There’s this great late ’70s Sherlock Holmes movie—I love Sherlock Holmes movies—called Murder by Decree. It’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. In the movie, there’s this scene where Holmes confronts the head of a secret society—the Free Masons, who’ve been the creepy secret society in so many movies. Holmes has a “casual” chat with the secret guy and concludes by doing this intricate little hand gesture. Secret guy’s eyes widen in fear, because Holmes just indicated that he may be a secret, secret guy.
Wheels within wheels.
The point being that every group, trade, industry, and video game guild has their own jargon, or secret language. Writers are no exception. That way they can identify others in their group—aka the cool kids—and segregate out posers, wannabes, and Joe Pedestrian who accidentally stumbles upon a secret society-type conversation.
As I tell my writer friends—see, we even have our own set of friends … are we secret, or what?—I unfortunately am not one of the cool kids. I’m like Joe Pedestrian who somehow ended up being a writer. I’ve learned writer jargon the hard way.
For example, I was having dinner with some writers I just met and one of them asked me, “So are you a pantser or a plotter?” The other writers leaned in to learn this deep secret about me. Which I would have been happy to reveal if I had any idea what they were talking about. I had two options:
A) Admit my ignorance, be embarrassed at said ignorance, be judged and condemned, and walk around for the rest of my days with a scarlet “P” stapled to my chest. Which, for the record, still wouldn’t have answered the question.
B) Pretend I knew what they meant, which is simply postponing the admission and subsequent embarrassment, judgement, and condemnation. Adding a pinch of ridicule and baking at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.
I know I said only two options, but flight is always an option. At least it should be if you aren’t one of the cool kids. To help you avoid the shame and the staples, I’ve included a brief writer’s jargon glossary of terms I learned the hard way.
Pantser: Someone who writes without a written outline or plan. The characters and muse guide the journey. Most writers are not true pantsers—they have some structure before they start and often make notes along the way.
Plotter: Someone who writes from an outline and/or notes. Some extensive, some not so much. Most writers are part pantser/part plotter.
WIP: Work in Progress, though I’ve also heard it called Writing in Progress. Either way, no relation to the song by Devo.
CP: Critique Partner. Often this is a regular peer reader, though sometimes it is a person you share and discuss your work with regularly.
Peer Reader: A person who agrees to read your manuscript or WIP and give you notes. These notes range from simply copy edits to evaluations of plot and character and everything in between. Good peer readers who keep you on your toes are hard to find. If you do find a good one, lock them in your basement and feed them well.
ARC: Advanced Reader Copy. This is a book that’s available before the book is officially premiered. Typically sent out for reviews, endorsements, etc.
Query: The letter you send to an agent that introduces you and your work. Queries also can be sent as contest entries, to magazine editors, etc.
Sub: Short for submission.
Learn these well. There will be a test.
Or you could already be a writer.