This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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As you write your novel, you’ll find conflict is a key tool in developing the readers’ interest and conflict goes hand-in-hand with the pace of your scenes. If what I call the Read-Speed is slow, the impact of your conflict is much diminished. Further, as an author, you should pay great attention to the speed at which your novel reads. If it’s overall pace or Read-Speed is tedious, the reader will set your book down. Now, there are any number of techniques by which an author can increase the pace of his story and I’ll cover some of the best in this blog post.

One often ignored practice is to manipulate the amount of white space on the page. To clarify what I mean, imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, top to bottom, side to side, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader, slow the pace and make for difficulty when reading. In contrast, white space makes for a faster read and a better rhythm. The mere fact the reader flips the pages more often also gives the illusion of speed.

Write in short, choppy sentences, in particular when employing dialogue. Your sentences should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for faster reading which, in turn, increases the tempo.

One secret often missed is working with sentence fragments, which work well to increase the pace of your writing. Of course, fragments are frowned upon in the writing world, yet the judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting scenes that hinge upon the conflict in your novel, well-used and well-positioned fragments can increase the excitement, and thus, the pace of the conflict. Always. Every time. Like this. Use discretion, however, for you can lose control if you’re not careful. In fact, I reviewed a book the other day and put it aside after reading the first paragraph. Its one-sentence construction covered at least two inches of page space, contained four hyphens and three semicolons. It was absolutely unintelligible. The moral is exercise caution when writing in sentence fragments.

You can utilize shorter words to boost the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader, slows the pace. Review your four or longer syllable words and consider replacing them with diminutive, or rather, shorter and easier to pronounce synonyms. For example, you might reconsider the use of the word, “antagonism,” when “anger” will suffice.

Be cautious of argot the middling may not twig. That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader won’t understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows to a snail’s speed.

Consider the power behind the words you choose. (How many times have we heard this one?) Does your character dream in nightmares or is he haunted by them? I think you can see the power in the word, “haunted” when compared to, “dreams.” As to verbs, consider the difference between someone who “falls” to someone who “collapses”. Falling could mean anything from tripping to going over a cliff. In contrast, “collapse,” assuming it fits the scene, indicates loss of bodily control. If there is no chance your reader will misinterpret what you wrote, they won’t have to reread a sentence to make sense of it. Anytime they reread anything, your pace suffers.

Don’t retell information. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow the reader, and your plot.

Use active voice. Passive voice is a slower read. “He was planning to do the work,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He planned to do the work.” Take your time to learn about active voice. It’s a powerful tool to use when writing your novel.

For more about this subject, consider THIS POST by Gail Martin in her blog titled, “Novel Journey,” or THIS ONE by Roz Denny Fox at her romance blog, “Desert Rose.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will offer better word of mouth advertising in return.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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

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How Setting Influences Your Characters

In The Craft of Writing on February 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm

As I performed my research for this article, an idea came to me I should have visualized long ago. That is, setting serves as much more than a mere vehicle to cement my readers in the time and place within my story. It is a psychological force upon my characters. In contemporary writing, setting stands as an influence that acts upon the characters.

Readers now know that in life, environment is part of what molds one’s personality and their background is among the many factors that help to shape who he is. Further, they understand one’s choices in life indicate the “real” person within. It’s psychology 101. Therefore, the successful author will use setting as an indicator of personality.

To put this in perspective, consider these examples. We’ve all known someone who drove a red convertible and someone else who drove a used Pinto. Without doubt, these people possessed differing personalities. With this in mind, consider how a murdered parent might push the child toward a life or good or evil. Will a coonskin cap show a wanderer’s proclivity to the hunter’s life? Will the slums of Elizabethan England act upon the street rat to make him a thief. How might an American woman be influenced if a book was set in a Muslim nation? All these aspects of setting play upon the personality and mind of the characters.

How might a writer go about presenting setting as a psychological force? I see it in subplots. In my current manuscript, my hero’s parents are murdered when he is a child. This event then determines his choice of careers. Further, this subplot takes him to places in the world he would never otherwise visit and force him to commit actions he would never consider had he not become an orphan. Further, I wanted to use a pocket watch as a subplot. My hero purchases this when he is a young man with the idea he would bequeath it to his firstborn son at the appropriate time. He never has children. What happens to the pocket watch? It becomes a symbol of those unrealized aspects to his life.

All this behooves the author to look at his setting as even more authentic, more realistic than ever before. Readers will pillory an author for these kinds of errors, so a thin setting is no longer acceptable. Caution and adequate research is necessary, now more than ever.

Setting is more than place and time. It’s a power that creates your characters and influences their lives. Get to know your setting as you would your main characters and your novel will be the better for it.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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“To be? Or not to be?”

In The Craft of Writing on November 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

The Great Bard did have a way with words, didn’t he?

I’ve been studying writing for some time now and have learned a few things of note. One of those things is the existence of The Rules of Writing. Chief among them is,

“Thou Shalt Remove All Forms of the word, ‘To be.’”

During my years of study with the craft of writing, I’ve learned many such rules and I have developed my favorites. My personal selection for MVP of The Rules of Writing is that all these many rules are really no more than gentle guidelines. However, that’s another post altogether.

For years, I yearned to remove all the forms of “to be,” but, if truth be told, I was only certain of a single form of the verb. And that, of course, was, “to be” itself. And would you like to know why I didn’t know the forms of, “to be?” It’s because of its definition which reads, “A form of the verb “To be” is combined with a past participle to form the passive.”

You may understand more than I, but I do not recall, nor currently understand how to combine whatever with a past participle to form anything, let alone “the possessive.”So, vainly I sought all forms of the word, “to be” but never quite had the handle on them until recently.

Searching the Internet, I found that thing for which I’d longed these many years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I found all forms of the word, “to be.”

Therefore, in hopes I have not been the only person on the planet with this particular issue, I would like to share them with you today. They are:

Am

Is

Are

Was

Were

Being

Been

Be

Were

Not all the sinister after all, are they? The secret, of course, is checking to see if by eliminating the verb, your writing improves. Let’s first look at the rationale for this rule, shall we? I looked the explanation as to why this rule exists and found it at http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000040.htm. Are you ready for this? “It, [to be], is normally a linking verb showing existence or the condition of the subject.”

Let me see if I have the right. We can’t use it because it states that something exists? (Is that the gist of how you read this?) If so, that doesn’t help me at all. Regardless its definition or justification, let’s take a look at the rule in use to see if it does improve one’s writing. I used the “find” feature within my word processor and copied the first sentence with the word “been” in my current manuscript.

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had been best of friends with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

I’ll try to rewrite the sentence without using the word, “been.”

Ketty, the woman charged with raising Jak, had bonded with the lad from the day he first arrived at Waters View.

Which sentence is the better of the two? When reading it aloud, the second does improve the statement to my ear. I see a much stronger action verb in, “bonded” than I do with “had been.” (By the way, using stronger verbs is another of those rules to which we are subjugated.)

Let’s try it again, shall we? This time I’ll “find” the word, “were.” The sentence that showed up first in my manuscript was,

The walls, as in the foyer, were decorated with paintings of long-departed ancestors.

Rewritten it becomes,

The walls, as in the foyer, seemed only to serve as backdrop for paintings of long-departed ancestors.

I don’t know what you think, but I think it reads better. In both cases, I deleted the form of the word, “to be” and have produced a higher quality of writing each time.

I challenge you to try the same technique, and let me know what you find. As to me, I guess I’ll rework my manuscript one more time.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

How to Use Conflict in Fiction

In The Craft of Writing on November 18, 2009 at 9:21 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Conflict is critical to any good story. It’s what makes your story worth reading and, in fact, is the key component that weaves all the elements of your novel together. Without it, you’ve simply written a series of facts and occurrences. Conflict is what gets your readers’ hearts beating, their blood boiling and their fingers turning the page. (And turning that page is what generates buzz and book sales.)

I feel there exists a major misunderstanding among writers, especially new writers, as it relates to conflict. I’ll explain what this is by first telling you what it is not.  It is not the crisis or what happens to your characters. It is not the battle, the argument or the deception. Surprised?

Conflict rests upon their thoughts and feelings, toward the events your characters experience. It’s found within the moral choices your characters make. It’s within the building, then exploding tension between opposing forces.

Think of it this way. A daughter tells her father a lie, but the father could not care less. Where is the excitement? Where is the energy? Where is the drama? It’s in the father’s reaction to the lie, not within the lie itself. You’ll have greater conflict if the father gets angry about the lie rather than ignoring it.

There are five premier conflict types to utilize within a story. They are:

Inner Conflict: This is when your character struggles within himself. For example, your protagonist has trouble balancing his fear of heights and his assignment as a paratrooper in the army. Inner conflict is often based upon a character’s vulnerabilities. Strong inner conflict often makes the best stories.

Relational Conflict: This occurs when two people struggling against each other, as in the example of the father and his daughter’s lie.

Social Conflict: This takes place when someone comes in conflict with a group. Think of a soldier caught behind enemy lines.

Conflict with Nature: This is when a character struggles with a life and death situation born by the universe. Maybe your hero is caught in an avalanche.

Situational Conflict: This occurs when your character is in conflict with not his boss, but his boss’s ambitions, or a like situation.

If you think about people, they tend to stay within comfortable boundaries and shy away from disruptive choices. Your characters are no different. They need someone, or something, to force them out of their tidy little lives. An effective method is to develop your antagonist so they will poke at the root of your hero’s internal conflict. This works quite well, especially if the bad guy’s goal is in opposition to your hero’s. Keep in mind your antagonist need not be someone wearing a black hat. It can be anything including animal, vegetable, mineral, idea, desire, thought – whatever you wish it to be.

I’ll now give you some general tips for writing conflict.

Too much drama, or too little, will distance your reader. There is a delicate balance of conflict necessary for a good story. Evaluate every instance within your novel and eliminate everything that is unnecessary to moving the story forward.

Keep the number of conflict points to a minimum. Two opposing conflict points, one internal and one external, are usually enough to carry your novel. Can you put in more? Sure, but with each new conflict point comes an increased potential loss of control over the story. Be careful.

Build tension. Although a strong conflict from the very start of your novel is beneficial, drop quickly then build slowly to a crescendo. On that path toward your climatic scene, you should toss in a couple of other conflict points of lesser strength to keep raising the stakes. Yet, despite these conflict points, be always vigilant in building toward your final conflict.

Don’t have too many twists and turns in your conflict. A well-crafted novel exhibits that delicate balance between too much and too little conflict. It also strikes that same balance between conflict and crisis.

Your conflict should build in an upward trending straight line, with a couple of lesser peaks and their resulting valleys, towards the climax. This line falls in dramatic fashion after the conclusion of  your major conflict point. Find that correct balance, set an interesting pace to your writing, and draw your reader into the story.

Every chapter in your novel should have someone wanting something. This want need not be anything of utmost importance, but each chapter should contain some level of conflict. It may be as simple as a young girl wishing her mother would allow her to walk to school, to the reactions of your hero as he is thrust into battle. Regardless, you need conflict in every chapter.

Conflict begins and ends with desire. In your storyline, use the bond of your hero in disagreement with someone or something.

The essence of building tension is choice. Your hero must be forced to make choices in order to keep him moving forward on his quest. If your reader knows what your hero is going to do in each crisis, your novel has limited suspense and your readers lose a great deal of their interest. This is why the hero must learn as he moves toward his goal – it keeps your reader involved in finding out what he does next. Keep in mind you must maintain his personality, but by offering your protagonist conflicting alternatives, it keeps your tension at a higher plane.

Your conflict must have a final goal in mind. That goal is the growth of your hero. This evolution can be emotional, physical or any other “-al” you wish, but the purpose of all this running around is to, in the end, have your protagonist come out a better person.

Use cliffhangers. Have you noticed how commercials interrupt your favorite television shows? (How can you not?) I’ll bet you’ve noticed they come just as the tension is building to a crescendo. Use this same technique in your novels. End each chapter with a cliffhanger. They need not be of the magnitude of the hero’s death, but leave a question in the readers’ mind. It will keep them wanting to know more.

After your cliffhanger gets your reader to turn the page, don’t give the answer away right away. It’s yet another delicate balance as to when to give them their answer, so play with what works for your story.

I’ve mentioned the balance needed in your manuscript a couple of times already. One secret to this balance is to vary the pace of your novel. Give them some excitement, then tone it down so your reader can catch their breath. Build again, a little more this time, then let them relax once more. You can vary the pace of your novel by using action, the tone of your writing, the length of your paragraphs and even sentences. (Shorter sentences and chapters increase speed, while longer ones slow it down.) It’s an intricate technique, but once mastered, it will lift your writing to a new level of competence and sales.

Fear intensifies conflict. Your hero must face his fears so include fright at judicious points within your manuscript.

Use dialogue as a major tool in the building of your conflict. If used effectively, dialogue increases the emotion, tension and tragedy. It, too, can be used to increase or decrease the pace of your work.

Now for a short story that exemplifies the rise and fall of conflict within an effective storyline.

Three little pigs build three little houses. The first house is made of straw, the second of wood and the third of brick.

The Big Bad Wolf arrives, wanting to eat the three pigs. The three pigs are upset as to his arrival and retreat into their respective houses for safety.

The wolf arrives at the first house and tells the pig he wants to eat it. The little pig is terrified! The wolf blows the house down. Fortunately, after near capture and death, the pig escapes into the home of his compatriot, the second pig.

The wolf arrives at the second house and again threatens to kill and eat the pigs within. He huffs and puffs until the little house collapses. After a thrilling escape, the two pigs retreat into the house of the third pig.

The wolf arrives at the last house with two of the three pigs trembling inside. One pig, however, is confident. The wolf blows and blows but cannot destroy the brick house. The worried pigs breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait! There’s more!

The wolf sneaks down the chimney and those same two pigs again go into fearful tremors. The third pig is still confident he can save them all.

Down comes the wolf!

Oh! The tension! Two pigs are in hysterics. The third faces this new turn of events with continued aplomb.

The wolf is caught by surprise by the actions of the third pig when he climbs down the chimney.

The three pigs live happily ever after.

Now, after reading the story, answer the following questions.

  • Can you identify the various crisis points of the story?
  • Can you determine the points of conflict within the story?
  • Do you see the rising, then falling, then rising tension, or plot points, with the ending sigh of relief?
  • Are you able to identify the climactic point of the story?

If you were able to answer these questions correctly, you now understand the fundamentals of fiction.

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

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


POV Tips for Fiction

In Marketing Your Book on November 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Last night I was working with my critique group and they stunned me with some of the errors they found still hidden within my novel, “Born to be Brothers.” Two, (count ‘em), of those errors were in Point of View, or as it’s know, POV. With last night’s lesson clear in my mind, I thought today’s post should encompass that great bugaboo, Point of View.

Let’s first try to understand what POV is. In a sound bite, it’s who is telling the story. Is a single character narrating what is going on, or are a number, or even all the characters, telling the reader what is happening? POV is nothing more than the writer’s method of determining which character is presenting the narrative. See, it’s not all that mysterious.

As to the types of POV, there are four perspectives for telling your story, though some say there are five. Regardless, my focus will be with the three most common uses of POV in fiction, and then primarily upon the Third Person, as it is the easiest to use and most common POV in novels. Know that each POV has its advantages, disadvantages and typical uses.

The three major types, with primary subdivisions are:

• First Person POV

• Second Person POV

• Third Person POV

o Limited

o Omniscient

o Objective

Keep in mind when you write, you’ll settle into the one or two POV’s that serves your storytelling and writing style. In fiction, the primary POV is Third Person.

Let’s define these POV’s.

First Person POV First Person POV has the writer, or narrator, personally telling the story. In effect, the narrator is speaking to his readers about what is transpiring and it can be told in either present or past POV. It is most often used when one is authoring a book about ones’ personal experiences or opinions. You’ll see the writer using the common pronouns of I, me, my, mine, we, our and ours.

It can fit into fiction, but is widely used in memoirs.

An example sentence is:

As I looked at Jill, I knew she was upset.

Second Person POV

Think of this as how to write an instruction manual and extensive use of the word, “you.”

This POV is rarely used in fiction as it simply tells the reader what the characters are doing and what they see. It is an awkward way to write with limited access to creativity. However, it does grab the reader’s attention.

It can also exist in past and present forms.

An example sentence is:

You, Jill, will then purse your lips and furrow your brow.

• Third Person POV has three subtypes and we’ll discover each on its own.

o Third Person – Omniscient POV

Third Person Omniscient POV is having all the major characters in your novel telling the story. What is nice about this POV is the freedom it affords. The author can tell the reader what everyone’s motivations are and what it is they are thinking. It allows the writer to give or withhold information at will.

The difficulties lie in lack of control and its potentially cumbersome nature. If you are not careful, by showing what’s inside every character’s head, the reader receives too much information and can become frustrated as your POV loses cohesion.

You overcome this drawback by insuring consistency in your POV and by having only one person at a time tell the story. Also, eliminate any information that is not pertinent to the story. Have each chapter focus on one individual will help eliminate “head-hopping,” or jumping from one character’s POV to another within chapters.

Your example:

Jack wondered what Jill was thinking while Jill knew quite well what thoughts rattled around Jack’s mind. Bill was surprised by what Jill was thinking.

(See how this can get out of hand?)

o Third Person – Limited POV

Third Person Limited POV is perhaps the easiest to utilize and most popular when writing novels. Here the author writes from a single person’s vision throughout the entire book. In third person POV, you’ll see pronouns such as she, he, her, him, hers, his, it, its, they, them, theirs.

The disadvantages come with the writer’s limitation as to who sees what. The character telling the story cannot get into the head of another to read his thoughts. He can only surmise what the other guy is thinking by that person’s facial expression, actions and such. It’s also very easy to shift out of this POV.

Your example:

Jak understood Jill’s irritation, for her pursed lips and furrowed brow told him everything he needed to know.

o Third Person Objective POV

In this POV, the author only tells his readers what happens by way of action or dialogue. Their characters’ feelings or thoughts are never revealed. It is not the most effective POV for fiction.

Your example is:

Jack watched Jill furrow her brow and pinch her face.

When the major POV’s for fiction are broken down by types, it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming, does it? In fact, as you read the names of each type of POV, it should be easy to remember each of them. Limited, has a limited number of narrators, Omniscient, (Omni = all),  has everyone telling and Objective has no one telling.

The secret to POV is to learn what type works well for your writing style and the types of stories you tell and then allowing these factors to drive your POV. Focus on the one or two you need and let the rest go for now.

I hope this has helped a bit, and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze