Do you remember the game show Lingo?
Contestants were given the beginning letter of a five-letter mystery word and five chances to correctly guess and spell the mystery word. If they guessed correctly, they earned points and got to select two numbered balls to help them cover up their Bingo board.
Whichever team had the most points at the end of the show got to go on to a bonus Lingo round where they could win thousands of dollars.
I'm not really sure what any of that has to do with Literary Lingo, but I was feeling a bit nostalgic for my childhood. Although, I do wish I could win some money for all of the writing terms I've learned over the past several years. Seriously, it's like an entirely different language that comes with a steep learning curve.
If anyone ever tries to tell you that there's nothing much to a career in writing, just give 'em a good 1-2 punch for me. Kay? Thanks!
Now, let's get on to the terms. I'll do my best to make this as little like your high school English class as possible. I promise! Scroll through to get the full scope of things or use the links below to click ahead to whatever floats your boat
Who are Pantsers? Pantsers are authors who write their books by the seat of their pants. No planning. No outline. Nada. If they have an idea in mind, they simply sit down and let it grow au natural.
Pantsers have the advantage of a more surprising adventure since they often don't know where their stories are going themselves. Plus, they are free to change their minds whenever they please with little to no consequence.
However, Pantsers are often left with messy first drafts that require a lot of revision, if they finish their first drafts at all. Without a plan, Pantsers may get stuck in a plot hole with no way to dig themselves out. They might even ditch their current story for a new one.
Who are Plotters? Plotters are authors who take the time to research and outline their stories before they begin writing the first draft. They like order and want to have a firm plan in place from the get-go.
Plotters often produce more cohesive first drafts that need less revision in the long run, but they may suffer from story boredom before they are finished. Having a pre-plotted story line also means that it's harder for Plotters to change their mind. They may end up having to ditch their original outline and start again.
Who am I? I'm a Plotter, though perhaps a bit more lenient than most. I research a lot, and I write a bullet point outline for my stories before I begin writing. I do leave my outlines pretty open-ended so that I have room to switch up some of the smaller events in my stories as I write.
As long as my characters can get from point A to point B in the first draft, I don't stress about what comes in the in between.
WIP is literary lingo for work in progress, which is the manuscript or project that an author is currently working on writing or revising. A WIP isn't yet ready for publication. Many professional authors have 2 or 3 WIP's going at one time: one in research, one in drafting, and one they are revising for publication.
A MC is your main character. Simple as that. They are usually either the narrator of the story or the main subject in the narrator's eye. Some stories may have multiple MC's if they are written from multiple POV's.
POV stands for point of view. This is the perspective of a story's narrative. There are 3 popular types of POV in fiction:
- First Person - The narrator is one of the characters in the story. They are telling the story from their own point of view. Example: "I fought off the dinosaur with my ice cream cone. We couldn't believe it when the thing sat down and took a bite."
- Third Person Limited - The narrator is an unknown who is telling the story from the view of only one character (or one character at a time). Example: "Lila furrowed her brow. Benny wondered if that meant she was angry or plotting. Or worse - both."
- Third Person Omniscient - The narrator is a god-like unknown who can hear and see all of the character's thoughts and actions. Example: "Lila mourned the loss of her ice cream cone while Benny wondered if she wanted to strangle him for using it as bait."
The second person and third person objective forms are two other types of POV, but they are rarely used in modern literature.
YA is literary lingo for the Young Adult genre, also known as Young Adult fiction. Novels written in this genre are best suited for teenagers. Popular YA fiction includes Twilight, If I Stay,and The Hunger Games.
NA is an emerging genre for New Adults, typically aged 18 - 25. NA bridges the gap between YA and Adult fiction, often introducing more mature themes such as sex or violence. Popular NA fiction includes Fangirl, Beautiful Disaster, and Slammed.
SF has two meanings in the literary world, the most popular being the Science Fiction genre. Novels published in this genre deal with elements of futuristic science or technology such as space or time travel, laser weapons, and extraterrestrials.
The second meaning of SF is Speculative Fiction, which is an umbrella genre containing all books with futuristic, fantastical, or supernatural elements.
Deus Ex Machina
Deus Ex Machina is Latin for "god from machine". A Deus Ex Machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly insurmountable obstacle is suddenly overthrown by a new and superior character, element, object, etc.
Basically, it's a writer's cop out for when they've worked their characters into a hole so deep that they can't get out on their own.
Ah, the language of my people! Bildungsroman is German for "novel of education". In Layman's terms, it's a coming-of-age story where the protagonist grows emotionally and intellectually from youth into adulthood during the course of the plot.
Denouement is a French word for the falling action of your story. Call it what you may: the final leg of your hero's journey, the final points in the narrative, the last hurrah. It's the end of the story where all the loose ends of the plot are (hopefully) tied up.
In Media Res
In Media Res is Latin for "into the middle of things". It is used to describe a story that begins in the middle of the action, usually a thriller or a mystery. If you don't know any of the characters, but stuff is already going down, then that novel is In Media Res.
A prologue is the introductory section of a novel, usually in the form of a chapter, that is unrelated to the rest of the story in timeline. However, it should always be related to the story in some manner. I wrote an entire post on prologues if you want to check it out.
An epilogue is the ending section of a novel, most often separated from the rest of the story's timeline, where details about the characters' lives after the completion of the plot are shared.
Exposition is literary lingo for the background information about the characters and settings that is given in the beginning chapters of a novel.
An epigraph is a short quotation, saying, or anecdote given at the beginning of a novel, its parts, or its chapters that suggests a certain theme. For example, The White Queen features an epigraph before each of its parts that tells the tale of the water goddess, Melusina.
Theme is the overall subject or message that a story conveys. Common themes include "love conquers all", "a boy becomes a man", "the journey will lead you home", and "home is where the heart is".
Narrative is another literary term for plot. Both are the series of connected events relayed in your story.
In literature, a manuscript is the hand-written or hand-typed work of the author. Usually it refers to the finalized version of the story given over to publishers for print, though it can be said that a manuscript isn't finished, is half-complete, etc.
A subplot is a separate but supporting plot line that occurs alongside the main action of the story. It usually features supporting characters.
For example, in The Fellowship of the Ring(you know I had to go there), Merry and Pippin, as well as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, get separate subplots after Frodo and Sam leave the Fellowship to take the ring to Mordor by themselves.
A synopsis is a brief summary of your story from beginning to end.
A blurb is a brief summary of your story that does not include the ending. A blurb can most often be found on the back cover or inside flap of a printed novel.
Novella vs. Novel
A novella is a short novel or a long short story. Typically, it falls between 15,000 and 40,000 words. Novels are stories that technically break 40,000 words, though most average around 75,000 words.
A writer's style is the unique way in they write. Elements like word choice, pace, fluency, vocabulary, motivation, and purpose can set a writer's work apart from others. A critic may describe an author's style as being similar to another's, which may or may not be intentional.
For example, I just finished reading A Gentleman of Fortune, which is a Regency era mystery novel written in an Austenesque style, referring of course to the famous Regency era romance author, Jane Austen.
Pace is literary lingo for the speed at which a story's plot line moves forward. It isn't so much a matter of speed that makes a story good or bad but consistency. Smooth plot lines make a story seem well-planned and professional. I recently wrote an article on pacing if you'd like to learn more.
Freewriting is a technique in which you write everything that comes to mind in a certain period of time without editing or backtracking. This is a helpful technique for actually getting your story down on paper. Hello, NaNoWriMo 2015!
The Public Domain is a collection of stories that can be utilized by anyone in product creation, branding, story-writing, etc. because their intellectual property rights have expired or been forfeited.
Typically, a story enters the Public Domain when its author has been dead for over 70 years. This is important to know if you plan to use certain established characters or fictional universes in your novel.
Characterization is the detailed conceptualization of a character. It may consist of a character's appearance, personality, backstory, notable acquaintances, likes and dislikes, and anything else of note.
A protagonist is the main character in a novel, typically the "good guy". A protagonist's story is usually told through their POV, either in the first or third person. Check out this post if you'd like to learn how to create a protagonist that will rock your reader's world.
The antagonist is the main character or force that opposes your protagonist's agenda. Antagonists are typically known as the "bad guy" in a story. On rare occasion, a story may be told through the antagonist's POV. I wrote an entire post on antagonists if you'd like to learn how to make them super-powerful.
A narrator is the person telling the story. They may be an unknown or a character in the story.
A character archetype is a typical example of a character. Popular archetypes include the wise old man, the noble warrior, the waif, the rebel, the nurturer, etc. Jungian archetypes remain the most popular in literature.
A tragic flaw is a character's specific personality trait leads to their ultimate downfall. Any character, whether villain or hero, can have a tragic flaw.
Most stories present the character with an opportunity to change their tragic flaw or act in opposition of it, but the character chooses not to and meets his literal or figurative demise. Dun. Dun. Duuun.
Satire, or satirical fiction, uses humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to highlight the vices and/or idiocy of a person, organization, political party, or idea. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal is one of the most popular examples.
A parody imitates an established work in an effort to comment on it through humor or sarcasm. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a classic example of parody derived from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
More recent works include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Barry Trotter: And the Unauthorized Parody.
Hard and Soft Science Fiction
Hard science fiction novels focus on presenting accurate portrayals of scientific technical work from fact based fields such as chemistry, biology, and engineering. On the other hand, soft science fiction deals with less technical sciences such as psychology, sociology, or anthropology.
Cyberpunk is a popular science fiction sub-genre that focuses on advanced technology being utilized, often in a negative way, in a crumbling or radicalized society.
The word dystopia is literally the opposite of utopia, meaning that dystopian novels take place in completely undesirable or downright life-threatening societies. Hunger Games, anyone?
Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic
Apocalyptic fiction deals with the events of the end of human civilization as it was previously known, usually at the hands of nuclear warfare, aliens, or zombies. Post-apocalyptic literature is similar in that it deals with how the remainder of humanity lives on after an apocalyptic event.
Magical realism is a subset of the fantasy genre where all magical elements play a natural role in an otherwise ordinary and realistic setting.
High and Low Fantasy
High Fantasy novels take place in a completely unique fictional world, either without the existence of an ordinary world or that is reached through a portal from an ordinary world. On the other hand, low fantasy novels are set in a either the real world or in a realistic, fictional world where some magic takes place.
Whew! Congratulations if you are still alive after reading all that. I do apologize if I've turned your brains to mush.
Tell me, did I miss anything important? Are there any other terms that you'd like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below, and I'll get right back to you.
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!