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"