As writers, students, and teachers of fiction, we need a thorough understanding of how fiction works, and that includes well-defined terminology.
Years ago, as a beginning student of the craft of writing fiction, I realized that publications used different terms to describe the same concept. If a definition of a word was provided, it was often inadequate, inaccurate, or misleading. As I continued my studies, I realized the problem ran much deeper than terminology and definitions. The bigger issue was lack of understanding of how written fiction really works.
I continued to read books and articles about the craft of writing fiction; I wrote reviews about books I liked; and then I wrote articles about fiction-writing modes, scenes and sequels, and other aspects of fiction. From articles, I moved on to writing books about those same subjects. Somewhere along the line, I began a personal list of terms and definitions, which eventually developed into a glossary.
Most of the terms in this glossary are part of the long-standing language of writing fiction as used in dozens of instructional publications. Many are centuries old, such as those used by Aristotle in Poetics. Others, such as those from Gustav Freytag, Percy Lubbock, and E. M. Forster are roughly a hundred years old. Quite a few of the terms are relatively new to the language of writing fiction.
I believe in giving credit where it is due, so where I could, I noted the source of a term by including an endnote immediately following it. I make no guarantee that the source quoted is the original, only that I made an effort to record the oldest source I came across in my studies. I welcome and encourage further inquiry into these subjects by others, including scholars employing the rigors of academic research.
Although the vast majority of the terms in the glossary may also be found in a dictionary, I often found those definitions inadequate in the context of writing fiction. Most of the definitions included in this glossary are my own.
In situations where I couldn’t find a term to address a need adequately, I created one. For example, I invented such terms as transmorphic description, camouflaged mode, and problem-solving passage. You might ask whether it is appropriate for me to do that. Of course, it is. As explained by Henry Hitchens in The Language Wars, the English language is constantly evolving as old and unused words slip into extinction while new words emerge. The craft of writing fiction is evolving, and so should its terminology.
Wherever appropriate, I’ve noted synonyms and suggested related topics as items to “Also, see . . .” so you may easily examine a term’s relationship to other concepts. For example, under flashforward, I suggest other terms related to the timeline of a story.
The primary purpose of this glossary is to serve as a reference to consult when needed to clarify and educate. The glossary can also be used as a handy resource for developing ideas for discussion or further study. For example, the entry for narration includes “Also see . . .” items that may provide topics of discussion relating to various aspects of that concept. A term that is unfamiliar to you could lead to research that shores up a potential weakness in your understanding of how fiction works. You could ask members of your writing group to pick a term for each meeting and share it. Or to select a chain of “Also, see . . .” items for further consideration. And wouldn’t it be appropriate if every member of your writing group had a copy of the glossary so you’re all using the same language?
When I published my first book about writing fiction (Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life), I included a glossary at the back. Likewise, at the end of my second nonfiction book (Scenes and Sequels: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction). My third book about writing fiction (Third Person Possessed: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction for 21st Century Readers) includes no glossary. Instead, I published this glossary, the third published version, as a separate resource. As I continue to learn more about fiction, the glossary will grow, so please keep an eye out for new editions.
I hope you find this glossary informative and useful.