What Is the Turkey City Lexicon ? (1996)

The Turkey City Lexicon (https://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-...-sf-workshops/) grew out of the Turkey City Workshop’s use and creation of an SF and F specific vocabulary to use in critting. The original Lexicon was originally compiled by Lewis Shiner and Bruce Sterling, with inspiration and definitions lifted (and credited) to a number of writers and critics.

Much of the Lexicon is exceedingly helpful for writers of every stripe, not just SF & F, but fiction and non-fiction of various kinds. I'm linking to a revised version published by Bruce Sterling for PARAGONS, and SF zine. Subsequently, Sterling re-published the new version online on Medium.

I prefer the revised PARAGONS version posted on Medium, personally. A Science Fiction Workshop Lexicon: the Paragons Iteration (1996).

Some of the terms and ideas may help you in articulating what you see, or in revising your writing. They’re not the final word, but they are helpful. Some of them are merely opinions, and none of them are the final word. Use what works.

Some terms that I want to call particular attention to are listed below.

Extracts from A Science Fiction Workshop Lexicon: the Paragons Iteration (1996)

These are just extracts; please see the link for the full Lexicon.

“Said-book” ism.
An artificial verb used to avoid the word
“said.” “Said” is one of the few invisible words in the English
language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less
distracting than “he retorted,” “she inquired,” “he ejaculated,”
and other oddities. The term “said-book” comes from certain
pamphlets, containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the
word “said,” which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in
American magazines of the pre-WWII era.
Tom Swifty. An unseemly compulsion to follow the word “said”
with a colorful adverb, as in “‘We’d better hurry,’ Tom said
swiftly.” This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift
adventure dime-novels. Good dialogue can stand on its own without
a clutter of adverbial props.

Not Simultaneous.
The mis-use of the present participle is a
common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. “Putting
his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver
out of the bureau.” Alas, our hero couldn’t do this even if his
arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into “Ing Disease,”
the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in “-ing,” a
grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper
sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)


Countersinking.
A form of expositional redundancy in which the
action clearly implied in dialogue is made explicit. “‘Let’s get
out of here!’ he shouted, urging her to leave.”

Show Don’t Tell.
A cardinal principle of effective writing. The
reader should be allowed to react naturally to the evidence
presented in the story, not instructed in how to react by the
author. Specific incidents and carefully observed details will
render auctorial lectures unnecessary. For instance, instead of
telling the reader “She had a bad childhood, an unhappy
childhood,” a specific incident — involving, say, a locked closet
and two jars of honey — should be shown.
Rigid adherence to show-don’t-tell can become absurd. Minor
matters are sometimes best gotten out of the way in a swift,
straightforward fashion.

Info-dump.
Large chunk of indigestible expository matter intended
to explain the background situation. Info-dumps can be covert, as
in fake newspaper or “Encyclopedia Galactica” articles, or overt,
in which all action stops as the author assumes center stage and
lectures. Info-dumps are also known as “expository lumps.” The
use of brief, deft, inoffensive info-dumps is known as
“kuttnering,” after Henry Kuttner. When information is worked
unobtrusively into the story’s basic structure, this is known as
“heinleining.”

Stapledon.
Name assigned to the auctorial voice which takes
center stage to deliver a massive and magisterial info-dump.
Actually a common noun, as in “I like the way your stapledon
describes the process of downloading brains into computer memory,
but when you try to heinlein it later, I can’t tell what the hell
is happening.”

Frontloading.
Piling too much exposition into the beginning of
the story, so that it becomes so dense and dry that it is almost
impossible to read. (Attr. Connie Willis)
Nowhere Nowhen Story. Putting too little exposition into the
story’s beginning, so that the story, while physically readable,
seems to take place in a vacuum and fails to engage any readerly
interest. (Attr. L. Sprague de Camp)

As You Know, Bob.”
A pernicious form of info-dump through
dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already
know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very
common technique is also known as “Rod and Don dialogue” (attr.
Damon Knight) or “maid and butler dialogue” (attr Algis Budrys).
I’ve Suffered For My Art (and now it’s your turn). A form of
info-dump in which the author inflicts upon the reader hard-won,
but irrelevant bits of data acquired while researching the story.
As Algis Budrys once pointed out, homework exists to make the
difficult look easy.