Ariadne Lukas

Stories Unexpected


An A to Z resource for writers at any stage.

Note: This resource is intended to be a helpful guide for writers based on general information available on the Internet. It is not a comprehensive set of strict rules, and there are always exceptions. Please feel free to send me suggestions for new terms to add, or helpful links that support a term.


  • A = Adult
  • ARC = Advance reader copy
  • CB = Chapter book
  • CNR = Closed-No Response
  • CP = Critique partner
  • ER = Early reader
  • HC = Hardcover
  • MC = Main character
  • MG = Middle grade
  • MS = Manuscript
  • MSWL = Manuscript wishlist
  • NA = New adult
  • PB = Picture book or paperback
  • R&R = Revise and resubmit
  • WIP = Work in progress
  • YA = Young adult

Advance reader copy (ARC)

A copy of a book given to certain people who are permitted to read it before its publication date, usually for the purpose of providing reviews.

Age category

Below are general age range guidelines. (Not to be confused with genre.)

  • Picture Book (PB): <5 years
  • Early Reader (ER): 5-9 years
  • Chapter Book (CB): 6-10 years
  • Middle Grade (MG): 8-12 years
  • Young Adult (YA): 12-18 years
  • New Adult (NA): 18-30 years
  • Adult (A): 18+ years

Agent (literary agent)

Someone who represents writers and their written works to publishers (or other producers) and assists in the sale and deal negotiation.


The character or other nonhuman entity in your story that is against the protagonist.


That’s YOU! If you’ve written something, you’re not an aspiring author, you’re an author, whether you’re published or not.


A description of the physical action a character makes while speaking. Used to enhance dialogue. Learn more.

Beta reader

A test reader who reads your unpublished/in-progress work to give feedback from the perspective of a typical reader. (Not to be confused with critique partner.)

Character arc

The inner journey and change of a character over the course of the story.


Authors use a cast of various people, animals, or fantastical beings/entities to tell a story, bringing them to life with descriptions, traits, and motives, etc.
Learn more about character types.  Learn more about characterization.

Comparative titles (aka, comps)

Published books (or movies) that are similar to yours to help identify your likely readers and/or bookstore shelf placement. Comps are typically mentioned in a query letter to pitch your story to agents/publishers . Learn more.

Contests/mentoring programs for writers

Craft books

Some popular books to help you hone your writing:

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
  • The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman
  • Story Genius, by Lisa Cron
  • Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, by K.M. Weiland
  • Writing Irresistible Kitlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, by Mary Kole


Another writer’s evaluation of your writing, which identifies both what’s working well and areas for improvement. Can include everything from grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, character development, plot, pace, tension/conflict, stakes, show vs. tell, etc.

Critique partner (CP)

Another writer with whom you exchange work for the purposes of critique.
Find a CP:


Your first published book!


A conversation between two or more people. Learn more.

Dialogue tag

A short attribution that appears before, in the middle of, or after dialogue to indicate who is speaking (e.g., she said). It may also describe the volume, tone, or emotion of the dialog (e.g., she whispered). Learn more.


  • In publishing, editors play various roles, from acquiring new manuscripts (acquisitions editor) to revising accepted works to be published (copy editor; developmental editor).
  • Freelance editors provide a range of paid services (proofreading, line edits, developmental edits, etc.) to writers.


Filters are unnecessary words that separate the reader from a character’s action (e.g., she saw, she heard, he felt, he noticed). Learn more.


Categories of types of literature, for example:

  • Nonfiction: Memoir, biography
  • Fiction: Contemporary, mystery, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, literary

Learn more at, which has a comprehensive list of genres and subgenres with definitions.

Inciting incident

An event that occurs in the first few chapters that launches the main action in your story and sets your main character on a new path. Learn more.

Manuscript (MS)

An author’s text that has not yet been published.

Manuscript wish list (MSWL)

A list of the types of manuscripts (genres/topics) agents/editors are currently interested in representing. Search for MSWLs on:

  • (a searchable database of hundreds of agents/editors)
  • Literary agency websites/agent summaries
  • #MSWL

Main character (MC)

The protagonist/main point-of-view character in your story.

Narrative arc

Also called the story arc, it’s the sequence of events that unfolds in peaks and valleys throughout the beginning, middle and end of the plot. Learn more.

On submission (on sub)

An agent has accepted your manuscript and has sent it to acquisition editors who are reading it to consider offering to publish it.


A short, snappy description of your story that piques interest by describing what is unique/fresh, striking, and compelling. Typically appears in a query letter or online pitch contest, and may range from one sentence to a paragraph or more, depending on how it’s being used. Learn more.

Why it’s so important: A pitch helps sell/market your book at every stage of the submission/publishing process (to agents, publishers/editors, bookstores, and ultimately the reader and their reviews/recommendations to other readers).

Plotter Vs. Pantster

  • Plotters outline and plan their stories before writing.
  • Pantsters jump right in and write “by the seat of their pants.”

Learn more.

Point of view (POV)

The narrator’s position in telling the story. Four main POVs: Learn more.

  • First person: “I” tell the story.
  • Second person: The story is told to “you.”
  • Third person limited: “He/she” tells the story in a way that is limited to only what that character knows.
  • Third person omniscient: A all-knowing narrator tells the story from third person (“he/she”), but can get into the heads of all characters and describe things that none of the characters can see.


The underlying idea of your story that supports your entire plot. Learn more.


An pre-chapter introduction that prepares the reader in some way for the story (e.g., background details or an earlier story). Learn more.


The main character/point-of-view in your story.


A person or company that prepares and issues literary works for sale. Learn more.

  • A small press is a publisher with annual sales below a certain level.
  • The Big Five publishers in the U.S. are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Shuster. Learn more.

Publishers Marketplace

A comprehensive and searchable database of agents, editors, publishers, deals, best sellers, reviews, etc., and an invaluable resource for publishing professionals and the querying writer. Membership requires an annual fee. Learn more.

Purple prose

Overly descriptive language that does not enhance the writing, rather bogs it down (e.g., too many adjectives, adverbs, multisyllabic words, run-on sentences). Learn more.

Query letter

A one-page letter to a literary agent or acquisitions editor/publisher to seduce them into requesting/reading your work. Learn more.

Main parts of a query letter:

  • Personalized salutation
  • Introductory sentence – why you are writing to this agent/editor
  • Title, word-count, age category, genre and comp titles
  • Pitch/hook of your written work (without spoilers)
  • Author bio
  • Attachments
  • Closing/author contact info

Learn more about query openings.

Query Tracker

An invaluable resource for querying writers to find literary agents, organize and track queries, and learn about agents’ typical response times, reply rates, and more. A premium subscription requires an annual fee. Learn more.

Resources for writers

Other resources that writers might find useful:

Revise and resubmit (R&R)

When an agent/editor asks a querying writer to revise their manuscript and resubmit it for their consideration.

Show Vs. Tell

Use description and action to help a reader experience your story, rather than telling them using summary or exposition. Learn more.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov


A one- to two-page summary of your novel, including spoilers. Learn more.


The time reference (i.e., past or present) in which your character/narrator is telling the story. Learn more.

Twitter hashtags for writers


The style in which an author writes and the lens through which the reader sees the story (includes tone, pacing, word choice, syntax, etc.).  Learn more.

Words to avoid

Certain words tend to be useless and redundant, which clutters your writing and bogs down your pace. Try to avoid these in your writing: Learn more.

Word count

Below are general guidelines for the standard number of words that agents/publishers accept. (Debut authors are advised to aim for the low end.)

  • Picture Book: <1,300
  • Early Reader: 100-2,500
  • Chapter Book: 4,000-13,000
  • Middle Grade: 25,000-60,000 (or up to 75,000 for fantasy)
  • Young Adult: 40,000-90,000 (or up to 150,000 for fantasy)
  • Adult: 50,000-100,000+

Learn more. And more.

Work in progress (WIP)

Your current manuscript in the outlining/writing/editing stages.