Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2

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

allenparker

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Readers need remarkably little backstory. Just tell this story, make it good, and they'll love you for it.

I discovered something about human kind a few years back that made my opening chapters much better than they had been. I don't know this is an original thought, but it developed in my brain and helped me.

Life is nothing but people coming in in the middle of the scene. They never get the back story unless it is so important that they are willing to stick out like a sore thumb and ask about it. Only the most necessary information need be given. The story itself will reveal the rest.

AND

People will not listen to my old, boring stories that simply dump information on them. If they don't need to know that stuff for the discussion at hand, why bother?

Stupid stuff. But it helped me.
 

euclid

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Yesterday I was close to throwing in the towel. Tonight, I saw an interview with Richard Ford on TV, and he has inspired me to press on.
 

James D. Macdonald

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And in real outline format, not a synopsis?

Depends on what you mean by "real outline format" doesn't it? Mine is like telling a friend about a really neat movie I saw last night, with bits of dialog and scenes sketched in. And occasional silly things (like, for no apparent reason, Harry Houdini escaping from a milk jar filled with maple syrup, and the entire saga of Lady Fitzearl, a character from the Circle of Magic series who appeared in a lot of scenes, but never even made it into the finished draft).

Damn, guy! That's like writing two books!

Why not? What did I have to do today that was more important?
 

Noah Body

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Depends on what you mean by "real outline format" doesn't it? Mine is like telling a friend about a really neat movie I saw last night, with bits of dialog and scenes sketched in. And occasional silly things (like, for no apparent reason, Harry Houdini escaping from a milk jar filled with maple syrup, and the entire saga of Lady Fitzearl, a character from the Circle of Magic series who appeared in a lot of scenes, but never even made it into the finished draft).

So you mean to say you write a big synopsis or treatment, which would be the usual outline method for a screenplay... right? Not a real outline...

I. The Outline
A. Jim Writes His Book​
1. Jim sells book, makes millions, Galen blows him a big kiss​
a. Jim hires James Patterson to "co-author" his next tome while vacationing in Bora Bora​
b. It turns out Patterson can't write, and hires someone else to "co-co-author" the book​
 
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James D. Macdonald

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Not a real outline...

Oh, the "Outline" as we were taught in high school?

I'm sure that someone, somewhere, uses that roman numeral, capital and small letters, Arabic numbers, yet more roman numerals monstrosity, but I sure don't and I don't think I know anyone who does.

(Actually, I once ran into a writer who used Powerpoint to create an outline, but what they hey, right? Anything to get you through the night.)

For the "real outline," if you used that, I expect that you'd chuck it out before you got to the end of actually writing Chapter One. Things move in writing that only the telling of them will make clear.

But if it works for you, by golly, do it.
 

Neversage

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For my outlines, I write a present-tense braindump of the story ideas. It is very raw and broken, but it gets the ideas down and in relative order. Then I start the first draft above the outline text and just write what is in the top paragraph properly. Then I delete the top paragraph, and move to the next one. This was the real writing gradually eats the outlining. I feel like a cow.

Also, I'm a horrible person. I just did something so horrible to one of my characters that my hand actually flew to my mouth in shock as I was writing it. I must be doing that "up a tree and throw rocks at him" thing. The sick part is that I am thrilled to death at how well (I think) the chapter turned out as a result.
 

sneaky_squirrel

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Until now I decided to actually write (I despise my lacking motivation)

I am having trouble making an opening scene (When you show the scenery and then proceed to the dialogue), whatever I write looks weird, could it possibly my newbie writing phase where I think everything I write is garbage? or could I be in error?

In the hills at the outskirts of the village, a girl arrives at a poorly built shack.

Also, quick question about that, is the comma not supposed to be there? (I have to get this doubt out of my head where I think there should be a comma, but there is actually no reason for there to be one.
 

FOTSGreg

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sneaky, Obviously, I'm not Uncle Jim and I hope he won't mind my butting in.

First, chalk it up to whatever you're comfortable with, but right now it looks like more of an outline of a scene than the opening of a novel or story. You're telling us, not showing us. You tell us the scene opens in the hills. You tell us the hills start at the outskirts of a village. You tell us there's a girl, and finally you tell us there's a poorly-built shack.

Around about this stage I'm putting the book back on the shelf and walking down to the next section.

Now, forgive my wielding a blunt weapon, but I'd open with the girl already in the shack and in the middle of a confrontation of some sort with the shack's owner. You get action and involve the protagonist and the reader in what's going on right away here.

If you absolutely have to open with the girl approaching the shack, show us what the hills look like, what the outskirts of the village smell like, whether or not there are trees and birds, a path to the shack, and even how the poorly-built shack is constructed. In addition, what about the girl herself? What's important about her? What does she look like, what's she wearing, does she appear poor or wealthy, etc., etc. Put yourself and your reader in the scene. Imagine yourself as a stage director running a stage play. You must set the play's scenery and consider what should and should not there when the curtain opens and the actors begin speaking. If you stage manage well enough, your play will be a hit. If not, well... guess what? You get to try again. And again, and again, until you get it right.

When do you know you got it right? Well, publication, an advance, and sales would work well enough for me.
 

Eddyz Aquila

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Uncle Jim,

Did you ever have thoughts of throwing in the towel and just resigning yourself to a simple day to day job?
 

Albannach

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Until now I decided to actually write (I despise my lacking motivation)

I am having trouble making an opening scene (When you show the scenery and then proceed to the dialogue), whatever I write looks weird, could it possibly my newbie writing phase where I think everything I write is garbage? or could I be in error?



Also, quick question about that, is the comma not supposed to be there? (I have to get this doubt out of my head where I think there should be a comma, but there is actually no reason for there to be one.

Is she sweaty? Tired? Breathing hard? Carrying something? Hiding? Anxious?
 

James D. Macdonald

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Until now I decided to actually write (I despise my lacking motivation)

I am having trouble making an opening scene (When you show the scenery and then proceed to the dialogue), whatever I write looks weird, could it possibly my newbie writing phase where I think everything I write is garbage? or could I be in error?

O, my very dear friend. You are worrying too much. Write your scene any way you care to, and move on. As to whether or not what you've put on the page today will be the first scene ... is a question best left 'til the second draft. The opening scene may be something that occurs in chapter three, and this scene you're worrying about so much deleted and relegated to your desk drawer. Or you may find that you need to write other chapters that come before, and this scene that you think is the opening is instead an incident in chapter three.

Right now, write. Carry forward. Three hundred odd pages from now, you'll be a better writer and the questions that vex you so much right now will have obvious solutions.


In the hills at the outskirts of the village, a girl arrives at a poorly built shack.
Also, quick question about that, is the comma not supposed to be there? (I have to get this doubt out of my head where I think there should be a comma, but there is actually no reason for there to be one.
The comma may or may not be there. Later, when you read your entire book aloud, the answer will come to you.

Do not worry about commas now. Yes, try to be as correct as you can. But the stage for putting in a comma in the morning and taking it out in the afternoon comes much, much later.

What you have there is a classic opening, much like pawn to king four: A person in a place with a problem. Carry on.

The only thing that might trouble your sleep is that you're telling your story in present tense. That's okay (even common) for outlines, but not so much for novels. It can be done, and done well. But it is difficult.

Uncle Jim,

Did you ever have thoughts of throwing in the towel and just resigning yourself to a simple day to day job?

Long ago I decided that I would never again work for someone.

Still, health insurance would be nice....



I think I finally got up enough nerve to seek publication for a short I wrote. It still needs work no doubt about that, but I'm going to do it.


Do the work, then send it out 'til Hell won't have it.

Meanwhile, write another story.
 

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I've worked for myself for twenty years.

Jim speaks truth.

My family's medical insurance currently runs about $1,400/month for three of us.

Prospective authors, currently enjoying benefits from their employer, need to consider this before cutting loose.

No one in my family is sicker than normal. No one smokes. The only reason I can see is a back surgery a few years ago.
 

commasplicer

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Jim,

I think I am late to the party and, I imagine, uninvited, yet I would like to ask you the following question:

Have you ever read your own work--before publication--and said, "That's good."

Thanks!
 

Neversage

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Okay. So I think the book is about ready. Betas have all loved it, and I'm really happy with it. I want to read through it once more for a final check on everything. Should I age it, or just go for it now?

This book has been aged before, but not recently. I am also well under way with its sequel.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Okay. So I think the book is about ready. Betas have all loved it, and I'm really happy with it. I want to read through it once more for a final check on everything. Should I age it, or just go for it now?

Okay, read it through once more, then out the door.

After that, the only time you'll rewrite is if an editor says, "I'll buy this if...."

Good that you're working on another book. Less good that it's a sequel. If the first book never sells there won't be a sequel. So write it so it can be a stand-alone.
 

Neversage

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One of the reasons for the sequel is that I want to have it under way in the event that the first one does well, so that I'm not scrambling to finish it, and it can be polished. I have plenty of other ideas I can work on, too. Is my concern unfounded?
 

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