Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

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James D. Macdonald

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You're allowed one wild improbability. A snowstorm that the residents of northern Vermont can't handle on their own is already wildly improbable.

A master villain who can predict the exact day and hour of a New England snowstorm weeks in advance (even without using the Mysterious Super Drug that would leave the Sinister Doctor Fu Manchu scratching his head and saying "How did he do that?") doesn't need to turn to a life of crime. There are ski resorts who would pay him far more than he'd ever earn by super villainy for him to exercise his talent.

But really, a plan that requires that not one single person (from a large group of persons who are not under your control in any way) doesn't say "Screw it -- this morning I'm going to have the Cheerios instead" or the plan will fail, that isn't a workable plan. That's a plan that can only succeed if the author is on your side. If you're going to do that, have them dematerialized inside the cells and rematerialize outside the wall, using the Mystic Power of the Rosicrucians, learned from an elderly Unitarian/Universalist from Bethel, Maine.
 

Sailor Kenshin

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I loved your OP about the book. But my mind works in evil ways.

I'm already thinking how I could get this to 'work' by including supernatural elements and setting it in, say, SoCal, where (and this is true, I lived through it) a half-inch of snow will stop the world. (No, seriously, it got news coverage. There were shots of policemen gaping in perplexity at their tires which were stuck in that half-inch of snow.)

But that's probably just me.
 

Nangleator

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My first visit to SoCal, it drizzled for 3 days, which made national news.

I'd fix that story by making the snowstorm an obstacle in the criminals' path. Make it a bad thing that happened to everybody.

Is it okay to chase your bad guy up a tree and throw rocks at him, too?

And the binary poison thing makes sense. But instead of an ingestible catalyst, I'd maybe use something else to break up tiny time-release capsules in the guards' intestines. Subsonic waves from the visiting band's sound system, perhaps. That gives me more interesting characters to be threatened, as well.
 

Bekah

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It would perhaps be a bit more plausible if the main character's guy was on the inside and a guard himself, or at least someone who worked in the prison in some capacity. Then it would be a lot more likely that he could poison some food (or the coffee) in the guards' break room, thus ensuring that their families wouldn't eat any by mistake. Still, someone might be on a diet and refuse even a taste, and someone else might be a glutton and eat way more than his share.
 

James D. Macdonald

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The problem is that the story is "mixed bag of townfolk and tourists, cut off from aid, are under siege by Wicked Criminals; they must learn to survive, work together, and overcome."

No part of that requires the Wicked Criminals to explain themselves. The Wicked Criminals aren't even POV characters.
 
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allenparker

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No part of that requires the Wicked Criminals to explain themselves. The Wicked Criminals aren't even POV characters.


I think Jim is right. The story needed a good amount of cleaning. Leaving the escape unanswered might have added to the suspense level in the story. Had they shot their way out? Were they evil masterminds and found a secret outlet through the laundry?

At worst, leaving out the escape would be neutral.
 

Bekah

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I think Jim's right, too, and I got the point of his post. My point was that, since the author did unnecessarily mention how they escaped, he might have at least made it somewhat plausible. If I could think of something more likely off the top of my head, there's really no excuse for the one the author came up with.

Given the story he was trying to tell, though, it would have been preferable for him to keep mum on that entirely, even if he had thought up a halfway-likely scenario.
 

Ava Jarvis

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Scared to roll the dice. With my luck it will probably truly become a Challenge.

Plus, I don't think I've ever been a normal kid. Quite, quite seriously. I grew up in a nasty, Charles Dickensonian way, only worse. And I am even more scared of the story now....
 

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That's what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you're going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.
Huzzah! :)
 

BrendaK

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Happy New Year, all. The more things change, the more they change...

So. Formatting hardcopy (story) submissions is a technique I have down pat, and the style is universal. When a manuscript comes back, I can shove it into another envelope and send it to the next market without a second thought.

For my current story (having started with the highest-paying SF markets and worked my way down), I'm now at the third or so tier--still paying, but not much. At this level there are many markets, and a noticeable fraction want online submissions only. This is a pain in the a**.

When I read submission guidelines, I see that the format specified for online submissions is all over the place. In the body of the email. Single-spaced. Double-spaced. Attachment. .rtf. .doc. Worse, I'm now running into guidelines that specify online submissions without giving any specs.

Genial uncle, is any sign of a universal standard for online submissions coming forth?

Thanks.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Nearly the New Year. Time for a reading assignment!

Okay, we're going to look at Noir Fiction.

Let's start with The Pardoners's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

Skip forward a few hundred years to The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe.

Forward a bit more to some Sherlock Holmes. Try A Study in Scarlet (novel) or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (short stories).

Onward!

Here's The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler, and here's Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain.

A different approach to crime:
The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie, perhaps the first serial killer novel, years before the term "serial killer" was coined.


To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway. Also, The Killers (short story). A brilliant work, almost all dialog.

For another superb stylist, go to Fright by Cornell Woolrich.

Fifty years or more after they were first published, all these are still in print. Think about that.

Read the best, my friends. Fill your heads with good stories. They provide the soil in which your own flowers will grow.
 
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James D. Macdonald

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Genial uncle, is any sign of a universal standard for online submissions coming forth?


For a given market, follow the market's guidelines. (Most wordprocessors will save in any given format.)

If no format is given, I'd use this format:

Rich Text Format (RTF) only. Not .doc, .txt, .wpd, or anything else. Most wordprocessors allow a "save as" function with .rtf as one of the choices.


Turn off "Smart Quotes." Replace all curved quotes with straight quotes. Replace all curved apostrophes with straight apostrophes. Indicate italics with underlines. Replace the elipsis character with three periods in a row (...), not with a true elipsis (…). Indicate an em-dash (long dash) with two hyphens (--) not a true em-dash (—). Scene breaks should be indicated with a single hash mark (#) alone on a line.

And don't be too concerned. If they had a format in mind that they wanted, they'd have specified it, right?
 

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Echo, with emphasis, everything James just said. But especially this:

Rich Text Format (RTF) only. Not .doc, .txt, .wpd, or anything else. Most wordprocessors allow a "save as" function with .rtf as one of the choices.

I learned to do this long ago, for business reasons (I send a lot of technical consulting reports to clients). I've never had a single problem with readability on the receiving end. If, for some unimaginable reason, your word-processor does not permit a "Save As" .rtf option, you really need to get a new word-processor. And there are no excuses: OpenOffice Writer, which is free and simple to download, does the job just fine.

caw
 

Scribhneoir

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Okay, we're going to look at Noir Fiction.

Oooh, my favorite.

What timing! I was just sitting in front of my to-be-read pile trying to decide what to read next. Fright was in top contention with Dexter in the Dark and The Thirteenth Tale.

Fright it is.

Or must I start with The Pardoner's Tale? 'Cause I can do that, too. Chaucer isn't far from the TBR pile... and all the others I've already read.
 

BrendaK

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If no format is given, I'd use this format:

Rich Text Format (RTF) only. Not .doc, .txt, .wpd, or anything else. Most wordprocessors allow a "save as" function with .rtf as one of the choices.
Thank you! This is the point I was looking for. Henceforth all my online submissions to markets without specifications shall be RTF!

The tip about putting my name and a keyword in the filename is good, too.

And, blacbird, thanks for the confirmation based on your technical writing experience.

Happy New Year, all!
 

Summerwriter

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Right, that's how I learned the trumpet. I didn't compose Herb Alpert's music. I copied, rehearsed and eventually performed it in public.

Hi Marky48!
I have to make a confession. The copying...it is important. They say some artists...they copy. They copy the master's paintings. That is how I try to learn my writing. I copy a lot. I do not know if copying is counted for those...pages. But at the moment my writing is...on vacation. And I just copy hoping, that one day I will see connections. And I believe...something in me has changed. I have noticed changes in me.
 
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