Friday, June 18, 2010

A Better Way to Interview Characters

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Do you ever wake to an odd thought or memory? It happens to me quite often, and today's strange recollection involved a woman who worked for me a long time ago. I considered her an ideal member of my staff. I found her reliable, efficient, knowledgeable and one who took great care of my customers. What's not to like? In contrast, every other staff member, without exception, hated this woman with the proverbial passion.

I found it interesting that one individual elicited such a wide range of sentiments, and the thought gave me an idea about my characters. I wondered how each character views my other characters.

It seems to me this idea might allow us, as the creator of CHARACTERS, to achieve a better understanding of who these people are that populate our novels.

We've all heard of, if not performed, character interviews. That's where we, the author, ask questions of our characters to flesh out their personality and backgrounds. What if we expand on this idea and asked our other characters what they think of the first character?

The original character might see himself as honorable, trustworthy, strong and intelligent. What if their counterparts see them as a "goody-two shoes," pushy, a know-it-all and a blowhard?

Let's consider the example of a hardworking man who works late into the night at his job. How might his boss view him? Probably as I did the woman mentioned above, diligent, loyal and all the rest. On the flip side, how might his wife and children see him? Might the wife envision an unloving lout with misplaced priorities and little concern for their children? She may even worry about infidelity. Would his darling offsprings view him as one who works hard to give them a good life, or as a man with little love or care for their emotional needs?

Might this practice help us to learn more about our characters? I think it might. So, one secret to that believable character is to highlight the image he portrays from the perspective of other characters.

I also see a couple of side benefits to this technique. The first is you may also learn more about the characters who offer their opinions. After all, won't their words at least hint at their emotional characteristics? The second advantage lies within your plot development. When you determine what other characters think, it may improve your plot by offering more options for conflict and tension.

Consider the father who works late all the time. Should his wife see him as a potential philanderer, wouldn't that provide an opportunity to expand the novel's plotline and offer more potential power to it? How might it affect the storyline if his children consider him an uncaring appendage to their life? Wouldn't that increase the tension and beef up the PLOT for your reader? I think it just might.

So, give 'em a second interview, guys. It just might give your novel something it may lack.

Now, have you tried this technique and what did you learn from it?

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

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Emotional Side of Setting

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by C. Patrick Schulze 
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There is more to a novel's setting than just the when and where of your story. It includes the entire environment in which your CHARACTERS find themselves and the full circumstance under which they suffer. Setting has a great many characteristics to it but one aspect aspiring authors often miss is the emotional side of SETTING.

Consider this. Might your character's anger change the mood of your story? It certainly could if he, say, lashed out and killed someone. The secret to setting then, is to involve your characters' full environment, including their emotions. Does your story take place in the fall of the year? Then not only should you have leaves on the ground and winds that blow, but you may also wish to incorporate your character's feelings toward the season.

Envision how your character's emotions can enhance the setting of your novel. Might her dark mood after the fight with her husband carry into the crowed grocery store? Would it affect the way she cheers at her daughter's soccer game? Might it build into road rage during rush hour? Indeed, her emotions can alter the setting in a huge fashion.

One great technique used to bring setting to life is to have characters, and their emotions, alter the setting. "She shattered the glass against the hearth." Powerful stuff, guys.

Here's another compelling technique with which to draw your readers into your setting. Have it come in conflict with your character. Here's an example. "Frightened as never before, he leaned as if into a powerful wind and advanced amid the hail of bullets." Whoa! Now that's in conflict with your environment!

Another effective method to show how emotions can affect your setting is to employ similes and metaphors. "His anger built like a river held in check by a dam." Can you see how the setting will be impacted when his emotional dam breaks?

Have you ever established your setting with the weather? Might your characters' emotional mood also have the same effect on setting? Sure can.

As you weave setting into your story, don't ignore the emotional side of setting. It'll give you a much more powerful story.

Now, here are some general tips for setting.

Imply rather than reveal. There's no need to tell the reader it's fall if the dry leaves on the ground crinkle under your character's feet.

Sprinkle your setting throughout your novel. Ergo, avoid the proverbial info dump.

Introduce your setting by way of your characters' action. It might go something like this: "He gazed over the rolling countryside..."

Include all the senses. Have your characters smell the honeysuckle, taste the pepper and relish the sound of night cicadas.

Have the details of your setting coincide with the length of your story. The shorter your story, the less setting you need to introduce.

Be specific. England is too general a setting. London on Bleaker Street is not. It's not a plant, it's a mandevilla with an explosion of brilliant pink petals.

Details do it. Add the tiniest of details to enhance your setting. Which of the following sentences produces the better picture?

"He swung the ax again."

"He swung the ax again and a shower of fragrant wood chips mushroomed out and fell to the ground."

Consider if your setting might foreshadow upcoming events.

Ensure your setting moves in time with your characters. For example, you might have your character's hair turn gray as the story progresses over the years.

Slang is a wonderful tool to establish setting. For example, during the American Civil War, bullets equated to "dead men" and what we call land-mines, they called "infernal machines."

Setting expands beyond your characters' environs. How might a world-wide financial collapse affect your character?

And then, of course, there is the ever-classic adage, "Show. Don't tell."

"He put on his uniform"

"He stepped into his trousers, buttoned the fly and waistband, then slipped the suspenders over his shoulders."

Setting, my friends, is as important as any aspect of your novel and the emotional side of setting is as important as any other aspect of the literary device we call setting.

Thanks for your time and know I wish for your only best-sellers.

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Symbolism in Novels

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by C. Patrick Schulze 
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The other day I had a sudden flashback to that long ago time in English Lit 101. I had this odd little professor whose only purpose in life was to force disinterested freshmen to analyze symbolism is novels and short stories. 
One day in class, the professor called on me to offer my interpretation of the symbolism in a short story. I saw it as an illustration of the lives of prostitutes. The professor almost laughed and asked how I had come up with that. After my explanation, he acknowledged my interpretation as valid, just wrong. The story, he said, was about politicians. How's that for irony? In any case, that inconsequential moment in my life got me thinking about symbolism in fiction.

Let's first define symbolism as it applies to literature. It is an object or creature that represents something else. Think the whale in "Moby Dick."

Symbolism is often employed to give greater depth or meaning to a work of fiction. In fact, symbolism  enhances the quality of literature in a way that cannot be duplicated by any other literary device.

Your symbols may be obvious, such as a national flag, or subtle, such as the flask a character carries in his hip pocket. For an example of an obvious symbol, consider the snake as the logo for the House of Slithering in the Harry Potter series. For a more understated symbol, look to the sled in "Citizen Kane" which represents lost innocence.

Should you attempt to instill symbolism into your novel? It's not necessary at all. However, you can if you wish. The most obvious novel of this nature is "The Da Vinci Code," which is all about symbols.

Should you wish to incorporate symbolism in your novel, pay close attention to how others describe their symbols. You'll most likely find enhanced descriptions and multiple incidents of use. You may find names of people, places and things that are less than ordinary. "Slithering" is a great example of that.

Here are some tips to get you started using symbolism in your fiction.

The secret to effective symbolism is to develop it before you write your story. It will appear much less contrived and make a more profound statement if you do. Symbols lose their power if they appear thrown-in or arbitrary.

Use symbols everyone will interpret in the same manner as you. Does an apple represent a doctor kept from your door as in "an apple a day…," or eternal sleep as it did with Snow White? If your reader misinterprets your symbol, you've created a big hole in your book.

With that said, ensure your symbols are not clich├ęs.

One type of symbolism that has yet to lose its flavor is color. Red still means heat, anger or passion, whites represent innocence and so on.

Ensure your symbols represent what you want them to represent. A skull and death is a pretty sure bet but a shoe and manhood? Well, that's a bit too deep for most readers.

Have your symbols represent something of value to the character to whom the symbol is tied.

Use them with care. Don't have too many or you may slip into the category of allegory. A couple should do you just fine.

A good time to reintroduce your symbol is at the climax of your story. Let's say you've used the aforementioned flask to symbolize a character's inability to control his vices. Then, on the day he finally overcomes his weaknesses, he might drop and break the flask.

Consider using a symbol in a contrary fashion. Maybe the good guy really does wear black.

Now, would you care to share the symbols you've used in your novels?

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel "Born to be Brothers"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to Develop a Novel's Plot

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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There are any number of required elements one must infuse into their novel to make it successful. However, few NOVELS will succeed if the authors does not know how to develop a novel's PLOT.

Plot is defined in many ways, but for the sake of this article, I'll say plot is those sequential events that transpire within your novel. You know what I mean. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, girl tells boy they need a break, boy meets some young chippy at the copy store for a one-nighter and girl lords it over boy's head forever. (Sound familiar?)

So, how might one develop a novel's plot?

Allow me to present a formula, if you will, that may help with this task. If you follow the steps outlined here, you'll end up with a story, every time. Let's get started.

1. Begin with the proverbial hook. Make it so exciting they want to read more.

2. Show your main character's normal life. What is it he's about to lose?

3. Introduce your villain, even if he's not identified as such.

4. Introduce your third wheel and other lesser characters.

5. Introduce the hero's problem or desire. He wants something. What is it?

6. Show how the villain plans to thwart your hero. There's a reason they call him the villain.

7. Show your hero's flaws. What is it about him that will keep him from his goal?

8. Give your hero an irresistible shove and move him away from his normal life to face the required challenges that keep him from his want.

9. Get your hero moving on the path toward his goal.

10. Toss in a few unexpected obstacles or characters who try to deter him from his goal.

11. Have your hero fail in his attempts to move forward. He must realize he cannot reach his goal without assistance.

12. Have your protagonist meet any number or sort of allies and teachers. They give him the tools, whether physical, mental or emotional, to accomplish his goal.

13. It may be time to toss in some comic relief.

14. Your hero should progress toward his goal now that he's attained allies and experience.

15. Uh-oh! Your hero faces another terrible ordeal which he is unable to overcome.

16. More new skills are learned so the hero can move forward on his quest. This may mean new allies or old one who help in new ways.

17. Now, your protagonist must move forward on his own. In effect, his allies can help no more.

18. More comic relief? Maybe, maybe not.

19. Your hero comes to the conclusion he is unable to make his desires a reality. He feels he has failed.

20. But wait! There's more! Something or someone appears and helps your hero get back on track.

21. Your hero again moves forward on his quest.

22. The Big Bad Wolf appears in all his evil glory. Even though he'd been introduced earlier, his true wickedness now comes to light.

23. The hero is defeated, but not killed, by the Big Bad Wolf.

24. Some new and necessary tool or strength is found by your hero.

25. Your hero realizes he must lose something of value if he is to defeat his antagonist. Will he lose the girl if he continues on his quest?

26. Your hero grows in wisdom and realized what is important and what is not.

27. With this evolution, your hero determines to get back into the game.

28. Your hero faces the Big Bad Wolf once more and this time defeats the villain. 

29. But wait! There's still more! The hero doesn't realize it, but the villain is not really dead and the bad guy rises to attack once more.

30. The good guy finally kills the evil doer.

31. Everyone goes home and we find out who gets the girl, the jewels, the weapons, the knowledge or whatever.

32. Everyone lives happily ever after. Ah, except the villain, of course.

Keep in mind this outline is universal in nature. The formula works regardless the genre of your novel.

Must you follow this outline in perfect sequence? Not at all. You can mix up the order and even delete a couple steps if it works for you novel.

The secret, of course, is to create a scene from each of these points. If you do, you've got yourself a general storyline.

What questions to you have as to how to develop a novel's plot?

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

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