About me:

I'm bilingual English/German and currently live in Germany. My spoken and written German is fluent, and native speakers can't tell that I didn't grow up in Germany (I speak an accent-free Hochdeutsch). Despite my rather good grip on the language, I have occasional gaps in my German vocabulary; particularly when the discussion topic gets esoteric, niche, or dives into the specifics of a profession and all the nomenclature that comes along with it. Recently I've been having this problem when trying to discuss creative writing.

My problem:

A large part of the vocabulary that I use when describe crafting a narrative in English includes words such as:

narrative, fiction, genre, theme, setting, plot arc, 
character traits, cliche, trope, story element, Sci-Fi, 
Fantasy, worldbuilding, pacing, rising action, climax, 
resolution, backstory, story, etc.

From what I've been able to find, many of these words don't translate, are just used as English, or loose some of the contextual meaning that they have in English. Take for example a common translation of the word "Narrative" into German could be "Erzählung"--to me it just doesn't sound/feel quite right, Erzählung has a more spoken-word feeling to it and is less powerful than the concept of "Narrative".

Currently, whenever I talk to someone about creative writing in German, I inevitably drop into denglish but I'd like to fix that. Where can I find some resources or German nomenclature to replace my English one?

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    One of the "problems" with English is that it has many technical terms with only a Latin root, and German usually has both a Latin and a Germanic form (the effect you exemplify with Narrativ/Erzählung vs. narrative). The cognate translation has not "lost" contextual meaning, but both terms acquire their individual connotations to the point where the may not be exchangeable anymore (in other cases, it is just a question of register: Bildschirm_/_Monitor). Jun 11, 2020 at 6:40
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    Many of these terms have german translations. One problem is that creatve writing seems to be not as important or well known in Germany as in the USA or UK. Germany has a long tradition of literary criticism, so reading articles of literary critics may help to get a grip on German literature terminology (The late Marcel Ranicki comes into my mind). However, these articles focus on 'High Literature' which is probably a bit diffreent from creative writing.
    – RHa
    Jun 11, 2020 at 8:37
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    Yeah, you'd probably get used to similar terminology by reading academic (or at least specialized) works on Literaturtheorie, and Germanistik in general. Jun 11, 2020 at 8:39
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    @RHa Also a number of these terms (e.g. fiction, genre, cliche) are simply just the same in German. Jun 11, 2020 at 12:36
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    @πάνταῥεῖ, isn’t fiction „Belletristik“ in German? As opposed to non-fiction, „Sachbücher“?
    – Carsten S
    Jun 12, 2020 at 7:18

2 Answers 2


The word "narrative" you use as example has a direct German translation: Narrativ (it comes from the latin verb "narrare", "to tell"). The translation "Erzählung" is IMHO wrong from the start, although you seem to have a slightly off definition of "Erzählung" as a literary category. The translation for "Erzählung" would be "novel".

Here is a translation for your list of words, to the best of my knowledge. Notice that some of the words are simply the same because they are derived from latin/greek roots:

  • narrative: Narrativ
  • fiction: Fiktion, (freie) Erfindung
  • genre: Genre
  • theme: Thema, Motiv
  • setting: Rahmen(-handlung), Milieu
  • plot arc: Handlungsbogen, Spannungsbogen, Nebenhandlung
  • character traits: Wesenszug, (charakterliches) Merkmal
  • cliche: Cliché or Klischee, Schablone, Plattitüde
  • trope: Trope
  • story element: Handlungselement
  • Sci-Fi: Science Fiction
  • Fantasy: Fantasy (zusammen mit Science Fiction auch "Fantastische Literatur")
  • worldbuilding: ??
  • pacing: (Handlungs-)Tempo
  • rising action: Erhöhung/Zunahme der Spannung
  • climax: Klimax, Höhepunkt (der Handlung)
  • resolution: (Auf-)Lösung, Resolution
  • backstory: Hintergrundgeschichte
  • story: Geschichte

I hope this helps.



Given your issue with the word “narrative”, I would suggest perhaps the following two books (in English) which focus on giving the reader multiple german synonyms for english words.

"A Practical Dictionary of German Usage" by K. B. Beaton – Amazon link here

"Dictionary of German Synonyms 3rd Ed" by R. B. Farrell – Amazon link here

They might not indeed contain comprehensive technical words, but are excellent references for words that have many-to-many mappings between German and English.

Both books on Amazon offer “look inside”, so you can see whether the style of their content is what you require. Curious to get your feedback.

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