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Robinski

Craft Nook

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I thought it might be good to have place where we could discuss technical issues of the mechanics of writing, drop questions for the group, maybe talk about craft and such like.

You may have discovered by now that this is something I feel quite strongly about <cough>, but please be assured it's not just a place for me to rant :lol:

Maybe it will sink to the bottom like a stone, but I thought it was worth a test run.

In all seriousness, no judgement here. There are more ways than one to skin a chapter, and it's entirely acceptable (IMO) for character dialogue (for example) to be chock full of grammatical faux pas, subject to the upbringing, and education of a character. There can also be a strong case for 'correct' grammar being subservient to style (when there is a good story reason), as classics like 1984, featuring newspeak, and A Clockwork Orange with its 'fictional register or argot', nadsat, demonstrate. Although, these are more akin to made-up languages, I suppose.

But I thought this would not just be about the mechanics of writing, but also a place for discuss approaches to editing, and writing process--anything that would come under the heading of writing craft, as distinct from the creative parts of writing.

Anyway, just a thought.

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I think it'd be great to have a space for writers! I actually have been thinking about the Pyramid of Abstraction of late (if you watch Brandon's lectures you'll know what I'm talking about), and I wanted to discuss the line a writer walks between word count and really grounding a reader in a scene -- at what point is it counterproductive?

I personally think that it depends on the purpose of a scene: does the author want the reader to really feel like they're really in the room with the characters, or does s/he want a more fast-paced, probably action-packed scene? Conversation beats also fit into this; if you want the reader to be more aware of what's going on and more inside the head of the narrator, you probably want more description, whereas if the conversation is of import, you want to focus on the dialogue and take out as many tags as possible while still making clear who is saying what.

What do you guys think? Where does your prose typically fall on the spectrum, and how do you incorporate concepts like the Pyramid of Abstraction into your everyday writing? I don't think that one type is necessarily better than the other in the grand scheme of things, but you have to be very intentional with your techniques and their different purposes for each scene/chapter/book.

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I'm in! I've been looking for a writing group for a while now because just because I think my work is good doesn't necessarily mean that it is good. Plus I have terrible grammar and to be able to have someone proofread my work would be invaluable! 

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3 minutes ago, PiedPeterPiper said:

I actually have been thinking about the Pyramid of Abstraction of late (if you watch Brandon's lectures you'll know what I'm talking about), and I wanted to discuss the line a writer walks between word count and really grounding a reader in a scene -- at what point is it counterproductive?

Hey there. I have watched Branson's lectures before, but it must have been 3/4/5 years ago, and I dare say he has updated them since them, to some degree. I must watch them again!! :) 

That's quite the quite the far-ranging question too, and has to come down to an individual writers' judgement, I think. I would say that if information does not add to the scene, however, it's probably going to come over as surplus to requirements. That said, there is place for less or more world-building depending on genre. I always think fantasy writers have greater license to lay out a bit more world-building before the reader start to roll their eyes.

11 minutes ago, PiedPeterPiper said:

personally think that it depends on the purpose of a scene: does the author want the reader to really feel like they're really in the room with the characters, or does s/he want a more fast-paced, probably action-packed scene? Conversation beats also fit into this; if you want the reader to be more aware of what's going on and more inside the head of the narrator, you probably want more description, whereas if the conversation is of import, you want to focus on the dialogue and take out as many tags as possible while still making clear who is saying what.

Agree. I always think it's a matter of degrees, and I feel the old maxim 'You can please some of the people...' (etc.) applies. As the world-building or just description builds and maybe stretches, you start to lose a proportion of the readership, and the more the author 'indulges' the higher the proportion you lose (possibly exponentially?). As you pose in your post, what is the optimal level? This is where critique groups / writing groups (like this one!!); critic partners; and alpha / beta readers come in, of course to help hone the levels.

17 minutes ago, PiedPeterPiper said:

Where does your prose typically fall on the spectrum

For my particular drafting process (I tend to outline 50/67% of the storyline and discovery the rest), I find I'm light on character narration, internal monologue and emotion after the first draft, and also I tend to write things the sounds cool and do what I want for the story, and then find I've under justified those plot point or character decisions. As for world-building, I'll tend to outline it with my pre-writing notes, but find I need to flesh out as I go, thereafter coming back to 'fix' inconsistencies in the first draft. I tend to be so concentrated on character and dialogue that it tends to be plot and world-building the get short-changed. Really, I should do more research / development at the start than I do presently.

And as for the pyramid, well, moderation in all things for me. I tend to slontze about lack of concrete words when I cannot figure out what's going on in someone's draft, but that does not mean there is not a place for abstraction, of course. I feel it's above that abstraction remaining cohesive with the context, and still delivering meaning that the reader (or a high proportion of them) can decipher. Otherwise, that abstraction would tend to defeat the purpose, for me.

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On watching Brandon's lectures: I highly recommend watching the new series, even if you've watched all the ones on Camera Panda; there's a lot of new material, different takes on old material, etc. It's also fascinating to see how he as a writer has evolved and changed his opinions throughout the years.

On balance between description and word count, we basically agree. It's important not to go overboard on the information you give to the reader, but the writer also needs to know everything going on, even if s/he doesn't share all their plans and backstory. (This was basically the iceberg concept, and the knowledge gap between the author and the reader generally depends on the depth of the his/her world; sometimes they don't have time to develop absolutely everything.)

I also think that using different senses will bring a scene down on the Pyramid without pushing the prose toward a purple-y color (did that metaphor make sense? I doubt it, but I'll stick with it for lack of a better one). Adding variety to your description can ground the reader further while still keeping them hooked -- something I often forget to do in my first drafts but always try to work on when editing.

However, I could see instances in which an author goes way overboard on something because they're writing from the perspective of a certain character who's really fascinated by (for example) abstract art. They may not want to give the full extent of the character's thought process, because the majority of the readership would be incredibly bored by this, but I think it would be beneficial to give a sample of the description of said art that would not come up if another narrator was in that place. The author can then just imply that the thought process continued -- or could cut the character off in their description by creating a disruption. I find this trick handy, but it's one that can't be used too often.

Conversely, maybe an author is writing a head-in-the-clouds-type character who doesn't really notice what's going on around them; in this situation, maybe an author would hold back on details that should have been noted. S/he will have to find another way to convey the necessary information. I would just add a viewpoint, but that's a very SF/F type of thing. literary fiction does this less -- although, let's be real: almost no literary fiction buffs are on 17S. However, lit. fiction authors have to come up with other ways to do this, and that strengthens their writing, so maybe SF/F writers should explore different ways to do this as well.

So while authors do need to find a general balance and stick to it consistently while finding ways to add variety to their prose, there are instances where one would stray from their formula and cut their description short or let it go on longer to help flesh out their characters more. (Side note: obviously this is not the end-all, be-all of character development; all authors need to find multiple ways of conveying their characters' personalities to their readers.

To what extent do you use description as character development, and how do you use it in tangent with word choice in prose as well as dialogue beats and tags?

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6 minutes ago, FantasyFanatic said:

I'm in! I've been looking for a writing group for a while now because just because I think my work is good doesn't necessarily mean that it is good. Plus I have terrible grammar and to be able to have someone proofread my work would be invaluable! 

Hi Fantasy Fanatic,

Well, this is the Reading Excuses writing group, that has been operating on the site for...a number of years (about 8/9? Help me out here @Silk!). I know its more than 7 years, because I joined in 2013. We are very active at the moment, as there are four novels going through the group on a weekly basis, but there is a steady stream of new members coming and going, so you'd be welcome I'm sure. (I think we have 7 requests for 5 slots this Monday.)

Please do have a look at the guidelines and maybe check out some of the critiques to get a feel for what we do here. There is a range of experience and also of progress through the publishing maze, with membership including (at least) three published authors.

35 minutes ago, FantasyFanatic said:

Plus I have terrible grammar and to be able to have someone proofread my work would be invaluable!

I would express a note of caution. We are a critique group, not a proof-reading service. Those are of course very different things, as I'm sure you know. Also, I'd say that proofreading is probably not of great immediate value if there are critiquing issues with a story, and nobody has ever critiqued it before. 

37 minutes ago, FantasyFanatic said:

just because I think my work is good...

Hah, yes, I've been there more than once. There are not many things worse (I think) than writing in a vacuum. Luckily, there is very little better than being a member of an ace, encouraging and very supportive writing group!!

Five final words of warning, for which I will simply refer to the strap line on the T-shirts we got made when six of us met up at WorldCon in Dublin (2019)... ;) 

5ed3fcf3bd83a_RET-shirt.thumb.jpeg.aba10c9ae888e06d85cc3b5f53ff1979.jpeg

You have been warned :D 

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19 minutes ago, Robinski said:

You have been warned :D 

Those words are SO TRUE.

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28 minutes ago, Robinski said:

Well, this is the Reading Excuses writing group, that has been operating on the site for...a number of years (about 8/9? Help me out here @Silk!). I know its more than 7 years, because I joined in 2013. We are very active at the moment, as there are four novels going through the group on a weekly basis, but there is a steady stream of new members coming and going, so you'd be welcome I'm sure. (I think we have 7 requests for 5 slots this Monday.)

I didn't realize this was a writing group! How can I apply? I understand, of course, that my odds are low, but I'm working on my second novel right now and this seems like a great opportunity to improve my writing and to learn from other authors.

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1 hour ago, Robinski said:

I would express a note of caution. We are a critique group, not a proof-reading service. Those are of course very different things, as I'm sure you know. Also, I'd say that proofreading is probably not of great immediate value if there are critiquing issues with a story, and nobody has ever critiqued it before.

Duly noted.

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2 hours ago, PiedPeterPiper said:

I didn't realize this was a writing group! How can I apply? I understand, of course, that my odds are low, but I'm working on my second novel right now and this seems like a great opportunity to improve my writing and to learn from other authors.

Well, essentially, you just ask to join. There is a very loose 26-point character evaluation, a forensic credit check and a 90-minute interview, but all of that is waived for fans of Brooklyn 99, and you just PM @Silk and myself with your preferred email address, and whoever happens to be awake at the time (it's a time zone thing) will add your email to the circulation list.

Submissions are issued on Monday (generally). There's a spiel that goes with it which we generally dish out in response to the PM. I would again recommend reading the guidelines on the pinned thread just so everyone's clear on what's what.

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3 hours ago, Robinski said:

for...a number of years (about 8/9? Help me out here @Silk!

It was 10 years in December, actually.

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On 5/31/2020 at 3:29 PM, Silk said:

It was 10 years in December, actually.

Shards, I was 13 when this group was founded. That means I was in, what, 8th grade? Man, I am such a baby. 

On the other hand, says something about the quality of this group if it has been running for a decade and so many of you have been a part of it for years.

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Posted (edited)

Bringing this thread back to what it was originally supposed to be, I would like to go on a short rant. A short rant for me, anyway.

I recently returned a book on Libby because it made me so angry. I was less than halfway through. I originally picked up Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim because it was originally described as "Mulan meets Project Runway." I was intrigued. "Sounds fun," I thought.

I became quickly disappointed. 

First of all, YA rant. I'm sick of reading YA that has come out in the last few years that is so thinly plotted out and is a jumble of illogical character decisions. There is no excuse. Quality should and can be found in all age ranges and genres. Children of Blood and Bone by Tori Adeyem was marketed like crazy and seemed so promising and was complete trash. I mean, the villain and the MC hate each other for half the book, then fall madly in love in one chapter, promising to go to the ends of the earth for one another because they're bonded, before he decides to go betray her in the next chapter. I mean, this isn't a new problem, just look at Twilight. I have just come to the realization that I've probably outgrown YA. 

Second rant, which applies to every genre. Authors who don't do their research and editors who don't catch those mistakes. And I'm not talking about technobabble or some very specific thing that 98% of the audience won't catch.

I'm talking basics. I returned Spin the Dawn because it called reins "leather straps." Now, in case you're new, I am completely horse crazy. But horse-crazy people aren't rare. It's not like 98% of the audience wouldn't know what reins are. What really gets my goat is that how long would it have taken the author, their agent, their editor, their beta readers, anyone to go look up what those leather straps that steer a horse is called. I mean, it isn't some specialty piece of tack like a martingale. It's reins!!! Horses are common!!! I can forgive a first draft, a second draft, a third draft for making mistakes. But when a book published by Penguin Random House lets something as obvious as reins miss the mark, I find it infuriating*. 

I mean, just do your research, people!!!! Google exists!!!!

Also, if anyone wants to go on "Pretty prose doesn't necessarily make up for a thin plot and thinner characters" rant, somebody go read The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern because, wooohooo, boy, I would love to go on a rant about that book.

*My friend has now named my reins rant the George Costanza rant, but I've never seen Seinfeld. Apparently it fits, so yay me.

Edited by Snakenaps
My friend had opinions
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Posted (edited)

As long as we're dropping stories about critical research failure, I'm going to echo @Snakenaps point - authors do not do research. And here's something else that I'd like to point out - 'common knowledge' is wrong occasionally. Nothing major, but it's wrong at least a solid 1% of the time. And if you think that's not a problem, then 1) you've clearly never played XCOM and 2) if you insert 100 pieces of 'common knowledge' into your book, than at least 1 of those pieces will be wrong and it will be sad and bad. So, in addition to doing basic research about whatever you're writing, just do basic research about things you're sure you know. Just in case you aren't.

Here's an example. I was reading a YA book as a favor to someone (long story as to why and I don't remember the book's title), which was set in New York in the 1920s. As it happens, this is something I'm familiar with. Now, the book wasn't researched well and compensated for it by using crude parody versions of every notable name at the time instead of the actual people, but then there was a scene when it didn't. It used an actual person who was alive in 1920, and I was laughing for minutes after I read it. In the book, there's a scene where a female mentor of one of the characters sneaks into Polo Grounds to spy on the Yankees, and identifies that the new player they have - one George Herman 'Babe' Ruth - isn't really anything more than a good pitcher, but if the Yankees really wanted to make him shine, they should put him in the outfield and let him be a slugger. For the non-American and non-baseball members of RE, I'll sum up the 'common knowledge' here. George Ruth, better known by his moniker 'Babe' Ruth, was traded to the Yankees in 1919 from the Red Sox and became the greatest slugger in his time. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, if not the greatest. He has a monstrous lifetime slugging percentage of .690, which not only is still the record to this day, the next closest is at .634. And, yes, he was originally a pitcher on the Red Sox before he was traded to the Yankees. All this stuff is pretty well known even to the more casual fans of baseball.

The intention behind this scene was to demonstrate that the female mentor knows baseball, despite it being 1920s New York and thus baseball is a societal taboo for women to be interested in, and said mentor character (and the author by extension) is therefore progressive beyond her time. That's fine with me, I have nothing against female mentors being baseball nerds. And, in theory, being able to tell that a mediocre pitcher would make a fantastic slugger is an ability that even professional scouts would be jealous of, so it's not a bad idea. The thing is that I happen to be somewhat of a baseball nerd myself and I know something the author doesn't - in reality, Babe Ruth was a fantastic pitcher. He pitched almost 30 consecutive innings of shutout in the World Series (including one full game which was a shutout), had a total of 89 wins in the six years he pitched for Boston, and has a lifetime ERA of 2.28. (For the non-baseball fans, those are Hall of Fame numbers we're talking about here.) Thus, having said character declare Babe Ruth 'not a good pitcher' isn't revealing that she knows a lot about baseball - it reveals she has no idea what she's talking about and doesn't understand how the sport works. Saying that he would be a good slugger isn't a redeeming factor either, considering, again, in reality, the Yankees never signed him on as a pitcher in the first place, they always intended to have him in the outfield and use him as a slugger. Not to mention he literally tied the league in home runs the previous year. Not to mention that he batted .300. As a pitcher. Remember when I said he was considered to be the greatest baseball player of all time? This is why. But, unfortunately, his skill as a pitcher is sadly forgotten, for the most part, and hence this mistake.

This is your one and only warning. Sports nerds takes their statistics seriously. Take it from someone who understands sabermetrics: If you screw up by doing no research into the reality and just use your perception of sports filtered through popular culture, you will be wrong, we nerds will find you and we will correct you. If you ever say something through the mouth of an expert in your book, do yourself a favor and ask someone who actually knows a few things before screwing up. Do not trust your 'common knowledge' when writing a book.

Edited by aeromancer
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45 minutes ago, aeromancer said:

Sports nerds takes their statistics seriously. Take it from someone who understands sabermetrics: If you screw up by doing no research into the reality and just use your perception of sports filtered through popular culture, you will be wrong, we nerds will find you and we will correct you.

If there is one thing I fear, it is sports nerds. 

When I was doing my student teaching, my co-teacher was 1) a massive sports fanatic and 2) a former PE teacher of nine years. Her family literally has a basement twice the size of my apartment dedicated purely to sports. I, however, know pretty much nothing about sports. Actually, that's probably giving myself too much credit. I learned pretty quickly between both the students and my co-teacher that I knew less than nothing.

During a class meeting, one of my fourth grade students said, "My favorite thing about Ms. Snakenaps is that she always tries her hardest at PE...and fails." The boy sitting next to me put his hand on my shoulder and said, "It's true, Ms. Snakenaps," as the whole class murmured their agreement. I completely agreed with them on that. But, hey, if I expected them to fail in front of me in math, I thought it was only fair that I fail in front of them in sports. 

51 minutes ago, aeromancer said:

Do not trust your 'common knowledge' when writing a book.

Thankfully, I am in the middle of revising, because now you are making me question everything. I do not want to end up being a prime example of what not to do on this forum or elsewhere XD

53 minutes ago, aeromancer said:

authors do not do research

I'd also like to bring up that sometimes research doesn't work out and you have to know when to revise.

For instance, I had this idea for an 1880's low-fantasy story that involved golems and a magic system that I was going to base off of Judaism. Except I learned that messing around with a living, breathing religion is not a very good idea. I am not particularly religious, and have never seriously been a part of an organized religion. Therefore, my own bias led me to look at Judaism with the same eyes that I look at, say, Roman or Celtic mythology. To say the least, when it dawned on me that, yes, I found (and find) Judaism utterly fascinating and gorgeous, I was massively disrespecting an entire culture - a culture with a long, rocky history - for a book idea. It was a very shameful, eye-opening lesson. A definitely worthwhile one. There was no way I was going to be able to research and write Judaism well enough to pull it off, not without butchering something so beautiful and ancient. 

The book idea is still relevant, but I'm going through and tearing it back to its base.  

Relevant Writing Excuses podcast on doing your research (at least about guns):

https://writingexcuses.com/2012/04/22/writing-excuses-7-17-guns-and-fiction/

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14 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

*My friend has now named my reins rant the George Costanza rant, but I've never seen Seinfeld. Apparently it fits, so yay me.

LOL :lol: 

george_costanza.jpg.d031b207b9aa549bbfe47e9e386cb6fd.jpg

14 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

What really gets my goat is that how long would it have taken the author, their agent, their editor, their beta readers, anyone to go look up what those leather straps that steer a horse is called.

Yep, hard agree. I believe the problem here is the general state of editing (and proofreading?), BUT, I think you can spin that back to the state of higher education of English, and probably creative writing. There is a glut of fiction the like of which has never been known, all due to the IT revolution and the ability of any individual now (in the fortunate position to be able to afford a personal computer of some sort) to write a book. This results in a significant increase in the number of publishers trying to make a buck, and therefore a proportional increase (I guess) in the numbers of editors, agents, etc. The problem is I believe that quality and skill takes a hit in that situation. 

Furthermore, even in my experience--and I was in what you would call grade school (I think) in the 70's, the teaching of the mechanics of our language, the grammar and word-smithing skills that drove me to start this thread, were winding down. Now, I think, the massive load and pressures on teachers tend to make it impossible for them to correct grammar in school work, or maybe they are actively directed not to bother with it, because of spellcheckers, etc. The end result, I think, is a glut of graduates whose word skills, whose vocabulary, whose understanding of text, statistically, are poorer than the previous generation, and that tends to compound.

Presumably this will bottom out, but I think we end up because of the volume of writing that is being produced and published with an industry that ends up employing many people who are presumed to be able to do the job of editor, but don't have word skills, or the time, or the commitment, or their employer (or the author?) does not put the resources into alpha and beta reading to good, committed readers, and the quality of the publishing process suffers.

We've discussed her before what happens in small publishing houses (of which @kais, @Mandamon and @shatteredsmooth have direct experience of being published), but to read your point Snakenaps, well, it's very disappointing indeed, and I totally agree.

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9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

So, in addition to doing basic research about whatever you're writing, just do basic research about things you're sure you know. Just in case you aren't.

Yes. 'Fortunately', I have a terrible memory, so I am forever checking on the meaning of words and basic facts that I am 'sure' I know. I think I learned this over many years of being stung (don't know if it was 1% of the time, Aero: I never counted :) ).

7 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

My favorite thing about Ms. Snakenaps is that she always tries her hardest at PE

I think we can all agree that you now have to legally change your actual real-life name to "Ms. Snakenaps".

7 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

There was no way I was going to be able to research and write Judaism well enough to pull it off, not without butchering something so beautiful and ancient.

I think we should give ourselves a break in respect of where we are in the writing spectrum (and boy, is that a spectrum). A professional author, who is commissioned by a big publishing house to write fiction that is based on a particular period, place or person, sometimes does (I am positive) a massive amount of reach to get them to the place they need to be to write that book. For some reason the book that comes to mind is Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall based on Thomas Cromwell, but just as an example. I presume she must have done a massive amount of research to write such a long and detailed book (trilogy) about the life of an actual historical figure. Some authors, serious heavyweights in literature, will I think do months of research on a subject in order to be convincing and right. Of course it's a matter of balance in terms of how central and important the detail is to your story.

Taking your example, Ms. @Snakenaps, you could have written that book, but you might have needed--I dunno--two solid months of research, talking to sensitivity readers, practicing members of that religion willing to open up, experts or other authors in the field. 

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5 hours ago, Robinski said:

Now, I think, the massive load and pressures on teachers tend to make it impossible for them to correct grammar in school work, or maybe they are actively directed not to bother with it, because of spellcheckers, etc.

As someone who has spent three years volunteering in classrooms while in college, did her year of student teaching, and subbed for a year...the educational system is extremely broken. I can only talk for California, since that is where I have my experience, but teachers in general are overworked, underpaid, have few resources, and have to deal with an entitled but inept children and an administration that cares more about its money and its politics than its students and teachers. 

As much as it breaks my heart to say it, I had already been considering not continuing my career into teaching. Now, thanks to Covid, I'm firmly turning towards a new career. One that pays better, that gives me time to write in the evenings, and doesn't treat me like garbage. 

5 hours ago, Robinski said:

The end result, I think, is a glut of graduates whose word skills, whose vocabulary, whose understanding of text, statistically, are poorer than the previous generation, and that tends to compound.

In California, at least, teachers aren't teaching cursive anymore unless they want to. And generally, those teachers who want to, are already swamped trying to prepare their students for tests so that they can get funding for their pencils. I had to teach a 5th grader what the different types of coins are as well as how to read an analog clock (a normal, non-digital clock). If a 5th grader not knowing how to read a clock is bad, I had a classmate in college who couldn't read one either. 

This next generation is so screwed in so many ways. My generation is screwed. Having multiple friends who have been teaching for 30+ years each, they say that this generation of students can be more emotionally and socially connected to their peers (when they want to be), but is less focused, has a strong sense of entitlement, and is generally inept at a terrifying amount of life skills. 

How much of this can we blame on our educational system, and how much can we blame on the (lack of) parenting? How much of this is because the American society, at a whole, is broken? I am blessed to live in such a beautiful state and an incredible country, but that doesn't mean I am blind to either one's faults. 

5 hours ago, Robinski said:

I think we can all agree that you now have to legally change your actual real-life name to "Ms. Snakenaps".

I should have used Ms. Curly in my example, since that's what many students actually do call me. But Ms. Snakenaps would be a rad name.

5 hours ago, Robinski said:

Taking your example, Ms. @Snakenaps, you could have written that book, but you might have needed--I dunno--two solid months of research, talking to sensitivity readers, practicing members of that religion willing to open up, experts or other authors in the field. 

I completely agree. I was raised with the philosophy of that you can do anything you put your mind to as long as you are willing to put the effort in. I weighed the pros and cons, and in the end, I thought it would be better to find a different element for the book. I am still a beginning writer - I only have one unpolished manuscript under my belt. In comparison, how many books and short stories have you written, @Robinski? I previously never considered writing any other stories than the one I've currently got on paper and the books that follow it. I decided that it was probably better to use K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid - on this idea. Going from a fictional high magic world with talking creatures to the real world with a low magic idea is going to be a big jump for me, but I want to stretch myself. I thought it better to focus on coal mining towns and good writing than get in way over my head on an idea I'm not nearly as passionate about as Name.

Then again, I think it will take me a long time to build something I am as passionate about. The core of Name stretches back before high school, even if it is completely and totally unrecognizable now. Those characters and the plot have grown up with me, and that in itself is a danger. Thankfully, I seem pretty good at killing my darlings. Sometimes, though, I feel I need to apologize to some characters, locations, and ideas that I cut after years of existing. Especially to one particular character, who very nearly made it, and was cut at the 25% point of Draft One. 

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57 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:

I can only talk for California, since that is where I have my experience, but teachers in general are overworked, underpaid, have few resources, and have to deal with an entitled but inept children and an administration that cares more about its money and its politics than its students and teachers.

My experience in the UK nowadays is limited to hearing my two friends who are teachers talking about such things, but I'm pretty confident things in the UK, generally speaking, are similar, certainly in a lot of schools where socio-economic factors are such that many of the kids probably don't get much motivation at home.

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

One that pays better, that gives me time to write in the evenings, and doesn't treat me like garbage.

No one would blame you. I have another friend who is a trained accountant, went from their to teaching Maths, but had to give that up for health reasons (the stress was destroying him). He is now a postman, and very happy with that.

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

I had to teach a 5th grader what the different types of coins are as well as how to read an analog clock (a normal, non-digital clock).

So that's like 9/10-year old? Wow. I mean, wow.

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

but is less focused, has a strong sense of entitlement, and is generally inept at a terrifying amount of life skills.

Absolutely. The scary thing I notice now is that am less focused. I find it really hard to sit a write for an hour without looking up. I can do it, but it takes effort. It is absolutely and without any doubt social media that does this. I can completely convinced. Eyes flicking back to the screen, back to the screen, back to the screen each time a reply comes in on F-book, Tw-tter, Dis-ord, Insta--am, email, etc. So, kids have no chance, I am not even a gamer anymore, which is another level of distraction, I suppose.

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

How much of this can we blame on our educational system, and how much can we blame on the (lack of) parenting? How much of this is because the American society, at a whole, is broken?

I'd go 10% system; 60% parenting; 30% state of society/the world, personally.

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

I thought it would be better to find a different element for the book. I am still a beginning writer - I only have one unpolished manuscript under my belt.

You make a good point there. I remember WE making the comment that, sometimes, one is just not a good enough writer (read experienced enough) to write that book that one is trying to write.

2 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

how many books and short stories have you written, @Robinski?

For what it's worth: 6 novels; 2 novellas; 2 novelettes; and 11 short stories, totalling 900,000 words. That's not the issue though. It's the other 400,000 words of projects that are in progress / shelved :rolleyes: 

2 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

I decided that it was probably better to use K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid - on this idea. Going from a fictional high magic world with talking creatures to the real world with a low magic idea is going to be a big jump for me, but I want to stretch myself. I thought it better to focus on coal mining towns and good writing than get in way over my head on an idea I'm not nearly as passionate about as Name.

This is a solid strategy. For what it is worth, based on what I've read of Name so far, I will read anything that you write :) 

2 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

Especially to one particular character, who very nearly made it, and was cut at the 25% point of Draft One.

Side project!! Sounds like novella / novelette time to me ;) 

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On 5/31/2020 at 11:50 AM, PiedPeterPiper said:

at what point is it counterproductive

When the sense of progress halts. I'd say a page is pushing it but really a paragraph is too much. If there is no sense of progress the information being delivered has no meaning in the moment and is therefore skim-able. 

How do you guys build a scene?

What are some prerequisite every scene must have? 

How many scenes are in your most recently finished project (and how many words total)?

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Posted (edited)

This seems like a good group of discussions questions. I'll tackle them easiest to hardest, I think.

2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

What are some prerequisite every scene must have? 

Something has to happen. Either the plot is advanced, characters are developed, or even just exposition is delivered to the reader. But the only fundamental prerequisite for a scene is 'something has to happen in it'. Otherwise, what's the point?

2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How many scenes are in your most recently finished project (and how many words total)?

 FDIC, the short story I'm working on right now,  is projected at around 16,000 words. It has a total of ... 11 scenes? (I think.) I should clarify - right now, if I include all the scenes I've written and the ones I've sketched out, it adds up to 11, though it depends on how you divide the scenes and where you draw the lines. That's about 1,500 words to a scene. (Hmm. I thought it'd be more, honestly.)

2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How do you guys build a scene?

This is a matter of preference, so I'll tell you how I do it. I build a narrative and then systematically work my way through it, point by point, and figure out how that narrative works by creating the scenes. In FDIC, for instance, there's a single central theme to the narrative and a single conflict, so I sketched out the arcs that would make the conflict and I sketched out the scenes in those arc. Then I moved between the scenes and worked to fill out those scenes as well. That amounts to about 9 of the 11 scenes. The other 2 were organically produced as I was writing - it just seemed like a natural outgrowth of the story at the time. From my understanding, this approach is a modified version of the Snowflake Writing Method.

That said, occasionally I'll just come up with a great scene and build the entire story around that. I wrote a short story called 'Self-Referential Loop' which was entirely based on the one scene at the end, though that's a 5,000 short story. I have another short story - 'Fault Tolerant' - which is also the same length and based on the same creation method, but that story is very likely never actually going to be written.

Edited by aeromancer
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2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How do you guys build a scene?

I ask myself, "What needs to occur here to push Plot A/B/C forward?" And then I write it. Maybe it survives revising, maybe it gets cut, maybe it gets replaced. I'm working on Draft Three and some of the oldest scenes have already gone through six or seven small revisions. 

2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

What are some prerequisite every scene must have?

It has to push at least the plot forward. I personally like building scenes that do multiple things without being overwhelming (I sometimes fail). For instance, I might want to introduce XYZ about the world, foreshadow something that won't occur until Act 3, or emphasize a certain personality trait of a character. Sometimes I'll have a strong emotional goal for a scene, be it something sad, happy, or suspenseful. 

2 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How many scenes are in your most recently finished project (and how many words total)?

So, I use a program called Scrivener for writing, which I really like because it is stupidly easy to organize everything with and doesn't get slow when a manuscript gets long, unlike Google Docs. 

I'm going to use Draft Two as my example, since Draft Three is only 10% revised. Currently, I have 44 chapters at 126,000 words. Typically, one of my chapters is about 2,500-3,000 words long and has 2-3 scenes. My longest chapter is currently 5,016 words and is going to get cut at least a good 25%. My shortest chapter is about 1,200 words. Sometimes, to keep things straight for me, I'll "split" a scene in Scrivener so that I know exactly when the family dinner goes wrong. 

What I like about Scrivener is that each of my chapters, and each of the scenes inside, have a small "index card" summary of about 2 sentences that I can see on a "corkboard," which I find very handy for making sure everything flows well within a chapter, within an Act, and throughout the book. 

I'm trying to recall the episode in Writing Excuses where Brandon talks about how chapter length varies depending on what kind of book you are writing and the pace you want to set. I think that was the episode where he talked about the cheap tricks Dan Brown uses to keep a reader reading? 

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On 6/3/2020 at 1:55 PM, Snakenaps said:

On the other hand, says something about the quality of this group if it has been running for a decade and so many of you have been a part of it for years.

 

On 5/31/2020 at 2:56 PM, Robinski said:

Well, this is the Reading Excuses writing group, that has been operating on the site for...a number of years (about 8/9? Help me out here @Silk!). I know its more than 7 years, because I joined in 2013.

Speaking of years, my two-year anniversary with the group just passed by. I joined May 22 2018/

 

On 6/4/2020 at 4:41 AM, Robinski said:

Furthermore, even in my experience--and I was in what you would call grade school (I think) in the 70's, the teaching of the mechanics of our language, the grammar and word-smithing skills that drove me to start this thread, were winding down. Now, I think, the massive load and pressures on teachers tend to make it impossible for them to correct grammar in school work, or maybe they are actively directed not to bother with it, because of spellcheckers, etc. The end result, I think, is a glut of graduates whose word skills, whose vocabulary, whose understanding of text, statistically, are poorer than the previous generation, and that tends to compound.

 

I wasn't alive in the 70s, but I am sure there was more focus on it then than now. 

But I will say regarding the present day, as someone who teaches writing in higher ed. There is little consistency in how much of language mechanics is taught from one school system to another. The same goes for reading. Even with common core, students come out of different high schools, a town or two apart, with completely different skill levels. I'll have students in a first-year writing course at college come in with widely varying degrees of knowledge  when it comes to mechanics and readings skills with native speakers, and add the ESL students to the mix and that varies even more.

A lot of it has to do with demographics and economics in the district. Systematic racism is prevalent in the school districts I see students come from. Even within the same school, sometimes. In the early 2000s, I felt like my high school was literally segregated with most of the white students in honors and college prep classes and the Latinx students in lower classes. 

And when I compare towns, the students coming from the city  with a mostly low income Latinx population versus the neighboring white and upper middle class town come two college with very different skill levels when it comes to anything literacy related. The amount of inequality in the education those kids receive is ridiculous. 

One interesting thing, though, with grammar, is ESL students that went through the college's ESL program, not their high school's, actually tend to have more awareness of how the language works, even if they do tend to mess up a lot when it comes to verbs. 


I do see a lot of students who are very resistant to reading, and really expect the text to work for them. If it doesn't instantly draw them in and engage them, they don't want to do the work to make meaning out of it. Some semesters I've had students act like it is the teacher's responsibility to magically know exactly what book everyone is going to love and pick it, and if the teacher fails to do that, they can't be bothered reading it. 

I could go down a rabbit hole of how digital texts affects literacy (I a few years ago I did some research about this and have forgotten most of it already) but that is not really what this thread is about. 

But teaching at a community college is wild sometimes, with how different people's skill level's are when they start class. We do have developmental writing classes, but they've been so compressed and accelerated over the past few years...

Now that I teach at night, I admit I see less recent HS grads and more adults returning to school, but in the tutoring center in the day I still see a lot of the younger students.

On 6/4/2020 at 10:38 AM, Snakenaps said:

In California, at least, teachers aren't teaching cursive anymore unless they want to. And generally, those teachers who want to, are already swamped trying to prepare their students for tests so that they can get funding for their pencils. I had to teach a 5th grader what the different types of coins are as well as how to read an analog clock (a normal, non-digital clock). If a 5th grader not knowing how to read a clock is bad, I had a classmate in college who couldn't read one either. 

 

Oh, its not limited to CA. 

I've never taught K-12, but I've heard similar stories from people I know who teach K-12, though it varies widely from district to district and depends on what subject the person teaches. 

I have a sister-in-law who teaches 5th grade math and spends so much of her own money supplies for her classroom. She really goes above and beyond what some other teachers do, and if she didn't still live with her parents, I doubt she'd be able to afford it all. She's in her mid twenties, so she has a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but I always find myself wondering how long before the system burns her out. 

On 6/4/2020 at 1:41 PM, Robinski said:

I find it really hard to sit a write for an hour without looking up. I can do it, but it takes effort

Same. When I really get immersed in a story, then I can manage to not look at social media for a while, but otherwise, it definitely sucks up a lot of my time. 

On 6/4/2020 at 10:38 AM, Snakenaps said:

The core of Name stretches back before high school, even if it is completely and totally unrecognizable now. Those characters and the plot have grown up with me, and that in itself is a danger. Thankfully, I seem pretty good at killing my darlings. Sometimes, though, I feel I need to apologize to some characters, locations, and ideas that I cut after years of existing. Especially to one particular character, who very nearly made it, and was cut at the 25% point of Draft One. 

These are the best kind of stories though. The first novel I published, Power Surge, was something I dreamt up when I was 18 or 19 and it took me ten years to actually get it into a novel. I actually wrote and shelved an unrelated novel before I was able to finish it. 

I'm 32 now, and I still can't let go of that world (the same one Book of Mel is set in). I've written several unrelated ones, but I keep coming back to this world even if my publishing options for it are limited. 

 

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22 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How do you guys build a scene?

To be honest, this isn't something I consciously think of when i draft. If I do, I will never get anything on the page. This is more of a revision tool, so for me its not really building a scene but excavating it from the mess. 

At some point in the process, I look at what I've written and see a lot of the scenes form organically. As I reread each one, I figure out what the beat is, how it moves the story forward and how it helps the characters grow. I think about what it currently does versus what it needs to do and revise accordingly. 

Eventually getting feedback and seeing how readers react to different things helps me further refine them. 

22 hours ago, hawkedup said:

How many scenes are in your most recently finished project (and how many words total)?

Honestly, I've never counted, and probably never will. 

19 hours ago, aeromancer said:

Something has to happen. Either the plot is advanced, characters are developed, or even just exposition is delivered to the reader. But the only fundamental prerequisite for a scene is 'something has to happen in it'. Otherwise, what's the point?

22 hours ago, hawkedup said:

I agree with this. Something has to happen, but "something happening" can mean a lot of different things. 

 

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2 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

To be honest, this isn't something I consciously think of when i draft. If I do, I will never get anything on the page. This is more of a revision tool, so for me its not really building a scene but excavating it from the mess. 

Interesting perspective!

So, is it safe to say that every scene must have--if not a beginning, middle and ending--at least an arc?

Can you tell when writing if you're in a scene or not? 

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