow

"Earth is a but a pale shadow of the wonders of this world" is a worldbuilding technique in the vein of call a rabbit a smerp where things are described in terms of earthly creatures, features, and objects, but they are much more "beautiful / ugly / deadly / or some other combination of superlatives". For example, "the reptiles filling the room ahead of me were snake-like but so much more deadly than their earthly counterparts that if I had set foot in that room I would have been dead in seconds". (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

economy (narrative)

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Eden complex

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edges of ideas

The solution to the "Info-Dump" problem (how to fill in the background). The theory is that, as above, the mechanics of an interstellar drive (the center of the idea) is not important: all that matters is the impact on your characters: they can get to other planets in a few months, and, oh yeah, it gives them hallucinations about past lives. Or, more radically: the physics of TV transmission is the center of an idea; on the edges of it we find people turning into couch potatoes because they no longer have to leave home for entertainment. Or, more bluntly: we don't need info dump at all. We just need a clear picture of how people's lives have been affected by their background. This is also known as "carrying extrapolation into the fabric of daily life." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
The places where technology and background should come onstage: not the mechanics of a new event, gizmo, or political structure, but rather how people's lives are affected by their new background. Example of excellence: the opening chapters of Orwell's 1984. (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)


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edit down

The barf/first draft is longer than the final draft, and the polish process is one paring down the barf draft. Contrast with edit up. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

edit up

The barf/first draft is shorter than the final draft, and the polish process is one of building up the barf draft. A good analogy for this is sculpting in clay (as versus marble). This can Contrast with edit down. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


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element (narrative)

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elevator pitch

A short pitch, as in a pitch that can be delivered during an encounter on an elevator. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

emotional circuit breaker

An emotional circuit breaker is a tendency in a writer to cut away from a scene when the stakes get high, just as it is reaching its emotional peak, often followed by a lower-stakes retelling or narration of the same events (but safely removed in time or space). Generally speaking, the emotional circuit breaker is a bad thing, because it deprives the reader of the tension and excitement created by the immediacy. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

emotional disturbance

Emotional disturbance is the internal corollary to the out-of-whack event, it represents a character whose inner state is fundamentally unstable and who must do something assertive to restore equilibrium. Often the out-of-whack event triggers the emotional disturbance, but sometimes a character's emotional disturbance can be the reason the out-of-whack event occurs. (CSFW: Pete Chvany) (Original source: ) (e)

empathic universe

An empathic universe is a common feature of melodramatic or romantic writing, it occurs when the writer customizes the environment to match the protagonist's moods. Lightning flashes as a Gothic horror opens; fog descends when the protagonist is confused; rain falls on funerals but the sun returns when the mourner becomes hopeful. Usually overused. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


The ending, leaving out the notion of reader satisfaction, is where the story stops. As a general rule, the ending should be as early as possible. Contrast with the start. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

engage (to)

'Engage (to)' is used intransitively, it means a reader who is paying close attention. Used transitively, it means a writer or a piece of fiction that forces the reader to pay close attention. A reader who is engaged is following closely, intent on capturing everything that occurs in the story. The stronger the reader's engagement, the stronger the fictional dream. Stories which are economical, and in which the important events occur onstage, engage the reader. Readers are also engaged when scenes are so vital, alive and well realized that the reader cannot skip past them. See Local Dexterity. Setting action offstage, or including inefficient material, causes the reader to disengage. Puzzle-oriented mysteries engage the reader, because anything and everything may be a clue. The primary objective of the first four pages of any story is to hook and engage the reader. Whatever its flaws, Dune accomplishes this by the striking visuals of its early scenes. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

engagement (reader)

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An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. Derived from the Template:Lang-el epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on, to inscribe",[3] this literary device has been employed for over two millennia. (e)


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explicit narrator

An explicit narrator is a narrator or character in a story that is the one telling the story. First person narrators are by definition explicit narrators. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Exposition is a literary technique by which background information about the characters, events, or setting is conveyed in a novel, play, movie, short story or other work of fiction. This information can be presented through dialogue, description, flashbacks, or directly through narrative.
Because exposition generally does not advance plot and tends to interrupt action, it is usually best kept in short and succinct form, though in some genres, such as the mystery, exposition is central to the story structure itself. The alternative to exposition is to convey background information indirectly though action, which, though more dramatic, is more time consuming and less concise. (Source: Exposition_%28literary_technique%29 at Wikipedia )
For an example of exposition, see Chapter 6 of Dispensing Justice. (e)

exposition dump

See infodump. (e)

expository lump

An expository lump is a chunk of exposition that, whether or not relevant to the plot, is insufficiently integrated into the story being told. As such, is seems to come from left field, as if a page from an encyclopedia accidentally got shuffled in. Asimov is famous for these. A subheading, known as "I've Suffered For My Art (And Now It's Your Turn)" occurs when the writer, having done masses of boring research, proves this by unloading them on the stunned reader. (Original source: ) (e)

eyeball kick

Vivid, telling details that create a kaleidoscopic effect of swarming visual imagery against a baroquely elaborate SF background. One ideal of cyberpunk SF was to create a "crammed prose" full of "eyeball kicks." (Attr. Rudy Rucker) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
An 'eyeball kick' is perfect, telling detail that creates an instant and powerful visual image. (Rudy Rucker) (Original source: ) (e)


false document

A false document is a technique used to create verisimilitude in a work of fiction. By inventing and inserting documents that appear to be factual, an author tries to create a sense of authenticity beyond the normal and expected suspension of disbelief for a work of art. The goal of a false document is to give an audience the feeling that what is being presented is factual. (e)

false humanity

An ailment endemic to genre writing, in which soap-opera elements of purported human interest are stuffed into the story willy-nilly, whether or not they advance the plot or contribute to the point of the story. The actions of such characters convey an itchy sense of irrelevance, for the writer has invented their problems out of whole cloth, so as to have something to emote about. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

false interiorization

A cheap labor-saving technique in which the writer, too lazy to describe the surroundings, afflicts the viewpoint character with a blindfold, an attack of space-sickness, the urge to play marathon whist-games in the smoking-room, etc. -- (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

false verisimilitude

False verisimilitude is generated by referencing familiar things, such as brand names, popular songs, or celebrities, particularly in science fiction settings, without actually describing anything. (e)


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fan fiction

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fantasy (genre)

Fantasy features stories set in fanciful, invented worlds or in a legendary, mythic past. The stories themselves are often epics or quests, frequently involving magic like the book series of Dragonlance novels. The enormous popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novel and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels demonstrates the wide appeal of this genre. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)

fast forward

The literary convention of shortcutting things the reader already knows but the characters may not. Example: Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin: "I got home and told Wolfe everything that had happened since I stumbled over Helaine Bradford's body in Adam Roberts' room. He grunted occasionally and belched when I was done.") Especially handy in mysteries. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

fat writing

Writing that uses too many or too large words just because the writer can. Also known as verdant greenery. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (Original source: ) (e)

ficelle character

Ficelle, from the French 'string,' is a term used by Henry James to denote a (secondary) character who exists to help the reader and move the plot forward. In Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Rosencranz and Guildenstern are ficelle characters. Vladimir Nabokov called them peri characters. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Not strictly factual. Made up. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

fictional dream

A fictional dream is the illusion that there is no filter between reader and events, that the reader is actually experiencing what he is reading. The stronger the fictional dream, the more immediate the story. Disrupting the fictional dream is usually bad. Pointless digressions, expository lumps, lists, turgid prose, unrealistic characters, or a premise with holes in it, all disrupt the fictional dream. (John Gardner) (Original source: )
Also see suspension of disbelief. (e)

film it

Film it is a form of self-test for critiquing. To judge a scene or chapter, mentally convert it into a movie or screenplay. This effectively subtracts all narration and exposition and leaves only description, dialogue, and action. Things which shrink dramatically when filmed are heavy on telling, light on showing. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)

first person

First person narration is used somewhat frequently. The first-person point of view sacrifices omniscience and omnipresence for a greater intimacy with one character. It allows the reader to see what the focus character is thinking; it also allows that character to be further developed through his or her own style in telling the story. First-person narrations may be told like third person ones; on the other hand, the narrator may be conscious of telling the story to a given audience, perhaps at a given place and time, for a given reason. In extreme cases, the first-person narration may be told as a story within a story, with the narrator appearing as a character in the frame story.
In a first person narrative, the narrator is a character in the story. This character takes actions, makes judgments and has opinions and biases. In this case the narrator gives and withholds information based on its own viewing of events. It is an important task for the reader to determine as much as possible about the character of the narrator in order to decide what "really" happens. This type of narrator is usually noticeable for its ubiquitous use of the first-person pronoun, "I".
"I could picture it. I have a rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard." from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The narrator is protagonist Jake Barnes.
In very rare cases, stories are told in first person plural, that is, using "we" rather than "I". Examples are the short stories "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl" by Maxim Gorky and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, the novella "Anthem" by Ayn Rand, and the novels The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase, Our Kind by Kate Walbert, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.[4]
The narrator can be the protagonist (e.g., Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels), someone very close to him, who is privy to his thoughts and actions (Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes), or an ancillary character who has little to do with the action of the story (Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby). A narrator can even be a character relating the story second-hand, such as Lockwood in Wuthering Heights.
The first person narrator is the type most obviously distinct from the author. It is a character in the work, who must follow all of the rules of being a character, even during its duties as narrator. For it to know anything, it must experience it with its senses, or be told about it. It can interject its own thoughts and opinions, but not those of any other character, unless clearly told about those thoughts.
In autobiographical fiction, the first person narrator is the character of the author (with varying degrees of accuracy). The narrator is still distinct from the author and must behave like any other character and any other first person narrator. Examples of this kind of narrator include Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries and Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake. In some cases, the narrator is writing a book ("the book in your hands"), therefore it has most of the powers and knowledge of the author.
-- Source: Wikipedia (e)


First-draft-itis cause various flaws, primarily manifesting themselves as inconsistencies, which everyone, including the writer, agrees immediately should be corrected. E.g.: a character who has blue eyes in Chapter 2 has brown eyes in Chapter 7; or an important feature of the society which is first manifested in Chapter 20 and implicitly contradicted in what was written before. See Retrofit. (Original source: ) (e)

flash fiction

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In history, film, television and other media, a flashback (also called analepsis) is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached. Flashbacks are often used to recount events that happened prior to the story’s primary sequence of events or to fill in crucial backstory. Character origin flashbacks specifically refers to flashbacks dealing with key events early in a character's development (Clark Kent discovering he could fly, for example, or the Elric brothers' attempt to bring back their mother). The television show Lost is particularly well known for extensive use of flashbacks in almost every episode. In the opposite direction, a flashforward (or prolepsis) reveals events that will occur in the future. The technique is used to create suspense in a story, or develop a character. In literature, internal analepsis is a flashback to an earlier point in the narrative; external analepsis is a flashback to before the narrative started.
A scene in a narrative is called a flashback if it depicts a set of events that occurred before the scenes immediately preceding it. The closely related term flashforward is used to indicate scenes that depict events taking place after the scenes immediately flowing it. Flashbacks and flash forwards are used frequently in literature, television, and movies for foreshadowing and stronger dramatic effect. -- (Source: )
For an example of flashback, see Chapter 6 of Dispensing Justice. (e)


In history, film, television and other media, a flashforward or flash-forward (also called prolepsis) is an interjected scene that takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story. Flashforwards are often used to represent events expected, projected, or imagined to occur in the future. They may also reveal significant parts of the story that has not yet occurred, but soon will in greater detail. In the opposite direction, a flashback (or analepsis) reveals events that have occurred in the past. (Source: flashforward at Wikipedia ) (e)

flat character

Flat characters (also referred to as cardboard characters) are characters lacking in depth. They are cliche or stereotypes, lacking real goals and desires. Contrast with round character. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

focus character

The focus character is a character who serves a dramatic purpose greater than simply illustrating or illuminating the world -- a character about whom the reader cares even when he's offstage. Focus characters have distinct personalities; they further the themes and interact directly with other focus characters. In Lord of the Rings, for example, Saruman is a focus character but Sauron is not (he's a natural force). (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


A reader fog is the reader's state of inability to imagine clearly the setting or action the writer is presenting. Usually arises because the writer has skimped on tactile description or otherwise shortchanged the reader of critical external clarity. Stories can (and should) sustain motivational ambiguity but they should blow away fog. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


A specific size and style of type within a type family, such as 12 pt. Courier or 8 pt. Times New Roman. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

foreground (to)

Foreground (to) (v.t.) is to draw attention to for artistic effect, or make the central element in a scene or story. (CSFW: Sarah Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


A frame is a structure which puts boundaries on a story about to be told -- as, for example, a character announces to another character, I'm going to tell you a story. Often used in a prologue. Sometimes used to link many stories together into a novel form, as in The Canterbury Tales, where the pilgrimage is the frame, or The Bridge of San Luis Rey, where the bridge collapse is the frame. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)

free indirect discourse

Free indirect speech, free indirect discourse involves both a character's speech and the narrator's comments or presentation, or direct discourse and indirect discourse. Famously utilized by James Joyce, free indirect discourse is a more comprehensive method of representation -- one which many times makes indistinguishable the thoughts of the narrator and the thoughts of a character. Thus, the method typically privileges the past tense, yet cannot be discerned through merely grammatical indicators. ( Source: ) (e)


A freeze-frame, adapted from the movies, is a brief pause for description of a new person, object, setting, or event. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


Piling too much exposition into the beginning of the story, so that it becomes so dense and dry that it is almost impossible to read. (Attr. Connie Willis) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

funny-hat characterization

A character distinguished by a single identifying tag, such as odd headgear, a limp, a lisp, a parrot on his shoulder, etc. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

fuzz (narrative)

An element of motivation the writer was too lazy to supply. The word "somehow" is a useful tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. "Somehow she had forgotten to bring her gun." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


gag detail

Unnecessarily unrealistic detail that blows the credibility of the story. "I can accept a Neanderthal going to Harvard, but a Neanderthal with a middle name? Gag." (CSFW: Sarah Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


Genres are vague categories with no fixed boundaries. Genres are formed by sets of conventions, and many works cross into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions. The scope of the word "genre" is sometimes confined to art and culture, particularly literature, but it has a long history in rhetoric as well. In genre studies the concept of genre is not compared to originality. Rather, all works are recognized as either reflecting on or participating in the conventions of genre. (Source: Genre at Wikipedia )
Genre fiction is a term for fictional works (novels, short stories) written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre in order to appeal to the fans of that genre. In contemporary fiction publishing, genre is an elastic term used to group works sharing similarities of character, theme, and setting—such as mystery, romance, or horror—that have been proven to appeal to particular groups of readers. Genres continuously evolve, divide, and combine as readers' tastes change and writers search for fresh ways to tell stories. Classic romance novels, such as those written by the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen in the nineteenth century, continue to enjoy popularity today in the form of both books and movies. Despite its popularity, genre fiction is often overlooked by institutions that favor literary fiction. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia )
See list of genre definitions (e)

get-it-in-the-mail syndrome

Prose over which the writer, in his eagerness to finish a work, has taken too little time or care. It implies that the writer can easily fix the problems if he concentrates on them. (CSFW: Sari Boren) (e)

gingerbread (words)

Useless ornament in prose, such as fancy sesquipedalian Latinate words where short clear English ones will do. Novice writers sometimes use "gingerbread" in the hope of disguising faults and conveying an air of refinement. (Attr. Damon Knight ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

grammatical indicator

A grammatical indicator (to the best that I can determine) is a part of speech used to clarify the grammatical role of another part of speech. For instance, in English the determiner "the" indicates the following noun phrase is "definite", while the determiners "a" or "an" indicate an indefinite noun phrase. Adding either an "-s" or an "-'s" after an English nouns are also grammatical indicators, the first for plural and the second for possessive. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

grouper effect

Named after the grouper, which eats by opening its capacious mouth and swallowing a huge volume of water, toothlessly capturing its prey in the resulting suction, the specialized form of get-it-in-the-mail syndrome which results when participants in a workshop feel get-it-in-the-mail pressure to submit works to the group. A pun. (CSFW: Alex Jablokov) (e)

grubby apartment story

Similar to the "poor me" story, this autobiographical effort features a miserably quasi-bohemian writer, living in urban angst in a grubby apartment. The story commonly stars the writer's friends in thin disguises -- friends who may also be the writer's workshop companions, to their considerable alarm. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


hand waving

Hand waving is an attempt to distract the reader with dazzling prose or other verbal fireworks, so as to divert attention from a severe logical flaw. (Attr. Stewart Brand ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (Original source: ) (e)

hardboiled (genre)

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares to some degree its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective's cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective's self-talk describing to the reader (or—in film—to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. The genre's typical protagonist was a detective, who daily witnesses the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition, while dealing with a legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself.[5] Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are classic antiheroes. (e)

hard science fiction

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head fake

A head fake is a plot action that appears to be significant but is rapidly proved to be a net null, leaving the plot moving in exactly the same direction. Excessive head fakes undermine the reader's engagement because the reader becomes trained that they are not real. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

head popping

Switching back and forth between different characters' thoughts and opinions. (e)

here-to-there mistake

A here-to-there mistake is over-describing interim stages because of a mistaken belief that the reader will not infer them. A writer whose character's eyes are closed, for example, wants to describe something visually and feels compelled to say, 'he opened his eyes'. Omitting this phrase usually works better -- the reader can infer the eye-opening from the visual description. Similarly, 'he got into the car, put the key in the ignition, started the engine and backed out of the driveway' is too much description: 'he got into the car and backed out of the driveway.' (Original source: ) (e)
hero's journey 
See monomyth.

Hollywood clone

Using comparisons to actors (or other celebraties) as the primary descriptive mechanism for characters is a Hollywood clone. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Homoism is similar to nowism, the mistake of making aliens behave in inappropriate human ways, use inappropriate humanoid gestures or facial expressions, or generally manifest their emotions in human terms. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) See men-in-rubber-suits syndrome. (e)

honorable near miss

Honorable near miss is a description of a work which aims at a worthwhile objective but fails to achieve it. (Quoted by Darrell Schweitzer) -- (Original source: ) (e)

hook (narrative)

A hook causes the the reader engage quickly. In a novel, the reader must usually be hooked in the first chapter; in a short story, by the end of the first page. -- (Original source: ) (e)

horror (genre)

Horror aims to evoke some combination of fear, fascination, and revulsion in its readers. This genre, like others, continues to evolve, recently moving away from stories with a religious or supernatural basis to ones making use of medical or psychological ideas. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)

horse opera

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iceberg exposition

Iceberg exposition is an alternative term for exposition that takes the form of incluing, or, at least, it is very similar. Contrast with infodumping. (e)


An idiom is an expression, that is a term or phrase whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. Supposedly, in linguistics, idioms are widely assumed to be figures of speech that contradict the principle of compositionality; however, this has shown to be a subject of debate. It may be better to refer to idioms as John Saeed does: words collocated together happen to become fossilized, becoming fixed over time. This collocation -- words commonly used in a group -- changes the definition of each of the words that exist. As an expression, the word-group becomes a team, so to speak. That is, the collocated words develop a specialized meaning as a whole and an idiom is born e.g. He really threw me a curve when on our first date he asked if I could pay for the dinner. Note, in some cultures, when a man and a woman are courting each other, the male is traditionally the one who takes up the bill or pays the bill; however, times change and in many modern societies, a lot of couples go Dutch (yet, another idiom). -- Source: Wikipedia (e)

idiot plot

A plot which functions only because all the characters involved are idiots. They behave in a way that suits the writer's convenience, rather than through any rational motivation of their own. (Attr. James Blish) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

imitative fallacy

The common trap of trying to make the narrative imitate the personality of the protagonist. When the novel is concerned with an unlikable or inaccessible protagonist, the narrative is also unlikable and inaccessible. Since the reader cannot figure out the protagonist, nor is the reader given any reason to care about the protagonist, the reader disengages. The prose must transcend the imitative fallacy. Two examples of excellence are Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (hypocritical evangelist), and Babbitt (smug placid businessman). (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

inappropriate metaphor

A metaphor should serve two purposes: create a tactile image and also convey an emotional or contextual subtext. A metaphor is inappropriate when the subtext is inconsistent with the writer's intentions: "The desert cowboy blew out his bearded cheeks like a startled puffer fish." Puffer fish in the desert? (CSFW: Alex Jablokov) (e)

inappropriate mystery

A writer will often use mystery as a means of propelling a reader forward: characters speak of things that are opaque to the reader, a character goes offstage to do something important, or a development is referred to indirectly ("I was just heading out the door when the phone rang, with terrible news"). Mystery is inappropriate when the expected dramatic followup is lacking: the offstage action proves to be a diversion, or the suspense proves false. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (e)

inciting event

The event that puts the main character in motion, moving along the plot towards the climax of a story. Also called the destabilizing event. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Incluing is a technique for world building, in which the reader is gradually exposed to background information about the world in which a story is set. The idea is to clue the readers into the world the writer is building, without them being aware of it.
This in opposition to infodumping, where an undigested lump of background material is dropped into the story, often in the form of a conversation between two characters, both of whom should already know the material under discussion. (The so-called As you know, Bob conversation.)
Both incluing and infodumping are forms of exposition and are frequently used in science fiction and fantasy, genres where the writer has the task to make the reader believe in a world that does not exist. Writers in other genres have less use for these techniques, as they can often depend on the reader's familiarity with the "real world".
Incluing can be done in a number of ways: through conversation between characters, through background details or by establishing scenes where a character is followed through daily life. The most famous example of incluing is the door irised open, a phrase created by Robert A. Heinlein and used in several of his stories and novels. In real life, few if any doors do iris open; by mentioning it offhandedly without explanation the reader gets a picture of something both familiar and strange, without calling attention to its strangeness. (Attr Jo Walton) (Source: incluing at Wikipedia )
Jo Walton defines incluing as "the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart the information." (e)

incubator (writing)

The Incubator is where I put writing ideas that have progressed beyond the spark phase, having become worthy of an entire file (or directory). -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

incubator phase

A story moves from simply being a spark into the Incubator when I start to take notes. Frequently this takes the form of one or more of the following: an opening scene; a climax or ending; a title; character name(s); worldbuilding and setting visualization; and ideas about thematic elements. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Large chunk of indigestible expository matter intended to explain the background situation. Infodumps can be covert, as in fake newspaper or "Encyclopedia Galactica" articles, or overt, in which all action stops as the writer assumes center stage and lectures. Infodumps are also known as "expository lumps." The use of brief, deft, inoffensive info-dumps is known as "Kuttnering," after Henry Kuttner. When information is worked unobtrusively into the story's basic structure, this is known as "Heinleining." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (Updated by: Fritz Freiheit)
Alternatively called: exposition dump, expository lump, plot dump (e)

ing disease

"ing disease" is the excessive use of gerunds (verbs transformed into nouns by adding "-ing"). -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

inline note marker

An inline note marker is a mark or markup for text that needs to be addressed, but can wait for a later time or writing phase. The use of an inline note marker helps prevent the loss of forward momentum when writing, such as during the barf phase. It's a good idea to pick a character or set of characters that one doesn't use.
For example, I use {{double curly braces}} to set off text for later consideration. (e)

instruction manuals

Unnecessary description of how futurist technology works. Best discarded entirely, because they usually signify that the writer is so proud of his device he can't risk describing its operations. "Bob spoke into the telephone, where his sounds vibrated the compressed charcoal, producing an electric current that traveled over the wires ... " See how silly that sounds? (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

intellectual sexiness

The intoxicating glamor of a novel scientific idea, as distinguished from any actual intellectual merit that it may someday prove to possess. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

internal consistency

Internal consistency (in writing) is the agreement between the elements in the narrative. Facts, as stated in the narrative must not be contradictory in order to maintain internal consistency. Note, agreement with the "real world" is genre dependent. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

iterative deepening (writing)

Iterative deepening (also known as the snowflake method) is a writing process that falls under the more general edit up process. Iterative deepening uses multiple passes on a work, each time further detail and elaboration are incorporated. A simple example of this is to first write an outline then elaborate the outline by filling in the details. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

"I've suffered for my Art" (and now it's your turn)

A form of info-dump in which the writer inflicts upon the reader hard-won, but irrelevant bits of data acquired while researching the story. As Algis Budrys once pointed out, homework exists to make the difficult look easy. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


jar of Tang story

"For you see, we are all living in a jar of Tang!" or "For you see, I am a dog!" A story contrived so that the writer can spring a silly surprise about its setting. Mainstay of the old Twilight Zone TV show. An entire pointless story contrived so the writer can cry "Fooled you!" For instance, the story takes place in a desert of coarse orange sand surrounded by an impenetrable vitrine barrier; surprise! our heroes are microbes in a jar of Tang powdered orange drink.
This is a classic case of the difference between a conceit and an idea. "What if we all lived in a jar of Tang?" is an example of the former; "What if the revolutionaries from the sixties had been allowed to set up their own society?" is an example of the latter. Good SF requires ideas, not conceits. (Attr. Stephen P. Brown )
When done with serious intent rather than as a passing conceit, this type of story can be dignified by the term "Concealed Environment." (Attr. Christopher Priest ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

joke ending

Template:Joke ending (e)

just-in-time storytelling

Just-in-time storytelling is a method storytelling which delivers the background and other story details only as they become necessary. Coined by Alex Pournelle in a critique of Tactics of Transience. For example, using a flashback to explain a characters ability or knowledge just before the character uses. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

just-like story

SF story which thinly adapts the trappings of a standard pulp adventure setting. The spaceship is "just like" an Atlantic steamer, down to the Scottish engineer in the engine room. A colony planet is "just like" Arizona except for two moons in the sky. "Space Westerns" and futuristic hard-boiled detective stories have been especially common versions. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


Juxtaposition is when the author places two themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations together for the purpose of comparison, contrast, or rhetoric. (e)


keyhole effect

The keyhole effect is created in a piece of writing or film, where it is much easier, by dropping in references to a wider surround world. The term "keyhole effect" comes from the idea of looking through the keyhole of a mansion and seeing glimpses of the features and wonders that are contained within thus creating keyhole curiosity. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

keyhole curiosity

Similar to the edges of ideas keyhole curiosity is when the writer weaves the background into the story in such a way that the reader sees only partial aspects of the background, as if they were looking through a keyhole into a mansion, glimpsing only a fraction of the possibilities. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

kitchen-sink story

A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the writer in the process of writing it. (Attr. Damon Knight ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

kudzu plot

A plot which weaves and curls and writhes in weedy organic profusion, smothering everything in its path. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


The use of brief, deft, inoffensive infodumps is known as "Kuttnering", after Henry Kuttner. (e)



Laputa is named after Gulliver's floating aerial island, this is a fictional construction introduced without foundation. Readers will initially delight in Laputas but, the longer they float along without foundation, the more their suspension of disbelief erodes. They thus tend to work best in small doses like short stories. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

lampshade hanging

Lampshade hanging is an authors trick for dealing with any element of a story that threatens the reader's willing suspension of disbelief -— whether due to an implausible plot development, or a particularly egregious use of a trope -— by calling attention to it and moving on. -- ( Lampshade Hanging Lampshade Hangingat TvTropes ) (e)


In this form of authorial laziness, the characters grandstand and tug the reader's sleeve in an effort to force a specific emotional reaction. They laugh wildly at their own jokes, cry loudly at their own pain, and cheat the reader of any real chance of attaining genuine emotion. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


Template:Literature (e)

literary agent

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literary criticism

Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been, theorists. (Source: Literary criticism at Wikipedia ) (e)

literary element

A literary element is an inherent constituent of all works of narrative fiction—a necessary feature of verbal storytelling that could be found in any written or spoken narrative. This distinguishes them from literary techniques, or non-universal features of literature that accompany the construction of a particular work rather the necessary characteristics of all narrative. For example, plot, theme, and tone are literary elements, whereas figurative language, irony, or foreshadowing would be considered literary techniques.
Literary elements aid in the discussion and understanding of a work of literature as basic categories of critical analysis; literary elements could be said to be produced by the readers of a work just as much as they are produced by its author. For the most part, they are popular concepts that are not limited to any particular branch of literary criticism, although they are most closely associated with the formalist method of professional literary criticism. There is no official definition or fixed list of terms of literary elements; however, they are a common feature of literary education at the primary and secondary level, and a set of terms similar to the one below often appears in institutional student evaluation. For instance, the New York State Comprehensive English Regents Exam requires that students utilize and discuss literary elements relating to specific works in each of the two essays,.[6] -- (Source: Literary element at Wikipedia ) (e)

literary technique

A literary technique or literary device may be used in works of literature in order to produce a specific effect on the reader.
Elements of fiction -- Literary techniques are important aspects of a writer's style, which is one of the five elements of fiction, along with character, plot, setting, and theme. Of these five elements, character is the who, plot is the what, setting is the where and when, and style is the how of a story. [1]
Distinguishing most literary technique from literary genre -- Literary technique is distinguished from literary genre. For example, although David Copperfield employs satire at certain moments, it belongs to the genre of comic novel, not that of satire. By contrast, Bleak House employs satire so consistently as to belong to the genre of satirical novel. In this way, use of a technique can lead to the development of a new genre, as was the case with one of the first modern novels, Pamela by Samuel Richardson, which by using the epistolary technique gave birth to the epistolary novel.
See literary technique at Wikipedia (Updated by: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

local dexterity

Local dexterity is an authorial facility with the micro-units of fiction -- lines, images, paragraphs, even scenes -- so that they are a pleasure to read and are vivid to the reader. Example of excellence: anything by Ross Thomas. Local dexterity can occasionally disguise the absence of drama or conflict in a scene. A symptom of this: after reading a piece, the critic thinks, "I really enjoyed reading it but nothing happened." (e)

lock in (to)

A character is locked in to a situation when he cannot escape from its conflict, usually because the stakes are high enough, and the consequences of non-participation so onerous, that trying and failing to better than doing nothing. For example, Robinson Crusoe is locked in; he must survive. Usually there is an irrevocable action, early in the story, which locks the character into his problem. (e)



A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters or advances the story, but has little or no actual relevance to the story.
The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term "MacGuffin" and the technique. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Hitchcock explained the term in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin.' It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is most always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers." (Source: MacGuffin at Wikipedia )
An external constraint (object, fact, person) whose sole dramatic purpose is to force a character or characters into actions which serve the writer's dramatic theme. Examples: The Maltese Falcon, The Grail in King Author's Knights, or Helen of Troy (but not the One Ring in Tolkien, as it actually does things). -- (Alfred Hitchcock) (e)

maid-and-butler dialogue

Maid-and-butler dialogue is dialogue in which (probably ficelle) characters tell one another things they should already know, so that the reader can overhear them ("So sad that Madame had her cardiac arrest in the parlor and was carried out on a green stretcher last Thursday, June fifth, Nineteen Thirty-Four," or, "Gee, Rod, here we are on Mars. It's a good thing we were able to flee the wreckage of our burning spacecraft.") Usually manifested by apparent simple-mindedness of the characters forced to deliver these inanities. (Original source: ) (e)

main character

Another term for protagonist / narrator. (e)


A document formatted for submission to agents or editors. (e)

manuscript format

A specification for font, white space, and layout for a manuscript, typically specified by an agent or editor when submitting a manuscript. (e)

manuscript guidelines

Specification of acceptable manuscript format for submissions for a given market. (e)

margin (document)

The white space around the outer edge of a page. (e)

market (writing)

Template:Market (writing) (e)

Mary Sue

Mary Sue, sometimes shortened simply to Sue, is a pejorative term used to describe a fictional character, either male or female (male characters are often dubbed "Gary Stu", "Marty Stu", or similar names), that exhibits some or most of the clichés common to much fan fiction. Such characters were originally labeled "Mary Sues" because they were portrayed in overly idealized ways, lacked noteworthy or realistic flaws, and primarily functioned as wish-fullfillment fantasies for their authors, often very young and unsophisticated. While characters labeled "Mary Sues" by readers are not generally intentionally written as such, some authors deliberately create "Mary Sues" (often described as just that by their own authors) as a form of parody.
While the term is generally limited to fan-created characters, and its most common usage today occurs within the fan fiction community or in reference to fan fiction, canon and original fiction characters are also sometimes criticized as being "Mary Sues." Wesley Crusher Pat Pflieger (2001). "TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: 150 YEARS OF MARY SUE". 3. Presented at the American Culture Association conference. Retrieved on 2007-01-15. is probably the best-known example. In play-by-post role-playing games, many original characters are also criticized as being "Mary Sues" if they dominate the spotlight or can miraculously escape a near-impossible predicament, usually with an unlikely and previously unrevealed skill.
Identifying a character as a "Mary Sue" is naturally a subjective matter. Not all characters seemingly exhibiting "Mary Sue" traits would necessarily qualify by everyone's criteria. Indeed, well-known characters like Michael Moorcock's Elric, who is a fairly obvious idealized author surrogate, Sci Fi Weekly Interview. are loved in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their relative "Sueness". (Source: Mary Sue at Wikipedia ) (e)


The theatrical genre of melodrama uses theme-music to manipulate the spectator's emotional response and to denote character types. The term combines "melody" (from the Greek "melōidía", meaning "song") and "drama"(Classical Greek: δράμα, dráma; meaning "action"). While the use of music is nearly ubiquitous in modern film, in a melodrama these musical cues will be used within a fairly rigid structure, and the characterizations will accordingly be somewhat more one-dimensional: Heroes will be unambiguously good and their entrance will be heralded by heroic-sounding trumpets and martial music; villains are unambiguously bad, and their entrance is greeted with dark-sounding, ominous chords.
Melodramas tend to be formulaic productions, with a clearly constructed world of connotations: A villain poses a threat, the hero escapes the threat and/or rescues the heroine. The term is sometimes used loosely to refer to plays, films or situations in which action or emotion is exaggerated and simplified for effect. As against tragedy, melodrama can have a happy ending, but this is not always the case. -- Source Melodrama at Wikipedia
Melodrama comes in two varieties Melodramatic Settings and Melodramatic Actions. (e)

melodramatic actions

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melodramatic setting

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men-in-rubber-suits syndrome

A form authorial laziness where the members of an alien race all act like humans in rubber suits. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

mental landmine

A mental landmine is similar to an eyeball kick but produces a "sense of wonder" about some idea or revelation in a story. At the end of a story, it (can) become a twist ending. For example, in Iain M. Banks' Against a Dark Background, it is revealed that the solar system that the story takes place on is alone in the great void between galaxies. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


In rhetoric, metonymy is the use of a word for a concept or object which is associated with the concept/object originally denoted by the word.
Metonymy may be instructively contrasted with metaphor. Both figures involve the substitution of one term for another. In metaphor, this substitution is based on similarity, while in metonymy, the substitution is based on contiguity.
Metaphor example: The ship ploughed through the sea (using ploughed through instead of navigated).
Metonymy example: The White House phoned (using White House instead of President).
In cognitive linguistics, metonymy refers to the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity and is one of the basic characteristics of cognition. It is common for people to take one well-understood or easy-to-perceive aspect of something and use that aspect to stand either for the thing as a whole or for some other aspect or part of it.
Source: Wikipedia

(e) microwaving the soufflé

A tendency to rush past important setup material in the writer's haste to get to the payoff. Generally leaves the reader feeling frustrated on two counts: (1) the setup, being rushed, is uninteresting, and (2) the payoff, being insufficiently set up, is not earned. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

milepost character

A character who is absolutely unchanging throughout a story. A focus character's different perspectives on him or him show us, in emotional parallax, how the focus character has changed. Examples include Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield and Bill Ferry in Lord of the Rings. (e)

mime conversation

An authorial laziness where the dialogue is supposedly loaded with portentous significance to all participants - contorted facial expressions, heavy word emphasis, significant looks - but completely opaque to readers because relevant facts are neither stated nor inferable.
"But when you told me that - "
"-s! And thus he couldn't - "
"Of course, and I was such a fool, so now if -- "
"not if, but-when! And -- "
Such conversation is infuriating to the reader and also cheat him of the genuine emotional conflict and change that are core to viable fiction. (CSFW: David Smith ) (Original source: ) (e)


Mimesis is usually translated as "imitation" or "representation," though the concept is much more complex than that and doesn't translate easily into English. It is an imitation or representation of something else rather than an attempt to literally duplicate the original. For instance, Aristotle in The Poetics defined tragedy as "the imitation [mimesis] of an action." In his sense, both poetry and drama are attempts to take an instance of human action and represent or re-present its essence while translating it into a new "medium" of material. For example, a play about World War II is an attempt to take the essence of an actual, complex historical event involving millions of people and thousands of square miles over several years and recreate that event in a simplified representation involving a few dozen people in a few thousand square feet over a few hours. The play would be a mimesis of that historic event using stage props, lighting, and individual actors to convey the sense of what World War II was to the audience. In the same way, the process of mimesis might involve creating a film about World War II (translating the event into images projected onto a flat screen or monitor using chemical images on a strip of photosynthetic film), or writing a poem about World War II would constitute an attempt at distilling that meaning into syllables, stress, verse, and diction. Picasso might attempt to embody warfare as a montage of destruction--his painting Guernica is the result. The degree to which each form of art accurately embodies the essence of its subject determines (for many classical theorists of art) the degree of its success.
Additionally, mimesis may involve ecphrasis--the act of translating art from one type of media into another. A classical musician or composer might be entranced by an earlier bit of folkloric art, the legend of William Tell. He attempts to imitate or represent the stirring emotions of that story by creating a stirring song that has the same effect; thus, the famous "The William Tell Overture" results. A story has been translated into a musical score. It is also possible to attempt mimesis of one medium into the same medium. For instance, American musician Aaron Copland was inspired by the simplicity of Quaker music, so he attempted to re-create that music mimetically in "Appalachian Spring," much like he earlier attempted to mimetically capture the American spirit in "Fanfare for the Common Man."
In literature, ecphrasis is likewise used to describe the way literature describes or mimics other media (other bits of art, architecture, music and so on). For instance, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is largely Keats' poetic attempt to capture the eternal and changeless nature of visual art depicted on an excavated piece of pottery. Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" involves an elaborate architectural recreation of three pagan temples, and the artwork on the walls of those temples, as well as the verbal construction of an entire coliseum to enclose a knightly combat. These are both ecphrases seeking to turn one type of non-verbal art into verbal art through mimetic principles. (Source: ) (e)

money rule

Money always flows towards the writer. (e)


A more specific form of monoism, this form authorial laziness is where the physical setting has a single environmental characteristic, particularly at the planetary level. Examples include the jungle planet in Alan Dean Foster's Midworld or the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


An authorial laziness where some aspect of the setting or world has a single monolithic characteristic. For example, a planet that has a single environment (i.e. mono-environments), such as the desert planet of Arrakis in Dune, or the swamp-jungle planet of Dagobah in Star Wars. Another example of a monoism is an alien race which have some dominate characteristic, such as the hunting race in the movie Predator. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A monologue (as versus a dialogue) is an extended, uninterrupted speech by a single person. The person may be speaking his or her thoughts aloud or directly addressing other persons, e.g. an audience, a character, or a reader. -- (Source: Monolgoue at Wikipedia ) (e)

monospace font

A font with a fixed width. The number of characters that appear in a given width, such as one inch, will be the same regardless of the specific characters included. (e)

more ink around the dogs

More ink around the dogs is a colloquial exhortation to emphasize a bit of chrome, taken from an otherwise dreadful story featuring fascinating dogs, the only feature the critics found worthy in the entire tale. -- (CSFW: Sari Boren) (e)

motherhood statement story

An SF story which posits some profoundly unsettling threat to the human condition, explores the implications briefly, then hastily retreats to affirm the conventional social and humanistic pieties, ie apple pie and motherhood. Greg Egan once stated that the secret of truly effective SF was to deliberately "burn the motherhood statement." (Attr. Greg Egan ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


A recurring visual objective correlative of the theme. In Catch-22, for instance, the theme is that war is insane, so the recurring motif is one character calling another character crazy, under a wide variety of circumstances, so that we continually revisit the same element, each time with a different view. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

motivation (character)

Characters act for two reasons: (1) the writer wants certain things to happen in a story, and (2) the actions further a character's objectives. The latter is motivation; when it is bad, the reader becomes angry with the apparent stupidity or illogic of the character, and disengages. See Plot-Driven. (e)

Mrs. Brown

The Mrs. Browns are the small, downtrodden, eminently common, everyday little people who nevertheless encapsulates something vital and important about the human condition. "Mrs. Brown" is a rare personage in the SF genre, being generally overshadowed by swaggering submyth types made of the finest gold-plated cardboard. In a famous essay, "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown," Ursula K. Le Guin decried Mrs. Brown's absence from the SF field. (Attr: Ursula K. Le Guin) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

mundane science fiction (genre)

Mundane science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction, typically hard science fiction, which is characterized by its setting on Earth or within the solar system, and a lack of interstellar travel, intergalactic travel or human contact with extraterrestrials.[7]
The Mundane science fiction movement, inspired by an idea of Julian Todd, was founded in 2004 during the Clarion workshop by novelist Geoff Ryman among others.[8][9] The beliefs of the movement were later codified as the Mundane Manifesto. [10]
Ryman has contrasted mundane science fiction with regular science fiction through the desire of teenagers to leave their parents' homes.[11] Ryman sees too much of regular science fiction being based on an "adolescent desire to run away from our world." However, Ryman notes that humans are not truly considered grown-up until they "create a new home of their own," which is what mundane science fiction aims to do.[11]
(Source: Mundane science fiction at Wikipedia )

(e) / mundane SF mystery (genre)

Mystery fiction, technically involving stories in which characters try to discover a vital piece of information which is kept hidden until the climax, is now considered by many people almost a synonym for detective fiction. The standard novel stocked in the mystery section of bookstores is a whodunit. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)


In the study of mythology, a mytheme is the essential kernel of a myth, an irreducible, unchanging element, similar to a cultural meme, one that is always found shared with other, related mythemes and reassembled in various ways—"bundled" was Claude Lévi-Strauss's image— or linked in more complicated relationships, like a molecule in a compound. For example, the myths of Adonis and Osiris share several elements, leading some scholars to conclude that they share a source. (Source: mytheme at Wikipedia ) (e)



A description of a sequence of events. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

narrative environment

A narrative environment is a space, whether physical or virtual, in which stories can unfold (in other words, anyplace). A virtual narrative environment might be the narrative framework in which game play can proceed. A physical narrative environment might be an exhibition area within a museum, or a foyer of a retail space, or the public spaces around a building - anywhere in short where stories can be told in space. It's also a term coined by the Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design program in Narrative Environments. (Source: Narrative Environment at Wikipedia ) (e)

narrative form

Template:Narrative form (e)

narrative method

Narrative method is another term for narrative mode. (e)

narrative mode

The narrative mode is the mechanism used to tell a story, it encompasses who and how the story is told. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

narrative structure

Narrative structure, a literary element, is generally described as the structural framework that underlies the order and manner in which a narrative is presented to a reader, listener, or viewer. The narrative text structures are the plot and the setting.
Generally, the narrative structure of any work—be it a film, play, or novel—contains a plot, theme, and resolution. It can also be divided into three sections, which are together referred to as the three-act structure: setup, conflict, and resolution. The setup (act one) is where all of the main characters and their basic situations are introduced, and contains the primary level of characterization (exploring the character's backgrounds and personalities). A problem is also introduced, which is what drives the story forward.
The second act, the conflict, is the bulk of the story, and begins when the inciting incident (or catalyst) sets things into motion. This is the part of the story where the characters go through major changes in their lives as a result of what is happening; this can be referred to as the character arc, or character development.
The third act, or resolution, is when the problem in the story boils over, forcing the characters to confront it, allowing all the elements of the story to come together and inevitably leading to the ending. -- (Source: Narrative structure at Wikipedia ) (e)

narrative technique

Template:Narrative technique (e)


Narratology is the study of the narrative form. (e)


A narrator is an entity within a story that tells the story to the reader. It is one of three entities responsible for story-telling of any kind. The others are the author and the reader (or audience). The author and the reader both inhabit the real world. It is the author's function to create the alternate world, people, and events within the story. It is the reader's function to understand and interpret the story. The narrator exists within the world of the story (and only there—although in non-fiction the narrator and the author can share the same persona, since the real world and the world of the story are the same) and presents it in a way the reader can comprehend.
A narrator tells the story from their point of view and is frequently the main character (but not always, see Doctor Watson).
The concept of the unreliable narrator (as opposed to Author) became more important with the rise of the novel in the 19th Century. Until the late 1800s, literary criticism as an academic exercise dealt solely with poetry (including epic poems like The Iliad and Paradise Lost, and poetic drama like Shakespeare). Most poems did not have a narrator distinct from the author. But novels, with their immersive fictional worlds, created a problem, especially when the narrator's views differed significantly from that of the author. -- (Source: Narrator at Wikipedia ) (e)

negative critique

A negative critique (as opposed to a positive critique) points out a flaw or short coming in the writing. Examples include "as you know Bob" dialogue, impossible use of body parts, and kill your darlings. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A neologism is a word, term, or phrase that has been recently created (or "coined"), often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary. Neologisms are especially useful in identifying inventions, new phenomena, or old ideas that have taken on a new cultural context. The term e-mail, as used today, is an example of a neologism. (e)

New Query Letter, The

In the new age of self publishing, the New Query Letter is the self-published novel. (e)

New Wave science fiction (genre)

New Wave is a term applied to science fiction writing characterised by a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, and a highbrow and self-consciously "literary" or artistic sensibility. The term "New Wave" is borrowed from film criticism's nouvelle vague: films characterised by the work of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. The New Wave writers saw themselves as part of the general literary tradition and often openly mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction, which they regarded as stodgy, irrelevant and unambitious. (Source: New Wave (science fiction) at Wikipedia )
Significant New Wave authors are: Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Thomas M. Disch, Harlan Ellison, Philip José Farmer, Harry Harrison, M. John Harrison, R. A. Lafferty, Ursula K. Le Guin, Keith Roberts, Joanna Russ, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad, and Roger Zelazny. (e)

not simultaneous (grammar)

The mis-use of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. "Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau." Alas, our hero couldn't do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into "Ing Disease," the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in "-ing," a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


A word that is used to specify a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive. (Source: ) (e)


A single book or story with a word count of 40,000 up. - (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A novella is a short story from 17,500 words to 40,000. - (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


A short story from 7500 to 17,500 words. - (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

nowhere nowhen story

Putting too little exposition into the story's beginning, so that the story, while physically readable, seems to take place in a vacuum and fails to engage any readerly interest. (Attr. L. Sprague de Camp) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


Nowism is short for 'now-chauvinism'. The tendency to export present-day forms, conventions, technology or morality to a future setting where they are inappropriate or unlikely. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


objective correlative

An objective correlative is a situation or a sequence of events or objects that evokes a particular emotion in a reader or audience. (Source: )
Objective correlative is the tangible manifestation of an intangible, created and used by the writer to help the reader grasp the intangible concept. Most literature is about emotions or ideals -- things that you cannot see or touch. So the objective correlative becomes a focus, a tangible surrogate. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the painting becomes the objective correlative of Dorian Gray's soul -- it shows the invisible rot. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester's child is the objective correlative of her sinful passions.
An important characteristic of objective correlatives is that they are usually vested with attributes which tilt the reader toward the emotion the writer wants him to feel in relation to the intangible being staged. (T. S. Eliot) (Original source: )

(e) offstage

Events which occur other than onstage. Examples: reminiscence, narration, indirect quotation. Events which can only be inferred are the ultimate distance offstage. (Original source: ) (e)

the ol' baloney factory

"Science Fiction" as a publishing and promotional entity in the world of commerce. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

one "big idea" rule

In science fiction it is generally considered that a story should contain only one "big idea" or conceptual conceit so as not to loose the readers suspension of disbelief. This probably does not include the standard SF tropes, such as faster than light travel. (e)


Events which are shown directly to the reader, who becomes a real-time observer while the action takes place. Onstage events are more dramatic and the reader weights them more important than events offstage. (Original source: ) (e)

ontological riff

An 'ontological riff' is a passage in an SF story which suggests that our deepest and most basic convictions about the nature of reality, space-time, or consciousness have been violated, technologically transformed, or at least rendered thoroughly dubious. The works of H. P. Lovecraft, Barrington Bayley, and Philip K Dick abound in "ontological riffs." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

organ music

Details which seek to countersink an emotional response in the reader even before anything happens (such as crackling lightning and rain outside a window before anyone's murdered). (CSFW: David Smith)(Original source: )
Whether this is a negative or positive critique depends on how heavy handed it is. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

out of character

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out-of-whack event

In Aristotelian drama, the story concerns a character whose stable life is knocked out of whack — the out-of-whack event or destabilizing event — by an external force. The remainder of the story concerns his attempts to put his life back into whack, and his success or failure. The out-of-whack event inaugurates the struggle.
Commonly the out-of-whack event occurs at the novel's opening (e.g. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, Valentine Michael Smith is brought to Earth; or Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin recovers his powers but not his memory). It may already be in the past (e.g. Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, the aliens tamper with Muller's brain to broadcast evil emotions).
If the out-of-whack event is delayed too long, the story seems to move slowly. "Shoot the sheriff on page 1." (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


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outliner (writer)

An outline writer is someone who writes in structured, front-loaded design process. That is, a writer who outlines their story first, then uses the outline as a guide for writing the story. Contrast with panster. (e)


Overhead is the amount of reality-bending in a science fiction or fantasy story which the reader must absorb as a precondition of enjoying the work and appreciating the dramatic point. Science fiction has more overhead than mainstream fiction: the writer is building a world that does not exist so as to stage something which cannot be illustrated in the world that does exist. Staging overhead unobtrusively but unmistakably is always a problem; the shorter the work, the harder the problem (see Info Dump). Well-balanced stories have no more overhead than necessary to make the dramatic point; part of the difficulty in writing SF short stories, thus, is the need to provide overhead in a cramped space. This may in part contribute to the proliferation of used furniture, which (however tacky and cliched) is at least familiar and thus requires less overhead. (CSFW: Alex Jablokov) (Original source: ) (e)



Pace is the timing by which the major events in the plot unfold and by which the big scenes are shown. Dramatic tension is largely a function of pace. Pace is also the process of stretching out the big scenes (slowing down time) and compressing the offstage action (speeding up time) to match the reader's emotions. (Original source: ) (e)


Pacing is the rhythm of the novel, of the chapters and scenes and paragraphs and sentences. It's also the rate at which the reader reads, the speed at which novel events occur and unfold. It's using specific word choices and sentence structure -- scene, chapter, and novel structure -- to tap the emotions of the reader so that the reader feels what the writer wants the reader to feel at any given time during the story. -- (Source: [Pacing by Vicki Hinze at Pacing by Vicki Hinze at] ) (e)

packing peanuts

Packing peanuts are the elements included in a story to fill out spaces between big scenes or important events. All stories need some packing peanuts; be wary of stories which are nothing but packing peanuts. (CSFW: Alex Jablokov) (Original source: ) (e)


A panster writer is someone who writes "by the seat of their pants". That is, a writer who uses the process of writing the story to find and develop the story. Contrast with outliner. (e)


A parable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral or religious lesson. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters. (e)


Paratext is a concept in literary interpretation. The main text of published authors (e.g. the story, non-fiction description, poems, etc.) is often surrounded by other material supplied by editors, printers, and publishers, which is known as the paratext. These added elements form a frame for the main text, and can change the reception of a text or its interpretation by the public. Paratext is most often associated with books, as they typically include a cover (with associated cover art), title, front matter (dedication, opening information, forward), back matter (endpapers, colophon) footnotes, and many other materials not crafted by the author. Other editorial decisions can also fall into the category of paratext, such as the formatting or typography. Because of their close association with the text, it seems that authors should be given the final say about paratexual materials, but often that is not the case. One recent example of controversy surrounding paratext is the case of the young adult novel Liar, which was initially published with an image of a white girl on the cover, although the narrator of the story was identified in the text as black.
The concept of paratext is closely related to the concept of hypotext, which is the earlier text that serves as a source for the current text. -- Source: Wikipedia (e)

parsimony of detail

Parsimony of detail is an attribute of writing where the author has been frugal or conservative in what they tell the reader, generally in a positive way, such that any detail given is significant to the story in some way. It is a more narrowly focused aspect of economy. Contrast with chrome. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

pay off (to)

To be employed later in the furtherance of the dramatic or thematic intent of the story. Under the principle of economy, elements which fail to pay off weaken the story and cause the reader to disengage. (Jim Morrow) (Original source: ) (e)

perception fallacy

If a scene is told from a particular character's point of view (that is, no omniscient narrator), everything shown in that scene must be perceivable by the POV character. The perception fallacy is the common mistake of assuming that, if this is so, all description must be filtered through the senses of that character, rather than being presented directly. ("I got into the cab. I saw that the steering wheel had blood on it. I looked under the seat and found the knife." rather than "I got into the cab. The steering wheel had blood on it. The knife was under the seat.")
The difference is whether the POV character is intrusive and disruptive or unobtrusive. This often has several unintended negative consequences:
Reality is filtered through an extra lens. Instead of saying "rain poured down" the writer writes "I felt the rain pour down". A story always has one filter -- writer telling reader -- and good writers generally try to make the writer as unobtrusive as possible. Adding this second filter -- writer telling character to tell reader -- is not only uneconomical, it is also often intrusive.
Feeling trapped into the restriction that all information must come to the point-of-view character, with the result that characters often rush onstage to tell the point-of-view character something. This is even worse than the first problem, because now we have a third filter: character telling character telling writer telling reader.
Confusion between the perception of the writer, the narrator (if any), and the POV character. See Author Surrogate. (Original source: ) (e)

peripheral character ego

The antidote to superman syndrome, the legitimate desire of peripheral characters to be doing something even when being ignored by the protagonists and writer. Every peripheral character should behave (whether onstage or off) as if he or she is the most important actor in the story, with his or her own genuine motivations and independence. Tom Stoppard, the maestro of this conceit, built it into a whole play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

phase (writing)

A writing phase is a somewhat arbitrary segment of the lifecycle of a story from conception to publication. The actually phases will vary with the writer's process and goals. The writing phases might include : spark, incubation, barf, polish, beta, copyedit, pre-publish, and published. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Phildickian is named Philip K. Dick, a surrealist science fiction writer, it describes situations in which reality and illusion become indistinguishable, or moments when the reader's perception changes so that reality becomes illusion or vice versa. 'When two people dream the same dream, it ceases to be an illusion' -- Philip K. Dick. (CSFW: Sarah Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


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A (narrative) plot is a sequence of events that form a recognizable pattern and terminates in a resolution. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
In fiction a plot or storyline is all the events in a story, particularly towards the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect. In other words, it's what mostly happened in the story. Such as the mood, characters, setting, and conflicts occurring in a story. (Source: Plot (narrative) at Wikipedia )
The external motivation, the narrative melody around which the story is told. Plot is the action that dramatizes premise or makes characters come to life. Example of excellence: Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, and many others. (Original source: ) -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

plot bunnies

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plot coupons

The basic building blocks of the quest-type fantasy plot. The "hero" collects sufficient plot coupons (magic sword, magic book, magic cat) to send off to the writer for the ending. Note that "the writer" can be substituted for "the gods" in such a work: "The gods decreed he would pursue this quest." Right, mate. The writer decreed he would pursue this quest until sufficient pages were filled to procure an advance. (Dave Langford) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

plot device

A plot device is an element introduced into a story to solely to advance or resolve the plot of the story. In the hands of a skilled writer, the reader or viewer will not notice that the device is a construction of the author; it will seem to follow naturally from the setting or characters in the story. A poorly-written story, on the other hand, may have such awkward or contrived plot devices that the reader has serious trouble maintaining suspension of disbelief.
Calling an element of a work a 'plot device' is generally derogatory, implying a lack of complexity in the work. Judging something as a plot device is always subjective, and depends on the degree to which the 'item' serves other purposes or is well-integrated into the tale. For example the 'magic item' which the protagonists of a fantasy novel have to find or destroy is often a plot device; however one might hesitate to apply the term to the Ring of The Lord of the Rings, since it also serves many other purposes in the book. (Source: plot device at Wikipedia ) (e)

plot driven

Plot-Driven is action which occurs, not because the characters are motivated to make it so, but because the writer wants to yank the story in a particular direction. Usually manifests by the characters refusing to act in the way that the writer has programmed them to, or by being wooden when performing the actions in question. Contrast with character driven. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)

plot inversion

Events are meaningful to the reader when the reader understand what they signify. Thus for a scene to be meaningful, there must be (1) table-setting to establish what is at stake, and (2) the action itself. Normal plot construction puts the table-setting first, so the reader is prepared. Plot inversion reverses this order, so we have the events and only later learn what they mean. Although this can sometimes be very effective (it's a standard device in whodunit mysteries, where deceiving the reader is part of the game), usually it's a mistake. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

plot twist

A plot twist is a change ("twist") in the direction or expected outcome of the plot of a film, television series, video game, novel, comic or other fictional work. It is a common practice in narration used to keep the interest of an audience, usually surprising them with a revelation. Some "twists" are foreshadowed and can thus be predicted by many viewers/readers, whereas others are a complete shock.
When a plot twist happens near the end of a story, especially if it changes one's view of the preceding events, it is known as a twist ending.
Revealing the existence of a plot twist often spoils a movie, since the majority of the movie generally builds up to the plot twist.
A device used to undermine the expectations of the audience is the false protagonist. It involves presenting a character at the start of the film as the main character, but then disposing of this character, usually killing them. It is a red herring. -- Source Plot twist at Wikipedia (e)


A plotless story lacks a recognizable sequence of events that form a recognizable pattern and terminates in a resolution (that is, a plot), or the pattern is difficult to detect and/or fails to terminate in a recognizable resolution. (e)


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point of view

Point of view (or POV) and point-of-view character. The 'hidden camera' through which the reader perceives a scene. It may be inside a focus character (we see that character's thoughts and reactions to events), it may move among characters, or it may remain outside of all characters as either an omniscient narrator or an active, present author-voice (e.g. John Fowles, Italo Calvino) commenting on the action.
Point of view is a scarce resource, since it may be only one character at any one instant. Almost by definition, the reader will perceive the point-of-view character as the most important in a scene, and will be sympathetic to the point-of-view character (see Author Surrogate). Identical action will be perceived very differently by the reader if the point-of-view character is shifted (e.g. Rashomon; or Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quincunx). Granting a character point-of-view status for a scene usually signals that the character is a focus character, and is an easy way to separate focus and peripheral characters at the beginning of a story. Among the common points of view are:
Third person omniscient: The narrator knows everything, can shift in time and place at whim, from character to character, inside people's thoughts, feelings and motives.
Third person intrusive: The narrator editorializes on the story being told (Dickens, Fielding, Dostoevsky, John Fowles).
Third person unobtrusive or Third person impersonal: Presents the story without comment (Zola, Flaubert, Dashiell Hammett).
Third person limited: The narrator is confined to a single character, sitting on his shoulder or inside his head, observing only what is available to that character (Henry James, Raymond Chandler).
Second person: An uncommon view point where the reader is focus. "You open the door and enter the room."
First person: narrator is almost always intrusive and limited: confined to a single character who may be a witness (c.f. The Great Gatsby), a minor participant (Doctor Watson), or the central character (Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe). First person narrators are frequently either reader surrogates, author surrogates, or both.
-- (Original source: ) (e)

polish phase

When writing, or pursuing some other creative process, the polish phase (as part of the barf and polish writing process) is the period when the focus is on refining the story (or other "artifact") by engaging ones critical and/or editorial faculties. It is preceded by the barf phase. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


The tendency to use a big word for effect even when a small word is better. (CSFW: David Smith ) (Original source: ) (e)

"Poor me" story

An autobiographical piece in which the male viewpoint character complains that he is ugly and can't get laid. (Attr. Kate Wilhelm ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

positive critique

A positive critique (as opposed to a negative critique) points out a strength in the writing. Examples include an eyeball kick and incluing. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

post beta phase

During the post beta phase feedback from the beta readers is incorporated into the work. This phase is very similar to the polish phase, but usually a lot less work. (e)


The Compact Oxford English Dictionary refers to postmodernism as "a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust of theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to conventions."[12]
Postmodernism literally means 'after the modernist movement'. While "modern" itself refers to something "related to the present", the movement of modernism and the following reaction of postmodernism are defined by a set of perspectives. It is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism and design, as well as in marketing and business and in the interpretation of history, law, culture and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy, which was the basis of the attempt to describe a condition, or a state of being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions (as in Giddens, 1990) as postmodernity. In other words, postmodernism is the "cultural and intellectual phenomenon", especially since the 1920s' new movements in the arts, while postmodernity focuses on social and political outworkings and innovations globally, especially since the 1960s in the West.
Source: Wikipedia (e)


POD is an acronym for Print On Demand. (e)


Acronym for point of view. (e)


Powderpuff describes the authorial habit of being too nice to characters about whom the writer cares. Violates the basic principle, if you want your reader to care about your characters, do horrible things to them early on. Also called Pitty-Pat. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

pre-publish phase

During the pre-publish phase the work is formatted for publication either in an ebook or print form, or both. Cover art and design are produced, as well as various blurbs. (e)


A writer is pre-published before becoming an author. That is, the state of not having been published. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


In mainstream fiction, the premise is almost exclusively the present, real world. Science fiction uses the real world as a springboard or boomerang; it changes one or more major elements, then builds from that difference, showing us the shadow-side of changing human biology, technology, sociology, or psychology. Example of excellence: LeGuin, Left Hand of Darkness, the planet Winter populated by human beings who are hermaphroditic neuters for most of their lives; Huxley, Brave New World, regulation in the guise of hedonism; Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy or I, Robot. (Original source: ) (e)

prequel (story)

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print on demand

Print on demand (POD) printing technology and business process in which copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, allowing books to be printed singly, or in small quantities. While build to order has been an established business model in many other industries, "print on demand" developed only after digital printing began,[13] because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing. Source: Wikipedia (e)


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proportional font

A font with a variable width. The number of characters that appear in a given fixed width, such as one inch, will vary depending on the specific characters. (e)


Prose is ordinary writing in contrast to poetry or verse. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


The main character in a story, on whom the writer focuses the narrative. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
The central character of a story. Often the protagonist is a POV character or the sole POV character, but not necessarily (Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist, but Doctor Watson has the POV throughout; same for Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin). -- (Original source: ) (e)

published phase

A published work has been released in print or ebook or both. The focus of this phase shifts to supporting discovery. (e)


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pump up (to)

Expanding a scene's staging to give it more impact on the reader: foreshadowing it, placing it onstage, stretching out time, increasing the stakes. It is the literary foreplay that allows a scene to deliver its maximum dramatic impact. (Jim Morrow) (Original source: ) (e)

punish the careless reader

Punish the careless reader is an authorial device to make a reader engage: to sprinkle throughout the story information vital to understanding subsequent events; this punishes the careless reader by making him retreat and reread. Punishment works only when matched by rewarding the careful reader. See Cookie. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

pushbutton words

Pushbutton words are words or phrases used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties. Commonly found in story titles, they include such bits of bogus lyricism as "star," "dance," "dream," "song," "tears" and "poet," cliches calculated to render the SF audience misty-eyed and tender-hearted. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Words used to evoke an emotional response without engaging the reader's intellect or critical faculties, like 'song', 'poet', 'tears' or 'dreams'. They are supposed to make us misty-eyed without quite knowing why. Commonly found in romance novel titles. (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)


reaction shot

From the movies, a cutaway shift inside a bundle of narrative action which shows us the emotional or other responses of a character, usually a reader surrogate. (Original source: ) (e)

reader cheating

Producing a result (a surprise, a deduction, an unexpected denouement) without having given the reader a fair opportunity to foresee the result. For instance, having a detective deduce the murderer based on evidence the writer has willfully concealed from the reader is reader cheating. (Example: a point-of-view character who knows things and acts on them but lies in internal narrative so as to distract the reader.) (CSFW: James Patrick Kelly) (Original source: ) (e)

reader expectations

When a reader starts reading, they do so with some ideas about what the story will be about. Many of these ideas or expectations are based on the (perceived) genre of the work. How an author fulfills or subverts a reader's expectations is critical to keeping a reader engaged. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

reader surrogate

A focus character who voices or experiences the thoughts, reactions and emotions which the writer desires the reader to have. Usually the point-of-view character, usually observing a scene or being acted upon (e.g. being tortured or interrogated). (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

rear-view mirror description

The authorial habit of describing things only after they've figured in the action, never before they're used. "She dodged behind the boulder that she'd just seen out of the corner of her eye." The effect on the reader is that the description isn't seen for itself, but rather as if glimpsed only in the rear-view mirror. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

red shirt

A character who exists to be killed off. The term 'red shirt' comes from the high casualty rate of experienced by the security personnel on the original Star Trek and who wore red shirts. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

re-inventing the wheel story

A novice writer goes to enormous lengths to create a science-fictional situation already tiresomely familiar to the experienced reader. Reinventing the Wheel was traditionally typical of mainstream writers venturing into SF. It is now often seen in writers who lack experience in genre history because they were attracted to written SF via SF movies, SF television series, SF role-playing games, SF comics or SF computer gaming. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

Rembrandt comic book story

A story in which incredible craftsmanship has been lavished on a theme or idea which is basically trivial or subliterary, and which simply cannot bear the weight of such deadly-serious artistic portent. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

replacement principle

The axiom that, in the future, everything we know now will be replaced with something more technological and better. Often an important means of avoiding nowism, it can sometimes be taken to absurd extremes. (Kathryn Cramer) (Original source: ) (e)


Resolution is the part of a story's plot forming the end of a sequence of events where the problem(s) of the created in the story are resolved. (e)


Retrofit is an editing term. To rewrite a previous chapter or scene for the purpose of making a later scene work better, by setting up something that is needed later, introducing a premise, situation or character so that its presence later in the story is justified. To revise a previous chapter or scene to conform details to what is necessary later in the story. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


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reward the careful reader

Reward the careful reader is the counterpart to punishing the careless reader: rewarding means, in this case, providing extra bonus details, small bits of readerly pleasure. Tuckerizing is a simple example; others are eyeball images, resonant metaphors, throwaway jokes, and so on. "As for you, the writer, never forget the following: the reader is like a circus horse which has to be taught that it will be rewarded with a lump of sugar every time it acquits itself well. If that sugar is withheld, it will not perform." -- Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars. (CSFW: David Smith) See Cookie. (Original source: ) (e)


Abbreviated from "there's a rhinoceros in the room," this is an attribute (a story element or of the writer's writing) which is shriekingly obvious to everyone except the people closest to it. (In horror movies, the idiotic willingness of characters to split up and search dark mansions is a rhinoceros.) The term is most useful in a critiquing context as a means of helping a writer identify recurring tropes, tics, or fetishes in his own writing. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

rhinoceros in the room

A "rhinoceros in the room" is an item or situation that is important to the plot but ignored or misunderstood by characters that should perceive its significance, yet they don't because it would alter or ruin the plot. (e)

Roget's disease

The ludicrous overuse of far-fetched adjectives, piled into a festering, fungal, tenebrous, troglodytic, ichorous, leprous, synonymic heap. (Attr. John W. Campbell ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

role playing game

A game where the players take on the roles of imaginary characters. (e)

round character

One narrow definition of a round character is one who is capable of change and evolution throughout a story. A broader definition of a round character, is a character who has depth, isn't a stereotype or a cliche; has identifiable desires and goals; has sufficient detail of behavior, intent, and backstory to be believable to the reader. Contrast with flat character. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

RPG story

A story based on a role-playing game adventure. While these stories can be quite good in a role-playing context, there are serious issues with how multi-viewpoint story can be translated into a linear story format. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

romance (genre)

Romance is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America. It has produced a wide array of subgenres, the majority of which feature the mutual attraction and love of a man and a woman as the main plot, and have a happy ending. (e)

rubber science

An explanation which, although probably false according to what we know of the universe, sounds technical and convincing. Rubber science is acceptable in all forms of SF except hard-core hard SF, where the main dramatic point is the complete credibility of the science shown. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

rule (writing)

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rules of engagement

An element of overhead: the definitions of permissible and impermissible contact and behavior of a fictionally-created device or being. Aliens are most real when they have consistent rules of engagement, which operate according to logic not easily visible to the reader, but which is nevertheless clear to the aliens (and, most likely, to the writer). Often when designing aliens or rubber science, it is helpful to write a separate description of the rules of engagement, not to be included in the story (where it would be an info dump), but rather as a guide to the writer as to what the new creation will and will not do. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (Original source: ) (e)


Frenetic activity by characters we don't care about, usually in search of objects or goals we're uninterested in seeing them achieve. Usually injected into action stories when the writer realizes that he's failing his dramatic objectives. Can be recognized when, although the action is fast and furious, the reader skims along with a glazed eye. Often the more spectacular the gore -- e.g., the more bodies left on the battlefield at scene's end -- the greater the runaround, and the weaker the story. A tipoff of weak characterization. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)


query letter

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A quest is a journey towards a goal used in mythology and literature as a plot. Quests can be found in the folklore of every nation.[14] In literature, the objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero, and the overcoming of many obstacles, typically including much travel. -- (Source: quest at Wikipedia ) (e)


"Said" bookism

An artificial verb used to avoid the word "said." "Said" is one of the few invisible words in the English language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less distracting than "he retorted," "she inquired," "he ejaculated," and other oddities. The term "said-book" comes from certain pamphlets, containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the word "said," which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in American magazines of the pre-WWII era. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

sans-serif font

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scene (writing)

A scene is the basic dramatic sub-unit -- an interaction involving one or more focus characters. Scenes are usually ended by the announcement that time has passed ('a week later'), by a termination of the dialogue ('she left then'), a shift in point-of-view character, or an external event ('the room exploded'). A scene which straddles a chapter break is a guaranteed tension-maintainer. (e)

scene outline

A scene outline is a blow-by-blow description of the onstage events. It covers everything the action outline covered, but also (1) segregates background information from the narrative flow, (2) identifies point-of-view characters, (3) addresses what is shown onstage, what offstage, (4) is subdivided into scenes or chapters. A scene outline is often a useful successor to an action outline: it can help a writer avoid staging scenes which are undramatic. The following things typically go into it:
Expression of the theme
Background information, broken into convenient subheadings
Scene-by-scene description of the story.
Any outline should define any jargon it intends to use. Focus characters should be introduced with solid capitals so the reader-critic knows to pay attention. An outline should be edited and polished, if not for drama, at least for clear economical exposition. Often scene outlines are written in present tense. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

science fantasy (genre)

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science fiction (genre)

Science fiction is a fiction genre that uses significant speculative trappings that basically conforms to and/or does not violate known science at the time of its writing. Also known as SF and Sci-Fi. (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
(From Wikipedia) Science fiction is defined more by setting than by other story elements. With a few exceptions, stories set out of Earth or in the future qualify as science fiction. Within these settings, the conventions of almost any other genre may be used. A sub-genre of science fiction is alternate history where, for some specific reason, the history of the novel deviates from the history of our world. Pavane (1968) by Keith Roberts was an influential early alternate history, Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South is another popular example. Of late, alternate history has come into its own as a distinctive and independent outgrowth from general science fiction. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e)

Science Fiction Writers of America

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second-order idiot plot

A variation on the idiot plot where the plot involves an entire invented SF society which functions only because every single person in it is necessarily an idiot. (Attr. Damon Knight) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
Also see bolt-on. (e)

second person

A small number of novels have been written in the second person, frequently paired with the present tense. A relatively prominent example is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, where the central character is clearly modeled on himself, and he seems to have decided that second-person point of view would create even more intimacy than first-person, creating the feeling that the reader is blind, in a sense, and the plot is leading him or her along. Another example is Damage by A.M. Jenkins, in which the second-person is used to show how distant the depressed main character has become from himself.
The second person format has been used in at least a few popular novels, most notably Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, and Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas as well as many short stories. When done well, the readers imagine themselves within the action, which can be used to place them in different situations, for example in Iain Banks' novel Complicity, where the chapters that deal with the actions of a murderer are in the second person. It is almost universally agreed that second-person narration is hard to manage, especially in a serious work. Other examples of second-person narrative are the Choose Your Own Adventure children's books, in which the reader actually makes decisions and jumps around the book accordingly; most interactive fiction; and different chapters from many novels written by Chuck Palahniuk, like his novel Diary.
An even rarer, but stylish version of second person narration takes the form of a series of imperative statements with the implied subject "you", as in this example from Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer":
"Decide that you like college life. In your dorm you meet many nice people. Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life."
-- Source: Wikipedia (e)


Segue is another term for bridge: a phrase or sentence which links two different scenes. In general, the smoother and less obtrusive the segue, the better. (e)

sequence of events

A sequence of events is a series of events that occur in chronological order. (e)


The general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which the action of a fictional or dramatic work occurs; the setting of an episode or scene within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place. For example, the general setting of Joyce's "The Dead," is a quay named Usher's Island, west of central Dublin in the early 1900s, and the initial setting is the second floor apartment of the Misses Morkan. Setting can be a central or peripheral factor in the meaning of a work. The setting is usually established through description--but sometimes narration or dialogue also reveals the location and time. (Source: )
In fiction, the setting of a story is the time, location and circumstances in which it takes place. Broadly speaking, the setting provides the main backdrop for the story. Sometimes setting is referred to as milieu, to include a context (such as society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. In some cases, setting becomes a character itself and can set the tone of a story. -- (Source: Setting (literature) at Wikipedia ) (e)

setting as character

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seven-point plot

The seven-point plot structure as defined by Dan Wells: (1) Hook (2) Plot Turn 1 (3) Pinch 1 (4) Midpoint (5) Pinch 2 (6) Plot Turn 2 (7) Resolution. Contrast with three-act structure. (e)

sequel (story)

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A sequence of novels, short stories, etc. that have a character or set of characters in common or occur in the same setting or world. Usually distinguished from a shared world by having only one author at a time or a pseudonymous author. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

serif font

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Acronym for Science Fiction. (e)


SF/F is an acronym for Science Fiction/Fantasy. (e)


SFWA is an acronym for Science Fiction Writers of America. (e)

shadow staging

Shadow staging presents a crucial event (such as an out-of- whack event) by its consequences rather than showing it directly. In Sophie's Choice, for example, Sophie's choice is shadow-staged throughout the whole novel. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (e)

shaggy God story

A Shaggy God story is a piece which mechanically adopts a Biblical or other mythological tale and provides flat science-fictional "explanations" for the theological events. The name is derived from the shaggy dog story. (Attr. Brian Aldiss ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

shared world (fictional)

A shared world is setting, usually including characters, that multiple authors have used in their fiction. Also referred to as a shared universe or threaded world Examples include: Thieves' World, Heroes in Hell, and Wild Cards. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

short story

A work of fiction less than 40,000 words in length, but more commonly between 1,000 and 7,500 words. Not a novel. - (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

show, not tell

A cardinal principle of effective writing. The reader should be allowed to react naturally to the evidence presented in the story, not instructed in how to react by the writer. Specific incidents and carefully observed details will render authorial lectures unnecessary. For instance, instead of telling the reader "She had a bad childhood, an unhappy childhood," a specific incident -- involving, say, a locked closet and two jars of honey -- should be shown.
Rigid adherence to show-don't-tell can become absurd. Minor matters are sometimes best gotten out of the way in a swift, straightforward fashion. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

signal from Fred

A signal or message from Fred is a comic form of the "Dischism" in which the writer's subconscious, alarmed by the poor quality of the work, makes unwitting critical comments: "This doesn't make sense." "This is really boring." "This sounds like a bad movie." (Attr. Damon Knight ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

simile of action

Metaphors or similes can be considered as a means of coining adjectives by repackaging nouns: "He was as strong as a bull, rosy-fingered dawn, it was as easy as pie." Metaphors are relatively seldom used to convey adverbs, and especially seldom to convey intention. It can be done in a few words if you know what to look for: namely, a simile in a structure such as: "He <verb> as if he was <metaphoric verb>ing," as in a sentence like "he regarded the outstretched hand as if it were a day-old fish." This has the extremely desirable result of describing intention without shifting narrational point of view; the technique can be used with high frequency without becoming obtrusive. (CSFW: David Smith) (Source: ) (e)

slipstream story

Non-SF story which is so ontologically distorted or related in such a bizarrely non-realist fashion that it cannot pass muster as commercial mainstream fiction and therefore seeks shelter in the SF or fantasy genre. Postmodern critique and technique are particularly fruitful in creating slipstream stories. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

slush pile

The slush pile is the set of unsolicited manuscripts, usually at a magazine or book publisher. (e)

smart subconscious

Smart subconscious is a term used when a critic (or the writer) reviews text in light of a new approach or theory and discovers, much to his or her surprise, that within the previous text are a whole series of small items or details which help express this approach or theory; the smart subconscious was planting them in hopes that they would eventually be discovered. Smart subconscious is a possible explanation for subtext. (CSFW: Paul Tumey) (e)

snark rule

"I tell you once, I tell you twice, what I tell you three times is true." Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark. When three or more critics concur on an element in a story, it is highly likely to be true. (Jennifer Jackson) (e)

snowflake method (writing)

An alternative name for the iterative deepening writing technique. (e)

soft science fiction

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soft SF

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sorcerer's apprentice's mop

A device or gadget which, if introduced into a society will spread, become pervasive, and change every aspect of society (cf. the telephone or the nanobots in Greg Bear's Blood Music). Writers who intend such devices as throwaways introduce them into their stories at great peril, because eventually the writer must either abruptly chop off exploration of the gadget (frustrating the reader) or make it the focus of the entire story (frustrating the writer). (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

space opera

Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic adventure, and larger-than-life characters often set against vast exotic futuristic settings with remotely plausible technology such as time travel and interstellar travel, complex alien civilizations and depictions of human futures. (Source: space opera at Wikipedia ) (e)

space western

The most pernicious suite of "Used Furniture" where every Martian or Jovian town looks and sounds like Dodge City (Lewis Shiner). The grizzled space captain swaggering into the spacer bar and slugging down a Jovian brandy, then laying down a few credits for a space hooker to give him a Galactic Rim Job. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

spark (story idea)

The spark of a story idea is some form of inspiration about a story. It can take the form a title, a character name, a plot, or any other multitude of starting points for writing. A spark may or may not go anywhere, but I keep it around (in a Sparks file) in hopes that it will grow into something more substantial and graduate to my Incubator. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

sparks file

A file (or collection of files) to collect ideas (i.e. Sparks). Periodically review to refocus and generate new tasks. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

speculative fiction

Speculative fiction is an overarching term for a number genres. It includes science fiction and fantasy. (e)

spoiler (media)

Spoiler is any element of any summary or description of any piece of fiction that reveals any plot element which will give away the outcome of a dramatic episode within the work of fiction, or the conclusion of the entire work. It can also be used to refer to any piece of information regarding any part of a given media. Because enjoyment of fiction sometimes depends upon the dramatic tension and suspense which arises within it, the external revelation of such plot elements can "spoil" the enjoyment that some consumers of the narrative would otherwise have experienced. -- Source: Wikipedia (e)

squid in the mouth

The failure of an writer to realize that his/her own weird assumptions and personal in-jokes are simply not shared by the world-at-large. Instead of applauding the wit or insight of the writer's remarks, the world-at-large will stare in vague shock and alarm at such a writer, as if he or she had a live squid in the mouth.
Since SF writers as a breed are generally quite loony, and in fact make this a stock in trade, "squid in the mouth" doubles as a term of grudging praise, describing the essential, irreducible, divinely unpredictable lunacy of the true SF writer. (Attr. James P. Blaylock ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

squid on the mantelpiece

Chekhov said that if there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third. In other words, a plot element should be deployed in a timely fashion and with proper dramatic emphasis. However, in SF plotting the MacGuffins are often so overwhelming that they cause conventional plot structures to collapse. It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is leveling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

stage time

Stage time is the number of words a story element is given in a narrative and is a measure of focus or significance said element receives from the author. (e)


Staging is bringing scenes to vivid life, making them so tangible and evocative that the reader is transfixed, bringing out the inherent drama or magnifying it so that it hits with great force. Example: Peake, Titus Groan, Steerpike in the kitchen with the chef Swelter; Orwell, 1984, O'Brien interrogates Winston Smith. (e)


Stalling is when a writer, knowing a big scene or crucial event is upcoming, writes desultory here-to-there scenes as a means of deferring the more difficult (and emotionally charged) task of writing the big scene. Common in first drafts. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)


Stapledon is the name assigned to the voice which takes center stage to lecture. Actually a common noun, as: "You have a Stapledon come on to answer this problem instead of showing how the characters resolve it." (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
A character prone to holding forth, at length and without interruption, while various info dumps are unloaded on the helpless reader. Often surrounded by sycophantic peripheral characters whose lines are generally limited to, "Why, it certainly seems so, Socrates. No man of sense could dispute that." (Lewis Shiner) (e)

steam-grommet factory story

Didactic SF story which consists entirely of a guided tour of a large and elaborate gimmick. A common technique of SF utopias and dystopias. (Attr. Gardner Dozois ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


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story arc

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Adapted from the movies, a visually-oriented simple description of the events in a scene. Often useful for writers wishing to structure or restructure their plots and separate these elements from dialogue, narration and other details of technique. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

story clock

The pace at which action is internally described. See fast forward and travel time. (CSFW: James Patrick Kelly) (e)

story element

A story element is an identifiable aspect or part of a narrative, such as plot, character, setting, theme, motif, climax, denouement, prologue, epilogue, etc. (e)


Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images, and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters, and narrative point of view. -- (Source: Storytelling at Wikipedia ) (e)


STYLE: The author's words and the characteristic way that writer uses language to achieve certain effects. An important part of interpreting and understanding fiction is being attentive to the way the author uses words. What effects, for instance, do word choice and sentence structure have on a story and its meaning? How does the author use imagery, figurative devices, repetition, or allusion? In what ways does the style seem appropriate or discordant with the work's subject and theme? Some common styles might be labeled ornate, plain, emotive, scientific, or whatnot. Most writers have their own particular styles, thus we speak of the "Hemingway style" or "Dickensian style." Click here for more information. (Source: )
Style is using words to create an aura, an effect that permeates the story. Extreme style becomes baroque, obtrusive stylization, but when handled deftly, the words become part of the fabric of the world. Examples: Cordwainer Smith, Norstrilia; Zelazny, Lord of Light or Jack of Shadows; and Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun. Example of style run amok, disguising melodrama: late Hemingway. (e)


A secondary level of action or content in a scene. Not stated overtly -- that is, not perceived by the characters -- and sometimes not even consciously perceived by the writer. (e)


Send your manuscript to an agent or editor. (e)

submission phase

The phase where a story is being shopped around or submitted to various potential markets, such as agents and editors. This phase is not applicable for self-published works. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

summary (story)

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Send a manuscript to an agent or editor with the intent of getting it published. (e)


Classic character-types in SF which aspire to the condition of archetype but don't quite make it, such as the mad scientist, the crazed supercomputer, the emotionless super-rational alien, the vindictive mutant child, etc. (Attr. Ursula K. Le Guin) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


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super hero

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Superman syndrome

The habit of magnifying the good points of focus characters and either giving them no bad points whatsoever or obscuring and rationalizing the minor ones they have. Usually leads to melodrama and heavy-handedness. (CSFW: David Smith) (e)

suspension of disbelief

Suspension of disbelief or "willing suspension of disbelief" was a formula devised by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge to justify the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. Coleridge suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend his judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the onus was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it. It might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is a quid pro quo: the audience tacitly agrees to provisionally suspend their judgment in exchange for the promise of entertainment. These fictional premises may also lend to the engagement of the mind and perhaps proposition of thoughts, ideas, art and perhaps theories. (e)

sword and sorcery

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tabloid weird story

Story produced by a confusion of SF and Fantasy tropes -- or rather, by a confusion of basic world-views. Tabloid Weird is usually produced by the writer's own inability to distinguish between a rational, Newtonian-Einsteinian, cause-and-effect universe and an irrational, supernatural, fantastic universe. Either the FBI is hunting the escaped mutant from the genetics lab, or the drill-bit has bored straight into Hell -- but not both at once in the very same piece of fiction. Even fantasy worlds need an internal consistency of sorts, so that a Sasquatch Deal-with-the-Devil story is also "Tabloid Weird." Sasquatch crypto-zoology and Christian folk superstition simply don't mix well, even for comic effect. (Attr. Howard Waldrop ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

tag (character)

A character tag is a descriptive characterization that is typically repeated and intended to identify a character to the reader. These descriptions range from physical to verbal to behavioral. Also see tic.
For example, in the long running Doc Savage series, Doc Savage's skin and eye colors are frequently referred, and his aides aides each have consistent tags: Monk is ape-like, Ham is dapper, Renny has huge fists, Long Tom is pale and apparently weak, and Johnny has a monocle and speaks with vocabulary drawn directly from a thesaurus.
(Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

tag (dialogue)

Dialogue tags are the verbs, such as 'said', 'shouted', 'cried', or 'whispered', that are attached to dialogue to describe a character's speech. For example: "I didn't think you cared," she said. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

technical detail

A technical detail, when critiquing a story, is some detail of the story that only a careful reader or expert will recognize as being incorrect. For example, a not immediately obvious anachronism, such as having a Roman citizen from the time of Caesar use zero, or not counting a leap day in duration that includes a leap year February 29th. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

tell, don't show

There is a time to show and there is a time to tell. Much ink has been spilled on the subject of show don't tell, but not on when telling is better. Some of the situations when tell is better are:
  • Remind readers of something without reiterating in depth (that is, "showing" all over again)
  • Telling, from a characters perspective, explicitly summarizes and encapsulates the events from that characters viewpoint. This can be important and useful when the character doing the telling is distorting (deliberately or not) the events, or explicitly leaving aspects out.
Charlie Jane Anders has identified these 5 situations where it's better to tell than show:
  1. Your characters all know something your reader doesn't.
  2. There are too many mysteries.
  3. You have too much insane backstory.
  4. You can think of a more entertaining way to tell than to show.
  5. It gets in the way of the emotional potency of your story.


The dominant verb-tense in which the main story is told. Most are told in straight past tense, although in a few cases (e.g. Tiptree, Brightness Falls from the Air; Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale) the present tense is sustained throughout. Tense is a very powerful way of distinguishing point of view or voice. Giving the present-tense solely to one character immediately makes that voice unique, whenever and wherever the reader encounters it. (Original source: ) (e)

tension (narrative)

The amount mental or emotional strain induced in the reader. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
Suspense or tension is the feeling of uncertainty and interest about the outcome of certain actions, most often referring to an audience's perceptions in a dramatic work. However, suspense is not exclusive to literature. Suspense can be considered as any situation where there a lead up to a big event or dramatic moment, with tension being a primary emotion felt as part of the situation. -- (Source: suspense at Wikipedia ) (e)


Texture encompasses both crispness of prose and efficiency of delivering images to the reader. At one level, it is word choice: at another, image choice. (E.g. when dealing with aliens in whom smell is the dominant sense, most things should be described by their aroma, and the characters should respond to aroma rather than to other attributes.) See Inappropriate Metaphor.
Texture often completes the circle by building a whole-book, macro-level vision of the premise by sustained, consistent micro-level evidence. Examples: Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, where the Russopunk vocabulary is laced throughout the book; and John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar, which intercuts storylines with news broadcasts, ads, and other vignettes of existence. (Original source: ) (e)

thematic intent

Thematic intent is the deliberate construction of theme in a work by the author. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

thematic redundancy

Retelling essentially the same story without changing any major element. (Original source: ) (e)


In contemporary literary studies, a theme is the central topic, subject, or concept the author is trying to point out, not to be confused with whatever message, moral, or commentary it may send or be interpreted as sending regarding said concept (i.e., its inferred "thesis"). While the term "theme" was for a period used to reference "message" or "moral," literary critics now rarely employ it in this fashion, namely due to the confusion it causes regarding the common denotation of theme: "[t]he subject of discourse, discussion, conversation, meditation, or composition; a topic." One historic problem with the previous usage was that readers would frequently conflate "subject" and "theme" as similar concepts, a confusion that the new terminology helps prevent in both scholarship and the classroom. Thus, according to recent scholarship and pedagogy, identifying a story's theme—for example, "death"—does not inherently involve identifying the story's thesis or claims about "death's" definitions, properties, values, or significance. Like morals or messages, themes often explore historically common or cross-culturally recognizable ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.
In literature, a theme is a broad idea in a story, or a message or lesson conveyed by a work. This message is usually about life, society or human nature. Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Themes are usually implied rather than explicitly stated. Deep thematic content is not required in literature; however, some readers would say that all stories inherently project some kind of outlook on life that can be taken as a theme, regardless of whether or not this is the intent of the author. Analysis of changes in dynamic characters can provide insight into a particular theme.
Theme is the underlying element which governs the writer's selection of dramatic events to show onstage. Can be a belief (e.g. Catch-22, war is insane, only lunatics fight in wars), a proposition to be proved, a moral dilemma, or an attribute of human character.
The theme of Left Hand of Darkness is sexuality; Dragon in the Sea, neurosis; and Lord of the Rings, the evil of power. Implanting the theme in every aspect of the story -- setting, characters, plot, texture -- often strengthens its power. In Left Hand, beings who are sexually indifferent live on a planet named Winter. Cold affects every aspect of the story just as neuter androgyny affects the personality of every character. Just as the point-of-view character -- a normal human who serves as the reader surrogate -- becomes physically cold, he becomes sexually neutral. (Original source: ) -- (Source: Theme at Wikipedia ) (e)

therapy writing

Therapy writing is writing which is for the writer rather than any potential reader. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


In general usage, a thesaurus is a reference work that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning (containing synonyms and sometimes antonyms), in contrast to a dictionary, which provides definitions for words, and generally lists them in alphabetical order. The main purpose of such reference works is to help the user "to find the word, or words, by which [an] idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed" – to quote Peter Mark Roget, architect of the best known thesaurus in the English language.[15]
Although including synonyms, a thesaurus should not be taken as a complete list of all the synonyms for a particular word. The entries are also designed for drawing distinctions between similar words and assisting in choosing exactly the right word. Unlike a dictionary, a thesaurus entry does not give the definition of words.
In library science and information science, thesauri have been widely used to specify domain models, such as medicine, or music.
-- (Wikipedia: Thesaurus ) (e)

third person

Third person limited became the most popular narrative perspective during the twentieth century. Third person limited is sometimes called the "over the shoulder" perspective; it shows the story as though the narrator could only describe events that could be perceived by a viewpoint character. It can be used very objectively, showing what is actually happening without the filter of the protagonist's personality, thus allowing the author to reveal information that the protagonist doesn't know or realize. However, some authors use an even narrower and more subjective perspective, as though the viewpoint character were narrating the story; this is dramatically very similar to the first person, allowing in-depth revelation of the protagonist's personality, but uses third-person grammar. Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another.
In third person limited the narrator is outside of the story and tells the story from only one character's view. The character's thoughts are revealed through the narrator. The reader learns the events of the narrative through the perceptions of the chosen character. Third person limited uses pronouns such as he, she, they, their, herself, himself, themselves, etc.
Historically, the "third person omniscient" perspective was more common. This is the tale told from the point of view of the storyteller who knows all the facts. An example of this would be "little did he know" when told by that third person, such as a narrator. The primary advantage is that it injected the narrator's own perspective and reputation into the story, creating a greater sense of objectivity for the story. The disadvantage of this mode is that it creates more distance between the reader and the story. A variation is where the narrator is a character in the story; a small amount of the story might be told in first person.
Some make the distinction between "third person omniscient" and "universal omniscient"; the difference being that in universal omniscient, the narrator reveals information that the characters do not have. This is also called "Little Did He Know" writing as in "Little did he know he'd be dead by morning." Currently this style is out of favor.
There is also a "third person objective" perspective which tells a story without detailing any characters' thoughts and instead gives an objective point of view. This point of view can be described as "a fly on the wall" and is preferred in newspaper articles.
-- (Wikipedia: Third person narrative mode ) (e)

thread (narrative)

A narrative thread or plot thread is part of a narrative told from a specific viewpoint. When a story has multiple narrators or viewpoint characters it has multiple narrative threads. For example, in Lord of the Rings, narrative breaks into multiple threads at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring as Frodo and Sam split off (the story further splits as it proceeds, see Narrative Timelines). A story with a single explicit narrator, such as in a first person story, it has a single narrative thread. (e)

three-act structure

The classic plot:
Act 1. The protagonist's life is knocked out of whack. He confronts an obstacle which he is locked in to solving or being vanquished by. In great literature the obstacle is tied directly into a specific theme.
Act 2. The protagonist investigates the obstacle, tries to solve or conquer it, and is repulsed, leaving him worse off than before. The situation is desperate.
Act 3. Using the knowledge gained in Act 2, the protagonist formulates a new plan and risks all. The story's resolution may be heroic (the main character succeeds and the reader is uplifted), tragic (the main character is destroyed but the reader learns something about the theme from his destruction), or nihilistic (the main character is destroyed and no one learns anything). (Aristotle) (Original source: ) (e)


A tic is a minor mannerism -- verbal, visual or otherwise -- which is uniquely assigned to a particular character as a means of identifying him. One character twirls his hair; another ends many of his sentences by saying "right?" Used properly, they help the reader distinguish among characters in the early going and can, by the finish, be sufficient to identify a character even without further attribution. (Jane Yolen) (Original source: ) (e)

Tom Swifty

An unseemly compulsion to follow the word "said" with a colorful adverb, as in "'We'd better hurry,' Tom said swiftly." This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift adventure dime-novels. Good dialogue can stand on its own without a clutter of adverbial props. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


A toon is a comic relief character generally intended to be recognized as such -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are toons (most of Shakespeare's comic relief characters are toons). Toons have a limited place in fiction; an excess of them can render an otherwise serious work trivial. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

travel time

Travel time is a component of pacing. Characters don't reverse important decisions in their personalities overnight. The emotional distance a character travels should generally be proportionate to the amount of travel time -- measured in words -- the change requires.
Travel time can be increased by intercutting a different story, by filling the intervening space with straight action, or by developing other characters, description or thematic material. (Original source: ) (e)


An idiom of storytelling, frequently used in a derogatory sense. In the context of genre, tropes form a contract between the writer and the reader. "It's not how big your trope is, but how you use it." (Source: Fritz Freiheit)
A literary trope (from Greek τροπή - tropē, "a turn, a change" and that from τρέπω - trepō, "to turn, to direct, to alter, to change") is a common pattern, theme, motif in literature, or a term often used to denote figures of speech in which words are used in a sense different from their literal meaning. -- (Source: Trope (literature) at Wikipedia )
Tropes Are Tools at TvTropes
A figure of speech, usually used to describe overworked images, literary or dramatic conventions, or stale ideas borrowed from other writers. See Used Furniture. (Original source: ) (e)


Named after Wilson Tucker, the practice of introducing as peripheral characters, or offstage icons, names recognizable to the reader. (For example, naming the Moon's capital 'Heinlein' and its main street 'La Rue de la Professor Bernardo de la Paz'.) A subclass of rewarding the careful reader. (Original source: ) (e)


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When a work of fiction, or more generally any project, has been permanently retired it is given the status of trunked. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

turgid prose

Turgid prose is prose that is excessively ornate or complex in style or language. (e)

twist ending

A twist ending or surprise ending is an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, and which often contains irony or causes the audience to reevaluate the narrative or characters. A twist ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. -- (Source: Twist ending at Wikipedia ) (e)



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When a writer gives an element less stage time than it deserves. Most often underserved are peripheral characters or those for whom the writer feels little sympathy. Stories are strong in proportion to the obstacles -- events or bad guys -- that the good guys overcome. If you underserve your peripheral elements, you undercut your drama. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

unlikely use of body parts

A description of a character's action, commonly sensory, that is would be highly unlikely if taken literally. These can usually be turned into more feasible activities by changing the body part into a more sense-noun, such as changing "eyes" to "gaze". For example, "He raked her graceful figure with his eyes," or "His eyes traversed the horizon seeking the first appearance of enemy fighters." (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

unperceived source

An inspiration for a writer's creation which the writer does not recognize until it is pointed out to him. Many writers resist acknowledging their unperceived sources. (Geoff Ryman) See smart subconscious. (e)

unreliable narrator

A narrator who is eventually revealed to have been concealing the truth, or even mis-stating it (unintentionally or deliberately). A development of twentieth-century literature (first made famous in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), the unreliable narrator is often used to force the reader to reinterpret events previously experienced. (CSFW: Steve Popkes) (e)


To destage something intentionally. Often used as a rewrite term. (e)

use it or lose it

Use it or lose it is a critiquing comment. A story or novel will introduce many elements, some of which are put onstage at an early point in the proceedings with the apparent implication that they will figure in later action. If the element is later unused, the reader feels dissatisfied, because he has not been rewarded for paying attention to it. Thus a critic will often note an element in a story with a recommendation that it either to pumped up to play in the themes or plot (use it) or that it be deleted (lose it). (CSFW: Steve Popkes)
See Chekov's gun. (e)

used furniture

Use of a background out of Central Casting. Rather than invent a background and have to explain it, or risk re-inventing the wheel, let's just steal one. We'll set it in the Star Trek Universe, only we'll call it the Empire instead of the Federation. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon )
A background out of Central Casting, often chosen by a writer too lazy to invent a good one. (Lewis Shiner) (Original source: ) (e)


Template:Utopia (e)



The viewpoint (or narrative perspective) of a story or narrative. That is, who is relating the story. The three primary viewpoints are third person (the most common), first person, and second person (the least common). -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

viewpoint character

The viewpoint character is the character functioning as the viewpoint, that is, the character perceiving or relating the the events of the story. The viewpoint character is not necessarily the main character. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

viewpoint glitch

The writer loses track of point-of-view, switches point-of-view for no good reason, or relates something that the viewpoint character could not possibly know. Also known as head popping. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


A word or phrase that expresses existence, action, or occurrence. Such as 'be', 'run', or 'conceive' (respectively). (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Verisimilitude is how close something is to reality. Similar to mimesis (which is more of an idealized form of reality). -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Template:Verse (e)


Voice is the narrational form used. Often confused with point of view, but it is distinct. The same scene, told from the point of view of the same character, will have a very different texture if done first-person-singular ("I raced down the alley") rather than third-person-singular ("Our hero raced down the alley"). In very rare occasions (e.g. McInerny, Bright Lights / Big City), second-person is used ("you open the door and are hit in the head; lights explode in your brain"). In a story with multiple points of view, each character may have his own tense and voice, and thus distinguish characters on a textual level.
Adjusting voice can increase or decrease the distance between writer, reader and character. Using first-person, for example, brings reader and character practically into the same head. Using a narrative-reminiscence style shortens the distance between reader and writer. -- (Original source: ) (e)


Acronym for viewpoint. (e)


Watson character

A Watson character is a supporting character whose principal purpose is to voice the reader's confusions and concerns, so that the protagonist is given an opportunity to answer them without resorting to an expository lump. "My God, Holmes, you mean the bell-pull was a snake?" (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e) / Watson


Acronym for word echo. (e)

western (genre)

Western fiction is defined primarily by being set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century, and secondarily by featuring heroes who are rugged, individualistic horsemen (cowboys). Other genres, such as romance, have subgenres that make use of the Western setting. (Source: genre fiction at Wikipedia ) (e) / western

whistling dog story

A story related in such an elaborate, arcane, or convoluted manner that it impresses by its sheer narrative ingenuity, but which, as a story, is basically not worth the candle. Like the whistling dog, it's astonishing that the thing can whistle -- but it doesn't actually whistle very well. (Attr. Harlan Ellison ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

white room syndrome

A clear and common sign of the failure of the writer's imagination, most often seen at the beginning of a story, before the setting, background, or characters have gelled. "She awoke in a white room." The 'white room' is a featureless set for which details have yet to be invented -- a failure of invention by the writer. The character 'wakes' in order to begin a fresh train of thought -- again, just like the writer. This 'white room' opening is generally followed by much earnest pondering of circumstances and useless exposition; all of which can be cut, painlessly.
It remains to be seen whether the "white room" cliche will fade from use now that most writers confront glowing screens rather than blank white paper. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

wiring diagram fiction

A genre ailment related to "False Humanity," "Wiring Diagram Fiction" involves "characters" who show no convincing emotional reactions at all, since they are overwhelmed by the writer's fascination with gadgetry or didactic lectures. (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)

word count

The number of words that a document contains. While this may seem straight forward, there are several different methods of generating this count. (e)

word echo

The repetition of a word or phrase in close proximity or in a longer passage. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

word processor

A word processor is a software tool for creating formatted documents. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Template:Wordsmithy (e)


Template:Workshop (e)

world (setting)

In literature, a world is an alternative, but more expansive word for setting. Typically, a series is set in a world (but not necessarily, the Goosebumps series doesn't have a single setting or world). See world building. -- (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)


Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe.[16] The resulting world may be called a constructed world or a conworld.[17] The term "worldbuilding" was popularized at science fiction writers' workshops in the 1970s. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers.[18] Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world. Constructed worlds can enrich the backstory and history of fictional works, and it is not uncommon for authors to revise their constructed worlds while completing its associated work. Constructed worlds can be created for personal amusement and mental exercise, or for specific creative endeavors such as novels, video games, or role-playing games. -- (Source: Wikipedia:Worldbuilding ) (e)


Someone who has written (or is writing) a short story, novel, etc. As (arbitrarily) distinguished from an author. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)

writer's group

Template:Writer's group (e)

writer's workshop

Template:Writer's workshop (e)

writing phase

see phase (writing)

writing process

The methodology a writer uses to produce a written work. These include barf and polish, edit up, and edit down. (Source: Fritz Freiheit) (e)



you can't fire me, I quit

An attempt to diffuse the reader's incredulity with a pre-emptive strike -- as if by anticipating the reader's objections, the writer had somehow answered them. "I would never have believed it, if I hadn't seen it myself!" "It was one of those amazing coincidences that can only take place in real life!" "It's a one-in-a-million chance, but it's so crazy it just might work!" Surprisingly common, especially in SF. (Attr. John Kessel ) (Source: Turkey City Lexicon ) (e)


zipper story

A zipper story is a particular form of story involving two (or more) alternating strands, which in the story's beginning appear completely unrelated but which over time come closer and closer together until their connection becomes the story's climax. Fred Pohl's novel Gateway is a zipper story. (CSFW: David Smith) (Original source: ) (e)

Also see[edit]


Back to the Blog[edit]


  1. Antagonist. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 28 November 2010.
  2., Literature: Contemporary "Antagonist." Online. October 18, 2007.
  3. "epigram". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. We the Characters. (April 18, 2004). Retrieved on 2007-02-25.
  5. Porter, Dennis (2003). "Chapter 6: The Private Eye", The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, (96–97). ISBN 978-0-521-00871-6. 
  6. Regents High School Comprehensive Examination in English. Office of State Assessment. New York State Education Department. Retrieved on 11 June 2013.
  7. Walter, Damien (2 May 2008). "The really exciting science fiction is boring". The Guardian. 
  8. Geoff Ryman: The Mundane Fantastic: Interview excerpts. Locus (January 2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-23.
  9. "How sci-fi moves with the times". BBC News. 18 March 2009. 
  10. Template:Cite magazine
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Take the Third Star on the Left and on til Morning" by Geoff Ryman, New York Review of Science Fiction, June 2007.
  13. Kleper, Michael L. (2000). The Handbook of Digital Publishing II.  part of the Encyclopedia of Printing Technologies in 2 Volumes
  14. Josepha Sherman, Once upon a Galaxy p 142 ISBN 0-87483-387-6
  15. Roget, Peter. 1852. Thesaurus of English Language Words and Phrases
  16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named hamilton2009
  18. Stableford, Brian M. (2004). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4938-0.