This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘verbs’

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.”

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It’s All about the Editing

In Editing Your Manuscript on February 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

There exist any number of “rules” for writers to follow when editing their novels and though I’ll pass along some of those, let’s begin with a couple lesser know tips. You can read more editing tips in one of my earlier articles here or at this post on Bukisa.com.

Edit for words that end in “-ition” or “-ization” or “-ment.”

Here’s an example of how that works. The sentence, “I worked it to its completion,” can be reduced to “I completed the work,” without any loss of meaning. By simply eliminated the “-tion” and similar words, our writing becomes more crisp.

Edit for verbs used as nouns. Think how you might clarify this sentence.  “I offered the answer earlier.” For more precise writing, it should read “I answered earlier.” The revised sentence enriches the action of the verb, “answer”, and reduces the wordiness.

Keep an eye out for words that duplicate meanings. For example, consider the following list I found at http://www.lincoln.edu and you’ll see the how the word(s) in parentheses do not enhance the meaning of the other word(s).

(actual) experience     add (an additional)

(advance) planning     (advance) reservations

(advance) warning     all meet (together)

(as) for example     ask (a question)

at (the) present (time)     (basic) fundamentals

came (at a time) when     (close) proximity

(close) scrutiny     collaborate (together)

(completely) filled     consensus (of opinion)

(definite) decision     (difficult) dilemma

(direct) confrontation     during (the course of)

(end) result     enter (in)

estimated at (about)     estimated (roughly)

(false)pretenses     few (in number)

filled (to capacity)     (first) began

for (a period of) 10 days     (foreign) imports

forever (and ever)     (free) gift

(invited) guests     join (together)

(major) breakthrough     merged (together)

(new) beginning     (past) history

(past) records     plan (ahead)

(possibly) might     postpone (until later)

protest (against)     repeat (again)

same (identical)     since (the time when)

spell out (in detail)     (still) remains

(suddenly) exploded     (therapeutic) treatment

2 a.m. (in the morning)     (unexpected) surprise

(unintentional) mistake     (usual) custom

written (down)

You know those “wordy phrases” we hear so much about? Here are some samples to purge with some appropriate substitutes.

at all times – always                                             at the present time – now

at that point in time – then                                 beyond a shadow of a doubt – without doubt

due to the fact that – because                            for the purpose of – for

in connection with – with                                    in most instances – most oftenin order to – to

in some instances – sometimes                          in spite of the fact that – although

in the event that – if                                            on an everyday basis – routinely

on a daily basis – daily                                        subsequent to – after

the reason is because – because

Other general editing tips you don’t regularly hear include:

  1. Edit early in the day.
  2. Edit a single issue at a time.
  3. Print your manuscript and read every word aloud to someone else.
  4. Use a straight edge under each line as you read to edit.
  5. Read each sentence as an individual paragraph, as if there is an enter stroke after the line.
  6. Have someone read it out loud to you.
  7. Be certain you consider every instance of the verb, “to be.” (See this post for more information.)
  8. Don’t edit under fluorescent lighting. (Bet you’ve never heard that one before.)
  9. Write one day and edit another.
  10. Editing should reduce your manuscript’s length.
  11. Check your checker. “Read” and “red” are both accepted by your spellchecker.
  12. Remember, grammar checkers know grammar but they don’t understand grammar.

I hope this helps you polish your novel and one of these is THE tip that secures representation for you.

As always, 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 Increase the Pace of Your Writing

In The Craft of Writing on December 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

As you learn how to write a novel, you’ll find conflict is the key tool used to develop the readers’ interest. Today, I’ll talk about how to accelerate the pace of your words thus increasing the tension within your novel.

The first writing technique to consider is the amount of white space on the page. Imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower to the reader. Think instead of a page loaded with choppy sentences. This creates a great deal of white space to the right and makes the page read faster. Your reader will feel the faster rhythm if for no reason other than the speed they flip the pages.

I alluded to the next tip in the last paragraph. Write in short, choppy sentences. These should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for quick reading. Quick reading makes for a fast tempo. Don’t try to break up long paragraphs with short sentences as it’ll come off as just that, poor paragraph structure. Each line, short or otherwise, must stand on its own. Fragmentary sentences also work well to increase the speed of reading. The judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting situations you create, fragments will increase the excitement. Always. Every time. As here. I urge caution, however, for overuse of fragments can get out of control if you’re not careful.

Use shorter words to increase the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader will slow the pace of your scene. For example, must you use the word, “unsympathetically?” These six syllables read slower than its synonym, “cruelly,” which has only two.

Be cautious of argot your middling might not twig. That is to say don’t use terminology your average reader might not understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows in dramatic fashion.

Use strong, specific verbs and nouns. (How many times have we heard this one?) Consider someone who dreams in nightmares in contrast to someone who is haunted by nightmares. 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”. “Collapse” is a much stronger verb, assuming it fits the scene, as it implies a more precise action. This precision with your words is what you seek.

Don’t retell information. Just get to it. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow things.

Use active voice. “He was going to fight it out,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He determined to fight it out.” You may wish to read my earlier post on the verb, “to be.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will find it a more interesting read. Might you have any tips to share?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze