The Great CC Glossary

Welcome to the Great CC Glossary!
This project is a work in progress. Please help us make the glossary better by chiming in on the Glossary thread.

Here are a few things you need to know about this glossary.

Entries are put in 4 categories:

1. Writing terms

2. Crit slang

3. Publishing business

4. Helpful links

This is to help authors see what are accepted writing methods and what are criticisms. It also helps to clarify what readers want versus what an editor wants.

You can type a word into the white search box just below, and it will automatically find that word in the glossary. Or, you can scroll through the list in alphabetical order.

If you're looking for a term that doesn't seem to show up, stop by the glossary discussion thread. If we don't have the word listed, you can request that we add it.

We strive to make all definitions as clear and understandable as possible. While we can give you a good idea of what a term means, we can't always go into great detail. Many of the more complicated subjects have helpful links for further research.

The helpful links section also has assistance on learning the different genres. Since literary genres are fluid and constantly evolving, it's very difficult for a glossary to define them.

Lastly, it's important to note that these terms are not unique to CC. They are common slang throughout the publishing world.

Happy writing!

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  • Writing terms
  • Crit slang
  • Publishing business
  • Helpful Links
  • Writing terms

     Inciting incident
    The major tipping point at the beginning of a story that sets off the plot. See also: plot points.

     In medias res
    "Into the middle of things." Starting chapter one in the middle of the story and then explaining as the novel goes on.

    Transparent or deliberate exaggeration.

     Sensory details
    Leveraging all the character's sensations to describe a scene. Although sight and sound are technically included, those two are used so often that readers don't usually think of them as sensory. Smell, taste and touch are the ones that stand out. It can also loosely be used to include subtle or intangible sensations, such as how it feels to fall, lose one's balance or have someone invade personal space.

     High concept
    A premise so concise the entire book can be explained in one sentence.

     Hard boiled
    A crime story with violence or adult situations, usually narrated in a cynical tone. Too mature for YA but not to the point of horror.

     Falling action
    The formalities that happen after an outcome is decided (villain gets arrested, hero gets a reward, etc).

     Easter egg
    A hidden gem put into the text, usually an inside joke or reference to something that only certain readers would get. Disguised in such a way that uninformed readers can gloss right over it.

    A society where seemingly positive reform/government action has negative consequences.

     Dummy puppet
    An "outsider" character brought into a scene for the purpose of asking obvious questions (closely related to ASYKB).

     Plot-driven story
    One that emphasizes action, usually told in a linear sequence, that continually forces the characters to react.

     Plot hole
    A character suddenly making use of some helpful thing (such as a weapon) when readers never saw them acquire it. Likewise, a character initially shown having a useful thing that they apparently forget later on. See also: red herring.

     Plot point
    A pivotal scene that causes a major change in the action.

    The platform or foundation used to build a plot. In the movie Titanic, the premise is "Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship." The suicide attempt, dinner invitation and theft accusation became the plot.

    Female and male (romance).

    Technically, the ease with which readers can move through sentences without getting lost or tripped up. Conceptually, the progression of a story in a way that readers can naturally follow.

    A character with an evil agenda who continually does unethical things.

    The way the narration "sounds" inside a reader's mind. This involves sentence length, vocabulary level, use of slang, emphasis on certain words, and other factors. These things all work together to create a certain pattern or cadence.

     Rising action
    The build-up of conflict and suspense that leads to a climax.

     Narrative summary
    Glossing over unimportant action to transition readers to the next pivotal scene.

     Passive writing
    Wording a sentence in such a way that readers feel "blah" even though the actual content is interesting. Example: John points a gun at Susie. Pretty exciting stuff. Passive writing would word it something like this: Susie was just walking out of the bathroom when she noticed John in her living room holding a gun that he was starting to point at her.

    An author who views a story as a structure that needs to be built. For contrast, see gardener.

    Omniscient. Refers to a writing style where the reader can see the perspective of any character at any time. See also: third person omniscient.

    The voice that tells the story to readers. Can be one of the characters (see first person) or a separate observer (see third person). Can be all-knowing or limited to watching characters one scene at a time. Can be objective or opinionated. Can have reasonable adult intelligence or a naïve perspective. Huck Finn is a naïve narrator. Humbert Humbert from Lolita is an unreliable narrator.

    An object (usually inanimate) that drives the plot by motivating characters to search or fight for it. Think of "my precious" from Lord of the Rings, or the gold necklace from Pirates of the Caribbean.

     Literary fiction
    A novel in which the writing style or artistic flair is just as important as the story itself.

    An empirical observation of spoken English. It says that, in natural conversation, we tend to arrange our clauses so that unsurprising (e.g., “given”) information appears first, and that surprising information (e.g., “new”) appears later. Writers often form sentences differently on paper. However, use of GBN can smooth out awkward transitions between sentences, since they then flow similarly to how we naturally speak. Find more in-depth analysis here.

     False protagonist
    A character first accepted by readers as the main character, but then later either dies or defers to another character. An example of this is Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights.

    Cadit quaestio. Latin for "the question falls." Inserted into the draft of a text to confirm that some spelling or use of jargon was intentional (used most often in nonfiction). Example: John kidnapped a girl named Soozee (cq) at gunpoint.

    The part where the tension reaches a fever pitch and the central conflict is resolved. See also: rising action and falling action.

     Character-driven story
    One that emphasizes fascinating personalities or personal growth in favor of an "eventful" plot. See also: plot-driven.

    The first sentence of a story is so confusing, cliché, or otherwise badly written that readers reject it on the spot. Also a famous satirical contest of the same name.

     Just go with me
    A technical aspect of a story that never gets explained, either for the sake of brevity or because the author has no specific explanation.

    The process of showing a character's day-to-day life before the first big change, usually done to draw an interesting contrast/parallel or to help readers understand how much the character lost.

     Verbal irony
    Readers are aware of a secret that a character has, thus causing that character to say or do something that can be construed to mean different things. See also: dramatic and situational.

     Third person omniscient
    Readers exposed to the thoughts, feelings, or perspective of any character.

     Third person limited
    Readers can only see through the perspective of certain characters. Can be restricted to one character for the whole novel, one character in each chapter, etc.

     Third person
    A writing style where the narrator is not any of the characters (John walked down the street, Susie looked at the sky). See also: first person.

    The surroundings or environment where a scene takes place.

     Red herring
    Misleading the reader into following a dead end by drawing attention to an unimportant detail. See also: false protagonist.

    Tension created by unexpected and unpredictable plot points.

     Supporting protag
    A character who shows readers important parts of the story but is not the real protagonist. Fantine in Les Miserables is a supporting protagonist.

     Static character
    One who does not learn anything or change their ways by the end of a story. See also: dynamic character.

     Situational irony
    An event or outcome that is the opposite of what a character tried to accomplish ("Wow, that couldn't have not worked any better." – Ned Bigby). See also: dramatic, verbal.

    Protagonist. Character most responsible for advancing the plot. Not always the narrator or the main character. See also: supporting protag.

     Present tense
    A story told as if readers are watching the action in real time (I walk down the street, I look at the sky). See also: past tense.

    An event or conversation that happens in a defined place. Not to be confused with setting.

    Post-modern. Using words or grammar techniques in ways that go against tradition.

    An author who plans or outlines the majority of a story before they write it. See also: pantser.

     Plot device
    An object or event (usually perceived as arbitrary) that's just an excuse for the story to move a certain way.

    A series of occurrences that advance action or disclose a mystery in a way that presents it as a story to readers.

     Past tense
    A story told as if the action has already happened (I walked down the street, I looked at the sky). See also: present tense.

     Passive voice
    A technical term for a sentence that uses the direct object as the subject (Susie kissed John - vs - John was kissed by Susie). Passive in this context refers to the grammatical use of the verb. It's not the same as writing passive content (see: passive writing).

    British English.

    A piece of body language or simple movement, often mentioned during dialogue, to make a scene feel natural as well as show a character's personality.

     Dynamic character
    One who changes or matures as the story goes along. See also: static character.

     Dramatic irony
    The reader is privy to information a character does not know, leading the character to say or do something the reader knows is naïve. See also: situational and verbal.

     Deus ex Machina
    "God out of the machine." Instead of a character working themselves out of a problem, it magically goes away thanks to luck or divine intervention. See also: plot device.

    An event, obstacle or character trait that is so strong it unavoidably controls the outcome of a plot.

    The process of resolving complexities and subplots after the major conflict is decided. Closely related to falling action.

    The exact dictionary definition of a term without regard to artistic use or the way it sounds.

    Gay lesbian bisexual transgender questioning.

    Female and female (romance).

    A section of text that explains information as opposed to advancing the plot. Similar to infodump.

    The full implications of a term beyond its literal meaning, to include aspects of metaphor, emotion, slang and symbolism. See also: denotation.

    Coming of age. A story that involves the main character growing up or discovering their true self. See also: dynamic character.

    Each character's actions have a direct consequence on the plot for everyone else. Instead of the MC encountering a string of random events, each new step influences the next.

    American English (as opposed to spelling/grammar one would use with British English).

    Antagonist. A person, force, or obstacle that continually causes problems for a protagonist. See also: protag.

    The approach or attitude an author has toward a story. Influences how much humor, cynicism, etc shows up in the narration.

     Round (or rounded) character
    One who is considered well-developed and three dimensional, thus feeling like a real person. The opposite of a cardboard character.

     Story arc
    A large or complex story that generally carries into more than one book.

     Flash fiction
    A standalone scene or story that is very short. Depending on a publisher's guidelines, can range from a hundred words up to several hundred, but usually not above one thousand.

     First person
    A writing style where the narrator is one of the characters (I walked down the street, I looked at the sky). See also: third person.

     Close third
    A writing style where third person narration (see: third person) allows for intimate insight into a character's thoughts. See also: narrative distance.

     Chekhov's gun
    An author mentions a tedious detail or object at the beginning because it will be important later. See also: red herring.

    Combining similar actions or objects under one "umbrella" term. John walked to the store, the bank, the post office and the park.

    An author who writes a story "by the seat of their pants" instead of having it planned in advance. See also: plotter.

    The speed at which a scene or story moves along.

    An author who gets their hands in the dirt and waits to see what grows. For contrast, see architect.

     Second person
    A writing style where the reader becomes one of the characters (you walk down the street, you look at the sky). Appears most commonly among interactive or choose-your-adventure stories.

     Free indirect
    A writing style where a character's thoughts are written in plain text as if part of the actual narration. See also: narrative distance.

     Fourth wall
    Borrowed from theater where actors on stage have a wall behind them and curtains on each side, and are also supposed to pretend that there's a wall in front of them so they don't see the audience. A character who becomes aware of the audience and speaks directly to them is said to break the fourth wall. Now a larger term used for any character who talks to the reader/audience.

     Narrative distance
    How close or intimate the reader gets to the characters. Can range from readers being very detached (as if watching a movie), to readers having some access to a character's thoughts, all the way to a character's thoughts and feelings being seamlessly woven into the text (see: free indirect).

    Male and male (romance).

    Middle grade. Appropriate for children aged 8-12.

     Internal or interior dialogue
    Readers being privy to the thoughts inside a character's mind as if the character were talking to themselves.

    Crit slang

    Stopping the action to give readers an explanation instead of weaving it into the story.

     As you know, Bob (AYKB)
    An author makes characters have a phony conversation just for readers to get an explanation. See also: infodump.

    Male main character.

     Mary Sue
    A female character perceived as being the stereotype of a perfect woman. See also: Gary Stu.

    Female main character.

    Main character.

     Jelly bean moment
    Specific to the science fiction genre; a detail in a story that is inconsistent or unexplained. If done well enough for readers not to notice, can become fridge logic.

     Tense shifting
    Suddenly going from the past to the present with no explanation (John walked down the street and then looks at the sky) or vice versa.

     Said bookism
    The act of describing dialogue with excessive variations of said (yelled, whispered, muttered, exclaimed, etc).

     Run-on sentence
    Two or more separate, independent statements put together as if one united thought. Not to be confused with long-winded sentences that are still grammatically correct.

    Resist the urge to explain (usually means don't add a tell to a show).

     Was Verbing
    Repetitive use of verbs in the past/present continuous tense for no other reason than force of habit.

     Author intrusion
    Inserting knowledge or opinions into a story where the reader can tell it's not coming from the characters.

    Turkey City Lexicon. The definitive dictionary for the science fiction/fantasy genre.

    An author makes something obvious or "tells" the reader what conclusions they should reach. It's considered best practice for the characters to "show" us clues or body language that let us deduce things on our own.

     Garden path sentence
    A statement that, while grammatically correct, confuses the reader and forces them to do a double-take. Example: The girl turned toward the window screamed.

    Wording a sentence in a way that emphasizes a character's observation of external action. Example: John points a gun at Susie. The filtered version would say Susie sees John point a gun at her.

    One who critiques.

     Purple prose
    A passage of writing that is overtly or excessively artistic, usually as an attempt to increase the emotional impact of a scene.

     POV Intrusion
    A narrator with limited access to the other characters' feelings suddenly seems to know what a character is thinking. Similar to head hopping.

     Cardboard character
    One perceived as being so poorly developed (or so painfully cliché) that readers don't take them seriously. See also: Mary Sue and Gary Stu.

     Gary Stu
    A male character perceived as a stereotype, usually that of a "perfect guy."

    Persistent use of needless commas to the the point that they distract the reader.

    Point of view character (the person through whose eyes the reader sees).

    Point of view.

     Novel by committee
    Revisions that make a story worse when the author tries to please everyone.

    A sentence or paragraph which confuses the reader with a "showed" hint, clue, or description they can't grasp.

     Bodice ripper
    Derogatory term for a romance that's all about sex, usually historical and featuring stereotypical gender roles.

     Character soup
    A reader's sense of being overwhelmed when the beginning of a story introduces too many people to remember.

    Going literary under a ridiculous backdrop; choosing inappropriate times to be excessively artistic. Also a technical term for a grammatically correct sentence with no vowels.

     Fridge logic
    The act of hiding a hole or contradiction so cleverly that readers don't catch on until they think about it later. Coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe someone getting a midnight snack from the fridge and suddenly realizing a story had a flaw. See also: plot hole.

     Head hopping
    Bouncing from one character to another in a way that changes the reader's perspective.

    Publishing business

    An interesting or compelling way to start a story that grabs the reader's attention as soon as possible.

     Style sheet
    Document listing specific terms, objects, laws, character bios, and other information unique to the world of a story so that writers/editors can ensure consistency.

    Picture book (usually means for children).

    Independent publishing. A small or family-owned company that publishes books usually on a limited budget.

    The age range best appropriate to read something. Examples are children, middle grade, young adult, etc.

    A fancy word for synopsis.

    Work in progress.

    Self addressed stamped envelope. Required to include in a physical submission to most agents/publishers for the reply.

     Simultaneous submission (simsub)
    Sending the same manuscript to more than one agent/publisher at a time.

     Full request
    An agent/publisher asks an author to send them the entire text of a book.

    To go line by line through a text and inspect for mistakes or clumsy sentences. See also: substantive edit.

    Young adult. Appropriate for teenagers. Upper YA (sometimes called New Adult) is for readers age 18-21.This is a category to help define age range and is not a standalone genre. There is no such thing as just a YA novel. It's YA fantasy, YA science fiction, etc.

     Unsolicited ms
    When an author sends a manuscript directly to an agent/publisher without following an initial procedure to establish contact. See also: query letter and slush pile.

    The artistic classification of a piece of writing. Common examples include romance, science fiction and memoir. Decided by the most predominant element in the story.

    The act of printing or publishing a book through the author's own means.

     Query letter
    A business letter sent to agents/publishers that introduces an author and explains a little about their book. An unsolicited query (sometimes called cold query) is the act of sending this letter to someone the author has not spoken to at all.

     Slush pile
    A stack of backlogged submissions, usually ones sent in without an agent/publisher requesting them, that an assistant quickly browses.

     Substantive edit
    To crit a story with emphasis on characters, plot structure and other abstract things. See also: copyedit.

    Slang for submitting. The process of finding an agent/publisher, making contact, and then convincing them to read a manuscript. See also: query letter, slush pile, unsolicited ms and exclusive sub.

     Partial request
    An agent/publisher asks to read part of a book (usually the first few chapters).

    Guidelines. Often used in reference to an agent/publisher establishing how they want authors to contact them.

    A fairly short document that gives a summary of a book. Depending on a publisher's guidelines, it can range from one page to about five pages.

     Exclusive submission (sometimes shortened to exsub)
    Giving an agent/publisher time to review a manuscript without fear of it selling to someone else in the meantime. Authors typically wait a certain length of time, and then if an offer doesn't come through they will send it elsewhere.

     Word count
    The industry standard for measuring the length of a book. Novels normally range from 70,000 to 120,000 words.

    Traditional method of publishing (as opposed to self publish). Sometimes called Trade Publishing.

    A person who represents an author in front of publishers. They will work to find an editor to publish a book and then explain the contract. They make their money on commission from an offer.

    A book about a made-up story. There is no such thing as a fiction or fictitious novel because all novels are fiction. Novel length ranges anywhere from 70k – 120k words. If a story is shorter than that, say 50k or 60k, it's called a novella.

    Multiple submission. The act of sending more than one project to the same agent/publisher at a time.

    National Novel Writer's Month (a yearly event in November where people attempt to write a whole novel in a month).

    Manuscript (what agents and publishers call a book submitted to them).

    Kindle Direct Publishing. A self-publish service offered by Amazon.

    Helpful Links

     Point of View Consistency
    Is first person really more intimate than third? How does an author avoid POV hopping? The brilliant writers at Novel Writing Help have some answers.

     Turkey City Lexicon
    Excellent resource for science fiction authors. Includes more detailed and sophisticated crit terms. Maintained by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. List is available on their main website.

     Narrative Distance Explanation
    Dave King Editorial has a fantastic essay on narrative distance.

     List of Popular Genres
    What's the difference between urban fantasy and high fantasy? Paranormal romance or gothic romance? This should help.

     Exhaustive List of Publishing Industry Jargon
    Have a possible offer and can't figure out what your agent is talking about? Timothy Fish is here to help.

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