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Plot SF critiques

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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)

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)

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: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/being-a-glossary-of-terms-useful-in-critiquing-science-fiction/ ) (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: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/being-a-glossary-of-terms-useful-in-critiquing-science-fiction/ ) (e)

failure to fire Chekhov's gun

This occurs when a writer sets up, either intentionally or not, a contract with the reader, such as Chekhov's gun, and fails to fulfill the contract by resolving the plot element or using the story element.(Source: Fritz Freiheit) (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)

idiot plot development

An idiot plot development is a relative of the idiot plot and the second-order idiot plot where a plot development is dependent on a stupid decision by a character, frequently because of genre blindness on the part of said character. For example, a common plot trope in horror involves characters going into a situation that they should know better than to go into, such as going down into a basement when it is known that a killer is about. Another example is when a character does something that will piss off other characters if they find out about it, such as selling fake drugs, yet not taking any precautions about not being followed home, or, worse yet, doing the deed in their own house, and consequently getting beat up or killed at home. (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)

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)

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)

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)


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