My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Creative Writing Terms F-J

Creative Writing Terms A-E


Fairy Tale- A type of story that exists solely to discredit continued funding to humanities.  While most people content themselves with the delightful observation that they behave almost exactly like urban legends from a time before gangs, babysitters, and casual sex, and then return to whatever they were doing, among the PhD's cloistered within their Ivory Towers a never-ending battle rages over the semantics of what is meant by the label Fairy Tale, what stories should or shouldn't count as Fairy Tales, and whether they are best interpreted morality or historically.  Somehow, the only thing they agree on is that these stories do not all actually involve Fairies.  And they wonder why the guys curing cancer two buildings over got the bigger grant...

Feminism-  Something you should learn about.  Full stop.  Not "if you're a guy."  Not "if you don't want to be held up as an example of what not to do in a panel on 'sexism within sci-fi' at the next Comicon."  Not "so you can portray a feminist in your next story."  And certainly not "even though you hate those language police femanazis."  You should just learn about it.  Period.  Because you're a member of the human race, and it's important.

There are assumptions you make because your culture tells you everyday without ever really saying so that they are true.  Assumptions like the fact that putting human breast milk on cereal is positively disgusting (and maybe just made you throw up in your mouth a little), but breast milk from a fricking BOVINE is totally a much more reasonable thing to put in your mouth.  Some of these assumptions (just as unvoiced and just as unquestioned as the milk thing) have to do with women and men and their roles in the world.  Most people don't question these assumptions.  Writers should question all assumptions.

As a writer you should know even more than a bumper sticker definition or a handful of stereotypes.  You should know why language is so important to modern feminism, and what they're fighting for and against when they bring up words that cause people to insta-rage like "patriarchy."  You should learn the difference between third wave feminism and post feminism.  You should know how differently certain brands of feminism look so you don't paint them all with one brush.  You should know why very outspoken feminists have vastly different opinions on things like pornography or prostitution.  You should know what pitfalls lots of mainstream writers fall into with their portrayals of women.  You should know what the Bechdel Test is and how to pass it (without some absurd shoehorn, that is).  And yes, you should learn why some people hate that word and why two people with nearly identical pragmatic views can disagree (quite vehemently) on being labeled "feminist," and why people who pop off with "Feminism just means you believe in equality," get themselves into so many arguments.

But mostly you shouldn't know it so you can be a better writer.  You should know it so you can be a better person, and the writing part will flow naturally from THAT.

Figurative Language-  Language that is not literal in meaning.  This includes similes, metaphors, extended metaphors, allegories, parables, analogies, personification, and hyperbole.  The line of exactly where figurative begins and ends is not entirely clear as some might include idioms, figures of speech, allusions, paradoxes, and certain kinds of symbolism, irony, sarcasm, or particularly pointed examples of subtext (like when the characters talk about "sandwiches" in How I Met Your Mother) as well as linguistically meaningless words like onomatopoeia. Essentially this is any language where the meaning might deviate from the direct definition.

This leads to the fascinating phenomena of pedants and prescriptivists flying into near-psychotic rages when the word "literally" is used before hyperbole.  As in this example: "Those pedants literally crawl out of their skin when I deliberately fuck with them."

English is an extremely figurative language and culture.  We constantly illustrate meaning by comparison, and some of our most praised writers are masters of delightful metaphors.  We also have MANY verbs that transcend their "original literal" meaning and come to mean something new.  For example, we "dig" for the truth so often that now one of the meanings of "dig" is careful research.  It's basically what happens when people ignore the warnings and just keep using that cliche.

Flash Fiction-  Really short fiction. Some consider 300 words the limit, others go higher, but no one really considers anything over 1000 words to be flash fiction.  Also called microfiction, short-short, and sudden fiction among a few others.  It is characterized by having all the elements of a standard plot arc within a very short space.  Also, what many starting writers insist they have written when they hand you a vignette with no discernible conflict, plot, or resolution.

Focalizer- A really hoity toity way of saying "the person who the story is following at the time."  Since point of view can jump out of the "main character" and into other characters, or even pop into a minor character's head to have a spot of tea and get them killed by doberman clown bipeds or something, this word encompasses the current character that has the primary consciousness.  Drop this word the next time the people in the line at Starbucks start discussing the way a book really tackled the evils of capitalism.  TRUST ME!


Gay Fiction- Fiction with major themes, plots, or characters that deal with homosexual characters.  Sometimes this label is used for any LGBT themed fiction.  This is not gay erotica--it's just that the folks who classify the sections at the book store aren't quite ready yet to identify certain identity issues as universal human struggles, so it is considered to be "directed at gay people."  Despite the many times it has been labeled as such the Twilight Saga is not actually "gay fiction," so don't confuse this term when it is used by people who think calling something gay is a terribly clever insult that shouldn't be hurtful in the slightest  to the people synonymous with an insult because they "didn't mean it that way."  Just find a feature of their self identity and label Bridges of Madison County as X kind of literature.  Example: "Bridges of Madison County is so Het." or "Bridges of Madison County is so White Male." Tell them you didn't mean it that way if confronted.  Depending on how open minded your friends are, they might even figure it out.

Genre- French for "types" or "classes."  At one time it had a single meaning within literature, breaking down fiction, drama, and poetry.  Around 1950, pople got really interested in labels, value judgements, and whose artistic preferences made them better human beings compared to their neighbors (since owning a car was no longer a way to tell), and the word started to refer to certain kinds of story telling conventions as genre.  It started with archetypal story modes (comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire) but went on to form the bedrock of the idea of genre fiction--a label applied to specific themes, archetypes, character types, plot lines, settings, and even writing conventions that can be used to classify specific types of literature.

In the music department, they got over the whole "rock-and-roll-isn't-real-music" thing and instead turned to a conversation about quality.  But it's only been 70 years.  Give the English department time.  These guys still have candlelight vigils that end in drunken brawls and puke-drowned corpses in the city's gutters over the fact that they eventually lost the preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence war.

Today the word "genre" rarely means poetry/fiction/drama unless you're signing up for a class at uni. Generally they refer to the different types of conventions in storytelling that form a sort of contract with the reader--Science Fiction, Romance, Western, Horror.  In many ways they function similarly to grammar--providing a structure in which to derive meaning and with rules of various importance that can sometimes be broken for effect.  The conventions which have emerged as most agreeable to academia and the literary world are those of literary fiction (hence its name).  And this genre is touted as being "real" literature or "serious" literature.  In fact, much like Americans don't think they have an accent or natives who aren't really able to identify their culture, some might think literary fiction is misclassified as a genre of its own and instead refers to "anything without genre."  This is demonstrably untrue in both form and content.

Golden Age- Everything was always better back in the old days.  People really miss wiping their asses with leaves, eating the same thing every day, and dying at forty.  Literature is no exception, and almost every art and genre of art has a "golden age" when it was really awesome and so much better than it is today.  The Golden Age of detective fiction, the Golden Age of science fiction, the Golden Age of...well, you get the idea.   There's even golden ages of comic books, Hollywood, Loony Tunes, and porn.  I wouldn't get too hung up on the idea that you've missed out on the best stuff.  Except maybe the porn.  Your in SOME thing's golden age right this second, and I bet you don't feel any different or glow or catch bullets with your teeth or anything.  So unless you're like me and you're deliberately trying to engineer the golden age of threesomes, you should probably just chillax.

Gothic- The word gothic means very different things depending on if you're talking about pop-culture, literature, or folks who kicked Rome's ass, so be careful.   The term Gothic broadened its umbrella of meaning first through architecture--it came to mean any Germanic architecture and then any medieval architecture using those pointy arches and flying buttresses (which are most useful for making 12 year olds giggle).  Many of the formative writings that took place in these type of buildings took on the label of Gothic literature or Gothic Romance--the later because they were almost the direct descendants of Romantic literature.  What differentiated these Gothic stories from the Romance before was their mood.  Secret doors, decaying castles, deep dungeons, and a lustful villain trying to make it with an innocent heroine characterize.  These lustful villains are the progenitors of today's "nice guys" often seeing their efforts as a sort of "courtship"--kind of like like if Petruchio had had a dungeon and wolves.   Phantom of the Opera is a quintessential novel of this type.  In many cases the Gothic was the bridge between the romantic and modern rationalism as supernatural elements turned out to have natural explanations much like all the Phantom's tricks were explained (in the Leroux novel).  While we could perhaps make an interesting case that Romantic fiction became the Detective Fiction genre as it transitioned through the Gothic literature, that's probably a bit much for a glossary.

In modern culture, besides people in black lipstick and fishnet sleeves who are starting to lean towards the shortened version of "goth," the term has come to indicate more of a stylistic atmosphere in a work.  Victorian clothing, dark themes, personal horror, corruption, disturbed psychological explorations, and macabre events are all common elements of the gothic.  Very often the themes of suppressed heroine appear again and again, and it is no coincidence that many of the best gothic authors have been women in very male-dominated cultures.

Though the combination of meanings could make for a good show: She's a rational-thinking German with high arches and a moth eaten wedding dress.  He's nice guy who wears black lipstick, fishnet sleeves, and listens to Covenant and Skinny Puppy.  THEY FIGHT CRIME!!!

Grammar- The structural rules that govern the construction of clauses, phrases, and even words in a given language that include morphology and syntax (and phonology with spoken language).  Outside of linguistics this term tends to include semantics as well (with an absolutely charming proclivity to utterly ignore pragmatics, I might add).  But if you aren't familiar with linguistics, you can use the word the way most people do:

THE RULES!  Punctuation, spelling, parts of speech, clauses, phrases, tenses, when to use whom even if it makes you sound like a prat.  That kind of crap.  While language is almost identical to culture, and people learn it unconsciously from those around them and know the rules intuitively, there are also several parallel efforts to codify single sets of rules as correct.  (In much the same way that there is an effort to codify a single culture as correct.)  This is why grammar is sometimes used in its linguistic meaning and sometimes  referred to as something called "high school grammar."  There is an eternal struggle between those who are descriptive and prescriptive about grammar that I've written about at length.

Grok- Heinlein coined this phrase, so his sinister agents still scour the far corners earth waiting to be enraged on his behalf by heathens who dare to use the word "wrong," but I live life on the dangerous side.  (Except for milk past the expiration date--I don't fuck around with that shit.)  I use it as it tends to come up more in internet forums to be REALLY *GETTING* something.  This is best understood by imagining someone who is really, really stoned saying it: "No man.  It's not just getting something.  It's like, really really GETTING it, man.  Like...in your soul, man."

When I use this word--and believe me, each day I do several exercises in front of a mirror intended to expunge it from my personal lexicon--I tend to mean a level of comprehension that includes empathy.  Not intellectually understanding something or familiarizing yourself with something so that you can beat it in an argument, but really understanding it at a level of compassion that most people will never achieve.  Most of us never really leave our own shoes when we're "walking a mile in someone else's."  We can't deal with the paradox of existing in another paradigm, so we evaluate it through the lens of our own.  Writers really have to get over that.  If we can't portray people with whom we disagree emphatically in all their humanity, we should hang up our pens.  When I use Grok, I mean letting go of one's own paradigm to exist in another, and having that compassion.


Haiku- A poem with three lines.  Five syllables--then seven more.  Line three has five more.

Historical Fiction- Fiction that takes place in the past--usually within an identifiable era (like World War 2 or The Depression).  This is different than fiction that takes place in past tense as it generally involves recognizable historic events.

A writer must be extremely careful about historical fiction because the relationship between historical settings and "genre" are definite, but ill defined.  And as you know, genre is not "real" literature, so by picking the wrong time period, as writer may categorically deny themselves the possibility of writing real literature.  Certain time periods are absolutely genre--like anything west of the Mississippi in the 19th century, but others are acceptable like Victorian England.  Similarly, using historical figures may get a work labeled genre, but it depends greatly on how important the figure is, and what interaction they have with the main character.  There is a huge grey area between claiming that Willard Fillmore nodded in your direction at a polo tournament once and that Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires with his axeguncane before he was elected president.

Use history in your writing at your own risk.  You walk a fine line between real writing and that fake genre stuff.

Humor- Apparently the most difficult concept in all of humanity to master.  Often confused with "being offensive and calling it edgy."  Surprise, the inevitable, truth, falsehood, exaggeration, understatement make for humor...even though they are opposites of each other.  Slapstick, parody, satire, irony, sarcasm, farce, puns, wordplay, misunderstandings, double entendres, and more make for humor.   Even stereotypes make for humor as all my Moleskine journal jokes attest to.  And there's even just using profanity in weirdly inappropriate contexts can be hilarious.

Humor in writing can be even more difficult to pull off as many context clues that would key someone into a jovial intention in face-to-face interactions are absent.

Hyperbole- Grotesquely exaggerated statements whose language is intended to make a point.  Like saying someone is as big as a house or that you could eat an entire cow.  Anything ever said on the internet about politics is hyperbole, and 90% of all things said on the internet about ANYTHING are hyperbole. in fact, if you can't write as if using two spaces after a period is a crime against humanity, you really need to stop being on the internet right away.

Use hyperbole after the word "literally" if you really want to see some English teachers pop their corks.


Imagination- Shit you need, yo.  This is one of those parts of creative writing that is very, very hard to teach.  You can master written English. You can learn craft.  You can do exercises to tap into creativity.  But it's almost impossible to teach someone to develop the part of their brain that thinks: "I wonder what would happen if baby dragon zombies attacked inner city Okland and got into a turf war with the local gang..."  Imagination is more of a mode of thought that most people are taught to suppress for most of their lives.    It goes beyond creativity and into realms of pure speculation.  The good news is, it can be improved just by taking it out and playing with it as often as possible (which isn't as dirty as it sounds).  It may be hard to teach, but it is relatively easy to cultivate.

Image-  In writing (and literary analysis) an image is more than just a mental picture.  It is a sensory detail from any of the five senses.  Concrete imagery is an extremely important aspect of good craft.  If you can, get people to spell this word out loud, and then say "lightbulb" as enthusiastically as they can. It's a great trick at parties!

Inciting Incidents-  Sometimes called "trigger events" or even "plot bombs" by those who give fewer fucks--flying or otherwise--about "proper" terminology.  Pixar has just about the best bit of advice regarding these: they should only be used to get characters into trouble--never to get them out of it.  (The latter is called Deus Ex Machina, and is a big writerly no no.)  Good writing has very few inciting incidents and mostly involves character's reactions to the incidents.  Frequently in short stories and often in novels, the inciting incident occurs prior to the action of the story itself.

Invective- An insult.  A highly critical use of language.  It is absolutely intended to be hurtful.  90% of any comments section on the internet.  The way I talk about Harold Bloom.

Irony- A commonly misunderstood aspect of literature and writing since it has multiple meanings that are very different from each other and it doesn't actually just mean any T-shirt that someone finds funny, and it sure as holy flaming ostrich shit isn't "a black fly in your Chardonnay."

Verbal Irony- When the intended meaning is opposite of the literal meaning.  Like when I told you that your My Little Pony tie was "hella" appropriate for the interview you were about to have for senior editor of Maxim magazine, and that I was sure that your resume being in Comic Sans was going to win you points.  This irony is nestled between the lands of satire and sarcasm, and though it shares a thick  ribbon of contested border with each, it needn't be either.

Situational Irony- When an intended result is the opposite of the actual result.  So like, every Wiley Coyote cartoon ever.  Writers who think they are going to make money writing creatively, are often in for some bitter irony.  You see this a lot in speculative fiction with prophecies or predictions where it's the actions of the protagonist that end up causing the event they showed up to try to prevent.  Some h8ers don't consider this irony.  H8ers gonna h8.

Tragic Irony- This is a varient of situational irony in which the tragedy of the situation is well known.  Greek plays often have no complication or ambiguity of outcome.  They are a 90 minute train wreck towards an inevitable conclusion.  So if any truly asshole characters in any Sophocles play (ever) says "we can deal with this tomorrow," it's tragic irony because they'll be extra dead with dead sauce by then.  Watching Achilles say "Nah, that's good.  What could possibly hit me on that one little spot?" would be another example.

Dramatic Irony- The disparity of a character reaction when they do not have information which the audience does.  Like if the audience knows that the eyeball thief is hiding in the shadows next to someone and they say "See you tomorrow!" that is totally dramatic irony--in addition to being a death squad worthy pun.  Pretty much everything Shakespeare ever wrote relied heavily on dramatic irony.

Cosmic Irony- The difference between what a person wants and what the universe will provide.  Summed up succinctly by the philosopher McJagger when he said "You can't always get what you want."  It is also the difference between an expected outcome and the real outcome, though often this is simply improbable or unfortunate and not so much ironic.  This is the most bitterly disputed of all the ironies, and the question of it even being irony is debated with human-like fervor for labels.  Which is...well, somewhat ironic.  And that is also ironic.

Ivory Tower- Where intellectuals go to pat each other on the backs when they become so fantastically educated that no one who actually lives in the world can even understand what the fuck they're saying anymore.  While education is awesome to the point of absurdity, it must be tempered with pragmatism to be of any use to anyone who doesn't just want to hop into the academic circle jerk and become a professor who wears fuzzy sweaters and thinks everything is "terribly interesting."  The cloistered echoes of increasingly esoteric ideas that through the halls of the ivory tower can be--to use their verbiage--"problematic."  In creative writing MFA (and now PhD) writing programs this effect is magnified, as an increasing scrutiny is given to absolutely inaccessible authors, accessible authors are increasingly disdained, and the entire set up of the MFA program resembles a pyramid scheme.  (And even if it isn't, just the fact that such a comparison can be drawn is....."problematic.") One author after another that lit snobs and critics hated in their day gets canonized and the ivory tower just scratches its head and wonders why the writers the plebs find delightful keep being canonized.  This despite the Ivory Tower's incredibly well supported theses for what people ought to (and ought not to) enjoy is something they find very..."problematic."


Jargon- Words that are potentially confusing to most people either because they are highly specific to a field (like medical or police jargon) or because they are words with common meanings used differently in certain fields.  A biologist, a psychologist, and an engineer all use the word "stress" very differently, for example.  Go onto a video game developer's web page and tell them that Portal is a great game but doesn't have a very good "plot or story" if you'd like to have a demonstration of this.  Just wear your fire retardant gear.

Jeremiad- So Jeremiah (the prophet, not the unfriendly bullfrog) pretty much blamed everything that was going wrong with Israel on the fact that they though "covenant" meant "mostly optional."  As a literary term it refers to any use of high, flowery, bombastic language to blame the current woes of a society on it's morality.  Basically what every evangelical does when they blame hurricanes and mass shootings on the fact that people who love each other deign to want to get married.

Juvenile- Another term for Young Adult (or YA) literature.  Also how you characterize another person's online argument when it conforms to two criteria: 1) it contains a logical fallacy and 2) you disagree with it.  (If you agree with it you say "So true!" and if it is logically sound you make fun of the person's grammar.)

Juxtaposition- Literally this means the placement of two unalike things near each other which is why it can be used in math.  In writing it can mean the simple closeness of unlike ideas like the phrase ""Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Martin Luther King Jr.  In literature it is a term that is primarily overused by undergrads who don't know what to talk about when they're doing critical analysis, but it is occasionally used correctly to point out how two elements work in tandem in a way that they would not alone.  For example, having a megachurch next door to an adult theater in the setting will immediately give readers a sense of the neighborhood.  The contrast itself brings out something new.  (Like sweet and sour chicken or hot and spicy soup or...I might be hungry.)  God might seem good, and Satan might seem bad, but when Milton has them hanging out together inParadise Lost, you REALLY get a sense of each.

More coming soon...