The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Why I Will Self-Publish – Probably.

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on April 7, 2010 at 7:04 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

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I’m about to finalize my decision as to how I am will sell my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” With that in mind, I must soon decide if I am to self-publish and endure all that entails or face the gauntlet of the publishing industry and all the rest that comes with that. (We have not chosen an easy industry, have we folks?

I see advantages with either scenario and I also see drawbacks with both. However, the more educated I become on the subject, the more it seems it is in my best interest is to go it alone. Here’s my train of thought. Please so advise if you disagree. I am open to an honest discussion on the matter.

Agents:

I like the idea of an agent who represents me and feel I have the capability to find a quality agent. That part doesn’t concern me. I really don’t like the process of how they choose the writers they represent. No, I agree with the query process. After all, even writers need a resume. What tweaks my cheeks is their query restrictions. One minor, unintended error that has nothing to do with the quality of your writing, and you’re only opportunity to have them read your resume is lost. Don’t get me wrong, they have to do this. I understand and even agree. I just don’t like it. I also consider how once I find the proper agent for me, will I be the proper author for them? The odds are quite limited. Why hang my future on such low odds when I have other options? However, the real rub? After I’m through with the exhaustive experience of agenting, then I have to deal with the pub houses.

Publishing Houses:

Publishing houses do ease, though not guarantee, entry into the brick and mortars, which are the premier distribution channel for the writing industry – for now. However, distribution is their only remaining asset of any real worth and with the explosion of technology, I see their grip on distribution slip with each day that passes. In fact, I believe the Internet is about to leave them in the dust and take over their monopoly with distribution. Amazon, a technology company, even affects their sales model. That’s not a sign that instills confidence in me relative to their strength or ever their stability within the writing world.

Another major issue I have with pub houses is they’ll hire some salesman who MAY give my book a ten second pitch. If he wants to. Honestly? I want that salesman to answer to me, not some conglomerate who sees me not as a customer but as a product. Again, I understand and have no solution for them, I just don’t like the system.

Further, there’s almost no chance for an advance, which means I work on commission – a commission based not on my productivity but some unknown salesman’s capability. Now, I’ve worked on commission before and made a bunch of money doing it. But I either held the salesman’s position or the salesman worked directly for me. Under their arrangement, I’ll most likely never even meet this person, let alone develop a relationship with him. And yet, my career hinges on his efforts. It’s a scary thought to someone like me who has always pulled up his own boots.

The pub houses will not assist with marketing, so that effort and expense lies with me regardless.

The pub houses sometimes offer editing services, but even that benefit is dying. Plus, I can purchase that service on the open market and have a say in whom I hire. They do have book cover design services and that’s nice, but I give up all control over how they present what, in the final analysis, is my work. Further, I can purchase that service on the outside at a reasonable price and maintain total control.

Something else of which I do not approve? The publishing industry is absolutely subjective and good novels are lost all the time to this limiting aspect. Again, I do understand and it can be no other way, but that also dilutes my potential to a great degree. Again, I could lose not on my abilities, but on a stranger’s tastes or even their emotions of the moment.

This whole process just does not send that proverbial tingle up my leg.

So as I see it, to work with a major pub house, I give up a huge portion of my potential profits in exchange for little more than a diminished distribution system based primarily upon old technology? Hum…

Self-Publishing:

I do have one advantage most writers do not. I’ve owned and operated my own businesses since the days of paper boys with bicycles. I’m experienced with going it alone and I’m comfortable with the idea. I will admit this aspect of who I am influences me a great deal.

The major drawback to self-publishing? All the issues rest with me. I don’t worry too much as I’ve been a business decision maker my entire adult life, so making these kind of judgments are sort of par for the course.

Cost. It’s a big issue. However, it won’t break the bank, so it’s not too large of an issue. Besides, my wife is on board, so the real hurdle is already crossed.

Marketing. This is a major issue with those who self-publish and beyond the well-written novel itself, it’s the meat and potatoes of success. However, I’ve been self-employed and marketing since I my tenth birthday. Though the cost of it is a consideration, the Internet has supplanted much of that cost. I can work up copy, build web sites, use social networking and all the rest. I’ve even got contacts.

Product: I do believe I’ve got my breakout novel in hand and am convinced my novel will sell with correct marketing. It’s a great story and the narrative is well written and well edited. In fact, I dare say it’s better than most books the pub houses crank out. I know… I know… we all feel that way about our babies, but I’ve written two stinkers, so I’ve got somewhat of a handle on good vs. bad. This one is good.

Publishers: I’m not too worried about that. I’m good enough at research and I’ll find a good print shop with benefits, which is really all they are. I used to own a wholesale print shop, so I have a feel for what to look for.

Editing: I’ve got a relationship with an excellent editor who is reasonably priced and brutally honest with me. Besides, I’ve grown into a pretty good editor myself over the years.

Book Cover Design: Graphic artists are everywhere and some are even reasonably priced. Besides, I’ve got some great ideas and I’d like to see them fleshed out.

Distribution. Now here’s the other of the three big issues which also included cost and marketing. Again, I’ll forgo the brick and mortars for the Internet any day. The B & M’s are a dying breed and the Internet allows me to get my marketing message into almost every home in the English-speaking world. I’ll have a worldwide market, which includes their customers. So again, marketing is the secret to distribution. By the way, have you noticed the B & M’s now sell the very products that will either kill their business model or force them to become something other than a book store? “Here’s yer sign.”

Profit potential? I’ve worked up a business plan and feel I’m actually ahead with self-publishing. Especially when you consider the digital end of things. I’ll not have the overhead the pub houses do so my business plan gives me an huge edge when I keep all the profits rather than some small percentage. I retired from the business of coaching other businesspeople and did so for many years. I have confidence in my plan.

So, that’s my way of thinking on this important writing decision. I challenge you to show me where I’m wrong.

In the mean time, how ‘bout some referrals to self-pub houses that have impressed you?

Thanks for your help.

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


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The Secret to Writing A Riveting Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How does a writer evolve from one who pens the first draft of a novel to one who attains the rarefied status of published author? Of course, there is no substitute to a strong and well-written story, powerful characterizations and effective, believable dialogue. However, as any experienced writer will tell you, you must also master the skill of editing. And within editing, one of the more powerful of tools available lies within the words you choose. That is, you should review every noun, verb and adjective to consider if you have used the most specific and compelling of words for them.  The goal is to insure you paint the most stimulating word pictures for your reader.

Here’s an example of how I wrote a sentence in the first draft of my current manuscript and how it reads in my sixth version.

“They raced across the open ground.”

“The soldiers plunged into the maelstrom.”

Both sentences indicate the same event, men fighting in war. However, which holds the more potent setting, the more powerful image? In the first, we see people running over a field. We might have children playing for all this indicates. Whereas in the second, there is no question a battle is underway and men throw their bodies into the violence. The change is dramatic, yet all I did was choose more specific words.

Here’s another example as to how strong word choices can improve your writing.

“Jak woke first.”

“The sun burst over the horizon and wrenched Jak from his exhausted stupor.”

In this case, the verb, “wrenched,” is much stronger than, “woke.” If you imagine a character who just wakes up, you might see him stir from a pleasant night’s slumber. You can almost see him flutter his eyes as he brings the soft morning into view. In my story, however, this scene is not so pleasant. So, to create a better impression of what I wanted my reader to see, I had Jak yanked into consciousness. By comparison, this is a brutal action and a better description of what I wanted my character, and my reader, to experience. Though I enhanced the sentence, this change of a single word created a much more dramatic scene.

This same technique works for adverbs and nouns, too. To show how adverbs can also be improved, consider my working title for this article. At first, I titled this, “The Secret to Writing an Interesting Novel.” Can you see how the change from, “interesting” to “riveting” made for a better image?

If you take the time to consider each noun, verb and adverb in this way, I believe you’ll experience a leap forward in your writing skills. In the process, you just might increase your chances of publication, too.

Now that you know the power in this editing technique, I challenge you to do this with your manuscript and let us know how it improved your writing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Until we meet again, know I wish for 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.”

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.”


It's All about the Editing

In Editing Your Manuscript on February 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

There exist any number of “rules” for writers to follow when editing their novels and though I’ll pass along some of those, let’s begin with a couple lesser know tips. You can read more editing tips in one of my earlier articles here or at this post on Bukisa.com.

Edit for words that end in “-ition” or “-ization” or “-ment.”

Here’s an example of how that works. The sentence, “I worked it to its completion,” can be reduced to “I completed the work,” without any loss of meaning. By simply eliminated the “-tion” and similar words, our writing becomes more crisp.

Edit for verbs used as nouns. Think how you might clarify this sentence.  “I offered the answer earlier.” For more precise writing, it should read “I answered earlier.” The revised sentence enriches the action of the verb, “answer”, and reduces the wordiness.

Keep an eye out for words that duplicate meanings. For example, consider the following list I found at http://www.lincoln.edu and you’ll see the how the word(s) in parentheses do not enhance the meaning of the other word(s).

(actual) experience     add (an additional)

(advance) planning     (advance) reservations

(advance) warning     all meet (together)

(as) for example     ask (a question)

at (the) present (time)     (basic) fundamentals

came (at a time) when     (close) proximity

(close) scrutiny     collaborate (together)

(completely) filled     consensus (of opinion)

(definite) decision     (difficult) dilemma

(direct) confrontation     during (the course of)

(end) result     enter (in)

estimated at (about)     estimated (roughly)

(false)pretenses     few (in number)

filled (to capacity)     (first) began

for (a period of) 10 days     (foreign) imports

forever (and ever)     (free) gift

(invited) guests     join (together)

(major) breakthrough     merged (together)

(new) beginning     (past) history

(past) records     plan (ahead)

(possibly) might     postpone (until later)

protest (against)     repeat (again)

same (identical)     since (the time when)

spell out (in detail)     (still) remains

(suddenly) exploded     (therapeutic) treatment

2 a.m. (in the morning)     (unexpected) surprise

(unintentional) mistake     (usual) custom

written (down)

You know those “wordy phrases” we hear so much about? Here are some samples to purge with some appropriate substitutes.

at all times – always                                             at the present time – now

at that point in time – then                                 beyond a shadow of a doubt – without doubt

due to the fact that – because                            for the purpose of – for

in connection with – with                                    in most instances – most oftenin order to – to

in some instances – sometimes                          in spite of the fact that – although

in the event that – if                                            on an everyday basis – routinely

on a daily basis – daily                                        subsequent to – after

the reason is because – because

Other general editing tips you don’t regularly hear include:

  1. Edit early in the day.
  2. Edit a single issue at a time.
  3. Print your manuscript and read every word aloud to someone else.
  4. Use a straight edge under each line as you read to edit.
  5. Read each sentence as an individual paragraph, as if there is an enter stroke after the line.
  6. Have someone read it out loud to you.
  7. Be certain you consider every instance of the verb, “to be.” (See this post for more information.)
  8. Don’t edit under fluorescent lighting. (Bet you’ve never heard that one before.)
  9. Write one day and edit another.
  10. Editing should reduce your manuscript’s length.
  11. Check your checker. “Read” and “red” are both accepted by your spellchecker.
  12. Remember, grammar checkers know grammar but they don’t understand grammar.

I hope this helps you polish your novel and one of these is THE tip that secures representation for you.

As always, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How to Structure Your Story

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on February 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

When some novelists sit down to write a book, they begin within a general feel for their story and characters then sit down to write. The book sort of takes shape, fills in and reaches its culmination of its own accord. This technique is the one I’ve used to date. The problem is it calls for much editing after the first draft. In my current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” I’m on my sixth major edit and only yesterday determined a seventh is needed.

Other writers organize their thoughts into a formal outline with all plot points scripted, every CHARACTER fleshed out to the level of ear hair, all IMAGERY constructed and each subplot developed in full.

This has nothing to do with the article

This method requires less editing after the first draft but more thought beforehand.

I think it’s obvious the method one chooses is determined by the writer’s personality.

There is a third option for those who are more organized than I and less ordered than God. It’s called by a number of names but is often known as the Three-Act Structure. In general terms, it  dictates a story has three distinct sections. Without surprise, you’ll find these “acts” are the beginning, middle and end.

Many say this is an arbitrary division of a story and has no real value within writing. They indicate the story revolves around the main CONFLICT and how that conflict is resolved. To be honest, I see their point. However, I think organizing does help us to stay focused, especially those writers new to the industry. With that in mind, I’ll offer this and hope you’ll feel free to do with it as you wish.

I did a bit of research and found the early Greek stories consisted of only one act while the Romans settled on five. I couldn’t determine why they the numbers differed, but regardless, today we utilize three acts. As mentioned before, the acts comprise the beginning middle and end of your story or as I prefer, the Set-up, the Confrontation and the Resolution.

When I wrote the first draft of my current manuscript, I’d not given any thought to the three-act structure. However, as it turned out, the novel naturally fell into the Set-up, Confrontation and Resolution  pattern. The Three-Act Structure seems to fit the human mind’s need for logic and may well be a natural storytelling methodology.

Although this is quite arbitrary, I’d guess you’d break up a hundred-thousand word novel into something like a twenty-five thousand word Introduction, a fifty thousand word Confrontation and a twenty-five thousand word Ending.

The Three Act Structure allows writers who don’t do a great deal of outlining to create a first draft with more efficient pacing. It gives them a feel for when to move from one part of the story to the next. This structure should also help eliminate the sagging middle, which is often caused by incorporating too much information too early in the manuscript.

The Set-up is designed to introduce your major characters, setting and premier conflict point. You might also toss in a subplot or two in this section. (For more on subplot, read my post from yesterday.) By the end of this section you’d have identified your detective, his lovely assistant, the murderer and the victim. There would be some action, a secret or two and maybe even an erotic innuendo here or there. However, the secret to the Set-up is it ends when your first major plot point, the hero’s great conflict, expels him from his normal life.

The Confrontation is all about thickening the plot. Think escalating tension and conflict, allies and enemies and character growth. It develops by way of the myriad of obstacles your protagonist faces and the many lessons he must learn in order to defeat the villain, whomever or whatever he may be. This is that part of your story where your second major plot point, the confrontation with the Big-Bad-Wolf, threatens. The formal confrontation takes place during Act Three.

The End is where the great villain is confronted and defeated. This section finalizes when you tie up all the loose ends and answer all the nagging questions you forgot to earlier. It is in this act you send your triumphant hero home to the welcoming arms of his lovely assistant – the very one your reader thought had died during the Confrontation.

For more on structuring your story, read my earlier post HERE .

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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4 Steps to Character Development

In The Craft of Writing on February 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

We all realize one of the most critical components in the craft of writing any novel is its characters. Without effective characterization, the chance of penning a successful novel approaches zero. Therefore, I spend much of my writing time creating those people who will populate my manuscripts. Personally, I use a four-step process for developing my characters.

These four steps are:

  1. 1. Summarize the type of character needed for the story
  2. 2. Find a photo of that person
  3. 3. Interview my main characters
  4. 4. Review my character’s reactions during the editing process

First, I jot down the basic characteristics I’ll need for my hero, villain and any love interest. I focus more on their personality than physical characteristics and I try to envision how this person I’m creating will react to situations I already imagine will occur in the story.

I sort of feel this person out and makes notes as my mind wanders between the character and the story. Other writers fill in formal note cards or databases, many types of which you can find on the Internet. It matters not how you gather this information, but knowing my characters’ personalities before I craft them helps me flesh them out as I write.

Next I locate, cut out and paste up photos of my characters. I physically mount their faces, and if necessary to the story, full body photos of my people. I pay very close attention to the look in their eyes, for I need specific personality types, and the eyes are the harbinger of this. I might take hours upon hours to find the perfect pictures, but when I have them, I paste these photos on a piece of poster board and keep it on my desk as I write. Early in the writing process, I refer to these photos often, especially when I write dialogue, which I think is one of the secrets to effective dialogue. As I become more familiar with the characters as individuals, I refer to their photos less and less, but still keep the mounting board on my desk as I write.

Third, I interview my characters. Yes, it is a formal interview as if I’m speaking to someone for a magazine article. By now I’ve developed a basic storyline so I ask them questions that relate to my story. For example, in an early manuscript, my heroine learned her husband died in battle and she traveled to the field to find his remains. (It was common in the era in which I write.) So, I asked her, “Lorena, it’s late at night and you’ve wandered over this horrid field with a lantern for hours. You’ve just found your husband, dead on the battlefield. How would you react to this?” I allow my instincts about this character to answer for me. If I don’t get an answer that can translate into an effective scene, I consider altering the scene and/or characterization of this person. By the time I’ve reviewed most of my story’s major plot points as they relate to my major characters, I’ve got a firm visualization of who my characters are and how I’ll write about them in my manuscript.

Finally, as I edit my work I study how my characters reacted to the various situations in which I’ve placed them. Did they respond according to the  personality I’ve given them? Did they act as expected? If not, what has to change, the scene, the character or both? The situations in which my characters find themselves have often morphed into something quite different than I’d visualized in my first draft. I consider it imperative to insure my character’s have adapted to these new situations in a fashion consistent with their personalities.

My manuscripts are character-driven and this four-step process insures those people I create mesh with my plot points and storyline without issue.

Are there other techniques or tips you use to create your characters? Let me know and I’ll post them, with appropriate credit, of course.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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To Pay, or Not to Pay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, who among you will argue with me?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of Born to be Brothers

Eleven Elements of a Successful Synopsis

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

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

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

It MUST have a strong lead sentence.

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

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

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

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

Insure your synopsis is logically arranged.

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

Write your synopsis with as much precision as your novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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