Effects to Cause

by Intermittent Rain ~ August 1st, 2019
  • Start with an event, a cause. This cause will result in an incident, but don’t decide on the incident yet.
    • the cause may be minor; Joe stops to look in the pet store window.
    • the cause may be major; Joe drives his car through a red light.
  • Determine a cause for that cause.
    • Joe lost his transit pass and has to walk
  • Determine a cause for that cause, perhaps bringing in additional characters

 

  • Consider bland, normal reasons for believably or to heighten realism, or, consider strange, bizarre reasons for comedy, surrealism, generating interest, or, consider themes or parallel tracks or levels or mixing these
  • Consider bringing in additional characters so you can create a new branch of incidents that will still tie into the ultimate incident. Someone close to the original character will make it easier to tie their effect back to the ultimate incident, but, they could also be strangers that fate has thrown together only they didn’t expect it until the incident occurs.

To help you edit, reverse your sentence order

by Intermittent Rain ~ May 16th, 2019

Here’s how to make your computer help you find grammar and line editing problems. Awkward phrases, missing words, repeated words in close proximity, and repeated sentence length will be much more obvious and easier to identify to fix.

It requires Word, WordPad and Excel. Plus a bit of computer skills, or, just follow the instructions closely and trust my advice.  🙂

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In late drafts we need to focus on line editing and on finding oddball errors like extra words or missing words. Reading aloud can help, but when I read aloud I insert words that aren’t there because I know what I meant to say and I know the context and make corrections as I read without noticing. Reading to someone else can help but only if they notice the changes you make, and they may not have your eye for phrase structure or voice or sentence pattern.

Some writers read their prose backward to break the stream and the context. This is very useful for finding line edit issues, but doing so from a regular draft is strenuous, so here is a method to have the computer separate each sentence and to reverse the order for you.

I’ll use square brackets in the instructions to surround specific characters for you to type. Normally I would use quotation marks but that won’t work since we need to replace some quotation marks.

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  1. Copy your entire document and paste into Wordpad (shortcuts: Ctrl + A to select all, Ctrl + C to copy, Ctrl + V to paste). Or, you can use Word instead of WordPad but you must turn off all AutoCorrect options. Autocorrect will mess with what we’re going to do. I find it easier to copy into Wordpad than to turn all the Word Autocorrect off and then back on.

  2. Replace all [. ] (that’s a period followed by a space) with [.~] (period with a tilde) The “Find and Replace” shortcut is Ctrl + H.

  3. Replace all [? ] (question mark and a space) with [?~]

  4. Replace all [.” ] (period, end quote, and a space) with [.”~] (You may need to copy [.”] from somewhere in your Word document because WordPad doesn’t use Word’s smart quotes.)

  5. Do the same with ! if you used them.

  6. Done in WordPad. We’ve now replaced the space after each sentence with ~ to make it easy to identify. Now, copy all from WordPad and paste into a new Word document.

  7. In Word, replace all [~] with [^p].  ^p is a special character that tells Word to break for a paragraph. You can also do this in WordPad but it’s more difficult because you have to use the code for special characters to identify the paragraph break.

Now each sentence is its own paragraph. Easier to read backward.

To reverse the order, I use Excel. You could also use tables within Word, I think, but I prefer Excel.

  1. Format one entire column as text (otherwise Excel will autoformat the text in Excel-ese). To do so, select the column and right click, select “Format Cells”, in the “Number” tab choose “Text”. Or, select the column, from the menu choose “Home”, then “Cells”, “Format”, “Format Cells”, “Text”

  2. Copy and paste from the broken up Word document into a cell in that column you just formatted in Excel.

  3. In an adjacent column, fill the column with sequential numbers. One way to do this is to type [1] in the highest cell, then [2] in the next, then drag the bottom corner as far down the sheet as your pasted text goes. I do it differently, but I work with Excel a lot and am faster using keystrokes.

  4. Select the two columns that have your text and the numbers

  5. Sort, high to low, on your sequential column. Now your sentences are in reverse order.

From here you can read in Excel format, if that helps you see things new. Or, copy just the text column back into Word.

Now, read from top to bottom. It won’t make a lot of sense (which is part of the point) but each sentence will stand alone.

I edit in the new Word document. Corrections I type in red, text to delete I change to strikeout font, and I highlight both types of changes so they are easy to find. Then save this new document and go back and fix your original.

In theory, it may be possible to write a macro that will use tables and do this entire process within Word, but I’m more of an Excel expert than a Word expert. If someone knows how to do this, please leave a comment below.

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One thing that limits any writer is what they don’t know or can’t see. Reading in reverse order is like shining light from a different direction to find the spots you missed when you were dusting, a way to help you to see some of those pesky little things that you’ve become blind to.

Open Your Story at the Start of the Ending

by Intermittent Rain ~ March 13th, 2019

“Begin at the start of the ending” is a writing aphorism. Open your story there and you set yourself up to easily carry through without losing the reader’s attention.

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During a Twitter discussion on the use of literary devices, I said that I use flashback because I tend to start near the end and I need flashback to get at the history of the character and situation. One person assumed that if I’m starting near the end, then I know the ending before I begin writing. She was envious.

But I almost never know the ending when I start writing. I don’t even know what I’m writing about until much later. All I have is a situation and/or a character or just a character trait, or perhaps a technique to try or a restriction I want to play with.

My ability to craft prose has become quite decent and I can improvise off a small vision or idea for a few hundred words without difficulty. I do this by feeling around inside the situation hoping to find where it wants to go. Then I wait to see if the character or voice or situation inspires me to keep going. This I refer to as seeing if the story “has legs”.

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So how am I starting near the end? When I don’t know the end?

I think it happens naturally. If the material has enough tension and cohesion to continue (ie. if the story has legs) then it doesn’t take too many words to write to the resolution of that tension.

These are 1,000 to 5,000 word stories, though in one case it became a 23,000 word novella. That one took 23,000 words because of the complexity of the situation. A lot of backstory and context was required —  some flashback, some internal narrative, as well as the POV and narrative and interaction of multiple characters — before I could explain how this all came to be, even though the primary story timeline is only six or eight hours long. Still, the story from middle to end is the resolution of those opening tensions. When the story opens the endgame has just begun, only none of the characters realize this (and neither did I, when I was working on early drafts).

This is slightly different for novels. My novels open with tension and situation and voice but the material feels more open-ended. The tension for a novel is a fact of life for the character rather than the one-time event or limited applicability condition of a short story, and it’s gonna take an entire novel to explore the different situations that the tension will affect.

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So in a short story, if you open with tension and work towards its resolution, you will have started near the end. If instead you explain the situation, describe the characters, and then write the history to get to the moment with the tension you might start far from the end. And if that set up lacks interest, you may lose your reader before you get to the important parts.

As a reader for a publication, I see this problem all too often in submissions. Yes, especially for science fiction we need to know the world that you’ve built, in historical fiction we need to know the time and place, but don’t bore the reader by dumping it all at the opening. Describe it in a fascinating way that whets the reader’s appetite, or hold on to parts and tuck in snippets at natural points in the narrative.