Glossary of Story Terms

– A –


A-Plot

The main storyline that spans the narrative. All subplots (including B-Plot and C-Plot) should eventually circle back to the A-Plot to inform the main idea.

See also: B-Plot, C-PlotA/B/C Stories in TV WritingNarrative (Wikipedia)

A-Story

Another term for A-Plot.

Act

A division of story. Feature films usually have three acts while short films may have only two. Plays, one-hour TV dramas and novels may have up to seven or more. A short play without an intermission or act break is sometimes referred to as a “one-act.”

See also: Act Break, Three-Act Structure, Act (Wikipedia)

Act Break

The break between two acts. In traditional network and cable TV, commercials appear during act breaks.

See also: Act

Atmosphere

The sense the audience gets from the setting and world of the story. Atmosphere may vary over the course of the a story, but is generally conveyed through devices in the story’s background. Often confused with Mood or Tone, these are actually subparts of Atmosphere, which is a bigger idea.

See also: Mood, ToneAtmosphere Definition (Literary Devices)

– B –


Bible

See Show Bible.

B-Story

Another term for B-Plot.

– C –


Central Character

The primary character around which the story revolves, but not necessarily the Protagonist. Film tends to combine both Central Character and Protagonist more often than fiction. In fiction, the Protagonist may also be the person observing the Central Character. There are several exceptions to both. For example: Saving Private Ryan (film) and Hunger Games (book).

See also: Protagonist, Hunger Games (book), Hunger Games (movie), Saving Private Ryan (imdb)

Central Idea

The core idea behind your story. Everything that happens in your story explores this idea. For example: “What if pigs could fly?” While that may be your story’s central idea, it hasn’t been fleshed out enough to be considered a Premise or Concept. Everything that happens in your story relates back to this epicenter.

See also: Concept, Premise, Promise of the Premise

Cinephile

A lover of film and film history.

See also: 10 Artistic Films To Watch Before You Die, Minimalist Reviews

Concept

The central idea behind your story, fleshed out with inherent complication, conflict, world, standard operating rules. The narrative experienced by the audience illustrates how this concept plays out under the conditions defined in the story world. Most consider Concept, Premise, and Central Idea to be one and the same, but in practice they have several useful distinctions. Essentially, a Central Idea is just the idea germ itself, while the Premise is more detailed, containing a promise to the audience about the type of story they will see. Concept is more comprehensive than both.

See also: Central Idea, Premise, Promise of the Premise

C-Story

Another term for C-Plot. Although used in most long-form storytelling formats, this terminology is specific to TV.

– D –


Draft

A version of your story. Each new “draft” represents a separate iteration of your story. Ideally, each new draft will improve the story in a meaningful way.
See also: Rewriting

– E –


Entr’acte

Traditionally, the space between acts in a stage play. In modern theatre, Entr’acte (or entracte) refers to an Intermission.

– F –


Feature

A full-length Feature Film.

Feature Film

A normal full-length movie. Typically refers to films with a run time of 70 minutes or more, although the industry averages 90 to 120 minutes (1.5 to 2 hours). Moviegoing audiences rarely see anything but Feature Films.

See also: Short Film

– G –


Genre

In storytelling, Genre refers to a category of story that stereotypes a certain set of conventions immediately recognizable to the audience. Genre is essentially a shorthand with the audience that circumvents explaining the rules of that genre (such as “mystery” or “sci-fi”), especially if the audience is already familiar with those rules. Genre also helps us keep track of the types of the stories we like and dislike, and why.

See also: Genre Fiction, Genre (Wikipedia)Genre Fiction (Wikipedia), What is Genre Fiction?

– H –


High Point

The Climax. Alternatively, may refer to the “high point” of action in a story, character, or relationship arc.

– I – J – K –


Intermission

A break between acts in traditional theatre. In the days of celluloid film, longer theatrical films may include an intermission. During an intermission, the audience is given the opportunity to enjoy restrooms, snacks, and socialize while the stage crew changes the set in preparation for the next act.

See also: Entr’acte, Theatre (Wikipedia)

– L –


Laundry List

A list of issues to be addressed in the next rewrite or draft of your story.

See also: Powerful Rewriting Tools #1: The Laundry List5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Rewriting Process

Literary Fiction

A genre of fiction that focuses primarily on the human condition. The film equivalent is called a drama. While literary fiction is a genre in of itself, it is not genre fiction, nor is it necessarily literature.

See also: Genre, Genre Fiction, Literature, Literary Fiction (Wikipedia), Literary Fiction (Novel Writing Help), Literary vs Genre Fiction (Huffington Post)

Literature

Written works that have withstood the test of time. Typically books, short stories and novellas, although may also include poetry and stage plays (drama). Literature tends to appeal to a wide audience based on the universality of human experiences. Literature is not a genre, and may be genre fiction or literary fiction. For example, The Hobbit (book) is a work of literature that falls into the fantasy genre, but is not literary fiction. Catcher in the Rye is an example of literature that is simultaneously literary fiction.

See also: Genre Fiction, Literary Fiction, Literature (Wikipedia)


– M –


Minimalist Review

A compact movie, book, TV or game review that analyzes storytelling technique and offers advice on how the story can be improved. Unique to StorySci.com (and we don’t pull our punches)! Click here to learn more.

Mood

The emotional or visceral that an audience experiences during the story. Mood can be created by setting, tone, and the way characters view and interact with the world. Mood is a subset of Atmosphere.

See also: Atmosphere, Tone, Mood Definition (Literary Devices)

– N –


Novel

A book, typically a work of fiction.

See also: Novelist, Novella, Short Story

Novelist

A writer who specializes in Novels.

See also: Novel, Novella, Short Story

Novella

A type of medium-length work of fiction that falls ambiguously between the realms of short story, long story and short novel. Novellas occupy a gray area similar to that of a 60 or 70-minute film.

See also: Novel, Novelist, Short Story

– O –


Obligatory Scene

A type of scene that absolutely must go into your story because the story cannot proceed without it, nor can the Concept develop any further. The most common type of Obligatory Scene involves a climactic confrontation between the Protagonist and Antagonist, but only one will be victorious.

See also: Climax, Scene

– P – Q –


Premise

A Central Idea with an added complication or “but” that promises a dramatic story. For example: A man-eating shark attacks vacationers at the beach during peak summer season (Central Idea), but unable to close the beach because it will bankrupt the town, a brave hero goes to sea to the hunt the shark (complication/but). Once this idea gets fleshed out even further, it will become a true Concept.

See also: Central Idea, Concept, Promise of the Premise

Promise of the Premise

A tacit promise the story makes to the audience that it will deliver a narrative based on the Central Idea. Your story should make any required setups in act one and then move into the act two development section to explore the Premise.

See also: Act, Act BreakCentral Idea, Concept, Premise

Protagonist

The main character in a story. Not to be confused with the Central Character, who may or may not be the Protagonist. While the Central Character acts as the focal point for the plot, the Protagonist is usually the most proactive in seeking to achieve a particular goal or set of goals. A proactive Protagonist is a must-have in Screenwriting, but novels tend to allow more leeway in this department, particularly in literary fiction.

See also: Central Character


– R –


Rewriting

The second or third major phase of story development in which existing material is restructured, rewritten, or rearranged to improve the overall story. Every new rewrite results in a new draft of your story.

See also: Draft5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Rewriting Process

– S –


Script Analyst

A Script Consultant that reads, assesses, and provides professional coverage. Usually a freelancer.

See also: StorySci Services

Script Consultant

A Story Consultant specializing in screenplays (film).

See also: StorySci Services

Show Bible

A comprehensive document that details everything there is to know about a TV show or story series. The volume and breadth of information covered varies, but tends to include overall story feel, goals, themes, character biographies, season (or book) and episode synopses, as well as the future direction of each storyline. Not a reference to the Holy Bible.

See also: 10 Tips For Rewriting That TV Pilot

Story

A cohesive unit of narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning introduces the story being told while the middle develops that idea toward a climax, which resolves to answer the question raised at the beginning of the story. The end!

Story Consultant

A storytelling professional that provides constructive advice on how to develop, improve, or rewrite a story. Although consultants are relatively common in film and TV, they are less so in fiction, novels and stage plays. At StorySci.com, we offer top notch story consultation services for any medium, including novels, games and film.

See also: StorySci Services

Synopsis

A summary of your story that also conveys the overall concept, main plot arc, primary characters, and how the story resolves. Your synopsis should contain a beginning, middle, and end while also providing an accurate snapshot of your story in a compact, digestible size.

See also: How to Write a Synopsis (Writer’s Digest), How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis (Pub Crawl)

– T –


Teleplay

The script for a TV show. Although formatting and technique are similar to that used in feature screenwriting, the requirements of the TV medium are somewhat different.

See also: 1-Hour Drama, Pilot, Sitcom, 10 Tips For Rewriting That TV Pilot, Screenplay, Stageplay, Teleplay Difference (Final Draft)

Text

The literal surface message conveyed by the story–that is, the “action.” Consisting of external action/reaction, dialogue, and what characters do, Text simply tells the audience what happens next. Although necessary to tell an effective story, it remains secondary to subtext.

See also: Subtext, Subtext, Part 1: What Is Subtext?, Subtext, Part 2: What Does Subtext Do?, Create Subtext Through Implied History

Title

The name of your story. Think of the title as the shortest, briefest synopsis of your story there is.

See also: Where Does The Title Come From?, Helpful Tips To Nail That Story Title, Titles In Practice

Tone

The attitude of your story, shaped by how your narrative interprets events, as well as how character react to those events. Unlike Mood or Atmosphere, tone typically should remain consistent throughout your story. Tone is part of what makes up the Atmosphere.

See also: Atmosphere, Mood

– U – V – W –


Understudy

A theatre reference to an actor or actress who learns the part of a leading or significant role so that if the original actor/actress is unable to perform, the Understudy can take their place on stage.

See also: Theatre (Wikipedia), Understudy (Wikipedia)

– X – Y – Z –


Zoom

The camera technique of changing focal length to increase or decrease the apparent size of the target object. “Zoom In” enlarges the target while “Zoom Out” pulls back to make it smaller, thus increasing the total viewing range.

See also: Zoom Lens, Zooming (Wikipedia)

Home to James Gilmore, professional storyteller and story consultant.

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