An incomplete compilation of definitions and descriptions related to fiction (and often non-fiction). This is a work in progress, deriving from my own journey into writing fiction and meant to illuminate the terminology one reads and hears from writers and editors and the like. See what you think.
AGENT - A matchmaker between authors and publishers who secures the publication of a writer's intellectual property. Literary agents represent fiction and non-fiction work. A web search will provide insight into any given agent's role as seeker of the best match between an author and a traditional publishing house (large or small). Agents might also secure worldwide publishing rights and film rights, and assist with tidying up one's manuscript for presentation to potential publisher(s). Think of an agent as a nationwide bakery to whom you offer your original sponge cake recipe in the form of a book manuscript. The baker who vetts new menu items has seen and tasted many cakes. To secure her consideration you must demonstrate your use of the finest ingredients with a hint of unique spices, all in a unique combination. And too, your sample must be offered on a day when the baker is not dieting, has tasted too many other sweets, or has given up cake for Lent.
Look for agents mentioned in the acknowledgements of your favorite author's works, in the Association of Authors' Representatives, in Publisher's Weekly, Writer's Market, and online. Many have websites and blogs.
ANGST - From Danish and German. A feeling that may be ascribed to writers and would-be authors who harbor a grand idea for a novel, and perhaps have pounded out the first chapter or two over midnight cups of java, and even have an ending in sight before discovering the vast wasteland of the middle chapters, said chapters staring at them like a bad date after one too many martinis. It's that feeling of dread or apprehension that leaves you wondering how to get past the dune-filled Sahara that stretches between the oh-so-promising opening and that glowing denouement in the distance. Also arises from the construction of query letters.
ANTAGONIST - From Latin's antagonista and Greek's antagonistes, named for the Greek god of troublemakers. Oh wait, I made that up. It does mean a character who acts in opposition to the hero (protagonist). An adversary. Can be internal, but most often an external force.
ATTRIBUTION - He said. She said. Or, said Joe. An attribution tells who said which bit of dialogue. Not necessary to use with every line when an exchange takes place between two characters. A bit of action can serve as attribution prior to what is said: Joe looked out the window. "Shit. That same flying saucer again."
DENOUEMENT - Etymology is French. To pronounce properly, pooch the lips out as if dishing for the camera in one of those photo-booths at the county fair. In dramatic fiction: a term for the falling action immediately following the climax. This will be the place where your manuscript (ms) lights up one of those skinny brown cigarettes and through tendrils of gray smoke, tells you what he thinks will come of you both. Most likely tells you this in French so that it sounds divine, even if he's saying that he must tomorrow return to his cheri back in Paris.
DIALOG/DIALOGUE - The verbalization between characters. Much is taught these days about keeping dialog terse, pithy, and fraught with tension. None of that "How are you today" and "Fine, thanks, how are you?" stuff. Dialog should serve the story's forward movement and pit characters against each other or move them in concert toward some mutual goal. The more it sounds like the way people actually talk, the better. 'Nuff said?
ELEVATOR PITCH - This is the 10-30 second verbal selling of the story, as in, you enter an elevator and look! you're riding with one of the editors or agents from the same conference. As the bell dings for each floor you get a handful of seconds to make a pitch about your Great American Novel. That's probably the equivalent of your one-sentence log-line or you might get two sentences out. Advice I've read says to rehearse your delivery so it comes out smoothly. Note: If the elevator is plummeting in a downward direction, better keep your pitch to 5 seconds and make it memorable in case you ride in the same ambulance later.
FICTION - An imagined, made-up story. If you make up things all the time but don't commit them to paper, you just might be a liar. Fiction takes many forms: novels, short stories, screenplays, stage plays, alibis.
FICTIONEER - My Webster's has this as "a prolific writer of mediocre fiction." Enough said.
FICTIONIST - A writer of fiction. So says Webster's.
FICTIONISTA - A fictionist with a diva bent. So say I.
GO-BACKS - These are the unsold, "remainder" copies of books that retailers are allowed to send back to the publisher. Sad but true: many copies of many books endure an ignominious fate, probably losing their covers and being sold for glue, or dog food. Oh wait, maybe that's horses.
LOG-LINE - This is the one line encapsulation of what your story/novel/book is about. It's the type of reference that can be made as an "elevator pitch." Lynn Price, author of "The Writer's Essential Tackle Box" notes that the line has a beginning, middle and end. Here's an example: In Sleeping with the Enemy, World War III ignites when the President of the Unites States discovers his wife's affair with Iran's new young president, a distant relative of their adopted son, who becomes the only hope for derailing the coming conflagration. Kind of convoluted, but you get the idea: plot and the main characters who advance it.
MANUSCRIPT - The story on paper, or in this age, as electronic pages. Single manuscript is abbreviated "ms." Multiple is "mss" (my writer friends an I quite often use cap MS).
NARRATOR - The narrator is the distinct voice of the novel, not necessarily the voice of the protagonist or any of the characters (though it can be). It's the voice telling the story of what happened and who done it.
NOVEL - A work of fiction, usually more than 200 pages, and anywhere from 75,000 words on up. Do not use the term "fiction novel," which is redundant. Books reading "a novel" on the cover are indicating that the work is fiction as opposed to memoir or biography or poetry. Novels can be in narrative or poetic form (see Ellen Hopkins' work) and fall into categories, or genres, such as mystery, literary, romance, western, etc. To complicate matters, many categories subdivide into narrower channels: think Christian romance, sci-fi/mystery, and so forth.
Short stories may be fiction, but they're maybe 10-20+ pages. Much shorter is flash fiction, might be a page or two.
Or how about those 6-word "stories"? They deserve a whole new term. Lightning fiction? Blink fiction? Hmmm.
PERSPECTIVE - The relevant line of thought and action taken by a character. As in a didactic character, always giving bits of advice and/or information meant to enlighten. Or the devil-may-care, go with the flow character. Or the one who distrusts everyone. An author's perspective might be to educate the reader, or to simply report the facts, or to satirize.
PITCH - Here's the rub. How to condense a synopsis, or expand a log-line into just the right information to hook an agent or editor? Although a pitch is one element of the query to an agent, it needs to remain compact. Advice I've seen given is that it should run 1-4 short paragraphs. A pitch introduces protagonist and antagonist and the challenge, dilemma, conflict, obstacles they encounter or foist upon each other. Do not include the ending. We want an agent to ask for more (such as a synopsis, followed by a ms). Voice is important - sets the tone for the story itself - sassy, erudite, crude, whatever. And we want to show the action rather than telling it.
PROTAGONIST - From the Greek "protagonistes," meaning first actor. In epic adventures, or myth, this would be the hero or heroine. Is not necessarily a "good guy" but the character who drives the story. Or else who is driven by the events of the story. In modern American fiction the protagonist might be an anti-hero, because sometimes don't we love a bad guy? Or we can at least relate to the humane characteristics of a believable bad guy (they virtually all have some redeeming quality). The protagonist is #1, playing the leading role, even if other strong characters assert themselves.
RISING ACTION - A descriptor for the manner in which tensions and complications between characters and their opposing goals continue to grow (or compound) as the story progresses, eventually culminating in what's known as the climax. After which you will feel the need for a cigarette and one more snort of bourbon. Diagrammed left to right, this would look on paper like a series of mountain peaks and plateaus rising ever taller while marching rightward (or, eastward, if you like).
ROYALTIES - A percentage of book sales payable to the author after the contract's advance has been satisfied (meaning paid back through sales of the book). A certain amount of time elapses between the time a book is published and retailers determine that the book is selling. As sales go, so go royalties, which are tracked and paid by the publisher.
TEXTURE - This is the opposite of a narrative being thin. Texture is in the details and imagery, the layers of plot and subplot, the complexity of characters. Lucky are those with texture.
THEME - A stumbling point for so many, including me. This is meant to represent a simple one-sentence concept of the story. Not the plot, as in he did this to make the world explode. But, concept: Good wins out over evil, say. Or, Only the strong survive, or, Might versus Right.
When people ask me, as they will you, "What is your book about?" I ask them if they are wondering about the plot or the theme(s). Do they want to know what happens and to whom? This is invariably the case, at which point I try to provide the 2-cent version, which allows them to remain awake and after which they will not feel the need to avoid me when passing on the street. See also - LOG LINE - for the 2-cent take on story.
THIN - A criticism of the writing, which means it lacks lushness and body. The antithesis of that old adage about being too rich and ... you get the idea. Prose can be too thin if it is all surface and only skin deep. Of course if you're already rich, this criticism may not bother you much.
TONE - The narrator's diction and word choice, soberness or humor, when telling the story (no matter the Point of View). Tone conveys sophistication or simplicity and socio-economic, education, and cultural influences. Milk with your tea, Madame? What did you think, dude, that she'd want tea? Give her a snort of scotch and watch her toss it down.