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How to Clarify Your Novel Writing

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 19, 2010 at 8:07 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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The essence of good writing is found not in the elegance of the writing but rather in the clarity of the writing. And clarity may have a purpose which you’ve not considered. Not only does it influence how those who read your novel understand and enjoy it, but clarity in writing can even have an effect upon your search engine rank. If your context and spelling are inadequate, your SEO may suffer. Who knew our seventh grade English teachers understood more than we realized?

Allow me to identify some of more onerous of the many clarity in writing issues.

The Dangling Particle: Remember that one from middle school English class? Until I began my research for this article, I could not remember what that thing was. A dp, as it’s known, occurs when an verb and noun are linked together in an incorrect manner. As you can see from the following example, there is no noun for the verb “run,” so it sounds as if that verb is associated with the rain.

Trying to run the race, the rain began to fall in heavy sheets.

Incorrect Pronoun Reference: This can happen when a writer uses a pronoun to refer to another word but does make clear to which word, or antecedent, it relates. The example that follows is unclear as to whether the teenagers resented the store or loiters.

The store prohibited loiters, which many teenagers resented.

A Comma Splice: This is when a writer connects two separate clauses with a comma. To fix this, you should insert a period or connect the clauses with a word such as “and” or “because.” You may also have to restructure both sentences. Your example of an incorrect splice follows.

I fell in love with her, she carries herself with such grace.

Comma Usage in a Series: When you have three or more items in a series, you should use a comma between each one, even before the “and.” You may wish to note this differs in journalistic writing where they use one less comma. Your correct example:

Bring the lantern, tent, and sleeping bag.

Tense Errors: This occurs when you do not indicate with clarity when an action took place. The example below is nebulous as to when the event actually happened, for we cannot tell if John left before Susanne arrived or when she arrived or even afterward. To correct this you’d rewrite the sentence or insert the word, “had,” after, “John.”

Susanne arrived, but John left.

Homonyms: Homonyms are words that sound alike but mean different things. The problem, of course, is your spellchecker won’t catch them. You have to read each word of your novel, aloud, to insure you catch these things. Here are your examples:

Read vs. reed

Write vs. right

To vs. too

Hear vs. here

Missing Words: As before, there’s not much you can do about this except read your novel aloud, word by word. Is this example correct or incorrect?

Why do you say we to the moves this evening?

Alright vs All Right. There is no, “alright,” in formal writing, all right? Over time, the word “alright” has become acceptable in informal writing, but it is still considered incorrect in novel writing.

The Ellipsis: The ellipsis is that symbol made up of three periods in a row. In writing, it means words are missing and it’s most common usage is in quotes. It also represents a thought that is incomplete, a pause in speech, or a sentence that fades into silence. You should be cautious when you use it in your novel, however. Should you use this punctuation mark too often it soon overpowers the page and makes for difficult reading. Consider using character actions to indicate incomplete thoughts and statements, rather than the ellipse.

Today I’ll end with the famous “ie” vs “ei” issue. The rule we all learned in grammar class still holds true today. “I” before “e” except after “c.” Works every time, guys.

The clarity of your writing can be of utmost consequence to your writing success. The acceptance of your novel and even your search engine optimization may well hinge upon it. Do you need to spend some time and study your grammar once again?

So, what common writing errors do you find and how have you learned to overcome them?

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

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

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10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

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

The Secret to Writing A Riveting Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How does a writer evolve from one who pens the first draft of a novel to one who attains the rarefied status of published author? Of course, there is no substitute to a strong and well-written story, powerful characterizations and effective, believable dialogue. However, as any experienced writer will tell you, you must also master the skill of editing. And within editing, one of the more powerful of tools available lies within the words you choose. That is, you should review every noun, verb and adjective to consider if you have used the most specific and compelling of words for them.  The goal is to insure you paint the most stimulating word pictures for your reader.

Here’s an example of how I wrote a sentence in the first draft of my current manuscript and how it reads in my sixth version.

“They raced across the open ground.”

“The soldiers plunged into the maelstrom.”

Both sentences indicate the same event, men fighting in war. However, which holds the more potent setting, the more powerful image? In the first, we see people running over a field. We might have children playing for all this indicates. Whereas in the second, there is no question a battle is underway and men throw their bodies into the violence. The change is dramatic, yet all I did was choose more specific words.

Here’s another example as to how strong word choices can improve your writing.

“Jak woke first.”

“The sun burst over the horizon and wrenched Jak from his exhausted stupor.”

In this case, the verb, “wrenched,” is much stronger than, “woke.” If you imagine a character who just wakes up, you might see him stir from a pleasant night’s slumber. You can almost see him flutter his eyes as he brings the soft morning into view. In my story, however, this scene is not so pleasant. So, to create a better impression of what I wanted my reader to see, I had Jak yanked into consciousness. By comparison, this is a brutal action and a better description of what I wanted my character, and my reader, to experience. Though I enhanced the sentence, this change of a single word created a much more dramatic scene.

This same technique works for adverbs and nouns, too. To show how adverbs can also be improved, consider my working title for this article. At first, I titled this, “The Secret to Writing an Interesting Novel.” Can you see how the change from, “interesting” to “riveting” made for a better image?

If you take the time to consider each noun, verb and adverb in this way, I believe you’ll experience a leap forward in your writing skills. In the process, you just might increase your chances of publication, too.

Now that you know the power in this editing technique, I challenge you to do this with your manuscript and let us know how it improved your writing. I look forward to hearing from you.

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

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

When is Too Much Sex, Too Much? (Caution Terminology)

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

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One of my blog readers asked me to expand on an earlier article, “How to Write a Sex Scene,” and today I’ll try and help her out. Her question entailed how much detail should one write into a sex scene. In my mind it’s up to the writer, but the answer varies according to writer’s target audience and the needs of the scene. Regardless, the reader’s imagination is the determining point.

Let’s look at the scene first. If you’re writing about raw sex, you might wish for more detail. Should you write about the power of love, you’d likely incorporate less. In the first case, you might include the feel of a woman’s wetness, whereas in the second you might offer nothing more than a bit of caressing as the two disappear behind a door.

Think also about the scene’s perspective. Is it written from the eyes of an eighteen year-old male bully or from grandma’s? Imagine how the bully might envision sex in relation to how might your grandmother. (Sorry for that visual.)

Let’s now take a look at the target market. Imagine how “the first time” scene might change if you wrote about seventeen year olds, thirty-somethings or grandmothers. In the first, you might have a young boy’s initial experience which entails raw sex with much more physical and tactile detail. The second could be a woman’s first encounter since her oppressive divorce where the details revolve less on the physical than the emotional. Grandma’s first encounter since her husband died might have very little detail, (if you don’t mind…), and convey something like comfort or even betrayal. Each displays the same basic scene, but with wildly varying descriptions and need for detail.

Here is how I feel about the subject in general. It’s all about the reader’s imagination.

Consider this simple example of describing a woman’s eyes when writing this type of scene.

“As he grabbed her hair and pushed her down on him, her eyes grew wide as silver dollars.”

“As he grabbed her hair and pulled her down on him, her eyes grew wide with excitement.”

Which of these lines creates the better vision to the reader? To me, everyone knows the size of a silver dollar and though the scene might be titillating, this simple detail reduces the reader’s option to use their imagination. In contrast, her eyes growing wide with excitement allows the readers to interpret how the character looked and thus makes the scene more personal to the reader. Now envision how involved a reader might be if a hundred details form in their mind, rather than on the page. This concept of appealing to the reader’s imagination applies regardless the level of detail. The more your reader employs their imagination, the more personal, more powerful the scene is to them.

I’m also all about the emotion of a scene. Consider a rape. Though the grabbing and thrusting it integral to the incident, if nothing else is described, the scene lacks much of its potential strength. However, if you write about how the woman emotionally responds to these actions, your writing will have much more impact.

To me, detail is dependent upon the scene and the audience. Use more of the reader’s imagination and fewer major details and I think you’ll write with more powerful imagery.

Now for some general tips.

A sex scene, as with all others, should maintain your writing style. Do you include every detail in every scene? Then continue in that vein. Do you skirt the large details for the small? Then carry on with that.

Highlight the tiny details. A man caressing the goose bumps on a woman’s thigh is more enticing than simply thrusting into her.

Think of your writing more as an Impressionist painting than one from the realistic period. The Impressionists worked with blurs of color and motion, allowing the reader’s mind to see what they wanted to see. The viewer’s imagination filled in the gaps. In contrast, the Realists painted each and every detail, giving each as much power as the next. Though their work is amazing, you only see what they want you to see.

Color-code the emotions you write on the page. Some people use colored pencils or crayons, while others use their word processing text highlighter. It matters not, but here’s how it works. When you mention an emotion such as yearning, you might color it gray. Should you highlight that mood one gets when a couple cuddles after sharing sex, you could use gold.

After colorizing each emotion, make a flip-book of your pages and thumb  through them. The colors that jump off the page will offer a strong insight as to the effectiveness of your writing and inform you if you’ve produced the type of article you wished. If your sex scene has a lot of black, for example, let’s hope it’s a rape. If the colors begin with cerulean, turn to yellow, shift to gold then orange and red, then back to blue, you’re probably on the mark for a love scene.

I read somewhere that “Details are the fingerprints of prose.” (Great line, don’t you think?) However, think of your details like spices. Too much salt or pepper and you’ll ruin the taste of the meal. So it is with your writing. Use your details sparingly so as not to overpower your reader.

When incorporating details, insure you employ your characters’, and thus your readers’, five senses. Have your character look at her nakedness, touch her skin and taste her lips. Have him hear her moan and smell her explosion. (And he’d damn well better see she has one.)

The general purpose of your novel is to transport your readers to another place and time. Would they rather go where they wanted or where you tell them. It’s all about the imagination.

It’s not about the sun, it’s about the warmth of the sun on one’s skin.

I do apologize for not offering specific instructions to leave in the erection and omit the sigh, but how much detail to write into a sex scene is up to the writer.

I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

It’s All about the Editing

In Editing Your Manuscript on February 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

There exist any number of “rules” for writers to follow when editing their novels and though I’ll pass along some of those, let’s begin with a couple lesser know tips. You can read more editing tips in one of my earlier articles here or at this post on Bukisa.com.

Edit for words that end in “-ition” or “-ization” or “-ment.”

Here’s an example of how that works. The sentence, “I worked it to its completion,” can be reduced to “I completed the work,” without any loss of meaning. By simply eliminated the “-tion” and similar words, our writing becomes more crisp.

Edit for verbs used as nouns. Think how you might clarify this sentence.  “I offered the answer earlier.” For more precise writing, it should read “I answered earlier.” The revised sentence enriches the action of the verb, “answer”, and reduces the wordiness.

Keep an eye out for words that duplicate meanings. For example, consider the following list I found at http://www.lincoln.edu and you’ll see the how the word(s) in parentheses do not enhance the meaning of the other word(s).

(actual) experience     add (an additional)

(advance) planning     (advance) reservations

(advance) warning     all meet (together)

(as) for example     ask (a question)

at (the) present (time)     (basic) fundamentals

came (at a time) when     (close) proximity

(close) scrutiny     collaborate (together)

(completely) filled     consensus (of opinion)

(definite) decision     (difficult) dilemma

(direct) confrontation     during (the course of)

(end) result     enter (in)

estimated at (about)     estimated (roughly)

(false)pretenses     few (in number)

filled (to capacity)     (first) began

for (a period of) 10 days     (foreign) imports

forever (and ever)     (free) gift

(invited) guests     join (together)

(major) breakthrough     merged (together)

(new) beginning     (past) history

(past) records     plan (ahead)

(possibly) might     postpone (until later)

protest (against)     repeat (again)

same (identical)     since (the time when)

spell out (in detail)     (still) remains

(suddenly) exploded     (therapeutic) treatment

2 a.m. (in the morning)     (unexpected) surprise

(unintentional) mistake     (usual) custom

written (down)

You know those “wordy phrases” we hear so much about? Here are some samples to purge with some appropriate substitutes.

at all times – always                                             at the present time – now

at that point in time – then                                 beyond a shadow of a doubt – without doubt

due to the fact that – because                            for the purpose of – for

in connection with – with                                    in most instances – most oftenin order to – to

in some instances – sometimes                          in spite of the fact that – although

in the event that – if                                            on an everyday basis – routinely

on a daily basis – daily                                        subsequent to – after

the reason is because – because

Other general editing tips you don’t regularly hear include:

  1. Edit early in the day.
  2. Edit a single issue at a time.
  3. Print your manuscript and read every word aloud to someone else.
  4. Use a straight edge under each line as you read to edit.
  5. Read each sentence as an individual paragraph, as if there is an enter stroke after the line.
  6. Have someone read it out loud to you.
  7. Be certain you consider every instance of the verb, “to be.” (See this post for more information.)
  8. Don’t edit under fluorescent lighting. (Bet you’ve never heard that one before.)
  9. Write one day and edit another.
  10. Editing should reduce your manuscript’s length.
  11. Check your checker. “Read” and “red” are both accepted by your spellchecker.
  12. Remember, grammar checkers know grammar but they don’t understand grammar.

I hope this helps you polish your novel and one of these is THE tip that secures representation for you.

As always, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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