A couple of days ago, I was searching for some information in Google and one of the hits was a blast from the past--the Turkey City Lexicon. Back when I decided to make a serious effort at fiction writing, I took a community education creative writing class. One of the materials distributed in the class was a photocopied, typewritten document full of typos and hand-written corrections called the Turkey City Lexicon.
So what is the lexicon? It's a collection of terms for problems that often arise in science fiction writers workshops. By having a term for these problems, participants can recognize and discuss them without having to reinvent the wheel. It was a fixture of the first critique groups I was in.
Although developed in the context of science fiction, most of the problems are common to any genre. Here are a few of the entries:
• “Burly Detective” Syndrome
This useful term is taken from SF’s cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne’s proper name, preferring such euphemisms as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth.” This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as “vertiginous.” Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.
• 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.
• Bogus Alternatives
List of actions a character could have taken, but didn’t. Frequently includes all the reasons why. In this nervous mannerism, the author stops the action dead to work out complicated plot problems at the reader’s expense. “If I’d gone along with the cops they would have found the gun in my purse. And anyway, I didn’t want to spend the night in jail. I suppose I could have just run instead of stealing their car, but then … ” etc. Best dispensed with entirely.
The Lexicon has been edited and added to over the years as it has migrated from paper to web, but it still serves writers beginning and experienced, in helping them to recognize and avoid common writing problems. So here is a link to the lexicon in the hopes that you will find it useful like I did. And do.
Turkey City Lexicon Are there any terms that resonate with you?
As a side note, Lew Shiner, one of the editors, was one of the leaders of the first writing workshop I attended. He was a harsh critic and my writing is much better for it.