Shoot the Shaggy Dog

Like any industry, writers, editors, and publishers have their own lingo. While it helps save time when you know it, some people just starting out might not know exactly what a publisher means when they’re sending out ARCs or what to do when an editor tells you you should Lampshade something. So, for those just starting out:

1. CMS: Chicago Manual of Style, a style guide also known as the editing bible for most publishers. Where newspapers use AP Style and academic periodicals tend to use APA, publishers 99 percent of the time turn to CMS for all those tricky style questions.

2. ARC: Advance Review Copy, a copy of a book which is close to being released given to book reviewers and beta readers. Also called “galleys” ARCs might have a few typos the final proofreaders need to catch before the launch, but they allow reviewers time to read the book and have a review ready around the official release date.

3. Lampshade: Also known as “Lampshade Hanging“, Lampshading is a writing device where the writer acknowledges that what they have just written might seem improbable enough to threaten a reader’s suspension of disbelief. It serves the purpose of highlighting that the author knows that what just happened seems improbable and often is played for laughs (for example, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie, Professor Mcgonagall asks, “Why is it that when something happens it is always you three?” Ron Weasley’s answer: “Believe me Professor, I’ve been asking myself the same question for six years.”)

4. Meta Data: Information about a book that helps it get to the right readers. Meta data includes the ISBN, keywords, publication date, etc.

5. As you know, Bob…: A form of exposition where a character is speaking of something for purely the reader’s sake. This is often started with “As you know…” with the writer then using dialogue to explain things even though everyone else in the scene knows the information already. Due to its unnatural feeling, it is generally discouraged. It can, however, be lampshaded, for example (sticking to the Harry Potter theme) Voldemort in A Very Potter Musical stating “I know, I hear everything you hear!” when Professor Quirrell outlines exposition at the beginning of a scene.

6. Duology: The lesser known cousin of a trilogy–a series consisting of only 2 books, such as Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice/Trickster’s Queen or Carol Berg’s The Lighthouse duology.

7. POV: Point of View. Whether it’s first person (I), third person (he/she), or little used second person (you), every book is written with a POV. The POV character is whose thoughts the reader follows. Poorly controlled POV in “third person limited” (where the narrator is a character in the story limited by their own personal knowledge) can lead to headjumping, so it is important to figure out who is relating the scene as a narrator, be it the “I” or a “He” character (if you’ve had me as an editor, you might be familiar with the note “POV slip” in a third-person novel)

8. Epistolary Novel: “Epistolary” meaning “written in a series of letters” an epistolary novel is a novel which is written as though it is other written documents (be it letters, emails, texts, or anything else).

9. Foreword/Author’s Note/Introduction/Prologue: Often all confused for each other, each means something a little different at the beginning of a novel. A Foreword is something written by another person about the novel/author (often written by people more famous than the author themselves or a mentor for academic works), an author’s note is something that is written by the author that is at the beginning of a book, but not part of the story. An introduction is close to an author’s note, but something generally written by the author about the book that is not part of the story in any way. A Prologue is part of the story that sometimes serves as a “chapter one” but takes place “outside” of the main story (either by happening years before the main story starts or with characters who are not part of the main group). Introduction and Prologue are perhaps the most commonly flipped leading to confusion between people in publishing and those not familiar with the terminology.

10. Shaggy Dog Story: A shaggy dog story is “a plot with a high level of build-up and complicating action, only to be resolved with an anti-climax or ironic reversal, usually one that makes the entire story meaningless.” As TV Tropes explains, “The classic example is a man who bankrupts himself trying to return a shaggy dog to a rich family in England for reward money — when he finally makes it there, he’s told that the dog “wasn’t that shaggy” before the door’s slammed in his face. The End.” A shaggy dog story can be one-upped by becoming a “Shoot the Shaggy Dog” where not only has the story been meaningless, but the characters end up going to meaningless deaths for their trouble. Nineteen-Eighty-Four has been dubbed a “Shoot the Shaggy Dog” story where (spoilers) the main character, after spending the novel trying to break out of his dystopia, is beaten back down, scheduled for execution, and entirely content with it.


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