A pencil is a particular kind of linear system of divisors on V, namely a one-parameter family, parametrised by the projective line. This means that in the case of a complex algebraic variety V, a Lefschetz pencil is something like a fibration over the Riemann sphere; but with two qualifications about singularity.
The first point comes up if we assume that V is given as a projective variety, and the divisors on V are hyperplane sections. Suppose given hyperplanes H and H′, spanning the pencil — in other words, H is given by L = 0 and H′ by L′= 0 for linear forms L and L′, and the general hyperplane section is V intersected with
which is in fact well-defined only outside the points on the intersection of J with V. To make a well-defined mapping, some blowing up must be applied to V.
The second point is that the fibers may themselves 'degenerate' and acquire singular points (where Bertini's lemma applies, the general hyperplane section will be smooth). A Lefschetz pencil restricts the nature of the acquired singularities, so that the topology may be analysed by the vanishing cycle method. The fibres with singularities are required to have a unique quadratic singularity, only.
- S. K. Donaldson, Lefschetz Fibrations in Symplectic Geometry, Doc. Math. J. DMV Extra Volume ICM II (1998), 309-314
- P. Griffiths; J. Harris (1994). Principles of Algebraic Geometry. Wiley Classics Library. Wiley Interscience. p. 509. ISBN 0-471-05059-8.