Writerly Jargon

Writers are weird. I'll be the first to admit it. Because I'm a writer, I've annoyed countless family members, friends and the occasional random stranger with my ideas or novels. Because I'm a writer, I've stuck up plot ideas, character sketches and Great Expectations and Winnie-the-Pooh quotes up on my wall. (It's called my Wall of Utter Procrastination. Mostly just because I can.) Because I'm a writer, I enjoy talking about stuff that seems utterly boring to most people like dark moments, character arcs and how much fun it was to kill off that last character. (I promise I'm not a psychopath. Promise.)

Arguably one of the weirdest things that writers do is use writerly jargon, which can be very confusing. So, once being a new writer myself, I've put together a dictionary for all you new writers out there, or those of you who suffer because of a writer in your life and you have no clue what they're talking about. As a bonus, the non-writing readers of this blog will now understand what I'm talking about. Enjoy. 

Antagonist - the bad guy of the novel. Sauron, Darth Vader, Voldemort. 
Anti-hero - a person who's doing the right thing for the wrong reason. For example, Sherlock doesn't solve crimes to help people, he's in it for the thrill. 
Anti-villain - a person doing the wrong thing for the right reason. For example, in Casino Royale (spoilers) the Bond Girl betrays Bond to save her boyfriend. 
Backstory - stuff that happened to the character to make them who they are today. Example - Batman's parents were killed when he was young, so now he fights crime because of that (and because he's awesome (but not quite as awesome as Spider-Man)).
Character arc - this is the thing that the character learns during the story. For example, Artemis Fowl learns that being the good guy is actually a good thing. Other examples include putting others before yourself, being brave, learning to keep your friends, etc. 
Cliché - a stereotype. Not a good thing. 

Landscape pictures are cliché. (But hey, I still like them.)

Climax - the part in the movie when the good guy beats up the bad guy and generally gets the girl. There's usually a lot of explosions and shooting and epicness. 
Deus ex Machina - when something other than the characters solve the problem of the novel. In ancient Greece (where the term originated) it was when they lowered a "god" onto the stage to fix everything. Generally a very bad thing. 
Macro-edits - editing big stuff like character arcs and plot holes. 
MC - short for main character. This is usually the protagonist, unless the author is being tricky and having the main character be the villain, which in that case he/she is still kind of the protagonist. It gets confusing. 
MG - Middle grade. Books for kids in grade 5-7ish. 
Micro-edits/ line editing - editing sentences, like getting rid of passive tense. 
NaNoWriMo - National November Writing Month. This is when (totally insane) writers try to write a novel (the official goal is 50,000 words, but some people change it according to their needs) in the month of November. Yep, it's as crazy as it sounds. 
Passive voice - if you can add "by zombies" after the verb and have it work, then it's passive. For example, if the sentence is "the door was opened," you can say "the door was opened by zombies" and it makes sense, so it's passive. Passive = bad writing. 
Protagonist - the good guy of the novel. Some people shorten it to "protag". Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter. 

Because Harry Potter is awesome, and so is this poster. Source

Sub-plots - stuff that's happening in the novel besides the actual plot. For example, the Han Solo/Leia or Ron/Hermione relationship are sub-plots to destroying the Empire or taking down Voldemort. 
Theme - the (usually moral) message of the story. Love conquers all. Good always prevails. With great power comes great responsibility. 
Voice - the thing that makes your character sound like your character, and the thing that makes the author sound like the author. For example, I would say "and the door exploded in an epic fashion, shooting a million fiery pieces of splinters across the room, instantly killing everyone in sight" while someone slightly less enthusiastic about explosions would say "and the door exploded, killing everyone." 
WIP - Work in Progress. This is the novel that the writer is currently writing. 
World-building - this is basically making stuff up and creating a fictional world. You get this a lot in dystopian, fantasy and science fiction. 
YA - Young adult. Books for teenagers, but a lot of adults read them too. 

And there you have it! If the writer in your life is talking about something beyond these basics, then I can safely assure you that you've gone beyond your part as a caring friend/family member/whatever and most likely need to learn no more. And, if you're a new writer, then if you've got all this then you've got about 90% of everything you need to know down.


  1. Great post! Sometimes I get talking about a book or t.v. show or something, using these words and the other person is so confused. It's just so natural for me to talk that way.

    I've never heard the term anti-villain, but I like it! I'm going to have to use it more often:)

    1. Yeah, I use all these words around my family and I leave them scratching their heads :)

      Anti-heros and anti-villains are two of my favourite kinds of characters. The ones who are gray over black and white are so much more fun to write.


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