Quick Check Dictionary: A brief description of words and acronyms used in the writing world

This page will grow as I come across words and acronyms in my research. If I didn’t know a word or acronym when I came across it, or if I have seen someone else struggle with a definition, it will live here.

Active Voice -In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of sentence performs the action. The Writing Center out of Madison Wisconsin offers this advice for seeking out passive voice in your work and changing it to active voice: “Look for a “by” phrase. . . If you find one, the sentence may be in the passive voice. Rewrite the sentence so that the subject buried in the ‘by’ clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence.” There is a great infographic with examples, here.

Arc –

Beta Reader – A beta reader is someone who evaluates your manuscript before you send it out into the world. Did you know that you can find beta readers on the Internet, on Instagram, on Twitter, and on every other social media tool around? Belinda Pollard is a beta reader. There are even beta reader groups like this one on Good Reads.

Conflict – This is what serves to prevent a character from reaching an intended goal. The goal blocking agent can be another character with a conflicting goal, a character’s conflicting values within himself, or societal, environmental, or technological values that are in conflict with the character’s values.

Content Editor – Looks at story and character level issues. This is the high-level phase of editing, and should be done early in the editing process. It asks questions about story arc, plot flow, stakes, character development, motivations, theme, etc.

Copy Editor – Looks at sentence, word, and grammar level issues. Jami Gold explains copy editing like this: “This phase of editing looks at the nitty-gritty: grammar and mechanics, word choice, verb tense, missing words, etc. We’re editing the copy—the actual text—on the page.”

Exposition – Generally speaking, this is a comprehensive explanation of something. In fiction writing, it is the insertion of important background information within a story; for example, information about the setting, characters’ backstories, prior plot events, historical context, etc.

First person plural or First person collective – These are stories told by a “we” (such as the town in William Faulkner’s short story, A Rose for Emily). This is a tricky POV where the true subject of the story is an individual outside of the group, and their words and actions are filtered through the narrator. Few have done it well. In addition to Faulkner, I suggest Eleanor Brown’s novel, The Weird Sisters. Brown discusses this POV on her webpage.

First person singular – These stories use I to make the story personal. A very well-known example of this is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” This is the first sentence in the first book in the trilogy. From it we know that we are going to experience whatever is to come through the eyes of one person. This perspective allows for reader immediacy, closeness, and connection. First person singular is a good choice for character-driven novels.

Flashback – Something from the past to help a reader understand what compels the protagonist in the present. I have a blog post with 10 key steps for creating a flashback that works, here.

Genre – Generally speaking, genre is a style that involves a particular set of characteristics.

Impact character – This is the person (or people) responsible for pressuring your main character to change. The relationship between the impact character(s) and your protagonist will exhibit an emotional arc from beginning to middle to end.

Inciting Incident – The moment that gets your protagonist moving toward her new goal in your manuscript.

Line Editor – Looks at scene and paragraph level issues. Jami Gold does a great job of showing the types of edits you should expect from a line editor.

Plot – A series of events that carries a character’s desire through conflict to a resolution. The main plot is what must be resolved in order for the work to be complete. Major plots directly drive or influence the main plot, and minor plots indirectly drive or influence the main plot. “How to create a plot outline in 8 easy steps,” by Glen C. Strathy, is one of the easiest reads I have found on plot.

Plot Point – Plot points send your novel in a different direction. They move your story from no where to beginning, beginning to middle and from middle to end. The first major plot point introduces conflict. It is the point of no return. And it will likely connect with the inciting incident. Writers to Authors uses Harry Potter as an example: Harry Potter finds out he is a wizard (inciting incident) and he goes to Hogwarts to learn magic (first plot point). After that first plot point, you may have any number of other plot points. If it changes your main character’s understanding of the conflict and her understanding of how to react to it, K. M. Weiland tells us, You’ve got yourself a plot point.

Present tense – In English, there are two tenses-past and present. Present tense can be used to talk about the present, the future, and the past. Here are three examples:

Present tense talking about the present: He is writing his second novel.

Present tense, but now talking about the future: He is meeting his editor in town this afternoon.

Present tense, but now talking about the past: During the meeting, his editor brags that the author handles the characters with his customary skill. Here, the editor is acknowledging that the way the author handles his characters is permanently true (past and present), and therefore the sentence demands the present tense, “handles,” and not the past tense, “handled.”



Synopsis – A synopsis is a document that shows an agent or publisher what your novel is about from beginning to end. It must include enough information to show character motivation and structure. Read my blog post on creating a stronger synopsis.

Third Person – A narrative that uses third person point of view is a narrative in which the third-person pronouns (he/she/him/her/his/hers), as well as the characters’ names, are used to describe all the characters–including the protagonist and/or the narrator(s).

Nothing is quite that simple, though. There are subtopics underneath the main topic. K. M. Weiland does a great job of explaining three types of third-person narrative: Omniscient, limited, and deep.

Transition – When you move from present to past you need to do so using transitions. A transition signals to the reader that she is headed into another space and time.

Thomas Perry does a good job of this. Here is a few lines from his novel, Sleeping Dogs: “He knew all the practical moves and involuntary gestures, and he scanned everyone, granting no exceptions. He and Eddie had done a job like this one when he was no more than twelve. Eddie had dressed him for baseball, and had even bought him a new glove to carry folded under his arm. When they had come upon the man in the crowd, he hadn’t even seen them.”

Perry changes tenses to clue the reader into the shift from present to past in the second sentence. He lets us know that he is no longer the adult scanning a crowd, but a 12-year-old version of himself who is pulling some sort of scam with his uncle. We also know that the past scene is in a crowd and that it is likely near a ball field. All of this from just a few sentences.

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