The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘secret’

The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How to Find Your Agent

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

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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


The Keys to Effective Dialogue in Novels

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article click HERE.

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

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

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

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

Here are some tips for creating better dialogue.

Punctuation Counts

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

A quick example:

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

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

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

For more on dialogue punctuation, read THIS blog post.

Dialogue is Different

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

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

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

John said, “What did you do today?”

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

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

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

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

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

John said, “What did you do today?”

Mary answered, “I ran into Sara.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE Secret to the Slush Pile

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

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

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


Similes and Metaphors in Fiction

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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

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

Her eyes are blue pools of laughter.(Metaphor)

What are the advantages of similes and metaphors?

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

They enhance your novel by adding effective portrayal and originality.

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

They also add great depth and imagery to your writing.

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

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

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

The problem with these tools? Metaphors bombs.

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

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

Overuse of similes and metaphors tends to overpower your reader.

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

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

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

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

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

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


How to Write Your Novel’s 1st Chapter

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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

They “why” is simple. Book sales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

The Secrets to Conflict in Novels

In The Craft of Writing on March 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm

By C. Patrick Schulze

 

As humans we tend to avoid conflict whenever possible, but as creators of characters, the use of conflict is one skill we must master.If your dreams of success include penning of The Great American Novel, then conflict is your friend.

Conflict is what makes your story worth reading and, in fact, is the key component that weaves all the elements of your novel together. Without it, you’ve simply written a series of facts and occurrences. Conflict is what gets your readers’ hearts to beat faster, sets their blood to boil and encourages them to turn the pages. It also is what generates buzz and book sales.

With few exceptions, every successful novel is grounded in its story and the story is grounded in conflict. Think of it as forces in opposition. That is, you create one character who exhibits some undeniable desire and you pit them against another character who wishes to deny that ambition. It matters not the form of your conflict, only that one person wants it and another wishes to keep them from it.

I feel there exists a major misunderstanding among writers, especially new writers, as it relates to conflict. Conflict is not the crisis or what happens to your characters. It is not the battle, the argument or the deception. Instead, conflict rests upon your characters’ thoughts and feelings toward the events they experience. Conflict is found within the moral choices your characters make, in their emotional reaction to the events that swirl about them.

Consider this example. A daughter tells her father a lie, but the father could not care less. Where is the excitement? Where is the energy? Where is the drama? Now, imagine if the father loses his temper over the lie and strikes out at his daughter. Now you’ve got conflict. It is not the action, it is your character’s response to an action.

Let’s look at some general tips about conflict.

There exists a delicate balance between too much or too little conflict. Have you ever read a boring novel or have one overwhelm and exhaust you? Only use that conflict that is necessary to your story.

In most cases, two opposing conflict points, one internal and one external, are enough to carry your novel. Can you put in more? Sure, but each new conflict point increases the potential loss of control over your story. Cut any conflict that is not necessary to your fundamental storyline. Though you may toss in a couple of other conflict points of lesser strength to keep raising the stakes, stick to a major conflict point or two for best results. Should you wish to add more conflict, think subplots. (For more on subplot, read THIS article.)

Your conflict should build in an upward trending line, with a couple of lesser peaks and their resulting valleys, towards the climax of your story. Think of the way your conflict builds as a line graph. It should rise and fall, rise and fall again and again until you’ve created a line that looks like an ever growing mountain range. Each of these peaks and valleys builds then releases the tension until you reach that highest crest where your hero and his villain clash in your most powerful scene. This series of growth and collapse sets an interesting pace to your writing, and further draws your reader into the story.

Every chapter in your novel should have someone wanting something. This want need not be anything of utmost importance, but each chapter should contain some level of conflict. It may be as simple as a young girl wishing her mother would allow her to walk to school, to the reactions of your hero as he is thrust into battle. Regardless, your novel requires some level of conflict in every chapter.

The true secret of conflict is that it begins and ends with desire. It’s all about who wants what and who wishes to keep it from them.

The essence of building tension is choice. Your hero must be forced to make choices in order to keep him moving forward on his quest. His choices, and the process of learning that results from them, are what keep your reader involved in your story. It also maintains the tension of your novel.

Fear intensifies conflict. Your hero must face his fears, so include doubt or worry at judicious points within your manuscript.

Use dialogue as a major tool in the building of your conflict. When used for best effect, dialogue increases the emotion, tension and tragedy.

If you spend the time to develop your conflict as you would your most important of characters, your novel will shine brighter.

Until my next post, 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.”

The Secrets to Chapters in Your Novel

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduce a secret. That’s always fun.

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

End with a reversal of fortune. Always exciting

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

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

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

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

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

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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