Boiled oatmeal

I came here to write something completely different, but because the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet, and allergies have been playing hob with my sleep, I started reading Amanda’s post from yesterday. And then I started writing a comment, which is half a post long. And then I decided I would just do the post on this.

First, because I know this lot can focus like a laser on the irrelevant part — hey, I can’t throw stones — I actually rather like boiled oatmeal. I prefer it with a sprinkling of brown sugar over the top, but I’ll have it plain and mildly sweetened. Or rather, right now, I don’t have it at all, because well…. Carbs make me break out in eczema, asthma and arthritis, and if I’m going to die from it, I’d rather have corn. Er…. I mean, I won’t have anything carby. I also like cream of wheat. And grits, as long as not savory. I in fact prefer my breakfast to be completely and utterly flavorless except for “vaguely sweet.” But I rarely have books for breakfast.

Speaking of , some months ago, we decided that MGC would no longer be about writing per se. Mostly because blogs for writers have a limited readership, and usually not one that runs out to buy books. But here we are, all of us, defaulting to writing about writing.

To be fair, I think this is human. And partly it was inevitable without cons or workshops, which are, at any rate, becoming scarcer in the age of the internet (or virtual) but which are even more so in 2020 and 2020 Won.

The problem — and this brings us sort of back in the general direction of the topic — is that writers do need time with other writers. As a friend put it years ago, “this business is so crazy that we need to talk to other people who understand how crazy it is.”

Most of the reason established writers go to cons is not — sorry guys — to see their fans. Or if we do, we have a con we go to to see fans (for me, that’s Liberty Con, in Chattanooga, where I can’t walk down a hallway to the next room in under an hour…. because fans.) Most of the reason we go to cons is to hang out with our friends, talk about the latest annoyance//book, and …. oh, yeah, discuss this neat new thing we found that means we can deduct x on taxes. (We are extremely conservative with deductions, because Dan is afraid of getting in trouble, but some of the things colleagues get up to…. I tell you.)

Granted, the business is crazier if you’re trad. But what I found is you also don’t share as much. What I mean is, since trad publishing is by nature abusive, it’s like a convention of abused wives. You are ashamed of what you put up with, don’t want to share the latest abuse from your publisher, and suspect you’re not very good. At best, it turns into bragging about your highs and hiding your lows, unless you’re with very, very good friends.

Indie, OTOH allows you to share everything, and most writers do. “Hey, I discovered a new trick for presenting the story in media res” or perhaps “Hey, did you guys know if you use the keyword popsicle* on your Amazon publication, the book will skyrocket to number one?” (*This is made up and probably not true. Of course, I haven’t tried it. It’s an example of things writers share, though.)

But more importantly, trad or indie, who else can you tell “My damn characters are giving me trouble” without them measuring you for an “I love me” jacket? Other writers though will just grimace and pour you a whiskey or a coffee or at least a Mountain Dew.

So, anyway, writers tend to congregate. Which brings me back to Oatmeal and the curse of workshops.

When I was just breaking in, going to a large, well known workshop was the best way to get in, because the people teaching it could then introduce you to publishers and editors, and you could be vetted (even in those days largely for wrong-think) before they bought you.

Nowadays, still, indies feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, or they feel lonely, and a lot of trad pub writers are teaching how to write workshops. (I probably should, but my internet access can be so flaky here, I routinely lose either camera or voice. Also, it seems to be a “trap” for formerly trad pub writers who start teaching and because it pays better never again write.)

In principle there is no problem at all with this. Writers need writers. And writers can talk to writers. And at some point you need the sort of critique that goes “I can see what you were trying to do, this is why it’s not working” which readers-only are unlikely to give you.

The problem is that in any insular culture strange and bizarre superstitions develop.

In writing this tends to express itself as shibboleths that make no sense whatsoever, or are part of a transient movement within literature, but which the newby, being new, views as absolutes.

For instance when I came in there was the “use only said” for denoting speech movement. Look, I grew up with Victorian books, so I thought I got this. I mean, no one wants their characters to ejaculate, unbidden, in the middle of a sentence. And there are sillier ones too, like “erupted” or “planned.” So, I got the hatred of said bookisms, and hadn’t played with them since I was…. 6? or 7?

Imagine my surprise at being upbraided for using “a said bookism” in a novel submitted to a workshop. The word? “Shouted.” And in the situation, you really had no other way to convey that without adding unnecessary padding like “Bob’s shout shocked me.” However the teacher — now dead, and never in our field, but a best seller back in the seventies — yelled at me that a good writer could make shouted or whispered evident from the WORDS used. Because it’s not possible, apparently, to shout, whisper or say “shut up” in different tones of voice.

This one is a minor quirk, particularly since as you get better you don’t even really use said anymore, but attribute speech by giving your characters a body and body movement.

Then there is the “no adjectives” movement. Which eventually seems to have become “no adverbs and really nothing that gives your book flavor.” This is a literary school: Minimalism. It is not the only school of writing nor is it, frankly, written in stone as “good.” If you were writing for trad pub, you had to follow their little fads or they wouldn’t buy you. But in fact, while getting rid of “useless words” like “very” or “much” can strengthen the writing (instead of “very tall” for instance try “looming” or “mountainous” for a certain kind of guy) removing it can also remove voice and flavor. Which is why I still use it, when appropriate for tone or rhythm. Which, btw, is not a decision most young writers are equipped to make, not having trained themselves to change sides of the table and read like readers, instead of writers.

By all means, eschew superfluous verbiage, but not at the risk of making your sentence overly complex and or your words obscure. In all things, use moderation and judgement.

In the same way there is a whole “No first person” movement. (I have recently found out that a lot of writers under forty confuse first person with present tense. The English teacher I used to be WEEPS.)

This is something that I have no idea where it started, but you find it in all sorts of places. Someone I know — and you probably do too — goes on a rant every time you give him a microphone, about how only amateurs write in first person.

Look, I was supposed to collaborate with this gentleman a few times (though only once did we get so far as writing a substantial portion of the book) and he’s one of those writers who doesn’t “get” characters from….. somewhere (subconscious, parallel universe, alpha centauri, you figure it out.) So he painfully makes up every single character by taking someone he knows and changing that person.

Now, I won’t say that’s what sank our collaboration (irreconcilable differences is closer) but it was part of what sank it. “Tell me about the person you based this character on.” “I told you. It’s right there in the manuscript.” “No, the real person.” “Well, I hope he’s a real person–” Because it took that long for us to realize the other really wrote that differently.

The problem is he and others like him absolutely refuse to believe other people just receive characters, heaven knows from where. So, the only way they can imagine writing first person is writing about themselves. Which, yes, a lot of new writers do. They put themselves, veiled or not, as main characters. But for the record, the last time I did that I was 8. If anyone thinks Athena is me, they need their heads examined. And as for anyone who thinks Luce is me…. well, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

So they have transformed a sin of some very young (and silly writers) into an absolute proscription. “No first person. It’s amateurish.” Well– the amateurish Robert A. Heinlein and the occasionally amateurish (granted a smaller part of her work) Agatha Christie still outsell any living writer, so I don’t care. If that’s amateur, pour some of that amateurish on me.

As I mentioned in the comment to Amanda’s post: it’s easy, when you’re new, to take these as “laws of nature” and write according to what you’re taught.

The problem is when you apply these shalts and shall nots (and many many others) with no judgement (which you can only train by practicing the craft) you can ruin perfectly good books.

Possibly the best known workshop in the field — which granted used techniques designed to break political prisoners — was so prescriptive and absolutist that when I ran a micro press, I could tell a graduate in three paragraphs. I had a game of not looking at the cover letter till after. But you couldn’t avoid knowing it. These graduates read like boiled oatmeal. It wasn’t “bad” just flavorless and blah.

I’ve also, I think, talked about my first-published short story, which I rewrote every time I got a rejection (and I had 80 rejections before that first acceptance.) and which, when I read it after, read like boiled oatmeal. So I took my first version, corrected word errors and misspellings,a nd it sold the next time it went out.

Because overprocessed writing is like overprocessed food. Nothing interesting about that flavor.

I will confess as a reader I hate present tense btw. But I think that might be a function of my training as a reader. To me, because present tense is “unusual” it continuously calls attention to itself, and makes it hard to get into the story. However, since it’s way more common now, I presume that’s not true for younger readers. At any rate, the last thing I’d do is tell you not to use it.

When you get advice on writing — even my advice — chew it over and see what applies. (Actually when you get advice on anything, including less crazy fields, but, you know…) Because in the end, there’s only so much market for boiled oatmeal. And sometimes we want that chili pepper, no matter how shocking it might be.

162 comments

    1. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” – Hunter S. Thompson

      1. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”
        There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter b*stard though dry.

        -Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

    2. “When I was quite young I would sometimes dream of a city…”

      “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

      The Chrysalids and Day Of The Triffids, by John Wyndham.

      First person can be limiting, but can also make the writing easier. Instead of writing what happens to other people in other places, you only write what your viewpoint character sees, and notices. How those off-screen events come around to affect your character, or what other characters say about them.

      I would expect first-person to be particularly effective when writing a mystery story.

        1. In a certain genre of movie/video first person POV is a thing (camera shots are done as though from the perspective of a participant in the action). It could be done in other genres. There are a few scenes in Robocop (the original; haven’t seen the remake) done that way. Doing an entire movie that way would be a challenge but not an insuperable one if someone with money thought it was a good idea.

          1. A sort of GoPro type headset video update to the Blare Witch Project type video camera movies?

            Video game based movies could be done that way, fairly easily…. limited third-person-shots for cut scene equivalents, if desired.

    3. D’oh! How could I forget?

      “Take it from someone who grew up in this business. You should never, ever, ever hunt vampires in a dark basement as the sun is going down.” — somebody named, uh, Sarah?

      And, of course, the one that started it all off:

      “On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.” — The International Lord Of Hate himself!

  1. Who else is going to understand when I moan about not being able to write a battle? Or my complaint that the boys I’m writing, when out on a hiking trip far removed from the comforts of civilization, are doing fart jokes?

    ….Who else is going to say with comfort and pity “they’re boys. Of course they’re going to do fart jokes. You can’t make them stop.” and mean it, no matter that I’m the one putting words on page?

    Hey, it’s not just writers who are crazy, it’s just that writers are a specialized brand of crazy. I could tell you sometime what pilots get up to…

    1. “Boys are braggarts and girls aren’t,” the woman told me, smugly.
      “No,” I replied after a moment’s thought. “Boys and girls are humans-they both brag. Boys are just vocal braggers, they want to beat their chest and bellow how big they are. Or humble-brag by showing how they are but don’t make a fuss. Girls brag by exclusion and invitation-clearly you’re not worthy if you’re not one of them.”
      She glared at me and snapped, “That’s just sexist!” and stormed off in a huff.
      I shrugged. “See, exclusionary behavior,” I replied to her back, just loudly enough that she could hear it.

  2. As a reader, I don’t mind first person. But I absolutely cannot stand present tense. (For the most part. I’m sure there are exceptions.)

    And the really annoying thing is I can get a quarter of the way through a book, and start wondering why it is so exhausting, then realize, “Oh, it’s written in present tense!”

    I’m sure my characters come from somewhere, though I couldn’t tell you where. I do know that within the last year I started watching the old “Family Affair” series, and realizing that one of my characters was Uncle Bill (changed somewhat, probably something my mind dredged up from when I watched the show as a way little kid.)

    This was rather a relief, since I was afraid that he was gaining too many traits from Pam Uphoff’s Auld Wulfe.

    1. Yeah. You’re about my age. I’m told younger kids don’t mind present tense so much. I’m just not convinced they READ that much. I mean the ones that don’t mind present tense. Because they mostly watch MOVIES. And that’s different.
      I have used incidents from real life. WHich is why my kids accuse me of selling their childhood in the Dyce books. But E is still himself, though he’s also kind of a composite of the kids.
      I DO use friends and family for minor, particularly throw-away characters. But that’s usually either as a joke or when I’m exhausted and under deadline.
      The main characters are NOT me.

      1. I’ve been looking at the stuff that most kids have been forced to read on a regular basis the last twenty years or so.
        If you wanted to kill any joy of reading stories in people, what they have to read in school on a regular basis would do that, very well indeed. Some of the things that are “required” reading…ugh.

        1. I know. Which is why being a Bad Mother TM I would get the kids reading lists and find the place online that summarized and described the book. (I want to say Pink Monkey Notes, but it’s been a while.) The kids read what they wanted which for younger son — weirdly? — was pulp sf.

            1. Hank, the Cowdog!

              Also has great audio books, although I like the ones voiced by the author, rather than the more recent ones. (….I read these as a kid, and he wasn’t young, then. So not really an objection, just an “I love the voice of Hank that I grew up with!)

      2. Well, it’s not entirely about age.

        My husband and I were usually the youngest people in our (now defunct) book club. But it wasn’t uncommon (unfortunately) for me to come to a meeting griping about a book being in present tense, when no one else had even noticed it.

        (There were also several headshaking moments in that club. Like the woman declaring after reading the Screwtape Letters that C.S. Lewis was such a serious man that writing something somewhat comedic was obviously a strain to him. I could only stand there, mouth agape.
        There was also this lady who commented that my husband and I must not have cared for a certain book, because we only like the serious stuff. My husband and I had recommended it.)

        1. That’s my theory. Most readers don’t notice. They won’t notice if they’re reading 1st or 3rd POV or Omni. They won’t notice if a book is written in past tense or present. Or if they do notice, they won’t identify what they’re reacting to.

          But if you write, or maybe even if you’re just a reader who notices; Once you’ve noticed, you’ve noticed.

          The first Galaxy’s Edge book is in present tense. I thought it was very well done.
          Apparently Jennifer Morgue is in second. Possibly present, too, because I’m not sure how a person would do 2nd person Past. :/ I’d have to check to be sure.

          I’m tempted to read up on Omni, just in order to try something different.

          1. Jennifer Morgue and later Bob Howard Laundry novels were done in a mix of first and third person.

            Halting State and Rule 34 were done in second person to do the whole visual novel/video game RPG thing.

      3. I know that it may seem kind of weird to y’all, but I build characters the way that I used to start writing an airman performance report – one of those yearly required ratings on all the junior enlisteds that I was responsible for as their reporting official. That would be – what is the first quality/characteristic about this person that pops into your mind when you think about them. It’s the same way that I build a character from scratch: start with that one particular quality or quirk and then build on it. Say f’rinstance, the character is extremely conscientious, kind of detail-oriented, a bit of a fuss-budget … well, then, how did they get that way, what kind of background and life experience led them to that. Do they bite their nails, or are they the kind who is always filing off the rough bits?
        Just start with that one salient characteristic, and all the rest seems to flow naturally. Works for me, and has for both the comic series and the historic series, both of whom have a cast of hundreds.

          1. A bare handful of mine showed up that way – appeared whole and entire in my mind – but just a handful, comparatively. Then there were those who started as one thing, and developed a life of their own.

              1. Yeah, mine just show up. Sometimes as a minor character. Sometimes out of thin air. Sometimes they’ll let me morph them a bit, if I catch them fast enough . . .

              2. Thinking about it, how we go about creating stories: is it that you have characters just popping into your head, and they are in need of a plot so that’s how you create the narrative, whereas I have whole plots come into my head, and then need to create the cast of characters to fill it out? Honestly, this makes a lot of sense to me.

                1. Most often I have “scenes” of stories that may contain a character (or characters) that I like.

                  Plots I have problems with.

                  1. Literally the last conversation I had with my sister was about “those scenes you had me write” while we were on high school trips– mom let us drive several thousand miles to family, because with three drivers we made it in a day.

                    But I kept having really COOL scenes hit my head.

                    She wrote them down.

                    …a decade plus later, she was still delighted by that.

        1. This…sounds right.

          “K, who is he?”
          “Alright, so that’s who he is… how about this?”

          The weird thing is, a lot of the time the answer is like there’s someone trying to explain something to the idiot. “Well, of COURSE he’s a Paladin of Stone.” “Uh…. K, what the hell is that?” “… it means he takes a lot of hits, doesn’t dodge, and is basically a walking castle wall. Duh.”

      4. The main characters are NOT me.

        A… uh… not exactly argument, but… a sort of embroidery on it.

        Because my mom has a thing that I think is true– where a creator just CAN’T put something in his work that he doesn’t have in himself.

        It may be something he rejected, it may be a demon he fights (and beats!), it may be that quiet little voice over in the back left corner behind the door– but if the artist can sell you on it, something of him is in it.

        This does not mean “they are the character”. (Specific discussion was about singing. You know how some folks sing and you can FEEL it, and others do a better job but… you don’t FEEL it? That.)

        I suspect you may phrase it as “an author puts something of himself into the story he tells.”

        1. Yes, this is kind of a hook in to the whole “I’m not feeling it” thing that many creators mention.

          You have to have it, to put it in.

          Now pondering relationship to introvert (feeds off of exposure) and introvert (exposure eats) type personalities, which leads into musing on “feeding on” and how a lot of growing things NEED to be fed off of in order to grow and…..

            1. Some have elements of me.
              Well, most of my chicks tend to be at that edge of brave and crazy that I hit a lot. So….
              You know the “piss me off, and I’ll take you down WITH me.”

              1. *chuckles* Oh it was totally a crack thought, because he IS part of the thing.

                And your babies are so totally still part of you, even if it’s just a ‘vaguely inspired a character’ thing.

                I have several characters that are faintly inspired by something that Elf did that amused me, or made me think– but oh heavens they are NOT my husband, in any way shape or form.

              2. I *SO* want to read Bowl of Red and discover what impressions might have happened – yes, fully understanding that a simuklcrum is not a reality. ♉

  3. Writing advice can be split into two general characteristics-
    *Foundation
    *Preference
    Foundation is…well, foundational. How to plot your story out (even if it’s just “how to make it look like you have a plan when you’re making it up as you go along”). Grammar and spelling. How to do research and add enough subject matter to be clear you know what you’re talking about when you’re writing things. How not to insult the audience that will hopefully be buying your stories. It’s the tools in your toolbox that you need to get started. Like a carpenter needs their specific tools (hammer, saw, chisel, etc, etc, etc), the author needs the tools of language, pacing, grammar, and similar things.
    Preference…is preference. Just like the carpenter that loves certain kinds of tools and how they’re used, authors have certain kinds of tools they use. You have the people that write novella-length outlines before they even write their stories (cough, cough David Drake). You have the writers that use a single word “said,” “asked,” “shrugged,” on their dialog and lose the chance to add some additional character nuance in how they speak. You have the pantsers that will write themselves into terrible corners-and have to figure out how to get themselves out. And, we have the authors that can rip the joy out of any story because they have to lecture/monologue far too often…
    A good writing conference/class program should teach the fundamentals, then give authors a chance to use a number of the preferential tools. Too many conferences tend to become the One True Way to write things, and that becomes a problem.

  4. That reminds me. I haven’t had breakfast yet (and it will be oatmeal). [Crazy Grin]

  5. I haven’t been part of a writing workshop in…more than five years.

    For one, they inevitability for filled up with women, and so inevitability turned into romance writers workshops, but that’s just part of it.

    The guy in charge was obsessed with head hopping and making sure readers could only get information from the POV character. It didn’t matter I wasn’t writing in strict third person.

    1. I would consider rules that get in the way of telling the story, bad rules. Write what makes sense, in a way folks will enjoy reading.

      I read that an aspiring writer once asked a famous author for advice. “Tell the story,” was Robert A. Heinlein’s recommendation.

      1. (Launches into a longwinded digression to separate frequent POV changes from “head hopping”… Changes mind.)

        Romance readers won’t ding you for flipping POV mid-sentence, though. That’s certainly true.

      2. I think I responded to this and forgot to change to my pseudonym. “Julie” is probably stuck in moderation.

        1. No. It’s there.
          And btw, I’ve seen outright headhopping. I’ve also been dinged (short story) in an antho mostly read by romance readers because “we don’t know what he’s thinking!”

  6. What I mean is, since trad publishing is by nature abusive, it’s like a convention of abusive wives.


    I think you meant ‘abused wives’?

    One problem is that the public government schools are failing to teach students to read, so they can’t tell how bad today’s ‘great literature’ is.

    1. …honestly, I can see it being both abused/abusive wives. You want to be abused, so that you can prove your worth to the clique, then eventually unseat the head wife so that you can become the abuser. Or the enforcer so that you only get a certain level of abuse, but you get to share the abuse with others. Or the martyr that takes all the abuse to show how virtuous you are.

      (Why, yes, I’ve been to a few tradpub events. And met these people.)

  7. I think the origin of “present tense” reading comes from fanfic. Which a lot of younger people read. That tends to be where I see it pop up the most, and I don’t really read fanfic..I just see snippets here and there.

      1. I watched the first two movies and part of the third. I kept thinking, “With all the hype, it’s got to be better than THIS, right?”

        It wasn’t.

        1. IIRC, you are male, right?

          And obviously at least fairly conservative in the right-of-Stalin sense, and while I think you’re under 40 the experience is different for guys….. For starters, if you got the same pressures, it would be that being what I call a dishrag guy would be a good thing. (Strong overlap with agreeable potheads, for a very shorthand explanation– the guys where it takes tealeaf reading of a Mommy Fortunia level to figure out what they WANT.)

          The ‘hook’ for both Twilight and 50 Shades is the permission to not be in charge.

          You don’t have to be the boss. You don’t have to be in control. You don’t have to be responsible.

          You can go along with something, and it’s not your responsibility to cross every damned forsaken T, dot every I, and proof-read the farking word while you’re at it.

          For girls who have been told “you can be anything” in such a way that they are responsible for being everything, and falling short in any direction– especially if it is in the direction of, oh, letting the guy be anything that even smells like possessive or protective– that is addictive as heck.

          It requires a male lead that the reader has permission to view as, in SOME way, shape, or form, superior.

          (No, I can’t read the books. They hit my “predator, kill it with fire” buttons.)

          Yes, in healthy societies, women are taught that we complement men, and the other way around– my strengths are his weaknesses, and they work together.

          That hasn’t been popular culture for… well, a really long time.

          1. Which, to be honest, is also the basis of the very toxic strain of relationship seen across So Much Paranormal Romance. “It’s okay if he’s not human!” combined with magical glittery hoo-hah and so much terribly bad to outright evil relationship examples.

            *sets soapbox and accompanying stack of examples on fire*

            1. Oooooh yes. So many of the PNR cover blurbs set off my “predator in the open, fire when ready” alarms. One that sounded OK, when I started reading . . . I bounced so hard off of it that I went straight to my computer and hit the “delete sample from list” button. Ugh. That ain’t love-at-first-sight. That’s . . . no. NO. NO!

            2. I’m kind of trying to make a counter example, rather than just screaming at the horror….

              But very, very trying.

              And a lot of the stuff STILL hits my “die, predator!” buttons.

            3. Yes, thank you for illustrating exactly why there’s a whole sub-genre in my favorite genre that makes me want to punch the author’s and their husbands in the head. NO! BAD! TOXIC!

              And also why I set out to do it better. Because it can be done and it needs to be done and, BY G-D, I will not write another toxic relationship.

          2. I understand the idea of giving the reader (via the character) permission to not be in control of her life and surroundings but well, I guess it can be like “Baby it’s Cold Outside” where she’s clearly looking for an excuse to stay and something that is going to work as an excuse in public, “Of course I never would have, and he was a perfect gentleman, but it was a blizzard and he wouldn’t let me risk freezing to death in a snowbank just for proprieties sake.” Also understanding that those sorts of societal pressures also give a person the excuse to say no, that they haven’t the choice to say yes, and it’s not personal but NO. Blame my father, not me. And anyone would like to imagine that their lover likes them *in particular* enough to be at least a little bit possessive, at least to the extent that one could point and say, “That child is MINE, that other child, though lovely, is not!”

            But so much, so very much… I like paranormal romance but anything even hinting at coercion (vampires, I’m looking at you) and it’s just so rapey and gross and Not Ok.

            1. It’s amazing how many of these things read like predator and/or user and/or abuser grooming manuals, isn’t it?

              “Honey, I love you, but I also respect you. So I will only have sex with you, and then let you deal with absolutely everything that results. I might come back for more sex and maybe a loan, later!”

              1. Trust me, that ain’t happenin’ with Wolf of the World and any possible follow-up stories. Gregor and Linda are both committed, responsible adults, and he’s dang serious about his faith.

                And they hate vampires. Really, really do not approve of vampires.

  8. I don’t particularly care for boiled oatmeal. I prefer french toast or pancakes. So, equally flavorless, more on the sweet, with options to add more dimensions if you’re feeling like it. Explains what I write, honestly.

    And I have one novel that I’ve re-written the first 25k words in several different tenses/POV/etc. and I can’t decide which one makes it better or easier to tell. I think, since I’ve gotten better at story telling, I might go back and try a new technique. Because it’s been a while since I’ve taken a writing workshop so I might have dropped the worst of the programming.

    Maybe.

  9. So you picked up this new novel everyone’s raving about, and the durn thing is written in second person. How can you read that? No one could. You plop down at your keyboard intent on writing a diatribe but the words just won’t flow. Eventually you kick over your computer and go for a walk, muttering at random strangers about how there’s so little difference that you can barely tell second person from first.

    ===
    In my observation….

    The problem with first person and present tense (or egads, 3rd person present) isn’t so much the use of ’em, as that with green writers 1st/present tends to showcase (and worse, entrench) existing faults, so naturally there’s a problem with ’em sounding like amateurs. For a few writers, 1st/present is their natural voice and where they do best even when green, but for most … it’s forced into being because they think it’s “more immediate” … and if you’re still forcing it, it’s like driving the wrong way on a one-way street. They’d do better to master 3rd/past before attempting 1st/present, at which point the latter will flow much more smoothly, and no longer sound like we’re reading the back end of stop-motion photography. /rant

    It’s to where when I see 1st/present it’s an automatic back-on-shelf, and 1st/past had better not do the typical amateurish “I did this, I did that.” If you’re gonna write in 1st, study a few masters and see how they did it — frex the Travis McGee books or numerous classics.

    I will say gumshoes in anything but 1st … sound weird. (And I have one, from the 1960s. It’s… odd.)

      1. It’s not that first person inherently has more faults; that’s not what I said. First person can be very good (and present tense can be good too; it’s weird mostly when it’s bad… it’s just bad a lot). But I’ve repeatedly observed that green writers who use first and/or present and ***where it is not their natural voice*** tend to get stuck in bad habits that both first and present encourage, and that retards their development.

        And a lot of the problem across the board is a lack of grammar fundamentals, so they struggle with any voice that isn’t entirely straightforward. (My cynical little voice adds that such a lack makes green writers more likely to seize on 1st/present as a Fix.)

          1. I get more type that walk on stage and do their thing without troubling to consult me; they don’t argue in my head until after they’re established.

            But I’m not sure how characters arrive actually sets your natural writing voice… after all introductions aren’t the story. It seems to be more a matter of using different channels, like how writing by hand is different from typing.

            A funny from last week… three guys who only show up in a secondhand memory (and are shortly killed), deciding who goes on a supply run that’s only mentioned in passing:

            Joss: Come on Lath, we’re going to get supplies.
            Lath: That’s not my job. Take Tarn, he’s the engineer.
            Tarn: What do you know? You’re both dead!
            Me: Wait, Tarn survived the great disaster??

            1. No, Reziac. Mine arrive and start dictating. While I had to learn to edit to find out if I foreshadowed enough and/or didn’t give the wrong impression, pretty much I’m just a radio that types.

            2. I KNOW how to plot. A few times I’ve had to do it by instruments because I wasn’t getting a signal, or a loud enough signal and the book was due. Or i needed the money and wrote things not in my head. BUT 99% percent of the time, and certainly for books I didn’t plan, I get the “Hi.” And the the dictation starts.
              And some like AFGM? I had no idea what would happen next. It was like driving blindfolded.

              1. That’s pretty hilarious. Must be fun when it’s going full-blast. And hard to keep up with!

                I’m of the one-word-begets-the-next school of writing-into-the-dark, except in no order whatsoever. Very rarely do I write start to finish; usually it’s a bunch of isolated fragments that eventually get stitched together when I see how the puzzle pieces fit. Nothing is planned, but it builds up like a 3D puzzle started from random middle pieces. Plot happens, to paraphrase Bradbury, as my guys run for their lives leaving footprints in the mud. 😛

                  1. Dear Diary: today, thanks to the garrulous crazy man blabbing in my head, I learned to touch-type at 400wpm. 😀

                    That’s actually wonderful. I’ve had some story piece come at me inevitable as a trainwreck and for the next few days I can’t get it typed out fast enough, but I don’t have a convenient, uh, dictator spitting words into my head. (It must get noisy in there!)

                    My guys tend to do the opposite… when they’ve been up to something, they give me a brief but pithy prevarication and try to sidle away before I notice, but I (or my beloved and fortunately tactless Wise Reader) go… Oh Really? and by the time I’m done figuring out what *really* happened, it’s much worse for them than the convenient tale they tried to spin. 😛

    1. There’s a chapter in the 1978 Boy Scout Handbook written in the second person. It’s the chapter on summer camp. It makes for a HILARIOUS skit.

      1. I haven’t seen that, must hunt it down. — Someone in Another Forum[TM] opined that it’s not possible to write fiction in 2nd person, and of course my Node of Perversity instantly spit up the above bit… and a friend with a similar Node of Oh Yeah? promptly wrote a whole story in 2nd. (It’s *creepy*.)

          1. If it’s your natural voice, it should flow regardless… but I’d guess that’s pretty rare for 2nd person.

        1. I transcribed it years ago. The way to do this is to have one NARRATOR and four or five goofballs (over)acting it out. We’ve had Viking helmets involved in the waterfront bits. We’ve had the obvious puns acted out. We’ve had the embarrassment of suddenly finding out you’re not dressed. It’s great. (And apparently 1979, not 1978.)

          FROM the 1979 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, page 145:

          A Day In Summer Camp

          MORNING IN SUMMER CAMP

          You awaken to an exciting new day with your best friends. You look out through the open tent door and see a smiling sun in a blue sky. You jump out of bed, grab soap and towel, and join the others for a morning wash. A few moments later, you are back in your tent. You straighten up things, bring blankets out for airing, and get dressed.

          The patrol cooks of the day sound off: “Come and get it!” Not a moment too soon! You’re positively starving!

          After breakfast, there’s work to be done. Your camp must be made spic-and-span in a hurry. It is. Just in time, too. The troop leaders are coming around the bend for the morning checkup. Your patrol gets the honor flag of the day. You knew it would.

          You and the whole troop gather around the flagpole. Old Glory goes aloft. Your eyes follow the flag—red, white, blue, against a clear summer sky!

          After the ceremony, you’re ready for the day’s activities.

          First there is work to be done. Your patrol has decided that your campsite needs a few improvements and additions. There’s a clothesline to be put up. There’s a raised fireplace to be built to make life easier for the cooks. With all of you working together, the jobs are on the way in no time at all.

          What’s next? Perhaps this is the day you have planned to go adventuring. What’ll it be? An exploration hike along that ancient overgrown trail? A nature hike, looking for animals and birds, rocks and minerals? An orienteering race, cross country with map and compass?

          Hurry now! There’s the call for swim! What a glorious feeling to jump into the lake and strike out for the diving raft with your buddy. Up on the raft and back in the water. Up again. In again. Not a care in the world.

          “All out!” And, a moment later, “Lunch, everybody!” The patrol cooks are doing themselves proud. Every scrap of food disappears.

          AFTERNOON IN SUMMER CAMP

          Afternoon in camp has a way of rocketing by. So many things to do. More Scoutcraft. Perhaps archery or marksmanship. And then, of course, another swim. And maybe not just a swim. Maybe an exciting waterspouts event with patrol contests in swimming and lifesaving, rowing and canoeing.

          Time to get supper ready. You check the duty roster. It’s your turn, with your buddy, to build the fire and haul in the water while another buddy team goes about the cooking.

          Supper is probably the eating highlight of the day. It is also an opportunity for good fellowship.

          After the cleanup, the whole troop gets together for an hour of action and fun. It may be a vigorous game of capture the flag. Or it may be a game of volleyball or soccer.

          EVENING IN SUMMER CAMP

          Darkness if falling. The campfire is about to start.

          CAMPFIRE! There’s nothing in the world that can compare with sitting with your best friends in a close circle, under the spell of the fire, watching the flickering flames, having a wonderful time together.

          As the flames soar upward, the campfire leader opens a program that’s a mixture of fun and seriousness.

          Scouts with special abilities do their stuff. Each patrol puts on a skit. There may be a couple of campfire games.

          And lots of songs. When the fire burns low, your songs turn into the soft, melodious kind. You end with Taps.

          Day is done, gone the sun
          From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
          All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh.

          You walk back to your tent, silently. You crawl into your sleeping bag. A moment later, you’re fast asleep.

          Happy dreams! Tomorrow is another day. It will be full of excitement and surprises. That’s what every day is in the camp of a real troop of real patrols of real Scouts.

          1. My understanding is that 2nd person does occasionally get used in children’s books. I can’t think of any examples, though. Choose your Adventure? I never read those to my kids. If you want to make up your own story, just do that.

    2. I once read an effective 2nd person story. The “you” was a character in the story and the narrator had a motive to recite her story to her.

    1. And a strange one. 😉

      Everybody knows that Oatmeal is best with raisins and brown sugar! [Very Very Big Grin]

            1. My parents would say something about me wanting some oatmeal with my raisins. 😆

      1. You can keep the raisins.
        Then, was never big on oatmeal. Don’t particular mind it, but it’s… just kinda there.
        Now, buckwheat pancakes… except they’re way too filling how much I like them. And I seem to get them once every decade or two at most.

    2. Black pepper, or a pepper blend? Because I’ve been making my oatmeal (stone ground) with butter, a pepper blend (including allspice and coriander), and a bit of salt for at least five years now.

                1. Kettle corn. Just sweetened enough to be horribly addictive, but not so much that you say, “Oh, this is caramel corn, I’ll grab a little cup full and go back to my desk.”

            1. Cravings and even persistent preferences directly reflect biochemistry. Depression is the brain being starved for glucose, because thyroid is low (at the tissue level) and you can’t utilize energy properly. Which makes you crave an energy source, and sweet means that most digestible source: sugar.

              It’s Biochem 101, but somehow has never filtered down to the level of medical practice.

  10. Speaking of , some months ago, we decided that MGC would no longer be about writing per se. Mostly because blogs for writers have a limited readership, and usually not one that runs out to buy books. But here we are, all of us, defaulting to writing about writing.

    Writing fansite!

    …. K, haven’t read any further than this, but I swear that was my immediate characterization of why I enjoy this blog. 😀

  11. I have read elsewhere that Mark Twain is supposed to have said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

    There is a scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams tells his students to eliminate “very” from their vocabulary (“a man is not very tired. He’s exhausted.”) And while there is some truth to that–“very” is often used as a crutch to shore up weak adjectives making it Twain’s “almost right word”–sometimes it is the right word.

    I like how Swain pub it, the key is not brevity but vividness, what paints the picture most clearly, most vividly, in the reader’s mind.

    When I’m doing editing passes I have a couple of semi-automated steps. One is to search for every instance of the word “very.” I don’t always remove it; as I said, it’s sometimes the right word. But often it is shoring up weaker adjectives and. Same thing with adverbs. I look for words ending in “ly” (an easy search to make). It produces some false positives. Again, sometimes I find that the adverb is shoring up a weaker choice of adjective (“almost right word”) but other times the adverb really is the right word.

      1. Oh, no doubt. As I said, sometimes the adverb in combination with the word it modifies, is the right word. Other times, it’s “almost right.” Mostly this is a check against some of my own “verbal tics” where things like “ran quickly” will come out of my fingers on first cut but “sprinted” is what I really wanted.

    1. I had a creative writing class where a teacher told us to eliminate all adverbs from our writing—but not as an absolute, as a training tool. When you’re dealing with teenagers, adverb abuse is rampant—so if you challenge them to take all the adverbs out, they have to learn other methods of getting the point across. (He had several other training tools, such as listing all the first words of each sentence in order and noticing when they were all the same.)

      1. That’s a good training technique.

        Modifiers get a bad rap largely because the writer uses a weak or inaccurate or just-plain-wrong word, then patches it with adverbs or adjectives (or sometimes entire dependent clauses) while trying to reach the intended meaning. Which makes the abused modifier stick out like it wasn’t nailed on square, and it gets blamed instead of the poorly-chosen base word.

            1. Ox slow (usually…) and some posts sit in the editor for weeks or months and get a bit of attention now and then until they either get pushed out to the world, or… the decision is made that it wasn’t a worthwhile path after all.

  12. I have recently found out that a lot of writers under forty confuse first person with present tense.

    Weep harder, oh ye teachers of English, for they do this because their teachers conflate the two.

      1. I wish I was joking– you heard my rant about the “novel writing” class I managed to score in high school?

        And college and everything?

        The only feedback they could manage on my “two aliens talking in a space shuttle” scene was basically shocked silence and mistaking first person (first person…uh… limited omniscient, I think it’s called? The one where it feels like it’s in their head, but they know just a little too much, like what that pattern on the wall is called when they don’t know what tea roses are) for present tense.

        I swear, they’re fighting anything that sounds even a little like Mike Hammer.

      2. Thinking back, and in fairness, I THINK that they were largely thinking in shorthand, then smudging it.

        Actually a lot like the other education related stuff– they are aiming for the bottom quarter ish, trying to pull them up. Not teaching to the average, much less to the specific “I am driven to be a writer” type.

      3. OK, now it’s bugging me.

        Which is the one where you don’t say “I,” but you’re very much inside of a character’s head, seeing stuff the way he’d see it, but know SOME stuff he doesn’t know/realize?

        Maybe second person limited omniscient?

          1. “Second is You”.

            I read (or attempted to read) only one book written in Second Person and won’t do it again.

            I might attempt a story written in First Person, but I’m “more comfortable” with writing a variation of Third Person.

          2. Latin is a dead, dead language…

            1. I do this, that, or the other thing. Audio is singular 3rd, I hear. Latin idiom for please is Amabo Te, literally, ‘I will love you’. Amo is the form for ‘I love’. Domini, Amo Bella (IIRC), is one way to translate the first few words of The Major’s “I love war” speech from Hellsing.
            2. You do this, that, or the other thing. Imperatives are second person. Forex, the Caedete in Caedete Eos. Caedete is 2nd plural imperative, Caede is 2nd plural singular. Caedete = “Y’all will kill”
            3. They do this, that, or the other thing. Salafi Necandi Sunt is a passive periphrastic, not the first bit of grammar they walk you through. Cartago Delenda Est is likewise passive periphrastic, and why I like that grammar. In SNS, Necandi and Sunt are both third person verb forms. Salafi is not proper Latin, but the ending could fit as third Neuter, so I made Necandi and Sunt fit that. Salafi Necandi Sunt is “them Salafi need killin'”.

            Latin is a lot of drilling. A /Lot/.

        1. Close 3rd with zooming out as needed. One might call it hybrid omni/3rd close. The Eagle of the Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliff) is a really good example of that. The book is technically in omniscient, but there are passages so closely inside the MC’s head that you’re jerked around with him in fear for your life. But when we need info outside his immediate ability to observe, it zooms out a bit to show that.

          Compare to 3rd limited, where you only see what the POV character knows, and nothing else.

          One trick for bringing the reader in tight is don’t use the POV character’s name unless required for clarity… basically avoid having the poor guy think of himself in the 3rd person, so the reader isn’t jerked out of his head and dangled overhead like in a top-down game. Also helped by dropping needless pronouns entirely.

          1. Really tight third is . . . Well, it makes some world building more of a challenge, unless you have readers who trust you to show and thus explain as the story progresses.

            FWIW as a fiction reader, I don’t enjoy first person all that much, probably because I’ve read a few too many bad example/horrible warning attempts at it. I’m not a fan of present tense, either, but it can work very well. As a writer? I’ve done one first-person short story thus far, because the character demanded it, but it feels somewhat unnatural for my writing style and voice. YMMV.

            1. The other thing is that first person requires the sort of narrator who will tell you what you need to know. And let you enjoy it. Doyle was wise to stick to Watson as narrator, because the ones told from Holmes’s POV are not anywhere near so good.

  13. Baked Oatmeal:

    Mix dry:
    3 cups oats
    1 cup brown sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 Tablespoon cinnamon
    (nutmeg, cloves, “pumpkin spice” as desired)
    1 teaspoon salt

    Add wet
    1 cup milk
    1/2 cup melted butter (put in pan, melt in oven, dump into mix right before dumping into pan)
    1 Tablespoon vanilla
    2-6 eggs, more means fluffier; six is a thick cake, two means a bit lighter than brownies.

    Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

    You can do this ahead of time– won’t vouch for how safe it is, with the melted butter to raw eggs then leaving in the fridge, but nobody’s gotten sick yet.

    Have done chips before.

    Roughly like oatmeal cookies flavor, as a cake/brownie.

    1. I like adding dried fruit, like cranberries or raisins, along with apple bits and almond slices. I’ll usually leave the mixture in the fridge overnight first to thoroughly soak the oats (always rolled oats, never instant.) A little bit looser than a cake or brownie with the recipes I’ve used, but if you thickened it up, you could bake it in muffin tins for a nice instant breakfast to heat up.

    2. Modern commercial raw eggs are pretty safe so long as they don’t get warm and collect crap from the air, which loves the perfect growth medium of raw eggs. The trick is to dose your chicks with tetracycline when they’re about two weeks old, to kill the salmonella that’s naturally resident in the ovaries. (Apparently once treated, it never returns, even if the adult hens are free range.) Also reduces chick mortality from other infections.

      I regularly eat raw egg yolk (and so do you, if you don’t cook your eggs solid), and am none the worse for it. I just like mine straight out of the egg. 😛

      Interesting recipe! Now. cocoa instead of cinnamon and such….

  14. Lovely. Needed to be said, needs to be carved in stone, and that stone needs to have firmly attached to it a handle of good, sturdy oak, with which to swing these words in solid form against the heads of those folks who think writing has a “one true way”… and that it is theirs… and that anyone who does not bow and scrape before their limitations disguised as virtue, or dares to question their fiction-crippling is a hack.

    There is no One True Way to create good fiction, and the only way to find yours is to try everything — even the things Phony Moseses have declared “automatic bad fiction” — until you build YOUR way.

  15. I had to leave a writing group because of their One Right Way approach to story process. Not a teaching tool, but the only correct, professional way to write — anything else was the mark of the amateur. It was very top-down: you started with theme, then wrote your story sentence (a declarative sentence of no more than twenty words which perfectly encapsulated your story), then outlined it in a specific way, and only then could you start writing the actual story.

    Given the organizers, I’m thinking it was oriented more toward media tie-ins, where the IP belongs to someone else, so you have to use their methods, which generally involves a proposal in a specific format, and there’s no use writing the novel on spec and then creating the proposal materials, because if they don’t want it, you can’t sell it elsewhere without doing a lot of filing off the serial numbers. But for me, it was killing my creativity and making writing into a chore — they couldn’t understand the horror of being locked into something in the beginning and having no room for discovery, for the sudden *aha* moment when the subconscious makes a connection that hadn’t been obvious from the beginning. They just kept telling me I was wrong to view it that way, that my attitude was that of a talented amateur, not a professional, and how one day I would thank them for beating through my “defiant pride.”

    When I was teaching expository writing, I made sure to tell my students that I was teaching a set of tools for them to have available, not The Only Right Way to write an expository essay.

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