This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘manuscripts’

The Power of Subplot

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Click HERE for a podcast to the article.


To understand subplot, let’s first delve into the concept of plot. The main plot is the framework or storyline of a novel. It is the series of events that happen to your protagonist. In most novels, it can be summed up in one sentence. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s book, “Gone with the Wind.” Can you compile those many pages into a single sentence? I have no idea what Margaret Mitchell’s one-liner might be, but I’ll give it a go. How about something like this? A genteel woman of the old South must learn to cope with the ravages of civil war.

In like manner, subplots are lesser series of events that interweave within the main story. They, too, can be subjected to the compression of a one-liner. Looking to “Gone with the Wind” again, we find a number of subplots that Ms. Mitchell melded into her novel. For example, before and after the war, Scarlett’s love for Ashley as well as Rhett creates great conflict in her life. She also deals with a relationship with Melanie, Ashley’s wife and even a father who has slipped into insanity.

When you interject subplots into your novels, keep in mind they must maintain a direct connection to the main plot. They add substance and enrich the main story as they interlace within it by way of their relation to it. They do not stand on their own nor do they, as a rule, have a direct impact upon the plotline. Look at it in this light. If your plot is a haunted house, the subplots would be the ghosts that waft from room to room. They are part of the house, but the house stands with or without them.

I see two key reasons to interject subplots into your novels. They offer character contrast as well as enhanced conflict. My current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” is about the love triangle between two men and a woman. One of the subplots comes into play when war breaks out and the three must decide where their loyalties lie. War brings out the differences in people every time and increases conflict by its very nature. For another example of conflict offered by subplots, consider the Harry Potter series. The story is about Harry, of course, but interwoven is a subplot based on Hermione’s crush on Ron. Though Harry’s adventures continue unabated, the girl’s sentiments toward Ron take over entire scenes at times.

This brings us to the structure of subplots, which have the same configuration as your story and its major plotline. That is, they have starting points, middle points and outcomes. Within this, they have turning points, moments of great peril and questions answered. Yet, despite everything, they consume less of your word count than the main plot.

Should you decide to introduce a number of subplots, keep in mind one is premier to the others. You should have one foremost subplot and a couple others of lesser impact. A general rule is to have at least one scene relating to the subplot(s) in each act. (Most stories have three acts, but that’s another post altogether.)

One aspect of subplots I appreciate is they allow a lesser character to take on a larger role when the major plotline fails to offer that opportunity. Think of Prissy, the house slave who lied about her experience with “birthing babies” in “Gone with the Wind.” That minor subplot holds much more of our memory than it deserves when you consider its relation to the major plot line of that book.

Subplots, should you wish, can have a major impact on the main plot and are most effective at this when placed at the end of the story. For example, If you’ve read the original “Frankenstein,” you know a servant girl hovers about the story almost without purpose. In the end, however, the mad doctor uses her body to create a creature-wife for the monster. A very minor character turned into a major subplot at the conclusion of the novel.

Now, would you like to know the true secret to a subplot’s power? They are all about relationships. I’ll bet the light just went on for some of you, didn’t it?
As an author and writer, you can embellish your story with depth and life by the effective use of subplots. Take some time to intertwine them in your books and your readers will appreciate your extra work.

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

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

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How to Write Sex Scenes (Terminology Caution)

In The Craft of Writing on February 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

Download the podcast Version of this article here: How to Write a Sex Scene

How much would you like to bet this post garners the most reads of any of my articles? Sorry, guys, but this one is factual.

If you write for any length of time, you’ll stumble upon the opportunity, with intent or otherwise, to write a sizzling scene where your characters take off their clothes. For obvious reasons, many writers struggle with this type of prose, while others jump in without reservation. Either way, every fiction writer has the ability to write erotic scenes. After all, it’s just another form of conflict, is it not?

Let’s look first to the scene as an integral part of any novel. As with every scene in every novel, it must fulfill the same functions and have the same components as would any other. It must fit the storyline, utilize believable characters, employ effective dialogue, move the story forward, build tension, (Yeah, boy!), exhibit a character’s needs, (Too easy…), offer conflict, (You bet!), contain a valid point of view and all those other tedious things. It’s no different than any other scene in this regard.

Let’s look to storyline. As a writer you should give thought as to why you’re writing this specific scene in the first place. It must have the same authenticity as any other in your manuscript. If you write an erotic scene for the sake of titillating, (Oh, geez…), readers won’t understand how it fits the story, and though they may read it multiple times, it will drag down your novel and reduce its acceptance. So, think it through and insure this scene has legitimate purpose to the story.

Characters: The main thing to remember is they must stay in character. The meek office worker will never start talking like a stevedore in bed, nor will your hunk ever giggle. The rapist won’t turn into a cuddle-bunny when he’s done, nor with the Stockholm Syndrome come into play for his victim. Insure the way they act out of bed corresponds with the way they act in bed.

Dialogue: When you want to write an erotic scene, dialogue is not what you might think. In real life, people say things like, “I don’t bend that way,” or “that hurts” or the ever-deflating, “Is it in yet?” So, like any other dialogue in your novel, it won’t be true to life. Consider talking as foreplay for your characters. Lead into the scene with dialogue that builds in intensity, then allow it to fade as things get more heated. Words should give way to sighs, whimpers, groans, exclamations and whispers. Just be cautious your characters don’t sound like farm animals.

Conflict: Consider the conflict that caused the characters to engage in sex, and/or the conflict that results from the act. If there is none, the scene is probably not necessary.

To me, the secret to a steamy scene is found within psychology. Once you realize sex is more a mental exercise than physical, your writing will focus upon the emotional sides of love making. Be sure your reader “sees” the emotional tension rising, falling and rising again to its crescendo.

And don’t forget the lead-up and the follow-through. What drew your characters together and holds them to each other? How do they feel the following morning? What happens to their relationship with the passing of time? Sex scenes are a much larger part of your story than just momentary and wanton passion.

Let’s now look at some general tips to consider when writing sex scenes.

You’re not writing a brochure for the medical community, so dispense with all the technical terms like “penis” or “vagina.” Further, unless you’re writing for comedic effect, “tacos” or “thingys” have no place either. Consider using instead, pronouns, which are quite effective in these scenes. Your example?

“His thingy forced its way into her vagina.”

is replaced by,

“He forced himself upon her.”

Resist the temptation to use euphemisms. The Tunnel of Love is a ride at the carnival and meat slapping is all about being mean to hogs.

You don’t have to describe too much nor do you have to tell everyone what’s going where or who’s grabbing what. They already know. Besides, the reader’s imagination will fill in the blanks, and they’ll create a more interesting image with their minds than you will with your words.

Yes, your own writing, in this situation, should excite you too. If it doesn’t, you need to rewrite the scene or drop it all together.

In sex scenes, like any other, incorporate the five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Fluids can be fun. Yes, sex is sticky and fluid-filled, so don’t shy away from those components of the act either. Just be judicious in their use.

Nipples are not pencil erasers or anything related to a cherry. They are tough to describe, so become comfortable with the word, “nipples.

Shy away from clichés. They rarely work in writing anyway, and they’ll rarely work in writing sex. Have you ever been with someone who screamed out, “Do me now! Do me now!” Neither have  your readers.

Women rarely beg for sex. Men just might.

Your erotic scenes should never be tedious or disappointing. If they doesn’t turn you on, rewrite them.

No formulas. Paint-by-number sex is boring.

Unless you’re writing a rape scene, “no” really does mean “no.”

Build tension before your characters do the dirty deed.

Don’t forget to include foreplay. It’s a major part of the best sex, so be sure to include it in your writing.

Give your readers fantasy. That is one of the most interesting parts of sex anyway and there’s no reason to ignore it.

Sex is all about the mind and so much more than just the orgasm. So it is with your characters. Let them use their minds more than their other body parts.

Sex can be humorous. After all, “Get bent,” can have so many meanings.

Use the small aspects of sex to enhance the scene. A woman’s neckline can be much more enticing than most any part of her body. A man’s hand on the small of a woman’s back can lead her in any direction.

People usually look better in their clothes than out of them. Don’t get too involved with physical descriptions. Allow the reader to imagine as they will.

The illusion of nakedness is much more tempting that actual nakedness.

A falling silk dress is more alluring than a fallen silk dress.

In a first encounter, women take time. In later encounters, you may have to slow them down.

Odd thoughts can, and do, seep into people’s minds at the most inappropriate of times.

If it makes you cringe, it will make your readers put your book away forever.

Okay, for those of you who still feel hesitant, there’s only one way to overcome your fears. Pick up your pen and get your paper wet.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

4 Steps to Character Development

In The Craft of Writing on February 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

We all realize one of the most critical components in the craft of writing any novel is its characters. Without effective characterization, the chance of penning a successful novel approaches zero. Therefore, I spend much of my writing time creating those people who will populate my manuscripts. Personally, I use a four-step process for developing my characters.

These four steps are:

  1. 1. Summarize the type of character needed for the story
  2. 2. Find a photo of that person
  3. 3. Interview my main characters
  4. 4. Review my character’s reactions during the editing process

First, I jot down the basic characteristics I’ll need for my hero, villain and any love interest. I focus more on their personality than physical characteristics and I try to envision how this person I’m creating will react to situations I already imagine will occur in the story.

I sort of feel this person out and makes notes as my mind wanders between the character and the story. Other writers fill in formal note cards or databases, many types of which you can find on the Internet. It matters not how you gather this information, but knowing my characters’ personalities before I craft them helps me flesh them out as I write.

Next I locate, cut out and paste up photos of my characters. I physically mount their faces, and if necessary to the story, full body photos of my people. I pay very close attention to the look in their eyes, for I need specific personality types, and the eyes are the harbinger of this. I might take hours upon hours to find the perfect pictures, but when I have them, I paste these photos on a piece of poster board and keep it on my desk as I write. Early in the writing process, I refer to these photos often, especially when I write dialogue, which I think is one of the secrets to effective dialogue. As I become more familiar with the characters as individuals, I refer to their photos less and less, but still keep the mounting board on my desk as I write.

Third, I interview my characters. Yes, it is a formal interview as if I’m speaking to someone for a magazine article. By now I’ve developed a basic storyline so I ask them questions that relate to my story. For example, in an early manuscript, my heroine learned her husband died in battle and she traveled to the field to find his remains. (It was common in the era in which I write.) So, I asked her, “Lorena, it’s late at night and you’ve wandered over this horrid field with a lantern for hours. You’ve just found your husband, dead on the battlefield. How would you react to this?” I allow my instincts about this character to answer for me. If I don’t get an answer that can translate into an effective scene, I consider altering the scene and/or characterization of this person. By the time I’ve reviewed most of my story’s major plot points as they relate to my major characters, I’ve got a firm visualization of who my characters are and how I’ll write about them in my manuscript.

Finally, as I edit my work I study how my characters reacted to the various situations in which I’ve placed them. Did they respond according to the  personality I’ve given them? Did they act as expected? If not, what has to change, the scene, the character or both? The situations in which my characters find themselves have often morphed into something quite different than I’d visualized in my first draft. I consider it imperative to insure my character’s have adapted to these new situations in a fashion consistent with their personalities.

My manuscripts are character-driven and this four-step process insures those people I create mesh with my plot points and storyline without issue.

Are there other techniques or tips you use to create your characters? Let me know and I’ll post them, with appropriate credit, of course.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Secrets to Your Novel Writer’s Reputation

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on February 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

I can only suppose you’re reading this article because you are already a successful author or you plan that same accomplishment soon. If either case is true, then you’ve got a professional standing to uphold. How might you go about keeping your reputation up to form? As with anything worthwhile, it’s a bit time consuming but necessary. The good news, there are only a few secrets to keep in mind.

I attended The James River Writer’s Conference last year and listened to a panel where all three speakers agreed to the concept a writer needs to spend seventy-five percent of their time marketing their business and twenty-five percent writing. This means that to keep up your status as a professional writer, you should spend a great deal of your efforts on promoting your name and maintaining your status as a professional. Look at it like this. An Olympian isn’t racing most of the time, he’s practicing. The secret is this concept applies to your writing.

Basically, there are six major steps you should consider if you wish to build and maintain a professional writer’s reputation. I’ll outline them then discuss each in a bit more detail. These considerations are:

  1. 1. Utilize Social Networking
  2. 2. Join an Association
  3. 3. Create Your Web Presence
  4. 4. Write Nonfiction
  5. 5. Keep a Professionals Attitude
  6. 6. Stay Current

Utilize Social Networking: You’ve chosen a field where the competition is fierce, and when a novel writer wants to generate buzz about his manuscript, you have to employ WOM, or word of mouth. Keep in mind social networking is beyond simple posts on Facebook and Twitter, though these are important. You should also join writers’ groups, attend conferences and the like. Be found in those places where writers and readers congregate. Despite all the technological advances in recent years, WOM is still your best way of getting known.

Join an association: Once you’re published, joining a professional writers’ association helps build your cred. For example, if you write mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Find whatever organization(s) fit your genre then pay their dues and go to their gatherings. It’s a great way to hobnob with the successful and to garner loads of useful information.

Create Your Web Presence: In an earlier post I talked about when to build your web site, which is after you have something to sell. However, you should begin to build your web presence well before the web site is up and running. However, if you wish to establish a profile page sooner, that’s not a bad idea. You should establish a blog one to three years prior to becoming published. Update this no less than weekly.  You should have a professional email, (mine is CPatrickSchulze@yahoo.com). Be sure to include this web information on business cards and other marketing material you might produce.

Write nonfiction: You write fiction all the time. Why not improve your cred by writing nonfiction, such as this article? It helps you boost your reputation as a writer and if you’re unpublished, it also builds confidence.

Maintain a Professional Attitude: Nobody wants to do business with a prim donna or a fool. The more professional your presentation, the more others are willing to deal with you. And, after all, you are in The Business of Writing. You’ll gather more potential proponents and customers with the correct personal presentation. The old adage of “Image is Everything,” holds true in this industry as with any other.

There was an agent I followed on Twitter, had placed in my database, and planned to query at the appropriate time. I met her at a writer’s conference and although her personal appearance was well below standards, I attempted to look past that to get to know her and appreciate the work she might perform for me. Quite frankly, she’s a bitchy woman who looked down upon the unpublished and I soon discovered she is someone with whom I could never work. She lacked even a modicum of professionalism and I’ve dropped her as a possible agent. If you don’t present a professional attitude the reverse happens to you as a writer.

Stay Current: Keep your knowledge of publishing trends and market preferences up to date. You do this by reading industry magazines, various newsletters, blogs, articles and by reading the invaluable information on Twitter and other social networking sites. Staying current also means to write, write, and write some more.

Are there other thing you must do to establish and maintain your cred? You bet there is. However, get these initial steps under your belt and these other opportunities present themselves to you.

Do you have any stories about how you’ve worked to build your credentials as a professional writer? Are there other ways you go about building your reputation?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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Tips on How to Find an Agent for Your Novel

In The Craft of Writing on January 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

Can a novel writer achieve success without an agent?  Of course. All you require are strong marketing skills, a firm grasp of specific technologies, appropriate contacts, a few bucks, a bit of luck, time and perseverance. As you might expect, most of us mere mortals don’t have more than one or two of these, let alone all of them. So, it remains true for most of us, the best route toward success as an author is to place our novel in the capable hands of an agent.

So, how does one go about finding one of these elusive beings? Truth be told? Its difficult. It’s very difficult. However, if you can find that bit of luck, or better yet create your own, there are some things you can do to enhance your prospects.

First and foremost, write that saleable, excellent manuscript to its completion. No exceptions, no excuses. Without a marketable product, the agent has nothing to sell for you and everything else is mute. You may have a magnificent product, but if there is no market to buy it, agents can’t help you. You may have the perfect market, but a substandard novel will never sell. Writing is a business, so deliver a quality product first.

Next, understand two things. Agents are looking for new authors. Every agent wants to land the next Tolstoy or King or Koontz. If you’re not up to the status of these authors, agents will work with you, if you can help make them a living. (No, it’s not all about you and your book.) An agent’s goal is to sell books and they’ll sell your book if you have that marketable product.

The next concept to understand is agents are people too. They’re real people like you and I with children, bosses, vacations, illnesses, bills and all the rest. They’re not horned wild-eyed creatures looking for souls to crush. They actually want you to thrive, for your success breeds their success.

Next, narrow your search to those agents looking for your genre of writing. Consider this. If you’re looking to purchase a new automobile and some guy tries to sell you a table, what are the odds you’ll bite? They’re about the same as an agent who sells children’s books buying your horror story. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

There are any number of avenues by which you might filter the agents to find those who are receptive to your genre.  You can start, of course, with the current “Guide to Literary Agents” at your local bookstore or on the web. You might also consider the Association of Authors’ Representatives Web site at aar-online.org. There is no limit to the resources available to determine which agent will consider your work. Jump on the Internet and get to work.

Next, research the books the appropriate agents have published. This secret just might be one of your most important aspects to landing an agent, by the way. By knowing the agent’s published works, you can compare your manuscript to those they’ve already sold. When you query them later, compare your work to one or more of theirs. As an example, if your novel has exceptionally strong characters, then compare your characters to one or more books the agent has already represented that also have similar characterizations. This gives the agent a handle on what you have to offer and two additional pieces of information. One, you’ve done your research and are knowledgeable about the industry, and two, they already know how to sell your book to their publishers.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll continue with this idea and give you more tips on how to influence an agent to represent you.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze