This Business of Writing

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How to Build Suspense in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Writing about suspense in a NOVEL is all about building anticipation for your readers. To do this you offer hints at what is to come, but you give them no answers until the very end of your novel. The purpose in writing suspense is to give your reader something about which to worry, to encourage them to read more of your novel. It also gives them a puzzle to unravel, which is a fun thing to many readers.

The secret to suspense? It’s sort of like a magic act. You give them first one clue, then another and another, yet all the while you have them look in the wrong direction. When you do finally deliver your solution, or the Prestige as they say in the illusion industry, you do so with a flourish and fanfare. “Ta-da!” It’s at this point the reader realizes they’ve been watching the wrong hand the entire time.

Here are some techniques to establish and build suspense in your novel.

1. Build suspense from the very start of your novel. Get your reader hooked and wanting more right away.

2. Pose an intriguing question. Is this character insane or a master artist of disguise? Did the character really die or has he simply planned an elaborate hoax to sidestep his child support payments?

3. Place your characters in unusual situations. Maybe your character finds a large hole in their yard where none existed yesterday.

4. You can create a sense of impending doom. Might your character run across a field as one lightening strike after another closes on him?

5. Vary the pace of your novel. As the suspense builds, you might wish to speed up the pace of your story. (Read this for more on PACE IN YOUR NOVEL.)

6. The use of deception is another wonderful tool to increase the suspense in your novel. In effect, have your characters lie to throw off your reader as to the true nature of things.

7. Deadlines or immediacy is another valuable tool you can use to increase the suspense. How many times have you seen the character glance at the ticking clock on the atomic bomb as he attempts to dismantle it?

8. It’s often beneficial to have a second character involved in the suspenseful situation. You can have the two characters ricochet off of each other for added suspense. your reader  will never know which one is going to die when there are no red-shirts in the cast?

9. Play up to people’s natural fears. If you focus on universal fears such as arachnophobia, (spiders), Musophobia (mice), Coulrophobia (clowns), or Glossophobia, (speaking in public), you’ll capture the imagination of a wider range of readers. If you focus on things that don’t concern most people, Motorphobia (automobiles) for example, as you might suspect, fewer people will get emotionally involved in the storyline.

10. The close shave. Suspense can be built upon the near-miss, too. You know the routine. It’s when the bullet whizzes past the hero’s head.

Of course, with few exceptions, you should probably solve the mystery for your reader by the end of your novel. How would you feel if you read a four-hundred page tome and never found out, “who done it?”

There is one major pitfall to writing suspense, however. As with all sleight of hand, it’s in the delivery.  Should you reveal too little, your reader may lose interest in your novel. If you reveal too much, they have no reason to continue reading. It’s a delicate balance, but a learnable skill.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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

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How to Write Character Emotions

In characters, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 27, 2010 at 6:42 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

The secret to a well received novel and a strong opportunity to succeed as a writer lies within your ability to engage your readers on an emotional level. One way to do this is to bring out the emotions your characters feel. Today I’ll offer some tips on how to write effective character emotions.

It may be of use to realize the words we use to show emotion rarely hold enough power to display that emotion. Take the word, “love,” for example. Can a single word possibly portray the myriad of sensations that flutter across a person when they’re in love? Can four simple letters depict the powerful tug on one’s heart or the overpowering sensation of selflessness when someone is in love? Hardly. This fact encourages us as writers to find a better method to display a character’s emotions.

The first secret to writing character emotions is found in your characters themselves. If you don’t have characters your reader want to know, all the emotion in the world will not engage your reader one bit. First and foremost, ensure you have likeable characters. (Read more about CHARACTERS in this article.)

Next, it’s helpful to know our old friend and writing rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true when writing about emotions, too. Consider the following examples. In the first I “tell” and in the second I “show.” Despite the simplicity of the examples, it’s obvious the second will have a stronger tendency to engage your reader.

He was scared. (Tell)

He jumped back and yelped. (Show)

An easy way to display emotion in your writing is with dialogue, both external and internal. Consider how a character might speak if he’s in love with or hates another character. Might the dialogue in these two situations differ? You bet it would. (For more on DIALOGUE, read this article.)

Here’s one effective technique to use when writing about a character’s emotions. Visualize how the character looks when he experiences a situation that calls for some sort of emotional response. Then describe his physical reactions. (He jumped back and yelped.) If you do nothing other than this, you’ll do okay.

However, to hone this skill to a more professional level, make an attempt to include their involuntary reactions and their state of mind. Not only does he jump back and yelp, but his heart beats like the proverbial drum and he feels a tingle race up his spine. He also might be so consumed by the event, he can think of nothing else. The more actions and reactions you include, to a point of course, the more your reader will become involved with your character.

When you write a scene where your character is stirred on an emotional level, make an attempt to focus on the seven universal emotions. They are hatred, disgust, fear, happiness, anger, grief and surprise. These will tend to relate to a wider audience.

You may wish to keep in mind your character’s emotional responses must be believable. Constant over-reaction or under-reaction will simply test your reader’s ability to suspend belief and most likely test their faith in your character, too.

Do you still remember your first kiss? That’s because emotionally charged events can prove powerful in life and are something people remember. This holds true with your readers, too. They are more likely to remember the emotionally charged events in your characters lives and it is these situations that sway your reader to talk up your novel. Which in turn, leads to what I wish for you, only best-sellers.

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

How to Write Internal Monologue

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 22, 2010 at 8:10 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Internal monologue, a CHARACTER’s thoughts, is a tool by which you can improve your writing to a dramatic degree. Once you learn how to write internal monologue, you can infuse your novels with added dimensions of intrigue and emotion.

Despite its difference from spoken dialogue, internal monologue should conform to the basic tenants found within the craft of writing. By this I mean you should still show instead of tell, maintain the character’s voice, stay in Point of View and all the rest. You mustn’t think a character’s thoughts changes any of the basic “rules” within the craft of writing.

As I alluded to above, internal monologue is all about the character and his voice. Is your character the type of person who would express his thoughts in the way you indicate? And if so, do his thoughts fit his personality? Does he think the same way he would speak? Ensure his monologues match who he is.

Things you do NOT do with internal monologue:

  1. Present the information before its time. When the reader needs to know it, then present it.
  2. Employ thoughts as a substitute for conflict. Conflict and dialogue drive your story, not thoughts.

Things you DO with internal monologue:

  1. Incorporate your monologues between your CONFLICT. When the ship is about to sink is the time for your character to think about the home. Home has more significance if it’s wrapped around the conflict.
  2. Pick your opportunities to utilize internal monologues with care. Your character should be in a situation that drives high emotions.
  3. Choose those times to insert the monologue for when they’ll have the most affect.
  4. Make sure your reader understands the character is done thinking. Nothing slows a novel like a readers who wonders, “Huh? What did I miss?”
  5. Include details that touch the reader’s senses. After all, you want your reader to feel what is going on, right?

The classic opportunities to incorporate internal dialogue into your writing is when your character comes to a momentous decision, makes a startling discovery, sees a new opportunity or tries to hide his emotions.

How might you punctuate internal monologue?

If you use a word or phrase to replace the word, “said,” to show your character is thinking, you format like regular dialogue. Or you can simply italicize his thoughts. Both of the following examples are correct.

“But, I assumed I was right,” he thought.
But I assumed I was right, he thought.

The secret to internal DIALOGUE? The best examples intrigue your reader. They make your reader feel compelled to read on and learn more.

Anyone care to share any tips they’ve learned about internal dialogue? I’d love to hear them.

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

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


Writing Secondary Characters in Novels

In characters, General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze


Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

When writing your novel, have you ever cut back or cut out a character you liked? How about one you didn’t like? Have you ever promoted a secondary character into a larger role within your novel? These events happen all the time in novel writing and, in fact, should happen. Secondary characters are as common as leaves on a tree but have the power to kill both your writing and your novel. Despite this, they are as necessary to a good novel as your major characters.

How do they kill a novel? They can take over roles that belong to other characters. It is most onerous if they take over that of a major character like the hero. In this case, the protagonist diminishes in stature which, in turn, makes readers less empathetic toward the him. And we all know an unlikable hero is the kiss of death to a novel. Further, if you incorporate too many secondary characters, they can confuse and overpower the reader and produce the same result as the unsympathetic hero.

To keep the number and roles of your secondary characters in check, you can assign all of your characters to one of three levels of importance.

Primary Characters: Hero, Villain, Sidekick

Secondary Characters: Any necessary support character to move the story toward its conclusion

Fringe Characters: There for setting or imagery, walk-ons, if you will.

How do you decide which characters to include? Remember, your story is about your hero, not the secondary characters, so only include those who might affect the core beliefs, attitudes or goals of your major characters. Not counting your fringe characters, a rule of thumb for a four hundred page novel suggests you might have three main characters and four to six secondary characters.

So, once you’ve decided upon your secondary characters, how might you bring those guys to life so they enhance your novel?

You might give them a “story” of their own. By this I mean have them in some sort of minor crisis when they enter your novel. For example, they might be “in a mood” when your hero meets them. Of course your reader will never learn what the secondary character’s story is or why he’s in the mood he’s in. Your reader might simply find them more interesting and memorable if you have the secondary character come into the novel with something going on in his life. Though he’s not a minor character, think the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland.” From the first moment you see him, he’s in a hurry and is, therefore, more interesting.

You can also use props to make them more memorable. Just introduce their prop before they come into the novel. Does your secondary character use a cane? Have the hero comment on it’s interesting carvings before we meet the guy who uses it. The use of props is a proven technique to introduce and improve your secondary characters.

Another option is to give them a frailty, but make it something normal. If we revert to our guy with the cane, maybe he suffers from arthritis. This gives your reader a hook on which to hang their impressions of this character.

One last tip on how to make a secondary character interesting to your readers. Make him an eccentric. This always latches on to readers’ imaginations. Just be sure you have only one eccentric per novel, okay?

The secret to secondary characters is, of course, to insure they do not upstage your major characters. Just keep in mind they are there to enhance and not overshadow your lead characters. Keep them in their correct categories and you’ll do all right.

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

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


How to Clarify Your Novel Writing

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 19, 2010 at 8:07 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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The essence of good writing is found not in the elegance of the writing but rather in the clarity of the writing. And clarity may have a purpose which you’ve not considered. Not only does it influence how those who read your novel understand and enjoy it, but clarity in writing can even have an effect upon your search engine rank. If your context and spelling are inadequate, your SEO may suffer. Who knew our seventh grade English teachers understood more than we realized?

Allow me to identify some of more onerous of the many clarity in writing issues.

The Dangling Particle: Remember that one from middle school English class? Until I began my research for this article, I could not remember what that thing was. A dp, as it’s known, occurs when an verb and noun are linked together in an incorrect manner. As you can see from the following example, there is no noun for the verb “run,” so it sounds as if that verb is associated with the rain.

Trying to run the race, the rain began to fall in heavy sheets.

Incorrect Pronoun Reference: This can happen when a writer uses a pronoun to refer to another word but does make clear to which word, or antecedent, it relates. The example that follows is unclear as to whether the teenagers resented the store or loiters.

The store prohibited loiters, which many teenagers resented.

A Comma Splice: This is when a writer connects two separate clauses with a comma. To fix this, you should insert a period or connect the clauses with a word such as “and” or “because.” You may also have to restructure both sentences. Your example of an incorrect splice follows.

I fell in love with her, she carries herself with such grace.

Comma Usage in a Series: When you have three or more items in a series, you should use a comma between each one, even before the “and.” You may wish to note this differs in journalistic writing where they use one less comma. Your correct example:

Bring the lantern, tent, and sleeping bag.

Tense Errors: This occurs when you do not indicate with clarity when an action took place. The example below is nebulous as to when the event actually happened, for we cannot tell if John left before Susanne arrived or when she arrived or even afterward. To correct this you’d rewrite the sentence or insert the word, “had,” after, “John.”

Susanne arrived, but John left.

Homonyms: Homonyms are words that sound alike but mean different things. The problem, of course, is your spellchecker won’t catch them. You have to read each word of your novel, aloud, to insure you catch these things. Here are your examples:

Read vs. reed

Write vs. right

To vs. too

Hear vs. here

Missing Words: As before, there’s not much you can do about this except read your novel aloud, word by word. Is this example correct or incorrect?

Why do you say we to the moves this evening?

Alright vs All Right. There is no, “alright,” in formal writing, all right? Over time, the word “alright” has become acceptable in informal writing, but it is still considered incorrect in novel writing.

The Ellipsis: The ellipsis is that symbol made up of three periods in a row. In writing, it means words are missing and it’s most common usage is in quotes. It also represents a thought that is incomplete, a pause in speech, or a sentence that fades into silence. You should be cautious when you use it in your novel, however. Should you use this punctuation mark too often it soon overpowers the page and makes for difficult reading. Consider using character actions to indicate incomplete thoughts and statements, rather than the ellipse.

Today I’ll end with the famous “ie” vs “ei” issue. The rule we all learned in grammar class still holds true today. “I” before “e” except after “c.” Works every time, guys.

The clarity of your writing can be of utmost consequence to your writing success. The acceptance of your novel and even your search engine optimization may well hinge upon it. Do you need to spend some time and study your grammar once again?

So, what common writing errors do you find and how have you learned to overcome them?

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

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