Learning the Lingo

Laura Ayo

Laura Ayo

If you’re a swimmer, you know you swim fly, back, breast and free in that order in the IM. If you know nothing about swimming, you are likely feeling like a foreigner in a country where everyone but you speaks the same language. It’s an uncomfortable, frustrating position to be in. Yet, every hobby and sport has its own lingo, just as every profession, including writing, does. I was reminded of this fact last week while talking with some writer friends. I used the acronym WIP during our conversation and one of the women interrupted me to ask what it meant. “Work in progress,” another answered. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how much there is to learn when it comes to writing terminology.

The publishing world has its own terms that sometimes need a reference manual to decipher. Genre, for instance, is used to describe how works of art are categorized. Books can be works of fiction or non-fiction. Within fiction, they can be fantasy, historical, realistic and a number of other subgenres. Nonfiction can be biography, memoir, self-help and so on. Each of those subcategories, however, has its own lingo. Fantasy, for instance, can be more narrowly classified depending on the world you’re building. It’s enough to make your head spin.

If you’re like me, you’re probably drawn to writing one or two types of genres. For me, it’s realistic fiction and historical fiction. Each is similar, so that has narrowed the scope of terms and acronyms I’ve had to learn. Most seem self-explanatory and are universally used. POV means point of view and refers to whether the story is being told in first, second or third person. MC means main character. MS means manuscript. YA refers to young adult and MG refers to middle grade, although there is much debate as to what constitutes each. Then there’s NA, a fairly new term that refers to new adult. I’m still investigating that one.

But then I’ve come across lingo like pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write with no planning and no outline, crafting on the fly by the seat of their pants. Plotters are the complete opposite. I feel as if I fall somewhere in between with a heavier leaning towards being a plotter, but as far as I can tell, there’s no term for a person like me. Perhaps I should invent one.

Regardless of whether you outline or wing it, learning the parts of a solid plot also has a learning curve because the different parts are called different things, depending on your source. All generally follow the five-part pyramid structure introduced by German dramatist and novelist Gustav Freytag in the 1800s. The structure itself is referred to as Freytag’s pyramid, the dramatic arc or the five-act structure. The first part is known as exposition, but I’ve also seen it called the introduction and the narrative. It simply introduces your readers to your characters, setting and any other pertinent information they will need to understand the story. Within the exposition is the inciting incident, which has a laundry list of synonyms used to describe it: the dramatic situation, a call to action, the catalyst, the first conflict, the main conflict or the complication. In essence, it’s the situation at the beginning of the story that creates a problem for the main character that he or she (or it) then sets out to remedy or resolve through the rest of the story. After the inciting incident comes the rising action, which, blessedly, everyone seems to call the rising action. It’s a series of events that ramps up the tension in the story and challenges your main character every step of the way. The rising action leads to the climax, which is also referred to as the turning point or the big reveal. It’s usually the part where the main character confronts the main conflict head on, thereby changing his or her future. After the climax comes the falling action – the part where the main character reacts to the outcome of the climax and the author starts to wrap up loose ends in the storyline. The falling action culminates in the resolution, but I’ve also seen it called the denouement, revelation, catastrophe and ending. During this final part, all of the conflicts in the story are resolved and the reader hopefully has an understanding of how the main character has grown or changed, for better or worse.

If you’re dedicated enough to finish a manuscript, the next phase of the publishing process has its own set of terms to learn, as well. A logline is a one or two-sentence description of what happens in your story. It’s usually used to pique the interest of an agent or publisher. The logline is different, however, from a premise, and both are different from a synopsis. It took me a long time to wrap my brain around those differences, but after much reading and discussion with writer friends, I would describe a premise as a brief description of what happens to your main character as a result of the events in the story. A logline, in my opinion, tells what happens in a story, while a premise tells what the story is about. They’re similar, yes, but not the same. The synopsis is longer and more detailed, summarizing all the events in the story, including how the story ends.

I could go on and on. Marketing a book, no surprise, has it’s own terminology. The editing process does, as well. If you’re serious about seeing your words in print, it’s worth investing the time to learn the lingo. Discuss the terms with other writers. Read everything you can to decipher the true meaning behind the words. And then share your knowledge with other newbies so the next time someone asks, “What the heck is an imprint?” you’ll be ready to share your expertise.

Leave a comment. Your name and email address are not required.