This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘reader’

How to Build Suspense in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Writing about suspense in a NOVEL is all about building anticipation for your readers. To do this you offer hints at what is to come, but you give them no answers until the very end of your novel. The purpose in writing suspense is to give your reader something about which to worry, to encourage them to read more of your novel. It also gives them a puzzle to unravel, which is a fun thing to many readers.

The secret to suspense? It’s sort of like a magic act. You give them first one clue, then another and another, yet all the while you have them look in the wrong direction. When you do finally deliver your solution, or the Prestige as they say in the illusion industry, you do so with a flourish and fanfare. “Ta-da!” It’s at this point the reader realizes they’ve been watching the wrong hand the entire time.

Here are some techniques to establish and build suspense in your novel.

1. Build suspense from the very start of your novel. Get your reader hooked and wanting more right away.

2. Pose an intriguing question. Is this character insane or a master artist of disguise? Did the character really die or has he simply planned an elaborate hoax to sidestep his child support payments?

3. Place your characters in unusual situations. Maybe your character finds a large hole in their yard where none existed yesterday.

4. You can create a sense of impending doom. Might your character run across a field as one lightening strike after another closes on him?

5. Vary the pace of your novel. As the suspense builds, you might wish to speed up the pace of your story. (Read this for more on PACE IN YOUR NOVEL.)

6. The use of deception is another wonderful tool to increase the suspense in your novel. In effect, have your characters lie to throw off your reader as to the true nature of things.

7. Deadlines or immediacy is another valuable tool you can use to increase the suspense. How many times have you seen the character glance at the ticking clock on the atomic bomb as he attempts to dismantle it?

8. It’s often beneficial to have a second character involved in the suspenseful situation. You can have the two characters ricochet off of each other for added suspense. your reader  will never know which one is going to die when there are no red-shirts in the cast?

9. Play up to people’s natural fears. If you focus on universal fears such as arachnophobia, (spiders), Musophobia (mice), Coulrophobia (clowns), or Glossophobia, (speaking in public), you’ll capture the imagination of a wider range of readers. If you focus on things that don’t concern most people, Motorphobia (automobiles) for example, as you might suspect, fewer people will get emotionally involved in the storyline.

10. The close shave. Suspense can be built upon the near-miss, too. You know the routine. It’s when the bullet whizzes past the hero’s head.

Of course, with few exceptions, you should probably solve the mystery for your reader by the end of your novel. How would you feel if you read a four-hundred page tome and never found out, “who done it?”

There is one major pitfall to writing suspense, however. As with all sleight of hand, it’s in the delivery.  Should you reveal too little, your reader may lose interest in your novel. If you reveal too much, they have no reason to continue reading. It’s a delicate balance, but a learnable skill.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How to Write Character Emotions

In characters, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 27, 2010 at 6:42 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

The secret to a well received novel and a strong opportunity to succeed as a writer lies within your ability to engage your readers on an emotional level. One way to do this is to bring out the emotions your characters feel. Today I’ll offer some tips on how to write effective character emotions.

It may be of use to realize the words we use to show emotion rarely hold enough power to display that emotion. Take the word, “love,” for example. Can a single word possibly portray the myriad of sensations that flutter across a person when they’re in love? Can four simple letters depict the powerful tug on one’s heart or the overpowering sensation of selflessness when someone is in love? Hardly. This fact encourages us as writers to find a better method to display a character’s emotions.

The first secret to writing character emotions is found in your characters themselves. If you don’t have characters your reader want to know, all the emotion in the world will not engage your reader one bit. First and foremost, ensure you have likeable characters. (Read more about CHARACTERS in this article.)

Next, it’s helpful to know our old friend and writing rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true when writing about emotions, too. Consider the following examples. In the first I “tell” and in the second I “show.” Despite the simplicity of the examples, it’s obvious the second will have a stronger tendency to engage your reader.

He was scared. (Tell)

He jumped back and yelped. (Show)

An easy way to display emotion in your writing is with dialogue, both external and internal. Consider how a character might speak if he’s in love with or hates another character. Might the dialogue in these two situations differ? You bet it would. (For more on DIALOGUE, read this article.)

Here’s one effective technique to use when writing about a character’s emotions. Visualize how the character looks when he experiences a situation that calls for some sort of emotional response. Then describe his physical reactions. (He jumped back and yelped.) If you do nothing other than this, you’ll do okay.

However, to hone this skill to a more professional level, make an attempt to include their involuntary reactions and their state of mind. Not only does he jump back and yelp, but his heart beats like the proverbial drum and he feels a tingle race up his spine. He also might be so consumed by the event, he can think of nothing else. The more actions and reactions you include, to a point of course, the more your reader will become involved with your character.

When you write a scene where your character is stirred on an emotional level, make an attempt to focus on the seven universal emotions. They are hatred, disgust, fear, happiness, anger, grief and surprise. These will tend to relate to a wider audience.

You may wish to keep in mind your character’s emotional responses must be believable. Constant over-reaction or under-reaction will simply test your reader’s ability to suspend belief and most likely test their faith in your character, too.

Do you still remember your first kiss? That’s because emotionally charged events can prove powerful in life and are something people remember. This holds true with your readers, too. They are more likely to remember the emotionally charged events in your characters lives and it is these situations that sway your reader to talk up your novel. Which in turn, leads to what I wish for you, only best-sellers.

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

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.”

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”


The Secret to Writing A Riveting Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How does a writer evolve from one who pens the first draft of a novel to one who attains the rarefied status of published author? Of course, there is no substitute to a strong and well-written story, powerful characterizations and effective, believable dialogue. However, as any experienced writer will tell you, you must also master the skill of editing. And within editing, one of the more powerful of tools available lies within the words you choose. That is, you should review every noun, verb and adjective to consider if you have used the most specific and compelling of words for them.  The goal is to insure you paint the most stimulating word pictures for your reader.

Here’s an example of how I wrote a sentence in the first draft of my current manuscript and how it reads in my sixth version.

“They raced across the open ground.”

“The soldiers plunged into the maelstrom.”

Both sentences indicate the same event, men fighting in war. However, which holds the more potent setting, the more powerful image? In the first, we see people running over a field. We might have children playing for all this indicates. Whereas in the second, there is no question a battle is underway and men throw their bodies into the violence. The change is dramatic, yet all I did was choose more specific words.

Here’s another example as to how strong word choices can improve your writing.

“Jak woke first.”

“The sun burst over the horizon and wrenched Jak from his exhausted stupor.”

In this case, the verb, “wrenched,” is much stronger than, “woke.” If you imagine a character who just wakes up, you might see him stir from a pleasant night’s slumber. You can almost see him flutter his eyes as he brings the soft morning into view. In my story, however, this scene is not so pleasant. So, to create a better impression of what I wanted my reader to see, I had Jak yanked into consciousness. By comparison, this is a brutal action and a better description of what I wanted my character, and my reader, to experience. Though I enhanced the sentence, this change of a single word created a much more dramatic scene.

This same technique works for adverbs and nouns, too. To show how adverbs can also be improved, consider my working title for this article. At first, I titled this, “The Secret to Writing an Interesting Novel.” Can you see how the change from, “interesting” to “riveting” made for a better image?

If you take the time to consider each noun, verb and adverb in this way, I believe you’ll experience a leap forward in your writing skills. In the process, you just might increase your chances of publication, too.

Now that you know the power in this editing technique, I challenge you to do this with your manuscript and let us know how it improved your writing. I look forward to hearing from you.

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

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