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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I've been committing random story here at AW.

First, in the thread When Did "Beta" Become a Dirty Word here in the novels forum.

Please notice that this is a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end:

"Beta" became a dirty word at 4:57 pm, August the 8th, 2007.

At first few took notice. A motorist would mutter "Beta!" under his breath as a traffic cop pulled him over. A schoolboy would write "Beta" on a wall.

But before long a tourist was removed from an airplane for saying "Beta!" in a loud voice when the pilot announced that the plane would be delayed half an hour at takeoff.

The real breakthrough came with the release of Quentin Tarantino's Blood In The Drains, starring Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and Madonna. The screenplay used the word "beta" a record-breaking 25,027 times in dialog, and an additional twelve times in scene descriptions.

After that there was no denying it: "Beta" had become a dirty word.

The second was in the Erotica forum, in the Which POV during a sex scene?... thread.

Someone had suggested 2nd person, and again I was inspired.

You are not the kind of guy who would be in some strange girl's bedroom at this time in the morning, but here you are, and you're looking at a blonde with really big knockers. Her name is either Sheryl or Stacie, but it would be too embarrassing to ask which, because of what you've been doing for the last hour, and besides her mouth is full. You are mildly surprised to learn that you can still feel embarrassment, especially after she brought out the "Jeff Stryker" brand realistic-molded toy and the tube of K-Y, and showed you what she wanted you to do with them, and you did those things. Maybe you could keep calling her "Doll" or "Darling" or "Babe" but you wonder if she'll see through that and ask you what her name is. Then you wonder what she'll say if you ask her what your name is, even though you're sure you told her, back in the bar. Before she invited you home. Before Jeff Stryker and before the rabbit fur and before the video camera. All the wondering distracts you and she looks up and asks what's wrong and inspiration strikes. You say, "It's the beer; I have to take a leak," and you think that maybe you'll check for her driver's license in her purse on the way back from the bathroom.

Aside from the homage to Bright Lights, Big City, please notice that this is the opening paragraph from a novel. Depending on what our second-person protagonist finds in that purse, the story could go in a lot of different directions.

Maybe the young lady is only 15. Maybe there's a police badge, a running tape recorder, and a .38. Maybe the driver's license shows she's Mrs. Giovanni "Meatgrinder" Luciazzi, wife of the Mafia chief who has never yet been convicted for any of the thirty-seven mob hits he's been suspected of. Maybe she's Meatgrinder Luciazzi himself, after his sex-change.

That's a plot hook, and we can go a lot of ways with it.
 

SinkFulloDishes

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I believe the second part of that advice might have been left out - Hire somebody to unload the clean dishes and load up the dirty dishes with enough time to spare for making dinner, because inspiration draws you back to your story at the most inconvenient times.

(note my screen name :D)
 

Chris Grey

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I love my dishwasher. I have no shortage of other chores to keep me from writing and/or provide me brief flashes of inspiration.
 

Nangleator

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Walking. All the good ideas are out there on the sidewalks. You just have to walk over them like some sort of video game character.
 

a_sharp

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And, if all else fails, you can always wax the cat.
That's my job! (See profile)

Oh, you said "wax." I just watch him. Maybe I oughta try giving him a "watch and wax" job.

My creative ideas come from morning runs. Problem is, no way to write them down out there. Could try my digital recorder...between breaths.

*Hah* hesatonthefrontstep *Hah* watchingmewaxthecat *Hah* andlaughinghisfoolhead *Hah* off. Andthenhesaidhehad *Hah* dishesformetowash.
 

Komnena

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Well, I discovered a major plot element in Matter of Shape was just about certain to get my messterpiece rejected. So now I'm starting a new draft without that plot element. It's still pretty crappy because I'm once again trying to get the story line down. I've taken Uncle Jim's advice and started it with a kidnapping, which is where one of my two viewpoint characters has the door or rather lid literally slammed shut on him.
 

James D. Macdonald

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In Media Res (Latin for In The Middle of Things) is often a good place to start.

That "Res" is the same "Re" that you see in business letters, meaning About or Concerning. Only with "Res" there's more of them.

Since all of our stories are presumably part of a continuous narrative that started back in pre-history and will go on to the end of time, it's a good plan to start the part of the story we're telling when things get interesting. We could start telling our detective story with the night our protagonist's grandparents met (or, if we're James Michener, with the rocks that would eventually form lower Manhattan cooling), but for most of us it's better to start the story when the blonde sashays in the door with a two-dollar gat in her hand and a look on her face that spells trouble.
 

Komnena

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I'm not James Michener and certainly don't have his ability to make rocks cooling interesting.
So far it seems to be working. I'm alternating viewpoints in different chapters. One character, the kidnapped one, is interacting with his captors and other kidnapped characters. The second viewpoint character is working to retrieve the captives, among whom is her brother-in-law.
 

chroniclemaster1

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Who says Michener makes it interesting. ;) I usually like historical novels, but I've never been able to get into Michener. I'm probably part of a minority, but I can get into a history textbook, or a historical atlas, but Michener puts me to sleep.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Who wants to write a story (I see around 6-9,000 words) featuring cooling rocks, blue-green algae, and slime-molds? Oxygen is a plus but not required.

Must have action, adventure, and a slam-bang climax.

Your market is Exciting Evolutionary Tales and your deadline is Tuesday.

Okay, cowboy, go to town!
 

James D. Macdonald

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Stuck for a plot, young Jedi? An inspiration you need? Here is another slick quick trick... use a joke.

Jokes (of the Story Joke variety, not the riddle or pun) are condensed Plot In A Box. For example, the last line in my previous post was from the punchline of a joke. Here's how it goes:

The sheriff of a small western town spots a young man walking down the street, and the young feller is wearing nothing at all. So the sheriff hauls him in for indecent exposure. Once they're in the jail, the sheriff asks him how he came to be walking down the street starkers, and the fella says, "Well, sheriff, it's like this:

"There I was in the roadhouse having a beer, when this young filly comes up to me and asks if I'm a cowboy. So I says 'Yep,' and she asks me back to her trailer.

"Once we go there, she whipped off her blouse, and said 'Okay, cowboy, take off your shirt,' so I did.

"Then she whipped off her skirt, and said 'Okay, cowboy, take off your jeans,' so I did.

"Then she whipped off her undies and said, 'Okay, cowboy, take off your shorts,' so I did.

"Then she leaned back on her bed and said, 'Okay, cowboy, go to town....' "

========

Note that this has a person in a place with a problem, it has characters, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, it has a surprising yet satisfying climax, it has dialog, it has POV -- heck, most of it is a flashback in a frame-tale.

Jokes are great.

A single joke is a short story. A novel is a comedy routine made of many jokes built around a common theme, each one topping the one that came before.

The funny thing is, your story doesn't have to be funny.
 
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Komnena

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Young Jedi is thinking about algae, cooling rocks and slam-bang climaxes instead of her WIP or cowboy jokes. Thinking about trying to write 6,000 words in addition to a single spaced page of said WIP and knowing how unbelievably crappy such an effort would be. Still, I can see that it might teach some discipline and definitely BIC.
 

Komnena

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I made a stab at the writing exercise but couldn't get anywhere near the 6,000 words. I got up to 1200 words and realized I shouldn't have made it about a giant water scorpion's adventures.
 

James D. Macdonald

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The Dumb Little Man writes a book. Good advice all the way around. FREX:

Book bible. Most writers won't bother with this, but that's a mistake. If you are serious about your writing, a book bible is a must-have. However, you can work on that last. This is ideally a binder with everything about your book contained in its pages: plot outline, character sketches, notes, bits of dialog, small details, scene description, research, etc. You'll find this extremely useful. The habit to develop: get a binder, write notes on characters, plot, scene, dialog, and keep it updated, as soon as you're done writing. So: write, log it, then update your book bible.
 

Nangleator

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It's at the end of my current WIPs, after a page break. They contain at least an encyclopedia of people, places and important events. One of them had a calendar for the planet my characters lived on, a technical monograph of an engineering marvel, and a history of mankind from now until the setting of the book.

Much of it wasn't visible in the story, but it was there, propping up the facades.
 

Kcshrimp

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Uncle Jim, Thank you so much for the advice. It was entertaining as well as it was good, sound advice and direction for me. I am really new at all of this. I had an unfortunate thing happen............I was published by a vanity press that is no longer in business anymore (Thank goodness). So here is my question to you. Can I rewrite my manuscript and get it published again by a real publishing house? I guess I am completely ignorant when it comes to this whole thing.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Kcshrimp: Sure, you can.

But determining exactly how much you'd have to change it to make it a "new" work is something to discuss with a lawyer.

If you get it reprinted now, you get reprint-level money.

A better plan would be to take the experience of writing this book, and use it toward writing a new book. Then, when that's sold, and your editor asks you "Do you have anything else?" You can say "Yes, but there's a bit of a story to it...." and fill her in on what went down.

The kind of numbers that vanity books sell, that previous publication won't be a bar then (I think). But selling it straight, with its history ... tricky at best.
 
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