Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Last post in our structure series, I introduced the core antagonist, what I call the Big Boss Troublemaker. The BBT is our central opposition. This is the force responsible for creating the core story problem in need of resolution. While stories have all sorts of ‘antagonists’ we’ll get to them another time.

In fact, buckle up because this is Master’s Class material.

Today’s post is advanced content, since we’re going to explore the BBT far more deeply than ever before. I’ve blogged on the BBT before with a simpler explication. But, after 1,200 or so blogs, even I need a good challenge.

One of my goals this year is to offer far more demanding content and accelerated lessons. There are plenty of Writing 101 blogs catering to new writers. Hey, I’ve written a few hundred, myself.

Problem is, not all writers are brand new and even those who might be just starting out? It’ll be good for you to stretch your synapses and give the gray matter a hardcore workout. The Internet has plenty of ‘pink weight’ craft blogs and I don’t care to add any more. Namely because I know you guys are wicked smart and dying to be truly punished.

I meant pushed. Yes, pushed.

Here we go…

The CORE (IDEA)

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

The BBT is a wholly unique sort of antagonist. This specific antagonist, the BBT, is the BRAIN (mastermind) of all great stories. Why? Because all great stories involve an IDEA that must be defeated.

How do we do this?

Great stories are almost like living creatures. Like all living creatures, there are critical limitations when it comes to structure. What this means is not all ‘components’ are equally necessary for an organism to be considered ‘alive.’

If a kitten is born with no hair? We call it a Sphynx then sell it for big bucks to people who adore cats that resemble space aliens.

If our kitten is born with unusable back legs, it’s sad. But, we humans get creative and craft a Lego ‘kitten wheelchair’…producing a kitten now drunk with power. ZOOOOOOM! LOOK AT HIM GO ALL THE PLACES!

Ah, but a kitten born with no brain stem? Little to do but mourn. We can’t work around this missing ‘organ,’ no matter how much we may want to. Regardless how creative we get, actual life requires a brain that directs every other system.

The Living Story

We can say the same about story. It, too, must have a brain (core story problem/IDEA generated by BBT).

Some ‘elements’ of story are not, per se, required because they’re NOT the brain. These ‘components’ might simply be a matter of stylistic choice.

Loads of detailed description and weighty prose? Unnecessary. For instance, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway chose literary austerity to elicit a highly specific ‘feel’ in his work. Bold, exposed, nowhere to hide. No flowery exposition to ‘cover’ any plot weakness.

I happen to love flowery prose, which is why I don’t care for Hemingway’s stories but can respect the art.

Linear plotting, as in Point A to Point Z in sequence and in order? Not necessary either.

Sure, this three-act linear Aristotelian structure is the most common and the best place (in my POV) for emerging writers to begin and to master FIRST. It also happens to be the easiest structure on readers, which is why it’s the structure most commonly used.

But, again? It is not imperative for our story to progress linearly in time. This, again, is a stylistic choice and will often be employed for a purpose. There’s a specific effect the author desires to create.

Examples of Structure as Art

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature
Image courtesy of Joana Coccarelli’s generosity via Flickr Creative Commons

Purple prose and a hundred-page lexicon of new terms, kingdoms, creatures are not the only ways (or even the best ways) to transition a story into art. Structure, when truly understood, is extremely powerful.

For instance, Chuck Palahniuk deliberately used nonlinear plotting for Fight Club. Gillian Flynn also employed nonlinear structure in Gone Girl.

Why? These authors chose these advanced plotting methods for excellent and very specific reasons: to craft the unreliable narrator. 

In Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Tan also utilizes a non-linear structure. At first glance, the novel might seem like a mere compilation of flashbacks, but that is far from the case. We could ‘snip’ these stories apart, line them up in chronological order.

They would play out sequentially in mini three-act stories, bookended by a larger three-act story (Jing-Mei’s story about forgiving her dead mother Suyuan).

Yet, Tan’s story is addressing a dark force impacting three generations of Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters. Thus, a simple linear structure wouldn’t deliver the message in a way that resounds so deeply this book would be worthy of a Pulitzer and a movie.

Yet, we must grasp the BBT or it’s impossible to create a simple linear plot. Forget about the fancy stuff. It’s imperative to fully grasp the power of the BBT or characters fall flat and stories will struggle to break out from the ‘meh.’

So, basics first.

Dead or Alive?

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

It doesn’t matter if we choose to use tons of detailed description or almost none, if we plot linearly or nonlinearly. We can include maps, made-up languages, on and on. These are all stylistic preferences which can all work so long as at the center of it all, the story must have a BRAIN (the idea).

The BBT is the IDEA that creates the core problem in need of resolution/defeat. Every book mentioned above has a Big Boss Troublemaker (and corresponding proxy/proxies).

Problem is, far too many emerging writers spend far more time pondering the color of their main character’s eyes (amethyst or peridot…no jade) than they do considering what the heck the MC is even up against.

WHY does he/she exist?

The BBT is the sole reason for our MC (main character) to exist. Period.

Whenever I blog about the BBT, inevitably I get the whole ‘But my MC is his/her own worst enemy’ counterpoint (which really isn’t a counterpoint at all).

First, a properly crafted MC always is his or her own worst enemy in the beginning. This is why the character must arc in order to win. If our MC is flawless and fully self-actualized, this is not a story.

It’s a sedative.

Back to structure.

Yes, Commercial BBTs Easier to See

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

I get it. In most commercial fiction, the BBT (core antagonist) is easier to spot (I.e. The Emperor in Star Wars or Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs). Yet, even these ‘villains’ are driven by a ‘brain’—the BBT.

The BBT in Star Wars is that Perfect Rule Can Only Be Obtained By Total Control. The Emperor is merely the proxy—the brainchild—of this malevolent idea. He is the heart and hand that executes this idea. The Emperor, then, is the intangible made tangible…thus able to be defeated.

The BBT in Silence of the Lambs is Altering the Outside is ALL that Can Alter the Inside. Buffalo Bill is a tragic character and serves as the proxy executing the BBT BRAIN’s deadly and diseased idea. Again, though a simple ‘serial killer’ story, it is anything but.

Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) is the corporeal manifestation of the idea, thus only in this physical form can he (and the BRAIN’S agenda) be defeated.

Ideas can ONLY be defeated when they take on a physical form. Once this happens, our MC is then able to rise to the call and stake the beating heart (proxy) that’s pumping the (BBT) brain’s toxic tautology.

All well-written stories have a BBT…even if they’re not ‘in the reader’s face’ obvious. This is why, in previous lessons, I often lumped them together. Sauron is the BBT in The Lord of the Rings. Until Sauron is defeated, the story isn’t over.

Yet, particularly in more complex stories, we are wise to tease the BBT apart from the proxy. Explore and codify the IDEA, then select and craft the perfect proxy (Hand of the King…um BRAIN).

The Subtler BBT

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Some BBTs (and their proxies) are tougher to spot. Ah, but just because a gas is odorless and tasteless doesn’t mean it isn’t there and that it isn’t also deadly.

Remember, many great works of fiction tackle any number of pervasive, potential, invisible or insidious social maladies…then use story to expose the ‘disease.’

This is why it’s wise to make the story also entertaining. If our novel bores the paint off the walls or is some thinly-veiled rant, no one will read it (a common problem with ‘literary’ stories).

Thus, if the story IS engaging, readers will pay attention. Then, once readers are listening, we writers can make the world aware of social, cultural, and personal cancers that plague humanity.

This takes skill and finesse, which is why I selected these particular stories to expound on our lesson.

The Old Man and the Sea

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

The Old Man and the Sea might seem like a simple Man vs. Nature story, and the giant marlin is the BBT…but not so fast. There are a lot of layers to this beyond the obvious. Yes, it is Man vs. Nature, but also Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself and Man vs. Society.

The old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, has lost his identity because of his advanced age and inability to do what men in his culture and chosen occupation DO.

They catch fish.

Santiago, however, has gone 84 days without a single catch, rendering him a ‘salao,’ which is considered the worst form of unluckiness. Thus in his world, he’s now old, devoid of purpose, labeled a pariah and essentially banished.

The BBT would be Santiago’s culture—the Cubano definition of what makes him worthwhile and a MAN (an IDEA). The proxy of this ‘belief’ appears in the form of a monstrous marlin Santiago manages to snag—a catch that would redeem him—but it is a long, brutal battle where Santiago essentially ‘fails.’

Or did he?

By the time Santiago makes it to shore, he’s exhausted and has only a ravaged carcass that was once a magnificent creature as proof of his epic struggle. Yet, when the locals witness the sheer SIZE of the fish Santiago caught (even though now only skull and bones), Santiago is redeemed as a man, hailed a hero, and accepted back into the fold of his people.

Without the marlin (proxy), there is no story because Santiago has no possibly way to defeat the BBT (the IDEA that he is worthless).

Now, the marlin isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ at all. Yet, without the giant marlin, there is no mechanism for Santiago to win his redemption and earn restoration. If Santiago dies at sea or makes it back completely empty-handed…he loses.

Fight Club

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Chuck Palahniuk tackles a similar subject in Fight ClubThis novel strikes out at modern culture (BBT), the notion that our society has somehow erased human beings and molded us into compliant, mindless drones.

The assertion in Fight Club is the IDEA that modern culture has robbed human agency, authenticity, and devoured true intimacy and purpose (for men in particular).

The story lays bare how sterilized, uncaring and unvested our modern world is regarding humans. This social malaise (BBT) is immediately evident when our unnamed protagonist goes to a doctor, desperate for help with debilitating insomnia…and he’s blown off.

Our MC is suffering profoundly, but is dismissed and minimized.

He is…no one.

He begins to realize he consists only of what he consumes; what he buys from Ikea, his job, etc. Without that? He does not exist.

This novel posits that we’ve created a world that takes and takes and takes and takes…until it uses us up. And we accept the inevitable horror with faces ‘calm as Hindu cows…’

Our MC wants to dismiss this new way of looking at his world, but…

Tyler Invades His Life

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Our protagonist learns this new way of viewing his world when he encounters a sexy, unapologetic anarchist…Tyler Durden.

Tyler makes everything clear, gives voice to a nameless angst our MC hasn’t been able to pinpoint. Tyler eventually reveals his plan for the world to hear what the people have to say…LOUD and CLEAR.

But the plan Tyler (proxy enacting the IDEA) has ‘cooked up’ is horrible beyond imagination. Eventually our protagonist realizes Tyler Durden might be correct with his social assessment, but he also must be stopped because TYLER IS NO SAVIOR. Rather, Tyler is the VERY BEAST this toxic culture has created.

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Our MC must finally see the TRUTH of Tyler—who and what he really is—and stop him before countless people die. It is by stopping Tyler that our MC will become a HERO because he’ll finally exist and can then exercise his human agency.

No Tyler Durden (proxy of the BBT), no story. No evil Tyler plan to stop, no way for the MC to truly be a man, a human, and exercise self-sacrifice and free will. If our hero fails to see the hard truth and stop Tyler, he fails.

Kill the heart and the brain will die.

Gone Girl

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

In Gone Girl, the BBT is the Idealization of Perfection. Perfect parents who dote and coddle and elevate a child to a sort of divine status. Perfect jobs. Perfect life. Perfect romance. Perfect marriage. Perfect behavior. Perfect adoration.

But does perfect even exist? Also, at what point do good intentions make gods? When does perfection turn into tyranny?

In Gone Girl, as mentioned, the BBT is the Idealization of Perfection (brain) and the proxy (heart and hands) is Amy Elliot Dunne (a.k.a. Amazing Amy).

Amy, the perfect wife, daughter, neighbor, friend, etc. goes missing under highly suspicious circumstances. When husband, Nick Dunne, becomes the prime (only) suspect for his ‘perfect’ wife’s murder, he’s forced to realize the truth about himself.

Even more terrifying, he has to face the truth about the woman he married.

He also must admit his humiliating flaws and publicly confess his ‘sins’ or his story has only one ending. Prison and the death penalty.

The BBT is IDEA that Perfect is Attainable. It is the Idealization of Perfection and the proxy is Nick’s wife, Amy (Amazing Amy) who then executes the physical reality of the flawed idea.

No missing and presumed dead Amy, no story.

The Joy Luck Club

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Why I chose to create the term BBT is that ideas aren’t always good or bad. This means the proxy (proxies) might not be per se ‘evil.’ It’s critical to understand this distinction in certain genres (I.e. women’s fiction, general fiction, literary).

The BBT in The Joy Luck Club is a cultural conflict. Obedience Makes a ‘Good’ Chinese Woman. In Chinese culture there’s a profound reverence to maintain the old ways, no questions asked. Females are obedient, quiet, dutiful, self-sacrificing, no matter the cost.

All noble qualities.

Yet, can these ‘noble qualities’ also have devastating consequences? Yes.

In the novel, the mothers immigrated from China for a new life, believing they’d left the old life (and ways) behind. Yet, it’s only when their daughters grow into women that the BBT comes into full bloom and can be seen.

The mothers realize they may have changed geography, but they’ve unwittingly passed down the very ideas they’d sacrificed everything to outrun.

What is ‘Good’?

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

Through the stories, we witness how the grandmothers were all excellent examples of the ‘good Chinese woman’, but this made them victims. These women suffered tremendously for doing what was ‘honorable’ and the ‘Chinese way.’

This ‘noble suffering’ then flowed down the cultural tributaries from the grandmothers to the mothers and finally to the daughters.

Thus, in the story, the mothers and daughters—together—must learn to forgive themselves and each other. They then must grow and challenge the series of BBT proxies with action and intention.

For instance, Lena’s mother Ling Ling confesses her own weakness, then challenges Lena to stand up to her abusive husband (proxy of BBT; Harold, the ‘Traditional Chinese Husband’ who is a good provider, but who is also controlling, emotionally bankrupt, and condescending). If Lena stays with Harold, who has zero intention of changing, she loses.

BBT, non-linear plotting, non-linear structure, advanced plotting, Big Boss Troublemaker, antagonist, core story problem, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, novel structure, how to write literature

If Lena swallows her pride and anger and sacrifices her self-respect in order to ‘suffer with dignity’…she loses. The BBT wins because though inaction Lena, by default, is agreeing with the IDEA that Obedience Makes the ‘Good’ Chinese Woman.

The ways of China didn’t work well for the grandmothers, but those women had no choice. The mothers and daughters, however, DO have a choice, which is the point of the book.

By burying the past and creating new futures, the BBT (Obedience Makes the ‘GOOD’ Chinese Woman) is challenged and defeated.

Obedience is not universally good. In fact, it can be downright deadly.

“Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh.” -An-mei

~Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

In the End

I’ve worked hard to give a wide variety of examples to assist you as we deep-dive this component of structure. A story begins with an IDEA. The core antagonist has an IDEA that must be made corporeal in order to be defeated. If we fail to do this, we don’t have a story.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist on March 15th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I do love hearing from you. Where you struggle, because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

By the way, yes I also offer classes. I want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales. Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below. I changed the dates due to having the flu :/ .

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, March 1st, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

Valentine's Day, Kristen Lamb, humor Valentine's Day, humor, poetry, Twas the Night Before Valentines, single on Valentine's Day

Ah Valentine’s Day. I figure we’ve had enough seriousness, so today we’ll have some light fun, sponsored by my flu med hallucinations (the purple hippos dared me). Anyway, almost eleven years ago, I was *heavy sigh* still single, and it was right at Valentine’s, of course. I was seriously feeling like chopped liver because dateless…again.

****I kid you NOT. My family called me The Runaway Bride and had all wagered I would be single indefinitely. Thanks, family. Thanks. Putting you in a novel for that *raises glass*.

Anyway, like many writers, I sat down and scribbled out this fun little poem to give myself (and other singles) a good laugh (or deal with anger issues in a way not requiring bail money…whatever).

I hope it makes all of you smile. Hey, pass on the love to some single pals while you’re at it 😀 .

So without further ado…

Twas the Night Before Valentine’s…by Kristen Lamb

Twas the night before Valentine’s, and all through the land

The poor single people were wringing their hands.

Handcuffs were hung by the nighties with care

Near the lotions and chocolates and lace underwear.

A day made by Hallmark to sell lots of stuff

Pushing candies and kittens and kisses and fluff.

A day that makes ‘Single’ a social disease

Like bubonic or typhoid or chiggers or fleas.

And that fat baby Cupid must be on the take

Paid in buckets of cash and red velvet cake.

Love songs are played on every damn station

As ‘mush’ takes over the entire nation.

Now not that we’re jaded, us single-type folk.

We’ve tried Facebook and Match, and Equally-Yolked.

We’ve tried parks and clubs and churches and bars

And a handful resorted to wishing on stars.

Like most other people, we want company

Without drama or fighting or disharmony.

No Jerry Springer or Kardashian drama.

Who has the time for all of that trauma?

Maybe we’re picky, world-weary, or fussy

Because we won’t date any Joe Schmo or hussy.

We want someone good-looking, gentle and sweet.

Hey, just cuz we’re single doesn’t make us minced meat.

We do not begrudge the romance of others

The passion of courtship, the heat between lovers.

Before you judge my singular state

Think back to the days when YOU had to date.

But tomorrow we’ll stand in the grocery store line

Watching the boyfriend who’s run out of time

With a ‘Get-Well’ bouquet cuz he waited too late

To find the red roses to gift to his mate.

Hallmark has trained you to scurry and dash

Into its stores with fistfuls of cash.

For stuffed little critters with a lap full of love

And boxes of chocolate morsels from Dove.

We Singles won’t stand hours waiting to dine

On elf food with garnish and overpriced wine.

No chocolates with abnormal tropical middles

Or angst about thighs that may wiggle and jiggle.

No staying in bars desperately late

Trying to connect with a last-minute date.

So embrace your status and shout it out loud.

Yes, I am single! Single and Proud!

So all you single commenters out there, at least you know I love you. Enjoy being single. And, yes, if any of you want to repost this as a blog, you are welcome to share the tragic fun (but give me credit). When school children are studying great 21st century literature and are assigned to write essays about MY poem? I want the credit for this literary genius :D.

 

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Conflict is the core ingredient required for story. It is the magical elixir with the raw power to transform a story we think we’ve heard a million times before into something wholly unique and mesmerizing. FYI, there are no new stories, only new ways of telling the same stories. Just getting that out of the way.

A Thousand Acres is basically King Lear on an Iowa farm, and Avatar is Pocahontas in Space. I could give a zillion more examples but won’t.

In fairness, this makes our job simpler. We really don’t want to create a story no one has ever heard before. Not only because it’s pretty much impossible to do in the first place, but it’s also highly risky even if we managed to pull it off. Why?

Because the story ‘never before told’ cannot possibly resonate emotionally. Humans have no emotional touchpoint for something they’ve never experienced…ever.

Resonance is Critical

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Love gone wrong? Betrayal? Messed up family? Righting wrongs of the past? Clearing one’s name from being falsely accused? Rebuilding after a loss? Finally earning approval, love, or acceptance? Impacts of abuse or addiction?

This stuff we get.

Most humans have real-life experience with these ‘common’ stories. Thus, when we stick to these core human narratives, that’s when we create that deep visceral resonance that ripples through generations of readers. It’s because people can relate.

Suffering is also interesting. What? Humans are morbid. Not MY fault, but definitely good for business if you’re a writer.

Now, the degree of ‘suffering’ obviously is determined by genre (or how bad the writing is).

A cupcake cozy mystery won’t probe at wounds the way a dark literary thriller like Gone Girl might. This doesn’t change that there’s ONE singular ingredient for all stories that must be present or it isn’t a story.

My goal in this series is to explore all the elements of structure, because the purpose of structure is to generate TENSION. Story is a machine. All parts serve a purpose and must work together lest we get screeching, smoke, meltdown, then breakdown.

Before we explore other elements of building a story, let’s discuss conflict.

Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, structure, novel structure

If we don’t have conflict, we DO NOT have a story. PERIOD.

A story captures us (readers) with a problem, then we turn pages because there are more problems! And we cannot possibly put down a book until we know everything is okay, right?

Few readers—emphasis on FEW—turn pages to see if the writer will use even prettier descriptions, employ even wittier references to obscure literature, or come up with even more clever names for starships/kingdoms/mythical beasts.

Readers aren’t picking up a novel to see if the author knows how to use a thesaurus or test the writer’s vocabulary skills. S.A.T. and G.R.E. prep manuals do that.

Want to read one of those in your spare time? Be my guest.

Granted, everything listed above (prose, description, world-building, excellent vocabulary) can all be wonderful elements to story, but none are powerful enough ALONE to BE STORY. Only one ingredient is inherently potent enough by itself to be considered story.

That ingredient is conflict. Conflict is story.

Here I am referring to BOTH external conflict and internal conflict, though mainly external. One CANNOT exist without the other. External conflict ignites and fans the flames of internal conflict.

Internal conflict alone is the literary equivalent of a diary to our inner child. Only therapists want to read self-exploratory navel-gazing…namely because they’re paid very well to do so.

What’s going to make readers care about internal conflicts are external problems 😉 .

Confusion with Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Conflict—who generates it and how—can be very confusing. I am here, hopefully, to help you make sense of it all. Today we’ll use broad strokes to help y’all see what I’m wanting you to grasp, then I’ll blog in greater detail on each aspect.

Every novel MUST have a core antagonist. I call this particular antagonist the Big Boss Troublemaker (BBT) to keep it straight in MY head. I do this because a lot of well-meaning craft books (that assumed I was WAY smarter than I was) confused the crap out of me for years by using ‘antagonist’ as a blanket term.

Also, I chose this because Troublemaker is not inherently bad, evil, or nefarious. It’s merely trouble, which is subjective. This distinction (that the BBT is not, by nature, evil) will be important later, especially for certain genres.

EVERY STORY MUST HAVE A BBT. The BBT is responsible for creating the core story problem in need of resolution. When the core problem is resolved, THIS is how we (writer and readers) know the story is over.

***If the Hobbits don’t toss the evil ring in Mt. Doom and destroy Sauron (BBT)? NOPE not over.

Problem is, the BBT—while responsible for creating the core problem—likely isn’t present on every single page. Herein lies the pickle. If the goal is to put conflict on every page, in every line, how can we possibly do that?

Easy. Much of our story’s conflict isn’t necessarily directly a result of the BBT.

In any story, conflict will have many, many faces. Often you’ll hear this referred to as the antagonist. ‘Antagonist’ is a broad term, which includes any character whose goal stands in the way of what the main character desires.

Every character can at one time wear the antagonist hat (which gets shuffled around). Allies and love interests wear it most frequently, believe it or not. I’ll give you examples how, later.

The antagonist in play is almost always a person (corporeal being), which we will get to in finer detail as to why in another post. Suffice to say, humans don’t do so well with existentialism. When our MC is pitted against anything other than another person with an opposing agenda, we risk tanking the conflict.

Bad Situations are NOT Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Let me repeat. What makes readers turn pages is unresolved conflict. Conflict can only happen when opposing agendas meet.

Kristen’s riffed example:

Fifi, the teenage witch hunter must meet demonically possessed baton twirler at exactly midnight for the critical clue to who/what’s behind the drama nerds going missing.

***See, if the football team was going missing the authorities would care. But Fifi, being a long-time drama nerd and (unfortunately) a brand new witch-hunter knows she must step in to find her friends or no one else will.

This definitely IS a good story problem. Missing friends. Not to mention school administrators would loooove another reason to cut the drama program. It’s a juicy start, but not yet conflict.

For that? Add in *drum roll* MOM.

Mom, who previously worked night shift at the hospital switched THAT morning to day shift, because of her daughter’s strange behaviors and odd injuries. She wants to be there for her daughter, despite the cut in pay.

This means Fifi’s mom will be home, which gives boundless ways for any writer to sadistically torture readers. Mom being home (and NOT working at the hospital) gives a myriad of organic setbacks to generate high tension as Fifi desperately tries to sneak out to meet possessed baton twirler.

The clock ticks ever closer to midnight as Mom overcompensates to assuage her guilt for being previously absentee.

Pumpkin! I hear you’re awake. Hard time sleeping? Hold on! I’ll bring you up some hot milk like I used to.

Is mom BAD for switching to day shift? Is she a villain for not wanting her barely-legal-to-drive teen to leave the house at 11:30 P.M. on a school night (or ANY night)?

No their goals simply conflict.

Conflict is NOT Inherently BAD

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Fifi’s goal is to meet possessed baton twirler to find missing drama nerds and stop the evil force (a noble goal). Mom’s goal is to be a good mom (again, a noble goal).

It is still, however, CONFLICT.

Notice how the external conflict (problems) only exacerbate internal conflict. Fifi is trying to shield her mother from vastly dangerous supernatural forces. Mom is intent on protecting her daughter and making up for being a ‘bad’ mother by being a vigilant mother.

Yet…

As tensions mount, secrets, baggage, and benevolent lies pile up like old rags soaked in ‘oil’ (guilt, remorse, anger) waiting to inevitably go BOOM.

This is why other characters with conflicting agendas are GOLD.

If all that is keeping Fifi from meeting the possessed baton twirler is bad weather, a lost set of keys, twisted ankle, a broken down car, these are bad situations not conflict. Bad situations are useful only for the momentary setback, but they lack the same power to inflame the internal conflict.

Can we use bad situations? HECK YEAH…just not at the expense of authentic dramatic tension, which can only be created by antagonists.

Why the Confusion?

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One reason many emerging writers get confused (I sure did) is that the term ‘antagonist’ is often used interchangeably with ‘villain’ which is bad (or at lease incomplete) teaching. Not all stories have villains but ALL stories must possess a BBT and antagonists throughout. As y’all see with my Fifi example, Mom is an antagonist, but hardly a villain.

Antagonists are like ice cream, and ‘villains’ are like double-fudge ice cream. While all double-fudge ice cream IS ice cream, not all ice cream is double-fudge 😉 .

Do We NEED a Villain?

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Yes and no. If your character is up against something existential, that existential thing should be pretty BAD (death, disease, poverty, alcoholism, racism, abuse, etc.). Problem is, these ‘concepts’ need to be represented via a proxy which may or may NOT be a villain.

I know, a brain-bender but work with me. Breathe.

I like to use the example of Steel Magnolias which does have a villain—DISEASE/DEATH. Ah, but the ‘Villain’ BBT is represented via proxy by the daughter Shelby.

Shelby has life-threatening diabetes. She tries to adopt but fails and longs to be a mother. Her decision to get pregnant knowing it very well could cost her life creates the core story problem (making SHELBY the BBT).

M’Lynn is the dutiful mother who’s there to take care of everything and everyone. Her goal is to outlive her daughter, to protect her. To give her very life if need be to save her daughter.

In this situation, however? She can’t. She has no control (which is her problem. btw).

Shelby’s desire to be a mother conflicts with M’Lynn’s desire for her daughter to outlive her and to live a long and happy life.

BUT this decision is critical for M’Lynn for grow, to evolve from being a control freak, and embrace all of life—even the ugly parts—to get to the truly good parts (I.e. the grandson Jackson).

Many Faces of NOPE

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

All stories must have a BBT that creates the core story in need of being resolved. Once we have defined this core story problem, casting becomes simpler. Ideally, we want to cast an MC who’d rather crawl across razor-wire than confront the story problem. But what is on the OTHER side outweighs the fear (most of the time).

Then we can layer in love interests, allies, threshold guardians, minions and all the BBT has to throw at the MC on every single page. Yes, it CAN be done and I will blog more on how. For more about that now? Buy a copy of HOOKED by Les Edgerton. He’s my mentor and one of the toughest yet finest writing teachers ever.

Anyway, this colorful cast of antagonists (friend and foe) and all their baggage is what will keep readers riveted to their seats wanting to know HOW IT ALL ENDS! By crafting organic opposition onto every page (every line), this is how we steadily wind tension tighter and tighter until it’s almost ready to snap nerves.

Readers will be begging for release. Hey, it isn’t called the climax for nothing *rolls eyes* . Alas, now that y’all grasp what I mean by conflict, we can now proceed to the next layer of learning next post.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist on March 15th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Has the term antagonist confused you too? Heck, it sure confused me. Same with conflict. I need more conflict? Okay, I can put in a car chase. Kinda weird for a chick-lit, but alrighty! I do love hearing from you. Where you struggle, because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

By the way, yes I also offer classes. I want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales. Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Humans are hard-wired for story. For thousands of years, every culture on every continent has used stories to pass on information of every kind. Why? Because humans are wired for story.

We might not recall facts, but story has a way of embedding into our minds and remaining with a tenacity only rivaled by music.

There’s a reason the two (story and music), when paired together, have double the power. Just as a song can get stuck in our head, stories can, too. A song or story can become addictive by accident, but true artists create addicts (fans) with intention and design.

Story as Music

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

It’s interesting that patients with advanced Alzheimer’s often lose the capability to remember family, friends, names, dates, but can sing a song from their youth and recall every lyric. I never cease to be amazed how I might forget where my keys are, yet I can hear a song from thirty years ago and know every line.

One reason is great songs also tell riveting stories. The second is great music is delivered in a structural way that hooks, then binds into our gray matter.

Great stories are exactly the same. It isn’t enough to have an incredible story idea.

The goal is to deliver that story idea first with a HOOK, then with a structure, pacing, tempo, timing, and climax that will remain with the reader longer than purple rain 😉 .

Just as music must possess a certain kind of intrinsic structure in order to optimally resonate (I.e. a hook in the lyrics/chorus), superlative stories must do this as well.

We Got the Beat

We got the beat, we got the beat…YEAH! We got the beat!

Narrative structure is a critical skill. The single biggest reason most novels flop? Structure. Pretty prose does not a novel make.

Each of these blogs will build upon the previous lesson so feel free to go back to last post to catch up. Yes, I’ll be mixing metaphors more than a 90s DJ but y’all are sharp.

By the end of this series, my goal is to equip you with the fundamental skills essential to honor our craft, regardless if we are plotters, pantsers, or plotsers.

In fact, let’s take a moment here. I don’t even care to discuss plotting, outlining, pantsing, notecards, spreadsheets, etc. Why? Because those topics are not salient to what we’re discussing here.

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HOW any writer utilizes structure is ‘process,’ thus completely up to the writer and none of my business.

I don’t care if your process involves a salt circle and channeling a spirit guide for nifty ideas so long as, at the end, there’s a finished novel that respects and values the reader’s TIME.

If your process involves body glitter, while reading tea leaves and wearing a tutu…I DON’T CARE. Unless you’re turning out mind-blowing, amazing novels readers inhale…then PLEASE share precisely which body glitter, tea and tutu is helping you do that… because I have Prime, free shipping, and no pride.

What I do care about is that you, me, all of us respect what we do enough to learn how to do it with excellence. Anything less is intellectual laziness and disrespectful to ourselves, our art, and our readers. 

*tucks away soap box*

Don’t Want No Scrubs

No, I don’t want your free book. No, not gonna pay a dime. And no, I don’t wanna read it nowhere. No, wastin’ none of my time.

No, I don’t want no scrub. A scrub is a book that can’t get no love from me. Tweeting out the messenger side of a free web site…tryin’ to holler at me.

Get THAT out of your head, LOL.

Anyway, structure is one of those topics that I feel gets overlooked far too much, which is why Amazon is bulging with ‘scrub books’ that talk a good game, but in truth, have nothing to offer readers (unless one counts buyer’s remorse).

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

There are a lot of workshops designed to teach new writers how to finish a ‘novel’ in four weeks or three or two or whatever. And that is great…if a writer possesses a solid understanding of structure.

If not? At the end of 4 weeks, you could very likely have a 60K word mess that no editor can fix (but that may require a salt circle to protect the unsuspecting world from it escaping).

Some of you might be in the midst of having to face some hard truths about your book. If you’ve been shopping that same book for months or years, and an agent has yet to be interested, likely structure is the problem.

If you went ahead and self-published, but sales are lackluster? Likely ‘promotion’ not the problem, product is. Many of you might have a computer full of unfinished novels. Yes, again, structure is the most likely culprit.

Oops! I Did It Again

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Been there *fist bump*. Plenty of my own bright ideas languishing in literary limbo, which was why I made it my mission to understand everything possible regarding narrative structure.

Good news is that most novels can be fixed, although many times that requires leveling everything to the foundation and using the raw materials (original idea) to begin anew…the correct way and killing a lot of little darlings along the way.

Last post, I broke the bad news. Novels have rules. Sorry. They do. I didn’t make this stuff up. When we don’t follow the rules, bad things happen. Just ask Dr. Frankenstein.

Authors who break the rules do so with a fundamental understanding of rules and reader expectations. Remember the pizza analogy? We can get creative with pizza so long as we do so with an appreciation for consumer expectations.

A panko crusted trout served on mango-infused naan bread might be super clever…but is not recognizable as a pizza. We can call it pizza until we’re blue and a consumer will just think we’re a nut.

Same with any story, regardless of length. Readers have expectations. Deviate too far and we will have produced a commodity so far off the standard expectations that readers won’t touch it, which is why agents won’t rep it. They are in the business of creating best-selling authors, not most-clever authors.

One pays way better.

This said, I can tell if a writer understands structure in ten three pages. So can an agent.

Doctor, Doctor!

Can’t you see I’m burning, burning…?

Yep.

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Agents, editors, proofreaders, craft experts. We can see your WIP is burning and why, because we’re trained diagnosticians who spot symptoms of fatal story ‘diseases’ at a glance. No, we don’t need to read the whole book. Really.

***Much like a neurologist doesn’t need to saw open a patient’s head to know that person’s suffered stroke.

Last time, we zoomed in and explored the most fundamental building blocks of a story. Today, we’re going to get an aerial shot—the Three Act Structure.

Aristotelian structure has worked for a couple thousand years for very good reasons. There are variations of this design, sure. But there’s something fundamentally resonant about three acts. Beginning, middle, end.

Cut off a song halfway through a chorus, and a three-year-old will call foul. Stop a bedtime story in the middle. A four-year-old won’t fall for that trick. How does it END?

We can get creative, but get crazy at our own risk.

We’ll Be Counting Stars

Let’s stop counting dollars, let’s start counting stars….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

I understand that this is not a hard and fast rule, but still fairly safe to assert good books sell better than crappy books. How, then do we write a great story?

Ideally, our story’s tension will steadily rise from the beginning to end, growing progressively more intense until the grand finale, much like a symphony. But for a more visceral explanation of story, I prefer to compare the larger story structure to roller coasters.

People line up for great books for the same reasons they stand in withering summer heat to ride the latest roller coaster, and even pay extra for fast passes to skip to the front.

They yearn for a THRILL.

The Thrill of It All

Well, that’s my story, you’ll be sticking to it, since I’m a master of the lie. Forget your problems that don’t even exist, cuz my book will make you high…

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

I want you to envision the best roller coasters, how they are put together. All thrill rides begin with an immobile metal bar that closes over your lap. No getting of the ride now (the story hook).

Then there’s an initial slow, creeping up, up, up a hill where your gut twists from fear laced with anticipation (Inciting Incident that introduces the story), a small dip to catch your breath, and then (turning point) you’re committed to the very end when the bar unlatches.

If the biggest loop, wildest twist or tallest hill is at the beginning of the ride (story), the rest of the ride cannot help but be a complete letdown because of poor design.

Engineers know this (great writers do, too). This is why no thrill ride is even built until there is a prototype/design that satisfies investors that park patrons will LOVE it.

Writers are wise to do this as well.

I Hate You, I Love You

I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you. I hate that it’s past two. Should sleep but don’t want to….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Great stories and great rides. We hate them and love them and hate that we love them. Now, let’s go and WRITE one 😀 .

Theme parks know it’s stupid to invest millions of dollars and countless man hours into something that by design no one will bother waiting in line to ride. Or a ride so bad it will infuriate anyone who bothered to stand in line…who will then tell every single person they find how awful the experience was.

Same happens with books.

Engineers fundamentally understand that thrills are crafted, not accidental. They grasp that an optimally designed roller coaster gives escalating thrills—bigger and bigger hills, twists, turns, dives, climbs and loops—with fewer and fewer troughs to catch a breath.

This all inevitably leads up to the largest loop/twist/inversion that then deescalates with incrementally slower and smaller loops and turns. The ride all culminates with smooth glide home to the other side of where it all began.

Every person locked on that ride desperately wants it all to end, but they do so with a mix of terror, dread and glee. Riders stagger away, breathless. They’re simultaneously thrilled and crushed it went so quickly.

So they stand in line AGAIN (or pay big bucks for fast-passes to skip to front).

Stitches

I thought that I’d been hooked before, but no book ever left me quite this sore. Your hooks sunk deeper than a knife, now I need book two to bring me back to life….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books
These are REAL fans…

When writers NAIL structure, they can design a similar ride—something that delivers the pain/pleasure readers crave to feel ALIVE. To SIZZLE with life!

We want readers who stay up all night (against their will), who will happily endure the book-hangover and tell all their friends to get in line for the same experience.

Sure, runaway book success can happen by chance, but luck favors the prepared.

We can design stories that lock readers onto a thrilling, chilling, mind-blowing emotional roller coaster and heck of a ride. Crafted properly, readers will be begging for ‘the ride’ to be OVER-AND-OMG-I-CANNOT-TAKE-IT-BUT-I-CANNOT-STOP-I-MUST-KNOW. Readers will beg for it to end…then be depressed when it actually does. How we do that is STRUCTURE 😉 .

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

***January’s winner is Maria D’Marco. Please send your first twenty pages (5,000 words) double spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font (12 pint) with one-inch margins in a Word doc to kristen at wana intl.com.

CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Yesterday we talked about great stories and why the world craves them and needs more of them. It’s easy to assert the world needs more great stories, but how do we go about writing them? Glad you asked.

Great stories that endure for generations are not the result of whim, accident or even a lot of ‘rising and grinding.’ There’s an end vision, a planning phase, and a way to make sure all the parts come together to create what was originally imagined (or perhaps something that surpassed all hope).

This is true of all enduring structures. Can you imagine the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx of Giza, the Mayan temples, or the Nazca Lines being the result of whim? Hey, lets go pile some stones and chip away at a cliff and see what happens?

Um…no.

Great stories possess an inherent architectural design unique to building with words. In fact, the more vast and complex a story we desire to write, the more structure skills matter.

Mastering how stories are fundamentally put together will increase our odds of crafting a story readers love.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Narrative structure is fundamental, especially for any writer who longs to craft great stories that can withstand the test of time and Goodreads trolls 😛 .

Structure, sadly, is probably one of the most overlooked topics even though it’s the most critical.

Why? Because structure is for the reader. The further an author deviates from structure, the less likely the story will connect and resonate.

When structure is missing, incomplete, or flawed, the easier it is for readers to become confused, frustrated and finally give up. Structure isn’t simply for function, but for beauty as well (refer to jacked up Ikea fail above).

Sadly, too many emerging writers want to get to the ‘fun’ stuff (for them). Pretty prose, descriptions, characters, using new words are great imaginative play. Unfortunately, that’s all it is. Play.

Crafting great stories is work. Too much play and too little planning is the reason many ‘novels’ are Literary Barbie Dream Houses or Literary Holodecks (if you prefer).

While the writer is vested in the ‘story,’ no one else cares because the ‘book’ was written to entertain the creator not the consumer. Hey, I am not judging, for the record….

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics
Representation of Kristen’s First Novel

Story that connects to readers = lots of books sold

Story that deviates so far from structure that readers get confused or bored = slush pile or Amazon purgatory

Structure can be tough to wrap your mind around and, to be blunt, most pre-published writers don’t understand it. They rely on wordsmithery and hope they can bluff past people like me, agents and readers with their glorious prose.

Yeah, no. Prose isn’t plot.

We have to understand plot. That’s why I am going to make this upcoming craft series simple easy and best of all FUN.

Great Stories Possess Intrinsic Order

I get it. Learning story structure ranks right up there with…memorizing the Periodic Table. Remember those days? Ah, high school Chemistry.

The funny thing about Chemistry is that if you didn’t grasp the Periodic Table, then you simply would never do well in Chemistry. Everything beyond Chapter One hinged on this fundamental step—understanding the Periodic Table.

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Location, location, location.

See, the elements were a lot like the groups at high school. They all had their own parts of the ‘lunch room.’ Metals on one part of the table, then the non-metals. Metals liked to date non-metals. They called themselves ‘The Ionics’ thinking it sounded cool.

Metals never dated other metals, but non-metals did date other non-metals. They were called ‘The Covalents.’  And then you had the neutral gases. The nerds of the Periodic Table. No one hung out with them. Ever. Okay, other nerds, but that was it.

Period.

All silliness aside, if you didn’t understand what element would likely hang out where and in what company, the rest of Chemistry might as well have been Sanskrit….like it was for me the first three times I failed it.

Novel structure can be very similar. All parts serve an important function. Normal World has a clear purpose, just like all the other components of the narrative structure. If we fail to understand this, then crafting a great story becomes more accident than intention.

Dunno about y’all, but I prefer odds I can control, thanks.

Great Stories: Back to the BASICS

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Today we are going to go back to basics, before we ever worry about things like Aristotelian structure (non-linear structure), turning points, rising action, and darkest moments, etc.

Often, structure is the stuff most new writers don’t understand, but I’m going to save you a ton of rewrite and disappointment. Again, prose is not a novel. Just because we can write beautiful sentences doesn’t mean we have the necessary skills to write an 60-100,000+ word novel (or a 300,000 + word series).

That’s like saying, I can build a birdhouse, so I can build a house! Uh, probably not. Or, I can build a house, so I can construct a skyscraper! Um…no. Different scale, different skills.

Do they share some basic components? Sure! But a novel (or series) requires a totally different framework of support, lest it collapse….structure.

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

There are too many talented writers out there writing by the seat of their pants, believing that the skills to create a great short story are the same for a novel. Or the same for a novel are the same for an epic ten-book space opera.

No, no, no, no. When we lack a basic understanding of structure we have set ourselves up for a lot of wasted writing.

Ah, but understand the basics? And the potential variations are mind-boggling even if they are bound by rules, just like Chemistry.

Simplicity Births Complexity

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Carbon chains can be charcoal, but they’re also essential for lotuses, lions, and lemmings. Today we’re going to just have a basic introduction and we will delve deeper in the coming posts.

Now before you guys get the vapors and think I’m boxing you into some rigid format that will ruin your creativity, nothing could be further from the truth.

Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better.

Structure is about timing—where in the mix those elements go.

When you read a novel that isn’t quite grabbing you, the reason is probably structure. Even though it may have good characters, snappy dialogue, and intriguing settings, the story isn’t unfolding in the optimum fashion. ~James Scott Bell from Plot and Structure.

Structure has to do with the foundation and the building blocks, the carbon chains that are internal and never seen, but will hold and define what eventually will manifest on the outside—peach or poodle? Paranormal Romance? Or OMGWTH? 

Structure holds stories together and helps them make sense and flow in such a way so as to maximize the emotional impact by the end of the tale.

The Micro Scale of Structure

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics
Same thing can be said for writers…

We’re going to first ZOOM IN and place the novel under a literary electron microscope.

The most fundamental basics of a novel are cause and effect. Super basic. An entire novel can be broken down into cause-effect-cause-effect-cause-effect (yes, even literary works).

Cause and effect are like a nucleus with orbiting electrons. They exist in relation to each other and need each other. All effects must have a cause and all causes eventually must have an effect (or a good explanation).

I know that in life random things happen and people die for no reason. Yeah, well fiction ain’t life. So if a character drops dead from a massive heart attack, that ‘seed’ needs to be planted ahead of time.

Villains don’t just have their heart explode because we need them to die so we can end our book.

We’ll chat more about that later.

Now, all these little causes and effects clump together to form the next two building blocks we’ll discuss—the scene & the sequel (per Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure). Many times these will clump together to form your ‘chapters’ but all in good time.

Cause and effect are like the carbon and the hydrogen. They bind together to form carbon chains. Carbon chains are what make up all living organisms.

***I know carbon chains also make some dead things, but great stories are living ‘creatures.’ Dead stories are, well, dead and deserve to rot in a slush pile. Ah, but living stories are immortal!

Anyway, carbon chains and various elements from that Periodic Table act like Legos—put together differently, in innumerable ways…but always using the same fundamental blocks.

Assembled in the wrong order—>steaming pile of goo.

***Lest I remind anyone who saw The Fly about that baboon that didn’t quite ‘make it’ through the teleportation pod.

Carbon chains create flowers and ferrets and fireflies and all things living, just like scenes and sequels form together in different ways to make up mysteries, romances, fantasies and thrillers and all things literary.

Order Matters: Scene & Sequel

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Structure’s two main components, as I said earlier, are the scene and the sequel.

The scene is a fundamental building block of fiction. It is physical. Something tangible is happening. The scene has three parts (again per Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure, which I recommend every writer buy and read and study).

  • Statement of the goal
  • Introduction and development of conflict
  • Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster

Goal –> Conflict –> Disaster

The sequel is the other fundamental building block and is the emotional thread. The sequel often begins at the end of a scene when the viewpoint character has to process the unanticipated but logical disaster that happened at the end of your scene.

Emotion–> Thought–> Decision–> Action

Link scenes and sequels together and flesh over a narrative structure and you will have a novel readers will enjoy.

Oh but Kristen you are hedging me in to this formulaic writing and I want to be creative.

Understanding structure is not formulaic writing. It is writing that makes sense on a fundamental level.

Meet & Exceed Expectations

On some intuitive level, all readers expect some variation of this structure. When things happen for no reason, or there are actions that should have consequences then don’t? Formula for a book mark.

Readers eventually grow weary and move on, especially these days when humans have the attention span of a crack-addicted spider monkey.

great stories, structure, plot structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing craft, writing fiction, plotting basics

Can we get creative with pizza? Sure. Can we be more than Domino’s or Papa John’s? Of course. There are countless variations of pizza, from something that resembles a frozen hockey puck to gourmet varieties with fancy toppings like sun-dried tomatoes or feta cheese.

But, on some primal level, a patron will know what to expect when we ‘sell’ them a pizza. They will know that a fried corn tortilla stuffed with shredded bison and a raspberry chutney is NOT pizza…even though it is certainly ‘creative.’

Patrons have certain expectations when you offer them a ‘pizza.’ Pizza has rules. So do novels. Chemistry and Biology have rules, so do novels. We can push the boundaries, but we must appreciate the rules…so we can BREAK and BASH them!

*evil laugh*

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

***January’s winner is Maria D’Marco. Please send your first twenty pages (5,000 words) double spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font (12 pint) with one-inch margins in a Word doc to kristen at wana intl.com.

CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.