The Craft of Writing

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Writing Forward

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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When you write, do your characters tell you who they are and where they wish to go or do you map out every aspect of their personalities and each step they are to take? When I write, I start with a general idea of a storyline and a concept of who my characters are. Beyond that, my characters tend to write not only themselves by my novels.

I attended a James River Writers panel session not too long ago where the speakers touched upon this very idea. This concept even has a name. It’s called, Writing Forward. While on this panel, all three speakers agreed great characters and great novels often develop this way. Basically, it means to give your  characters and novels permission to write themselves. In other words, you allow the story and its inhabitants to become a part of your writing process.

At this meeting, one panelist gave an example of a sugar bowl with a note in it. She had no idea of where or how the crockery would come into play within her novel, she simply felt it belonged in the story. As she taps the power of Writing Forward when she writes, she didn’t plan as to when the piece would show up in her narrative, she just waited until it found its way in of its own accord.

I have a similar example in my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” In my case, it wasn’t a dinner dish but rather a pocket watch that held sway over me. The story is set in mid-nineteenth century America when every stylish man carried a pocket watch on a chain in his vest.  As a guy, I understand how men feel their watches are representative of their personalities and felt I this concept had a role to play in my novel. So, as my story jumped out of my keyboard and onto the screen, I kept the watch in the back of my mind. When it needed to show up, it did. And when it did, it’s meaning took on even a larger role than I’d envisioned. In fact, it’s power is unleashed in the very last line of the novel.

Though my pocket watch is an example of Writing Forward, I use the technique on a much larger scale than a simple clock. When I sat down to write my novel, I’ll began with my primary characters fleshed out to a degree and a general idea of how the story was going to end. By the time I stopped writing, the characters had grown dramatically in depth and personality and my novel had morphed into something much better than I’d imagined at the start. As I write, I “feel” where I have to go and then allow my Muse to determine how I’m to get there.

What is it that draws you to writing anyway? It’s probably your Muse and she’s a powerful partner in your writer’s journey. In fact, I believe it is she who infuses us with the concept of Writing Forward. I think you should welcome her, that intuition within you, and allow her to run roughshod over your novel and those people with which you populate it. Allow your creativity to impose itself upon you, your characters and your story.

By the way, the panel consisted of three quite successful authors you may wish to read. They were Ms. Carolyn Parkhurst,  author of The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Ms. Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day, and Ms. Susann Cokal, author of Mirabilis and Breath and Bones.

I hope you find it within yourself to take advantage of that intuitive skill known as Writing Forward. I’ll bet your writing will be all the better for it.

Regardless of how you write, you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Backstory is narrative that hints at or describes a character’s past. Often it presents itself in long-winded passages known as an info dump. It’s improper use conflicts with a number of the “rules” writers are supposed to follow including, providing too much information, too much information too soon, it shows rather than tells and worst of all, does not hold your reader’s interest.

Possibly the most common mistake writers make relative to backstory is to include too much too soon in their novels.

Another issue with backstory is writers think their readers need this information. Yet, more often than not, they require much less than you give them. The truth about backstory? Most of it is forgotten or ignored.

Everyone in the industry knows good writing is alive, it’s exciting and vibrant. Therefore, the most interesting writing is usually in the now, it’s immediate in its presentation. Backstory is not in the now by its very nature. That fact alone tells us to limit the backstory in our novels.

The secret to backstory is to introduce it in miniscule amounts and only as necessary. Let it loose when your reader needs to know about it and then drip it into your novel rather than pour it. Offering your reader pieces of information is much more effective than info dumps.

Think of backstory as morsels of your character’s prior life rather than meals of data about them. Offer your reader a taste of what they need to know and allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

Now for some tips as to how to infiltrate backstory into your novel.

Introduce backstory only after you’ve secured your reader’s interest in the story and in the character. Write about the action first.

Incorporate backstory when the specific character is the focus on your narrative. This, I think, is self-explanatory.

Convey backstory as soon as it’s needed, but only when its needed. That is, incorporate it just before the reader needs to know it. For example, if your character is a murderer, your reader might not need to know what draws him to this explosive mode of expression until after he kills his first victim, and maybe even later.

You may wish to use flashbacks to introduce large amounts of backstory. As your story moves along, you can write a single flashback chapter, then return to your storyline in the following chapter. Be cautious however, for flashbacks are tricky things to master and many readers, agents and editors don’t care for them.

You might introduce a dream to outline the needed backstory. Again, this is another tricky technique and is overused, so take care.

You can divulge family secrets to bring out backstory. Secrets are always exciting, so they have a better chance to keep from losing your reader’s interest.

Memories are another tool to consider. Often this comes out in dialogue or a character’s thoughts.

Regardless how you introduce your necessary backstory, keep in mind that it’s mystery that hooks your reader. Don’t tell them too much or they’ll have no reason to learn more about your characters.

Don’t be concerned if this technique takes a while to learn. It does for most writers. Just keep an eye open for excessive backstory then cut or disperse it wherever and whenever you can. You’ll do well with a little practice.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


There are no rules! Really?

In The Craft of Writing on March 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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I may be missing something here, but I wonder why people in the industry say there are no rules in writing. Of course there are rules. Lot’s of ‘em. Everywhere you turn.

Here’s a thought. Isn’t, “There are no rules” a rule in its own right? Thus, it would appear the statement is false on its face. So, have I’ve already made my point? Regardless, let’s journey forward.

“There are no rules” is considered by many just the Real Rule among the multitude of maxims they know exist. Here’s one example that proves the invalidity of the Real Rule.

Don’t query fiction before you have a completed novel.

Of course, another rule says you don’t have to follow this rule if you’re already a successful novelist, or a celebrity, or a politician or this or that. But, that doesn’t make the Real Rule not a regulation for us mere mortals, does it?

Here’s more proof the Real Rule is incorrect.

Don’t query unless your novel is well-written.

That’s definitely a rule.

Ah, I can hear the arguments now. “You’re talking about publishing! You must understand there are no rules when writing.”

Well, they are often interdependent, but let’s check that one out, too.

If there are no rules in writing, I guess you can write a novel that contains no conflict, right? Conflict in fiction is a rule, isn’t it? Maybe not if you believe the “no rules” rule.

Care for another example? When writing your novel, everyone says you need a sympathetic hero. How many novels would you sell if nobody cared for or identified with your protagonist? I guess we’ve found another rule that does exist.

Here’s another I guess you can ignore when writing; point of view. Just write from any and every viewpoint at any time. Right? I doubt even your mother would care to read that novel. Hum. Yet another rule.

One more, if you’ll bear with me. There is a rule when writing grammar that says you should eliminate most of your “-ly” words. Here again, another rule.

In addition to the many binding rules of writing, there are any number of ideas that are passed off as rules when they are not. One that comes to mind says fifty percent of your novel should be dialogue. That’s more a “guideline” as our pirate friends of the Caribbean might say. These sort of pseudo-maxims are a bit more difficult to address and beyond the scope of this article.

It’s probably time to stop and get to the point. My point is, there are rules, many and all kinds of them, and as writers we need to know and employ them.
With that said, I believe “there are no rules” is much like the rules of society. That is, rules do exist and people in power expect you to follow them, but it’s a lot more fun when you know how to break them. If fact, as Katherine Hepburn once gave words to my personal mantra, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”

In general, rules are made to be broken, but for the majority of us we must be circumspect when we do so. Some, such as conflict in fiction or the sympathetic hero really should not be broken if we wish to sell our novels. Others, like the use of semicolons, can be manipulated.

I recommend we think of the rules in writing as techniques or skill sets, if you will. Early in our writing careers we should first learn these various skills and methodologies. We should then adapt to them and become proficient with them. After we’ve reached that level of success that satisfies us, then figure out how to bend and even break the rules.

In the mean time, if we wish to sell our novels, we should jump through the hoops the industry requires of us and don’t give those people who say there are no rules too much sway over our writer’s life.

Okay, I’m done. Now I want to hear your arguments to the contrary.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


How to Write Your Novel’s Hook-Line

In General Information, How-to's, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing on March 25, 2010 at 4:29 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


A hook-line is a one or two sentence summary of your novel. Although the term, “hook-line” is singular, it may consist of two sentences, but it should probably be no longer than that. It is the high-concept of your novel compressed into a few words and should enable your target audience to grasp your storyline at once. Think of it as an elevator speech for your novel or as a teaser on its dust jacket. You might even consider it a marketing tag-line.

The purpose of your hook-line is to grab someone’s attention and encourage them to learn more about your novel. The secret to it, however, lies in its hidden sales pitch. That pitch should suggest your novel is something they would want to buy. You’ll see what I mean when we outline the five elements of your hook-line.

Why do you need a hook-line? Well, consider the target market, or audience, you’ll want to develop for your novel. Your initial market is comprised of a single person, an agent. In this person’s case, your hook-line will often be the opening line of your query letter. Your hook-line should spark their curiosity in some way and persuade them to learn more about your novel. It should do the same with an editor, a publicist, wholesale book sellers, retail book buyers and eventually the consumer or reader.

So, how does a writer create their hook-line? It’s not as difficult as you might think as it need not encompass your entire storyline, just some critical aspects of it. All you need is enough information to peak someone’s interest. If you cover the five fundamental elements of a hook-line, you’ll be all right. The premier elements of your hook-line are listed below.

1.  Character: Who is your hero and what does he want?

2.  Conflict: What is it that keeps your hero from his goal?

3.  Uniqueness: What makes your novel stand out from all the others?

4.  Setting: Insure your setting, or at least your genre, is obvious.

5.  Action: Your hook-line needs to at least promise excitement.

Can you see how these five components would have the potential to tweak an agent’s or a reader’s curiosity? Might a compelling description that highlights these points encourage them to buy your book? If you know much about selling, you’ll realize it just might.

Let’s take a look at the tag line for my current manuscript and see if it fits the criteria.

Though Jak and Clay share a camaraderie known to few but brothers, each falls in love with Kate and requests her hand in marriage. Despite her choice of one, their brother’s bond remains intact until the American Civil War threatens and forces them to decide whether their loyalties lie with love, with friendship or with their nation.

Let’s evaluate this to see if it fits the criteria outlined above.

Character(s):

Jak is our hero and he wants to hold onto his friendship with Clay and have Kate for his wife. He also requires an honorable decision as to his personal loyalties when the war erupts.

Core Conflict:

This is the decision the characters must make relative to the war and their relationships.

Uniqueness:

How many love triangles do not tear apart the relationships? The fact the three remain close is most unusual.

Setting:

This novel takes place during the mid-nineteenth century in America, which is shown by the outbreak of the Civil War.

Action:

We have three lives that revolve around the love triangle, the war and the decision they all must make.

Do you agree or disagree this covers the five critical elements required of a hook-line? Have you come up with your hook-line as yet and would you care to share? I’d love to see it.

Until we meet again, you know I wish you only best-sellers

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

How to Writer Your First Draft

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


A wonderful mixture of accomplishment, hope, fantasy and desire comes over a writer when he completes his first draft. The problem, of course, is how to get that first draft penned and on paper. In this post, I hope to offer you some of the many tips and techniques available to assist you when you write your first draft.

1. Understand every writer has their unique methodology for writing a first draft and whatever works for you is what you should do. Try to find those tips that fit your personality and put them to good use.

2. The secret to your first draft is to get it done. I know that sounds obvious, but writing is a lot like college. It’s takes a long time, you often wonder if your investment will make any difference in your life and if you ever stop, it’s tough to get going again. The most onerous part of the process is to get that first draft on paper. Keep at it.

3. Understand the first draft of your novel may result in, and I’m being polite, garbage. In fact, though not necessarily true, your final draft may have little relation to the first. Don’t worry as the first draft is just that, your initial attempt to create your novel.

4. Many writers prefer to outline their story first. Some construct an extensive storyline with developed characters, plot arcs and all the rest. Others jot down a basic outline and get to work. Still others just sit down and write. Which of these methods calls to your personality?

5. It’s best if you choose your Point of View, or who tells the story, early in the process. Are you, the writer, also the narrator or might your hero tell the story? It’s much easier to edit later if this is determined before you get waist deep into your story.

6. It’s also to your advantage to understand your setting, or time and location of your novel, before you begin to write. It’s very difficult to write a story about a soldier in World War II then change the setting to the French Revolution. You may also wish to perform any necessary research on setting before you begin to write.

7. A general tip is to write your first draft with as much speed as you can. Type it if you’d like or freehand the thing if that works for you. It matters not, just get it down on paper. Think of your first draft as sort of a writer’s blitzkrieg, if you will. Move fast, ignore pockets of resistance and mop up later.

8. If you plan to perform your later edits on paper, you may wish to triple-space your first stab at the manuscript. This leaves more room for notes. Personally, I use MS Word so I insert “comments” during my editing process.

9. As you write your first draft, don’t worry so much about grammar and the like. You might even wish to turn off your grammar and spellcheckers as you write, then turn them back on when you edit.

10. Many writers, myself included, like to have a grasp of their ending before they begin. Many write the last chapter first. After all, how do you know what path your story will take if you don’t know where it’s going?

11. If you write mysteries or suspense novels, it may be a good idea to generate a story-logic list or an evidence list. This keeps those obscure details, motivations, and events you’ll not make obvious until the end of the story under better control.

12. Few writers have the discipline to write when they’re “in the mood,” so I advise you write every day. (I know, I know, I have children, too.)  Okay, I’ll change my advice to write on a schedule. If you only have one evening a week, set that evening aside. Establish an hours-long appointment on your calendar, complete with start and end times. Then adhere to your schedule. It’s a meeting with your characters and they require your attendance.

13. Fight every inclination to edit when you write your first draft. You’ll have these impulses and all they do is slow you down. Besides, the mere action of editing changes your mental perspective and reduces creativity. If you just can’t fight these impulses, turn off your computer screen as you type. That’ll solve the problem.

14. Some writers jump from chapter to chapter. As ideas come to them they write them down then mix and match later. Others create a written timeline of what events need to happen and when they need to occur. Again, what works for you, works for you.

15. Try to enjoy yourself. Let your imagination run rampant and your fingers fly over the keyboard. If something strikes your fancy, plug it in there. Later if the idea doesn’t fit, it’s not a problem as cut, paste and delete are our friends.

16. After you finish your first draft, set it aside to cool for a while. If you’ve not thought about it for a week, or better yet a month, errors will become more obvious to you when you do edit.

17. When you’ve completed your first draft, write the words, “The End.” They signify it’s time to celebrate. (See the first line of this article.) You’ll remove the words later but they do seem to have a dramatic effect on your mood when you finally pen them.

Many consider the first draft the worst part of writing a novel. I however, disagree. It is the single time in the entire process where your imagination is allowed to run unchecked and anything can happen.

Good luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

How to Find Your Agent

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 23, 2010 at 6:52 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Most of us understand the passage to shelf space at the major book retailers is best realized by way of agent representation. And whether a writer wishes to admit it or not, each of us at least fantasizes about seeing our titles on the stores’ shelves.

So, how does an author find an agent to offer representation? This isn’t so difficult, though it does take time and effort.

It goes without saying you first must have mastered the craft of writing, with all that entails, and have that well-written book or novel completed. After all, an agent can’t ask to represent you unless you have a quality product they can sell for you. However, once you’ve traversed that long, arduous path of writing, it’s time to look for your agent.

A first priority is found in your professionalism. Few louts will ever receive an offer. Think of it from the agent’s perspective. Would you rather work with an idiot or a professional? So would they.

Next, you need to take the time to focus on the right kind of agents. Take careful aim at those suitable agents who might offer you the best chance of representation. The shotgun approach, that is querying every agent that might still live and breathe, will only waste your time, ego and money, not to mention the time and money of the various agents. Your purpose is to identify those agents who are most suitable to your novel or book, those who represent your genre.

Here are some tips on how to find the right agents.

If you’re unpublished to date, a great way to find your agent is at writers’ conferences. (Check out James River Writers for a great one in central Virginia, USA.) Focus on those agents who represent your genre and those with whom you’re a match on a personal level. Don’t forgo the personality match. It’s kind of like getting married to the wrong person.

There are any number of literary publications that can point you toward that perfect agent. They include, Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest Magazine and the current Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up or check out these and other literary sources at your local library. All of these publications can assist you to identify those agents who might be interested in your novel.

Review books of those authors who write in your genre, then read the acknowledgement section. Quite often a novelist will mention their agent in this part of their novel. Those identified are, without question, agents who accepts your genre.

The Internet is loaded with sites to help you find that one agent you need. Consider Agent Query or The Society of Authors’ Representatives. Google “literary agents” and see what else you might find.

Network with other writers. Join a local writers’ group or two and become active in those groups. Being active is the secret to become known within these organizations. The membership should include a number of published authors and after they get to know you, they may be willing to introduce you to their agents.

Join one or more of the hundreds of national and international writers’ associations such as Poets and Writers, National Association of Women’s Writers or The Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Take the time to insure the groups you join are useful to you. Again, after they get to know you and your work, these members may be willing to pass your name along to their agents.

In time, you’ll have a list of potential agents developed. Once you do, organize it according to those who best suit your needs. If you’re an aspiring author, the secret is being honest with yourself. Look first to those who don’t represent the biggest names in the business. Try to find those agents with a bit of experience, but who still seek new authors to represent within your genre.

Once your list is complete and organized, it’s time to query. After that, it’s time to wait. On them, not on your writing. It can take months to hear from an agent, so here is where your mother’s warning comes into play: patience is a virtue. In the mean time, work on your next novel, enhance your education and so on. Just keep writing.

Once you do receive that first exhilarating call, be particular. The wrong agent can be worse than no agent at all.

Best of luck with your agent search and know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


The Keys to Effective Dialogue in Novels

In dialogue, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 22, 2010 at 6:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article click HERE.

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Dialogue is one of the premier aspects of your novel and every word of it should have a reason as to why it exists within your manuscript.

The reasons for dialogue in a fiction are varied, with the major goals listed below.

  1. Provide backstory
  2. Reveal a character’s personality, internal conflicts or mental state
  3. Establish the tone or mood of a particular point in your story
  4. Provide for character motivation
  5. Build reader empathy
  6. Build or expand on conflict
  7. Move the plot forward
  8. Increase or decrease the pace of your novel
  9. Tweak the reader’s memory of past events within the novel
  10. Foreshadow events yet to happen

If your dialogue does not perform one or more of the above functions, you can most likely delete it from your manuscript. A good test is to read the scene without the questionable dialogue and see if your story, or any critical plot points, are affected. If they are not, cut the dialogue.

Here are some tips for creating better dialogue.

Punctuation Counts

I hate to say this, but punctuation is key to effective dialogue. If you do not follow grammatical rules, your dialogue may not read as intended.

A quick example:

“Maggie said No I will not go with you.”

In this case, it’s difficult to understand if Maggie said the words or if someone else said Maggie said them. This distinction may have quite the effect on your story. As written, it holds little or no tension, whereas in the corrected sentence below, it implies danger and a more exciting plot.

Maggie said, “No! I will not go with you.”

For more on dialogue punctuation, read THIS blog post.

Dialogue is Different

Dialogue happens when a character speaks, of course, but the secret is to not write so your characters speak the way people do. The secret is to write so it sounds like people speaking. It’s a tricky thing to do, but an essential aspect of writing effective dialogue.
You’ll find people speak in clipped sentences peppered with, “um’s” and “ah’s” and the like. You’ll also find they speak in incomplete sentences, incomprehensible grunts and all sorts of other communication you cannot use in your manuscript. Further, and this is fact, ninety-five percent of the time people don’t answer the question asked. If you were to write as people speak, your reader would get bored at once and put down your book. Worse, they’d not recommend it to others.

So, how do you interpret speech to read as effective dialogue? The secret to translate natural linguistics into dialogue is, cut all the dull parts. (I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who first penned that phrase.) If you study the way people speak, you’ll learn the dull parts are most of what they say. Once you’ve identified and eliminated all the inconsequential words, which is most of any actual discussion, you’ll be left with the meat. And the meat is all that goes into your novel.

Here’s an example of how a real conversation might sound and how it could be altered to read as effective novel dialogue:

John said, “What did you do today?”

Mary answered, “Uh, nothing really. I went to the store, bought a pair of black slacks. What did you do?”
“Not much.”

“Oh, by the way, did you know I ran into Sara while I was shopping?”

“Sara!” John was surprised to hear her name.

When you read this exchange, you’ll notice the tension rose when Mary mentioned Sara’s name. In that case, Sara is the turning point to this exchange and the only part of this conversation necessary for novel dialogue.

If you compare their conversation with the purposes of dialogue listed above, you’ll see much of this exchange need not be included in your novel. If you eliminate the “dull parts” the result would cut fifty-one words to twenty-one and might read as follows:

John said, “What did you do today?”

Mary answered, “I ran into Sara.”

“Sara!” John was surprised to hear her name.

Compare this second exchange to our ten reasons to include dialogue in your novel and you’ll find it adheres to seven of the ten rationale on the list. Can you identify the seven it does match? If so, you’re well on your way to understand the use of dialogue in novels.

Once you’ve learned how to write effective dialogue, you’ll see there is a secret in how it relates to your plot. As with the mention of Sara, turning points are often found within your dialogue. That is, things don’t often just happen to characters, characters tell each other what transpires or is about to transpire.

A “rule” found within the craft of writing says dialogue should comprise as much as fifty percent of your book, specifically your word count. Now we all know there are no rules in writing, but the idea does offer an indication of how powerful and meaningful dialogue is to your novel. Therefore, it is one of aspects to the craft of writing you should spend a great deal of your time to study and learn.

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


Similes and Metaphors in Fiction

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 18, 2010 at 3:54 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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As fiction writers, we have access to any number of tools, tips and techniques with which to pen the Great American Novel. Today we’ll discuss two of the most fun and powerful items available to us, similes and metaphors.
Simile is a comparison of different actions, concepts or objects using the words “like” or “as.” In contrast, a metaphor compares dissimilar things without using either of those words. In effect, a simile indicates one thing is MUCH LIKE another whereas a metaphor says it IS like the other. Here are a couple simple examples.

Her eyes were as blue as the ocean. (Simile)

Her eyes are blue pools of laughter.(Metaphor)

What are the advantages of similes and metaphors?

The secret within these literary devices is their innate ability to create powerful mental pictures with a limited number of words.

They enhance your novel by adding effective portrayal and originality.

Similes and metaphors offer your readers a more personal experience and you a better emotional hook.

They also add great depth and imagery to your writing.

Let’s see if I can’t come up with an image, then improve it by way of one of our new friends, simile or metaphor.

“Her eyes flashed with anger.”
“Her eyes flashed with the power of a lightning strike.”

Well, that second example is more hyperbole, (explained below), but you can see the strength between the two images. This first tells the story well enough, but the second shows us the emotion in her face, doesn’t it? The second example conveys a much more powerful image.

The problem with these tools? Metaphors bombs.

Misuse of these wonderful tools will bore and confuse a reader and draw attention to the author’s lack of writing skill.

The most common traps when using metaphors are the cliché, the mixed metaphor, (two or more incompatible metaphors in one expression), and the dead metaphor, (one that has lost its effectiveness over time).

Overuse of similes and metaphors tends to overpower your reader.

Poor word choice can break a reader’s interest at once. Here’s an example of what I mean. “Her skin shinned in the darkness like a fog light.” (Oh, so close!) A single improper word choice rips your image apart. Chose your words with care.

The exaggerated use of similes and metaphors may tend a writer toward hyperbole, (high-PUR-buh-lee), or an obvious exaggeration. Uh, kind of like eyes flashing with the power of lightning.

If you’d like to try your hand at creating metaphors and similes, I found a “Create Your Own Metaphor” exercise at THIS web site.

Be careful with your use of these fun and interesting literary tools and your novel will be all the better for it.

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


How to Write Your Novel’s 1st Chapter

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this blog article, click HERE.

We all know the first chapter of your book is the most critical in the novel. We also know within this initial chapter, the first paragraph is of utmost importance. And of your first paragraph, the first sentence is primary above all. Why is this, and if these things in your novel carry so much weight, how does an author insure he gets it right?

They “why” is simple. Book sales.

Have you ever seen someone in a store pull out a book, flip it open, read for a moment then set it back on the shelf? Truth be told, they do that much more often than not. So, how does an author get the buyer to say, “yes?” Of course your cover, your title and your blurbs all have power to help form the buyer’s decision, yet despite all these, before they buy they’ll read that first paragraph or two.

The worst part of this? They offer you three, maybe four seconds to capture their attention. That’s it. You’ve got mere seconds to convince them to pay you a royalty. And that is why you’ve got to grab them right away. It’s all about the sale, my friends.

So, once they flip open your novel, how is it you capture their curiosity?

One tool to consider is Point of View, or POV as it’s known. If you’re new to the craft of writing, give serious consideration to third-person point of view. You might contemplate this even if you’re not so new to the craft of writing. Third-person POV, where the author acts as narrator, can be considered a default Point of View, if you will. It’s a powerful Point of View and offers the writer much more versatility with his words. It’s easiest to write and most familiar to your reader.

Another tip is to get to setting right away. This creates that first important word picture and immerses the reader in your story at once. You need not get too descriptive, for this can bog down the action, but give them a fact or two to ground them in time and place. For example, in my current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” right away the reader sees a wiry man as he reins in his plow mule. Can you see how the mule and plow give you a hint of setting? The secret with this is to make the setting active. That is, have your character perform some action in relation to the setting.

You also might wish to employ some startling action in the first sentence or two. Give them a reason to raise an eyebrow as they peruse your first page. Be sure not to give them the entire picture all at once or their curiosity won’t compel them to take your novel home.

Another possibility is to open with a puzzle of sorts. You might have your hero look over something he doesn’t understand. Of course, the “something” must be integral to the storyline, but if you do this well, it may raise a question in the reader’s mind and encourage him to learn more.

You might attempt to create that perfect twist of words that captures their imagination. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” It’s tough to do, but quite effective.

You might introduce the reader to an intriguing character in context or perspective. Is he an outsider, an outlaw or an odd duck? Again, this just might spark the reader’s imagination.

Another potential opening could include a microcosm of your entire story. If you’re writing about a murder, begin with a murder. If your story revolves around a young girls fantasies, begin with a fantasy. This type of opening can bring your reader into focus fast.

You can also attempt to fascinate or intrigue the reader with an interesting character. Imagine an opening sentence that shows a female detective thrashing an ex-con. Might your reader want to know more about her? If you use this tactic, focus on the character’s emotional state during the scene and not their physical description. For more on how to create effective characters, consider THIS blog article.

Maybe you could introduce your intriguing character in context. Identify their personality. Is he an outsider, an outlaw or an odd duck? Again, the secret here is to focus on the emotional aspects of your character.

One way to draw a reader into your novel is to establish a powerful mood. Even Snoopy of “Peanuts” fame understood this. He always stated his stories with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Don’t use that line, but you get the idea. An evocative atmosphere from the very beginning may just work for you, if fits your story.

Now I have a question for you. What remarkable openings have your written or read that might work for the readers of this blog?

As always, you know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”