This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘editor’

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.

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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.”


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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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That Simplest Way to Improve Your Writing

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on January 6, 2010 at 8:23 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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When I completed my first manuscript, I sent my novel to an editor so she could inform me just how many requests for autographs I might receive from my soon to expand fan base. As I’m certain you’ve already surmised, she utterly failed in her task.

Though the manuscript contained more red ink that black when she returned it, one specific note she entered, (and entered and entered…), related to my use of the word, “that.” Though I paraphrase, she indicated that specific word could most often be eliminated without losing any meaning or substance within the sentence. Since then, I’ve found everyone uses that word so often in our everyday speaking we no longer hear it. However, when I read it, it’s now as obvious as a blemish on a prom queen’s nose.

My editor offered a simple trick I still use to this day. The secret, she said, is to read the sentence aloud without the offending word and consider if the meaning of the sentence is lost. If not, the word is unnecessary and it should be cut. Alas, I lost much of my word count during that exercise.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

“What’s the best way to get that accomplished?”

“What’s the best way to get accomplished?”

You see the sentence lacking the word loses something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. In this case, keep “that” in place.

Another example:

“Organize your files so that you can find things with ease.”

“Organize your files so you can find things with ease.”

It’s obvious in this example the word is not necessary and may be purged. The result is more efficient writing.

The easiest method I’ve found to perform this edit is to use the “Find” feature in your word processing program, then work through the resulting list. It won’t take as long as you think and once you’ve gotten used to not using the word, it becomes second nature.

Now, there is a caveat to, “that,” so I’ll pass it along. The word is still often considered acceptable in formal language. Though I can’t remember the last time I used formal language.

With this said, I tend to leave the word in my dialogue, most often with my less educated characters. For my more educated ones, I do not.

As you work through your edits, try this simple technique and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised how much it improves your writing.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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


To Pay, or Not to Pay?

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, Working with Agents on December 14, 2009 at 8:35 am

There is a controversy I run across quite often as speak to writers of various genres. That is, do you pay someone to edit your books? As with many questions, there are two sides to the answer. Some say, “Under no circumstances!” Others fell there is, “No problem!”

It’s my opinion, and many will disagree with me, the answer is, “No problem – with a caveat.” And that caveat is dependent upon your goals.

The ARA, (The Association of Author’s Representatives, Inc.), is the accepted governing body for those employed in the world of literary agentry. Membership in this association is voluntary and many agents join and accept the association’s ethical guidelines. Others choose not to do so, though this does not indicate an agent is unethical. The policies of the ARA, as it regards reading fees, stipulates,

“…literary agents should not charge clients and potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works in the ordinary course of business.”

Another aspect to this controversy is a good agent will, in one way or another, see that your manuscript is edited, again for no fee. In contrast, a freelance editor will charge for the same work.

As mentioned, your individual answer depends upon your goal in the matter. In the case of an agent, he works on commission and is paid only when he sells your manuscript. They are salespeople who choose which products, (books), they wish to represent and then see them into the hands of publishers. The freelance editor, in contrast, is paid upfront and charges by the word or page.

I think this is where all the confusion about paying people to edit your manuscripts originates.

In my mind, “reading fees” are very different from editing fees. Reading fees means they charge you to study your material and determine if they wish to represent your work. Editing fees is an entirely different concept whereas the editor charges to help prepare your work for submission to an agent or publisher. Therein you find the difference between the two.

In my case, I was new to writing and I hired my editor as an instructor. I understood my lack of skills and sought an effective method to learn them. A freelance editor gave me those lessons. As I read, (and reread and reread), her suggestions, I began to see the realistic application of the craft of writing. It was from her I learned the basics of the craft and, in my case, paying to edit my manuscript substituted for years of formal education. I still had, and have, much to learn, but she got me moving in the right direction.

After sending my original manuscript out to seek representation, all of my many queries were turned down except one to a specific agent. He sounded enthusiastic about my novel and said he’d take on my book if I’d use his in-house editing staff to put it into publishing condition. Of course, this service was offered for a fee. This requested fee was unethical. He didn’t say my work still needed editing and to get back to him when it was complete. He said he’d see it done internally. This requested fee was my red flag.

An agent may appreciate your manuscript, but before they represent it they may feel it needs additional editing. They may even name three or four freelance editors they trust. However, they should never charge for editing “in-house,” nor should they receive a kick-back from any of the editors they recommend without your prior approval.

My answer to this question? If you want to learn the craft of writing or to improve your chances of representation, a freelance editor might be a wise choice. If you don’t wish to go that route, an agent who charges fees is perhaps unethical.

Now, who among you will argue with me?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of Born to be Brothers