THE SAILOR’S WORD BOOK, a copy of which sits on my shelf, is crammed full of marvelous terms relating to sailing in 1867 when the book was published. Bran, for example, means to lie under a floe edge, in foggy weather, in a boat in Arctic seas, to watch the approach of whales.

Before I read THE SAILOR’S WORD BOOK, I had never heard the word bran outside of discussions of cereal and roughage. Now I yearn to bran.

In writing, too, terms take on meanings specific to our craft. At the last Hamline MFA residency the faculty discussed how we could create succinct definitions of the most frequent, and sometimes confusing, terms that keep cropping up in our conversations about writing. A few weeks ago when Marsha Q asked what words readers thought we’d do well to define, suggestions included psychic distance, emotional life of a character, and texture. Here are some additional terms I jotted down:


emotional line

endowed object



hero’s journey

intrusive narrator


talismanic word

ticking clock


unreliable narrator

world building

Anything else you’d add?

And by the way, if you perchance are planning on branning, I would love to come along.