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Basic writing terms
Basic writing terms are tools that writers and Wrimos use to refer to particular universal concepts in their work. These terms will appear everywhere in the forums. It's a good idea to have some basic understanding of them, so you can join in when people talk about them. This article deals with terms relating to Character, Plot, Setting, Theme, Style, Form, Genre, Narrator, Tense and Synopses, and other terms such as muse, fourth wall, prompt, outlining and pantsing.
The protagonist may also be referred to as the main character or hero.
A protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part, chief actor") is the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to share the most empathy.
In fiction, the story of the protagonist may be told from the perspective of a different character (who may also, but not necessarily, be the narrator). Although the protagonist is often referred to as the "good guy" (ex. Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series), it is entirely possible for a story's protagonist to be the clear villain, or antihero, of the piece (ex. Billy/Dr. Horrible in Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog).
The deuteragonist (from Greek: δευτεραγωνιστής, deuteragonistes, second actor) is the second most important character, after the protagonist and before the tritagonist. The deuteragonist may switch from being with or against the protagonist depending on the deuteragonist's own conflict/plot.
The deuteragonist often assumes the role of "sidekick" to the protagonist. In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist is Huck and the deuteragonist, his constant companion, is Jim. Alternatively, the deuteragonist could be a particularly visible antagonist, whom the main antagonist hides behind, such Irene Adler in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.
The tritagonist is the third most important character of a narrative, after the protagonist and deuteragonist. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the tritagonist is Tom Sawyer.
A false protagonist is a literary technique often used for making part of the plot more jarring or more memorable by fooling the audience's preconceptions. The novel introduces a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist but is later revealed not to be.
It involves presenting a character at the start of the fictional work as the main character, but then generally disposing of this character, often by killing them (usually for shock value or as a plot twist), but sometimes simply by changing their role (i.e. making them a lesser character, a character who - for reasons other than death - leaves the story, or revealing them to actually be the antagonist).
A work of fiction that has multiple equal protagonists that then subsequently sees the death of one or more (especially late in the work) is not a use of the false protagonist technique. The method refers only to those works where the audience is fooled into thinking that one character is the primary focus of the work, only to have them replaced completely by another (usually previously unseen) character.
One of the best known examples of this technique in literature is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where readers are initially led to believe the protagonist is Bernard Marx until the introduction of John the Savage, at which point the story starts to almost entirely focus on John.
The antagonist may also be referred to as the archenemy of the protagonist.
An antagonist (from Greek ἀνταγωνιστής - antagonistes, "opponent, competitor, rival") is a character, group of characters, or an institution, that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend. In the classic style of story where in the action consists of a hero fighting a villain, the two can be regarded as protagonist and antagonist, respectively. The antagonist may also represent a major threat or obstacle to the main character by their very existence, without necessarily actively targeting him or her.
Sometimes, antagonists and protagonists may overlap, depending on what their ultimate objectives are considered to be. Also some protagonists can be antagonists at the same time. For example, when Don Quixote ideals for justice get the best of his sanity, and sees reality in a twisted way, such as seeing windmills as dangerous giants, which causes him to attack them and end himself brutally injured, and so, putting himself as an obstacle for his goals.
In any narrative, the focal character is the character on whom the audience is meant to place the majority of their interest and attention. He or she is almost always also the protagonist of the story; however, in cases where the "focal character" and "protagonist" are separate, the focal character's emotions and ambitions are not meant to be empathized with by the audience to as high an extent as the protagonist (this is the main difference between the two character terms).
The focal character is mostly created to simply be the "excitement" of the story, though not necessarily the main character about whom the audience is emotionally concerned. The focal character is, more than anyone else, "the person on whom the spotlight focuses; the center of attention; the man whose reactions dominate the screen."
For example, in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, the protagonist is Christine Daaé (the audience is concerned mostly with her emotions, aims, and well-being), while the focal character is the "Phantom" (the audience is concerned mostly with the allure of his actions and reactions — though to some degree, later on, his emotions as well). The focal character is also not necessarily the same thing as the viewpoint character, through whose perspective the story is seen. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's written works of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson is the viewpoint character, but the story revolves around Sherlock Holmes, making him the focal character.
The viewpoint character is also called the narrator.
A viewpoint character is, within any story (literary work, movie, play, verbal account, etc.), the person who tells the story to the audience. When the narrator is a character within the story, he or she is known as the viewpoint character.
A foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight various features of that other character's personality, throwing these characteristics into sharper focus.
A foil's complementary role may be emphasized by physical characteristics. A foil usually differs drastically. For example in Cervantes' Don Quixote, the dreamy and impractical Quixote is thin in contrast to his companion, the realistic and practical Sancho Panza, who is fat. Another popular fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, is tall and lean; his right-hand man Doctor Watson, meanwhile, is often described as "middle-sized, strongly built."
The "straight man" in a comedy duo is a comic foil. While the straight man portrays a reasonable and serious character, the other portrays a funny, dumb, or simply unorthodox one. An example of this is Leonard (the "straight man" or "foil") and Sheldon (the comedian) in the TV show The Big Bang Theory.
According to German playwrite Gustav Freytag, a drama (one of the three Ancient Greek forms of writing, the other two being 'poetry' and 'prose'; not the genre 'drama') is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.
Exposition (dramatic structure)
The exposition provides the background information needed to properly understand the story, such as the protagonist, the antagonist, the basic conflict, and the setting. It ends with the inciting moment, which is the incident without which there would be no story. The inciting moment sets the remainder of the story in motion beginning with the second act, the rising action. While the exposition may employ the rhetorical mode also known as exposition, the two are not perfectly synonymous.
During rising action, the basic internal conflict is complicated by the introduction of related secondary conflicts, including various obstacles that frustrate the protagonist's attempt to reach his goal. Secondary conflicts can include adversaries of lesser importance than the story’s antagonist, who may work with the antagonist or separately, by and for themselves or actions unknown.
The third act is that of the climax, or turning point, which marks a change, for the better or the worse, in the protagonist’s affairs. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the tide, so to speak, will turn, and things will begin to go well for him or her. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist.
During the falling action, or resolution, which is the moment of reversal after the climax, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action might contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
The dénouement (pronounced /deɪ.nuːˈmɑ̃, deɪ.nuːˈmɒːn/) comprises events between the falling action and the actual end of the drama or narrative and thus serves as the conclusion of the story. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Etymologically, the French word dénouement is derived from the Old French word denoer, "to untie", and from nodus, Latin for "knot." Simply put, dénouement is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot.
The comedy ends with a dénouement (a conclusion) in which the protagonist is better off than at the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe in which the protagonist is worse off than at the beginning of the narrative. Exemplary of a comic dénouement is the final scene of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, in which couples marry, an evildoer repents, two disguised characters are revealed for all to see, and a ruler is restored to power. In Shakespeare's tragedies, the dénouement is usually the death of one or more characters.
Conflict is a necessary element of fictional literature. It is defined as the problem in any piece of literature and is often classified according to the nature of the protagonist or antagonist. Conflict can be internal (a mental or emotional struggle that occurs within a character) or external (occurs between a character and outside forces: another character or the environment).
Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. For example, in William Faulkner's The Bear, nature might be the antagonist. Even though it is an abstraction, natural creatures and the scenery oppose and resist the protagonist. In the same story, the young boy's doubts about himself provide an internal conflict, and they seem to overwhelm him.
Similarly, when godlike characters enter (e.g. Superman), correspondingly great villains have to be created, or natural weaknesses have to be invented, to allow the narrative to have drama. Alternatively, scenarios could be devised in which the character's godlike powers are constrained by some sort of code, or their respective antagonist.
Exposition (literary technique)
This kind of exposition, when it gets too wordy, is also known as an info dump, plot dump or an idiot lecture if expressed in dialogue or monologue.
Exposition is the fiction-writing mode for conveying information. According to Robert Kernen, "Exposition can be one of the most effective ways of creating and increasing the drama in your story. It can also be the quickest way to kill a plot's momentum and get your story bogged down in detail. Too much exposition, or too much at one time, can seriously derail a story and be frustrating to the reader or viewer eager for a story to either get moving or move on."
Exposition in fiction may be delivered through various means. As noted by Dibell, the simplest way is to just place the information between scenes as the all-seeing, all-knowing (but impersonal and invisible) narrator. Morrell has observed that various devices, such as trial transcriptions, newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries may be used to convey information. Another means of delivering information is through a character, either as dialogue or through the character's thoughts.
In serial television drama, exposition in individual episodes often appears as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase "Previously on [series]." Villain speech is a specific form of exposition in which the villain describes his sinister plans to a helpless hero, often prefacing his exposition with the comment that it can't hurt to divulge the plan, since the hero will be dead soon anyway (or the plan will be impossible to stop in the short time available). This is commonly seen in James Bond books and films.
Plot devices are also known as MacGuffins when their nature is not actually important to the story and another object would work just as well. Alfred Hitchcock said that "in a thriller the MacGuffin is usually 'the necklace'; in a spy story it is 'the papers'". Plot devices can also be known as deus ex machina, when it is used to resolve all problematic situations and bring the story to a (generally happy) conclusion, such as the sudden arrival of Heracles in Euripides' play Aclestis.
A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience.
Many stories, especially in the fantasy genre, feature an object or objects with some great power. Often what drives the plot is the hero's need to find the object before the villain and use it for good rather than evil, or, if the object itself is evil, to destroy it. Examples of this kind of plot device include Indiana Jones' "The Ark of the Covenant", "the Holy Grail" and "the Crystal Skull", Lord of the Rings' "One Ring", and Harry Potter's "Deathly Hallows" and "Horcruxes".
A subplot is a secondary plot strand that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist. In screenwriting, a subplot is referred to as a "B story" or a "C story," etc.
The television show Castle almost always has a subplot or "B story", which generally involves the protagonist Rick Castle's daughter and/or mother. The "B story" always mirrors the main plot in a more mundane way; Castle generally solves the crime because of an epiphany given him by the "B plot".
A fictional universe may also be called, variously, a fictional realm, fictional world or imaginary world. The terms alternate universe, multiverse, parallel universe, alternate history, story or screen bible, backstory and crossover have a considerable amount of overlap with fictional universes.
A fictional universe is a self-consistent fictional setting with elements that differ from the real world.
A fictional universe can be almost indistinguishable from the real world, except for the presence of the invented characters and events that characterize a work of fiction. It can also bear little or no resemblance to reality, with invented fundamental principles of space and time. The subject is most commonly addressed in reference to fictional universes that differ markedly from reality, such as those that introduce entire fictional cities, countries, or even planets, those that contradict commonly known facts about the world and its history, or those that feature fantasy or science fiction concepts such as magic or faster than light travel, and especially those in which the deliberate development of the setting is a substantial focus of the work.
Fictional locations are places that exist only in fiction and not in reality. Writers may create and describe such places to serve as backdrop for their fictional works.
Fictional locations vary greatly in their size. Very small places like a single room are kept out of the umbrella of fictional locations by convention, as are most single buildings. A fictional location can be the size of a university (H.P. Lovecraft's Miskatonic University), a town (Stephen King's Salem's Lot), a county (Raintree County), a state (Winnemac in various Sinclair Lewis stories), a large section of continent (as in north-western Middle-earth, which supposedly represents Europe), a whole planet (Anne McCaffrey's Pern), a whole galaxy (Isaac Asimov's Foundation books), even a multiverse (His Dark Materials). In a larger scale, occasionally the term alternate reality is used, but only if it is considered a variant of Earth rather than an original world. Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia has an invented continent, Karain, on our world.
Fictional countries appear commonly in stories of early science fiction (or scientific romance). Such countries supposedly form part of the normal Earth landscape although not located in a normal atlas. Later similar tales often took place on fictional planets.
Jonathan Swift's protagonist, Lemuel Gulliver, visited various strange places. Edgar Rice Burroughs placed adventures of Tarzan in areas in Africa that, at the time, remained mostly unknown to the West and to the East. Isolated islands with strange creatures and/or customs enjoyed great popularity in these authors' times. By the 19th century, When Western explorers had surveyed most of the Earth's surface, this option was lost to Western culture. Thereafter fictional utopian and dystopian societies tended to spring up on other planets or in space, whether in human colonies or in alien societies originating elsewhere. Fictional countries can also be used in stories set in a distant future, with other political borders than today.
Superhero and secret agent comics and some thrillers also use fictional countries on Earth as backdrops. Most of these countries exist only for a single story, a TV-series episode or an issue of a comic book. There are notable exceptions, such as Qumar and Equatorial Kundu in The West Wing, Marvel Comics Latveria and DC Comics Qurac and Bialya.
Utopia and Dystopia
Utopia (pronounced /juːˈtoʊpiə/) is a name for an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean (probably derived from Plato's Republic, the original written Atlantis tale). The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. A modern example of utopian fiction is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia.
A dystopia (from Ancient Greek: δυσ-: bad-, ill- and Ancient Greek: τόπος: place, landscape) (alternatively, cacotopia, or anti-utopia) is, in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. An example of dystopian fiction is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
A dystopia is, thus, regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of technology going "too far" and how humans individually and en masse use technology. A dystopian society is also often characterized by mass poverty for most of its inhabitants and a large military-like police force.
A theme is a broad idea, moral, or message, of an essay, paragraph, movie, or a book. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and may be implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.
In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative (or literary) aspects such as theme or mood.
In his play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses a variety of narrative elements to create many different motifs. Imagistic references to blood and water are continually repeated. The phrase "fair is foul, and foul is fair" is echoed at many points in the play, a combination that mixes the concepts of good and evil. The play also features the central motif of the washing of hands, one that combines both verbal images and the movement of the actors.
A moral (from Latin morālis) is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim. As an example of the latter, at the end of Aesop's fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, in which the plodding and determined tortoise wins a race against the much-faster yet extremely arrogant hare, the stated moral is "slow and steady wins the race". However, other morals can often be taken from the story itself; for instance, that "arrogance or overconfidence in one's abilities may lead to failure or the loss of an event, race, or contest".
In fiction, style is the manner in which the author tells the story. Along with plot, character, theme, and setting, style is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction
Tone is a literary technique that is a part of composition, which encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes
Visual imagery is perhaps the most frequently used form.
- The crimson liquid spilled from the neck of the white dove, staining and matting its pure, white feathers.
Auditory imagery represents a sound.
- The bells chimed 2 o'clock.
- Onomatopoeia: a word that makes a sound (crash, smash, shatter).
Kinetic imagery represents movement
- as in Wordsworth's poem Daffodils: "tossing their heads in sprightly dance"
Olfactory imagery represents a smell.
- His socks, still soaked with sweat from Tuesday's P.E. class, filled the classroom with an aroma akin to that of salty, week-old, rotting fish.
Gustatory imagery represents a taste.
- The sweet marinara sauce makes up for the bland sea-shell pasta beneath.
- Tumbling through the ocean water after being overtaken by the monstrous wave, I unintentionally took a gulp of the briny, bitter liquid, causing me to cough and gag.
Tactile imagery represents touch.
- The spongy soufflé was a pleasure to squeeze.
- The clay oozed between Jeremy's fingers as he let out a squeal of pure glee.
Similes and Metaphors
A simile is a literary device where the writer employs the words "like" or "as" to compare two different ideas. It can be a strong word to use as a describing word in a simile or metaphor.
- He flew like a dove
- I am as bold as a lion.
- He has a heart as big as the outdoors.
- Her eyes sparkle like a crystal.
- Her hair is like a sea.
- He is acting like a clown.
- I am as red as a tomato.
A metaphor is similar to a simile, however this literary device makes a comparison without the use of "like" or "as".
- He has a hyena's laugh.
- Her face is a garden.
- Her eyes were endless pools of beauty.
- His voice was an explosion of sound.
Suspension of disbelief
Suspension of disbelief can also be known as a leap of faith. Most authors state that any given story can only ask their audiences to make one leap of faith, and that more will strain their suspension of disbelief (eg. magic is real, as opposed to magic is real and there are vampires and the protagonist is an alien and somehow the Chosen One and an immortal god).
Suspension of disbelief or "willing suspension of disbelief" is a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. It was put forth in English by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the onus was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it. It might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises.
Also known as what (non-rebel) Wrimos are attempting for NaNoWriMo!
A novel is a long narrative in literary prose. The further definition of the genre is historically difficult. Most of the criteria (such as artistic merit, fictionality, a design to create an epic totality of life, a focus on history and the individual) are arbitrary and designed to raise further debates over qualities that will supposedly separate great works of literature both from a wider and lower "trivial" production and from the field of true histories. To become part of the literary production novels have to address the discussion of art. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the way reality is created in the works of fiction, the fascination of the character study, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel's artistic merits.
Novellas and Short stories
A novella (also called a short novel) is a written, fictional, prose narrative longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000. Other definitions start as low as 10,000 words and run as high as 70,000 words. A novella has generally fewer conflicts than novels, yet more complicated ones than short stories. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. They have endings that are located at the brink of change. Unlike novels, they are not divided into chapters, and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as the short story, although white space is often used to divide the sections.
Short stories have their face in oral story-telling traditions and the prose anecdote, a swiftly sketched situation that quickly comes to its point. With the rise of the comparatively realistic novel, the short story evolved as a miniature version. Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a small number of characters, and covers a short period of time. It can be boiled down to "Man goes up tree. Man gets rocks thrown at him. Man goes down tree."
Scripts, Plays and Screenplays
Also known as what Screnzies hope to achieve in Script Frenzy!
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed or read. The term "play" can refer to both the written works of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance. A screenplay or script is a written work that is made especially for a film or television program. Screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. A play for television is known as a teleplay.
Fables and Fairy tales
A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a maxim.
Although the fairy tale is a distinct genre within the larger category of folktale, the definition that marks a work as a fairy tale is a source of considerable dispute. One universally agreed-upon matter is that fairy tales do not require fairies.Common parlance conflates fairy tales with beast fables and other folktales, and scholars differ on the degree to which the presence of fairies and/or similarly mythical beings (e.g., elves, goblins, trolls, giants) should be taken as a differentiator. In his essay "On Fairy-Stories", J. R. R. Tolkien agreed with the exclusion of "fairies" from the definition, defining fairy tales as stories about the adventures of men in Faërie, the land of fairies, fairytale princes and princesses, dwarves, elves, and not only other magical species but many other marvels.
Poetry (from the Latin poeta, a poet) is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning. Poetry may be written independently, as discrete poems, or may occur in conjunction with other arts, as in poetic drama, hymns, lyrics, or prose poetry.
Early attempts to define poetry, such as Aristotle's Poetics, focused on the uses of speech in rhetoric, drama, song, and comedy. Later attempts concentrated on features such as repetition, verse form and rhyme, and emphasized the aesthetics which distinguish poetry from more objectively informative, prosaic forms of writing, such as manifestos, biographies, essays, and novels. From the mid-20th century, poetry has sometimes been more loosely defined as a fundamental creative act using language.
Poetry often uses particular forms and conventions to suggest alternative meanings in the words, or to evoke emotional or sensual responses. Devices such as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and rhythm are sometimes used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. The use of ambiguity, symbolism, irony, and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly, metaphor, simile, and metonymy create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived. Kindred forms of resonance may exist, between individual verses, in their patterns of rhyme or rhythm.
Genre (pronounced /ˈʒɑːnrə/, also /ˈdʒɑːnrə/; from French, genre French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ʀ], "kind" or "sort", from Latin: genus (stem gener-), Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature, as well as various other forms of art or culture e.g. music, based on some loose set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.
The Genre Lounge on the forums give some examples of which genres are most commonly written by Wrimos.
- Adventure: Forbidding locales, extreme danger, quests, battles, smugglers, cowboys & pirates and of course ... ninjas. These are stories of challenges. Sub-genres include: Epic, Imaginary voyage, Lost World, Men's adventure, Milesian tale, Picaresque novel (picaresco), Robinsonade (Apocalyptic fantasy robinsonade, Science fiction robinsonade), Sea story.
- Chick Lit: Telling tall tales with the Chick Literati. Sub-genres include: Bride lit, Brit lit (also known as Singleton Lit), Christian chick lit, Ethnic Chick Lit (Asian chick lit, Black chick lit, Indian chick lit), Lad lit, Hen lit, Mommy lit, Mystery chick lit, Teen Chick Lit, Workplace tell-all, Widow lit.
- Erotic Fiction: Provocative subjects and sensual tales where writers grapple with leaving less to the reader's imagination. Sub-genres include: Erotic romance, LGBT erotica (Gay erotica, Lesbian erotica), Picaresque novel (picaresco), Women's erotica
- Fantasy: Other worlds or even places not unlike our own: planes of existence where magic is commonplace and fantastical creatures abound. Sub-genres include: Contemporary fantasy, Dark fantasy, Epic Fantasy / High fantasy, Low fantasy, Magic realism, Mythic, Paranormal Fantasy, Science fantasy, Superhero fantasy, Sword and sorcery, Wuxia, Urban Fantasy.
- Historical Fiction: Grappling with the realities of 17th century kitchen technology? Need help making realistic dialogue for your pre-Columbian youth? Settle in for chats with your fellow novelists who are doing the time warp. Sub-genres include: Historical romance (Metahistorical romance), Historical whodunnit, Holocaust novel, Plantation tradition, Prehistoric fiction, Regency novel, Regency romance.
- Horror & Supernatural: Graphic tales that leave you on the edge of your seat, hands trembling as you dare to write the next sentence. Sub-genres include: Gothic fiction, Paranormal, Southern Gothic, Splatterpunk.
- Literary Fiction: Sure, grappling with complex personal and societal issues isn't the most marketable move. And no, we don't always have the tightest plots. But we sure know how to throw a party.
- Mainstream Fiction: Story-driven, able to be gobbled up in a single transcontinental plane ride. May contain elements of some or all other genres.
- Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Where mystery writers gather to find out who done it. Sub-genres include: Crime fiction, Detective fiction, Mystery fiction, Conspiracy fiction, Legal thriller, Medical thriller, Political thriller, Spy fiction, Psychological thriller, Techno-thriller.
- Religious, Spiritual & New Age: A light-filled place to ponder the meaning of it all. Sub-genres include: Christian fiction, Christian science fiction, Contemporary Christian fiction, Luciferian literature.
- Romance: The young novelist thought she had everything she wanted... until this handsome forum walked into her life and changed everything forever.
- Satire, Humor & Parody: Laugh the month away. Sub-genres include: Romantic comedy, Picaresque novel, Political satire.
- Science Fiction: Interplanetary travel, other planets and extreme technology. Pop by the cafe for coffees of the galaxy. Sub-genres include: Hard science fiction, Soft science fiction, Science fantasy, Space opera, Punk, Cyberpunk, Dieselpunk, Atompunk, Nanopunk, Postcyberpunk, Steampunk, Clockpunk, Biopunk, Alternative universe, Scientific romance.
- Young Adult & Youth: A clubhouse for those writing novels geared for young ones.
- Other Genres: For those who answered "none of the above."
Point of View
Narrative point of view (also point-of-view or viewpoint) describes from which grammatical person's perspective the story is perceived. The narrative mode encompasses not only who tells the story, but also how the story is described or expressed (for example, by using stream of consciousness or unreliable narration). See viewpoint character.
The person who is used to tell the story is called the "narrator," a character developed by the author expressly for the purpose of relating events to the audience. The experiences and observations related by the narrator are not generally to be regarded as those of the author, though in some cases (especially in non-fiction), it is possible for the narrator and author to be the same person. However, the narrator may be a fictive person devised by the author as a stand-alone entity, or even a character. The narrator is considered participant if an actual character in the story, and nonparticipant if only an implied character, or a sort of omniscient or semi-omniscient being who does not take part in the story but only relates it to the audience.
First-person narrative is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves. First-person narrative may be singular, plural or multiple as well as being an authoritative, reliable or deceptive "voice" and represents point of view in the writing.
The character/s explicitly refers to themselves using words and phrases involving "I" (referred to as the first-person singular) and/or "We" (the first-person plural). This allows the reader or audience to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. In some stories, first-person narrators may refer to information they have heard from the other characters, in order to try to deliver a larger point of view. Other stories may switch from one narrator to another, allowing the reader or audience to experience the thoughts and feelings of more than one character.
Second-person narrative is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for "you" (singular and plural). It brings the reader into the story. An example would be: "You got up. You walked to the bar and said hello to the bartender, Marty. You got your drink and paid and left."
Traditionally, the employment of the second-person form in literary fiction has not been as prevalent as the corresponding first-person and third-person forms, yet second-person narration is, in many languages, a very common technique of several popular and non- or quasi-fictional written genres such as guide books, self-help books, do-it-yourself manuals, interactive fiction, role-playing games, gamebooks such as the Choose Your Own Adventure series, musical lyrics, and advertisements.
Although not the most common narrative technique in literary fiction, second-person narration has constituted a favoured form of various literary works within, notably, the modern and post-modern tradition.
Third-person narration provides the greatest flexibility to the author and thus is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. In the third-person narrative mode, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as "he", "she", "it", or "they", but never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you" (second-person). In third-person narrative, it is necessary that the narrator be merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story, but not a character of any kind within the story being told. Third-person singular (he/she) is overwhelmingly the most common type of third-person narrative, although there have been successful uses of the third-person plural (they), as in Maxine Swann's short story "Flower Children". Even more common, however, is to see singular and plural used together in one story, at different times, depending upon the number of people being referred to at a given moment in the plot.
The third-person limited is a narrative mode in which the reader experiences the story through the senses and thoughts of just one character. This is almost always the main character—e.g., Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling's series. In third-person limited, the narration is limited in the same way a first-person narrative might be—i.e., the narrator cannot tell the reader things that the focal character does not know—but the text is written in the third person.
The third-person omniscient is a narrative mode in which both the reader and author observe the situation either through the senses and thoughts of more than one character, or through an overarching godlike perspective that sees and knows everything that happens and everything the characters are thinking. Third-person omniscient is virtually always the narrative mode chosen for sprawling, epic stories such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
However, while a godlike all-knowing perspective necessarily uses third-person omniscient, there are other uses for this narrative mode. Third-person omniscient simply means that the narrator can tell the reader things that the main character does not know, or things that none of the characters know, or things that no human being could ever know (e.g., what the first conscious creature felt like as it climbed out of the primordial ooze, in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).
The third-person objective employs a narrator who tells a story without describing any character's thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead it gives an objective, unbiased point of view. Often the narrator is self-dehumanized in order to make the narrative more neutral; this type of narrative mode, outside of fiction, is often employed by newspaper articles, biographical documents, and scientific journals. This point of view can be described as a "fly on the wall" or "camera lens" approach that can only record the observable actions, but does not interpret these actions or relay what thoughts are going through the minds of the characters. Works of fiction that use this style put a great deal of emphasis on characters acting out their feelings in an observable way. Internal thoughts, if expressed, are given voice through an aside or soliloquy.
The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If it is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited.
While the general rule is for novels to adopt a single approach to point of view throughout, there are exceptions. Many stories, especially in literature, alternate between the first and third person. In this case, an author will move back and forth between a more omniscient third-person narrator to a more personal first-person narrator. Often, a narrator using the first person will try to be more objective by also employing the third person for important action scenes, especially those in which he/she is not directly involved or in scenes where he/she is not present to have viewed the events in first person. This mode is found in the novel The Poisonwood Bible.
Epistolary novels, which were very common in the early years of the novel, generally consist of a series of letters written by different characters, and necessarily switching when the writer changes; the classic books Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Abraham "Bram" Stoker and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde take this approach. Sometimes, though, they may all be letters from one character, such as C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island switches between third and first person, as do Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Vladimir Nabokov's The Gift.
An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction. This narrative mode is one that can be developed by an author for a number of reasons, usually to deceive the reader or audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but third-person narrators can also be unreliable.
An example of a possible unreliable narrator is the narrator for the television series How I Met Your Mother, where the "Father" (Ted) has been known to lie to his "children" (his in-tale audience; the audience hears this narration as though they are the children) about events in the series, especially when the events seem to be revealing the eponymous "Mother".
Stream of consciousness
Stream of consciousness is a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her actions.
Past tense is a grammatical tense that places an action or situation in the past of the current moment (in an absolute tense system), or prior to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tense system)
Simple past is formed for regular verbs by adding -d or –ed to the root of a word. Examples: He walked to the store, or They danced all night. A negation is produced by adding did not and the verb in its infinitive form. Example: He did not walk to the store. Question sentences are started with did as in Did he walk to the store?
Past progressive is formed by using the adequate form of to be and the verb’s present participle: He was going to church. By inserting not before the main verb a negation is achieved. Example: He was not going to church. A question is formed by prefixing the adequate form of to be as in Was he going?
Present tense is a grammatical tense that locates a situation or event in present time. In English, the present may be used to express action in the present, a current state of being, an occurrence in the future, or an action that started in the past and continues.
In the present simple, English uses the verb without an ending (I get the lunch ready at one o'clock, usually) except that in the third person singular, (after he, she, it, your friend etc.) the suffix -s or -es is appended to the verb (It gets busy on the weekends. Sarah catches the early train.)
Emphatic present: The present tense can be expressed with emphasis by using the auxiliary verb do and the uninflected main verb, (I do walk. He does walk).
Present progressive or present continuous, which is used to describe events happening now, e.g. I am reading this wiki article, and I am thinking about editing it. This tense is formed by combining the present form of the verb "to be" with a present participle.
Present perfect, which in English is a present tense with retrospective aspect (I have visited Paris several times describes a present state of being based on past action; I have listened to you for five minutes now).
Present perfect progressive, which is used to describe events or actions that have begun at some point in the past and continue through the present, e.g. I have been reading this article for some time now.
Future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future (in an absolute tense system), or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tense system).
The most common auxiliary verbs used to express futurity are will and shall. Prescriptive grammarians distinguish between these, preferring to express the simple future as will in the second and third persons and shall in the first person, and preferring to express obligation or determination in the opposite cases. However, in modern English worldwide, shall and will are generally used interchangeably, with will being more common.
English also uses must, should, can, may and might in a similar way:
- Must expresses the highest degree of obligation and commitment (I / you must go) and is temporally nearest to present time in its expression of futurity ("I must go now.")
- Should (the subjunctive form of shall in this context) implies obligation or commitment to the action contemplated. (I should go.)
- Can implies the ability to commit the action but does not presuppose obligation or firm commitment to the action. (I can go.)
- May expresses a relatively low sense of commitment (I may go) and is the most permissive (You may go); it can also suggest conditionality (I may go [if I have time]).
- Might expresses a very low sense of commitment or obligation (I / you might go if I / you feel like it).
A synopsis is a brief summary of the major points of a written work, either as prose or as a table. It is generally an abridgment or condensation of a work. Almost all Wrimos (and writers in general) have their own methods for writing synopses; no one way is the best. If you are struggling with writing one, it is best to do a google search on 'how to write a novel synopsis' and develop your own method from those presented.
Muses serve as aids to an author. They are sometimes represented as the true speaker, for whom the author is merely a mouthpiece.
The fourth wall is the imaginary "wall" at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.
The presence of the fourth wall is an established convention of modern realistic theatre, which has led some artists to draw direct attention to it for dramatic or comedic effect when this boundary is "broken", for example by an actor onstage speaking to the audience directly. The acceptance of the transparency of the fourth wall is part of the suspension of disbelief between a fictional work and an audience, allowing them to enjoy the fiction as if they were observing real events.
A writing prompt is a short entry that generally contains a question to help you pick a topic to write about. An example would be: If you could travel to any place, real or fictional, from any time, what would it be and why? Writing prompts are often used in word wars and NaNoSprints.
Outlining and Pantsing
A novel outline is a story plan, written in the abbreviated form of a traditional outline with headings and subheadings. We're often taught how to outline a novel in school when we learn how to write book reports. To borrow a theme from Jennifer Crusie's latest novel, the easiest way to think of it is as a story to-do list.
An outline is valuable in a couple of ways: it creates a map of your novel, so you know where you're going when you write. Depending on how detailed the outline is, it can also be the foundation or first draft of your synopsis. An outline need not be lengthy or contain all the details of your story. It can be as simple as Peter De Vries suggested: a beginning, a muddle, and an end.
One of the most well-known ways of outlining a novel is Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, which suggests that the aspiring author begins with a 'one sentence summary' and expands their outline from there.
Pantsing is a term coined in the NaNo forums for those who write 'by the seat of their pants'. This means they write their novels without any kind of outline, or with only the most basic idea of a plot or characters. It is also known as writing organically, allowing the plot to grow on its own.