Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

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

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James D. Macdonald

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If something is keeping you from writing -- put it aside.

Why are you using the thesaurus? Is it a way to turn avoid composition?

Try this: When you're convinced the word isn't quite right, just type a near-enough word, then type XXX then continue with the composition.

For the last twenty minutes of the day, search on XXX with your Thesaurus in hand.

(Oh, and when you bring out your thesaurus, bring out your dictionary too: make sure you know what the words mean. Really sure. Once I was reading some unpublished fantasy, and came to a bit where our hero had just met a young lady, and ... put a medallion on her cervix. I knew instantly what had happened. The author had wanted a fancy-sounding word for 'neck.' And 'cervix' does, indeed, mean 'neck.' As in 'cervical vertebrae.' But, generally speaking, one doesn't get near a beautiful young lady's cervix until you and she are very good friends.)
 

Calliopenjo

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I don't know about anybody else, but when the word walk(as an example) appears in the same paragraph more than once, I need to find another word. Or that "thing" that you know has a word attached to it, but you can't think of it until somebody else gives you that word. That word may not fit but it gives me a starting point to look in the thesaurus for the word that I am looking for.
 

Ken Schneider

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If there's one thing I've learned here on this thread, it's the importance of finding the right word.
The great part of letting an ms rest is that the right word usually pops up when you do the rewrite/edits.

After ten thousand words into my current WIP, I'm feeling the need to do some plotting. A new course of action for me.
 

Blue Sky

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Although I've been a lifelong non-thesaurus user, as I mentioned upthread, I bought Roget's on Jim's recommendation. It's proven invaluable while divining lively verbs to replace the verb "to be" and prepositional phrases. Yum. Not to mention lots of fun.

Dictionary usage became standard practice years ago. Familiar words may paint images contrary to our purpose, as with Jim's cervix example. Ha! With me it started when I checked a word in a title that gave me a funny feeling. I was so glad to have checked. The dam broke and that was that. I've learned to trust those funny feelings!
 

SilverPhoenix

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I never use a thesaurus or a dictionary. I know I already use words my friends don't know sometimes so, especially when writing YA, I always want to stick to words I'm familiar with and that come to me like -snap-.

The only bad thing about Perdido Street Station (awesome book) was that I ended up reading with a dictionary kept close on my bedside table.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Speaking of writing-avoidance behavior...

I have 1,500 words to go on a short story. So what am I doing right now? Defragging the hard drive on my working computer!

(I'm posting this from the laptop. Yeah, I could write it over here, but ... oh, okay....)
 

ziedinc

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Hello Uncle Jim and everybody!
(I apologize for any grammar and spelling mistakes, English isn't my mother tongue and I write in another language, but there isn't anything as educating and great as this thread in my language)
I haven't read all the posts in this thread yet (not even nearly) so if this has been discussed tell me and I'll keep on reading. So what books would you suggest to read? I mean recent contemporary novels. Very little part of British or American books are translated and published over here so I try to read good stuff in original language as much as I can, but then it is quite hard to judge the book if you buy it online, and I’ve been disappointed too many times buying anything only because it’s a bestseller. And I prefer learning from good books. I know that writers are more critical of the fellow writers than any reader or editor, so if you say it’s good, it must be brilliant :)
Thanks!
 

James D. Macdonald

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"Tears" is perfectly acceptable, I think. Why would you need a synonym?

---------------

Welcome, ziedinc.

I've recommended a number of books over the course of this thread. Here's a collection of some of them. (I haven't updated it lately but this does cover the first half of the thread.)
 

ricmic

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Wow, that was a long thread! I kept a text document open to save posts that I found particularly useful. Of course, lots of the advice given here has been covered elsewhere, but, Jim, I've rarely seen it so to the point.

About openings: you need a person, a place and a problem. That's it. Not seventeen different techniques on how to place a good hook. All the major characters should be there by page 100. Now, that's a number I can work with.

I loved the chess analogy. When you start a novel, open up the game and put the characters in strategically chosen places. When they move on (the pieces or characters, not the places) and crisscross the board, see that their a$$ is covered. Keep in mind that every move should support the goal of a checkmate. You can't afford to have a knight take a break at the rim of the board, or you'll lose against a competent player.

I didn't click on links before 2006, so I missed the link on Celtic Knotwork. I found the page with the books you recommended, and there's a book on Celtic Knotwork. If that's the only link, I'm cool. But I think I remember an illustration somewhere. If somebody remembers another link, could you post it? The only knots I encounter in plots are Gordic ones. ;)

I'm going to retype and analyze chapters from my favorite novels. I found that particularly enlightening. Again, I've done that before, but not as methodically, not sentence by sentence.

Oh, and the permission slips, not only pdfs, allowing aforementioned writer to Write Badly, but your descriptions on how you outline. I keep kind of a journal where I keep thoughts and snippets. All the time, it goes like this: Well, okay, the Hero is in this restaurant, no, too quiet, a bar, a club, an AA meeting, a Star Trek convention. No. Okay the Hero is in Public Place. There he...

I always felt there was something wrong with me. It works for me, and your experience shows me I don't need my head examined. Not necessarily, that is.

So, thank you. The thread is great.

ricmic

Okay, BIC time.
 

ziedinc

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thanks! I had seen you recommending the chess book and some others but haven't got to the posts where you comment most if those books. That's a nice collection of nooks and some great links as well.
 

Me&BacchusGoIntoABar

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Jim, do you have a working link to your comments on "that silly Salon article" (the tragedy of the midlist author one)?

I just read a ton of blogs and blog comments about it. Much food for thought.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Me&BacchusGoIntoABar

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Good hunting, thanks. Man, that article really stirred up a lot of anger (your comments seemed quite sensible to me). I find that interesting, since the whiner did at least have an interesting tale to tell and there were some lessons in it--even if many of those were "this is how not to approach a writing career."

This guy was quite funny about it all, although I'm not sure how I feel about the unanimous chorus of "Burn her!" from his blog readers. Maybe I'm too nice.
 

K. Taylor

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How would you format a section that's on TV, that your characters are watching?
Putting the TV scene in italics works for short bursts, but a lot of people don't want to read a full page in that. And yes, they need to review what's on the screen, so it can't be left out. I want to make it clear it's not a "real" scene without hitting the readers over the head with obviousness....
 

smsarber

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How would you format a section that's on TV, that your characters are watching?
Putting the TV scene in italics works for short bursts, but a lot of people don't want to read a full page in that. And yes, they need to review what's on the screen, so it can't be left out. I want to make it clear it's not a "real" scene without hitting the readers over the head with obviousness....


Italics are probably fine... just remember Uncle Jim's BIG RULE: Don't confuse the readers.
 

Neversage

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How would you format a section that's on TV, that your characters are watching?
Putting the TV scene in italics works for short bursts, but a lot of people don't want to read a full page in that. And yes, they need to review what's on the screen, so it can't be left out. I want to make it clear it's not a "real" scene without hitting the readers over the head with obviousness....

I reckon you could do it many ways providing, as Sarber said, you don't confuse the reader. You could just add the TV like another speaker with its own dialogue tags, but that may not work for your scene.

I've seen some books just do a line breaks before and after the TV or newspaper bit. I hope some of this helps.
 

euclid

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Do you pause for breath when you verbalize in your mind? Does unconscious alliteration leap out at you? Does the repetition of certain words and phrases become obvious to you?

I've been reading this ms out loud. I came across one of my characters smoking a pipe (while there's a thunderstorm going on outside). "His pipe glowed in the gathering gloom." This is unintentional alliteration. Is this something I should change?

Also, the thunderstorm has no real purpose or relevance. It's there to slow the pace at the start of the scene and to give the reader a mental picture of the scene. Do thunderstorms have to be significant, or to pressage bad or significant events?
 

James D. Macdonald

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Yes, that's alliteration. Yes, you should consider changing it.

Why doesn't your thunderstorm serve a function? Every word needs to either support the theme, reveal character, or advance the plot.

If your subconscious is trying to support the theme with this storm, look to see where else that theme might trying to break through.
 
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