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Template:List of words and sentences SF critiques

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

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)

"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)

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

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

ing disease

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


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


The tendency to use a big word for effect even when a small word is better. (CSFW: David Smith ) (Original source: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/being-a-glossary-of-terms-useful-in-critiquing-science-fiction/ ) (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: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/being-a-glossary-of-terms-useful-in-critiquing-science-fiction/ ) (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: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/being-a-glossary-of-terms-useful-in-critiquing-science-fiction/ ) (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)

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