Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

So…Kristen locked all the blog doors. She even locked the blog’s ground floor windows. HOWEVER, she forgot that I am a rock climber! I just did a little dyno, a little manteling, and a little down-climbing, and I was in. And she thought I couldn’t do this on a road trip!

*evil cackle*

Anyway, once I was in, past the lasers and over the alligator traps, I promptly went downstairs and opened the door for Kim, who will be here next Friday…since we now have a new feature: GIRL FRIDAY (well until Kristen figures out how to truly evict us. Squatters are crafty 😉 ).

For now, we are basically Girl Friday to Kristen Lamb to assist in her plans for global domination and after all the Wednesdays hanging out here, we got comfy.

I don’t have a picture of Denny Basenji today because I am (technically) on vacation. Which means, as a self-employed writing instructor, editor, and writer, I LAUGH AT THE CONCEPT OF RELAXATION! Let’s examine how I have turned two weeks at the beach in North Carolina into…

THE HOLIDAY TRAV-L-PARK WRITER’S CONFERENCE

Don’t hate me because it’s beautiful.

No, really, this is work. It’s like any other conference. For example:

The Accommodations. Trailer homes or BYOC (bring your own camper)
Shuttle transportation. And just like shuttles, zippy and tippy, depending on the speed and driver (*shifty eyes*)

Just like any conference. There’s a bar and a pool where you can hang out and network because we all know that networking is what makes drinking and arguing over whether zombies could take out Klingons a “work-related activity” #businessexpense.

The bar. If you want wine, you have to go to the expensive side of the convenience store.
The pool. And just like every crowded hotel conference, not a shade umbrella to be had…

I don’t know about you, but I always imagine I’m going to have SOOOO much time to work and write after the day’s sessions are done. I pack all kinds of notebooks, books, etc. in anticipation of enormous bouts of productivity. Yet, I always seem to end up dragged (okay, so, it’s more like static cling) into shenanigans that teeter on the edge of legal. For example:

I built a sand castle instead of reading background material for a WIP. BUT this wasn’t just any old sand castle! I put extra fortification around the foundations so it was impervious to sapeurs! #nerdatthebeach #youshouldhaveseenmyneolithicsettlement

There were some good moments of inspiration and crafting breakthroughs.

For example, I discovered how to do a travel-size version of my “Serial Killer Wall of Plotting.” The citronella candle is to keep away the mosquitoes who insist on texting during the sessions.

I’ve also made good progress on my TBR pile.

Missing one book. The cabana boy (erm, my husband) took one of the books with him to the beach.

One of the most enjoyable parts of any conference, however, is always meeting the fellow attendees and making new friends.

Yes, there is an indoor shower, but why not shower under the sun, sky, and trees…especially when you get to converse with…
This little guy! (I was in the middle of a shower, so I couldn’t get an actual photo of him). He was perched on top of my shampoo bottle and made some rather pointed comments about how I need to use more conditioner. (“Tree Squirrel Frog” Photo by duggiehoo on DeviantArt)

I also ran into an old friend, which one tends to do at these events.

Miss North Carolina Blue-Tailed Skink and I go way, way back. It’s always nice to catch up with friends you wouldn’t see anywhere else but at a conference! (Photo: Wikipedia)

Don’t forget the SWAG!

And they say I don’t think of you…

Finally, like most conferences, there’s always an element of dress-up and costuming.

Personally, I am jazzed for any occasion that allows me to break out my parasol.

In all seriousness, despite the books and notes and that my brain never shuts up with story ideas, getting away and out of the HOUSE is actually essential for creativity. No, we may not crank out two thousand words a day like we planned the day we left for the con, but that’s cool.

We gain so much more.

Friendships, XP points, and a little R&R goes a long way. Sometimes writer’s block might just be code for “Take a vaca. Like, NOW.” That vaca might be a beach or, if you are Kristen, an extra hour at the grocery store wandering the aisles in search of new GF foods.

Take a drive, a walk, or watch a movie in an actual theater. GASP! I  know, movie tickets are expensive but you have my permission to sneak in your nibblies.

Thing is, a break is a break and we need to snag ’em where we find ’em!

Trust me. Your muse will thank you.

Next week, Kim Alexander will be back and actually share some useful insights about writing as opposed to this brief yet colorful order to CHILL THE HELL OUT.

RELAX.

And enjoy your weekend. It is an order *stern face*

Oh and while you are enjoying your weekend, give yourself an additional challenge. REST. To parlay off Kristen’s last post, Invoke the No, this is a great way to exercise that flabby or maybe even atrophied NO muscle.

Say NO to the gazillion tiny demands of others, chores you will do out of mindless habit or spineless obedience. Tasks and chores you won’t likely remember by the next week.

Meaningful NOs free up space for the YES to something fun.

Which is hard. I get it. Baby steps. Maybe you can meet Kristen at the grocery store. She finds it relaxing…whatever *rolls eyes*

In the end, when we refuse to relax and have fun and chain ourselves to the “busy”…this is what we look like.

Actual Footage of Writers Who Won’t Rest…

Anyway, it’s time for me to head out to the beach…erm…I mean, another conference session *waves*

One major advantage of being older is the blessing of perspective. Us “older folk” have lived enough years to have gained decades of experiences, failures, mistakes, victories, setbacks, trials, and tests. This means we have the benefit of context. Many of us also have a clearer picture of what “success” really looks like. What is important and what’s worth our time and what is not.

Stuff we freaked out over and that was world-ending as a teen? We laugh at now when we see that same drama in our own kids or the children of others.

We may even shake out heads and think, “I wish I would have known this when I was younger.”

Of all the lessons I’ve learned, there’s one that surpasses them all—a linchpin to any kind of meaningful life, love, success, peace or prosperity. Good news is the lesson is simple. Bad news, it’s far from easy.

I challenge you to…INVOKE THE NO!

The Power of NO!!!!

Yes, invoke the NO. NO to the wrong stuff makes room for the YES for the right stuff.

Seriously, give yourself a quota of Nos. Start with 5 and work from there. No to yourself, no to others. The word NO is the key. Yeah, this song below is about pickup-lines in clubs and is cute and I bought it and work out to it and recommend it. It doesn’t specifically apply to our NO lesson, but the chorus is actually highly useful as an ear worm.

Just retool it for your specific needs.

Kristen’s version?

My name is…NO.

My sign is…NO.

My email is…NO.

My best day to bake cookies is…NO.

I gotta let you go. My answer still is no.

Setting Boundaries Using the NO

I could and probably will write a whole book on this one day but trust me when I tell you it is impossible to enjoy any kind of success, meaning, joy, peace or prosperity unless we become masters at setting firm boundaries, which again means invoking the NO.

TIME is a treasure, the most valuable possession we have.

Every minute a gold coin, every hour a jewel, every week a necklace, every year a crown. We are given this treasure at birth (though we never are aware of the treasure’s actual size). We take time for granted, thus too often fail to guard it with the NO. We give into the easy “yes” which steals our treasure one coin, one jewel at a time.

Then we are clueless as to why we are emotionally bankrupt and have nothing to show for all this work. Truth is there is a HUGE difference between being busy and being productive and that difference is two letters long.

N-O.

We Can’t Have It All

Why is saying NO so tough? Because, we are flawed humans who have a tendency to get greedy (including me). We don’t want to believe we really cannot have it all.

Blunt truth time…

“Having it all” is a marketing LIE used to sell us stuff we won’t use, don’t need, can’t afford and frequently cannot even FIND. “Having it ALL” is a tactic to rook us into spending time instead of investing time 😉 .

INVOKE THE NO!

Anyone who tells us we can say “yes” to everything is a) a fool or b) playing us for the fool. Yet part of growing and learning and maturing is we too often DO fall for the delusion we can have it all and this makes us, for lack of a better word…a dumb@$$.

This dumb@$$ery is usually most visibly witnessed January 2nd of every year.

Even I’ve had stupid ideas/life plans like:

I’m going to have a bikini body, build up the home business into a multi-billion-dollar franchise, have an immaculate home, an organic vegetable garden, romantic getaways with Hubby, write ten novels, bake gluten-free nut-free vegan paleo cookies for Spawn’s school bake sale, and volunteer rescuing homeless baby pygmy goats, which I will then crochet onesies for—obviously made from yarn I will spin myself.

*hair flip*

Imagine my shock when, at the gym, I realized Spin Class had all these bicycles that were only producing pain and sadness…and NOT yarn for my pygmy goat onesies.

Boundaries INCREASE FOCUS—Use Your NO Lens

NO is a lens that focuses energy and amplifies our actions. By the power of NO, we accomplish more with less. When we say no to all but that which is a priority, our energy transforms from diffused white light to a laser that can cut through diamonds.

We’re working smarter, not harder.

Boundaries on OURSELVES

Again NO.

Earlier I said the secret to everything is boundaries. It IS simple. If I set a priority (finished novel) I must then place boundaries around that priority starting with myself by invoking the NO.

Two hours on Instagram watching makeup tutorials….NO.

Binging on HBO series….NO.

Joining in on FB drama…NO.

Volunteering to beta read everyone who asks me…NO.

Boundaries set in place by the Power of NO makes the right YESes easier to spot and harness.

Dedicate two hours working on novel…YES.

Boundaries on OTHERS—N to the No to the No, No, No

Actually takers never WILL.

Placing boundaries on others (family, friends, social media pals, kids, etc.) is the really tough part that requires probably even more training (especially for women who are taught to be “nice”).

Train your NO.

Invoking the NO has power, and the more we use it the stronger it gets.

In many females, our NO is a withered, forgotten muscle. At first when we invoke the NO, it will be painful, uncomfortable and weird. But that’s temporary. It will pass (perhaps like a kidney stone but it will pass).

If we have friends or family who never remember our number until they need money or help moving or free therapy or a place they can unload all their toxic waste (drama) on us?

NO.

Learn to ignore the call (or block the number/unfriend).

When I’m working (writing), I put my phone in Airplane Mode so no one can call or text me. There is the added benefit of silencing the siren’s song of FB pings that could distract me.

I invoke the NO using my Settings. My iPhone is strong so I don’t need to be 😀 .

We also—wait for it—do NOT need to constantly check emails. There’s no law that states we must instantly reply to all messages. We merely must respond in a reasonable amount of time because it is polite.

Anyone who gets pissy because they don’t get “instant” response can get over it. They want instant, they can buy some Sanka.

We have no Make You Happy Meals for sale. So…N to the No to the NO, NO, NO!

Yes, today I have my Sassy Pants on, but I really wish I would’ve understood this simple yet vital lesson in my 20s or 30s or even…four weeks ago.

I love helping and serving and nurturing but there’s only so much of ME (or YOU) to go around. When we focus on US by invoking the NO, we get stronger, and when we are stronger we serve better.

We have more energy, more resources (I.e. great books sales), and more discernment. YES is not always a good thing. If that person who feels the need to vent all over you suddenly can’t reach you to get all the answers spoon fed to them?

Then maybe they will have to grow up, suck it up buttercup and FIGURE IT OUT like adults DO. No is just as good for others as it is for us.

Many emerging writers want to complete NaNoWriMo. My advice? INVOKE THE NO. Want to trim down, lose some fluff? INVOKE THE NO. Want stronger finances, to be debt-free? INVOKE THE NO. Want to finish a novel? INVOKE THE NO.

Y’all get the gist 😉 .

BRING ME NOs! I WANT THEIR HEADS!

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with invoking the NO? I’m getting better but, until very recently, I’d failed to make NO a deliberate plan and strategy. I’d failed to see I needed to make it stronger.

Which is why I am now paying my STUPID TAX honoring commitments I didn’t say no to but should have.

Like I tell my son:

When the mind is stupid, the body suffers.

Applies to me, too. Sigh. Anyway…

Do you have a hard time saying no to Facebook? Family? School bake sales? Making your kid a sandwich instead of letting him/her figure it out? No to the BIG CLEARANCE SALE? Are you getting better at saying no? What have you said NO to that you are super proud about? Share your victory and inspire us!

Do you think you could invoke the no 5 times a day? Ready to take the INVOKE THE NO CHALLENGE?

Are you an older person who now has wisdom you wish you’d have had when you were young? What do you wish you would have learned earlier in life? Share your stories OH WISE ONES!

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

We are in the process of moving classes around due to the two MONSTER hurricanes so a fresh class list will be available next post. You can also dash over to W.A.N.A. International to check out what’s coming up and get your spot!

Kristen Lamb, villains, craft, writing tips
Kristen without makeup, LOL….

Many of us have been there. It’s late. We know we have “adulting” to do in the morning (which is in two hours). Our sensible self has been nagging us to get our @$$ to bed so long we smothered it with a pillow around midnight. Whether it’s a book, or Netflix or HBO or FX…we tell ourselves just one more episode. One more chapter. We can stop binging any time we want.

Suuuuuure…

Uh huh.

What is it that makes us lose all sense of responsibility and common sense when gut-hooked by these stories? By and large…VILLAINS.

But what goes into creating a truly terrifying villain? Or a villain who steals the show? Perhaps a villain who gains more fans than the HERO?

Excellent question.

To be blunt, villains are the soufflé of the character world. Preparation must be handled with utmost precision and care or it all goes FLAT.

Villains are among the most popular and memorable characters in all of storytelling history from Grendel to Darth Vader to Ramsay Bolton.

Yet, though these characters are extremely powerful, they’re (strangely) ridiculously tough to write. Villains can too easily become one-dimensional mustache-twirlers, too dumb to live, too boring to care, or just plain silly and unsympathetic.

I.e. Kylo-Ren, or as I like to call him, “Darth Emo”.

But, when writers do things right? It is the glorious Villain Soufflé writers are proud serve and readers/audiences cannot wait to devour….and then flat out stuff themselves half to death.

Face it, the hero is only as good as his/her opposition. The better the villain, the better the story. The better the story, the deeper the GUT HOOK. Want an audience who binges on your stories? There are many ways to do this, but nothing works quite like…

VILLAINS.

All righty, so today? Three critical ingredients for the perfect villain. Even though the villain character has limitless variations, we can at least address some NECESSARY ingredients that cover most every memorable villain.

Sort of like if you wanna make banana pudding, bananas are kind of a big deal. Yes, there are infinite variations of banana pudding but some ingredients have to be there or we don’t have banana pudding, we have something else entirely.

Villains are much the same.

Ingredient One—“Noble” Qualities

No blog worth its salt can discuss legendary villains without at least a nod to Game of ThronesIn fact, I could blog on villains for the next year using GoT and barely scratch the surface (of course it helps that George R.R. Martin has a cast of 2,312 characters).

Ah, Cersei though.

How we love to hate her. Yet, why does she resonate? Why does her character strike such a visceral chord? What makes her dimensional and real instead of a paper doll mustache twirling caricature?

First, she has “noble” qualities. She LOVES her family (her brother perhaps a bit too much for our comfort, but whatever). She’s a mother and will do anything for her kids to help, assist, promote, protect or even AVENGE them.

Literally.

She is fiercely devoted to her children (even a child as terrifying as Joffrey) and heaven help anyone who messes with her cubs. She’ll melt you with wildfire…then drop a city on you.

For reals. She did it

*Cersei drops mic then half of Westeros*

Most of us have kids, family, friends, loved ones, or even pets who we’d turn insta-psycho to protect…which is why we connect with Cersei. We share this powerful emotional vector which makes us hate her then root for her then hate ourselves for rooting for her.

Ingredient Two—A Sympathetic Viewpoint

Believe it nor not, Cersie possesses a highly sympathetic viewpoint. She’s a woman in a man’s world. Of all the Lannister children, SHE was the only one who paid attention, and who outpaced her brothers by a million miles regarding Rule with an Iron Fist/Throne 101.

SHE was the Lannister most qualified to rule, but instead, her father hands her off like chattel to marry a fat, sloppy, philandering joke of a leader, King Robert Baratheon (which explains a lot of why she chose Jaime *shivers*).

And it is this ever-pervasive powerlessness generated by the world she had no choice being born into that pisses her off more than a little (and rightfully so).

Her one brother Jaime has more interest in prancing around the country playing knight when he’s not in bed with her (*twitches a tad*) and the other brother Tyrion–in the beginning at least–is a drunken, womanizing, hard-partying dwarf she blames for her mother’s death.

She’s surrounded by men more “qualified” to rule from the Iron Throne and by “qualified” I mean they have man parts. The lion’s share of Cersei’s insane desire to gain the throne for one of her sons can be largely attributed to the fact that she believes she can rule vicariously through them and the requisite “man part.”

Of course after Season Six she’s there to blow $#!& up and she’s all out of children. High Sparrow is now a smoking crater glowing hotter than a Cherynobyl Ferris Wheel.

And that “Rule by Man Part Mandate”? She melted that, too…

The simple lesson is if Cersei had been born a man instead of a woman in a man’s world, a villain never would have manifested to begin with.

Remember this when crafting your villain.

In fact, though often we loathe Cersei, a lot of us gals can kinda sorta sympathize. Some of us wouldn’t have minded a few caskets of wildfire to unload on the last sales meeting.

You know the one.

That meeting where the boss’s drinking/golfing buddy who’s never had an original thought in his life stole your idea then landed your promotion solely because he possessed Mystical Man Part Powers.

Yeah.

And for the guys? Despite the Mystical Man Part Power, you have your own version of this “powerless and %$#ed over” scenario, which brings us to…

Ingredient Three—The Villain is the Hero of His Own Story

Moving away from Game of Thrones…. *pries fingers loose*

Why do we SO love Loki? Because Loki kind of has a good point and is the hero of his own story. In ways he is the male version of Cersei.

Bear with me.

For those who’ve slept since Thor released in 2011, Thor is the movie where we first met the Tom Hiddleston Loki we all know and love and hate…but mostly love.

In Thor, we’re tossed into a tale as old as time—sibling rivalry.

In the movie, Odin has created a fragile truce between Asgard and the Ice Giants. When the Ice Giants make a sudden play to retrieve the Casket, Thor (about to ascend as the new king) directly disobeys his father’s orders and runs off full of himself, all half-cocked and ready to do some damage.

Thor has zero concept of this little thing called “consequences.” Loki, however, does appreciate consequences both for Thor and the realm and his family, and is actually a far better choice to rule Asgard.

Loki, ever loyal, genuinely loves and cares about Thor (and the kingdom), and goes along with Thor’s raid on the enemy…all the while trying to talk Thor out of being a dip$#!t.

Alas, Thor’s asshattery creates a mass mayhem and places the kingdom in peril. Thor makes enough of a mess that Odin essentially puts Thor in the Asgardian version of TIME OUT—which apparently involves New Mexico.

This “punishment” only further demonstrates Odin isn’t truly punishing Thor, because everyone knows Lubbock, Texas is the far superior location for an Asgardian TIME OUT if Odin was serious about making Thor miserable.

Odin also decides to take a nap instead of putting Loki in charge, even though Loki’s still left to clean up the giant mess Thor made.

Giant mess, get it? I kill myself. Moving on…

In the midst of all this, Loki discovers his whole life is a lie, including his identity, and he experiences betrayal coupled with personal extinction.

He resents Odin for a vast number of legit reasons, but mostly he hates Odin for ever considering a selfish buffoon like Thor to rule Asgard. Thus, Loki sets out to prove his worthiness to his real father and place the realm under New Management.

With all Loki has endured, how he’s been betrayed, and his goal that the realm be ruled by “cooler” heads—pardon the pun—we the audience find it tough not to see Loki has some seriously valid gripes.

We see he really IS the hero in his own story.

In the End

I’ve given y’all three basic, but critical ingredients for a villain readers will love to hate or maybe even love. Villains are incredibly fun to write, but since they’re by nature unstable, volatile and often combustable, they need to be handled with care.

I’m teaching a brand new class Villains and Anti-Heroes TOMORROW and that’s where we get time to deep dive the really cool stuff, so I hope you will join me! I have been STOKED to teach this more advanced class and had to move it due to losing my voice last week, so y’all got another shot at signing up (recording is free with the class if you can’t make it in person).

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What are your thoughts? Does this help you understand how to give depth to your villains? Who are some of your favorite villains from the page or even the screen, small or big?

Which villains resonated with you and WHY? Which villains do you remember years later? You never get tired of re-watching the show or movie or rereading the book? What villains make you binge watch? Trade gas money for Netflix?

What do you WIN? For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

We are in the process of moving classes around due to the two MONSTER hurricanes so a fresh class list will be available next post. You can also dash over to W.A.N.A. International to check out what’s coming up and get your spot!

 

 

 

Oh, and it looks like we’re in Medieval England…again…

I’m Kim Alexander back to talk about fantasy world-building. This time I’m looking at those writers who make every heroine in their stories a—wait for it—princess.

This is different from Chosen One Syndrome, because when it comes down to it, every protagonist is a chosen one; you’ve chosen to write about them. In this installment, I’ll be talking about working for a living. (More about Chosen One Syndrome in an upcoming blog post!)

When we create fantasy lands like, oh, “Gondfloria” (pop. 2 mill. unicorns), it’s easy to use the default: faux medieval Europe. If we have a bunch of forbidding, craggy, windswept mountains with impenetrable fortresses (I always feel like it should be ‘fortressi’ even though I know better) atop them, the next thing we’re gonna do is make our main character a princess. (Or a prince, I don’t know your life.)

I’m here to suggest to be brave and try something else. I’m not saying we have to make our enchanted land of Gondfloria into an Arctic survivalist encampment. But, we need to think a little bit outside the box…okay, dungeon, especially if the dungeon is full of Northern European royalty.

(Full disclosure: the main character of my novel, The Sand Prince, is – as the title suggests – a prince. But I hasten to add that he’s astonishingly bad at it.)

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel I pick up is crewed by the same group:

  • The sullen yet hot warrior who is certainly hiding a secret (it probably has to do with sex)
  • The sassy thief
  • The wise elder (also a thief, possibly retiring, clearly not going to make it to the sequel)
  • And of course our hero, the member of nobility who under the cover of darkness runs with a bad crowd because Daddy Issues.

Any of them may be masquerading as the opposite gender because it’s…daring. My money is on the sassy thief.

Don’t any of these people have jobs? And no, I’m not counting ‘thief’ as a job. You can’t put it on a resume unless you’re actually applying to be a thief.

Even if we’ve decided it’s written in stone that Gondfloria has forests and castles and bears, we can still explore the lives of people living there without falling back on ‘princess’ or ‘thief.’

Here are a few suggestions, on the house: bear wrangler, bee keeper, lute carver, magical bee keeper (the bees, not the person), cook, fixer for the local mob boss, mob boss, magical bee keeper (the person, not the bees – gods, keep up!), innkeeper, wench (if you have an inn, you’ve got to have a wench; I don’t make the rules), bard, dog boy, horse girl, and then way down at the bottom, thief, and finally, princess. You’re welcome.

Look, we want our story to stand out in the enormous ocean of similarly themed and titled books. We can do that by either taping a $20 bill to the inside cover of each and every one…or by making it unique.

I look forward to reading your take on a hot yet sullen magical bee keeper who lives in the misty woods of Gondfloira. Feel free to get on your magical sassy pants and sprinkle some flash fiction in the comments. Also any suggestion for other cool roles (characters) who’ve been forgotten, overlooked, or given little or no love. Maybe one not yet thought about?

Oooooh, extra XP points!

Unicorn trainers? Those suckers are magical so surely they could be house-trained right? Dude in charge of the “Pigeon Messaging Service” that later was forced into rebranding and a name change because PMS a really bad name for a business in communication (one not involving knives and chocolate). Use your imagination! ALSO!

Are you tired of ye same olde same olde? Losing that loving feeling for fantasy because, when it’s all the same, that is well, to be blunt, the OPPOSITE of fantasy?

Next time: The Chosen One, or, It is foretold that you and you alone will fix this coffee maker and save mornings for all of Gondfloria!

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
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Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, we are going to go the distance. Literally. No matter what genre we write, our characters generally go places. The physical distance between these places impacts the timelines of our stories, pacing, and tension. Distance, great or small, can also be used to create atmosphere or to illustrate differences between characters.

But, before we get too much farther (ha ha, pun fully intended), here is the requisite photo of Denny Basenji, who is determined to go nowhere and do nothing.

GPS, Equipages, and Transporters

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what genre we write. Every story takes place in a…well…place. Whether it’s another planet, a fantasy realm full of dragons, Regency England, or today’s Los Angeles, distance plays a part in shaping and defining the story.

Let’s tackle the easy stuff first. When we write about anyplace on planet Earth, all we have to do is use Google Maps to get a sense of location, geography, nearby locales, and distance (by planes, trains, and automobiles…and bikes and feet).

I generally keep a little written note of the locations in my story and how far from one to the other. It’s quick a quick reference guide for me as I write, and it eventually helps my editors and proofreaders ensure consistency.

Staying on planet Earth but going back in time, we are still dealing with the same locations (for the most part), so Google Maps is still our friend.

However, now, we have to add in another layer: transportation. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on foot, the complex transportation logistics of a Crusade, taking the carriage to the ball, or crossing an ocean or continent using steam-powered engines, the way our characters get places must be factored into the overall timeline and plot.

But…how exactly do we figure out how long it would have taken a farmer’s cart with two old horses to go twenty miles versus a smart little phaeton with a pair of bright, brisk ponies?

Ah, hello, Google, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

 No, seriously, you can google that stuff. It might take a little bit of digging (depending on how complex the logistics or how detailed you want to get), but the information is out there.

To prove my point, I just typed in, “average travel speed by phaeton and ponies” on Google and came up with a wealth of information about travel speeds and terrains (in both miles and kilometers!). If I really wanted to nail the exact amount of time it would take Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice to go around the 10 miles of Pemberley’s  Park in the phaeton, I would probably spend about twenty minutes to half-an-hour digging through Google results.

For science fiction and fantasy, we get to create the rules, but then, *sighs* we then have to play by them. We can create any alien planet or mist-ringed elven realm we want, but as part of basic world-building, we must actually build the world.

Look at classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings. Herbert has very specific rules and details about space travel and distance between Fremen enclaves on Arrakis. In LOTR, Tolkien provides perhaps the most perfect example ever of using geographical distance to create tension and manipulate the pacing of the plot.

For science fiction, it’s worth doing a little Google, Wikipedia, and science magazine website digging to get a basic understanding of the distances between planets, solar systems, and galaxies – and, how long it takes to travel between them in lightyears. Keep a list of every space station, planet, and outpost, and their distances from each other.

We can talk about warp engines and wormholes all we want in science fiction, but we need to keep it consistent. If we get our characters into a situation where the only way out is to go to warp 10, but the scale only goes up to warp 9.9 (looking at you, TNG *wink*), then, we can’t just wave a magic wand and have the raven-haired, emerald-eyed, 22-year-old engineering ensign with a tragic past suddenly come up with a way to achieve warp 10. 

This is a direct violation of Lamb’s Law of Coincidences: You can use all the coincidences you want to get characters into trouble, but you can never use it to get them out of it.

In fantasy, the same rules apply. I would even go so far as to draw what I like to call a “stick-figure map.” That’s a polite way of saying a bunch of blobs and dots on a piece of paper with arrows between the dots indicating distances between cities, kingdoms, continents, etc.

Magical transport needs rules, just like sci-fi transport. Treat dragons like horses: how fast can they fly, for how long, are there different types of dragons that go at different speeds?

Personally, all my dragons come with a V8 standard.

Polite nothings about the roads and the weather.

Conflict! 😀
Just like it’s natural for us to complain about traffic, tell stories of bad flights, or share information about how to get to a certain location and how long it will take, characters talk about distance and travel, too.

“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

 

In this example from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, distance and travel are used to highlight the differences between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s wealth, social status, and character. It’s just one of the many brilliant examples of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s another post for another time.

When I was writing a scene about the journey of one of the characters in Kristen’s and my zombie western, I did spend more time – probably close to an hour – learning about railroad journeys from the East Coast to Arizona territory in the 1870’s-1890’s. This was much more involved for several reasons.

First, based on the exact year we are using, I needed to find out just how far the westward railroad expansion went. I discovered that while there was service to California already, the first tendrils of track had just begun to breach the borders of Arizona.

Therefore, the character would have had to end his rail journey a good 200 miles from his destination and take a stagecoach the rest of the way.

The time I spent researching this was not wasted, and not just for the fact that I was assuring that my facts were correct (socking it to the trolls!), but I realized how much this particular journey would represent abandoning civilization for the character, and it also gave me an opportunity to add in a hint of backstory for his relationship with another character whom he meets at a hotel in Denver when he is making arrangements for the next stage of his journey.

The failure, shortcomings, and limits of transportation provide us with fantastic tools for ratcheting up the tension.

Not to bring up bad memories of math class for many of us, but if character A is 60 miles away and trapped with a bomb set to go off in an hour, and character B can only travel 30 miles-per hour, what is going to happen to character A? (Leave your answers in the comments! Bonus points for creativity and flash fiction LOL.)

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Peeling Away the Flaws: Self-Editing in Layers. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 30, 2017, 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!