This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘authors’

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.”

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THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

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

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


The Power of Subplot

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Click HERE for a podcast to the article.


To understand subplot, let’s first delve into the concept of plot. The main plot is the framework or storyline of a novel. It is the series of events that happen to your protagonist. In most novels, it can be summed up in one sentence. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s book, “Gone with the Wind.” Can you compile those many pages into a single sentence? I have no idea what Margaret Mitchell’s one-liner might be, but I’ll give it a go. How about something like this? A genteel woman of the old South must learn to cope with the ravages of civil war.

In like manner, subplots are lesser series of events that interweave within the main story. They, too, can be subjected to the compression of a one-liner. Looking to “Gone with the Wind” again, we find a number of subplots that Ms. Mitchell melded into her novel. For example, before and after the war, Scarlett’s love for Ashley as well as Rhett creates great conflict in her life. She also deals with a relationship with Melanie, Ashley’s wife and even a father who has slipped into insanity.

When you interject subplots into your novels, keep in mind they must maintain a direct connection to the main plot. They add substance and enrich the main story as they interlace within it by way of their relation to it. They do not stand on their own nor do they, as a rule, have a direct impact upon the plotline. Look at it in this light. If your plot is a haunted house, the subplots would be the ghosts that waft from room to room. They are part of the house, but the house stands with or without them.

I see two key reasons to interject subplots into your novels. They offer character contrast as well as enhanced conflict. My current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” is about the love triangle between two men and a woman. One of the subplots comes into play when war breaks out and the three must decide where their loyalties lie. War brings out the differences in people every time and increases conflict by its very nature. For another example of conflict offered by subplots, consider the Harry Potter series. The story is about Harry, of course, but interwoven is a subplot based on Hermione’s crush on Ron. Though Harry’s adventures continue unabated, the girl’s sentiments toward Ron take over entire scenes at times.

This brings us to the structure of subplots, which have the same configuration as your story and its major plotline. That is, they have starting points, middle points and outcomes. Within this, they have turning points, moments of great peril and questions answered. Yet, despite everything, they consume less of your word count than the main plot.

Should you decide to introduce a number of subplots, keep in mind one is premier to the others. You should have one foremost subplot and a couple others of lesser impact. A general rule is to have at least one scene relating to the subplot(s) in each act. (Most stories have three acts, but that’s another post altogether.)

One aspect of subplots I appreciate is they allow a lesser character to take on a larger role when the major plotline fails to offer that opportunity. Think of Prissy, the house slave who lied about her experience with “birthing babies” in “Gone with the Wind.” That minor subplot holds much more of our memory than it deserves when you consider its relation to the major plot line of that book.

Subplots, should you wish, can have a major impact on the main plot and are most effective at this when placed at the end of the story. For example, If you’ve read the original “Frankenstein,” you know a servant girl hovers about the story almost without purpose. In the end, however, the mad doctor uses her body to create a creature-wife for the monster. A very minor character turned into a major subplot at the conclusion of the novel.

Now, would you like to know the true secret to a subplot’s power? They are all about relationships. I’ll bet the light just went on for some of you, didn’t it?
As an author and writer, you can embellish your story with depth and life by the effective use of subplots. Take some time to intertwine them in your books and your readers will appreciate your extra work.

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

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

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The Secrets to Your Novel Writer’s Reputation

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on February 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

I can only suppose you’re reading this article because you are already a successful author or you plan that same accomplishment soon. If either case is true, then you’ve got a professional standing to uphold. How might you go about keeping your reputation up to form? As with anything worthwhile, it’s a bit time consuming but necessary. The good news, there are only a few secrets to keep in mind.

I attended The James River Writer’s Conference last year and listened to a panel where all three speakers agreed to the concept a writer needs to spend seventy-five percent of their time marketing their business and twenty-five percent writing. This means that to keep up your status as a professional writer, you should spend a great deal of your efforts on promoting your name and maintaining your status as a professional. Look at it like this. An Olympian isn’t racing most of the time, he’s practicing. The secret is this concept applies to your writing.

Basically, there are six major steps you should consider if you wish to build and maintain a professional writer’s reputation. I’ll outline them then discuss each in a bit more detail. These considerations are:

  1. 1. Utilize Social Networking
  2. 2. Join an Association
  3. 3. Create Your Web Presence
  4. 4. Write Nonfiction
  5. 5. Keep a Professionals Attitude
  6. 6. Stay Current

Utilize Social Networking: You’ve chosen a field where the competition is fierce, and when a novel writer wants to generate buzz about his manuscript, you have to employ WOM, or word of mouth. Keep in mind social networking is beyond simple posts on Facebook and Twitter, though these are important. You should also join writers’ groups, attend conferences and the like. Be found in those places where writers and readers congregate. Despite all the technological advances in recent years, WOM is still your best way of getting known.

Join an association: Once you’re published, joining a professional writers’ association helps build your cred. For example, if you write mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Find whatever organization(s) fit your genre then pay their dues and go to their gatherings. It’s a great way to hobnob with the successful and to garner loads of useful information.

Create Your Web Presence: In an earlier post I talked about when to build your web site, which is after you have something to sell. However, you should begin to build your web presence well before the web site is up and running. However, if you wish to establish a profile page sooner, that’s not a bad idea. You should establish a blog one to three years prior to becoming published. Update this no less than weekly.  You should have a professional email, (mine is CPatrickSchulze@yahoo.com). Be sure to include this web information on business cards and other marketing material you might produce.

Write nonfiction: You write fiction all the time. Why not improve your cred by writing nonfiction, such as this article? It helps you boost your reputation as a writer and if you’re unpublished, it also builds confidence.

Maintain a Professional Attitude: Nobody wants to do business with a prim donna or a fool. The more professional your presentation, the more others are willing to deal with you. And, after all, you are in The Business of Writing. You’ll gather more potential proponents and customers with the correct personal presentation. The old adage of “Image is Everything,” holds true in this industry as with any other.

There was an agent I followed on Twitter, had placed in my database, and planned to query at the appropriate time. I met her at a writer’s conference and although her personal appearance was well below standards, I attempted to look past that to get to know her and appreciate the work she might perform for me. Quite frankly, she’s a bitchy woman who looked down upon the unpublished and I soon discovered she is someone with whom I could never work. She lacked even a modicum of professionalism and I’ve dropped her as a possible agent. If you don’t present a professional attitude the reverse happens to you as a writer.

Stay Current: Keep your knowledge of publishing trends and market preferences up to date. You do this by reading industry magazines, various newsletters, blogs, articles and by reading the invaluable information on Twitter and other social networking sites. Staying current also means to write, write, and write some more.

Are there other thing you must do to establish and maintain your cred? You bet there is. However, get these initial steps under your belt and these other opportunities present themselves to you.

Do you have any stories about how you’ve worked to build your credentials as a professional writer? Are there other ways you go about building your reputation?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Secrets of the Dreaded Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing on February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’ve yet to meet an author who looked forward to writing their novel synopsis. In fact, many believe it’s more difficult to write than the novel itself. Not to say it’s easy, but a few simple tenets can get you started.

Let’s first ask if a synopsis is even necessary these days. From reading the submission guidelines of agents, I see many don’t request one and that leads me to believe it has lost much of its influence. However, some still do, and as an aspiring author never knows which agent will represent them, it’s a good idea to have it ready.

The second question is why would an agent would feel a synopsis necessary. The critical reason I found in researching this article is it can be THE pivotal item that gets an editor to read your manuscript. That’s enough for me right there. However, if you need more, consider the following. A well-crafted synopsis can assist the author in finding weak plot points and point you toward ways to polish your story arc. It also assists in improving characterization, plot and setting. Further, it is often utilized by various departments of a publishing house once they accept your novel.

We now know the if and why, but what about the what? What, after all, is a synopsis? Many confuse it with an outline which describes what occurs in the storyline, to whom it happens and when it happens. In contrast, a synopsis portrays the “why” of your story. The novel outline describes the action or what happens, whereas the synopsis offers the conflict or how your characters react to that action.

The essential components to a novel synopsis are:

  1. The Opening Hook
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Plot Highlights
  4. The Core Conflict
  5. The Conclusion

If you think about what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish, these five aspects make perfect sense. It will give the various readers a good feel for everything they might need to know about your story. Let’s look at each of these components.

The Opening Hook: Start strong. Remember this is about conflict, how and why your characters react the way they do. It is not about action, what happens to them. For example, you would not open with the first line following for it speaks of the action in the story, whereas the second tells the reader about the characters’ REactions.

Two men fight over a woman.

Two brothers lose their friendship when a woman comes between them.

As with any reader, the agent looks for something that will engage them. If your story doesn’t’ sound interesting right away, they’ll probably not read further. You’ve got ninety seconds, so power your way through them.

Character Sketches: This does not mean you describe your characters but rather get to their individual core conflict and the conflict between your two or three main characters. What makes your hero undertake his great quest? Why is your villain working with such diligence to thwart your protagonist? Think motivation rather than descriptions.

Plot Highlights: Give some detail to the first and the climactic scenes and a couple of those in the middle of your story. Use only those scenes that highlight the emotional action and conflict within your story. Make sure whoever reads your synopsis knows just how much trouble befalls your hero.

Core Conflict: Your Opening Hook will probably introduce your core conflict, but make sure you enhance it here. Don’t allow anyone to misunderstand the “why” of your story. If you have multiple conflicts, highlight the premier point then maybe the next couple of levels.

The Conclusion: Show the agent your novel is worked to its completion and flesh out the ending. They want to know the entire story. If they don’t know the ending, they’ll assume it doesn’t work. Tie together any major loose strings and point to a sequel if your novel is one of a planned series.

That’s all there is to it. With things spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem quite so onerous, does it? Use your writer’s voice as you did with your novel and the agent will have a good idea of what it is you’re offering for him to sell.

Best of luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze



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