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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #8426
    practical experience, FTW SarahMacManus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    I write out-of-order all the time. As scenes become clear to me, I write them. Later I decide (or Doyle does) which scenes are part of this book, and where they go.
    I also frequently write out of sequence, especially when something is in development and I'm working my way through the plot and general feel of the work.

    If I have ideas about how I want a scene towards the end to go, I don't wait til I get there; I sit down and write it. Sometimes it makes getting there a lot easier, because I already can see, vividly, what kind of person and in what circumstances, my characters are in the future.

    I do a lot of basic plotting this way.

  2. #8427
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Sky View Post
    Do you and Doyle have a lot of laughs while sharing these parts?
    We absolutely do. Laughing a lot is part of our writing life.

  3. #8428
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  4. #8429
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Throw any BS that comes into my head up on screen.

    Let's see:


    "There's a scene here," Maincharacter said. "Why the foo aren't you writing it?"

    "Because I don't friggin' see it," the author replied.

    "As if I'm going to take that for an excuse? Look, Lady McSwiggin is going to have to lose her necklace if Fred is going to find it in time for the action/adventure climax. So why not do that bit?"

    "Because there isn't a Lady McSwiggin isn't in this book. Who the foo is Lady McSwiggin?"

    "Hey, are you expecting me to do your job for you?" Maincharacter looked at the author with exasperation dripping from his moustache. (He had bought the exasperation at Al's House of Nouns; it was his last bottle.) "I suppose I do. She's the character with the necklace."

    "That didn't clarify things. What necklace?"

    "The cursed one."

    "Cursed one?"

    "Is there an echo in here? The cursed blue one."

    "You just stacked two adjectives on one noun."

    "La-di-friggin'-dah. Look who's going all English Major on me now. If you don't start writing your book, if you make me write your book, you won't believe what I'm going to do to the prose."

    "Okay, okay!" Suddenly, without warning, a naked woman screamed!

    It was Lady McSwiggin, and she was standing at the door. "Open up right now," she screamed again.

    Maincharacter turned the knob and pulled the door in. "My lady!"

    Lady McSwiggin stepped inside, as Maincharacter shut the door behind her. "Would you like a pair of jodhpurs?" he asked. "I think I have some that will fit you...."

    "Never mind that. I need you to hide something for me." She reached behind her neck and unclasped the necklace that she wore. The blue pendant, a diamond the size of a dwarf hamster, lay distractingly between her breasts. "Take this," she said, pressing the necklace into Maincharacter's hand. "Lord Halfbaked must never find it!"

    And so on.
    I think I understand what you're saying. We're supposed to:

    1) Get our BIC anyway
    2) Listen to our characters
    3) Open our minds up to any possibilities
    4) Write anyway

    Maybe I'm too much of a control freak. I'm going to give this a try. Thank you.

    c.e.

  5. #8430
    practical experience, FTW Blue Sky's Avatar
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    Shared laughter adds up to a lot of enjoyment over the years. Must ease the task of writing tremendously. Now we're onto one of your secrets.

    Thanks Jim. By the sound of it there are legions of suffering writers in the world. I've had my moments with my non-fic book, but overall it's been a lot of fun. I'm always amazed that I don't tire of reading it one more time. Hang in there everybody.

    Started vacation bic yesterday by working on an article deadline coming up. Today to the novel. No other questions at the moment, only visions of cat waxing, to which our resident cat gives two ears back and a tail flip.

    c.e.lawson: I'm there with you. Feels like flying unless I stop to analyze things. When I notice, I let go and fly again. Until I reach "the end" in novel land, that's all I can report.

  6. #8431
    Grateful for the day cooeedownunder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by c.e.lawson View Post
    I think I understand what you're saying. We're supposed to:

    1) Get our BIC anyway
    2) Listen to our characters
    3) Open our minds up to any possibilities
    4) Write anyway

    Maybe I'm too much of a control freak. I'm going to give this a try. Thank you.

    c.e.
    I think of it this way, allow yourself to write crap, and very often after a line or two of crap, or maybe a page of crap, the story wanting to be told often magically appears out of defiance.
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    Today is your last day. FOTSGreg's Avatar
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    In the book I'm currently working through the final draft of I originally wrote it in a varied chronological sequences, essentially as the scenes came to me. The book didn;t really start to get good until an editor associate said "I don't see why this couldn;t be in chronological order".

    I rearranged the chapters, filled in some plotholes, and now the book actually reads like a book instead of a loosely connected series of scenes.

    I had originally tried using a Present-Past-Present-Past chronology where the Past gradually caught up with the Present. This resulted in way too many plotholes and discrepancies in sequencing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FOTSGreg View Post
    In the book I'm currently working through the final draft of I originally wrote it in a varied chronological sequences, essentially as the scenes came to me. The book didn;t really start to get good until an editor associate said "I don't see why this couldn;t be in chronological order".

    I rearranged the chapters, filled in some plotholes, and now the book actually reads like a book instead of a loosely connected series of scenes.

    I had originally tried using a Present-Past-Present-Past chronology where the Past gradually caught up with the Present. This resulted in way too many plotholes and discrepancies in sequencing.
    Sounds confusing as hell to write!
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  9. #8434
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    Uncle Jim,
    What is your opinion on
    1) present tense
    2) tense shifts

    Do you ever use present tense, aside from a synopsis? I have read a post or two in the past where you looked unfavorably upon a sudden shift in tense. Your point seemed to be the shift itself, rather than the tense being present, if you know what I mean.

    For quite some time I have thought about taking your advice about writing a synopsis (as if you were describing a movie to a friend), and applying it to the prose (write it as if you were watching the characters act in the present, like a script). I have always thought it would bring the reader closer in to the action.

    Part of the reason I ask these questions now is that I recently finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I loved it, so I picked up Blood Meridian. Almost immediately, I noticed the tense shifting back and forth from past to present.

    I was intrigued so I did a little research on McCarthy. Some people hate the shifts, calling them jarring. In my opinion, they are at the very least on purpose, which is contrary to the seemingly accidental/sloppy shifts that you criticized in the past. Furthermore, other people seem to feel that the shift to present allows the reader to zoom in on the characters, or the moment, which is similar to what I was hoping to achieve.

    I'm guessing you've read McCarthy. What do you think? Too much for a first novel? I certainly don't want to shift back and forth as much as he does. No flip flopping. Just "zooming in" on one or two critical scenes.

  10. #8435
    Where did I put me specs? euclid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FOTSGreg View Post
    I had originally tried using a Present-Past-Present-Past chronology where the Past gradually caught up with the Present. This resulted in way too many plotholes and discrepancies in sequencing.
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  11. #8436
    Where did I put me specs? euclid's Avatar
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    I think I said this before somewhere - hopefully not in this thread.

    In my WIP1 I use present tense for flashbacks (2 of 'em in total) which works really well. The flashbacks are scenes set in Africa.

    I've just finished reading Perfume by Patrick Suskind. He has one short scene (in the whole book) written in the present tense, when the MC is born. The whole scene takes up one half of one page (page 6). I believe the scene would have been just as effective, and not so jarring, in the past tense.

    But what would I know? An absolutely wonderful book, btw
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  12. #8437
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Present tense is getting more common than it used to be (styles change). Some small parts of Land of Mist and Snow are in present tense. But none of our longer works are fully in present tense.

    This isn't because I don't like present tense (there's nothing wrong with it if it's the best tense for telling your story--All Quiet on the Western Front comes instantly to mind), it's just that so far I haven't. Past tense for storytelling is merely a literary convention.

    If you're using two different tenses, the trick is to do the transitions well. (Isn't that the trick in all of writing? To do what you're doing well?) Don't confuse the reader.

    Should you try in a first novel? Why not? If it doesn't work, fix it. No one sees your first drafts but you.

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    UJ, what are your thoughts on how to write dollar amounts? Example from A Birthday Suicide:


    At three-hundred seventy-five a pop my profit would be eight-seventy-five. A quarter of that to Danny for his help would leave me with six-hundred fifty-five. More than my mother cleared in a week.

    Is that too clunky? Should I write it in numbers, with dollar signs?
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  14. #8439
    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    UJ, what are your thoughts on how to write dollar amounts? Example from A Birthday Suicide:


    At three-hundred seventy-five a pop my profit would be eight-seventy-five. A quarter of that to Danny for his help would leave me with six-hundred fifty-five. More than my mother cleared in a week.


    Is that too clunky? Should I write it in numbers, with dollar signs?
    Just a thought: Do the numbers really matter in the story?

    Even after paying Danny for his help, I'll have earned more than my mother ever cleared in a week turning tricks.

    I'm a math freak: You give me numbers in a story and I immediately feel the compulsion to do the math to make sure the numbers add up. I also assume I'm supposed to keep those numbers on file because, since you mentioned them, they're guaranteed to become significant at some later point in the story. Most of the time, however, I'm massively disappointed in that regard because the numbers turn out not to be of any importance.

    Just my 2 cubic centimeters' worth.
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    Important, yes, cardboard, no... or is that fiber?

    Yeah, they're important numbers. He's just getting started as a coke dealer, and learning the breakdown and pricing and all that happy horsesh*t. But if Mom was turning tricks, I'd hope she was making more than $655 a week, lol.
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  16. #8441
    Today is your last day. FOTSGreg's Avatar
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    smbarber, It wasn't that confusing or hard to write. i had a basic outline of the chapter sequence I wanted to use, and wrote as the scenes came to me then stitched them in where I thought they belonged.

    The confusing part was when I reordered the chapters and started trying to fill in the plotholes. I had to go back in a couple of times and renumber all the chapters after a certain point and renumber the chapters then fill in a couple chapters which meant that all the succeeding chapters had to be renumbered again. This had to be done several times.

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  17. #8442
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Usually, numbers from one through ninety-nine are written as words; numbers 100 and over are written as digits.

    Quote Originally Posted by smsarber View Post
    But if Mom was turning tricks, I'd hope she was making more than $655 a week, lol.
    So this young lady goes to the bank with $655 in quarters and asks to open an account.

    "Goodness," says the teller, "Did you hoard all of these quarters?"

    "Oh, no, m'am," says the young lady. "My sister whored half of 'em."

  18. #8443
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Usually, numbers from one through ninety-nine are written as words; numbers 100 and over are written as digits.
    Is this sort of formatting thing something agents and/or editors will care about when they look at submissions? I'm an AP-style-trained journalist and I've been unable to break the habit of writing numerals for anything 10 and up. I figure it's better to be consistent than to try to remember and go back and forth.
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  19. #8444
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    As long as you're consistent, the publisher will regularize 'em to house style somewhere in the copyediting stage.

  20. #8445
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post

    So this young lady goes to the bank with $655 in quarters and asks to open an account.

    "Goodness," says the teller, "Did you hoard all of these quarters?"

    "Oh, no, m'am," says the young lady. "My sister whored half of 'em."
    ... oh, jeez!
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  21. #8446
    practical experience, FTW Blue Sky's Avatar
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    And I was just thinking about how I liked the word "plothole," a literary pothole. Now this. Ha!

  22. #8447
    Today is your last day. FOTSGreg's Avatar
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    Uncle Jim, Speaking of numbers - how about a coordinate system, ie 415x405/20?

    I've been typing it that way because having someone say 415 by 405 slash twenty just seems awkward and looks stupid.

    How about longitude and latitude or GPS coordinates, ie 14'23" S 134'45" W?

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  23. #8448
    World Class Rambler EFCollins's Avatar
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    Greg, that may look a bit confusing to a lot of readers. Generally x'x" means feet and inches. There is no one 14'23", fourteen feet twenty-three inches, tall. At least, for American readers, feet and inches are written that way and we are taught in grade school to read it that way. Unless all of your readers are ship captains or aviators or non-American, then there's bound to be some confusion.
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  24. #8449
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    I don't see where there would be any confusion. 14'23" S 134'45" W doesn't look like anything but coordinates. If nothing else, the "S" (south) and "W" (west) give that away.
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  25. #8450
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I'd give Lat and Long (and grid coordinates) in digits. (And expect most people to skip 'em and say "Oh, there's a number there.")

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