Explore the A to Z's of Writing: an admin article by Marie Lavender
This week, I thought I'd take a moment to go back to basics. I would like to explore some terms we use in the writing industry. For newbies, you'll hear these from fellow writers or editors at your publisher at some point. Or, you might see them on how-to articles. And if you've taken a writing workshop at all, you've probably heard most of them. Even if you're a seasoned writer, it can't hurt to reacquaint yourself with these words or phrases, as well as to keep the following advice in mind. So, without further ado, let's explore the alphabet of writing...
1. A for Antagonist - The villain in a story, or at least a concept/obstacle which stands in the way of the main character (protagonist) reaching his/her goals or happiness.
Writer Tip: Always include an antagonist, or at least a barrier preventing the protagonist from getting what he wants, in any work of fiction. This automatically creates conflict, which heightens tension and moves the plot along.
2. B for Book - a published volume which includes a single manuscript, or a collection or anthology of several works. Such work housed within the book can be fictional in nature, fact-based, or even include poetry. There are full-length books in the industry, as well as shorter ones. A published 'book' may be in digital (ebook) or physical format (such as a trade paperback or hardcover). A 'chapbook' is often a shorter book written by one author, with numerous poems or short stories included.
Writer Tip: Whether you decide to get published traditionally or on your own, do your homework on your intended genre and make sure your manuscript is properly edited and formatted in advance.
3. C for Creativity - A type of self-expression for a writer or artist which may result in the form of writing, painting, sketching, or designing a work of art. Creativity is the act of turning new ideas into reality. Some businesses might ask an employee to implement creative problem-solving just to come up with a unique solution to an issue.
Writer Tip: Stretch your creative muscles by trying different mediums. Start writing in a separate fiction genre, go for an essay, or construct a poem instead. Another option would be to paint or draw a scene or element from your story. Some fantasy writers like to expand on the idea of world-building by making a map of that fictional world, a fun detail to include inside the book when it gets published. Create a shadowbox for a room in your house (use a specific theme), or even paint the wall in a new color.
Any of these creative endeavors can open your mind to new writing ideas.
4. D for Development and Dialogue
Development - You'll usually see this in reference to 'character development' or 'characterization'. A character is a person represented in a fictional tale. The story can be told from this individual's perspective.
Writer Tip: Know your characters well, especially the main ones. Even if you don't include every detail in the story, it can't hurt to know how a character would react to a certain situation. Be sure to add 'consistent inconsistencies' (for example, a thrill-seeker who is somehow afraid of heights). More than than anything, though, you must learn to listen to your main character.
Dialogue - The speech patterns and discussions between characters. This is separate from the internal thoughts (monologue) of a main character. Dialogue in a book should be as natural as possible.
Writer Tip: To exhibit realistic dialogue in a story, take some time to recognize the flow of conversations in real life. How do people talk? What gestures or sounds do they make during specific parts of the discussion? How do they emote or express themselves?
5. E for Empathy - A sense of fellow feeling for another person, or putting yourself in their place. This is a key component for any writer who intends to create a believable character. It's also necessary to add enough emotion which translates on the page so that readers will start to care about what happens to your character. The way you do, right? ;) If you have begun to wonder where you're going wrong, then try to connect better with your character. Learn more and imagine how they'd respond to situations.
I know I've done my job when I'm feeling the emotions that the character is going through. If he or she is sad, tears are probably streaming down my face, too. No, I'm not really crazy. This is just the writer's journey as the story progresses. It's no different than getting choked up while watching a dramatic film. When we write, the story plays out in our heads like a movie. So, why wouldn't we respond to that in kind?
Writer Tip: Know the plot and main character well enough to express those facets within the story. Remember, empathy is deeper than sympathy. Readers will come back for more if you evoke the same emotions in them. Make the story and characters relatable.
6. F for Fiction - Often told in story or novel form, fiction is a creative work, concerning people, places, or events. It is not based in fact, though certain objects, historical figures, and actions which are mentioned can appear real. The key elements of fiction include character, theme, plot, point of view, setting, conflict, and tone. Fiction can be divided into different areas or 'genres'.
Writer Tip: Unfortunately, some parts of reality must off-set an imaginary world. The more of a relatable quality you can add to any story, the more likely a reader will connect with the characters and the events happening therein.
7. G for Genre - This describes the category that a specific book falls under. Some examples are romance, mystery, science fiction, and horror. You've likely been on Amazon and noticed all the sub-genres listed there as well. So, that leaves a lot of room for writers to put their stories.
Writer Tip: Try your hand at writing different genres. Use the following prompt:
Rain came down in sheets, a hard battle against each window, while lightning struck nearby. The raging storm outside, though, hardly compared to the one within.
Continue the story on your own from where the last sentence started. At the same time, think about the separate tones you can add to the tale to make it more romantic, mysterious, supernatural or spacey, and even creepier. Write four different versions, one for each genre - romance, mystery, science fiction (feel free to substitute asteroids for rain, as I know it doesn't rain in space), or horror. They don't need to be long stories or even finished, just enough to establish tone. Then, decide which one you like best.
8. H for Hook - A 'hook' is a sentence in the first paragraph of a scene or chapter which compels the audience to keep reading. If this is done well, the pop, so to speak, usually falls in the first sentence. Similarly, a 'closing' positioned at the end of a scene or chapter, should make the reader want to find out more. That means they're in it for the long haul, prepared to continue diving into the reading experience.
Writer Tip: Do your best to avoid losing the audience in the first chapter, but especially in the first paragraph. Draw someone in with a leading sentence that makes them wonder what happens next. If you effectively use the same technique for opening and closing each scene and chapter, you'll have nailed a big part of the author job description. The most challenging portion of landing a good hook, however is doing it for the whole project, in the first sentence of a story or book.
9. I for In the Middle of Things - This is a direct translation for the Latin phrase 'en medias res', a term we use in the industry for stating the best place to start a story - in the midst of some action. Sometimes, as writers, we don't realize the beginning until we've written other leading sections. For example, if your project entails a woman getting fired and how she handles it, breaking out on her own and finding a new career, you wouldn't want to start the story at breakfast time, right? No, you'd begin when she's hauling her butt - perhaps complete with a speeding ticket - to get into the office without being late, just to find out she's been let go. Or, you might start it right at those fatal words.
"Sorry, Julia. We've decided you're no longer a good fit for this company."
Exactly. Do you see how those punches to the gut can hook a reader into wondering how the character will react? Oh, no, she's been fired. What now?
Writer Tip: Take some time to decide where your story starts. Better to do that now than to be forced to cut out a whole section - one you thought was the beginning of the tale - later on.
10. J for Justice - My own term for the moment when a story's 'climax' and 'resolution' have produced a fitting end. For me, it usually comes when I'm reading a mystery, thriller, or romance novel. Book lovers both dread and relish this moment. They get peace, at long last, for everything in the story finally has reached a positive outcome. However, the story is over and the reader must move on, which is a regrettable conclusion.
Writer Tip: Make sure your own story has a sense of 'justice' by wrapping up all the loose ends in a satisfying way.
11. K for Knowledge (Research) - Your grasp of information which you've gleaned through an educational experience. With writing, the term we use is 'research'. It's a sometimes dreadful yet rewarding challenge. Some newer writers feel that research is a waste of time. Believe me, it isn't. There will undoubtedly be facts you need to learn just to fill in a character's personality or background. For example, we can't all know what it's like to be a firefighter, or how to describe a cottage in Somerset, England. That's what research is for. I promise you this is not a time-waster. Let's face it, your audience is intelligent. They 'know stuff', for lack of a better phrase. For example, historical fiction writers rely heavily on their understanding of past events, and how they can use them as a main backdrop for a story. The characters might be fictional, but the way the people interact with what really happened then offers the audience a sense of how some individuals must've responded to it at the time. Research is key here. Greater authenticity in a book attracts more readers. It's supply and demand, that's all.
Writer Tip: Break your large research tasks down into smaller ones. Look up one fact per day, or spend an hour per week filling in all the details you procrastinated about. Then, stop and continue next week. It might not look like it at first, but these little jaunts of research add up over time. Plus, once you have everything organized, you can just do a quick search for what you wanted to know. So, pull on your big kid pants and get to researching.
12. L for Literary Fiction - This sub-genre still includes all the rules of fiction, while invoking a deeper character study. The focus then moves toward conveying a message about the human condition, and sometimes an overall political or environmental statement. In literary fiction, the character must evolve in some way, perhaps even have an epiphany by the end of the story. A small population of readers tend to get snobby about this genre, calling it 'true literature'. Though some elements of each story may reflect other fiction categories, the intense depth of character portrayed in these books make them 'literary fiction'. Some examples of literary fiction are The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, amid countless others. Many of this genre's popular titles have been adapted into film.
Writer Tip: If you're more of a character-driven story writer, literary fiction may well appeal to you. You might find you're more comfortable writing here. Try it out...what can it hurt?
13. M for Motivation - This is what drives a character to keep going. It's about the thing they want the most in life, and the actions taken to reach their goals. Motivation is a key element to recognize when learning about your main character. It will help that person attempt to circumvent the antagonist, or big obstacle, which is standing in their way. And sometimes, at least internally, the problem could be their own misconceptions about the world or themselves. Motivation can also be subconscious - a deeper dream - something that person has always wanted, even though they might not have thought it was possible. Perhaps they came from a foster care situation and always wanted a real family.
Writer Tip: Identify what motivates your character. What does he or she fully desire? What is the most important thing to them? What are they willing to do to get it? Also, what exactly is the problem in the story? What prevents them from reaching their aspirations? Eventually, it will all be buttoned up by the end of the story. But for now, what is driving your character forward?
14. N for Non-fiction - A written work which is distinguished by the very fact that it is, well, not fictional in any way. Usually, you'll find biographies or even autobiographies, covering real people in the world, whether he or she lives currently, or was instead a historical figure. Either way, that person has existed at some point, and they're the sole topic. Memoirs fall under this category. Creative non-fiction, or 'narrative non-fiction' as the more popular term, is when a writer constructs a story about a real person yet adjusts small details - names, personal traits or appearance, perhaps even smudges some dates - to protect those identities. The events that happen are real, and so are the emotions which stem from them. Yet, creative license allows the writer to embellish on certain facets of the tale, while still diving deep into characterization and finding out how someone ticks. The artist at the helm of a non-fiction work becomes the conduit for a real-life story to be told.
Other types of non-fiction include reference materials on various subjects - informational resources for those who might require them. Such resources can also include travel guides, books on philosophy, self-help or instructional guides of any kind (books on dieting, cookbooks, business success titles, and how-to manuals, among others). Journalism and humorous non-fiction are a part of this overall category as well, at least as long as the commentary relates to current events. Just for fun, I'll list several names of authors featured here on Writing in the Modern Age over the years who published works of non-fiction (some write in multiple genres). Some of those writers are Wayne Neely, Kathryn Elizabeth Jones, S.A. Soule, Cindy Fazzi, Dougie Brimson, Lance and James Morcan, Stefan Vucak, Mark Iles, Jim Anders, Rhonda Cratty, J.L. Smith, Lisa A. Snidernman, and so many more.
Writer Tip: Try your hand at non-fiction. Write an essay or an article for a blog. Keep track of your sources and make sure they're legit. Or, if you're truly passionate about a topic, maybe you'd like to write a non-fiction manuscript and submit it to a publisher.
15. O for Outline - A writer's outline is a little like a book synopsis, which is often submitted in a query to a publisher or literary agent. This is a detailed account of what happens in a story. Sometimes, brainstorming is used to create an outline. The outline helps to fill in some of the blank spaces for writers who are struggling to finish a book. At least, having an idea of the events that occur next gives them a sense of what to focus on during the project. Let's say that you, as the writer, have a general notion of what the book is about. But, how do you get there? Writing is rarely a linear journey. However, making an outline can benefit you, sometimes exponentially. Perhaps you know what the character wants in life, and have a basic idea of what he should do to get there. Yet, it isn't your life. This is the character's. His background, environment, and any assumptions he's made about the process will come into play. You must take all of these details into account. Look at the path like a roller coaster ride. There will be ups, downs, then twists and turns to reach the end. So, now knowing all that, what can we glean from it to make an outline?
Writer Tip: Start at the beginning, and think of possible scenarios which could happen. What might get in the way of your character's goal or goals? Obviously, you shouldn't overload the path with tragedy or anything. But, throwing in a few obstacles can't hurt. It heightens tension, and may eventually make your character more determined to get there. Try a brainstorming session to get some ideas flowing.
Once the true course seems evident to you, write a detailed outline.
Actually, for a book project, the outline might even be longer than a polished synopsis which you'd send to a publisher. Just remember that your outline will provide a clearer route for the character's end game, and this will also make it easier to write the story. Some writers are pantsters and not knowing what happens next actually works for them - they see it as inspiring. Personally, I find it more reassuring to have an outline. That way, I can organize my approach. Cutting through the chaos makes me more productive. The choice, however, is yours.
16. P for Premise, POV, and Plot
Premise - The premise of a story is your personal pitch. It's basically the main idea for the book, often told in a few sentences. This is so foundational, as you can't move forward without it. Even pantsters need this general sense of the story to write.
Writer Tip: Let's say you have a thread of an idea, but you're not sure about it. Try this. Write five different yet basic story ideas, a sentence or two long for each one. Remember, you won't know all the details just yet. Pick the idea that calls to you most, the option that causes you to feel excited to dive in. Congratulations! You're ready to get to work.
Point-of-View (POV) - Think of this term as a camera spanning the room. The angle portrays the character's perspective. I see third person POV (he/she) a lot in romance novels, though now and then, an author will surprise me. Romantic comedies are usually told in first person (I). Urban fantasy writers pick that approach quite often as well, perhaps to immerse the reader in a deeper perspective, which is sometimes more conducive to action-heavy tales. The point-of-view you select for a story is a personal choice, though.
Use one type of POV per story. For example, third person narrative versus first person POV. You can use both, but I wouldn't advise it. It gets too confusing, mainly for the writer. I tried it once with a mystery which I wrote (the victim in one scene, and then from the killer's perspective). It's better to choose one per book. If you're not sure which to go with, try writing a scene from both perspectives and pick the one that feels more comfortable. If you become familiar with it, the reader will sense that as well and feel connected with the story.
Writer Tip: Please avoid head-hopping. Stick with one POV per scene. If it's necessary to switch to another character's perspective, do a scene break and then change over.
Do not jump from one character to another, and then to the next one, over and over again in the same space. You will make your reader dizzy, certainly confused, and they'll be tempted to throw the book across the room. Believe me, I've proofread nightmare stories from fellow writers. And they weren't intended for the horror genre. So, just to be safe, use the perspective of one character per scene instead of hopping around. Other characters may interact with that person, but we won't know what they're thinking.
Plot - This is the sequence of events which comprises a story. Plot includes the beginning, middle, and end. Whereas the premise is the book concept, the plot is the storyline which comes alive on the page - it's everything that happens to the characters. Plot can be told, written, sung, or come out through film. There is no good novel without a great plot, and 'action' is what drives it forward.
Writer Tip: Take the idea you just came up with and start thinking about a main character, as well as some events that could happen. Remember motivation and how certain obstacles can stand in the way of a character's goals. See what kind of plot you can create.
17. Q for Query - An inquiry from a writer, usually in the form of a letter, which is sent to a prospective literary agent or publisher. This person is addressing the agent/publisher about possibly submitting their manuscript. Included in a query is often a brief synopsis and an overview of the writer's professional experience. Guidelines for each company vary; some want to read a few paragraphs or pages from the first chapter in advance. If the agent or editor-in-chief at the publisher is interested in learning more, they may ask for a larger sample of the book to read, or even request the full manuscript. At some point, they will get back to the writer with their response. Most will say six weeks is a good waiting period, but it can last much longer.
Writer Tip: Always check the guidelines for each agency or publisher you're querying. They all have different rules. And don't be discouraged if you don't hear back from them right away. People get busy. Just turn to other tasks to get your mind off the anxiety of waiting, or you can keep querying with other agencies. Remember, rejections are par for the course. A form letter is typical. If you receive any detailed feedback, consider the suggestions. The decision to change anything is up to you, though. Don't let someone else's words deter you from your goals. Keep trying and keep writing.
18. R for Reader - A reader is someone who peruses and absorbs books, and he or she is often a bibliophile (book lover or collector). This is your eventual audience. A good critique partner will look at your story from the perspective of a writer, editor, and reader.
Writer Tip: Choose your trusted circle of crit partners and beta readers wisely. The best feedback should challenge your assumptions about the story and help improve your writing. This will get you well on the path so that a real reader can see your book once it gets published.
19. S for Setting and Sensory Details
Setting - This is the character's environment. It's where the story is set, whether that is a city we know, or one we've never heard about. Finer details - by using description - help to paint a clearer picture. It can be the main character's house, their workplace, or some other area where they visit.
Writer Tip: Try to describe a place you know or a location where you'd like to travel. Use your memory to fill in the details. Or, do some research online. Implement the tools we have at hand, such as the street view on Google Maps or through studying pictures you find online (or at a historical society), to make the setting come alive.
Sensory Detail - A more specific way of describing a person, place, or a thing. What color? What type of fabric? What brand name? It's not just a tree; tell us what kind. Writing experts will advise you to use the six senses. Try the main five first (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). We don't need to go as far as to say that the final sense is supernatural or anything. Let's just state that the sixth sense is intuition. As humans, we all get certain vibes about a person or a place. That's what we try to tap into as authors when writing a story. Short of coming off as an omniscient narrator, you can work in somehow that the character 'senses' something is wrong, or even life-changing. You can be less vague than that, but you get what I mean.
Writer Tip: The more direct of a description you can include about the character's environment or the objects they interact with, the easier it is for the reader to visualize what you're talking about. What is the color? What is the object made out of? How does it feel to the touch? Is there a certain smell in the room the person just entered? By digesting these finer details, a reader will be able to better picture themselves in that fictional world with the character, therefore feeling more connected to the story.
20. T for Tension - An element in writing which is used to introduce a sort of low-level anxiety in a reader, along with the wish to find out what happens next. However, tension can be increased, depending on suspenseful or dramatic moments in the story. Tension is there to evoke emotion in the audience. You've probably noticed it with movies. In romance writing, a tense moment denoting an unspoken chemistry is often utilized. Even if the characters don't act on it, there are internal and external cues that make it obvious. Tension is used in mystery stories as well, sometimes to create a sense of dread. As aforementioned, we continue to experience tension when a character who has a goal gets thwarted by obstacles here or there. It is a simple way to add tension over time. Obviously, you can add more tension, if there is danger or by creating an immediacy to each scenario.
Here's a real-life situation we can all identify with: You need to buy groceries, but your weekly check got delayed. Do you ask a relative for a loan to tide you over, or try something else? Then...oh, great. The washer broke, so you are forced to go to the laundromat to get your laundry done.
Well, that just made a bad day even worse. So, what actions can you take to resolve these issues?
That was rhetorical, but I think you understand the immediacy of the problem.
Writer Tip: Create ways to heighten tension for your character, or add a sense of dread for the audience. Perhaps the character is spying on someone because he needs to know the truth, but is afraid he will get caught. Write about the physical sensations he might experience. Also, what is he thinking?
All of this will add tension for readers and they'll feel more invested in your character. Infuse a sense of urgency, so that the reader is squirming to learn what happens next.
21. U for Unreliable Narrator (or Reliable Narrator, diversely) - Reliability, or the lack thereof, is a way of measuring and declaring the quality of a story or its characters. Common sense can't hurt, either, at least with regards to a writer using it to make connections about how an individual will react to a specific situation.
Writer Tip: Write about a character who is believable, more like a real person, with flaws, strengths, and internal conflicts, rather than a typical archetype you might often see in a certain genre or in a movie.
Just make sure you cover yourself legally if you decide to base a character on someone you actually know or anyone in the public eye. Change the name and a few other details (their appearance and background). You still want to keep your friends, after all. Besides, you certainly wouldn't want to get sued over a defamatory statement.
For myself, I never base my characters on anyone in particular. I just offer the necessary information and let the reader's imagination fill in the rest. They probably all see the characters in different ways, at least until they get a look at the book cover, right? ;)
22. V for Voice - This is a fancy term for discussing a writer's individual approach to storytelling. It's basically their style. Every writer has a voice, and it eventually shows up in a manuscript. Most editors are smart enough to avoid messing with voice. There's also 'passive voice' versus 'active voice' when it comes to grammar. It's a separate thing entirely, and that has more to do with word choice and rephrasing.
Writer Tip: If you're worried that you haven't quite found your unique writing voice yet, don't be. You'll come into it naturally over time, especially with increased writing practice.
23. W for Writer - Someone who naturally gravitates to the art of writing novels, stories, poems, essays, or is even a blogger at heart. Other people prefer journaling. No matter the medium, a writer is a unique blend of crazy, creative, ambitious, and numerous other qualities that it takes to pursue his or her goals.
Writer Tip: Never lose the joy of writing. Always remember where you started and why it feels so perfect to let the muse take over, how much freedom you feel when you're in the writing zone.
24. X for X-ray - An extra pair of eyes couldn't hurt, at least to help out with proofreading your manuscript. ;)
Writer Tip: If you're looking for a proofreader or editor, don't ask a family member to read your book. Unless your cousin is a whiz kid at grammar, that's different. But this is a very tender stage for a writer, and you can either expect people to tell you what you want to hear, or the worst criticism you've ever encountered. You don't want that from your nearest and dearest. It's best to select an impartial party, someone who doesn't know you completely, and can separate their feelings from the bigger picture.
You need REAL feedback - constructive criticism, someone who is willing to tell you what works and what doesn't. Hire an editor. Find a proofreader. Look for critique partners you can trust. Use beta readers. All of these people serve a different purpose, and can help to shape your manuscript into something you'd be proud to show the public.
25. Y for YOU - There is only one 'you', and you're the one directing your story.
Writer Tip: Without you, the tale goes nowhere. Your vision will keep the plot going, and the characters will eventually find a home with your readers. You know your story best. The creative train doesn't shift without you, as the writer, who puts in all the work to keep this engine moving.
26. Z for Zest - A little pizazz or unique flair.
Writer Tip: Throw in some zest. Use your own blend of spices. Write on a topic or create a story that moves you. Go for what you feel passionate about.
There are so many more terms and phrases which we use in the industry. This was just a sampling, my take on what is significant at the moment, as well as some related writing tips. I hope it all helped! ;)
Multi-genre author of Victorian maritime romance/family saga, Heiresses in Love, and 18 other books. Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and two cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years, with more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 21 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, romantic comedy, dramatic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. An avid blogger on the side, she writes adult fiction, as well as occasional stories for children, and has recently started some young adult fiction. She also contributed to several anthologies. Though Marie has standalone titles on the market, her current published series are The Eternal Hearts Series, The Magick Series, The Code of Endhivar Series, The Misfits Series, The Blood at First Sight Series, and The Heiresses in Love Series. but she has many others planned. Her Victorian maritime romance sequels are returning, and the second editions of the trilogy will be released soon under her new publisher, Foundations Books. Discover more about her and her work at the following links.
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How to Make Your Characters Believable:
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People are quirky, unpredictable, emotional, and often cannot be relied upon. Governed by the environment within which they live, knowledge accumulated over years of learning, whether formal or through personal endeavor, and simply interacting with others, an individual is a complex matrix of what it means to be human. Above all things, people are self-centered, always looking for that angle which will make them come ahead—that quick fix to bypass the necessary hard work in-between. That’s why we gamble.
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