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Author Topic: General Writing
KnightEnder
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Ev mentioned that sometimes it was "tough to get started", and KL has mentioned some of the problems he has with writing, and my comma fetish is well-known, so I thought it might be a good idea to have a thread in which we could discuss problems and feelings about writing outside the confines of any one story.

So, starting with Ev's situation, how do each of you go about getting yourself motivated to write?

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RickyB
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Absent a flash of inspiration? Internal berating, as in "do something with yourself, you lazy bum".

My main problem when I write is separating what I know about the plot and what the readers know.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"My main problem when I write is separating what I know about the plot and what the readers know."

That form of objectivity IS a challenge, especially if one strives to write with subtelty and innuendo, as I know you do. Letting a text rest for a good while helps, but takes, uh, time. The other thing is to to have folks read it and explain what they understand. Thus the utility of a writer's group.

As for making oneself write. The only thing that works for me is not forceful marched discipline so much as treating it as a lark. I don't mind the work of writing so much as the fear of writing it wrong. Treating it as just a form of self-amusement is how I expect to get anywhere with it.

I wrote what I wrote of my last story that way: just dinking off. As a result, I think I wrote better. Ironic, huh?

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Richard Dey
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RB:

"My main problem when I write is separating what I know about the plot and what the readers know." And the author has problems? What about the poor editors [Big Grin] ? (So far, so good.)

The best enema for writer's block is a weekend at something like the MacDowell Colony. If you have absolutely nothing to do but sit in an outhouse, there's always the Sears-Roebuck catalog to read. That's invariably inspirational.

My problem is that I have 'dialog' days and 'description' days -- and it's the marrying of the two that's 99% of the work. Forget 'plots' [Mad] . The idea of a plot never comes to me until after its published.

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KnightEnder
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My problem is that I find it hard to maintain the excitement for a project. Maybe I shouldn't know the ending first.

KE

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canadian
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I don't even think about it. Usually when I write, I just sit down after everyone has gone to bed and just let it pour out. I don't worry about grammer or punctuation or flow, these can be tinkered with after the fact.

I find that in this way, I'm discovering the story as it's happeneing. Unforseen and surprising twists result that I couldn't have hoped to plan. Not to mention, it unfolds before me so new and fresh that it's almost like watching a movie, or submersing myself in an actual memory.

Now, when it comes time to edit...that's a whole different 'story'...

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Zyne
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For what I'd like to write (as opposed to writing work stuff), I don't.

Which is a big part of my happiness that y'all/we're doing this here. Another reason to stop whining and just try it...

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kenmeer livermaile
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"I find that in this way, I'm discovering the story as it's happeneing. Unforseen and surprising twists result that I couldn't have hoped to plan. Not to mention, it unfolds before me so new and fresh that it's almost like watching a movie, or submersing myself in an actual memory."

Your brusque style supports this approach. For what it's worth, of all the stories I;ve read here (including mine) yours seems most like the product of a natural writer.

Like Wayne Shorter said o lester Young, "He got more into what the music is ABOUT."

You seem to sense what makes a story a story.

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kenmeer livermaile
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"Forget 'plots' [Mad] ."

For me, there's just a 'situation'.

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Richard Dey
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Yes, KL, and 'situation' comedy, tragedy, or anything else is considered in the business as a slop pot without a top [Wink] . The 'story' today does not ride on character, unfortunately; its either racing around in car chases or coasts on plot.
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kenmeer livermaile
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I DO like plot. I like structure; I like riddles; I like a touch of conundrum (but not to the point of making an entire story depend on a trick ending).

But I have little clue as to how to create a plot that interests me except by following my nose along a specific situation (like, say, a digital succubus).

I'm not satisfied unless either the story develops character or the character develops a story. One can see this polarity in my two favorite authors: Borges & Nabokov. I know, it's tres 60s of me to invoke them as my faves, but it's so. Both tended either to create situations that defined their characters or to manifest characters who defined a situation. Borges leaned by far to the former while Nabokov leaned to the latter, but both crossed lines.

Another author who intermittently awes me is Bradbury, but ony one out of ten tries. When he got it right, though (like in his old tale, 'Invisible Boy', about the Arkansas granny witch who wanted to keep a boy for company so she pretended to make him invisible).

A remarkable passage from that story:

"The only sound was the warm mountain light on the high turpentine trees..."

Or this, from "Dandelion Wine", my favorite thing by the man:

"Here was where the big summer-quiet winbds lived and passed in the green depths, like ghost whales, unseen."

Even there, poor Ray can't help going overboard, but 'ghost whales' is a trope in a million.

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Richard Dey
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My greatgrandfather (Frederick van Rensselaer Dey) wrote most of the 'Nick Carter, Master Detective' stories, and his theory was to get Nick into the worst possible situations he could think of for 50,000 words -- then try to get him out of them in the next 50,000 [Big Grin] . Not exactly a formula for 'great writing', but made lots of money; he was at one time the 2nd-biggest-selling author in the world with such crap. I've often wondered if he weren't the cause of the fall of the Russian Empire: 'Nick Carter' was Nicholas II's favorite reading matter [Big Grin] .
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Haggis
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I have the attention span of a ferret on a double espresso. So I stick to topical things rather than really sitting down writing. Plus, I don't write particularly well. And I have never figured out how to properly write a conversation. I always want to put in a "he said" after every use of quotation marks. Plus, I never can think of cool names. "Holden MacGroin" is the best I've come up with. It's sad, really.

edit: Egad! That was my 666th post.

[ April 27, 2005, 10:28 PM: Message edited by: Haggis ]

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Funean
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The 10-year-old boys have eaten your soul, Haggis.
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Haggis
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Thus you see my private torture. I'm a thirty-four year old boy.

[ April 27, 2005, 11:21 PM: Message edited by: Haggis ]

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Markus
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I've been working on the same novel for six or seven years now, and I've thrown it in the dumpster and restarted it four times now...
once after almost 100,000 words...

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KidA
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One thing that can help in a huge way is if you have a rough idea of how the story/novel ends when you start writing it. Even better - write the ending first!

I think the number-one cause of writer's block is not knowing what happens next. So make outlining or sketching a plot one of the fist tasks. When you know where you're headed, you'd be amazed how much more quick and pain-free the writing process is.

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RickyB
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you totally discarded 100K words?
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KnightEnder
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I have been having trouble coming up with 'obstacles'. I have all kinds of good ideas for stories, but they are just interesting ideas without some obstacle for the protagonist to overcome.

For example. I think a story about time-travel where people from the future transport people away from things like the concentration camps, Hiroshima, and the Twin Towers would be interesting. (And they all live in the future.) But without out something to overcome what is the story?

I think writing Satan's memoirs would be great. Especially if he took the position that history is written by the victors and that he has been the object of a millenia's long smear campaign. But what is the story? I guess he could have a hard time getting them published, but how interesting is that?

Another consideration is is there a market for that kind of story?

Any suggestions?

KE

[ May 11, 2005, 08:08 AM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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Dave at Work
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Have you determined detailed rules for how time travel works and what limitations it might have for the Time Travel story? Even if you don't put most of that information directly into the story it might serve to suggest an obstacle or two. Aside from time travel technicalities, you might look at things like getting caught by the guards in the concentration camps, convincing the people of Hiroshima that they are about to be destroyed in a single great explosion or of the radiation dangers that lurk ahead for the survivors that stay behind, or braving the real dangers of smoke inhalation and fire in the Twin Towers.

In the Satan's memoirs story you could set up a fictional religious order like the Jesuits which serves as an antagonist. They could be a shadow organization which you never see directly but which intercepts manuscripts in the mail, infects servers with copies of the electronic manuscript with serious virus problems, and bribes publishers to not publish the memoirs.

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KnightEnder
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Thanks for the ideas. The Satan stuff sounds like it might make a pretty funny Douglas Adams kinda story. I wonder where I could get it published?

KE

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stayne
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<quote>I have been having trouble coming up with 'obstacles'. I have all kinds of good ideas for stories, but they are just interesting ideas without some obstacle for the protagonist to overcome.</quote>

Villains, for one. Hell, didn't Gardner claim anytime he got stuck, he just had some guy walk in with a gun?

<quote>For example. I think a story about time-travel where people from the future transport people away from things like the concentration camps, Hiroshima, and the Twin Towers would be interesting. (And they all live in the future.) But without out something to overcome what is the story?</quote>

Been done before, too. Millennium.

<quote>I think writing Satan's memoirs would be great. Especially if he took the position that history is written by the victors and that he has been the object of a millenia's long smear campaign. But what is the story? I guess he could have a hard time getting them published, but how interesting is that?
</quote>

I love these sorts of ideas, and I don't think it would be hard to publish at all. I've played around a lot with the idea of Satan not being evil, but simply young and rebellious. I kind of dig the idea of having someone run into him and say, "What about you and God?" and Satan saying, "Man, that was 6000 years ago, we got over it, you know? I visit him every weekend. Didn't you ever have a fight with your old man when you were a teenager?"

<quote>Another consideration is is there a market for that kind of story?</quote>

I think everybody, even the non fantasy reader, enjoys a story about the devil. Done right, they can feel very folksy. There's all sorts of stories about deals with the devil, sympathy for the devil, etc. What will make it hard to sell is not the subject matter, but the execution. You're going to have to come up with something quite unique, I think, to grab an editors attention for long.

I wouldn't worry about offending people, overmuch. You don't need to bash god to give the devil his due. [Wink] I'd probably throw the book at the wall if you turned it into a 'god is really evil' sort of thing, not because of religion, just because I've seen that done by bad writers too many times. As a religious guy, I believe God has a sense of humor or I wouldn't have one, so I'm sure he can laugh at himself. And if it turns out he doesn't have a sense of humor, I'm going straight to hell on an express bus anyway....

<Any suggestions?>

IIRC, you have a pretty big personal 'anti-god' thing going on, right? Forget it. For purposes of a story like this, believe in him like a 2 year old. Bear in mind that if you try to paint him as a villain, it will offend your readers, less because of their religious beliefs than because it's silly to believe that a guy who has that many worshippers didn't do something to deserve it. Don't fall into the trap of trying to depict god as an atheist, because it comes off fake.

For example: a lot of atheists will take god to task and say he was evil because he told the Isrealites to kill **** out of such and such people, and smoked sodom and gomorrah, therefore he's a evil because he's a bloody handed killer, etc. This doesn't work because it is not consistant. God _can_ kill people and it not be a moral issue because from his perspective, he's basically just calling them out of the pool for bad behavior and making them sit in a corner. He's making them come inside and go to their room until dinner. If you take the concept of god, along with it comes the concept of afterlife, etc.

If you keep this sort of think in mind, you can do some really good stuff with 'the true story of religion' and make it work well. But if you don't do all the characters justice (or at least humor) it will break.

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KnightEnder
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Millenium. Yeah but I was going to do it well. [Wink] And they just did it off of airplanes, no? Plus, everything has already been done by The Simpsons.

On the Satan story:

I agree. And I was looking at it as a more of Satan got a bad rap sort of thing. The story from his side. Not God as evil, but both of them having their own side to the story, like in real life. I don't have as big a problem with God as I do with the people who work for him. Or claim to work for him? Thanks for the ideas and advice. I'm going to work on it some, but keep'em coming.


KE

[ May 11, 2005, 03:15 PM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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stayne
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quote:
Millenium. Yeah but I was going to do it well. [Wink] And they just did it off of airplanes, no? Plus, everything has already been done by The Simpsons.

Aherm, well, yes, there is that. Millenium was not exactly 'well done' when you get right down to it. [Wink]


quote:
.I agree. And I was looking at it as a more of Satan got a bad rap sort of thing. The story from his side. Not God as evil, but both of them having their own side to the story, like in real life.
Yeh, I'd dig reading a story like that. That's what I judge stuff on really. The older I get, the less unique I find I really am, so if I dig it, I figure other people will too. [Wink]

quote:
I don't have as big a problem with God as I do with the people who work for him. Or claim to work for him?
LOL, you may end up a Christian, yet, then. As I recall, Jesus wan't too fond of those guys, either. There's a reason they wanted him dead, after all. [Wink]

quote:
Thanks for the ideas and advice. I'm going to work on it some, but keep'em coming.
Send us out the beginning when you get it to the point where it has a direction.
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RickyB
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KE, I hope this doesn't sound supercillious, but I think it's counter-productive to even think about "where could I get this published" before you've written it. If it's a good story, there's a market for it. Make the product first [Smile]
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KnightEnder
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quote:
If it's a good story, there's a market for it.
That I did not know. Good to hear. I won't worry anymore, I'll just write. It's been six weeks since I sent off my story and no word yet. What do you think that means?

KE

[ May 11, 2005, 08:43 PM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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RickyB
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Hey, from what I read, the rejection to acceptance ration is often like 99-1, so you just gotta send your stuff to as many places as possible. As for the market - yeah. I mean, certain genres are more in demand than others, and no one guaarantees even the best stuff will get published, but I don't think you or I work with strange enough kinds of stuff to worry about "is there a market for this kind of writing". Whether our examples happen to be good enough and lucky enough is another thing entirely.
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KnightEnder
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Is it permissible to send out multiple copies of the same story to different magazines, publishers, agents? What if two accept it at the same time? (A problem I would like to have.)

KE

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stayne
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No, it is not permissable unless they specifically say so. It is not fair, but it is the rule. I hear it is a good way to get on editor's ****lists. I would guess it's to avoid just the situation you describe. And apparently, agents can get away with it, but they are different beasts.
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kenmeer livermaile
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OWW isn't Ornery to me. You'll see me in here a fair bit next week. For now:

I know a guy who submits multiple copies alla time. Their attitude is **** the editors if they want to have a monopoly on rejection slips. He once got two acceptance notices within one week. He played one off the other. Said: "Gotta better offer here. Wanna beat it? If not, beat it."

Pisses editors off that they do all that HARD reading and deciding work for naught if the story they decide to accept has been taken elsewhere.

Poor babies. It pisses a writer off to do all that work of WRITING the dang story, mailing it off, et cetera, only to get a rejection slip. For no salary.

Get on an editor's **** list for practicing free market principles? That editor's publication will probably either go under ere soon or replace said editor if said editor puts writers of high quality material on a ****list because a writer is good enough to 'sell' the same story twice in the same week.

Of course, this may well be free lance suicide, but the guy who gave me this advice had sold quite a few stories, even one of which is more than I've ever sold.

My fave crack of his, in response to editors speaking of 'their readers': "YOUR readers? No one reads your crap; you're an EDITOR not a writer."

But moderation in all things....

[ May 12, 2005, 06:02 PM: Message edited by: kenmeer livermaile ]

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stayne
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As you note, this guy is previously published, so he is a known quantity. An editor will know him as something other than a simsubber. An unknown with a rep as a simsubber is likely to get bounced without being read.

It's business, man. You don't come in begging for a job and flaunt the fact that you think the prospective employer's rules are a bunch of BS. He's not going to be impressed with your individuality. He's going to be impressed by your talent. If you get in his face before he knows you have talent, he'll show you the door without giving you a chance to show him what you can do.

[ May 12, 2005, 06:18 PM: Message edited by: stayne ]

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Richard Dey
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For those who need a quicky background in English lit, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (-1921), found at Bartleby's: http://www.bartleby.com/cambridge/ , is sound and comprehensive. It's 11,000 pages -- but it's a quick read [Big Grin] .
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kenmeer livermaile
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"As you note, this guy is previously published, so he is a known quantity. An editor will know him as something other than a simsubber. An unknown with a rep as a simsubber is likely to get bounced without being read."

He became known, that is published a few times, partly through simsubbing. When called on it, he told eds to mind their own business and he'd mind his. Rejection slips are NOT effective bartering chips. His job was to get publishged; their job was to pick stories. He didn't tell them what to pick or how many copies to print; so don't tell him how to sell his wares, was his message..

One doesn't FLAUNT the fact one is simsubbing; one just does it. Of course, in today's googolized inforealm, editors might well have mean of identifying sumsubbing early on. It's easy to envision using editor-shared search software to identify such.

When this guy did this it was in the heydays of the first big internet rush (mid-90s), a time when, as he said, "Everyone with talent and willingness to submit was getting both published AND paid."

Why TELL an editor you're ignoring his rules? They're HIS rules, not your business. Let HIM mind 'em.

However, I will not simsub myself, at least not at first and/or not like that. I'll start with about five stories and submit them (simultaneously) to their best respective markets. Everyone will get precisely ONE month of exclusive access (this means one month fin which I can be told that the check's in the mail. Better read my story within 2 weeks or you might be wasting your time. (Thus, of course, it's MY job to make them worth reading in the first two weeks.) Then, if no eds bite, I'll churn the musical submission chairs, adding another stopry to the mix. (I envision one story a month; the time frame will force me to finish with an eye toward salability rather than never-ending perfection.) No 2-3 month waiting periods for me. Editors can catch me the next time around and learn to read me sooner. They'll only care if they offer to buy a story and find it's been bought by someone else -- at which point I'll be an established author whose material has been proven to moce quickly. I'll have justifiable reason to tell an editor that if he wants to do business with ME, he'd better move at a similar speed regarding MY stories.

Once an editor has proven his willingness/ability to write sigbnificant checks to me, he'll then get the special consideration that editors seem to think is their due solely for allegedly possessing the privilege and power to wrote checks (not to mention supposedly knowing the difference between a good story and a bad story which, from my reading of the brand-name press, is questionable about 50% of the time.

"My greatgrandfather (Frederick van Rensselaer Dey) wrote most of the 'Nick Carter, Master Detective' stories, and his theory was to get Nick into the worst possible situations he could think of for 50,000 words -- then try to get him out of them in the next 50,000 [Big Grin]"

So your great-grand was a wagon boss of the early American pulp fiction pioneer trail?

Sigh... the days of the standard 100K novels seem to have gone. Folks want big fat 175-350k novels full of goony filler these days. I RARELY read novels so presumptuously large, and won't write 'em either if I can help it. For a tale to go on for 200k words it better be EXTREMELY good, and impeccably well-written.

Most writers of 250k novels don't strike me as being such.

"I always want to put in a "he said" after every use of quotation marks. "

Do it. He said/she said is one of the marks of a seasoned writer. After all, it's what happens: he said/she said/they said. Cluttering it with 'she fumed bitterly,' or, 'he coyly inclined,', is usually just so much.... clutter.

Cool names are for editors to come up with.

"I hope this doesn't sound supercillious, but I think it's counter-productive to even think about "where could I get this published" before you've written it. If it's a good story, there's a market for it. Make the product first "

I think it works as well either way. Aiming at a particular market is as wise as designing the arrows to fly straight.

Regarding those stories, I intend them to be VERY good, with my knack for verbal flourishes welded to something like canadian's streamlined way with a close-shave tale.

The best literature I read these days come from 'genre', but is of a quality that transcends its genre without even necessarily trying to. One can see this trend going back to Stephen King (or one of his early champions, John MacDonald (TRavis McGee), who is a 'genre' writer that has nonetheless redefined what mainstream writing IS. He's not my fave writer at all, but he typifies the rise of the pulps from the depths onto the surface of literature overall, while 'mainstream literature' has become a genre of its own right: 'Oprah-style'.

William Gibson's career echoes this path, only better in terms of 'literary standards' (for he can write stylistic rings around King, although King's natural story-trlling power will prevail). He is now "mainstream-from-sci-fi-sub-genre-cyberpunk." His work now resembles John le Carre's far more than it does his early idols William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick.

But it encapsulates the best of both worlds.

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KnightEnder
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I am still reading Heinlein's "Time Enough for Love" a Lazarus Long novel, (you might notice I've been quoting him a lot lately),and it is almost 600 pages long. All of them excellent.

KE

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Wish me luck! I just emailed off my short story "Evil is Relative" to The New Yorker. They take submissions only by email. I wish everyone in the publishing industry worked that way. However, don't stop reading and commenting on my story, the chances of it getting published by them is pretty slim and I will want to make changes based on y'alls suggestions for when I send it off next time. OSC is right, I feel much better now that I am actually sending them off. And now going to the mail box is like buying a lottery ticket. With better odds, though not much. Also, now I can fantasize about becoming a real writer. Any prayers or good thoughts sent my way, whatever you do to influence things like this, will be greatly appreciated. Special thanks to those of you that have given me feedback and advice on this story so far. Someday I plan on thanking you all in the foreword. [Smile] Won't that be [Cool] ?

KE

[ May 18, 2005, 01:28 AM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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Richard Dey
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On Half-Haggis's 'Footprint' article: two-bedroom--flat-sized is an adjectival phrase that needs 'courtesy' hyphens. Otherwise, very good news knack. Rees and Wackernack or what their names were ought to be identified (and hectares to acres for American press release of course).
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hywer
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Also on Half-Haggis's article: Concise enough for a paper, I think, and well done. I would consider changing the story to second or third person, see how it sounds, and then decide between the choices--it makes it personal in the first person, but more comfortable in the third. Like I said, consider it but it's no rule or anything. I'd like to see it in my local paper, but that's waaay to much to ask. [Frown]
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canadian
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I've finally got some time. I'll be going through the backlog as well. I didn't want to rush through anyone's stories.
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Shane Roe
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I motivate myself to write using one of several methods:

1- Deadlines. I've joined online flash fiction groups with a weekly prompt that I need to write a story for. This helps motivate me.

2- Free writing. I write as fast as I can for 45 minutes without making any grammar/spelling or any other kind of corrections. This kicks the editor under the table and allows me to get something done that I can go back and edit later.

3- I remind myself that life is only so long, that I have dreams, and that I'd better get my butt in gear if I ever hope to accomplish them.


Shane

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Richard Dey
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Re: FRAGGING

With no reference to throwing annoying commanders out of helicopters at all, the term 'frag' has reentered the language as in 'a fragmentary sentence' -- rather mislabeled 'fragmented sentence' in The Chronicle of Higher Education -- whij ain't much ejoocated innyhows.

In 1988, Andrea A. Lunsford and Robert J. Connors tabulated the top-20 nonspelling errors in 3K college essays. In 12th place was "The Sentence Fragment". [Eek!] Seven out of these 20 errors related specifically to comma use.

Theodore Bernstein has identified no less than 14 different types of sentence fragment, each bearing a name; if each type must be memorized by highschoolers, this will no doubt reduce their usage. A couple of examples: "First, the Dutch." -- which is labeled A Transitional Fragmented Sentence or TFS. Second, "A very rash assertion indeed!" (labeled An Undercutting Fragmented Sentence). Well, you get the idea-r ....

A Fragment Fighter from Durham Technical Community College (in NC somewhere) insists:

Any paper with a run-on sentence or a sentence fragment will be returned to the student to be rewritten. I will draw a line at the errant sentence and not read past the run-on/fragmented sentence. Talk about run-on sentences [Big Grin] , or ought there be a comman the first 'sentence'?, pun intended.

GAWSH! The nuns at St Peeler weren't that tough!

Bill Walsh, in Lapsing into a Comma, counters: "Many good writers use fragments. Bad writers use them too, so it's a judgment call, but only the most fuddy-duddy excuses for copy editors routinely convert every fragment they see into a complete sentence."

Jan Freeman, writing in TBG 2005.05.22 suggests we rename the 'sentence fragment' a 'snappy'.

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