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Posts Tagged ‘Setting’

15 Tips for Character Names in Novels

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 6, 2010 at 7:43 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Here’s an interesting tidbit I picked up at a writers’ conference some years ago. The most important word in our language is your first name. The second most important word, some say is, “free,” though I believe it’s, “no.” Regardless, think of how you feel when you meet someone for the second time and they say, “Oh! Hi, uh, you. Nice to see, uh, you again.” Now, how might you feel if they insert your name into that same greeting? “Oh! Hi, Patrick. Nice to see you again.” Our names carry so much power within them, and so to do the names of your novel’s characters.

Names are as important as any other word in your novel for they can bind your reader to the character and the story. With that in mind, here are some tips to assist you with your character names.

Serendipity is your friend. If a name works, well, it works. Trust your intuition.

If you’d like, you can name your characters for what they represent. “Butch” the butcher? Maybe, but be smart about it and don’t overdo.

Find a book of names and consider the symbolism within the name. Though I hope I never meet the nun named Chastity.

It’s probably best to use one or two syllables for a man’s name. On occasion, woman can get away with more. Generally, it’s best to keep them simple. Why? Because nobody wants to keep reading names like Bilbonicofillia.

You might want to use only one exotic name per novel, if that. They get real weird real fast.

Try to find names that roll off the tongue.

You might consider a character’s name a snapshot of their personality or possibly even their purpose within your novel. For example, you might not name your murderer Sally Jones but Sal “The Blade” Jones might work just fine.

Remember there were no surnames prior to the 12th Century. After that, people were named for their place of birth. Remember Joan of Arc or Leonardo de Vinci – of Venice? After too many women with the name Joan inhabited Arc, they began to name people after their professions, which is the point of origin for many contemporary surnames. Some examples include Smith from black or white smithing, Felling after a tree cutter and even my name, Schulze, which means cop or judge in medieval German.

Insure your character’s name is appropriate for your setting, the time and place of your story. There are ample websites to help you here. In my case, I write historical fiction set in the mid 19th century. So, I walk Civil War cemeteries and take names from the headstones. Talk about accuracy! I combine the first name from one marker and the last from another. Works every time. By the way, here’s a site that’ll help. www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames.

I recommend you stay away from cute. How many Bambi’s have you really met?

Consider if you might shy away from character names with similar letters and spellings. If two characters have similar names, Tom and Thom, for example, readers can lose track quite easily.

Avoid Alliteration. At least use it with care. It too, can have a negative effect on readers. Can it work? Of course. Bilbo Baggins is a great example.

Don’t name fictional characters after famous people. Tom and Jerry will simply give your readers the wrong hook.

You might wish to stay away from names that end in “s.” Erasmus’s sour samples… See my point?

Here’s one you’ll thank me for one day. Keep a file of names you run across that strike you.

How can you be sure if you’ve chosen the correct name for a character? You might try this. Say your character’s name as if you spoke to him first in jest, then anger and then as one in love. Does the name work in each of these situations? If so, you’ve most likely named them well.

Would you care to tell us how you choose your characters’ names? I’ll share them with everyone if you pass them along.

Whether you do or not, I hope by now you know I wish you only best-sellers.

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

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How to Write Your Novel’s Hook-Line

In General Information, How-to's, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing on March 25, 2010 at 4:29 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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A hook-line is a one or two sentence summary of your novel. Although the term, “hook-line” is singular, it may consist of two sentences, but it should probably be no longer than that. It is the high-concept of your novel compressed into a few words and should enable your target audience to grasp your storyline at once. Think of it as an elevator speech for your novel or as a teaser on its dust jacket. You might even consider it a marketing tag-line.

The purpose of your hook-line is to grab someone’s attention and encourage them to learn more about your novel. The secret to it, however, lies in its hidden sales pitch. That pitch should suggest your novel is something they would want to buy. You’ll see what I mean when we outline the five elements of your hook-line.

Why do you need a hook-line? Well, consider the target market, or audience, you’ll want to develop for your novel. Your initial market is comprised of a single person, an agent. In this person’s case, your hook-line will often be the opening line of your query letter. Your hook-line should spark their curiosity in some way and persuade them to learn more about your novel. It should do the same with an editor, a publicist, wholesale book sellers, retail book buyers and eventually the consumer or reader.

So, how does a writer create their hook-line? It’s not as difficult as you might think as it need not encompass your entire storyline, just some critical aspects of it. All you need is enough information to peak someone’s interest. If you cover the five fundamental elements of a hook-line, you’ll be all right. The premier elements of your hook-line are listed below.

1.  Character: Who is your hero and what does he want?

2.  Conflict: What is it that keeps your hero from his goal?

3.  Uniqueness: What makes your novel stand out from all the others?

4.  Setting: Insure your setting, or at least your genre, is obvious.

5.  Action: Your hook-line needs to at least promise excitement.

Can you see how these five components would have the potential to tweak an agent’s or a reader’s curiosity? Might a compelling description that highlights these points encourage them to buy your book? If you know much about selling, you’ll realize it just might.

Let’s take a look at the tag line for my current manuscript and see if it fits the criteria.

Though Jak and Clay share a camaraderie known to few but brothers, each falls in love with Kate and requests her hand in marriage. Despite her choice of one, their brother’s bond remains intact until the American Civil War threatens and forces them to decide whether their loyalties lie with love, with friendship or with their nation.

Let’s evaluate this to see if it fits the criteria outlined above.

Character(s):

Jak is our hero and he wants to hold onto his friendship with Clay and have Kate for his wife. He also requires an honorable decision as to his personal loyalties when the war erupts.

Core Conflict:

This is the decision the characters must make relative to the war and their relationships.

Uniqueness:

How many love triangles do not tear apart the relationships? The fact the three remain close is most unusual.

Setting:

This novel takes place during the mid-nineteenth century in America, which is shown by the outbreak of the Civil War.

Action:

We have three lives that revolve around the love triangle, the war and the decision they all must make.

Do you agree or disagree this covers the five critical elements required of a hook-line? Have you come up with your hook-line as yet and would you care to share? I’d love to see it.

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

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

How to Write Your First Draft

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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


A wonderful mixture of accomplishment, hope, fantasy and desire comes over a writer when he completes his first draft. The problem, of course, is how to get that first draft penned and on paper. In this post, I hope to offer you some of the many tips and techniques available to assist you when you write your first draft.

1. Understand every writer has their unique methodology for writing a first draft and whatever works for you is what you should do. Try to find those tips that fit your personality and put them to good use.

2. The secret to your first draft is to get it done. I know that sounds obvious, but writing is a lot like college. It’s takes a long time, you often wonder if your investment will make any difference in your life and if you ever stop, it’s tough to get going again. The most onerous part of the process is to get that first draft on paper. Keep at it.

3. Understand the first draft of your novel may result in, and I’m being polite, garbage. In fact, though not necessarily true, your final draft may have little relation to the first. Don’t worry as the first draft is just that, your initial attempt to create your novel.

4. Many writers prefer to outline their story first. Some construct an extensive storyline with developed characters, plot arcs and all the rest. Others jot down a basic outline and get to work. Still others just sit down and write. Which of these methods calls to your personality?

5. It’s best if you choose your Point of View, or who tells the story, early in the process. Are you, the writer, also the narrator or might your hero tell the story? It’s much easier to edit later if this is determined before you get waist deep into your story.

6. It’s also to your advantage to understand your setting, or time and location of your novel, before you begin to write. It’s very difficult to write a story about a soldier in World War II then change the setting to the French Revolution. You may also wish to perform any necessary research on setting before you begin to write.

7. A general tip is to write your first draft with as much speed as you can. Type it if you’d like or freehand the thing if that works for you. It matters not, just get it down on paper. Think of your first draft as sort of a writer’s blitzkrieg, if you will. Move fast, ignore pockets of resistance and mop up later.

8. If you plan to perform your later edits on paper, you may wish to triple-space your first stab at the manuscript. This leaves more room for notes. Personally, I use MS Word so I insert “comments” during my editing process.

9. As you write your first draft, don’t worry so much about grammar and the like. You might even wish to turn off your grammar and spellcheckers as you write, then turn them back on when you edit.

10. Many writers, myself included, like to have a grasp of their ending before they begin. Many write the last chapter first. After all, how do you know what path your story will take if you don’t know where it’s going?

11. If you write mysteries or suspense novels, it may be a good idea to generate a story-logic list or an evidence list. This keeps those obscure details, motivations, and events you’ll not make obvious until the end of the story under better control.

12. Few writers have the discipline to write when they’re “in the mood,” so I advise you write every day. (I know, I know, I have children, too.)  Okay, I’ll change my advice to write on a schedule. If you only have one evening a week, set that evening aside. Establish an hours-long appointment on your calendar, complete with start and end times. Then adhere to your schedule. It’s a meeting with your characters and they require your attendance.

13. Fight every inclination to edit when you write your first draft. You’ll have these impulses and all they do is slow you down. Besides, the mere action of editing changes your mental perspective and reduces creativity. If you just can’t fight these impulses, turn off your computer screen as you type. That’ll solve the problem.

14. Some writers jump from chapter to chapter. As ideas come to them they write them down then mix and match later. Others create a written timeline of what events need to happen and when they need to occur. Again, what works for you, works for you.

15. Try to enjoy yourself. Let your imagination run rampant and your fingers fly over the keyboard. If something strikes your fancy, plug it in there. Later if the idea doesn’t fit, it’s not a problem as cut, paste and delete are our friends.

16. After you finish your first draft, set it aside to cool for a while. If you’ve not thought about it for a week, or better yet a month, errors will become more obvious to you when you do edit.

17. When you’ve completed your first draft, write the words, “The End.” They signify it’s time to celebrate. (See the first line of this article.) You’ll remove the words later but they do seem to have a dramatic effect on your mood when you finally pen them.

Many consider the first draft the worst part of writing a novel. I however, disagree. It is the single time in the entire process where your imagination is allowed to run unchecked and anything can happen.

Good luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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.”

More Tips on Imagery in Your Novel

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

Imagery, those pictures you paint with your fiction, serves as a powerful tool to transport your readers to another place and time. It makes your novel more believable to your readers and places them inside the world you’ve created with your words. Without imagery, you lose much of the strength to your words and even more of the potential power within your novel. Effective imagery is as important to the novel writer as any character.

Imagine the story of Snow White with seven tall men in place of the dwarfs. It loses so much of its appeal, doesn’t it? Snow White and the Seven Giants? Ah, it’s just not the same. This simple example should give you an impression of how important effective imagery is to your novel.

Now that we understand why we use imagery, let’s look at some more tips on how to use it. (You can find more information about imagery in THIS article.)

Successful authors often use setting to convey imagery. Has a rainy day ever affected your mood? I’m sure it has and it probably made you tired or melancholy. My question to you is why didn’t it make you feel like dancing. After all, there’s ever a song about dancing in the rain. My point, of course, is setting is a great tool to utilize to enhance your story. Your sentence might go something like this: “The over-bright sun blinded him in the same manner the many choices he faced hid the best decision from him.”

Choose an order by which you describe something. For example, describe something or someplace from top to bottom and left to right. Use any order you wish, but this systematic portrayal gives your readers a more logical, thus more grounded, way to see the picture you paint with your words.

When you reach a point in your novel where your story requires imagery, close your eyes and imagine what it is you wish to tell your readers. Pay attention to the details. Then, scribble quick notes as to the five senses you’d use to create the mood, the feeling, the place or object about which you wish to write.

Use similes and metaphors to draw your imagery in the minds of your novel’s readers. (Simile is a comparison of things using “like” or “as” whereas a metaphor makes a comparison without either of these words.) An example? “Her skin felt as smooth as polished marble.”

Personification is a useful tool when you create imagery in your novel. That is, give human-like qualities to something nonhuman. Here’s an example. “The breeze whispered through the woods.”

One of the best ways to employ imagery is to surprise your reader. Use contrast in a way they’d never expect. Is her skin the lustrous hue of alabaster? Why not the skin of shaved cat, pasty, thin? Not all of your imagery need be of the beautiful. In fact, readers will often appreciate just the opposite. In my second novel, the character all my female readers liked the most by a wide margin was the tall, chiseled hunk who fell for the dumpy farmer’s daughter. Without variation, they said they liked him for his love of the unattractive woman, not his good looks. Contrast, especially if unexpected, can have a dramatic effect on your story and your novel.

This brings us to the ugly images you should consider. When you closed your eyes in our earlier example, did something you see appear unappealing? Then write it that way in some way. As with the life we all know, not all images are beautiful. Much in life is in fact, ugly, disturbing, or even disgusting. As long as your imagery is authentic, it will work with your readers. In fact, it is when your imagery becomes improbable that your reader puts down your novel.

I offer three cautions as to imagery in your novel. As with everywhere in the craft of writing, cliches are unwelcome. Phrases such as “tough as nails” or “dark as night” no longer spur the imagination of your readers. Be creative. Also, use care not to overindulge your imagery. If your readers knows the number of teeth missing from his comb, you’ve probably said too much and the result is often the loss of action and pace within your story. Finally, not every scene requires extensive imagery. Like every other aspect of your novel, imagery must be integral to the story for inclusion.

Now I ask you. What tips might you wish to pass along to the readers of this blog as to how you create imagery in your novels?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

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