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Basic writing terms

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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 is a navigation article; the links herein will take you to pages that deal with issues such as character, plot, setting and so on more comprehensively.


Characters are the people who live in your novel or screenplay, from your main character (often abbreviated MC) to his second cousin once removed who only appears in one sentence. Though they may in some cases be based on real people, characters are fictional and, despite the feeling that many Wrimos share with Anne Lamott, do not have free will. That said, they certainly tend to act as if they do.


The plot refers to a series of events that take place in a novel, usually adhering to some kind of structure. Along with unruly characters, disorganized, confusing, crazy, boring, surprising, illogical, incomprehensible plots remain one of the chief frustrations for Wrimos during NaNoWriMo.

Dramatic structure

See Dramatic structure.

Plot techniques


The setting of a novel or script refers to where any event takes place. A novel or script can have one setting, or many; the settings can be as small as a single room, or as large as an entire universe (or multiverse). Settings can be realistic, fantastic, or something in between.


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 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


Form refers to the medium in which a story is communicated. A story can be communicated orally (through speech), and also in written form. It is the written forms of communication which are described here.


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.


Narration, also called 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.


Tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, that indicates when the situation takes place. In languages which have tense (such as English), it is usually indicated by a verb or modal, often combined with categories such as aspect, mood, and voice.


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'[1] 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.

Fourth wall

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 NaNoWordSprints.

Outlining, Pantsing and Planning


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[2], which suggests that the aspiring author begins with a 'one sentence summary' and expands their outline from there.


Main article: Pantsing

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.[3]


Main article: Planning

Planning is the opposite of pantsing. A planner will plan out at least a basic idea of their novel. Some planners will plan out every detail and aspect while some will only use a loose plan.


Main article: Plantser

A plantser is a writer who swings in between pantsing and plotting, planning some concepts and leaving others to develop themselves.