Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Note to My Readers

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To My Readers,

My life, as so many times before, has taken an unexpected turn. At least this time it's for the better.

This new orientation forces me to make a decision as to what aspects of my life must be sacrificed to this interesting new direction. As my novel is a top priority in my life, I will not allow that to suffer. As with other parts of my life, my blog is one of my daily pursuits that will undergo a reduction in the amount of time I can dedicate to it. In that vein, I will continue to post, but on a regular versus a daily basis.

I do hope you understand and I thank you all for your past and continued support.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Does Your Novel Suffer From Flat Writing?

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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One bane of the writer's existence is flat writing that comes off to your reader as dull or lacking impact. It slips into writers' work with little notice and will destroy a wonderful novel in no time at all.

How do you determine if your writing is flat? Allow people you don't know to read your work. They'll inform you in a hurry. However, the best way is to keep your eye open for how you respond to your reading. If it doesn't "wow" you, it's flat.

Here are some tips to overcome flat writing.

     1. Cut, Cut, Cut
     2. Choose Your Nouns and Verbs with Care
     3. Eliminate Passive Voice
     4. Play with Your Words
     5. Trust Your Muse

Let's now look at each of these in more detail.

Cut, Cut, Cut: If your writing sounds flat, it's often due to excessive words that don't add to the plot or even the meaning of your scene. To overcome this, review each word as to its necessity in your novel. Let's consider the following example.

     "Jason went to the store to pick up his weekly groceries."

If we review this sentence, we see much of it is unimportant. Right away, we can drop the phrase, "went to the store," as this action is obvious by the word, "groceries." We might also be able to cut "weekly," unless this time period is needed for the plot. Your final sentence might be:

     "Jason picked up his groceries."

Better, but still pretty dull, don't you think?

Choose Your Nouns and Verbs with Care: Let's consider the corrected sentence above for this example. If we just read the words, there's little interest even in our corrected sentence. After all, grocery shopping is about as mundane as life gets. So, let's pay attention to the NOUNS AND VERBS to see if we can't spice this puppy up. What if we rewrote that sentence as follows:

     "Jason raced to grab his groceries."

You can see by choosing more specific verbs, this sentence came alive. With the word, "raced," all of a sudden we've instilled the sense of speed or pace, and thus, more interest. The secret, of course, is to choose the correct verbs and nouns to fit the scene.

Eliminate Passive Voice: We've all heard about the inherent weakness of Passive Voice in fiction. It's sin is the way it makes it more difficult for a reader to tell who's doing what. And a slow read, is a boring read. There's more on PASSIVE VOICE here.

Play with Your Words: Sometimes writers get so caught up in the minutia of the craft of writing, we forget to write out of the box, so to speak. Go ahead and try something new and unusual. Write that simile the way it popped out of your head. Go on and use that odd description or that risky scene.

After you do this, set it aside for a while then review it to see if it still works for you. If it does, leave it in. If it doesn't, well, reread suggestion number one of this article.

Trust Your Muse: As with recommendation number four, set things aside then go back and reread your work. This allows you to forget the subtle nuisances of your thought process when you first wrote out whatever comes off as flat.

As you return to your work, if you're not sure if the words you've chosen enhance your novel, listen to that nagging voice from deep within you. That's your Muse and she's rarely wrong. Don't try to outthink her or rationalize away your rejection of her coaxing. Just trust the woman. She's your best friend in life, let alone in your writing.

If your writing is flat, disinteresting, dull, lifeless or any of those other synonyms, readers will put your book down. Worse than that, they'll create a negative buzz about your novel. Focus on the most compelling writing you can produce and things will fall in line for you.

Has your work ever suffered from flat writing? What did you do to overcome 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"

Monday, August 9, 2010

10 Top Novel Writing Mistakes

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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I don't know about you, but I learned to write, and am still learning to write, the hard way. I made the novel writing mistakes and then figured out what I should have done. I'm certain it's the same for many, if not most, novel writers.

Regardless of how you learn, if you keep your eyes open for these top ten novel writing mistakes, your novel will have a stronger chance of acceptance.

Beyond the common errors in spelling, word use and punctuation, I feel the top ten novel writing mistakes are:

1. Weak Characterization
2. Ineffective Dialogue
3. Poor Plotting
4. Point of View Errors
5. Flat Writing
6. Too Much Backstory
7. Summarizing
8. Failing to Target Your Writing to Your Audience
9. Lists
10. Too Much Description

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail, shall we?

Weak Characterization: It is imperative you serve your readers a healthy diet of characters with believable motivations, realistic actions and fully formed relationships. You reader needs to know why your major characters do what they do and why they feel the way they do. Read more about CHARACTERIZATION.

Ineffective Dialogue: Dialogue is one of the trickiest aspects to a novel. It must sound like people speaking to each other when, in fact, character conversations are nothing like conversations between people. Your novel's dialogue must be much more compact and plot focused, yet, you must retain the personal aspect of it. Read more about DIALOGUE.

Poor Plotting: Plot is the bread and butter of your novel, and a well structured plot is a blend of art, psychology and the craft of writing. An effective plot requires, pace, motivations, a believable storyline, character arcs and so much more. Read more about PLOT.

Point of View Errors: POV relates to which character sees the action that transpires within your plot. Irregular shifts in POV proves difficult to the reader, and maybe even worse, POV errors can creep into your novel with little trouble. The secret is to reserve each character's POV to a single chapter. Here's more on POV.

Flat Writing: Flat writing occurs when you input narrative or dialogue that has no meaning to the plot. It shows you've lost control over your story due to lack of a plan, lost interest or maybe something as simple as you're tired. When you find narrative or dialogue that doesn't move your story forward, it's time to edit it out.

Too Much Backstory: Backstory is anything that came before chapter one. It's history. The problem is backstory tends to stop the novel's momentum. More often than not, it's not necessary to the story and should be eliminated. If backstory is necessary, work it into your story in small nibbles rather than large bites of information and only after the major plot is developed. There's more on BACKSTORY here.

Summarization: This harkens back to the classic saw of "Show. Don't tell." In lieu of simply stating a fact in your narrative, develop this information by way of character actions and dialogue. For example, don't simply say your character is good at math. Have a scene where his math skills are put to the test and he excels. There's more on "SHOW, DON'T TELL," in this article.

Failing to Target Your Novel to Your Audience: Most writers, especially those new among us, often fail to come to grips with the fact your writing is a business venture. As a consequence, novels are often written without a focus on those who will eventually purchase your product. For example, if your story lends itself to the male market, you don't want too much emotional action. In contrast, if your market is the adult female, you'll not want too much in the way of blood and guts. Save that for your teenage male audience.

Lists: A common sign of a novice writer is his use of lists within their novel. A classic example of this is with the description of a meadow. The new writer will name all the flowers in the field. It's usually better to paint a verbal picture with only a few details and allow the reader's mind to fill in the blanks. In the example of a meadow, you might mention the wavering patches of red and violet as the wind sweeps over the ground in lieu of the list of flowers.

Too Much Description: In the same light as lists, the readers imagination is what makes your novel come to life. Too much description imposes your imagination upon the reader. With this in mind, don't tell him the cloud formation looks like an elephant, unless the elephant is necessary to the story. Instead, tell them the clouds created formations in the sky and allow them to "see" whatever they formations they wish. This will make the story much more personal, and thus enjoyable, to your reader.

Are there more common errors in novel writing? You bet. However, if you focus on these ten early in your writing career, you'll be well on your way to that elusive well-received novel.

Now, which of these errors do you commit and what have you done to fix them?

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

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

Friday, August 6, 2010

Writers as Sheeple

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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I ran across a new occupation this morning that made me smile. My face lit up because the market has called out for this career path, most of us need the services these entrepreneurs offer, and with today's book selling market, this enterprise makes so much sense.

After I opened my first business many decades ago, I became quite successful, over time. However, to build that success, I stumbled more times than I'll ever admit to a stranger. And these missteps cost me a ton of money, too.

I advertised in the wrong places, I ordered too much of the wrong merchandise, I hired the wrong people, etc., etc., etc. Once I learned how not to make these errors, my profits skyrocketed.

Another reason I find myself fascinated by what I learned today is because the last six years of my "working" career, I offered my services as a business coach to small and medium-sized businesses owners. I'd offered advice on marketing, sales, product selection, records-keeping, personnel and the thousand other aspects of business.

After all that, I guess you can see what this specific career of Book Shepherding caught my eye. (Now you understand the title, don't you?)

I see a book shepherd as your pre-publishing and even post-publishing business coach. By the way, in case you didn't know, if you are going to self-publish, you are a self-employed businessperson.

A book shepherd's goal is to guide you on your path to publication. Some book shepherds work as advisers only, whereas others do the work for you. Still others offer both options and allow you to choose the one that works best for you.

The services of a book shepherd might include how and where to secure your ISBN, LCCN, and P-CIP. They may locate cover designers, interior designers, video designers, editors and all those other people whose assistance you'll need to see your book into the marketplace. They also assist with marketing fundamentals like tag lines, blurbs, titles and skilled copy people.

Book shepherds typically charge by the hour and they're not cheap, but who is these days? So, unless your pockets have no bottom, consider if you might perform most of the actual work yourself with their guidance.

There are two secrets to hiring a book shepherd. The first is to find the one that fits. Do your due diligence, of course, and locate the one that suits your needs and personality. The other secret is pre-planning. If you plan to self-publish, you are self-employed. And, like any other business, planning is key to survival and success.

A high quality book shepherd will save you time and money. Of course, if you choose the one that's right for you, they'll reduce the stress in your life an untold amount, too.

Now, don't misunderstand. If you're going to vanity-publish, save your money. But if you are going to maneuver your way down the true self-publishing path, and you're new to the concept, consider a book shepherd.

Do I believe we're all sheeple if we utilize the services of a book shepherd? Not at all. It's just a title. In fact, I think hiring a book shepherd may be a wise business move for most authors new to self-publishing.

Now, how among my readers have utilized the services of a book shepherd? Would you care to share your experience with us?

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, August 5, 2010

How to Ensure Your Readers Suspend Disbelief

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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To write FICTION is to write lies, is it not? And yet, though our readers have full knowledge we lie to them, they must, and do, willingly suspend disbelief with every NOVEL they enjoy. How does that work?

If we get right to the nub, the secret to a good novel is this willingness to suspend disbelief, isn't it? Here's evidence of that. Would you enjoy a novel that contained an exciting plot, magnificent characters, compelling conflict and effective dialogue, if it's base premise said, without equivocation, all humans are vile, worthless creatures? Probably not.

Why not?

Because no author will ever convince you all people, including you, are contemptible and have no value whatever. It's simply beyond belief.

Herein lies one secret to have your readers suspend disbelief. It's important writers understand there exists an unspoken agreement between him and his reader. This agreement says the reader will suspend disbelief, to a point, and the writer won't go past that point.

What "that point" is, differs by genre. For example, if you write a modern day romance, readers won't believe the lovers met on an interstellar cruise ship. In contrast, if you write sci-fi, it's a distinct possibility the character's could meet on a cruise to the moons of Jupiter.

This leads us to the first skill a writer must master if his reader is to suspend disbelief. Your novel must stay true to its genre. That is, if something must be true in your genre, you maintain its truth throughout your novel. The secret to the truth of your genre is research.

The classic example in historical fiction is the roman centurion who checks his watch. Watches didn't exist in that day, so it's use is untrue to the genre. Another example is the detective story where the chain of evidence doesn't exist.

The next principle to which an author must adhere goes by the technical name, "Step Away from the Stupidity." That is, if it simply can't be, don't try to push it on your readers. A good example of stupidity is trying to convince your readers no humans having intrinsic value. Readers won't buy it. If they can't make a logical leap to where you want to take them, they won't jump.

Consistency is yet another key to have your reader suspend disbelief. Consistency of character, plot, magic, rational and all the rest must transpire though the novel for the reader to accept your lies as fact, at least for a time.

Last night I watched a rerun of Friends where Rachel came on to Joey and Joey backed off. Where else in that ten-year series did Joey back down from a close encounter? And that's the point. All of a sudden, Joey's character changed without explanation, and a bit of the consistency suffered.

The real secret to the willing suspense of disbelief is found in the phrase, "Details do it." People believe what they can see, so paint that evocative verbal picture. Be sure to infuse enough real details to enhance the believability of your false ones. If you have an odd character, make him three-dimensional by infusing him with attitudes, emotions and other characteristics real people might have. The same applies to setting and any other aspect of your novel that bends the bonds or reality.

Now for one last thought to ensure your readers suspend disbelief. If you can't write a story in the first place, people won't belief anything you have to say, period. Your best weapon to convince your readers to suspend disbelief, is to learn how to write.

Now, what did you read that made you stop suspending your disbelief?

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

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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Find the Story Within

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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In my recent post, HOW TO OUTLINE A NOVEL, a couple of people mentioned they have trouble moving forward with their manuscript. This post is offered in an effort to help them move their story forward.

There are a number of reasons why the words don't come to us. One reason is the phenomena called Writer's Block, which always goes away. However, I think the one that's more common, but less acknowledged, is writers don't know how to build upon an idea they already have. They don't know where to start.
The good news? The story is there. You only have to find it.

If, by chance, you don't have an idea with which to build your story, here's a good article on HOW TO DEVELOP A STORY IDEA.

If you do have an idea, one method to bring out your story is to make yourself familiar with The Hero's Journey. Basically, The Hero's Journey gives you a twelve-step process for storytelling. It helps you develop your plot, or what happens to your characters. The Hero's Journey fits any genre and will result a compelling storyline if you follow it.

The Hero's Journey creates a framework with which to build your story. In effect, it is your outline. You just fill in the blanks. Here's some additional information on THE HERO'S JOURNEY.

Another method to bring out the story from within an idea is to write your story backwards.

Here's the trick. Try not to think of A to B to C. Think C to B to A, with C being your ending.

To do this, begin with your final scene and then write the scene that immediately precedes your ending. Then write the scene before that again and again until you've got your story. A question to ask yourself is "What had to happen to get me to point C or B or A?"

Think of that in this way, if your story idea tells you the hero gets the girl in the end, think backward to what made her want him in the first place. Then, think back before what convinced her to want him, to what he did to make her think that way. Before he did that, what did he do to make himself known to her. Each of these events is now a scene, or possibly a chapter, in your novel.

Of course, you don't have to write out the scenes as you develop them. Brief descriptions of what is going to happen is all that's necessary at this point.

Once you've got your story written backwards, the next thing you do is add conflict to your scenes. Conflict is the character's emotional reactions to the action they experience. (It's not the explosion, it's the character's emotional reaction to the explosion.) Read more about CONFLICT in this article.

Let's consider the "Boy Gets Girl" story I used as an example above to illustrate this idea.

When you figure out how he made himself known to her, insert some action and conflict to spice up that scene. For example, maybe they were passengers in the same bus when it crashed. The crash is the action. He became known to her when he pulled her from the flaming wreckage. Toss in some emotional reaction to his saving of her and you're on your way.

Regardless how you attack this problem, until you have your story, ignore everything else. Don't worry about dialogue, setting or whatever. Don't even flesh out your characters. Focus only on the story. Once you have that, the rest should fall in place.

What suggestions do you have to create a story from an idea?

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, August 3, 2010

Why is Passive Voice Considered Taboo?

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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The answer to the title of this article is, it's not. Surprised? Passive voice is not evil, nor is it an error in WRITING. In fact, it's a legitimate and normal way to write. For example, did you know it's widely used in scientific writing?

Then why do "they" say we need to eliminate passive voice from our novel writing? It's because it's more difficult to read as it shifts verb and subject position within a sentence. It, therefore, reduces the clarity of your writing. That is, it's more difficult to tell who's doing what. Other reasons include people tend to remember active voice better and some have trouble with even understanding the sentence formation.

So, if we accept we should eliminate passive voice from our novel writing, let's first define passive voice so we can locate and eradicate it. Passive voice is a form of the verb, "to be" conjoined with a past participle. That's not much help, is it?

To break down that definition, let's review the forms of the verb, "to be." They are: are, was, am, been, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being. Simple enough.

The past participle, well, that's more difficult. One definition I found said it's a form of a verb that can function as an adjective, and is used with an auxiliary verb to indicate tense, aspect, or voice. Again, that's not much help.

Think of it like this. In a passive sentence, the subject receives the action. The secret here is to look for verbs that end in "-ed." If these verbs are preceded by a form of the verb, "to be," you often have passive voice. Exceptions exist to this "-ed" concept, but if you understand the "-ed" aspect to this, those exceptions will become easy to spot. Here are some examples of passive voice:

The shoes had been polished by John.
The problem was explained by Mary.

How do you fix passive voice?

To fix passive voice, just reword the sentence by eradicating the offensive words. Here are a couple examples.

Passive: The shoes had been polished by John

Active: John polished the shoes.

Passive: The problem was explained by Mary.

Active: Mary explained the problem.

In these simple examples, you see not only how to reword, but how changing the passive voice to active makes your writing more concise and easier to understand.

Is there ever a time when you do use Passive voice in fiction?

Sure. You use passive voice when you want to highlight the subject, if it's central to the story. Your example follows.

The murder weapon was stolen by John.

First, in this case, we have an exception to the "-ed" rule as this verb ends in "-en." No problem, the concept is the same.

However, in this example, I ask you to assume the theft by John is central to the story. Now, the passive voice, if used this once, would stand out to a reader and give the sentence more impact. Yes, it's a subtle technique, but under the pen of an accomplished writer, it works well to add emphasis.

You can also use the passive voice when you don't want people to know who did what. For example, in a detective story someone might say:

It's gone! The knife was stolen!

Remember passive voice is not the great evil it's portrayed. It's simply not the ideal use of the written word in most fiction, though it does have its place.

Are there times when you've employed passive voice on purpose? Why?

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

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

How to Outline a Novel

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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In the past, I've always sat down with a vague idea of how I wanted my novel to end and then simply wrote toward that end. As I've grown in ability and knowledge, I've started to first outline my novel then fill in the blanks. I've come to think of writing a novel as a road trip and an outline as the map. (You do remember those two-dimensional GPS's, don't you?)

So, how do you go about outlining a novel?

The first secret to know is a novel's outline requires some thought, yet little work.

You need only outline two major components of your novel to develop a workable outline. They are your main characters and the plot. Things like dialogue, POV, setting and all the rest can be ignored for the time being. At the outline level, you don't even need to know what your characters look like. You need only their personalities.

What an outline needs most of all, however, is the time and effort to noodle though what happens to your characters. What's the story? In this light, many find, as do I, the end of your novel is the first thing to determine.

As to your plot, develop four or five major things that will happen to your protagonist and write them out in simple language. Think along these lines:

1. Boy meets the Girl of his dreams.
2. Girl dumps Boy.
3. Boy and Girl decide to get back together.
4. Boy finds out Girl's not worth the work.
5. Boy comes to realize he can find true happiness with a dog.

After you've got your basic plot developed, figure out what has to happen to take your hero from plot point one, Boy meets Girl, to plot point two, and so on. Write these new occurrences into your outline. It'll look something like this.

1. Boy meets the Girl of his dream.
2. They form a loving relationship.
3. Boy becomes jealous of Girl's platonic male friends.
4. Girl dumps Boy.
5. Out of loneliness, Boy has sex with girl from the copy shop.
6. Boy and Girl decide to get back together.
7. Girl finds out about girl at copy shop and dumps Boy again.
8. Boy decides he can find true happiness with a dog.

That's really all there is to outlining your story. Though your outline will most likely be more complete than this example, it may also be just this simplistic. All it needs is enough structure to keep your first draft focused on the story.

As to your characters and the novel outline, your goal is to flesh them out on an emotional level, nothing more.

If you noticed in the expanded outline above, I inserted the character emotions, jealously and loneliness. That's a key to getting your novel outlined, for it established motivations, personalities, and so much more.

This means by the time you're finished with the outline of your plot, you should already know the type of characters you need. In fact, they'll probably jump out at you. From two words, loneliness and jealousy, we already have an "outline" of our hero's flaw, don't we? His flaw stems from personal insecurities.

Now for some general tips as to how to outline a novel.

Remain flexible. Your outline is not cast in stone. As you move along in your story, if things take a dramatic shift, so be it. You wrote your outline, you can rewrite with as much ease.

You can make your outline exquisite or simplistic. Get as detailed with it as you wish. Let your personality be your guide. In my case, it's basic and I allow the characters and my imagination to fill in the blanks as I write along.

Though I only outline characters and plot, you may wish to also outline your setting and any or every other aspect of your novel. One writer I know gets so detailed with her outline, each scene is structured before she begins her first draft. Whatever works for you, works for you.

If you'd like to see someone else's idea of a plot outline, check out this ARTICLE.

Do you outline or not? Why or why not?

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

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Create Characters for Your Character-Driven Novel

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all know a well constructed plot is the critical aspect of a novel, but the strength of those characters we infuse into our plot can turn a plot-driven novel into something much more powerful; a character-driven novel.

Today I'd like to offer some tips on how to create those people who populate your character-driven novel.

The first secret to strong characters for your character-driven novel is to become familiar with yourself. Yes, you are the secret to your character-driven novel. I know this sounds ludicrous, but most of us do not truly know who we are. We all tend to not face our fears, ignore our weaknesses, think our idiosyncrasies are somehow cute and so on. However, if you wish to write the character driven-novel, learn and accept yourself, blemishes and all.

The first step to create a character-driven novel is to create characters who are important to you. Make them someone about whom you care. You'll write a better character if they make you laugh, cry and all the rest.

Further, try not to place too many constraints upon your characters. In effect, don't outline them in full or force them into too tight a plot. Allow them to toss a surprise or two, or even three, your way as you write your novel. By this I mean, give them permission to take emotional and creative risks. To paraphrase something I read a long time ago, write as if your parents will never read your work. Wow! All of a sudden doors open wide with that thought, don't they?

Next, like all characters, be sure you create these from the inside out and not the outside in. That is, let their emotions rise to the surface. It's fine if they have curly hair and porcelain skin, but it's finer still if they have a dark spot deep in their heart or an unbounded joie de vivre.

The secret to characters who can drive your novel? As alluded to in the first tip above, look to yourself.

Then make a list.

On this list, you'll want to write down five or six of your higher qualities and five or six of those qualities within you of a more base nature. After that, find five or six things you love and an equal number of things you hate. Do the same with your personal goals, your dreams and fears. Finally, include in your list those things in life that have held you back and those that have propelled you forward.

Now, take what you wrote down and distribute those qualities among your characters. Give each character a fear and each a love from your list. Give others your goals or dreams and still others your hates and inner demons. It's best you distribute these various qualities among your characters, though you're free to allocate them as you see fit. Regardless, once you've infused your personal characteristics into your novel's characters, you'll have characters real enough to drive your novel toward the best-seller list.

Now, who among you have additional tips on how to create characters strong enough to drive a novel?

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

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 Tips to Convince Your Reader of Anything

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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The craft of storytelling is all about convincing readers to believe what you made up. In the days of our youth we called this "pretending." As adults we call it fiction and pay good money for it. Regardless, Mr. Lincoln Child in his book Deep Storm almost had me ready to believe they'd found Atlantis. How did he do that?

Convincible writing is a learnable skill and there are a number of techniques to induce your reader to suspend belief just enough to buy into your "pretending."

Here's how you do it.

Give Reasons: By nature, people believe things more readily if they have a reason to believe it. More often than not, even a nonsensical reason will work. This gives the word, “because,” a great deal of power. My wife likes the television series, “Bones.” In this show, the characters always say something like, “She died because…”

Repeat things: You’ve heard the adage if you say something often enough people will believe it? Well, it works with your writing, too. They secret here is to make the point in a variety of ways. Reword the information for it to have more effect.

Prognostication: If you allow your readers to foresee the future, when an event happens, they’ll have more confidence in its authenticity.

Overcome objections: You’ll build a character’s convincibility if they have the opportunity to respond to their naysayers and critics. This rejoinder may take the form of statistics, written articles or any number of other "facts" whether true or not. Regardless, if he can't answer his critics, his credibility falters at once.

Consistency: If your character wants others to believe as he says, he needs to stick to his guns. Remember that scene in "Friends" where Phoebe gets Ross to question the theory of evolution? In almost no time, Ross admitted there was a slight chance the theory, which he believed with every fiber of his being, might be incorrect. Didn't your impression of Ross drop at that moment? So, too, with your characters. A character who is contradictory in their actions and answers will lose credibility in a hurry.

Make Comparisons: Nothing opens one’s mind like a relationship to a known and accepted fact. Must your character prove his honor? Have him indicate other times he at least seemed to act in an honorable fashion and your reader will believe it’s true.

Become Part of a Group: All humans, and thus characters, want to be part of something larger. Have your characters join whatever faction might be necessary to enhance their ability to persuade other characters.

Social Proof: Have your characters turn to others for guidance. There is nothing more effective then to mimic others to have your way with them. After all, how can they disagree if they do the same?

Tell a Story: Paint the proverbial verbal picture and let other characters envision what you want them to see. If your character's story is false, have him gloss over the true facts and distort or ignore those aspects that detract from his point.

Develop Empathy: If you allow one character to prove they have also undergone the same situation, other characters will be more willing to listen to their advice.

Now we all know your readers will suspend belief to a point just because it's fiction, but to truly have them become engrossed in your fiction, convince them you know of which you speak.

By the way, did it cross your mind these techniques aren't just limited to writing fiction? It's true in life, too. Ask any politician.

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

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Secret to Character Development

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

If you've kept up with this blog, you'll know not too long ago I received my manuscript back from my editor, Ms. Erin Niumata of The New York Book Editor. Since she had a number of suggestions, I decided the best way to incorporate her recommendations into the novel was to work on one major component at a time. First I worked on plot and now I've moved toward the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT issues my manuscript faces.

A main issue Erin had with my character development encompassed the sometimes limited subtly with which I developed my character. After rereading her notes and my manuscript, (for the ten-thousandth time), I believe I've come to understand the skill that's required in this regard.

The secret to character development is not found within descriptions or even direct dialogue. It lies in your character's actions and reactions.

Here's what I mean.

In one scene of the manuscript, my hero takes some friends on a lark and they run across a classic THRESHOLD GUARDIAN. When the travelers see the building in which the gatekeeper is located, their spirits lag. Despite their initial reaction, my protagonist, Jak, revives the men's sagging mood.

Here's what Erin said about the scene.

"A nice piece of character development is Jak's rousing the cadets on the way to Bones' tavern; even when they are disappointed at the sight of the tavern, he rallies their spirits. This is the subtly needed throughout - this is how we see that Jak will be a leader."

Another scene has Jak leading troops into a Civil War era battle. Here is Erin's comment as to character development with this scene.

"Nice scene where Jak is leading his men to battle and he charges then doesn't have the courage to turn and see if they're following. Good characterization."

A third instance in which Erin pointed out effective character development comes to light in a scene where I introduced a subplot, the hero's efforts to keep record of his days at war. Erin made the following comment relative to this scene and another character's reaction to this subplot.

"The war diary is an interesting idea. It's good character development and adds depth to Jak's character. Clay's reaction adds character development to Clay as well."

One final indication of how to bring characterization to light. In this scene Jak leads men into battle for the first time. Here are Erin's thoughts.

"Good - that's perfect: he turned his head and was startled by how many of his men had fallen. This should be the beginning of his realization."

Herein you see effective character development. It boils down to the classic, "Show. Don't tell." Don't have characters, or even the author, indicate who your character is. Don't have your characters talk about it and don't spend your time narrating it. Allow the character's actions to indicate his strengths, weaknesses and personality.

By the way, as a side note, I hope you noticed a good editor not only offers recommendations as to how to enhance your manuscript. She also tells you how to fix it. Just a clue for what to look for in a good editor.

What questions to you have as to character development?

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

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

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Want to Become a Better Writer?

by C. Patrick Schulze

Do you want to become a better writer? Go to the Movies.

I watched a mystery movie the other evening titled Perfect Stranger. It starred Halle Berry whom I consider the fourth most beautiful woman in the world, behind my wife and two daughters. Though the thought had struck me many times before, the movie reiterated how much a well-written and directed movie can teach us as writers.

As I watched, I studied the plot, characterization, setting, dialogue, conflict, pace and even how their "chapters" were structured.

If you look at the plot in Perfect Stranger, or any well done movie for that matter, it flowed naturally, nothing exists that wasn't needed and it builds tension from the start. In the case of Perfect Stranger, it even had a plot twist upon plot twist upon plot twist. (Even my charming wife, who can figure out any mystery by chapter six, never saw this ending coming.) However, the script writers did a wonderful job of making these twists believable and appropriate for the story. I did have a couple minor problems with the plot, but nothing that detracted from the overall storyline.

As to characterization, each possessed a personal motivation for the things he did and had a backstory the writers presented in a nonintrusive manner. They come across as authentic and likeable. Further, I even grew to identify with the heroine and her sidekick, Giovanni Ribisi, whom I think is the best male actor in the flicker-shows these days.

One thing I especially liked about the hero and her sidekick was their dark side. I'd recently written an article about this subject so I'm on the lookout for it.

I did find two characters for whom I didn't care, but again, they didn't detract from the story to any great degree.

Setting in this movie also played well. Each character lived in their own worlds that came across as genuine and believable. The movie writers did a nice job of transitioning from one setting to another. Again, I had a couple minor beefs, but nothing of any consequence.

The dialogue in the movie is focused, concise and effective. It held all the elements the dialogue in our novels should have. It provided us glimpses into the characters motivations, their backgrounds and enhanced the conflict. It moved the story forward, foreshadowed and the rest.

I examined the conflict and found no flaws. Now, there wasn't a great deal of action, but a lot of conflict. Every moment something built to the next thing and the characters emotional reactions were valid.

As to pace, things never quieted down, though you had plenty of breathing room. At all times the plot moved forward at a speed that enticed and encouraged interest.

The "chapters" of the movie even had a classic methodology of organization. That is, they started with a just a hint of setting then, bang! The shifted right into the action. They each had a beginning, middle and end, just as they're supposed to have.

My point with all this, is if you want to become a better writer, study the way movies are produced. Mimic their skills and you'll be well on your way to success.

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

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

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The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Our friend Joseph Campbell of THE HERO'S JOURNEY fame, offered us a number of CHARACTER types to populate our novels. One of my favorite is the Gatekeeper or Threshold Guardian.

As with all character archetypes, this guy has a specific function to play in your novel. He's the character who most often guards the passage from the hero's Ordinary World and his new world of adventure. The Guardian's main mission is to test or teach your hero and to ensure the protagonist proves himself worthy of his goal. This means, he is there to show the hero his weaknesses, help him overcome them, and to make sure things aren't too easy for your hero.

This role need not serve only to show your hero's strength, however. It can also exemplify his kindness, sincerity, cunning, intelligence or any number of other qualities. He can even point the way toward the next step of your hero's quest. The secret is for the hero to learn the Guardians’ tricks, make them his own, and continue on his quest.

As mentioned, your hero most often encounters the guardian early in the story, usually right after he starts his quest. However, this character can come into play even after your protagonist has defeated The Evil One. In fact, Threshold Guardians can pop up almost anywhere in your novel, and offer new ways to maintain or increase the conflict.

In a very real fashion, the character archetype is a boon to the hero. It is this character who teaches your hero how to fight or find whatever skill or knowledge is necessary to move further toward his goal. This guardian offers the protagonist the opportunity to grow and evolve.

His personality need not be limited to that of an evil doer or villain's henchman, though those do work well. In fact, the Threshold Guardian need not even be a character at all. He can take any form you wish; animal, vegetable, mineral, concept or even a well-meaning teacher who guides his student to shop class rather than the sciences. Regardless his form, be sure this character tests and/or educates your hero.

Often the Threshold Guardian has a relationship to the villain if they strive to keep your hero from his goal. He may also serve as a bodyguard, if you will, to the antagonist or maybe as someone to warm the villain of the hero's approach. Regardless, if your Threshold Guardian has an evil tendency, he is always subordinate to the real antagonist.

How is your hero supposed to deal with the impediments posed by the Threshold Guardian? The answer lies in the guardian’s unique nature or personality. Your protagonist must find a way to get under the beast’s skin, so to speak. In some instances, they do so literally, as when Sam and Frodo dress like the Eye’s warriors to enter the badlands. Regardless, the Threshold Guardian must be faced. To overcome this character type, your hero may fight, bribe, educate, turn, appease, convince or even kill this guy. It all depends upon the character's personality.

Regardless the way you portray the Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper, this character should be fleshed-out with at least a suggestion of motivation and personal goals just like any other character in your novel.

Now, do you have any questions about this character archetype?

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

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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secrets to Fix Your Novel's Plot

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Secrets to Fix Your Novel's Plot

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Of all the necessary components to a well-received NOVEL, plot is among the top three. Should your PLOT sag at any point, you'll find the entire novel lacks the intensity needed to make it onto the best-seller lists.

There are three major areas that tend to drag down your plot. They are:

1. The Beginning is Too Slow.
2. The Middle drags.
3. The Ending is Predictable.

Let's look at solutions to each of these common problems.

The Beginning is Slow.

If your plot, those events that happen to your major characters, stutters from the outset of your novel, it's probably because you've set too low a standard for your characters. There's nothing to hook your readers.

To fix this, think of how you can make things worse for the major character. What will cause him the most angst? Try a bit of mind-mapping or, as they called it in my day, brainstorming. Just allow those nefarious ideas to ramble around into your mind and see if anything jumps to the fore. The more ideas you conjure, the better the odds the best idea will appear.

Keep this first section simple. Incorporate lots of conflict but not too many people. One character is good, two are ample.

Make this situation self-explanatory. If you spend a lot of your word count to bring people up to speed as to what's happening, it'll make your opening drag. That is, consider a great deal of action and dialogue. Descriptions aren't necessary and don't add much here.

Another method by which to pump up the start of your novel is to begin with or create a new motivation for your hero. What causes him to do the things he does? That might get your reader's blow to flow.

The Middle Drags.

Should your novel suffer the dreaded sagging middle, the general secret is to interject additional conflict, more confrontation. Just be sure you add conflict and not just action. (Conflict is your character's emotional response to action.)

You might also add a plot twist. Take the story in a new and unexpected direction.

You can also introduce a major, yet unexpected, character. Just make sure he's logical and necessary to the story.

Another technique to prop up your sagging middle is to introduce additional motivation. For example, if at the start of your novel your hero hates woman, in your sagging middle your reader may find he actually hates women with tattoos. They also need to find out why he hates this "brand" of woman.

The Ending is Predictable.

The third typical problem is when everyone sees the trees long before they come upon the forest.

You can fix this issue in a number of ways. First, like the method with which we fixed the sagging middle, add a new twist. Brainstorm a number of potential endings then pick the one that feels best to you. Be sure to insert this twist far enough back in your novel so it works into your plot with ease. If you just plug it in at the end, it'll look contrived.

You might also survey your ending to see if you've spent too much time explaining loose ends and the like. This often leads to too much narrative and not enough excitement.

You may wish to ensure there are no coincidences at this part of your novel. Your ending must follow that trail of crumbs you left in the preceding parts of your novel.

With a little planning, most plot errors can be corrected. Spend some time with an outline and see what happens.

Did any of you have plot issues with your novel? How did you fix them?

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

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Process of Working with an Editor

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Last week Ms. Erin Niumata of The New York Book Editor returned my edited manuscript. Over the days that followed, a number of people asked questions of the process and my thoughts as to the experience. With that in mind, I thought I'd pen an article on the subject in hopes it will enlighten those of us who still strive to get our novels published.

First, let me say Erin performed a marvelous and skilled edit of my manuscript. Her work is professional, her prices are competitive and she completed her work ahead of schedule. I'd requested a full editorial critique, which covers all aspects of the novel. Best, or worst, of all, Erin pegged the good, the bad and the ugly of my manuscript with unfailing accuracy. With her permission and my full confidence, I recommend you consider her the next time you need the services of an accomplished editor.

Now, with her well-earned commercial out of the way, let's take a look at the process, shall we?

Though I've worked with an editor in the past, I felt a second set of eyes might prove advantageous, so I started to search out other editors. I sought recommendations from friends, acquaintances and my social network. I also did some research over the Internet. Within a week or so, a number of qualified candidates rose to the top.

I then asked for sample edits of my first chapter from the few in whom I had the most interest. After I evaluated there sample edits, Erin's seemed to have the finest grasp of me and my story.

I did my best to keep from bothering her and about a month after I emailed my manuscript, she returned her recommendations in a twelve page summation.

She began with a general overview of my manuscript where she offered her thoughts as to the overall strengths and weaknesses in plot, characterization and dialogue.

She then delved into a thorough evaluation of my plot. She pointed out where it ran off course, what sections failed to enhance the plot and what aspects of it she thought worked well.

Next, she discussed the subplots. Again, she covered the strengths and weakness of each one.

Her next paragraphs focused on characterization with, in my case, the most attention paid to my antagonist, which needs more consideration.

The last nine pages included a line-by-line critique. Many of these notes covered such things as spelling or word choice and individual things she appreciated. She pointed out anything she needed to reread and even where I'd used a word twice in too short a span. She also inserted the occasional note to enhance things she'd discussed in the earlier parts of her evaluation.

She forwarded them with an invitation to call and discuss any questions I might have.

After I perused her notes, I came away with full knowledge of what I needed to do to enhance my chances of writing that well-received novel. You'll never convince me that alone isn't worth the price of admission.

Now, I can't say I'm happy with what I read in her summary. However, it's not because of what she said. It's because she needed to say it. All in all, this entire exercise proved worth every minute and penny spent.

So, my takeaway is this. I’m on the right path. It's just a much longer road than I'd envisioned. I'm also convinced Erin gave me the tools to place myself among her stable of best-selling authors. I've also come to realize I've still got some learning to do, I've still got some writing to do and I've still got a ton of editing to do. *Sigh*

The entire process isn't as oppressive as an aspiring author might think. However, it does take a thick skin and a burning desire to succeed.

My advice to you? Whenever you think you're ready to go out and enthrall the world with your brilliance, hire an editor. Then check your ego at the door and join me back here on ol' terra firma.

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Three Dimensional Character in Novels

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Much is said about the mythical three dimensional character, yet there's a dearth of information about the concept. Sure, there's an overload of particulars on the subject, but it all seems a bit incomplete. Especially since I've received my manuscript back from the editor and she told me to add dimension to my hero.

So, I set out to find what it is that makes for a three dimensional character.

The wide breath of information on the subject follows this basic outline. One, your character must be believable. Two, your character must have flaws and, three, be relatable to your reader. Three dimensions, right? Though that's correct as far as it goes, I'd come to believe, something's missing from that formula.

Well, I think I've figured out what's missing. It's the levels, the depth, of their personality.

I've come to see it like this. The first dimension is that part of your character the world sees. It is their habits, their mannerisms, their dress, hairstyle and the like. It is those sensory clues he give the world.

The second dimension of your character is his backstory, his dark side, his past. What is it that compels your character to do the things he does? This backstory is what offers understanding of your character's persona, those parts of his life he hides from others.

Why does he hate woman, enjoy over-eating or fret over insignificant details? It's a character's backstory that gives him this part of his personality. It is this second dimension of "why" that draws empathy from your reader. And as we all know, empathy is what draws your reader into and empowers your novel.

The character's third dimension is comprised of his actions, behaviors and outlook on life. It's the reasons he makes the decisions he does. If truth be told, your character's moral fiber is defined by the actions he takes and his actions are defined by his outlook toward the world.

This outlook is the primary difference between your hero and villain. The hero suppresses his desire due to his outlook on life, what he considers right and wrong. In contrast, the villain fails to suppress those same urges as his concept of good and evil differs from the hero's.

It also seems to me these various levels of the three dimensional character need be unique and able to stand on their own. However, they should still coincide or mesh with each other. 
For an example as to how these three dimensions conjoin, imagine a character who exhibits an outward show of honesty. This is his first dimension, his noticeable appearance. He feels this way because his father used to take a belt to his backside when he lied as a child. This is his "why" or the second dimension to his personality. However, he lies to his wife when he has an affair. This is his third dimension, his actions.

The best authors are able to stir these three dimensions together to create a concoction that brews that elusive three dimensional character. In fact, the more I read, the more I'm convinced it is the art of characterization that lies at the heart of storytelling.

In my opinion, it you place more emphasis on your character's true three dimensions, your writing and your novel will rise to a new level.

Now, who among you have ever heard someone say your characters are not three dimensional and what did you do about it?

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Dark Side to Your Novel's Hero

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The Dark Side of Your Novel's Hero

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all know our HERO require a weakness. But did you also know he needs a dark side, a shadow if you will, and this part of him needs to come out? I didn't until I read my EDITOR's suggestions for my current manuscript. In one of her four hundred thirty-two suggestions, she recommended I needed to play up my hero's dark side a bit more.

The fact she mentioned this proved I didn't know enough about the concept, so I did some reading on the subject. I now feel I have a better handled on the idea and thought I'd pass along what I've come to know. After all, it is all about the sharing, isn't it?

To start, if your hero must have a dark side, what good is it if it doesn't come out of hiding? That was the editor's point. As I reevaluated my manuscript and the character in question, I realized my hero had a shadow, I'd simply not used it to effect.

So, what is this shadow and what might cause the good guy to turn to his dark side?

His dark side is the villain. Surprised? So was I until I thought it through.

The villain personifies those qualities opposite of your hero, right? He therefore possesses those characteristics your hero despises or those that may even frighten him. And why does the protagonist hate those qualities? It's because these aspects of his personality are his own shadow, a deeply subdued part of himself.

Whoa… Flashback to Psych 101.

In any case, how might the hero's dark side come to the fore? Most often it is the villain who draws it from him. It is he who pushes the hero's buttons and forces the good guy over the edge. In effect, he provokes your hero to his breaking point.

Consider "The Lord of the Rings." The master ring pulls from its owner their worst, does it not? How about "The Wizard of OZ?" Dorothy kills the witch who, in turn, wants to kill Dorothy for killing the witches' sister, all of which is contrary to Dorothy's basic personality. This all makes sense when we realize a villain must force the hero into some sort of obsession if the good guy is to complete his quest.

Think of it like this. Take your hero's finest characteristic and use it against him. Does he think himself a brave soldier? Them maybe he should run away when he first faces combat like in "The Red Badge of Courage." Does he believe marriage is sacred? Then have the villain force him into a divorce. Is he a happy-go-lucky guy? Then turn this characteristic into irresponsibility. The secret to this, is to ensure the motivation for this transformation is valid. Did Dorothy have a reason to kill the Wicked Witch? Yup.

What keeps the hero from becoming a bad guy himself? It's choice. He chooses not be become like his nemesis, thus again subduing his own dark appetites.

The good part of this whole shadow concept? It allows for character growth. It fills in his personality and gives you a more three-dimensional character. It overcomes the imbalance that kept your hero from his goal.

You can develop this dichotomy in your hero by way of a three-pronged technique. You first develop his high qualities. Then find the opposite of these. Finally, you assign a physical behavior to this contradictory characteristic.

For example, if your hero loves children, the opposite is to hate children. The activity that might brings this out is he causes a child's death.

So, a major aspect of a fully developed hero, is to give him a dark side, a shadow, then bring it out of him by way of a button-pushing villain who posses those same traits.

I don't know about you, but I found this interesting. Regardless, I've got work to do on "Born to be Brothers."

Have you brought out the dark side to your hero? How did you do it?

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Writing a Novel, Details Do It.

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When Writing a Novel, Details Do It.

by C. Patrick Schulze

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My father-in-law attained the rank of Major General in the Air Force. This guy had not attended college, let alone graduated from The Air Force Academy. Both of which are required for one star, let alone his two. Yet, despite his lack of education, this guy somehow rose to the third highest rank in the military. Not an inconsequential accomplishment.

One day I asked him the secret of his success and he offered two lessons I've not forgotten to this day. His first rule? "No harm no foul." In effect, take care of your people. His second rule? "Details do it." He said with everything he passed to his superiors, he ensured the correctness of even the tiniest of details. Of course, each boss promoted him as they knew his work was of the highest caliber.

So it is when we write. Details do, indeed, do it.

Imagine a scene where a character does something as simple as exit a car. Does the guy step out of the vehicle? Does he jump out, slide out or even fall out of the vehicle? It makes a difference, don't you think? If one gets out, he may have decided to pick up some milk on the way home from work. If they jump out, a level of tension is indicated, is it not? And if he falls out, all sorts of doors are opened here. Did he slip? Is he drunk or even dead?

The secret is in the specific words you choose for your nouns, verbs and adverbs.

I pay attention to the specificity of my nouns and verbs when I edit. During my first draft, I just write what comes to mind. Later, I review my nouns, verbs and adverbs to ensure they are particular to my scene.

Here's a example from my emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers." In this scene, I wanted to show man and beast at odds with each other. Here's the sentence as it read in my rough draft.

"The man walked behind a mule and snapped the reins to encourage his animal."
After editing, it read as follows:
"The man plodded behind an old mule and snapped the reins again and again to encourage the sluggish beast."
You can see in this sentence how the added details enhanced the image. First, "walked" became "plodded." Plod insinuates the man is tired and worn whereas "walk" does not necessarily do so. I also added the words, "again and again" to indicate the mule did not accommodate his driver. Finally, I changed, "animal" to "sluggish beast." Again, a much more effective picture, don't you think?

Yes, my friends, the details within your writing do indeed do it. If you pay close attention to your details, you'll find a much more effective story will emerge for you.
Now, does anyone care to share how they changed a simple detail and it made a marked difference to their novel?

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

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the now-at-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"