This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘character’

How to Build Suspense in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Writing about suspense in a NOVEL is all about building anticipation for your readers. To do this you offer hints at what is to come, but you give them no answers until the very end of your novel. The purpose in writing suspense is to give your reader something about which to worry, to encourage them to read more of your novel. It also gives them a puzzle to unravel, which is a fun thing to many readers.

The secret to suspense? It’s sort of like a magic act. You give them first one clue, then another and another, yet all the while you have them look in the wrong direction. When you do finally deliver your solution, or the Prestige as they say in the illusion industry, you do so with a flourish and fanfare. “Ta-da!” It’s at this point the reader realizes they’ve been watching the wrong hand the entire time.

Here are some techniques to establish and build suspense in your novel.

1. Build suspense from the very start of your novel. Get your reader hooked and wanting more right away.

2. Pose an intriguing question. Is this character insane or a master artist of disguise? Did the character really die or has he simply planned an elaborate hoax to sidestep his child support payments?

3. Place your characters in unusual situations. Maybe your character finds a large hole in their yard where none existed yesterday.

4. You can create a sense of impending doom. Might your character run across a field as one lightening strike after another closes on him?

5. Vary the pace of your novel. As the suspense builds, you might wish to speed up the pace of your story. (Read this for more on PACE IN YOUR NOVEL.)

6. The use of deception is another wonderful tool to increase the suspense in your novel. In effect, have your characters lie to throw off your reader as to the true nature of things.

7. Deadlines or immediacy is another valuable tool you can use to increase the suspense. How many times have you seen the character glance at the ticking clock on the atomic bomb as he attempts to dismantle it?

8. It’s often beneficial to have a second character involved in the suspenseful situation. You can have the two characters ricochet off of each other for added suspense. your reader  will never know which one is going to die when there are no red-shirts in the cast?

9. Play up to people’s natural fears. If you focus on universal fears such as arachnophobia, (spiders), Musophobia (mice), Coulrophobia (clowns), or Glossophobia, (speaking in public), you’ll capture the imagination of a wider range of readers. If you focus on things that don’t concern most people, Motorphobia (automobiles) for example, as you might suspect, fewer people will get emotionally involved in the storyline.

10. The close shave. Suspense can be built upon the near-miss, too. You know the routine. It’s when the bullet whizzes past the hero’s head.

Of course, with few exceptions, you should probably solve the mystery for your reader by the end of your novel. How would you feel if you read a four-hundred page tome and never found out, “who done it?”

There is one major pitfall to writing suspense, however. As with all sleight of hand, it’s in the delivery.  Should you reveal too little, your reader may lose interest in your novel. If you reveal too much, they have no reason to continue reading. It’s a delicate balance, but a learnable skill.

I hope by now you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How to Write Character Emotions

In characters, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 27, 2010 at 6:42 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

The secret to a well received novel and a strong opportunity to succeed as a writer lies within your ability to engage your readers on an emotional level. One way to do this is to bring out the emotions your characters feel. Today I’ll offer some tips on how to write effective character emotions.

It may be of use to realize the words we use to show emotion rarely hold enough power to display that emotion. Take the word, “love,” for example. Can a single word possibly portray the myriad of sensations that flutter across a person when they’re in love? Can four simple letters depict the powerful tug on one’s heart or the overpowering sensation of selflessness when someone is in love? Hardly. This fact encourages us as writers to find a better method to display a character’s emotions.

The first secret to writing character emotions is found in your characters themselves. If you don’t have characters your reader want to know, all the emotion in the world will not engage your reader one bit. First and foremost, ensure you have likeable characters. (Read more about CHARACTERS in this article.)

Next, it’s helpful to know our old friend and writing rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true when writing about emotions, too. Consider the following examples. In the first I “tell” and in the second I “show.” Despite the simplicity of the examples, it’s obvious the second will have a stronger tendency to engage your reader.

He was scared. (Tell)

He jumped back and yelped. (Show)

An easy way to display emotion in your writing is with dialogue, both external and internal. Consider how a character might speak if he’s in love with or hates another character. Might the dialogue in these two situations differ? You bet it would. (For more on DIALOGUE, read this article.)

Here’s one effective technique to use when writing about a character’s emotions. Visualize how the character looks when he experiences a situation that calls for some sort of emotional response. Then describe his physical reactions. (He jumped back and yelped.) If you do nothing other than this, you’ll do okay.

However, to hone this skill to a more professional level, make an attempt to include their involuntary reactions and their state of mind. Not only does he jump back and yelp, but his heart beats like the proverbial drum and he feels a tingle race up his spine. He also might be so consumed by the event, he can think of nothing else. The more actions and reactions you include, to a point of course, the more your reader will become involved with your character.

When you write a scene where your character is stirred on an emotional level, make an attempt to focus on the seven universal emotions. They are hatred, disgust, fear, happiness, anger, grief and surprise. These will tend to relate to a wider audience.

You may wish to keep in mind your character’s emotional responses must be believable. Constant over-reaction or under-reaction will simply test your reader’s ability to suspend belief and most likely test their faith in your character, too.

Do you still remember your first kiss? That’s because emotionally charged events can prove powerful in life and are something people remember. This holds true with your readers, too. They are more likely to remember the emotionally charged events in your characters lives and it is these situations that sway your reader to talk up your novel. Which in turn, leads to what I wish for you, only best-sellers.

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

Writing Secondary Characters in Novels

In characters, General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze


Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

When writing your novel, have you ever cut back or cut out a character you liked? How about one you didn’t like? Have you ever promoted a secondary character into a larger role within your novel? These events happen all the time in novel writing and, in fact, should happen. Secondary characters are as common as leaves on a tree but have the power to kill both your writing and your novel. Despite this, they are as necessary to a good novel as your major characters.

How do they kill a novel? They can take over roles that belong to other characters. It is most onerous if they take over that of a major character like the hero. In this case, the protagonist diminishes in stature which, in turn, makes readers less empathetic toward the him. And we all know an unlikable hero is the kiss of death to a novel. Further, if you incorporate too many secondary characters, they can confuse and overpower the reader and produce the same result as the unsympathetic hero.

To keep the number and roles of your secondary characters in check, you can assign all of your characters to one of three levels of importance.

Primary Characters: Hero, Villain, Sidekick

Secondary Characters: Any necessary support character to move the story toward its conclusion

Fringe Characters: There for setting or imagery, walk-ons, if you will.

How do you decide which characters to include? Remember, your story is about your hero, not the secondary characters, so only include those who might affect the core beliefs, attitudes or goals of your major characters. Not counting your fringe characters, a rule of thumb for a four hundred page novel suggests you might have three main characters and four to six secondary characters.

So, once you’ve decided upon your secondary characters, how might you bring those guys to life so they enhance your novel?

You might give them a “story” of their own. By this I mean have them in some sort of minor crisis when they enter your novel. For example, they might be “in a mood” when your hero meets them. Of course your reader will never learn what the secondary character’s story is or why he’s in the mood he’s in. Your reader might simply find them more interesting and memorable if you have the secondary character come into the novel with something going on in his life. Though he’s not a minor character, think the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland.” From the first moment you see him, he’s in a hurry and is, therefore, more interesting.

You can also use props to make them more memorable. Just introduce their prop before they come into the novel. Does your secondary character use a cane? Have the hero comment on it’s interesting carvings before we meet the guy who uses it. The use of props is a proven technique to introduce and improve your secondary characters.

Another option is to give them a frailty, but make it something normal. If we revert to our guy with the cane, maybe he suffers from arthritis. This gives your reader a hook on which to hang their impressions of this character.

One last tip on how to make a secondary character interesting to your readers. Make him an eccentric. This always latches on to readers’ imaginations. Just be sure you have only one eccentric per novel, okay?

The secret to secondary characters is, of course, to insure they do not upstage your major characters. Just keep in mind they are there to enhance and not overshadow your lead characters. Keep them in their correct categories and you’ll do all right.

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

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


Platforms—Why They’re Important and How to Develop One

In blogging, How-to's, Marketing Your Book on April 15, 2010 at 8:10 am

Why is building a platform important, even if you’re an unpublished writer? Besides the future promotional benefits, you also develop the discipline of writing (sometimes daily) for a responsive audience of readers. Writing interesting content daily is wonderful practice. And having an established online community that you’ll later be able to promote to is always a plus for a publisher.

Some things to consider when building your platform:

Do

Do use your blog as a way to practice writing regularly. Try to post on a regular schedule, even if it’s just twice a week. If you feel more comfortable having a buffer between you and the demands of your blog, consider building up several weeks’ worth of posts before you even launch your blog. But—continue writing posts as much as possible to keep that buffer up.

Do make blogging friends and network. You really only need one active blog to follow to get you started. This could be a blog in your genre or just a general writing blog. Active blogs usually have healthy blog rolls in their sidebar. Start clicking on blogs. Each of those blogs will also usually have a blog roll in their sidebar, too. In addition, when you add a blog’s RSS feed to your blog reader (e.g., Google Reader), when you click on “folder settings,” Google will recommend blogs that are similar in content to the one you’re adding to your reader (“More Like This”). That’s another great way to discover new blogs in your niche. The next step is commenting on blogs and developing a network, really more of a community. That step is extremely important to finding a readership for your blog.

Do consider Twitter and/or Facebook. Both are excellent ways to network online with other writers and industry professionals. You’ll learn a lot, discover resources that can help you with your writing, and network with other writers. Writing can be lonely and finding friends online is a tremendous help.

Do make sure your blog, Facebook, and Twitter presence is professional-looking. Professional doesn’t mean it has to be created by a web-designer—just that it’s carefully edited for typos or grammatical errors and that it has your contact information readily available. Plus…consider the content you’re putting on your blog and how it might look to an agent or editor.

Don’t

Publish manuscript excerpts on your blog. Many publishers and reviewers will consider your manuscript published if it’s appeared online.

Overpromote yourself. It’s much more effective to take a soft-sell approach when getting followers for your blog or (later) when promoting your book. Instead, look for ideas or resources that you can share with other writers. Try to contribute something of value to the community.

Hound agents or editors via social media about your query or submission. It’s not a good way to make friends.

With blogging, I’ve gotten ideas from other writers on plotting and character problems. I’ve developed friendships and readers—for my blog and my books. I’ve exchanged resources that help me with my writing. I’ve analyzed my approach to writing, which has helped me write other books. I’ve also known a couple of bloggers who found literary agents through their blogs—obviously a more tangible benefit to blogging.

Is platform building hard work? It is. But the rewards are worth it.

Elizabeth Spann Craig
http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com
http://elizabethspanncraig.com

Elizabeth Spann Craig writes the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and is writing the upcoming Memphis Barbeque series for Berkley Prime Crime as Riley Adams. Like her characters, her roots are in the South. As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as room mom and Brownie leader, referees play dates, drives car pools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.

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.”