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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #5251
    Whore for genre HConn's Avatar
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    Diane, if you back that lime pie, take a better picture of it than this:

    <-----------------------------------
    Look for CHILD OF FIRE from Del Rey! Read a sample chapter. Hey! it's been named to Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2009 list!

    Book 2 in the Twenty Palaces series: GAME OF CAGES. or check out these sample chapters.

  2. #5252
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nangleator
    I was under the impression that only a small fraction of books showed a profit for the publisher.
    That's a misapprehension by folks who aren't in the business who hear "a quarter earn out" and think that means "only a quarter make a profit." I've seen folks claim that editors are all incompetent because they guess wrong three quarters of the time about what books the public wants. Usually it's the people who haven't managed to sell a book who tell you this.

  3. #5253
    Barbershoppin' Harmony Whore BardSkye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    I've gotten burned every time I've commented on works over in Share Your Work, so, alas, I must decline.
    After the help you give everyone on this thread? I think that's almost incomprehensibly rude. Why do people ask for opinions if they really want praise?

    I went to two bookstores yesterday looking for books by Uncle Jim and neither had any. So on payday I'm going to order them in.

  4. #5254
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin paritoshuttam's Avatar
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    Question Distinguishing characters through speech

    Hi,

    What are the common ways to distinguish characters through speech? Basically, I don't want all my characters to sound the same. A reader should be able to tell who is speaking without having to look at the dialogue attribution tags like A said, B said, etc.

    In my WIP, most of the characters are colleagues in an office. So, more or less, their education and background are similar, and they work in the same milieu. There might be some differences, but not drastic.

    I can't use accents to differentiate. I loathe reading accented speech full of apostrophes and swallowed syllables and I am not going to write it :-)

    I can use some sort of mannerism, like a penchant for using a particular phrase or two, but I don't want to overdo it either at the risk of making a caricature of the character. Any other possible ways of distinguishing characters through speech?

    My characters also do a lot of writing, but I find it easier to distinguish their writing than their talking. I can use longer or shorter sentences, difficult or easy words, different punctuation styles, etc. I am reluctant to let my characters speak long-winding sentences with complex construction, because it doesn't sound real to me, unless he/she is a politician or a lawyer or an actor.

    Would love to hear more comments or inputs on this aspect.

    thanks,
    Paritosh.

  5. #5255
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    No, you shouldn't be doing dialect. To differentiate your characters, play with word choice and sentence rhythm.

    May I again suggest James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as a master example of characters identifiable through their dialog? There are long swatches of two-and-three person dialog with no tags where nevertheless we have no trouble keeping who's speaking straight.

    The baseline to doing it is this: The characters must be distinct in your mind.

    (Oh, and everyone go pre-order The Land of Mist and Snow. Coming out on December 1, which means it's actually gonna be available in the last two weeks of November. An excellent holiday gift for all the folks on your list! It's got action, adventure, romance, mystery, sex, violence, the American Civil War and a demented paleographer. Everything that a good book should have. You need a copy for every room in your house, and one for your car. Hard winter coming ... you'll want to lay in eight or ten cords of 'em.)

  6. #5256
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I'll be away for the weekend at Readercon:

    http://www.readercon.org/program.htm


    9:00 pm Friday: Fitting Character to Plot
    12:30 pm Saturday: Reading from The Land of Mist and Snow
    10:00 am Sunday: Kaffeeklatch
    12:00 noon Sunday: Social Class and Speculative Fiction
    1:00 pm Sunday: Viable Paradise Writers' Workshop presentation

    During the course of the weekend, my daughter informs me that we will be seeing Pirates of the Caribbean II. I also intend to see if there's any Indian food to be had in the area.

    I may or may not be logging in here.

  7. #5257
    Rep Point Whore Nangleator's Avatar
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    James:

    I've only just discovered this convention, and it's in my back yard. I'll be attending as much as I can. I plan on bringing note paper, pens and money. Should I bring anything else? (This will be my first writing convention.)

    As for Indian food, the food court at the Burlington Mall has a surprisingly good Indian restaurant. Also, go a few exits north on 128 (Washington Street,) turn right off the exit, then turn into a strip mall on the left after an eighth of a mile. Ambassador has an excellent buffet.

  8. #5258
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Have a good con, Uncle Jim! Eat some saag for Sailor.
    Aku soku zan!

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  9. #5259
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sailor Kenshin
    Eat some saag for Sailor.
    Actually, I was planning on vindaloo.

  10. #5260
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    Actually, I was planning on vindaloo.
    Yum!


    Aku soku zan!

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  11. #5261
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin paritoshuttam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    No, you shouldn't be doing dialect. To differentiate your characters, play with word choice and sentence rhythm.

    May I again suggest James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as a master example of characters identifiable through their dialog? There are long swatches of two-and-three person dialog with no tags where nevertheless we have no trouble keeping who's speaking straight.

    The baseline to doing it is this: The characters must be distinct in your mind.
    Thanks, Uncle Jim. I already have a copy of the The Postman Always Rings Twice. Guess I should re-read it with an eye for the dialogues this time, instead of just the story

  12. #5262
    Rep Point Whore Nangleator's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    I'll be away for the weekend at Readercon:

    http://www.readercon.org/program.htm

    9:00 pm Friday: Fitting Character to Plot...
    James is even funnier in person, and just as helpful.

  13. #5263
    practical experience, FTW
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    Novel Ideas

    Since the thread seems a little slow today, let me take the opportunity to talk about novel writing from the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about novel writing. For months I've read this thread when I could, and still have a long way to go to get caught up, and I've read numerous posts about beginnings, middles and ends. Do you start a novel by knowing the beginning and writing to the end? Start at the end and write back to the beginning? Start in the middle and write in both directions? (I made that last one up.)

    So, it occurred to me that over the years I've heard several interviews with songwriters that have been asked how ideas for songs came to them and, without exception, each one shrugged, literally or figuratively and answered the literal or figurative equivalent of: "Who knows? They drop out of the sky."

    I have heard them say that they have written songs based upon a snippet of conversation or an interesting play on words, or they have written music to words or words to music, or they dreamed the whole thing complete and woke up and wrote it down. What I glean from this is that there is no right way to write a song and there is no right way to write a novel. One could write a novel by starting with a premise, a theme, a story, a character, an event, a time, a place, a dream. And it could be started at the beginning, the end or any point in between.

    Of course for it to be a good novel, it needs to end up containing all the elements that make a novel good. But the beginning can be from anywhere.

    I'm about halfway through writing my first. I started with an ending in mind and began writing to it with the first sentence and, so far, the ending I envisioned hasn't changed. So I keep plugging along toward it. Writing doesn't come easily to me, so I feel like I'm climbing a thick braided rope in some archaic gym class. I'm almost halfway up it now and way up at the top, glinting in the shadows, I can just barely make out that the rope ends at a wonderful golden globe (or maybe a disco ball), which is my ending.

    Early on I learned that it's very difficult to climb one of these ropes. I had good days and bad days: days when I made good progress, days when I struggled to stay in place, and a few of those depressing days when I slipped backwards. Then I realized that if I wrote scenes they would create knots that would serve as handholds along the length of the long, thick rope. Climbing became much easier then. Now I'm far above the floor and the height makes me nervous but I can reach up and grasp the next scene and place my feet securely on the one below and haul myself up with a little confidence.

    I have an idea for my next novel and for that one I see the beginning clearly, the middle hazily and the ending not at all. If I ever get to that one, I think of me venturing out from a secure platform onto a high, quaking, slack wire with thick fog obscuring where I'm going. I'll just have to do it, though, and be confident that I'll figure out how to stay on the wire until the ending comes into view.

    That's the way I see it, anyhow.

  14. #5264
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wrinkles
    Since the thread seems a little slow today, let me take the opportunity to talk about novel writing from the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about novel writing. For months I've read this thread when I could, and still have a long way to go to get caught up, and I've read numerous posts about beginnings, middles and ends. Do you start a novel by knowing the beginning and writing to the end? Start at the end and write back to the beginning? Start in the middle and write in both directions? (I made that last one up.)

    So, it occurred to me that over the years I've heard several interviews with songwriters that have been asked how ideas for songs came to them and, without exception, each one shrugged, literally or figuratively and answered the literal or figurative equivalent of: "Who knows? They drop out of the sky."

    I have heard them say that they have written songs based upon a snippet of conversation or an interesting play on words, or they have written music to words or words to music, or they dreamed the whole thing complete and woke up and wrote it down. What I glean from this is that there is no right way to write a song and there is no right way to write a novel. One could write a novel by starting with a premise, a theme, a story, a character, an event, a time, a place, a dream. And it could be started at the beginning, the end or any point in between.

    Of course for it to be a good novel, it needs to end up containing all the elements that make a novel good. But the beginning can be from anywhere.

    I'm about halfway through writing my first. I started with an ending in mind and began writing to it with the first sentence and, so far, the ending I envisioned hasn't changed. So I keep plugging along toward it. Writing doesn't come easily to me, so I feel like I'm climbing a thick braided rope in some archaic gym class. I'm almost halfway up it now and way up at the top, glinting in the shadows, I can just barely make out that the rope ends at a wonderful golden globe (or maybe a disco ball), which is my ending.

    Early on I learned that it's very difficult to climb one of these ropes. I had good days and bad days: days when I made good progress, days when I struggled to stay in place, and a few of those depressing days when I slipped backwards. Then I realized that if I wrote scenes they would create knots that would serve as handholds along the length of the long, thick rope. Climbing became much easier then. Now I'm far above the floor and the height makes me nervous but I can reach up and grasp the next scene and place my feet securely on the one below and haul myself up with a little confidence.

    I have an idea for my next novel and for that one I see the beginning clearly, the middle hazily and the ending not at all. If I ever get to that one, I think of me venturing out from a secure platform onto a high, quaking, slack wire with thick fog obscuring where I'm going. I'll just have to do it, though, and be confident that I'll figure out how to stay on the wire until the ending comes into view.

    That's the way I see it, anyhow.
    YOu make a good point there, W. My stuff literally just "comes to me." Might be a long history of daydreaming, or the ability to work my night dreams into something publishable. The stuff just comes. If you play the "What-if" game long enough, you develop a pretty good set of "What-if" muscles.

    Reading a lot helps too.
    Aku soku zan!

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  15. #5265
    glad to be here Lilybiz's Avatar
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    Nicely stated, wrinkles. I've just finished the second draft of my first novel. The first draft was really easy. Then I set it aside for six months and read it again. It was crap.

    There was a plot, but it was contrived. The characters were thin. It was silly.

    I still liked the premise, so I tried again. On the second draft, I used the first draft as an outline--so yeah, I knew the ending. But as I wrote, fleshing out characters and making them more human, the plot changed. It had to, because the characters behaved more as people do, not as plot contrivances do.

    I know some writers (UJ among them) know the ending when they start. I did, too. And in some details, my ending didn't change. But in many ways it had to because everything else changed. I learned what was happening along the way. It's not that the draft wrote itself; in fact, sometimes I would write my way into a corner I didn't know how to get out of. I had no idea how I was going to move the book forward. Thinking about it didn't help me. There was only one way to find out what happened next, and that was to sit down and write.

    An outline undoubtedly helped me, but I felt free to stray from it. Now that the draft is finished, when I look at it again in a few months, we'll see if that did me any good.

  16. #5266
    A flowering bud of bitchiness TrainofThought's Avatar
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    I know this is an old post, but I am new to the forum and have questions about the subject.

    Quote Originally Posted by James D Macdonald
    Not romances in the Fabio-on-the-cover paperbacks, not the Romance section at Borders, not Harlequin (though there'll be things useful in that genre). Not category romance, or genre romance.
    Okay, I am thoroughly confused, and naïve to categorizing genres. This is something I need to learn and understand. What is the difference between category romance and genre romance? Are you saying the romance section at Borders is genre romance, and Fabio-on-the-cover paperbacks, category romance?

    Quote Originally Posted by James D Macdonald
    A novel is: A book length work of realistic prose fiction.

    A romance is: A book length prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious.
    So if a story is realistic, then it is consider a novel?

    Quote Originally Posted by James D Macdonald

    The realism issue, then, is the core of the difference between a novel and a romance. The "realistic" books are the mainest of mainstream; they are the literary works.

    The vast majority of the things you find in bookstores labeled "novels" are actually romances. That means:

    1) imaginary characters

    2) events remote in time or place

    3) usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious

    More on all of this later.

    I'll try to drop by to talk more after I finish my work every day (except when I'm out of town).
    I don't understand how books at the bookstore labeled "Novels" are actually romance? Is "The DaVinci Code" a romance (just picked a popular book)? Does this mean books such as, "The Notebook", "The Time Traveler’s Wife", "The Horse Whisperer" are romance? Why label ‘realistic prose fiction’ as romance? Isn’t there a genre for love stories? I ask because I refer to, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and others as love stories.

    I’m sure my ignorance is frustrating, but I want to understand genres and how they are categorized. Thanks much.

  17. #5267
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    train of though, you actually understand more than you think. Yes, the section at Borders labelled "Romance" is the genre section. Within those, books like Harlequins and Silhouettes are further defined as category Romances.

    THe romances that UJ is talking about derives from an older term more often used in English Literature classes. It talks about adventure stories, mysteries, fantasies. Like Uncle Jim said, usually far away, mysterious, adventurous.

    So yes, The DaVinci Code is a romance but it's not Romance as accepted genre fiction. Remember the romantic poets? Byron et al. They didnt always write about love but they wrote about larger than life things, adventures, quests. If it's a small literary work where nothing much happens and it's more concerned with the development of character and theme then it's a novel but not a romance.(With a small r)

    All books of fiction are called novels now. That's why you dont have to say fictional novel, just like you don't have to say dead corpse. But go into Borders and pick up any book in any area. If they have action, if they take place sometimes in exotic locations, if there is a mystery, if there is suspense then it's a romance. If the book deals mainly with a couple and there is love and there is a happy ending and the focus of the book is the relationship then it's a Romance, defined by genre.

    Hope that didnt make things even more complicated. Like I said, romance with a small r is used mainly in English Literature circles. But it's good to know these things.

    If you check the dictionary, a good one like websters, it'll give you several definitions for the word romance. including those that Uncle Jim gave. Maybe it'll help you to think of them from now on as romance with or without a capital R.

  18. #5268
    A flowering bud of bitchiness TrainofThought's Avatar
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    Thanks Nevada, you did a good job clarifying romance and Romance. It's sad to say, but I am an English major and they never went into explicit detail about the romances, or maybe I was sleeping. Your explanation was very good regarding genre section and Romance category. Now I get it, and can apply the proper genre to my book. Thank you for taking the time to read and sort through the confusion.

  19. #5269
    practical experience, FTW
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    Sailor and aertep

    Good hearing from you. Over the years I, too, have gathered hundreds of ideas, thoughts, observations and have managed to jot most of them down on a couple of legal pads I keep for that purpose. Almost all of them come to me when I am driving alone or mowing the grass, also alone, and my conscious mind receeds into the background and whatever creative mind I may have is free to receive the inspiration dropping out of the sky.

    Also over the years, I have started and abandoned several novels and a greater number of short stories. I have actually finished a total of one short, short story. I agonized over what to do with the jottings in my legal pads: write short stories, essays, linked short short stories, a novel? And if a novel, which ideas to use? Finally, I decided on three that seemed to have some significance and forced myself to abandon the rest to some later time and started writing.

    However, the other ideas/thoughts/observations won't go away quietly. They keep intruding themselves in my writing and by the time I'm finished I estimate that I will have used up at least one of the two legal pads.

    Well, that's my story about my story. Got to go now, I think the adults are coming back.

  20. #5270
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by HConn
    Diane, if you back that lime pie, take a better picture of it than this:
    I'm sorry to say, I spent quite a while trying to guess what HConn's avatar photo was, and finally settled on "Alien Brain"

    ...but it's actually a Lime Pie, just like Uncle Jim's recipe? Unless it's actually a lime-flavored alien brain with tasty meringue crust?

  21. #5271
    Absolute sagebrush Ken Schneider's Avatar
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    All books are a mish-mosh of every genre.

    Placing onus on one area or the other defines the genre.

    I've read romances with a mystery plot tied in. But the onus of the story was placed on the main plot of two detectives falling in love while working the case. So, was this a mystery? Was it a romance?

    What went on in the book while not working on the solving of the mystery? Did the two have dinner together, and shop, go to movies, kiss, cuddle?
    Did the two continue to work on the case late into the night, take long looks at each other across the flat panel screen, and just happen to fall asleep head to head on the office sofa?

    The first would be a romnace, with the subplot being solving a mystery.

    The second a mystery, with a flirtatious attraction that may or may not come to pass.

    In my opinion all books have most genres in them. The genre we write about most in the book defines it.

    IMHO Ken
    J.D. Salinger told The New York Times in 1974. "Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

  22. #5272
    glad to be here Lilybiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Christine Lorang
    I'm sorry to say, I spent quite a while trying to guess what HConn's avatar photo was, and finally settled on "Alien Brain"

    ...but it's actually a Lime Pie, just like Uncle Jim's recipe? Unless it's actually a lime-flavored alien brain with tasty meringue crust?

    Okay, I wasn't going to admit it, but I thought it was some kind of dangerous mushroom.

  23. #5273
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wrinkles
    Good hearing from you. Over the years I, too, have gathered hundreds of ideas, thoughts, observations and have managed to jot most of them down on a couple of legal pads I keep for that purpose. Almost all of them come to me when I am driving alone or mowing the grass, also alone, and my conscious mind receeds into the background and whatever creative mind I may have is free to receive the inspiration dropping out of the sky.

    Also over the years, I have started and abandoned several novels and a greater number of short stories. I have actually finished a total of one short, short story. I agonized over what to do with the jottings in my legal pads: write short stories, essays, linked short short stories, a novel? And if a novel, which ideas to use? Finally, I decided on three that seemed to have some significance and forced myself to abandon the rest to some later time and started writing.

    However, the other ideas/thoughts/observations won't go away quietly. They keep intruding themselves in my writing and by the time I'm finished I estimate that I will have used up at least one of the two legal pads.

    Well, that's my story about my story. Got to go now, I think the adults are coming back.
    Wrinkles! Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing!
    Aku soku zan!

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  24. #5274
    AW's Resident Commie bsolah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Schneider
    All books are a mish-mosh of every genre.

    Placing onus on one area or the other defines the genre.

    I've read romances with a mystery plot tied in. But the onus of the story was placed on the main plot of two detectives falling in love while working the case. So, was this a mystery? Was it a romance?

    What went on in the book while not working on the solving of the mystery? Did the two have dinner together, and shop, go to movies, kiss, cuddle?
    Did the two continue to work on the case late into the night, take long looks at each other across the flat panel screen, and just happen to fall asleep head to head on the office sofa?

    The first would be a romnace, with the subplot being solving a mystery.

    The second a mystery, with a flirtatious attraction that may or may not come to pass.

    In my opinion all books have most genres in them. The genre we write about most in the book defines it.

    IMHO Ken
    Ken, I've also read books that were marketed as crime thrillers, but the 'sub plot' of the romance took over and was almost a parallel plot.

  25. #5275
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    The publisher decides what logo to put on the spine, which tells the bookstore what section to shelve your book in, which is where they think it'll have the greatest sales.

    The same book might be marketed as crime, romance, or literary ... depending one where the sales would be best. Don't worry about that. Worry about writing the best book you can.

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