This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Plot Tips for the Aspiring Author

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 11, 2010 at 7:30 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Before we begin, it’s probably a good idea to define the concept of plot. In general terms, it’s the problems your hero confronts as he travels through the world you’ve created for him. Plot is what keeps your readers’ interest.

Those areas of your story that most affect your hero are called plot points. Plot points are situations that turn your novel in a new direction. They alter your hero’s quest. For an example, let’s consider the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker first sees the hologram of Princess Leia. This initial plot point shifts Luke’s life in a dramatic fashion. His quest begins with that recording of the princess. Though that story had many plot points, another was when Darth Vader told Luke he was the young Jedi’s father. That, like the hologram, changed everything.

Your plot is comprised of three major components, the Complication, the Climax and the Resolution. The Complication involves those scenes that begin your major conflict or plot point.  The Complication identifies for your reader what dramatic quest your hero must undergo. The Climax is that plot point where your premier character faces his Complication, the bad guy. The Resolution, of course, is that series of events that solve the conflict outlined in the Complication. It closes the story.

It may help to think of your plot as a three-act play. Your first act is the Complication, the second the Climax and the third, of course, the Resolution.

For some general tips on how to develop your plot, consider the following:

1. Make sure your hero suffers. His trials can be emotional, physical, mental, or best of all, a combination of the three. Keep in mind the more he suffers, the better is his exhilaration during the Resolution phase.

2.  The conflict you create must have enough power to encompass the entirety of your story. A secret to this is to interweave subplots into your novel. (For more on subplots, read THIS article.)

3.  Insure your hero and villain are evenly matched. It’s important for the story that your reader never knows if your hero will survive his ordeal. He will, and they know it, but you do need to create that sense of doubt for your plot to work with efficiency.

4. Each chapter of your story should hang on an issue. As a famous author whom I can’t quote at this time said, someone must want something in every chapter, even if it’s only a glass of water. This constant tension will keep your audience wanting to read more.

5. Make sure you couple the correct setting with your conflict and plot points. It’s more riveting for your hero to suffer thirst in the desert than a coffee shop. (For more on setting, read THIS article.)

6. At some time, your hero must grab the bull by the horns and get into it with the villain. Nobody wants to read about an indecisive hero. Get that man dirty.

7. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it’s just fine to fool your reader. Give your plot twists and turns to confuse and surprise them. I think they call this, “mystery.”

8. Foreshadowing is a powerful tool when developing your plot. Let them know something ominous is coming, just don’t spill those proverbial beans too soon.

9. Try to stay away from stereotypes in fiction. The nun who works for the underground is more interesting than the soldier who does so.

10. Let your plot develop as you move through your story. Don’t be afraid to allow your imagination to take your characters where it wants them to go.

11. The secret to your success as a writer of fiction is the good story. And the good story is all about plot. And plot is all about conflict.

What tips might you wish to share as to how you develop your plot?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.

Tips on How to Create Your Opening Scene

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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We all know readers must be spellbound by the very first scene of a novel. In fact, so say industry sages, the first paragraph can lose your reader. (That’s true, by the way. I’ve done it.) Further, an author should spend more time on their first line than any other in the entire work. Wow! That’s a lot of pressure.

So, just how might one go about creating that initial burst of excitement?

There are any number of options open to us as authors, but here’s your list of a dozen that, if crafted well, should offer your reader a scene to keep them wanting more.

  1. Open with the proverbial, “Great Line.” I know, it’s not as simple to do as one might think. To develop this ever-elusive Great Line, compress your novel’s major conflict into a single sentence, then polish. Here’s one of my favorite. “When I was little, I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” How’s that for grabbing the imagination. (Interesting, don’t you think, how I fail to remember the book or the author, but not that line? Maybe it’s because I have children?)
  2. have the bad guy show up early and in a big way. Your opening might start something like, “The assassins bullet…”
  3. Begin your scene with the likeable hero. If you do this, it’s a good idea to include his worthy goal, too. Think along the line of, “She understood early her son’s endearing smile was due more to a weak mind than a sense of humor. Motherhood would be a joy and a challenge.”
  4. Introduce humor in the opening paragraph, but insure it fits your audience. Toilet humor might work with the preteen genres, but the church elders will probably, uh, “pass.”
  5. Incorporate a feeling of danger right away. “He saw men on horseback, riding hard, their mounts kicking up a swirl behind them.”
  6. Write a scene that’s easy on the senses. Make it natural but lyrical. Paint a picture with which your audience will identify. “The landscape looked as if an artist had brushed his fondest vision of nature on the canvas.”
  7. Introduce an ominous foreshadowing. “Carrion birds floated in a languid circle off to the south. Something was about to die.” Those, by the way, are the opening lines of my emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.
  8. Begin with formidable obstacles your hero must face and overcome. “Tired, bloodied and winded, the soldier crested the hill only to find the enemy dug in on yet another ridge to his front.” Of course these need not be physical barriers, but you get the idea.
  9. Use immediate action. Explosions are always exciting, though somewhat overdone these days. It can be an argument, a personal conflict or facing humility. Just make is pop right away.
  10. Open with a high level of tension. Use a heavy dose of emotion mixed with high drama. Think of the last argument you had before you demanded a divorce. That’ll get ‘em worked up.
  11. A representation of an appealing setting might work for you. Consider your “safe place” in all its glory and invite your reader to join you.
  12. You might try an effective joining of humor and tension. “When the bullet ripped into his flesh, he knew the day was not going well.”

So there ya go. A dozen easy openings to hook your reader and sell more books. Good luck.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

The Secrets to Chapters in Your Novel

In How-to's, Marketing Your Book on March 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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


With everything in creative writing there are rules to follow and the construction of a chapter is no different. With that said, know every writers’ rule is designed to be broken. (The proof to the pudding? The rules say you should never use the verb, “to be,” nor should you employ clichés as with the last four words of the first sentence in this paragraph.) Regardless, with chapter design, there are a few techniques you might employ to both entice and engross your reader.

Let’s first review the purpose of a chapter. It’s primary reason, of course, is to move the story toward its conclusion. Your story has a beginning and an end, and the intervening chapters should do nothing more than move the first chapter toward the last. Chapters can be used to introduce characters, establish setting and to set up or enhance conflict. Regardless, every chapter must tempt your reader to continue with your novel.

The first rule of chapter construction, first chapter or last, is to begin as late in the chapter as possible. This technique helps you get to the meat of the chapter. It prods you to cut out the fluff, those nonessential parts of your narrative, and write only about those things necessary to move your story forward. Readers have a tendency to skim over disinteresting parts of a book, so beginning late in the chapter encourages you to write only those words meaningful to the story as a whole.

The second and last rule of chapter construction flows from the first. It says to end the chapter as early as you can. As before, that means eliminate anything immaterial to your storyline. Tighten your writing, tighten it again, then tighten it once more.

That’s it? Two rules? Yep. That’s about it, but the fun lies in figuring out how to break those rules, doesn’t it?

In any case, I’ve got some other thoughts for you to consider. First, allow me to tell you how I handle short chapters. I mean REALLY short, four hundred word chapters. While working on “Born to be Brothers,” I found a couple short chapters accomplished what I needed. They couldn’t be eliminated, but neither did they require additional length. When I printed the manuscript, these two page chapters didn’t “feel” right. They looked too short. My solution came from a book I recently started reading. That author had many, many of these diminutive elements and he simply started his next chapter on the same page the last one ended. Whoa! Not only did that solve my “look” issue, it made it difficult to set his book down.

Now a few ideas as to how to end your chapters. Most of us have learned to end them with the classic cliffhanger, and that works well. But what other ways exist to end one of those numerous chapters in the middle of your book? Here are some ideas.

Introduce a secret. That’s always fun.

End with a oath. My favorite is in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett vows never to go hungry   again.

End with a reversal of fortune. Always exciting

End with a revelation. Here, my favorite is in “206 Bones” by Kathy Reiches (rikes) where the heroine wakes only to determine at the end of the chapter she’s been entombed.

Your chapter endings need to insure your readers continue to scour the pages of your novel, so a bit of time spent on designing your chapters should pay dividends.

For more ideas on how to end your chapters, consult THIS POST by K. M. Weiland.

Until next time, know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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As you write your novel, you’ll find conflict is a key tool in developing the readers’ interest and conflict goes hand-in-hand with the pace of your scenes. If what I call the Read-Speed is slow, the impact of your conflict is much diminished. Further, as an author, you should pay great attention to the speed at which your novel reads. If it’s overall pace or Read-Speed is tedious, the reader will set your book down. Now, there are any number of techniques by which an author can increase the pace of his story and I’ll cover some of the best in this blog post.

One often ignored practice is to manipulate the amount of white space on the page. To clarify what I mean, imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, top to bottom, side to side, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader, slow the pace and make for difficulty when reading. In contrast, white space makes for a faster read and a better rhythm. The mere fact the reader flips the pages more often also gives the illusion of speed.

Write in short, choppy sentences, in particular when employing dialogue. Your sentences should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for faster reading which, in turn, increases the tempo.

One secret often missed is working with sentence fragments, which work well to increase the pace of your writing. Of course, fragments are frowned upon in the writing world, yet the judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting scenes that hinge upon the conflict in your novel, well-used and well-positioned fragments can increase the excitement, and thus, the pace of the conflict. Always. Every time. Like this. Use discretion, however, for you can lose control if you’re not careful. In fact, I reviewed a book the other day and put it aside after reading the first paragraph. Its one-sentence construction covered at least two inches of page space, contained four hyphens and three semicolons. It was absolutely unintelligible. The moral is exercise caution when writing in sentence fragments.

You can utilize shorter words to boost the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader, slows the pace. Review your four or longer syllable words and consider replacing them with diminutive, or rather, shorter and easier to pronounce synonyms. For example, you might reconsider the use of the word, “antagonism,” when “anger” will suffice.

Be cautious of argot the middling may not twig. That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader won’t understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows to a snail’s speed.

Consider the power behind the words you choose. (How many times have we heard this one?) Does your character dream in nightmares or is he haunted by them? I think you can see the power in the word, “haunted” when compared to, “dreams.” As to verbs, consider the difference between someone who “falls” to someone who “collapses”. Falling could mean anything from tripping to going over a cliff. In contrast, “collapse,” assuming it fits the scene, indicates loss of bodily control. If there is no chance your reader will misinterpret what you wrote, they won’t have to reread a sentence to make sense of it. Anytime they reread anything, your pace suffers.

Don’t retell information. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow the reader, and your plot.

Use active voice. Passive voice is a slower read. “He was planning to do the work,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He planned to do the work.” Take your time to learn about active voice. It’s a powerful tool to use when writing your novel.

For more about this subject, consider THIS POST by Gail Martin in her blog titled, “Novel Journey,” or THIS ONE by Roz Denny Fox at her romance blog, “Desert Rose.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will offer better word of mouth advertising in return.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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

How to Structure Your Story

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on February 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

When some novelists sit down to write a book, they begin within a general feel for their story and characters then sit down to write. The book sort of takes shape, fills in and reaches its culmination of its own accord. This technique is the one I’ve used to date. The problem is it calls for much editing after the first draft. In my current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” I’m on my sixth major edit and only yesterday determined a seventh is needed.

Other writers organize their thoughts into a formal outline with all plot points scripted, every CHARACTER fleshed out to the level of ear hair, all IMAGERY constructed and each subplot developed in full.

This has nothing to do with the article

This method requires less editing after the first draft but more thought beforehand.

I think it’s obvious the method one chooses is determined by the writer’s personality.

There is a third option for those who are more organized than I and less ordered than God. It’s called by a number of names but is often known as the Three-Act Structure. In general terms, it  dictates a story has three distinct sections. Without surprise, you’ll find these “acts” are the beginning, middle and end.

Many say this is an arbitrary division of a story and has no real value within writing. They indicate the story revolves around the main CONFLICT and how that conflict is resolved. To be honest, I see their point. However, I think organizing does help us to stay focused, especially those writers new to the industry. With that in mind, I’ll offer this and hope you’ll feel free to do with it as you wish.

I did a bit of research and found the early Greek stories consisted of only one act while the Romans settled on five. I couldn’t determine why they the numbers differed, but regardless, today we utilize three acts. As mentioned before, the acts comprise the beginning middle and end of your story or as I prefer, the Set-up, the Confrontation and the Resolution.

When I wrote the first draft of my current manuscript, I’d not given any thought to the three-act structure. However, as it turned out, the novel naturally fell into the Set-up, Confrontation and Resolution  pattern. The Three-Act Structure seems to fit the human mind’s need for logic and may well be a natural storytelling methodology.

Although this is quite arbitrary, I’d guess you’d break up a hundred-thousand word novel into something like a twenty-five thousand word Introduction, a fifty thousand word Confrontation and a twenty-five thousand word Ending.

The Three Act Structure allows writers who don’t do a great deal of outlining to create a first draft with more efficient pacing. It gives them a feel for when to move from one part of the story to the next. This structure should also help eliminate the sagging middle, which is often caused by incorporating too much information too early in the manuscript.

The Set-up is designed to introduce your major characters, setting and premier conflict point. You might also toss in a subplot or two in this section. (For more on subplot, read my post from yesterday.) By the end of this section you’d have identified your detective, his lovely assistant, the murderer and the victim. There would be some action, a secret or two and maybe even an erotic innuendo here or there. However, the secret to the Set-up is it ends when your first major plot point, the hero’s great conflict, expels him from his normal life.

The Confrontation is all about thickening the plot. Think escalating tension and conflict, allies and enemies and character growth. It develops by way of the myriad of obstacles your protagonist faces and the many lessons he must learn in order to defeat the villain, whomever or whatever he may be. This is that part of your story where your second major plot point, the confrontation with the Big-Bad-Wolf, threatens. The formal confrontation takes place during Act Three.

The End is where the great villain is confronted and defeated. This section finalizes when you tie up all the loose ends and answer all the nagging questions you forgot to earlier. It is in this act you send your triumphant hero home to the welcoming arms of his lovely assistant – the very one your reader thought had died during the Confrontation.

For more on structuring your story, read my earlier post HERE .

In the mean time, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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