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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #8351
    practical experience, FTW Blue Sky's Avatar
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    Land of Mist and Snow

    Hi All.

    I read Land of Mist and Snow a few days ago. Enjoyed it a lot. It has a nice period feel to it, doesn't overwhelm with nautical terms and moves right along. I enjoyed the asymmetrical nature of the ships, crews and magical processes. Thanks for the read Jim. Glad I tried it.

    Interesting to me was that I felt a 600 page novel as well, a lot more potential in the storyline. Did you feel this as well, Jim, or was this planned as a 300 page novel, or...? I'd be interested to hear about that part of the process. Although the process is the teacher, but I haven't experienced it yet.

    Thanks,
    Phil

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    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    The book is as long as it turns out to be. When we got to 300 pages we were done.

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    Cool

    A-HA! Never thought of it that way, thanks UJ!
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  4. #8354
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    As far as more potential in the storyline, in your better books (such as I *koff koff* write), you should have a feeling that there's a whole universe out there.

    In fact, there's a short story set in the same universe, with one of the same characters, that came out in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction about a year ago, and will be reprinted in Year's Best Fantasy 9 (ed. Hartwell and Cramer) this June. (We just got the check for that this morning.)

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    Cool

    I guess what I was really asking was how do you come up ideas for a planet, race of aliens or monsters, a language, that don't exist? That's what seems like it would take more creativity and imagination to me. But like I've said, I have never really tried to write SF or Fantasy. I've dabbled a bit, but gotten frustrated with the difficulty of creating a world based solely in my mind. Maybe I'm just lazy

    But today's my birthday, so I'm thinking as a present to myself maybe I'll try a flash fiction SF story. To get my feet wet (I'm always looking to challenge myself). Any ideas for a plot, anyone?
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  6. #8356
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Stacks of books, papers, DVDs about the American Civil War, a flashlight, and a set of 19th century surgical tools. My computer, an action figure of Laura Croft, and an action figure of Emma Frost (the White Queen) with a little comic balloon above her head that says "Write your book. Now." Plus three different coffee cups.
    Your technological level cannot be determined, involving glyphs on flat sheets as well as holographically stored moving pictures. You are obviously fascinated with powerful and mystic women. Your display of primitive surgical tools is -- probably a deliberate red herring. But I'd like to test the contents of those coffee cups. I mean, has anyone seen Lara Croft in the last few years?

    --Milton

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    Inarticulate Herb MumblingSage's Avatar
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    Don't force yourself to write fantasy or SF if you don't feel like writing it. That particular pond is full enough. :P

    I know I personally write secondary world fantasy mostly because I don't feel I know or like the primary world well enough to write about it. It's gotten better as I grow older and have more experiances, but really, secondary world fantasy takes mostly imagination (not to knock research, but I used to read history books for fun, so I never really consider having to look specifically for information). Primary world stuff takes real studying.

    Yes, that's grossly simplified. So shoot me (probably with a lazer pistol, unless you have experiance or have researched how real guns work).
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    It's not a matter of forcing myself. I write horror. But I also write other stuff: I do some mainstream, I did a conspiracy theory comedy that won third place in a contest, I did a western that won fourth. I want to be able to write in every genre. Versatility is important to me. And learning to write things out of my comfort zone can help me grow overall as a writer. But do not worry, SF writers: I will not flood your crowded market
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  9. #8359
    Where did I put me specs? euclid's Avatar
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    19th century surgical tools! Wow! I had no idea you majored in trephination!
    Can I use that in a short story?
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    Esteemed thinker Calliopenjo's Avatar
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    Hi Steven,

    As for ideas? The fanfic world is flooded with Star Trek from the original to DS9. But they are good as a starting point because that will at least give something to practice with. Then when you get more confident you can explore what works best for you.

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

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    Cool

    I just might try that. I only plan to write a thousand word or less story (flash fiction), just to see if I enjoy that kind of writing. And to break out of my current rut. So I will more likely use new characters. I don't know, though... I could do a diary excerpt from Captain Jean-Luc Picard... interesting thought. Esp. since I just got the first season of The Next Generation on DVD.
    Last edited by smsarber; 04-07-2009 at 01:13 AM.
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    [CENTER][FONT=Book Antiqua][/FONT] [/CENTER]
    [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]

  12. #8362
    Today is your last day. FOTSGreg's Avatar
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    Uncle Jim wrote, As far as more potential in the storyline, in your better books (such as I *koff koff* write), you should have a feeling that there's a whole universe out there.

    Interestingly enough, a partial story I posted a few days back in the Horror SYW forum illicited a response wherein the poster (soapdish) stated that they could see the potential for a much longer story in the 3800 words I'd put up thus far (incomplete story, but I'm working on it around when work allows me to).

    The fact is, I find I like this character a lot and the universe he's in. There are a host of things I could begin to tell stories about surrounding the character (still gotta' figure out how to get him out of the danger he's facing in this first story though). It's like he just emerged full-blown into my imagination and he's telling his stories through me. It's a much different feeling to it from writing the novels I've been working on up to now and the short stories. It's more like listening to an old friend tell stories that are both frightening and outrageously funny in spots at the same time.

    I've been trying to write mostly science fiction, with some horror in the mix (which I seem to have better luck with generally), and this could be classified as humorous horror or horror with a humorous vein. Could it be I found my "voice" and my niche? Maybe. I'm not discounting the possibilities.

    What makes it especially good is this character is fun to write about. He's someone I'd like to have a beer (or a dozen) with while hearing him tell his stories.

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  13. #8363
    practical experience, FTW Blue Sky's Avatar
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    FOTSGreg: I'd say that's a good sign, to be interested in a character like that. When I started bic'ing soon after starting to read this thread, i couldn't wait to get back to the story. I decided to focus on finishing the thread and a lot of real world vehicle repair (just came in from bleeding the master cylinder), but I read a little of it yesterday and loved it. Maybe I'll throw it away as my first novel, but it's fun.

    Jim: regarding three hundred pages and you were finished, I felt that too. The story doesn't need anything--it's taught and lean--but it was easy to feel the universe in that universe. Hmm.

    "As far as more potential in the storyline, in your better books (such as I *koff koff* write), you should have a feeling that there's a whole universe out there."

    Yes, I return to writers who write the better books with that feel. It's worth my time, as you said somewhere long ago.

    So a guy like Stephen King fleshes out and dives around in all that potential, coming up with a 900 page novel. Extreme cases would be his Dark Tower series (haven't read them), Tolkien's world (lifelong favs) and so on. Oh, and War and Peace of course. C'mon. I know it's a classic, but is that really a novel? Seems like an epic.

    I don't read horror, except for King. Once in a greeeat while I pick up one of his books, quite an accomplishment on King's part. I agree, btw that his short stories are quite good.

    Then there's McInerny who dips briefly into this universe and comes up with a black pearl like bright lights, big city. I just read an old Jack Vance novel, very short, in which he got the job done in the amazingly convincing world of Tchai.

  14. #8364
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them...."

    Your protagonist didn't only have one adventure in her life, right? She woke up and did something on the day before the first day you recounted in your novel. If one of her jackets has frayed sleeves she wore it a lot.

    Story is all around us.

    Meanwhile, in a more appalling vein:

    Writers Should Know Better from How Publishing Really Works, QueryFAIL! from Editorial Anonymous.

    O my children, go forth and do not do likewise....

  15. #8365
    practical experience, FTW
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    As someone who's been on both sides of the line (editor and writer) I can sympathize with stories like this. An acquiring editor friend of mine tacked up her first piece of hate mail just like some writers tack up their rejection letters.

    As a former acquiring editor the best thing I can suggest for writers struggling to get published is this: follow the rules. Too many writers think "rules were meant to be broken" applies to them. Hint: it doesn't. It applies to that other guy, the published writer.

    I'm sure there are many great writers here and some of them will have admirable careers, but here's the trick: you learn the rules and follow them. After you're published, then, and only then should you consider breaking the rules.

    Acquiring editors are like Dirty Harry. "Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?" And "Go ahead, make my day." The editor is buried under slush that is predominantly illiterate drivel. But, they're waiting, hoping, praying for something that's even half-way readable, hence the "make my day." And with all this crap filling their office, they're looking for an excuse to reject the work. You break the rules, you risk continuing to be unpublished, hence the "do you feel lucky, punk?"

    From a former slush reader, please just remember that bit about "rules were meant to be broken" is for everyone else, not you. You should follow the rules. Especially those about spelling and grammar. And yeah, it really is about being entertaining.
    Last edited by Chris Huff; 04-07-2009 at 09:32 PM.
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  16. #8366
    Where did I put me specs? euclid's Avatar
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  17. #8367
    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    More imagination? No. Just a different set of writing protocols, to be interpreted by readers using a different set of reading protocols.

    What do we mean by reading protocols?

    In a science fiction novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will use this to figure out the level of technology in the society.

    In a mystery novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand that one of those objects is a clue.

    In a literary novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand it to be a metaphor for the protagonist's mental state.

    And so on.
    Uncle Jim, I've been pondering this and I realized that while it makes sense and I believe, as a reader, I've been unconsciously doing this, I've never sat to think about it while writing. Where should I go to gain more insight into the different reading protocols for different genres?

    Now, I'm guessing you'll instruct me to read widely. However, given that I've read a lot and I've never identified those subtle differences between how I process the information of each genre, how can I become more attuned to it?

    I feel like you've given me a glimpse of an iceberg floating on the water and I can't help but want to see what's submerged but I'm not sure how to proceed.
    Fantasy novel: Being re-plotted and rewritten. Trashing 75K words hurts...

  18. #8368
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    As it happens, I've seen one of Stephen King's original manuscripts, from after he'd already become Stephen KING. Y'know what it was? Courier 10, black on white, single-sided, double-spaced, with one-inch margins and a running head.

    Nothing beats following the guidelines. They're designed to make things easier for the customer to buy the product, the customer being the editor and the product being your book.

    All that the editor and/or agent owes you is a single word: Yes or no. Anything beyond that is gravy.

    And if someone, anyone, critiques your book, and they're totally wrong about everything, don't get what you were saying, and have nothing but stupid comments, the harshest thing you should say is, "Thank you very much!" and mean it.

  19. #8369
    World Class Rambler EFCollins's Avatar
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    You mention double spacing, which I do. You mention courier 10-12, which I use. You mention 1 inch margins, black on white, single sided, which is also my normal formatting, unless a magazine specifically asks for single spaced, etc.

    My question is, I had a writing acquaintance advise me to put two spaces after each punctuation (such as a question mark, period, exclamation point etc.) She told me the trick was to give editors what they are used to seeing and that for years, before the magical e-query and submissions, two spaces after a sentence was standard within the manuscript. Is this still necessary? Or is it a non-issue?

    Thanks
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  20. #8370
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    Now, I'm guessing you'll instruct me to read widely. However, given that I've read a lot and I've never identified those subtle differences between how I process the information of each genre, how can I become more attuned to it?
    I'd say, don't just read. Also think about what the author is doing and why.

    It's possible that you're an unconscious writer. Many are, including some of the best.

    I am a more analytical writer. Many are, including some of the best.

    Most readers are unconscious readers. Becoming a conscious reader changes how you'll look at literature for the rest of your life.

    Now the idea of reading protocols doesn't originate with me: as far as I know it's something that Chip Delany devised as an explanation for how and why readers understand stories.

    Here's Jim Gunn talking about it at greater length.

    He cites an earlier story:

    Misapplying protocols is illustrated in James Thurber's classic sketch "The Macbeth Murder Case," in which a husband accustomed to reading nothing but mystery novels finds himself without anything to read on the Caribbean-island vacation on which his wife has dragged him, until the Thurber-like narrator suggests he try one of the few books in the resort's library, a volume of Shakespeare's plays. The mystery-reader reads, and reports to the narrator each day, his misapplication of the mystery's protocols to Macbeth. He discards Macbeth and then Lady Macbeth as too obvious and ends up deciding the porter did it.
    Quote Originally Posted by EFCollins View Post
    .

    My question is, I had a writing acquaintance advise me to put two spaces after each punctuation (such as a question mark, period, exclamation point etc.) She told me the trick was to give editors what they are used to seeing and that for years, before the magical e-query and submissions, two spaces after a sentence was standard within the manuscript. Is this still necessary? Or is it a non-issue?
    Non-issue.

    All that you learn from noting if someone double-spaces after end-of-sentence punctuation is when and where that person learned to type.

    (You can't see it because the interface strips 'em out, but I'm double-spacing after each period right here on this board. Every time. That's because I learned to type on a manual typewriter back in the 'sixties. People who learned how to type on computers habitually single-space after punctuation marks. If you're paranoid about it, you can set up a macro on your wordprocessor to switch back and forth. WordPerfect (which is what I use), has a little check-box toggle to make 'em all one way or the other.

    If your story is fascinating; if it delights and surprises, no one will care which way you went. On the other hand, if your story is drab; if it's flaccid and pointless, no one will care about the spacing either.

    There's a reason for the double-spacing, but it's part of the trivia of ancient technology.

  21. #8371
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Now the idea of reading protocols doesn't originate with me: as far as I know it's something that Chip Delany devised as an explanation for how and why readers understand stories.
    Well, I think it was already an existing concept in literary theory that Delany drew on and applied specifically to science fiction.

  22. #8372
    World Class Rambler EFCollins's Avatar
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    Aaah. So, if someone does that, you not only know how long they've been writing (typing), but an approximate age for them too. You can glean so much from typing habits!

    Thanks, Mr. Mcdonald. You just saved me some *ahem* space.
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  23. #8373
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    If you're totally fascinated, double-space after a full stop is sometimes called "English spacing" and single-space after a full stop is sometimes called "French spacing." These long pre-date typewriters. There were also rules about spaces before and after other punctuation marks. As an aside, also dating to the days of hand typesetting, cliches were common phrases cast as single slugs to speed composition.

    See also: Upper case, lower case, boiler-plate, and stereotype.

  24. #8374
    World Class Rambler EFCollins's Avatar
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    It's interesting stuff. I've read a couple of books set way back when where I've come across some of those terms, but I had no idea what they meant. I'm only 26, so I learned to type on a computer, but knowing about this stuff could be useful for some reason or another. Maybe a story about way back when, character being a person who does hand typesetting and secretly puts subliminal messages in the work they prepare... hmmm. Maybe he could have a special typecase and be wicked, wicked, wicked. Cause all kinds of chaos.

    See? It's amazing what you can do with useless information.
    Ze name iz... Effie

    The 2011 Horror Hounds Celebration and Contest is here!

    Quote Originally Posted by sunandshadow View Post
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    I finally got 700 monkeys! Now... all I need is 700 typewriters and a way to live for 700 years.

    Blog!

    Quote Originally Posted by EFCollins View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leukman View Post
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  25. #8375
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Meanwhile, in a more appalling vein:

    Writers Should Know Better from How Publishing Really Works, QueryFAIL! from Editorial Anonymous.

    O my children, go forth and do not do likewise....
    Thank you for quoting my blog, Mr Macdonald. Not only have you sent a whole slew of readers over to it, you've also made me smile.

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