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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2

  1. #1701
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Uncle Jim, I know you posted about your out-lining methods at some point... at least, I remember such a post existing. Maybe I'm misremembering, or, more likely, batshit loco.

    Er. In any case, I can't find it and I'd really like to. o_o
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  2. #1702
    Now, about those sparkles of mine.. AW Moderator SaraP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post


    Where are the folks who read Learn Writing with Uncle Jim coming from?
    Where did you get that pic from? I got some of your stories - I wonder if that portuguese flag is from me.
    Lady Sparkles, SparklePony, The SparklePony of DOOOOOM, Sparkles, Sparkles McModderson, The Sparkler, Sparklegee, The Sparkling Portuguee... I think I see a pattern here. Oh, and Horny McPoarny.


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  3. #1703
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Yo, Bartholomew.

    I have several different methods of outlining. Let me see... I suppose I should give you some.

    From Uncle Jim Undiluted, we find this bit:

    My outlines aren't submission-quality prose (though some bits do make it all the way through without change).

    They most closely resemble a guy telling his buddy about a neat movie he saw the night before -- bits of memorable dialog, descriptions, but most important the order of the scenes.

    Often at this stage I have nonce-names for characters (sometimes they're named for their function in the story: "Bestpal" or "Cannonfodder"). Sometimes the author is a character: The author looked up from couch where he sat taking notes. "Just keep talking, guys," he said. "I'll fix it in the rewrite."

    I see novels as having shape. There has to be a pleasing, balanced shape, with all the parts connected, the corners neat, and overall easy to look at.

    Try drawing a picture of your book, showing the flow of scenes and chapters. In a bit I might go into my theory of the novel as architecture.


    Typing a hundred fifty page outline runs me about two or three weeks.

    After that, bashing it around to make it into something worth playing with, then writing from the outline into a finished novel -- that can take some time.
    If you're really hard against it, here's a trick:

    Write a ten-page single-spaced, present tense outline. That's roughly 500 lines. You want a 300 page manuscript. You want to do it in 30 chapters, each chapter having ten pages.

    Great. Take those 500 lines. Divide by 30. Every 16 lines, draw a red line across the page with your red pencil. Those are the chapters.

    The first 16 lines become ten pages. You can't go on until you have 'em. The second 16 lines become ten pages labeled "Chapter Two." And so on. You can do one chapter a day, and have a novel in a month.

    It'll be rougher'n forty-grit sandpaper, but you'll have the raw material to work with. Revise from that.

    Other methods of outlining exist. Find one that works for you.
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 07-27-2011 at 02:53 AM.

  4. #1704
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Thanks! =)
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  5. #1705
    figuring it all out JenniferB's Avatar
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    Hi, Uncle Jim

    I've been reading through Learning with Uncle Jim v1, undiluted...and you give us a passage from one of your stories with a line-by-line of insight into your decisions. That marked-up passage and your discussions on being deliberate in our writing, they've really been helping me. It is also helping me in editing my first draft of my first novel. So, thanks!

  6. #1706
    Today is your last day. FOTSGreg's Avatar
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    I used Uncle Jim's method outlined above to outline a space opera novel I've been working on for awhile and discovered not just problems with the narrative, but also the length and plot line. It ended almost exactly where I had gotten to thus far and showed where scene breaks, cliffhangers, and plot holes ought to have been.

    I'm in the slow process of reworking the entire outline and plot to fix those problems. The method also ought to work with short stories.

    I've also used iCard Sort (an index card app for the iPad) to outline a book using the 3-act sequence and seen where problems are arising.

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  7. #1707
    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Yo, Bartholomew.

    I have several different methods of outlining. Let me see... I suppose I should give you some.

    From Uncle Jim Undiluted, we find this bit:

    If you're really hard against it, here's a trick:

    Write a ten-page single-spaced, present tense outline. That's roughly 500 lines. You want a 300 page manuscript. You want to do it in 30 chapters, each chapter having ten pages.

    Great. Take those 500 lines. Divide by 30. Every 16 lines, draw a red line across the page with your red pencil. Those are the chapters.

    The first 16 lines become ten pages. You can't go on until you have 'em. The second 16 lines become ten pages labeled "Chapter Two." And so on. You can do one chapter a day, and have a novel in a month.

    It'll be rougher'n forty-grit sandpaper, but you'll have the raw material to work with. Revise from that.

    Other methods of outlining exist. Find one that works for you.
    Holy cats!

    I was just this day thinking about how you did this and was starting to search through the notes to see if I could find it.

    Timely! Thanks for restating this again!
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaeal View Post
    The first draft is a huge pile of clay that you've laboriously heaped on your table, patting it into a rough shape as you go along. From the second draft onward, you'll cut away chunks, add bits, pat and punch and pinch, until you finally have a gorgeous figure of, oh, Marcus Aurelius. Or a duck. But a damn fine duck.
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  8. #1708
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    If anyone's interested in a job in publishing, Angry Robot is recruiting.

    (UK only.)

  9. #1709
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Finally have all of the Bad Blood books up, with the e-and-POD publication of Hunters' Moon.

  10. #1710
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    You got problems with your writing
    She said to me
    The answer's easy if you
    Put your B in C
    I'll show you how to move along
    When you find you're up a tree
    There must be fifty ways
    To plot your novel.

    She said it's not my habit
    To keep you from your booze
    But somehow I can't help myself
    When a writer has the blues
    So sit awhile at your keyboard
    And listen to the Muse
    There must be fifty ways
    To plot your novel
    Fifty ways to plot your novel.


    Run 'em down with a truck, Chuck,
    Deny their free will, Phil,
    Don't need to explain, Jane,
    Just twist up the plot.
    Add some sex to the stew, Sue,
    Don't let 'em say when, Jen,
    Let the mome raths outgrabe, Abe,
    And see what you've got.

    She said it's really rugged
    When a novel is half done
    There are some games that you can play
    To make the writing fun
    I said please keep on talking
    'Cause you just a hit a home run
    About the fifty ways

    She said why don't you type a page
    Before calling it a night
    She said don't pause to fact-check
    'Cause you'll fix it in re-write
    She said this is an artform
    Where things are not black or white,
    There must be fifty ways to plot your novel
    Fifty ways to plot your novel.


    Run 'em down with a truck, Chuck,
    Deny their free will, Phil,
    Don't need to explain, Jane,
    Just twist up the plot.
    Add some sex to the stew, Sue,
    Don't let 'em say when, Jen,
    Let the mome raths outgrabe, Abe,
    And see what you've got.

  11. #1711
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Cute. =)

    So, I've got a one-page outline of my novel, sans-ending, and a concept that I can use to make the ending, but I can see already that there are problems with rising tension and the novel's overall shape in the middle.

    If this were your baby, would you try to fix those problems in the one-page outline, or would go ahead and expand it into a ten-page outline and try to work out the shape problems then?

    -B

  12. #1712
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    How many chapters are you thinking of, and what word-count are you aiming for?

    ---------------------

    You could try writing a ten-page outline, just to see if you can get the shape fixed.

    Or, you might write a one-page-per-chapter outline.

    Or, if you have an idea of where you're trying to wind up, you might leap into the water and start swimming.

  13. #1713
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    How to write a novel in three days. From Michael Moorcock.

  14. #1714
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    How many chapters are you thinking of, and what word-count are you aiming for?
    Not sure. It would be a debut fantasy novel (urban fantasy), so I think I've got something close to a 70,000 word limit.

    As for how many chapters, are you asking how many scenes with their own new problems and solutions / oh-fudge moments I want to have? I suppose figuring that out is as good of a next step as any.
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  15. #1715
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Hooray for links!
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  16. #1716
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Urban fantasy? Go for 80,000 words. For that length, think of between thirty and forty chapters.

    First sex scene 1/3 of the way in (Chapter 10). Second sex scene, 1/2 of the way in (Chapter 15). Third sex scene next-to-last chapter (Chapter 29).

    No, I'm not advising cookie-cutter formulaic writing. What I am suggesting is a way to structure an outline (which will change radically in the writing, and which will change even more in the re-writing, and change far more than that in the editing). Your final work may not have any sex scenes at all, or may have one on every-other page.

    Rather than a sex scene, put in a demon fight, or fancy-dress ball, or any other major high-point climax with the last being the greatest. The main climax goes in the next-to-last chapter, with the final chapter tying the bowknot and getting the heck out of there.

  17. #1717
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    Which leads me to wonder why your womenfolk have to cry or weep so often...
    Oh would you know why Henry sleeps,
    And why his mourning Mother weeps,
    And why his weeping Mother mourns?
    He was unkind to unicorns.

  18. #1718
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Urban fantasy? Go for 80,000 words. For that length, think of between thirty and forty chapters.

    First sex scene 1/3 of the way in (Chapter 10). Second sex scene, 1/2 of the way in (Chapter 15). Third sex scene next-to-last chapter (Chapter 29).

    No, I'm not advising cookie-cutter formulaic writing. What I am suggesting is a way to structure an outline (which will change radically in the writing, and which will change even more in the re-writing, and change far more than that in the editing). Your final work may not have any sex scenes at all, or may have one on every-other page.

    Rather than a sex scene, put in a demon fight, or fancy-dress ball, or any other major high-point climax with the last being the greatest. The main climax goes in the next-to-last chapter, with the final chapter tying the bowknot and getting the heck out of there.
    I might actually write those chapters first. I know what two of those climactic scenes are (PUN STORM!!!!!) but the third one is a bit hazy. It involves a bomb probably.

    I wrote out a character list last night, partly because I'm used to having a style sheet to work against, and partly because I have two or three stick figures running around, being all one dimensional, and they really needed some flesh. I've been stuck on this novel for years. X_X
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  19. #1719
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Hey again, Unca Jim. <3

    So, I was linked to this today: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php - and I am mostly enchanted by the thought that there's an ideal scene structure. I can't quite parse this structure in a couple of books I've skimmed, though, and I was wondering if that was a fault of my eyes, or if the article is missing something crucial.

    In any case, I'm very curious if you have some method or structure you adhere to on the scene level. Apologies if this has been stomped flat into the earth already, as a topic. I had to miss a few months of posts, and haven't found the time to catch up.

    -B
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  20. #1720
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    Hey again, Unca Jim. <3

    So, I was linked to this today: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php - and I am mostly enchanted by the thought that there's an ideal scene structure. I can't quite parse this structure in a couple of books I've skimmed, though, and I was wondering if that was a fault of my eyes, or if the article is missing something crucial.
    Two things, one of which ol' Randy addresses, one of which he doesn't.

    One is that this is only one of many possible structures. Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" is a lousy sonnet, but it's a great villanelle.

    Randy addresses this by saying that while there are other possible structures, they are not perfect.

    Others may beg to differ.

    The big thing that he fails to notice or address is that the POV character and the main character are not necessarily the same individual. The POV is the character best sited to see the action of the scene. The POV is where Jack Ford set up his camera. At the big scene where the knight comes in and throws his belt and spurs into his lord's face before stalking out to become a freelance, the POV may well (and perhaps should) be a footman who witnesses it, not the lord, or the the knight.

    The only time the POV and the main character are usually one are in first-person, and not even always then: Who is the main character of any random Sherlock Holmes story? Who is the POV?


    In any case, I'm very curious if you have some method or structure you adhere to on the scene level. Apologies if this has been stomped flat into the earth already, as a topic. I had to miss a few months of posts, and haven't found the time to catch up.
    What I use, at the scene level, comes from my early training as a magician. I try to control the reader's interest and attention in order to present the information that will produce a desired effect. Those effects are plot, character, and theme.

    A novel is not just a series of scenes, however perfect those scenes may be. A novel is a whole.

    What any author tells you about how they write is true for them. What you need to find is what is true for you.

    Structuring your scenes according to Randy's retelling of Dwight's method ... might prove a useful exercise.

    Tell you what. Write a short story following the Lester Dent Master Outline, using Randy's Scenes and Sequels and his MRUs.

    No writing is wasted. Perhaps it'll open new insights for you, even if that insight is "Well, that didn't work."

  21. #1721
    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    Butting into the conversation but you've hit on one of the most eye-opening articles for me in how to structure a scene. It was a concept I was only nebulously getting until I got Swain's book and did deeper reading.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    So, I was linked to this today: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php - and I am mostly enchanted by the thought that there's an ideal scene structure. I can't quite parse this structure in a couple of books I've skimmed, though, and I was wondering if that was a fault of my eyes, or if the article is missing something crucial.
    What helped me was copying a chapter, then grabbing my highlighters and assigning different colors for the different parts of the structure units. Then I went about highlighting them systematically. I'm pretty sure that I got a couple wrong but the point was that I was looking at the text strictly from this critical view and doing it in color so I could see a visual pattern emerging.

    And I did. In several different books.

    One thing that stood out to me, though, was something that Randy addressed in the article that seems kind of buried. Because it did start to feel a little formulaic in nature as I went through the different samples I'd picked out.

    It is legitimate to leave out one or two of these three parts. (You can't leave out all three or you have no Reaction.) But there is one critical rule to follow in leaving parts out: Whatever parts you keep in must be in the correct order.
    Which was something that I had noted in my color-coding. But the color coding was all still pretty much in the structural order.

    As Uncle Jim points out (and so does Randy!) it's not the only way, it's just one. It's one that works for me, it won't work for someone else. And Randy's article does have the blindness of POV character not being the main character (which I had missed the first thousand times I read the article). I managed to interpret the POV discussion as the POV of the reader as they are reading it, regardless of whether the POV character is the main or not. I fully stand by the notion that maybe I misinterpreted something along the way.

    I still think the structure of making sure the reactions happen at the right time in many cases is critical to keep from confusing readers.
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaeal View Post
    The first draft is a huge pile of clay that you've laboriously heaped on your table, patting it into a rough shape as you go along. From the second draft onward, you'll cut away chunks, add bits, pat and punch and pinch, until you finally have a gorgeous figure of, oh, Marcus Aurelius. Or a duck. But a damn fine duck.
    Quote Originally Posted by KTC View Post
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  22. #1722
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Neither confuse nor bore the reader are the two great rules of fiction.

  23. #1723
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    My fiction's main character tends to also be the PoV character. o.o When I have two people romping around together, I usually find some reason to merge their characters.

    Hm.
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  24. #1724
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    My fiction's main character tends to also be the PoV character. o.o When I have two people romping around together, I usually find some reason to merge their characters.

    Hm.
    I wouldn't, necessarily. When you have two people romping around together they can talk together and you get dialog and such.

  25. #1725
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    I wouldn't, necessarily. When you have two people romping around together they can talk together and you get dialog and such.
    My problem tends to be that they're usually after the same goal.

    In the novel I'm working on now, however, I've got two characters romping around together and I'm very deliberately giving them diametrically opposed goals until act 3, when they realize they need to work together. I'm trying to make roughly the same moment when they realize that the villain isn't who they thought it was.

    If I was smart, I'd go study how good mystery novels do this.
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