Aug 09 2009

Please help me complete a glossary of writer’s terms!

The Turkey City Lexicon is a great resource for writers that want to understand reviewing jargon.  I’d like to come up with something similar for this site, which has a slightly different jargon.  Have you read any terms here that you weren’t familiar with?  (Or that you think a typical prospective writer wouldn’t be familiar with?)  Which terms?  I’d really appreciate if you could point out any to me in a comment.

Here are some that occurred to me…

  • Screen time.  How much time the book or comic book spends on something.  Understandably, main characters tend to get the most screen time.
  • Active character.  An active character has a major impact on the plot.  An inactive character is more likely to burn time and wait for something important to happen.  Usually it’s a problem when an inactive character gets a lot of screen time, like Fatale in Soon I Will Be Invincible.
  • Overpowered:  an overpowered character is one that cannot be easily challenged.  This is problematic because characters are most impressive when they face daunting odds.  (Note that this concept is not necessarily about power: a ridiculously beautiful person might be overpowered for a romance).
  • Competence.  A competent character has enough skills, powers and intelligence to try to achieve his objectives.  A competent character won’t necessarily succeed every time, but it should look like he uses what he has in a logical fashion.
  • A weakness: when a character has a marked vulnerability to something that is usually not very dangerous.  Kryptonite is the best-known example.  Weaknesses are generally an awkward way to fix an overpowered character.
  • A flaw: a trait that causes a character to make decisions the audience is not meant to approve of.
  • Laugh-tracking.  When a character does something to cue an emotional response from the reader.  Laughing at their own jokes, sobbing, etc.
  • Mary Sue:  a character that lacks flaws.
  • Offscreen.  When something happens without being depicted.
  • Story.  Superhero Nation does a lot of work with comic books and novels, so we generally use “story” when we’re talking about both.
  • Authorial distance.  How much emotional detachment the author has from his story.  AD is very helpful because it reduces the likelihood that an author will react heatedly when he gets tough advice.
  • Deus ex machina.  When a hero gets a lucky break.  This is cheesy.  (It’s more acceptable for villains).
  • Inciting event.  The event that sets the story in motion.  Usually, it’s the biggest event that happens in the first 20 pages of a novel or the first issue of a comic book.
  • Impressive.  An impressive character is one that punches above his weight-class.   Readers love that.  Characters often impress readers by solving problems in crafty and unexpected ways.  Overpowered characters are rarely impressive.
  • As you know, Bob.  When two characters talk about something that both of them already know.  This is a pretty cheesy way to give information to the reader.
  • Narm.  According to TV Tropes, “a Narm is a moment that is supposed to be serious, but loses the drama because of some combination of over-sappiness, poor execution, excessive melodrama, or the sheer absurdity of the situation.”
  • Infodumping.  When a story gives readers too much information too quickly.  This is particularly painful when narratorial exposition is the source of the information.
  • Static vs. dynamic (or flat vs. round) characters.  A static character doesn’t change very much over the course of a book.  A dynamic character grows and evolves– sometimes in a way that the audience is meant to approve of  and sometimes not.  Generally, it is worrisome when the main characters are static.  If the heroes don’t change, what does the story amount to?

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Please help me complete a glossary of writer’s terms!”

  1. B. Macon 10 Aug 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Some I’ll probably add eventually…


    –Show vs. tell


  2. Tomon 11 Aug 2009 at 4:24 am

    I think Deus Ex Machina has a more specific definition than that. If I remember correctly it means when an element of plot that hadn’t been in the story until this point solves a loose thread in the plot. Basically, something that hadn’t been there until now appears in the story to solve a problem.

    Might want to include some tropes in there. Lampshade hanging springs to mind. As does the Idiot Ball.

  3. Lighting Manon 11 Aug 2009 at 8:42 am

    Deus Ex Machina is the god from the machine, referencing plays in which a God from mythology would appear and fix all of the lead character’s problems, or at least the most pressing ones, such as death or bad press-on nails. B. Mac’s definition is, while vague, I think a good way to sum it up without confusing people when it is used improperly since most times his definition’s scope would still cover an improper usage.

  4. B. Macon 12 Aug 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I’m adding narm as well.

  5. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 12 Aug 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Yay, narm! Haha. I’m going to take up a similar project with my best friend, because we have a set of code words that we use to discuss secrets.

    You should add “two dimensional/flat characters” and “three dimensional/rounded characters”. Also “static” characters and “dynamic” characters.

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