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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #751
    James D Macdonald

    Re: I started my spell checker, and then...

    Stronger than love, stronger than hate, stronger than self-perservation, is the desire to mess with someone else's prose.




    The white and yellow flowers smelled sweet. A quiet psalm sounded among the whispering trees. The boy looked on with curiosity as large men lowered a coffin into the ground. The headstone stood nearby, a name on its face, every line carved hard and deep and cold. His brother's.

    The boy tossed a white rose into the grave. Rain fell and chilled his hands.

    His motherís gentle palm brushed across his eyebrows, then his eyes, his nose, and his chin. Her lips were softer than her touch: She kissed him on one cheek, then the other, then on the forehead. Her eyes were red; tears mixed with the rain.

    He shivered. She clasped his hands, giving them a warm squeeze.

    He looked up and saw his father--so still, so grand, like the statue of a king. Rain fell, but his father never moved.

  2. #752
    Kate Nepveu


    The reason I asked is because "looked on with curiosity" suggests to me a more dispassionate mood, and didn't seem to fit the somber tone of the rest, especially the last lines of that paragraph.

    As far as "large," I didn't *see* an obvious opposition like "he felt very small in comparison"--which of course would be horribly clunky--so I just wanted to confirm. (I've been known to use "accordingly" four times in one paragraph, completely unconsciously.)

  3. #753

    Re: Too Much She

    Thanks again! That's great.

    I made a conscientious choice not to use words such as "grave," "coffin," "headstone" etc. but the readers know EXACTLY what it is about. And the boy is "dispassionate" for he doesn't understand what's going on. It is weird in that it is at once a 3rd person limited but also the narrator is getting behind the boy's perception (large box, large stone, etc.) The boy does not understand, but the readers do. I admit it's kind of a weird thing.

    I think it worked. But maybe it didn't.

  4. #754
    Kate Nepveu

    more prologuery

    I don't want to spend too much time picking your poor prologue to death. And POV is notoriously difficult to talk about, as there are so many different options. But I think I wasn't clear.

    a large gray stone leaning close with his brotherís name cleaved into its face, every stroke hard and deep. And cold.

    seems to me to be the POV character describing the gravestone in a way that indicates grief. If I were merely curious about what was going on, and didn't really understand that it was a funeral, I wouldn't describe a stone as having a name "cleaved" into with "hard," "deep," and "cold" strokes. And if I were a child, "cleaved" would probably not be in my vocabulary, any more than "headstone."[*] I'd probably just say that the name was on the stone, possibly carved on.

    Okay. No more of this, I promise.
    [*] Okay, as a kid it was in my vocabulary, because (major geek alert!) it's in the Appendices to _The Lord of the Rings_, but it's used in the opposite sense ("cleave to").

  5. #755
    James D Macdonald

    Re: more prologuery

    I'm not sure that "cleaved" is the word that's wanted here. To cleave is an interesting word, one that has two meanings in English: To split apart, and to stick together.

    I don't see using it to describe carved letters at all.

  6. #756

    Re: Too Much She

    No, no, no. I think it's healthy to discuss MY work. LOL. I enjoy discussion.

    Cleave -- I had "cut" or "carved" before. I do think both are probably better word choices than cleave.

    Stoic -- I probably will drop that and just have "statue of a King" I think that's more appropriate for the boy's POV.

    POV -- I think that's my purpose. All the words "Hard, Deep and Cold" conveys grief to the READERS -- an allegory, comparing the stone to grief -- but to the boy, it is just that -- hard, deep and cold (the stone looks cold. The rain is cold). So my purpose was to keep it at the literal level, but the readers would infer it as metaphor for grief.

    I think I am trying to do something rather complex in these two paragraphs -- using a boy's perspective to convey the sense of grief (parents) yet the oblivion (boy) at the same time. I don't know if I succeed or not. But I really do welcome the comments. I think that's great. Keep it coming! :-)

  7. #757

    Re: more prologuery

    It may make more sense to know that my novel is told in 1st person. The narrator is the protagonist (the boy who grew up). So the prologue could be construded as the man recounting his memory as a boy at his brother's funeral -- sort of like how Bob Dole keep calling himself "Bob Dole"... here, it's a weird POV: 3rd person limited told by the narrator himself. The boy is me. I don't know if that makes sense. In essence (and simpler language):

    "As a boy, I saw yellow flowers, heard quiet palsm, and felt the cold rain. I saw the large box and the large stone with my brother's name cut in it, the strokes are hard and deep. Looks cold."

  8. #758
    James D Macdonald

    On line course

    We had some discussion, quite a bit ago, about taking college-level classes to learn to write.

    Mostly, to me, courses labeled "creative writing" are a waste of time (except in so far as they get your fingers on the keys, which is never a bad thing).

    Yet here I've found something that I think is pretty neat. It's a course called "Reception of the Arts," offered at Penn State, available over the Internet via their "World Campus." The course looks at art (all art), not through the making of art, not through the history of art, but by way of how the audience responds to art.

    First, here's the site itself: <A HREF="http://art3idea.ce.psu.edu:16080/art3/" target="_new">InArt 3</a>.

    To get into the site, click the "the main site" link.

    The site itself is an eye-opener, without signing up for the course. Lots and lots of content here. To start -- look at the vertical black bar on the left. Click on the link called "red cubes," second from the bottom. New index on the left: Third from the top is "humors." Click on that.

    You'll see a red square to the right of the black index bar. The leftmost link inside that red square is "melancholy." Click there, you'll get a definition, and a link to Lesson One.

    Lesson one is wonderful ... to a large extent it mirrors my own opinions about art. So's the rest of the material on this site. I've been chasing down links on it for hours, and saying "Ooohhhh, that's right!"

    This is a Grand Unified Theory of Everything as far as Art is concerned. We're artists, we writers. How the Audience Reacts is very important to us as far as being commercial artists (the reaction we want is "Throwing Pots of Money At Us").

    So, read. Be astounded. I was.

    Recall just a bit ago the novel 1984 came up? Recall one of the central conceits of 1984 was Newspeak, an artificial language designed to keep people from thinking, by destroying words? (The theory being that people can't think about things that they don't have words for.)

    Well, here are some vocabularly lists for y'all. If we want to think like artists, words give us the tools to think about our art. Here you go:

    <A HREF="http://art3idea.ce.psu.edu/art3/basics/a_to_f.html" target="_new"> Big Words A to F</a>

    <A HREF="http://art3idea.ce.psu.edu/art3/basics/g_to_n.html" target="_new"> Big Words G to N</a>

    <A HREF="http://art3idea.ce.psu.edu/art3/basics/o_to_z.html" target="_new">Big Words O to Z</a>

    Those lists by themselves are mind-expanding (and will give you a big edge while playing Scrabble, too).

    Try 'em. See if they don't add the ability to talk about -- to think about -- what we've been trying to do.

    Golly. This is a course that I might take myself.

    A bit back I was talking about knotwork as a way to think about plot. Here's all kinds of notes about labyrinths, as expressions of art. It works out to the same concept that I'd developed on my own, these many years past.

    Here's a site to bookmark.


    Coming soon: Another Way to Consider The Whole Plot.

  9. #759

    Re: CLEAVE

    I first came across the word 'cleave' in the first segment of the Woody Allen film: 'Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask', when Woody the Jester is afraid to fool around with the Queen in case the King 'cleaves him in twain'. :lol

  10. #760

    Re: more prologuery

    That's English to you. The same word can mean two completely opposite things: cut and separate, or cling to.

  11. #761

    Re: more prologuery

    Cleave, cleft, cloven: a fine old English verb, emphasis on the "old".

    Interestingly, "cleave" means both "to cut apart" and "to cling to", but "cleft" and "cloven" only have the first sense.

    Lots of English words can be their own antonyms. One nominee for the best example of this would be "sinople", which can mean both "red" and "green". Some further specimens: inflammable, impregnable, sanction, screen, protest, oversight, trim, enjoin, dust, clip, joint, weather.

    English is a wonderful language, and I'm deeply grateful I learned it when I was young enough for language acquisition to be automatic, because I can't imagine what it's like to come to it as an adult.

  12. #762
    Kate Nepveu

    further prologuery

    So the prologue could be construded as the man recounting his memory as a boy at his brother's funeral
    You've probably already thought of this and decided against it for perfectly good reasons, but I have to ask--

    Why not cast it more obviously as such? "I remember" as a brief opening might be an easier transition into the present-day first-person action, and that way you could explicitly have the narrator comment on the distance between how he saw it then and what he knows now.

  13. #763

    English is a wonderful language

    English is a wonderful language, and I'm deeply grateful I learned it when I was young enough for language acquisition to be automatic, because I can't imagine what it's like to come to it as an adult.

    You are so right, Hapi. I work with two Japanese girls and one El Salvadoran (is that right?) and the looks of utter bewilderment I get from them sometimes is a perfect reminder of how bizarre our language really is.

    An example I love to quote, thought I can't remember who it originated with, is the spelling of the word 'fish' using certain pronunciation rules:


    as in enough, women, station

    Try explaining that to an English as second language class.

  14. #764
    James D Macdonald

    Re: English is a wonderful language


    That was George Bernard Shaw.

    (GBS also only ran about two paragraphs of Eliza's dialog in dialect in Pygmalion before he dropped back to normal spelling. Learn from the master, O my child.)

    See also, Dr. Seuss's example and illustration: "The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough."

  15. #765

    Re: Dr. Seuss

    :lol - Dr. Seuss was a genius, if there ever was one. As annoying as all these odd rules and exceptions can sometimes be, they sure fill our writer's toybox to the brim, don't they?

  16. #766

    Re: English is a wonderful language

    English is my second language, although I did start to learn it from a very young age (I still remember, believe it or not, learning the words "mountain" and "ocean" at age 3). As an adult and writer who writes in English, I still grapple with the language.

  17. #767

    Re: further prologuery

    Why not cast it more obviously as such? "I remember" as a brief opening might be an easier transition into the present-day first-person action, and that way you could explicitly have the narrator comment on the distance between how he saw it then and what he knows now.
    The short answer is: because I am the author. I can do whatever I want.

    The long answer is:

    It's an artistic decision I made. I want it to be obvious yet not obvious at the same time. I know it can be confusing to some but I think it achieves the effect I wanted:
    - conveys that it's a funeral, and the four key characters (mother, father, child, child's brother)
    - conveys the sadness and grief in the scene, without spelling it out.
    - conveys the "dispassionate" nature of the POV -- note the narration never speaks of "grief," "sadness," "pain" or "regrets." Everythng is inferred: tears, cold rain, hard stone.
    - hooks the readers to want to find out who these people are (and later in the book, an "a-ha" moment)
    - has a lyrical, almost "dream-like" quality to it. It could be a piece of memory. Who says it may not be a dream? It can certainly be interpreted that way -- if I write "I remember" that will break that "dream."
    - I like to make my readers think and try to interpret some deeper meaning below the surface of simple texts. It's like watching a movie -- different people take something different from the same scene.

    And like any artistic decisions, sometimes it works beautifully, and sometimes it doesn't. And it also depends on the audience.

    Have you ever told a story about yourself but never told anyone who the person was?

    The stupid guy just ran through the park without his clothes on. Boy he sure regreted it.

    The effect would become more powerful when you find out that the "stupid guy" was actually me!

  18. #768


    your first answer i reject. one place where Jim and I differ is whether the author has any special insight into a work once authored.

    your second answer is more plausible, but may nor may not work.

    i like kate's question.

  19. #769

    Re: English is a wonderful language

    A few days ago my six-year-old stepdaughter handed me a report she had written. It contained the following sentence:

    "Tom used a pece of yr to fly a kite."

    I puzzled over it for a minute and figured out quickly that pece was supposed to be piece. The other word escaped me. I asked her what word it was. "Wire," she said. Clever, I thought. Almost hate to tell her that's not how it's spelled.

  20. #770
    Stephenie Hovland


    Don't tell her unless she acts. In the early education world she's using "inventive spelling." It's a great way to get her to write in a more natural way without having to worry about the spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. She can develop her storytelling abilities before the stifling rules hold her back. As she learns the rules, they will eventually show up in her writing. Now, if she were 26, I'd say it's time to teach her to edit!


  21. #771

    Inventive Spelling

    My son started writing stories using inventive spelling when he was four or five years old. When in Grade Five, he was picked to go to a writing workshop taught by professional writers (Robert Munsch, amongst others).

    Now he's eighteen, and he reads this thread, and does his BIC more faithfully than his mother, I think.

    He wants to be a professional novelist.

    Oh, where did I go wrong? :ack

    Seriously, don't push standard spelling too early. Your stepdaughter already has good phonetic awareness, and her spelling will improve as she writes and reads more.

    So buy her lots of books, praise her stories, and rejoice that you're raising a literate child.



  22. #772

    Songs and Sermons

    I just got back from spending some time with my dad, aka Beta Reader #4, and showed him part of the second draft of my novel. His immediate comment was, "You took out all the songs! I liked the songs!"

    Also, way back in this thread, we were warned not to put sermons in our novels unless we were really good preachers. When I was writing the first draft, and I showed it to my college creative writing teacher, guess which part he liked best? And after all, I am a preacher by profession!

    Now, my question is this: How do others feel about songs (or poetry) in the text of a novel? I know that when I read LOTR, I only read the songs every third or fourth time through, but I do read them, and would miss them if they weren't there.

    As for sermons, I think I would definitely show the congregation's reactions, but perhaps put part of a sermon in for context, rather than simply tell the reader what the sermon was about. How would you as readers react to that. (And no -- I would never put a whole sermon in a novel. I assume if you want a sermon, you would go to your local church, mosque, synagogue, etc. to hear one live.)

  23. #773

    Re: yr

    What about songs that are copyrighted (a portion of the lyrics)? Would the publisher not like it since they may have to acquire the rights to the songs? Sometimes the specific lyrics add to the scene and by taking them out, something would be amiss. But I also don't want a publisher to go "oh oh!"

  24. #774
    James D Macdonald


    If you're including lyrics from other people's songs, you have to get permission, and it's you, the author (not the publisher) who has to pay the permissions.

    If you need lyrics, write your own.

    In any case...

    If you're a talented poet, and the poetry enhances the story (reveals character, advances the plot, supports the theme... you know the litany), then do it. Else, don't.

  25. #775

    Re: Lyrics

    I have included lyrics from a song in a short story of mine. The setting is 1970 and I wanted them to evoke a sense of the era. I have contacted the songwriter and publisher and have their permission to go ahead with an agreement to discuss suitable payment for the use of the lyrics if the story sells. I know I should get a dollar value settled, but don't have any idea what would be appropriate. Should it be a percentage of earnings from the story based on percentage of words the lyrics account for in the story?? If so, the songwriter would get about $1.50. Any thoughts anyone?

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