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Glossary

Below are some terms and definitions commonly used in the discussion and critique of fiction.

Active vs Passive Voice
When writing in an active voice, the subject is the agent of the main verb. When writing in a passive voice, the main verb acts on the subject. Example: "The man opened the hatch." is active, "The hatch was opened by the man." is passive. In fiction, active voice is usually preferred since it adds a sense of immediacy.

Antagonist
Any character or entity that a protagonist is in conflict with.

Back-Story
The events and circumstances which happened before the story, forming the background of characters and situations within the story.

Beat
Any description of action mixed in with quoted dialog. Example: "I can't see it." She adjusted the magnification of her scope. "There it is."

Character
Any person or being which interacts with the events of a story.

Characterization
The traits of characters and their presentation within a story; e.g., personality, behavior, habits, quirks, distinguishing features, etc.

Chekhov's Gun
A character, object, or plot element introduced early in a story and apparently having little significance until it plays a pivotal role later.

Critique
The critical evaluation of a story with emphasis on clarity, consistency, structure, style, emotional impact, etc. Critique should focus on how well a story is told and suggest improvements to story telling technique while refraining from personal judgments of topic or content. Contrast with line edit.

Description
A fiction-writing mode that conveys sensory aspects of a story.

Dialog
A fiction-writing mode which features quoted text spoken by characters.

Exposition
A fiction-writing mode used to convey information important to the understanding of the story. This can be achieved via other modes such as dialog, introspection, or narration. Synonyms for excessive exposition include exposition dump, idiot lecture, infodump, information dump, or plot dump.

Fiction-Writing Mode
A form of writing used to describe an aspect of a story. While the kinds of fiction-writing modes are a subject of debate, some commonly recognized modes include description, dialog, exposition, introspection, and narration. Contrast with narrative mode.

Flat Character
A character which lacks interesting detail and doesn't change within the story. AKA static character. Contrast with round character.

Focal Character
The character followed through the story's plot. The focal character may, or may not, be the protagonist or viewpoint character.

Genre
Any category roughly defined by the style or content of a collection of works; e.g., science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc. Genre definitions are usually not precise and often overlap.

Handwavium
Any fantastic material proposed in a story that enables fantastic events. Synonyms include buzzwordium, eludium, flangium, illudium, impossibrium, phlebotinum, unobtainium, wishalloy.

Identifier vs Said-Bookism
An identifier is the portion of dialog text that indicates which character is speaking; e.g., she said, he said, said Joe, etc. Any word used in place of 'said' is called a said-bookism; e.g., she asked, she screamed, etc. A number of authors discourage the use of said-bookisms arguing that they are an unnecessary distraction and that well written dialog does not require them. However, this view is not unanimous. Synonyms for identifier include attribution, dialogue tag, tag line.

Introspection
A fiction-writing mode which presents the unspoken thoughts of a character. Introspection is often presented in the form of italicized text.

Lampshade Hanging
Deflecting attention from an implausible element of a story by openly addressing how odd or unlikely it is.

Line Edit
Checking a manuscript for errors in spelling and grammar. Contrast with critique.

MacGuffin
Something pursued by a character which is otherwise not important to the plot. Example: In a story where a character is pursuing gold and the gold, itself, plays little or no role in the plot, the gold would be a MacGuffin.

Narration
A fiction-writing mode where the narrator communicates directly to the reader.

Narrative
The collective events that form a story.

Narrative Hook
A compelling element of a story which hooks the reader's attention. Stories often begin with a narrative hook that may grab the reader's attention with a provocative situation, odd behavior, intriguing dialog, or the like.

Narrative Mode
The way a story is told. The most important aspects of narrative mode are narrative point-of-view and narrative voice. Contrast with fiction-writing mode.

Narrative Point Of View
The aspect of narrative mode that regards 'who' is telling the story. First-person is when the narrator is a character within the story. Second-person is when the reader is a character within the story. Third-person is when neither the narrator or reader are characters within the story.

Narrative Voice
The aspect of narrative mode that regards 'how' the story is being told. Stream-of-consciousness voice reveals the story via the narrative character's thoughts. Character voice reveals the story via the narrative character's telling of events; sometimes known as "unreliable voice" when the narrative character is misleading. Epistolary voice reveals the story via documents such as letters, academic papers, etc. Third-person subjective voice reveals the story via character(s) thoughts. Third-person objective voice reveals the story via character(s) action and dialog, but not thoughts. Third-person omniscient voice reveals the story via character(s) action, dialog, and thoughts.

Plot
The series of events that form a story.

Prose
A style of writing which resembles ordinary spoken language as opposed to verse or poetry.

Protagonist
The character, or characters, which readers are intended to empathize with; i.e., the character(s) that readers most identify with and are emotionally concerned about. A protagonists may, or may not, be the focal character or viewpoint character. Contrast with antagonist.

Red Herring
Anything made to appear significant to distract the reader from something of actual significance.

Round Character
A character of interesting complexity which changes in response to events in the story. AKA dynamic character. Contrast with flat character.

Science Fiction (SF)
A genre of fiction largely characterized by speculative elements which seem plausible according to contemporary science. Such elements may play a significant role in the story, or they may be used to create a setting that compliments an otherwise non-scientific story. Elements commonly associated with SF include advanced technologies, space travel, time travel, aliens, etc.

Sci-Fi
The term sci-fi is often just a casual reference to science fiction. In a more formal sense, however, sci-fi often refers to poorly executed science fiction.

Speculative Fiction
A genre of fiction characterized by speculation that is not necessarily scientific. Works of science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc., where speculation is a significant aspect of a story are considered speculative fiction.

Technobabble
Technical language mainly used for dramatic effect. The descriptive value of technobabble depends on its accuracy and appropriateness for the reader.

Viewpoint Character
The character through which the story is being told; AKA perspective character. The viewpoint character may, or may not, be the focal character or protagonist.

Midtown Writers' Circle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania