Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glossary of Writing Terms

Handy list of writing terms.




About the Author: A couple of paragraphs to one page describing relevant information about the author. Used for books, book proposals, articles and web sites. Written in the 3rd person.

Acrostic: A saying or sentence where the first letter of each word in the saying will help you remember how to spell a word, or the order of things. (i.e., Never Eat Sour Wieners = north, east, south, west)

Adjective: A word that modifies a noun or pronoun by describing, refining, or qualifying it. (i.e., the red flower or the large boat)

Advance: (1) Money given to an author before the book is published. Usually calculated on estimated book sales. (2) When a magazine publisher pays for an article before the article is published instead of paying on publication.

Adverb: A word that modifies a verb by describing, refining, or qualifying it. (i.e., he walked silently)

Agent: A professional representative who markets creative works to publishing houses. Reputable agents charge a commission (a fee collected only when they sell the creative work) rather than charging up front representation fees.

All Rights: The publication owns the rights to the work in all media types and worldwide.

Allegory: A narrative technique in which characters represent things or abstract concepts in order to convey a message or teach a lesson. Usually used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons but sometimes used for satiric or political purposes.

Alliteration: A series of words in a sentence all beginning with the same sound.

Analogy: A comparison showing like parts of two unlike things, used to explain or illustrate a concept.

Anaphora: Several consecutive sentences starting with the same group of words. (i.e., “I will not fail. I will not give up. I will prevail.”)

Antagonist: In fiction, the main character who comes into conflict with the protagonist (hero or heroine). The antagonist could, in some stories, be a thing or situation (a monster, a storm, a flood, etc.).

Anthology: A collection of short stories written by various authors, compiled in one publication.

Antonyms: Opposites (stop vs. go; bad vs. good)

Assignment: An article the editor or publisher has commissioned a writer to create.

Attachments: (1) Files that are attached to an email message. (2) Additional items such as photos, charts or tables attached to a manuscript. Usually for a nonfiction book.

Autobiography: When someone writes their own life story. Different from a biography, when an author writes someone else’s life story.


Backlist: List of books published before the current publishing year, but still in print.

Bibliography: A list of people, books, magazines, web sites and other resources that you consulted in the process of writing a book, article, or paper.

Bimonthly: Every two months.

Bio, Bionote: A very short description of the writer in the 3rd person; usually accompanies articles.

Biography: A life story of someone other than the writer.

Biweekly: Every two weeks.

Blank Verse: Poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

Body of Paragraph: The supporting or detail sentences that help explain or support the topic sentence.

Boilerplate: A standard publishing contract, with no changes or addenda made by the writer or agent. The boilerplate should be considered a starting point only; usually changes will be made.

Book Review: A summary of a book usually including a critique of the work.

Brainstorming: Collecting lots of ideas on a subject.

Business Letter: A formal letter written to someone to give or get information, or to discuss a problem.

Byline: Author’s name appearing with his or her published work.


Caption: A brief summary or description of a picture, graph, table or diagram.

Category fiction: General term used to denote commercial fiction that falls into genre categories, such as science fiction, mystery, romance, and others.

Cliché: An expression that has been overused.

Climax: The moment of greatest intensity in a work of fiction.

Clip(s): Published samples of writing that an author can submit with queries. Sometimes called “tearsheets.”

Closing Sentence: The summary or conclusion sentence at the end of a paragraph.

Column Inch: A measurement of text in a newspaper or magazine that is one column wide and an inch long.

Copyediting: Checking for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and word usage.

Copyright: The ownership by an author of his or her works.

Cover Letter: A letter to introduce a short story, completed article, novel, nonfiction book manuscript, or a resume. Preferably no more than one page. When used to pitch a creative work to an editor or publisher, also called a query letter.

Creative Nonfiction: Nonfiction in the first person (using “I” as the narrator).

Credits: A list of publications by an author.

CV: Curriculum vitae - a short, one page resume.

Compound Sentence: Two or more sentences put together using the words “and,” “but,” or “or.”

Consonants: All the letters in the alphabet, except for a,e,i,o, and u.

Consonant Blend: When two or more consonants are combined together, at the beginning of a word: “br” or “pr” or “fl.”


Dead Metaphor: A metaphor that has lost its original intensity through overuse.

Deadline: When an assignment must be turned in.

Descriptive Paragraph: A paragraph that describes a person, a place, a feeling or an idea.

Dialogue: When the characters in a story are speaking to one another, usually denoted by quotation marks.

Double Entendre: A phrase that can be interpreted in two different ways; one meaning is “innocent,” the other is usually sexual.

Dummy: Hand drawn mock-up of what the page will look like in print.


Edit: To review a piece of writing, in order to mark and correct grammatical, spelling, and other types of errors. The editing process also often includes critiquing the content of a piece in addition to mechanics of language usage. Scribendi offers editing services here.

Editing: The process of reviewing a piece of writing and making corrections. See also Edit.

Editor: A skilled professional commissioned to check a work for grammar, spelling and, typographical errors as well as issues with the content. Scribendi offers editing services here.

Editorial: An article, typically short, expressing an opinion or point of view. Often, but by no means always, written by a member of the publication’s staff.

Electronic Submission: A manuscript submitted by electronic means -- that is, by email or on electronic media such as computer disks.

Embargo: In journalism, a prohibition against publishing information released to reporters until a specific date. Announcements of scientific breakthroughs or discoveries are quite often embargoed until a specific date to ensure that all news outlets release the story on the same day.

Essay: A group of paragraphs presenting facts and analysis about one main idea.

Expository Paragraph: A paragraph that gives information on a topic, or steps explaining how to do something.

Euphemism: A phrase used in place of something disagreeable or upsetting (“passed on” instead of “died”).

E-zine: A magazine published online or via email.


Fair Use: Reproduction of short excerpts from a copyrighted work, usually for educational or review purposes.

Fantasy: A story that contains some elements or events that could not happen in the real world, like magic, or fantastic monsters etc.

Fees: The amount of money paid to authors for their writing. Different types of writing projects may require different kinds of fees. Some writers charge by the word or by the hour; some negotiate a single flat fee. For magazine writing, most writers get paid by the word.

First Electronic Rights: The right to publish a piece of writing electronically for the first time. Once First Electronic Rights have been assigned for a given piece of writing, this work cannot be published in another electronic medium. However the author can still sell reprint rights to the piece.

First North American Rights: The rights in Canada, United States and Mexico in the medium the writing was published in. The author can publish the piece elsewhere in the world, and may also be able to sell reprint rights.

First Print Rights: The rights anywhere in the world to a piece of writing in print.

Flash Fiction: A piece of fiction 500 words or less.

Follow-up: A polite letter inquiring about the status of an earlier query or manuscript submission.

Formatting: The manner in which a manuscript is prepared and presented.


Galleys: The initial typeset form of a manuscript, sent to an author for review before it is printed or sold commercially. This is what the reviewer reads as well.

Genre: Describes a category of fiction like romance, mystery or science fiction.

Ghostwriter: A writer who is paid to write an article or book for someone, but who usually does not receive a byline or credit for the work. A celebrity might hire a ghostwriter and then sell the book under their own name.

Go-ahead: A positive response to a query letter that assigns an article to you.

Grammar: Rules of a language.

Graphic Organizer: A way to visually organize thoughts before starting to write. Examples include charts, diagrams, and time lines.

Guidelines: The instructions for submitting work to a publication for consideration.


Haiku: A three-line, seventeen syllable poem.

Historical Fiction: Fiction set in the past, can be of any genre.

Hook: A narrative trick in the lead paragraph or first page of a work that grabs a reader’s attention and keeps them reading.

Homographs: Words that are spelled alike but pronounced differently and/or have different meanings.

Homonyms: Words that are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings (for example, baby; an infant, and baby; to coddle)

How-To: An article that gives step-by-step information or directions on how to make or do something.

Hyperbole: Deliberate exaggeration; short form is “hype.”


Imprint: A division within a publishing house that deals with a specific category of books.

Interview: To ask a person or a group of people a series of questions about their lives and experiences.

Invoice: A record of payment due, given to an accounting department.

IRC: International Reply Coupons. Used in place of stamps on the SASE included with a query or manuscript sent to a foreign country.


Journal: A diary or record of events, feelings and thoughts, usually recorded by date. Some writing guides recommend keeping a journal to develop the habit of writing every day.


Kicker: A sudden, surprising turn of events or ending; a twist

Kill Fee: Payment given to an author if a magazine cannot or will not use an article assigned to the author.


Lead: The first paragraph of a manuscript. In a story or article, the lead includes the “hook” intended to engage the reader’s attention.

Lead Time: The time between the receipt of a query or article and the publication date of the article. Vital for seasonal articles and stories.

Logline: One sentence description of a screenplay or TV script.


Manuscript: author’s copy of a novel, non-fiction book, screenplay or article.

Markets: A listing of publications or publishing houses that buy manuscripts.

Market Research: Information assembled for nonfiction books to show a publisher that there is a need for the proposed book.

Meter: In poetry, the rhythm or pattern of syllables.

Metaphor: Language that indicates a similarity between two different things without the use of the words “like” or “as,” for example, “the moon was a ghostly galleon.” Compare with simile.

Mixed Metaphor: Getting two common metaphors mixed up to form a new, but not necessarily correct, metaphor.

Moral: The lesson in a story.

Myth: A story that attempts to explain events in nature by referring to supernatural causes, i.e., deities and gods, or spirits.


Narrative Paragraph: A paragraph that tells a story.

Narrator: The person or character that tells and explains a story.

Newspaper Byline: The name of the person who wrote the newspaper story.

Novel: A work of fiction usually consisting of 45,000 words or more.

Novella: A work of fiction usually consisting of between 7,500 and 40,000 words.

Nut Graf: In journalism, the paragraph that contains the point of the story


Observation: Language that describes the physical characteristics or behavior of a person, place, thing or event--what something looks, sounds, smells, tastes and/or feels like.

On Acceptance: The author receives payment only after the editor accepts the finished nonfiction article.

On Publication: The author receives payment when the piece is published.

On Spec: A writer submits a piece speculatively; the editor is not obligated to publish the piece.

Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like, imitate or evoke their meaning, i.e., hiss or slither.

Outline: A point form or list of short sentences that describe the action or major ideas in a written work.

Overview: A one- or two-page description of a novel or nonfiction book intended to introduce the work to a publisher.

Over-the-transom: Unsolicited materials submitted to editors, alluding to the idea of tossing something through the small opening window above a door, known as a transom window.

Oxymoron: A phrase composed of two words with contradictory meanings. Often used to make a joke, i.e., the phrase “military intelligence.”


PB: An abbreviation for “picture book.”

POD: Abbreviation for print-on-demand, the printing of a book or books only after a copy has been sold, rather than in large print runs. More cost efficient for publishers, although currently POD is mainly for self-publishing.

Palindrome: A word or phrase that means the same thing when read in either direction, like “mom,” or “Ma handed Edna ham.”

Paragraph: A group of sentences that discuss one main subject. There are four basic types of paragraphs: 1) descriptive, 2) narrative, 3) persuasive, and 4) expository.

Payment: What an editor agrees to pay an author for their work. Print publications use two major types of payment: “on acceptance,” where the author receives payment as soon as the work is accepted for publication; and “on publication,” where the author receives payment only after the work sees print.

Personal Essay/Narrative: An essay written in the first person, usually about the author’s life.

Personification: Attributing human characteristics to something that isn’t human.

Persuasive Paragraph: A paragraph that states an opinion and tries to convince the reader to take the same opinion.

Pica: Printer’s measure of type, equal to 12 points, used to measure columns and photos.

Plagiarism: Presenting another author’s works, words, or ideas as one’s own.

Play: A story told mostly through dialogue between characters.

Plot: The main events of a story.

Poem: A group of words written in a pattern.

Point of View (POV): The perspective from which a story is told. Can be first person (I) or second person (you) or a third person (he, she or they).

Prefix: An auxiliary syllable that attaches to the beginning of a root word to change the meaning of the word. For example, “pre” (before) attached to “marital” (relating to marriage) becomes “premarital” meaning “before marriage.”

Proofreading: Close reading of the work to look for and correct mistakes in language use. Scribendi offers proofreading services here.

Proposal: A summary of a proposed book - usually nonfiction - used to sell the book to a publisher or editor.

Public domain: Any material that can be freely used by the public, and does not come under the protection of a copyright, trademark, or patent.


Query: (1) A one-page letter to an editor pitching a non-fiction article. (2) A letter to a director pitching a screenplay. (3) A letter to an editor or a publisher for a novel; usually accompanied by a synopsis and sample chapters.


Record of submission: : A formalized record of where and when an author has sent article or manuscript submissions. Can be hand-written on note cards or in a document or journal, or kept electronically in a word processing file or spreadsheet programs like MS Excel.

Rejection Slip: A letter from an editor indicating that the publisher is not interested in the author’s submitted work.

Reprints: Previously published articles made available for publication in other magazines or journals.

Revising: Making changes that improve writing.

Rights: Legal information about who retains control over all the various ways in which a creative work may be reproduced, used, or applied. Most editors buy only specific rights at any given time, and these should be clearly outlined in the contract.

Rough Draft: The first organized version of a document or other work.

Royalties: A percentage of the cover price paid to the author for every copy of the author’s book sold by a publisher.

Run-On Sentence: Two or more sentences in a paragraph without appropriate punctuation or connecting words.


SASE: Abbreviation for Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, usually sent with a query or manuscript so the recipient can mail back a reply or return the manuscript.

Sci Fi: Abbreviation for science fiction.

Self-publishing: A branch of publishing in which the author publishes his own works. Most commonly done with print-on-demand technology.

Sentence Fragment: A sentence that is missing the subject, the verb, or both.

Serial: A publication that appears periodically, such as a magazine or newspaper.

Short Short: Fiction under 1,000 words.

Simile: Comparing two different things using the words “like” or “as.” For example, “his eyes were like blazing coals.”

Simultaneous Submission: The practice of submitting the same query or manuscript to many editors at once.

Side Bar: In a nonfiction article, extra information or hints and tips put together in a separate box or bar attached to the main body of the article.

Slant: The bias or angle with which the author presents the information in an article. Three different authors writing about the same set of data (for example, child nutrition statistics) could have three different slants.

Slug Line: (1) A line in a screenplay describing a new scene. (2) The identifying tag for a story in a newspaper or magazine.

Slush pile: Term for unsolicited manuscripts received by a publisher or editor. See Over-the-transom.

Short Story: Fiction under 10,000 words.

Sonnet: Refers to a fourteen-line poem with a rigid structure and rhyming scheme. Shakespeare wrote many sonnets.

Speculative Fiction: Fiction that extrapolates from some phenomenon or theory and postulates “what if?”

Spin-off: A new product developed from an original product. In a TV show, a popular supporting character in one series might be given the starring role in a separate series.

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem that form a metrical or thematic unit.

Subject: The main topic in a piece of writing. There can be a subject in a sentence, paragraph, an essay or a book.

Submission Guidelines: The guidelines provided by a publication which explain how to submit queries or completed manuscripts for consideration.

Suffix: An auxiliary syllable that attaches to the end of a base or root word to change the meaning of the word. For example, “arian” (one who does) attached to “discipline” (direction or control) gives “disciplinarian” – one who exerts control or gives direction.

Summary: A short description of the main ideas in a body of work.

Synopsis: An abbreviated description of a book or manuscript sent to the publisher. The synopsis covers all the main points of the work.

Synonyms: Words that have approximately the same meaning, for example, happy and glad.


Tearsheet: A sample of an author’s published work which consists of a page ‘torn’ from a magazine or a newspaper, or more commonly these days, a photocopy of the article.

Terms: The deal made for publication of a particular work. These include types of rights purchased, a payment schedule, expected date of publication etc.

Trade Journals: Specialized publications for a particular occupation or industry.

Topic Sentences: The sentence, usually at the beginning of a paragraph, that includes the main idea of the paragraph.


Unsolicited Manuscript: An article, story or book that a publication did not request.


Vanity Publishing: A form of publishing in which the author pays a publisher to publish their work.

Verb: The word in a sentence that indicates action.

Voice: In writing, the style, tone, and method with which an author composes a work.

Vowels: Five of the letters in the alphabet: a, e, i, o, and u. Sometimes the letter y is also a vowel. These letters represent a speech sound, created by the free passage of breath through the mouth.


Widows and Orphans: In publishing, a “widow” is the last line of a paragraph, printed alone at the top of a page. An “orphan” is the first line of a paragraph, printed alone at the bottom of a page. These generally aren’t desirable.

Withdrawal Letter: A letter to a publication or publishing house withdrawing a manuscript from consideration.

Word Count: The estimated number of words in a manuscript. Most word processing programs will calculate this automatically. For example, in MS Word/Office, go to the Tools menu and select Word Count. To estimate the word count by hand, multiply the number of pages by the number of words per page. For double spaced documents, assume about 295 words per page. For single spaced documents, assume approximately 400 words per page. See our word count FAQ and online word count tool

Work for Hire: A job where the writer is commissioned to write a piece, but does not receive a byline, and does not retain rights to the work.

Writer’s Block: The inability to write for some period of time. It can take many forms: an inability to come up with any good ideas to start a story, unable to start writing a new work, or extreme dissatisfaction with all efforts to write.

Writer’s Guidelines: The guidelines provided by a publication that explain how to submit queries or completed manuscripts for consideration. Also known as submission guidelines.



YA: Abbreviation for young adult - ages 13 to 22.

YW: Abbreviation for young writer - ages 12 to 22.

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Brian M Logan

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