Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

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jpserra

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Genuflect, dear Sage...

James D. Macdonald said:
Let's talk about Getting the Reader to Care:

Time to play the analysis game. This time, a classic work. Best seller, multiple editions ....
CHAPTER I.
Say, ye oppressed by some fantastic woes,
Some jarring nerve that baffles your repose,
Who press the downy couch while slaves advance
With timid eye to read the distant glance,
Who with sad prayers the weary doctor tease
To name the nameless, ever-new disease,
Who with mock patience... the way to death?
--Crabbe.
End of page one. Well, do you turn the page?

What do you know, and do you care?

To you I bow and would continue. But my true desires are for something less poetic; something more Dash-ing or Papa-esc. Something earthier, base and cold.


I, of course, have read this, and studied many from that period, but choose not to, any longer.



JPS
 

retterson

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Ken Schneider said:
An ancient English Cathedral tower? How can the ancient English Cathedral tower be here! The well-known massive gray square tower of its old Cathedral? How can it be here? There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect.

(snipped)

Like it, don't, know who worte it?

I won't be a spoiler, except to say, that to this day, I'd like to know who the murderer was . . .
 

James D. Macdonald

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The opening of The Hobbit is a great example of providing description by taking away information. First we're told that a hole exists, then we're told all the things that the hole isn't.

Tolkien had an idiosyncratic style. He also created a new genre. Later works in that genre have refined the concept so much that the earlier work seems crude in comparison, and reworked some parts so much that they've become cliches. That doesn't mean the original work wasn't groundbreaking.

Of course it wasn't everyone's cup of tea. What work is?

The lesson is to write your passion. Tolkien's passion was linguistics.
 

James D. Macdonald

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CHAPTER I.

We're in a chapter book, not a short story. Expect a slower beginning, since each part is in proportion to the length of the piece.
Say, ye oppressed by some fantastic woes,
Some jarring nerve that baffles your repose,
Who press the downy couch while slaves advance
With timid eye to read the distant glance,
Who with sad prayers the weary doctor tease
To name the nameless, ever-new disease,
Who with mock patience dire complaints endure,
Which real pain and that alone can cure,
How would you bear in real pain to lie
Despised, neglected, left alone to die?
How would you bear to draw your latest breath
Where all that's wretched paves the way to death?
--Crabbe.

The epigraph; perhaps a prologue. This is the stating the theme. The poet contrasts the rich hypocondriac with the genuinely ill poor person.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Setting the scene, providing a backdrop for the action to come. A stormy night is naturally dramatic. Opening your novel with a weather report has become a cliche; it became a cliche because it works so reliably and so often.

Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man, evidently of the lowest orders, was wending his solitary way.

A rough neighborhood, and we're introduced to our first character two sentences in. Remember that most stories start with a person in a place with a problem. Our person here is a common laborer, or perhaps a ruffian. He is certainly not afraid to walk out in a bad part of town. The first reason we have to care is this: The question "What brings a guy out on that kind of night?" Most readers have been out in bad weather and know what it's like, and know that only the most compelling reason will force it.

He stopped twice or thrice at different shops and houses of a description correspondent with the appearance of the quartier in which they were situated, and tended inquiry for some article or another which did not seem easily to be met with.

He's well-known in an area where the police fear to tread. This is characterization. Also, we're given his problem. He's looking for something, something rare in that quarter.

All the answers he received were couched in the negative; and as he turned from each door he muttered to himself, in no very elegant phraseology, his disappointment and discontent.

Very hard to find; and the man is a brute. Everyone knows what it's like to search for something they can't find, whether it be a cup of sugar or the car keys. What he said would have been literally unprintable in the 19th century, thus the circumlocution.

At length, at one house, the landlord, a sturdy butcher, after rendering the same reply the inquirer had hitherto received, added, "But if this vill do as vell, Dummie, it is quite at your sarvice!"

We're given the man's name. We care what the man's name is by now, since we've known him for four sentences and are sympathetic to his plight. Dialect has fallen out of favor since the 19th century. Its main purpose was to guide the person reading aloud in how to pronounce the words in the proper accent. With more silent reading by individuals this is less important.


Pausing reflectively for a moment, Dummie responded that he thought the thing proffered might do as well; and thrusting it into his ample pocket, he strode away with as rapid a motion as the wind and the rain would allow.

Indirect discourse. A bit of a cheat, since while the POV is close enough to hear the words a description of the object isn't given. More reinforcement of Dummie's character and of the severity of the weather. (The mention of the ample pocket is the first note of Dummie's profession -- he's a pickpocket -- but we won't be told that until later. At the moment we don't care what Dummie does as his day job, so we aren't told.) We're gaining more sympathy with Dummie, and learning that despite his appearance he's capable of thought.

He soon came to a nest of low and dingy buildings, at the entrance to which, in half-effaced characters, was written "Thames Court."

Pure description. Nothing much happens between getting the object and arriving at the destination, the reader has no reason to care about the interval, so it isn't given. Because it's where Dummie (who we care about) is going, we care, so the name of the place can be given.

Halting at the most conspicuous of these buildings, an inn or alehouse, through the half-closed windows of which blazed out in ruddy comfort the beams of the hospitable hearth, he knocked hastily at the door.

Description. We care about what it looks like since we know its name and need a mental picture to tie that tag onto.

He was admitted by a lady of a certain age, and endowed with a
comely rotundity of face and person.

Character two. We don't care about her yet, so no name, and the description is spare enough that if we forget it, it doesn't matter.

"Hast got it, Dummie?" said she, quickly, as she closed the door on the guest.


This woman (again speaking in dialect), ties herself into Dummie (she knows him), and to the object. She's now important enough to care about.

==============

For the sake of the folks who are wondering exactly what Dummie was after that was so hard to find in that district, it was a Bible. What the butcher gave him, instead, was a leather-bound copy of the works of Shakespeare. The reason the landlady wanted a Bible was because one of the young ladies there is dying; it doesn't matter that what's provided isn't a Bible because she can't read.

We're starting a story comparing and contrasting life in the upper and lower parts of society, and highlighting the injustices of the English penal system. "Knowing yourself" is a compelling reason for any reader to pick up a novel.

Paul Clifford had the largest first printing of any novel up to that time; it sold out on the first day. This was a crime novel, and of an entirely new subgenre within crime novels: the hero is the criminal himself.

Bulwer-Lytton wrote the novel with the intent of reforming English criminal justice. Its current obscurity (other than as a bad joke) is further proof of Sam Goldwyn's dictum: "If you want to send a message call Western Union."
 

jpserra

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McAllister, in your first post you cited the plagerism cases and outlined the laws, as it pertains. I am not familiar with the contractual arrangements for the Star Trek franchise, but there seems to be a great many authors writing to it. Do you know of any instances in the 20th century, wherein the use of established characters or worlds are public domain? This instance almost suggests that it is public domain.

JPS
 

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Public Domain

I was referring to Mac's original thread; a compilation of stats on plagerism in Undiluted. I wondered about public domain of popular fictional concepts and characters.

Star Trek has opened an interesting door. Writers develop their own universes, but with the overwhelming impact that Roddenbury had with Star Trek, wouldn't almost any concept used in that universe be a plageristic use? I just don't know, but after reading the post, it popped into my head.

John
 

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No. There's nothing in Star Trek that didn't already exist -- decades before -- in written Science Fiction. Nor can ideas be copyrighted, only the specific expression of ideas.

Some popular characters that would be public domain from the 20th century include Sherlock Holmes -- but only from the stories that were published before 1923.

Tarzan would be public domain, but Edgar Rice Burroughs cleverly trademarked the character, so copyright doesn't apply.
 

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James D. Macdonald said:
No. There's nothing in Star Trek that didn't already exist -- decades before -- in written Science Fiction. Nor can ideas be copyrighted, only the specific expression of ideas.

Some popular characters that would be public domain from the 20th century include Sherlock Holmes -- but only from the stories that were published before 1923.

Tarzan would be public domain, but Edgar Rice Burroughs cleverly trademarked the character, so copyright doesn't apply.

A bit of clarification about Holmes and Tarzan. The character of Sherlock Holmes is not protected, so you could go ahead and write a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, and numerous have been done, most notably Nicholas Meyer, The Seven Per-Cent Solution. Conan Doyle's pre-1923 Sherlock Holmes tales are in public domain in the U.S. and may be freely reproduced. They are all available on-line, for free, in various venues.

With Tarzan, as James says, the character is trademarked, so you may not write new Tarzan stories. However, like Doyle, Burroughs published a number of Tarzan books prior to 1923, and those are in public domain in the U.S., and like Sherlock Holmes, virtually all of those are available free on-line.

caw.
 

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Thank you.

James D. Macdonald said:
No. There's nothing in Star Trek that didn't already exist -- decades before -- in written Science Fiction. Nor can ideas be copyrighted, only the specific expression of ideas.

Some popular characters that would be public domain from the 20th century include Sherlock Holmes -- but only from the stories that were published before 1923.

Tarzan would be public domain, but Edgar Rice Burroughs cleverly trademarked the character, so copyright doesn't apply.

I appreciate the reply. So the verbalized concept of warp fields and warp speed is up for grabs? I use this only as a step toward other public domain ideas. Since the specifics of the science used in describing a given function, do they not survive under copywrite or trademark? Or because of their very public popularity, are these ideas with proprietary copywritten foundations covered under copywrite. I'm not just being difficult. If I chose to write a book involving the use of these concepts, I wonder if I might not be in violation of copywrite.

John
 

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jpserra said:
I appreciate the reply. So the verbalized concept of warp fields and warp speed is up for grabs? I use this only as a step toward other public domain ideas. Since the specifics of the science used in describing a given function, do they not survive under copywrite or trademark? Or because of their very public popularity, are these ideas with proprietary copywritten foundations covered under copywrite. I'm not just being difficult. If I chose to write a book involving the use of these concepts, I wonder if I might not be in violation of copywrite.
John

If think that if you were to start using the phrases "warp speed," "warp fields" "Ferengi" and "Klingon" altogether, then Paramount might come knocking on your door with a lead pipe.

By itself, the phrases "warp speed" and "warp fields" are not just Star Trek. Like a lot of Star Trek things, they were once upon a time actually related to real honest-to-goodness science.

The reason I mentioned the Ferengi is, Star Trek was not their first appearance. They may not have looked the same, but the term Ferengi has been around sci-fi for a long-o time-o.
 

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Ken Schneider said:
I'd like to do one more opening, to see who may or may not turn the page, just for giggles. I'll reveal the author if someone doesn't pick up on who it is. Then, I'll get out of the way, as I don't want to highjack UJ.

Just trying to make a point about writers and openings.

::

An ancient English Cathedral tower? How can the ancient English Cathedral tower be here! The well-known massive gray square tower of its old Cathedral? How can it be here? There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect.What is the spike that intervenes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan's orders for the impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long procession. Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew flowers. Then, follow white Elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and infinite in number and attendants.

Like it, don't, know who worte it?

The repetition has me glazing over before the fifth sentence. The rest of the prose has me too busy screaming in the back of my head to even contemplate continuing. So, yeah, you could say I don't like it.

I have no clue who wrote it -- feel free to share, even if I end up feeling embarassed :)

As for the Bulwer-Lytton sample, I'd probably turn the page, but give up soon after. It might read better out loud, but on paper it feels so congested it's almost headache-inducing. I read an entire book that felt like that once, and I think it did give me a headache. Lesson learned: pacing is important, both in terms of story and sentence structure. And giving readers headaches is a Bad Thing™.
 

retterson

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James D. Macdonald said:
Ken's example is by Charles Dickens. It's really a bit short; I doubt that's a full page.

Yeah, and the whole book is too short -- by nearly half as I recall. :)
 

retterson

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Dickens used repetition evocatively. He used voice quite expertly to make you feel, really feel the ambiance of the scene he's writing.

Dickens and authors like him control the readers' experience with their words -- they don't leave it up to YOUR imagination because the story is solidly a product of DICKENS' imagination. It's his story. Modern authors are rarely as effective at controlling so many aspects of the readers' experience.
 

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James D. Macdonald said:
Ken's example is by Charles Dickens. It's really a bit short; I doubt that's a full page.

Correct, hardly a full page, but, none the less, the opening of the Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Point being, in short, never judge a published book by its opening.
 

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Ack. TMOED is rather a tiresome, gloomy tome. Certainly not his best work, and not just because he died in the middle of it. (Dickens, I mean - what happened to poor Edwin is left to speculation).

The musical is a fun little romp, though. I did it in High School. The audience gets to vote for the murderer. Which, of course, means we had to practice 10 different endings.
 

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Ah, now I'm not surprised at my reaction. Dickens and I are not on happy terms.

...Looking up the summary, though, I might have to check this out. It sounds like a doozy.

(Edit: On the other hand, now that I see Christine's post, maybe not.)
 
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retterson said:
Dickens used repetition evocatively. He used voice quite expertly to make you feel, really feel the ambiance of the scene he's writing.


Dickens, in his day, would have been read aloud too. Imagine hearing the book and not reading it and you have an idea of why some of the devices like repetition are used.

Os.
 

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PeeDee said:
... term Ferengi has been around sci-fi for a long-o time-o.
The term Ferengi--sometimes spelled Farangi--was a derogatory term in Urdu/Hindu used in colonial India for the white-Christian Britishers. If you watch the movie Lagaan (recently nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards) the villagers use that term for the British--and it is not used kindly. Now the slur is continued in Star Trek, and all the Desi's chuckle at its use, remembering its history.
 
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