A writer must know many things, apart from how to write. In order to show off at parties, if you ever get invited to any, you will need to be able to drop some of these words into conversations. Luckily some of these are so obscure or overcomplicated that nobody else will know what you’re talking about either.
It’s also worth knowing them if you actually plan to take writing seriously, although it should be noted that doing so is an almost cast-iron guarantee that there will be no party invitations in your immediate future.
Abbreviation is when something is shortened or contracted in some way. It can be a single word that’s been cut down or an entire phrase reduced to a few letters. An example of this is ‘RSVP’ being used to request a reply or ‘centigrade’ being reduced down to the letter ‘C’.
Action is typically the things in the story that happen, as opposed to things that are discussed or thought about. In terms of movies, it usually refers to physical violence or adrenaline-inspiring happenings. As a genre, it’s the category where nobody sits around discussing the meaning of life and anyone trying to do that would probably get punched in the face for it.
Alcoholism is the driving force behind a great deal of literature. See also self-loathing.
Allegory is one of those many things in writing where we say one thing but mean another – in this case telling one story when we’re really telling a completely different unrelated story. Or are we? It’s used mostly to show how clever we are and is rarely seen in movies where the protagonist wears spandex and jumps off of buildings.
Where each word of a poem begins with the same letter. Poetry is so boring that this is considered a classy act. Don’t write poetry. Your family will pretend you died during an accident in a sex toy factory because it’s less embarrassing than admitting the truth.
Allusion is where a writer hints at something else while writing. They might suggest some other well known story without overtly stating that that’s what they’re talking about, such as saying that the worst book of all time had multiple layers of things that weren’t black and white.
An analogy is a literary technique where two unrelated objects are compared for their shared qualities. This is where we make the rational argument that any modern novel that involves sparkling vampires is a lot like drinking bleach.
When we add a delightful little story of our own to help illustrate a point, then we’ve used an anecdote. This is where I might tell the story of teaching young-adult fiction in class and just giving up, throwing the book in the dustbin and doing a selection of short stories instead.
Anthropomorphism is where we give human traits or attributes to animals, inanimate objects, or other nonhuman things. We do it in our everyday lives when we assume our cat has an emotional connection to us, talk to our motorcycles or mourn the death of an estate agent.
An antihero is a person who takes on the role of a heroic character despite having negative or questionable reasons for doing so, or personal qualities that don’t fit the job. They are often a criminal in the role of a saviour or a violent thug trying to keep the peace. Examples of this are Judge Dredd, Venom and Hillary Clinton.
This refers to a story of dubious or doubtful origin or that we know is false or meaningless. In biblical terms, some of the tales told are labelled, ‘Apocrypha’ and people enjoy arguing about these things. This has increased in recent times to include almost everything seen in the modern media with Fox news and CNN battling it out for the top spot.
An archetype is an idea, a symbol or character type in a story. It’s a story element that appears again and again in narratives from cultures all around the world and symbolizes something universal in human experience. Archetypes are the commonly appearing characters, the symbolic representation of things and the idea that we’re all going to die and that life is essentially meaningless.
A mentally-ill person with a deeply delusional belief that they will one day make a successful living from telling other humans about the people who live in their head.
A story about someone, written by someone who is the same someone. Normally the expectation is that it’s the story of someone that actually has a story to tell but that is rarely the case.
A story about someone written by someone else and not the same someone at all. This can be a story about an important historical figure told by a seasoned researcher. More often it’s actually the reality behind an autobiography, in which a poorly paid ghost-writer jumbles together some kind of garbage from the rantings of a person paying them just enough to keep suicidal thoughts at bay. Even more ironically it’s often the little bit in a novel about the writer, but written by the writer about the writer. It all just shows what a silly place the world is and why we probably shouldn’t go there.
A meaningless phrase or word that briefly acquires importance at a specific time, only to be lost later when people realise they were being stupid again. For examples, see almost everything considered politically-correct and every second word spoken at every business seminar anywhere in the world.
A person or otherwise active participant in your story. They’re usually a human, in stories written by humans, and they behave largely normally so the reader can relate to them. They can also be animals, and even things such as vehicles or other objects. In the realm of fantasy and science-fiction the scope is almost endless. As a rule of thumb, if it can react to anything then it’s a character and should be treated as such. The problem of what actually constitutes a character is further compounded in a great deal of modern young-adult fiction when it’s almost impossible to discern living, humanoid characters from planks of wood, and vice versa.
For a story to work properly many of the characters, and especially the central one, are required to change because of the journey they go through. Development can take the form of a shift in our understanding of who the person is as more details are revealed or, more often, the character learns new things and experiences situations that change their perception. Without development we have bland characters and stories that nobody cares about.
Anything that’s been used so many times that the meaning and value have lost all impact to the reader is a cliché. This is the domain of the idea that every franchise taken over by Disney will be ruined, and the concept that printed media has lost all originality. This is where ideas have gone to die. They are to be avoided like the plague.
This is the moment of highest tension. This is the great explosion that everything has led up to, the moment of release that all the stress, the hard work, the pumping and pounding has all been for. This is the event where it all makes sense for just one glorious moment… and then… and then it’s pretty much over.
I’ll call you tomorrow for sure.
Coherence is the way that things connect properly together. If something has coherence then its parts are properly-connected, logical and going in the same direction together. Without coherence, we end up with a blob of literary garbage that makes no sense. The jokes here basically write themselves.
Connotations are a common association that a word has, in addition to its literal meaning (the denotation). Often the world tries to confuse us and many words can have the same basic definitions, but completely different connotations. This is where you might say that a tall building is a ‘mighty erection’ and, while this is absolutely correct, everyone looks at you like you’re a complete idiot and you later find you have an appointment with HR.
A conundrum is a puzzle, a thing that makes us wonder how that is possible. It’s a riddle that’s very difficult to solve and it challenges us, like wondering how certain books got published in the first place, or how some films got made, or why people spent money to suffer through them.
This is the genre that makes us laugh. It’s where we ironically misrepresent reality in dramatically abstract ways that challenge us enough to relieve the tension through laughter. This used to be a common theme before everyone was offended by everything for reasons that they were hilariously unable to articulate.
Denotation is the literal, or dictionary, meaning of a word or thing. It completely ignores the emotional resonance and only refers to the totally correct definition. This is the source of horrendously lame humour such as the horribly reviled ‘dad jokes.’ When someone says they have ‘been here forever’ they mean a long time. A dad would instantly seek humour in the fact that ‘forever’ refers to a time without beginning or end and would voice their poorly-conceived joke to a reader who didn’t deserve to suffer to that degree. Likewise, when Donald Trump says he’s “been here forever”, the media only considers the literal meaning and adds it to a never ending tally of remarkably similar ‘lies.’
The denouement is the end of a story, the part where all the different plotlines are finally tied up and all remaining questions answered. Although it’s a French word it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘surrender’.
Deus ex machina
Deus ex machina is Latin for ‘a god from the machine.’ It’s when some new character, force, or event suddenly resolves a seemingly hopeless situation or overcomes overwhelming odds with ease. This is usually disappointing to the audience, who may have been hoping for a logical resolution to the story. This medical condition can be effectively treated with comic-book movies which don’t remove symptoms completely but dull your senses to the underlying cause.
Diacope is when a very competent writer repeats a word or phrase with one or more words in between. This is a very advanced technique used only by very skilled creative minds. Some common, and persistent, examples of diacope is Hamlet’s ‘To be, or not to be!’ and the great opening words, ‘A horse is a horse, of course, of course, And no one can talk to a horse, of course, Unless, of course, the horse, of course, Is the famous Mr. Ed!’ from a television show about a talking horse; obviously.
Dialogue is conversation. This is when two, or more, characters discuss things with each other. Even in an action or adventure story, dialogue makes up the vast majority of what actually happens. Dialogue helps us move the plot along and develop a connection between the characters and the audience. Get it right, your story will flow. Star Wars got it very, very wrong and had to sell itself on special effects and visuals. It’s very hard to get those to work in a printed format.
Diction is the choice of words or phrasing used in a spoken or written piece of text. It’s important to develop your own style of diction and find your own way to phrase things so that your writing has a distinct flavour of its own. Diction can be said to be both good and bad: good in terms of a well-spoken and intelligent person who clearly makes their point, and bad in terms of almost everyone from Australia.
A doppelganger is a twin or double of some character, who usually takes on the role of an evil, or darker version of them. Commonly they will appear the same but have some quality that sets them apart, perhaps being intelligent when the character we’re comparing them to is not. This was explored successfully in the unsuccessful Star Trek film, Nemesis. Data’s doppelganger was basic and unintelligent while Picard’s was outright evil for absolutely no sensible reason. This never made less sense than in the Star Trek mirror universe episodes, where there was an entire universe occupied by evil versions of the crew who all had goatee beards, even the women. A little known fact is that the mirror universe episodes caused the invention of the ‘skip’ button on modern DVD players.
Drama usually refers to any serious genre story, such as crime drama or detective drama. In film and television it is a literal genre all by itself and is considered the opposite of comedy, itself considered amusing and fun.
Drama also refers to finding tension in conflict. Drama is a key element in building problems for our protagonist to overcome and to drive the plot forwards. It’s the kind of thing you would expect to witness if you were to challenge the beliefs of a poorly-educated person.
Utopia is a perfect paradise where everything is ideal and all the social problems have been solved. Dystopia is the opposite of that, a place where, people are routinely poorly educated, wholesale lies are the norm, resources are running low due to exploitation of the environment for profit, corporate greed runs the world, wars are fought for profit, global banks hold the economy hostage, the rich control puppet governments, the media is totally controlled or we stand on the brink of environmental destruction.
I wonder what it would be like to live in a world like that.
An epigram is a short statement that shows insightful thought. It’s usually communicated in a witty, paradoxical, or funny way. This is seldom used in American sitcoms.
An epiphany is a moment where it suddenly all makes sense. It’s where realisation hits you and you might be motivated to shout out ‘Aha!’ As a literary device, an epiphany is when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing, enlightening revelation which changes their perspective forever.
An epitaph is a short statement about a person who has died. It’s something to remember them for, often carved into their tombstone or read out at a memorial. Authors often write one for themselves before they die from suicidal depression or alcohol poisoning.
An Epithet is a nickname. It replaces the name of a person and adds some description about them so that the audience can get an impression of them straight away. An example of this is in the movie ‘Top Gun’ where the protagonist is called ‘Maverick’. This tells us a lot about the character’s temperament and attitude. This is a great way to very quickly show the audience a lot about who a background character is. Unless it’s ‘The Wire,’ in which everyone has at least one nickname, and none of them tell us anything other than that urban gang members are really bad at coming up with nicknames. The character named ‘Cheese’ for example was in no way, shape or form, anything like fermented curds.
An eponym is a person or thing after which something else is named. A person’s name will often come to be associated with the name of another character, person, thing or discovery. It could be an animal named after its owner or the way that ‘Hawking Radiation’ is named after Steven Hawking, who discovered it.
The word ‘eponym’ itself might be named after the discoverer of the term, Roy Eponym who sold cabbages on the corner of Baker Street in London and created the very first, but not entirely successful, use of the mechanism by naming one of his products ‘Roy’.
An essay is a form of structured writing that uses either formal or informal language. They usually discuss a topic or seek to inform and educate. They are rarely written for the purpose of entertainment and are often used in schools to crush creativity and help foster a hatred of being alive.
A euphemism is a polite, soft phrase that we substitute for a harder and more blunt way of saying something that might be a little too much for the audience. We might think ‘Modern media is a total disaster, entirely set up to pitch a horrendously negative political agenda controlled by people with the morality of a hungry alligator,’ but we actually say, ‘There’s room for improvement’.
An excursus is a moment where a piece of writing diverges from the plot or meaning as a form of digression, heading off temporarily in a different way. I was travelling once in Asia and a saw a T-shirt with the words printed on the front, ‘The sky was never a thing.’ I often wondered what they were trying to create, what message that was trying to deliver.
Exposition is the part of the plot right at the very beginning where we introduce the story by ‘exposing’ the audience to the characters, themes and settings. It’s also anywhere where we talk to the audience, telling them what is happening instead of showing them. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but if it’s done too much, the novel takes on the form of an essay and a lot of the value of our writing will be lost. This is why, in all the great political systems of our time, the leaders must always convey their messages through the medium of interpretive dance if we’re to fully understand what they’re trying to say.
A fairy-tale, or fairy story, is a fanciful tale that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. It’s primary audience is young people and it is likely to feature fantasy characters and unbelievable settings. Despite being a story aimed at children, they are often a morality tale and will likely have a core message of some kind.
Because of the unbelievable nature of these stories, and their deeply-rooted cultural heritage, the term is often erroneously used to mean any story that’s known not to be accurate. For instance, ‘Boris Johnson got England to vote to leave Europe by telling them a complete fairy-tale. I can’t believe people were stupid enough to believe his transparent lies. We should make him Prime Minister.’
Fables are fantasy stories, often using animals or objects as key players in the narrative. They are aimed at a slightly more mature audience than fairy stories and have a moral lesson of some kind to teach. They aren’t meant to be taken as literal fact and are accepted as a way to pass on lessons by directly communicating with one another. In modern times this has largely been replaced by Prozac-addicted teens talking about their feelings on YouTube.
Fantasy is a genre where almost anything is possible and the only limitation is the outer boundaries of the author’s imagination, however most are set in a poorly-researched medieval settings with castles, witches and the odd dragon thrown in for good measure.
To qualify for this genre the story must have elements that cannot exist in our world, leaving the reader to assume that it’s happening in a reality that’s different to ours where the normal rules of our universe don’t really apply, such as Trump Tower.
A farce is a comedy in which the writer hates the characters so much that he conspired with their universe to make things as difficult for them as possible. This usually involves criminally poor timing and terrible communication which leads to horrendous levels of misunderstanding that none of the characters are in any way aware of. Global politics, and capitalism in general, work this way.
When something isn’t based on fact, it’s considered fiction. Any made up story is fictional including novels, movies and Communist history books.
Figures of Speech
A figure of speech is a word or phrase that uses figurative language instead of the direct and absolute meaning. These tend to be implied suggestions and we understand them due to a shared cultural reference. An example of this is when someone describes his date as having a ‘good personality’ when he really means she’s unattractive, or when a woman says that everything is ‘fine.’
The flashback is a plot device that shifts the audience’s attention from the present time to a period some time before so that an event of some importance can be more thoroughly detailed. It’s much more common in lazily written movies than in well written literature.
Foreshadowing hints to the audience about something that’s coming soon or is likely to happen. It is usually a smaller instance of a thing, designed to prepare the audience to accept a more dramatic version when it occurs. It was very similar to the way that everyone in America thought it couldn’t get any worse when George W. Bush was elected president.
A genre is a classification for literature and other story forms. It’s used so that the audience has a better idea of what to expect from your work, or to help them choose what they want to read. To an author it’s really much more of an inconvenience, since the point of all this is to create something new and we’re then told that it has to fit inside an existing scaffold.
The term ‘hero’ is often incorrectly used to mean the main character of a story. A hero is someone who shows heroic or morally desirable virtues, and while the main character of a story might exhibit these, they don’t have to and probably shouldn’t in most cases.
Horror is a popular genre for movies and novels. It takes disgusting, appalling or frightening themes, such as Boris Johnson running anything more demanding than a tap, and presenting them to the audience. Horror is often a victim of its own success: its popularity means it’s an easier genre to work in and this means new, limited or unskilled artists often aim their work here.
Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical order of words is changed and words are moved around. Yoda, the most famous example of this, is.
This is where the author, or character speaking deliberately exaggerates to an extreme. It can be used humorously or to make a point. For instance, saying the First World War was ‘the war to end all wars’ was an example of this, just as when a new parent might look at their child, on the first day of its life, and say, ‘This will be the greatest day of my life,’ forgetting that, in around 18 years, that innocent-looking monster is going to leave home.
An idiom is a phrase that gives a figurative meaning; a phrase that isn’t exactly what the words literally mean. For instance, we might say that it’s ‘raining cats and dogs’ but, unless Harry Potter got very drunk last night, we just mean it’s a bit wet out.
An innuendo is when something is said that has a polite and reasonable meaning on the surface but has a less innocent underlying message that is often rude, crude or insulting. An example of an innuendo is when someone might say that a friend, ‘has been seeing a lot of a girl lately,’ saying on the surface that they’ve been spending time with one another but hinting more at nudity. These are commonly used as jokes, and the script of every James Bond movie was basically a string of these held together between random MacGuffins.
Depending on your dictionary, it either means to ejaculate parenthetically, or to interrupt a conversation with an ejaculation. This is classic example of show don’t tell, but in this instance, telling would probably have been more polite.
Intertextuality is the fact that all literary texts are all intimately interconnected. Every text is affected by all the texts that came before it, since those texts influenced the author’s thinking and aesthetic choices to some degree. This is why it’s so critically important that you go about the business of becoming an author by reading quality work and not any number of shades of anything monochromatic.
This is the literary device in which a person attacks or insults someone, or something, through the use of abusive language and tone. I was shocked to find that the name for this doesn’t come from any kind of Gaelic root.
Irony is a subtlety where two contradictory meanings of the same thing could be inferred. It’s considered the grey area between expectation and reality, in no particular order. The best example of this is when Alanis Morissette ironically released an unironic song about irony.
Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession. Most obviously it’s when scientists use terms that non-scientists wouldn’t understand but it can also be used at the other end of the spectrum when uneducated people with extreme political views post comments on internet forums.
Juxtaposition is when two very dissimilar things are placed against one another in order to demonstrate their differences. This is often used to show a character’s traits by pitching them against an opposite.
It was done skilfully by Charles Dickens in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities:
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …’
and completely the opposite way in every Marvel movie.
Shockingly, this doesn’t refer to an Amazon Kindle. A literary device is any mechanism an author can use in the act of telling their story. There’s a host of them out there to use and a great deal of very good books on the subject. There are also some terrible ones written by cynical alcoholics, but you get what you pay for, I guess.
Litotes is an understatement in which a positive connotation is made by expressing the very opposite in a negative sounding way. The most obvious example of this is when you’re asked how you are and, intending to say that you’re fine you might reply, ‘not bad.’ This can be used to say that something is exactly what you say it is but it’s usually meant slightly sarcastically and when we would say ‘not bad’ we really mean that it’s not quite good either. An example of the more common usage is if someone was to ask if you’ve seen the latest DC movie and you replied, ‘Yes, it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen.’
Examples of malapropism are when the wrong words are used, intentionally or not in order to have a kind of comedic effect. This is fine if used by an author to show a character’s inept blundering but when it come out of the mouth of the US president, it’s less acceptable.
A maxim is a brief phrase or statement that holds a little piece of sage wisdom or upholds a general rule. The problem with all this is that for every one that suggests something is one way, there’s another that suggests exactly the opposite, and they’re usually both just as true as each other. For example, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ This is certainly true and, even in writing, we prefer to show the audience rather than just tell them. The opposite of this is, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Both are true, given the correct situation for them to flourish. It just goes to show there are always two sides to a story, with the exception of almost every recent movie.
A metanoia is when someone, usually a character doing the speaking goes back and deliberately modifies their statement. This isn’t to say it’s wrong, it might just require softening or making slightly more pointed in some way. It could be done by the narrator in a first person narrative but would be more natural spoken by a character. An example would be if a character was to say, ‘Kanye West is the greatest musical genius of all time! No, wait, that’s a bit too strong, but he is a musician. Perhaps that’s a little much too… Well, he’s alive. I’m pretty sure he’s alive.’
A metaphor is a commonly used device where we draw a comparison between two unrelated things. If we use words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’ then it becomes a simile. A metaphor is used to show an element of a character, situation or thing to the audience that they might not otherwise have noticed. For instance, snowflakes are a good metaphor for people. Each is unique, but pretty much the same as well, and it’s difficult to drive if too many of them are piled up on the road in front of you.
They’re also frequently used to alter the way something resonates with the audience. If the writer is a serial killer (or wishes the audience to believe he is), he may describe disturbing things in his fiction like dismembered corpses using language normally positively associated with natural beauty, haute cuisine or art appreciation. Similarly, you might refer to your children as a demonic horde, or a motorbike as your girlfriend. Or your girlfriend as your bike.
Mixing metaphors is to be avoided but you can burn that bridge when the cows come home.
This is a figure of a speech in which we replace a word with a related word that stands in for the more accurate description. This is when we refer to our car as our ‘wheels’ or our loving life-partner as ‘the old ball and chain.’
A monologue is when a single character gives a speech. Anyone who has ever been on a training course organised by their workplace knows that these are to be used sparingly.
A motif is an image, symbol or idea that appears frequently in a story. These can be character types, ideas, themes, words or anything else. A frequent motif in modern movies is lazy writing, for instance.
Simply put, a narrative is a story. In more complex terms it’s the form and structure of a story.
I didn’t forget!
A nemesis is an enemy, an enemy that appears too big or too powerful to overcome. It can be a fictional character, like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or a situation, such as being stranded on a desert island to Robinson Crusoe. To an author it could be getting published, alcoholism, a caffeine addiction, mental health issues or the grammar checker in Microsoft Word.
This is a word or phrase that is new and not yet frequently used by most writers.
An ode is a classical poem, but since it is a poem, I don’t care about it.
This is when a word attempts to imitate the sound of the things it describes. Obvious examples are ‘woof’ and ‘fart’ which have similarities to the sound of the thing they name, and which is where the words appear to be rooted from. Some languages also have onomatopoeias that sound nothing like the thing they describe, and also have them for textures, smells, and abstract difficult to articulate concepts such as the sense of unease when walking into a room full of people and thinking you might have possibly just spotted an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. English, for the most part, is not one of those languages.
An oxymoron is a figure of speech which brings together two opposite elements and combines them to show how they don’t make sense. This is used to show a paradox to the audience, to find humour in the ridiculousness of the situation. Examples of this are ‘military intelligence,’ ‘unbiased opinion’ and when Bing Crosby said, ‘We’re busy doing nothing.’
‘Passive aggressive’ is not an example of this.
A parable is a story that’s used to deliver a moral or spiritual lesson and isn’t meant to be taken literally.
A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself such that it can neither be true nor false. ‘This statement is a lie,’ is a simple example since, if I’m lying then this is the truth but it can’t be the truth since I stated it was a lie. Other paradoxes include the election of every US president in recent history and the fact that anyone still goes to the cinema anymore.
To paraphrase something is to repeat a message while rewording it to either simplify, expand or to avoid repetition. So it’s basically saying the same thing in a different way.
A parody is a type of comedy that tries to imitate something and find humour in the fact that it’s copying something by way of comment or critique of some aspect of the original work. This is something you see a lot in kindergarten playgrounds.
A pastiche is a fictional work that attempts to imitate something else, often in a slightly exaggerated way. The thing it’s trying to copy can be another author, a different genre or another piece of creative writing. This is usually done respectfully, to pay homage to the work of a great writer, or it can be done because the author is completely incapable of coming up with ideas of their own.
This is a sudden shift in a story with a negative reversal of fortune for a character. Sometimes known as the ‘turning point’ this is where a protagonist’s luck goes from good to bad, the tale taking a tragic turn. If you look back over your life, this would likely be the point where you decided to become an author.
This can refer to the characters in any creative piece of fiction. More often it talks about the projected character of the narrator of the story, when it’s told in first person. If you’re writing fiction in the first person then the character speaking isn’t real, so you adopt their persona when you’re relating the story to the audience, rather like putting on someone else’s shoes, their hat or flaying a person and wearing their skin over yours.
Personification is a literary device where you describe something inanimate in human terms. This works as a kind of metaphor and we use it every day when we refer to our cars and motorcycles affectionately, name our pet dogs and try to reason with anyone in middle-management.
This is the act of taking other people’s words and ideas and claiming them as your own. This is the bane of writers because there’s an incredibly fine line between stealing someone’s ideas and being inspired by them. In real terms, Star Wars plagiarises Lord of the Rings, The Outsiders plagiarises Romeo and Juliet, and Harry Potter plagiarises almost everything else. The only way to effectively ensure that you don’t plagiarise your ideas from other people is to have electro-convulsive shock therapy until it erases all of your memories, however that’s the story of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Also, having your memory erased wouldn’t stop anyone else plagiarising your work, unless Carl Gustav Jung was right about the ‘Universal consciousness’ thing.
A platitude is an obvious, simple and easily understood statement that has little meaning or emotional weight. You see a lot of this on social media whenever anything of any consequence happens anywhere in the world, and everyone makes grand public statements about how important or terrible it is, despite having nothing of value to say on the topic. They are also the reason motivational posters exist.
The plot of a narrative is the chain of events that move the story along. The plot is the actions that the characters carry out as the tale progresses. It is possible to lose the plot but, as an aspiring author, you probably already did that.
Poetry is a type of writing created by men who can’t get girlfriends and need to express their failure, and women who think people might want to know how they feel about stuff. Poets are often seen wearing berets and dark clothes, and nobody cares what they have to say.
A prologue is a short section that works to introduce a story before the introduction. It’s used to set a scene or give some important background information. In some movies, where plot development is conspicuously absent, there might be information written on the screen so that the writers don’t have to actually do their job properly.
Prose is writing that doesn’t include verse. It’s anything other than a poem. Prose is good; we like prose.
The protagonist is the main character, the hero, the central character and the focus of our story. We see the events mostly from their perspective, even if it’s a cartoon duck or a talking teapot. Essentially all stories will have a protagonist and they will usually be human, even if the story is made into a movie starring Adam Sandler.
A proverb is a short phrase or saying that is universally accepted as containing an element of wisdom. It usually will have emerged from a culture, rather than be identified with a single author. An example of this is the American proverb ‘A monkey in silk is a monkey nonetheless.’ When did America go from understanding this to where they are now?
The lowest form of wit, just below The Big Bang Theory is the pun. It’s a terrible joke based on the interplay of homophones that have the same or similar or not entirely dissimilar pronunciation, but different meanings. This is the root of the much derided ‘Dad joke’ and the awful desperation attached to it serves to illustrate how dreadful parenthood can actually be.
A quote is when we copy something someone else has said or written and put it in our own work, referencing them fairly and making it clear that we’re using their words as an example and making no attempt to claim them as our own.
A rebus is where a picture, letters, numbers or symbol takes the place of a word. This is the realm where ‘IOU’ (I owe you), text talk and poorly made T-shirts from China are from.
A red herring is a misleading clue that disguises the truth of what’s going on. Modern examples of this are wars in the Middle East, social justice, political-correctness, elections, Fox news, sex scandals, popular culture and the Kardashians.
The resolution is the final end of the story. It’s the part where the cowboys ride off into the sunset, it’s the bit where the hero finally gets the girl, it’s the moment where the princess realises she had the magic in her all along. It’s where the story closes, all final questions are resolved and we’re satisfied that the story is over and the characters will now live on in our imaginations.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, it’s a way to present your views and to make the argument compelling to your audience. It used to be done by forming a logical argument but now it’s usually done by screaming about your feelings and accusing everyone who doesn’t share your views of being prejudiced against you in some way. The difference is the behaviour you’d expect from mature, grown adults and children fighting over who gets to be the first to eat some brightly-coloured paint.
A rhetorical question is a question by grammatical standards only; it’s intended to make a point, with no expectation of an answer. Imagine a similar question asked in two different ways. A perfectly normal question might be, ‘Would you vote for that politician?’ A rhetorical question on the same subject might be worded, ‘Why would anyone vote for a bumbling, semi-literate old fool who has the moral fortitude of a snake suffering from foetal alcohol poisoning?’ Sadly, this is pointed at no current world leader in particular.
In strictly academic terms, romance does not apply to love stories. Romance, as a genre in creative literature literally means any story where the focus is on a journey that involves strong moral or spiritual values. In modern times, this has shifted to be understood as any story where love is the key driving factor of the plot. This genre has widened to include stories where violence and sexual abuse is a core theme, so long as the male lead is attractive, or else it would just be creepy.
Sarcasm is a form of irony that mocks and ridicules. It’s used to show contempt for things that probably deserve it. Read any of the entries here for examples of it. It’s where the tone is deliberately hostile or clearly drawing amusement and it often means the opposite of what is said. An example of this would be if I were to state that ‘Disney has done a great job developing existing franchises, and even updating their own work.’
Formally, satire means the use of humour, irony, exaggeration and ridicule to mock the stupidity of someone, or something, else. However, the term is popularly used to describe when political, social or current events are ridiculed in some way.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that somehow manages to make itself come true. This is where a character might turn into the very thing he hates, or realise that the thing he is most afraid of has happened because of his fear of it.
An example of this would be if I was afraid of wasting my life and so decided to become an author…
The setting is the place where your story is happening. The setting also includes the time, elements of society and doesn’t even necessarily have to be a geographical location. For instance, a story can be set in a dream, or other conceptual reality.
A simile is a literary device where we compare one thing directly with another using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to directly draw the reader’s attention to the similarity between two otherwise dissimilar things. An example might be where a teacher said to his class, while being charged with studying a recently released young-adult novel, ‘Reading this is like repeatedly smashing my head into a wall, only without the pleasurable sensation of unconsciousness to look forward to.’
A soliloquy is a kind of extended monologue where a single character delivers a speech. The speech is delivered without there being another character to hear it so it’s made purely for the benefit of the reader or audience.
Style is the way an author writes, the way they express themselves in their work. Style is what sets one author apart from the rest. Some authors have a happy, light and happy tone while some are darker with more sarcasm and obvious self-loathing.
Lurking just below the surface of the obvious meanings of a sentence or narrative is the subtext, a more nuanced secondary meaning. It is the realm of the hidden or inferred intention or underlying message. This is often what makes a classical story resonate, and the first thing to be dumped when they make a sequel.
A good example of how this works is in this example…
‘Sherlock Holmes: Yes, punch me. In the face. Didn’t you hear me?
Dr. John Watson: I always hear “Punch me in the face” when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext.’
(‘A Scandal in Belgravia.’ Sherlock, 2012)
A symbol is an image or object that stands in to represent something else. Examples of this are how flags symbolise countries, how Superman has the letter ‘S’ as his crest, and how when we think of Germany the idea of engineering excellence, strict adherence to the rules and overcomplicated cars come to mind.
A synonym is a word that has a very close meaning to another word and can often be swapped around for it. It’s considered bad form to repeat the same word in a sentence so we search for synonyms to keep our writing fresh and interesting. ‘Good’ is an effective synonym of ‘great’, however ‘Trump’ is not considered a synonym of ‘Gump’ even though there are many obvious similarities.
Tautology is explaining something by saying the same thing again only using different words. It’s like repeating the same thing to clarify the meaning, only by changing it slightly in case it was misunderstood. It’s a way of ensuring understanding through modified repetition.
The theme is the central core, idea and topic behind your writing. It’s the meaning behind everything you’ve created. For example, the theme behind much of Isaac Asimov’s work is that humanity and technology closely become indivisible, while the theme of Marvel movies is to make as much money as possible.
The genre ‘thriller’ includes any story where the main driving force is that the story is thrilling, creating emotional waves of excitement and anxiety as the audience experiences it.
The tone of a piece of work is the way it feels. It’s the style of the work that creates a sensation in the reader. Tones are often considered light and dark, with stories about subjects that are inconsequential being light, and heavy, emotionally serious or life-threatening are darker. Tones can also be humorous, serious, sarcastic or silly.
A trope is a figure of speech, theme, plot element, symbol, character or image that is used many times over in many kinds of works and is familiar to a typical audience. These can be very simple ideas like a reluctant hero, a prophesy, a macguffin, or a space ship landing on a planet for the first time in exactly the place they need to be for the plot to unfold. In essence, they’re very similar to clichés but without the automatic negative connotation. On the contrary, their inclusion and occasional deliberate exclusion is essential in helping to direct or subvert the audience’s expectations, making them feel like more of an active participant in the story. An episode of Better Call Saul had the protagonist driving through a desert, and at one point he glances at his phone and notes there is no service. This directs the audience to anticipate that he will later find himself stuck in that same desert with no means of contacting anyone for assistance. This remarkably specific scenario appears so frequently in stories that all it took was a glance at a cell phone screen to successfully hint that it was coming.
A statement that is entirely self-referential, and provides no information beyond the scope of the statement itself. This is commonly found in legalese to hint at an instruction without actually committing to saying it. ‘Do not make illegal copies of this disc’ can be found written on any Microsoft software disc, and while it seems to directionally imply that making copies of the disc is heavily frowned upon, it’s really just saying ‘Don’t break the law,’ which we could have figured out ourselves by looking up the word ‘law’ in the dictionary.
An understatement is when someone presents a situation as being less serious than it really is, often understating its seriousness. This would be like saying The Last Jedi wasn’t very good or Americans seem patriotic.
A utopia is a place where everything is perfect. Not many stories are set in such an optimistic place since it would be very difficult to find drama in a world where every issue has been solved. For this reason, when an apparent utopia is represented in fiction, there is often a revelation that it’s really not at all what it seems and there is a dark, underlying power working against people’s best interests.
In The Time Traveller by H.G. Wells, the titular character ends up in a far distant future which is represented as being a sort of utopia. It’s later revealed that the people, dumb and lazy, have no idea they’re being abused by an underground threat that is living off of them. They are incapable of understanding that this was written as a metaphor for the way the world actually works.
Verisimilitude is an overcomplicated word that simply means that something has the quality of resembling reality. Any piece of work, art, writing or movies that has this quality is believably realistic.
The villain is a person who is apparently evil for whatever reason. In a well-written story there will be an antagonist or adversary with clear and understandable intentions but sometimes it’s just easier to use a villain who’s evil because their kitten/pony may have died some time ago and it sent them over the edge. Who knows?
Wit is a smart use of humour. It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect to see in American sitcoms but should expect to see in literary comedy. It’s often cynical and insulting which is why less intelligent people are offended by it.
Zeugma is when you use a sentence that manages to convey two meanings at the same time because of the ambiguous meaning of a word. It’s a clever trick to make the reader think more carefully about an implied meaning but is easily confused. For instance, an author might write, ‘He held her hand and his tongue.’ In this example he’s literally holding her hand and figuratively holding his tongue, meaning he’s avoiding saying something. Two different meanings are explored in the same sentence.
This excerpt comes from our free book, ‘A Novel Approach’. The book is designed to give new authors a realistic grounding in the art of writing, to dispel false ideas and to instil a lasting sense of respect for the craft.
Click the link below to download your free copy.
Many thanks for reading this article. We hope it was interesting, informative and entertaining. Follow us on social media or share our content on your own pages. It helps us grow so we can create more free content to help you.