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Thread: Uncle Jim, undiluted

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  1. #1
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Out on a limb

    Uncle Jim, undiluted

    "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" started in September of 2003. Well over a year old, the thread shows no signs of losing momentum or popularity.

    This poses a challenge for the new reader. There are a lot of pages to read, before jumping in to try and participate in an ongoing conversation.

    This is the collected Wisdom of Uncle Jim, from the beginning of the thread--to save new readers from having to wade through all the pages of chit-chat.
    HOWEVER--there IS a wealth of information in all that chit chat, to read when you have the time.

    I've attempted to put quotation markers around questions Jim quoted, then answered, since I don't think the formatting is going to survive. Some of the archive transfer apparently deleted quoted information on the old board that was formatted in a specific manner. I've attempted to pull that information from the old board, whenever possible.

    Any formatting errors are most likely mine. I'll be fixing links along the way, when I get a chance. The spelling mistakes are probably his--but I won't guarantee it.


  2. #2
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Out on a limb

    13Sep03 to 23Nov03

    James D. Macdonald
    Learn Writing with Uncle Jim
    Absolute Write
    Novel-Writing Forum

    It strikes me that there's a need for a thread on the art and craft of writing commercial novels.

    To that end, I'd like to start that discussion. I plan to put down my thoughts on the elements of professional-quality fiction. I'll answer questions, and go where ever the discussion leads. I'll do some notes on the business of writing too.

    Here are my qualifications for starting this topic:

    My bibliography

    A workshop I help teach every year.

    My mutant talent is to make my opinions sound like facts.


    I have two basic rules: everything that's said should be true, and everything should be helpful.


    There's one other thing that needs to be said, McIntyre's First Law: Under the right circumstances anything I tell you can be wrong.

    Okay, and after that pompous lead off, let me say that I'm not going to be talking about novels at all. I'm going to be talking about romances.

    Not romances in the Fabio-on-the-cover paperbacks, not the Romance section at Borders, not Harlequin (though there'll be things useful in that genre). Not category romance, or genre romance.

    I'm talking about romance in literary theory.

    A novel is: A book length work of realistic prose fiction.

    A romance is: A book length prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious.

    The thing that the two have in common are that they're book length (call it 50,000 words and up), prose (that is, not poetry or drama), and fiction (some people have said that fiction is when the author tells his own lies; non-fiction is when he tells someone else's lies).

    The realism issue, then, is the core of the difference between a novel and a romance. The "realistic" books are the mainest of mainstream; they are the literary works.

    The vast majority of the things you find in bookstores labeled "novels" are actually romances. That means:

    1) imaginary characters

    2) events remote in time or place

    3) usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious

    More on all of this later.

    I'll try to drop by to talk more after I finish my work every day (except when I'm out of town).

    So what do I mean by "finish my work"?

    I'm a full-time writer. My sole source of income for the last fifteen years or so has been writing or writing-related. By "my work" I mean ten pages of original prose fiction every day.

    That isn't so bad, really. It's only about 2,500 words. It's only two hours or so.

    I know, as I write it, that most of it will be changed, moved, or deleted in the revision process. That doesn't bother me. The revision and rewriting and such takes place in another part of my day.

    Back before I went full time, I used to hear from people "I've always wanted to be a writer, but I never had the time."

    In those days I used to set my alarm clock for two hours early, to make the time. I'd get up at four in the morning to write. If you're a writer, writing is what you do.

    So, here's the next bit of advice. This is what my friend Rosemary Edghill calls the "KISS method." (Others call it the "BIC method," for Butt In Chair.)

    Pick two hours a day. It doesn't matter which two hours, but make them two hours that you can do every day.

    For that two hours, you will sit in front of your typewriter or computer. You will have no distractions. You will write, or you will stare at the blank screen. There will be no other options.

    Writing letters does not count. Reading does not count. Doing research does not count. Revising does not count. You will write new stuff, or you will stare at the screen.

    No TV in the room. No radio going. No internet. Fill the page or go mad.

    Two hours. Every day.

    Your body will rebel. You'll get headaches. You'll get colds. You aren't allowed a choice. You will sit in front of that screen even if your head is throbbing.

    Some days you will begin writing in a white-hot passion. You'll look up at the clock and discover that three hours have gone by.

    You don't get to only do one hour the next day. You still have to do two hours.

    Your mind will rebel. You'll want to clean the toilet, change the cat box, mow the lawn. But you won't, because there are no excuses. No, you don't get to reschedule for "later." Two hours, on schedule.

    So let me ask you this, when in the revision stage of a ms do you write something new for 2 hrs or just spend days and hrs revising?
    Well, it varies. I usually have three projects going at any time, in various stages of finished.

    For revisions I take the manuscript (printout) and red pencils and go somewhere entirely different than my normal workspace (sometimes the kitchen, but my favorite is a nice little French coffeeshop down the road a bit) and scribble. After I've done two hours of writing, there's a solid 22 more hours in the day for revising other material.

    One trick to revision -- is to read the work aloud. Where you stumble, the reader will stumble. You'll notice different things, too, when you're reading aloud. You're using a different part of your brain than you are when reading silently.

    We're not at revision yet, though. First we need the text.

    Did I mention that you need to make multiple backups of all your material if you're working on a computer?

    I'll give you a minute to make a backup of whatever you wrote today.

    See you when you've done.

    BTW, I didn't say "no music," I said "no radio." Radios have announcers, disk jockeys, the news, weather ... things that will break your concentration, take you out of that place where the creative things happen.

    I like music myself for writing ... I prefer requiems, but maybe I'm just strange.

    Whatever helps you get into the state you need to be in....

    But there's a warning coming.

    Don't couple destructive things with you writing. If you light up a cigarette when you start writing, if you quit smoking you'll find you can't write any more.

    Same with drinking booze. Same with eating bon-bons. Coupling bad habits with writing will mean that you'll never be able to shed the bad habits.

    One of the popular images of writers is of the guy with a bottle of whisky beside the typewriter.

    It probably won't make you a better writer, or even make you a writer at all. It will rot your liver and empty your bank account.

    There are twenty-five simple steps to becoming a published author.

    Here are the steps:

    1. Black ink on white paper.
    2. Place your name and address in the top left-hand corner of the first page.
    3. Place the title and byline, centered, half-way down the first page.
    4. Put a running head (your name, the title, and a page number) in the top right hand corner of every page.
    5. Your pages should have one-inch margins.
    6. Doublespace your text.
    7. Use Courier 10 or Courier 12 only.
    8. Type on one side of the paper only.
    9. Continue until you reach "The End."
    10. Rewrite.
    11. Rewrite.
    12.....21. Revise
    22. Obtain the guidelines for a market that accepts material similar to what you have finished.
    23. Follow the guidelines scrupulously when you submit your material.
    24. While you are waiting for your rejection slip, start again back at step 1 for your next work.
    25. When the rejection slip arrives, send the manuscript to the next market on your list, that same day.


    Watt-Evans' Law: There is no idea so brilliant that a sufficiently ham-handed writer can't make an unreadable story out of it.

    Feist's Corollary to Watt-Evans' Law: There is no idea so stupid that a sufficiently talented writer can't make a readable story out of it.


    Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer.

    Q. Why was the little drop of ink crying?

    A. His daddy was in the pen and he didn't know how long the sentence was....


    I write under several different names, including my own.

    One reason is to differentiate the genres you're working in. If you write manly action and sweet romance, you might pick a Manly Action name for one, and a Sweet Romance name for the other, just so your fans won't get confused when they pick up a book by their favorite author and discover that it's far different from what they expected.

    If you're prolific, you might write under various names to avoid competing with yourself.

    I do share a name with some other writers. That's one reason I use my middle initial -- to differentiate me from them.

    When you're picking a name, don't pick anything that's difficult to spell or embarassing to say. Anything else is pretty much okay.

    How many pages in a chapter?

    This is as close to a meaningless question as you can get. It's like "How many letters in a word?" or "How many words in a sentence?"

    I've seen novels with chapters ranging from a fraction of a page to the entire book being one long chapter.

    Listen: Words are symbols for ideas or concepts. Sentences are made of words. Sentences convey thoughts through the relationships among the words. (A fraction of a word may be a sentence.)

    Paragraphs are made of sentences. The paragraph is the smallest unit of meaning in a novel. The meaning comes from the relationships among the sentences. (A fraction of a sentence may be a paragraph.)

    Scenes are made out of paragraphs. There are no fractional paragraphs. The meaning of the scene comes from the relationships among the paragraphs that make up the scene.

    Chapters are made out of scenes. There are no fractional scenes. The meaning of the chapter comes from the relationships among the scenes.

    How many pages in a chapter? How many scenes do you have, how long are they, and how do they relate to one another? At the point where one scene doesn't relate to the one that follows, put a chapter break.

    The reader's mind can hold only a limited number of things at once. The reader's interest keeps moving. You should strive to make the source of information be the same as the source of interest.

    And that's how long a chapter is.

    Pace is a function of detail. To slow down a scene, make it more detailed. To speed it up, remove detail.

    We're beginning to get into the place where "art" lives, knowing where where and to what extent you'll need to vary your pace.

    You will need to vary your pace, for several reasons: one is to give your readers breathing space, to give them time to assimilate what just happened, and to anticipate what will come.

    A second reason to vary the pace is so that the audience will know when they've come to a fast part -- they'll have something to compare it to.

    A third reason to vary pace is so that the audience doesn't get bored. Poor things, they're easily bored. A bored reader lays your book aside, meaning to pick it up again later, and never does. (Note: the readers can always, always tell if you're bored.)

    Okay ... you're doing a set up ups-and-downs, like walking a trail through the foothills toward the mountain. (I kinda like that description -- many small climaxes, rewarding the reader along the road, but the main climax frequently in sight, first at a distance, then closer.)

    To answer your specific question, I've not read Bickham's book.


    Well, James, if working with a radio on works for you, it works for you. It's not exactly what I'd recommend to new writers; first they should figure out what level of distraction they can handle. I could probably write in the middle of a construction zone -- but I wouldn't suggest that as an ideal place to set up one's desk. I'd say start with mimimum distractions. Folks can always add some distractions if they find that they either can handle them or need them to be productive. (I still wouldn't recommend adding cigarettes and booze, even if they can handle them and they make 'em more productive.)

    As far as two hours staring at a blank screen, few if any writers are going to be doing that. We'll fill the screen. Those who find themselves staring at a blank screen hour after hour might rethink the question of whether a career in commercial fiction is for them at that point in their lives.

    As far as revision goes, I can produce publishable first draft. By the time I'd been doing this for a while, I'd learned to avoid unprofitable plot threads, I'd learned what works and what doesn't down at the noun-and-verb level -- I've learned to discard thousands of word choices without thinking about them.

    Still, revision is vital. Revision means, literally, "looking again." Even if what you say, on looking again, is "Hey, pretty good."

    On occasion I've submitted those publishable first drafts. More than once, after the story's come out, I found myself wishing that I had revised a couple of times.

    Later on today I'm going to be reading some slush manuscripts for a major publisher. I promise you, whole heaps of 'em will go on the left-hand pile due to insufficient revision. Few if any will go there due to too much revision.

    Before closing today's episode: Another advantage of blocking out a regular time for writing is that it becomes your time when no one will ask you to drive the kids to soccer practice or go shopping "because you aren't doing anything."


    I'm not talking about academic work, or about screenplays, poetry, or anything other than commercial fiction. What you use on-screen when you're composing is up to you; if you like 8-point PostCrypt, go for it.

    However, when you print out your book to submit to a traditional publisher, you shall print it out in 10 or 12 point Courier.

    But ... for the revision process, printing the work in some format and typeface that you haven't used before can be useful for seeing the words rather than your memory of the words. There's a place to print out a reading copy in double column Times New Roman single spaced and justified if you want.

    Just don't submit it that way.

    There are all kinds of ways to come up with wordcount. One of them is to take five pages at random from your manuscript, count all the words on them, divide by five, then multiply by the total number of pages in your work.


    Next time ... how to tell where your story starts.

    A complex question, Navigator: Income does go up year by year, but you do top out in the mid-to-high five figures for advances (at least I do, in mid-list SF). There's a constant churn below that, as the backlist ebbs and flows, some things go out of print, some are reprinted.

    On a tangent off that ... how to keep your books in print. I know there's a lot of talk about how books go out of print after varying alarmingly-short periods. To keep your book in print, write another book. When it comes out, your backlist will get reprinted alongside it.

    As to what it costs to submit: the price of paper plus postage. Follow the publishers' guidelines. Some want three-and-an-outline, some want a full manuscript. Follow the guidelines explicitly.

    So, where does your story begin?

    One way to find your beginning is this: first, write your book. Now go through it to find its start.

    Here's how to recognize the start: it's the point where you can no longer summarize everything that went before in a single sentence:

    Nothing that Ceclia had seen at the Academy could have prepared her for the first sight of Crymble Manor.

    "The appropriations bill is dead on arrival," Senator O'Connor said.

    The day after the world ended, Bill got into his pickup truck and drove into town.

    Another way to say this is: it's the point where the characters can't decide, To heck with this and order out for pizza. The one-way door has blown shut and they can't get back into the theatre.

    Later on, as you gain experience, you can get better at avoiding false starts ("Hesitation marks," we call 'em).

    Here's how I figure out where to start my story: I figure out the climax -- something that's really big, cinematic, satisfying, full of action and movement. I take the characters who are there, and back 'em off to some point before that climax, then try to get them to it.

    Sometimes -- a lot of the time -- those characters never get to the climax I started with. (There's one climax I've been using for years as a starting point. One day I will get there.)

    So here's another way to figure out where to start your story: Put interesting characters in an interesting place, then let them do interesting things. (What's interesting? That's the art, isn't it. Your readers will tell you what's interesting by the sound of rapidly turning pages.)

    If the first two chapters of your book are backstory and exposition, and the movement of the plot starts in chapter three, the opening of your book is chapter three. Delete the first two chapters.


    Plots start when movement starts. This movement can be physical, or it can be psychological, but it is movement. The human eye instinctivly follows a moving object. It will follow the fastest moving object if several are present. So ... make your plot move, and eyes will follow it.

    A chess game doesn't start until the first piece or pawn moves.

    My outlines aren't submission-quality prose (though some bits do make it all the way through without change).

    They most closely resemble a guy telling his buddy about a neat movie he saw the night before -- bits of memorable dialog, descriptions, but most important the order of the scenes.

    Often at this stage I have nonce-names for characters (sometimes they're named for their function in the story: "Bestpal" or "Cannonfodder"). Sometimes the author is a character: The author looked up from couch where he sat taking notes. "Just keep talking, guys," he said. "I'll fix it in the rewrite."

    I see novels as having shape. There has to be a pleasing, balanced shape, with all the parts connected, the corners neat, and overall easy to look at.

    Try drawing a picture of your book, showing the flow of scenes and chapters. In a bit I might go into my theory of the novel as architecture.

    Typing a hundred fifty page outline runs me about two or three weeks.

    After that, bashing it around to make it into something worth playing with, then writing from the outline into a finished novel -- that can take some time.

    Right you are, Keith. When you're writing, don't slow down.

    Yes, you will do research ... you'll need to know exactly what kind of car your guy is driving, but during the outline/first draft stage isn't when I do it.

    I'll research a bunch before, and after during rewrite and revision. The rule in the middle is "don't slow down."

    Now ...

    On movement, and on art.

    The way to tell the difference between the real world and art is that art has borders. Pictures have frames, stages have curtains, books have covers. You have to provide the illusion that your created world extends beyond its covers, but you aren't going to need to create that outside world. We'll talk about tricks for doing that later.

    I'm going to talk about chess games instead. Chess games are like novels.

    I'm going to recommend a book, too: Logical Chess: Move by Move. I'm quite serious about saying y'all should get a copy, read it, play the sample games, understand it. First off, even if nothing else happens, your chess game will improve.

    The other thing is this: chess games happen on a board. The board has an edge, a limit. Therefore, it is art.

    Now as it happens, there are only three things that can possibly happen in a chess game. White may win, Black may win, or there could be a stalemate. Exactly how those things happen is where the interest comes -- everyone knows before the game starts what the range of possible outcomes is. The good guys win, the bad guys win, or we're returned to status quo antes.

    The game doesn't start until the first move is made. In the same way, the story doesn't start until the first character acts.

    Your pieces are your major characters. Your pawns are your minor characters.

    The way you win the game -- no one can foresee how the game is going to go. Not even the greatest chessmaster can see twenty moves in advance. What the chessmaster does is put pieces in useful places. The chessmaster knows that a knight is most useful on QB3 and KB3. So that's where the chessmaster puts them. (This is called "Playing Positional Chess," and that's sometimes what I call my style of plotting a book. As in, "Why did you have Fred slip a gun into his pocket before he left the house?" "I'm playing positional chess.")

    If you have put the pieces in their strongest positions, surprising combinations will appear as if by magic later on. The game will play itself; the book will write itself.

    If you get a chess set where one side is Army and one side is Navy, you have a technothriller. If you get a chess set where one side is Spacemen and the other is Alien Monsters, you have a space opera. If you have a chess set where one side is modern college professors and the other is faculty wives, you have mainstream.

    The moves are the same.

    Really, trust me, get the Logical Chess. Look at it at an angle; it's a writing book.

    Well, now, what to put in the opening?

    We're going to stick with the chess game metaphor for a while here. In the opening you're trying to put yourself into a strong position for going into the midgame (where the exciting action and the exciting combinations occur), and you do this mostly by getting your pieces off the back rank as quickly as possible. The pieces are your major characters. Get them out there, and get them doing things.

    Don't neglect your pawns -- your minor characters. You should cherish your minor characters. They'll save your life. If you have a selection of minor characters you can pull them out to solve problems later in the book.

    Now, what to put in that first chapter? (Recall that if your readers don't finish the first chapter they'll never get to chapter two.)

    To answer the question of what goes into chapter one, I'm going to grab the first stanzas from a bunch of Anglo-Scots folk ballads. These were the popular songs of earlier times, cooked by the folk process so that only the important and memorable parts remain, they're entertaining, and they tell stories.


    Young Johnny rode out on a May morning
    With his buckles and his bridles ringing,
    And as he rode by the castle walls
    He heard a fair maid singing.


    The king sits in Dumferlin town
    Drinking the blood-red wine.
    "Oh where will I get a good skipper
    To sail this ship of mine?"


    There were three brothers in merry Scotland
    In merry Scotland there were three
    And they cast lots which of them should go
    Should go, should go,
    For to turn pirate all on the salt sea.


    Okay, what do those have in common?

    A person, a place, and a problem. Action and movement. Often a time of year or a time of day.

    These are not bad things to get into the first chapter. If you can get 'em onto the first page, even better.

    I didn't say one sentence, let alone the first one ... the first chapter is good enough. (You see young, inexperienced writers trying to get everything into the first sentence. This more often than not gives you an opening sentence that looks like a runner-up in the Bulwer-Lytton contest.

    But ... do give your readers a reward for reading the first page, a reason to turn the page, then ... you have chance.

    There's a reason publishers ask for three-and-an-outline. That small sample will give them an idea of whether you can give readers a reason to start your book, and an idea of whether you know where you're going.

    Think with your reader's mind for a moment. When you go to a bookstore, how do you act when you're trying to decide if you want to buy a book by someone you've never heard of?

    Go to a bookstore. Hang around. Watch the readers. They are your readers. How do they approach unfamiliar books? Look at the cover... flip a few pages...

    Yeah, a few pages. Sometimes just the first page. Grim, right?

    You hear lots of folks condemning editors who make decisions based on the first page. Remember what position editors have in the grand scheme of publishing: They are the readers' advocates.

    Over a decade ago, I was doing feature articles for a weekly newspaper. A novelist's techniques work equally well for non-fiction -- if you don't create interest and reward the reader for going along, you don't have readers. In both fiction and non-fiction part of the art is in finding and revealing the telling details. The biggest difference is where those details come from, the imagination or research.

    Recall also that fiction should be true (for certain values of "true"). The best lies contain the most truth.

    We're still talking about first chapters here.

    Before I start, how many of y'all went and got a copy of Logical Chess Move by Move? I reccoed that back on page two of this discussion. Go order a copy now. I'll wait.

    I'm serious, guys. I'm going to be recommending other books as I go. I'm doing this because I think it'll help you. I know these are the books that helped me.

    My next suggestion is also going to be work: Take your favorite novel.

    Now, retype the first chapter. Do this with your writer's eye, not your reader's eye. Think about the lengths of the sentences, the lengths of the paragraphs, the sounds of the words. Think about the order of the scenes. Notice the dialog. How are the dialog tags rendered? Where is the point of view?

    The point of this exercise is this: Have you ever gone to an art museum and seen the art students sitting there with their easels and oils, copying the great masters? The point isn't to turn them into plagairists, or to make them expert forgers. The point is to get the feeling into their hands and arms of how to make the brush strokes that create a particular illusion on canvas. Writing is no less a physical skill than painting. The words are your paints, the sentences your brush strokes. Following a master, asking yourself, always, why. Why did he or she choose this word rather than another? Why was this scene from this particular point of view? Why did the scene end there?

    Writing is an art. Everything is there because the artist (that's you!) chose to put it there. The surface meaning, the deeper themes, those are your choice.

    I can hear you saying, "Yeah, right, Uncle Jim. You say 'Retype a chapter,' but I bet you never did that."

    Wrong-o, my friends. I did just that (I did more -- I retyped entire books). You can find some of them here, the ones that I still had on disk to convert to HTML and which were in public domain.

    At the very worst your typing skills will improve, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

    Assignments: Get a copy of Logical Chess Move By Move, and work through the problems. Get a novel that you personally really admire, and retype the first chapter.

    More discussion on openings later.


    From Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses by Samuel Clemens:

    There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

    1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

    2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

    3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the "Deerslayer" tale to the end of it.

    6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the "Deerslayer" tale, as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.

    7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

    11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the "Deerslayer" tale, this rule is vacated.

    In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

    12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

    13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

    14. Eschew surplusage.

    15. Not omit necessary details.

    16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

    17. Use good grammar.

    18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

    Even these seven are coldly and persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

    The entire essay is worth reading.

    To balance it, remember that Fenimore Cooper is still in print, and recently had (yet another) major motion picture made from one of his works.

    [BTW, and apropos of nothing, Sam "Mark Twain" Clemens is frequently cited by the vanity presses and PoD publishers as a well-known author who self-published. It's true, he did. What they fail to mention is that he went bankrupt doing it, and had to go on the lecture circuit to pay off his debts.]


    A part of standard English since the 15th century, "surplusage" is excessive or nonessential matter; or material introduced into a legal pleading which is not necessary or relevant to the case.

    What Twain is trying to get across with this rule, "eschew surplusage," is illustrated by your reaction. More plainly speaking, eschew surplusage means speak plainly.

    You're quite right, PDR. You will never be wrong if you use Courier.

    Paper is cheap.

    Recall the reasons for the double-spaced lines, the one-inch margins, and the large mono-spaced font. A human being with a sharp blue pencil will go through and make all kinds of hand notes on the pages. Another human being with a sharp red pencil will go through and make other marks. The process of editing is messy handwork, and requires room.

    So, how's everyone coming? Did you do your two hours yesterday? Ready for today?

    One thing about being a professional writer: it means you have homework every day for the rest of your life.

    You'll also need to read, in addition to writing. You'll read things in two ways: First, for information. Second, for technique.

    You will stop reading like ordinary folks do, when you start reading like a writer. You'll be looking at what worked, what didn't, and how the effects were carried out.


    Shall we talk about Plot and Story?

    I'll just give some aphorisms here. First, from a friend of mine who's one of the most perceptive and talented editors I know:

    "Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature."

    Plot is the sequential arrangement of consequential actions. This happened, then that happened because of this.

    These arrangements are not random. They are a result of the artist's choices. "But it really happened that way!" is no excuse in fiction. As an artist you are not only required to make things happen, you are obliged to have them make sense. Nor can you throw in just anything at any point. You have to avoid digressions. Every word must support the theme, reveal character, or advance the plot. Better words do two of those things. The best words do all three.

    Recall that sailing ship a bit upthread, ready to get underway? Think of the elements that advance your plot as sails. Each one properly rigged on its mast and yard adds to the speed of your voyage and the beauty of the overall design of the ship.

    Elements that don't belong in the plot -- however diverting they may be on their own -- are like taking those same sails and trailing them over the side in the water. They slow the ship, make it look slovenly, and perhaps put it in danger of capsizing.

    Story, now, is the wind that drives those sails. Story is simple. "Who are those guys?" "How do I get home?" "Who am I?" "I saw something neat." "What makes us human?" "Am I normal?"

    With story we're back around the campfires thousands of years ago, telling each other who's sleeping with who, what the king's up to, what's up in the next camp over. The fire casts shadows out in the dark, the shadows of monsters and demons and gods. We tell stories about them too. Those shadows are, however, the shadows of humans.

    All stories are about people.

    "You can get farther with beautiful prose and a plot than you can with beautiful prose alone."

    "Plot will get you through times with no prose better than prose will get you thorugh times with no plot."

    "I am a professional writer. I tell lies to strangers for money."

    "One Damn Thing After Another is a perfectly good plot."

    "Anything that doesn't add to the story takes away from it."

    It might seem like I'm slagging off prose. I'm not. Beautiful prose is a wonderful thing. It is a necessary thing.

    "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug," as Mark Twain said.

    Words are your tools. You must make them your friends. If you aren't the sort of person who can regularly ace the It Pays to Increase Your Word Power feature in Readers Digest every month -- become that sort of person.

    At the very minimum I expect you to have the following books in your office:

    Miriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

    The Chicago Manual of Style

    Roget's International Thesaurus


    The Elements of Style

    There are other useful references, which I may mention later. These you must have, and must use.

    The words themselves, the nouns and verbs ... they're the polish with 000 steel wool. They're the hand-rubbed oil stain. They're the carnuba wax buffed with chamois. But if you don't have a solid piece of woodwork to start with, all the finish in the world won't make a piece of furniture.

    Yes, I'll be talking about prose, including some of my idiosyncratic pet peeves. There, their, and they're are three different words, with three different meanings. Similarly, two, too, and to. Its and it's mean different things, as do farther and further. You are expected to be expert.

    If what exactly I mean by "noun" and "verb" (not to mention "adverb," "adjective," and "conjunction") is obscure to you ... go right now to your local bookstore and pick up some of the test-preparation study books for high school students, and work through the sections on English. It's okay, no shame, but you've got to be good with words.

    If you can put together two consecutive pages of grammatical English with standard spelling, you'll be ahead of 90% of the people in the slush pile.


    Another note: Yes, William Strunk did self-publish the first edition of his Elements of Style, as the PoD and vanity presses are fond of pointing out. You have to remember that it happened in the days before the invention of the Xerox machine -- Strunk printed up copies of his class notes to hand out to his students, so that they wouldn't have to copy it all down by hand as he lectured.

    Which leads very nicely into the next topic: Characters.

    Plot isn't the whole of your novel. Plot is more like the ropes and poles that hold up the big top where the circus is going to be held. Plot provides structure, but it isn't the novel.

    Nor is story the novel: story is the space inside that big top where the show is going to happen.

    No, your novel is in the characters: the bareback riders, the ringmaster, the trapeze artists, the lion tamers. A novel is about people, without the people it's an empty tent.

    (And you were wondering where I was going to come down on the plot-generated vice character-generated novels.)

    When you are coming up with characters, I beg you make them interesting. Interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places make your novel interesting.

    You need to develop characters so that they serve a purpose other than Keeping The Front Cover and Back Cover Apart. Two rules for that: Every character thinks that he's the main character in the story, and Every character thinks that he's the good guy. While you are writing the character (from the main character, to the most minor of minor characters) you're in his head, and those two things are true while you're writing from his point of view (POV).

    We beat up our characters. We make them miserable. Writing is about a lot of things; being kind to your characters isn't one of them.

    Generally speaking, you need at least two characters in a story; otherwise dialog is very hard to do. How many characters you can handle is a measure of your skill level and the needs of your book. Characters all serve a function in the book. If two characters are serving the same function, make them into one character.

    Now, I'm going to add two more characters to your story. These have to be characters, though y'all might not have thought of them so.

    First is the author. You are a character in your story. Cast yourself. Then stay in character. Are you a lecturer? Are you a genial host? Are you a salesman? Are you a stranger here yourself?

    Second is the reader. You have to cast the reader. Picture the reader. Is she a teenage girl living in suburbia? Is she a sophisticated urban professional? Is he a business traveler looking for something to read in the airport? The reader is why you're doing this. He's a character. See him. Make him consistent.

    If you want to imagine you and your reader sitting in your living room (or some other location) while you tell the story, that can work. Just be consistent! We are building a dream, here, creating an illusion. Inconsistencies are illusion killers. Don't let your reader see you palming a card.


    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 02-01-2010 at 12:37 AM. Reason: formatting

  3. #3
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    James D. Macdonald
    From "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim"
    Absolute Write Water Cooler
    Novel Writing forum

    More on Characters, and a little reward for having borne with me so far.

    A story.

    Good morning, everyone! Coffee all brewed? Ready for another day in the word mines?

    Let's talk very briefly about those characters. We have to put them into conflict, else nothing much is going to happen.

    In the chess games, it's white vs. black, because if you didn't have that conflict, you wouldn't have a game.

    There're all kinds of conflicts we can use. Man vs. nature, man vs. fate, good vs. evil. Revenge may be a lousy motive out here in reality, but it's powered many novels.

    Let me mention one of my favorites.

    Anyone can do good vs. evil. The audience knows who to cheer for. The author knows who's going to win. This can get boring, for everyone. (Important safety tip: Your readers can always tell when you're bored.)

    If you want to make your characters sweat, and keep your readers guessing, make the conflict good vs. good. Love of family vs. love of country. Search for truth vs. charity and forgiveness. Faith vs. reason. You get the idea.

    All that's visible on the surface in your novel is the plot and the characters. The themes, the stories, the conflicts -- those are hidden. You know them; you're the author. You make them consistent throughout, and the reader will believe the plot and believe in the characters, at least until the book is finished. That's the art and the skill. And that's where lots and lots of unpublished/unpublishable writers fall down.

    Another thing about the characters: they don't know they're in a novel.

    (Generally speaking, the characters in art don't know they're in art. That's why the lights are turned down and the audience is quiet in theatres: so the characters won't realize they're on a stage. That's why characters in the movies don't look at the camera. (Have you noticed how distracting it is, in amateur film, when an actor's eyes focus on the camera?)

    Well ... you can have the characters notice they're in a book or on film or on stage (it's called "Breaking the Fourth Wall"), but this is generally done for comic effect. "Bromosel looked at the huge wad of pages in the reader's right hand. It was going to be a long epic." (Bored of the Rings) or pretty much any of the Police Squad shows.

    One thing you don't want to do is have a character say something that'll remind the reader that he's just a reader: don't have one character say to another, "You're talking like the villain in a sleazy detective novel," lest the reader say "Wait a minute! He is the villain in a sleazy detective novel!" This can break the illusion. Illusions are fragile things. The chapters you've spent building the illusion will be wasted; it's not entirely certain that you'll be able to get that willing-suspension-of-disbelief back.

    The number one lesson to learn about commercial fiction is: We are part of the entertainment industry!

    Hi, Jerry --

    I've recommended some books and some exercises already ... I'm quite serious about those. Get the books, do the exercises. Develop the habits.

    I'll be recommending more books and more exercises as time goes on. Please trust me enough to play along. I can't give you a publishing contract, but I can take you where they grow.

    More advice, just for you? Sure:

    You've put down timeframes and dollar amounts in your goals. I've seen people do this before; I've even seen 'em figure which year they were going to win what major award. That's counterproductive. Just concentrate on the day, and on the current project. Let the future take care of itself.

    Have a life. Go to interesting places, do interesting things. Observe people. You have to be the best observer around. No matter what you're doing, part of your brain should be turning the scene into descriptive prose.

    Read widely. Take classes just for the heck of it. You can't know too much.

    Consider joining a writers' workshop. Look for one that has at least one or two people with legitimate publishing credits in it. If workshops aren't for you, they aren't for you, but give 'em a try. You'll need a set of trusted friends who'll read your work and give you their honest opinions. No matter how much those opinions may hurt, thank your friends cheerfully and sincerely.

    Make every story you write be the best one it can be. Submit them to places likely to buy them (paying markets only). Send 'em out 'til Hell won't have 'em.

    There are no right or wrong answers. The only thing you'll know if you listen carefully to what I tell you here is how I work, and what works for me.

    Still, there's that professional attitude. If you're a professional writer, writing is your job. Treat it that way. Sure, it's a job you love, one that you'd do even if they weren't paying you for it, but it's a job.

    You can get the sweatshirt and wear it proudly.

    Now, some other fun things before we start today's nattering.

    Here's the Turkey City Lexicon. We can't talk about -- some would say we can't think about -- things for which we don't have the words. These are some words that you might find helpful in thinking about your writing.

    Here's something even more fun: The Sobering Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript. If you ever wanted to know the truth of what happens in a publisher's office, this story tells the truth. It's about short stories, rather than novels, but it's still Pretty Darn True.

    Myrtle tells the story from the editor's point of view. If you want to Really True Truth about writing a novel from the novelist's point of view, I recommend you get a copy of The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey. Here it is as a single volume, or as part of a collection.

    The Unstrung Harp is very funny, and devastatingly accurate.


    Now, today's discussion. Let's say that you have a full novel all done. Three hundred some-odd pages of typescript in standard manuscript format. What do you do now?

    Now is the time to put it into pleasing shape. This is what I call Agricultural Work. This is where you prune and transplant, and fertilize the book. Look at the end. Is everything that happens at the end properly foreshadowed in the beginning? Look at the beginning. Does everything that you planted there have a payoff at the end?

    You remember Chekov's saying that a gun that's hanging on the wall in the first act must be fired in the last act. Here's where you hang the gun on the wall. Here too is where you make sure the gun goes off.

    I see my novels as having form, like a building. They are a space. The walls go all the way to the ceilings, the walls meet at corners, the roof is in place and pitched to shed the rain, the doors swing easily, the floors are level, and there are plants to mask the ugly place where the foundation meets the lawn (in addition to the pure aesthetic pleasure that those pretty flowers give.

    You're looking for balance here. You may need to move scenes, shed scenes, write new scenes. Characters may appear or vanish in this part of the rewriting.

    To make a statue of an elephant, take a block of marble and carve away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. The first draft, the thing you vomited out at the rate of ten pages a day, is the block of marble. Now you are cutting away everything that doesn't look like a novel.

    As you gain skill and experience, the marble will arrive at this later stage more closely rough-cut than it did the first few times you try. Still you will get to know revision. Revision means, literally, "looking again." Look again at all the parts of your book, from basic plot through character, action, theme, story, text, subtext. You are the master of this world you are creating.

    The readers are counting on you for one thing: they are trusting you to find the one perfect ending for this novel. (That's why the Choose Your Own Adventure books flopped -- they were a novelty, not a novel. Not all endings are as good as others. You, the artist, choose one.)

    The readers expect to be surprised by the inevitable. This sounds like a tall order. It is. There are a couple of cheap tricks I can teach you, but try for the real thing.

    (Cheap trick number one: Start a story arc. Before it reaches its climax, start a second story arc. When that second story arc reaches its climax, substitute the climax for the first story arc. This sounds silly, but it really works. For an example, see Chaucer's The Miller's Tale.)

    Okay, before I end today, one more rule of thumb: Unless you're writing War and Peace or the Bible, try to have all your characters on stage and moving by page one hundred.


    Kinda a gallimaufry today:

    Plots. Please try to avoid the Idiot Plot. An Idiot Plot is one that only works because all the characters involved are idiots. If the only reason something happens or doesn't happen is because otherwise it would be a very short book, come up with some other explanation.

    Let me give you an example of an idiot plot, this time from the movies. How many of y'all have seen Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis? Our boy Bruce plays Lt. Waters, a Navy SEAL who is sent into Nigeria to rescue an American doctor during a civil war. The doctor refuses to leave without taking her patients with her. What stops Lt. Waters from calling his boss on the aircraft carrier on his satelite phone and saying "Give me three CH-46s at the LZ"? Nothing other than that if he did it, the movie would have been only about twenty minutes long. That's an idiot plot.

    What stops the characters in your novel, on seeing mysterious lights in the house next door, from calling 9-1-1? Motivate them. Eliminate "because I'm the author and I say so" as a reason things happen.

    Sometimes, though, you'll have to have characters behave in basically stupid ways. You have two choices there: either build their characters to show that they're stupid people (reading stories about stupid people isn't terribly enjoyable, at least for me, but maybe there's a market), or get the action going so fast that the readers don't have a moment to say, "Hey, wait a minute! Why don't they just go to the bus station and buy a ticket?"

    Next thought: On plots. Plots are simple things, like a piece of string is simple, but they are complex, like a three-strand four lay Turk's Head made with that same piece of string is complex. When you're thinking about plot, and about the shape of your book, consider the classical unities.

    These come from Greek drama, and are unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action. In a Greek play (formal as sonnet, those things were), all the action takes place in twenty-four hours (that's unity of time), it all takes place in one location (e.g. the square in front of the temple -- that's unity of place), and everything that happens deals directly with the climax (that's unity of action, and it's a darn good idea, chums).

    Your novel probably won't take place in just one location in twenty-four hours. Still, it's probably a good idea to use the minumum number of locations, and the minimum time. If your character flies off to Miami to learn something he could have just as conveniently learned in New York, leave him in New York. If a whole chunk of your novel can be replaced with the words "What with this and that some five years passed," you may have to refine the focus of your book or replace that part of the novel with a chapter break or a line break.

    Let us take for an example The Lord of the Rings. The time covered is almost exactly one year, and an action-packed year it is. Yet it starts in the Shire and it ends in the Shire. The hobbits are center stage on the first page, and they're center stage on the last page. You could do worse than to follow this template.

    Let me give you another aphorism: The oldest engines pull the heaviest freight. If you were going to write a modern literary novel, you might consider taking The Trojan Women, and setting it among the Mormons of Mesa, Arizona, one afternoon in August, 1965. Vietnam is just ramping up. It's hot.

    You've done your research on time and place and modes of speech ... and off you go.

    By the time you've done the book won't resemble the original at all; you'll have something totally your own. Yet it will have a structure, and the structure will be sound, and your readers will appreciate it.

    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 02-01-2010 at 12:41 AM. Reason: format and links

  4. #4
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    James D. Macdonald
    From "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim"
    Absolute Write Water Cooler
    Novel Writing forum

    Other random thoughts: On words.

    Beware the word "Somehow." You can use it in dialog when the character doesn't know, but you should avoid it in narrative. "Somehow" means the author doesn't know either. This is bad. The reader is trusting you to know what's going on and to guide him to the climax of the book. "Somehow" makes the reader look at you askance and ask "What's the matter with this guy?" It's as if he were following a guide through trackless wilderness, when the guide suddenly gets a puzzled expression on his face and says "Beats the heck out of me."

    Example: Our hero is trying to sneak into a warehouse. The door is sliding shut. Then the narrative: Somehow the door failed to close all the way. What? Why didn't it close? Figure this out, author, and come back when you know. Did a mouse get jammed in the gears? Either come up with something reasonable, or give the guy a different way into the warehouse. If you do nothing else, delete the word "somehow." You still have the same action, but without the moment of doubt.

    Next: Choose only necessary detail. You aren't constructing a full world. You're giving your reader a blueprint with which he'll construct his own world, which will be consistent with his own needs and experiences. If the room the reader imagines and the room you imagine differ, what of it? Give the reader three points and he'll do the rest. Just be consistent, and choose the important things. If it's necessary that there be a clock in the room, mention it. If it doesn't matter whether there's a clock, don't mention it. The reader may put one there, or not put one there, and it won't matter to the story. The room will be the right room for him.

    Readers assume that everything you mention is important. They'll hold those things in their heads. Give them a payoff for everything you mention, a reward for their effort. You can't keep writing checks against your literary account without adding literary capital.

    On sentences: There were and It was are weak openings. Not all sentences need to be strong: contrast and rhythm demand that sentence strength vary. Nevertheless, be aware of this fact, and use it as a tool. You are the author. All the words are yours. Be conscious of what you're doing.

    Anything that doesn't add to your story subtracts from it. You know what you're doing with your tale; later on students and critics may come by and try to guess, but you know.

    Take charge. This is your world, you are the master. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!

    Hiya, Jerry --

    When's your contest deadline? Deadlines are good things. They concentrate the mind wonderfully.

    By "Have a life," I mean don't spend all your time in your room writing. Writers need to get out of the house, talk to people, observe the world. No one can create new worlds until he masters this one.

    By "classes," I don't mean writing classes. Those can be good or bad experiences. I don't necessarily think they're required. By classes, I mean things like going to a local college and taking a course in Classical Mechanics, or Origami, or First Aid. Everything, everywhere, fits into your mind, ready to come out when a story needs it. Writers are generalists.

    Did I ever mention my Quick Slick Research Method?

    When you're getting set to write a story set in a particular time or place, you need to become an Instant Expert on the subject. Here's what you do. Go to the Children's Room in your local library and read a couple of recent kids' books on the subject. That'll get you up to speed, give you an idea of the shape of the material you'll need, and an introduction to the terms and people.

    Now go to the adult section, and start reading the adult books on the subject. Start with the big survey books. The Oxford Book of _____ for example. Read only the chapters you need. It's easy to get distracted. Take notes.

    Then go to the specialty books. Read the parts that you need (and you will know which parts those are from your previous reading), paying attention to the footnotes (the footnotes are where learned professors float their crackpot theories, or ***** about other learned professors -- footnotes are great fun). Take more notes.

    You are now sufficiently an expert on your subject to write your novel. When you've got a decent draft of your novel, take it to someone who genuinely is an expert on the subject to read it and comment on it. Many academics are lonely folks, only too eager to talk with you. Cops and firefighters and emergency nurses love to talk with writers. Coroners will make time in their day to read your book and comment on it. Honest. You'll mention them in the acknowledgements in the front of the book and that's all the reward they want.

    On Writer's Digest: this is the Brides Magazine of writing. It's a great mag when you're getting started and planning the wedding. It isn't so good on telling you what to do after the wedding when you wake up the next morning beside some fat guy who snores, smells of sweat, and has stubble all over his chin.

    Everyone has a subscription to Writer's Digest once. It's time to reevaluate your career if you renew your subscription. Think about the old maid with the lifetime subscription to Brides Magazine. Yeah, it's like that.

    One other thing about Writer's Digest: If an agent advertises there, cross that agent off your list.

    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 02-01-2010 at 12:42 AM. Reason: format and links

  5. #5
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    James D. Macdonald
    From "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim"
    Absolute Write Water Cooler
    Novel Writing forum

    A very short post today. Holidays, kids home from school, you know....

    First, a Trick for Analyzing your Writing:

    Take ten or twenty consecutive pages, and tape them, side by side, to the wall of your livingroom.

    Go stand on the other side of the room.

    Are all the pages big grey blocks of text? If so, perhaps you need to break things up with dialog, with paragraphs of varying length, with line breaks. All short paragraphs and dialog? Your reader won't have a chance to catch his breath and assimilate what you've just said. Your text should be varied, just as your story varies. The rhythm of your story will be apparent across the room. Big grey blocks = boring. All jagged = tiring.


    Next thing: Two books for you to read, over the weekend. They're novels, but you'll find lessons on writing in them if you care to dig those lessons out.

    First, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust.

    Second, Misery by Stephen King.

    Of the two I recommend the Brust more highly. You can buy copies, get 'em from your library, interlibrary loan, whatever.

    (Please note, too, that Brust's book is still in print, even though it was first published in 1987.)

    Is everyone so stunned that they don't have anything to say?

    Why did I recco Misery?

    This is all In My Opinion, of course, but books are about something other than the surface plot. What I think this one is about is the relationship between the author and the reader.

    The author is the reader's slave, the reader's captive. The reader has control of what we write. The reader also takes away parts of us.

    Observe the long descriptions of how the author has to play fair with the reader, and provide beliveable explanations for the events in the novel. The reader will withdraw her approval if we fail to satisfy her, if we fail to make her believe. The discussion, with examples, of how the fictional author makes the fictional "biggest fan" believe that Misery didn't really die at the end of the previous book is brilliant. And it works through the choices the author has to make, why some lines are right, and why some lines are wrong.

    I enjoy looking at the why of a thing. If I know why, I can often figure out what needs to happen in some other specific case by looking behind the surface.

    The descriptions of what it feels like to be writing (the "hole in the page") resemble what writing seems like to me.

    The clues that this is meant to be a writing manual include the long digression on why Corrasible Bond (do they even still make that stuff?) is dreadfully wrong for writing a novel.

    So, aside from the action/adventure/thriller surface of this novel, read it as a parable of the creative process as it pertains to writers and their readers (who are we without our readers?) and I think you'll find lessons that can improve your own writing.

    All I can really say is that I found it useful.


    Reph, not a day goes by when I don't think "Gee, if only I got serious about this I could be really productive." But yeah, we are prolific. That's what it takes to average two novels and two short stories a year, and that's what it takes (at least, that's what it takes me) to make a living doing this.

    Reprinted from elsewhere on this board:

    Your readers can always tell when you're bored.

    Writing is a lousy make-money-fast scheme. If you aren't doing it at least a little bit for love, I can point to a lot of things that will bring you more money for less work.

    Next: Observe this diagram.

    The area labeled "A" is what fascinates you; what you might write about. The area labeled "B" is what fascinates everyone else, that they want to read about. The area labeled "C" is what's marketable.

    You can't guess this in advance.

    Take, for example, Maureen F. McHugh. She was fascinated by Chinese people, gay guys, and subways. She wrote China Mountain Zhang. This was her first novel, and it was picked out of the slush pile. It was published, remains in print, and led her to a career in mainstream literary novels.

    The books you're seeing now as the Hot New Releases were bought two years ago. The trend as to who's buying what has already moved on. Write what's going to be on the shelf two years from now, not what's on the shelf today.

    King is an interesting writer. He's one of the full-blown Calvinist writers; Calvinism tends toward horror. (Once, when asked why he wrote horror, King replied "What makes you think I have a choice?")

    (An example of ur-horror, that passionately American genre, is Johnathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." People traveled for miles to hear Edwards preach. When he spoke people would weep, or fall to the floor senseless. That's more than a good sermon: that's entertainment.)

    King is also, if memory serves, one of the few writers who has taught English at every level in the American educational system. That's more than a need for money -- that's a love of teaching. I expect that on some level everything he's written is meant to be didactic.

    IMHO, however, when he's remembered, King will be remembered for his short works.

    Oh, yes, his On Writing is highly recommended.

    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 02-01-2010 at 12:47 AM. Reason: links and format

  6. #6
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    James D. Macdonald
    From "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim"
    Absolute Write Water Cooler
    Novel Writing forum

    Elsewhere at the Water Cooler, I find a reference to this essay: How Lucky Can You Get? by whiney Usenet troll M. J. Rose. (See? I can be snarky.)

    Okay, guys, go read the article, all the way down to What’s the Problem?

    M. J. lacks the publishing experience to figure out the answer to her own question. Y'see, I know exactly what happened to "Carl P." He had Golden Word Syndrome.

    His first book was publishable, or would be, with editing. Perhaps a lot of editing. The editor liked the voice, or the story, or some aspect of what was a deeply-flawed but correctable work.

    "Carl P" got the contract. The editing process started. Then Carl decided that his words were golden. He refused to participate in the editing process, he vetoed the editor's suggestions, he wouldn't make the changes that would turn his manuscript into a commercial novel, his ego was too big to allow him to listen to a mere editorial assistant. He bought a "STET Dammit!" rubber stamp.

    Read the little tale that M. J. tells with that in mind. Makes sense now, doesn't it? The editor's actions aren't inexplicable and unmotivated any more, eh?

    Carl P's book was printed as unedited slush, with predictable results.

    I recently had a chat with a New York editor who had bought a first novel out of the slush pile. The book was interesting, the story moved right along, the voice was unique -- and it fell apart in the last quarter. The author had no clue how to end a novel for all that he'd started brilliantly.

    Where most editors write revision letters, this editor wrote a revision novella.

    "What will you do," I asked, "if the author won't make the changes?"

    "Put a cheap cover on it," the editor replied.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  7. #7
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Hampshire
    Post 1710
    Page 69


    You got problems with your writing
    She said to me
    The answer's easy if you
    Put your B in C
    I'll show you how to move along
    When you find you're up a tree
    There must be fifty ways
    To plot your novel.

    She said it's not my habit
    To keep you from your booze
    But somehow I can't help myself
    When a writer has the blues
    So sit awhile at your keyboard
    And listen to the Muse
    There must be fifty ways
    To plot your novel
    Fifty ways to plot your novel.

    Run 'em down with a truck, Chuck,
    Deny their free will, Phil,
    Don't need to explain, Jane,
    Just twist up the plot.
    Add some sex to the stew, Sue,
    Don't let 'em say when, Jen,
    Let the mome raths outgrabe, Abe,
    And see what you've got.

    She said it's really rugged
    When a novel is half done
    There are some games that you can play
    To make the writing fun
    I said please keep on talking
    'Cause you just a hit a home run
    About the fifty ways

    She said why don't you type a page
    Before calling it a night
    She said don't pause to fact-check
    'Cause you'll fix it in re-write
    She said this is an artform
    Where things are not black or white,
    There must be fifty ways to plot your novel
    Fifty ways to plot your novel.

    Run 'em down with a truck, Chuck,
    Deny their free will, Phil,
    Don't need to explain, Jane,
    Just twist up the plot.
    Add some sex to the stew, Sue,
    Don't let 'em say when, Jen,
    Let the mome raths outgrabe, Abe,
    And see what you've got.


    How many chapters are you thinking of, and what word-count are you aiming for?


    You could try writing a ten-page outline, just to see if you can get the shape fixed.

    Or, you might write a one-page-per-chapter outline.

    Or, if you have an idea of where you're trying to wind up, you might leap into the water and start swimming.


    How to write a novel in three days. From Michael Moorcock.


    Urban fantasy? Go for 80,000 words. For that length, think of between thirty and forty chapters.

    First sex scene 1/3 of the way in (Chapter 10). Second sex scene, 1/2 of the way in (Chapter 15). Third sex scene next-to-last chapter (Chapter 29).

    No, I'm not advising cookie-cutter formulaic writing. What I am suggesting is a way to structure an outline (which will change radically in the writing, and which will change even more in the re-writing, and change far more than that in the editing). Your final work may not have any sex scenes at all, or may have one on every-other page.

    Rather than a sex scene, put in a demon fight, or fancy-dress ball, or any other major high-point climax with the last being the greatest. The main climax goes in the next-to-last chapter, with the final chapter tying the bowknot and getting the heck out of there.


    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    Which leads me to wonder why your womenfolk have to cry or weep so often...
    Oh would you know why Henry sleeps,
    And why his mourning Mother weeps,
    And why his weeping Mother mourns?
    He was unkind to unicorns.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    Hey again, Unca Jim. <3

    So, I was linked to this today: - and I am mostly enchanted by the thought that there's an ideal scene structure. I can't quite parse this structure in a couple of books I've skimmed, though, and I was wondering if that was a fault of my eyes, or if the article is missing something crucial.
    Two things, one of which ol' Randy addresses, one of which he doesn't.

    One is that this is only one of many possible structures. Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" is a lousy sonnet, but it's a great villanelle.

    Randy addresses this by saying that while there are other possible structures, they are not perfect.

    Others may beg to differ.

    The big thing that he fails to notice or address is that the POV character and the main character are not necessarily the same individual. The POV is the character best sited to see the action of the scene. The POV is where Jack Ford set up his camera. At the big scene where the knight comes in and throws his belt and spurs into his lord's face before stalking out to become a freelance, the POV may well (and perhaps should) be a footman who witnesses it, not the lord, or the the knight.

    The only time the POV and the main character are usually one are in first-person, and not even always then: Who is the main character of any random Sherlock Holmes story? Who is the POV?

    In any case, I'm very curious if you have some method or structure you adhere to on the scene level. Apologies if this has been stomped flat into the earth already, as a topic. I had to miss a few months of posts, and haven't found the time to catch up.
    What I use, at the scene level, comes from my early training as a magician. I try to control the reader's interest and attention in order to present the information that will produce a desired effect. Those effects are plot, character, and theme.

    A novel is not just a series of scenes, however perfect those scenes may be. A novel is a whole.

    What any author tells you about how they write is true for them. What you need to find is what is true for you.

    Structuring your scenes according to Randy's retelling of Dwight's method ... might prove a useful exercise.

    Tell you what. Write a short story following the Lester Dent Master Outline, using Randy's Scenes and Sequels and his MRUs.

    No writing is wasted. Perhaps it'll open new insights for you, even if that insight is "Well, that didn't work."


    Neither confuse nor bore the reader are the two great rules of fiction.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    My fiction's main character tends to also be the PoV character. o.o When I have two people romping around together, I usually find some reason to merge their characters.

    I wouldn't, necessarily. When you have two people romping around together they can talk together and you get dialog and such.


    A bit of library time should definitely be in your future.


    Does it work for you? If so, carry on!

    If it doesn't work for you, find something that works for you.


    Good writing is always viable.

    Don't reject your own story.

    BTW, in the course of whoring after Hollywood Respectability, I have my first screen credit here: Yellowbrickroad. It's in teeny-tiny type, and it's all the way at the end in the final credits, but it's there.

    How not to get an agent part #58309:

    • Writer leaves briefcase containing manuscript outside agent's door.
    • Agent calls bomb squad.
    • Bomb squad blows up briefcase and manuscript.

    We can only hope the writer kept a backup....


    I know entirely too many authors who spent quite a bit of time and money later in their careers buying up and burning all the available copies of their first published novels.

    The last time I submitted a story cold was the last time I submitted a short story, which would have been in 2007. I don't write short stories very often.

    I wrote it on-line, which you might consider self-publishing (though we put it under a friends-lock at the time). What you can read there is my first draft, unedited by Doyle.

    It sold to the first place we submitted it to, and subsequently was reprinted in a Best Of collection. You can read it in its finished version right now, self-published in a variety of e-publication formats.

    Book sculptures.


    A summary of Amazon's war on publishers

    Author's copies of Sense of Wonder arrived today.


    It's close to 1,000 pages of teeny-tiny print. There are authors who are left out. Bradbury, for example.

    There's always a limit in space and time (you can hardly reprint the entire corpus). And in some cases the author, or their estates, either asked fees that far exceeded budget, or never got back in touch at all.

    Doyle and I each have essays in the book (mine on Military SF, Doyle's on Writers' Workshops), and we have a reprinted story.


    Ask that question after "The End."

    Then ask if your book can be divided into a trilogy or a series.


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim: I've just had the most dreadful experience. I finished my novel, and I showed it to some folks who promised a critique. The first one came in, and it was horrible! The guy didn't understand a word I'd said, missed every possible point, criticized things that were right, and offered suggestions that were wrong. Plus he hated the book. What should I say?

    -- Puzzled in Peoria

    Dear Puzzled:

    Say "Thank you very much!" and mean it.


    If anyone has some children's books lying around that they don't need:

    A small library in the Adirondacks needs help.


    On the prevalence of US tropes in storytelling

    Why is it that violence is the answer to any problem?


    Sir Alfred Hitchcock's last film was in 1976.

    Things change.


    Fame at last! I'm mentioned (with my name misspelled) at the Great Orange Satan.

    Also mentioned: Ted Sturgeon (who came up with Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crud").

    Also, other amusing history of Novels in America.


    No, PA's cracks about SF writers came first. The whole Writer Beware crew consists of SF writers (and is an official part of SFWA), I'm an SF writer, and Dave Kuzminski is an SF writer.

    SF writers are close to their fans, there's a lot of crossover between fan writers and pro writers, so SF writers seem to be on the forefront of rooting out scammers.


    Taken from this thread: Becoming a "midlist" author...

    Oh, Ghod. "Confessions of a midlist writer" again.

    Here's a word of advice for that author: Frontlist money + backlist sales does not average out to midlist.

    And poor Jane Austen Doe! Five books in ten years? What's she been doing with her time?

    $150,000 advance, with all the promotion that goes with it, yielding only 10,000 sales, means that the book wasn't just a "disappointment," it was a smoking hole in the runway. It's hard to see how she managed this unless readers hated it, and told their friends that they hated it. Or perhaps the publisher bound the copies in decaying codfish. But ...
    Current status: Out of print. Small but loyal cult following; 10 years later adoring fans still show up at readings, clutching well-worn copies, eager to tell me how book changed their lives.
    So here's some practical advice for her: The book's undoubtedly reverted by now. Find a high-prestige small press that's willing to take it. Get it back into print. Don't insist on an advance.

    Second book: Ghost writer for celebrity. Hint for Jane A. Doe: The sales weren't for your golden words, they were for the "author's" name on the cover. Practical advice: This is a good gig. See if your agent can get you one of these per year. Treat it as your day job.

    Attempted book: A short-story anthology? Srsly? Hint: Don't do that.

    Third book: That money you spent on a publicist was wasted. Also: rather than fiddle around with screenwriters and such, write another book.

    Speaking of money, don't be an idiot with money. The kid doesn't need Nikes when Keds will do.

    Book Four: $80,000 advance. Why are you wasting time and money on publicists? Write another book. And, if you're doing this to be recognized by total strangers on airplanes, then ... maybe you should reevaluate your priorities.

    Book Five, $50,000 offer. Why are you complaining again?

    Never, ever forget: The Reader is King. Readers aren't liking your books. Choices: Write different books, or write the same books under a different name.

    And what is the moan? An average of $40K per year. That's right around the median US single-person income.

    I see that she's complaining that publishing is now a business. The article was originally published in 2004.

    News flash: Publishing has always been a business. You can find Raymond Chandler making the same complaint in the 1950s. You can find H. P. Lovecraft making exactly the same complaint in the 1920s. Get with the program -- and write books that the public actually wants to read.

    Other reactions from actual mid-list authors:


    Jane Austen Doe did do one good thing: She inspired Scalzi to write this:
    Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice


    Okay, definitions:

    The frontlist consists of the books that are in the front of the publisher's catalog (where the bookstore buyer starts looking at the offerings). The closer to the front, the bigger the push. These are books that each have a full page in the catalog. The backlist is the books that are listed at the back of the catalog. Previous years' books that are still in print, perennial sellers, that sort of stuff. Generally just a listing of titles and authors, because the bookstore buyer presumably knows what those books are, and how they're selling in each store.

    The midlist is everything in the catalog that's in the middle, between the frontlist and the backlist.

    That's all it is.

    One reason the midlist has been "vanishing" is that the publishers have been splitting their offerings into more and more lines and imprints, each with their own catalog and their own frontlist. The same or greater numbers of books are on offer, but fewer of them are in the middles of catalogs. It isn't the vanishing midlist, it's the expanding frontlist.

    There are other possibilities. Our first adult novel wasn't frontlist, backlist, or midlist. It was offered as an "off-list special."


    Bad decisions make good stories.


    No, don't change it.

    There are hundreds and hundreds of real people named "Ben Jordan."

    Any name you choose is likely to be shared with someone.


    Sure, Google is your friend, but don't let it paralyze you. You can use it to make sure that the fantasy name you give to one of your characters isn't a thundering obscenity in Quechua (which will get a you letter from someone in Cuzco), but other than that ... so you named your heroine in your spy thriller Fanny Price. So what?


    Oh my goodness.

    And y'all thought we were kidding about vacuuming your cat....


    No need to pay the big bucks to learn how to toilet train your cat. Instructions here.

    The problem comes when your kitty discovers how much fun it is to flush the toilet, whether she's used it or not, at all hours of the day and night.

    Also: Don't you have a chapter to write?


    I'm pleased to report that Tor is bringing out our Mageworlds books in electronic editions.


    Thank you, thomas86. The best way to thank us is to write amazing fiction and publish it. We want to read more good stuff.


    A simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction


    It's the same thing I've been saying for years: Everything needs to advance the plot, reveal character, or support the theme.

    But if a single event in the story doesn't connect to other events of the story, why is it there?


    Quote Originally Posted by Shika Senbei View Post
    Good question. I'lll ask Haruki Murakami next time I see him.
    I think you'll find that all of the events in Haruki Murakami's novels interlace in intricate ways.


    The character can face a situation where there are no good choices.

    The character can be misinformed. The character can be mistaken. The character can be overconfident, or underconfident. The character might be lacking a crucial piece of information.

    "Looking back on it now, the decision to go to Cleveland that night might not have been a good one...."


    The protagonist may not be the person who made the bad decision. The mayor of the town may have made a really bone-headed decision that the protagonist now has to deal with.


    You're allowed an astounding coincidence or random event to start a story. You just aren't allowed one to give your story its conclusion.


    E-publishing considered as the California Gold Rush.


    Genre's letter to literary fiction.


    Hello, Casey. I'm glad you're finding the thread useful.

    You don't need to remove/change all the dialog tags to "she/he said," but you do need to think about all of them. They're spices. Without them, the stew is bland. With too many, its inedible.

    I can certainly do another ending analysis after the holidays.

    And, yes, it's time for another Christmas Challenge.

    This year's Christmas Challenge is A Story in Four Days.

    First, decide on what your protagonist's problem is. Then decide on a period of four in which the protagonist can reasonably expect to solve it. Thus, if his/her problem is a broken shoelace, a reasonable time to solve it is four minutes. If the problem is a broken marriage, though, the time scale will be more likely four years.

    Now, over a four day stretch, write a short story. On the first day, write about the protagonist's attempt to solve that problem in the first time increment. End with discovering that the problem isn't what it seemed at first; there's a new, bigger, hairier problem. Fifteen-hundred words is a good aiming point.

    The next writing day, write about the second time increment, as your protagonist attempts to solve this second bigger, hairier problem. This ends, not with the solution to the problem, but with the discovery that the real problem is something entirely different, and far worse, than the protagonist thought. Again, fifteen-hundred words would be nice.

    The third writing day, you'll again do fifteen-hundred words, about the third time increment, as your protagonist tries to solve this new, nearly-overwhelming problem. At the end of this section, the protagonist discovers that the problem is really another thing, and its really, really bad. Horrible. Worse than anything that had come before.

    The last day, your writing will: Fill the fourth time increment. Resolve this new, horrible problem (through the protagonist's own efforts). And solve the original problem. Thus (with the shoelace example), at the end of the 6,000 words, the protagonist has the murderer who was hiding in the closet neatly tied up and awaiting the police, and is wearing a pair of slip-on shoes so the shoelace problem is solved (she/he can buy a new pair of shoelaces on the way home from work).

    Again, write and polish. Present it to your family and friends on Christmas Eve (while waiting for Santa Claus to bring you a new plot point (you've been good!)), revise it according to their comments/what you thought of while reading it aloud, and send it out (to a paying market!) on the second of January, 2012.


    People only see your final draft.

    The books you read in the library are a final draft that's been edited.

    Do not expect your first draft to be as polished as someone else's edited final draft. False expectations can freeze you.

    If you use "--" there's no doubt that you intended an em-dash.


    4500 words in two hours is less than 40 words per minute. That's easily doable by any touch-typist.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Figaro View Post
    Hey Jim,

    I wanted to know do you know any writing work shops in New York city?
    Sorry, can't help you. I'm not part of the NYC workshop scene. I'm sure there are some, and I'm pretty sure your local librarian can help you find them.


    The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar.

    It got tense.


    An ion walks into a bar, crying, and orders a beer.

    "None of my business," says the bartender, "but what's the problem?"

    "It's my little electron," says the ion. "She left me!"

    "Are you sure?" asks the bartender.

    "I'm positive!"


    Merry Christmas (or other seasonal greeting as appropriate). Has everyone finished the Christmas Challenge?


    Quote Originally Posted by Grunkins View Post
    Judging by UJ's posts, and his tendency to type in ms format, I'm guessing the "--" is another typewriter relic.

    From the Baen Books electronic submission guidelines:

    Do not use "smart quotes"/curly quotes or single character elipses, mdashes, etc. Use straight quotes and apostrophes, . . ., --, etc.

    This concludes 2011.

    Post #1820
    Page 73
    12-25-2011, 04:16 PM

  8. #8
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Hampshire
    Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2

    Page 73
    Post #1823
    01-08-2012, 12:16 PM


    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Sky View Post

    Jim, I was wondering if perhaps, after the holiday assignment, you might consider another ending analysis? To me that was more challenging than beginnings, but fun and useful.
    You want it, you got it!

    The novel will be Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich (selected at random). I haven't read it myself; I'll be reading it along with you. It's available in hardcover (should be in many libraries), paperback, and e-text.

    We'll discuss the last chapter one month from today: 08 February 2012.


    I trust everyone's found a copy of Lean Mean Thirteen?


    Meanwhile, I've been reading slush lately for a publisher that takes electronic submissions.

    Here are some things I've learned:

    1) For heaven's sake put the title of your story in the cover letter!

    2) Don't name the attached file "MyStory.doc" or "Submission.rtf" -- because there are already about 3,000 files called "MyStory.doc" and "Submission.rtf" in the Incoming box. Give it a meaningful name, sort of like the running head on a paper manuscript: Moby_Dick_Melville.doc, for example.

    3) Unless the publisher's guidelines say otherwise, use .rtf. Every recent word-processor can both produce and read .rtf. If you're Really Really Fond of XYWrite from 1991 -- get someone to convert the file before you send it it.

    4) It is Totally Unnecessary to put Every Single Friggin' Page in a separate file (e.g. Page001.doc, Page002.doc, Page003.doc, ... Page497.doc). You want to make it easy for the slush reader to keep going, not make him wonder if opening the next file is Too Darned Much Trouble.


    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    4) It is Totally Unnecessary to put Every Single Friggin' Page in a separate file (e.g. Page001.doc, Page002.doc, Page003.doc, ... Page497.doc). You want to make it easy for the slush reader to keep going, not make him wonder if opening the next file is Too Darned Much Trouble.
    Yes, people do this. If it was only once I'd say it was a fluke, but I've seen it twice, so....

    I expect it's folks who took the advice to use their word processor like a typewriter a little too literally.

    Speaking of which, you don't need to hit the carriage return at the end of every line, either.


    As always, follow the guidelines of the market you're submitting to. Even if the guidelines don't make sense to you, they (for whatever reason) make the publisher's workflow easier, and you want the publisher to have an easy workflow, right?


    Everyone gets bad reviews from time to time....

    The various tabs in WordPerfect:

    From the Format menu, choose Line, then Tab Set. You'll get a menu of Right, Left, Center, or Decimal. Choose the one you like.


    Quote Originally Posted by Hathor View Post
    Is nothing sacred?
    Makes me think of a bunch of people bowing down before a large statue of the number Zero. A couple of onlookers: One saying to the other, "Is nothing sacred?"


    In today's episode of Stranger Than Fiction....


    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    You want it, you got it!

    The novel will be Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich (selected at random). I haven't read it myself; I'll be reading it along with you. It's available in hardcover (should be in many libraries), paperback, and e-text.

    We'll discuss the last chapter one month from today: 08 February 2012.
    Still time to go get this book and read it. It's short....



    Okay, let's talk about the last chapter of Lean Mean Thirteen. This is an entry in a long-running series involving a female bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey.

    Chapter Eighteen is the last. It begins:
    Grandma Mazur had Blackie under her arm when she opened the door.

    "What are you doing with Blackie?" I asked her.

    "I've been trying to find just the right place to set him out. I want him to look natural."

    At the risk of being unkind, Blackie would need to be in Frankenstein's lab to look natural.

    What's going on here is winding up two of the plot arcs. The genre here is comedy/drama with a romance element. First person, past tense narrator.

    The plot arcs are the comedy taxidermist (one of the persons that our narrator wanted to catch for skipping bail), and the nymphomaniac grandmother. These are minor arcs. The grandmother is a continuing character, but the taxidermist, I believe, first appeared in this book and will vanish from subsequent books.

    "I have Morelli's laundry. I thought i'd throw it in the washer, and then I have to get back to Morelli," I told Grandma.

    "Blackie and me will take care of it for you. We haven't got anything better to do."

    I left the laundry with Grandma and ran back to Morelli's SUV. I thought maybe Lula was right and I didn't do much for Morelli. It wouldn't kill me to pitch in and clean his house today. It was only a matter of time before my life would be back to normal, although I was beginning to think weird might be normal for me. The police would get the car and the clock and the money. They'd find Petiak and lock him up. And I wasn't sure what would happen to Dickie.

    Morelli's house was less than a quarter of a mile from my parents' house. I drove two blocks and was T-boned by a Hummer coming out of an alley that ran behind a row of houses. The impact rammed me into a parked car and left me breathless. Before I had a chance to collect myself, my door was wrenched open, and I was yanked from behind the wheel. It was Dave with a broken nose, bandaged fingers, and a brace on his knee.

    "Haw," Dave said, jamming the barrel of a gun into my ribs "We figured you'd come to see your mom. We've been waiting for you."
    That takes us to the first scene break.

    We're winding down the romantic sub-plot (narrator/Morelli). We're winding down the mystery plot: car/clock/money. We're winding down the major villain plot: Petiak. We're winding down the minor continuing comedy-villain: Dickie.

    The scene ends with sudden violence, and the unexpected appearance of the bumbling comedy-henchman: Dave. (Unexpected because, with all the injuries he's sustained, he should be in a hospital somewhere.) The subplots, which appeared to be winding down, are now all back in play.

    This also takes us through the second page of the last chapter. The chapter has fifteen pages in the edition I'm using; 14%. We've just been told that none of the subplots are actually winding down. Instead, they're going to be brought back into play with some kind of twist: "weird."


    The next scene is likewise about two pages long.

    Our first-person narrator is taken by bumbling-and-beaten Dave to see the until-now unseen Chief Villain, Petiak.

    Petiak had been discussed quite a bit, but now we're finally meeting him. The location of this meeting as also been described, but now we're seeing it for the first time. Petiak displays his favorite murder weapon: a flamethrower. Again, we've heard quite a bit about it, but this is the first time it appears for our narrator to see and describe it.

    The villain threatens to kill the heroine, if she doesn't give him the key which will allow him to get $40 million. She doesn't have it, but knows where it is.

    After the mild comedy of the first scene, this scene is quite a bit darker. The tension is racked up a lot.


    Anyone want to chime in, before I get to the third section?


    A good summary of the third, and longest, section of the final chapter. The mysterious, and darkly threatening, villain is revealed to be an incompetent schlub. His death (brought about by his own actions rather than anything Stephanie does or doesn't do) takes place off-stage.

    That ties off the major arc of the story. Although it takes place over a longer period of time than any other action in this chapter, and although it involves a great deal of geographic diversity, it's presented all as one scene -- one long tracking shot, in film terms, like the long tracking shot at the end of the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh Much Ado About Nothing -- with little bumps of tension and release along the way.

    Which brings us to the fourth and last scene. Around two pages. We get a brief tie-up of the remaining loose ends. The key to the money is gone. Dickie remains as a continuing comedy bad guy. Ranger and Morelli remain as possible romantic-attachments for Stephanie. While Morelli is on top (so to speak) at the moment, a plot hook/cliffhanger is left lying there (on the floor): A pair of Stephanie's panties with Ranger's name embroidered on them.

    And that's the end of the book.

    The plot-lines introduced in this volume are solved in this volume. The plot-lines left over from the previous volume remain unresolved (although they have come to a natural equilibrium).

    It's light comedy/romance/drama. The plot is the classic One-Darned-Thing-After-Another plot. The baseline effect is speed. Humor replaces realism: Stephanie and Dave take injuries that would put Wile E. Coyote in the hospital for a month without giving either of them anything worse than a limp. The entire adventure takes place over a period of days, rather than weeks.

    So, based on this last chapter, would you pick up the next book?


    This particular book seemed to follow the roller-coaster plan. The big hill at the start, then a bunch of smaller hills and twists, then the ending being a set of smaller hills -- just bumps, really -- before gliding into the station, ready to take you around again.

    It's as valid a model as the one where you're climbing a mountain and plant your flag on the summit in the last chapter.

    You couldn't ask for a better example, though, of the adage that your first page sells this book, your last page sells the next book, and what you need in between is a reason for the readers to keep turning each page in turn.


    Experience the author brings to the table...

    Many years ago there was a men's action adventure series about mercenaries in Africa. It was gritty. It was tough. It had sex. Things were going well enough ...

    Then the publisher started getting letters. One from Africa, and it went roughly, "Mikey: Thought you were dead. Now we know you aren't we're going to find you, mate." Another was from a solicitor in London: "We believe that [author] is the father of our client's minor child...." And so on.

    The editors were ... bemused.

    The author was thrilled, because the author was really a pseudonym for a pair of little-old-lady librarians in upper New York State who had never been within a thousand miles of Africa (or London), didn't know any mercenaries, had never served in the military. All they knew how to do was research, and write cracking yarns.


    Off to Boskone. See you there!


    No, I've never kept a diary.

    But ... everything you do contributes to storytelling. Particularly if it involves telling stories.


    Tiny little brag: Four of this year's Nebula nominees are Viable Paradise graduates.


    First posted elsewhere, but I thought I'd bring it here:
    Yeah, I'm aware that paid-for reviews exist, like I'm aware that paid-for sex exists. You want, I can show you a place where you can get a five-star review, from a "Real Name" account with an "Amazon-Verified Purchase," for five bucks.

    But you know something? I can also show you where to get a blowjob for five bucks.

    Don't mistake it for love, though, and don't think in a million years that anyone who sees you with the hooker will think that it's love.


    Best query letter evah.


    Quote Originally Posted by vrabinec View Post
    You guys are getting some good reviews from bloggers, too. This guy has a decent following among authors.

    I hadn't seen that... thanks. Here's another:


    Quote Originally Posted by Grunkins View Post
    Is it best to let the MS cool before I dive in and begin the revision process knowing that I'll need at a couple full rewrites, or is it best to revise, rewrite and when it's closer to its final state let it cool?
    The answer to that will depend on the author -- on you, and what works for you.

    For me, it's best to let the story age for a while, while writing something new, but I've come to that realization about myself over the years. I started out revising as soon as I hit The End--and for some writers that works really well. (And you're going to have to do that if you're pressing the deadline.)

    So, best is highly subjective.

    Same for the number of revisions you do.

    My best advice, though, right now, is to let it sit. The parts of the story that are "head story" (they're in the author's head, not on the page) will slough away in the interim if you put it aside and work on something else for a bit.


    Quote Originally Posted by LillyPu View Post
    I've written a novel in 1st person, present tense, where the narrator dies in the end. Then I wrote the epilogue in another supporting character's 1st person, present tense relating the events after the main character croaked, because I couldn't let the end happen when the end happened to the main narrator.
    It's been done well.

    For example, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe. Or All Quiet on the Western Front, where the story continues a bit in past tense from an omniscient narrator after the first-person-present-tense protagonist dies.

    If you do it well enough, you can do it too.


    Speaking of epistolary novels, there's Dracula, and our own Land of Mist and Snow.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    There's just one small problem. The genre that I'm writing--Urban Fantasy--is more popular as novels or novellas than as lengths I want to write. Plus someone mentioned that market is really only beneficiary to authors who already have a name for themselves in that genre. But part of me still wants to try it.
    If you need my permission to write a short story, I grant it to you. An excellent story makes its own market, regardless of genre.

    Just make sure your story is excellent.

    Which I'm sure it will be.

    Write it, polish it, then send it out 'til Hell won't have it.

    Also do you have any advice for writing Fantasy short stories and novelettes? I know that Urban Fantasy probably doesn't have as much world-building as other sub-genres as Fantasy. However, that sometimes gives me trouble when I'm writing(or trying to).
    Short stories don't have a lot of room for world-building. So don't build worlds. Write the story as if everyone already knew what was what. Readers will receive their information from the way your characters act and react.

    If you need a challenge:

    It's 1971, late in Nixon's first term. Maud is at work when she suddenly goes into diabetic shock. She needs sugar. Unfortunately, elves have stolen all the sugar in the employee cafeteria -- again. Trace Fred, her co-worker's, efforts to get help for Maud.

    Do it in around 5,000 words.

    Deadline is Wednesday.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lee HH Cope View Post
    Hello everybody and especially Uncle Jim. I have read a few of these posts and love some of the creative content that has been put together.
    Hi, Lee.

    I think I see what you're trying to do there.

    Two things you can do:

    1) Read it out loud, making a red check-mark in the margin every time you stumble whilst reading it.

    2) Get a copy of The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany, and go through it marking a) every modifier, and b) every punctuation mark. (That's to help you think about both.)

    3) Dropping over to Share Your Work after you've been active on the board for a while isn't a bad plan either.


    A story from yet another Viable Paradise graduate:


    Elsewhere at AW, I posted:

    Quote Originally Posted by danrupe View Post
    That's what gives me the feel of a children's book. A lot of these "rules" make these crazy blanket statements. We are writing words on paper, not giving someone CPR. Nobody is gonna die if we end a sentence in a preposition. (Well, there was that time in '72, but that'll surely never happen again.)

    "Don't end a sentence with a preposition" is not now and never has been a rule in English. A bunch of 17th century grammarians, who thought that Latin is the perfect language and therefore English should follow Latin's rules (where a "preposition" quite literally cannot end a sentence because it's a pre-position), tried to impose it. It's been over three hundred years now, and their attempt has definitively failed.

    As far as said: You get the My First Reader effect if you end every line of dialog with a tag. Doesn't matter what the tag is.

    The purpose of tags is to keep the reader from losing track of who's talking, or to add information that the reader can't pick up from the dialog or action.

    You're writing a story, not a stage play. You don't need to give stage directions.

    James M. Cain (a master stylist) ran five pages of dialog among three different people with no tags at all in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

    When you do use tags, words other than said are a spice. Enough makes the stew tastier. Too much makes it inedible.

    When using words other than said, do try to use verbs that describe how dialog can be delivered. Screeched or whispered, okay. Grinned or skated, not so okay.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jaegur View Post

    Even though I'm only on page 3 of 389 in the FIRST thread. So far however, you've talked me into scrapping my idea of writing a new first chapter and just using my second chapter as my first. Though, the action doesn't really even happen in that chapter.
    Just write through to "The End." You'll discover later what the first chapter is.

    Quote Originally Posted by MVK View Post
    It gives me a new perspective for every time I think "I could write a better book than that."
    Many have. You can too. Sit down and write. The Muse doesn't visit when you aren't at your keyboard. Give me 500 words before you come back. Then do another 500 words tomorrow. In six months you'll have a novel-length pile of pages. It may be tripe, but you can't edit a blank page.



    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim,
    What's the difference between third-person omniscient and head-hopping?
    Confused Scribe in San Francisco

    Dear Confused:
    None. It's called head-hopping when you do it badly.
    Uncle Jim


    Quote Originally Posted by euclid View Post
    Hi Jim, Why did you recommend this story? Was it because Dunsany was a master of modifiers and punctuation or because he sucked at these?
    Dunsany is absolutely a master of modifiers and punctuation (and archaic word-choices).

    It struck me, based on the small sample, that Dunsany would be a good choice of folks whose style would bear study.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    However, you should get in the habit of writing everyday, right?
    That's about the size of it.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    What would you suggest I do in this situation(and ones similar to it) where I'm fairly close deadline like this? Are there any other tactics I can use to meet deadlines?

    Just grit your teeth, sit down, and write. Even if you aren't inspired. Even if what you're writing is crud. Just do it.

    (When you're making your schedules, don't forget to schedule in editing/revising time.)

    You can write a 5,000 word story in somewhere between three and four days, without breaking a sweat. Sit down and do it. Make your fingers move.

    If you need permission to write badly, just ask. I have a certificate I can give you.


    Let me know when you finish your story and when you send it out.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    I will. I just I hope I make it.
    You will. I have faith.

    Now get off the friggin' Internet and write.


    Quote Originally Posted by MVK View Post
    Is it worth submitting for Viable Paradise for a beginning writer?
    Depends on what you mean by "beginning." Look around for blog entries by alumnae to get a feeling of what it's all about and compare that to where you are.

    And the discovery that even for a short story I need a bit of an outline for when I get stuck going from point C to D.
    Try the Lester Dent master plot outline.


    I expect it varies with the market. But why risk it? Mail the sub off so the story is in their mailbox no later than the 20th.

    Why not take along a nice stamped, addressed envelope with you to college? Does your school have a computing center where you can get it printed out?

    Or, do you have a trusted friend to whom you can e-mail the story, have them print it out and mail it?

    (I presume your market doesn't take electronic submissions....)


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Actually, I think that they only take online submissions. I'm submitting to a e-Publisher. If it matters, it's Evernight Publishing.

    Then ... what's the problem? Deadline's Friday, send it to 'em on Thursday, and you're good to go.


    Quote Originally Posted by HoneyBadger View Post
    Dear Uncle Jim,

    (I've read aaaaall your threads, and just did a search and didn't see anything like this question, but feel free to redirect me if I missed something.)

    Do you have any tips for someone, who may or may not be me, who a) only started learning about writing fiction 3 months ago when one started writing one's (now complete and querying with good results novel), b) is a very fast and *very* willing learner, and c) wants to learn more about the craft, specifically in regards to finding a good workshop or creative writing course?

    Like, not Mechanics 101, but something... meatier? What sorts of things should one look for in a course, instructor, that would benefit a literary-leaning goofball?

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Literary-leaning ... meaning, you write "literary" fiction, or what?

    Anyway ... check with your local public library to see if there's a writers' group that meets near you. Some of 'em are toxic, some of 'em are wonderful, but they're worth checking out.

    In workshops, writers' groups, and creative writing courses, look for people among the instructors who've been out and actually sold stuff to real paying markets.

    Look for something that helps you feel good about writing, and helps you put your fingers on the keyboard.

    And don't sweat it. You don't have to get your ticket punched. No one checks to see if you have a diploma. The only thing that matters at the end is the manuscript, and it sounds to me like you're doing fine.

    Read a little every day, write a little every day, and you're a writer.


    Quote Originally Posted by HoneyBadger View Post
    I still don't know the names for things, but you just... you just develop an ear for it by reading, and when you learn the rules, it all makes sense, if you let it.
    it doesn't matter if you can't tell litotes from hyperbole as long as you can do 'em. The labels ... are good if you want to talk like an English major.

    Quote Originally Posted by SomethingOrOther View Post

    Could you give me a few analysis-centric exercises?

    Shoot. You mean I haven't done enough of 'em?

    Here's something better: Go, write a sonnet.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Because I'm not sure how comfortable I feel sending a submission over my school's server even with a personal computer (laptop)
    Is there a Starbucks in town? A Barnes&Noble? A McDonald's? You can probably find a wireless hotspot.

    Or, you can send it out tomorrow.


    Hey, Octavio --

    There's no barrier at all to breaking into the US market as a foreign national -- provided you have a manuscript that stacks up. That is, one that surprises and delights.

    Now, as to the language itself, you might want to get a native speaker of American English as a beta reader. (Vladimir Nabokov hired a native English speaker to edit his books before he submitted them; if it's good enough for Nabokov....)


    If it's accepted by the anthology presumably it will be edited and you'll have a chance to do some revisions.

    But seriously, why would you consider sending out something that isn't your best work? If it isn't right take the time to make it right. Have pride in your craft.

    A story that's publishable by one is publishable by many. This isn't the only market in the world.

    In any case, definitely correct any grammar-and-spelling errors before you even dream of submitting the piece.


    Don't ask yourself, "Is this good?" Instead ask, "Is this the best I can make it right now?"


    Conflicts don't need to be great, or world-shaking, or apocalyptic. All they have to be is there.

    Character A: "I want to order a pizza."

    Character B: "Well, what's stopping you?"

    Character A: [...]

    [...] is the conflict.


    The plot should start with word one of chapter one. If it doesn't ... cut everything up to that point.

    But I think we're talking past each other. Try Chapter One: Character One is out of cat food and must get some despite it being a Sunday and the stripe on her debit card getting erased when she stuck it to the refrigerator door with a magnet.

    You want something that'll keep a couple apart? Try one of them getting transferred to another state. Or having to move to another state in order to find work.

    There's all kinds of things that you can do.

    The main thing is to have something on every page that gives the reader a reason to turn to the next page. It could be breathtakingly beautiful prose. It could be edge-of-the-seat suspense. But there has to be something.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Thanks. So, would having a conflict that bothers one character but they don't voice that it bothers them until a certain point be a good idea as well?
    It could be, sure. You won't know if it is until you write it.


    I posted this elsewhere; I'll repost it here:

    Okay, let's talk about pitches.

    Assuming that you're somewhere in the vicinity of the right ballpark (that is, you aren't pitching Extreme Porn Splatterpunk to an editor from Fluffy Baby Bunny Stories), 100% of the time you're going to get a request to send the manuscript because ... the editor won't be able to tell how good your book is from any pitch, no matter how polished, or unpolished, it might be. So, you'll send your manuscript, and it will be placed on exactly the same slushpile as it would have gone on if you'd sent it in cold.

    And that is what your pitch buys you.

    Better to spend your time polishing your book than your pitch. The editor won't remember you, because you're just one of a hundred nervous, sweating writers she's seen for five or ten minutes each over the past two days. And if she does remember you? No matter. The manuscript trumps everything.


    Right. That's for the conferences that advertise "pitch sessions" with editors as their draw with aspiring authors.

    These are usually in New York so there isn't a lot of travel involved for the publishing professionals, and editors show up because they get free lunches and an honorarium. Editors are as low-paid as everyone else in publishing. Really, you have no idea how tight the money is at most publishers, even the biggest.


    Those sorts of conferences frequently either directly advertise or strongly imply that the pitch sessions are a way of circumventing the slush pile, and frequently point to the number of requested manuscripts as proof that their training in how to pitch is effective.


    And see? You already have an interesting scene going.


    The pepperoni-vs.-anchovies-on-the-pizza conflict could get you all the way through the first chapter, and into the main conflict that develops later on. It could also neatly foreshadow the ultimate resolution.

    Regardless, it can fuel the first draft, which is the starting point for the book you'll write.


    Quote Originally Posted by FOTSGreg View Post

    It's execution that takes fortitude.
    Which is why writers laugh that laugh when someone comes up and says, "I have a great idea for a story! You write it and we'll split the money!"


    I want you to know that you are all awesome writers, I love you all, and I'm looking forward to your books.


    I believe the Coen brothers (writers/director of Miller's Crossing) are very familiar with Red Harvest. The title of their first movie (Blood Simple) is a quote from Red Harvest. Miller's Crossing contains dialog taken directly from Red Harvest.


    Might as well talk about where reviews on covers, and blurbs, come from in the real world. (Note: Neither the author nor the publisher pays for reviews or blurbs.)

    First, let's talk about blurbs. Those are the little things like, "The best book I've read this year!" -- Some Other Author that you see on book covers.

    Where they come from: While the book is in production, the publisher prints up a bunch of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) or Uncorrected Proofs. They paper the world with these. The blurb quotes usually come from authors who are: a) The author's friends, b) Other clients of the author's agent, c) Other authors published by the same publisher. What the other author gets: An ARC. Also, the promo value of having their name on the cover of your book. No money changes hands.

    If you see quotes from reviews printed on the cover of the hardback, notice that those are usually from reviews of the author's previous book.

    Reviews themselves:

    Remember those ARCs? This is all happening about six months before the book is due to be published. The ARCs get sent to every major reviewer. The publisher's publicity department handles this; it's at no cost to the author. So The New York Times, the Washington Post, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today ... and anyone else who might be interested gets an advance copy. If your book deals with dog breeding, the specialized dog-breeding magazines will get ARCs. The idea is you want the reviews to hit the papers the week that the book is released. (It doesn't do any good for a review to be printed for a book that isn't available yet.) Any ARCs that are left over will get sent to book bloggers, and anyone else who wants one. Really, they send out a lot of 'em.

    What happens to the reviews: If your book is a hardcover, and later gets a paperback release, the juiciest quotes go on the cover of the paperback.

    If you get a really, really juicy quote, or win a major prize, the publisher might decide to reprint the dust jacket with the quote on it.

    Suppose your book is a paperback original? In that case, the review quotes go on the cover of the second or subsequent printings.

    Notice how much this costs the author: Zero.

    Notice how much this costs the publisher: The cost of printing and mailing the ARCs (which is all budgeted when they decided to offer on the book).


    Small personal brag here:

    The Price of the Stars as an e-book at Amazon. (Also available in all other electronic formats.)


    It's a special promotional price.


    Quote Originally Posted by MVK View Post
    I'm not quite getting what you mean about 'the reader you imagine'.

    The reader I imagine is the one sitting on the other side of the fire-pit, the one I'm telling the story to.

    When doing a scene breakdown, about how many scenes should one plan for in a novel. Is there a general guideline?
    No. You use exactly as many scenes as are necessary to tell your story in the most effective way.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    It's too late in the story add suspense or fantasy elements, in my opinion I would think.
    Which draft are you on? If it's not-yet-finished-first, then finish the draft, do your revisions, and see how long it is. You may be surprised.

    Or, in the next draft you can add a sub-plot.

    But, actually, my best advice would be to make your story the best it can be (and if that means chopping off the last 1,000 words, out they go), then finding a market to match the story you wrote, rather than writing a story to this one specific market.

    Maybe your next story will hit 10K.


    Thanks, Future Shock. What I want are a whole lot of excellent new books for me to read.


    Quote Originally Posted by EmmersonGrant View Post

    Floodgates opened and washed away my doubts. I laid 5 pages today and I'm itching to do the rest.
    Go, you!

    If it works, it's right.


    That was a separate short story that we'd written in-universe. But we couldn't figure out where in the story to put it ... and there was too much of a gap in time-and-space from the end of the story to the start of the main story, so it wouldn't do as a chapter one (as I thought at the time... now, knowing what I know now, I might well have started what is now Chapter One with "Five years later...." and called it Chapter Two. Or maybe not.)

    Pray note that, as it stands, the prologue is completely dispensable. Skip it and you lose nothing. Also, the main character in the prologue is the same as the main character in the rest of the book. People who do read the prologue, and get invested in that character's fortunes, don't have to shift gears, change direction, forget all about this character and suddenly start having to care about someone else entirely.

    One of the big problems with prologues is that they squander reader interest. Reader interest is (if you're doing it right) growing from the first word onward. Your prologue is creating reader interest, but if, then, the reader suddenly is told, "but that is not our story," you have to get them interested all over again, and you've lost a slight bit of their trust whilst doing so.

    Not a clever plan.

    For those who want to play along at home, that prologue, complete, is here:

    (I should probably put in a link to the e-book version on that page....)


    If the prologue tempts the reader to ask, "Will this be on the test?" you're probably doing it wrong.

    As to whether I'm for them or against them, I'm against doing them badly.

    Much as I'm against using first-person POV badly, present tense badly, and passive voice badly.

    Some of those things are harder to do well than others. The readers (bless their dear hearts) recognize bad writing and tend to avoid repeating the experience of reading bad writing. Thus readers have been trained to avoid present tense, passive voice, and prologues.


    Perfect prologues? Here are two of my favorites:

    Not marching in the fields of Thrasymene,
    Where Mars did mate the warlike Carthagens;
    Nor sporting in the dalliance of love,
    In courts of kings where state is overturn'd;
    Nor in the pomp of proud audacious deeds,
    Intends our Muse to vaunt her heavenly verse:
    Only this, gentles,—we must now perform
    The form of Faustus' fortunes, good or bad:
    And now to patient judgments we appeal,
    And speak for Faustus in his infancy.
    Now is he born of parents base of stock,
    In Germany, within a town call'd Rhodes:
    At riper years, to Wittenberg he went,
    Whereas his kinsmen chiefly brought him up.
    So much he profits in divinity,
    That shortly he was grac'd with doctor's name,
    Excelling all, and sweetly can dispute
    In th' heavenly matters of theology;
    Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
    His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
    And, melting, heavens conspir'd his overthrow;
    For, falling to a devilish exercise,
    And glutted now with learning's golden gifts,
    He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
    Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
    Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
    And this the man that in his study sits.
    Two households, both alike in dignity,
    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
    Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
    From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
    A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
    Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
    Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
    The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
    And the continuance of their parents' rage,
    Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
    Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
    The which if you with patient ears attend,
    What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
    Seriously, I'll look around and maybe comment on the next prologue I see in a published book.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fins Left View Post

    What I found was that the word "Prologue" evoked an instant 'skip' reflex the equivalent of the Spanish language instruction pages of modern products. (I don't read Spanish)
    And that is the main reason I advise against prologues: Your reaction is absolutely typical of the majority of readers.


    Quote Originally Posted by DaveK View Post
    But seriously, I don't understand why someone would skip a section of a book because it is labeled as a prologue.
    Because readers are like the cats who, having once sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a cold one.1


    1. Mark Twain reference. Into each life a little Twain must fall.

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveK View Post
    And that is the reason I label my prologues - Chapter 1 Or I use dates or locations.

    Thou art wise, Faustus.

    Most of what I'm doing this week is reading applications for Viable Paradise.

    I have two short stories that I need to finish (three if you count that one) and I'm in the midst of a non-fiction piece that'll likely run about fifty pages.

    Plus, I have to do revisions on a novel. (Two novels if you count that one.)


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim:
    I was writing my novel, but when I was half-way through I realized that it was boring, dull, pointless, and bad. At the same time I had this brilliant idea for a new novel, so I'm writing that instead. But lately it's started seeming pointless too. But I've had a great idea for a new novel so I started it this morning. What can I do to keep my enthusiasm?
    -- Constant Writer in Grapevine
    Dear Constant:
    Go back and finish the first novel. Even if it's dull. Even if you hate it. Only after you've reached "The End" and you've placed it in your desk drawer to marinate will you be able to go back and ... finish that second novel. Even if it's horrible.

    Else, thirty years from now you'll have sixty half-novels on your hard drive and no readers.
    -- Uncle Jim

    Dear Uncle Jim,
    I've been putting my BIC every day like you said, but just this morning a minor character (George the tavern-keeper's buddy) who was mostly there to be a point of view and hasn't even been mentioned since chapter twelve, showed up at dawn with a bag of gold, a letter in his pocket that he won't let anyone read, and a horse pistol. He whispered, "Remember your vow" into Lady Cecelia's ear, and next thing I knew the two of them were down in the stable saddling fast horses and were out the gate before Lord Reginald even woke up.

    The trouble is that none of this was in the outline. I have no idea what George is going to do next, and I'm afraid that Lord Reginald's planned wedding with Lady Cecelia won't happen on schedule. The dressmaker was supposed to arrive at the manor to fit Lady Cecelia for her gown in this chapter! Should I crumble up those pages and get back to the outline?
    -- Worried in Westchester

    Dear Worried:
    Crumble up the outline.
    -- Uncle Jim

    Dear Uncle Jim,
    I've been working on my novel for fifteen years now and I have nearly ten pages. Can you recommend a publisher for me?
    -- Serious Scribe in Schenectady

    Dear Serious:
    -- Uncle Jim

    This is a prologue from a published work. Comments?


    Upon a paper attached to the Narrative which follows, Doctor Hesselius has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the MS. illuminates.

    This mysterious subject he treats, in that Essay, with his usual learning and acumen, and with remarkable directness and condensation. It will form but one volume of the series of that extraordinary man’s collected papers.

    As I publish the case, in this volume, simply to interest the “laity,” I shall forestall the intelligent lady, who relates it, in nothing; and after due consideration, I have determined, therefore, to abstain from presenting any precis of the learned Doctor’s reasoning, or extract from his statement on a subject which he describes as “involving, not improbably, some of the profoundest arcana of our dual existence, and its intermediates.”

    I was anxious on discovering this paper, to reopen the correspondence commenced by Doctor Hesselius, so many years before, with a person so clever and careful as his informant seems to have been. Much to my regret, however, I found that she had died in the interval.

    She, probably, could have added little to the Narrative which she communicates in the following pages, with, so far as I can pronounce, such conscientious particularity.

    The prologue just above is from Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu.

    What's good about it?


    1) Brief.
    2) Disposable.
    3) Brings in information that can be gained in no other way.
    4) The story is still understandable and enjoyable even without the prologue, but the prologue does provide extra depth.

    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
    Dear Uncle Jim:
    What is the difference between a cliffhanger ending for my novel and a twist ending for my novel?
    Confused in Portchester
    Dear Confused:
    If you end your novel with a cliffhanger your readers will throw your book against the wall, hate the book, hate you, and swear that they will never read another story by you ever again as long as they live. They will also tell all their friends that your books suck. With a twist ending, on the other hand, they will love the book, love you, seek out all of your other works, and tell all their friends that they have to read your book. I hope this clears up the confusion.
    Uncle Jim

    The "Doctor Hesselius" of the prologue is mentioned nowhere else in the story. His sole function appears to be to lend the weight of authority (for can you imagine a more learned and authoritative-sounding name than "Doctor Hesselius"?) to what would otherwise seem an incredible tale. But if he believes it, then, it must be true!

    This prologue is artful indeed. It provides the simulacrum of redeeming social value. But if the reader skips it on seeing the word "Prologue" and turns directly to chapter one, no major loss. There's still a slam-bang tale of overt vampirism and covert lesbianism waiting.


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
    Dear Uncle Jim,
    I just heard that there is no magic button that will get me published. I'm devastated. What should I do?
    Sorrowful in Cincinnati

    Dear Sorrowful,
    Who told you that? Of course there's a magic button that will get you published. There's a whole lot of them! You have them on your desk right now. They're labeled Q... W... E... R... T... Y....
    Uncle Jim


    Silver-Midnight, is this your first complete novel manuscript?


    It's okay, Silver-Midnight.

    You're in the dread Mid-Book Slump.

    Go over to Uncle Jim Undiluted and search on "mid-book." What you feel is perfectly normal. Most (I want to say "all" but there might be some eccentric out there who's the exact opposite) writers feel the same way.

    The only way through is forward.


    Yep. If you don't know what to write next, make stuff up. Even the certain knowledge that you're writing crud -- don't allow it to stop you. That's your saboteur-self talking. After you've let the completed book marinate in your desk drawer for a month or so you'll be surprised by how much it's improved.

    That's what aging the manuscript does. It allows all the suck to drain out.


    Two choices: Give up or muddle through. Your call.


    I should mention that you ought to have a goal in mind. Else how will you know if you've arrived?


    I know the end of the last (unwritten, unstarted) Mageworlds book:

    Jens Metadi-Jessan and Faral Hyfid-Metadi (introduced in The Long Hunt) are sitting under a tree on re-born and terraformed Entibor. "Have a beer, coz?" Faral says. "Thanks," Jens replies. "Don't mind if I do."

    Do I need to mention here that Entibor is, symbolically, the Garden of Eden? Folks who have read the books carefully will already know this.

    The entire Mageworlds series is a massive allegory.

    BTW: Nice review of Mageworlds:


    On the importance of backups....


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim:

    The main character in my young-adult novel is a teenage girl who lives a little of the Goth life-style. She has two boyfriends who don't know about each other, and her guilty secret is that she likes cinnamon cookies. What should I name her?

    -- Rookie Writer in Paris, Maine

    Dear Rookie:

    Her parents didn't know when she was born that she was going to paint her fingernails black. So give her a nice, ordinary name. If your brain freezes up so you can't even think of a name here's a place you can go to look for 'em. The story makes the name; the name doesn't make the story. Just choose one at random; it'll all work out.

    Uncle Jim

    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim:

    But doesn't Frank Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" end with a cliffhanger? And it's a classic! (Written in 1882, still in print and much anthologized.)

    -- Nitpicker in Nacogdoches

    Dear Nitpicker:

    It's much-anthologized because it's in the public domain and it's easy to write Study Questions for high school English books based on this story. The ending isn't so much a cliffhanger as ambiguous. But try this experiment: Imagine that the young man was actually one of Robin Hood's Merry Men. Write the ending in which Robin Hood, Will Scarlett, Little John, and Much the Miller's Son rescue the young man.

    Better story, isn't it?

    Or, the young lady is visited in the stands overlooking the arena by two angels, one of whom always lies, and one of whom always tells the truth, though she has no way of knowing which is which. They have a long, philosophical discussion in the style of Fyodor Dostoevsky. At the end, she makes a decision and we know what it is. Better story, isn't it?

    P.S. I have always found "The Lady, or the Tiger?" annoying.

    Uncle Jim

    For everyone: It's been a while since I've handed out an assignment. So, here it is! Write one of those two new endings for "The Lady, or the Tiger?" The story's in the public domain so you can even do it legally!


    Shameless advertising time!

    Editorial and Critique Services: Debra Doyle, Ph.D.


    Schadenfreude is a dish best served hot: PublishAmerica sued.


    Yet more rules of writing, this time from my long-time co-author:

    1. Never trash your out-takes. (See the adventure of the five chapter nines.) You never know when that scene you removed from the first draft because it didn’t work might turn out to be the precise scene that’s needed in the third draft to fix something else.

    2. Don’t worry if you’re not a published-at-eighteen barely-postadolescent prodigy. Blooming young is for poets and mathematicians; novelists are in it for the long haul, and the more life experience you have, the better.

    3. Know your own hesitation marks and makeweight-words, so that you can search for them in the second and third drafts and eliminate or fine-tune them ruthlessly. (My first-draft brain has an excessive fondness for “just” and “only”; my co-author, for some reason, has a thing for “swirling” in the early drafts of action sequences.)

    4. Learn languages, if you can; there’s nothing like a second language to give you a handle on seeing the world in more than one way. If your brain isn’t wired up to learn languages easily, don’t sweat it; history and anthropology are other handles on the same thing.

    5. Corollary to the above: there are worse things for a writer to do than to get a traditional liberal-arts education. The good thing about a traditional liberal-arts education is that you can do pretty much all of it on your own with the aid of a library and some reading lists. And, these days, of course, the internet.

    6. Don’t fetishize your tools. If you get too attached to working in a notebook in longhand, you’ll have the devil’s own time switching to a keyboard; if you fall too much in love with keyboarding, you’ll be in bad shape if carpal tunnel syndrome forces you to switch to using speech-recognition software instead. In fact, the fewer fixed habits you associate with your writing, the better, because life changes things on us all the time.

    7. Listen to real people talking, as much as you can. That way, when you go to write dialog, all your characters won’t speak in the same voice. What this means: Eavesdrop shamelessly whenever you’re out in public. (Remember not to look towards the conversation you’re eavesdropping on. It’s a dead giveaway, and “I’m a writer, honest, I’m just working on refining my craft!” isn’t going to get you very far if you’re spotted.)

    8. Don’t expect to get rich doing this, or famous either. (The typical working writer has a lifestyle far closer to that of the Prophet Chuck on Supernatural than to that of Rick Castle.) If the work isn’t its own reward, you’re probably not meant to be doing it in the first place.

    9. Be kind and polite to your readers, even if they sometimes drive you nuts. Remember, they’re reading your stuff when they don’t have to, in a world that puts never-ending demands on their time and attention. Even if they don’t like what you’re written, and say so at length, they’ve still given your words weight. Disagreement and dislike and passionate argument aren’t what matters in this trade; it’s indifference that kills.

    10. No matter how great the temptation, never ever ever respond in public to a personal attack or a bad review or an accusation of wrongthinking. (Accusations of actual wrongdoing are iffier — but in my opinion, anyhow, if the accusation is serious enough to require a response then that’s what lawyers and agents are for.) Complain mightily to your friends all you want; scream and rant in private journal posts if you must; but stuff a sock in your mouth and sit on your typing fingers before saying anything out loud where the general public can see or hear it.

    As Ken MacLeod says, "History is the trade secret of science fiction."

    I spent most of today researching the Holy Rood of Bromholm. Which may make an appearance in the next Crossman story. Or maybe not.


    Silver-Midnight. there's nothing unusual in taking on elements of what you've read and seeing it come out in your own writing. Everything you've ever seen or done or read is part of the ingredient cupboard where you mix up your own stories. The solution is to a) read more, and b) write more.

    I'd suggest reading well-regarded books, so the habits you pick up are good ones.

    By the time your second drafts are done the influences of what you'd read most recently when you wrote it will have faded, replaced by your more recent reading.

    Your subconscious isn't under your control, so don't try. I expect that one of the causes of writers' block is making the attempt. Instead, feed your subconscious healthful foods and exercise it frequently.

    Your writing should get stronger.


    Greg, that sounds very much like my own library. Carry on!


    Holy Shiitake -- writers are all observers. We're the ones who not only hear, but perceive.


    You know our Bad Blood novels?

    They were written in third person, then re-written into first person at the second-draft stage.

    You can re-write your book from first to third, from close to omniscient, any number of times, to see which works better.


    It's your book. You choose the POV and the tense that allows you to tell the story best. It's okay to play with it.


    Who’s After the dotBOOK Top Level Domain

    Not necessarily people who like or respect writers, that's who. Tell all your friends; spread the link.

    A couple of blog posts about Viable Paradise. Applications are closed for this year. They will reopen in January 2013 for next year's class:


    Stray, that particular series was translated into a ton of languages (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish, Norwegian, German, French, Italian, Hebrew, etc. etc.) Royalties depend on the contract; but usually the income from foreign rights is split with the original publisher 50:50, and markets outside of the US are only a fraction of the US market.

    It adds up, but the royalties that come to the author from each language are generally smaller in total dollar amount than the English royalties.

    Purely out of curiosity, how is the translation? Does it read well?


    There's a Bimbo on the Cover of my Book

    There's a bimbo on the cover of my book!
    There's a bimbo on the cover of my book!
    She is blonde and she is sexy;
    She is nowhere in the text. She
    Is a bimbo on the cover of the book!
    Minor brag:

    Nora Jemisin and Myke Cole were Viable Paradise students and John Scalzi was a VP instructor.

    Go, buy their books.

    Great moments in English spelling (this from Dr. Seuss):

    "The tough coughed as he ploughed the dough."


    Quote Originally Posted by Niniva View Post
    Three characters are introduced - we know the doctor wrote something, the woman spy died but was probably of little use anyway, and the narrator is cryptic.
    You'll be happy to know that neither the doctor, nor the (dead) woman, nor the narrator show up in the novel that follows that prologue.


    You can start by listing the characters and their functions, where they first appear and where they last appear.

    Or, you can start by identifying the parts of the story: Introduction, body, and climax.

    Lots of ways to start.

    You've seen me do enough analyses of stories in here: One thing I look at is number of sentences in a paragraph, number of words in a sentence, and which words hold positions of power.

    Or, you could ask "What is the author's intention?"

    (For those playing at home, "Ecdysis" is available both as a stand-alone, and as part of a collection.)


    The nation's favorite bard, Shakespeare.


    Page 82

    Post #2050

    07-09-2012, 11:49 PM
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 05-12-2013 at 05:48 PM.

  9. #9
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Hampshire
    Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2
    Page 83
    Post #2051
    07-12-2012, 11:57 PM


    I'll be at Readercon over the weekend. Hope to see some of you there.


    The File Folder Trick.

    Get a file folder (and a filing cabinet).

    For each story:

    In the file folder place a hard-copy of the finished story. (No matter
    what happens, hard copy will still be readable.) Place a copy of the story on disk (electronically readable format) in the folder. Place a sheet listing the names and addresses of all of the markets you figure are suitable for the story, in your order of priority.

    Every time the story comes back, cross off the name of the last market
    from the list. Send the story to the next market that same day (after re-checking the guidelines and the editor's

    If the story is bought, put the contract in the file folder and move it to
    another section of the filing cabinet.

    Any market that buys a story automatically gets moved to the head of the list for all other (similar) stories (assuming they haven't already rejected it).

    Any market that says "Try us again with your next" gets moved to the head of the list of all other suitable stories (just below "we bought your last').

    If you reach the bottom of the list, then, and only then, are you allowed
    to re-write the story and come up with a new list of markets.

    If you don't feel like rewriting you're allowed to retire the story from
    circulation. Put it in its own separate portion of the filing cabinet.


    Be very, very careful if the folks acting in the opening aren't seen again for the rest of the book. Readers will expect them to return in some surprising way.

    If one of your main characters has henchmen in general, why not reuse them? Call 1-800-DIALAHENCH for all your villainous needs!


    What's the POV of the scene with the doctors? if it's the POV of the guy who escapes, and he never learns their names, no problem.

    Still, that's a plot thread that might need some raveling up. If the characters are that unimportant why are they there at all?

    If they're there, is there something else you can do with them?


    Massive rewrite = new story = resubmission to markets (plus any new markets that have opened up since compiling the original list). I might put the new markets at the head of the list.

    But we're talking about a massive rewrite (equivalent to Starting Fresh).

    Quote Originally Posted by m00bah View Post
    The POV is from one of the doctors. He is tired and makes a mistake, which leads to the guy escaping.
    Why not start with the guy meeting the main character?

    Any necessary bits about the escape can come in dialog.


    Quote Originally Posted by m00bah View Post
    Does it need to be more than that?
    I haven't read your book, so I don't know. What do the beta-readers say?

    Based on everything you're telling me, though, the doctor isn't important enough to even be in the story, far less in the opening.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Is there a way to kind of correct this? To know how to write internal conflict without repeating myself a lot, creating another issue or problem after the first one is "solved" or at least partially put aside, and to help all of the other problems I mentioned.
    Sounds like you shouldn't be writing purely internal conflict. Pair the internal conflict with external action. Advance the plot. If you're ever unsure of what to do next, advance the plot. "When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand...."

    Note Hamlet. (Shakespeare's version, which was a remake of an earlier play that no one who isn't going for a PhD in Elizabethan Literature has even heard of, let alone read, and that hasn't been performed in half a millennium.) Hamlet, the character, has all kinds of internal conflict. But he's also mixed up in sword fights, leapings-into-graves, stabbings-through-the-arras (and liver), ghosts, suicides, and honest-to-goodness pirates. Keep stuff happening and the internal conflict will happen along with it.


    Today's Literary Trivia: An editor was originally the person who put on a Roman gladiatorial game. He was the person who gave thumbs-up or thumbs-down on who in the arena would be allowed to live or die.

    In the same way, today, an editor is the person who gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down on words, sentences, paragraphs, or plot-lines, and who determines which books will be published and which not.


    Another thought on why The Author's Big Mistake is the author's big mistake:

    It's because arguing with people isn't your job. Your job is to entertain people.

    You will, from time to time, come across people who attack you for no good reason. (This seems to come along with celebrity, even such low-level celebrity as writers get.) The reason they do this is because you have something they want: Attention. Don't give them your attention. Doing so means they win. And doing so takes away from you doing your job. Lose-lose from your point of view.

    So: Don't do it.


    Write What You Know


    As writers, we do not write stories. We write the blueprints for stories.

    The stories are what the readers construct in their minds, using our blueprints.


    The difference between a happy and unhappy ending is when we decide to end the story.


    We're glad you're back.


    Posted elsewhere at AW:

    Are first drafts supposed to be horrible?
    They can be, and they often are, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they're supposed to be horrible.

    The most important part of a first draft, however, is finishing. Not producing prose-and-plot that's equal to other authors' revised-and-edited material.

    In the days of pulps there were mighty authors who could write publishable first draft. In the days of pulps there were a ton of markets. How many of those mighty authors are remembered now? How many of the stories are still read? A handful, and we can name them all.

    Unless you are a mighty author, do not be too uptight. Type, then revise when you have a finished piece. In this way lies serenity of spirit.


    when should you give up on a WIP and start something new??
    You should give up when you've reached "The End," revised it at least once, and it's been rejected by every appropriate publisher in Writer's Market.

    You should start something new the day after you type "The End" on the first draft of the WIP under discussion.


    How to write from the POV of a sex/gender/orientation not your own:

    1) Look deep inside yourself. No one is 100% anything.

    2) The differences within the sexes are greater than the differences between the sexes.


    Let us talk briefly about Chekov's Gun.

    "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." —Anton Chekhov

    This is pretty good advice: If you mention something specific you ought to do something with it. Else the readers will be carrying it around in their mental backpacks wondering what it's for.

    You put in specific details for one of three reasons: To give yourself the material you're going to use later (planting that rifle so the readers won't suspect that the writer pulled that rifle out of his ass later when the hero needs it); to provide characterization (the person who lives in this house is the sort of person who would have a rifle on his wall (perhaps a hunter, perhaps a survivalist); or to do world-building (this is the sort of society where firearms exist and where it is normal and natural for one to be owned and displayed). That is, advance the plot, provide characterization, or support the theme.

    Canny readers, however, knowing about Chekov's Gun, won't be surprised when the rifle is fired. We want to surprise the readers while at the same time playing fair with them. But how?

    When we mention that the rifle is on the wall, both the rifle and the wall are mentioned. Suppose that wall is actually a secret door? When a character comes in, pulls on the rifle, and the door opens, the reader will be surprised, yet won't feel cheated because we very clearly marked the spot earlier. The rifle's purpose is misdirection.

    Or, we could use that rifle in a surprising way. As the villain approaches the hero takes the rifle from the wall and uses it to lever open a window and escape. Just because it's a rifle doesn't mean that we have to use it as designed. The reader will be surprised but won't feel cheated.

    The rifle can also be used as a MacGuffin: an item that everyone wants/is looking for, but is unrelated to the actual plot (classic example from Sir Alfred Hitchcock, the man who popularized the word MacGuffin: the suitcase full of money in Psycho).

    Then again, you can play your Chekov's Gun perfectly straight to great effect. In the Harry Potter series the walls are littered with figurative rifles, almost all of which go off (usually before the particular volume is done, but sometimes a volume or two (or six) later).


    Ah yes, the ironic use of Chekov's Gun. The audience, seeing a rifle hanging on the wall in the first act, knows instantly that it must be fired in the third act, but the characters do not.

    We should find joy in our writing and put in such little jokes as please us.


    The plural of medium is media. That is all.


    A cliche is a meme that hasn't yet risen to the level of archetype.

    Common cliche types include characters with a single (and stereotypical) defining quality: the hard-drinking writer, the tough cop, the hooker with a heart of gold, the Islamic terrorist, the lazy Mexican, the clever Chinese.

    Or if you're talking about cliched sentences, those are, for example, metaphors and similes that you hear over and over again: the kid's green as grass; it's raining cats and dogs; smoking like a furnace, drinking like a fish.

    Recall the origin of the word cliche: It was, back in the days of cold type, a word, phrase, or even sentence that was cast as a single piece to save time in typesetting. So a cliche is a commonly used, overused, phrase.

    Recall Orwell's rules for writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    The commentary on this rule here says:

    This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Phrases such as toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, an axe to grind, Achilles’ heel, swan song, and hotbed come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic.
    For this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.
    What to do?

    Develop an eye for cliched phrases and mercilessly blue-pencil them. Make your characters multi-dimensional. Give them a mixture of traits both positive and negative. (Some people use Tarot cards to randomize character traits. Others pick Splendid Virtues and Deadly Sins, and assign a couple of each per character.) Closely observing real people helps a lot.

    Straight-line plots can seem cliched: We've been on this ride before. So mix things up. Find unexpected but still logical twists for your story.

    Relax. Write more. Don't reach for the easy solutions. The first idea that comes into your head may not be the best.

    Beyond that, get a willing beta reader who can point out the cliches you can't see.

    Best of luck.


    By archetype I mean something that has become a Platonic ideal. Not just Hercules but The Hero.


    Posted elsewhere at AW.

    I'm going to natter about how anthologies are put together and how the author gets paid.

    The first thing that happens is that the editor pitches an anthology to a publisher. The publisher accepts the proposal and advances money to the editor. The editor has a contract with the publisher; the eventual authors will have contracts with the editor.

    The editor generally keeps half of the advance and uses the other half to buy stories. A standard professional rate is $0.05 cents/word.

    So, the editor gets an $8,000 advance from the publisher. The editor keeps $4,000 and uses the other $4,000 to buy stories. Say the anthology is to be 80,000 words. The editor puts out a call for stories. They come flooding in. The editor selects the ones she wants, totaling 80,000 words, and sends rejection slips to the rest.

    The authors who have been accepted sign contracts with the editor, for $0.05/word, plus a pro-rated share of the royalties (the details will be spelled out in the contract). Royalty periods, indemnity, reversion, and so on will be specified.

    The finished, edited, anthology is turned in to the publisher, and in the fullness of time it's printed. Out it goes into the world. The publisher calculates royalties (standard is based on cover price) on every copy sold, but, until those royalties pay back the advance that was already paid, they don't cut any new checks. This isn't a big deal because the editor and the authors have already been paid.

    Then the happy day arrives when the anthology earns out! The publisher cuts a check and sends it to the editor. The editor keeps half (and if the anthology was agented, the agent's 15% is paid out of the editor's half). The other half is divided among the authors according to one of two schemes (which will have been spelled out in frightening detail in the contract).

    One way is this: For example, if there are ten stories in the anthology, each author gets 10% of the authors' share of the royalties. That is, for every dollar in royalties that comes in, the editor keeps $0.50 and each of those ten authors gets $0.05

    The other way is this: each author is paid in proportion to the percentage of the final anthology that is that author's work. So if Author Ann had a 6,000 word story while Author Beth had a 3,000 word story, Ann would get 7.5% of the authors' share and Beth would get 3.75%. Of each dollar in royalties that comes from the publisher the editor would still keep $0.50; Ann would get $0.0375 and Beth would get $0.01875.

    You'll notice that royalties are paid beginning with the first copy sold.

    If the publisher doesn't pay an advance, then royalties are still paid beginning with the first copy, but there's no advance to pay back, so the publisher will cut a check at the end of each royalty period to send to the editor.

    Some publishers pay royalties based on net. While most publishers are honest and above-board this is still an invitation to abuse and should be avoided.

    Let's talk briefly about Net.

    Net should be the amount that comes in the door. This will be what the publisher receives after the bookstores take their discount. Direct sales will be accounted separately.

    Take a book that retails for $10.00. The bookstore gets it for $6.00 (40% discount). So for each book sold the publisher takes the $6.00 and pays the author's royalties out of that (at a 10% royalty rate, $0.60), and keeps the rest to pay for paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, marketing, publicity, the editors' salaries, art, the phone and electric bill, office rent, taxes, and everything else.

    Those books which are sold directly by the publisher bring in the whole $10.00, so the publisher pays $1.00 to the author for each one sold. The publisher keeps the rest, as above.

    Many publishers have found that the added cost of bookkeeping offsets any savings that come from payments on net, and so have gone to payment on cover price across the board. It's simpler.

    Notice that "net" is "money coming in the door," not "what's left over after paying for paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, marketing, publicity, the editors' salaries, art, the phone and electric bill, office rent, taxes, and everything else." There are publishers that use the latter definition of "net." Their authors typically never earn a cent, because any percent of zero is still zero.


    Quote Originally Posted by JMC2009 View Post
    ... conflict that I was using is unrealistic. Add to those crimes that everything about it was entirely cliche, why should I push through another 60,000 words just to say I finished it, when I have (I hope) better, more exciting ideas?
    Am I reading that correctly that you've only written 20,000 words on this piece? Have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand and see if that improves things.

    I wonder if your outline is your enemy here.

    The second novel is more just on the backburner. I was starting to hate my MC (comeon, she went to a coffee shop to do some work after work after her boyfriend made a point of texting her close to quitting time to remind her that she needed to be home) and I feel like I needed some distance before I could start to repair her, even though I still have 40,000 words before I can reasonably type "The end"
    So you're only 40,000 words into this one? Your character is doing that pesky "coming alive" thing that authors are forever yammering about. She's looked at you and said, "I'm not stupid, I'm not crazy, and I'm not going." She's telling you that she doesn't like the outline.

    She doesn't go right home. So ... what happens next? Is that why she's in the coffee shop when the robbery takes place? Is that why she isn't at home when the gas main explodes?

    Tell me a story!

    But on both of these, I feel like I need to be excited about my story before I can move on. If I'm not excited about it, it'll manifest itself in likely undesirable ways (oh look, my main character just died. How tragic and unexpected.) If I'm never excited about these unfinished works, is there any point in continuing vs. just learning from the failed attempts?
    Your subconscious is trying to tell you that the person you think is the main character ... isn't. So, do something exciting. Shoot the main character in the head and continue in a new direction. When you get to The End, look back at the book and I bet you'll know who the main character really was.


    In other news, the authors' copies of the German translation of By Honor Betray'd arrived today.

    The translated title is Zwischen Ehre und Treue (that is, Between Honor and Faith).

    Get it, in hard copy or e-text, wherever fine books are sold (or under the counter at bus stations everywhere).


    I posted this elsewhere at AW:

    Put your characters in their strongest positions (that is, where they have the greatest freedom of action and support each other best) rather than in their most comfortable positions or safest positions or where they want to be, and see what develops. At the end of the book they'll have moved to where they want to be or where they should be, and be fairly comfortable. That's how you know you're at the end.

    Or, if you like, us a piece of Celtic knotwork as your outline. (I do this.) That's the answer for the subplot question, too: Every time some particular thread comes to the top in the knotwork, talk about a plot that isn't your main plot (but still has a beginning, a middle, and an end).

    Your subplots take up less space than your main plot, but they are still complete stories on their own. They either a) involve all or some of the main characters (Janet Evanovich does this really well), or b) use the same theme as the main plot, either to complement it or contrast with it (Shakespeare does this really well).


    From the world of professional magic:

    Any trick that relies for its effect on confusing your audience or boring your audience is a bad trick.

    In the same way, any story that relies for its effect on confusing your readers or boring your readers....


    Since we were just talking about cliches, here's a list of cliches for Urban Fantasy, presented in an amusing manner.


    Another bit of news:

    Our Earth: The Final Conflict tie-in novel, Requiem For Boone, is coming out in electronic format this December. Unlike some tie-ins we do earn royalties off this one (part of the price for having our real names on the cover).

    Since this is from our friends at Tor there won't be any DRM on this book.

    Y'all can pre-order now....


    You can perplex them as long as you interest them at the same time.

    You want their reaction to be "I don't know what'll happen next!" rather than "Hunh??"


    Off at CNN:
    Publisher's view

    St. Martin's Press has now published two accounts of the bin Laden operation that have resulted in statements that they are "fabrications," in one case from the White House and in the other from Special Operations Command.

    Does St. Martin's Press plan to do anything about these books as a result? A St Martin's editor e-mailed CNN that "(b)oth authors stand by their sources and their reporting of the events, and we stand by our authors," and a spokesman for St. Martin's told CNN that the Pfarrer book "continues to sell" and will be reissued in paperback in two weeks at the time of the 9/11 anniversary.
    Silly CNN! Don't they know that "non-fiction" is a marketing category, not a promise from the publisher that everything (or even most things) between the covers is true?

    Mark Lane's books were published as non-fiction. Immanuel Velikovsky's books were published as non-fiction. What makes CNN think these books are any different?


    Yes, it's art.

    It's an item of commerce. It's unnecessary. Therefore, it's art.


    From elsewhere at AW:

    Do be interesting.

    Don't confuse the readers.

    Do answer the readers' questions just before they ask them.

    Don't tell the readers anything before they care.

    Do give the readers a reason to turn this page, and the next page, and the page after that.

    Readers need far less backstory than most writers think.

    Write your story your way ... then find a publisher that accepts that kind of book because they know how to find the market for that kind of book.


    1) Readers need far less backstory than most writers believe.

    2) If your backstory is more interesting than your frontstory, you're telling the wrong story.

    3) Just because you know a thing doesn't mean it belongs on the page.


    When we were doing the research for Timecrime, Inc. we became experts on Prohibition-era gangs. Want to know what brand of cigarettes Bugs Moran smoked? Ask me. (He died of lung cancer ... thought I'd mention.)

    For our two Civil War novels we became experts on mid-Victorian underwear. We also learned what became of the sword that Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

    How much of any of those things remained on the page....

    The answers are: Nothing, one line, and an entire plot.


    Tales from the Slush Mines:

    One kind of story We See Too Often is the one whose real title should be "My Best D&D Game EVAH!" When the reader can hear the dice rolling and see the hex-grid through the floor that's just plain bad storytelling, not a Reader Who Doesn't Get It. The reader "gets it" all too well....


    There are no bad ideas, only clumsy writers.


    I've been published by Harper Voyager (and edited by Diana Gill). The contract will be both competitive and negotiable.

    There is also nothing saying that, should your work be selected, you can't call your top dream-agent on the phone and say, "How would you like to represent me?"


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    How do you stop being a clumsy writer?


    From elsewhere at AW:

    "All eyes fell on him" is an idiomatic expression. It doesn't have to make sense.

    "Eyes" can also be an example of the rhetorical device synecdoche: a part standing for the whole. We use this all the time, and there's nothing wrong with it (unless you want to ding Shakespeare for writing "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...").

    Not to be confused with metonymy, where one thing stands for another: Thus, The White House announced several new measures the Administration is implementing to help those impacted by the drought. Actually, the White House didn't announce anything. It's a building; it can't talk. Jay Carney, President Obama's press secretary, made the announcement. But "the White House" is easily recognized and universally understood, brief, and avoids the passive "An official announcement was made...."

    (Nevertheless, free-roaming eyes are a problem in a lot of fiction: Her eyes flew around the room before landing on the curtains produces an odd image.)


    99 Bottles of Pee on the Wall

    It's about a literary scam. Among other things.


    Quote Originally Posted by Calliopenjo View Post
    It's not there Uncle Jim. I got a "Does not exist" message instead.


    Entertainingly good books and entertainingly bad books have one thing in common....


    By a weird coincidence the books I write don't turn out (usually) to be the book I wanted to write, but they're the closest I thing I can do to the book I wanted.

    If I ever write a book that fully satisfies me I may stop writing. Maybe.


    Led there from another thread, this supposed 74 Reasons an Agent Won't Read Your MS Beyond Page One

    What would probably be fun: See how many of those 74 "reasons" we can get into 250 words (one page in standard manuscript format).

    Prediction: The act of trying to get them all will produce something pretty good and a strong reason for the reader to turn the page.

    (The only rule: If it works it's right. Strong guideline: Be interesting. Cautions: Don't bore the reader. Don't confuse the reader.)


    "And how many deaths will it take 'til we know that too many people have died?"

    The words whispered out. Then: She opened her eyes, returning to consciousness. Taking in the dirty brick of the wall in front of her. Muddy water in oil-streaked pools, the smell of garbage. "My name is..." she muttered. A question crept into her voice: "My name is?" No answer.

    She dug into her purse. A mirror. She needed a mirror. She found a compact. Opened it. Saw red-blonde hair, pixie cut. Blue eyes. Electric blue eyes. Upturned nose. Pouty lips.

    She didn't recognize the face.

    Gentle reader, I should warn you, what will happen next is shocking. For she will walk around the end of the Dumpster that currently blocks the entrance of the alley in which she stands and see it. Lying in the dirty mud of that night-time alley.

    But that night happened five years ago. Our story truly begins tonight, for tonight is the Mayor's Gala, and we are dressing for a night of mild political banter. Tonight the thing we saw behind the Dumpster five years ago will begin to make a peculiar kind of sense. But that is for later. Now, it is time for us to dress for the Mayor's Gala.

    The limo is here. We get in. The driver stays on his side of the smoke-glass partition. The in-car bar has gin, vodka, whiskey... top-shelf labels. Ice. Crystal glasses. We pour a shot–a double–of bourbon.

    "Ma'm?" the sound of the driver's voice through the intercom. "Would you like to enter through the parking garage? Fewer paparazzi that way."


    What she sees on the other side of the Dumpster is her body.

    She's now a vengeful ghost inhabiting the body of a young lady who was, until then, a streetwalker.

    Tonight, at the Mayor's Gala, she'll get the first clues as to why this all happened, and what her purpose in un-life is.

    Unfortunately I wasn't able to fit all the Instant Rejection Reason into this. Very hard to do both first-person-plural and second-person at the same time.

    I suppose I could have put the first bit in second-person then switched to first-person-plural for the part after "Gentle reader." Maybe if I'd done a second draft....

    And how many deaths will it take 'til we know that too many people have died?

    The words whispered out. Then: You opened your eyes, returning to consciousness. Taking in the dirty brick of the wall in front of you. Muddy water in oil-streaked pools, the smell of garbage. "My name is..." you muttered. A question crept into your voice: "My name is?" No answer.

    You dug into your purse. A mirror. You needed a mirror. You found a compact. Opened it. Saw red-blonde hair, pixie cut. Blue eyes. Electric blue eyes. Upturned nose. Pouty lips.

    You didn't recognize the face.

    All books are really three books: The book in the author's mind, the words on the page, and the book in the reader's mind.


    The Muse (NSFW)


    I didn't actually Google for this; it came up on radio:

    Uncle Jim. Song by Black 47 on Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes

    Yes, I listen to Internet Radio while I'm writing.


    The Muse (Part II) (Still NSFW.)


    Actually, until that discussion on Making Light I'd never even heard the term "portal fantasy," so mentioning that term in the cover letter wouldn't be something I'd ever do.

    Notice too what Miss Teresa says in her post:

    This is borne out by the agents’ other remarks: there’s not enough at stake in portal fiction, there’s no reason for readers to care what happens, and if it weren’t for the falling-through-the-portal bit there’d be no story. I’ll take that as tentative confirmation that if they’re thinking of a book as a portal fantasy, there’s not enough going on in it; and if there’s enough story to make it a good book, they aren’t identifying the portal as a central feature.
    So, would there still be a story in your story if you took away the portal? If so, proceed. If not, it wasn't a very good story, now, was it?

    Other than that, allenparker is entirely right. Make this the best book you can, query it starting at the top, and, while it's making the rounds, write your next book.


    He asked me for a proposal with a series overview, three comparative series or titles, three brief synopses, and a bio.
    The series overview is going to be a few titles with, at most, one paragraph for each of the next two or three books, and a paragraph about the series arc.

    The "comparable series or titles" would just be books (or series) that give the reader a feeling much like your book will feel to the reader. What is it, tender romance? Hardboiled detective? Epic fantasy? When you picture a reader buying your book, what other books are in that reader's basket as she stands in the checkout line at the bookstore? When that reader tells her friend about your book, what book does she compare it to? "It's like Harry Potter"? "It's like Shane"? "It's like The Lilies of the Field"?

    One thing you can do as an exercise: Pick someone else's series. Find two or three comparable books or series. Pretty easy, right?

    Now do the same thing with your series.


    Publishing things, and degrees, are unimportant.

    Have you done anything interesting in your life? Rounded the Horn on a schooner under full sail? Worked as a gravedigger? Have the best recipe for peanut brittle that anyone has ever tasted?

    You'll notice that my official biography doesn't mention degrees or publications.


    I wouldn't mention unsold books. But if you ever re-typed Varney the Vampyre (the longest vampire novel in English), that might be something.

    Meanwhile: for those who are confused as to what Portal Fantasy is, a definition.


    Quote Originally Posted by Hathor View Post
    Some advice-givers say if you don't have anything relevant to writing, say nothing. Others agree with you.
    Normally, I wouldn't include a bio at all. But since the guy specifically asked for one, go with it.


    A really snarky review. In the New York Times. Of a restaurant.

    Can we expect an anonymous butthurt restauranteur to create a Stop The New York Times Bullies website?


    Quote Originally Posted by Grunkins View Post
    Are there any good tips for getting past the quagmirey middle?
    Search this thread for the phrase "dread midbook."

    Bull through. Just write.

    If you need a Permission to Write Badly certificate I can give you one.


    I know what you're thinking. "Can I sell a novel of 250,000 words, or only 100,000?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is massive multi-volume fantasy epic, the best-selling genre in the world, and would make a dandy HBO special, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"

    Well, do ya, punk?


    Quote Originally Posted by kkbe View Post
    Uncle Jim, pardon me but wtf? How do I get past this impasse? Don't say, Just write the damn thing. If I could do that, I wouldn't be asking your opinion, kind sir.
    Okay, try this: Who were the characters who were present in the opening scene?

    Think of a scene involving all of them that would look good in Imax 3D with Dolby sound as the action/adventure climax of a really exciting movie.

    Got that scene? Good!

    Now see where those characters are right now in your book.

    Get them to that climax. The path can be as contrived as all heck, studded with breathtaking coincidences, but that doesn't matter right now. Get them to that final scene.

    You're going to revise it all afterwards anyway.


    No one says you have to arrive at that car-crashing, machine-gun-fire at the zombie apocalypse stripper bar, action-adventure climax. It's a place to aim while you're getting words on paper.

    So, you have the beginning. You know the end.

    Write the end.

    What's the next-to-last thing that has to happen to get to that end? Write that bit.

    What's the next-to-last thing that has to happen to get you to that scene?

    The ending doesn't really need to have a John Williams sound track. But it should be big enough to reward the reader for sticking with you for the previous 300 pages.

    If the big climax is a character saying to his wife, "Well, I'm home," then that's your ending.

    If the big climax is the narrator saying "He loved Big Brother," that's your ending.

    Maybe your characters have a moral crisis. If so, imagine an intimate drama directed by Steven Soderbergh where the look that one character gives another in the final scene before fade-to-black has crushing moral weight and cleanses the soul.

    Maybe they're at a party and just the wrong person walks through the door, and the reader knows exactly how the next three minutes will go, so you can say The End and leave it at that.

    Give me an ending. Then write toward it.

    Or, get a copy of Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms, turn to the chapter on routining a magic show, and follow those steps.

    If all else fails, type "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," over and over, single spaced, for ten pages. (Cut-and-paste not allowed.) By the time you're done you'll be ready to type something new.

    Here are the two ultimate tricks:

    Stop where you in the book. Skip a line. Type a single, centered, hashmark.

    Skip a line.

    Type: Four years later...

    Continue from that point.


    Add a character named The Author. Have him enter the scene and start talking with the characters. Put in the dialog tags. The little bits of business (as he fiddles with the button on his left shirt cuff). The description of the room (if they're in a room). Have your characters tell The Author what they're planning to do, how they're planning to do it. The Author nods sympathetically.

    Then The Author says, "Show me."

    So they do.

    Now, go write one page (250 words) of original prose. Come back and tell me when you've done it.


    Quote Originally Posted by Chris P View Post
    So what's the remedy, Uncle Jim? I'm not really stuck because the story will be complete but shorter than I was expecting.
    The remedy is to add a subplot. Weave it in from start to end.

    Add a new character if you have to, to make that subplot work.

    Much Ado About Nothing would have been hella short without Dogberry.


    Quote Originally Posted by kkbe View Post
    I've done it. 700+ words.
    Go, you!

    Now... do it again!


    Fingers moving on keyboard ... counts.

    The second draft is gonna be hell, though.


    Silver-Midnight, NicoleJLeBoeuf and kkbe both have excellent suggestions. You could also create a file called "Outtakes" and cut the paragraphs you don't want to use into that.

    Don't throw anything out. It may be exactly what you want.

    Here is my beloved bride and long-time co-author on the subject:


    Rules? You need rules?

    Okay, here are some rules.

    Just remember, there's only one rule: If it works it's right. Beyond that two strong cautions: Don't bore the reader and Don't confuse the reader.

    Everything else is commentary.


    A bit of personal egoboo here: a textbook from Oxford University Press is using excerpts from one of our stories.

    Available for preorder right now: Oxford English 2 by Paul Grover.

    Oxford Insight English is a new series for the Australian Curriculum:English. The blended print and digital series has a strong emphasis on the language and literacy strands of the Australian Curriculum: English and provides students with a firm grounding in grammar and language use. It also has a significant obook-only literature component, with guidance on covering the cross-curriculum priorities and other classic and popular texts. The Oxford Insight English series offers:integrated coverage of the Australian Curriculum: English for years 7 - 925 focused units per book, covering grammar, punctuation, comprehension, reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary a wealth of engaging literary, non-literary and digital texts used as stimulus a flexible format with room for student answers in the write-in workbooks, or in the accompanying digital obooks extensive literature material including a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Asian texts, as well as those that link to the sustainability cross-curricular priority.
    As long as I'm being shameless, the story in question is "Nobody Has To Know," and it's available in electronic form in our collection Vampires and Shapeshifters, or in paperback in its original anthology, Vampires edited by Jane Yolen.


    It's the twelfth of December now, so it's time for the Annual Christmas Challenge!

    Twelve days to go 'til the 24th, and on the 24th ... a short story of at least 2,400 words.

    Here are the constraints:

    1) Must be in a genre that you usually don't write.
    2) Must be based on a song which is never quoted, or mentioned, in the story.
    3) Must break at least one of the rules found in the "74 Reasons Agents Won't Read Past the First Page" article, in its very first paragraph (choose one at random). You have to make it work.
    4) Have fun doing it.

    Okay, 200 words per day (that's less than a page), every day.

    Let's do it!


    Received the payment today for a short story which will appear in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is "The Clockwork Trollop," a steampunk porno horror story.

    I'll let y'all know when it comes out.


    Folks who want to take time out from the Christmas Challenge might try the One Sentence Story Anthology. Deadline is coming up soon.


    The first page from my Christmas Challenge story:
    "L-3 Station, this is RS-24, inbound, request permission to dock."
    Brother Dominic had the Vespers watch in control. He flipped on the TACAN transponder and the range lights before keying the mike.
    "RS-24, this is L-3. Request number of souls on board." The Vespers bell rang, and the first words of the chant came over the 1-MC, station general announcing system, so that those working in the fields, and in the control spaces, could join in their hearts although they could not be in the chapel with their brothers. Vespers is the sunset service. At this moment L-3 was in full sunlight, even the side away from the sun bright with the reflected light from earth. But far below on the blue-and-white planet, Monte Casino, the abbey that was their house, was slipping below the horizon. L-3 worked on Rome Standard Time.
    "One soul on board," RS-24 replied.
    "Do you have an emergency?" Today was an unusual time for any vessel to approach the monastery; market day was two weeks away, when station would be in the dark shadow of the earth.
    "Visiting and seeking counsel," RS-24 replied.
    The abbot would be at Vespers; Brother Dominic didn't want to disturb him. So he replied, "Permission granted. One to dock."
    If the abbot didn't like it, Brother Dominic might spend a month doing penance in the water reclamation plant. But so be it. RS-24 would be alongside in a few hours; plenty of time to inform everyone.

    For me, "realism" is that the human reactions and interactions of humans are those that humans really have.


    Quote Originally Posted by JustSarah View Post
    Ah ok, like mastering the voice of the protagonist, realistically portraying the age group your going for.
    Yes, kinda.

    For me "realism" is keeping the readers from throwing the book against the wall while exclaiming, "No friggin' way!"


    In other news, John Scalzi describes in detail how he sold Old Man's War.


    All the arts are related.

    Some notes for visual artists that could, largely, apply to writers.


    Indeed. Understanding Comics is one of the books that Patrick Nielsen Hayden recommends to students at Viable Paradise.

    Speaking of which, applications for Viable Paradise open tomorrow, and run through June 15th.


    A short story by one of year-before-last's Viable Paradise students, published this autumn.




    The Truth About Rejection Letters


    My take is this: If my publisher arranges an interview for me on NPR, hey, I'm right there for it (my good friends at Harper Collins did this, and I was). If a publisher wants me to spend my own money on flyers, they can take a hike.

    If you feel like putting your book cover on a tee-shirt which you personally can wear, hey, listen: Back with our first novel we put the cover on a coffee mug (at one of those mall-kiosk Any Picture On A Coffee Mug places). That's okay, but be aware that it's going to have about 0.00000001% effect on your sales.

    As far as printing tee-shirts for giveaways, it's a waste of your time and money. If your publisher asks you to do this, you're with the wrong publisher. Those tee-shirt giveaways will have about a 0.0000001% effect on your sales.

    If you want to buy a URL, do it only if you would have done it anyway.


    I think that authors do that sort of stuff because otherwise they'd be wringing their hands.

    As far as boosting their books' sales, wringing their hands would be just as effective and cost a lot less.

    What they should be doing is writing their next book.

    Where this sort of promotional activity might make a difference is when your expected sales are on the order of 100-200 copies (i.e. most self-published books). There, boosting your sales by another 100 copies is a 100% gain. (Note that as a self-published author you are the publisher and publicity and marketing is the publisher's job.)

    If you're expecting to sell 10,000-20,000 copies, boosting your sales by another 100 is a 1% gain, and ... probably not the best use of your time and money.


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:

    Dear Uncle Jim:

    I recently got an email from FedEx (, subject line "You Have A Package." The email had an attachment called Delivery.doc. All the letter said was "Open Attachment." But when I opened the attachment my computer froze up and I haven't been able to make it do anything. Even a cold restart didn't help. I can't get to my novel and both of my backup copies are on that computer! What can I do?

    P.S. I'm writing this from a computer at the public library.

    Startled in Schenectady

    Dear Startled:

    How much of your novel can you retype by memory?

    Uncle Jim

    Dear Uncle Jim:

    A highly placed minister in the Nigerian Foreign Embassy heard that I had written a novel and wanted to help me get it published in Lagos. I had pay a small Foreign Rights tax and send him my bank account number, my PIN, my social security number, my mother's maiden name, and a copy of my passport along with the manuscript, which he said was standard for foreign sales. I sent him everything he asked for.

    My author's copies should be here any day (I paid for expedited shipping). How soon can I expect my royalties to arrive?

    Eager in Idaho

    Dear Eager,

    I wouldn't hold my breath.

    Uncle Jim

    Dear Uncle Jim,

    I have a few copies of one of my out-of-print books in my basement which I've put up for sale on my webpage for $8.00 each (I pay shipping). I got a letter from a fellow who wanted to buy one, but he must have misread my page because he included a cashier's check for $800! I called him on the phone (he gave his number) and told him that the book was out of print, not rare, and he said no problem, just send the book and a money order for the difference.

    That was two weeks ago, and today I got a call from my bank saying that I'd given them a bogus check and could I please come down to cover the amount, plus penalty, plus interest, plus a fee.

    Can they really do that?

    Upset in Utica

    Dear Upset,


    Uncle Jim


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Is this just a sign I need to take a break for a bit, and try not to worry about it, or do you have some ideas to at least get my mind thinking back again? Also, do you have any advice for planning stuff out more and making sure it's a bit more well thought out?
    Taking a break might help, provided that break has an end-point. Take a month off to watch movies, maybe.

    As for organizing, what I do is write flow charts. From the flowchart I write an outline.

    BUT (important thing here) be aware that if the novel deviates from the outline, it's okay to change the outline.

    You may be in a vicious circle here: Being stuck makes you worry. Being worried makes you stuck. Don't worry; the ideas will come.


    I use actual computer-programming flowchart symbols and such (dating back to my time programming in FORTRAN). Works for me.

    The flowchart tells me if I have a complete story and shows how the parts interrelate.

    From there I write a "strong outline" (roughly 3/4 the length of the finished work), with some dialog and some description sketched in. This is very rough and doesn't pause for research, so you'll find lots of stuff set off in brackets like [look this up] or[something happens here] and [does this make sense?].


    Quote Originally Posted by Shirokirie View Post
    I have a question about zooming out in omniscient narrative.
    I'm not entirely sure I know what you mean by the question. The baseline in omniscient-third is quite detached. The "zooming in" is a brief exception. You simply return to the status quo.

    You'd probably be best to start out at a distance in the first pages, to give the reader an idea of what kind of book it is.

    After that, I wouldn't worry about it unless your beta readers flag something as confusing.


    Quote Originally Posted by jack lee View Post
    your rules are good for instruction books. when you write like that, everyone who follow it will accomplish what you said.

    I'm sorry, but I really don't understand what you're getting at.

    Instruction books?


    There's only one rule: If it works, it's right.


    Anyone can answer questions here. All views are welcome.

    As far as switching tense during scary scenes...changing person during scary scenes...changing typeface during scary scenes....

    Does it work in this story? That's the one and only valid test.

    Moving, just for a minute, to an allied art: The background music in movies that tells us "this is the scary part" (or "this is the funny part" or "this is the romantic part" or "this is the exciting part") doesn't seem to kill tension much. Jaws was reckoned pretty scary even though the shark was announced every time by that rich melodic strain.

    You can also do some special effects by having past and present collide in the climax. So ... dunno. I don't see any theoretical reason the author shouldn't bounce from tense to tense on a scene by scene basis, provided that it doesn't annoy or confuse the readers.


    Dorothy Parker's telegram to her editor.


    I'd encourage the writer to keep going. Changing tense, or changing person, are some of the easiest things to do during re-write.


    As it happens, by way of example, our Bad Blood novels were written in third person then re-written into first person.

    Crossover was written in past tense then re-written into present tense.

    And in The Apocalypse Door, I alternate chapters in first person (past tense but set in the Now) with chapters written in third person (past tense but set in some twenty years earlier), and have them collide in the climax.


    We tried to write Lincoln's Sword as a mosaic novel, but it just didn't work, so re-wrote it as a regular novel.


    Got an acceptance today for our Christmas Challenge story, "According to the Rule," from the anthology Impossible Futures (Pink Narcissus, edited by Thomas Easton and Judith K. Dial).

    Did everyone who tried the Christmas Challenge send it out?

    Did everyone here try the Christmas Challenge?

    (If you didn't, not too late. Call it the Easter Challenge and get writing....)


    This year's Christmas Challenge:

    It's the twelfth of December now, so it's time for the Annual Christmas Challenge!

    Twelve days to go 'til the 24th, and on the 24th ... a short story of at least 2,400 words.

    Here are the constraints:

    1) Must be in a genre that you usually don't write.
    2) Must be based on a song which is never quoted, or mentioned, in the story.
    3) Must break at least one of the rules found in the "74 Reasons Agents Won't Read Past the First Page" article, in its very first paragraph (choose one at random). You have to make it work.
    4) Have fun doing it.

    Okay, 200 words per day (that's less than a page), every day.

    Let's do it!
    We've had a lot of Christmas Challenges over the years. If you haven't tried 'em yet, try 'em now.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    One question, for the "must be a genre that you don't typically write in rule", can it have influences from it maybe?
    That's just an aiming point. (And I don't see how it wouldn't have influences.)

    For that matter your finished story may turn out to be in one of your usual genres. As Stephen King once said when asked why he chose to write horror, "What makes you think I had a choice?"


    If anyone's in Boston this weekend, so will I be, at Boskone.

    Here's my sked:

    Saturday 11:00 - 11:50, Military Motifs in SF, Harbor I (Westin)

    Saturday 12:00 - 13:00, Kaffeeklatsche, Galleria-Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

    Saturday 14:00 - 15:00, Safety & Security - Now and in the Future, Harbor I (Westin)

    Saturday 16:00 - 16:50, What If--What's Left?, Burroughs (Westin)
    Younger fans take it for granted that TVs are big and flat (or tiny and totable), computing is ubiquitous, female astronauts travel in reusable spacecraft, and humans long ago swung down from the trees and walked on the moon. Which big "what ifs?" are left to explore? How can science fiction challenge readers who have grown up in an SF world?

    Saturday 17:30 - 17:55, Reading, Lewis (Westin)

    Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, Autographing, Galleria-Autographing (Westin)

    Sunday 12:00 - 12:50, How Cons Have Changed, Carlton (Westin)


    Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.


    Add redeeming features in the second draft.


    When the characters refuse to do what you want them to do, often it's a sign that your subconscious has a better handle on the story than you do.


    Department of Shocks the Conscience:


    Quote Originally Posted by janfinson View Post
    I've been told by several writers that the best way to learn plot and structure is to write 100k words that you don't intend to let see the light of day. What do you think James?
    I think this is a terrible idea.

    Yes, you'll probably write 100K (or more -- you see a lot of references to your "million words") that will never see the light of day. But you should write them to the absolute best of your ability and with the full intention of marketing them. Then carry through on the intention.

    You may get an impressive number of rejection slips. This is unimportant.

    You may also hit one out of the park on your first time at bat. This isn't unknown.

    I am of the firm opinion that if you can't interest an editor or agent in your work that it isn't ready for publication. Don't be tempted to self-publish something that isn't ready.


    Well, yeah. Don't expect your first (or twentieth) novel to be published. But don't write any less than your best. It's okay to write crud is not the same as attempt to write crud.


    Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2
    Page 92
    Post #2299
    03-09-2013, 10:56 AM

  10. #10
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Hampshire

    Learn Writing With Uncle Jim, Volume 2

    Page 93
    Post #2301
    03-09-2013, 11:36 AM


    Atlanta Nights was a special project for a particular purpose. At which it succeeded brilliantly.


    My pleasure, dirtroadfilms.

    My secret goal is to get more neat books to read.


    Random House Announces New Terms at Digital Imprints Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt

    Okay, have you been leaving them to age in your desk drawer for a few weeks? Come back with fresh eyes?

    If it isn't worth fixing, well, value judgment that only you can make.

    Too hard? Perhaps, but this isn't an easy art. To get the results, we have to do the work.

    Have you gotten a copy of, say, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or The First Five Pages? Perhaps take the first draft, and write an outline based on that draft?

    Dig in, edit a few pages a day (while continuing to write new original material), and see if you can get to a second draft.

    (Something that other writers do -- having finished the first draft, write the second draft from memory.)


    Also, get a copy of The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel and read carefully the part on revision/editing. That is the truest book on writing you'll ever find.


    Quote Originally Posted by MumblingSage View Post
    My editing woes stem mainly from the fact that the BIC, no-rereading no-revision method, while it's almost terrifyingly effective at producing a completed manuscript, is doing exactly what I've learned never to do in any other part of my life: dash out something sloppy and leave it for future me to clean up.
    Okay, then, you've learned that something doesn't work for you.

    Do something different.

    But what to do with those manuscripts?

    Try treating each manuscript, not as a manuscript to be revised, but as an outline from which to write the real novel.


    C.bronco, why not share it with the world (with links here to where we can find it)?


    The Thomas Hardy Plot Generator (in the right sidebar).

    Combine this with They Fight Crime and Your Pirate Name Generator to add merriment.

    Then roll in The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot.

    Hey, you've got your outline!

    Thirty days to write the novel (3K word/day).

    Thirty days to age it in your desk drawer.

    Sixty days to revise it.

    Thirty days for beta-readers to read and comment on it.

    Sixty days to revise it.

    Seven months from today, you're ready to start querying agents!


    Atlanta Sunsets is here. (Password: vista)


    It's a lovely thing. Nearly unreadable. I'm sure PublishAmerica would offer a contract in a heartbeat.


    Silver-Midnight, I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out what your problem actually is; what you're really asking.

    Let me see if this helps: It's seldom a good idea to not write something that's demanding to be written. You could just write this thing that's eating your brain and justify it on the grounds that no writing is wasted, even if it's not publishable.

    It's also possible that your Saboteur Self has come up with a really good way of preventing you from writing at all with this fear that anything you turn your hand to will become fan fiction.

    Is it wise to write a story that may or may not fall into a genre that you haven't really read? I don't know about wise, but I do know that people do it all the time (with varying degrees of success).


    Billy Wilder's rules for screenwriters.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    It's the varying degrees of success part that scares me.
    That's life in the creative arts....

    I'm still thinking about your problem, and I think I may have a possible solution for you: Do what others have done, write the fan fiction, then file the serial numbers off. We can all name a recent best-seller that did just that.

    If something is demanding that it be written, I don't know how to tell you not to write it in a way that doesn't involve quitting writing. Deny your subconscious at your very great risk.


    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Do you think I should try to make it or write it as original fiction again?
    I really can't answer that. You know your own heart, and your own abilities, best.

    We've been dancing around naming the fandom. Is it so singular that you can't find dozens of examples of the same setup from widely scattered spots over the past couple of thousand years?

    If you break things down to their tropes everything is fan fiction. At the symbolic level there isn't much difference between Horatio Hornblower and Star Trek.


    500 words? That's just two pages. Look, write 500 words right now. Even if it's All Work and No Play Make Jack A Dull Boy fifty times.


    No, bearilou, I wouldn't suggest it. It's (at least I find it so) fiendishly difficult. Harder than writing your own.

    But, you can try it. Maybe it'll work for you?


    If you can't do everything, do what you can.

    Originally posted elsewhere at AW (How do you decide how many scenes should be in a chapter?) :


    Rule 482(c)(iii) of The Writers' Manual; or, A Compendium of The Rules of the Art of Literature, (I'm quoting from the third edition here, but you should be aware that some major publishers still use the second edition) states quite clearly that women's fiction must have 4.6 scenes per chapter.

    On the other hand, the eminent Professor Nior Osocoix, PhD, MLA, CMOS, has stated that women's fiction belongs to the class of novels in which, "a profligacy of scenes, many short, is an infallible marker of the sub-genre denoted women's fiction, which some hold to be identical with the so-called 'chick-lit' marketing category1; twenty scenes are not too many in those chapters where the first, third, and fifth plot complications are to be encountered."

    1. Although I myself do not hold that opinion.

    These two seemingly contradictory rules can be reconciled if the remaining chapters of the book have only one or two scenes, lowering the over-all average.

    When asked for comment, noted women's fiction author Imogene Sweetbreath (who writes under a wide variety of pseudonyms), looked up blearily from her word-processor and muttered, "How long is a piece of string?"


    The centered hash mark, standing alone on a line, is the standard mark for a scene break.

    But three centered asterisks, or anything else, as long as it doesn't confuse the readers, works just fine. This is like the double-spacing after periods question: No one really cares.


    Department of The Truth? You Can't Handle The Truth!


    Last night, thanks to iTunes and my younger daughter, I finally saw Les Misérables (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway).

    And I found myself singing along:

    If I'd
    A brain
    Or any sense at all
    I'd take
    A ship
    And sail to Montreal....

    I don't think I got into the proper spirit of the thing.

    That would have made for a very different (and probably a lot shorter) movie.


    Happy Easter to everyone!


    The My Little Jhereg & Lunch of Locke Lamora Bartender’s Guide


    Down in the comments, I thought The Atwood showed a lot of insight....


    Terie: Probably. And you should put that in the comments over there.


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
    I don't mean to bother you with my dumb questions, but why is copyrighting your writing bad? I'm constantly told to copyright my screenplays by industry pros, why are novels different?
    -- Lost in LA
    Dear Lost

    There are lots of reasons for this, starting with the fact that it isn't traditional in the land of Book. In films, as I understand it, ideas are more important because so many hands are involved in the finished piece; other writers, producers, directors, the composers, the special-effects team, the actors ... it's a big pot with a lot of ingredients and a lot of people stirring it. With stories and novels -- one-man band. The author does it all.

    What does putting a copyright on your pages get you? It costs at least $35. So you write ten stories, and copyright them all. One of them sells (and one out of ten selling is not bad in the world of short stories), and that story earns you $350 (a not unreasonable amount for a short). Congratulations! You've earned nothing.

    Or, the copyright on the work tells the editor how long a manuscript has been bouncing around the slushpiles of New York. I recall seeing one such, in the early 'ninties, with a copyright date in the mid-'sixties. This did not fill my heart with anticipation that this was an overlooked masterpiece.

    Suppose the book is accepted, and goes out onto the bookshelves with a copyright date on it five years ago (rather than this year). Readers will assume this is an old book, perhaps a reprint.

    Suppose you re-write your book, perhaps with editorial input. Change all the character names and move the setting to Cambodia. Huge hassle.

    Copyrighting the book in your name is part of the publisher's routine workflow. Having a book already copyrighted puts a kink into that hose; rather than saving them a step it means the book requires special handling.

    Okay, that's legitimate publishers.

    The scammers and such -- what are they going to do with your book? Sell it? If they knew how to sell a book they wouldn't need to be scammers in the first place.

    Sell it in India or China? Get real. The books that get pirated are already-published best sellers.

    If, by some weird chance (perhaps a wannabe agent reads all the Internet rumors and decides that's how he's going to get rich) some agent does start stealing manuscripts and publishing them under a pseudonym, the odds that you won't find out are astronomically slim. The only way you wouldn't find out is if the book didn't sell a single copy. The word would get out, because writing about stuff is what writers do. Your records, made in the normal course of writing, would be sufficient to prove your case.

    How about publishers?

    The scum-sucking vanity presses don't make their money from selling books to the general public. They make their money from huge up-front fees or by selling copies of the book back to the author. Where is one of those publishers going to find someone who will love your book so much that that person will send the publisher a couple of thousand dollars? There's only one guy on the planet who loves your book that much, and that's you.

    Here's the truth: Agents and editors don't make their money off one book. They make their money off of careers.

    Suppose that some unscrupulous person had gotten Stephen King's first novel, Carrie, given the idea to some other writer, and said, "There you go, sport. Write me a book!"

    First thing that would happen: Some other publisher would have bought the original Carrie and gotten it to market before the knockoff was written.

    Next thing that would happen: The two books would be so different that no one would have known they came from the same idea. Telekinetic teenagers? It's been done.

    Third and most important thing: That unscrupulous agent and/or editor would never have even seen 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Night Shift, The Stand, etc. etc. etc. The gravy train would have pulled out of the station without them on board.

    Also: Writers who are capable of writing publishable manuscripts already have so many ideas that they don't need yours.

    Why should publishers steal stories? They can get all the stories they want, from world-famous authors, by offering five cents a word.

    Here's where genuine plagiarism comes from: The works that are stolen aren't unedited slush, they're previously published books available in bookstores everywhere (and all of those have copyright notices paid for by the publishers). The only times I can think of where unpublished material was plagiarized was in cases of collaborations gone horribly wrong, when one partner was unsure of what the other had agreed to.

    Yes, there have been high-profile cases of famous authors being accused of stealing material from ... let's call them minor writers. Stephen King was accused of plagiarizing a book published by PublishAmerica. Read all about it here. Others include J. K. Rowling. Twice. And Stephenie Meyer. You hear about these things. But what you (the collective-you of the new-author zeitgeist) may not recall is that all of those suits were found to be baseless.

    So: Don't waste your time and money on copyrighting your unpublished manuscripts. Don't waste stomach lining on worrying about someone stealing your unpublished manuscript.


    Quote Originally Posted by C.bronco View Post
    Dear Uncle Jim,

    Is there any reason why I couldn't publish Atlanta Sunsets: The Musical on Lulu?

    Best wishes,
    I can't think of any reason why not, but why would you want to? Purely as a learning experience in how to set up and format a Lulu book?

    If you have any intention of ever publishing anything ever again under the same name, having this out there won't help you.

    But other than that -- it doesn't infringe on Atlanta Nights that I can see.


    Even some of the same lines?

    O, dear.

    Take a couple of months off and read a ton of novels. See a movie a day.

    Don't just pick genres you already know and like. Be eclectic.

    Then write something new in a genre you don't generally write in. Perhaps use the Evil Overlord plot generator, with the Murphy's Laws of Combat complication.

    Best of luck.


    (On the other hand, some famous writers have made careers out of essentially writing the same book over and over and over again....)


    Mr. Melville Submits a Proposal


    Scholars Behaving Badly


    If you don't finish this book, when and how will you learn to finish a book?


    Silver, what changed between then and now? Is it the genre? The length of the work? What you hope to do with it?

    You may be one of the people who writes short stories. It happens. Maybe the change in genre is what's doing you in, like making a lefty write right-handed.

    I don't know. Perhaps if you wrote a quick fan-fic, and posted it under some other name to one of the fan fiction sites it would help.

    I'm not a psychologist. I can help you find how to write, but never why.


    Quote Originally Posted by C.bronco View Post
    May I use your quote on the back cover? (seriously)
    Go right ahead.

    Quote Originally Posted by FOTSGreg View Post
    Silver-Midnight, NEVER compare yourself to other writers. That way lies madness.

    Let others do it, but never do it yourself.
    Right on.


    "More exciting stuff" is never a bad thing. The excitement can take many forms. But adding excitement, for you and the reader, sounds good.


    Some people self-medicate with alcohol. But I do not think this is an ideal solution.


    Without knowing you, or your writing, I'm afraid I can't be too useful to you, Silver. You're going to have to wrestle those giants yourself.

    Experiment. Find something that works for you. Then do that thing again.

    Meanwhile, for everyone:

    Writer's Talk with Magician Joshua Jay


    Originally posted elsewhere at AW:

    Okay, time for a brief history of copyright and how authors make money.

    First off, fanfic is ancient. The Aeneid is Homer fanfic. The Gospel of Nicodemus is Bible fanfic. And so on. But we aren't going to talk mostly about fanfic here.

    Up until the invention of moveable type, creating books was slow and difficult. Even then, there was a concept of what might be understood as copyright; the right to make copies: in the sixth century, Saint Columba secretly made a copy of Saint Finnian's psalter. Finnian was upset by this and asked for judgment from King Diarmait. The king gave the copy to Finnian, saying "As the calf is to the cow, so is the copy to the book."

    (Columba, miffed, then convinced the Clan Neill to rise against Diarmait and prayed for them, while Finnian prayed for Diarmait. As it happened, the Neills won. Columba was so mortified by the great loss of life that he asked Saint Molaise for penance, and Molaise told him to leave Ireland forever. [NB this parenthetical story may be untrue.])

    Fast forward to the invention of the printing press. All of a sudden, it was cheap and easy to make many copies of any given book. What happened then was that the various kings, princes, and monarchs licensed the presses, allowing only things that they approved to be printed. The various books were licensed by the government to individual presses, and could only be printed by that press. In essence, copyright was eternal.

    So, how did authors make their livings then? Back then we had patrons of the arts. How it worked: Some noble or rich merchant would patronize a writer, supporting that writer, in return for the writer dedicating the work to the noble. The writer might also be expected to come to the rich person's parties and laugh at his jokes. The books didn't belong to the author.

    Being a patron of the arts showed how rich and powerful you were. Owning a writer was a status symbol.

    This has mostly gone away; today you might consider that grant money is the equivalent. Still, if Bill Gates wants to support me in the style to which I'd like to become accustomed in return for dedicating all my books to him... hey, Bill, I'm in the phone book.

    This system pretty much held up to the early eighteenth century. That's when we get the first copyright laws, and the first concept of the public domain. All of a sudden there were multiple presses printing the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, because the monopoly of whichever press had owned them was gone.

    That was when printers would print sheets, and you'd go and read them hanging drying in the print shop, and order them up; then take those sheets to a book binder. This is where we get the expression "You can't tell a book by its cover," because a cheap binding or an expensive binding might hold exactly the same sheets.

    Authors ... sold their works for a flat fee to the printers. They had no rights beyond that. The only way a writer could control his works was by becoming a printer himself or hiring a printer.

    Move forward about a hundred years to the early nineteenth century. We're starting to see actual publishers now. Generally these were either bookshops who needed to fill their shelves and so hired writers to write books, or printers who needed to keep their presses busy and so hired writers to write books. Writers were still either selling their works for a flat fee, or self-publishing.

    Now we get to Charles Dickens. He was one of the self-publishers. He wrote The Pickwick Papers, which were very popular; "Pickwick Societies" sprang up all over England where people would get together to write their own Pickwick stories. Other people wrote and sold Pickwick sequels. Pickwick was on the stage. And Dickens didn't make a farthing off any of them. This drove him frantic; he had an all-too-detailed knowledge of debtor's prisons. What Dickens had that other writers didn't have was a friend in Parliament. So it was that suddenly derivative works also fell under copyright.

    Royalties were a thing unknown -- one of the reasons Edgar Allan Poe died in poverty was because the original lump-sum payment he got from each of his stories and poems was the only money he ever saw from any of them.

    That changed thanks to the English music hall.

    In those days, pre-recording, the only way you could re-hear a song you liked was to buy the sheet music and words at the back of the hall. Publishers would buy the rights from the songwriters (for a flat fee), then print how-ever many they liked. What changed that was a song called, strangely enough, "Money." The author negotiated with the publisher for a smaller up-front fee, to get an additional payment for every hundred printed.

    That turned out to be a good deal for authors, and pretty soon if a printer wanted to get a popular author's works, they'd have to offer royalties too.

    Copyright was, at the time, for a period of ten years, renewable for an additional fourteen. Mark Twain argued vehemently for lifetime copyright, on the grounds that his early work was benefiting him not at all.

    The counterargument was that public domain works created a vibrant intellectual world, to the benefit of society, and that it was ridiculous for someone to do one job, once, and profit from it for life; if authors wanted to keep eating they should keep writing, just as ditch-diggers had to keep digging ditches.

    This progressed for another century of so.

    Henry Holt came up with the idea of separating publishing from both printing and bookstores: He acquired and edited books from various authors, hired independent print shops to print them, and sold them to bookstores that he himself didn't own. This gave him more capital: He didn't have to maintain printing machinery, or pay printers when they weren't working on his stuff; and he could get greater market penetration by getting his books into every bookstore, not just the ones he owned.

    Eventually most publishers came to follow his system: Why buy a printshop when you can put printing out to bid? And why own a bookstore when bookstores will pay you to carry your books?

    Authors were making their money on advances and royalties, though you could still find authors being paid flat fees for all rights. One famous example of that was The Little Engine That Could, which, despite being in print since the first day it came out, and selling millions and millions of copies, only made the author that one, one-time, fee.

    (Other models include the subscription plan: Individual readers would send money to an author; when the author got enough he or she would write a book, print it, and send copies to the subscribers. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was written and published on this model, predating Kickstarter by nearly a century.)

    In 1924, two guys named Simon and Schuster had a bright idea. They had this new-fangled thing, the crossword-puzzle book. But they had a hard time convincing bookstores to stock them. Crossword puzzles were a fad and bookstores were afraid that they'd have paid to stock unmoveable turkeys. So Simon and Schuster made them a deal: Any unsold stock they'd buy back at cost.

    This turned out to be as good a deal for bookstores as royalties had been for authors, so publishers soon found that if they expected their books to be stocked, they'd have to take returns.

    Copyright continued much as it had; an original term and one or two extensions. (The extensions could be a paperwork hassle, particularly for the impoverished authors, or those who weren't too well organized. And you still had works falling into public domain while the authors were still alive and could see others profiting from their work.)

    Copyright was fraught. Unless a book was published in a particular country, oftentimes the copyright wasn't acknowledged in that country. That's why you'd see publishers listing, on their colophon, "New York, London, Madrid" or similar. That's how Ace Books was able to produce an edition of The Lord of the Rings without paying J. R. R. Tolkien for it; the book wasn't published in the USA, so it wasn't under copyright in the USA. (What eventually happened was Tolkien created a new edition, substantially different enough to constitute a new work, which was copyrighted in the USA and published by Ballantine.)

    Eventually the US joined the Berne Convention. And eventually we got the Disney Mickey Mouse Protection Act Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which yielded the current copyright of life + seventy years.

    There is a reason for a term of copyright that lasts beyond the author's life: Suppose I sell a book to a publisher. The day after its published (at #1 on the Time Best Seller List!) a bus hops the curb and nails me. If copyright ended with my death the book would instantly go into the public domain and my publisher wouldn't be able to profit from their monopoly on publishing it. So, it protects them.

    Bad things that have come from the life+70: One is that it's nearly impossible to anthologize interesting but minor short stories from the 20th century. Either it's impossible to locate all the heirs, or the heirs have unrealistic ideas about what reprint rights for a short story should bring. So unless you have the original pulp magazine some of those may never be read again, and are not informing current or future art. Disney may not have been able to make Pinocchio; the story would have been under copyright 'til 1960.

    So: Take-aways. Fan fiction isn't new. Perpetual copyright isn't new. Copyright vested in the author and royalty-based income are both in the authors' interest. Ownership of derivative work is also in the author's interest.

    Inherent in "ownership" is the right to give a thing away. If you can't rent, sell, or give something away ... you don't truly own it.


    One reason Victorian-era British authors made tours of America was that a six-month tour would grant them US residency for copyright purposes. (They could then go back to Merrie Olde to write bitchy books and essays about how backward that bumpkin Brother Jonathan was.)

    We won't even get into how the royal monopoly on type-founders in England cost the English language four letters.

    (Or maybe we should: English printers who couldn't get moveable type in England went to the Continent to buy type. But over in France and the Netherlands the fonts didn't have English letters like thorn, eth, yough, and aesch. So the English printers didn't print them. You know the Ye Olde Gift Shoppe? That "ye" isn't really a "ye." It's "the." The Y character was the closest-looking one to thorn, which is the real first letter of the word "the." "Enow," (as in "Wilderness is Paradise enow") is really "enough." The W character replaced the yough character; otherwise "ough" was used to replace the yough. Which is why we get the varying pronunciations of tough, cough, plough, and dough. )

    Thorn = þ
    Eth = ð
    Yough = 3 (only dropped half-a-line and with a horizontal top)
    Aesch = æ


    Okay: Experiment time.

    I'd like everyone here to download, read, and review one (or more) of my SP anthologies. I promise that I won't respond in any way whatever to any review.

    I'll share the numbers with y'all later on what difference (if any) reviews make to overall sales.

    Looking For Futures

    Ghosts and Legends

    Vampires and Shapeshifters


    Just out today: "The Clockwork Trollop," our latest story. Free on-line, plus podcast.


    What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines


    Quote Originally Posted by JoBird View Post
    Loved this story.
    Thanks, JoBird. Tell all your friends.

    Some days I feel like I'm so close to "getting it". Like there's some last hurdle standing in my way, and I can't figure out what it is.
    I'm going to recommend, again, Steve Brust's The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars. It's about, among other things, "getting it." About making breakthroughs.

    When you do make the breakthrough you'll know it.


    Need a plot? Gender switch!


    ‘Vigilante Copy Editor’


    Maureen Johnson Calls For An End To Helping Readers Quickly Find The Books They Want To Buy With An Amazing Challenge

    The purpose of a cover is to tell the readers "This is the kind of book you like if you like this kind of book. Please carry it to the cash register."

    This article does nothing for my opinion of The Huffington Post's knowledge of books, writing, authors, novels, reviewing, or anything else.


    Publishers are all about one thing: Selling as many copies of a given title as possible. If a different cover sold more copies they'd be on it like white on rice.

    As Han Solo said, "Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money."


    Speaking of Viable Paradise (as I frequently do at this time of year; going to Viable Paradise means that I personally will make you a Gibson), Viable Paradise swept the RT Book Awards this year for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category:

    Science Fiction Novel
    John Scalzi, TOR, (June 2012)
    (Former VP instructor)

    Fantasy Novel
    N.K. Jemisin, ORBIT, (June 2012)
    (VP Student)

    Epic Fantasy Novel
    Elizabeth Bear, TOR, (March 2012)
    (Current VP instructor)


    Page 98

    Post #2431
    05-12-2013 09:36 AM

  11. #11
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Hampshire
    05-23-2013, 12:06 PM #2433

    Page 98

    Writing is not just an art, but a craft.

    I don't know if I can teach art, but by golly I can teach the craft. And yes, I believe writing can be taught. Technique is a necessary part of writing.


    We can think of writing as cabinet making: Can someone learn to be a cabinet maker? Yes. Can taking a class in cabinet-making improve some person's cabinet making? Yes. Are cabinet makers born, not made? Maybe? The great ones may have a talent for cabinet making that can't be taught. I don't know. Are there self-taught cabinet makers? Yes.


    Tragedy #386


    Library Cartoons, Comics and Drawings


    I'm bringing this here from elsewhere:


    A correspondent writes:
    … it occurred to me that I’ve seen many iterations of your Classic Uncle Jim Advice (Go into a bookstore and find out who publishes books like yours; figure out what agents have clients you’ve heard of; start writing another, better book while your current one makes the rounds), but when I go looking for one, it doesn’t fall into my lap. Do you have a single comment that, you feel, summarizes this, and if so, can I have the link? ….
    Well, there is this post that I made many years (like, in 2003) ago (and it wasn’t new for me at the time). Here’s another example from 2005. But I’ve elaborated in other places since then, streamlined in spots, combined elements, and thought about it a bit. So I might as well go again. The question keeps getting asked. Usually it’s in the form, “How can I get my book published for free? Also, I’m 15 years old.”

    Sometimes the questioner adds details about having always wanted to be a professional writer.

    Well, let me say this about that. Once upon a time, I was that 15 year old. And, as it happened, I went to a presentation by a Big Name Pro about his Works (in our beloved genre, as it happens, a name you’d all recognize) for in those days there was no Internet. And, at the very end, in the question and answer section, using all of my courage, I raised my hand and asked, “How does one become a professional writer?”

    He went on for quite some length about Inspiration and Art. I’m certain it was utterly true. It was also completely useless.

    Here is the answer that I was looking for, that I wished I’d gotten, and that would have saved me a lot of time and confusion.

    To be a writer, you must write.

    Thinking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Researching is not writing. Pre-writing exercises are not writing. Only writing is writing.

    Write every day. If you only write a page a day, at the end of a year you’ll have a novel. Read every day. If you want to be a writer, you must be a reader. If you are not a reader, perhaps being a writer is not in your future.

    Write straight through to THE END.

    The urge to give up, particularly in the dread Mid-Book, will be strong. The desire to go back and fix the beginning will be strong. Resist the urge. You won’t know what the beginning is until you reach the finish, and perhaps not even then.

    Every synapse in your brain will be screaming “This Is Crud!” Perhaps it is. That’s okay. You can’t make a pot without clay. We’ll fix it all in the second draft. If you need permission to write badly, I grant it to you.

    Besides, if you give up in the middle, when and how will you learn to write endings? One failure mode that I see all the freakin’ time is the writer who, at the end of ten years, has twenty half-novels.

    Note that while you will think that your writing is crud, and it may objectively be crud, you should still write to the very best of your ability.

    On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.

    You’ll want to clear your palate before you begin to revise. You need to forget the exact words. You need to forget which parts were a struggle to write, which parts came out in a white-hot blaze. Which parts you thought were crud. If you start too soon you won’t be reading the words on the paper, you’ll be reading the words you remember being on the paper.

    Start writing your next book.

    The same day. Or the very next day at the latest. Here is why this is necessary: Regardless of what happens to the book you just completed, you’ll want to have another in your suitcase.

    One of two things may happen. The first book may sell. When that happens your agent or editor will say, “Do you happen to have another?” Or the book may not sell. In that case, you’ll want to try again with a different book.

    You want to know what’s heartbreaking? Writers who spend ten or fifteen years trying to sell their first, only, unpublishable novel. In ten or fifteen years they should be ten or fifteen books on, and ten or fifteen books’ worth of better. Maybe their second book would have sold. Maybe the third.

    Rewrite and revise your book.

    If the story doesn’t get good until chapter four, cut chapters one through three. (Readers need far less back story than you’d imagine.) Hold a pistol to the head of every adjective and adverb and make them justify their existence. Tie up the plot threads. Plant the clues that support the climax.

    Rewrite and revise it again.

    Fill in the plot holes. Add characterization to the minor characters. Improve the dialog. Check the facts. Tighten up the sloppy parts. Cut the dull ones.

    Rewrite and revise it one more time.

    It’s helpful to print it out in a format, and with a font, that you don’t usually use for your reading copy. It’s also helpful to read the book aloud, putting a check mark in the margin every time you stumble or find something you want to fix.

    Give copies to your beta readers.

    These are friends who are willing to tell you the brutal truth about your book. Ask them to tear it apart. To nitpick the heck out of it. A dirty-minded high school freshman is a wonderful thing. Pick someone who can’t count to seventy without laughing, to make sure that you haven’t inadvertently written a hilarious book. An expert in the location where the book is set would be good. So would an expert in the professions of the main characters. Don’t abuse your beta readers’ good nature by giving them anything less than your most polished final draft.

    With the beta readers’ suggestions in hand, rewrite your book again.

    Take the suggestions or don’t, but thank them for taking the time to read and comment on your work. And mean it.

    I’ve found that when readers say there’s a problem in a book, they’re usually right. When they say how to fix it, they’re usually wrong. Recall too that if a problem gets pointed out in chapter twenty-four, the real cause of that problem may be in chapter nineteen.

    Now find a publisher

    Go down to a doors-and-windows bookstore and find books on the shelves there that are similar to your book. Get the publishers’ names and addresses. You’ll find them on the back of the title page.

    If a publisher can’t get books into bookstores, you aren’t interested in talking to them.

    Get those publishers’ guidelines, and submit your work to them, following their guidelines to the letter. Start at the top and work down. Don’t start with the bottom-feeders. Writers usually find their level early, and stay there.

    If it is true that 90% of the books bought in America come from the same half-dozen publishing conglomerates, I see this as an argument for making jolly sure that your book comes out from one of those conglomerates.

    It’s possible, indeed likely, that the very top publishers on your list will say, “No unagented submissions.” That’s okay.

    Get an agent

    If you’ve written a publishable book, this won’t be a big problem. If you haven’t written a publishable book, then you’re already working on a new, different, better book, right?

    Take that list of books similar to yours, books that you found physically on the shelves in physical bookstores. (No, “Listed at Amazon” is not the same and is not good enough.) Find out the names of the agents who sold them. (Often, an author will thank his/her agent in the acknowledgments. Or, you could try Googling on [Author’s Name] + “represented by”.)

    Get those agents’ guidelines and submit your work to them, following their guidelines to the letter.

    Remember: A useful agent has sold books that you’ve heard of. Any agent who charges a fee is clueless, a scammer, or a clueless scammer.

    See also: On the Getting of Agents

    Rejection is nature’s way of telling you to write a better book.

    If/when your manuscript comes home with a rejection slip, send it out again that same day to the next market on your list. Don’t let a manuscript sleep over. And resist as the pomp of Satan that it is the desire to rewrite and revise the work before sending it back out. Remember, you already made this book the best you could make it before you submitted it the first time. Nothing’s changed. And you’re already working on a new, different, better book.

    Only if the editor and/or agent says “If you make the following changes….” should you consider rewriting before final acceptance. In that case, let your conscience be your guide.

    Do not engage in Rejectomancy. Anything other than “Yes” is “No.” Send the work out again.

    See also: Slushkiller

    The only thing worse than remaining unpublished is to be published badly

    You may not believe me, but this is true. Do not accept an offer from a publisher unless you have read several of their titles (that you personally bought off the shelf of your local bookstore) and liked them. Do not pay to be published. Readers pay the publisher. You don’t.

    By now the next book you were working on should be written all the way to THE END. Go back to “Start writing your next book” and repeat the steps in order.

    See also: Varieties of insanity known to affect authors


    Short version, to the tune of the Oompa Loompa song:

    Oompa Loompa doompety doo
    I've got a perfect puzzle for you
    Oompa Loompa doompety dee
    If you are wise you'll listen to me

    What do you get if you don't write your book?
    It doesn't get writ and you feel like a schnook.
    Do you intend to get to THE END
    Or just mess around while you play pretend?

    Write some new material

    Oompa Loompa doompety dar
    If you keep typing, you will go far
    You will live in happiness true
    Like the Oompa Loompa doompety do


    The only person who can stop you from writing is you.

    It isn't the gender of the author that's important, its the gender of the reader.

    Did you ever wonder why Dove soap features women in its ads?

    Did you ever wonder why romance novels all have either feminine names (or initials) on the bylines, regardless of the sex of the author?

    Wonder no more. It's the target audience.


    22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other


    Even though I grew up in New York, married a Texan, and live in far northern New Hampshire, my accent and word choice are basically Wisconsin (my mom's origin).


    The lesson for writers: We can do characterization with word-choice alone.


    Write straight through to THE END.
    One note about this: I don't mean you necessarily need to start with Line One of Paragraph One of Page One of Scene One of Chapter One, then write all the scenes in order 'til you get to the climax. If that works for you, fine. If not -- if you write scenes out of order, perhaps writing the climax first -- that's okay. What I intend is you shouldn't stop writing until you have the whole thing.

    Maybe you'll need to put the scenes in order like stringing beads on a necklace before your story is coherent and you can go to Second Draft. That's okay too. Just don't quit.


    Quote Originally Posted by Liosse de Velishaf View Post
    ...we would never say "byoggles"....
    Maybe you wouldn't. That's my new favoritest word!


    I've recently discovered that some publishers, mostly tiny start-up e-presses, claim that they own the editing on the books they publish; thus, the author cannot resell the work in the as-published form without their permission (and perhaps payment).

    This is pernicious nonsense.

    Any edits were made by the author, and belong 100% to the author.

    If someone tries to slip a clause like that into a contract, strike it. If the publisher won't agree -- find a better publisher.


    Quote Originally Posted by AphraB View Post
    Owner was meaner than shit about the huge changes his editors (four of them in a horrible round-robin debacle) made to my story.
    Editors shouldn't be making changes to start with. Editors can make suggestions. It's up to the author to agree and actually make any changes which, in the author's opinion, are needed.

    Copyeditors may make some changes to bring a book into house style (e.g. serial commas, spelling out numbers, expanding "OK" to "okay") but even then, the text as-published belongs to the author and the author can STET anything; their name is on the cover, their name is on the copyright.


    Uncomfortable Plot Summaries


    The Secret Shortcut to Publishing Success, Revealed!


    Quote Originally Posted by Scribhneoir View Post
    He was reading Land of Mist and Snow and was so engrossed in it he didn't even look up when his wife joined him at the table. Luckily she had a book of her own.
    I'm so pleased!

    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    ETA: I found something for my question.
    Hurrah! (Usually the rash clears up in a week to ten days.)


    Quote Originally Posted by allenparker View Post
    Making changes to the text is the sign of a new editor. Making comments about the wording or textural word is professional. I have noticed that e-book editors are quicker to jump to this than I saw with pulp work.
    Regretfully, many e-book editors (particularly at the smaller start-up places) have never been edited in their lives, nor have they had a chance to be taught to edit by proficient editors.

    This is a sorrow. The books suffer for it.


    There's a market for everything....



    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
    Dear Uncle Jim:

    Can I try to traditionally publish after self-publishing on kindle/e-pubbing?

    -- Querying in Quebec
    Dear Querying:

    You have several questions rolled into one there. The first thing is this: If you're talking about another book, not the one that you self-pubbed, sure. Why not? Commercial publishers, from the biggest to the smallest, are looking for new material.

    If you are talking about the one you self-pubbed, your question is really, "Can I sell reprint rights?" The answer is the same whether you were the publisher yourself or you were published by Dell: Check the guidelines for the publisher you're interested in. Do they say "No reprints?" Yes/No.

    If the publisher's guidelines say "no reprints," cross them off your list.

    That leaves you with publishers that accept reprints. Query them as you ordinarily would, following their guidelines to the letter.

    Now, will your book be accepted?

    Here are some considerations: How were the sales of the previous edition?

    You have three possibilities:

    1) Sold a negligible number. Depending on the press you're talking to, a negligible number can be a few hundred to a few thousand. That's a proven failure; no sale. Unfortunately it's also the typical sales expectation of self-published books.

    2) Sold every copy that it's ever going to sell. Again, depends on the press you're looking at. Numbers I've seen mentioned for this range in the five-to-eight thousand copy mark. Again, no sale.

    3) A breakout book. Sky's the limit. Sold a metric ton. Looks like it'll sell tons more. This book has a very good chance of getting picked up by a commercial publisher.

    If your story falls in the sales area of Case 1 and 2 above, you'll probably have to take it out of print before you start querying it.

    Are there exceptions to cases 1) and 2)? Sure. If the editor loves the book, there's always a chance. Of course, if the editor loves the book that same editor would have bought it even without your self-publishing first.

    Any exceptions to the no-reprints rule? Again, yes. That'll be in Case 3 above. If the book's sales are headed for the stratosphere the publishers will come looking for you. Does this happen? Yes, but not very often. We can probably name all the titles.

    So, is self-publishing first a clever plan to sell this book to a commercial press?

    No. You've greatly decreased the number of markets you can even approach. And typical sales figures suggest that your book, however dandy it might be, will look like an unbudgeable turkey to the nice folks who'll have to sign off on acquiring it.

    So, if commercial publication is your goal, follow the path of submitting original works in accordance with the guidelines.

    If self-publication is your goal, go forth and do so boldly.

    If commercial publication is your goal, self-publication first may prove, at best, a time-consuming detour.

    Consider your objectives. Consider your resources. Consider which choices are more likely to lead to your objectives with the resources you have on hand.

    "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."
    -- Damon Runyon

    "You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
    -- Dirty Harry


    Yeah, Allen. That falls under Being Badly Published is Worse Than Remaining Unpublished, and Printing is not Publishing.

    Or the ever popular, "She wanted to be published in the worst way ... and she was."



    Reprints happen. This should be intuitively obvious because otherwise you wouldn't be able to get a copy of Huckleberry Finn, Moby-Dick, or Macbeth today.

    But reprint advances are typically lower than advances for originals.


    You're quite welcome!


    Heck, Allen, I think we were both messing around in Latin America at the same time. We might take one look at each other and say, "Hey, you're the guy...!"

    In today's bit of egoboo, today the mail brought a contributor's copy of Oxford English 2, Knowledge and Skills (Australian Curriculum), by Paul Grover.

    Yes, that Oxford.

    They used portions of one of our short stories ("No One Has To Know") for the examples in Unit 8, "Actively Adverbs -- Positive, Comparative and Superlative Adverbs."

    Other authors whose works are used as examples in this volume include J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, and Ray Bradbury, so we are well pleased.

    978-0-19-552247-1 if your life isn't complete without it. Or the story itself is in Vampires, edited by Jane Yolen, (HarperCollins, 1991, multiple reprints over the years). Also available as part of our collection, Witch Garden and Other Stories, multiple electronic formats.


    We'll be at Readercon this weekend. If anyone is there, or in the Boston area, here's my sked:

    Friday July 12 8:00 PM CL Kaffeeklatsch. Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald.
    9:00 PM E Autographs. Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald.
    Saturday July 13

    8:00 PM RI The Xanatos Gambit. Jim Freund (moderator), Yoon Ha Lee, Scott Lynch, James D. Macdonald. The tangled webs of schemers both good and bad have always had a presence in imaginative fiction. There are the wily king-killers, the intrigue-fomenting spinsters and widows, the bard who hides the knife beside the harp, the indispensable keeper of secrets, and more. What are the challenges in writing an especially clever character? How has the role of the schemer evolved, and what versions do we no longer see?

    Suggested by Josh Jasper.
    Sunday July 14

    2:30 PM VT Reading: James D. Macdonald. James D. Macdonald. James D. Macdonald reads an excerpt from a forthcoming work.


    What is English?


    Ms. Gardner seems to represent romance and non-fiction. Maybe that's the way it is over in romancelandia.

    I note that several of her clients have Youtube videos. I note that none of them (of the ones I checked) were uploaded before the author had a book for sale.


    I don't believe that any publicity is good publicity.

    But I don't believe this campaign will have any effect, either.


    I could handle that too.


    Why fact-checking is important; or, we all need copy editors:

    Alas, Stephen King!

    I'll never forget the botched opening lines of A. E. Van Vogt -- a German science fiction writer, long dead, who liked to effuse a little bit. His book Slan was actually the basis of the Alien films -- they basically stole them to do that, and ended up paying his estate some money -- but he was just a terrible, terrible writer.
    Opinions on Van Vogt's writing may differ (though he was immensely popular at the time), but facts ... don't.

    1) Van Vogt was Canadian.
    2) Slan does not resemble the Alien films in any way whatever.
    3) His estate didn't sue.

    The Van Vogt story was "The Black Destroyer," which later became part of a fix-up novel, The Voyage of the Space Beagle. His estate didn't sue because Van Vogt himself was still alive--he did sue and settled out of court.


    Originally published elsewhere at AW:

    Okay, time to talk about what packagers are and how they work.

    You know those annoying people at conventions who come up to you and say, "I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll split the money!"

    That's what packagers do.

    Except that packagers really do have an idea, and there really is money, and the book really will be published.

    Packagers approach publishers with (wait for it) packages of cover art, fully edited text, and a guaranteed delivery schedule. All the publisher needs to do it put their logo on it, print, and distribute it. These are often, but not always, series. So the publisher knows that they can have a new book every month for six months or a year, usually under the same author name, and not have to worry about authors being late and throwing the entire schedule out of whack.

    After the packager sells a package to a publisher, then they go out and find writers (who can write fast to specification) and cover artists (who can paint fast). The publisher gives the packager the same advance that they'd give some other book of the same kind -- call it $5K/title -- and pays the same royalties -- call it 10% of cover. The packager gives half of each to the actual author, and keeps the rest. So the author gets a $2.5K advance and 5% royalties.

    What the author also gets is a "bible" for the series, which can be surprisingly slight. The author often gets to come up with their own outline for their book, though it will have to be approved by the packager. Deadlines can be quite tight. Six months is common, though I've seen twenty days (that was an odd case, where the editor at the packager who was supposed to assign the titles to authors went on maternity leave, and it fell through the cracks). Six authors working on six books for six months gives you six books for next year.

    Suppose that concept that they sell is a series called Chess Camp by "Brixton Mays." The pitch: "Teens learn about life, love, and the Nimzo-Indian Defense at Chess Camp!"

    HarperCollins thinks this is a swell idea, and buys a six-book series, to be published two years from now (which is the schedule they're working on this morning). The packager rounds up six authors--often writers who they've worked with before and know can reliably turn in a professional-level manuscript on time and on length, or sometimes newcomers who have published a few stories in magazines or anthologies (and thus are known to be able to write on a professional level), and look like they might be hungry. This is work-for-hire; the copyright is in the packager's name.

    Each author gets assigned one particular chess gambit, and some one-page character sheets detailing the kids who are at Chess Camp. Say Roxie Romaine (writing as Brixton Mays) gets the first volume: The Four Knights Game. The characters she has to work with are Chrissy, a sassy black teen from inner-city Detroit, her goal is to go to New York and become a model; Franz, the stoic German, blond, who keeps his feelings under wraps; Genevieve, the redheaded hippy-dippy back-to-nature free spirit who finds the discipline of Chess Camp doesn't fit with her life-style; and brown-haired Claude, the studious, brilliant, but achingly lonely child whose father insisted that he come to Chess Camp even though his heart is really in woodwinds. Chess Camp, set high in the Berkshires, has a staff of world-champion chess players, led by Madame Zughoff, whose crusty exterior hides a heart of custard.

    We need 80,000 words. Go, young writer!

    This doesn't save the publisher any money -- they're paying the same advance they'd pay to a first-time author, and paying the same royalties. But it does save them the hassle of finding the books to keep their pipelines full while waiting for works of heartstopping beauty to come in from agents or over the transom. They only need to send one royalty report, and they only need to deal with one person. What they're buying is ease, reliability, and scheduling.

    Suppose, then, that some other writer comes up with a brilliant idea about four teens who learn to play chess together. That book isn't going to get bought, because it's too similar to something they've already got in the pipeline.

    The odds that the editor who bought the packaged series and the editor who saw the author's submission are the same person are small. The odds that the packager saw the author's submitted story before pitching the series are smaller still. That the actual author had seen the other author's work the odds are essentially nil. The authors working for the packager are lucky if they see the manuscripts of the other authors working on the same series they are.

    In the current case, the one who came up with the concept for the series was undoubtedly the packager. How long they'd been shopping the series around I'm sure they could prove from correspondence.


    Dunno, Greg.

    There's a good argument that Star Trek was based on inspired by The Voyage of the Space Beagle.


    Back to packaging for a moment: From Varieties of insanity known to affect authors we find this item:

    Picking up a quickie work-for-hire gig writing a media tie-in novel isn’t going to affect my productivity on the ongoing series I have under contract at another house.
    Also, this (archived by the Wayback Machine) dealing with the bizarre intrusion of packaging into the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal.


    When you need to increase length, add plot.


    Hi, sussura.

    Keep writing! Keep submitting! Those are the two secrets. Everything else is commentary.


    A sonnet is a limerick ... with an army!

    Anyway, if y'all want to thank me, read one of my books and recommend it to your friends.


    We have a story in this anthology (publication date 15 August). Buy one! Better still, buy a dozen! They make excellent gifts....


    Remember to add the reverberations of that new beginning all the way through to THE END.


    A post on pitches, including a Pitch Generator Template.


    Thanks, Panda.


    I'll keep it going 'til people stop being interested.

    You know how you keep seeing articles (sometimes by famous best-selling authors) complaining that now publishing is a business, and it's all about money, unlike the happy days when it was folks who were interested in books and literature and good writing? Have you ever noticed that, whenever the author was writing, that golden age was about ten years before they sold their first book?

    You can find examples of that complaint for every decade for the past century. What does that tell you about the publishing business?


    The novel considered as a roller-coaster.


    The smartest thing I ever heard about style is this: "Style is what you can't help doing."

    You might find yourself writing in short, descriptive sentences. That doesn't mean that you'll sound like Hemingway. You might find yourself writing mile-long paragraphs. That doesn't mean you'll sound like Faulkner. In the process of writing-and-revising you will inevitably wind up sounding like yourself.

    If the problem is that you're imitating the voice of various writers the solution is generally to read more, and read widely.

    Mostly I'd say not to worry about it so much. Style -- your style -- will exist. If you can see the influences of other writers, don't concern yourself. Other readers won't. (Either that or they'll see the influence of writers you've never heard of. You can't win.)

    Read a lot. Write a lot. All will become clear.


    This sounds very much like a personal tic. All I can tell you is that your writing will have your style, regardless of how much influence you see in it from other writers. Recall that all art is in conversation with all other art, and do not let it overly concern you.

    I find that both my first-person work and my third-person work contain great heaping chunks of me. Embrace this fact. Having your writing be personal is a plus.


    Write in first, re-write in third (or vice versa) and see which version reads better. Nothing's finished until you put it in the mail (and even then it isn't finished).


    Speaking of style, as we just were, yesterday's Language Log had a post,
    "What can you ever say to Polonius?"

    Much of it is an extended quote from Richard Lanham's Style: An Anti-Textbook (1974).

    Lanham, it seems, doesn't think much of composition instruction books. Fair enough. Alas, at this point he wanders off into an extended Strawman Fallacy by lumping them together as "The Books." If he has a problem with a book, then name the book and quote it accurately. Instead, he produces lists of what he claims The Books teach in an attempt to make The Books look silly. Tell you what, I can make anyone look silly if I get to write their arguments for them.

    His major complaints seem to be with books dealing with high school and college essays. Recall that, as a whole, school essays are written by people who don't want to write them, and read by people who don't want to read them. Thus facilitating both composition and correction are virtues.

    Here in the world of fiction, even the worst of the slush-puppies are writing because they want to. Readers are reading because they want to. The famous Strunk & White started life as a handout for a Freshman Composition class at Cornell. But when E.B. White wrote Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web he violated Strunk & White all to heck. And why should he not? His books weren't freshman essays.

    Quoting Lanham here:
    Students of style are bombarded with self-canceling clichés. Here’s a quintessence taken from The Books published in the last hundred years:
    My comments interpolated.
    Be plain; Avoid “fine writing”
    Unless "fine writing" (whatever that is) better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
    Avoid bluntness; Articulate your sentences gracefully
    Unless "bluntness" (whatever that is) better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
    Make your writing spontaneous
    Always be sincere. Once you can fake sincerity you're golden.
    A darned good plan.
    Be yourself
    You can scarcely avoid doing so.
    Imitate the masters
    Consider that the masters might know something you don't. There's a saying in the fire service: "A guy who only learns from his own mistakes is dead."
    Write from your own experience
    All fiction is, at base, about people. You're a person. You have lots of experience there, if you think about it.
    Read widely (“A man will turn over half a library to make one book,” Samuel Johnson is repeatedly quoted as saying)
    A darned good plan.
    Make an outline
    If it help you get words on the page.
    Don’t over-outline
    If it doesn't help you get words on the page.
    Be serious without being stuffy
    Unless being stuffy without being serious better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
    Study spoken speech
    A darned good plan.
    Writing and Speaking are different things
    Very true!
    What the prose writer needs is a temperament nicely balanced between the sprightly and the phlegmatic, a lively mind and a deliberate judgment. His ideas will flow easily, but not too impetuously.
    Or, if your goal is to fill the blue book before the bell rings, a temperament nicely balanced between terror and despair will work equally well.
    Style books meant for high school students are tools; perhaps not the best for the fiction writer, but tools nonetheless. If what you need is a hammer but what you have is a wrench, the wrench will work lots better than your bare hands when you're driving that nail.


    For those who haven't read it, OH JOHN RINGO NO.


    "Commonly, students' ability to see their errors and technical failings increases faster than their ability to correct them. Then the instructor faces the problem of discouraged students who believe they are actually getting worse through training rather than better.... An analogy that may help the intermediate student is that of 'carving a cube into a sphere'. Training is the process of chopping off corners. Initially, the corners are large and easy to see--as is progress. Later, each corner cut off reveals three new corners, albeit smaller ones. This process is endless, and while an advanced student may appear to others of lesser experience to be a perfect sphere, the individual is often painfully aware of the many corners that still need polishing."
    --Elmar T. Schmeisser, "The University Dojo" in Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching, Carol A. Wiley, ed.


    For writing in first you have to get into someone's head and live there a while. It's method acting with a typewriter, that's all.


    Are your books your babies?



    I have books, and I've raised children, and I have no difficulty at all in telling them apart.


    Writing considered as a text adventure game.


    There's a lot of talk these days about Fifty Shades of Grey, how it came out of fanfiction, went to a very small press, was bought by a very big press, it sold a ton of copies, and now a movie's being made. CNN has speculation about who's going to star as one of their top stories.

    But the "nothing new under the sun" clause kicks in. Fifty years ago there was another book: The Harrad Experiment.

    It was first published in the mid-sixties by a small house, and at the beginning was only available by mail. (Those were the days when some books were quite literally unprintable. In 1969 a British printer named Arthur Dobson was sentenced to two years in jail for publishing the century-old memoir, My Secret Life.)

    Then, in the late sixties, a major house bought the rights to The Harrad Experiment and ... it sold. It sold very well. Millions of copies. Thirty-three editions. Over seventy printings in paperback. A movie. The movie had a sequel.

    Up to that point the popular view was that white covers didn't sell. Harrad had a white cover, and suddenly you couldn't walk into a bookstore without being blinded by the light reflecting from the white covers on every shelf.

    Why did it sell so well? Dunno. Same reason as Fifty Shades. It had a reputation for being woo-hoo-hot-smexy, and you didn't have to have it delivered to your house in a plain brown wrapper, or go to a part of town where the pavement is sticky and the shops smell like Cthulhu's gym shoes to buy it.

    Why this one, and not one of the dozens--hundreds--of others that are equally woo-hoo-hot-smexy and that were written at the same time? For the same reason that hula-hoops were popular, or coonskin caps, or pet rocks. Fads. Who can figure 'em?

    Have I read it? I started to. Didn't finish, because it ... wasn't that well written. Was it super hot? Maybe for 1966 it was, but right now, today, you can find hotter in the women's magazines beside the checkout line at the grocery store.

    A work of its time. As are all our works.

    Now, moving along slightly, here's an incredibly snarky review of the movie.


    Outlines: Heck yeah I make 'em. Sometimes 3/4 of the length of the final work. Very detailed outlines.

    If the story takes a new direction I write a new outline. The thing I do (which may or may not work for you) is that I start the new outline at the point of departure, not back from the beginning. I continue on as if the new opening had already been written, without actually writing it anew. That maintains my momentum.


    BTW, everyone at Harrad College was lily-white and straight as a string. They might have been progressive but they weren't that progressive....

    A book of its time.


    Try Heinlein.


    First posted elsewhere at AW:

    Option clauses favor publishers, which is why I recommend that authors strike them, or write them as narrowly as possible.

    You can see why publishers favor them, though. The publisher nurtures a young author, supports them through perhaps dismal early sales, builds the brand, and when the author becomes popular/profitable -- that author jumps to a bigger house? How is that fair to the first publisher?


    From the ever-interesting HapiSofi (and posted elsewhere at AW):

    A new scam aimed at writers.

    About blog tours as a means of promotion I have no opinion (never having done one). Nevertheless, some folks do 'em. And a small industry of arranging blog tours has sprung up. And it must follow, as the night the day, that some scammers have latched on to that industry, separating authors from cash in return for ... nothing.


    This is National Banned Books Week. Read a banned book today!


    There have always been snake-oil salesmen.

    These days, any time someone says to an author, ".... pay me," the author needs to look very closely at what they're actually getting in return, whether others have received positive results by similar means, and so on.

    Remember, at a game of three-card monte, you may be the only person in the crowd who isn't a shill.


    My thought is, why are the agents limiting themselves to one format? Suppose there's a non-digital-first publisher that would be a better fit for the book? That's like going with an agent who says they'll only submit to paperback-original houses. Why?

    Those guys are advertising, "Our business model is to leave money on the table!"

    I doubt you'll find many (if any) top-tier agents in their ranks.


    Peru makes book writing into a spectator sport and invites desperate writers into combat

    It's just like real publishing: ten go in, only one comes out.


    Quote Originally Posted by katsincommand View Post
    My approach is this: for the next six weeks, I am going to ignore everything anyone has ever said to me about this novel. Every last word. And I'm going to write it for ME. And I'm going to come back in six weeks and tell you it's done.
    That is an excellent plan.


    Nuts and Bolts: Jump-Starting Stories


    The Andrew Wylie Rules


    Meanwhile visitors to the website were greeted by a holding page statement.
    The retailer said it had taken the site offline "to best protect our customers and the public".
    Visitors to the website see this holding page statement instead:
    "Our website will become live again once all self published e-books have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available", it said.
    A bigger problem than the porn, though less talked-about in the self-publishing world, is plagiarism. WH Smith may be the first, but I doubt they'll be the last.


    Heck yeah, plagiarized books on Amazon. This has been a scandal for years.


    Yep, WHSmith reacted to claims of Pr0n.

    I'm just saying that the bigger problem waiting in the wings is the plagiarism scandal-in-the-making.


    I've got a signing this weekend:

    Peterborough, NH, 2:00 pm Saturday at the Toadstool Bookshop.


    Kaleidoscope submission guidelines. Short YA SF. One week from now.


    Break the chapters by ear.

    Where you feel there's the need for a break that's bigger than a scene break but smaller than a volume break.

    Some books have no chapter breaks at all. Others have chapter breaks every three pages. This is part of the art.


    You aren't going to find an agent for a collection of unpublished short fiction.

    No one says that you have to write a novel if you don't want to.

    So: Where do you find the short fiction that you yourself read?

    Go down to Barnes & Noble and look on the magazine rack there. Which publish fiction?

    Go to your public library and look in Writers' Market (WM) and Literary Marketplace (LMP) for short fiction markets. Get and read several issues of each magazine to get a feeling for what they take.

    Ask your local librarian, "What are some magazines that publish _____________?"


    Just send the agent the full as it now stands. You can put in the cover letter "I've made a few revisions since you saw the partial...."

    Or not. Your choice.


    Novellas are the same deal as short stories.

    Some publishers do books consisting of two or three novellas, but those generally a) come from the publisher, not the author, and b) are pretty much limited to the romance and horror markets.

    Yes, there are e-publishers that accept novellas. Same question: Where do you find the novellas you yourself read?


    Take very full notes, including as many sensory details as possible. Take photos. Eat something local.


    From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
    Dear Uncle Jim,
    Can men write convincing female characters?
    Wary in Webster

    Dear Wary,
    Uncle Jim


    Dear Uncle Jim,
    Can women write convincing male characters?
    Suspicious in Schenectady

    Dear Suspicious,
    Uncle Jim
    Gentle readers, the question you should ask yourselves is, as an author, can you write convincing human characters? If so it follows, as the night the day, you can write convincing male and female characters.


    Not, however, a character we should emulate.

    Meanwhile: Happy Thanksgiving!

    Soon it will be time for the Christmas Challenge!


    The exclusive period from first publication being over, I've uploaded our story, "The Clockwork Trollop," to Smashwords. Our steampunk horror erotica ghost story. Available in a variety of formats.

    This was our Christmas Challenge story from a couple of years back.


    This week only: The Clockwork Trollop is free (with coupon) at Smashwords.

    Coupon code: KU63G

    Download it, read it, review it, tell your friends, don't tell your friends, don't review it, don't read it, but download it anyway.


    Minor brag: Another short story sale.

    The secrets: 1) Write. 2) Submit what you write. 3) Go to step 1.


    Readers skip blurbs all the time. Readers skip prologues all the time. Readers skip introductions all the time. If you have something that you want readers to know, put it somewhere after the words "Chapter One" appear on the top of the page.


    Hi, dirtroadfilms:

    Beta readers. Yes.

    When you have your entire work finished, and you've made it the best that you can, you approach your friends (and other writers who you know personally and are working on the same level you are, or maybe one step above) and say, "Hey, I've written a book. Would you like to read it and make comments on it?"

    Those who say yes, send them copies of your book. (Those who actually do respond with comments, keep them on your list for your next book.)

    You send your very best, because to do less is to abuse your readers. That means you've finished the final draft and this is your polished work.

    You draw your beta readers from among your friends. With any kind of luck one of your friends is a dirty-minded and completely disrespectful teenager. (How else will you learn about your unsuspected double entendres?)


    Oh yes ... and if your beta reader has missed every point you were trying to make, and gave you nonsensical -- in fact, stupid -- suggestions, what you say is, "Thank you very much!" and mean it.


    Ten days 'til Christmas! It's time for the Christmas Challenge.

    This year we're going to try to write 500 words/day. (Not so bad; that's just two pages.) The goal is to have a 5,000 word short story to read to our friends and family at Christmas Dinner. So the theme is: food.

    Since food is a big part of everyone's life, this is your change to write Food Porn. A story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, where the climax is at dinner.

    Okay, folks, start your typewriters!


    And to you, Liam.


    One of the games we play around here is "would you turn the page?"

    Here's a retrospective with links:

    Volume 1 page 103
    The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

    Volume 1 page 105 & 127
    Oath of Swords by David Weber

    Volume 1 page 141
    My own "A Tremble in the Air"

    Volume 1 page 188
    The India Fan by Victoria Holt

    Volume 1 page 191
    Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson

    Volume 1 page 192
    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    Volume 1 page 204
    The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

    Volume 1 page 213
    My own Land of Mist and Snow

    Volume 1 page 228
    Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    Volume 1 page 258
    Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney

    Volume 1 page 259
    Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

    Volume 1 page 293
    Nurse Kelsey Abroad by Marjorie Norrell

    Volume 1 page 295
    Doctors' Wives by Frank G. Slaughter

    Volume 1 page 298
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

    Volume 1 page 341
    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

    Volume 1 page 352
    Ghost Story by Peter Straub

    Volume 1 page 358
    My own The Price of the Stars


    No matter what book, someone doesn't like it. The Cat in the Hat has 2,725 one-star ratings at Goodreads.


    Ten typos in a book? No biggie.

    Ten typos on a page? That... might slow me down some.

    I find is off-putting if the feeling rises in my heart that I'm putting more work into the book than the author did.

    Yes, stuff will sneak through. But do try to give your betas a finished version.


    The person you bounce ideas off while in the process of writing is usually called a writing partner, crit partner, or, sometimes, alpha reader. A writers' group can serve the function.

    For me, a beta reader gives me the reaction of the person-on-the-street to the final product.

    From the film making perspective: think of the difference between the daily rushes and the test audience/focus group.


    Yes, there is a rule: Ships' names do not take a definite article. They're names. When you're talking about your friend Bill Rogers you don't call him "the Bill Rogers," do you?

    (Exception to this is when you want to emphasis that you're talking about a particular/famous one:
    "I learned guitar from Charlie Manson."

    "The Charlie Manson?"

    In the same way:
    "I served on USS Forrestal."

    "The Forrestal?"

    (For the benefit of the civilians in the audience, the USS Forrestal is the one that had the fire.))


    Short version: Authors! Have some pride!


    So, folks, how many of y'all did the Christmas Challenge?


    The Cool Bits Story Generator


    Quote Originally Posted by dinrao View Post
    I mean, is it better to start and finish one storyline before the next one, or write it like I envision it in the book with alternating storylines?
    I generally write it in the order I envision the novel, with occasional extra scenes as they occur to me, but that may not be the way that works for you.

    What works for you is the major consideration. Try, see if one way works. Then try the other way. See if it works.

    There is no right way. There's only what works for you.


    Where I'll be this weekend: Arisia

    Time Travel, Therapy, & the Quest for Redemption Faneuil Literature Sat 1:00 PM 01:15
    Description Time travel allows writers to explore a fundamental human longing: to change what cannot be changed. Protagonists go back in order to fix the crucial moments that shaped their lives. Usually these attempts backfire - sometimes the past does not allow itself to be changed, sometimes changing the past creates a new range of problems, and sometimes changing the past does not cure the ache in the protagonist's soul. Is time travel a parable for the therapeutic mining of our personal histories?

    Reading: Doyle, Macdonald, and Nelson Hale Writing Sun 10:00 AM 01:15
    Description Authors Debra Doyle, James Macdonald, and Resa Nelson read selections from their works.

    Autograph - Kimmel, Macdonald, & Nurenberg Galleria - Autograph Space Writing Sun 11:30 AM 01:15
    Description Autograph session with Daniel M. Kimmel, James Macdonald, and David Nurenberg.


    01-17-2014, 11:25 AM #2665
    Page 107

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