Pantsers vs. Plotters & Other Literary Lingo You Should Know
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Like any industry or creative hobby, the writing world comes with its fair share of lingo.
When I first began learning more about the craft of writing, I came across a bevy of words and phrases whose definitions left me feeling clueless. Pantsers versus plotters? Deus ex machina? Exposition, epilogue, epigraph? It took me far too long to feel in-the-know as a new writer. If you find yourself in a similar position now, let’s take some time today to define the popular literary lingo you should know!
Pantsers, Plotters, and Plantsers — Oh, My!
When I first joined the online writing world, the very first phrase that had me scratching my head was “pantsers vs. plotters.” Being as most writers seemed to identify as one of these two terms, I figured it was pretty important that I learn the definitions and subscribe to a label as well. And so my dive into literary lingo began…
As it turns out, the definitions for these labels are pretty simple:
Pantsers: writers who draft their stories without first plotting them. In essence, they write by the seat of their pants.
Plotters: writers who complete in-depth pre-writing before drafting their stories.
Over the years, a third term has also come into prominence:
Plantsers: writers who complete some small measure of pre-writing before drafting but leave much up to discovery.
Defining yourself by one of these labels is far from necessary, especially considering that a writer’s pre-writing and drafting processes can vary from story to story. But these terms do arise fairly frequently in the online writing world in my experience, so they may be worth knowing if you’d like to get involved.
Defining Common Writing Acronyms…
The story a writer is currently engaged in planning, writing, or revising.
An unpublished copy of a work.
MC: Main Character
The primary subject(s) of your story.
The mode of narration used to tell a story, consisting of first-, second-, and third-person perspectives. Click here for more information.
PB: Picture Book
A short book with many visuals aimed toward young children.
MG: Middle Grade
An age market for fiction and non-fiction work aimed toward a pre-teen audience.
YA: Young Adult
An age market for fiction and non-fiction work aimed toward a teen audience.
NA: New Adult
An age market for fiction and non-fiction work aimed toward those in their late teens and early 20’s.
An age market for fiction and non-fiction work aimed toward an adult audience.
ARC: Advanced Reader Copy
An un-finalized copy of a book provided to reviewers pre-publication.
ISBN: International Standard Book Number
A unique number identifying a published book.
SF: Science Fiction or Speculative Fiction
Most often, SF stands for science fiction. However, sometimes the acronym is used to indicate speculative fiction, an umbrella genre containing any works with fantastical, supernatural, or futuristic elements.
Stories that incorporate fantastical elements as a core part of the plot or world.
UF: Urban Fantasy
Fantasy stories featuring real-world city settings.
PNR: Paranormal Romance
Love stories featuring supernatural or fantastical elements.
CF: Contemporary Fiction
Stories that take place in modern real-world settings.
S or T: Suspense / Thriller
Plot-driven stories featuring dramatic stakes and frequent action.
HF: Historical Fiction
Stories that take place in real-world historical settings.
A story with a happy ending, typically of a romantic nature.
AU or AR: Alternate Universe or Alternate Reality
A story that speculates what may have happened if a real-world event had not occurred or had occurred differently. May also apply to alternative fictional realities in some fan-fiction stories.
Above, I’ve listed some of the most common acronyms you’ll encounter in your writing journey. That said, there are countless acronyms for specific genres and sub-genres that may come in handy when preparing to query or publish your work. Make sure to do your research before diving in.
Are these terms even English?
Deus Ex Machina: “God From Machine”
A plot device whereby a seemingly insurmountable obstacle is suddenly overthrown by an unexpected force, often resulting in an event that feels contrived.
Bildungsroman: “Novel of Education”
A coming-of-age story in which the protagonist matures emotionally or intellectually as a result of their experiences.
Denouement: “Finish” or “Finale”
The falling action of a story, in which remaining threads of tension are resolved.
In Media Res: “Into the Middle of Things”
Used to describe a story that begins after the inciting incident has taken place, often a mystery or thriller in which a crime has occurred before chapter one.
Defining Common Story Elements…
An introductory passage placed before the first chapter in a book. Click here for more information.
A separate passage placed after the last chapter in a book that further concludes the story at hand or stirs intrigue for a related story to come.
Background information concerning characters or a story world that must be relayed for reader comprehension.
A short passage placed before a book or its parts that is designed to establish atmosphere or theme. Click here for more information.
A topic discussed in a work. For example: love, honor, duty, power, motherhood, depression. Click here for more information.
The message an author wishes to convey concerning their story’s themes. For example: love conquers all, home is where the heart is, hard work is a reward in itself. Click here for more information.
The narrated sections of a work, as opposed to dialogue. Or simply: a plot.
A separate, supporting plot line that occurs alongside the main arc of a story.
A brief summary of a story’s events. Often a one- or two-page document requested by agents.
A short one- or two-paragraph description designed to market a story to readers, often included on the back cover of a book and on its sales pages.
The unique way in which an author writes, whether as a whole or as pertains to a particular story. Often influenced by theme, prose, and narrative voice.
The speed and consistency with which a story’s events occur. Click here for more information.
The detailed conceptualization of a character consisting of their personality, backstory, interests, experiences, worldview, and more. Click here for more information.
A typical example of a character. Popular archetypes include the wise old man, the noble warrior, the maiden, the rebel, the best friend, etc. Jungian archetypes remain the most popular in literature.
A personality trait that leads to a character’s ultimate downfall.
The process of drafting a story as quickly as possible, specifically without editing as one writes. Click here for more information.
A collection of works that can be utilized in any capacity including for-profit ventures without explicit permission, as the related intellectual property rights have been forfeited or expired. Works typically enter the Public Domain when their authors have been deceased for seventy years.
This wraps up the common literary lingo I have to share with you today, writers. Are there any additional terms you’d love for me to add to this list? Don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!