Lexicon

Every occupation has its own language, and writing is no exception. Here are a few words and phrases I've collected over the years that might help you on your journey. This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you don't see the term you are seeking here, try Shmoop. If you are still not finding an explanation of your term, feel free to make suggestions to add to the Lexicon below in the Comments Section.

Enjoy,
Cherrie Smith


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.

Act: A series of sequences that peaks in a climatic scene which causes a major reversal of values, more powerful in its impact than any previous sequence of scene.

Action: manifesting a dramatic choice. Includes: Movement, Dialog, and Inaction.

Active Protagonist: Lead Character in pursuit of a desire takes action in direct conflict with the people and the world around him.

Aesthetic Emotion: The fusion of meaning to emotion to create an epiphany.

Anchor Scenes: Foundation of the plot to hang the story on. These include the inciting incident, plot points and turning points, the black moment, climax, and resolution.

Antagonist: The main source of conflict for the Protagonist (hero of the story.) The source of most of the obstacles to the protagonist's goal.
Antiplot: Reverses some concepts of the Archplot.

Archplot: Arch means eminent above others of the same kind. Archplot is a plot of Classic Design.

"As You Know Bob": The most pernicious form of Info Dump, in which the characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up to speed.

Authorial Intrusion: The expression of the writer's ideas in dialogue or narration instead of through character action and decisions.

Backloading: Placing the most important word of your sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter at the end so that it is surrounded by white space and emphasized.

Backstory: The history of events which affect the novel, but took place before page one.

Battos: Sudden change in level of diction. "The massive hound barked in stentorian voice then made wee-wee on the carpet."

Beat: One emotion or indicator of emotion in a scene. Exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beats shape the turning of a scene. Akin to a camera angle change in a movie.

Bogus Alternatives: List of actions a character could have taken, but didn't. Frequently includes all the reasons why. A type of Dischism in which the author works 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.

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. (We'd have to call Walter Gibson the best-known perp of this flaw. Unless it's a spacestation, don't expect him to imagine any different that 1985. That's why all the people whose clothes he describes are addicted to "retro fashion styles" of the 1980s.)

"Burly Detective" Syndrome: Fear of proper names. Found in most of the same pulp magazines that abound with "said" bookisms and Tom Swifties. This is where you can't call Mike Shayne "Shayne" but substitute "the burly detective" or "the red-headed sleuth." Like the "said" bookish it comes from the entirely wrong-headed conviction that you can't use the same word twice in the same sentence, paragraph, or even page. This is only true of particularly strong and highly visible words, like, say, "vertiginous." It's always better to re-use an ordinary, simple noun or verb rather than contrive a cumbersome method of avoiding it.

Button: Triggers that create immediate emotional responses from characters. Buttons must be developed like objective correlative in order for them to seem plausible in fiction. The character with the button, any character who pushes that button, and the reader must have prior knowledge of the nature of the button in order for the impact to be plausible.

Cadence: The rhythm of the words when READ ALOUD. “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!” sounds better than “Tigers, lions and bears.” due to cadence.

Card Tricks in the Dark: Authorial tricks to no visible purpose. The author has contrived an elaborate plot to arrive at a) the punchline of a joke no one else will get b) some bit of historical trivia. In other words, if the point of your story is that this kid is going to grow up to be Joseph of Arimathea, there should be sufficient internal evidence for us to figure this out. (In short, you need a story, a plot, as well as an idea. Just doing a fan-dance with the idea -- let's keep the readers waiting to see what's behind this, while we do all sorts of fancy flutters that make them think they might see something any second -- is not a story.)

Character Response: Any character action, thought, or feeling taken, revealed or experienced in response to dramatic events.

Character Significance: What the story, events, images and character mean to the characters in the story (refer to Three Kinds of Significance module).

Classic Design: A story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her goal, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.

Climax: The pivotal scene which resolves the conflict and proves the premise. This is what the reader has been waiting for. It is the point of greatest tension, the critical moments where the protagonist can win or lose all. It must change everything. This can be a battle, or one-on-one fight, a declaration of love, solving a crime, confronting a villain, or declaring love. Since dramatic climaxes rarely occur in real life, readers are craving a satisfying conclusion to the story events.

Closed Ending: Climax of absolute, irreversible change that answers all questions raised by the telling and satisfies all audience emotion.

Composition: the order linking scenes.

Conflict: Opposition of Wills—mutually exclusive agendas. Includes person vs. person, person vs. self, and person vs. environment.

Contest-itis: The first three chapters of the book are practically faultless. The writing soars and the reader soars with it – until they hit chapter four. Then the lack of emotion, trite phrases, echo words, and weak construction dominate. The first three chapters had multiple and massive revisions getting them ready for submission to a contest. The remaining chapters had few passes, few revisions. And it showed.

Countersinking: Expositional redundancy. Making the actions implied in a conversation explicit, e.g., "'Let's get out of here,' he said, urging her to leave.

Contrast: Placing different objects or concepts side-by-side to expose their difference. Contrasting emotion displayed at the beginning of a scene against emotion displayed at the end of a scene helps create impact.


Controlling Idea: The story's ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act's climax. The moral of the story. A single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition at the beginning of the story to another condition at the end.

Cutting Deep into the Scene: No extra moving about or action that does not advance story in an important way. Entering the scene at the last possible moment.

Deadline-itits: may affect any number of chapters. The reader is aware that the writing quality changes. Somewhere (usually in the second half of the book), the writer feels under the gun (cliché alert) to get that book written faster. A deadline looms. The writer rushes and powers through to get the story on the page and turned in. Writing craft suffers. Big time (cliché alert). Many authors fall into that deadline-itis trap. They power through to get the story on the page. No time to deep edit to improve their writing.

Deathtrap: An overly complicated method of killing a character, used solely to provide a means of escape. Often this is combined with an additional plot device whereby the assassin leaves the scene so there is no one to witness the victim's expected demise, thereby giving the captive the opportunity to openly free himself. This is sometimes unknown to secondary or miscellaneous characters, various associates of the villain, the other protagonists, or the audience itself until the character is needed. The character in this way also functions as a deus ex machina.

Decision: To make a choice between two or more possibilities.

Denouement: (Resolution) Answers the story question if the answer is not obvious as a result of the climax. This is where the writer ties up loose ends and illustrates what has changed. In most fiction, by the end of the story your character’s fortunes will have changed, how he thinks and acts will change, and how he perceives the world will change. In short, his inner and outer world will never be the same by the end of the story.

Deus ex Machina or God-in-the-Box: Miraculous solution to an otherwise insoluble problem. Usually used to bring the story to a happy conclusion. Look, the Martians all caught cold and died!

Dischism: Intrusion of author's physical surroundings (or mental state) into the narrative. Like the character who always lights a cigarette when the author does, or is thinking about how they wished they hadn't quit smoking. In more subtle forms, the characters complain that they're confused and don't know what to do--when this is actually the author's condition.

Doomsday Plot: Victim is the environment. The hero must save the environment from disaster.

Dramatic Dialectic Pairs: Paired oppositions which result in new circumstances or movements. Thesis+Antithesis=Synthesis.

The Dreadful Scene: The most pernicious form of Info Dump. In which the characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up to speed.

Duration: A story's length through time.

Echo: Using the same word in close proximity. Sometimes done intentionally for emphasis. Mostly done accidentally.

ED ACE: Emotion>Decision>Action>Conflict>New Emotion. Repeat until Climax. Elements may be explicit or implicit, but the writer knows each element for each character on stage at any given moment.

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."

Emotion: A psychological/physiological response which is linked to personal history, experience, and circumstances. Short term, that peaks and burns away as opposed to longer lasting Mood.

Emotional Hits: quantify the number of times a writer tells the reader something is important. She slammed her hand on the table, eyes wide, mouth tight. That’s three Emotional Hits.

Emotional Relationship: A variation on Subjective Relationships in which a character has an emotional response to any change in the status of the object or character with whom they have a relationship.

Emotional State: A combination of emotions specific to character in a particular moment.

Empathy: To become aware of the feelings of another.

Environment Plot: Villain is a global setting.


Event: Creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of value and achieved through conflict. A moment of conflict, action, personality, emotion, dialogue and or symbols. The best events contain all those things.
  • Caused by or affecting people, thus delineating character
  • A meaningful change happening to a character
  • Reader must react to it in terms of value
  • A typical film has 40-60 Story Events
  • Plays rarely have more than 40 Events
  • Novels may exceed 60 Events
Evocation: To cause an emotion in the reader.

Eyeball Kick: Perfect, telling detail that creates an instant visual image.

Exposition: To explain something to the reader. This can be done with authorial intrusion, dialogue between characters, internal thoughts of characters. The main problem is that this is "told" and not "shown" to the reader or viewer.

False Interiorization: Another Dischism, in which the author, too lazy to describe the surroundings, inflicts the viewpoint character with space sickness, a blindfold, etc.

First Plot Point: The first plot point in fiction is the result of the inciting incident. It will usually be a plan or decision the protagonist makes that commits him or her to a course of action. (It often falls about at about the end of chapter 3. This helps pique an editor’s attention and nudge her to ask for the full manuscript.) This event will shift the story in a firm direction; provide momentum because the protagonist is now engaged in the central conflict. Typically this a realization scene. This thickens the plot, is an an-ha moment when readers and the protagonist understand the true nature of the dilemma. This is a game changer, it locks in the central drama and alters the way the protagonist pursues the goal from that moment on.

Fuzz: Element of motivation the author was too lazy to supply. The word "somehow" is an automatic tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. "Somehow she forgot to bring her gun."

Genre: A category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, setting, mood, or subject matter.

Genre Conventions: Specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres. See Tv Tropes.

Grubby Apartment Story: Writing too much about what you know. The kind of story where the starving writer living in the grubby apartment writes a story about a starving writer in a grubby apartment. Stars all his friends. (Even more common in literary fiction. Historical re-enactors always do them in historical fiction, too, and shoe-horn in a role for each of their special buddies, whether they're needed characters or not.)

Hand Waving: Distracting the reader with dazzling prose or other fireworks to keep them from noticing a severe logical flaw.

Hidden Story: The record of events that take place in the present time span of your story, but it's offstage. Your POV character will not know the Hidden story.

Infodump: Large chunk of indigestible exposition intended to explain the background. This can be overt, as in fake newspaper or "Encyclopedia Galactica" articles inserted in the text, or covert, in which all actions stops as the author assumes center stage and lectures.
Idiot Plot: One where the fundamental problem of a story could have been solved if just one character had asked just one obvious question early in the plot. (“Wait — how will our wandering unarmed into the murder’s lair lay a trap for him?”)

Sitcom episodes very, very frequently feature them, presumably so any given issue can be resolved within 22 minutes. A zany crew of misfits is hardly likely to solve the world hunger problem in that amount of time, after all. But a trumped-up conflict based upon Janie’s being afraid Fred will find out that she lied about something really, really unimportant?

Invocation: To name an emotion for the reader.

Internalization: What the POV character is thinking.

Jar of Tang: "For you see, we are all living in a jar of Tang!" or "For you see, I am a dog!" Mainstay of the old Twilight Zone TV show. An entire pointless story contrived so the author can cry "Fooled you!" 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. (So does good fantasy.)

Jiminy Cricket: The author tells the reader what the protagonist is actually thinking instead of showing. Jiminy usually provides the additional service of psychoanalysis while he does this.

Labyrinth Plot: Object of desire is to save victims and get out of a maze-like edifice.

Laughtrack: Characters give cues to the reader as to how to react. They laugh at their own jokes, cry at their own pain, and (unintentionally) feel everything so the reader doesn't have to.

Law of Conflict: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.

Level of Conflict: The story's position on the hierarchy of human struggle.

Levers: Characters who know one another well enough to influence decision-making in one another can press levers to bring emotion pressure to bear and affect outcomes. Multiple levers can appear in a scene.

Location: A story's place in space.

Lull: "The Dark Night of the Soul" or "Black Moment" or "All Hope is Lost Moment" or "Crisis Moment" seems self-explanatory, but I’ve noticed that many writers leave it out of their stories. Some writers believe it’s the climax and or an all-out battle. It comes before the climax and it’s loaded with emotion. The black moment is all about bleakness and despair. In some stories it might seem like the villain has the upper hand. I often use the film the Wizard of Oz to illustrate it when Dorothy is imprisoned in that ghastly dungeon with the hour glass ticking away her last moments. In a romance it might be the scene where the lovers realize that love isn’t always enough or they might not end up together after all. This is the point where the consequences of all the protagonist’s actions seem overwhelming. The dark night of the soul, is the low point of the action. It often occurs right before the Second Plot Point and includes a decision and leads directly to the Climax and Resolution of the conflict.

Margin Tracking: noting in the margins when a specific thing is happening in the text. For example, counting how many times the sense of smell or touch was used in a chapter, keeping track of time-line events, counting rhetorical devices, etc.

MacGuffin: popularized by film director Alfred Hitchcock, referring to a physical object (or character) which drives the actions of the characters as they search for it or try to obtain it, but whose actual nature is not important to the story. Another object would work just as well if the characters treated it with the same importance. MacGuffins are frequently found in 'quest' fantasy stories as the magic artifact which the hero must recover in order to save his village, world, or family.

Mid-Point: The main reversal of the story. A profound change in circumstances occurs that is also the set up for the climax. The reversal can be a betrayal, a profound discovery, or profound disappointment. It’s also a game changer. For example in The Old Man and the Sea the sharks start circling.

Miniplot: Minimized or partially simplified Archplot.

Mer De Noms: (sea of names) An MGM cast of thousands. Too many for the reader to keep track of without flashcards. Think Game of Thrones.

Mood: Long term, pervasive, sentient background that colors our days, weeks or years.

Monster Plot: The villain is an animal.

Multi-Plot: Number of smaller stories each with it's own protagonist, woven together to create a dynamic portrait of a specific society or issue. Ex: The movie Love Actually.

Mutually Exclusive Agendas: Each character on stage has a scene goal. If one character achieves their scene goal, the other characters can not achieve their scene goals.

Negative Irony: The protagonist clings to their obsession and their ruthless pursuit achieves the desire and then destroys them.

Objective: Emotionally neutral, observational narrative. To treat the world as object.

“On the Nose” Dialogue: Characters saying what they actually mean is boring. Character dialogue should have layered meaning that the reader understands even when not stated. Unspoken subtext.

Open Ending: Climax that leaves a question or two unanswered and some emotion unfulfilled.

Partial-itis: is the same game as contest-itis, only more pages are reviewed, revised, reworked and rewritten. The writer sweated over those pages making them strong, strong, strong so they could WOW an agent or editor. Up to 100 or so pages comprise a compelling read, then the quality drops lower and lower. Often the last few chapters are infused with better writing craft, better characterization, better pacing. If an agent or editor requests the full manuscript, the uneven quality of the writing is glaring. The improvements in the last few chapters are not enough to impress the agent or editor. Not enough to sell the book.

The agent or editor quit reading when the quality of the writing dropped. I’ve discussed this trend with dozens of agents and editors. THEY QUIT READING. THEY DON’T OFFER A CONTRACT.

Passive Protagonist: Lead Character is outwardly inactive while pursuing an inward desire, in conflict with aspects of his or her own nature.

Period: A story's place in time.

Physical Relationship: Two or more objects or characters are in physical contact with one another, will bin in contact with one another, or have been in contact with one another.

Plot: To navigate through a pattern of events that move through time to shape a story and when confronted by a dozen branching possibilities to choose the correct, internally consistent path. Plot is the writer's choice of events and their design in time.

Plot Coupons: The true structure of the quest-type fantasy novel. The "hero" collects sufficient plot coupons (magic sword, magic book, magic cat) to send off to the author for the ending. Note that "the author" can be substituted for "the Gods" in such a work: "The Gods decreed he would pursue this quest." Right, mate. The author decreed he would pursue this quest until sufficient pages were filled to procure an advance. (Dave Langford)

(If you can write one of these after reading this, you have enough chutzpa to make more money as an agent than a writer. Of course there are quests that don't use plot coupons, but have other internal motivators, or other reasons for needing several items. But there are too many like this! "The Gods decreed" any dumb plot element impossible to otherwise excuse is as cheap as the deus ex machina ending.)

Plot Device: A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience.
     Examples:

Many stories, especially in the fantasy genre, feature an object or objects with some great power. Often what drives the plot is the hero's need to find the object before the villain and use it for good rather than evil, or, if the object itself is evil, to destroy it. In some cases destroying the object will lead to the destruction of the villain. In the Indiana Jones film series, Jones is always on the hunt for some mystical artifact.

Several books in the Harry Potter series orient around a certain object. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry believes there is a magical stone in Hogwarts with special powers. Lord Voldemort needs this stone to bring back his body, and Harry looks for the stone first to prevent Voldemort's return.

Plot Point: An event or situation that moves the story forward. From that moment on there is no return to the way things were before the plot point. They also crank up tension, and introduce new elements and dilemmas.

Plot Vouchers: Another form of plot device is the object, typically given to the protagonist shortly before, that allows them to escape from a situation that would be otherwise impossible. Nick Lowe coined the term 'plot voucher' for these ("This voucher valid for one [1] awkward scrape. Not transferable.") Examples of this might include the object given to a character which later stops or deflects an otherwise fatal bullet. Most of the devices given to James Bond by Q fall into this category.

Pointless Pace Killer: Any scene in which the reactions lack insight and imagination, forcing expectation to equal result.

Positioning the Audience: Don't let people come to the work cold and vague, let them know what to expect so they settle in warm and focused with their appetite whet for the particular thing you will offer them. In the movie industry, this work is frequently done by movie trailers.

Positive Irony: The compulsive pursuit of contemporary values—success, fortune, fame, sex, power—will destroy you, but if you see the truth in time and throw away your obsession, you can redeem yourself.

Power Words: Words that carry the most emotional power. NOT necessarily action verbs.

Premise: The idea or open ended question that inspires the writer to create the story.

Progressions: Building tension by moving dynamically between the positive and negative charges of a value at stake in the story.

Protagonist: Main Character with the will and capacity to pursue the object of his conscious and/or unconscious desire to the limits established by setting and genre.

Proximal Relationship: The spacial distance between characters and/or objects.

Pushbutton Words: Words used to evoke an emotional response without engaging the intellect or critical faculties. Words like "song" or "poet" or "tears" or "dreams." These are supposed to make us misty-eyed without quite knowing why. Most often found in story titles.

Punitive Plot: Protagonist remains steadfastly driven by their need to achieve fame or success, and never think of abandoning it until it destroys them.

Ratchets: Incrementally increasing emotional pressure from a single source brought to bear on a character by another character or by some circumstance.

Reader Identification with Character: The reader’s ability to allow themselves to participate physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally in the experience of the characters presented on the page.

Reader Significance: The meaning perceived in the mind of the reader as a result of their experience of the text.

Redemption Plot: Protagonist pursues values that were once esteemed—Money, renown, career, love, winning, success—but with a compulsiveness, a blindness that carries them to the bring of self-destruction. They manage to glimpse the ruinous nature of their obsession, stop before they go over the edge, then throw away what they once cherished. Climax is rich with irony. The protagonist sacrifices his dream (positive), a value that has become a soul-corrupting fixation (negative), to gain an honest, sane, balanced life (positive.)

Red Herring: very common in mystery, horror and crime stories. The typical example is in whodunits, in which facts are presented so that the audience is tricked into thinking that a given character is the murderer, when actually another character is.

Reinventing the Wheel: In which the novice author goes to enormous lengths to create a situation already familiar to the experienced reader. You most often see this when a highly regarded mainstream writer tries to write an SF novel without actually reading any of the existing stuff first (because it's all obviously crap anyway). Thus you get endless explanations of, say, how an atomic war might get started by accident. Thank you, but we've all read that already. Also you get tedious explanations by physicists ot how their interstellar drive works. Unless it impacts the plot, we don't care. (Say amen, brothers and sisters! This is a leftover from Campbell's "scientifiction" which was always a sugar-coated science lecture -- except that the coating was worse than the bare pill would have been.)

Relationships: Characters exist relative to one another and their environment. If a character appears on stage on a dining room chair, they have a relationship with that chair. It is physical, proximal, temporal, subjective, and possibly emotional. The presence of the character relative tot the chair helps to define both the character and the chair for the reader or viewer. Two characters on stage also define one another. At the very least, they define one another in space and time. At the best, they define one another through their emotional connections and the contrast between their agendas and desired outcomes. Defining relationships and the power of relationships allows a writer to exploit the emotions of character and make them much more vivid in the mind of the reader.

Research Dump: And now it's the reader's turn. A form of Info Dump in which the author inflicts upon the reader irrelevant, but hard-won bits of data acquired while researching the story.

Revealing Conflict Sequence (aka: peeling the onion): A series of conflicts in which mutually exclusive agendas and character awareness of risk, stakes, and consequences drives the character to more and more revealing attempts to resolve the opposition.

"Said" Bookism: Artificial, literary verb used to avoid the perfectly good word "said." "Said" is one of the few invisible words in the language; it is almost impossible to overuse. Infinitely less distracting than "he retorted," "she inquired," or the all-time favorite, "he ejaculated."

Second Plot Point: Point in your story where everything seems to come together for your character. The final injection of new information into the story, after which no new expository information may enter the story, and which puts a final piece of narrative information in play that gives the hero everything she or he needs to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conclusion. The second plot point is the one way door in the story that moves your character to the story Climax. Hero transitions here from an attacking warrior to a selfless, heroic and even martyr-like champion of all that is good.

Scene: Action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character's life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a story event.
If the story could be written in unity of time and place, even if the place shifts (driving in a car) it is a scene.

Scene Cut: Change of location without showing how the POV character was transported to new location. Just start in new place instead of showing them driving to the new location and then doing the scene.

Selectivity: Choosing details based on point of view character perspective and emotional state.

Sensualization: The process of layering in specific, selective, sensory details of sight, sound, smell, touch, hearing and intuition.

Sequence: Series of scenes (2-5 usually) that culminate with greater impact than any previous scene. Each scene turns on its own value or values. But the sequence turns on a greater value that overrides and subordinates the others.

Short Road Home (SRH): (1) A conflict that is built up for a long time in novel but then solved very quickly and easily. “Barack I just found you birth certificate in this old trunk.”
(2) Plot device simply intended to get the protagonist to the next scene of the story. The enemy spy, who suddenly appears, defects, reveals the location of the secret headquarters, and is never heard of again, would be an extreme example. Without this 'device' the hero would never find the headquarters and be unable to reach the climactic scene; however the character becomes less of a plot device if the author gives them a back-story and a plausible motivation for defecting and makes them an interesting character in their own right.

  • http://www.annemini.com/?p=14967
  • People who are hiding tremendous secrets to blurt them out spontaneously to someone they have never seen before;
  • Long-lost parents/siblings/children/lovers whose residence has remained a source of conjecture to even the most dedicated police detectives to turn up in an instantly-fathomable disguise toward the end of the book;
  • Flawlessly accurate local historians to appear as if by magic to fill the protagonist in on necessary backstory at precisely the point that the plot requires it;
  • Characters who have based their entire self-esteem upon suffering in silence for the past 27 years suddenly to feel the need to share their pain extremely articulately with total strangers;
  • Living or dead Native American, East Indian, and/or Asian wise persons to appear to share deep spiritual wisdom with the protagonist;
  • Diaries and photographs that have been scrupulously hidden for years, decades, or even centuries to leap out of their hiding places at exactly the right moment for the protagonist to find them, and/or
  • Birds/dogs/horses/clouds/small children/crones of various descriptions to begin to act in odd ways, nudging Our Hero/ine toward the necessary next puzzle piece as surely as if they had arranged themselves into a gigantic arrow.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for whether your story is taking the Short Road Home: at every revelation, ask yourself, “Why did that just happen?”
If your answer is, “So the story could move from Point A to Point B,” and you can’t give any solid character-driven reason beyond that, then chances are close to 100% that you have a SRH on your hands.

Shoulder Angel: Plot device used for either dramatic or humorous effect in animation and comic strips (and occasionally in live-action television). The angel represents conscience and is often accompanied by a shoulder devil representing temptation. They are handy for easily showing inner conflict of a character. Usually, the angel is depicted on (or hovering near) the right shoulder and the devil or demon on the left, as the left side traditionally represents dishonesty or impurity (see Negative associations of left-handedness in language).

Space Western: The most pernicious suite of used furniture. 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.

Cute example: you gotta look out for squid in the mouth, though. More to the point, many "colonial planets" stories are "frontier town" stories, as if people could get there as easily as the population that drifted west on horseback, with "government interference" only arriving later. With the cost of space flight, not likely. It will be more like the establishment of Australia.

Specificity: Use of concrete, unique details which are uniquely important to character.

Squid in the Mouth: Inappropriate humor in front of strangers. Basically the failure of an author to realize that certain assumptions or jokes are not shared by the world at large. In fact. the world at large will look upon such a writer as if they had a squid in their mouths.

Story Climax: Series of Acts that build to a last Act Climax or Story Climax which brings about absolute and irreversible change.

Storytelling: The creative demonstration of TRUTH. A living proof of ideas. The conversion of idea into action.

Structure: Selection of events from the characters' life stories that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life. Means by which the writer's ideas are first expressed and then proved without an explanation.

Subjective Narrative: Narrative filtered through a subject’s attitudes, experiences, emotions, and judgments.

Stapledon: Name assigned to the voice which takes center stage to lecture. "You have a Stapledon come on to answer this problem instead of showing the characters resolve it." More generally know as the author intrusion, if it's a narrative lecture. See also "As you know, Bob ..." and The Dreadful Scene.

Subjective Relationship: The character's judgments and attitudes about their relationship with the object or character.

Subtext: "Life under the surface"--thoughts and feelings both known and unknown, hidden by behavior.

"Suffered for my Art": And now it's the reader's turn. A form of Info Dump in which the author inflicts upon the reader irrelevant, but hard-won bits of data acquired while researching the story. Also called a Research Dump.

Sympathy: To feel the same feeling as another.

Syntactical Acrobatics: (From Dwight Swains TECHNIQUES OF A SELLING AUTHOR) Using a device like a rhetorical device to excess just to impress. It becomes a distraction from the story. The “new toy phenomenon.”

Telling not Showing: Violates the cardinal rule of good writing. The reader should be allowed to react, not be instructed in how to react. Carefully observed details render authorial value judgments unnecessary. For instance, instead of telling us "she had a bad childhood, an unhappy childhood," specific incidents--involving, say, a locked closet and two jars of honey--should be shown.

Temporal Relationship: The duration over time in which the objects or characters have influenced one another.

Text: The sensory surface of a scene. Action, dialogue, setting. What is seen, heard, done.

Tom Swifty: Similar compulsion to follow the word "said" (or "said" bookish) with an adverb. As in, "'We'd better hurry,' said Tom swiftly." Remember that the adverb is a leech sucking the strength from a verb. 99% of the time it is clear from the context how something was said. Actually comes from their overuse in the Tom Swift juvenile adventure series of the Twenties and Thirties. A Tom Swifty is the intellectual's knock-knock joke: "The rock shattered," he said brokenly. "Let's operate," he said cuttingly.

If you can match an adverb to a WIOS, you have a Super-Swifty: "Hit the drum!" he boomed strikingly.

Transition: Change in location of story (setting)

Turning Point: The moment when a major gap opens between the protagonists expectation and result. This should be the moment that Turns the scene's charge in value. A major event or a complication that forces the character to make a decision and possibly change direction. These events or complications are often a reversal of fortune and shift the story down a different course than previously anticipated. Characters or circumstances change (for the worse or the better) and this action is always connected to the main plot.

Uneven Writing: The first half of the novel does not match the quality of the rest of the novel. Some parts of the novel are very polished while much of the rest is not up to the same level. Happens when some chapters submitted to a contest or writer runs into a deadline. Can also occur due to illness, psychological trauma or agent/editor switch.

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.

(Or we'll steal the Empire in Star Wars but call it the Monarchy and have the Galactic Knights with laser rapiers. By the way, Lucas did not invent the light saber: they appear in older space operas. It's just that NOW everyone can't think of them without Star Wars popping in.)

Value: The universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.
  • Idea of the story
  • Soul of the story
  • Examples:
    • Alive/Dead
    • Love/Hate
    • Freedom/Slavery or Tyranny
    • Truth/Lie
    • Courage/Cowardice
    • Loyalty/Betrayal
    • Wisdom/Stupidity or Ignorance or Immaturity
    • Strength/Weakness
    • Excitement or Fulfilment/Boredom
    • Good/Evil
    • Right/Wrong
    • Justice/Injustice
    • Self-Awareness/ Self-Deception
    • Meaningful/Meaningless
    • Hope/Despair
Visceral Response: A physical response that is triggered by an emotional stimulus. Here’s a PARTIAL LIST:
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweaty palms
  • Dry mouth
  • Metallic taste in back of mouth (adrenaline)
  • Throat constricted
  • Weak legs
  • Lightheaded
  • Stomach churning
  • Vision narrowing
  • Sound of blood rushing in ears
  • Chest tight
Walking the Dog: The prose tells about the character doing the mundane. Too much step-by-step choreography. Boring. It could be cut from the narrative without losing anything.

White Room Syndrome: Author's imagination fails to provide details. Most common in the beginning of a story. "She awoke in a white room." The white room is obviously the white piece of paper confronting the author. The character has just woken up in order to ponder her circumstances and provide an excuse for infodump (see above).

You Can't Fire Me, I Quit: Attempt to diffuse lack of credibility with hand-waving. "I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself." As if by anticipating the reader's objections the author had somehow answered them.