The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘book’

Platforms—Why They’re Important and How to Develop One

In blogging, How-to's, Marketing Your Book on April 15, 2010 at 8:10 am

Why is building a platform important, even if you’re an unpublished writer? Besides the future promotional benefits, you also develop the discipline of writing (sometimes daily) for a responsive audience of readers. Writing interesting content daily is wonderful practice. And having an established online community that you’ll later be able to promote to is always a plus for a publisher.

Some things to consider when building your platform:

Do

Do use your blog as a way to practice writing regularly. Try to post on a regular schedule, even if it’s just twice a week. If you feel more comfortable having a buffer between you and the demands of your blog, consider building up several weeks’ worth of posts before you even launch your blog. But—continue writing posts as much as possible to keep that buffer up.

Do make blogging friends and network. You really only need one active blog to follow to get you started. This could be a blog in your genre or just a general writing blog. Active blogs usually have healthy blog rolls in their sidebar. Start clicking on blogs. Each of those blogs will also usually have a blog roll in their sidebar, too. In addition, when you add a blog’s RSS feed to your blog reader (e.g., Google Reader), when you click on “folder settings,” Google will recommend blogs that are similar in content to the one you’re adding to your reader (“More Like This”). That’s another great way to discover new blogs in your niche. The next step is commenting on blogs and developing a network, really more of a community. That step is extremely important to finding a readership for your blog.

Do consider Twitter and/or Facebook. Both are excellent ways to network online with other writers and industry professionals. You’ll learn a lot, discover resources that can help you with your writing, and network with other writers. Writing can be lonely and finding friends online is a tremendous help.

Do make sure your blog, Facebook, and Twitter presence is professional-looking. Professional doesn’t mean it has to be created by a web-designer—just that it’s carefully edited for typos or grammatical errors and that it has your contact information readily available. Plus…consider the content you’re putting on your blog and how it might look to an agent or editor.

Don’t

Publish manuscript excerpts on your blog. Many publishers and reviewers will consider your manuscript published if it’s appeared online.

Overpromote yourself. It’s much more effective to take a soft-sell approach when getting followers for your blog or (later) when promoting your book. Instead, look for ideas or resources that you can share with other writers. Try to contribute something of value to the community.

Hound agents or editors via social media about your query or submission. It’s not a good way to make friends.

With blogging, I’ve gotten ideas from other writers on plotting and character problems. I’ve developed friendships and readers—for my blog and my books. I’ve exchanged resources that help me with my writing. I’ve analyzed my approach to writing, which has helped me write other books. I’ve also known a couple of bloggers who found literary agents through their blogs—obviously a more tangible benefit to blogging.

Is platform building hard work? It is. But the rewards are worth it.

Elizabeth Spann Craig
http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com
http://elizabethspanncraig.com

Elizabeth Spann Craig writes the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and is writing the upcoming Memphis Barbeque series for Berkley Prime Crime as Riley Adams. Like her characters, her roots are in the South. As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as room mom and Brownie leader, referees play dates, drives car pools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.

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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.”


“Show, Don’t Tell.” Bologna or Beef?

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Of all the maxims found within the craft of writing, “Show, don’ tell,” is foremost in the mind of almost every writing instructor and student of the craft. Wikipedia explains this as follows: “Show, don’t tell is an admonition to fiction writers to write in a manner that allows the reader to experience the story through a character’s action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the narrator’s exposition, summarization, and description.”

Proponents of this technique say the concept is simple, as is its purpose. When you Tell, your audience has no option but to see what you show them. When you Show, their imagination is free to visualize whatever they wish, thus making your story more personal to them. With Tell, they view your picture, whereas with Show they paint their own.

They say the key to this fundamental adage is the author’s objectivity or detachment from his writing. Can he paint with broad strokes and leave his words open to interpretation or must he interpret the details with a tiny brush?

These days, most are followers of this maxim and Show is considered to have the greater effect. Proponents argue this is obvious and shown even by examples in real life. To exhibit what they mean, consider the raising of a child. As with the classic example of placing a hand on a hot stove, does the child believe you when you tell them not to touch it or when they burn their hand? Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Show is more powerful than Tell.

Now, for the other side of the story.

This truism is hogwash.

A writer should come out and tell their reader what’s what. In fact, the opponents opine, it’s the wordy writer who must dramatize.

This adage, they say, hinders the writer’s spontaneity and stifles his artistic choices. The writer is not an actor doing as he’s told. Rather, he’s a painter who uses his canvas of words to exhibit his conceptual interpretation of the subject matter.

Francine Prose says, “There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing.” In fact, she’s right. Some of the finest novels ever written employ the technique of telling. “War and Peace,” is a classic example.  Even “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which some think is among the greatest of novels of the Twentieth Century, is almost told in its entirety.

The detractors of this adage say it stems from Plato and has lost much of its punch by this time in history. It is an orthodoxy that should no longer be written in stone.

Remember Anton Chekhov’s line about the glint of light on the broken glass? The detractors of “Show, Don’t Tell” say Chekhov did not mean writers should adhere to a aged sage, but rather he meant writers should use sensory images.

They also say dramatization need not be accomplished by Tell, by rather the author’s choice of what and when to isolate or magnify his details.

So, what are your thoughts? Thumbs up or Thumbs down to “Show, Don’t Tell?” Let’s find out.


Either way, I hope you know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

Tips on How to Title Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Understand your title is a sales tool. You therefore, should approach your title with the same eyes you use to design your web site, your bookmarks and your elevator pitch. It’s a premier component of your marketing.

So, how might you decide upon this all-important aspect of your book? As with so many things in our chosen field, there are dozens of ideas to consider. In this article, I’ll offer a few and hope some hit the mark with you.

First, your title could spring from its storyline and your target audience, those who might purchase your book. Look to the plot, your major characters, special articles or powers of your hero, or even his quest for sources of inspiration.

Because I can, I’ll use my current manuscript as our example of how to pull from within the story itself. My novel is about two unrelated men who develop a bond reserved for few but brothers and how a woman and war disrupt their relationship. The title? Born to be Brothers. Whether you like the title or not, I’m certain you see how is springs from the story itself. I’m also sure you can see how The Lord of the Rings came from a talisman within its story. Where might the inspiration for the title, Gone with the Wind have come? How about War and Peace? All these titles originated within the conceptual ideas of their stories. Your title can too.

If you review the titles mentioned above, you might also notice they adhere to the tone, the feel if you will, of their stories. This tells us another important aspect of your book title is how it should pull from the feeling you wish your reader to garner as they decide to purchase it.

Search for some sort of emotional pull and tug on it with all your might. Strive to tweak their curiosity or their fear, their love, their fear of love, whatever string you can pluck, pluck it. Quite often, that implies relationships.

As with so many things in life, your title needs to paint a picture for your prospective reader. The title, Buy Me, will not encourage many purchases whereas, Buy Me for the Health of it, might.

Try to find a phrase that tugs at their ear as well as their heart. Alliteration works well, as do catch phrases, rhymes and clichés where you’ve changed one word. Keep it short, five words or less is a good rule of thumb. Keep in mind your title won’t tug at anything if they can’t pronounce or understand the words of your title.

I’ve mentioned your title is a sales tool, so try to think like a salesperson. The reader unfamiliar with your writing will give your title a quick once-over, then move on. In that ten-second time frame, it needs to hook them. So, think of your title as a sales pitch. I know that word conjures negative emotions, but a sales pitch simply tells them what’s in it for them.

Consider how your title will read on the spine of a book as it sits on a shelf among your many competitors.

Here’s an interesting tip. Make sure your title is Google-able. (Say that three time fast.) This means you should insure your title doesn’t compete with others. Gone with the Winded will just cause too much confusion when people search for your novel.

Here’s yet another tip of interest I found when I researched this article. Create your title from a metaphor of your story in iambic pentameter. (An unrhymed line with five words where each word contains one accented and one unaccented syllable.) Wow! If you can do this, let me know.

For more on how to title your novels, read THIS article by Rachelle Gardner or THIS article from my blog.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

Tips on How to Create Your Opening Scene

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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We all know readers must be spellbound by the very first scene of a novel. In fact, so say industry sages, the first paragraph can lose your reader. (That’s true, by the way. I’ve done it.) Further, an author should spend more time on their first line than any other in the entire work. Wow! That’s a lot of pressure.

So, just how might one go about creating that initial burst of excitement?

There are any number of options open to us as authors, but here’s your list of a dozen that, if crafted well, should offer your reader a scene to keep them wanting more.

  1. Open with the proverbial, “Great Line.” I know, it’s not as simple to do as one might think. To develop this ever-elusive Great Line, compress your novel’s major conflict into a single sentence, then polish. Here’s one of my favorite. “When I was little, I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” How’s that for grabbing the imagination. (Interesting, don’t you think, how I fail to remember the book or the author, but not that line? Maybe it’s because I have children?)
  2. have the bad guy show up early and in a big way. Your opening might start something like, “The assassins bullet…”
  3. Begin your scene with the likeable hero. If you do this, it’s a good idea to include his worthy goal, too. Think along the line of, “She understood early her son’s endearing smile was due more to a weak mind than a sense of humor. Motherhood would be a joy and a challenge.”
  4. Introduce humor in the opening paragraph, but insure it fits your audience. Toilet humor might work with the preteen genres, but the church elders will probably, uh, “pass.”
  5. Incorporate a feeling of danger right away. “He saw men on horseback, riding hard, their mounts kicking up a swirl behind them.”
  6. Write a scene that’s easy on the senses. Make it natural but lyrical. Paint a picture with which your audience will identify. “The landscape looked as if an artist had brushed his fondest vision of nature on the canvas.”
  7. Introduce an ominous foreshadowing. “Carrion birds floated in a languid circle off to the south. Something was about to die.” Those, by the way, are the opening lines of my emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.
  8. Begin with formidable obstacles your hero must face and overcome. “Tired, bloodied and winded, the soldier crested the hill only to find the enemy dug in on yet another ridge to his front.” Of course these need not be physical barriers, but you get the idea.
  9. Use immediate action. Explosions are always exciting, though somewhat overdone these days. It can be an argument, a personal conflict or facing humility. Just make is pop right away.
  10. Open with a high level of tension. Use a heavy dose of emotion mixed with high drama. Think of the last argument you had before you demanded a divorce. That’ll get ‘em worked up.
  11. A representation of an appealing setting might work for you. Consider your “safe place” in all its glory and invite your reader to join you.
  12. You might try an effective joining of humor and tension. “When the bullet ripped into his flesh, he knew the day was not going well.”

So there ya go. A dozen easy openings to hook your reader and sell more books. Good luck.

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 Secrets to Chapters in Your Novel

In How-to's, Marketing Your Book on March 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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


With everything in creative writing there are rules to follow and the construction of a chapter is no different. With that said, know every writers’ rule is designed to be broken. (The proof to the pudding? The rules say you should never use the verb, “to be,” nor should you employ clichés as with the last four words of the first sentence in this paragraph.) Regardless, with chapter design, there are a few techniques you might employ to both entice and engross your reader.

Let’s first review the purpose of a chapter. It’s primary reason, of course, is to move the story toward its conclusion. Your story has a beginning and an end, and the intervening chapters should do nothing more than move the first chapter toward the last. Chapters can be used to introduce characters, establish setting and to set up or enhance conflict. Regardless, every chapter must tempt your reader to continue with your novel.

The first rule of chapter construction, first chapter or last, is to begin as late in the chapter as possible. This technique helps you get to the meat of the chapter. It prods you to cut out the fluff, those nonessential parts of your narrative, and write only about those things necessary to move your story forward. Readers have a tendency to skim over disinteresting parts of a book, so beginning late in the chapter encourages you to write only those words meaningful to the story as a whole.

The second and last rule of chapter construction flows from the first. It says to end the chapter as early as you can. As before, that means eliminate anything immaterial to your storyline. Tighten your writing, tighten it again, then tighten it once more.

That’s it? Two rules? Yep. That’s about it, but the fun lies in figuring out how to break those rules, doesn’t it?

In any case, I’ve got some other thoughts for you to consider. First, allow me to tell you how I handle short chapters. I mean REALLY short, four hundred word chapters. While working on “Born to be Brothers,” I found a couple short chapters accomplished what I needed. They couldn’t be eliminated, but neither did they require additional length. When I printed the manuscript, these two page chapters didn’t “feel” right. They looked too short. My solution came from a book I recently started reading. That author had many, many of these diminutive elements and he simply started his next chapter on the same page the last one ended. Whoa! Not only did that solve my “look” issue, it made it difficult to set his book down.

Now a few ideas as to how to end your chapters. Most of us have learned to end them with the classic cliffhanger, and that works well. But what other ways exist to end one of those numerous chapters in the middle of your book? Here are some ideas.

Introduce a secret. That’s always fun.

End with a oath. My favorite is in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett vows never to go hungry   again.

End with a reversal of fortune. Always exciting

End with a revelation. Here, my favorite is in “206 Bones” by Kathy Reiches (rikes) where the heroine wakes only to determine at the end of the chapter she’s been entombed.

Your chapter endings need to insure your readers continue to scour the pages of your novel, so a bit of time spent on designing your chapters should pay dividends.

For more ideas on how to end your chapters, consult THIS POST by K. M. Weiland.

Until next time, know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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As you write your novel, you’ll find conflict is a key tool in developing the readers’ interest and conflict goes hand-in-hand with the pace of your scenes. If what I call the Read-Speed is slow, the impact of your conflict is much diminished. Further, as an author, you should pay great attention to the speed at which your novel reads. If it’s overall pace or Read-Speed is tedious, the reader will set your book down. Now, there are any number of techniques by which an author can increase the pace of his story and I’ll cover some of the best in this blog post.

One often ignored practice is to manipulate the amount of white space on the page. To clarify what I mean, imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, top to bottom, side to side, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader, slow the pace and make for difficulty when reading. In contrast, white space makes for a faster read and a better rhythm. The mere fact the reader flips the pages more often also gives the illusion of speed.

Write in short, choppy sentences, in particular when employing dialogue. Your sentences should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for faster reading which, in turn, increases the tempo.

One secret often missed is working with sentence fragments, which work well to increase the pace of your writing. Of course, fragments are frowned upon in the writing world, yet the judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting scenes that hinge upon the conflict in your novel, well-used and well-positioned fragments can increase the excitement, and thus, the pace of the conflict. Always. Every time. Like this. Use discretion, however, for you can lose control if you’re not careful. In fact, I reviewed a book the other day and put it aside after reading the first paragraph. Its one-sentence construction covered at least two inches of page space, contained four hyphens and three semicolons. It was absolutely unintelligible. The moral is exercise caution when writing in sentence fragments.

You can utilize shorter words to boost the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader, slows the pace. Review your four or longer syllable words and consider replacing them with diminutive, or rather, shorter and easier to pronounce synonyms. For example, you might reconsider the use of the word, “antagonism,” when “anger” will suffice.

Be cautious of argot the middling may not twig. That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader won’t understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows to a snail’s speed.

Consider the power behind the words you choose. (How many times have we heard this one?) Does your character dream in nightmares or is he haunted by them? 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”. Falling could mean anything from tripping to going over a cliff. In contrast, “collapse,” assuming it fits the scene, indicates loss of bodily control. If there is no chance your reader will misinterpret what you wrote, they won’t have to reread a sentence to make sense of it. Anytime they reread anything, your pace suffers.

Don’t retell information. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow the reader, and your plot.

Use active voice. Passive voice is a slower read. “He was planning to do the work,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He planned to do the work.” Take your time to learn about active voice. It’s a powerful tool to use when writing your novel.

For more about this subject, consider THIS POST by Gail Martin in her blog titled, “Novel Journey,” or THIS ONE by Roz Denny Fox at her romance blog, “Desert Rose.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will offer better word of mouth advertising in return.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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

The Sidekick as Character

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

The term, “Sidekick” comes to us from gamblers testing their luck at the card table in the 1600’s.  It meant what we now call an “ace in the hole,” or a power card held in reserve for an appropriate time.

Many novels utilize the services of this character called sidekick with great effect. Most often they contrast with the protagonist, but in a nonthreatening, possibly even humorous manner. The secret to the Sidekick when you write fiction? He’s an interactive prop against which the hero bounces.

His purpose is to enhance the characteristics of the hero and possibly offer comic relief. He also gives depth to the plot and other characters. Often a main goal is to provide counsel and/or information to the good guy. The Sidekick is also assigned those duties unsuitable for your hero or beneath his status. Another typical function is to save the hero’s hide at those times when your protagonist appears most at risk. Regardless his duties, the Sidekick participates in almost all the hero’s exploits, except of course, those of a physical nature. To his chagrin, the Sidekick never gets the girl.

Your sidekick should be developed as well as any other important character. He, like his heroic counterpart, requires motivation, he must stay consistent to his personality and have something likable about him.

His personality is typically drawn as smart, shy or even cowardly and a bit neurotic, though this stereotype is changing in literature. These days, the sidekick can be as powerful, or more so, than your hero in some ways. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars. He got the girl even before Luke knew Leia was his sister. (Come on now, as Leia was Luke’s sister, this is the exception to the rule about sidekicks and the story’s love interest mentioned above.) Regardless, The Sidekick’s skills compliment the hero’s. For example, consider Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The good doctor’s personality made Sherlock a more palatable character.

The Sidekick is often differentiated from the protagonist by one or more characteristics. In sci fi, for example, they are often of another species entirely. In other genres, they can differ by any number of factors which might include economic position, education, culture, race or even gender. By the way, a sidekick never has a physical relationship with the hero, which I’ll explain in a moment.

The primary relationship between the main character and the sidekick is trust and loyalty. Their bond is unbreakable, though the reader needn’t necessarily know this. Should the hero and his sidekick part for whatever reason, it can make for an exciting scene when, at his darkest moment, the hero is saved by the unexpected return of the contrite sidekick. That bond also is why the hero and his sidekick can never have a physical relationship. That can create too many opportunities for this trust to bend and break. Further, if you’re not careful, a physical relationship may even move one or both characters into a different character type altogether. This trust also is why your villain will never have a sidekick. Bad guys and their henchmen are notoriously untrustworthy.

You may wish to create a couple of sidekick types to see if you can’t insert them into your books and novels. You may find they give your story that added spark it lacks.

For more about characters, read THIS.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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