This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘protagonist’

9 Essentials for Writing Your Climactic Scene

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Every novel requires that final, explosive scene where the protagonist and his villain struggle with each other to the certain demise of one or the other. It matters not if you hero is a working mother trying to make ends meet, or the commander of the forces ready to invade Omaha Beach on D-Day. Every novel should have this climactic scene and you should consider certain criteria to make it as powerful as you can.

Here are nine tips to help you when writing that all-important scene.

This scene should be an epic confrontation with a clear winner and a clear loser. Someone gets the girl and someone goes home from the party by himself.

Your hero must confront his most worthy of adversaries. Secondary evil doers simply won’t do. Make this clash between the biggest and baddest.

Your reader expects your hero to win and so he should. However, his victory need not be what they expect. Regardless the sour taste of your hero’s success, a victory he should have.

Your hero should win something of value for his trials. It could be the realization that “The Girl” just ain’t worth the work, or it may be real estate garnered by an incredible battle. Whatever he learns or wins, it must make him a better person, or creature, as the case may be.

In this scene it is not the time for surprise arrivals of any sort. The cavalry, in any of its many forms, should not jump into the story at this point. All that should be set up earlier in your novel.

Have your hero save himself. Imagine if your hero is fighting the villain in hand-to-hand combat and just as the bad guy puts the sword to his throat, an unmentioned meteor streaks from the sky to obliterate the bad guy in a magnificent blaze of fire. Don’t you think your readers will be disappointed in that? Now, that’s not to say the beautiful model can’t Kung Fu in and save him earlier in the story, but at this time, he’s on his own.

There should be no flashbacks at this point in your novel. Flashbacks are tough anyway, but they break the tension and can kill the entire scene. Once the scene opens, focus on the conflict in that scene. Your readers’ interest should be at its peak and they deserve a healthy portion of suspense, action and conflict.

Speaking of action and conflict, this scene should be resolved with action and conflict. Let them duke it out, metaphorically, emotionally or physically, but get the tussle going. Make this thing as exciting as you can. (For more information on the difference between action and conflict, read this ARTICLE.)

Clarification of anything is death to this scene. This is the time for action and your readers should have already received any explanations they need, although mysteries might get away with this to a point.

And finally, this scene should end in a rational fashion. Make it suspenseful, but logical. You never want your readers to say, “Don’t buy it,” at the end of your story. If they do, they’ll tell their friends the same thing; “Don’t buy it.”

Now, are there any aspects to the climactic scene I’ve forgotten?

Until my next post, you knows I wish you only best-sellers.

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


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There are no rules! Really?

In The Craft of Writing on March 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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I may be missing something here, but I wonder why people in the industry say there are no rules in writing. Of course there are rules. Lot’s of ‘em. Everywhere you turn.

Here’s a thought. Isn’t, “There are no rules” a rule in its own right? Thus, it would appear the statement is false on its face. So, have I’ve already made my point? Regardless, let’s journey forward.

“There are no rules” is considered by many just the Real Rule among the multitude of maxims they know exist. Here’s one example that proves the invalidity of the Real Rule.

Don’t query fiction before you have a completed novel.

Of course, another rule says you don’t have to follow this rule if you’re already a successful novelist, or a celebrity, or a politician or this or that. But, that doesn’t make the Real Rule not a regulation for us mere mortals, does it?

Here’s more proof the Real Rule is incorrect.

Don’t query unless your novel is well-written.

That’s definitely a rule.

Ah, I can hear the arguments now. “You’re talking about publishing! You must understand there are no rules when writing.”

Well, they are often interdependent, but let’s check that one out, too.

If there are no rules in writing, I guess you can write a novel that contains no conflict, right? Conflict in fiction is a rule, isn’t it? Maybe not if you believe the “no rules” rule.

Care for another example? When writing your novel, everyone says you need a sympathetic hero. How many novels would you sell if nobody cared for or identified with your protagonist? I guess we’ve found another rule that does exist.

Here’s another I guess you can ignore when writing; point of view. Just write from any and every viewpoint at any time. Right? I doubt even your mother would care to read that novel. Hum. Yet another rule.

One more, if you’ll bear with me. There is a rule when writing grammar that says you should eliminate most of your “-ly” words. Here again, another rule.

In addition to the many binding rules of writing, there are any number of ideas that are passed off as rules when they are not. One that comes to mind says fifty percent of your novel should be dialogue. That’s more a “guideline” as our pirate friends of the Caribbean might say. These sort of pseudo-maxims are a bit more difficult to address and beyond the scope of this article.

It’s probably time to stop and get to the point. My point is, there are rules, many and all kinds of them, and as writers we need to know and employ them.
With that said, I believe “there are no rules” is much like the rules of society. That is, rules do exist and people in power expect you to follow them, but it’s a lot more fun when you know how to break them. If fact, as Katherine Hepburn once gave words to my personal mantra, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”

In general, rules are made to be broken, but for the majority of us we must be circumspect when we do so. Some, such as conflict in fiction or the sympathetic hero really should not be broken if we wish to sell our novels. Others, like the use of semicolons, can be manipulated.

I recommend we think of the rules in writing as techniques or skill sets, if you will. Early in our writing careers we should first learn these various skills and methodologies. We should then adapt to them and become proficient with them. After we’ve reached that level of success that satisfies us, then figure out how to bend and even break the rules.

In the mean time, if we wish to sell our novels, we should jump through the hoops the industry requires of us and don’t give those people who say there are no rules too much sway over our writer’s life.

Okay, I’m done. Now I want to hear your arguments to the contrary.

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 Sidekick as Character

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

The term, “Sidekick” comes to us from gamblers testing their luck at the card table in the 1600’s.  It meant what we now call an “ace in the hole,” or a power card held in reserve for an appropriate time.

Many novels utilize the services of this character called sidekick with great effect. Most often they contrast with the protagonist, but in a nonthreatening, possibly even humorous manner. The secret to the Sidekick when you write fiction? He’s an interactive prop against which the hero bounces.

His purpose is to enhance the characteristics of the hero and possibly offer comic relief. He also gives depth to the plot and other characters. Often a main goal is to provide counsel and/or information to the good guy. The Sidekick is also assigned those duties unsuitable for your hero or beneath his status. Another typical function is to save the hero’s hide at those times when your protagonist appears most at risk. Regardless his duties, the Sidekick participates in almost all the hero’s exploits, except of course, those of a physical nature. To his chagrin, the Sidekick never gets the girl.

Your sidekick should be developed as well as any other important character. He, like his heroic counterpart, requires motivation, he must stay consistent to his personality and have something likable about him.

His personality is typically drawn as smart, shy or even cowardly and a bit neurotic, though this stereotype is changing in literature. These days, the sidekick can be as powerful, or more so, than your hero in some ways. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars. He got the girl even before Luke knew Leia was his sister. (Come on now, as Leia was Luke’s sister, this is the exception to the rule about sidekicks and the story’s love interest mentioned above.) Regardless, The Sidekick’s skills compliment the hero’s. For example, consider Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The good doctor’s personality made Sherlock a more palatable character.

The Sidekick is often differentiated from the protagonist by one or more characteristics. In sci fi, for example, they are often of another species entirely. In other genres, they can differ by any number of factors which might include economic position, education, culture, race or even gender. By the way, a sidekick never has a physical relationship with the hero, which I’ll explain in a moment.

The primary relationship between the main character and the sidekick is trust and loyalty. Their bond is unbreakable, though the reader needn’t necessarily know this. Should the hero and his sidekick part for whatever reason, it can make for an exciting scene when, at his darkest moment, the hero is saved by the unexpected return of the contrite sidekick. That bond also is why the hero and his sidekick can never have a physical relationship. That can create too many opportunities for this trust to bend and break. Further, if you’re not careful, a physical relationship may even move one or both characters into a different character type altogether. This trust also is why your villain will never have a sidekick. Bad guys and their henchmen are notoriously untrustworthy.

You may wish to create a couple of sidekick types to see if you can’t insert them into your books and novels. You may find they give your story that added spark it lacks.

For more about characters, read THIS.

In the mean time, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

How to Write Battle Scenes

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

How to Write Battle Scenes

By C. Patrick Schulze

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Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

There are two basic types of battle scenes. There is the one where an individual combatant engages in a fight. There are also those epics where generals maneuver grand armies over the countryside. Though both of these scene types have great similarities when it come to your writing, today we’ll discuss a scene in which one or a few soldiers is involved.

Battle scenes are unlike other scene types as they have a trickier side to them. They utilize a different construction and fewer words to move them forward. These scenes are all about speed, strength and emotion.

Under Fire

However, as with any scene, it must have meaning to the story and move the storyline further toward its conclusion. Does the battle offer a plot twist perhaps?  Does it help the hero grow? Might it enlighten your reader to more of your hero’s personality? Like all writing, these scenes should also utilize your characters’ five senses. And don’t forget about point of view either. It is as critical in battle scenes as any other. For example, how effective would an ambush be if the hero knows it was about to occur? Of course, this part of your novel must be well-written, punctuated with accuracy and all those other things novels require.

Write only about the action and trim out everything not related to the moment in time. In battle scenes you’ll employ fewer words than with your normal writing. Adverbs will become quite scarce as will adjectives. Also, search out specific nouns and verbs. You’ll find great command over your words if you choose that unique verb or noun for the situation at hand. For example, soldiers don’t “run” across a field, they “charge” or “rush” or “dash” across it.

The use of emotion is THE component you need to emphasize in writing battle scenes and you should employ all your powers of persuasion at this time. Though James Bond or Patton may be your exceptions, your characters are not indifferent to combat. Even your heroes will be utterly terrified. And consider the emotions of those at the home front. If you fail to bring their feelings into play, you’re missing a powerful plot point.

One powerful tool at your disposal is sentence structure. Your sentences should imitate a sword fight; furious, short and brutal. Long passages slow down the novel, whereas short, choppy ones increase the pace.

Dialogue is another tool that can enhance, or destroy, your action scenes. First of all, you should work for a bit of realism here, so please, no snappy comebacks. Keep your characters’ dialogue to the point. When a soldier is under fire, he’s not joking to his buddies about a YouTube video he saw last night. Nothing is on his mind other than the events swirling around him.

Now for some general tips.

Remember, this is a novel, not a flicker show. Though the slashing sword is important, the character’s reaction to that event is more so.

Insure your villain is worthy. Nobody’s impressed when your hero fights a challenger who is without adequate weaponry.

Don’t write about David and Goliath. That one’s been done.

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, large battles or single combat, draw a map of your battlefield. It need not be of high quality, but you’ll be surprised as to how much this can help. Use photos of sites whenever possible. I travel to the actual battlefield where my combat occurs and take photos. I then place them on my screen when I write my battle scenes and refer to them often. You’ll be amazed how something as slight as a slight rise in topography can come into play in this type of writing.

When men are wounded, only four thoughts crowd their minds; what parts are missing, will they die, water and family, not necessarily in that order.

In a fight, if someone receives a minor wound, he doesn’t stop to look at it, touch it and study the blood on his fingertips, show it to his enemy and scowl, step back, retake a fighting stance and egg on his opponent with a flip of his fingers. The instant he looks down, he’s dead. That’s it. Keep it moving.

Adrenalin and panic can overcome only so much. Minor injuries won’t be noticed, more serious injuries will stun a combatant, if stop him. Characters run out of breath, they bruise, they bleed. Write to the realism.

Well, I could go on and on about this as battle scenes are my forte, but for the sake of word count, I’ll stop. I do hope you’ve picked up something of use to you.

You know by now 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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