Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, April 19, 2010

Literary Definitions or "What are they talking about?"

In honor of this weekend’s LDStorymakers writers conference—and because I don’t want to be viewed as quite as flakey as Rob—I thought we would help anon out today with some definitions of writing terms he or she might not have heard of. I’ll start with a few and you add your own.

Infodump—This is when the author wants to give the reader information. But instead of using dialogue, actions, or any other means of passing the information along as part of the story, the author stops the story by writing something like: XYZ Labs was a company that made tire valves. They’d been in business since 1941, and had ups and downs since then. They were located in Spanish Fork, Utah which was about an hour south of Salt Lake. Jim began work there when he was twenty and managed to climb his way to manager before he was thirty. It was a good job, but sometimes he wished he could be a ballerina instead.

Show don’t tell—This is when the author tells the reader something instead of letting them see it for themselves. Writing, As Sandra stepped into the bathroom she was afraid. Instead of, Sandra pushed the door open several inches and peeked in. She reached her hand just far enough inside to flip on the switch, and crouched, listening.

Telling can also be tied to an overuse of adverbs—especially in dialogue tags. “Help!” Mike yelled loudly. “Don’t forget to leave the bag in the hiding place,” Rob whispered conspiratorially. “Gosh this is the best present ever,” Teddy yelped excitedly.

BTW, dialogue tags is another writing term. Tags are things like: said, yelled, growled, shouted, cried, whispered. Most of the time you want to simply use said, or even no tag at all if you can get away with it. For example:

“Hey, is that you?” Bob peeked out the window.
“Of course it is,” Mike said.
“Oh. Thank goodness. I thought it was a robber.”

Genre is one we use quite a bit. Genre is the type of novel you are writing. Mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, romance, fantasy. This can also be combined with the age you are writing for. YA Romance, or middle grade fantasy. If you are struggling to figure out what genre you are writing, look at where the story starts and ends. If your story begins with the main character unhappy with her life and ends with her happily married, it is probably a romance, even if she solves crimes in between. If the main story line is her catching crooks, but she falls in love during the story, you probably have a mystery. Of course there are subgenres like romantic suspense, historical fantasy, and middle-grade erotic werewolf mystery romances.

The last one I’ll do today is foreshadowing, since we’ve talked about this recently too. Foreshadowing is hinting to the reader about something that will happen later in the book. Heavy-handed foreshadowing is frowned on. “For the rest of her life she wondered what might have happened if she’d never opened the door that Saturday.” Subtle foreshadowing can make the story more exciting for the readers. For example if I describe a waiter as having a heavy limp, greasy hair, questioning eyes, and being overly attentive to the couple in the restaurant, the reader will expect that the waiter will play a greater part in the story. If I begin by telling my readers that Bobby and Shandra are committed to never dating each other, the readers will immediately ask how soon Bobby and Shandra will get together. If I begin a horror novel with children getting lost in an abandoned gold mine thirty years ago, the reader will expect to see more of that mine. While it is fine to create false turns and red herrings, try never to foreshadow something that doesn’t play a role later in the story. That is called a loose string.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite literary terms?

Can’t wait to see you all this weekend!


At 4/19/2010 11:19 PM, Blogger Th. said...


As someone who has tried and tried again, let me just warn you all that the middle-grade erotic werewolf mystery romances market is flooded right now and your odds of breaking in are bitty.

He said.

At 4/20/2010 2:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The scientific name for dialogue tag is LOCUTION.

The working scientific jargon, used by professional authors in professional circles, is SPEAKER ATTRIBUTION.

Only hacks call them dialogue tags.


At 4/20/2010 2:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's the difference between a city infodump, a private infodump and a sanitary land fill?

At 4/20/2010 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Th.--Good luck with your novels. Let us know when you get published and where you'll be signing.

Anon #1--I think the ever knowing LDSP called them dialogue tags. Shock!

Anon #2--There isn't a difference. They're all full of garbage.

At 4/20/2010 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who can trust LDSP? She's, like, anonymous all the time.

At 4/20/2010 3:42 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

Dear new writer anon,

I noticed Jeff left out one of his most useful terms: cliffhanger, probably because he didn’t want to remind his most devout readers just how he left poor Bobby dying in Shandra’s arms. Cliffhangers in themselves aren’t bad. Ending a story where the main characters are in a situation so dire the readers have a compulsive need to buy the next book is a great tool, but only if the author thoroughly drew the reader into the story and had made his characters come alive in the first place.

Now, my “writer’s terms” that I love to use, sparingly, are: emdashes and ellipses. An emdash, or M dash, is used in dialog where you want a sentence to abruptly end, as in being interrupted, or cut off when another character speaks over the other. I’ll give an example in a moment. You can make an emdash by writing the last word you want to be said in the sentence, then without a space, hit the dash key twice, then without a space, hit the quotation mark. If you’re working on Microsoft Word, the program will automatically elongate the two dashes into one long connected dash, or emdash. Of course, the quotation mark will be backward, so hit the quotation mark again and get the close quote and then take out the other mark.

Okay, now ellipses are three periods, each separated by a space, and are used when the character talking needs to pause, usually when she is thinking, or remembers something, or lets her voice trail off and doesn’t finish a complete sentence. These ellipses can become irritating if overused, and any seasoned writer reading over your manuscript will gleefully highlight each and every one, and tell you to use a comma instead.

Examples are as follows:

“I beg you Jeff, please stop playing that silly computer game and finish this last chapter. You promised so many people you’d—”

“These games aren’t silly,” Jeff yelled, tossing the control paddle across the room toward the dusty bookshelf. It bounced off the spines of Kerry Blair’s finished Heart series and fell to the floor. “They’re teaching me life skills.”

“Life skills? How can wasting away hours of your day pretending you’re someone else when you really should be . . .” She lost her concentration when his hardened glare sent a shiver down her neck, stopping her from saying anything else.


At 4/20/2010 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And we all know those anons cannot be trusted.

At 4/20/2010 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, like, LDSP is a hack? Old news. Next?

At 4/22/2010 7:28 PM, Blogger LDS_Publisher said...

I just love it when people berate me in the comments of someone else's blog. To visit me in all my hackishness, click on my name above.


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