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Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, 2/2

In The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

This is the second and final installment of my interview with the ever-gracious Elizabeth Chadwick. Please take the time to read the first posting of this interview as she has a great deal to teach us. When you read the initial post you’ll see I tried to focus on any lessons Elizabeth Chadwick may have for aspiring writers as they learn The Craft of Writing. Today we finish with the sixth through the tenth questions.

Please note there are spelling and punctuation differences between her home of England and mine of the United States. If you see something that feels odd to you, trust the way Elizabeth Chadwick writes it.

Now, on to the interview.

My sixth question was:

You and I write are in the same genre, historical fiction. A question I’ve had asked of me a number of times is how does an author find the correct phraseology to adequately portray the language of his novel’s time and still appeal to today’s readers. Can you assist us with this?

“Just use good, standard English as the basics. If you go in for ‘gadzookery’ you have to be very sure of what you are doing and you are likely to alienate a lot of your readers.  If you go the other way and write modern phrases into your dialogue, you are likely to put off many readers of historical fiction who don’t want a Tudor personality saying ‘So what do you think of the King’s teenage girlfriend? Geez, she’s hot to trot isn’t she?’  Keep it on a level and perhaps insert the occasional historical word or phrase to give a flavour – although if it’s an item, make sure that the context tells you what it is.”

In her respond Elizabeth Chadwick gives us the technique for portraying a native dialect, a Southern accent, or even an Irish, “Top o’ th’ mornin’ to ya, laddie,” without the need for those many odd contractions and endless apostrophes. We simply use contemporary language and toss in the occasional historical word for authenticity.

As I’ve noted on earlier postings, not only do I follow Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice, but also look also to the flow, the music, within the language you’re emulating. I watched the wonderful movie “Stardust” the other night and the dialect of some rather ancient witches followed these rules. In one scene, a crone is heard saying, “What hardship a few more days?” In this simple phrase you can see the entire concept of what Elizabeth Chadwick recommends. The sentences use contemporary English terms, but with the lilt of the time.

Question Seven:

What might you recommend as the best method or methods for an aspiring writer to learn The Craft of Writing?

“As aforementioned.  Sit down and do it; that’s the only way. Read as much as you can too and across all genres.  Don’t just stick to reading what you want to write.  Try everything and get to know different authors’ voices and what each genre requires.  Watch films and TV dramas.  Watch film trailers.  Observe how they are put together.  You can learn a lot about structure from these as well as reading the written word.  I think visual media allied to reading and writing, helps a writer form images in their head.”

How many among us aspiring authors have heard the old saw extolling us to put our backside in the chair and write? I’ll bet you’ve also heard the recommendation to read widely, haven’t you? Well, Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s words contain the proof in the porridge as this is the primary method to improve your writing skills. Sit down and write is about as clear a recommendation as you might receive. To write better, write more.

My Eighth question was:

Please tell our readers how you see the art of storytelling as linked to The Craft of Writing.

“I suppose The Craft of Writing can get in the way of the story telling if you get too hung up on the rules.  I would say the story telling is all about putting the first draft down on the page, and the craft comes in at the editing stage once you’ve written or told the story.”

I have learned two important lessons from Elizabeth Chadwick, one of which is the “rules” in writing are, as she quotes from The Pirates of the Caribbean, “more like guidelines”. I truly appreciate her counsel in this regard. The other major lesson I’ve learned from her is the power of setting. Read her books and you’ll understand what I mean.

She emphasizes we should, first and foremost, write a good story. Worry about the rules after the story is penned to the page. This also answers a personal question as to why many successful writers don’t always follow the rules and still have stunning novels. It’s always about the story, guys.

Question Nine:

In historical fiction, as with many other forms of the art, research is an integral part of writing. Would you share with us how your research affects your application of The Craft of Writing?

“My in depth research means that I can walk through the medieval period with confidence and know that my characters are of their time and not modern day people in fancy dress. It means that I can imagine them and their world clearly and being clued up means that I am aware of all sorts of details and scenarios that I can fit in to enliven the narrative or save for a scene in the next novel as appropriate.  A writer should do the research but only feed it into the novel on a need to know basis. The material that doesn’t go in is not wasted.  It supports the writer’s ability to get under the skin of people long gone.”

I loved Elizabeth Chadwick’s response here. It seems The Craft of Writing isn’t directly affected by the research an author performs. Research, instead, enlivens the narrative so as to immerse your reader in your story.

And finally, question number ten:

Are there any other suggestions you might recommend for aspiring authors relative to The Craft of Writing?

“Enjoy what you do first and foremost. Don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.  For example, rules about how much dialogue you should have to prose just get in the way in the early stages.  Find your voice first and then begin looking at craft issues, but treat them as guidelines and don’t get in a state about them, because they can totally mess up your creative muse.  I know they do mine if I start poking about. I would also say write something every day. Set yourself a target that is easily doable even on a fraught day.  That way you’ll always achieve your goal and often go beyond it, which keeps it enjoyable and is a confidence booster.”

Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice for improving your mastery over The Craft of Writing includes writing what you enjoy. I doubt there is better advice available. If you try to shoehorn yourself into a genre which does not call to you, like any aspect of life, your muse will not participate in the endeavor as she might have had you let her speak through you.

Elizabeth Chadwick also suggests you find your voice early in the process. This, too, is excellent guidance. If you pay attention to people in this industry, you’ll find almost every successful person peppers their advice with this specific requirement. Agents, those who land us those elusive contracts, specifically and often recommend finding your voice and developing it. In my opinion, this is second in importance to writing the good story. I’ve written an earlier post on this and you may wish to review it.

She continues with encouraging writers to write everyday with an attainable goal in mind. This couples nicely with Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier recommendation to sit down and put finger to keyboard. There is no better way to achieve a goal than to practice.

This concludes the interview with Elizabeth Chadwick. I hope you’ve garnered from this as much from this as have I.

Again I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick, author of “The Greatest Knight” and many other good works, for her kind assistance in helping me offer this to you.

Now, I ask if Elizabeth Chadwick can take her time to support aspiring writers, shouldn’t aspiring writers take the time to support her?

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s many fine words from The Book Depository: www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to me at this blog.

Thank you for your time and attention. I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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Interview w/ Elizabeth Chadwick, Best-selling Historical Fiction Writer

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on November 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

The talented author, Elizabeth Chadwick, granted me an interview, the focus of which was to assist aspiring authors in learning the craft of writing and helping them reach their goal of publication. I asked Elizabeth Chadwick ten questions as to her experiences in learning the craft of writing, five of which will be discussed today. The remainder will be presented this coming Monday. Her answers are unedited and as she is English, Americans will find differences in spelling and even punctuation. Fear not, this lady is good.

My first question was:

Prior to your becoming a best-selling author, you had to learn the formal Craft of Writing. What was the single most important step you took on your path to mastering The Craft of Writing?

Flying hours I would say.  Sheer time spent actually writing.  I didn’t know I was learning the formal craft, I was just having fun.  I would also say that a cumulative effect of learning the skill has been a habit of reading voraciously across all genres throughout my life.  It’s amazing how much you pick up by osmosis.”

As my father was a naval aviator, I understood her analogy of “flying hours.” She confirms for us that well-known maxim all aspiring authors have heard before; write more if you wish to write better.

She also brought forth a secret it took me a time to understand. She said she was, “just having fun,” in her early writing ventures. What better advice could a writer receive? After all, if you’re not having a good time, you’ll not write as much or with as much passion.

She mentioned of another rule all authors should espouse. A secret to her success was “reading voraciously across all genres.” What better way is there to learn than to read other successful authors?

We’ve all heard these things said time and again, but do we really take them to heart? The lesson she offers in this answer is threefold: have fun, read voraciously and spend time writing.

My second question was:

How long did it take you to learn enough of The Craft of Writing before you were confident enough to seek representation?

“I wrote my first novel at the age of 15 and only didn’t send it off because it was hand written.  As soon as I’d learned to type, (aged 18) I began sending off.  Since I didn’t know anything about the publication business, it was a case of ignorance being bliss and I was fearless.

I used to measure my progress against published novels I’d read and I did notice that my level of competence was improving.  It’s important for any author to have an in-built editor.  To get one of these you need to read a lot across the board and not have rose coloured spectacles about your own writing.  You also have to be adaptable and willing to learn. I should also add that while I began writing things down at the age of 15, I had been telling myself stories verbally with beginnings, middles and ends since first memory – 3 years old.  I didn’t know it was an apprenticeship for the career I had now.”

I find her response fascinating! We see so much of the maturation of a young writer in her words, and a number of tips we can use to enhance our novels. First, of all, Elizabeth Chadwick was a born writer and storyteller. In this, I see the fundamentals of all good novels – storytelling. Elizabeth Chadwick began fleshing out stories at the age of three. If you expect to succeed in this difficult field of writing, the first thing we all must learn is to tell a good story.

As a young woman, Elizabeth Chadwick understood only the barest of basics in publishing, such as the need for a typed manuscript, but little else. She also forged ahead with, as she says, fearlessness and a case of ignorant bliss. (Don’t we all the first time?) The tip I see here is we, book writers, must come into this world of dreams we’ve created for ourselves with a fearlessness attitude and undaunted focus. Oh, yes, you also do need to learn the trade.

She also used other writers as a point of comparison for her own writing. Have you done that? I do. In fact, I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels for not only her magnificent characterizations, but her wonderful settings also. Further, I read David L. Robbins for his vivid, but not gratuitous battle scenes.

Something else I see in her reply that should guide us all is to follow your muse. Her muse spoke to hear quite early in life and she had the sense to follow it.

Her experiences are a guide for us all; become a good storyteller, push ahead with focus, courage and boldness, study other authors and learn from them and finally, follow your mues. (Or as some say, write what bubbles up.)

My third question was:

What was the most difficult aspect to The Craft of Writing for you to master?

To be honest I’ve never had a difficulty. I have learned to make sentences more concise and to cut down the adverbs and superfluous qualifiers.  I have also learned viewpoint control and not to head hop unless the moment calls for it.  I would also add that the craft of writing is, rather like the rules in the Pirates of the Caribbean – ‘more like guidelines really’. You can get so hung up on ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’   that you lose both your voice and your confidence.”

The lessons she offers here are write with a tight control over unneeded qualifiers and adverbs. (Ever heard that one before?) Control the novel’s viewpoint and not to “head hop.”

I really liked the way she interprets those onerous “rules” of writing as “more like guidelines.” Her point is to place your writing skills in the correct perspective so as not to lose your focus. A recent suggestion made the rounds on Twitter. It said a novel should be 50% dialogue. Now, I hope nobody is out there actually performing that calculation, but the point was novels contain a great deal of dialogue. Her response to that tweet was the same as her advice here. Don’t get hung up on all those “rules” for they will only hinder your writing and maybe even cause you to lose your all-important “voice.” Are they worth considering? Sure, but as Elizabeth Chadwick says, only as “guidelines.”

However, as she progressed in her chosen craft, she paid close attention to tightening her writing skills. She made her sentences more concise by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. (Have you done that with your novel yet?) She also mastered viewpoint control. (Gee, another one we’ve all heard.)

Obviously, Elizabeth Chadwick gained critical knowledge as she progressed, but what was it she learned? All those things we’re still told today. Make your writing tight, by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. Master viewpoint. Be cautious of all those writing rules – they’re only guidelines.

Question four was:

Do you still struggle with any part of The Craft of Writing, and if so, which aspects still offer you your greatest challenge?

“No, I have never struggled with any part of the craft of writing.  I guess the largest challenge these days re the writing itself is fitting big stories into market-confining word spaces.  But it does help me to make every word work for its living!  The other challenge involves all the marketing and networking initiatives an author is supposed to cover these days.  That takes a lot of time out of what was once just a basic writing day job.”

Ah, how many of us have struggled with cutting our novel down to size? A point tucked away in her words is what she calls, “market-confining word spaces.” This, as with so much of what she says, is critical to publication. The buying public only buys books of certain sizes. “War and Peace” might not be accepted today as it’s much too long for the contemporary reader. People will not buy a two hundred page children’s book. Do you know the “market-confining” limits of your genre?

She also points out that every word must carry its own weight when she says, “make every word work for its living!”

In addition, Elizabeth Chadwick touches upon a critical aspect to the successful writer’s journey. The nasty word here is, “marketing.” These days if you’re not as accomplished at reaching your audience as you are at writing, your chances of success diminish by a large percentage. Learn how to develop an audience, guys. It’s more important than you’d like to think. I was at a writers’ conference not too long ago and the three panelists in one seminar, all successful authors, all agreed on their split between marketing their writing and writing their writing. Seventy-five percent of their time was spent on building their audience and twenty-five percent of their time was on formally writing. Again, this is a “guideline,” but it does indicate the amount of time and effort an author loses to what once was “just a basic writing day job.”

Out last question for today was:

What do you find as the most common blunder relative to The Craft of Writing when you review aspiring authors’ works?

“There are many common ones and I don’t think any set one has the edge.  The main offenders re words on the page are:  purple prose, verbosity, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, stultifying dialogue and characters who are not fully realised and contradict their personalities from one scene to the next.  Re structure it tends to involve loose ends that never get woven into the novel and scenes that go nowhere and have nothing to contribute to the drive of the story.  I will often have scenes in a first draft that are cut at the final edit because they don’t contribute to the through-drive of the story.”

Are you surprised to hear that aspiring still authors make “so many common” mistakes?

The basic lesson to learn from this answer is to cut, cut, cut. Eliminate adverbs, verbosity, loose ends, poor dialogue, weak characters and so on. Cut out anything that does not provide “drive-though” for the story. In effect, anything that doesn’t add punch to your story get’s gone.

I appreciated it when Elizabeth Chadwick said she often cuts scenes as they don’t, “contribute to the through-drive of the story.” In fact, this is such an important message she used the word, “drive” twice in this paragraph. It’s the perfect word for how to eliminate errors in your manuscript. If words, “don’t contribute to the drive of the story,” cut them.

Once more I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick for her time and kind efforts in assisting aspiring authors find their way toward better skills. I trust you found something of worth to you.

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books from The Book Depository at www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html.

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

On Monday, I’ll finish with my interview with the gifted and gracious Elizabeth Chadwick.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

How to Write Historical Dialogue in Novels

In The Craft of Writing on November 10, 2009 at 8:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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A recent post on this blog concerned the technique of bringing forth language from an earlier time and making it understandable and enjoyable for contemporary book lovers. I sat in the audience of a panel recently and the talented author Susann Cokal gave me the secret I’d been seeking. She said, and I paraphrase, to use modern terminology in your historical novels, but present it with the flow of the language from the time in which you write. Susann Cokal writes medieval historical fiction and her example was something of this nature; “Forsooth, verily I am smote!” (“Rats! I’m dying.”) Again, I rephrase, but I’m certain you understand the point. In the meantime, I’ve come to the personal conclusion if a writer also inserts the occasional word from his era of choice, his dialogue will ring true and be enjoyable to read.

As an aspiring author who writes historical fiction, I also read in that same genre. At this time, I’m reading “Shadows and Strongholds” by Elizabeth Chadwick. (@chadwickauthor on Twitter.com) As I read this interesting and entertaining novel, I’ve run across what I think are perfect examples of what Susann Cokal was trying to exemplify. In “Shadows and Strongholds,” a monk has just rescued a boy from other youthful evildoers. In this scene, Elizabeth Chadwick wrote the following dialogue from the monk to the rescued boy:

“If you are not a foundling, which I judge not by the cut of your tunic, someone will be looking for you.”

Let’s take a look at that sentence in a bit more detail. If you note the words Elizabeth Chadwick uses, each of them you might use today on a daily basis, save maybe, “tunic” or “foundling.” Who among us would ever use the word, “foundling?” (Not many, at least if you wish to survive junior high.) Yet, when Elizabeth Chadwick employs the word, it feels as though it’s a perfect utterance for the time. There’s that occasional word from the era inserted into her dialogue as I mentioned earlier.

Looking to the center phrase, would you ever say, “which I judge not by the cut of your tunic?” I suspect not. However, it melds well with your impression of medieval speech patterns, doesn’t it? It sounds like something one from that era might intend, if not formally articulate, which is the very point I’m trying to make.

Consider the final phrase in the sentence, “someone will be looking for you.” I can hear those words coming from the mouth of any modern adult with an child they don’t know in their presence. Can’t you? With ease, Elizabeth Chadwick has taken hold of the thoughts of any adult throughout history and made them work for her readers and her storytelling. You’ll also note there is neither a single apostrophe nor any of the wild contractions writers often use to simulate historical dialogue. Her writing is meaningful to the modern reader, but she’s not lost the story’s medieval tone.

Another example of dialogue I appreciated in “Shadows and Strongholds, follows. FitzWarin, the father of the aforementioned boy, is speaking to one his underlings.

“A moment is all it takes.” FitzWarin made a terse gesture with his clenched fist. “I have no time for this now; I’ll deal with you later. For the nonce, we had better find my son.”

Here, Elizabeth Chadwick speaks in the fashion any irate father today might speak when looking for a child he knows is not really lost, but only misplaced. The one exception is the word, “nonce,” though its meaning is clear by its use. Here again are modern words, punctuated by a single medieval term, with the lilt of a fourteenth century speaker. What she has done to bring her dialogue into our time was to alter the phraseology.

By studying how Elizabeth Chadwick incorporates past times into her historical conversations, we see how to give our dialogue life while still having it appeal to the contemporary reader.

So, kind readers, the task of creating captivating dialogue in your historical fiction novels is not as mysterious or onerous as you might think. It does take a bit of practice, but the mixing of a past parlance with a modern manner of speaking is not such a daunting task. Learn from the successful and you’ll do well.

I wish you all success and best-sellers.

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