This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘imagery’

10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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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.”

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More Tips on Imagery in Your Novel

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

Imagery, those pictures you paint with your fiction, serves as a powerful tool to transport your readers to another place and time. It makes your novel more believable to your readers and places them inside the world you’ve created with your words. Without imagery, you lose much of the strength to your words and even more of the potential power within your novel. Effective imagery is as important to the novel writer as any character.

Imagine the story of Snow White with seven tall men in place of the dwarfs. It loses so much of its appeal, doesn’t it? Snow White and the Seven Giants? Ah, it’s just not the same. This simple example should give you an impression of how important effective imagery is to your novel.

Now that we understand why we use imagery, let’s look at some more tips on how to use it. (You can find more information about imagery in THIS article.)

Successful authors often use setting to convey imagery. Has a rainy day ever affected your mood? I’m sure it has and it probably made you tired or melancholy. My question to you is why didn’t it make you feel like dancing. After all, there’s ever a song about dancing in the rain. My point, of course, is setting is a great tool to utilize to enhance your story. Your sentence might go something like this: “The over-bright sun blinded him in the same manner the many choices he faced hid the best decision from him.”

Choose an order by which you describe something. For example, describe something or someplace from top to bottom and left to right. Use any order you wish, but this systematic portrayal gives your readers a more logical, thus more grounded, way to see the picture you paint with your words.

When you reach a point in your novel where your story requires imagery, close your eyes and imagine what it is you wish to tell your readers. Pay attention to the details. Then, scribble quick notes as to the five senses you’d use to create the mood, the feeling, the place or object about which you wish to write.

Use similes and metaphors to draw your imagery in the minds of your novel’s readers. (Simile is a comparison of things using “like” or “as” whereas a metaphor makes a comparison without either of these words.) An example? “Her skin felt as smooth as polished marble.”

Personification is a useful tool when you create imagery in your novel. That is, give human-like qualities to something nonhuman. Here’s an example. “The breeze whispered through the woods.”

One of the best ways to employ imagery is to surprise your reader. Use contrast in a way they’d never expect. Is her skin the lustrous hue of alabaster? Why not the skin of shaved cat, pasty, thin? Not all of your imagery need be of the beautiful. In fact, readers will often appreciate just the opposite. In my second novel, the character all my female readers liked the most by a wide margin was the tall, chiseled hunk who fell for the dumpy farmer’s daughter. Without variation, they said they liked him for his love of the unattractive woman, not his good looks. Contrast, especially if unexpected, can have a dramatic effect on your story and your novel.

This brings us to the ugly images you should consider. When you closed your eyes in our earlier example, did something you see appear unappealing? Then write it that way in some way. As with the life we all know, not all images are beautiful. Much in life is in fact, ugly, disturbing, or even disgusting. As long as your imagery is authentic, it will work with your readers. In fact, it is when your imagery becomes improbable that your reader puts down your novel.

I offer three cautions as to imagery in your novel. As with everywhere in the craft of writing, cliches are unwelcome. Phrases such as “tough as nails” or “dark as night” no longer spur the imagination of your readers. Be creative. Also, use care not to overindulge your imagery. If your readers knows the number of teeth missing from his comb, you’ve probably said too much and the result is often the loss of action and pace within your story. Finally, not every scene requires extensive imagery. Like every other aspect of your novel, imagery must be integral to the story for inclusion.

Now I ask you. What tips might you wish to pass along to the readers of this blog as to how you create imagery in your novels?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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


When is Too Much Sex, Too Much? (Caution Terminology)

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

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One of my blog readers asked me to expand on an earlier article, “How to Write a Sex Scene,” and today I’ll try and help her out. Her question entailed how much detail should one write into a sex scene. In my mind it’s up to the writer, but the answer varies according to writer’s target audience and the needs of the scene. Regardless, the reader’s imagination is the determining point.

Let’s look at the scene first. If you’re writing about raw sex, you might wish for more detail. Should you write about the power of love, you’d likely incorporate less. In the first case, you might include the feel of a woman’s wetness, whereas in the second you might offer nothing more than a bit of caressing as the two disappear behind a door.

Think also about the scene’s perspective. Is it written from the eyes of an eighteen year-old male bully or from grandma’s? Imagine how the bully might envision sex in relation to how might your grandmother. (Sorry for that visual.)

Let’s now take a look at the target market. Imagine how “the first time” scene might change if you wrote about seventeen year olds, thirty-somethings or grandmothers. In the first, you might have a young boy’s initial experience which entails raw sex with much more physical and tactile detail. The second could be a woman’s first encounter since her oppressive divorce where the details revolve less on the physical than the emotional. Grandma’s first encounter since her husband died might have very little detail, (if you don’t mind…), and convey something like comfort or even betrayal. Each displays the same basic scene, but with wildly varying descriptions and need for detail.

Here is how I feel about the subject in general. It’s all about the reader’s imagination.

Consider this simple example of describing a woman’s eyes when writing this type of scene.

“As he grabbed her hair and pushed her down on him, her eyes grew wide as silver dollars.”

“As he grabbed her hair and pulled her down on him, her eyes grew wide with excitement.”

Which of these lines creates the better vision to the reader? To me, everyone knows the size of a silver dollar and though the scene might be titillating, this simple detail reduces the reader’s option to use their imagination. In contrast, her eyes growing wide with excitement allows the readers to interpret how the character looked and thus makes the scene more personal to the reader. Now envision how involved a reader might be if a hundred details form in their mind, rather than on the page. This concept of appealing to the reader’s imagination applies regardless the level of detail. The more your reader employs their imagination, the more personal, more powerful the scene is to them.

I’m also all about the emotion of a scene. Consider a rape. Though the grabbing and thrusting it integral to the incident, if nothing else is described, the scene lacks much of its potential strength. However, if you write about how the woman emotionally responds to these actions, your writing will have much more impact.

To me, detail is dependent upon the scene and the audience. Use more of the reader’s imagination and fewer major details and I think you’ll write with more powerful imagery.

Now for some general tips.

A sex scene, as with all others, should maintain your writing style. Do you include every detail in every scene? Then continue in that vein. Do you skirt the large details for the small? Then carry on with that.

Highlight the tiny details. A man caressing the goose bumps on a woman’s thigh is more enticing than simply thrusting into her.

Think of your writing more as an Impressionist painting than one from the realistic period. The Impressionists worked with blurs of color and motion, allowing the reader’s mind to see what they wanted to see. The viewer’s imagination filled in the gaps. In contrast, the Realists painted each and every detail, giving each as much power as the next. Though their work is amazing, you only see what they want you to see.

Color-code the emotions you write on the page. Some people use colored pencils or crayons, while others use their word processing text highlighter. It matters not, but here’s how it works. When you mention an emotion such as yearning, you might color it gray. Should you highlight that mood one gets when a couple cuddles after sharing sex, you could use gold.

After colorizing each emotion, make a flip-book of your pages and thumb  through them. The colors that jump off the page will offer a strong insight as to the effectiveness of your writing and inform you if you’ve produced the type of article you wished. If your sex scene has a lot of black, for example, let’s hope it’s a rape. If the colors begin with cerulean, turn to yellow, shift to gold then orange and red, then back to blue, you’re probably on the mark for a love scene.

I read somewhere that “Details are the fingerprints of prose.” (Great line, don’t you think?) However, think of your details like spices. Too much salt or pepper and you’ll ruin the taste of the meal. So it is with your writing. Use your details sparingly so as not to overpower your reader.

When incorporating details, insure you employ your characters’, and thus your readers’, five senses. Have your character look at her nakedness, touch her skin and taste her lips. Have him hear her moan and smell her explosion. (And he’d damn well better see she has one.)

The general purpose of your novel is to transport your readers to another place and time. Would they rather go where they wanted or where you tell them. It’s all about the imagination.

It’s not about the sun, it’s about the warmth of the sun on one’s skin.

I do apologize for not offering specific instructions to leave in the erection and omit the sigh, but how much detail to write into a sex scene is up to the writer.

I wish you only 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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8 Tips for Writing Compelling Imagery

In The Craft of Writing on December 3, 2009 at 9:20 am

In novel writing, the descriptions you create relative to setting can have a major impact on the power of your writing. Many new authors write descriptions but often miss the concept of imagery altogether. Think of a description as a photograph, if you will. The average writer looks over the photo and writes the various things he sees. This is not necessarily the best way to convey what you wish your readers to envision. Here’s a typical description.

The construction of the building was of stone. It squatted on the wide field, surrounded by landscaping that suffered from neglect. The thin windows looked more like slits one might see in castles of old.

Instead, you might try to write in a way that incorporates the images you see into the action. For example the above description might be reworded as such:

He strode into the stone building and noted the poor quality of the landscape. Once inside, he wondered as to the purpose for the narrow windows which allowed little light to enter the rooms.

Paint your verbal pictures in nibbles more than great gulps of information. This means you should avoid writing descriptions of setting in long narratives. A rule, and we all know rules are created for us to break, says to put no more than two sentences together when describing your scene. Try not to fall into the trap where long descriptions will draw your reader’s attention from the main story.

Use your characters’ senses. The following example will demonstrate this concept. Once inside, he noticed a soft clanging that drifted through the building. It sounded somewhat like someone hammered on bronze. He tiptoed farther in and noticed an odor waft up from beneath the floorboards. Old food, perhaps?

Pepper dialogue with imagery. That is to say you might consider allowing your characters to impart images of things happening when they speak. “I can’t seem to stop these goose bumps from rising, no matter what I do.”

Use verbs that convey action. Words such as twirled, jumped, scurried or plotted show action by their very nature.

Use adverbs that convey action. An example might be a character’s shredded credit card. “Shredded” shows an action but is used to describe the noun. Another example is a groaning piece of equipment.

Use ordinary things in other than ordinary ways. For example, what about using an automobile to pull a tow truck or having a car chase a dog?

Think small. Have your characters take note of some of the smallest of details in your setting. Could you make use of the tiny nubs on the treads of a new tire? When might you point out the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle? Can you imagine ever employing the scratches on a cell phone screen in your novel?

Do any of you have other examples as to how a novel writer might employ more compelling imagery? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze