This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘narrative’

10 Common Writing Errors

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

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


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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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.”


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.

How to Bring Characters to Life

In The Craft of Writing on December 4, 2009 at 9:09 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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As any fiction writer will tell you, vivid characters are necessary to any successful novel. It may surprise you to know the method you use to bring your character to life can be as important as the character himself. With that in mind, let’s consider some of the different ways you might develop the characters in your novel.

One way you can add depth to a character is to summarize. This technique has the distinct advantage of simplicity. You basically give your reader a list of characteristics in narrative form. If you wish to advance your character in this fashion, don’t just give the reader a physical description. You should also use this time to bring his conflict to the fore. Those who use this technique typically do so early in their story. The problem with this methodology? The author tends to tell about the character, rather than show. (How many times have we heard the maxim writers are to show and not tell?)

Another popular method writers use to portray a character is to show an unusual action or habit. You might mention a young girl’s habit of tucking her hair behind her ear whenever she feels nervous around men. When your reader sees her tucking her hair later in the book, they understand what this character is feeling.

You can always have your character give a self-portrait. Fyodor Dostoyevski used this technique in “Notes From Underground.”

“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an ugly man. I believe my liver is diseased.”

The advantage of this methodology is the reader can also even envision the character’s personality by the words he uses and the way he uses them. The disadvantages can be significant as it might not carry enough dramatic weight to propel the story.

You can always use a person’s appearance to show their personality. We’ve all heard the old saw that says, “Image is everything.” Your reader can deduce your character’s traits by the way their groom themselves and their physical traits. The reader can also surmise the core conflict from a description if you use this technique with care. For example, is his mustache shabby or cropped? It is wide and waxed or does it sit low on the upper lip? What if one female character glopped on make-up while another wore none? What type of person do these various personality traits demonstrate? Can you see different personalities exhibited by these descriptions?

What I like about this type of characterization is their appearance may be deceiving. (Ah, love those Shapeshifters!)

You can bring your character to life with the scenes in which you place him. This manner of expressing character traits is quite common and is the most true to life. In our lives, we judge people by the way they act, do we not? We all know that “Actions speak louder than words,” and, consciously or not, we often determine our outlook toward people in this manner. So, too, will your readers when watching your character act and react. This technique easily brings your reader into the scene.

Perhaps the most useful method is to use a blend of the various methods. You may, for example, give a bit of description and write about a character’s personal ticks to show his true colors. This technique is often the best way to introduce your major characters.

Whatever method or combination of methods you use, insure the people you create feel true to life or all you work is for naught.

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

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


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