The Craft of Writing

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

13 Tips to Improve Your Characterization

In The Craft of Writing on November 30, 2009 at 8:46 am

I spent a couple of days at a writers’ conference not too long ago and wanted to pass along a few things I thought might be helpful. The discussion I most enjoyed centered on improving characterization. What follows are the highlights of what I thought interesting. I hope you find them worthy of note, too.

The best writing era for character research was the 1880’s to the 1920’s. I understand this era produced the best novels to exemplify characterization.

Bridge Characters within chapters when you write your novel. For example, if you have a character with a patch over his eye, mention his patch in other areas of your novel when he is present. That helps to cement this character in the reader’s mind.

Tell your readers how a character walks, stutters, etc. This makes the character memorable to your readers. This made me think of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, when Marty Feldman, stooped over with a hunchback, told Wilder to, “Walk this way.” Obviously, this is a useful tool for writers for I’ve kept that image for how long – 30 years?

Pit contrasting characters against each other. Think Laurel and Hardy or Lucy and Ricky.

Put your characters in situation foreign to them. Think fish-out-of-water scenarios. One example might be a goody-two-shoes in a gang fight.

Never put your character in front of a mirror. Yes, there is an exception in Snow White, but then again, even James Bond learned “never” never means never. Right?

The bad guy can always rationalize his actions. He’s not insane, he’s evil.

Find contradiction in your novel’s characters. Imagine our goody-two-shoes who finally succumbs to the neighbor’s wife’s enchantments. You might write about the vegetarian who is forced to eat meat to stay alive.

Every character needs something in every chapter. (Ah, the power of conflict!) Do they all get their wishes fulfilled? Not if you’re looking for readers.

Have your characters arguing to bring out their personality. This is the fundamental turning point in my newest novel. So glad to hear it works!

Your character should be visible from the silhouette. How interesting might this be? Be careful, though. This can get out of hand fast.

“Write what bubbles up.” It’s an old line, but it still makes sense to follow your muse.

Use popular names during the decades in which they live. Check census records, and the like for authenticity.

By the way, another tip I liked also surfaced. If a gun is seen in chapter one, it must be fired by chapter four.

The panelists were Dash Shaw, a cartoonist and author of Bottomless Bellybutton. (Boy, was this kid ever interesting.)  Frankie Bailey, author of Wicked Albany: Lawlessness and Liquor in the Prohibition Era and Scott Nelson, author of Ain’t Nothing but a Man.

I do hope these tidbits have proved useful and I would appreciate it if you would send in your own tips on this subject.

Until my next post, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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"To be? Or not to be?"

In The Craft of Writing on November 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

The Great Bard did have a way with words, didn’t he?

I’ve been studying writing for some time now and have learned a few things of note. One of those things is the existence of The Rules of Writing. Chief among them is,

“Thou Shalt Remove All Forms of the word, ‘To be.’”

During my years of study with the craft of writing, I’ve learned many such rules and I have developed my favorites. My personal selection for MVP of The Rules of Writing is that all these many rules are really no more than gentle guidelines. However, that’s another post altogether.

For years, I yearned to remove all the forms of “to be,” but, if truth be told, I was only certain of a single form of the verb. And that, of course, was, “to be” itself. And would you like to know why I didn’t know the forms of, “to be?” It’s because of its definition which reads, “A form of the verb “To be” is combined with a past participle to form the passive.”

You may understand more than I, but I do not recall, nor currently understand how to combine whatever with a past participle to form anything, let alone “the possessive.”So, vainly I sought all forms of the word, “to be” but never quite had the handle on them until recently.

Searching the Internet, I found that thing for which I’d longed these many years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I found all forms of the word, “to be.”

Therefore, in hopes I have not been the only person on the planet with this particular issue, I would like to share them with you today. They are:

Am

Is

Are

Was

Were

Being

Been

Be

Were

Not all the sinister after all, are they? The secret, of course, is checking to see if by eliminating the verb, your writing improves. Let’s first look at the rationale for this rule, shall we? I looked the explanation as to why this rule exists and found it at http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000040.htm. Are you ready for this? “It, [to be], is normally a linking verb showing existence or the condition of the subject.”

Let me see if I have the right. We can’t use it because it states that something exists? (Is that the gist of how you read this?) If so, that doesn’t help me at all. Regardless its definition or justification, let’s take a look at the rule in use to see if it does improve one’s writing. I used the “find” feature within my word processor and copied the first sentence with the word “been” in my current manuscript.

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had been best of friends with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

I’ll try to rewrite the sentence without using the word, “been.”

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had bonded with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

Which sentence is the better of the two? When reading it aloud, the second does improve the statement to my ear. I see a much stronger action verb in, “bonded” than I do with “had been.” (By the way, using stronger verbs is another of those rules to which we are subjugated.)

Let’s try it again, shall we? This time I’ll “find” the word, “were.” The sentence that showed up first in my manuscript was,

The walls, as in the foyer, were decorated with paintings of long-departed ancestors.

Rewritten it becomes,

The walls, as in the foyer, seemed only to serve as backdrop for paintings of long-departed ancestors.

I don’t know what you think, but I think it reads better. In both cases, I deleted the form of the word, “to be” and have produced a higher quality of writing each time.

I challenge you to try the same technique, and let me know what you find. As to me, I guess I’ll rework my manuscript one more time.

Until my next post, I wish you all best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Character Types in Fiction – Part 2

In The Craft of Writing on November 20, 2009 at 9:11 am

In my most recent post I introduced two types of characters, The Hero, (protagonist), and the Mentor, (Wizard, Wise Old Man / Wise Old Woman). Today, we’ll continue in the same vein and introduce additional character types for your novels.

Next in line of our universal characters is the Threshold Guardian.

As we know, our protagonist must traverse many obstacles while on his quest and in many instances some of those hurdles are watched over by Threshold Guardians. Its goal is to keep the unworthy from entering. The common placement of the Guardian, as you might expect, is as a gatekeeper, most often for the Big Enchilada. It is not necessary for these people to have an evil demeanor and attitude, but most authors seem to portray them in that light. In unusual circumstances they can even be secret helpers to your hero.

These sentinels can take most any form you wish. They can be fierce creatures ready to devour your hero or something as nonthreatening as a child who withholds a secret. When your hero encounters the various kinds of guardians, they can be overcome, bypassed or even turned into allies. They represent the hero’s inner demons or serve as training for more difficult tasks he has yet to face.

How is your hero supposed to deal with these impediments? The answer lies in the guardian’s unique nature or personality. Your protagonist must find a way to get under the beast’s skin. In some instances, they do so literally, as when Sam and Frodo dressed like the Eye’s warriors to traverse the badlands. With luck, your hero may simply ignore or bypass him. In most stories, however, the Threshold Guardian must be fought, bribed, educated, turned, appeased, convinced or killed.

Despite the looks of it, a Threshold Guardian is often a positive thing to your hero. After all, doesn’t he warn everyone the Big Bad Wolf is near? They can also help your hero in another fashion for as they test the good guy, your hero grows in strength and knowledge. The good guy might even pick up a weapon or two.

Our next key character is The Herald.

In studying how to write a book, you’ll find this guy brings two things to your hero. The first is an announcement of major change your hero is about to face. The other is motivation.

In the early telling of the typical story, the hero muddles through his life by way of current knowledge or dumb luck. All of a sudden, some new problem crops up that is beyond his skills and he can no longer get by on his own. This new imbalance, called The Call to Adventure, is delivered by none other than The Herald. This guy gets your hero’s great quest moving along.

Herald’s represent coming change. In “Star Wars – A New Hope,” who is The Herald? Who is it that brings Luke Skywalker an announcement of some great change that gets the story moving forward? It’s R2D2. He is the character that shows Luke the message from the princess, thus announcing the coming transformation in Luke’s life. Remember how Luke gets excited by the message? There’s his motivation.

What form does The Herald take? Like every character in your story, it takes whatever shape you wish. It can be a person, a note, a feeling, a telegraph, an animal. It matters not. Just know as you learn how to write a story, a herald is necessary.

As with every character in your story, The Herald may be good, evil or neutral. In most stories, The Herald is brought in early to get your hero moving toward his quest, but his appearance depends on when and how you decide to have your hero’s quest started.

Now for one of my favorite characters, The Shapeshifter.

This powerful archetype is shifty, two-faced. You see him for the first time and he’s helping. Yet, the next time you cross his path he’s trying to destroy you. (Every see this type in real life?) The classic example of The Shapeshifter is found in the opposite sex, though this in not necessary.

The function of this creature is to confuse the hero and the reader. It is the bringer of doubt and the propagator of confusion. In our earlier example of “Star Wars,” a Shapeshifter is Lando Calrissian. Remember him? The boos on the cloud mining operation, he first comes out to meet Han Solo with a grimace and a complaint. He then hugs him, betrays him, then saves Solo and finally joined the Rebellion and is given the rank of general for the climactic battle scene. Boy does this guy alter his appearance – four times. He kept you guessing throughout most of the movie.

Shapeshifters may change in any way imaginable. They may alter their personality, form, allegiance, or just their clothes. Regardless, all these changes bring uncertainty and apprehension to your hero and your readers. Consider if you will, the Wicked Witch in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” She shifted from a queen, to a witch, to a dragon to a pile of ash as we progressed through that story. Wow!

Next comes The Shadow.

This guy is often your villain, though he need not be so. The Shadow represents your hero’s doubt. This character might not be a character at all, but a force, of sorts, that rises and falls within any or all characters as needed in your novel. It can shift from character to character but always plays the same role – one of slipping out of normalcy and into doubt.

Remember in the hobbit story when Frodo is about to drop the ring into the eternal fires of Mount Doom? He hesitates. He considers the power his is relinquishing and doubts if he can or even should toss the ring into oblivion. In that same series, doubt rears its ugly head in the good guys at the time when the Eye’s multitudes surround the king and his meager band of warriors just prior to the Eye’s ultimate end. If you remember, as soon as those massive gates open and the good guys see the number of bad guys they face, the good guys shy back a step, brows high and eyes wide in doubt.

Can The Shadow also be a formal character? Sure, and in fact he often is. In the movie, “Independence Day,” the president fires one of his advisors, (can’t remember his name), and the other characters as well as the viewing crowd almost cheer. Doubt has been erased and the president has risen to the role of confident hero in that instant. (Fanfare here.)

Shadows need not be of absolute evil. In fact, a secret to creating Shadows is they often make better characters if they hold some element of goodness. Think of a villain who, just as the hero is about to slay him, exhibits some level of goodness as with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In this case, we see evil incarnate surrounded by a very real, and good person.

The Shadow may be internal or external. External Shadows are easy to spot, the Emperor in “Star Wars,” for example. Internal Shadows may be more difficult to visualize but you need only to look to Darth Vader to view internal shadow. After all, this once good, then evil creature turns against his puppet master to save Luke and transforms into something good again. (In this case, the Shadow is also a Shapeshifter.)

Our final character is The Trickster.

The typical Trickster is the comical sidekick. They are utilized to bring your hero down to earth, often by way of comic relief. They also like to stir up trouble for no reason other than to do so. They are what’s called “catalyst characters.” They that change others, but rarely change themselves.

Without them, the conflict in your story may lead to reader exhaustion. An old saw in drama tells us to “Make ‘em cry a lot; let ‘em laugh a little.” This “laugh a little” is the job of your Trickster. Tricksters can be cohorts of the hero, as with Giordano in “Sahara”, or may even be the villain. They also might not be related to either of them.

One of my favorites is the aforementioned Giordano. The hero is given a coin minted in limited quantity by the Confederate Government. He’s all excited about the implications of his find. Giordano’s response? “My father has a coin collection.” Giordano’s meaning, of course, is that coins travel the world all by themselves and the hero needs to get his head on straight as to the significance of this single coin he’s found.

A variation of the Trickster is the Trickster Hero. In fact, our very same Giordano is such a character. Not only does her provide the comic relief, but he is also a minor hero in his own right. He is, after all, the guy who finds and dismantles the bomb, is he not?

Well, there you have it, an outline of the various and interesting characters with which you may populate your novels. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

In the mean time, I wish you all best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Character Types in Fiction

In The Craft of Writing on November 19, 2009 at 10:01 am

As we travel together down the road of how to write a novel, I’ve talked about the steps your protagonist must take while on his journey through your novel. Today I’m going to introduce you to those various characters he’ll meet along the way.  In this post, we’ll meet the Hero and the Mentor. Soon, we’ll meet many more.

Before we meet these all-important and archetypal helpers, hinderers and others, let’s review who it is these many creatures represent. I like to think of them as the assorted types of people I meet in real life. When I populate my manuscripts with characters, I infuse them with human characteristics, typically from people I’ve met, know or know of. After all, the best stories are little more than metaphors for the human condition, are they not? This idea works for creatures, too. Regardless the species of your characters, they will assume human qualities.

Consider your novel’s champion, or protagonist, for example. He lives, struggles, overcomes, succumbs, grows, learns and maybe even dies. He loves, he hates, he suffers, he surpasses and so on. These are all aspects of the human condition, so it’s quite obvious your characters will exhibit the qualities of existent humans.

These guys to whom I’ll introduce you are universal. They can be employed in whatever genre you write. In a war story, is there a hero? Yep. How about a love story? It’s the same. What if you wish to write about talking birds? You’ll have the same characters in there somewhere.

Armed with that knowledge, let’s introduce the major character types in fiction.

First, and of most importance, is The Hero.

In my research for this article I learned the word, “hero” is Greek in origin and means “one who protects or one who serves.” Think of him as a shepherd of sorts, someone who will sacrifice for the good of his flock. This concept of sacrificing one’s self is at the heart of the hero’s meaning.

It is his fate to leave the comfortable confines of his world and venture into the place where he is, in effect, lost. He, like us, must learn to cope, to grow and to overcome. During his journey, he will face tests, meet teachers and guides, come across those who wish him harm and maybe even meet his love. Hum… sounds sort of like our own lives, doesn’t it? (Do you see a secret to writing a successful novel in that last sentence?)

His purpose in your story is to give your readers a window into not only the story, but life itself. You must find a way to make your protagonist relate to as many potential readers as possible. This is done by instilling in your hero those universal characteristics that your readers will appreciate. That is, qualities we find within ourselves.

Think about some of those universal aspects of the human animal and give those qualities to your hero. You can consider among others, fear, revenge, love, lust, patriotism, desperation, freedom, survival, understanding or idealism. If you can convey these qualities into your hero, the reader will have an easier time identifying with him. This is one of the many secrets to having your manuscript accepted. If you notice, I mention some unsavory qualities, too. Yes, give your hero some of those. Not too many, mind you, but an interesting flaw or two will humanize your hero. Are real life heroes perfect? Neither are your novel based ones.

Keep in mind your hero may be a willing accomplice to his fate or not. It’s unimportant as to his enthusiasm for his quest. Also remember these ideas apply regardless the form your hero takes, be it animal, alien, or even a vegetable.

Another aspect to his fate is action. This does not need be explosive in nature, but rather in the aspect the hero is in control of his personal fate.

The most terrifying scene for your hero is his coming face-to-face with Death. It can be in a metaphorical sense, but he must fact the greatest of losses in your climactic scene. In this part of your novel, your protagonist must present his truly heroic side by willingly sacrificing himself for the good of others if needs be.

Our next character is the ever-popular Mentor.

This character goes by many names and among them is the Wise Old Man or Wizard. He is usually a positive figure, though he need not be so. The archetype is of a lesser hero, if you will. In simple terms, he’s a guide for your premier character.

He represents the best person within us all. He insures the hero is made aware of right from wrong and is provided with all the necessary knowledge or skills to complete his quest. He is a gift-giver of sorts. Think of the Fairy-Godmother in “Cinderella” or Merlin in “King Arthur.”

His main purpose lies in teaching. Your hero comes into this new world of his without many, if not most, of the skills he’ll need to complete his quest. It matters not if he is to drive a silver stake into the heart of Dracula or if she is to find a new love. Regardless the journey, the hero lacks something and the Mentor is there to take care of that nasty little inconvenience.

There is typically a catch involved with these wonderful gifts the Mentor offers. And that is they should be earned by your hero. Think of Snow White in her fairy tale. Who later comes to her aid? All the creatures of the forest do. And why do they do this for her? It’s because Snow White showed them kindness earlier in the tale.

The Mentor can have other functions, too. He might act as conscience to your hero. Might your hero rebel against this conscience? Uh, do real people? The Mentor may also serve to motivate him or even introduce him to the physical pleasures of love. (Now we see why this guy is so popular!)

There are many types of Mentors. He may be what’s called a Dark Mentor, where the good qualities of the human being are turned inside out. Think Joan Wilder’s agent in “Romancing the Stone.” At some point, Joan’s agent turns against advising Joan to succeed and begins to plant doubts in Joan Wilder’s mind. This type of Mentor can be interesting as they typically change from a force of good to one of doubt. They can also be presented as first a bringer of doubt and later transform into a source of power.

There are Fallen Mentors like Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own.” There are Continuing Mentors, those that carry over into sequels, such as “M” in the James Bond series. There can be Multiple Mentors. Think Obi Wan and Yoda in “Star Wars.” However, if you use Multiple Mentors, insure one is premier while the multiples are minor in comparison, bringing lesser gifts.

This list of Mentor types goes on and on, but they all serve the same purpose. They teach and are givers of gifts. These guys bring inspiration, guidance, training, weapons, hope and all the other tools your hero requires. Without them in your story, at least at an emotional or mental level, your story will be incomplete.

As to placement of Mentors in your manuscript, they show up when they are needed to insure your story moves forward.

In my next post about how to write a book, which may be tomorrow or Monday, I’ll introduce you to other characters such as the Shapeshifter, Threshold Guardians, Heralds, Tricksters and Shadows. Sounds exciting.

Hum… this may turn into a three part post. We’ll see.

Until we meet again, may all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

How to Use Conflict in Fiction

In The Craft of Writing on November 18, 2009 at 9:21 am

Conflict is critical to any good story. It’s what makes your story worth reading and, in fact, is the key component that weaves all the elements of your novel together. Without it, you’ve simply written a series of facts and occurrences. Conflict is what gets your readers’ hearts beating, their blood boiling and their fingers turning the page. (And turning that page is what generates buzz and book sales.)

I feel there exists a major misunderstanding among writers, especially new writers, as it relates to conflict. I’ll explain what this is by first telling you what it is not.  It is not the crisis or what happens to your characters. It is not the battle, the argument or the deception. Surprised?

Conflict rests upon their thoughts and feelings, toward the events your characters experience. It’s found within the moral choices your characters make. It’s within the building, then exploding tension between opposing forces.

Think of it this way. A daughter tells her father a lie, but the father could not care less. Where is the excitement? Where is the energy? Where is the drama? It’s in the father’s reaction to the lie, not within the lie itself. You’ll have greater conflict if the father gets angry about the lie rather than ignoring it.

There are five premier conflict types to utilize within a story. They are:

Inner Conflict: This is when your character struggles within himself. For example, your protagonist has trouble balancing his fear of heights and his assignment as a paratrooper in the army. Inner conflict is often based upon a character’s vulnerabilities. Strong inner conflict often makes the best stories.

Relational Conflict: This occurs when two people struggling against each other, as in the example of the father and his daughter’s lie.

Social Conflict: This takes place when someone comes in conflict with a group. Think of a soldier caught behind enemy lines.

Conflict with Nature: This is when a character struggles with a life and death situation born by the universe. Maybe your hero is caught in an avalanche.

Situational Conflict: This occurs when your character is in conflict with not his boss, but his boss’s ambitions, or a like situation.

If you think about people, they tend to stay within comfortable boundaries and shy away from disruptive choices. Your characters are no different. They need someone, or something, to force them out of their tidy little lives. An effective method is to develop your antagonist so they will poke at the root of your hero’s internal conflict. This works quite well, especially if the bad guy’s goal is in opposition to your hero’s. Keep in mind your antagonist need not be someone wearing a black hat. It can be anything including animal, vegetable, mineral, idea, desire, thought – whatever you wish it to be.

I’ll now give you some general tips for writing conflict.

Too much drama, or too little, will distance your reader. There is a delicate balance of conflict necessary for a good story. Evaluate every instance within your novel and eliminate everything that is unnecessary to moving the story forward.

Keep the number of conflict points to a minimum. Two opposing conflict points, one internal and one external, are usually enough to carry your novel. Can you put in more? Sure, but with each new conflict point comes an increased potential loss of control over the story. Be careful.

Build tension. Although a strong conflict from the very start of your novel is beneficial, drop quickly then build slowly to a crescendo. On that path toward your climatic scene, you should toss in a couple of other conflict points of lesser strength to keep raising the stakes. Yet, despite these conflict points, be always vigilant in building toward your final conflict.

Don’t have too many twists and turns in your conflict. A well-crafted novel exhibits that delicate balance between too much and too little conflict. It also strikes that same balance between conflict and crisis.

Your conflict should build in an upward trending straight line, with a couple of lesser peaks and their resulting valleys, towards the climax. This line falls in dramatic fashion after the conclusion of  your major conflict point. Find that correct balance, set an interesting pace to your writing, and draw your reader into the story.

Every chapter in your novel should have someone wanting something. This want need not be anything of utmost importance, but each chapter should contain some level of conflict. It may be as simple as a young girl wishing her mother would allow her to walk to school, to the reactions of your hero as he is thrust into battle. Regardless, you need conflict in every chapter.

Conflict begins and ends with desire. In your storyline, use the bond of your hero in disagreement with someone or something.

The essence of building tension is choice. Your hero must be forced to make choices in order to keep him moving forward on his quest. If your reader knows what your hero is going to do in each crisis, your novel has limited suspense and your readers lose a great deal of their interest. This is why the hero must learn as he moves toward his goal – it keeps your reader involved in finding out what he does next. Keep in mind you must maintain his personality, but by offering your protagonist conflicting alternatives, it keeps your tension at a higher plane.

Your conflict must have a final goal in mind. That goal is the growth of your hero. This evolution can be emotional, physical or any other “-al” you wish, but the purpose of all this running around is to, in the end, have your protagonist come out a better person.

Use cliffhangers. Have you noticed how commercials interrupt your favorite television shows? (How can you not?) I’ll bet you’ve noticed they come just as the tension is building to a crescendo. Use this same technique in your novels. End each chapter with a cliffhanger. They need not be of the magnitude of the hero’s death, but leave a question in the readers’ mind. It will keep them wanting to know more.

After your cliffhanger gets your reader to turn the page, don’t give the answer away right away. It’s yet another delicate balance as to when to give them their answer, so play with what works for your story.

I’ve mentioned the balance needed in your manuscript a couple of times already. One secret to this balance is to vary the pace of your novel. Give them some excitement, then tone it down so your reader can catch their breath. Build again, a little more this time, then let them relax once more. You can vary the pace of your novel by using action, the tone of your writing, the length of your paragraphs and even sentences. (Shorter sentences and chapters increase speed, while longer ones slow it down.) It’s an intricate technique, but once mastered, it will lift your writing to a new level of competence and sales.

Fear intensifies conflict. Your hero must face his fears so include fright at judicious points within your manuscript.

Use dialogue as a major tool in the building of your conflict. If used effectively, dialogue increases the emotion, tension and tragedy. It, too, can be used to increase or decrease the pace of your work.

Now for a short story that exemplifies the rise and fall of conflict within an effective storyline.

Three little pigs build three little houses. The first house is made of straw, the second of wood and the third of brick.

The Big Bad Wolf arrives, wanting to eat the three pigs. The three pigs are upset as to his arrival and retreat into their respective houses for safety.

The wolf arrives at the first house and tells the pig he wants to eat it. The little pig is terrified! The wolf blows the house down. Fortunately, after near capture and death, the pig escapes into the home of his compatriot, the second pig.

The wolf arrives at the second house and again threatens to kill and eat the pigs within. He huffs and puffs until the little house collapses. After a thrilling escape, the two pigs retreat into the house of the third pig.

The wolf arrives at the last house with two of the three pigs trembling inside. One pig, however, is confident. The wolf blows and blows but cannot destroy the brick house. The worried pigs breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait! There’s more!

The wolf sneaks down the chimney and those same two pigs again go into fearful tremors. The third pig is still confident he can save them all.

Down comes the wolf!

Oh! The tension! Two pigs are in hysterics. The third faces this new turn of events with continued aplomb.

The wolf is caught by surprise by the actions of the third pig when he climbs down the chimney.

The three pigs live happily ever after.

Now, after reading the story, answer the following questions.

  • Can you identify the various crisis points of the story?
  • Can you determine the points of conflict within the story?
  • Do you see the rising, then falling, then rising tension, or plot points, with the ending sigh of relief?
  • Are you able to identify the climactic point of the story?

If you were able to answer these questions correctly, you now understand the fundamentals of fiction.

Until my next post, I wish you all best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

POV Tips for Fiction

In Marketing Your Book on November 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Last night I was working with my critique group and they stunned me with some of the errors they found still hidden within my novel, “Born to be Brothers.” Two, (count ‘em), of those errors were in Point of View, or as it’s know, POV. With last night’s lesson clear in my mind, I thought today’s post should encompass that great bugaboo, Point of View.

Let’s first try to understand what POV is. In a sound bite, it’s who is telling the story. Is a single character narrating what is going on, or are a number, or even all the characters, telling the reader what is happening? POV is nothing more than the writer’s method of determining which character is presenting the narrative. See, it’s not all that mysterious.

As to the types of POV, there are four perspectives for telling your story, though some say there are five. Regardless, my focus will be with the three most common uses of POV in fiction, and then primarily upon the Third Person, as it is the easiest to use and most common POV in novels. Know that each POV has its advantages, disadvantages and typical uses.

The three major types, with primary subdivisions are:

• First Person POV

• Second Person POV

• Third Person POV

o Limited

o Omniscient

o Objective

Keep in mind when you write, you’ll settle into the one or two POV’s that serves your storytelling and writing style. In fiction, the primary POV is Third Person.

Let’s define these POV’s.

First Person POV First Person POV has the writer, or narrator, personally telling the story. In effect, the narrator is speaking to his readers about what is transpiring and it can be told in either present or past POV. It is most often used when one is authoring a book about ones’ personal experiences or opinions. You’ll see the writer using the common pronouns of I, me, my, mine, we, our and ours.

It can fit into fiction, but is widely used in memoirs.

An example sentence is:

As I looked at Jill, I knew she was upset.

Second Person POV

Think of this as how to write an instruction manual and extensive use of the word, “you.”

This POV is rarely used in fiction as it simply tells the reader what the characters are doing and what they see. It is an awkward way to write with limited access to creativity. However, it does grab the reader’s attention.

It can also exist in past and present forms.

An example sentence is:

You, Jill, will then purse your lips and furrow your brow.

• Third Person POV has three subtypes and we’ll discover each on its own.

o Third Person – Omniscient POV

Third Person Omniscient POV is having all the major characters in your novel telling the story. What is nice about this POV is the freedom it affords. The author can tell the reader what everyone’s motivations are and what it is they are thinking. It allows the writer to give or withhold information at will.

The difficulties lie in lack of control and its potentially cumbersome nature. If you are not careful, by showing what’s inside every character’s head, the reader receives too much information and can become frustrated as your POV loses cohesion.

You overcome this drawback by insuring consistency in your POV and by having only one person at a time tell the story. Also, eliminate any information that is not pertinent to the story. Have each chapter focus on one individual will help eliminate “head-hopping,” or jumping from one character’s POV to another within chapters.

Your example:

Jack wondered what Jill was thinking while Jill knew quite well what thoughts rattled around Jack’s mind. Bill was surprised by what Jill was thinking.

(See how this can get out of hand?)

o Third Person – Limited POV

Third Person Limited POV is perhaps the easiest to utilize and most popular when writing novels. Here the author writes from a single person’s vision throughout the entire book. In third person POV, you’ll see pronouns such as she, he, her, him, hers, his, it, its, they, them, theirs.

The disadvantages come with the writer’s limitation as to who sees what. The character telling the story cannot get into the head of another to read his thoughts. He can only surmise what the other guy is thinking by that person’s facial expression, actions and such. It’s also very easy to shift out of this POV.

Your example:

Jak understood Jill’s irritation, for her pursed lips and furrowed brow told him everything he needed to know.

o Third Person Objective POV

In this POV, the author only tells his readers what happens by way of action or dialogue. Their characters’ feelings or thoughts are never revealed. It is not the most effective POV for fiction.

Your example is:

Jack watched Jill furrow her brow and pinch her face.

When the major POV’s for fiction are broken down by types, it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming, does it? In fact, as you read the names of each type of POV, it should be easy to remember each of them. Limited, has a limited number of narrators, Omniscient, (Omni = all),  has everyone telling and Objective has no one telling.

The secret to POV is to learn what type works well for your writing style and the types of stories you tell and then allowing these factors to drive your POV. Focus on the one or two you need and let the rest go for now.

I hope this has helped a bit, and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Tips on Eliminating Unnecessarily Overused Adverbs

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Aspiring authors always hear about the need to reduce adverbs, but just how might that be done?

First, let’s define the word, “adverb.” Dictionary.com defines them as, (are you ready for this?), “any member of a class of words that in many languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by the ending -ly, or by functioning as modifiers of verbs or clauses, and in some languages, as Latin and English, also as modifiers of adjectives or other adverbs or adverbial phrases, as very, well, quickly. Adverbs typically express some relation of place, time, manner, attendant circumstance, degree, cause, inference, result, condition, exception, concession, purpose, or means.”

Come on, guys! Let’s whittle this down to say they are modifiers of verbs, generally, usually, often words ending in –ly. Ah, that’s much more understandable.

Let’s take a look at how this plays into our writing.

If you read the title of this post, you’ll notice two modifiers of the word, “Adverbs.” They are, “Unnecessarily” and “Overused.” Could this title have been written without the adverbs and still make sense? Sure. Tips on Eliminating Adverbs makes perfect sense. So, too, it must be in your writing. Eliminate as many of your adverbs as possible for better writing.

Should you eliminate all adverbs? Perhaps not, but each should be studied to insure they add to the quality of your writing. As we’ve all learned by way of earlier posts to this blog, the “rules” of writing are actually only guidelines, but if you put this maxim to good use it will improve your writing.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, shall we?

The sun slowly set over the horizon.

How important is the word, “slowly,” in this example? Not much. Everyone knows a sun set isn’t immediate. If that word were eliminated the writing would be crisper and the concept of the event would not be lost.

Now compare these two sentences.

“She laughingly brushed off his comment.”

“With a laugh, she brushed off his comment.”

If you read them aloud, you’ll find no change in the meaning, but rather a dramatic alteration to the cadence, or the music of the words. Which is the better written? (“B”, is your correct answer.) The difference may be subtle to many, but the importance of this technique over a novel length manuscript will accumulate dramatically, ah, in a dramatic fashion.

Here’s one more example:

“Begrudgingly, he admitted she was correct.”

“With a begrudge, he admitted she was correct.”

We see here the easy alteration turned out worse than the original. In lieu, try something like this.

“He admitted she was correct, though he felt bitter at having to acknowledge the fact.”

Which of the three sentences reads better to you? This illustration shows how difficult the correct rewording might be. Regardless, the lesson here is to edit each individual adverb for elimination or replacement.

As to when to edit your adverbs, I can only tell you how I do it. I wait until the first, or even the third, draft is complete then I use my Find function to locate all “ly” words. I then evaluate the individual adverbs for options as to how better reword the sentence for more compelling writing.

Until my next post, my all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, 2/2

In The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

This is the second and final installment of my interview with the ever-gracious Elizabeth Chadwick. Please take the time to read the first posting of this interview as she has a great deal to teach us. When you read the initial post you’ll see I tried to focus on any lessons Elizabeth Chadwick may have for aspiring writers as they learn The Craft of Writing. Today we finish with the sixth through the tenth questions.

Please note there are spelling and punctuation differences between her home of England and mine of the United States. If you see something that feels odd to you, trust the way Elizabeth Chadwick writes it.

Now, on to the interview.

My sixth question was:

You and I write are in the same genre, historical fiction. A question I’ve had asked of me a number of times is how does an author find the correct phraseology to adequately portray the language of his novel’s time and still appeal to today’s readers. Can you assist us with this?

“Just use good, standard English as the basics. If you go in for ‘gadzookery’ you have to be very sure of what you are doing and you are likely to alienate a lot of your readers.  If you go the other way and write modern phrases into your dialogue, you are likely to put off many readers of historical fiction who don’t want a Tudor personality saying ‘So what do you think of the King’s teenage girlfriend? Geez, she’s hot to trot isn’t she?’  Keep it on a level and perhaps insert the occasional historical word or phrase to give a flavour – although if it’s an item, make sure that the context tells you what it is.”

In her respond Elizabeth Chadwick gives us the technique for portraying a native dialect, a Southern accent, or even an Irish, “Top o’ th’ mornin’ to ya, laddie,” without the need for those many odd contractions and endless apostrophes. We simply use contemporary language and toss in the occasional historical word for authenticity.

As I’ve noted on earlier postings, not only do I follow Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice, but also look also to the flow, the music, within the language you’re emulating. I watched the wonderful movie “Stardust” the other night and the dialect of some rather ancient witches followed these rules. In one scene, a crone is heard saying, “What hardship a few more days?” In this simple phrase you can see the entire concept of what Elizabeth Chadwick recommends. The sentences use contemporary English terms, but with the lilt of the time.

Question Seven:

What might you recommend as the best method or methods for an aspiring writer to learn The Craft of Writing?

“As aforementioned.  Sit down and do it; that’s the only way. Read as much as you can too and across all genres.  Don’t just stick to reading what you want to write.  Try everything and get to know different authors’ voices and what each genre requires.  Watch films and TV dramas.  Watch film trailers.  Observe how they are put together.  You can learn a lot about structure from these as well as reading the written word.  I think visual media allied to reading and writing, helps a writer form images in their head.”

How many among us aspiring authors have heard the old saw extolling us to put our backside in the chair and write? I’ll bet you’ve also heard the recommendation to read widely, haven’t you? Well, Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s words contain the proof in the porridge as this is the primary method to improve your writing skills. Sit down and write is about as clear a recommendation as you might receive. To write better, write more.

My Eighth question was:

Please tell our readers how you see the art of storytelling as linked to The Craft of Writing.

“I suppose The Craft of Writing can get in the way of the story telling if you get too hung up on the rules.  I would say the story telling is all about putting the first draft down on the page, and the craft comes in at the editing stage once you’ve written or told the story.”

I have learned two important lessons from Elizabeth Chadwick, one of which is the “rules” in writing are, as she quotes from The Pirates of the Caribbean, “more like guidelines”. I truly appreciate her counsel in this regard. The other major lesson I’ve learned from her is the power of setting. Read her books and you’ll understand what I mean.

She emphasizes we should, first and foremost, write a good story. Worry about the rules after the story is penned to the page. This also answers a personal question as to why many successful writers don’t always follow the rules and still have stunning novels. It’s always about the story, guys.

Question Nine:

In historical fiction, as with many other forms of the art, research is an integral part of writing. Would you share with us how your research affects your application of The Craft of Writing?

“My in depth research means that I can walk through the medieval period with confidence and know that my characters are of their time and not modern day people in fancy dress. It means that I can imagine them and their world clearly and being clued up means that I am aware of all sorts of details and scenarios that I can fit in to enliven the narrative or save for a scene in the next novel as appropriate.  A writer should do the research but only feed it into the novel on a need to know basis. The material that doesn’t go in is not wasted.  It supports the writer’s ability to get under the skin of people long gone.”

I loved Elizabeth Chadwick’s response here. It seems The Craft of Writing isn’t directly affected by the research an author performs. Research, instead, enlivens the narrative so as to immerse your reader in your story.

And finally, question number ten:

Are there any other suggestions you might recommend for aspiring authors relative to The Craft of Writing?

“Enjoy what you do first and foremost. Don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.  For example, rules about how much dialogue you should have to prose just get in the way in the early stages.  Find your voice first and then begin looking at craft issues, but treat them as guidelines and don’t get in a state about them, because they can totally mess up your creative muse.  I know they do mine if I start poking about. I would also say write something every day. Set yourself a target that is easily doable even on a fraught day.  That way you’ll always achieve your goal and often go beyond it, which keeps it enjoyable and is a confidence booster.”

Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice for improving your mastery over The Craft of Writing includes writing what you enjoy. I doubt there is better advice available. If you try to shoehorn yourself into a genre which does not call to you, like any aspect of life, your muse will not participate in the endeavor as she might have had you let her speak through you.

Elizabeth Chadwick also suggests you find your voice early in the process. This, too, is excellent guidance. If you pay attention to people in this industry, you’ll find almost every successful person peppers their advice with this specific requirement. Agents, those who land us those elusive contracts, specifically and often recommend finding your voice and developing it. In my opinion, this is second in importance to writing the good story. I’ve written an earlier post on this and you may wish to review it.

She continues with encouraging writers to write everyday with an attainable goal in mind. This couples nicely with Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier recommendation to sit down and put finger to keyboard. There is no better way to achieve a goal than to practice.

This concludes the interview with Elizabeth Chadwick. I hope you’ve garnered from this as much from this as have I.

Again I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick, author of “The Greatest Knight” and many other good works, for her kind assistance in helping me offer this to you.

Now, I ask if Elizabeth Chadwick can take her time to support aspiring writers, shouldn’t aspiring writers take the time to support her?

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s many fine words from The Book Depository: www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to me at this blog.

Thank you for your time and attention. I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Interview w/ Elizabeth Chadwick, Best-selling Historical Fiction Writer

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on November 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

The talented author, Elizabeth Chadwick, granted me an interview, the focus of which was to assist aspiring authors in learning the craft of writing and helping them reach their goal of publication. I asked Elizabeth Chadwick ten questions as to her experiences in learning the craft of writing, five of which will be discussed today. The remainder will be presented this coming Monday. Her answers are unedited and as she is English, Americans will find differences in spelling and even punctuation. Fear not, this lady is good.

My first question was:

Prior to your becoming a best-selling author, you had to learn the formal Craft of Writing. What was the single most important step you took on your path to mastering The Craft of Writing?

Flying hours I would say.  Sheer time spent actually writing.  I didn’t know I was learning the formal craft, I was just having fun.  I would also say that a cumulative effect of learning the skill has been a habit of reading voraciously across all genres throughout my life.  It’s amazing how much you pick up by osmosis.”

As my father was a naval aviator, I understood her analogy of “flying hours.” She confirms for us that well-known maxim all aspiring authors have heard before; write more if you wish to write better.

She also brought forth a secret it took me a time to understand. She said she was, “just having fun,” in her early writing ventures. What better advice could a writer receive? After all, if you’re not having a good time, you’ll not write as much or with as much passion.

She mentioned of another rule all authors should espouse. A secret to her success was “reading voraciously across all genres.” What better way is there to learn than to read other successful authors?

We’ve all heard these things said time and again, but do we really take them to heart? The lesson she offers in this answer is threefold: have fun, read voraciously and spend time writing.

My second question was:

How long did it take you to learn enough of The Craft of Writing before you were confident enough to seek representation?

“I wrote my first novel at the age of 15 and only didn’t send it off because it was hand written.  As soon as I’d learned to type, (aged 18) I began sending off.  Since I didn’t know anything about the publication business, it was a case of ignorance being bliss and I was fearless.

I used to measure my progress against published novels I’d read and I did notice that my level of competence was improving.  It’s important for any author to have an in-built editor.  To get one of these you need to read a lot across the board and not have rose coloured spectacles about your own writing.  You also have to be adaptable and willing to learn. I should also add that while I began writing things down at the age of 15, I had been telling myself stories verbally with beginnings, middles and ends since first memory – 3 years old.  I didn’t know it was an apprenticeship for the career I had now.”

I find her response fascinating! We see so much of the maturation of a young writer in her words, and a number of tips we can use to enhance our novels. First, of all, Elizabeth Chadwick was a born writer and storyteller. In this, I see the fundamentals of all good novels – storytelling. Elizabeth Chadwick began fleshing out stories at the age of three. If you expect to succeed in this difficult field of writing, the first thing we all must learn is to tell a good story.

As a young woman, Elizabeth Chadwick understood only the barest of basics in publishing, such as the need for a typed manuscript, but little else. She also forged ahead with, as she says, fearlessness and a case of ignorant bliss. (Don’t we all the first time?) The tip I see here is we, book writers, must come into this world of dreams we’ve created for ourselves with a fearlessness attitude and undaunted focus. Oh, yes, you also do need to learn the trade.

She also used other writers as a point of comparison for her own writing. Have you done that? I do. In fact, I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels for not only her magnificent characterizations, but her wonderful settings also. Further, I read David L. Robbins for his vivid, but not gratuitous battle scenes.

Something else I see in her reply that should guide us all is to follow your muse. Her muse spoke to hear quite early in life and she had the sense to follow it.

Her experiences are a guide for us all; become a good storyteller, push ahead with focus, courage and boldness, study other authors and learn from them and finally, follow your mues. (Or as some say, write what bubbles up.)

My third question was:

What was the most difficult aspect to The Craft of Writing for you to master?

To be honest I’ve never had a difficulty. I have learned to make sentences more concise and to cut down the adverbs and superfluous qualifiers.  I have also learned viewpoint control and not to head hop unless the moment calls for it.  I would also add that the craft of writing is, rather like the rules in the Pirates of the Caribbean – ‘more like guidelines really’. You can get so hung up on ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’   that you lose both your voice and your confidence.”

The lessons she offers here are write with a tight control over unneeded qualifiers and adverbs. (Ever heard that one before?) Control the novel’s viewpoint and not to “head hop.”

I really liked the way she interprets those onerous “rules” of writing as “more like guidelines.” Her point is to place your writing skills in the correct perspective so as not to lose your focus. A recent suggestion made the rounds on Twitter. It said a novel should be 50% dialogue. Now, I hope nobody is out there actually performing that calculation, but the point was novels contain a great deal of dialogue. Her response to that tweet was the same as her advice here. Don’t get hung up on all those “rules” for they will only hinder your writing and maybe even cause you to lose your all-important “voice.” Are they worth considering? Sure, but as Elizabeth Chadwick says, only as “guidelines.”

However, as she progressed in her chosen craft, she paid close attention to tightening her writing skills. She made her sentences more concise by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. (Have you done that with your novel yet?) She also mastered viewpoint control. (Gee, another one we’ve all heard.)

Obviously, Elizabeth Chadwick gained critical knowledge as she progressed, but what was it she learned? All those things we’re still told today. Make your writing tight, by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. Master viewpoint. Be cautious of all those writing rules – they’re only guidelines.

Question four was:

Do you still struggle with any part of The Craft of Writing, and if so, which aspects still offer you your greatest challenge?

“No, I have never struggled with any part of the craft of writing.  I guess the largest challenge these days re the writing itself is fitting big stories into market-confining word spaces.  But it does help me to make every word work for its living!  The other challenge involves all the marketing and networking initiatives an author is supposed to cover these days.  That takes a lot of time out of what was once just a basic writing day job.”

Ah, how many of us have struggled with cutting our novel down to size? A point tucked away in her words is what she calls, “market-confining word spaces.” This, as with so much of what she says, is critical to publication. The buying public only buys books of certain sizes. “War and Peace” might not be accepted today as it’s much too long for the contemporary reader. People will not buy a two hundred page children’s book. Do you know the “market-confining” limits of your genre?

She also points out that every word must carry its own weight when she says, “make every word work for its living!”

In addition, Elizabeth Chadwick touches upon a critical aspect to the successful writer’s journey. The nasty word here is, “marketing.” These days if you’re not as accomplished at reaching your audience as you are at writing, your chances of success diminish by a large percentage. Learn how to develop an audience, guys. It’s more important than you’d like to think. I was at a writers’ conference not too long ago and the three panelists in one seminar, all successful authors, all agreed on their split between marketing their writing and writing their writing. Seventy-five percent of their time was spent on building their audience and twenty-five percent of their time was on formally writing. Again, this is a “guideline,” but it does indicate the amount of time and effort an author loses to what once was “just a basic writing day job.”

Out last question for today was:

What do you find as the most common blunder relative to The Craft of Writing when you review aspiring authors’ works?

“There are many common ones and I don’t think any set one has the edge.  The main offenders re words on the page are:  purple prose, verbosity, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, stultifying dialogue and characters who are not fully realised and contradict their personalities from one scene to the next.  Re structure it tends to involve loose ends that never get woven into the novel and scenes that go nowhere and have nothing to contribute to the drive of the story.  I will often have scenes in a first draft that are cut at the final edit because they don’t contribute to the through-drive of the story.”

Are you surprised to hear that aspiring still authors make “so many common” mistakes?

The basic lesson to learn from this answer is to cut, cut, cut. Eliminate adverbs, verbosity, loose ends, poor dialogue, weak characters and so on. Cut out anything that does not provide “drive-though” for the story. In effect, anything that doesn’t add punch to your story get’s gone.

I appreciated it when Elizabeth Chadwick said she often cuts scenes as they don’t, “contribute to the through-drive of the story.” In fact, this is such an important message she used the word, “drive” twice in this paragraph. It’s the perfect word for how to eliminate errors in your manuscript. If words, “don’t contribute to the drive of the story,” cut them.

Once more I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick for her time and kind efforts in assisting aspiring authors find their way toward better skills. I trust you found something of worth to you.

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books from The Book Depository at www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html.

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

On Monday, I’ll finish with my interview with the gifted and gracious Elizabeth Chadwick.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Storytelling in 12 Easy Steps

In The Craft of Writing on November 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I’ve read untold articles on what writers need to accomplish to move from the ranks of the unpublished and into that select stratosphere of publication. Though you need to learn a great deal to succeed, no amount of work will bear fruit if you do not master the art of storyteller. In fiction, your workmanship is for naught if you can’t spin that proverbial yarn.

With that said, I thought today’s post would focus on how to develop that skill. How is it one insures their novel is written in such a fashion as to appeal to their readers regardless the audience? The answer, as is so often the case, is simple, though the application is difficult.

When someone wishes to write a novel, there is a time-proven formula to telling a story. This blueprint is known as The Hero’s Journey. In fact, it is the framework around which most any novel can be built and is comprised of twelve events your hero must face. This storytelling technique has been around since before the time of mythology and will last until men stop telling stories.  Once you’ve learned this technique, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of storytelling and I recommend all new writers follow this outline.

Many will tell you some of these “rules” can be introduced at varying points in your novel or even ignored. The truth? They’re right. However, as an aspiring author, stick to what works. As you gain confidence and knowledge, then do your experimenting.

The Hero’s Journey is defined by different authorities in different ways. They’ll incorporate additional steps, different terminology, whatever. But if studied, most of them will filter down to the following twelve steps your hero must traverse to create a good story:

1.   Ordinary Life

2.   Call to Adventure

3.   Refusal of the Call

4.   Meeting the Mentor

5.   Crossing the Threshold

6.   Enemies, Allies and Tests

7.   Point of No Return

8.   Supreme Ordeal

9.   Reward

10. Journey Home

11.  Resurrection

12. Return Home

I may go into each one of these steps in more detail, but for now they are somewhat self-explanatory. In general, if the hero in your story finds himself involved in these twelve situations, your story will be well-defined and should appeal to almost any reader. (Please note I said your story will be well-defined. Having it well-written is another entire series of blog posts.)

To get started, think about one of your favorite movies. Now follow the storyline and see if the primary character is placed generally in the situations listed above. I’ll bet you will. Once you can identify the steps of The Hero’s Journey in a movie, you’ll begin to understand how to apply it to your novel writing.

Star Wars is always a good example for any aspiring writer. Think of the first of the six episodes where Luke’s parents are killed. Remember it? If you recall the beginning of the story, Luke is working the farm but asks permission to strike out on his own. This scene is Luke’s Ordinary Life which is step one of The Hero’s Journey.

Step two? Luke Skywalker finds the message from Princess Leia embedded in R2D2 and gets all excited. This is his Call to Adventure. Did he accept his call? Of course not. Had he, Mr. Spielberg would’ve missed step three, the Refusal of the Call.

Considering step three in The Hero’s Journey, let’s look at Luke’s reaction to Obi Wan’s entreaty that the young man become a Jedi. The boy found a dozen excuses why he could not do as his future mentor suggested. His excuses included such things as his uncle Owen, the coming harvest and, well, I don’t remember what else, but you understand. This scene was the third step in Luke’s immersion into The Hero’s Journey, his Refusal of the Call.

Now I could step you through each aspect of The Hero’s Journey, but it’s getting late and I don’t care to right now. (So there!) However, as you follow the first Star Wars movie, you’ll see the storyline follows The Hero’s Journey quite well. And, (here’s your sign), if Mr. Spielberg can use this formula for storytelling, so can you.

Of course, Star Wars is within the genre of Science Fiction, but to show how The Hero’s Journey works with all novel genres, I’ve taken five minutes and outlined a tale of lost love for you. I’ll give this story the working title “The Disillusionment of Mindy.” Ready?

The Ordinary World

Joe and Mindy are in love, married with two children, living in a home in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. The children are Mike, twelve, and Mary fourteen. Mike loves baseball and Mary is just finding out about boys. Joe is a stockbroker and Mindy spends her time raising the children. She’s the president of the PTA and is as content with life as she has ever been.

The Call to Adventure

At a PTA meeting Mindy overhears two women talking about Joe. They suddenly quiet when Mindy approaches and act embarrassed at her arrival. They walk away without saying much to her, but they glance at Mindy from over their shoulders and whisper to each other as they depart. Mindy is surprised by their actions but thinks little else of it.

Refusal of the Call

Joe, usually home around 7 PM, starts to call every now and again saying he must work late. This has never happened before but Mindy ignores her intuition which tells her something is wrong in her life.

Mentor (often termed The Wise Old Man or Woman)

As Joe’s late returns increase and after another odd encounter with friends, Mindy speaks with her best friend, Margaret, about her concerns. Margaret tells her not to worry until Joe comes home late and the first thing he does in take a shower – a sure sign of infidelity.

Crossing the Threshold (often known as the Point of No Return)

The next night Joe comes home and takes a shower as soon as he enters the house.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

Mindy and Margaret talk to their friends when watching Mike playing baseball and then again at the following PTA meeting but most know nothing. Those who seem to be in the know won’t talk. Mindy hires a detective to follow Joe. He takes photos of Joe’s nefarious liaisons and passes them to Mindy.

Approach to the Innermost Cave

Mindy is distraught but refuses to believe her marriage cannot be saved. She confronts Joe with the photos and he admits everything, saying he still loves Mindy and was swayed by a young woman who threw herself at him. He promises never to see the woman again. Though suspicious of his pledge, Mindy accepts him at his word and they work at patching the holes in their marriage.

The Supreme Ordeal

Things are fine for a time, but soon, Joe is again coming home from work late.

Reward (often termed Seizing the Sword)

When Joe returns home, Mindy confronts Joe about his continued infidelity. He denies everything until she produces new photos she had taken of him and yet another woman. Mindy forces Joe to leave.

The Road Back

Mindy and Joe go through a trying divorce. She gets the children and the house, and the money, and the furniture and he gets the clothes on his back. (They live in Virginia, you remember.)

Resurrection

Mindy must now learn to live without a husband and is forced to find work. She is now faced with raising her children on her own. She finds her new life difficult, but she and her children do survive, though without much of their earlier wealth.

Return with the Elixir

Mindy meets a guy at work who sweeps her off her feet and they live happily ever after.

The End.

There ya go, a full story outline in five minutes using The Hero’s Journey.

By employing The Hero’s Journey, your story will have plot, adventure and the time-tested avenue to effective storytelling. From here you fill in the details and, voila, you’re an novelist!

Depending on the response I receive to this post, I’ll move forward with a more detailed explanation or not.

In the mean time, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze