An A – Z Primer of Important Writing Terms

- by Judy Griffith Gill

An A to Z Primer of Important Writing Terms Every Author Must Know

by Judy Griffith Gill

Aardvark—this word has no bearing whatsoever on the following. I simply like the sound of it, and because it begins with a double A, it comes really early in the dictionary. Say it aloud. Come on now, all together. “Aardvark.” Yes! Doesn’t it have a cool sound? Sort of like a duck quacking. Those two syllables can clear throat and nasal congestion faster and better than Sinutab.*

* Sinutab is a registered trademark and must always be capitalized and some up-tight corporate bean-counters would even have your write “Sinutab over-the-counter nasal congestion relief tablets” so there can be no mistake about what it is. They’d probably like it even better if you put a little TM symbol right after it and noted in bold face type the name of the drug company that manufactures it. I would do that here, except I use a different product and have no idea who makes that stuff that works almost as well as saying “Aardvark” a few times.

Action— This is the stuff the people in your story do, like waving their arms, banging fists on tables, striding down streets, taking careful aim, letting out half a lung-full of air, then gently squeezing the trigger. sneaking behind the barn, and kissing, not necessarily in that order. Your People (the important term “Your People” will be explained later. Right now, accept it.”) as I was saying, you can often use action to denote which of Your People is speaking. Or not. e.g. “Darling…” She snuggled up close. “Was it good for you?”

“Zzzzzz….Snort! Zzzzzz…..”

Adjectives— These are the kinds of words all the experts tell us to avoid whenever possible in an attempt not be overly wordy, not to write so-called “purple prose”, to make a conscious, professional effort to keep our writing clean, clear and concise, to make every word count. . e.g. Instead of writing “she had long, flowing black curls, which the wind caught and tossed wildly as the storm at sea threatened to capsize the ship, ” long, flowing black curls,” to please some of those experts, we should write, “She had hair.”

Adverbs— See above, with the following e.g. thrown in for good measure: Instead, write: “She had hair, which she had to hold back when . . mal de mer attacked.” Oops. Scratch that. Using foreign phrases unnecessarily is showing off, especially if you insist on Italicizing them because of course you are convinced no one in your readership will know what mal de mer means and will therefore consider you excruciatingly erudite. As an alternative, write, “when sea-sickness struck.” Or, even more concise, “She held back her hair and barfed.”

Alright—I don’t care what you read in newspapers or comics or cereal boxes, or poorly edited books. “Alright” is “Alwrong”. It is permissible to have a character form a fist and punch it into the air, crying “Aw-right!” when something particularly wonderful happens, such as he scores a goal or learns to tie his shoes. All right is correct and yes, I am a stuffy, persnickety old grammar cop. Deal.

All together—This has a completely different meaning from “altogether”. If you don’t believe me, look it up. You have a dictionary, don’t you? No? No? Then Google it.

Background Information— AKA Backstory. This is stuff you’re not supposed to put right up front because to do so will slow the progression of the story and maybe even let Readers in on who is whom and why they are in your story at all. Instead, leave it all out until Chapter Twelve. If you do this, your editor will be sure to tell you you need more of it in Chapter One. Then, when you’ve put it in Chapter One, he’ll change his mind and tell you to put it all back in Chapter Twelve.

Boy— AKA Hero. You think? Nope. Not unless your name is Mark Twain or his ilk and your protagonist is Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or their ilk, or you’re writing fiction for kids. In modern, contemporary fiction, a hero (male protagonist) is a man, or a guy, or a nerd or a geek or a Greek God or an assassin. What he is not, is a boy.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome— A serious disability caused primarily by typing too fast.

History of:

Prisoners of War in a fortress in the Carpal Mountain region of northern Europe in 1944 got tired of reading things like Little Women, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, the Bible, and Gray’s Anatomy, which was all the Red Cross could offer them, so they decided to write their own books to entertain each other. However, lacking writing implements and paper upon which to set their immortal–or should that be “immoral”? I’ll look it up. In a minute.) words, they had to escape their mountain fortress which necessitated digging a tunnel from their basement workshop, through the Carpals and thence under the Baltic, which eventually led them to Stockholm where they invented the fast computer keyboard, because they had to write quickly in order to be back in their concentration camp by dinnertime since someone among their three hundred had snared a rat and each wanted his share. This affliction is also known as the “Stockholm Syndrome.” Some experts disagree with the above. They just don’t get it!

Chapters— These are divisions in a book. They are larger than sentences, larger than paragraphs and larger than scenes (unless you’re writing lit’rary fiction, in which case they might consist of one word or perhaps if you’re very, very experienced, one letter, usually “I” because it takes up less room and white areas on a page make it so much more int’resting, don’t you know?) but smaller than books. Each chapter has a beginning, a middle and an end. But then, so do sentences and paragraphs and scenes. Even the letter “I” has that if you print it like my granddaughter does, laboriously. Often, before she does that, she creates a scene. School is not her favorite place.

Characters— These are the all the people in your books, including the real People (heroes and heroines, the latter hereinafter referred to as Your People. See? I said you’d get an explanation.). Characters are different, they sort of sneak in and get in the way, but can sometimes be useful. You know, like mouthy taxi-drivers, nosy next-door neighbors, grabby co-workers of the male variety, the kind who tell off-color jokes of which women are the butts, and expect women to laugh uproariously and when they greet such jokes with cold stares, whereupon the guys accuse them of being rabid feminists and not good sports at all and tell them if they can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen—this from a guy who probably only ever sees frying pans as they descend toward his occipital region. Well, no, he wouldn’t see them under those circumstances, would he, because the occipital region is in the back of his head and it’s only mothers who have eyes there. But the characters in your story are the kind of people about whom readers either snicker or grit their teeth and mutter, “What a character,” as opposed to Your People, whom they will automatically adore because you do.

Clichés— These are no-nos. No experienced writer would use one even if his life was in danger. Published Authors, who belong to a clandestine society into which unpublished are never admitted because they might learn The Secret, have all sworn solemn oaths not to use them until hell freezes over. An experienced writer would cut off his right, er, hand rather than use a cliché.

Dashes— Those come in 100 yard, 500 yard and 1000 yard. Anything longer than that is an endurance test and should be avoided at all costs. Actually, now I think of it, so should the first three. But if you want to break a sentence differently from using a period or a comma or a two-by-four, then you can use another kind of dash which is nothing more than hitting the hyphen key twice in quick succession and hoping like hell it doesn’t come at the end of a line-wrap because then it’s liable to break in two and you’re right back to having two hyphens which looks really, really silly and drives copy-editors crazy. On the other hand…Yeah! Go for it! Copy-editors deserve to be driven crazy because that’s what they do to writers.

Description— See “adjectives” and “adverbs” then try to write description without using any. Go on. Give it a try. I dare you.

Dialogue— This is when two or more of Your People in your story are talking, usually, but not necessarily, to each other. Sometimes one or the other or both of them can be talking to, instead, a “character” or whacking him with a cast iron frying pan, but that comes under action: Necessary.

Next month, we feature the letter E and some Important Words beginning with it. There will be more of these vital facts that every writer must not only know, but memorize, revealed in upcoming months. There will also be pop quizzes when you least expect them, so be prepared.

My two most recent e-books are both updates of Loveswept titles. Golden Dreams and City Girl are both available now from


  1. Judi, you have a great sense of humor and I’m enjoying your erudite adjective laden posts. I’ll have to check our your books- I whip my flowing locks downward to shield my visage as I shamefully admit I haven’t read any of yours – YET ;-)

  2. Beautifully, graciously and elequently said

  3. elOquently! Always spell check! Don’t do as I do–do as I say.