Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

APPENDIX C. Glossary of Fiction Terms

Because this is a book for fiction writers, we used terms throughout that we expected writers to know and be comfortable with. But if you’re a newer writer, you might not have known what all those terms meant. That’s where this glossary comes in. We won’t cover every fiction writing term, but we will cover (briefly) the terms and concepts we mentioned in this book. If you realize there’s something you’ve never heard of here, please check out the other books in the Busy Writer’s Guide series and visit Marcy’s website at

Backstory – Backstory is everything that happened prior to the first page of your book.

Dialogue – Dialogue is the words your characters speak. Spoken dialogue is always placed between quotation marks in modern fiction (unless you’re writing fringe experimental fiction).

Flashback – A flashback is when you break the chronological sequence of the story to show something that happened in the past. A flashback can be as short as a sentence or a paragraph or as long as a whole scene or chapter. Flashbacks are used to provide backstory and to give the reader insight into a character’s motivation or to provide context for what’s currently happening in the “present day” of the story. Flashbacks are tricky and should be used with caution if at all because they bring the forward motion of the story to a grinding halt.

Internal Dialogue - The simplest definition is that inner dialogue is what your character is thinking. However, because the definition is so simple, a lot of writers get confused about the difference between the character thinking naturally to themselves and a character narrating for the benefit of the reader. Inner dialogue is not narration.

Point of View (POV) - When we talk about POV, we basically mean the point of view from which the story is told. Who are you listening to? Whose head are you in? In a practical sense, POV lays the foundation for everything you’ll write in your story, and it comes in four types: first-person, second-person, limited third-person, and omniscient.

Third-Person POV (Third-Person Narrator) - In third-person, a scene, chapter, or sometimes even the whole book is told from the perspective of a single character, but it uses he/she.

Melanie dug through her purse. No keys. They were here yesterday. She’d dropped them in when she came home from work, hadn’t she? She tipped her purse’s contents out onto the table, and receipts, old gum wrappers, and pennies spilled everywhere.

Everything is filtered through the eyes of the viewpoint character, and we hear their voice. You can have multiple third-person POV characters per book as long as you don’t hop between them in a single scene.

First-Person POV (First-Person Narrator) - Just like it sounds, in first-person, the character is telling us the story directly using I/we.

I dug through my purse. No keys. They were here yesterday. I’d dropped them in when I came home from work, didn’t I? I tipped my purse’s contents out onto the table, and receipts, old gum wrappers, and pennies spilled everywhere.