Writing terms glossary

The writing terms glossary is under ongoing construction. If you have a writing term you’d like defined here, leave a comment below (with links to sources if you have them). -W


Action Duo – Relationship set formed between two characters where one character is the tough, brawny ‘badass’, and the other is a ‘survivor.’ Read more about Action Duos on TV Tropes. 


BIC-HOK – ‘butt in chair, hands on keyboard.’ pronounced “Bick-hock.” Refers to the philosophy that you have to sit down and put your hands on the keyboard, and simply doing this everyday will naturally make you a more productive writer. Listen to the Writing Excuses Episode 16: Butt in chair, Hands on Keyboard

Byronic Hero – Character type named after the works of Lord Byron, because many of them exemplified this ideal. Byronic heroes are ‘dark’, often anti-heroes, anti-villains, or villain protagonists. They have strong ideals, but possess character flaws that cause them to act in ways reprehensible to mainstream society.


Canon – What is generally agreed to have ‘actually happened’ in a work of fiction by the fans and creators of that work. Read about canon on the Fanlore Wiki.


Deus ex machina – An unexpected power or event saving the characters from an impossible situation. Literal translation: “God from the machine.” Read about deus ex machina on Novel Writing Help.


Eucatastrophe – Term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe a sudden turn of events in fiction to save a character from nearly certain doom or terrible fate. A form of deus ex machina, because an impossible problem is suddenly solved by forces or events outside of the narrative. Example: In Season 3 episode 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Amends), Angel is prevented from committing suicide by sunlight when the sun fails to rise for reasons that are not explained. Read about Eucatastrophe on Wikipedia.


French Scene – Theater and film convention that states that whenever a character enters or exits, a new scene begins. Read about French Scenes.

Freudian Trio- The “power trio” as described by Freud’s part’s of the human psyche: the id, ego, and superego. Describes a team of three characters, one acting on feeling and instinct (id), one on thinking and rationality (the superego), and who acts as a reconciling force and pivot point between the other two (the ego). Together, these three personalities act as a single unit. One example of this trope is found in Harry Potter with Ron (id), Hermione (superego), and Harry (ego.) Read more about Freudian Trios on TV Tropes. 



Head canon – Something that an individual believes about a fictional world, event, or character that is neither supported nor contradicted by the story’s text. Read more about Head Canons on Urban Dictionary.






Maguffin/Mcguffin/Macguffin – A maguffin is a goal, object, or person that a character pursues. Usually a writing device used to move the plot. By definition, a maguffin’s nature is unimportant to the overall story; it could simply be switched out for something else without any large consequences to the narrative itself. Read about maguffins on tvtropes.com.

MC -abbreviation of ‘Main Character.’

MFC – abbreviated form of ‘Main female character.’

Meet Cute: When two characters who are going to have some level of romantic relationship meet for the first time.

MICE Quotient – System to classify your story based on where the story begins and ends, coined by author Orson Scott Card in his writing book Characters and ViewpointThe acronym ‘MICE’ stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Read more about the MICE Quotient here.

Moral Event Horizon -Named for the boundary around a black hole from which there is no escape once crossed, the moral event horizon refers to an evil act that, once a character commits, they are considered irredeemable. Moral Event Horizon on Tvtropes.com.




Plot armor – When a character (usually the MC) is completely impervious to likely death or injury in a way that is inconsistent with the story’s world because they need to be alive in order for the story to continue.

Power Trio – Type of relationship formed between three characters where one is is logical, one is emotional, and the third acts as a pivot point between the other two. Example: Han (emotional), Leia (Logical), Luke (pivot point). Together, these three characters form a single cohesive unit. See also “Freudian Trio.” 



Rashomon Style story – A type of story where several different characters recount their version of events, and all the events are impossible to reconcile. Note that none of the characters are lying – they just remember the events differently because of the things they noticed and their own personal beliefs – their point of view is “skewed”. Read more about Rashomon Style Stories

Red Herring – a red herring is something that intentionally distracts from the truly important issues. For example, one character might be suspected to have committed a crime, but is only a distraction from the true culprit. Many authors – especially in the mystery and thriller genres – use red herrings in order to surprise their readers. Learn more about red herrings.


Skavonian Dissonance – Coined by Lani Diane Rich and Alistair Stevens over on Storywonk, this term refers to when a thing or character’s informed characteristics or personality differs from how that thing is actually portrayed. Skavonian Dissonance on Storywonk.com.

String of Pearls / String of Pearls Plot – A string of pearls is an oft-abused story structure where the protagonist goes through a series of challenges or plot points that have little to do with the narrative overall. These plots points can be switched around chronologically or even omitted entirely with almost no affect on the plot. Read about the String of Pearls Plot.



Vanity Publishing – paying a vanity press to ‘publish’ a book for you. This is different from self publishing in that with self publishing, you are hiring editors, copy-editors, and cover designers to do those specific tasks for you. If any publishing company asks you for money to publish your book, they are a vanity press.


World Builder’s Disease – when a person spends too much time building their story’s world to procrastinate from actually writing the story. Sometimes can become an obsession. Read more about World Builder’s Disease