This Business of Writing

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Writing Forward

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Bookmark and Share


When you write, do your characters tell you who they are and where they wish to go or do you map out every aspect of their personalities and each step they are to take? When I write, I start with a general idea of a storyline and a concept of who my characters are. Beyond that, my characters tend to write not only themselves by my novels.

I attended a James River Writers panel session not too long ago where the speakers touched upon this very idea. This concept even has a name. It’s called, Writing Forward. While on this panel, all three speakers agreed great characters and great novels often develop this way. Basically, it means to give your  characters and novels permission to write themselves. In other words, you allow the story and its inhabitants to become a part of your writing process.

At this meeting, one panelist gave an example of a sugar bowl with a note in it. She had no idea of where or how the crockery would come into play within her novel, she simply felt it belonged in the story. As she taps the power of Writing Forward when she writes, she didn’t plan as to when the piece would show up in her narrative, she just waited until it found its way in of its own accord.

I have a similar example in my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” In my case, it wasn’t a dinner dish but rather a pocket watch that held sway over me. The story is set in mid-nineteenth century America when every stylish man carried a pocket watch on a chain in his vest.  As a guy, I understand how men feel their watches are representative of their personalities and felt I this concept had a role to play in my novel. So, as my story jumped out of my keyboard and onto the screen, I kept the watch in the back of my mind. When it needed to show up, it did. And when it did, it’s meaning took on even a larger role than I’d envisioned. In fact, it’s power is unleashed in the very last line of the novel.

Though my pocket watch is an example of Writing Forward, I use the technique on a much larger scale than a simple clock. When I sat down to write my novel, I’ll began with my primary characters fleshed out to a degree and a general idea of how the story was going to end. By the time I stopped writing, the characters had grown dramatically in depth and personality and my novel had morphed into something much better than I’d imagined at the start. As I write, I “feel” where I have to go and then allow my Muse to determine how I’m to get there.

What is it that draws you to writing anyway? It’s probably your Muse and she’s a powerful partner in your writer’s journey. In fact, I believe it is she who infuses us with the concept of Writing Forward. I think you should welcome her, that intuition within you, and allow her to run roughshod over your novel and those people with which you populate it. Allow your creativity to impose itself upon you, your characters and your story.

By the way, the panel consisted of three quite successful authors you may wish to read. They were Ms. Carolyn Parkhurst,  author of The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Ms. Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day, and Ms. Susann Cokal, author of Mirabilis and Breath and Bones.

I hope you find it within yourself to take advantage of that intuitive skill known as Writing Forward. I’ll bet your writing will be all the better for it.

Regardless of how you write, you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

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


The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Bookmark and Share


Backstory is narrative that hints at or describes a character’s past. Often it presents itself in long-winded passages known as an info dump. It’s improper use conflicts with a number of the “rules” writers are supposed to follow including, providing too much information, too much information too soon, it shows rather than tells and worst of all, does not hold your reader’s interest.

Possibly the most common mistake writers make relative to backstory is to include too much too soon in their novels.

Another issue with backstory is writers think their readers need this information. Yet, more often than not, they require much less than you give them. The truth about backstory? Most of it is forgotten or ignored.

Everyone in the industry knows good writing is alive, it’s exciting and vibrant. Therefore, the most interesting writing is usually in the now, it’s immediate in its presentation. Backstory is not in the now by its very nature. That fact alone tells us to limit the backstory in our novels.

The secret to backstory is to introduce it in miniscule amounts and only as necessary. Let it loose when your reader needs to know about it and then drip it into your novel rather than pour it. Offering your reader pieces of information is much more effective than info dumps.

Think of backstory as morsels of your character’s prior life rather than meals of data about them. Offer your reader a taste of what they need to know and allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

Now for some tips as to how to infiltrate backstory into your novel.

Introduce backstory only after you’ve secured your reader’s interest in the story and in the character. Write about the action first.

Incorporate backstory when the specific character is the focus on your narrative. This, I think, is self-explanatory.

Convey backstory as soon as it’s needed, but only when its needed. That is, incorporate it just before the reader needs to know it. For example, if your character is a murderer, your reader might not need to know what draws him to this explosive mode of expression until after he kills his first victim, and maybe even later.

You may wish to use flashbacks to introduce large amounts of backstory. As your story moves along, you can write a single flashback chapter, then return to your storyline in the following chapter. Be cautious however, for flashbacks are tricky things to master and many readers, agents and editors don’t care for them.

You might introduce a dream to outline the needed backstory. Again, this is another tricky technique and is overused, so take care.

You can divulge family secrets to bring out backstory. Secrets are always exciting, so they have a better chance to keep from losing your reader’s interest.

Memories are another tool to consider. Often this comes out in dialogue or a character’s thoughts.

Regardless how you introduce your necessary backstory, keep in mind that it’s mystery that hooks your reader. Don’t tell them too much or they’ll have no reason to learn more about your characters.

Don’t be concerned if this technique takes a while to learn. It does for most writers. Just keep an eye open for excessive backstory then cut or disperse it wherever and whenever you can. You’ll do well with a little practice.

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

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


There are no rules! Really?

In The Craft of Writing on March 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Bookmark and Share

I may be missing something here, but I wonder why people in the industry say there are no rules in writing. Of course there are rules. Lot’s of ‘em. Everywhere you turn.

Here’s a thought. Isn’t, “There are no rules” a rule in its own right? Thus, it would appear the statement is false on its face. So, have I’ve already made my point? Regardless, let’s journey forward.

“There are no rules” is considered by many just the Real Rule among the multitude of maxims they know exist. Here’s one example that proves the invalidity of the Real Rule.

Don’t query fiction before you have a completed novel.

Of course, another rule says you don’t have to follow this rule if you’re already a successful novelist, or a celebrity, or a politician or this or that. But, that doesn’t make the Real Rule not a regulation for us mere mortals, does it?

Here’s more proof the Real Rule is incorrect.

Don’t query unless your novel is well-written.

That’s definitely a rule.

Ah, I can hear the arguments now. “You’re talking about publishing! You must understand there are no rules when writing.”

Well, they are often interdependent, but let’s check that one out, too.

If there are no rules in writing, I guess you can write a novel that contains no conflict, right? Conflict in fiction is a rule, isn’t it? Maybe not if you believe the “no rules” rule.

Care for another example? When writing your novel, everyone says you need a sympathetic hero. How many novels would you sell if nobody cared for or identified with your protagonist? I guess we’ve found another rule that does exist.

Here’s another I guess you can ignore when writing; point of view. Just write from any and every viewpoint at any time. Right? I doubt even your mother would care to read that novel. Hum. Yet another rule.

One more, if you’ll bear with me. There is a rule when writing grammar that says you should eliminate most of your “-ly” words. Here again, another rule.

In addition to the many binding rules of writing, there are any number of ideas that are passed off as rules when they are not. One that comes to mind says fifty percent of your novel should be dialogue. That’s more a “guideline” as our pirate friends of the Caribbean might say. These sort of pseudo-maxims are a bit more difficult to address and beyond the scope of this article.

It’s probably time to stop and get to the point. My point is, there are rules, many and all kinds of them, and as writers we need to know and employ them.
With that said, I believe “there are no rules” is much like the rules of society. That is, rules do exist and people in power expect you to follow them, but it’s a lot more fun when you know how to break them. If fact, as Katherine Hepburn once gave words to my personal mantra, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”

In general, rules are made to be broken, but for the majority of us we must be circumspect when we do so. Some, such as conflict in fiction or the sympathetic hero really should not be broken if we wish to sell our novels. Others, like the use of semicolons, can be manipulated.

I recommend we think of the rules in writing as techniques or skill sets, if you will. Early in our writing careers we should first learn these various skills and methodologies. We should then adapt to them and become proficient with them. After we’ve reached that level of success that satisfies us, then figure out how to bend and even break the rules.

In the mean time, if we wish to sell our novels, we should jump through the hoops the industry requires of us and don’t give those people who say there are no rules too much sway over our writer’s life.

Okay, I’m done. Now I want to hear your arguments to the contrary.

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

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


How to Write Your Novel’s Hook-Line

In General Information, How-to's, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing on March 25, 2010 at 4:29 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Bookmark and Share


A hook-line is a one or two sentence summary of your novel. Although the term, “hook-line” is singular, it may consist of two sentences, but it should probably be no longer than that. It is the high-concept of your novel compressed into a few words and should enable your target audience to grasp your storyline at once. Think of it as an elevator speech for your novel or as a teaser on its dust jacket. You might even consider it a marketing tag-line.

The purpose of your hook-line is to grab someone’s attention and encourage them to learn more about your novel. The secret to it, however, lies in its hidden sales pitch. That pitch should suggest your novel is something they would want to buy. You’ll see what I mean when we outline the five elements of your hook-line.

Why do you need a hook-line? Well, consider the target market, or audience, you’ll want to develop for your novel. Your initial market is comprised of a single person, an agent. In this person’s case, your hook-line will often be the opening line of your query letter. Your hook-line should spark their curiosity in some way and persuade them to learn more about your novel. It should do the same with an editor, a publicist, wholesale book sellers, retail book buyers and eventually the consumer or reader.

So, how does a writer create their hook-line? It’s not as difficult as you might think as it need not encompass your entire storyline, just some critical aspects of it. All you need is enough information to peak someone’s interest. If you cover the five fundamental elements of a hook-line, you’ll be all right. The premier elements of your hook-line are listed below.

1.  Character: Who is your hero and what does he want?

2.  Conflict: What is it that keeps your hero from his goal?

3.  Uniqueness: What makes your novel stand out from all the others?

4.  Setting: Insure your setting, or at least your genre, is obvious.

5.  Action: Your hook-line needs to at least promise excitement.

Can you see how these five components would have the potential to tweak an agent’s or a reader’s curiosity? Might a compelling description that highlights these points encourage them to buy your book? If you know much about selling, you’ll realize it just might.

Let’s take a look at the tag line for my current manuscript and see if it fits the criteria.

Though Jak and Clay share a camaraderie known to few but brothers, each falls in love with Kate and requests her hand in marriage. Despite her choice of one, their brother’s bond remains intact until the American Civil War threatens and forces them to decide whether their loyalties lie with love, with friendship or with their nation.

Let’s evaluate this to see if it fits the criteria outlined above.

Character(s):

Jak is our hero and he wants to hold onto his friendship with Clay and have Kate for his wife. He also requires an honorable decision as to his personal loyalties when the war erupts.

Core Conflict:

This is the decision the characters must make relative to the war and their relationships.

Uniqueness:

How many love triangles do not tear apart the relationships? The fact the three remain close is most unusual.

Setting:

This novel takes place during the mid-nineteenth century in America, which is shown by the outbreak of the Civil War.

Action:

We have three lives that revolve around the love triangle, the war and the decision they all must make.

Do you agree or disagree this covers the five critical elements required of a hook-line? Have you come up with your hook-line as yet and would you care to share? I’d love to see it.

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

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

How to Write Your First Draft

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


A wonderful mixture of accomplishment, hope, fantasy and desire comes over a writer when he completes his first draft. The problem, of course, is how to get that first draft penned and on paper. In this post, I hope to offer you some of the many tips and techniques available to assist you when you write your first draft.

1. Understand every writer has their unique methodology for writing a first draft and whatever works for you is what you should do. Try to find those tips that fit your personality and put them to good use.

2. The secret to your first draft is to get it done. I know that sounds obvious, but writing is a lot like college. It’s takes a long time, you often wonder if your investment will make any difference in your life and if you ever stop, it’s tough to get going again. The most onerous part of the process is to get that first draft on paper. Keep at it.

3. Understand the first draft of your novel may result in, and I’m being polite, garbage. In fact, though not necessarily true, your final draft may have little relation to the first. Don’t worry as the first draft is just that, your initial attempt to create your novel.

4. Many writers prefer to outline their story first. Some construct an extensive storyline with developed characters, plot arcs and all the rest. Others jot down a basic outline and get to work. Still others just sit down and write. Which of these methods calls to your personality?

5. It’s best if you choose your Point of View, or who tells the story, early in the process. Are you, the writer, also the narrator or might your hero tell the story? It’s much easier to edit later if this is determined before you get waist deep into your story.

6. It’s also to your advantage to understand your setting, or time and location of your novel, before you begin to write. It’s very difficult to write a story about a soldier in World War II then change the setting to the French Revolution. You may also wish to perform any necessary research on setting before you begin to write.

7. A general tip is to write your first draft with as much speed as you can. Type it if you’d like or freehand the thing if that works for you. It matters not, just get it down on paper. Think of your first draft as sort of a writer’s blitzkrieg, if you will. Move fast, ignore pockets of resistance and mop up later.

8. If you plan to perform your later edits on paper, you may wish to triple-space your first stab at the manuscript. This leaves more room for notes. Personally, I use MS Word so I insert “comments” during my editing process.

9. As you write your first draft, don’t worry so much about grammar and the like. You might even wish to turn off your grammar and spellcheckers as you write, then turn them back on when you edit.

10. Many writers, myself included, like to have a grasp of their ending before they begin. Many write the last chapter first. After all, how do you know what path your story will take if you don’t know where it’s going?

11. If you write mysteries or suspense novels, it may be a good idea to generate a story-logic list or an evidence list. This keeps those obscure details, motivations, and events you’ll not make obvious until the end of the story under better control.

12. Few writers have the discipline to write when they’re “in the mood,” so I advise you write every day. (I know, I know, I have children, too.)  Okay, I’ll change my advice to write on a schedule. If you only have one evening a week, set that evening aside. Establish an hours-long appointment on your calendar, complete with start and end times. Then adhere to your schedule. It’s a meeting with your characters and they require your attendance.

13. Fight every inclination to edit when you write your first draft. You’ll have these impulses and all they do is slow you down. Besides, the mere action of editing changes your mental perspective and reduces creativity. If you just can’t fight these impulses, turn off your computer screen as you type. That’ll solve the problem.

14. Some writers jump from chapter to chapter. As ideas come to them they write them down then mix and match later. Others create a written timeline of what events need to happen and when they need to occur. Again, what works for you, works for you.

15. Try to enjoy yourself. Let your imagination run rampant and your fingers fly over the keyboard. If something strikes your fancy, plug it in there. Later if the idea doesn’t fit, it’s not a problem as cut, paste and delete are our friends.

16. After you finish your first draft, set it aside to cool for a while. If you’ve not thought about it for a week, or better yet a month, errors will become more obvious to you when you do edit.

17. When you’ve completed your first draft, write the words, “The End.” They signify it’s time to celebrate. (See the first line of this article.) You’ll remove the words later but they do seem to have a dramatic effect on your mood when you finally pen them.

Many consider the first draft the worst part of writing a novel. I however, disagree. It is the single time in the entire process where your imagination is allowed to run unchecked and anything can happen.

Good luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”