The Craft of Writing

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Tips on How to Build Blog Readership

In General Information, Marketing Your Book on December 17, 2009 at 9:34 am

A couple of readers asked if I might post an article about how to increase readership of a blog and today’s the day. There are a thousand things you might do to increase readership, but let’s focus on some basic ideas even those new to blogging can initiate.

Determine why you’re doing this. You’ll spend time, energy, forethought and effort. And it helps to know what is it you wish to gain for this endeavor? If you have no goal in mind, why even spend the time? In my case, I want people to recognize my name so when my book is published, I’ll have a market already established.

Determine your target audience. Once you’ve determined your goal, determine your target audience and make that target a restively small group – a niche. Don’t even try to have the world read your blog. They won’t do it. Instead, aim for a realistic number – a niche. A niche market is one interesting in a single subject. More than six billion readers are available to you and even the guy who focuses on the chemical makeup of the pecan shell can find a million followers. There will be plenty of people interested in what you have to say. Identify your market and shoot for it, ignoring everyone else. In my case, I want aspiring authors to read my articles so to gain a bit of notoriety within my industry.

A blog is not about you, it’s about them. After you’ve established your goal and audience, then you must determine what it is they wish to know. Focus your blog on what THEY want to know. A potential reader must immediately understand what is in it for them. Your articles must have some sort of value to the reader or they won’t take their time. Consider this, I write to writers. If my articles were about cooking, how many writers do you think I would attract? (Here’s a secret – they don’t want to know about you.)

Next, consider the design of your blog. When you look at my blog, it’s quite minimalistic, on purpose. In fact, the one of the most common compliments I receive is the easy to read design. You should design yours based on your audience. If your market is young, say in their teens, it should be flashy, with color and motion. An older crowd would prefer something more staid.

Make people aware of your site. Joining communities is one way to do this. In my case, writers use social networking. So, I followed my audience. I set up accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and Ning then mention my articles. If they find a title interesting to them, they’ll click through to my site and, with a bit of luck, tell others about it. Learn the social networking end of it first and you’ll be well on your way. Though there are a thousand ways to make people aware of your site, but they are outside the scope of this article.

Write well. If your writing looks amateurish, you’ll not be able to develop credibility with readers and they’ll move on.  You don’t have to master the skills of Tolstoy, but you should learn how to write with skill. The occasional typo won’t kill your blog, but too many will.

Allow your personality to show through in your blog. Some say you must have something unique to say. Not so. I’ll bet there aren’t a dozen blog with truly exclusive concepts. In lieu of being one-of-a-kind, be you. Your audience numbers in the billions so you’ll find plenty who appreciate how you say what you say. However, you should keep profanity and vulgarity to a minimum. It ain’t as cool as you think.

Okay, my friends, this is your primer on building blog readership. In later postings, I’ll get into some more detailed methodologies.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

The Monkey is on Your Back

In General Information, Marketing Your Book on December 15, 2009 at 9:05 am

We, as novel writers, have had more than just a monkey jump on our backs. The proverbial eight-hundred pound gorilla has landed with both feet. I’m talking, of course, about how writers are now their own publicity agents, in contrast to the “good ol’ days.”

If you are among the flattered few who sign a contract with a publisher, the odds of him putting money into marketing your work are nil. And what is the net result of this? If you want to sell your book, you are the marketing agent.

Many authors write a sterling book but simply don’t have the money, time or personality to market and sell their work. But really, how many of us have the cash lying around to purchase that full-page ad in the Times? We, therefore, must look to other, less expensive, avenues with which to market our books.

You remember the old saw that you must spend money to make money? The good news is that is no longer true. Today, marketing can be almost free if you utilize the blogosphere and other virtually free methodologies. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you need to learn how to leverage the Internet and effectively use Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, WordPress and the like. The Internet is your answer, at least early in your novel writing career.

These days you must, and please note the word, “must”, delve into these new technologies to succeed as an author. Even if you have a publisher, he’ll insist you develop what is called a platform and reach out to touch people with these 21st century tools. So, get used to it, face the music and bite that bullet. Pick your cliché, but just do it, jump in with both feet and learn how to reach your buying public by building your platform. If truth be told, it’s amazing how many people you can touch with these techniques.

Devote a couple of hours a day to this and, regardless the size of your wallet or the time you have available, you’ll be amazed at the huge audience you can develop.

Until then, good writing and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

To Pay, or Not to Pay?

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, Working with Agents on December 14, 2009 at 8:35 am

There is a controversy I run across quite often as speak to writers of various genres. That is, do you pay someone to edit your books? As with many questions, there are two sides to the answer. Some say, “Under no circumstances!” Others fell there is, “No problem!”

It’s my opinion, and many will disagree with me, the answer is, “No problem – with a caveat.” And that caveat is dependent upon your goals.

The ARA, (The Association of Author’s Representatives, Inc.), is the accepted governing body for those employed in the world of literary agentry. Membership in this association is voluntary and many agents join and accept the association’s ethical guidelines. Others choose not to do so, though this does not indicate an agent is unethical. The policies of the ARA, as it regards reading fees, stipulates,

“…literary agents should not charge clients and potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works in the ordinary course of business.”

Another aspect to this controversy is a good agent will, in one way or another, see that your manuscript is edited, again for no fee. In contrast, a freelance editor will charge for the same work.

As mentioned, your individual answer depends upon your goal in the matter. In the case of an agent, he works on commission and is paid only when he sells your manuscript. They are salespeople who choose which products, (books), they wish to represent and then see them into the hands of publishers. The freelance editor, in contrast, is paid upfront and charges by the word or page.

I think this is where all the confusion about paying people to edit your manuscripts originates.

In my mind, “reading fees” are very different from editing fees. Reading fees means they charge you to study your material and determine if they wish to represent your work. Editing fees is an entirely different concept whereas the editor charges to help prepare your work for submission to an agent or publisher. Therein you find the difference between the two.

In my case, I was new to writing and I hired my editor as an instructor. I understood my lack of skills and sought an effective method to learn them. A freelance editor gave me those lessons. As I read, (and reread and reread), her suggestions, I began to see the realistic application of the craft of writing. It was from her I learned the basics of the craft and, in my case, paying to edit my manuscript substituted for years of formal education. I still had, and have, much to learn, but she got me moving in the right direction.

After sending my original manuscript out to seek representation, all of my many queries were turned down except one to a specific agent. He sounded enthusiastic about my novel and said he’d take on my book if I’d use his in-house editing staff to put it into publishing condition. Of course, this service was offered for a fee. This requested fee was unethical. He didn’t say my work still needed editing and to get back to him when it was complete. He said he’d see it done internally. This requested fee was my red flag.

An agent may appreciate your manuscript, but before they represent it they may feel it needs additional editing. They may even name three or four freelance editors they trust. However, they should never charge for editing “in-house,” nor should they receive a kick-back from any of the editors they recommend without your prior approval.

My answer to this question? If you want to learn the craft of writing or to improve your chances of representation, a freelance editor might be a wise choice. If you don’t wish to go that route, an agent who charges fees is perhaps unethical.

Now, who among you will argue with me?

Best of luck with your writing and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of Born to be Brothers

How to Create a Plot Outline

In The Craft of Writing on December 11, 2009 at 8:08 am

Recently a reader on Scribd.com asked if I might offer some insight as to how to outline the plot of a word of fiction. I’m glad to help.

I know of two methods by which you can outline the plot of a novel. My favorite is known as The Hero’s Journey. It’s a method by which you identify twelve major activities the hero must undergo in your story. The other is a five-step method where you perform the same task, but focus only on the most important aspects of your story. I’ve outlined the two methods below.

The Hero’s Journey, those twelve steps your hero must face, are defined in its most simplistic form as follows:

  1. Ordinary World – Your hero’s life prior to beginning his quest
  2. Call to Adventure – The event that tells your hero a major life change is approaching
  3. Refusal of the Call – Your hero’s attempt to ignore or forestall the Call to Adventure
  4. Meeting the Mentor – Your hero meets the premier person who will assist him on his quest
  5. Crossing the Threshold – Your hero moves away from his life and onto his quest
  6. Test, Allies and Enemies – The people your hero meets who aid or hinder him during his quest
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave – Your hero stands on the precipice of fighting his villain
  8. The Supreme Ordeal – Your hero fights your villain
  9. Reward – Your hero receives some sort of treasure for defeating the villain
  10. Journey Home – Your hero travels home and combats additional, lesser villains
  11. Resurrection – Your hero proves worthy of the treasure he has received
  12. Return with Elixir – Your hero reaches his home and received the accolades due him

The Five-Step Method is loosely defined as follows:

  1. Identify your main characters then establish the setting and decide upon the major point of conflict around which your major characters will revolve.
  2. Create the building action. In effect, you place your protagonist in the position where he must take some sort of action to quell the conflict you’ve established.
  3. Bring the conflict in your story to a head. Here the conflict rises to the point of its highest emotion.
  4. Lower the emotional level for your reader and your hero. Any loose ends are tied up and your story is moved toward its conclusion.
  5. Define the formal conclusion of your plot arc or your story.

You can see the similarities between these two systems. I prefer The Hero’s Journey as it, to me, insures you don’t miss any critical scenes. Regardless which method you use, after you’ve created the basic storyline, flesh out those events you need to lead your hero from step one to twelve, or one to five if you prefer.

By first outlining your story and constructing those steps that must take place to move your story forward, you’ll enhance your chances of creating a well-structured and well-received story.

I wish you the best with this and if you have any questions, please post them in a comment. I’ll be glad to help.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Tips on Developing Plot

In The Craft of Writing on December 10, 2009 at 9:17 am

Plot, according to Aristotle, is “the arrangement of incidents” that follow one after the other in logical order. Plot is the turning points of your story.

There are five basic plots from which you may choose. They are:

Man against nature – “War of the Worlds”

Man against man – Any Bruce Willis movie

Man against the environment – “The Day After Tomorrow”

Man against technology – “I Robot”

Man against religion – “The Da Vinci Code”

When you break down your story, it will fall into one of these major categories. (If it does not, please let me know about it.)

Your plot, the way you develop your story, will have four components or plot elements. They are:

Exposition: The basic information needed to comprehend the story

Complication: The mechanism that introduces the primary conflict point in your story

Climax: The turning point at which your characters solve this primary conflict

Resolution: The series of events that bring your story to its conclusion

To create a persuasive plot you might consider the following tips.

Great plot is all about the conflict and the conflict is all about denial. Identify what your hero desires, then deny him that want. If your story lacks this fundamental, you have no conflict and your plot falls apart.

Think about the way you wish to design your plot. Can you create an unusual way to tell your story? Will you use flashbacks? Should you tell the story from a different point of view? Will your story be character driven, as in a coming-of-age story, or plot driven as in most thrillers? Should your plot be complex or simplistic? (Thrillers are typically more complex than a coming-of-age story, for example.) Imagine your plot if laid out in various ways and determine which works best for your story. Whichever technique you choose, remember it’s the conflict and characters’ passions that make your plot work.

Allow your plot to advance on its own. Each scene should follow naturally from the prior scene. Though they may be out of sequence chronologically, their order must make sense to your reader.

As you advance your plot, your “arrangement of incidents”, each such incident should escalate the conflict for your hero. Conflict should always be increasing. If it does not, the plot will not move forward.

Your characters should add to the plot’s development. That means events don’t just happen to them. They are instrumental in making the plot move forward. They change the “arrangement of incidents” by their own actions and motivations.

Your resolution need not be orderly. In reality, it often works best if it is not. As long as you present your reader with a final emotional release by way of your plot, they’ll be happy.

If you take your time and develop an effective plot, your efforts will go a long way toward making your novel a success.

Tomorrow’s post will highlight one method for outlining an effective plotline.

Until we again cross paths, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Eleven Elements of a Successful Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on December 9, 2009 at 9:19 am

Many writers have more difficulty writing the three hundred word synopsis than the one hundred thousand word novel. The reason for this? It’s a different type of writing. Regardless, the synopsis is something all writers who hope for publication need to master.

Not all agents will require a synopsis, but should they ask for one, it’s wise to have it ready for them. To improve your prospects for having an agent offer you a contract, insure your synopsis has the following components.

It MUST have a strong lead sentence.

This should at least hint at the core conflict of your story. Look at the following examples and, if you were an agent, decide which opening sentence would peak your interest?

“Joe is a night watchman at the local peanut factory.”

“Joe, the night watchman at a haunted peanut factory, is about to die.”

The initial amount of time an experienced agent will give an unknown writer is numbered in seconds. The secret is to engage his interest right away, you’re chances diminish with each passing moment. As his interest grows, so does the time afforded you. Grab his interest from the very start.

Insure your synopsis is logically arranged.

Organize your synopsis as you did your novel. Expect to expend as much effort editing this as you did your manuscript.

Write your synopsis with as much precision as your novel.

What does an agent need to know about your novel before he’ll consider offering representation? As you might expect, he requires a good story with well developed characters, effective dialogue and an author with sophisticated writing skills. If he does not see any one of these things by way of your synopsis, the odds of his offering a contract approached zero. Therefore, you should insure your synopsis exemplifies your writing skills at their best.

Introduce your major players. The agent does not need to know Joe’s height, weight and other vitals, but rather his motivations. Why emotions move him in your story? Is it love, revenge, fear? Make sure the agent understands who your major characters are, how they are interrelated and the conflict that interweaves among them. You should have no more than three major characters in your synopsis or your novel.

Plot your principal conflict points. Joe does not sound like much of a character unless, as mentioned in the opening sentence, the peanut factory is haunted. Suddenly what happens to Joe rises to a higher note, as do his reactions to his profession and the nocturnal guests. Make certain the agent understands all the major turning points in your novel and how your characters react to them.

Write your synopsis in the present tense. This may be difficult if your novel is set in the past, but do it anyway.

Use strong verbs. Just like with your novel, insure your synopsis is as well-crafted as is your manuscript. You may wish to review my post from yesterday about this subject. It may help.

Eliminate adverbs and adjectives. You did this with your novel, right? For the same reason, effective writing, do the same with your synopsis.

Get the punctuation right. If you miss a comma it probably won’t kill your chances of success. But then again, why give the agent a reason to say, “No?”

Include Your Story’s conclusion. No, I don’t mean to rewrite the words, “The End.” This means the agent must understand what happens to your protagonist by the end of your story. No surprises, okay?

Taking the time to craft your synopsis with as much care as you did your novel will enhance your chances for landing that all-elusive agent. And once you do, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

How to Bring Characters to Life

In The Craft of Writing on December 4, 2009 at 9:09 am

As any fiction writer will tell you, vivid characters are necessary to any successful novel. It may surprise you to know the method you use to bring your character to life can be as important as the character himself. With that in mind, let’s consider some of the different ways you might develop the characters in your novel.

One way you can add depth to a character is to summarize. This technique has the distinct advantage of simplicity. You basically give your reader a list of characteristics in narrative form. If you wish to advance your character in this fashion, don’t just give the reader a physical description. You should also use this time to bring his conflict to the fore. Those who use this technique typically do so early in their story. The problem with this methodology? The author tends to tell about the character, rather than show. (How many times have we heard the maxim writers are to show and not tell?)

Another popular method writers use to portray a character is to show an unusual action or habit. You might mention a young girl’s habit of tucking her hair behind her ear whenever she feels nervous around men. When your reader sees her tucking her hair later in the book, they understand what this character is feeling.

You can always have your character give a self-portrait. Fyodor Dostoyevski used this technique in “Notes From Underground.”

“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an ugly man. I believe my liver is diseased.”

The advantage of this methodology is the reader can also even envision the character’s personality by the words he uses and the way he uses them. The disadvantages can be significant as it might not carry enough dramatic weight to propel the story.

You can always use a person’s appearance to show their personality. We’ve all heard the old saw that says, “Image is everything.” Your reader can deduce your character’s traits by the way their groom themselves and their physical traits. The reader can also surmise the core conflict from a description if you use this technique with care. For example, is his mustache shabby or cropped? It is wide and waxed or does it sit low on the upper lip? What if one female character glopped on make-up while another wore none? What type of person do these various personality traits demonstrate? Can you see different personalities exhibited by these descriptions?

What I like about this type of characterization is their appearance may be deceiving. (Ah, love those Shapeshifters!)

You can bring your character to life with the scenes in which you place him. This manner of expressing character traits is quite common and is the most true to life. In our lives, we judge people by the way they act, do we not? We all know that “Actions speak louder than words,” and, consciously or not, we often determine our outlook toward people in this manner. So, too, will your readers when watching your character act and react. This technique easily brings your reader into the scene.

Perhaps the most useful method is to use a blend of the various methods. You may, for example, give a bit of description and write about a character’s personal ticks to show his true colors. This technique is often the best way to introduce your major characters.

Whatever method or combination of methods you use, insure the people you create feel true to life or all you work is for naught.

Until we meet again, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

8 Tips for Writing Compelling Imagery

In The Craft of Writing on December 3, 2009 at 9:20 am

In novel writing, the descriptions you create relative to setting can have a major impact on the power of your writing. Many new authors write descriptions but often miss the concept of imagery altogether. Think of a description as a photograph, if you will. The average writer looks over the photo and writes the various things he sees. This is not necessarily the best way to convey what you wish your readers to envision. Here’s a typical description.

The construction of the building was of stone. It squatted on the wide field, surrounded by landscaping that suffered from neglect. The thin windows looked more like slits one might see in castles of old.

Instead, you might try to write in a way that incorporates the images you see into the action. For example the above description might be reworded as such:

He strode into the stone building and noted the poor quality of the landscape. Once inside, he wondered as to the purpose for the narrow windows which allowed little light to enter the rooms.

Paint your verbal pictures in nibbles more than great gulps of information. This means you should avoid writing descriptions of setting in long narratives. A rule, and we all know rules are created for us to break, says to put no more than two sentences together when describing your scene. Try not to fall into the trap where long descriptions will draw your reader’s attention from the main story.

Use your characters’ senses. The following example will demonstrate this concept. Once inside, he noticed a soft clanging that drifted through the building. It sounded somewhat like someone hammered on bronze. He tiptoed farther in and noticed an odor waft up from beneath the floorboards. Old food, perhaps?

Pepper dialogue with imagery. That is to say you might consider allowing your characters to impart images of things happening when they speak. “I can’t seem to stop these goose bumps from rising, no matter what I do.”

Use verbs that convey action. Words such as twirled, jumped, scurried or plotted show action by their very nature.

Use adverbs that convey action. An example might be a character’s shredded credit card. “Shredded” shows an action but is used to describe the noun. Another example is a groaning piece of equipment.

Use ordinary things in other than ordinary ways. For example, what about using an automobile to pull a tow truck or having a car chase a dog?

Think small. Have your characters take note of some of the smallest of details in your setting. Could you make use of the tiny nubs on the treads of a new tire? When might you point out the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle? Can you imagine ever employing the scratches on a cell phone screen in your novel?

Do any of you have other examples as to how a novel writer might employ more compelling imagery? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Tips on How to Increase the Pace of Your Writing

In The Craft of Writing on December 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

As you learn how to write a novel, you’ll find conflict is the key tool used to develop the readers’ interest. Today, I’ll talk about how to accelerate the pace of your words thus increasing the tension within your novel.

The first writing technique to consider is the amount of white space on the page. Imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower to the reader. Think instead of a page loaded with choppy sentences. This creates a great deal of white space to the right and makes the page read faster. Your reader will feel the faster rhythm if for no reason other than the speed they flip the pages.

I alluded to the next tip in the last paragraph. Write in short, choppy sentences. These should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for quick reading. Quick reading makes for a fast tempo. Don’t try to break up long paragraphs with short sentences as it’ll come off as just that, poor paragraph structure. Each line, short or otherwise, must stand on its own. Fragmentary sentences also work well to increase the speed of reading. The judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting situations you create, fragments will increase the excitement. Always. Every time. As here. I urge caution, however, for overuse of fragments can get out of control if you’re not careful.

Use shorter words to increase the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader will slow the pace of your scene. For example, must you use the word, “unsympathetically?” These six syllables read slower than its synonym, “cruelly,” which has only two.

Be cautious of argot your middling might not twig. That is to say don’t use terminology your average reader might not understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows in dramatic fashion.

Use strong, specific verbs and nouns. (How many times have we heard this one?) Consider someone who dreams in nightmares in contrast to someone who is haunted by nightmares. I think you can see the power in the word, “haunted” when compared to, “dreams.” As to verbs, consider the difference between someone who “falls” to someone who “collapses”. “Collapse” is a much stronger verb, assuming it fits the scene, as it implies a more precise action. This precision with your words is what you seek.

Don’t retell information. Just get to it. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow things.

Use active voice. “He was going to fight it out,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He determined to fight it out.” You may wish to read my earlier post on the verb, “to be.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will find it a more interesting read. Might you have any tips to share?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze