This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘words’

10 Common Writing Errors

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on April 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the PODCAST of this article.


All writers begin writing at the same point in their lives, as novices. And as such, most make many of the same errors as they hone their craft of writing. Today, I’ll discuss some of the most common writing mistakes with the hope it’ll move you along your writing path a bit sooner than otherwise.

1. Grammar is the most obvious mistakes novice writers makes. English is a difficult language on its own and contractions, dangling participles, punctuation and all the rest only add to the confusion. However, to improve your writing, improve your grammar. I use Reader’s Digest “Success with Words” to answer my questions.

2. Empty adverbs are another sure sign a writer is a new to the craft of writing. Most often these are the dreaded “-ly” words that have crept into the American lexicon. A classic example of how these words should not be used comes to us from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In it he writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

3. Poor dialogue will indicate a novice almost at once. Dialogue in novels is a tricky device to master but all it really takes is a bit of knowledge and practice. See this post for more on how to write DIALOGUE.

4. The nefarious verb, “to be” and all its devious forms tells your reader you’re new to the game. (And I can prove that with my first manuscript.) This word and its cousins flatten your narrative and slows the pace of your novel. I’ll again use the example from The Da Vinci Code to illustrate this. He writes, “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” Learn more about the verb “TO BE” here.

5. Lists of anything denote a novice. New writers might describe their setting with a list of things the character sees or they might depict someone’s emotions by clicking off a list of feelings the character experiences. This concept reaches into almost every facet of a novel. The problem with lists is they bore a reader. It’s as if you force them to tick off items on a visual clipboard. If you’re trying to describe something, focus on the small things that lie in unlikely places. For more on imagery, read this BLOG POST.

6. People in the early stages of their writing career often “tell” instead of “show” their story. That is, they issue vague statements in lieu of describing an idea in more detail. A classic example relates to how a writer depicts people. The inexperienced writer will describe a character as “beautiful” whereas the experienced writer describes the person in some detail so to allow the reader to visualize the woman’s beauty. They might write of the “perfect symmetry of her features,” which allows the reader to form their own mental pictures.

7. Talking heads are another common error of inexpert writers. A talking head is a character who exchanges in dialogue before the reader knows about this person or the setting in which they are placed. If you see pages with nothing other than dialogue on it, you may need to flesh out the characters, the setting or some other aspect of your scene.

8. Point of view issues identify new writers, too. POINT OF VIEW, or POV, indicates who is telling the story. There are a number of points of view and each has its rules as to who can tell the story. In First Person POV, the narrator of the story is the only character allowed to tell us what transpires. This means things he can’t see, for example the future, cannot be brought into the story. Further, this is the only character from which the reader will receive a firsthand insight into their feelings and thoughts. Readers can only learn about other characters by way of the narrator’s interpretations. In contrast, third person POV allows for more characters to get involved, but only one at a time. You need to move to another scene or chapter to bring in another character’s direct input.

9. New writers often don’t create scenes the reader can visualize. Did you realize the human mind works in pictures rather than words? This forces us to write in such a way as to “paint a picture” with our words. New authors often have yet to master than technique of creative detailing. You can learn more about COMPELLING IMAGERY in this article.

10. And finally, there is the tendency for new writers to pepper their stories with clichés. This is a sign they have yet to develop their creative abilities.

By no means is this a complete list of common writing mistakes, but if you review your work and find these everyday errors are missing, you’re well on your way to writing a great novel. I do hope your writing continues to improve and I also hope you know by now, I wish for you only best-sellers.

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

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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.”

The Power of Subplot

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

Click HERE for a podcast to the article.


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 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