This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘word count’

The Power of Subplot

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

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To understand subplot, let’s first delve into the concept of plot. The main plot is the framework or storyline of a novel. It is the series of events that happen to your protagonist. In most novels, it can be summed up in one sentence. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s book, “Gone with the Wind.” Can you compile those many pages into a single sentence? I have no idea what Margaret Mitchell’s one-liner might be, but I’ll give it a go. How about something like this? A genteel woman of the old South must learn to cope with the ravages of civil war.

In like manner, subplots are lesser series of events that interweave within the main story. They, too, can be subjected to the compression of a one-liner. Looking to “Gone with the Wind” again, we find a number of subplots that Ms. Mitchell melded into her novel. For example, before and after the war, Scarlett’s love for Ashley as well as Rhett creates great conflict in her life. She also deals with a relationship with Melanie, Ashley’s wife and even a father who has slipped into insanity.

When you interject subplots into your novels, keep in mind they must maintain a direct connection to the main plot. They add substance and enrich the main story as they interlace within it by way of their relation to it. They do not stand on their own nor do they, as a rule, have a direct impact upon the plotline. Look at it in this light. If your plot is a haunted house, the subplots would be the ghosts that waft from room to room. They are part of the house, but the house stands with or without them.

I see two key reasons to interject subplots into your novels. They offer character contrast as well as enhanced conflict. My current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” is about the love triangle between two men and a woman. One of the subplots comes into play when war breaks out and the three must decide where their loyalties lie. War brings out the differences in people every time and increases conflict by its very nature. For another example of conflict offered by subplots, consider the Harry Potter series. The story is about Harry, of course, but interwoven is a subplot based on Hermione’s crush on Ron. Though Harry’s adventures continue unabated, the girl’s sentiments toward Ron take over entire scenes at times.

This brings us to the structure of subplots, which have the same configuration as your story and its major plotline. That is, they have starting points, middle points and outcomes. Within this, they have turning points, moments of great peril and questions answered. Yet, despite everything, they consume less of your word count than the main plot.

Should you decide to introduce a number of subplots, keep in mind one is premier to the others. You should have one foremost subplot and a couple others of lesser impact. A general rule is to have at least one scene relating to the subplot(s) in each act. (Most stories have three acts, but that’s another post altogether.)

One aspect of subplots I appreciate is they allow a lesser character to take on a larger role when the major plotline fails to offer that opportunity. Think of Prissy, the house slave who lied about her experience with “birthing babies” in “Gone with the Wind.” That minor subplot holds much more of our memory than it deserves when you consider its relation to the major plot line of that book.

Subplots, should you wish, can have a major impact on the main plot and are most effective at this when placed at the end of the story. For example, If you’ve read the original “Frankenstein,” you know a servant girl hovers about the story almost without purpose. In the end, however, the mad doctor uses her body to create a creature-wife for the monster. A very minor character turned into a major subplot at the conclusion of the novel.

Now, would you like to know the true secret to a subplot’s power? They are all about relationships. I’ll bet the light just went on for some of you, didn’t it?
As an author and writer, you can embellish your story with depth and life by the effective use of subplots. Take some time to intertwine them in your books and your readers will appreciate your extra work.

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

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

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Tips from the Masters

In The Craft of Writing on October 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

We’ve all heard to emulate the successful should we seek success. Well, here’s what the successful say of writing.

One of my favorite writing tips comes from Mark Twain. He said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Can you say, “Find Feature?”

Mr. Twain also spoke to me with this one, “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” Amen to that! Or, as my wife says, “Follow your muse, Patrick. Write for the love of it.”

We’ve all heard authors are supposed to prune their writing to say more with less. Elmore Leonard found a way to say this in such a way as to eliminate all possibility of argument. “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” To that end, William Strunk Jr. told us, “Vigorous writing is concise.”

Another maxim with which authors are familiar is to write with emotion. It’s a simple idea put into great words by William Wordsworth. I like this one. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Sounds like there’s a good title for a blog or romance novel hidden in those words, doesn’t it?

Anton Chekhov, I think he was on Star Trek, spoke of how we should paint pictures with our words when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Have you read articles about how to accept and learn from whatever criticism you receive? Ray Bradbury, advises us to, “…accept rejection and reject acceptance.” Tough, but good advice.

Mr. Bradbury also tells us we should write as much as we can for, “If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” Clever guy, Ray is.

As authors we write about what we have experienced within our own lives. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it best. “If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”

How much of our lives should we put into our craft? John Irving suggests, The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.”

Something I learned from my mother and apply to my writing is to trust my instincts. (Smart woman that Margaret!) AS G. K. Chesterton put it, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” A related quote I found is again from our friend, Ray Bradbury. “Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.”

Has a writing mentor ever told you to write in a fashion the rest of the world has not? Try Oscar Wilde’s though on for size. “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Whew! That’s a lot to master. If you’re successful what do you reap? (Besides that elusive book deal?)  One will, “Learn as much by writing as by reading.” So says Lord Acton.

Best of luck in making these ideas a part of your writing life.

May all your books be best-sellers.

Patrick

Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all wish to see our books and novels on the shelves while throngs of people race to the store to grab a copy for themselves. Few of us will ever realize this dream if we lack those skills necessary to master the craft of writing. So, I’m offering a short list of novice errors the accomplished writer has learned not to make.

Your manuscript is full of synonyms for the word, “said.”

“Save me!” she pleaded.

“I’ll save you!” the hero responded.

The villain cried out, “I won’t let you save her!”

“Never mind, I’ve saved myself,” she complained.

If you feel you must use a tag line, put it in sentence form.

She pleaded for someone to help.  “Save me!”

Her hero called out to her. ‘”‘ll save you!”

The villain yelled to her hero. “I won’t let you save her!”

After freeing herself, she stood behind them with a scowl. “Can’t you two do anything right?”

(If your dialogue sounds like this, you’ll remain unpublished, but this works as an example.)

You Use Too Many “ly” Words.

Adverbs are badly overused by writers today. Oops, I mean, Adverbs are overused by writers today.

Adverbs are the lazy author’s method of working. This writer has the tendency to use the first thought that comes to mind and put it on  his paper. This is no problem in your first draft, but by your fourth or fifth, they should mostly be gone, uh, they should generally be gone, oh, jeez, I mean there should be few, if any, of them left in your manuscript. There are two traditional ways to overcome this error. The first is to use your Find Feature within your word processor and locate those evil “ly” words. Replace them with stronger verbs or reword them. The classic example is to replace “softly crying” with “whimpering.” You can also drop the “ly” word entirely, or rather in its entirety,  if it doesn’t make a difference to the meaning. Consider the phrase, “utterly alone.” If you’re alone, you’re by yourself and if you are “utterly alone” you are still by yourself.

You Have a Tendency to Overuse Adjectives.

Our classic example in this case is, “the dark night.” We all know night is dark and by adding the word, you’ve not embellished the concept of night at all. James Thurber explains with this sentence. “The building is pretty ugly and a little big for its surroundings.” “Pretty ugly” is still ugly and “a little big” is still big. There is a place for adverbs in writing, but use them sparingly and only if you’ve attempted to replace them with verbs and nouns.

You Use Wimpy Words.

Wimpy words tend to cheapen your writing. They include such things as almost, probably, seems, appears, about and “ish-words”, among others. Did your character almost yell out or did they fume? Did the boss seem upset or were his eyes flaming with anger? Use your words with boldness and confidence.

Clichés are a Dime a Dozen.

Now and then your readers feel it in their bones that your writing has feet of clay. (Hey, Cut me some slack. I’m improvising on the fly here.) Cliché’s bore your readers and an author’s worst sin is to writing boringly, uh, without feeling.

Your Writing Contains Dialect.

It be too diff’cult t’ red dose dam woids. Ya cotton t’ ma meanin’? With some characters, you must show a distinction between their dialect and that of others, but aim for the flow of their speech patterns rather than their actual words.

You Repeat Your Best Words Over and Over and Over and Over Again.

If you truly use the same words too often, your writing will truly be, uh, truly bad. Keep your eyes open for those words that repeat themselves too often. It bores your readers to repeat the same word or words repetitively. Look for those words that are similar in wording, too. Reword them.

Miscellaneous Errors.

“He looked over the escarpment between childhood and manhood.” If your writing sounds like poetry, reword it. Just use expressive, interesting words and put them on the paper.

You use altogether too much alienating alliteration.

Sure, it can be effective if used with correct comportment, but its effectiveness is fast fleeting if you employ it as a tentative tool too many memorable times. Alliteration can work, but its strategic use makes for more effective writing.

Your Writing is Coy or Uses Gimmicks.

Starting too many sentences with, “and” or “but.”

You pull lines from movies or television shows.

Your exciting sentences end with multiply punctuation marks!!!!

You use CAPITAL LETTERS instead of italics to indicate emphasis . (“DO WHAT I SAY!” vs. “Do what I say!”)

Perform a triple-check of your manuscript and see if it can be improved. It may well make the difference between a form rejection and an offer.

(And you thought you were done with your editing.)

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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