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Glossary of Writing Terms

A glossary of writing terms for creative writers. Look through loads of literary terms and read their definitions. 

7 Point Story Structure

A story structure that uses these seven points:

1- Hook
2- Plot Point 1
3- Pinch Point 1
4- Midpoint
5- Pinch Point 2
6- Plot Point 2
7- Resolution

Learn more about 7 Point Story Structure.


A structural unit made up of scenes and sequences that follows basic story structure and hits a climactic moment or turning point before its end. 

Active Voice

A sentence structure where the subject of the sentence is acting.

The cat bit Tony.

The oxen pulled the wagons.

Jared stole my bike.

Compare and contrast to "passive voice."

For writing fiction, you almost always want to use active voice.

Learn more about passive and active voice. 


A word or phrase that modifies a noun. Examples may include, "yellow," "skinny," "ugly," and "rough." Too many adjectives can weaken writing.

Learn more about when and when not to use adjectives.


A word or phrase that modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Most of these end in -ly, such as "quickly," "smartly," "smugly," "really," but some don't. Using too many adverbs weakens writing.

Learn more about when and when not to use adverbs. 


All is Lost

At the end of the middle, the protagonist experiences a profound defeat, which leads to a sense of hopelessness. This lull is often called the "All is Lost" moment. 

In the Save the Cat! structure, it is called "All is Lost."

In 7 Point Story Structure, this would arguably be after Pinch Point 2, and part of Plot Point 2.

In The Hero's Journey structure, this would be part of The Ordeal.


Alpha Reader

Someone who reads and provides feedback on an early draft of a story. The story may still have a lot of flaws, but the alpha reader can see the big picture--what the writer intends. This is sometimes called a first reader.  Compare to "Beta Reader."


Ambiguity in writing happens when something has multiple meanings, with evidence to back up each interpretation. This is not to be confused with being vague.

"Vague" deals with the story being out of focus and vapory. It's not quite anything.

"Ambiguity" happens when something in the story could mean multiple things--supported by evidence.

Antagonist or Antagonistic Force

The character or force that is opposing your protagonist (lead character). The antagonist is the adversary. While an antagonist may be a person, it may also be a society, nature, God, or one's self. For more on that, see the "Conflict Types" heading on this post.



A non-heroic (in the traditional sense) protagonist. A main character who is not a hero. May even have characteristics of a villain or may simply have "anti" heroic conventions. For example, they may be acting purely out of self-interest within the plot. They may be cold and apathetic, a jerk, lazy, or anything else atypical. They don't hold typical morals. Examples include Jack Sparrow, Deadpool, Ferris Bueller 


Approach the Inmost Cave

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. A beat in the story that comes after the midpoint, where the protagonist glimpses or engages one of the most dangerous features of the Special World. 

Learn more about Approach the Inmost Cave.



How a story element changes through the course of the narrative.


ARC (Advanced Reader Copy)

A copy of a book that is sent out to readers, reviewers, and others, ahead of its release to generate interest.


A recurring pattern or figure in storytelling. The reason archetypes are recurring and effective, is because they mimic the human experience. 

Learn about Dramatica's Archetypes.

Learn about The Hero's Journey Archetypes.

"As You Know, Bob" Dialogue (Sometimes abbreviated to AYKB)

See "Maid-and-Butler Dialogue."


Events that happened prior to the story's beginning. This is often used to shape character. 


Bad Guys Close In

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. After the midpoint, the bad guys regroup and become more aggressive. The protagonist and her allies may also begin to face conflict among themselves. 

In The Hero's Journey, the equivalent segment would likely be "Approach the Inmost Cave."


Beta Reader

Someone who reads a nearly finished story and provides feedback. Compare to "Alpha Reader."



The term "blocking" is borrowed from play performances. Blocking is just about anything a character does that isn't dialogue: where they stand, where they look, how they interact with the setting, how they move across the stage, how close they are to what, how they interact with props.

Learn more about blocking.


Body Language Voice

Just as characters may speak in different voices, characters often have different body languages. Some characters may be prone to high-fiving, while others may have the tendency to bounce their knee. Some components of the body language voice are voluntary and others may be involuntary, such as someone who tends to blush. 



The process of coming up with new ideas.

Learn how to brainstorm better.


Break into Three

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. The bridge from the middle to the end of the story. 

After the protagonist is at his lowest low, he eventually comes to a realization--which came from the B story, from the conversations and experiences there, as well as from his last best attempt to defeat the bad guys.

In The Hero's Journey, this is Reward: Seizing the Sword

In 7 Point Story Structure, this is Plot Point 2. 

Learn more about Break into Three.


Break into Two

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. The bridge between the beginning and the middle of the story, where the protagonist leaves the Ordinary World and enters the Special World/Antithesis World--The Hero's Journey calls this moment "Crossing the Threshold." See "Crossing the Threshold."

Learn about Break into Two.


B Story (Save the Cat!)

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. The moment where the B story (secondary plotline) is introduced, which takes place after Break into Two.  The B story is usually a relationship story.

Learn more about Save the Cat!'s B Story.


By definition, a callback is a dialogue technique. It's when you bring back an old line from earlier in the story. But you can apply the idea to other things that clearly and intentionally reference an earlier moment.

Call to Adventure

What The Hero's Journey calls the inciting incident (see "Inciting Incident"). 



What the Save the Cat! structure calls the inciting incident. See "Inciting Incident."

Change Character/Protagonist

A character who does a 180° flip in values, more or less, from the beginning to the end. For example, Scrooge starts out miserly and ends up charitable. This would be considered a positive change character arc. A negative change character arc may be a character who starts out charitable and ends up miserly. (Compare to "Steadfast Character/Protagonist.")

Character Arc

How a character grows or changes through the course of the story.

Learn about the different character arcs and how to use them to brainstorm story


When a moment of high suspense or surprise is truncated, requiring the audience to wait until a later point to learn the outcome. 


The end of the story where the main conflict reaches its peak, and the protagonist deals with it head on.

Learn about writing exceptional endings. 



When problems are clashing. Conflict is often confused with tension, which is the potential for problems to happen. 

Learn about conflict and tension. 



A fictional language (part of worldbuilding). "Conlang" is short for "constructed language." J. R. R. Tolkien was famous for his conlangs of Middle-earth. 

Learn more about conlangs. 



A term from Dramatica Theory. The contagonist is an archetype that heckles the protagonist. While the antagonist works to stop the protagonist, the contagonist hinders the protagonist. The contagonist seeks to tempt or lure the protagonist from his goal.  

Learn more about the contagonist.



Context in fiction is all of the grounding and guiding information that the audience needs, such as who the characters are, where they are, what time of day it is, etc. Context can also be any other additional information the audience needs to interpret and accurately understand what is happening in the story.

Most often context is provided by the viewpoint character and/or the protagonist. 


Critique Letter

A letter (usually written by an editor) that critiques a manuscript overall. Typically it focuses on "big picture" issues. This is usually part of developmental or content editing. This is also known as an editorial letter.

Crossing the Threshold

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. The moment in the story where the protagonist leaves the Ordinary World and enters the Special World. This is the bridge between the story's beginning and the story's middle.


Dark Night of the Soul

A term from Save the Cat! structure. After the "All is Lost" moment, there will be a beat where the protagonist fully experiences the sense of defeat. He or she will feel lost, defeated, or disheartened. It may be brief, or it may last chapters. 


See "Em Dash." 



A term from Save the Cat! story structure. After the inciting incident/catalyst, the protagonist reacts by debating what to do. Compare to "Wanderer" and "Refusal of the Call."



The falling action after the climax. It happens after the main conflict is resolved. Loose ends are tied and a "new normal" is validated to the audience.

Learn about 5 Key to a Satisfying Denouement


The spoken lines in a story, usually set apart by quotations.

"I want to go to the circus."

Learn more about crafting dialogue. 


Dialogue Tags

The part of dialogue that tells the audience who said what, and sometimes, how.

"I want to go to the circus," he whined.
"He whined" is a dialogue tag. It is made up of the speaker ("he") and the tag ("said").

Most professionals in the industry advise that you mostly only use "said" and "asked."

To learn more about that and when to break it, go here.

Discovery Writer ("Pantser")

A writer who writes without an outline. Discovery writers will make statements like this: "It's as if the story is telling itself to me, and I simply write it down." Also known as "Pantsing" because the author writes "by the seat of their pants." Stephen King is perhaps the most famous discovery writer. In discovery writing, the writer often pulls from rules of storytelling they have learned subconsciously. 


Editorial Letter

See "Critique Letter"



Three dots that imply omission, trailing or incomplete speech or thoughts, or hesitation.

Learn more about ellipses.

Em Dash

A longer dash used to signify interruption, sudden changes in thought, as a counterpoint to parentheses, or quick emphasis.

Learn more about em dashes. 


A final or concluding section in a book that either ties up any remaining loose ends necessary for closure, or adds loose ends to elicit questions. 

Learn more about epilogues in this article.


Falling Action

See "Denouement."

Filter Words

Words that "filter" the audience through a viewpoint. These include words like "saw," "heard," "smelled," "tasted," "felt." Some say you should never use filter words. I disagree, personally. But you should never overuse them.

Learn more about filter words and when it's best to use them.


A term from Save the Cat! story structure. This is the climax of the story. See "climax."

Learn more about the Finale.


Final Image

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. This is the counterpoint to the Opening Image. It's part of the falling action, but it's the last scene. This needs to embody how the protagonist and/or world has changed. Compare to "Opening Image."

Learn more about the Final Image.


First Person (Viewpoint)

The focal character is referenced as "I," such as, "I went into the school building." It's as if the viewpoint character is telling us the story.

Learn more about first person and its pros and cons here.


A passage or scene that takes place in a time earlier than the main sequence of the story. Flashbacks are typically discouraged, but can be useful if used properly.

Learn when to best use flashbacks.

Flash Forward 

A passage or scene that takes place in the future in comparison to the main sequence of the story. A true flash forward is rare in storytelling, but they do exist. 


A character that contrasts another character, bringing the qualities of each character into sharper focus. The concept, however, can be applied to other elements, such as setting.

Learn more about foils. 


Fun & Games

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. This is a segment in the first half of the story's middle where the narrative is focused on having fun--it is the promise of the premise.

It delivers on what the audience "came for." It answers their question, "Why did I choose this story to immerse myself into?"

In The Hero's Journey, this segment is called "Tests, Allies, Enemies." See "Tests, Allies, Enemies." 

Learn more about Fun & Games.



A character's "ghost" is a past significant (often traumatic) event that shaped his or her worldview or lifestyle in a thematic way. For example, in Disney's Frozen, Elsa accidentally freezing Anna when they are children, is Elsa's ghost--it's what leads her to become closed off and isolated. 

Some writers refer to this as the wound.

Some writers may not even give this concept a name.

The term "ghost" comes from the idea that the protagonist is haunted by the past event. 

The Hero's Journey

A famous story structure from mythologist Joseph Campbell, based on Jungian schools of thought. Both Campbell and Jung noticed recurring patterns in storytelling across cultures and times. An updated more accessible version was put together by Christopher Vogler.

Learn about The Hero's Journey.


A line or concept that functions to make the reader want to know more. Typically hooks are placed at the beginning of stories, scenes, and chapters, but ideally, they are also placed throughout the passage as well.

5 Tricks that Help with Hooks


Writing that appeals to the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. This is often one of the first things beginning writers learn to utilize. 

Learn about imagery. 



An imprint is a trade name the publishing house prints under. So, you may have noticed books published by Knopf, but Knopf is actually an imprint of Penguin Random House. A big publishing house can have a lot of imprints. For example, HarperCollins currently has over 30 imprints. The reason they have so many is that each imprint is "branded" differently and marketed to a different consumer.

Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is a point in the story's beginning where your protagonist starts off in a new direction or encounters a problem. Essentially the inciting incident is what leads your character to leave behind what is "normal"--whether that is a lifestyle, a home, or who they have always been--to start their personal journey in the story. 

Examples of inciting incidents:

Hagrid telling Harry he's a wizard (without this discovery, Harry wouldn't have gone to Hogwarts)

Prim having her name drawn out at the reaping (without this, Katniss wouldn't be in the Hunger Games)

Gandalf inviting Bilbo on an adventure (without this, Bilbo wouldn't have gone on an adventure)

 In The Hero's Journey story structure, this is called the "Call to Adventure."

In the Save the Cat! story structure, this is called the "Catalyst."

Elsewhere, I have heard this called a "Disruption."

Indie or Independent

See "Self-publish."


Influence Character

A term that originates from Dramatica Theory. This is a character that is important based on influence and impact on the protagonist and plot. Often this is who the protagonist is in an important relationship with (a love interest, mentor, best friend, classmate, etc.).

Learn more about the Influence Character.



A chunk of information a writer slaps on the page. This is typically considered a flaw, as ideally the information should be weaved into the actual story.

Learn more about info-dumps. 



The interior, the thoughts of a character. 

Learn how to write introspection well.

Literary Agent

A literary agent works as the middle-man between the author and the publishing house. The agent is the person who will approach publishing houses and pitch the novel. They have professional connections to them. Some publishing houses only look at manuscripts from agents.

Learn how to get a literary agent.

Love Interest

A character of romantic interest to another character (often the main character).


A fancy term for a story in the industry. You may read phrases like, "Send in your manuscript." It is essentially the written document, the actual story.

Maid-and-Butler Dialogue

When two characters talk about things they both already know for the sake of the audience. Sometimes called, "As you know, Bob" dialogue. 


"Voldemort was a very dark wizard who killed Harry's parents," Dumbledore said to Snape.

"Voldemort was one of the most powerful wizards in history, as you know, and he went to school here, at Hogwarts," Snape replied.

Learn about Maid-and-Butler Dialogue


Main Character or "MC"

The lead character in a story. Typically the hero or heroine. The protagonist.

Martyr (State of Character)

After Plot Point 2/The Ordeal/All is Lost (different terms from different structures, but for all the same moment), the protagonist will move from Warrior to Martyr. He will move from only being proactive to being self-sacrificing. He is willing to sacrifice himself (literally or figuratively) to defeat the antagonist. 

In this school of thought, the protagonist moves from Orphan --> Wanderer --> Warrior --> Martyr, in the story.  

Mary Sue

A character type often found in unpublished fiction, typically female, adored by all the other characters, with all of her flaws being rendered as "endearing" (if she has any). Considered bad writing.

For a full explanation, see this article.

Meet Cute

An endearing moment when love interests meet for the first time. Common in screenwriting. 


Meeting the Mentor

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. After the Refusal of the Call, the protagonist encounters someone or something that gives her what she needs to start the adventure. This may be an object, motivation, or simply a kick out the door. 



A plot point in the middle of a story. There are slightly different definitions depending on what resource you are using. If we put them altogether, we get this: 

The midpoint is a significant event and/or revelation that is either a seeming victory or a seeming defeat for the protagonist. It provides a broader understanding of what's actually happening in the plot, enabling the protagonist to become more proactive in their goals.

The midpoint almost always happens right in the middle of the story.

And it pivots the story into the second half.



A recurring symbol (or more accurately, "signifier") or concept that is usually directly tied to the theme. Often a motif is the concrete equivalent of a theme topic. It repeats and is explored in different contexts. It can also be used to establish mood or create resonance.



"National Novel Writing Month"--an event that takes place every November where writers try to write a novel (50k words) in one month.

Learn more or participate at nanowrimo.org


A story that is 50k words or more.


A story longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. They run 30k -  50k.


Obligatory Scene

A scene that must be in the story, either because of the conventions of the genre or because a promise must be kept to the audience. ex. Romances must have a first kiss scene. 

Learn about obligatory scenes. 


Omniscient Viewpoint

To be honest, the way omniscient viewpoint is defined is ambiguous in the industry. Here are five different ways it has been used. 



A word that mimics a sound, such as boom, bang, pow, woof, meow, etc. 

Learn more about onomatopoeias. 


Opening Image

A term from Save the Cat! story structure. This is the opening of the story. The Opening Image is going to give the audience the first impression of the story--it's going to help set the tone, the type, the scope, and the stakes.

Typically, it also shows the audience the starting point of the protagonist (which will not only set the stage, but help prepare us for how he or she is going to arc).

Learn more about Opening Image.


The Ordeal

What The Hero's Journey calls the "All is Lost" moment. See "All is Lost" and "Plot Point 2."


Ordinary World

The world or state of being the protagonist begins the story in--what is normal to them. This term comes from The Hero's Journey. The Ordinary World is ordinary to the character (not necessarily to the audience, though it can be). At the end of the beginning, the protagonist will leave the Ordinary World and enter the Special World.

Learn more about the Ordinary World.


Orphan (State of Character)

At the starting of the story, the protagonist is usually in an orphan state. He or she might be a literal orphan or a figurative orphan. The point here is that the protagonist is apart from others or alone in some way. 
In this school of thought, the protagonist moves from Orphan --> Wanderer --> Warrior --> Martyr, in the story. 


Outliner ("Plotter")

A writer who outlines their story before writing it.


How fast or slow a story or passage seems to go. This can be controlled through structure and different writing techniques. 

Learn more about pacing. 



See "Discovery Writer."

Passive Voice

A sentence structure where the subject is acted upon. For example:

Tony was bitten by the cat.

The wagons were pulled by oxen.

My bike was stolen.

Passive voice can weaken writing in fiction, so you usually want to avoid it.

Learn more about passive voice and when and when not to use it.


Pen Name or Pseudonym

A fake name someone writes under. There are multiple reasons to use a pen name. It might be for anonymity or preference, but it also may be for marketing. For example, male writers of romance often choose a feminine pen name to better appeal to their audience. A pseudonym can also be used for branding. "Lemony Snicket" is a pen name for Dan Handler. He writes under both names, but with strikingly different approaches. If you write in more than one genre, the general advice is that you should use a different name for each one.

Learn my take on how to pick the perfect pen name.


How deep the story gets into the character's viewpoint. A story may be written from a distant viewpoint or a close viewpoint or at points in between.

Learn about POV penetration points and when to use each.

Pinch Point

A key moment where the antagonistic forces apply pressure to ("pinch") the protagonist. It reveals to or reminds the audience that the antagonist is a legit force and foe. Typically, this pressure forces the protagonist to take further action. 

In story structure, key pinch points usually happen around 37% into the story and around 62% into the story. 

Learn more about pinch points in this article. 



The main events of a story that interconnect with cause and effect.

Plot Point

A significant event that affects what happens next in the story. It changes the direction of the plot. In overall story structure, there are usually two main, recognized plot points, Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2. 

Plot Point 1

At Plot Point 1, something enters the story that challenges the established normal and leads the protagonist to go a new direction.
Plot Point 1 Ambiguity:

After the story's setup, something unexpected enters the picture that disrupts what's "normal." You may have heard this called the "inciting incident," a "catalyst," or the "Call to Adventure."

This moment eventually leads the protagonist to choose a new path forward.

In some cases, this happens back to back. In other stories, there may be entire scenes between those moments. 
Some writers consider the former to be Plot Point 1, and others consider it to be the latter. 

Beyond that, when the protagonist chooses to move forward and when he actually does may also be two different moments. So in some approaches, Plot Point 1 is seen as the moment where the protagonist definitively moves away from the established normal--when there is no turning back--and begins the new journey into the main conflict.

Call them what you want, what matters is that you understand that something enters the story and disrupts the normal, which leads the protagonist to choose a new path forward.

Plot Point 2

After experiencing a big loss, the protagonist gains something significant that will help with the climax. This is the last turn of the middle and marks the beginning of the end. 
 Plot Point 2 Ambiguity:
At the end of the middle, two things usually happen:

The protagonist has an "all is lost" moment, where after a big loss, it seems like there is no way they can succeed.

However, soon after this, they gain something that empowers them, and that allows them to move forward toward the climax.

Some writers call the former Plot Point 2, while others call the latter Plot Point 2.

What matters is that you understand that the protagonist suffers a painful loss before gaining something empowering


See "Outliner."

Point of View ("POV")

The viewpoint the story is written in. There are three viewpoints. First person point of view uses "I," such as, "I went to the store. I was tired." Second person point of view uses "you," such as, "You went to the store. You were tired." Third person point of view uses "he" or "she," such as "He went to the store. He was tired." Each of these can be put into plural form, which is rare to write a story in: "we," "you (plural)," "they."

"Omniscient" is also considered a point of view, but the term is used ambiguously in the writing industry. Omniscient typically still uses third person, and some say that the real viewpoint is "God." Here are five types of "omniscient" that I've encountered in the industry.

Second POV is usually reserved for how-to pieces in nonfiction, but may be used in video games, choose-your-own adventure stories, or other mediums. It is rarely used in typical written fiction, but has been done. Most stories are written in third or first person.


A section the precedes the main story. It is often set apart in some way, such as featuring different characters or taking place at a different time, or being written in a different viewpoint. Many prologues provide context for the audience through background information, but the most important function of a prologue is to make promises (my opinion). 

Learn more about prologues.

Protagonist ("Protag")

The leading or main character in the story, usually the person you are rooting for.


Purple Prose

Melodramatic prose--it usually has these features:

- Overuse of adverbs and adjectives

- Overuse of modifying phrases

- Overuse of abstract concepts and words

- Wordiness

- Overwrought word choice

- Overuse of figurative language

Learn about purple prose.

Query or Query Letter

The query letter is a carefully crafted letter that you send to agents and editors to pitch your story. It contains the pitch, genre, possibly your credentials, and shows that you have researched who you are contacting. There is an entire art to writing a proper query letter. Some believe it is more difficult than writing the a first chapter.

I recommend this query book to write one


Refusal of the Call

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. After receiving the Call to Adventure, the protagonist hesitates or refuses the invitation. This conveys to the audience the seriousness of the adventure.

Learn more about Refusal of the Call.

Relationship Arc

A relationship arc is how a relationship grows or changes through the story. There are four basic types: positive change, negative change, positive steadfast, negative steadfast.

Learn about Relationship Arcs.


The Resurrection

A term from The Hero's Journey. This is the climax of the story, where the protagonist must prove himself in a final test. 
Learn more about the Resurrection.


Return with the Elixir

What The Hero's Journey calls the denouement or falling action. 

 Learn more about Return with the Elixir. 


Reward: Seizing the Sword

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. After The Ordeal, the protagonist will be "rewarded." The reward may be a literal object, like a sword to defeat the antagonist, or it might be figurative, like a thematic epiphany, or both. See "Plot Point 2."


Rising Action

The middle of the story, where conflicts either broaden or deepen, where tensions and stakes increase, on the way to the climax.


The Road Back

A term from The Hero's Journey. After receiving the Reward, the protagonist and any of her allies get refocused on the journey, make any necessary preparation needed for the climax, and head that direction.

Learn more about The Road Back.


Save the Cat! (Structure)

A popular screenwriting story structure put together by Blake Snyder, which gets its name from its book Save the Cat!

Learn Save the Cat! Story Structure.



A small structural unit that follows basic story structure. It's usually marked by a change in location, a jump in time, or in some cases, a new set of characters coming "on stage."

Learn about scenes vs. sequences vs. acts.


A popular writing software intended for long documents. Think Microsoft Word or Pages on steroids, designed for novelists. 

You can check it out or purchase it here.

Second Person (Viewpoint)

The focal character is referred to as "you." In some cases, this may actually be a work that is referencing the reader, especially if it is for directions: "You add the eggs and stir." In rare works, "you" may reference the character in a story. "You take out your wand and prepare to enter the Forbidden Forest," for example. Almost no stories are written in second person viewpoint. It's used more in nonfiction or other forms of media (such as video games).


Self-publishing is when you publish your story yourself. You take care of the writing, editing, book cover, marketing--everything--or you hire people to do it for you. These days, most self-publishing happens through channels such as Amazon's KDP or Barnes and Noble's Nook Press. 

Learn more about the process of self-publishing.


A punctuation mark (;) used to connect two independent clauses (what could stand as sentences) or for clarity in lists.

Learn more about semicolons. 



A structural unit made up of multiple scenes that is smaller than an act and that follows basic story structure.

Learn about scenes vs. sequences vs. act.



The time and place the story happens. 


Establishing the basic context of the scene or story: who it's about, when it takes place, where it takes place, the scope, etc. 


Short Story

A short narrative, usually 15k - 30k words.

Show, don't Tell

A basic piece of writing advice, which argues that the writer should show the audience what something is like rather than tell them.

For example, here is some "telling."

Emily was tired.

Here is the same information shown.

Yawning, Emily dragged her backpack on the way to her bedroom. Her eyes drooped shut with each step. She fell into her bed and her shoes blackened the covers. She rubbed her eyes--mascara gritted against her skin--then flung her arm over her face to block out the light.

To learn more about this rule and when to break it, go here.


Slush Pile

The pile of unsolicited manuscripts and query letters submitted to an editor or agent. The "slush" comes from the idea that about 80% - 90% of the submissions aren't at a professional level--they're "slush."


Special World

A world or state of being that is unusual or special, when compared to the protagonist's Ordinary World. The protagonist enters the Special World at the beginning of the middle and remains there until the end. 



What is at risk in the story--potential consequences. Stakes answer the "So what?" question and can fit into an "If . . . then" sentence. 

Ex. If the hero doesn't defeat the antagonist, the whole nation will crumble.

Learn more about stakes. 


Steadfast Character/Protagonist (also known as a "Flat-Arc Character")

A character who more or less stays the same from the beginning of the story to the end of the story, especially in relationship to the theme. He or she may doubt, waver, or wander a different direction for a time, but will ultimately stick to the same worldview. A steadfast character may grow by degree, and become more of something, but he or she won't do a direct flip. (Compare to "Change Character.")

For example, Ella in Disney's live-action Cinderella holds true to being kind, from the beginning to the end, regardless of the difficulties she faces. She would be considered a positive steadfast protagonist. 

A negative steadfast protagonist holds onto negative values from beginning to end. 


Submission Pile

See "Slush Pile." 



Subtext is what is not stated, but what is implied. The "sub" refers to underlying. It is underneath the text.

It is different than context, in that context helps us interpret and understand the story, and subtext happens when the story is bigger than what is on the page. 

Learn more about subtext. 


Suspension of Disbelief or Willing Suspension of Disbelief

The audience's willingness to suspend their disbelief that something could exist or occur. In a story about unicorns, for example, the audience is willing to let go of the fact that unicorns don't exist to enjoy the story



A brief passage that lacks context and therefore "teases" the audience. A teaser promises the audience more information or a particular emotional experience if they keep reading.



Tension is the potential for problems to happen. This is often confused with conflict, which is problems actually happening.

Learn about conflict and tension. 


Tests, Allies, Enemies

A term from The Hero's Journey structure. In this segment, the protagonist is tested by the Special World. He makes new allies and enemies. 



Text is the written part of the story, what happens and what is stated on the page. It is everything you see that is not implied.

Thematic Statement

What the work says, teaches, or argues about a dominating topic in the story. For example, "Love conquers all" is the theme of Harry Potter.

Learn more about crafting theme


Theme Stated

Term from Save the Cat! story structure. A moment in the beginning where someone other than the main character will say a question or statement that, according to the structure, is the theme of the movie.

Learn more about Theme Stated.

Theme Topic

The topic the theme is about. The theme topic of Harry Potter, is love.

Third Person (Viewpoint)

Meaning the story viewpoint uses "he" or "she" or in rare narratives "they" to refer to the focal character, instead of "I" or "you." For example, "She was exhausted." Of course, the pronoun can be replaced with a name, as in, "Harriet was exhausted." Basically, all characters are referred to at a distance, and there is no "I" (outside of dialogue).

Learn more about third person, including the pros and cons and types.

To-be Verbs

Verbs of the word "to be." These include "am," "was," "were," "are," "is," "been," "being," and of course "be." Using to many of them weakens writing.

Learn more about to-be verbs and when and when not to use them.


Tone is the attitude the author, narrator, or viewpoint character has in the passage. You can have a sympathetic tone, a humorous tone, an arrogant tone, or a sarcastic tone.

Traditional Publishing or "Trad"

In traditional publishing, the book is published by a publishing house. They handle the formatting, design, printing, and get the volume to booksellers (and for editing, you will work with an editor). Ideally, they will also do marketing. There are four large publishing houses in the U.S., but many, many small publishing houses. When you go to a bookstore and see books, these are traditionally published books.

Learn more about traditional publishing.


A storytelling or character technique or plot device that has been used so much, that it is recognizable to the audience (if only subconsciously).

Dive into the black hole of tropes and lose hours of time traipsing tvtropes.org.

Turning Point

A climactic moment in a structural unit (either a scene, sequence, or act) that turns the story in a new direction. A turning point can only be one of two things: 

1. a revelation

2. an action

Each structural unit should have a turning point.



When something is vague, it is indistinct and unclear. While "vague" and "ambiguous" are often considered synonyms in a lot of places in the writing world, they don't mean the same thing.

"Vague" deals with the story being out of focus and vapory. It's not quite anything.

"Ambiguity" happens when something in the story could mean multiple things--supported by evidence.

Learn more about vagueness in writing.


Viewpoint Character

The character whose viewpoint and perspective the story is told through. Some books only have one viewpoint character, others may switch at chapters or scene breaks. In rare works, with some omniscient point of views, it may switch within sentences (an unpopular technique today).

Most viewpoint characters are protagonists, but they aren't the same. It is possible to have a viewpoint character who is different from the protagonist.

Learn how to pick the right viewpoint character for a scene.

Viewpoint Error

When a moment in the story violates the established viewpoint. In other words, what is written doesn't coincide with what the viewpoint character would experience.

Learn more about viewpoint errors and when they occur.



Voice can refer to the writer's or narrator's way of telling the story, or, your characters' persona, thoughts, speech patterns, and word choice. 

Learn more about character voice. 


Wanderer (State of Character)

After the inciting incident or Plot Point 1, the protagonist will become reactive to what is happening. He or she often doesn't have a full grasp or a full picture of what is going on, and as he or she is introduced to the Special World, will need to learn new rules. In a sense, the protagonist is "wandering" around. He is a Wanderer. The protagonist will remain in this state until the midpoint. 
In this school of thought, the protagonist moves from Orphan --> Wanderer --> Warrior --> Martyr, in the story.  


Warrior (State of Character)

At the midpoint, the protagonist moves from Wanderer to Warrior, or in other words, from reactive to proactive. The protagonist becomes warrior-like in the sense that she will make more proactive attacks against the antagonist. This will last until the end of the middle.

In this school of thought, the protagonist moves from Orphan --> Wanderer --> Warrior --> Martyr, in the story.   



Work-in-progess. A story that an author is currently working on.



Using more words or more complicated words than necessary to convey an idea. Wordiness usually has redundancy, filler phrases, passive voice, and long, multi-syllable words.  

Lean about wordiness. 



The process of creating the story's world. This is particularly relevant for science fiction and fantasy, but any genre will tap into some aspect of worldbuilding. For example, in a historical novel, you will still want to build a sense of the setting and society in the text. 


Writer's Block

When a writer gets significantly stuck in the writing process, to the extent that he or she can't produce new work or be creative. 

Learn about writer's block and some remedies for it.

1 comment:

  1. Concise definitions for each term. Easy to grasp and very helpful. Thank you so much.


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