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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #2051
    maestrowork
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    Why mini-prologue? Why don't you just put it in the first chapter to foretell what is coming? A lot of books do that, like:

    "David Smith is going to die in 24 hours. He doesn't know it yet, but it's going to happen."... then go on to tell the story. To me it's a cheesy way to start a book, but if it works to get the readers to buy the book...

    I like dramatic irony, but only when it's handle with subtlety. I hate it when the narrator is being coy -- I know something but I ain't tell you now.

  2. #2052
    ChunkyC
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    Ah, I see what you're getting at, SC. I do tend to agree with Maestro, you could do the same thing, but blend it into the first chapter, sort of like a long shot in a movie (omniscient narrator) that gradually pulls in until you're with the POV character.

  3. #2053
    Jules Hall
    Guest

    From what I can see...

    I think that's what he intends to do: basically an additonal short scene inside the chapter that's shown from a different viewpoint to the rest, probably set in italics to show that it's different. Another book where this device is used is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card -- he has a section at the start of each chapter from the POV of the adults responsible for training Ender, which he uses to keep the tension up in situations where it would otherwise be a little slack.

    God knows what they're called. I tend to think of them as "short scenes from a different POV set in italic". :grin

  4. #2054
    sc211
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    You're right, Maestro - that's just what I was worried about - that it'd look cheesy. But Morrell does it in nearly every book just like Chunky describes - you pull in from ominiscient in the first paragraph - and it works well enough for him.

    And hey, Jules, I just got to "Ender's Game" this past winter, and don't you think the guys who did "The Matrix" stole that opening voice-over straight from that book? It's the same discussion between two people we can't see, who've been watching someone without his knowing, and saying, "I tell you he's the one."

    Then it breaks to a different font and "The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair...", right into limited third peson. And we know what the kid doesn't - that he's been chosen to save the world.

    It's sort of a cross between an italicized mini-prologue and Morrell's dramatic irony. And the Wachowski brothers saw it and used it very well.

  5. #2055
    maestrowork
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    I personally don't like dramatic irony done in omniscient voice, within a 3rd limited scene/chapter. But that's just me. Do what works for your story. I usually like to present my dramatic ironies through other characters or scenes (a fly-on-the-wall type scene). Remember, your narrator is an invisible character in the book. He's the story teller so as long as you don't swift POV "during" a scene you'd be fine.

    I don't see a reason to use italics to separate the POVs. Usually a blank line (to denote scene change) would be enough. Again, I prefer to use other scenes with other characters to present dramatic irony, but that's just me.

  6. #2056
    ChunkyC
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    "short scenes from a different POV set in italic"
    Ah, the infamous SSFADPOVSII technique! :grin (I know, not near as cool an acronym as TANSTAAFL)

    Okay, I haven't got a clue what they're called either. Ender's game is a perfect example and I never made the connection with the Matrix, tho' it's obvious now that it's been pointed out. It sure can add tension if done well.

  7. #2057
    evanaharris
    Guest

    Re: Hello

    There's bound to be a technical name for anything, Evan
    I know. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

    I just don't like "epigraph" for the italicized, or set-apart portions of books like Ender's Game and Contact. It just doesn't sound right.

    We should give them a new name. Something cute and endearing like "feebles."

  8. #2058
    JimMorcombe
    Guest

    Uncle Jim, "and", "then" and then...&quo

    Uncle Jim

    I'm sorry, but you are 100% dead wrong about the use of "and then".

    I've finaly got my hands on "The Apocalypse Door" and I can see where you are coming from.

    However, the phrase "and then" is not just a combination of the two words "and" and "then". It has psycological implications that we were taught from birth.

    When Dad read to us when we were four, every second page ended with "and then..."

    We waited with our heart in our mouth while Dad turned the page, waiting to see whether Baby Frog would swallow the bubble or listen to Mummy Frog's words of wisdom. The next page also finishes with "and then...". We wait again while Dad turns the page ever so slowly, full of suspense, waiting to see what swallowing a bubble does to a baby frog.

    Obviously as adaults we don't still blatantly use "and then" so obviously, but this combination of words still has associations we can call upon.

    A decade or two back, "and then" was in vogue with young teenagers in Australia. In these days Kylie Minogue was just a teenage stage of Neighbours or some other soap opera. A comedian came up with a character called "Kylie Moll" who was a freckle faced teenager whose trade mark was to say "and then, and then, and then..." in the middle of every single sentence at the same time as she chewed gum and stretched it with her fingers. It was a brilliant comment on the way out teenagers spoke.

    The point is, "and then" has a history that is steeped in emotion. Most of us should use it.

    On the other hand, you can't use "and then" in "The Apocalypse Door" because of the Voice you have adopted. You are writing in terse chunks that don't have many conecting prepositions.

    For example, a random page 131 begins a new chapter:

    "The truck was old, a pickup with the word 'FORD' on the grill. It had been build in Brazil. It was grey in color, and had agricultural implements in the bed."

    This is completely different from saying:

    "The truck was an old Ford pickup which had been build in Brazil. It was grey in color, with agricultural instruments carelesly thrown in the bed."

    The second writer can make use of "and then" because he has warmed us up with prepositions.

    Nephew Jim.

  9. #2059
    Euan Harvey
    Guest

    Re: Prologues

    I was a little skeptical when I read Uncle Jim's post about 'and then' the first time as well. However, since then, I've noticed that a lot of published authors tend to use 'then' more often than 'and then'.

    For example, 'The Apocalypse Troll' by David Weber has 337 instances of 'then' (I've downloaded it from the Baen free library and I ran a global search in Word) of which 54 are in 'and then'. So only 16% of the uses of 'then' are in 'and then', which means most of the time (84%) the word is used to join two sentences, it's simply done as [blah blah blah], then [blah blah blah].

    Like I say, I've been looking for this in published work since I read Uncle Jim's comment on it, and it seems that a lot of people whose work I like (and whose work sells) don't use 'and then' very much.

    Just my 2c.

    Cheers,

    Euan

  10. #2060
    paritoshuttam
    Guest

    Re: prologues

    Thanks guys. It's the same problem I am facing. I know I need to increase the suspense factor at the beginning and there was no way I could do it using 3rd perosn limited POV in the first page. Finally I too struck upon the same technique of using a voice that looks suspiciously omniscient, though I haven't set in apart in italics or anything. Then, after a paragraph or two, I shift to my protaganist's limited POV, in what I hope is a not-too-jerky transition.

    Another related problem I have is that as my novel can be classfied as a coming-of-age work, I want that coming-of-age to be revealed gradually and not be told on Para 1, Page 1. So is it ok to use subplots to create the suspense here, or would readers consider that cheating?

    Thanks,
    Paritosh.

  11. #2061
    JimMorcombe
    Guest

    Re: And then

    Euan Harvey,

    Your research supports what I am saying. "and then" is not just for joining two sentences together. It has more emotional suspense attached to it than just "then". In fact, I guess I am surprised it is used such a high percentage of the time.

    If you use an exclamation point to end every sentence then it loses its impact. Thats why they say not to use more than one a page.

  12. #2062
    pianoman5
    Guest

    Re: And then...

    I've always thought "and then" has a kind of singsong rhythm, presumably from childhood association, and tend to avoid it.

    Slightly off to one side, but related, I read recently a helpful observation from a writer (Connie Willis?) who made the point that plot in particular is not about "and then...", but rather "so then...".

    It sounds pretty obvious, but I suspect I'm not the only newbie writer who has let a favourite "and then" type of passage stand, where it did not rightfully belong in a cause-and-effect chain.

  13. #2063
    JimMorcombe
    Guest

    and then...

    Not the best examples, but spot the difference...


    She ran down the forest path, then across the clearing. She waved her arms around and tried to atract the pilot's attention. The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight and then continued without noticing her.

    The last sentence works better with the "and then" because we want to introduce an element of suspense as the reader hopes the helicoptor pilot will spot the heroine, but then has his hopes dashed as the pilot flies by without seeing her.

    However, if we'd used "and then" in the first sentence, it would have removed all impact from the last sentence.

  14. #2064
    Euan Harvey
    Guest

    Re: and then...

    >The last sentence works better with the "and then" because we want to introduce an element of suspense as the reader hopes the helicoptor pilot will spot the heroine, but then has his hopes dashed as the pilot flies by without seeing her.

    Hmm. I really can't see *that* much difference between:

    The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight and then continued without noticing her.

    ...and...

    The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight, then continued without noticing her.

    In fact, if you want an element of suspense, then I think the 'then' works better than 'and then', because of the slight pause you get with the comma (JMHO, and it's a minor difference).

    And also, thinking about it, I'd probably write:

    The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight, but then continued without noticing her.

    Anyway, as far as I can see, most of the time the 'and' in 'and then' is superfluous.

  15. #2065
    maestrowork
    Guest

    Re: And then

    I agree. To say "the helicopter paused for a second and then continued ..." is not as concise or well written as "the helicopter paused for a second, then contunued..." or "the helicopter paused for a second. Then it contuinued..." (in this case, the period serves as a literary pause).

    "And then" does have a warm, familiar tone in it and is better suited for 1st person narration: "And then what happened, you may ask." Otherwise, I'd just use "then" or "and":

    He stopped to take a breath, then jumped.

    He took a breath and jumped.

  16. #2066
    reph
    Guest

    Re: And then

    "So only 16% of the uses of 'then' are in 'and then', which means most of the time (84%) the word is used to join two sentences..."

    Does it mean that? Mightn't "then" be used in these ways:

    If Dan doesn't eat his spinach, then he can't have any pie.

    Dan ate his spinach. Then he had a piece of pie.

    Dan, then five years old, hated spinach.

    Dan nibbled at his spinach now and then.

    "Dinner will be ready at seven, Dan. Go out and play until then."

  17. #2067
    Joanclr
    Guest

    Re: Uncle Jim, "and", "then" and then...

    Quote from Nephew Jim:

    For example, a random page 131 begins a new chapter:

    "The truck was old, a pickup with the word 'FORD' on the grill. It had been build in Brazil. It was grey in color, and had agricultural implements in the bed."

    This is completely different from saying:

    "The truck was an old Ford pickup which had been build in Brazil. It was grey in color, with agricultural instruments carelesly thrown in the bed."
    I am opting out of the "and then" discussion, if that's okay with everyone.

    However, I find this portion fascinating for another reason. In a writing group recently we were discussing a writer's "headlong" style, and wondering just what made the difference in pacing and style. This example you quoted here capsulized it for me perfectly. As you pointed out, the feel of the two pieces, while saying the exact same thing, is completely different. I think it's intensely interesting to dissect what makes that the case, and how just a few wording changes can result in such a drastically different feel.

  18. #2068
    James D Macdonald
    Guest

    Re: and then...

    I think it's intensely interesting to dissect what makes that the case, and how just a few wording changes can result in such a drastically different feel.

    This is why I say that you have to go through your book word-by-word and make every word justify its existence. Some people are naturals -- I can't help them, I can't hurt them. Me, I'm not a natural. I have to think about everything (though I only do it in second and subsequent drafts).

    The first draft is for getting the story in place. If you don't have a story, you don't have a novel.

    Lots of other things to talk about, no time to talk about 'em. For me, the "and then" discussion is a religious one, so there's no point talking about it. I'd originally offered it as an example of one of my eccentricities.

    On suspense, and openings:

    Consider the film D.O.A.. The protagonist has to figure out who murdered him. (He's been given a poison that has no cure, that hasn't killed him yet, but gives him limited time to discover whodunnit.) Consider the books that are one long flashback, after a present-time opening paragraph. Consider a change in POV character or narrative voice.

    There's no one right way to do this. You as the artist will decide which is the best way for you,for your book. Try different versions in different drafts. See which read better. You don't get a prize for "almost works."

  19. #2069
    Euan Harvey
    Guest

    Re: And then

    >Does it mean that? Mightn't "then" be used in these ways:

    Oops.

    ""So only 16% of the uses of 'then' are in 'and then'..."

    This bit is true.

    "... which means most of the time (84%) the word is used to join two sentences..." "

    This bit probably isn't -- although of the five examples you use, I would imagine that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are much less common than 1 and 2 (in which 'then' is being used kinda like a conjunction).

    Nice catch. I was just testing to see if everyone was paying attention. Ahem.

    Cheers,

    Euan

  20. #2070
    reph
    Guest

    Re: And then

    Euan: "I was just testing to see if everyone was paying attention. Ahem."

    Well, then, I'd say some of us passed the test. Ahem to you, too.

    I still maintain privately that "Dan ate his spinach, then had a piece of pie" is ungrammatical, no matter how popular it is: it uses "then" as an adverb where a conjunction is needed. Much earlier in this thread, Uncle Jim disagreed firmly. Now he says it's a religious matter. Fortunately, in this country, we are each free to worship as we choose.

  21. #2071
    ChunkyC
    Guest

    Re: Uncle Jim, "and", "then" and then...

    I'm late to the 'then/and then' discussion, but just wanted to add that I get a bit more of a 'cause and effect' feeling from 'and then' than 'then'.

    The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight and then continued without noticing her.

    ...and...

    The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight, then continued without noticing her.

  22. #2072
    SFEley
    Guest

    Re: and then...

    JimMorcombe wrote:
    She ran down the forest path, then across the clearing. She waved her arms around and tried to atract the pilot's attention. The helicopter seemed to pause in its flight and then continued without noticing her.
    IMO, that's a poor example. It's needlessly wordy and ambiguous. Whose POV are we in? How does the girl know whether the helicopter (by which I assume you mean the pilot) noticed her? The "and" in sentence two means that waving her arms ("around" is redundant) and attracting the pilot's attention were two separate acts. And if she ran *across* the clearing, that means she's back in the woods again, on the other side. Of course nobody saw her! And I personally think a comma would create a better suspense pause in that last sentence than a bland "and."

    There are lots of correct ways to write this. I might say:
    It took just seconds to cover the rest of the trail. She stopped in the center of the clearing and waved her arms, hoping to attract the pilot's attention. She thought the helicopter paused for just a moment, but it moved on with no sign of acknowledgement. She was alone.
    Are there times when "and then" is appropriate? Sure. I think it depends more on individual voice than scene requirements. But if you're going to tell Uncle Jim he's wrong, you really ought to be more vigilant yourself when it comes to basic style, grammar, and spelling.


    Have Fun,
    - Steve Eley

  23. #2073
    Pthom
    Guest

    Re: and then...

    Steve:
    Seems to me that
    "The helicopter...continued without noticing her."
    and
    "...it moved on with no sign of acknowledgement."
    both require an inanimate object (the helicopter) to have anthropomorphic qualities. You were initially correct to complain about the helicopter noticing anything, since it is no doubt the pilot who does, but to acknowledge is akin to noticing, eh?
    :grin

  24. #2074
    Euan Harvey
    Guest

    Re: And then

    >Well, then, I'd say some of us passed the test. Ahem to you, too.

    Blast! Works with my students...

    __________________________________________________ _

    >I still maintain privately that "Dan ate his spinach, then had a piece of pie" is ungrammatical, no matter how popular it is: it uses "then" as an adverb where a conjunction is needed.

    I don't follow the second part of this sentence. Are you saying that it's ungrammatical because it uses 'then' as a conjunction, when it's actually an adverb?

    [Because the example is using 'then' as a conjunction, and I am guessing that's why you're saying it's not grammatical]

    'Then' can be an adverb, a noun, an adjective, and also a kind of conjunction, for example:

    If all this be so, then man has a natural freedom. --Locke.*

    But:

    Even if I agreed with you and said that 'then' cannot be a conjunction, and also that two clauses in a sentence must be joined by a conjunction of some sort, then are you saying that we shouldn't use 'then' to join two clauses because it's ungrammatical?

    In that case, what about sentence fragments? Run-ons? Comma splices?

    [All of which I see all the time in published fiction]

    As far as I can see, the conventions of formal written English simply don't apply to writing fiction.

    Cheers,

    Euan

    *Example from dictionary.reference.com/search?q=then

  25. #2075
    reph
    Guest

    Re: Uncle Jim, "and", "then" and then...

    "Are you saying that it's ungrammatical because it uses 'then' as a conjunction, when it's actually an adverb?"

    Yes. My dictionaries list "then" as adverb, noun, and adjective nothing else. They don't have the conjunctional use as in the Locke quotation; I don't know why not, since that's a standard use of "then."

    Mostly, I'm saying that it looks funny and that this funniness comes from its being an adverb trying to do a conjunction's job. When I see "Dan ate his spinach, then had a piece of pie," it looks wrong. It gives me an experience like walking downstairs and reaching the bottom one step earlier than I expected: uh-oh, something was missing there. "Then" works like "next." You wouldn't write "Nancy tied her shoelaces, next combed her hair."

    I think one reason that kind of "then" bothers me is that people don't use it in speech, only in writing, and then only in fiction writing. The conjunctional "then" always looks to me like an affectation.

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