Friday, November 13, 2009

Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, author of "The Greatest Knight."

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The talented author, Elizabeth Chadwick, granted me an interview, the focus of which was to assist aspiring authors in learning the craft of writing and helping them reach their goal of publication. I asked Elizabeth Chadwick ten questions as to her experiences in learning the craft of writing, five of which will be discussed today. The remainder will be presented this coming Monday.

Her answers are unedited and as she is English, Americans will find differences in spelling and even punctuation. Fear not, this lady is good.

My first question was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My second question was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something else I see in her reply that should guide us all is to follow your muse. Her muse spoke to hear quite early in life and she had the sense to follow it.
Her experiences are a guide for us all; become a good storyteller, push ahead with focus, courage and boldness, study other authors and learn from them and finally, follow your mues. (Or as some say, write what bubbles up.)

My third question was:

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

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

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

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

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

Question four was:

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

“No, I have never struggled with any part of the craft of writing. I guess the largest challenge these days re the writing itself is fitting big stories into market-confining word spaces. But it does help me to make every word work for its living! The other challenge involves all the marketing and networking initiatives an author is supposed to cover these days. That takes a lot of time out of what was once just a basic writing day job.”
Ah, how many of us have struggled with cutting our novel down to size? A point tucked away in her words is what she calls, “market-confining word spaces.” This, as with so much of what she says, is critical to publication. The buying public only buys books of certain sizes. “War and Peace” might not be accepted today as it’s much too long for the contemporary reader. People will not buy a two hundred page children’s book. Do you know the “market-confining” limits of your genre?
She also points out that every word must carry its own weight when she says, “make every word work for its living!”

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

Out last question for today was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is Her blog can be found at, and her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

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

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Storytelling in 12 Easy Steps

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I’ve read untold articles on what writers need to accomplish to move from the ranks of the unpublished and into that select stratosphere of publication. Though you need to learn a great deal to succeed, no amount of work will bear fruit if you do not master the art of storyteller. In fiction, your workmanship is for naught if you can’t spin that proverbial yarn.

With that said, I thought today's post would focus on how to develop that skill. How is it one insures their novel is written in such a fashion as to appeal to their readers regardless the audience? The answer, as is so often the case, is simple, though the application is difficult.

When someone wishes to write a novel, there is a time-proven formula to telling a story. This blueprint is known as The Hero’s Journey. In fact, it is the framework around which most any novel can be built and is comprised of twelve events your hero must face. This storytelling technique has been around since before the time of mythology and will last until men stop telling stories. Once you’ve learned this technique, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of storytelling and I recommend all new writers follow this outline.

Many will tell you some of these “rules” can be introduced at varying points in your novel or even ignored. The truth? They’re right. However, as an aspiring author, stick to what works. As you gain confidence and knowledge, then do your experimenting.

The Hero’s Journey is defined by different authorities in different ways. They’ll incorporate additional steps, different terminology, whatever. But if studied, most of them will filter down to the following twelve steps your hero must traverse to create a good story:

1. Ordinary Life
2. Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the Threshold
6. Enemies, Allies and Tests
7. Point of No Return
8. Supreme Ordeal
9. Reward
10. Journey Home
11. Resurrection
12. Return Home

I may go into each one of these steps in more detail, but for now they are somewhat self-explanatory. In general, if the hero in your story finds himself involved in these twelve situations, your story will be well-defined and should appeal to almost any reader. (Please note I said your story will be well-defined. Having it well-written is another entire series of blog posts.)

To get started, think about one of your favorite movies. Now follow the storyline and see if the primary character is placed generally in the situations listed above. I'll bet you will. Once you can identify the steps of The Hero's Journey in a movie, you'll begin to understand how to apply it to your novel writing.

Star Wars is always a good example for any aspiring writer. Think of the first of the six episodes where Luke's parents are killed. Remember it? If you recall the beginning of the story, Luke is working the farm but asks permission to strike out on his own. This scene is Luke’s Ordinary Life which is step one of The Hero’s Journey.

Step two? Luke Skywalker finds the message from Princess Leia embedded in R2D2 and gets all excited. This is his Call to Adventure. Did he accept his call? Of course not. Had he, Mr. Lucas would’ve missed step three, the Refusal of the Call.

Considering step three in The Hero’s Journey, let’s look at Luke’s reaction to Obi Wan’s entreaty that the young man become a Jedi. The boy found a dozen excuses why he could not do as his future mentor suggested. His excuses included such things as his uncle Owen, the coming harvest and, well, I don’t remember what else, but you understand. This scene was the third step in Luke’s immersion into The Hero’s Journey, his Refusal of the Call.

Now I could step you through each aspect of The Hero’s Journey, but it’s getting late and I don’t care to right now. (So there!) However, as you follow the first Star Wars movie, you’ll see the storyline follows The Hero’s Journey quite well. And, (here’s your sign), if Mr. Lucas can use this formula for storytelling, so can you.

Of course, Star Wars is within the genre of Science Fiction, but to show how The Hero’s Journey works with all novel genres, I’ve taken five minutes and outlined a romance for you. I’ll give this story the working title “The Disillusionment of Mindy.” Ready?

The Ordinary World

Joe and Mindy are in love, married with two children, living in a home in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. The children are Mike, twelve, and Mary fourteen. Mike loves baseball and Mary is just finding out about boys. Joe is a stockbroker and Mindy spends her time raising the children. She’s the president of the PTA and is as content with life as she has ever been.

The Call to Adventure

At a PTA meeting Mindy overhears two women talking about Joe. They suddenly quiet when Mindy approaches and act embarrassed at her arrival. They walk away without saying much to her, but they glance at Mindy from over their shoulders and whisper to each other as they depart. Mindy is surprised by their actions but thinks little else of it.

Refusal of the Call

Joe, usually home around 7 PM, starts to call every now and again saying he must work late. This has never happened before but Mindy ignores her intuition which tells her something is wrong in her life.

Mentor (often termed The Wise Old Man or Woman)

As Joe’s late returns increase and after another odd encounter with friends, Mindy speaks with her best friend, Margaret, about her concerns. Margaret tells her not to worry until Joe comes home late and the first thing he does in take a shower - a sure sign of infidelity.

Crossing the Threshold (often known as the Point of No Return)

The next night Joe comes home and takes a shower as soon as he enters the house.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

Mindy and Margaret talk to their friends when watching Mike playing baseball and then again at the following PTA meeting but most know nothing. Those who seem to be in the know won’t talk. Mindy hires a detective to follow Joe. He takes photos of Joe’s nefarious liaisons and passes them to Mindy.

Point of No Return, (aka Approach to the Innermost Cave)

Mindy is distraught but refuses to believe her marriage cannot be saved. She confronts Joe with the photos and he admits everything, saying he still loves Mindy and was swayed by a young woman who threw herself at him. He promises never to see the woman again. Though suspicious of his pledge, Mindy accepts him at his word and they work at patching the holes in their marriage.

The Supreme Ordeal

Things are fine for a time, but soon, Joe is again coming home from work late.

Reward (often termed Seizing the Sword)

When Joe returns home, Mindy confronts Joe about his continued infidelity. He denies everything until she produces new photos she had taken of him and yet another woman. Mindy forces Joe to leave.

The Road Back

Mindy and Joe go through a trying divorce. She gets the children and the house, and the money, and the furniture and he gets the clothes on his back. (They live in Virginia, you remember.)


Mindy must now learn to live without a husband and is forced to find work. She is now faced with raising her children on her own. She finds her new life difficult, but she and her children do survive, though without much of their earlier wealth.

Return with the Elixir

Mindy meets a guy at work who sweeps her off her feet and they live happily ever after.

The End.

There ya go, a full story outline in five minutes using The Hero’s Journey.

By employing The Hero’s Journey, your story will have plot, adventure and the time-tested avenue to effective storytelling. From here you fill in the details and, voila, you’re an novelist!

Depending on the response I receive to this post, I’ll move forward with a more detailed explanation or not.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tips for Establising Setting in Your Novel

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Setting is that aspect of your novel that gives the readers a sense of place and time. Read Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels and you’ll see she does a wonderful job of putting her readers in the center of a medieval faire, complete with banners, knights, lords and ladies. You’ll almost hear the rumblings of carts over cobblestones. David L. Robbins jams his readers into the center of a gory World War II battlefield where you can just about feel the heat of the bullet as it zips by your head. How is it these and other authors are so adept at placing their readers in the middle of their novels?

They have mastered the art of setting.

To me, setting can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of novel writing. Think of it like this. You get to control the weather, the landscape and even what people wear. Now ain’t that fun? When you learn to effectively construct setting in your writing, you have developed the ability to bring to life not only your characters but the very ground upon which they walk.

So, how does one go about developing a believable setting?

First, let’s consider how it should be used. Author Joanne Reid says, "Setting should be like good wallpaper. It enhances your story, fits perfectly, and does not overwhelm the people in the room."

With that in mind, let’s introduce several aspects to setting which you create to give your readers a full sense of time and place. They are:

1. The geographical location of your story

2. The time in which your story takes place

3. The climate and/or weather in your story

4. The lifestyle of your characters

5. The atmosphere or emotional quality of your story

The geographical location of your novel is wherever you wish it or whatever is necessary to the story. It helps if you are able to write about a place you know, but it’s often more interesting if you create your own world as a backdrop to your manuscript. It is important your setting is as authentic as you can make it for readers can spot a mistake in less time than it took to write it.

The time in which your story takes place is again, whatever you wish or need to tell your tale. The type of story you craft will often dictate the time. The secret is to learn, or imagine as the case may be, as much about the era in which you write. In my case, I write about people involved in the American Civil War. Therefore, I walk the battlefields on which my stories will take place. I study the land, the roads, the natural defensive positions, locations of fences and the like. I seek out those towns with structures that date to the mid-nineteenth century and even photograph them, so as to better understand their architectural aspects. I visit museums where uniforms, dresses and even quilts of the time are exhibited. Then, as I write, all these things assist me in creating a true to life setting for my readers.

Climate is one of my favorite aspects to setting, though many writers forget to use it to its maximum advantage. To me, it offers so much in the way of establishing the mood of a scene. It also gives a writer any number of opportunities to incorporate sound and visual enhancements to their story.

Lifestyle is the day-to-day experiences of your characters. This is an aspect to setting that generally comes out in the story of its own volition. However, the best writers specifically use this as a tool in constructing setting.

Atmosphere is the mood or feeling of your book. It offers your reader the emotional quality of your story. As with all aspects of setting, it can change as the novel progresses.

How do you introduce setting to your readers?

As with any part of your novel, stay clear of info dumps. Bring your setting to the forefront by using all the tools available to you. Employ dialogue, narration, character actions, speech patterns and so on. Be cautious, however, of establishing your setting by lengthy narration for you never want to sound like a travel guide.

How might the author use setting? The major reasons are as follows:

To advance the plot or enhance conflict.

Think of how the setting might disrupt the plans of your antagonist or protagonist. Say your major character is being hunted by an assassin. How might an eclipse allow your hero to escape his intended murder? If your novel is based on a historical battle, how might rolling hills, like those on the Gettysburg Battlefield, influence the outcome?

Setting Creates Consistency within Plots and Subplots.

Your novel will have its plot points and subplots with delicate threads woven through the pages. A consistent setting can keep it all joined together so the reader mentally stays within a comfortable framework.

Use Setting to Enhance Conflict.

Think about a scene with rumbling thunder and stabs of lightning in the inky sky. Does that create more tension, whatever the scene, than say an idyllic spring day in the park? Should you wish to use that tranquil day among the flowers, how about plopping a flock of buzzards in the middle of that field. You think your reader would have a heightened sense of mood as the birds begin to circle overhead? You betcha!

Use it to Illustrate a Character’s Character.

The manner in which your characters speak, dress, move and curse will evoke in your reader a picture of this person. Imagine a dockhand who never utters a profane word. Would that image provide an insight into your character? What if your hero, Paul, always dressed in plaid and carried an ax? Would that be enough to exhibit his character or would he still need a blue ox to complete the picture?

Before I close, I’d like to offer you one last tip as to setting. Employ your readers’ five senses. All authors seem to work in sight and sound by rote, but many aspiring writers miss the other three senses. Ensure your characters also smell, taste and feel their surroundings and your readers will do the same.

Well, there’s your free writing lesson on setting. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

I wish you success and best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dialogue in Historical Fiction

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A recent post on this blog concerned the technique of bringing forth language from an earlier time and making it understandable and enjoyable for contemporary book lovers.

I sat in the audience of a panel recently and the talented author Susann Cokal gave me the secret I’d been seeking. She said, and I paraphrase, to use modern terminology in your historical novels, but present it with the flow of the language from the time in which you write. Susann Cokal writes medieval historical fiction and her example was something of this nature; “Forsooth, verily I am smote!” (“Rats! I’m dying.”) Again, I rephrase, but I’m certain you understand the point. In the meantime, I’ve come to the personal conclusion if a writer also inserts the occasional word from his era of choice, his dialogue will ring true and be enjoyable to read.

As an aspiring author who writes historical fiction, I also read in that same genre. At this time, I’m reading “Shadows and Strongholds” by Elizabeth Chadwick. @chadwickauthor on As I read this interesting and entertaining novel, I’ve run across what I think are perfect examples of what Susann Cokal was trying to exemplify.

In “Shadows and Strongholds,” a monk has just rescued a boy from other youthful evildoers. In this scene, Elizabeth Chadwick wrote the following dialogue from the monk to the rescued boy:

“If you are not a foundling, which I judge not by the cut of your tunic, someone will be looking for you.”

Let’s take a look at that sentence in a bit more detail. If you note the words Elizabeth Chadwick uses, each of them you might use today on a daily basis, save maybe, “tunic” or “foundling.” Who among us would ever use the word, “foundling?” (Not many, at least if you wish to survive junior high.) Yet, when Elizabeth Chadwick employs the word, it feels as though it’s a perfect utterance for the time. There’s that occasional word from the era inserted into her dialogue as I mentioned earlier.

Looking to the center phrase, would you ever say, “which I judge not by the cut of your tunic?” I suspect not. However, it melds well with your impression of medieval speech patterns, doesn’t it? It sounds like something one from that era might intend, if not formally articulate, which is the very point I’m trying to make.

Consider the final phrase in the sentence, “someone will be looking for you.” I can hear those words coming from the mouth of any modern adult with an child they don’t know in their presence. Can’t you? With ease, Elizabeth Chadwick has taken hold of the thoughts of any adult throughout history and made them work for her readers and her storytelling.

You’ll also note there is neither a single apostrophe nor any of the wild contractions writers often use to simulate historical dialogue. Her writing is meaningful to the modern reader, but she’s not lost the story’s medieval tone.

Another example of dialogue I appreciated in “Shadows and Strongholds, follows. FitzWarin, the father of the aforementioned boy, is speaking to one his underlings.

“A moment is all it takes.” FitzWarin made a terse gesture with his clenched fist. “I have no time for this now; I’ll deal with you later. For the nonce, we had better find my son.”

Here, Elizabeth Chadwick speaks in the fashion any irate father today might speak when looking for a child he knows is not really lost, but only misplaced. The one exception is the word, “nonce,” though its meaning is clear by its use. Here again are modern words, punctuated by a single medieval term, with the lilt of a fourteenth century speaker.

What she has done to bring her dialogue into our time was to alter the phraseology.

By studying how Elizabeth Chadwick incorporates past times into her historical conversations, we see how to give our dialogue life while still having it appeal to the contemporary reader.

So, kind readers, the task of creating captivating dialogue in your historical fiction novels is not as mysterious or onerous as you might think. It does take a bit of practice, but the mixing of a past parlance with a modern manner of speaking is not such a daunting task. Learn from the successful and you’ll do well.

I wish you all success and best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze