The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘craft of writing’

10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for 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.”


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.”

More Tips on Imagery in Your Novel

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

Imagery, those pictures you paint with your fiction, serves as a powerful tool to transport your readers to another place and time. It makes your novel more believable to your readers and places them inside the world you’ve created with your words. Without imagery, you lose much of the strength to your words and even more of the potential power within your novel. Effective imagery is as important to the novel writer as any character.

Imagine the story of Snow White with seven tall men in place of the dwarfs. It loses so much of its appeal, doesn’t it? Snow White and the Seven Giants? Ah, it’s just not the same. This simple example should give you an impression of how important effective imagery is to your novel.

Now that we understand why we use imagery, let’s look at some more tips on how to use it. (You can find more information about imagery in THIS article.)

Successful authors often use setting to convey imagery. Has a rainy day ever affected your mood? I’m sure it has and it probably made you tired or melancholy. My question to you is why didn’t it make you feel like dancing. After all, there’s ever a song about dancing in the rain. My point, of course, is setting is a great tool to utilize to enhance your story. Your sentence might go something like this: “The over-bright sun blinded him in the same manner the many choices he faced hid the best decision from him.”

Choose an order by which you describe something. For example, describe something or someplace from top to bottom and left to right. Use any order you wish, but this systematic portrayal gives your readers a more logical, thus more grounded, way to see the picture you paint with your words.

When you reach a point in your novel where your story requires imagery, close your eyes and imagine what it is you wish to tell your readers. Pay attention to the details. Then, scribble quick notes as to the five senses you’d use to create the mood, the feeling, the place or object about which you wish to write.

Use similes and metaphors to draw your imagery in the minds of your novel’s readers. (Simile is a comparison of things using “like” or “as” whereas a metaphor makes a comparison without either of these words.) An example? “Her skin felt as smooth as polished marble.”

Personification is a useful tool when you create imagery in your novel. That is, give human-like qualities to something nonhuman. Here’s an example. “The breeze whispered through the woods.”

One of the best ways to employ imagery is to surprise your reader. Use contrast in a way they’d never expect. Is her skin the lustrous hue of alabaster? Why not the skin of shaved cat, pasty, thin? Not all of your imagery need be of the beautiful. In fact, readers will often appreciate just the opposite. In my second novel, the character all my female readers liked the most by a wide margin was the tall, chiseled hunk who fell for the dumpy farmer’s daughter. Without variation, they said they liked him for his love of the unattractive woman, not his good looks. Contrast, especially if unexpected, can have a dramatic effect on your story and your novel.

This brings us to the ugly images you should consider. When you closed your eyes in our earlier example, did something you see appear unappealing? Then write it that way in some way. As with the life we all know, not all images are beautiful. Much in life is in fact, ugly, disturbing, or even disgusting. As long as your imagery is authentic, it will work with your readers. In fact, it is when your imagery becomes improbable that your reader puts down your novel.

I offer three cautions as to imagery in your novel. As with everywhere in the craft of writing, cliches are unwelcome. Phrases such as “tough as nails” or “dark as night” no longer spur the imagination of your readers. Be creative. Also, use care not to overindulge your imagery. If your readers knows the number of teeth missing from his comb, you’ve probably said too much and the result is often the loss of action and pace within your story. Finally, not every scene requires extensive imagery. Like every other aspect of your novel, imagery must be integral to the story for inclusion.

Now I ask you. What tips might you wish to pass along to the readers of this blog as to how you create imagery in your novels?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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


Tips to Find Your Writer’s Voice

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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


The word, “voice” is almost a reverent term within literary circles. Quite often, this highly sought yet nebulous prize is mentioned with a sigh as if one speaks of their life’s lost love. Every agent seeks that single “unique voice” among writers as if it were a talisman upon which they mayhang their future. Some say voice is so essential to a writer’s success, it outweighs the craft of writing itself.

Some say “voice” cannot be taught, while others say it is among the simplest of things for an author to develop. I guess that depends upon whether you’ve found yours or not. Regardless, in my opinion, it’s already within you. All you need do is find it and usher it forth.

What is “voice” and what purpose does it serve? Well, Dictionary.com defines it as, “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.” The phrase I see as most important in this definition is, “distinctive style”. I believe it is the way you, the author within, artistically projects your personality onto the page. It is the combination of tone, syntax or grammar, and the way you combine the words you choos. It is the distinct flavor or personality that reveals itself on the printed page.

So how might one develop their distinctive voice? Here are some tips:

Write with Your Heart.

Insure the words you put on the page are from your personality. When you do this, your voice virtually comes to life of its own accord. Not to say editing won’t be necessary, but to find your voice, seek your words from within your essence. Don’t try to mimic another writer. You should certainly study and learn from them, but your words should come from your soul.

Write in the Manner You Might Speak to Those Close to You.

When you speak with friends, family members or loved ones, your tone is different when compared to your manner of speech in a business environment. Your words come more from the heart and their clarity is enhanced. Allow that personal side of you to shine through when you write and your voice will ring true.

Visualize Your Reader.

As writers, we should have our audience in mind at all times. Imagine those who read your novel or nonfiction work as your friend and write to that friend.

Read Widely in All Genres.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ve heard me recommend to read widely from within your genre. To develop your voice, however, you should read other types of works, too. Find those authors who appeal to you and study the way they employ the language. This will point you toward your voice and how it will come across to those who read your books. It matters not that you do or don’t like what you read. The purpose here is to identify and identify with other writers’ voices.

Play with Your Voice.

Write, write, then write some more. Experiment with finding ways to put your heart onto the page before you. Write short stories, press releases, fiction, non-fiction, magazine articles, a children’s story. Just write. They don’t have to be long, tedious things, and don’t worry about trying to break out of your genre. Don’t over-think it. Just play with the words in different situations and see what cascades from you by rote.

Write. Write a Lot.

I had a saying I often used with my children on their road to adulthood. In fact, I used it so often it’s now THE family joke. That saying was, “Practice, practice, practice.” I know, it sounds inane, but this is still the best way to develop your writer’s voice. Write, and write a lot.

Look for Patterns in Your Writing.

Someone once told me the person who sees the patterns to things is the one who makes the money. Use this same idea to find your voice. Look for the serendipity in your writing. What is it you tend toward without thought? These patterns will exhibit themselves in time and within them, you’ll see your natural voice. Welcome it and it will become even more prevalent in your writing.

Fine Tune Your Voice.

Try this exercise. Write a rough draft of something. This is where you think the least about what it is you’re writing. Set the work aside and come back to it in a week, or better yet, a month. When you review it later, you’ll see more of your voice than you realized when you first put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as it were. When you look it over, highlight those phrases or sentences that appeal to you, those that strike the memorable cord. Remove everything else on the page then put it aside again. In another month, review what’s left. You may be surprised to find your voice within those remaining phrases.

You might also try this. Set a mood wherever it is you write a scene. Place things around you that enhance the mood of the scene on which you plan to work. Try to employ as many senses as possible. For a scene where your characters argue, maybe you surround yourself with photos of the boss and light one of the ex’s cigars. Whatever works. The key here is not to be shy about what you’re doing. Do this with various scenes and their associated moods. Once you find yourself slipping into whichever frame of mind you decide upon, then write with abandon. Write with as little thought as possible, but as much intuition as you might muster. Again, set your writing aside for a time then follow the exercise above and highlight what catches your ear. Your voice may just show up and stay for a while.

When it visits, you’ll notice things like sentence length, word choices, metaphors, similes and the like. You’ll see how you turn that proverbial phrase and your natural cadence. In effect, you’ll notice your writing patterns and your voice lies therein.

How does one know when they’ve found and matured their voice? It’s when each of your characters has a voice of their own. It’s a fun day when you realized this maturity in your writing.

Once you identify and perfect your individual voice, I think you’ll see your writing expand into places previously unknown to you.

Best of luck in finding your voice and know 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.”

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

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

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

My first question was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My second question was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My third question was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question four was:

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

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

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

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

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

Out last question for today was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

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

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze