This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘sentence’

How to Write Your Novel’s 1st Chapter

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

We all know the first chapter of your book is the most critical in the novel. We also know within this initial chapter, the first paragraph is of utmost importance. And of your first paragraph, the first sentence is primary above all. Why is this, and if these things in your novel carry so much weight, how does an author insure he gets it right?

They “why” is simple. Book sales.

Have you ever seen someone in a store pull out a book, flip it open, read for a moment then set it back on the shelf? Truth be told, they do that much more often than not. So, how does an author get the buyer to say, “yes?” Of course your cover, your title and your blurbs all have power to help form the buyer’s decision, yet despite all these, before they buy they’ll read that first paragraph or two.

The worst part of this? They offer you three, maybe four seconds to capture their attention. That’s it. You’ve got mere seconds to convince them to pay you a royalty. And that is why you’ve got to grab them right away. It’s all about the sale, my friends.

So, once they flip open your novel, how is it you capture their curiosity?

One tool to consider is Point of View, or POV as it’s known. If you’re new to the craft of writing, give serious consideration to third-person point of view. You might contemplate this even if you’re not so new to the craft of writing. Third-person POV, where the author acts as narrator, can be considered a default Point of View, if you will. It’s a powerful Point of View and offers the writer much more versatility with his words. It’s easiest to write and most familiar to your reader.

Another tip is to get to setting right away. This creates that first important word picture and immerses the reader in your story at once. You need not get too descriptive, for this can bog down the action, but give them a fact or two to ground them in time and place. For example, in my current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” right away the reader sees a wiry man as he reins in his plow mule. Can you see how the mule and plow give you a hint of setting? The secret with this is to make the setting active. That is, have your character perform some action in relation to the setting.

You also might wish to employ some startling action in the first sentence or two. Give them a reason to raise an eyebrow as they peruse your first page. Be sure not to give them the entire picture all at once or their curiosity won’t compel them to take your novel home.

Another possibility is to open with a puzzle of sorts. You might have your hero look over something he doesn’t understand. Of course, the “something” must be integral to the storyline, but if you do this well, it may raise a question in the reader’s mind and encourage him to learn more.

You might attempt to create that perfect twist of words that captures their imagination. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” It’s tough to do, but quite effective.

You might introduce the reader to an intriguing character in context or perspective. Is he an outsider, an outlaw or an odd duck? Again, this just might spark the reader’s imagination.

Another potential opening could include a microcosm of your entire story. If you’re writing about a murder, begin with a murder. If your story revolves around a young girls fantasies, begin with a fantasy. This type of opening can bring your reader into focus fast.

You can also attempt to fascinate or intrigue the reader with an interesting character. Imagine an opening sentence that shows a female detective thrashing an ex-con. Might your reader want to know more about her? If you use this tactic, focus on the character’s emotional state during the scene and not their physical description. For more on how to create effective characters, consider THIS blog article.

Maybe you could introduce your intriguing character in context. Identify their personality. Is he an outsider, an outlaw or an odd duck? Again, the secret here is to focus on the emotional aspects of your character.

One way to draw a reader into your novel is to establish a powerful mood. Even Snoopy of “Peanuts” fame understood this. He always stated his stories with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Don’t use that line, but you get the idea. An evocative atmosphere from the very beginning may just work for you, if fits your story.

Now I have a question for you. What remarkable openings have your written or read that might work for the readers of this blog?

As always, you know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Tips on How to Create Your Opening Scene

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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We all know readers must be spellbound by the very first scene of a novel. In fact, so say industry sages, the first paragraph can lose your reader. (That’s true, by the way. I’ve done it.) Further, an author should spend more time on their first line than any other in the entire work. Wow! That’s a lot of pressure.

So, just how might one go about creating that initial burst of excitement?

There are any number of options open to us as authors, but here’s your list of a dozen that, if crafted well, should offer your reader a scene to keep them wanting more.

  1. Open with the proverbial, “Great Line.” I know, it’s not as simple to do as one might think. To develop this ever-elusive Great Line, compress your novel’s major conflict into a single sentence, then polish. Here’s one of my favorite. “When I was little, I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” How’s that for grabbing the imagination. (Interesting, don’t you think, how I fail to remember the book or the author, but not that line? Maybe it’s because I have children?)
  2. have the bad guy show up early and in a big way. Your opening might start something like, “The assassins bullet…”
  3. Begin your scene with the likeable hero. If you do this, it’s a good idea to include his worthy goal, too. Think along the line of, “She understood early her son’s endearing smile was due more to a weak mind than a sense of humor. Motherhood would be a joy and a challenge.”
  4. Introduce humor in the opening paragraph, but insure it fits your audience. Toilet humor might work with the preteen genres, but the church elders will probably, uh, “pass.”
  5. Incorporate a feeling of danger right away. “He saw men on horseback, riding hard, their mounts kicking up a swirl behind them.”
  6. Write a scene that’s easy on the senses. Make it natural but lyrical. Paint a picture with which your audience will identify. “The landscape looked as if an artist had brushed his fondest vision of nature on the canvas.”
  7. Introduce an ominous foreshadowing. “Carrion birds floated in a languid circle off to the south. Something was about to die.” Those, by the way, are the opening lines of my emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.
  8. Begin with formidable obstacles your hero must face and overcome. “Tired, bloodied and winded, the soldier crested the hill only to find the enemy dug in on yet another ridge to his front.” Of course these need not be physical barriers, but you get the idea.
  9. Use immediate action. Explosions are always exciting, though somewhat overdone these days. It can be an argument, a personal conflict or facing humility. Just make is pop right away.
  10. Open with a high level of tension. Use a heavy dose of emotion mixed with high drama. Think of the last argument you had before you demanded a divorce. That’ll get ‘em worked up.
  11. A representation of an appealing setting might work for you. Consider your “safe place” in all its glory and invite your reader to join you.
  12. You might try an effective joining of humor and tension. “When the bullet ripped into his flesh, he knew the day was not going well.”

So there ya go. A dozen easy openings to hook your reader and sell more books. Good luck.

I hope you know by now 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.”

That Simplest Way to Improve Your Writing

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on January 6, 2010 at 8:23 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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When I completed my first manuscript, I sent my novel to an editor so she could inform me just how many requests for autographs I might receive from my soon to expand fan base. As I’m certain you’ve already surmised, she utterly failed in her task.

Though the manuscript contained more red ink that black when she returned it, one specific note she entered, (and entered and entered…), related to my use of the word, “that.” Though I paraphrase, she indicated that specific word could most often be eliminated without losing any meaning or substance within the sentence. Since then, I’ve found everyone uses that word so often in our everyday speaking we no longer hear it. However, when I read it, it’s now as obvious as a blemish on a prom queen’s nose.

My editor offered a simple trick I still use to this day. The secret, she said, is to read the sentence aloud without the offending word and consider if the meaning of the sentence is lost. If not, the word is unnecessary and it should be cut. Alas, I lost much of my word count during that exercise.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

“What’s the best way to get that accomplished?”

“What’s the best way to get accomplished?”

You see the sentence lacking the word loses something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. In this case, keep “that” in place.

Another example:

“Organize your files so that you can find things with ease.”

“Organize your files so you can find things with ease.”

It’s obvious in this example the word is not necessary and may be purged. The result is more efficient writing.

The easiest method I’ve found to perform this edit is to use the “Find” feature in your word processing program, then work through the resulting list. It won’t take as long as you think and once you’ve gotten used to not using the word, it becomes second nature.

Now, there is a caveat to, “that,” so I’ll pass it along. The word is still often considered acceptable in formal language. Though I can’t remember the last time I used formal language.

With this said, I tend to leave the word in my dialogue, most often with my less educated characters. For my more educated ones, I do not.

As you work through your edits, try this simple technique and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised how much it improves your writing.

Until we meet again, I wish you only 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