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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #7301
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Damon Runyon's characters did not use contractions. It is a legitimate stylistic choice.

    As to how well it may work, you will need to read it aloud.
    And it was hilarious because they were gamblers, tough guys and bookies.
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  2. #7302
    exactly, sort of
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    Without contractions people's talk is slower. It might be interesting to invent why people in another world speak slower. Maybe they reflect more about what they say, while they are saying it, which slows them down, and gives more importance to each single word they say.
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  3. #7303
    Inarticulate Herb MumblingSage's Avatar
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    Wut? Uncle Jim's thread does not drop off the front page. Bump!
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  4. #7304
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    Uncle Jim, first, I looked at your website. I had no idea you had written 35 books. Wow! Second, there was a James MacDonald on CSI: Miami last night (I only got to see the beginning credits and saw the name, then my son wanted to watch a cartoon before bed), it wasn't you on the show, was it?
    Now on to the writing question. I looked at the "Show vs. Tell" sticky in this forum, but still have a question. My writing always has a lot of tell. I don't know why I can't break that habit. I know HOW to show, but when I sit down to write it just doesn't convey into my printed words. I've always figured that was just my style, but I know I need to change if I truly want to get published (& I DO). I know what my plan is: To write the way I normally do for the first draft, then fix it to show more in the subsequent drafts. If I do it that way my first drafts will surely always be shorter than the final drafts, and that is how my first novel ended up. 54,000 words for the first. I'm shooting for 80,000 for the final product. But is that a viable way to do things? Or is there some kind of excercise I can do to train myself to show better?
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  5. #7305
    Where did I put me specs? euclid's Avatar
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    Yes...

    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    ..."Show vs. Tell"... my plan is: To write the way I normally do for the first draft, then fix it to show more in the subsequent drafts... is that a viable way to do things?
    ... I think there should be no problem with that. After you have written your draft 1, you should look at each section and see where there are opportunties to show the characters interacting with one another. I think lots of writers do it that way. Take a look at Keith Snyder's web site. He has a great piece on this subject.

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  6. #7306
    is way off topic Dale Emery's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    I know what my plan is: To write the way I normally do for the first draft, then fix it to show more in the subsequent drafts. If I do it that way my first drafts will surely always be shorter than the final drafts, and that is how my first novel ended up. 54,000 words for the first. I'm shooting for 80,000 for the final product. But is that a viable way to do things?
    Have you tried it? How did it go?

    Or is there some kind of excercise I can do to train myself to show better?
    If you have pretty good idea of when showing works best, and when telling works best, try this: Before you start each scene (or perhaps each paragraph or sentence), ask yourself what you goals are for the scene, and whether those goals would be served better by showing or by telling. Then write accordingly.

    If you're puzzled about when to show and when to tell, I don't have any advice about that. I haven't thought much (yet) about what effect each approach has on the reader.

    Dale

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    Dale, I can say this: It goes painstakingly slow. I don't know if I've just lost my motivation for the piece in question, or if it's just because it's the first book I have written and I'm still working out the bugs in my editing and re-writing process, but whatever it is I need to turn off the TV and sit down and write until my fingers fall off!
    Euclid, thanks for your response, also. I will check out the site you suggested.
    [FONT=Book Antiqua][COLOR=black]~Steven Michael Sarber[/COLOR]:cool:[/FONT]
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    [CENTER][FONT=Book Antiqua]"I'm alone here, with emptiness, eagles and snow, unfriendliness chilling my body, and taunting with pictures of home."~Deep Purple [I]Pictures of Home[/I][/FONT][/CENTER]

  8. #7308
    Naked Futon Guy allenparker's Avatar
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    That's what I do. I write it out like a bat out of hell. Then, I can go back and leave the readers with a good show.

    I find the books grow about 20% when I do this.

    YMMV
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  9. #7309
    Living the dream CaroGirl's Avatar
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    I think any writer is better off training themselves to write a first draft that's as close as possible to a final. The closer the better, imo. At least, that's my goal. When something's there, printed before me, especially when it came out of my own head, it feels more immutable. Unless I have the luxury of being able to put it away for a month, I can't always see what might be wrong with it.

    My mother always said, "Begin as you intend to go on." I say, work at your writing until balancing show and tell is second nature. Read a lot, too. That helps.

  10. #7310
    living in the past ishtar'sgate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaroGirl View Post
    I think any writer is better off training themselves to write a first draft that's as close as possible to a final. The closer the better, imo. At least, that's my goal.
    I agree. That's the only way I can write. I want to be satisfied with each scene before I move on to the next. Of course I still end up with revisions but they're usually not that extensive unless I've altered something near the end and have to go back and plug in supporting scenes.

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    I read constantly. And it certainly helps. But what I think comes forth in my first draft is more of a detailed outline of what I want the finished product to be. At least for novels. For short stories I try to do what I think is best for the completed story the first pass. But if I need any more confirmation that it is not working, I haven't had any short stories published yet. Except for my autobiographical essay on my path to sobriety. So I think it's time to find a method that does work for me. It would be nice if I could find a writer's workshop around where I live.
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  12. #7312
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by ishtar'sgate View Post
    I agree. That's the only way I can write. I want to be satisfied with each scene before I move on to the next. Of course I still end up with revisions but they're usually not that extensive unless I've altered something near the end and have to go back and plug in supporting scenes.
    I have to be satisfied with each word in a sentence. Then I move sentences around in the paragraph. Then I move paragraphs around.

  13. #7313
    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaroGirl View Post
    I think any writer is better off training themselves to write a first draft that's as close as possible to a final. The closer the better, imo. At least, that's my goal. When something's there, printed before me, especially when it came out of my own head, it feels more immutable. Unless I have the luxury of being able to put it away for a month, I can't always see what might be wrong with it.

    My mother always said, "Begin as you intend to go on." I say, work at your writing until balancing show and tell is second nature. Read a lot, too. That helps.

    I've found that I can't work like that, because something always seems to come out wrong, and I can always find something no matter how many times I edit/revise; some of these things I find aren't really there. That's just me.

    But I do agree about the "immutable" issue. If I really want to make major changes, I have to open a new document and retype everything, with the original only as reference. It's very frustrating in one sense, but it works for me.

  14. #7314
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    These last few are all variants on "Do what works for you."

  15. #7315
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    Well yeah, the 'Do what works..." adage is accurate. I'm just looking for some ideas of different ways to interpret and execute what my creative process gives me. If that doesn't make sense, let me say it this way: New ways to look at what my imagination conjures up, then, new ways to state it more clearly in written word. Maybe I should get a collaborator. I can write the first draft, then someone else can "show" it up! (But that wouldn't be satisfying for me. If worked too hard to become a published author. My first book has to be my own, but I will take help graciously from anyone who offers it.) Uncle Jim, you work with your wife, do you guys ever just butt heads about parts of your stories?
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  16. #7316
    Whore for genre HConn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    But is that a viable way to do things? Or is there some kind of excercise I can do to train myself to show better?
    You'll be training yourself every time you revise.

    Pay close attention to the types of scenes and sentences where you tell but should have shown. Eventually, you'll start noticing these moments in the first draft and can fix it right then.

    That's the best solution I can offer, I'm afraid. Good luck.
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  17. #7317
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    So no magic formula, huh? Oh well. Thanks, HConn. That was pretty much what I had assumed, but to hear someone else validate my thoughts helps. And, even though I have been writing seriously for two years, I am still very much a newbie. So every bit of validation is that much more important. I know that when I send my draft to a beta to read I'll have help finding the "tell" spots I missed, and hopefully that will help me to see them on my own as well.
    Last edited by smsarber; 11-13-2008 at 07:07 PM. Reason: Damn Caps Lock button
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  18. #7318
    Naked Futon Guy allenparker's Avatar
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    my problem

    Quote Originally Posted by HConn View Post
    You'll be training yourself every time you revise.

    Pay close attention to the types of scenes and sentences where you tell but should have shown. Eventually, you'll start noticing these moments in the first draft and can fix it right then.

    That's the best solution I can offer, I'm afraid. Good luck.

    That is wonderful for you normal people, but for us ADD people -- oh shiny. Is that coffee you're pouring. I smell popcorn.

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    C-h-e-c-k.Check. Why did you want me to write the milkman a check?
    No, I don't want milk in my coffee. Were we talking about popcorn?

    Seriously, some people might find writing to the end is more productive telling first and rewriting to showing later. Fixing later can be done in chunks. It really is a matter of "what works."
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  19. #7319
    exactly, sort of
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    I'd like a coffee with milk please. A bit of sugar, thank you. That's lovely. Shall we sit on you futon? Okay, yes. Sure, go ahead. Hey, wait a minute, why are you undressing?
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  20. #7320
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    Uncle Jim, you work with your wife, do you guys ever just butt heads about parts of your stories?
    We worked it out long ago: I get final say on the plot, she gets final say on the prose.

  21. #7321
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Once again, it's time to play First Page!

    Staff Nurse Jane Kelsey descended the wide, impressive staircase of the Mowberry Private Nursing Home slowly and thoughtfully. It was not the first occasion since she had come to work here that she had experienced serious doubts as to whether or not she should remain.

    Could she not have been doing the same sort of work, and doing it equally well, in the confines of the Rawbridge General Infirmary where she had worked for the past four years, right until she gave in her notice and responded to Angela Power's appeals to join her and help her make the nursing home a real success?

    There was certainly no possible doubt as to the success of the nursing home, Jane reflected. Every bed was fully booked for months ahead, with the exception of the four in the emergency side ward, all of them booked by people who could afford not to leave their names any length of time on the waiting list at the Infirmary. No doubt when any one of those on the waiting list could be classified as a genuine emergency a bed would be found at the Rawbridge General, but those who could afford it preferred to have their operations or indispositions over and done with, not to linger on until room could be fournd to deal with whatever ailed them.

    That was the principal reason Jane had agreed to join in Angela's venture. The knowledge that for even a minority of people almost immediate help would then be available had been a great influence, even though she had known at the start the bulk of the money behind the venture had come from Henry Crabtree, a man she...
    The novel is Nurse Kelsey Abroad by Marjorie Norrell. How about it, friends? Do you turn the page or put the book back on the rack?

  22. #7322
    Sheriff Bullwinkle the Poet says: RJK's Avatar
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    Not for me. I'd put it back if I were ever tempted to pick it up.

  23. #7323
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJK View Post
    Not for me. I'd put it back if I were ever tempted to pick it up.
    Could you expound a bit?

    (I do intend to do a line-by-line fairly soon on this excerpt....)

  24. #7324
    Writting broad batgirl's Avatar
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    I would read on to find out what was up with Crabtree and Kelsey, what sort of history there might be between them.
    If I'm reading as a reader, I'd see a woman in uncertainty, about to make some sort of decision, and being conscientious about it. I'd skim that 3d para, figuring it would be expanded and clarified elsewhere if it was important. The surroundings are rich, there's money here, and where there's money there's usually conflict. It's not looking like something I'd read to savour, more to pass the time.
    Reading as a writer, I find the writing clunky (how can you descend a staircase thoughtfully?) but readable until that 3d para when the sentences get way too long. Wait, many long sentences, such as those by Georgette Heyer, are quite readable and understandable, because they are well constructed. So, let me call those clunky long sentences, which I had to re-read, even though my reading comprehension is usually quite good. Still, my interest picked up a bit with the Crabtree fellow...
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  25. #7325
    Elf Queen Yeshanu's Avatar
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    Zzzz...

    Oh, sorry. You asked if I'd take it to the checkout or put it back, didn't you. I'd put it back. I had to force myself to continue reading after the first sentence.

    No action, not even interior movement. No hint of any real conflict beyond the ordinary, every day tripe of daily living that we all experience. No detail of character or setting that would make me want to read further.

    It's all general exposition, all telling instead of showing. If the author wanted me to take this novel home and have me read it through, instead of telling me that the staircase was "impressive" she might have shown me its carved, oaken railing, the handwoven Oriental runners on the treads, the two-hundred light crystal chandelier glittering overhead.

    (And I think I'll steal this description and put it verbatim into a novel I'm writing...)

    Those patients lying in the beds in the emergency side ward? One of them is Mrs. McReady, whose doctor has told her that having her big toe straightened really isn't an emergency that would warrant bumping her up to the head of the outpatient surgery line at the General, and besides, she's convinced that such major surgery shouldn't be done on an outpatient basis. She's got pots of money she inherited from her recently deceased niece, who was a famous writer of Nurse Novels, so she opted to have her surgery done pronto at Mowberry, where they pay much more attention to her needs than the staff at the General.

    And she didn't even mention Mrs. McReady by name! How gauche!

    Seriously, in the first few paragraphs of any piece of fiction, I want to be introduced to at least one character. I want to be given a reason to care about the character I'm reading about, and the story that's about to be told. I want enough detail so that I can enter the world of the novel and leave the room I'm sitting in behind me, but not so much that it bogs the story down.

    Give me that, and genre doesn't matter. Even the overall quality of the story doesn't matter all that much, in the end. I'm asking for a few hours' entertainment, where I can leave the mundane behind. Ms. Norrell doesn't do it for me. Sorry.

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