This terrific article was brought to my attention the other day by one of my creative writing professor at school. The Turkey City Lexicon a hilarious look at the clichés, pitfalls and incongruities of the Science Fiction genre and looks to help writers, new and old alike, avoid them in the future!

Lewis Shiner, the original editor of the article, explains:

“This manual is intended to focus on the special needs of the science fiction workshop. Having an accurate and descriptive critical term for a common SF problem makes it easier to recognize and discuss. This guide is intended to save workshop participants from having to “reinvent the wheel” (see section 3) at every session.

The terms here were generally developed over a period of many years in many workshops. Those identified with a particular writer are acknowledged in parentheses at the end of the entry. Particular help for this project was provided by Bruce Sterling and the other regulars of the Turkey City Workshop in Austin, Texas.”

Here are just a few of my favourite quotes!

“Said” Bookism
‘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.’

“An element of motivation the author was too lazy to supply. The word “somehow” is a useful tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. “Somehow she had forgotten to bring her gun.”

Dennis Hopper Syndrome
“A story based on some arcane bit of science or folklore, which noodles around producing random weirdness. Then a loony character-actor (usually best played by Dennis Hopper) barges into the story and baldly tells the protagonist what’s going on by explaining the underlying mystery in a long bug-eyed rant. (Attr. Howard Waldrop)”

The Kitchen-Sink Story
“A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the author in the process of writing it. (Attr. Damon Knight)”

And Plot
“Picaresque plot in which this happens, and then that happens, and then something else happens, and it all adds up to nothing in particular.”

This is only a small sample of the tips, tricks and anecdotes contained in the full list. Any aspiring writer (or fan of the genre) should be sure to take a look at this! It may be geared towards SF, but it applies to pretty much any genre of speculative fiction and is sure to make you laugh!

You can find the entire thing HERE!

  • The Book Swede September 27, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Somehow, I managed to miss this! An excellent list — aren’t professors cool!?! I hate it when I read words that go out of their way to replace “said” — it’s annoying … but I’ve been told that when I write I do just that :(

    Oh well! — off to read the rest of this great list!

  • aidan September 27, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Glad you’re enjoying it, Chris! Professors are cool… most of the time! This particular one really knows what he’s talking about and always points out neat things like this to us in class.

    I expect this won’t be the last one I post about!

  • JDavidBodzin November 1, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    What a great article, thanks for sharing! It was both highly amusing and informative. And I was glad to see that I was only guilty of a few of the minor infractions.



  • aidan November 3, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it! It’s a nice feeling to find out that you’re not guilty of too many, eh?