Friday, December 24, 2010


by Jodie Renner, editor and author

Here are some terms used in writing, editing and publishing fiction, listed in alphabetical order.

Action scene: A scene where the movement escalates to a crisis.

Active voice: A way of describing action that is preferable to passive voice. “Jason mowed the lawn” is active; “The lawn was mowed by Jason” is passive (generally to be avoided).

Anthology: A collection of short stories, novelettes, or novellas written by various authors and compiled in one book or journal.

Antagonist: The character or force in the story that opposes the protagonist. The “bad guy.”

Author intrusion: When the author of a novel provides extra information directly to the reader, rather than through dialogue or the thoughts of the characters. Usually an explanation of the times or circumstances, or a commentary or editorial about some aspect of the story. Generally to be avoided, as it takes the reader out of the story.

Autobiography: The writer’s life story written into a book. (also memoir or narrative nonfiction)

Backlist: Published books that are still in print but aren’t part of the “new” stuff coming out during the current season.

Backstory: History of a character or events that took place before the story events. Novice writers tend to introduce too much backstory too soon.

Bio: Brief info about the author. Usually appears at the end of a novel.

Biography: An in-depth examination of the life of someone other than the writer. (narrative nonfiction)

Brainstorming: Throwing out ideas and getting them down as fast as you can on paper or screen, without judging or censoring them at this point. Just get as many ideas on paper as you can for now. Then later you can decide which ones to actually use.

Chapbook: A small booklet of poetry, journal entries, or stories, often published by small presses.

Character: A story person who is brought to life via action, attitudes, dialogue, description, thoughts, and the impressions and reactions of fellow characters.

Character arc: The status of the main character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline or series of episodes. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes.
“The changes, evolution, or degradation that happens to characters over the course of the story or series.” (Jessica Page Morrell)

Character development: “The means used to develop and reveal characters, including appearance, traits, thoughts, emotions, manners, gestures, actions, backstory, and dialogue.” (Jessica Page Morrell)

Chronological order: A way of telling your story in same order as the events happened. Also called “linear order.”

Cliché: An expression that’s been used so much it has lost its power and gone stale. Some examples are: quiet as a mouse, sharp as a tack, snug as a bug in a rug, chills running up and down her spine, warm as toast, cold as ice, short and sweet, hot and bothered. Writers should avoid using clichés whenever possible. Instead, try to find a fresh way to express your idea.

Cliff-hanger: When the outcome of an event, scene, or story is unknown or in doubt.

Climax: The point of greatest tension in a story. The turning point in the action; the point at which the outcome is to be decided.

Closing scene: This is one of the most important parts of your story. It’s the last chance to make your point and leave the reader with a valid emotional sense of completion.

Colloquial: Conversational dialogue. An informal way of communicating; the way people really talk to each other, as opposed to the more formal “written English.” Uses lots of contractions and slang expressions.

Coming-of-age story: A type of novel where the protagonist is initiated into adulthood through knowledge, experience, or both, often by a process of disillusionment. Understanding comes after the dropping of preconceptions, a destruction of a false sense of security, or in some way the loss of innocence.

Commercial novels: Novels designed to appeal to a large audience. Academics tend to disdain commercial fiction in favor of “literary” fiction.

Complication: Intensifying the conflict; usually the protagonist meets an unforeseen obstacle.

Conflict: A complication that moves to a climax. Conflict is the opposition presented to the main character of a story by another character, by events or situations, by fate, or by some act of the main character’s own personality or nature. More loosely defined for contemporary fiction, it is the problem or tension that must be dealt with by the end of the story. A plot needs plenty of conflict in order to be interesting. Conflict is what drives a story forward.

Copyright: “All beginning writers fret over this concept because they’re worried about their work being stolen. By U.S. law, anything you write is automatically copyrighted as soon as you write it. But when your work is published, it should be accompanied by the standard notice, Copyright © DATE by AUTHOR’S NAME.” (Tom Monteleone)

Crucible or cauldron: “A locale or situation that embroils and holds together characters as the conflict in the story heats up.” (Morrell)

Denouement: The resolution of a story. Unraveling or untying the knots in a story’s ending by sorting out the details and solving the questions and issues raised.

Deus ex machine: Latin for “a god from a machine.” Borrowed from Greek drama in which a god descended or arrived onto the stage to resolve problems. In modern fiction, problems that are solved by coincidences or acts of nature. To be avoided.

Dialogue: Capturing what your characters are saying and surrounding it with quotation marks. Be sure to use colloquial language, not formal language for dialogue.

Dialogue tag: (also called “speech tag” or “tagline”): “Phrase that accompanies dialogue and tells who’s talking, as in he said or she asked. In general, speech tags should be invisible and exist only to prevent confusion.” (Jessica Page Morrell)

Draft: Usually preceded by the word “rough.” It’s generally an early version of a story, outline, or chapter of a novel. Early drafts work on plot, characterization, and pacing, rather than style and grammar.

Dramatic arc: “A narrative journey of discovery that carries your reader from the first to the last page. Arcs state the problem to be solved and work toward the resolution. You can actually have more than one dramatic arc in your novel. It’s probably better that way.” (Tom Monteleone)

Dramatic irony: The contrast between what the audience knows (a murderer waits in the bedroom) and what a character says (the victim enters the bedroom, innocently saying, “I think I'll have a long sleep”).

Dramatic narrative: The kind of story that makes a good novel. It uses dramatic tension to keep the reader involved.

Dramatic summary (or just “summary,” as opposed to “scene”): A quick summary of the key points of a scene or event, rather than giving a play-by-play account of the action and events. As in, “She got up, got dressed, had breakfast and dashed out the door.”

e-book (eBook) or electronic book: A book published in electronic format rather than on paper. Usually appears on a website or on a CD-ROM, and can be downloaded to computers or portable readers (e-readers) such as Kindle.

Editing: This is what makes your writing better. It is more than just checking for grammar, logic, and factual errors. It’s also looking for subtle ways to improve the narrative.

Entry point: Where you decide to start your story – the opening scene. This is an important choice. Once you’ve written your novel, you may decide to go back and change the entry point, for greater impact, to create a compelling “hook” for your readers.

Epilogue: Tacked on to the end of a novel, to tell readers what happened after the final chapter of the story. Some writers use it as a “wrap-up” chapter.”

Epiphany: A moment of insight, discovery, or revelation by which a character’s life or view of life is greatly altered.

e-publishing: Any type of non-paper publication, in digital format.

Exposition: Info presented on the characters and story world.

Falling action: The action that follows the climax and moves the story toward its resolution.

Final draft: The final version of your manuscript after all the editing, revising, copyediting, and proofreading has been done.

First-person point of view: A narrative style in which the story is told by one character, who refers to himself as “I”. Some examples of well-known novels written in the first-person: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, and White Oleander by Janet Fitch.

Flashback: An interruption of the main (front) story by inserting a scene that happened in the past. Flashback techniques include memories, dreams, stories of the past told by characters, or even author intrusions.

Flash fiction: Fiction under 500 words long.

Flat character: A character that is not sufficiently developed; not complex enough to be interesting or intriguing. Also known as a “cardboard character.” You can round out a flat character in your story and make him more interesting and compelling by giving him motivations, hopes, fears, insecurities, weaknesses and strengths.

Foil: A character that is used to reveal qualities in the protagonist by holding the opposite qualities; for example a stingy character would underscore the main character’s generosity.

Foreshadowing: Introducing clues or hints to suggest later interesting developments. Used to heighten reader interest and intrigue.

Formulaic fiction: “Fiction that follows a familiar formula. The evil scientist who tries to take over the world and is destroyed by his own creation is a very old formula. The “odd man” who rebels against his oppressive society is another.” (Tom Monteleone) Most romances follow a formula.

Genre: Also called a category. A specific type of fiction, such as romance, thriller, mystery, science fiction, horror, gothic, western, erotica, historical fiction, or fantasy.

Ghost writer: A professional writer who writes the story of a well-known figure, or anyone who writes or rewrites someone else’s story. Ghost writers don’t usually get the credit (or enough credit) for their writing.

Gothic novel: “A genre that tells a story involving a pretty young woman, a castle or mansion, a menace, and a hero. This is one of the most well-known genres because it’s considered the oldest form of the novel.” (Tom Monteleone)

Graphic novel: A hybrid made by using comic book features to tell a story. Usually contains boxes with illustrations and balloons for dialogue, plus narration along the bottom of each box.

Guidelines (GL): The set of instructions an agent, publisher or editor gives out to writers for submitting their manuscript for consideration, often tailored to the particular market.

Historical fiction: Fiction set in the past. In order to be succeed in this genre, it’s important to really do your research into the period in history in which your novel is set, so your story is credible. Be careful not to use expressions that weren’t in use at the time.

Hook: An effective opening (first sentence and first paragraph) that creates a question or suggests conflict to come, and piques the reader’s curiosity and interest, so he or she wants to keep reading.

Idiomatic expression: An expression that is particular to a certain language and cultural usage, for example, “get your goat” when it means “make you angry.”

In media res: Latin for "in the middle of things"; starting a story or scene in the midst of ongoing action. An effective technique for hooking the reader in at the start of a novel.

Inciting incident: The precipitating event that sets the story in motion, disrupts the status quo, and threatens the protagonist.

Inner conflict: A character’s confusion, resistance, or doubts about his goals and direction.

Interior dialogue or monologue: Revealing a character’s thoughts.

Literary fiction: A term used to distinguish so-called “serious” fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from other types of genre fiction. In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the “page-turner”) focuses more on narrative and plot.

Main character or protagonist: The person in your novel through whom most of the narrative is experienced or told. It is the person we root for and care about the most.

Manuscript: Your story, typed, in pre-published format.

Melodrama: “Using or exploiting implausible, sensational, sentimental, or emotionally charged aspects in a story to create drama.” (Morrell) To be avoided.

Memoir: A narrative of a writer’s (or fictional narrator’s) family history or personal background.

Mid-list: A publishing buzzword that refers to books that aren’t best-sellers.

Motivation: A character’s drive that builds throughout a story and provides plausible explanations for actions and goals. The external forces (setting, circumstances) and internal forces (personality, temperament, morality, intelligence) that compel a character to act as he or she does in a story.

Multiple viewpoint: The point of view rotates among the characters; the readers see into the thoughts of more than one character. Best used to illustrate conflict, contrast, misunderstanding and deception among the characters.

Narrative: The story, or what happens (both fiction and nonfiction).

Narrative distance: The degree of access that the reader is granted to the characters’ thoughts, perceptions, and knowledge. Today’s readers and publishers prefer a close narrative distance – more intimacy with the main character.

Narrator: The voice and implied speaker in fiction who tells the story – this is not the writer. The narrator can be an insider in the story – a major character, a first-person character, or a minor character.

Novel: A fiction book that’s usually a minimum of 50,000 words (less for YA fiction and middle-grade novels). If yours is over 110,000 words, it probably needs some revisions to tighten it up.

Novelette: A story of about 8,000 to 20,000 words.

Novella: Fiction generally between 20,000 and 50,000 words, but can vary.

Opening: The first few pages of your novel. Especially the first paragraph and first page – very important.

Outline: A plan for your story. Can take several forms, such as written in paragraphs or point-form. Some writers do a scene-by-scene outline; others just do a rough synopsis of the main plot. Character outlines are also very useful.

Pace: The speed at which a story unfolds. Varies within the story, but certain genres, like suspense thrillers, are generally faster-paced.

Passive voice: A way of describing action in which the subject receives the action instead of performing it. Weakens the impact, so to be avoided. Use active voice instead. Passive: “The ball was thrown by the boy.” Active: “The boy threw the ball.”

Pen name or pseudonym: When the writer makes up another name to use as the author of his books. Usually used when the author doesn’t want his/her real identity known. Some authors write different genres under different names.

Plagiarism: “Stealing someone else’s work, usually word-for-word, and publishing it as your own work.” (Tom Monteleone)

Plot: A series of causally-related events with ever-intensifying conflicts, which forces the characters to take action to resolve the conflicts.

Plot line: The series of events that push a story forward.

Plot point: “Crucial events in fiction from which there is no turning back and which crank up tension and introduce new elements and complications.” (Morrell)

Point of view (Viewpoint): “Perspective, vantage point, or filtering consciousness from which the story is presented.” (Morrell) Point of view refers to who is telling the story and how it is told. The point of view character is the character whose thoughts, feelings and perceptions are revealed to the reader.

Premise: Who and what the story is about. You should be able to state the premise of your story in a sentence or two: Who does what, and why? The premise brings out or hints at the main conflict.

Protagonist: The main character in fiction that the reader comes to know intimately, and who is most changed and hurt by the events of the plot. The protagonist or hero/heroine is the central character in the story who engages our interest or sympathy.

Purple prose: "A term used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response." (Wikipedia)

Resolution: The ending in the story after the climax, when the situation is sorted out.

Reversal: The moment in a story when an unexpected event occurs, changing the plot direction.

Revising or Revision: Making changes to your manuscript to improve the plot, characterization, dialogue, point of view, pacing, style, voice, etc.

Rising action: The events, conflicts, and crises that happen in the story leading up to the climax.

Round character: A well-developed, complex, compelling character with motivations, hopes, fears, interests, insecurities, strengths, etc. A round character is multi-dimensional, as opposed to a one-dimensional “flat” or “cardboard” character.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope

Sense impressions: Describing or showing what your character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. An effective technique for pulling the reader more completely into your story.

Scene: “A structural unit in fiction, set in a precise time and location and made up of action, description, and sometimes exposition. A scene is an event that is essential to the plot, is based around a goal or purpose, meeting some form of opposition, and usually contains some form of emotional reversal.” (Morrell)

Sci fi: Science Fiction

Secondary characters: They have roughly the same role as “supporting actors” in films. Their role helps develop the main characters as well as the plot and subplots.

Sequel: Within a novel, a section that follows a scene, where a character reacts to the events of the preceding scene. Also refers to other stories that follow the character(s) of the first, on new adventures.

Setting: Time and place of a story, including geographical location, terrain, urban/rural, weather, interiors, epoch, year, season, day/night, lighting, and other factors that establish credibility and context. The locale, time and social circumstances of a story.

Short short story: Fiction story that is under 1,000 words.

Short story: Fiction story that is under 10,000 words, but is often much shorter. Usually less than 7,000 for most markets.

Slush pile: The pile (or electronic files) of unsolicited manuscripts sent to an agent or publisher, who will slowly work his/her way through them, often getting “readers” to rate them first.

Speculative fiction: Fiction dealing with realities other than our own. Science fiction.

Speech tag: See “Dialogue tag.”

Static: A scene that lacks action, dialogue and tension, and doesn’t move the story forward. Take out all static scenes or summarize them in a few sentences instead.

Static character: A character who remains unchanged throughout the story. Generally to be avoided.

Stock characters: Minor characters who occupy traditional roles, such as nosy neighbour, sassy waitress, cynical cop, etc.

Story line: “The series of linked events that follows a protagonist pursuing the story goal toward a resolution and fulfills the story’s promise, thus making it emotionally satisfying.” (Morrell)

Style: “How a writer uses language to communicate ideas or a story. Includes voice, syntax, diction, sentence length and structure, and figurative language.” (Morrell)
The way in which an author uses words that give his or her work a distinctive manner of expression. It is the combined qualities that distinguish one writer’s work from another’s. Closely related to “voice.”

Subplot: Secondary or minor plot in a story, usually related to the main plot.

Subtext: The story within the story. “The river of emotion that lies beneath scenes. Usually what is unspoken during dialogue, often because it is too dangerous to speak of.” (Morrell)

Suspense: The pleasurable anxiety we feel that heightens our attention to the story. Anxiety about what will happen next in a story. “Creating curiosity, worry and involvement by withholding and delaying information and resolutions.” (Morrell)

Symbol: “An object, action or image imbued with meaning; it stands for something beyond itself.”

Synopsis: Similar to a plot outline. Usually sent to agents and publishers along with a query letter. The main points of your story, told in narrative form (not point form), but in present tense. Usually around one to ten pages long, depending on the submission requirements of the particular agent or publisher.

Tagline: See “Dialogue tag.”

Telling: “Can refer to relating information that happens offstage or a habit of summarizing rather than dramatizing action, emotions, and information.” (Morrell)

Third-person point of view: The point of view most writers use. The narrator describes the action by using he, she, it, they, etc.

Tone: The prevailing mood or atmosphere in a literary work – joyful, sad, brooding, angry, playful, and so on. A writer’s tone can be formal, informal, playful, ironic, and especially, optimistic or pessimistic.

Transition: A technique used to move the reader quickly from one scene to the next. “Telling” rather than “showing”.

Unreliable narrator: “A narrator who intentionally or unintentionally misleads the reader. Often has a hidden agenda, secret, or specific reason for misleading the reader.” (Morrell)

Vanity publishing: Books published at the total expense of the author.

Voice: Has two meanings: a) the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or b) the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. (from, Fiction Writing)
Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

Wraparound structure: A story that begins near the climax, then returns to the opening scene or inciting incident and proceeds toward the end.” (Morrell)

Word count: The number of words in your manuscript. If it’s not visible in the bottom left corner, just click on Control + Shift + G (all three at the same time), and a box will appear, giving you the word count of your whole document, or that section of it that is open in this file.

Wordiness: a sloppy kind of writing, where the writer uses many more words and repetitions of ideas than is necessary to get the meaning across. Slows down the pace and bores the reader. This type of writing needs to be revised and tightened up.

YA (Young Adult) fiction: The category of fiction for young adults, ages 12 to 18 (some publishers say 12 to 16). YA novels are often between 20,000 and 50,000 words long, but can of course be longer.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Here are some terms that apply to works of fiction such as novels, novellas and short stories. Also, please see my much more detailed and comprehensive list of Fiction Definitions at

PREMISE: Who and what the story is about. You should be able to state the premise of your story in a sentence or two: Who does what, and why? More concrete than "theme."

THEME: the central idea or meaning of a story; what the work is about. When you express the theme in your own words, it should be worded in a complete sentence and universally expressed.

CHARACTER: an imagined person in a literary work. Some famous characters in fiction: Romeo, Juliet, Jay Gatsby, in The Great Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye, Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Atticus Finch, in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Flat character: a one-dimensional figure, with a simple personality. Flat characters, also known as “cardboard characters,” show none of the human depth, complexity, and contrariness of a round character or of most real people. You can round out a flat character in your story and make him more interesting and compelling by giving him hopes, fears and motivations.

Round character: a full, multidimensional character whose personality reveals some of the richness and complexity we are used to seeing in real people, rather than the transparent obviousness of a flat character. We often see a significant change take place in a round character during the story.

Protagonist: The protagonist or hero or main character is the central character in the story who engages our interest or sympathy. Usually the “good guy.”

Antagonist: the character who opposes the protagonist. The “bad guy.”

Examples: In Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chief Bromden in the narrator, McMurphy is the protagonist, and Nurse Ratched is the antagonist.

Character Arc –the status of the main character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline or series of episodes. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes. Some examples include:

• In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s character begins as a misogynistic chauvinist but when he is forced to play the part of a woman, he also experiences a change in how he views women and becomes a different character by the end.

• In Empire of the Sun, Jim begins as a carefree young boy. After the Japanese take over Shanghai and he is separated from his family, he is forced to suffer trauma because of the war.

• In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle degenerates from a somewhat disturbed, highly disorganized Vietnam veteran into an extremely highly-organized, full-blown psychotic.

Motivation is the external forces (setting, circumstances) and internal forces (personality, temperament, morality, intelligence) that compel a character to act as he or she does in a story.

PLOT: The events that unfold in a story; the action and direction of a story; the story line. The events can be presented in a variety of orders:

Chronological: the story is told in the order in which things happen. It begins with what happens first, then second, and so on, until the last incident is related.

In medias res: Latin for “in the midst of things.” We enter the story on the verge of some important moment.

Flashback: the returning to an earlier moment in literary time, usually through a character’s reminiscing. A device that allows the writer to present events that happened before the time of the current narration or the current events in the fiction. Flashback techniques include memories, dreams, stories of the past told by characters, or even author intrusions. (That is, the author might simply say, “But back in Jake’s youth….”) Flashback is useful for exposition, to fill in the reader about a character or place, or about the background to a conflict, but be careful not to overdo it.

Exposition: the opening portion that sets the scene, introduces the main characters, tells us (briefly) what happened before the story opened, and provides any other background information that we need in order to understand and care about the events to follow. Today's bestselling authors spend much less time setting the scene and providing background information; they tend to jump to a the first conflict (main) quite quickly.

Rising action: the series of events that lead to the climax of the story, usually the conflicts or struggles of the protagonist. During rising action, the basic internal conflict is complicated by the introduction of related secondary conflicts, including various obstacles that frustrate the protagonist’s attempt to reach his goal.

Conflict: a complication that moves to a climax. Conflict is the opposition presented to the main character of a story by another character, by events or situations, by fate, or by some act of the main character’s own personality or nature. More loosely defined for contemporary fiction, it is the problem or tension that must somehow be addressed (if not perfectly resolved) by the end of the story. A plot needs plenty of conflict in order to be interesting. Conflict is what drives a story forward.

Suspense: the pleasurable anxiety we feel that heightens our attention to the story. Anxiety about what will happen next in a story. In Poe’s short story, The Pit and the Pendulum, the main character is strapped to a board in a dark cell while a pendulum in the form of a steel blade swings over him. With each swing, the pendulum descends closer to his body. The reader is kept in suspense about how the character will free himself.

Foreshadowing: The indication of events to come later in the story. The introduction of specific words, images, or events into a story to suggest or anticipate later events that are central to the action and its resolution. The presentation of hints and clues about later events in the story. Often used to “tease” the reader and heighten her interest.

Climax: The point of greatest tension in a story. The turning point in the action; the point at which the outcome is to be decided. The climax is the turning point, which marks a change, for the better or the worse, in the protagonist’s affairs. In a plot line, the climax occurs after the rising action and before the falling action.

Falling action: The sequence of events that follow the climax and end in the resolution. During the falling action, or resolution, which is the moment of reversal after the climax, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action might contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt. Summary: The falling action is that part of the story where the main part (the climax) has finished and you’re heading to the conclusion.

Examples of falling action: In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, the falling action occurs after the climax of Professor Snape's apparent hex upon Harry during the Quidditch match: Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn about the Sorcerer's Stone; Voldemort attacks Harry in the Forbidden Forest; and Harry faces Professor Quirrell and Voldemort.

Denouement: (French for “untying of the knot”) The series of events that follow the plot’s climax. It is the resolution of the story, its conclusion or outcome. In a murder mystery, the denouement may outline the clues that led to the capture of a murderer. In a romance, the hero and heroine finally resolve all the conflicts that were keeping them apart and experience their “happily ever after” moment.

Resolution: Same as denouement: The part of the story’s plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. This occurs after the falling action and is typically where the story ends.

Subplot: Secondary or minor plot in a story, usually related to the main plot.

POINT OF VIEW:  The vantage point from which a story is told. Point of view refers to who is telling the story and how it is told. What we know and how we feel about the events in a story are shaped by the perceptions of the point of view character(s). We, the readers, are aware of the point of view character’s thoughts, feelings and motivations.

In the first-person point of view, the narrator is a participant in the story. A story told by a narrator who is not one of the story’s participants is called third-person point of view.

NARRATOR: the teller of a story (not the author, but the invented speaker of the story).

Third-person narrator - uses “he,” “she,” or “they” to tell the story and does not participate in the action.

The first-person narrator - uses “I” and “we” and can be a major or minor participant in the action. With a first-person narrator, the “I” presents the point of view of only one character’s consciousness. The reader is restricted to the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of that single character.

A second-person narrator, “you,” is possible but rarely used because of the awkwardness in thrusting the reader into the story, as in “You are minding your own business on a park bench when a drunk steps out of the bushes and demands your lunch bag.”

Omniscient narrator - takes us inside the characters. Omniscient narrator is all-knowing.

Editorial omniscience: the narrator not only recounts actions and thoughts, but also judges.

Neutral omniscience allows characters’ actions and thoughts to speak for themselves.

Selective omniscient or limited omniscient: the narrator takes us inside one or two characters. The selective omniscient narrator is much more confined than the omniscient narrator. With selective or limited omniscience, the author often restricts the narrator to the single perspective of either a major or a minor character. The way that people, places, and events appear to that character is the way that they appear to the reader.

Stream-of-consciousness: when limited omniscience attempts to record mental activity ranging from consciousness to the unconscious, from clear perceptions to confused longings.

Objective narration - the narrator is outside the characters. Objective point of view employs a narrator who does NOT see into the mind of any character. From this detached and impersonal perspective, the narrator reports action and dialogue without telling us directly what characters feel and think. This point of view places a heavy emphasis on dialogue, actions, and details to reveal character.

An unreliable narrator is a fictional character whose interpretation of events is different from the author's. One type of unreliable narrator is the naive narrator (the innocent eye) who lacks the sophistication to interpret accurately what he/she sees. The reader understands more than the narrator does.

SETTING: the total environment for the action of a fictional work. Setting includes the time period (such as the 1890s), the place (such as downtown Warsaw), the historical milieu (such as during the Crimean War), as well as the social, political, and perhaps even spiritual realities. It’s the locale, time, and social circumstances of a story.

Examples of setting:
An Eastern U.S. town in winter, about 1950, in an upper-class private girls’ school.
Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News is set in Newfoundland in the early 1990s.

Tone: the prevailing attitude (for instance, ironic, compassionate, objective) as perceived by the reader; the author’s feelings toward the central character or the main events. The tone is the prevailing mood or atmosphere in a literary work – joyful, sad, brooding, angry, playful, and so on. A writer can be formal, informal, playful, ironic, and especially, optimistic or pessimistic.

Style: the way in which an author uses words that give his or her work a distinctive manner of expression. It is the combined qualities that distinguish one writer’s work from another’s. For example, Hemingway’s use of short words and simple construction make his style markedly different from that of his contemporary, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mark Twain has a very distinctive, relaxed, regional style in his novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Style is the manner of expression of a particular writer, produced by choice of words, grammatical structures, use of literary devices, and all the possible parts of language use. Some general styles might include scientific, ornate, plain, emotive. Most writers have their own particular styles.

Cliché: Overused expression. Examples: raining cats and dogs, snug as a bug in a rug, chills running up and down my spine, warm as toast, short and sweet. Writers should avoid using clichés whenever possible.

Irony: a contrast of some sort; reveals a reality different from what appears to be true.

Verbal irony: the irony is between what is said and what is meant (“You're a great guy,” meant bitterly).

Dramatic irony: the contrast is between what the audience knows (a murderer waits in the bedroom) and what a character says (the victim enters the bedroom, innocently saying, “I think I'll have a long sleep”).

Situational irony: when an incongruity exists between what is expected to happen and what actually happens (Macbeth usurps the throne, thinking he will then be happy, but the action leads him to misery).

Symbol: a person, object, action, or situation, that, charged with meaning, suggests another thing (for example, a dark forest may suggest confusion, or perhaps evil), though usually with less specificity and more ambiguity than allegory. In a literary work or film, a symbol is a person, place, thing or idea that represents something else. Writers often use a snake as a symbol for evil, as in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Commonly used symbols include the eagle (strength), a flag (patriotism), and the sea (life).

Epiphany: a moment of insight, discovery, or revelation by which a character’s life or view of life is greatly altered.

fiction terms, fiction definitions, literary terms, literary definitions. See also

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


December 07, 2010, by Elizabeth Sims

This is excerpted, by permission of the author, Elizabeth Sims. Read the full article, complete with all of Elizabeth Sims' excellent wisdom, at Writer’s Digest online:

"Structural problems can sink a novel. Let’s look at 10 common plot problems and how to quickly fix them.

Good fiction takes time. You cannot sit down at the keyboard and pound out the Great American Novel in one or two sessions. (Take it from me; I’ve tried.)

No, we must be patient with our art and our craft, we must read, we must study, we must write. And write, and write. Then we must think, cut, rewrite, polish and look again.

But there’s such a thing as agonizing too much over your writing. Just as excessive reworking with charcoal and gum will ruin a drawing, too much scrutinizing and amending will sap the vitality of your original words. Most aspiring authors fall victim to this from time to time, causing needless pain, delay and, frankly, stunted results.

It’s the hard parts that get you. When you come up against a knotty structural problem, take a breath and do what professionals do:

• Calmly evaluate the problem.

• Decide whether it really is a problem.

• Work out a solution.

• Implement it.

• Move on.

• Revisit the situation later.

Did you pick out the key phrase in that list? It’s a solution. Not the perfect solution, but a solution. There is no single best way to solve any given writing quandary. What seasoned writers know—and what we can all take comfort in—is that there are lots of fine ways to solve them all. So when a problem arises and threatens to slow, divert or even stop your creative flow, you simply need to find one of those solutions so you can keep writing—it’s as simple as that.

Not every problem can be solved in minutes, of course; situations like editing out a main character or completely reworking a plot cost plenty of time and effort. But surprisingly many structural problems can be dealt with more quickly than you might think.

Let’s look at 10 common plot problems you can tackle in a flash—and then find out how to do it.


You’re writing a key scene, and you realize that you really need to know something, but it’s either impossible to find out or too costly in time or money to do so.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: If you can’t find the exact data you need, get as close as you can and wing the rest.

Recently I was on a conference panel with other authors discussing intensive research, and after everybody shared exciting (or humiliating) stories about our quests for authenticity, we all agreed on one thing: When the chips are down, make it up.

Let’s say you need to present exact details about the innards of a nuclear bomb. Current atomic devices are top secret, but you can learn a lot online about outdated ones. Then, use common sense and your imagination to take it from there. What might be different today in a bomb? Well, you can bet the electronics are smarter and smaller. With the addition of fictional details, you can BS your way convincingly through the scene:

You might be surprised at how much you can make up in a convincing way. Maybe you need a recipe for the perfect poison and have no idea where to begin. Invent a character who’s a chemist, and have that character develop a poison that’s as lethal as cyanide, as innocent-smelling as strawberries and as traceable as water.

Be bold!


We’ve all been there: You’ve got an action scene that’s starting to bore even you. Granted, your story is moving forward, but it feels cumbersome.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Resist the urge to pile it on; rather, tighten what you’ve got.

You could spend hours—days!—trying to inject more life into a scene, but the best solution is often just the opposite. Usually a quicker pace will do the trick.

One of the easiest, most effective ways to tighten prose is to turn full sentences into fragments and opt for one-line paragraphs.

If you start with this, for example:

The thug was much taller and heavier than Jamal. Looking up, Jamal thought: If I don’t figure something out fast, we’re all dead meat. There was the pool cue, propped against the table, his only available weapon. He grabbed it, wound up as the big man began to react, and swung. It was with a tremendous sense of satisfaction that everybody in the bar heard a crunching sound.

Turn it into something like this (and be sure to drop the “dead meat” cliché):

Jamal looked up.

A giant.

Without thinking, he grabbed the pool cue and swung, eyes closed.

A satisfying crunch!

You shouldn’t try to write a whole book this way, but rat-a-tat passages like this will bring variety and movement to your fiction.


Sometimes you get too careful with a character, especially if you’ve based her on yourself or a close friend or relative. If this seems to be the case, consider adding weirdness.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Give her an obsession.

Obsessions are great because they’re simple to drop into a character’s personality, and you can use them repeatedly to spice up your plot.

An obsession gives a character a sort of schizophrenic point of view that can be used for comic relief, extra conflict, inner turmoil or all three: [...]

An added bonus to this strategy: It’s fun.


You’re at a turning point in your novel, and you’ve got one character revealing information to another, or making connections in his head as the puzzle pieces fall into place. Or your omniscient narrator is explaining a lot of stuff to the reader. And it doesn’t feel natural.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Turn narrative into dialogue.

Don’t underestimate the modern reader’s ability to infer, generalize and make connections. A professional’s first instinct is to cut exposition, but when you’ve sliced away all but the essential and you’re still looking at an awkward block of text, turn it into dialogue.

Scope around for a handy character for the first one to talk to. Then, give the two some back-and-forth, something to disagree about. Create a little conflict while delivering your basic facts. Or, if your character is alone, make him have an internal argument, as in this example:

I ought to confront Otto with what I know about Tim’s death.

Wait a minute, shouldn’t this be a matter for the police?

To hell with the police! They don’t know he worked for the bank five years ago. Plus—

Don’t get upset. Stay cool.

I’m cool, OK. I just want him to know I’m onto him,

and if he tries anything with Selma or Johnny, I’ll be in his face.

This technique has served me well in several of my books. (I stole the method after seeing Erica Jong employ it so well in Fear of Flying. Of course, she probably ripped it off from Shakespeare—all those soliloquies …)


You’re writing something new; perhaps you even have a rough outline. You’re galloping along, happy and breathless, and you finally bring a scene or chapter to a satisfying conclusion. Then you get that uh-oh feeling.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Have a 10-minute brainstorm.

I actually feel great in this situation: I love to brainstorm, and I know I’m about to have ideas I’ve never had before.

Flip to a fresh page in your notebook or computer notepad, check the time and give yourself 10 minutes to write down anything and everything that might come next. Record every idea that comes to you, even if it seems ridiculous or awful. Keep going. If you do this with a feeling of open exploration, you will come up with a good idea of what should come next.



You’re proud of your plot, and you want to show the reader that you’ve thought of everything. This one’s as tight as a drum! But now it feels as if you’re ticking off boxes on a checklist, and the effect is artificial.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Choose some loose ends to leave loose.

Readers will know they’re in good hands if you pay off your suspense. This is key, and it bears repeating: Suspense is the most important aspect of a book to build and bring to a satisfying climax and conclusion. This holds true in any genre; even the most sedate literary novels are built on a foundation of suspense. In this way, Mrs. Dalloway and her flowers have everything in common with Hannibal Lecter and his fava beans.

It follows, then, that not every loose end needs to be tied up. Granted, some bestselling authors commonly knot theirs meticulously—Harlan Coben comes to mind—but others, like Elizabeth George, make a point of not doing so. Leaving your readers with a little bit of hmmm can be a good thing (especially if you’re writing a series).

Challenge your impulse to wrap up everything with a bow, and you might achieve a more natural result.


Transitions can be the bane of fiction writers. I think this goes back to composition teachers in high school, who insist that there “be a link” between every idea. Oh, the contortions we used to go through to satisfy that requirement!

Forget it.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Insert a chapter break, or use the magic word: "meanwhile..."

An excellent way to bridge two scenes is to actually separate them. A chapter break can eliminate the need for a bridge altogether. [...]

The magic word is meanwhile. Rather than a big-deal transition, meanwhile might be all you need.


You’ve written your novel, you’re at the point of bravely hearing any and all criticism, and you’ve just found out that your ending leaves your writing buddies cold. You feel (understandably) frustrated, and maybe a little angry. Now what?

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Add passion, violence or both.

A weak ending, of course, may signify major problems with the rest of the book. But not necessarily. If you’ve built convincing characters and worked out a believable, suspenseful story, but things still fall flat at the end, this could be because you haven’t gone far enough. Some authors simply take their foot off the accelerator toward the end, either from fatigue or from an unnecessary sense of restraint. Whatever the case, if you discover you’re one of them, you’ve got to ramp up the emotion.

So try heightening the ending you’ve already got. A good way to do it is to add passion or violence—or both.



Many authors on the brink of getting published are told by a prospective agent or editor, “I love this novel, but it’s too long. If you can cut it by about 10,000 words (or whatever terrifyingly high number), I think I can sell (or publish) this.” They don’t want any specific cuts at this point; they just want the manuscript to better fit a common format.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Micro-edit your way to success.

You can spend lots of time rereading your manuscript and painfully strategizing what hunks to cut, but an excellent way to quickly trim it to size is to cut one word per sentence. This technique is pure magic. Or, you can divide the number of words you need to cut by the number of pages you have, and come up with an average words-to-cut per page. Of course you won’t be able to whittle down your whole manuscript in 10 minutes, but take it as a challenge: Time yourself, and I bet that once you get the hang of it, you can blow through 10 pages of a draft in 10 minutes. This is a job you can do in the interstices of your day; you don’t have to find large spans of time for it.

As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I got good at cutting excess verbiage early in my writing career. But every so often, for the heck of it, I challenge myself to cut one word per sentence. If I can do that too easily, I know I’ve gotten sloppy.


Every author is stricken, at least once per book, by Creeping Rot Disease. CRD begins as a dark feeling that takes over your mind and heart when you least expect it. You look at your manuscript and the feeling creeps over you that all you’ve done is foul a perfectly good stack of paper. It’s lousy. It’s not original. It’s nothing any agent, let alone editor, would look at twice. I’m wasting my life, you think. I’m a fool.

10-MINUTE SOLUTION: Take a break!

Believe me, when CRD strikes, you are in plentiful, excellent company. Terrific authors have drunk themselves to death trying to self-medicate against CRD.

The better solution is to take a break. Turn off your computer, close your notebook, cap your pen (because the problem is not with your manuscript, it’s with you) and do something completely different, like:

• Walk outside. Pay attention to the first great-looking tree you see. Hang out with it for a while.

• Get some good coffee.

• Phone a friend and spill your guts.

• Prepare a mini picnic lunch and open the window.

• Make a sketch of a simple object, like a bowl or a bottle.

Or do anything else you can to break the stream of negative thoughts.

Can you become a great author in 10 minutes? No, but between careless abandon and paralyzing overanalysis, you can find a lot of solutions to help you move forward. The goal is to work past problems as they arise so you can keep writing. You can always go back and smooth over any rough edges later."

by Elizabeth Sims, from

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Deep Point of View or How to Avoid Head-Hopping      

by Jodie Renner, editor and author,

The issue of point of view (POV) or viewpoint can be a difficult one for new novelists to get a handle on, but it simply refers to the character through whose perspective the story events are told. We see, hear, smell, feel and experience events as that character would—with no additional information provided “from above” by the author.

In other words, if you’re writing a romance, and you’re in the heroine’s point of view (which you should be most of the time, as it’s her story) you’re not going to mention her blue eyes or long, blond hair unless she’s looking at herself in a mirror – and that one’s been overdone. (Besides, how many of us consciously think about our eye or hair color when we’re looking in the mirror?) At this point in the story, you’re seeing the world through the heroine’s eyes, so you see and hear only what she would see and hear. If she’s talking to someone else, you’re probably not going to mention her freckles or her tousled hair, unless she’s wondering if she looks okay. (Or you could have her sister, bff or the hero mention them.)

Need to tell what your hero is thinking in the middle of a scene that’s in the POV of your heroine? Tell your readers this by what the heroine is perceiving: his facial expressions, movements, attitude, body language, tone of voice and what he says—or leaves out.

As Jack M. Bickham says, “You’ll never have problems with the technique of viewpoint again if you simply follow this advice: “Figure out whose story it is. Get inside that character—and stay there.” Of course, you don’t have to stay in your protagonist’s point of view for the whole story, but well over half the story should be from the main character’s POV, so that the reader can identify with him/her and begin to care what happens to him/her.

As Bickham explains, “I’m sure you realize why fiction is told from a viewpoint, a character inside the story. It’s because each of us lives our real life from a single viewpoint – our own – and none other, ever. The fiction writer wants her story to be as convincing and lifelike as possible. So she sets things up so that readers will experience the story just like they experience real life: from one viewpoint inside the action.”

If your fiction is to be effective and your lead character is to come alive and matter to the reader, you’ll need to accomplish this by showing all the action from inside the head and heart – the thoughts, senses and emotions – of the person you have chosen as the viewpoint character.

To quote Bickham again, “In a novel, there may be several viewpoints, but one must clearly dominate… It’s a fatal error to let your viewpoint jump around from character to character, with no viewpoint clearly dominating…. To put this in other words: even in a novel of 100,000 words, well over 50 percent – probably closer to 70 percent – should be clearly and rigidly in the viewpoint of the main character. That character’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions and intentions should unmistakably dominate the action.”

So, in order to draw the reader in and grab him emotionally, every story must have a clearly dominant viewpoint character. When we see the story through his eyes, reacting as he does, it’s like we’re in the story.

But how do we as authors go about this? Let’s suppose you’re writing a story about Jason, and you have decided that he is the viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be?

The first thing you need to do is imagine the setting, people and events as they would be perceived by Jason, and only by him. As you write the story, you the writer must become Jason. You see what he sees, and nothing more. You know what he knows, and nothing more. When Jason walks into a room, for example, you do not imagine how the room looks from some god-like authorial stance high above the room, or as a movie camera might see it; you see it only as Jason sees it, walking in.

And of course include his reactions to the other people in the room. Show Jason’s feelings (and only his) about what and who he’s seeing, and his reactions to the situation. Instead of saying “the room was stuffy,” say “Jason felt the stuffy heat of the room close around him.” By using words like “Jason felt” and “he knew,” you’re helping the reader get inside Jason’s head and identify with him, which is vital if you want your reader to care about your protagonist and get engaged in your story.

But you need to go even further – you need to describe what he’s seeing and feeling by using words and expressions that he would normally use. If your character is a blue-collar worker and high-school dropout, you’re not going to describe the scene or his reactions in highly educated, articulate, flowery terms.

It’s also important to be vigilant that your viewpoint doesn’t slip, so you’re suddenly giving someone else’s opinion about Jason, or telling about something that’s happening in the kitchen, when Jason is in the living room. You can let the reader know other people’s reactions to Jason by what Jason perceives – he sees their looks and body language, hears their words and tone of voice, etc.

If you’re writing a romance, and you’re in the heroine’s point of view, and the hero is angry, you will show his thoughts and reactions, not from inside him (“That jerk! he thought, I’ll show him!”) but by what the heroine is seeing and perceiving – his tense posture, hunched shoulders, clenched fists, furrowed brows, set mouth, clipped tone of voice, angry words, etc.

The general rule of thumb is “one scene, one viewpoint.” Or even better, wait for a new chapter to change the point of view to someone else’s. If you change the viewpoint within a scene, it’s best to do it only once, and leave a blank space before you start the next person’s point of view. Ping-ponging back and forth can be jarring and confusing to the reader. This is what’s referred to as “head-hopping.”

So why is it so important to avoid switching viewpoints (head-hopping) within scenes?

According to Cynthia VanRooy, “When a reader becomes emotionally engaged in a book, he or she enters into the story. The writer has hypnotized the reader into participating in the illusion of the fictional world. The reader understands the book world isn’t real, but in order to fully enjoy the story, he or she chooses to temporarily pretend otherwise, or to suspend their disbelief. […]

“Every time you shift the reader from one character to another, they are jarred out of their suspension of disbelief and reminded they aren’t actually living in the fictional world you’ve created, they’re only reading a story. Do that often enough and they’ll stop reading your story. Scene changes or new chapters are the best and least disruptive places to change POV.

“…Deep POV gives the reader a chance to really identify with a character, something you aim for as an author. Even Nora Roberts, famous for her frequent changes in POV, lets the reader stay in one character long enough to become thoroughly hooked.”

Self-editing tip to avoid head-hopping or a meandering viewpoint:

A quick way to check whose POV you’re in is to get out the markers and choose a different color for each of your main characters. Pick your protagonist’s color, then start highlighting sentences that describe scenes, people and perceptions strictly from his POV. Do the same for other characters, with their color. When you’re done, you should have paragraphs, and preferably scenes, of only one color. If you have another color creeping into that scene, see if you can rewrite those sentences from the dominating character’s POV. If you have a number of colors within one scene, you’ve got some revisions to do. And as Stephen King says, “Writing is rewriting.” Keep on writing!

By Jodie Renner, November 2010

Resources: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham; “POV or: Whose Head Am I in, Anyway?” by Cynthia VanRooy

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As a follow-up to my article on grabbing the reader with a compelling first page, entitled "Act First, Explain Later", here are some memorable first lines (and first paragraphs) of novels, starting with a few recent bestsellers, then going back to some classics:

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die—though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” – Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

“Nat Greco felt like an A cup in a double-D bra.” – Lisa Scottoline, Daddy’s Girl

“Cooper Sullivan’s life, as he’d known it, was over.” – Nora Roberts, Black Hills

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news.” – Anthony Horowitz, Storm Breaker

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

“Happily unaware that he’d be dead in twenty-three minutes, Henry W. Wyley imagined pinching the nicely rounded rump of the young blonde who was directly in his line of sight.” – Nora Roberts, Three Fates

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.” – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

“You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.” – Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

“Inspector Salvo Montalbano could immediately tell that it was not going to be his day the moment he opened the shutters of his bedroom window.” – Andrea Camilleri, The Voice of the Violin

“If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” – Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964)

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” – William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” – Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

“Mother died today.” – Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942; trans. Stuart Gilbert)

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” – James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

"They're out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them." – Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man. An unattractive man, I think my liver hurts.”
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From The Underground

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madam Francoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” – Lalita Tademy, Cane River

“Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”
– Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone

“They shoot the white girl first.” – Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

“He should never have taken that shortcut.” – Michael Crichton, Timeline

“I don’t think my stepfather much minded dying. That he almost took me with him wasn’t really his fault.” – Dick Francis, To the Hilt

“The second time Ian Dunne came into my life, I was trapped under a pile of bodies, behind a sheet of plate glass.” –Lee Nichols, Hand Me Down

“The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband.” – Declan Hughes, The Wrong Kind of Blood

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” – Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

“Three days ago Emily Thompson had been Southside’s heir apparent. Every soldier in the city had been hers to command. Now the guards outside her door were the only people she had seen since her arrest.” – Sean Stewart, The Night Watch

“He hardly felt the hit, but he heard it. The muffled roar shook the stick slightly, and he looked out to see the end of his right wing shatter and flake away.” – William Diehl, Thai Horse

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” – Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988)

“It was a pleasure to burn.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

“The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make landfall in three days they would all be dead. Too many deaths on this voyage, he thought, I’m Pilot-Major of a dead fleet.” – James Clavell, Shogun

“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” – Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)

“I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge (1944)

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” –Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

“The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.” – G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

“I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed. The head of blond hair beside me was decidedly not my husband’s. I did not know whether to be shocked or amused.” – Tracy Chevalier, Falling Angels

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” – James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (1978)

“You weren’t supposed to have favorite children. If there was one thing Margaret Porter knew, it was that nothing could divide a family faster than showing favoritism, even in the most minor circumstances.” – Luanne Rice, Dance with Me

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die." —Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

“Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.” – David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)

“Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.” – Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear it Away (1960)

“Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.” – Günter Grass, The Tin Drum (1959; trans. Ralph Manheim)

“When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson.” – Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show (1971)

“He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.” – Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900)

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)

“Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” – William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (1994)

“Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.” – J. G. Ballard, Crash (1973)

"He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters."
– Virginia Wolff, Orlando

“Five weeks after Kirsten Waller's body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband. Paul Hobden, a large, blubbery whale of a man, was sleeping off the effects of a boozy lunch. In the corner of the room, a black and while film involving much swash and buckle was chattering away on the TV. While Douglas Fairbanks Jr swished his sword with laughing, lethal accuracy, Grace Hobden picked up a Sabatier filleting knife from the rack in her kitchen, went into the living room and, without hesitating for a moment, plunged the blade into the soft mound of her husband's chest.”
– Joanna Hines, The Murder Bird

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)

"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing." – Katherine Dunn, Geek Love (1983)

“It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man.” —William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (1948)

“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women.” —Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990)

“I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.” – Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

“In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.” – Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

“They say when trouble comes, close ranks, and so the white people did.” – Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” – Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

“All this happened, more or less.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

- compiled by Jodie Renner, November 2010,