Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Create Characters for Your Character-Driven Novel

Tweet It!
Bookmark and Share
by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

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

Tweet It!
Bookmark and Share
by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

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

Tweet It!
Bookmark and Share
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

Tweet It!
Bookmark and Share
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"