Glossary of writing terms

There is a wide assortment of words, phases and jargon associated with writing. Some of it is formal, while other, much more informal, terms might exist to describe the same thing. To help you navigate all that verbiage Thanet Creative are compiling a list of writing terms.

Please note, this is a work in progress. Let us know in our forum if you would like to suggest an addition.


Some theories of storytelling divide a plot into acts. The three-act-structure, for example, sets about a quarter of the book for beginnings, half for progress and the final quarter for resolution. Other theories include the five-act-structure and the seven-act-structure. Authors and academics are divided as to the value of writing to an act structure.

Active Voice

A verb is in the passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. For example, “The ball was thrown by the pitcher”. For more on active voice see our post about why you should not worry too much about voice.

See also: Passive Voice


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Frequently a darker hero riddled with flaws instead of the positive or noble traits that might be expected from heroes.


One or more characters or situations that oppose the protagonist. In most stories, this is who you would label as “the bad guy” or villain.


The story behind the story. If these details are relevant to the current plot they are usually revealed in exposition or badly via an info dump.


An action or activity described mid-way through a dialogue scene often to accentuate character or provide a subtext to the words being used.


Some writers like to break their stories into sections. These sections are usually called chapters. Not all novels have chapters.

See also: Acts for broader divisions of a story.


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We have an entire category of posts dedicated to exploring characters and characterisation. You may find Flaws Maketh Character particularly educational. See The Character Category for a deeper exploration of this topic.

Character Arc

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The growth and expression of a character that makes them seem real and/or relatable. This can include addressing such topics as such as character motivation, flaws, and history.


Something that is old hat, over-used, and done to death. As a rule, avoid cliches at all costs.


The denouement is one of those writing terms that sounds posh and/or slightly pretentious but simply means how everything ends. The final part of a story in which the remaining strands of the plot are drawn together and outstanding matters are explained or resolved. In essence, this is where you might write “the end” were you given to putting such a thing into your own writing.


The things that characters say to each other.

Dialogue tags

Text that indicated who is speaking. Often inserted into dialogue in the form of “he said”, “she said”, or “said Lucy”.

Dramatic Irony

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The provision of background information to the reader. The revelation of aspects unique tot he story usually takes place early within the overall plot.


A change in time or pace of the plot in order to reveal a dramatically relevant series of events that have already happened.


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Genre is the broad classification of a novel or story. For example science fiction, romance, western, mystery, or biographical, to name but a few. Other than determining which shelf the book may be found on, genre has very little to do with writing itself so much as the classification of that writing so others can find the kind of story they are looking for.


A classic hero embodies positive or noble traits. The hero is most frequently the protagonist of the story.

See also: anti-hero


The opening sentence, paragraph, or passage that – you hope – will compel the reader to keep reading. The hook is sometimes called the narrative contract although these are not identical. This particular writing term is used to describe the way you sell your reader on staying engaged. There is no particular right or wrong way to do this.

Not to be confused with USP.


Imagery is the way that the words in the story conjure images into the reader’s mind. This is often the primary purpose of descriptive passages.

Info Dump

An overwhelming delivery of exposition which does little or nothing to carry the story forward or enhance characterisation. By Jove, you worked so hard on the world-building, the reader had better be ready to learn all the things.

Inciting Incident

In storytelling theory, the inciting incident is the event that kicks off the chain of events that make up the plot. Compelling the protagonist on to a quest, off for an adventure, or in some way into action.

Main Character (MC)

An informal variant term for the protagonist. In online discussions, this might further be written MMC and FMC (Male Main Character and Female Main Character) as well as other versions for alternate gender assignments.


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Narrative contract

The promise(s) that a story makes as it opens that must be met by the end of the story for the story to be considered satisfying. The contract may be in the form of a mystery that the reader will uncover or simply a suggestion as to what will follow.

Party (writing term)


A first-party story is where the narrator is also a central character telling the story from their own point of view.

For example, I took the apple from the bowl.


More difficult to write as the protagonist (or some central character) and the reader are one and the same.

For example, you took the apple from the bowl.


A form of storytelling in which the narrator is not involved with the story.

For example, George took the apple from the bowl.

There are two forms of third-party storytelling.

  • Limited
  • Omniscient

Limited is when the narrative is given only with the thoughts of the point of view character. Third-party omniscient differs from limited in that the narrator knows all.

Passive voice

Passive voice is when the object of an action is the subject of a sentence.

See also: Active Voice and our post on why this is nothing to worry about.


The plot is what happens in the story; usually, this happens to the protagonist. The plot is the narrative of your story.

Place, sense of

Sense of place is the way in which the reader experiences an awareness of the location in which the story is set.

Point of View (POV)

The perspective from which the story is being viewed.

See also: Party.


The hero or main character (sometimes shortened to MC). This is, essentially, the character the story is about.

See also: Antagonist for the opposite of a protagonist.


A story or scene that follows on from the one preceding it. “The Empire Strikes Back” is the sequel to “Star Wars: A New Hope”.

Show; don’t tell

An admonition that is often given to new writers to demonstrate the character or location rather than simply informing the reader directly.


A secondary (and often parallel) plot that weaves within the wider narrative of the story.


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Unique Story Point (USP)

In as few words as possible, the USP is what makes your story different to others in its genre.

Work in Progress

An informal term often shortened to WIP referring to an authors unfinished novel that they are currently working on.


World-building is something that writers often do to establish their own awareness of the setting. Lord of the Rings is famous for the depth of world-building that went into the story. Of all the writing terms, this is one of the few that describe something the reader may never see directly.

We have a growing collection of posts about world-building.

See also: Backstory, Exposition, and Sense of Place