The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘secrets’

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.”


Tips on Building Your Author’s Platform

In blogging, General Information, Marketing Your Book on February 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

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Sitting at a keyboard and typing is only a small part of the industry in which we all work. We’ve all volunteered to participate in The Business of Writing, yet most of us either miss or ignore a major component of what it is we must do to become successful at the craft of writing. That’s marketing our novels. I’m sorry to say, if we ever wish to derive enough income to worry about from those many hours staring at a computer screen, we need to learn how to market, or get the word out about, your writing.

Marketing leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths and I think it’s because they either don’t understand what it is or how to do it. Many people confuse marketing with sales and envision themselves having to don a used car salesman’s plaid coat to hawk their books. Not true. Marketing is simply letting people know your novel or book, exists. In fact, today’s marketing is all about the soft-sell. You establish yourself as someone to know and your prospective readers sell themselves.

Once you decide to market your wares, you have two major choices from which to choose. Hire a professional or do it yourself. Hiring a professional like BookBuzzer or TheCreativePenn is an excellent idea, but it takes money. A quality marketing expert is worth their weight in gold, but like anything else, you’ve got to have the money to make the money. Should you choose to do it yourself, you’re facing quite a row to hoe, but it’s doable for anyone with a bit of time, willingness to learn, dedication and a propensity toward hard work. Today, I’ll offer you a few of the best tips for marketing your book on your own.

First of all, like any endeavor, you need both knowledge and a goal. Your goal is easy. Indentify your target market, those people who might buy your book. Well, it’s a bit more involved than that as you also need to know their demographics such as where they live, how much they earn, their ages, their genders and the like. You should have derived this information even before writing, but developing your market is first and foremost. How to determine your market is beyond the scope of this article, but post your questions and I’ll be glad to help.

Once you have your target market identified, how do you reach them? Well, that’s where the knowledge comes in but today the secret lies hidden within technology. It offers us exciting, inexpensive and effective avenues by which to reach your market. Your first marketing step as a writer involves blogging. It’s today’s preferred methodology to getting noticed. Check out WordPress or Blogspot for no cost options. Read this article for ideas on how to build your blog readership.

You should also get involved with Twitter and probably Facebook. If you write nonfiction, consider Linkden, too. Identify your specific target within these sites and learn how to use social networking to your advantage. Readers are more prone to purchase your book if they know you as a person. Be cautious however, and don’t’ introduce them to too many of the skeletons in your life. They really don’t want to know you that well.

Become a member of niche market sites like Chowhound.com (food and feasting), LibraryThing.com (books & novels) and Yelp.com (metropolitan trends cities). It’s here you’ll find people interested in your genre of writing.

Participate in other writers’ blogs. This is quite effective in enhancing your viral growth as it exposes you to a wide number of people with whom you’d not normally connect.

Publish articles to sites such as Ezine, Scribd and Isnare. They might develop readership numbers that will amaze you. Be sure to have a resource box at the end of your articles listing all those many ways people can reach you.

Learn to use Google Analytics. This will inform you as to who refers readers to you. Visit those blogs and get involved. As long as you leave links as to how they can find you, this is a another proven method to build your audience.

Be sure to educate yourself on the use of keywords. Strong keywords allows Internet uses to find your blog, your web site and other tools you employ to sell your books. A bit of research on the Internet will teach you all you need to know about them.

Search out the better book reviewers. Word of mouth will sell more books than anything else. Review Amazon’s Top 1,000 Reviewers and ask those interested in your genre to put out a good word for you.

Do you belong to a church? Live in a condo association? Edit their newsletters and everyone there will learn you’re a writer.
If you work these and other avenues well they can help to get your book sold. Yes, it takes time, knowledge and effort, but without either professional on hands-on marketing, your book will likely languish.

Best of luck with your marketing efforts and let me know if you have any questions. In the mean time, I wish you only best-sellers.

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

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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The Power of Subplot

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Click HERE for a podcast to the article.


To understand subplot, let’s first delve into the concept of plot. The main plot is the framework or storyline of a novel. It is the series of events that happen to your protagonist. In most novels, it can be summed up in one sentence. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s book, “Gone with the Wind.” Can you compile those many pages into a single sentence? I have no idea what Margaret Mitchell’s one-liner might be, but I’ll give it a go. How about something like this? A genteel woman of the old South must learn to cope with the ravages of civil war.

In like manner, subplots are lesser series of events that interweave within the main story. They, too, can be subjected to the compression of a one-liner. Looking to “Gone with the Wind” again, we find a number of subplots that Ms. Mitchell melded into her novel. For example, before and after the war, Scarlett’s love for Ashley as well as Rhett creates great conflict in her life. She also deals with a relationship with Melanie, Ashley’s wife and even a father who has slipped into insanity.

When you interject subplots into your novels, keep in mind they must maintain a direct connection to the main plot. They add substance and enrich the main story as they interlace within it by way of their relation to it. They do not stand on their own nor do they, as a rule, have a direct impact upon the plotline. Look at it in this light. If your plot is a haunted house, the subplots would be the ghosts that waft from room to room. They are part of the house, but the house stands with or without them.

I see two key reasons to interject subplots into your novels. They offer character contrast as well as enhanced conflict. My current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” is about the love triangle between two men and a woman. One of the subplots comes into play when war breaks out and the three must decide where their loyalties lie. War brings out the differences in people every time and increases conflict by its very nature. For another example of conflict offered by subplots, consider the Harry Potter series. The story is about Harry, of course, but interwoven is a subplot based on Hermione’s crush on Ron. Though Harry’s adventures continue unabated, the girl’s sentiments toward Ron take over entire scenes at times.

This brings us to the structure of subplots, which have the same configuration as your story and its major plotline. That is, they have starting points, middle points and outcomes. Within this, they have turning points, moments of great peril and questions answered. Yet, despite everything, they consume less of your word count than the main plot.

Should you decide to introduce a number of subplots, keep in mind one is premier to the others. You should have one foremost subplot and a couple others of lesser impact. A general rule is to have at least one scene relating to the subplot(s) in each act. (Most stories have three acts, but that’s another post altogether.)

One aspect of subplots I appreciate is they allow a lesser character to take on a larger role when the major plotline fails to offer that opportunity. Think of Prissy, the house slave who lied about her experience with “birthing babies” in “Gone with the Wind.” That minor subplot holds much more of our memory than it deserves when you consider its relation to the major plot line of that book.

Subplots, should you wish, can have a major impact on the main plot and are most effective at this when placed at the end of the story. For example, If you’ve read the original “Frankenstein,” you know a servant girl hovers about the story almost without purpose. In the end, however, the mad doctor uses her body to create a creature-wife for the monster. A very minor character turned into a major subplot at the conclusion of the novel.

Now, would you like to know the true secret to a subplot’s power? They are all about relationships. I’ll bet the light just went on for some of you, didn’t it?
As an author and writer, you can embellish your story with depth and life by the effective use of subplots. Take some time to intertwine them in your books and your readers will appreciate your extra work.

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

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

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How to Write Sex Scenes (Terminology Caution)

In The Craft of Writing on February 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

Download the podcast Version of this article here: How to Write a Sex Scene

How much would you like to bet this post garners the most reads of any of my articles? Sorry, guys, but this one is factual.

If you write for any length of time, you’ll stumble upon the opportunity, with intent or otherwise, to write a sizzling scene where your characters take off their clothes. For obvious reasons, many writers struggle with this type of prose, while others jump in without reservation. Either way, every fiction writer has the ability to write erotic scenes. After all, it’s just another form of conflict, is it not?

Let’s look first to the scene as an integral part of any novel. As with every scene in every novel, it must fulfill the same functions and have the same components as would any other. It must fit the storyline, utilize believable characters, employ effective dialogue, move the story forward, build tension, (Yeah, boy!), exhibit a character’s needs, (Too easy…), offer conflict, (You bet!), contain a valid point of view and all those other tedious things. It’s no different than any other scene in this regard.

Let’s look to storyline. As a writer you should give thought as to why you’re writing this specific scene in the first place. It must have the same authenticity as any other in your manuscript. If you write an erotic scene for the sake of titillating, (Oh, geez…), readers won’t understand how it fits the story, and though they may read it multiple times, it will drag down your novel and reduce its acceptance. So, think it through and insure this scene has legitimate purpose to the story.

Characters: The main thing to remember is they must stay in character. The meek office worker will never start talking like a stevedore in bed, nor will your hunk ever giggle. The rapist won’t turn into a cuddle-bunny when he’s done, nor with the Stockholm Syndrome come into play for his victim. Insure the way they act out of bed corresponds with the way they act in bed.

Dialogue: When you want to write an erotic scene, dialogue is not what you might think. In real life, people say things like, “I don’t bend that way,” or “that hurts” or the ever-deflating, “Is it in yet?” So, like any other dialogue in your novel, it won’t be true to life. Consider talking as foreplay for your characters. Lead into the scene with dialogue that builds in intensity, then allow it to fade as things get more heated. Words should give way to sighs, whimpers, groans, exclamations and whispers. Just be cautious your characters don’t sound like farm animals.

Conflict: Consider the conflict that caused the characters to engage in sex, and/or the conflict that results from the act. If there is none, the scene is probably not necessary.

To me, the secret to a steamy scene is found within psychology. Once you realize sex is more a mental exercise than physical, your writing will focus upon the emotional sides of love making. Be sure your reader “sees” the emotional tension rising, falling and rising again to its crescendo.

And don’t forget the lead-up and the follow-through. What drew your characters together and holds them to each other? How do they feel the following morning? What happens to their relationship with the passing of time? Sex scenes are a much larger part of your story than just momentary and wanton passion.

Let’s now look at some general tips to consider when writing sex scenes.

You’re not writing a brochure for the medical community, so dispense with all the technical terms like “penis” or “vagina.” Further, unless you’re writing for comedic effect, “tacos” or “thingys” have no place either. Consider using instead, pronouns, which are quite effective in these scenes. Your example?

“His thingy forced its way into her vagina.”

is replaced by,

“He forced himself upon her.”

Resist the temptation to use euphemisms. The Tunnel of Love is a ride at the carnival and meat slapping is all about being mean to hogs.

You don’t have to describe too much nor do you have to tell everyone what’s going where or who’s grabbing what. They already know. Besides, the reader’s imagination will fill in the blanks, and they’ll create a more interesting image with their minds than you will with your words.

Yes, your own writing, in this situation, should excite you too. If it doesn’t, you need to rewrite the scene or drop it all together.

In sex scenes, like any other, incorporate the five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Fluids can be fun. Yes, sex is sticky and fluid-filled, so don’t shy away from those components of the act either. Just be judicious in their use.

Nipples are not pencil erasers or anything related to a cherry. They are tough to describe, so become comfortable with the word, “nipples.

Shy away from clichés. They rarely work in writing anyway, and they’ll rarely work in writing sex. Have you ever been with someone who screamed out, “Do me now! Do me now!” Neither have  your readers.

Women rarely beg for sex. Men just might.

Your erotic scenes should never be tedious or disappointing. If they doesn’t turn you on, rewrite them.

No formulas. Paint-by-number sex is boring.

Unless you’re writing a rape scene, “no” really does mean “no.”

Build tension before your characters do the dirty deed.

Don’t forget to include foreplay. It’s a major part of the best sex, so be sure to include it in your writing.

Give your readers fantasy. That is one of the most interesting parts of sex anyway and there’s no reason to ignore it.

Sex is all about the mind and so much more than just the orgasm. So it is with your characters. Let them use their minds more than their other body parts.

Sex can be humorous. After all, “Get bent,” can have so many meanings.

Use the small aspects of sex to enhance the scene. A woman’s neckline can be much more enticing than most any part of her body. A man’s hand on the small of a woman’s back can lead her in any direction.

People usually look better in their clothes than out of them. Don’t get too involved with physical descriptions. Allow the reader to imagine as they will.

The illusion of nakedness is much more tempting that actual nakedness.

A falling silk dress is more alluring than a fallen silk dress.

In a first encounter, women take time. In later encounters, you may have to slow them down.

Odd thoughts can, and do, seep into people’s minds at the most inappropriate of times.

If it makes you cringe, it will make your readers put your book away forever.

Okay, for those of you who still feel hesitant, there’s only one way to overcome your fears. Pick up your pen and get your paper wet.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

How to Write a Scene in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on February 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

Great! You’ve developed these wonderful characters who stand primed to flit about your magnificent setting and boy-oh-boy do you ever have an idea for a storyline. Well, it’s all for naught if you can’t compile these things into scenes and string those scenes together to make your story awe your readers.

Imagine a lustrous string of pearls. The first gemstone compliments the next which balances with the rest and strung together they lay upon a woman’s neckline to bring forth her natural beauty and give her a radiating sense of elegance. Now imagine that necklace where the jewels are a hodgepodge of odd sizes, hues, luster and even quality. All of a sudden we’ve taken the best of nature and the best of man and made them into something unpleasing. The same thing happens with your story if you don’t create your scenes as well as you’ve created your characters and your setting.

One secret many find useful is to write the last scene first, and the first scene second, at least in outline form. If you know where you need to go, the steps to get there will become much more obvious. Now some people recommend you consider what the characters want to happen, what they need. Personally, I disagree. Determine where you want to go and what steps you must take to get there and the characters will follow your lead.

Let’s get started.

First outline what you need on hand to create an effective scene. It requires emotion, action, dialogue, characters, conflict and setting. (Did I leave anything out?)

Next, determine what has to happen in a scene to move this part of the story toward the next. Ask yourself, “What must happen now?”
Don’t worry about what could happen or what should happen.
Be concerned only about what must happen. At this time, use only two or three sentences to write your scene. That’s all you need at first.

Now that you know what must happen, figure out who must be in the scene to make it work. Put only those characters necessary into it and leave everybody else out.

Next you determine where this scene takes place. It may be obvious after you asked yourself what must happen, but if it wasn’t, fix the setting into your mind. Consider having things happen in places that one might think out of place. Consider a teacher and high-school student discussing the child’s grades. You’d assume this would happen in the classroom, most likely after class, right? Why not have this discussion taking place at a racetrack or better yet at a bar. Now that would perk the scene up, wouldn’t it?

Okay, we’ve got what must happen, who’s in the scene and your setting. Now consider how it all ties together. A classic secret is to begin a scene as late in the scene as possible. Regardless, this next beginning almost calls out for recognition as it naturally piggybacks off the ending of the previous scene. However, give this a bit of thought, too, and see if you can’t punch up your creativity just a bit. For example, your student and his teacher are talking at the races when one scene ends. The next scene might typically start the following day in class. What if this second scene started on a Saturday as they watch the school burn down? The oddity of your settings may just give your novel a unique and imaginative spark. After all, why should all the surprises come at the end of a scene?

The next thing I’d like you to do is visualize your scene as if it were in a movie. If you can see it working visually, it’s probably got some strength to it. Try this first with only the characters’ physical actions and nothing more. When you close your eyes and “watch” your scene take place, look for those areas that stutter or slow the pace. Those are the parts that need work. After you’ve “seen” it play out, go through this process again, this time with the dialogue. Does it “hear” as well, too? If not, you know what needs work. Do this a third time within your setting in mind and you’re good to go. Visualization is the real secret to a good scene.

Okay, you wrote your three sentence scene and you’ve “watched” and “listened” to it and it feels good. Now’s the time to pen what some people call a scribble draft. It doesn’t have dialogue, setting or anything beyond simple physical actions. Make is a bare-bones outline. It’ll look something like this:

Jack runs down the hill.
Jill runs after him.
Jack falls down hill, dropping his bucket.
Jill does too and screams as she tumbles.
Both land in a heap at the bottom of hill.

After all that, now guess what you get to do? Yep, first draft. Now’s it time to put fingers to keyboards and clack away.

We’re now to our last step in writing an effective scene. Now that you’ve gotten a few scenes strung together. Reread them and ask what’s the worst that could happen if this scene or that were omitted in whole. If the basic storyline is unaffected by the missing scene, it’s unnecessary and should probably be cut from your manuscript.

Yep, it’s a lot of work, but you’ll get that beast wrestled to the ground and your story will emerge. Good luck.

By the way, read back to step one and you’ll see I recommended you first write out your scenes in just two and three sentences. If you do, put all these mini-scenes on the same piece of paper, a file of its own. Make a copy of that document before you expand them into full scenes. This is the start of your synopsis and the beginning of your outline. (You’ll thank me one day for this tip!)

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

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

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The Secret to Secrets in Novels

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 17, 2010 at 7:03 am

Almost every type of novel can utilize the power of secrets to advance the plot and improve the suspense. Think of how many stories you’ve read where something unknown pops up in the middle of the book and shifts the entire story to another track. I’ve come up with five ways to use secrets within your novels to enhance your storyline, increase suspense and even help your characters grown and change during the story.

One of the best ways to use the suspense created by a secret is to make it corporeal, something your characters can see and touch. When utilizing this technique, your reader is allowed to share in the secret and all the interest and excitement the unknown brings. It could be a sealed envelope, a person lurking in the shadows, a photo or a diary. It can be anything as long as your reader doesn’t know what it represents until you want them to know what it represents.

You can use a secret as a source of conflict for your characters. How about the husband who comes home late from work and refuses to tell his wife why?  What if a soldier cannot bring himself to talk about a war experiences, though his wife tells him she’s heard an ugly rumor about that situation. In fact, this secret could even be your entire novel. Regardless, in these situations you’ve got something you readers know exists but is hidden from them for a reason they are not yet allowed to understand. They may just read on just to find out what’s going on.

A third way to take advantage of secrets is to enhance your climactic scene. How often have you read a novel where just as the hero is about to die, he learns a dramatic secret that changes everything and saves his life and sanity? Personally, I don’t care for this use. I think it was Orson Wells who said, and I paraphrase, terror isn’t terror unless the viewer knows something is about to happen. As I recall, he used the example of two people sitting at a table with a bomb underneath. There is much more suspense if everyone knows the bomb is there and are waiting for it to explode, than if it just detonates all of a sudden. I feel the same way about secrets. They have more power if everyone is waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Regardless my sentiments in this, a climactic secret might be useful to your story and you may wish to give it consideration.

Another common use of secrets in novels is as a vehicle for a plot twist. The secret to this secret is to insure it is truly hidden within your story as you set up your readers for its revelation. In Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, (not the movie versions but the book), the creature threatens the not so worthy doctor with perpetual evil unless Dr. Frankenstein creates another creature, a female companion for the monster. When that comes to light, the entire story took on a new direction. If you can work this tool into your novels, it’ll create terrific conflict.

I think the most powerful secrets to use are within you. You’ve got some, just like everyone else. Why not choose those secrets that inspire your life to inspire your readers?

If you wish to use secrets but don’t have one in mind, find real life ones at Post Secret Blog for ideas. (This place is interesting.)

I hope you’ve found something in this article that’ll spark a secret for your novels.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of “Born to be Brothers” (Coming Soon.)

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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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The Secrets to Your Novel Writer's Reputation

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on February 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

I can only suppose you’re reading this article because you are already a successful author or you plan that same accomplishment soon. If either case is true, then you’ve got a professional standing to uphold. How might you go about keeping your reputation up to form? As with anything worthwhile, it’s a bit time consuming but necessary. The good news, there are only a few secrets to keep in mind.

I attended The James River Writer’s Conference last year and listened to a panel where all three speakers agreed to the concept a writer needs to spend seventy-five percent of their time marketing their business and twenty-five percent writing. This means that to keep up your status as a professional writer, you should spend a great deal of your efforts on promoting your name and maintaining your status as a professional. Look at it like this. An Olympian isn’t racing most of the time, he’s practicing. The secret is this concept applies to your writing.

Basically, there are six major steps you should consider if you wish to build and maintain a professional writer’s reputation. I’ll outline them then discuss each in a bit more detail. These considerations are:

  1. 1. Utilize Social Networking
  2. 2. Join an Association
  3. 3. Create Your Web Presence
  4. 4. Write Nonfiction
  5. 5. Keep a Professionals Attitude
  6. 6. Stay Current

Utilize Social Networking: You’ve chosen a field where the competition is fierce, and when a novel writer wants to generate buzz about his manuscript, you have to employ WOM, or word of mouth. Keep in mind social networking is beyond simple posts on Facebook and Twitter, though these are important. You should also join writers’ groups, attend conferences and the like. Be found in those places where writers and readers congregate. Despite all the technological advances in recent years, WOM is still your best way of getting known.

Join an association: Once you’re published, joining a professional writers’ association helps build your cred. For example, if you write mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Find whatever organization(s) fit your genre then pay their dues and go to their gatherings. It’s a great way to hobnob with the successful and to garner loads of useful information.

Create Your Web Presence: In an earlier post I talked about when to build your web site, which is after you have something to sell. However, you should begin to build your web presence well before the web site is up and running. However, if you wish to establish a profile page sooner, that’s not a bad idea. You should establish a blog one to three years prior to becoming published. Update this no less than weekly.  You should have a professional email, (mine is CPatrickSchulze@yahoo.com). Be sure to include this web information on business cards and other marketing material you might produce.

Write nonfiction: You write fiction all the time. Why not improve your cred by writing nonfiction, such as this article? It helps you boost your reputation as a writer and if you’re unpublished, it also builds confidence.

Maintain a Professional Attitude: Nobody wants to do business with a prim donna or a fool. The more professional your presentation, the more others are willing to deal with you. And, after all, you are in The Business of Writing. You’ll gather more potential proponents and customers with the correct personal presentation. The old adage of “Image is Everything,” holds true in this industry as with any other.

There was an agent I followed on Twitter, had placed in my database, and planned to query at the appropriate time. I met her at a writer’s conference and although her personal appearance was well below standards, I attempted to look past that to get to know her and appreciate the work she might perform for me. Quite frankly, she’s a bitchy woman who looked down upon the unpublished and I soon discovered she is someone with whom I could never work. She lacked even a modicum of professionalism and I’ve dropped her as a possible agent. If you don’t present a professional attitude the reverse happens to you as a writer.

Stay Current: Keep your knowledge of publishing trends and market preferences up to date. You do this by reading industry magazines, various newsletters, blogs, articles and by reading the invaluable information on Twitter and other social networking sites. Staying current also means to write, write, and write some more.

Are there other thing you must do to establish and maintain your cred? You bet there is. However, get these initial steps under your belt and these other opportunities present themselves to you.

Do you have any stories about how you’ve worked to build your credentials as a professional writer? Are there other ways you go about building your reputation?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Secrets of the Dreaded Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing on February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’ve yet to meet an author who looked forward to writing their novel synopsis. In fact, many believe it’s more difficult to write than the novel itself. Not to say it’s easy, but a few simple tenets can get you started.

Let’s first ask if a synopsis is even necessary these days. From reading the submission guidelines of agents, I see many don’t request one and that leads me to believe it has lost much of its influence. However, some still do, and as an aspiring author never knows which agent will represent them, it’s a good idea to have it ready.

The second question is why would an agent would feel a synopsis necessary. The critical reason I found in researching this article is it can be THE pivotal item that gets an editor to read your manuscript. That’s enough for me right there. However, if you need more, consider the following. A well-crafted synopsis can assist the author in finding weak plot points and point you toward ways to polish your story arc. It also assists in improving characterization, plot and setting. Further, it is often utilized by various departments of a publishing house once they accept your novel.

We now know the if and why, but what about the what? What, after all, is a synopsis? Many confuse it with an outline which describes what occurs in the storyline, to whom it happens and when it happens. In contrast, a synopsis portrays the “why” of your story. The novel outline describes the action or what happens, whereas the synopsis offers the conflict or how your characters react to that action.

The essential components to a novel synopsis are:

  1. The Opening Hook
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Plot Highlights
  4. The Core Conflict
  5. The Conclusion

If you think about what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish, these five aspects make perfect sense. It will give the various readers a good feel for everything they might need to know about your story. Let’s look at each of these components.

The Opening Hook: Start strong. Remember this is about conflict, how and why your characters react the way they do. It is not about action, what happens to them. For example, you would not open with the first line following for it speaks of the action in the story, whereas the second tells the reader about the characters’ REactions.

Two men fight over a woman.

Two brothers lose their friendship when a woman comes between them.

As with any reader, the agent looks for something that will engage them. If your story doesn’t’ sound interesting right away, they’ll probably not read further. You’ve got ninety seconds, so power your way through them.

Character Sketches: This does not mean you describe your characters but rather get to their individual core conflict and the conflict between your two or three main characters. What makes your hero undertake his great quest? Why is your villain working with such diligence to thwart your protagonist? Think motivation rather than descriptions.

Plot Highlights: Give some detail to the first and the climactic scenes and a couple of those in the middle of your story. Use only those scenes that highlight the emotional action and conflict within your story. Make sure whoever reads your synopsis knows just how much trouble befalls your hero.

Core Conflict: Your Opening Hook will probably introduce your core conflict, but make sure you enhance it here. Don’t allow anyone to misunderstand the “why” of your story. If you have multiple conflicts, highlight the premier point then maybe the next couple of levels.

The Conclusion: Show the agent your novel is worked to its completion and flesh out the ending. They want to know the entire story. If they don’t know the ending, they’ll assume it doesn’t work. Tie together any major loose strings and point to a sequel if your novel is one of a planned series.

That’s all there is to it. With things spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem quite so onerous, does it? Use your writer’s voice as you did with your novel and the agent will have a good idea of what it is you’re offering for him to sell.

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

C. Patrick Schulze



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