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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2

  1. #1776
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by batgirl View Post
    I get that bad decisions make for good stories. I'm puzzling over how an intelligent and wary character makes that bad decision plausibly and without losing reader sympathy.
    Have you any examples that might clarify this for me?
    with much thanks,
    -Barbara
    The character thinks someone else knows something that character doesn't actually know. Or thinks the character doesn't know something that they actually do know. One of my characters gets deep deep DEEP into trouble by assuming that some people who are only trying to frighten him are dead serious.

  2. #1777
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    The character can face a situation where there are no good choices.

    The character can be misinformed. The character can be mistaken. The character can be overconfident, or underconfident. The character might be lacking a crucial piece of information.

    "Looking back on it now, the decision to go to Cleveland that night might not have been a good one...."

  3. #1778
    Writting broad batgirl's Avatar
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    Thanks! Rep points all around!

    -Barbara
    will crit for rep points
    "Your commas are pretty good." TNH
    okay, I have a blog



  4. #1779
    practical experience, FTW Jake Barnes's Avatar
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    Shouldn't the bad decision result from a flaw in the character? If the character makes a decision because he doesn't have all the info, maybe it's because he's impulsive. If the bad decision results from something outside of the character (a letter with the important information gets misdelivered by the post office) it seems arbitrary.

  5. #1780
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    The protagonist may not be the person who made the bad decision. The mayor of the town may have made a really bone-headed decision that the protagonist now has to deal with.

  6. #1781
    Your friendly neighborhood Chat Op AW Moderator JMC2009's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    The protagonist may not be the person who made the bad decision. The mayor of the town may have made a really bone-headed decision that the protagonist now has to deal with.

    A mayor making a bone-headed decision and making someone else deal with it? No reader would ever believe that something like that would happen.
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  7. #1782
    practical experience, FTW movieman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jake Barnes View Post
    If the bad decision results from something outside of the character (a letter with the important information gets misdelivered by the post office) it seems arbitrary.
    Not really. The movie Brazil, for example, ultimately all comes down to a spelling mistake on a computer printout in a world where mistakes aren't allowed to happen ('I tortured Buttle to death, it's not my fault that it was supposed to be Tuttle'). The characters turn that into a disaster through their responses.

    If the plot turns repeatedly on such things, yes, it probably sucks; but I don't see a problem with starting the story with someone else's mistake or bad decision.
    Last edited by movieman; 11-21-2011 at 10:41 PM.

  8. #1783
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    You're allowed an astounding coincidence or random event to start a story. You just aren't allowed one to give your story its conclusion.

  9. #1784
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 11-30-2011 at 07:55 PM.

  10. #1785
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    Hello James,

    No questions, just a few comments.

    First of all, Thank You, for the years that you have put into this thread. I started at the beginning of Volume 1, and am currently up to just past Christmas, 2003. You have been a tremendous help to me in the month or so that I have been coursing through this information.

    I have started BIC 2 hours every single day. Thanksgiving morning was going to be difficult, so I set my alarm clock extremely early to get the time in. Turns out, I loved it & am doing that everyday now. I have also begun ‘2 hours every day with UJ’, immediately following.

    I wanted to share a few things with you… Your POV examples from Moonlight Becomes You was extremely insightful to me. Opened my eyes to things I really did not understand.

    In my WIP (my first ever writing project), I have learned and fixed several things. I am an exclamation point whore. WOW! … never even noticed it. Well, outside of one paragraph (where I have a need for many of them), I have reduced about 40 !s down to just one !. And then, After that, I did a quick little search on “and then”… wow, I’m not even going to tell you how many I had, but I reduced all of them except one very easily. Then I rewrote the entire paragraph of the one that I felt like I needed. So, all gone!

    I’m still having a little trouble getting rid of the “She screamed, hollered, whispered, laughed, etc, “Hi There” … I revised many of them to “She said,” … I just can’t bring myself to change several others.

    Anyhow, just wanted to say thanks and let you know that at least one person is back at the beginning and attempting to learn what you have been teaching for so long!

    ~Casey.
    ~Peace!
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    ~Casey

    Current WIP: The Village - Their Voyage home
    ----------

  11. #1786
    practical experience, FTW Blue Sky's Avatar
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    Hi Unc and All,

    Jim, I was wondering if perhaps, after the holiday assignment, you might consider another ending analysis? To me that was more challenging than beginnings, but fun and useful.

    Another thanks for the wealth of knowledge shared on this thread. Although I've written only non-fiction lately, lively, engaging writing remains lively, engaging writing.

  12. #1787

  13. #1788
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Hello, Casey. I'm glad you're finding the thread useful.

    You don't need to remove/change all the dialog tags to "she/he said," but you do need to think about all of them. They're spices. Without them, the stew is bland. With too many, its inedible.

    I can certainly do another ending analysis after the holidays.

    And, yes, it's time for another Christmas Challenge.

    This year's Christmas Challenge is A Story in Four Days.

    First, decide on what your protagonist's problem is. Then decide on a period of four in which the protagonist can reasonably expect to solve it. Thus, if his/her problem is a broken shoelace, a reasonable time to solve it is four minutes. If the problem is a broken marriage, though, the time scale will be more likely four years.

    Now, over a four day stretch, write a short story. On the first day, write about the protagonist's attempt to solve that problem in the first time increment. End with discovering that the problem isn't what it seemed at first; there's a new, bigger, hairier problem. Fifteen-hundred words is a good aiming point.

    The next writing day, write about the second time increment, as your protagonist attempts to solve this second bigger, hairier problem. This ends, not with the solution to the problem, but with the discovery that the real problem is something entirely different, and far worse, than the protagonist thought. Again, fifteen-hundred words would be nice.

    The third writing day, you'll again do fifteen-hundred words, about the third time increment, as your protagonist tries to solve this new, nearly-overwhelming problem. At the end of this section, the protagonist discovers that the problem is really another thing, and its really, really bad. Horrible. Worse than anything that had come before.

    The last day, your writing will: Fill the fourth time increment. Resolve this new, horrible problem (through the protagonist's own efforts). And solve the original problem. Thus (with the shoelace example), at the end of the 6,000 words, the protagonist has the murderer who was hiding in the closet neatly tied up and awaiting the police, and is wearing a pair of slip-on shoes so the shoelace problem is solved (she/he can buy a new pair of shoelaces on the way home from work).

    Again, write and polish. Present it to your family and friends on Christmas Eve (while waiting for Santa Claus to bring you a new plot point (you've been good!)), revise it according to their comments/what you thought of while reading it aloud, and send it out (to a paying market!) on the second of January, 2012.

  14. #1789
    Grand adventurer of the couch Grunkins's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Outstanding.

    I can only hope there is a reply. But then, who would write it?
    "Lady Ramkin's bosom rose and fell like an empire." - Terry Pratchet


  15. #1790
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grunkins View Post
    Outstanding.

    I can only hope there is a reply. But then, who would write it?
    There appear to be several attempts to write Literature's reply to Genre in the comments section of that post. They are not all of them enlightening.
    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (Niki)

    Author, occasionally published. Watch this space for more, or visit the amazing actually writing blog. (It actually writes!)

  16. #1791
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    Addendum:

    I've spent at least as long as between that last post of mine and this reading the entirety of the Volume 2 thread. HELLO PRODUCTIVITY SINK HOW ARE YOU I AM DOING FINE. And it's fantastic how much of the content from all over the thread is timely to my current writing challenges.

    It was funny to see Uncle Jim mention using Strange Horizon's "Stories we see far too often" as a writing challenge, because 1) right there on the page, they say, "Please don't take this as a challenge and insert these elements intentionally," which rather raises the bar*, and 2) I am currently waffling on submitting a story to them that may fall afoul of one of the items not on that page but on their special page of horror tropes they see too often.

    On the one hand, "Don't reject your own work! There are people to do that for you!" And on the other hand, "This really really is dead center of the intersection of #5 and #6, even if it's also got this literary layering I think they'd get a kick out of."

    On the third hand, rereading this thread reminded me that there's also Tor.com to submit the piece to first.

    So, thank you as always for this thread. I was going to send it all sorts of traffic via a post over at Boulder Writing Examiner (I'm trying to run a series of posts about "So you've just finished NaNoWriMo. What now?"), except WHERE DID MY AFTERNOON GO I ONLY READ ONE THREAD. So maybe tomorrow.

    And then maybe the day after that I'll have a question, once I figure out where I'm at with the various fictional items in the queue that got delayed by NaNoWriMo.

    *For what it's worth, I like the idea of using the list as a challenge. I'm just also tickled by the encouragement to use that list in precisely the way it authors urge readers not to. On the other hand, one can submit the results to any number of places other than Strange Horizons.
    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (Niki)

    Author, occasionally published. Watch this space for more, or visit the amazing actually writing blog. (It actually writes!)

  17. #1792
    Grand adventurer of the couch Grunkins's Avatar
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    Jim, I've spent the last few days reading Uncle Jim, Undiluted and you have earned yourself another fan.

    I'm currently slogging through a badly written first draft of a novel and am thrilled that you actually gave me permission to write badly. Up until now I've been feeling very grim about it and have been questioning my talent.

    All my prior writing has been an intolerably slow process of fussing over every line before I allow myself to write the next one. This method simply can't work to write a novel length piece of prose. So I decided JUST GET IT DOWN and worry about making it pretty later. Despite the conscious decision to do this my prose has offended me, paragraph by paragraph. I think you have freed me a bit and I've noticed I'm getting more words on paper over the past few days than I have previously.

    Thank you very much and please keep this epic thread alive!
    "Lady Ramkin's bosom rose and fell like an empire." - Terry Pratchet


  18. #1793
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    People only see your final draft.

    The books you read in the library are a final draft that's been edited.

    Do not expect your first draft to be as polished as someone else's edited final draft. False expectations can freeze you.

  19. #1794
    Naked Futon Guy allenparker's Avatar
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    Grunkins, Maybe Jim will send you the certificate. it worked for me.
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  20. #1795
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    I have committed BIC. Two hours that started with "I don't know what to write!" and ended with "I think this is going to be a novel." About 4500 words so far (which doesn't include the bit where, because I didn't know what to write, I started describing my breakfast). Life is good.
    Last edited by NicoleJLeBoeuf; 12-16-2011 at 12:28 AM.
    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (Niki)

    Author, occasionally published. Watch this space for more, or visit the amazing actually writing blog. (It actually writes!)

  21. #1796
    Grand adventurer of the couch Grunkins's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NicoleJLeBoeuf View Post
    I have committed BIC. Two hours that started with "I don't know what to write!" and ended with "I think this is going to be a novel." About 4500 words so far (which doesn't include the bit where, because I didn't know what to write, I started describing my breakfast). Life is good.
    Is that 4500 words in a single two-hour BIC session? If so, holy crap.
    "Lady Ramkin's bosom rose and fell like an empire." - Terry Pratchet


  22. #1797
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grunkins View Post
    Is that 4500 words in a single two-hour BIC session? If so, holy crap.
    Eek! I wasn't trying to brag. I was just so pleased to have finally managed a 2-hour BIC session -- with actual new material going onto the page!

    I type fast. One of my tricks for a 3,000 word day this NaNoWriMo was 4 15-minute word sprints interspersed with 15-minute breaks. Each sprint got me about 750-800 words.

    But I suspect I'm in bad habits. With November only just over, now I kept having to tell myself, "It's OK, you can stop and think a little between sentences. Really. The fingers can pause for a second or two here and there."

    What's hard for me isn't the word count or even coming up with something to write, but the BICness of it all. I get restless. Two hours straight is a push. I did it in half-hour increments with small breaks in between during which time I combed some wool for spinning. Combining writing with spinning is kind of nice.
    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (Niki)

    Author, occasionally published. Watch this space for more, or visit the amazing actually writing blog. (It actually writes!)

  23. #1798
    Grand adventurer of the couch Grunkins's Avatar
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    Jim, regarding the—mdash—in manuscript form, is it written as--?
    "Lady Ramkin's bosom rose and fell like an empire." - Terry Pratchet


  24. #1799
    Esteemed thinker Calliopenjo's Avatar
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    Hi Grunkins,

    I'm not Uncle Jim but for em-dashes, I use Alt 0151. Hold the ALT key while typing the numbers. It works if you have a number pad on your keyboard.

    Somebody else might have a suggestion if you don't have a number pad.

    Wounded I sing, tormented I indite. — Victor Herbert (1859-1924)

  25. #1800
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    I try not to use any extended-ASCII characters when in manuscript form. Straight quotes, not curly; three periods rather than MSWord's ellipsis symbol; two hyphens together rather than Alt 0151.

    I am not sure whether the preferred convention is for spaces around the em-dash -- or not--though. I've gotten in the habit of spaces though.
    Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (Niki)

    Author, occasionally published. Watch this space for more, or visit the amazing actually writing blog. (It actually writes!)

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