A part of speech that names abstract, non-concrete mental constructs like ideas and concepts. The word “abstract” comes from the Latin abstractus, meaning “removed from concrete reality,” which comes from the past participle, abstrahere, which means “to pull away.” Latin is a neat language. The Latin prefix abs means “away from.” The suffix traheremeans “to pull.” Abstract nouns like extraction, extrapolation, jealousy, philosophy, misconception, agglutination, and thought fill up the page. They convey information by telling. They distort word-pictures. One main function of line-editing is cutting abstract nouns to make room in the garden of prose for more word-pictures. See Operation Ratio, Concrete Noun, Weak Verb, Strong Verb.
A section of a play, film, opera, or novel. The word act comes from the Latin agere, meaning “to drive, to do.” To control your rewrite, divide your novel into three acts.
Steps taken by a character to seize the resource base, or object of desire. Example: The resource base in Cinderella is the Royal Castle.To get the castle, Cinderella must nab the Prince. To nab the Prince, Cinderella must penetrate the royal threshold and get to the Royal Ball. To penetrate the threshold, Cinderella needs the proper costume. To access the proper costume, Cinderella calls for help. Help arrives from the Fairy Godmother, who brings the glass slippers.
The character who opposes your protagonist. Ante means “against” and agonist(es) means “one who competes.” See Monster, Death Crone, Subplot One.
A Jungian term for the ur-characters of story: Hero, Monster, Triple Goddess (Virgin-Mother-Crone). Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), a world-famous psychologist, used archetypes like Anima and Animus to interpret dreams. Maria von Franz, one of Jung’s interpreters, called archetypes “those dynamic nuclei of the psyche.” Archetype comes from the Latin,archetypum, which comes from the Greek, archetupon, which means impression, pattern, or mould. For story-telling (writing, rewriting), we reduce a greater archetype to a lesser archetype – Hero to Warrior; Monster to Dragon – and then to a specific character: Warrior to Beowulf, Dragon to Grendel. Archetypes wield formidable power: Cinderella, a Virgin archetype, has spawned over 4,000 named characters. Lesser archetypes locked together like King-Queen-Stranger plug your story into King Replacement, a power-grid for story-telling. See Core Story, Rags to Riches, King Replacement.
The clever, far-sighted, deep-peering Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.) who gave us Beginning, Middle, and End, which gives us three acts and a climax, which enables the clever writer to build a stick-figure schematic that creates a visible structure for plot.
A visual schematic of a dramatic structure. A rising line depicts rising action. Vertical lines divide the line into Acts. A line with an arrow tip indicates the climax, near the End.
What happens to the characters before Page One. Back story is the Pandora’s Box of secrets. Secrets hold the key to character motivation. Example: In the back story of Moby-Dick, the white whale bit off Ahab’s leg. This back story trauma drives Ahab to the End of the book. In the back story of Jane Eyre, Jane’s parents die. As the book opens, she lives with nasty Aunt Reed, a Wicked Stepmom figure.
A compressed image from Jack Kerouac’s 30 Rules for Writers in Essentials of Spontaneous Prose that admonishes writers to write the novel with word-pictures. Here’s Rule number 26: “Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form.” Bookmovie erases the Novel of Ideas in our time.
Writing sentences chained together by end-word first-word repetition. Example: repetition like the dog has fleas. Fleas leap off the dog onto my arm. Arm rhymes with charm and you forget the dog and try to get unstuck from nonsense. Nonsense with a funny rhythm. Rhythm in chaining uses the rigid containment powers of your left brain to short circuit the left brain editor. Paradox. When you chain your sentences, three things happen: first, you feel trapped in a lockstep sequence that obliterates meaning; second, your ambitious brain leaps to the end of the sentence and that leap sets you free; third, when you’re set free, you start to have fun. Planning the end of the sentence is more fun than thinking about what you really want to say. In Greek rhetoric, chaining is called anadiplosis.
A purging of emotion by the audience after witnessing a fine, first class piece of dramatic literature: film, stage play, novel.
The people in your story. For a novel you need to fill the three main character roles: Protagonist, Antagonist, and Helper. To support the Big Three, you need half a dozen minor characters and two dozen walk-ons. See Plot, Subplots, Subplot One, and Core Story.
An information sorter. Standard column heads are: Name, Role, Archetype, Plot or Subplot, Object, Fate, Entry, Exit, and Core Story. By isolating plot from subplot, the grid provides the weary writer with a snapshot of texture: subplots stacked under the plot.
A brief one-page list of observed character traits – hairdo, eyes, eye makeup, jewelry, clothing – which stimulates a writer’s creative guesswork about what motivates characters.
A ladder of key dates reaching up from the past that stretches to the end of the story. Smart writers use chronology to highlight trauma in the past, trauma that drives agenda in the present.
The high point of a designated story-span: scene, chapter, story.
Closed Circle (Intruder)
A sacred space: the space can be physical, like a prison, a locked room, a confession booth, a bird sanctuary, a nation-state with borders. The space can be metaphorical, like the psycho-sociological unity created by two lovers, by a club or platoon or religious sect. When an intruder penetrates the sacred space, the result is drama. See intruder.
Coming of Age
Coming of Age is a core story about growing up, crossing a threshold, childhood to the next stage. Coming of Age works for youthful characters like Huck Finn and Margaet Atwood’s teenage narrator in Cats’ Eye; it also works for older characters like Ebeneezer Scrooge and the writer played by Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.
A part of speech that helps the writer coalesce the language to make word-pictures. In the writing world, “concrete” is a metaphor for physical detail. “Physical detail” means language that grabs the reader’s sense perception. If you check “concrete” in your handy desktop dictionary, you’ll see entries like “specific, not general” and “a thing or group of things as opposed to an abstraction.” Concrete comes from the Latin “concrescere,” meaning “to grow together, to harden.” For the savvy writer, concrete nouns split into two large groups: objects (book, car, airplane, statue, hammer, tong, rock, tree, wallet, Gladstone) and body parts (tongue, lip, thigh, knee, ankle, toe, eyebrow). See Sacred Object, Abstract Noun, Operation Ratio.
A power tool that untangles plot from subplot. There are seven core stories. King Replacement, Queen Replacement, Coming of Age, Rags to Riches, Grail Quest, Revenge Quest, and Scapegoat Sacrifice. Core story welds ritual to archetype, and then plugs into deep myth. Example: Cinderella’s core story is Rags to Riches. The ritual buried in Rags to Riches is an ascent, a scrambling sweaty climb up the economic ladder. Core story is like a thick steel cable coursing through your work. For more detail, see the specific core story.
The King dies; a Stranger replaces the King.
The Queen dies; a Stranger replaces the Queen.
COMING OF AGE:
The King grows up. The Queen grows up.
RAGS TO RICHES:
The poor peasant (girl or boy) climbs the economic ladder.
The Knight hunts the Holy Grail.
The Tarnished Knight hunts the Evil Character.
The Scapegoat gets slaughtered; Society feels safe.
The Third Aspect of the Triple Goddess, Virgin-Mother-Crone. The Good Crone is the Wise Old Woman; the Bad Crone is the Death Crone. In The Crone, Barbara Walker says that the Crone in our time is a suppressed archetype. See Death Crone.Death Crone
Her job is presiding over the execution of the Hero. Smart writers disguise their Death Crones, transforming them into young bodies pulsing with fertility and sex appeal. Examples: Katharine Clifton in The English Patient, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Nora Papadakis in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Sarah Leary in The Accidental Tourist, Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, Irina Asanova in Gorky Park, Miss Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. Death Crones make terrific antagonists.
A rhetorical mode made with concrete nouns, strong verbs, and pictorial adjectives. There are three types of description: character, landscape, and object. Raymond Chandler, the detective writer, became world-famous with his descriptions of Los Angeles.
A rhetorical mode where two characters talk.One: I hope it doesn’t rain.
Two: I don’t mind a little rain.The best dialogue conceals subtext. The worst dialogue explains the story. Expository speeches by your characters. To write good dialogue, follow the Five Rules: 1) one-two, one-two; 2) echo words for glue; 3) object in the dialogue; 4) link to the past; 5) hook to the future.
A rhetorical mode made from mixing weak verbs with abstract nouns. Exposition comes from exponere, to explain, to elucidate. Its function in the novel is stopping the story to explain the story. When you line-edit, cut all exposition. Chop it out. Trash your exposition.
To write fragments you toss out verbs, the beating heart of the word-picture. In return, you explore a rhythm that can get poetic, not a bad trade. In Greek rhetoric, this is called ellipsis. The conscious removal of a particular part of speech.
A core story based on the wandering knight-errant who seeks the Holy Grail. The quester, a low-verbal knight errant who cannot ask the question, quests far and wide (through Wasted Land and Blasted Desert and Mysterious Chapel Perilous) for a sacred vessel connected to the Last Supper, a Big Event in the Christian Religion. In the Grail tale from the middle ages, the Grail was a sacred object, a silver vessel carried by a Grail Maiden dressed in white samite. For different twists on the spine of the Grail Quest, change the object. The quest for a weapons implacement buried in a hillside in Greece produces a tale like The Guns of Navarone. The quest for a mythic jeweled bird produces The Maltese Falcon, a mystery based on a treasure hunt. Key figures in the Grail Quest: The Quester, his Sturdy Mount, The Grail Object, The Fisher King, The Grail Maiden, The Mysterious Castle, Chapel Perilous, The Dragon in Disguise, The Wasted Land.
One of three main roles for a character in your novel. The Helper acts as a catalyst, a force for change.
Alien or stranger who penetrates the closed circle to make drama. Example: In Jane Eyre, Jane invades Thornfield Hall, then the Library, then the Tower where Bertha Mason is caged. In The Accidental Tourist, Muriel Pritchett invades the life of Macon Leary. Three things can happen to the intruder: 1) repelled at the threshold; 2) evicted following penetration; or 3) assimilated by the interior.
A turning point or hot spot in the story where plot collides with one or more subplots. Screenwriters name key scenes: Plot Point One marks the end of Act One; Midpoint marks the middle of the plot; Plot Point Two marks the end of Act Two.
A core story based on ritual regicide and a sexual triad of King-Queen-Stranger. The king is old and the land is dying, so the queen replaces the king with a fertile stranger. The king, a sick old man, is a scapegoat who pays for the dead land with his blood. Key figures in King Replacement: The Sick (Rich) Old Man, The Beautiful (Young) Queen, The Handsome (Beefy) Stranger, the Wasted (Ruined) Land.
A ritual for writers in search of perfect prose. Line-editing works the words on the page. The philosophical basis of line-editing is Bad Prose can get better if the writer fixes the syntax and replace bad words with good words. Line-editing works better if you have a strategy. See Operation Ratio, Noun, Verb, Syntactic Flex.
List of Scenes
A rewriting tool. By compressing named scenes into a list, the writer gains control of sequence, the key to building dramatic intensity.
Long Sentence Release
An exercise for Syntactic Flex where you write one long sentence and where your left brain says “period here” you replace the period with speed-connectors like AND, SO, BUT, THEN, WHEN, AND THEN, AND SO, AND WHEN, and then at the edge of your longest known sentence, the longest sentence you never remember writing, you break through the cyclone fence of left brain containment and you leave the closed circle of contained language your left brain editor goes berserk. In Greek rhetoric, the long sentence release is called polysyndeton. The conscious addition of conjunctions like AND, BUT, SO.
A key scene, or a series of linked scenes, at the middle of the plot.
The force that drives your characters. Motive comes from trauma in the back story. Cinderella’s Mom dies. Her dad marries an evil person who cages Cinderella. Cinderella wants out. Motive creates a character agenda, steps taken by the character to satisfy her wants and needs. See Agenda. The best source for motivation is Back Story.
A rhetorical mode that compresses time. Example: John St. John was born in 1902. He lived a long life with much hard work. He died in 1985.
A part of speech that names persons, places, things – all graspable through the senses – and fuzzy mental constructs that are graspable only through the brain. See Abstract Noun, Concrete Noun, Operation Ratio.
Novel of Ideas
A discursive body of words with no plot, no conflict, and no visible antagonist. Endless exposition and interior monologue. Weak verbs and abstract nouns.
A snapshot of your style. Follow this process: Select a passage of 200-300 words. Circle the nouns and make two lists: concrete nouns and abstract nouns. Concrete nouns are perceptible with the five senses. Abstract nouns are mental constructs apprehendable by the intellect. Bird is concrete; administration is abstract. You need all sorts of nouns when you write, but if you are writing fiction, where the language is word-pictures, then you need an overweighting in concrete nouns. If your concrete column numbers 50 and you abstract column numbers 50, then your ratio is 1:1. To write good fiction, you need a ratio of 8:1, concrete to abstract. In his Alexandria Quartet, Laurence Durrell has some passages with ratios of 20:1, concrete to abstract. See Nouns, Verbs, Concrete Nouns, Abstract Nouns, Weak Verbs, Strong Verbs.
Repetition of key phrases at strategic locations in your prose that enters English from the Bible (“Blessed are the poor in spirit….Blessed are they that mourn…..Blessed are the meek….”) and from Greek rhetoric.
A great book on Greek rhetoric is Edward P.F. Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. This example comes from Corbett: Anaphora repeats words at the beginning of phrases: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing fields….” (Churchill)
The path of the protagonist. What happens first and what happens next and what happens after that and how the story ends. See Aristotle’s Incline, The Mythic Journey, List of Scenes, Sacred Object, Climax, Resource Base, and Core Story.
Plot Point One
A screenwriting term for the key scene that marks the end of Act One.
Plot Point Two
The key scene that marks the end of Act Two.
The lead character in your novel. Protagonist is derived from the Greek. Protos means “first, foremost” and agonist(es) means “one who competes” for the prize. Most protagonists are good guys/gals, and therefore worthy of friendship with the reader. The job of the protagonist is to control the surface, what the reader sees.
A core story built on a sexual triad: Queen, King, Stranger. The queen is old or no longer useful. The king replaces her with a younger female. In The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler), Macon Leary replaces wife Sarah with Muriel the magical dog-trainer. Macon, the king figure, is spiritually dead. Key figures in Queen Replacement: The Other Woman (Man), The Victim Queen, The King in Near-Death (Ticking Clock), The Rich Old Man as Death God.
Rags to Riches
A core story about a threshold crossing to gain access to a resource base. The movement is up: an ascent from rags (poverty) to riches (wealth, safety, comfort). The main ritual in Rags to Riches is climbing the economic ladder. The popular archetype in Rags to Riches is Cinderella, a Virgin. Key figures in Rags-to-Riches: Cinderella, the Evil Stepmother, the Fairy Godmother (Mythic Helper), Villainous Helpers, the Handsome Prince, the Economic Resource Base (wealth, castle, big house, big corporation, fat bank account, fertile land, garden, etc.), the Big Celebration (wedding, funeral, party, dance, etc.).
The object of desire in your story. What do the characters want? What will the characters kill for? What thing will they die for? Money? A job? A castle on the hill? A city-state in ancient Greece? A country? A planet? Gold? Buried treasure? Loot? A statue of a black bird? A motel? Resource base is more obvious in cinema. Example: the resource base in Road Warrior is the fuel depot; the resource base in Water World is dirt; the resource base in Working Girl is the House of Money. At its most basic level, story is a competition for the resource base. Resource base keeps the rewrite simple.
A core story thata narrows the hunt for the Holy Grail into the hunt for a live creature, human, animal, alien thing. The motive for the hunt is payment. Prince Hamlet wants revenge for his father’s death. Captain Ahab wants revenge for his lost leg.
An observed action that accrues rigidity and uniformity through repetition. Jay Gatsby throws parties. His motive: he hopes the noise and the lights will attract Daisy, a married female. His repetitive party-throwing is a courtship ritual, innocent, romantic, hopeless.
A concrete noun repeated numerous times in your prose. Examples: the sacred object in The Great Gatsby is the yellow car; the sacred object in The English Patient is the book of Herodotus; the sacred object in Jane Eyre is the letter; the sacred object in Moby-Dick is the harpoon. Sacred objects tighten the structure of your novel.
A core story that involves the punishment of an innocent. When something bad happens – murder, loss, scandal, corruption, plague – society needs a scapegoat to take the blame. Example: When the kingdom of Thebes is ravaged by a plague, Oedipus the King tries to pin the blame on Tiresias, to make Tiresias a scapegoat. The pattern here is substitution of an innocent, a goat who takes the heat for the bad guy. Scapegoat sacrifice is a staple of mystery novels. Society lusts for revenge (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life), so bad guys use the frame-up to make someone besides the killer pay for the crime.
A bucket for drama. The word “scene” comes from the Greek skaena, meaning tent, and from the Latin scaena, meaning stage or theater. A scene in fiction is a single action or a series of linked actions taking place in a single setting in a finite period of time. For your rewrite, see List of Scenes.
One component of the Syntactic Flex exercise. Compressing into short sentences (“See Spot run. I want my cookie.The grass was short.”) constricts your narration. Narration compresses time. Short sentences compress narration, squeezing it down. You can hear the squeezing when you read aloud. In Greek rhetoric, this technique is called asyndeton. Writing short sentences takes you back to childhood. The thoughts are simple. No room for tat polysyllables.
A term borrowed from theater: time, place, temperature, season, lighting, props, objects in the landscape. In a novel, stage setup is alerts the reader not only about time and place, but also about mood, atmosphere, and depth of scene. Stage setup contains symbols, added dimension to the writing. Smart writers build solid stages.
A technique borrowed from film-making: sketching the parts of a scene before the writing starts. A storyboard includes stage setup (time, place, temperature, season, lighting, sounds, smells, symbols, images), characters and their relationships, dialogue (subjects and subtext), action (large action and supporting actions), point of view, climax, and exit line.
A barebones description of plot or subplot. To find the storyline, write for ten minutes using this startline: “This is a story about…”
A part of speech that helps the writer make word-pictures. Strong verbs come from concrete nouns like hammer and smash and lob. Example: The boy hammers the baseball. When you write fiction, you need to overweight strong verbs to weak. See Weak Verb, Operation Ratio.
A secondary story running under the plot. “Sub” is a Latin prefix. It means under, below, beneath, down there.
Home of the antagonist. Key to dramatic conflict. Key to your rewrite.
Subplots Two, Three, Four, Five
Secondary storylines attached to major characters in a piece of dramatic literature. Multiple subplots create a thick texture, tough to handle in a rewrite. Jane Eyre has five subplots; The English Patient has five subplots; The Great Gatsby has six subplots. The most important subplot is Subplot One, home of the antagonist. See Monster, Death Crone.
An exercise that uses syntax to put more rhythm in your prose. The process uses timed writing, moving the writer through four syntactic patterns: short sentence (a form of asyndeton); fragment (a form of ellipsis); chaining (a form of anadiplosis), climaxing with the long sentence release (a form of polysyndeton). What happens is this: Compressing with short sentences constricts your narration. Fragments drop the verb, leaving your syntax hanging in space. Chaining forces you to repeat the last word of Sentence A as you start Sentence B. The Long Sentence Release kicks your prose into overdrive. You speed along, lose control, and soar into insight. See Short Sentence, Chaining, and Long Sentence Release.
Virgin-Mother-Crone, three aspects of the major female archetype. The Virgin is a young female. Her color is white. The Mother is a child-bearing female. Her color is red. The Crone is an ancient female. Her color is black. See the Trinity entry in Barbara Walker’s Woman’s Encylopedia of Myths and Secrets. See Death Crone and Rags to Riches.
A part of speech that kills your chances of writing word-pictures. There are four kinds of weak verbs: subjunctives, passives, infinitives, and interiors.
Subjunctives: would, could, should, may, might, must.
Passives: The ball was hammered by the boy. It has often been thought that…
Infinitives: In order to get downtown, it is necessary to ride the bus.
Interiors: think, know, understand, allege, assume, opine, realize.
See Operation Ratio, Strong Verb.
The language of fiction. Jack Kerouac, in Spontaneous Prose, has 30 rules for writers. Rule 26: “Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form.” And Rule 22: “Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better.”
Writing like an athlete trains; writing every day, whether you feel like it or not; writing under the clock, timing yourself to distract the internal editor; writing with these rules: keep the hand moving, don’t cross out, don’t edit, go for the jugular, go for first thoughts, don’t think, lose control, spend it all. See Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.