Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

So I contacted Kristen awhile back and asked her if I could hijack her blog and she graciously said Yes. Because of this lapse in judgment outpouring of generosity, I’m going to try and forget that sarcasm is my love language and, instead, be professional. I’ve just launched a book and am feeling absolutely giddy with freedom, so this is easier said than done. But we’ll give it a go.

I’ve been thinking lately about something that Angela and I touch on in all of our books: The Mirror of Real Life. It’s this idea that something in our stories is like a mirror for readers that reflects back to them something of themselves. When we portray the character as this mirror, it draws readers in and encourages empathy because they recognize a commonality with the character.

In today’s world, where there are roughly a gajillion books your readers could be buying, it’s super important to pull readers into YOUR story. You want them staying up way too late finishing your books, thinking about them after they’re done and running to the computer to see when the next in the series is coming out. While there are a number of ways to encourage this fascination, one of the strongest methods is by writing characters that resonate with readers on a personal level. So I want to talk today about common elements that, when applied to our characters, increase our chances of engaging readers.

Fears

I’m not talking about surface phobias like Brussels sprouts and spiders (though, please, both are icky). I’m talking about deep-seated, debilitating, life-altering fears: rejection, failure, betrayal, physical harm, the death of a loved one. These fears are so great that they become drivers for our behavior, leading us to do and not do things that we believe will keep these painful events from happening. Inflicting these on our characters is cruel and probably makes us as authors horrible people, but they do serve a solid storytelling purpose: they tap into common experiences that readers understand. When readers see the character struggling with a familiar fear, a connection is forged, and empathy is born.

Traits

There are many contributors to the formation of a character’s positive and negative traits. Fears can be a factor: Mom is proactive, observant, overprotective, or paranoid because she’s afraid something will happen to her kids; Joe worries about rejection, so he tends to be withdrawn, abrasive, or cautious. Upbringing can be instrumental, along with the caregivers who raised the character, positive experiences and successes they’ve had, their ethics and values—even genetics can play a part.

Regardless of their origin, when a character’s dominant traits mirror those of the reader or people in the reader’s life, the character becomes more interesting. Traits like stubbornness, optimism, fairness, and impulsivity act as tags that say, “Hey! This guy’s just like you, or Grandma, or that jerk kid who lived down the road who used to shoot you with his BB gun.” Giving your character flaws and attributes that are common to the human experience can be the most straightforward way to bridge the gap between readers and your cast.

Human Needs

This one takes us back to Psychology 101 (which is farther back for some of us than others) and good ol’ Uncle Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The premise of his theory is that there are five basic categories of needs that all people must have in order to be wholly realized. When one of these is missing, we become compelled to fill that void, and we do this through adopting new habits, thought patterns, and beliefs that align with that purpose. These needs are universal, meaning that even on a subconscious level, we all share them. So, for example, when readers see a character whose safety and security has been compromised, they understand what that’s like and why it’s so important for the character to get it back. Boom! Connection.

Story Goals

And how does the character regain that missing need in their life? Through an overall goal. To paraphrase Michael Hauge in Writing Screenplays That Sell, every plausible story idea can be explained with a simple formula:

It’s a story about A (the protagonist) who wants B (the story goal) because Y (the missing need that will be filled through the accomplishment of that goal).

Getting the girl, escaping an alien invasion, winning the court case, avenging oneself—we see the same goals repeated from one story to another because they’re tried and true ways that missing needs can be met. Why does he need to get the girl? Because he’s missing love and belonging. Why does she want to win the court case? Because it will provide the esteem she’s been lacking for so long.

Story goals resonate with readers on two levels. First, they’re goals the reader personally has pursued or have seen others pursue. Secondly, they recognize, often subconsciously, that achieving that goal will fill the need; they know that getting B is vital to the character’s happiness and success, and they want the character to win. Give your character an overall goal that not only makes sense for the story but also meets that internal need, and you’ll increase the chances that your reader will relate to the character.

Self-Growth

We may not verbalize it often, but we all are on a journey in this life to improve ourselves. We don’t want to be the same people ten years from now that we were yesterday, and we all hope to leave the world a better place than it was when we found it. When readers see characters on this journey of discovery and self-growth, they get it. They’ve been there. And they want the character to succeed because if the character can do it, then there’s hope for them too.

Emotional Wounds

I saved this one for last because, when it comes to mirroring real life, nothing has the impact of an emotional wound. We’ve all experienced terrible things in our lives—singular events or repeated situations that were so emotionally and/or physically painful that we don’t want to ever go through them again. Readers can relate to those experiences and their devastating effects. As a matter of fact, when you take the effort to explore your character’s backstory and unearth this formative event, it enables you to incorporate all of the aforementioned elements, resulting in a character that reads as true-to-life and utterly relateable. In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

Something awful happens to your character (emotional wound). They become afraid that it or something similar to it will happen again (fear). So they adopt emotional shielding to keep them safe in the form of new characteristics (traits), behaviors, and false beliefs about themselves or the world. But instead of protecting them, this shielding ends up creating other problems, such as keeping others at a distance or limiting their ability to successfully do what they love (human need). To fill the void, they either knowingly or unknowingly set out to accomplish something (story goal) that they believe will meet that need. But they’re unable to succeed because the wound is hobbling them, holding them back. It’s not until the character is able to face that wounding event and come to grips with it (self-growth) that they can distance themselves from the past and move forward into the future.

Basically, the wound is the Alpha and Omega of reader-character relatability. It supplies the starting, middle, and end points for a story structure and character arc that will offer many opportunities for readers to see themselves in the protagonist and the story. And once readers care about your character, they’re going to want to keep reading to see if he or she overcomes.

If this process seems oversimplified, it’s because there’s only so much information that can be crammed into a 1400-word blog post. For more information, the topic can be explored to its fullest, most in-depth, most ad-nauseum-est extent in our latest book: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma.

BIO:

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels, including the latest member of the family: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writersa powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

 

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

The BIG FIVE Publishers sing a siren’s song irresistible to most writers. Granted, in the New Publishing World we now have multiple publishing options, numerous paths to take us to our goal (whatever that goal may be).

Self-publishing, indie, small press, blog-to-book, and legacy press. I’ve worked hard for my slice of success, but I’m not so “evolved” I’ve eschewed all desire to earn my own spot as a Random-Penguin 😉 .

Big Five Fever

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

All publishing paths hold advantages and disadvantages, yet nothing can beguile us like the Simon & Schuster sparkle, hypnotize us as much as the Macmillan mystique.

Big Five Publishers are the sun that burns through our ennui, revealing a mere glimpse of the literary summit. Gives us a fever burning so hot, we forget all about those manuscripts that tried and died. Ignore the frozen, forgotten dead we’ll have to climb over on the way up.

A delirious insanity propels us toward the top, no matter how much we bleed. Big Five Publishers are the K-2 for the high-achieving (okay Type A) author.

Author does start with A. It’s a sign 😉 .

Why Big Five Publishers Hold Such Appeal

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Why do so many of us crave a spot among The Five? Even though we’re well aware we might only summit once, if ever? Despite the odds, we boldly take on this mountain. We accept that, while we might lose some toes, we’ll gain bragging rights and authentic respect.

Once “in the club” we won’t have to prove ourselves by something as gauche as comparing royalties. We won’t feel the urge to reveal how much money we made on that last box set (common practice in indie and self-pub).

Added bonus? The power to instantly humble that asshat stranger who laughed when we said what we did for a living. You know him, that guy who always follows his condescending laugh with, “Sorry, I meant what is your real job?”

*growls*

Big Five Publishers give us that name brand “stamp of approval” that separates the bourgeoisie poseurs from the authentic elites. Even that clod who mocked our profession can understand the sentence, “I‘m with Harper Collins. Ever heard of them?”

Before anyone starts hating on me, I’m well aware that this “belief” that Big Five Publishers only take on works of literary genius is bunk. But, human emotions are not known for making logical sense. Intellectually we writers know Big Five Publishers are a business. As a business they represent books that will make a lot of money, plain and simple. They’re always on the hunt for A Shore Thing.

Even though Snooki’s memoir was/is hardly literary genius, it was a fairly safe bet it would sell a lot of copies and bring in the Benjamins.

Brands Have Power

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

With so much algorithm gaming and the fact the slush pile has been handed off to readers (only now with glossy covers), publishing has become hell on Earth.

It’s like living in a world of Publishing Participation Trophies. In all the electroplated garbage, how does the real gold outshine the faux? A question posited by writers and now by readers.

Five years ago no reader would have thought to look to the publisher. But times have changed and names have power. The author name (brand) sells more books than any full-page ad. An author repped by Big Five? Automatic advantage in terms of public perception.

Sort of like how designers can sell ugly shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in…but they’re Prada. Thus instantly worth the $800 and they’re no longer hideous. They’re haute couture.

So I get it and don’t blame anyone for longing to be embraced by Big Five Publishers. Thus I am going to offer some tips.

Write a Good Book

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Yes, this falls under the “Um, duh” category but self-publishing has given a lot of emerging writers a shortcut to claim the title of “author” while avoiding mastering the craft. Remember the last post by Cait about dismemberment? There are countless red flags that light up a rookie brighter than LED. It’s why agents and editors often don’t need more than three pages to pass.

I know all a writer’s strengths and weaknesses in less than twenty pages—really five, but being generous.

Have a Platform and Brand

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember my Snooki example? NY didn’t represent this memoir because it would add to the body of early 21st century literature. No, she had a brand and a platform with eager fans willing to pay retail for her book regardless of “quality.”

Sort of like people lined up to own Jaguars in the 80s even though the Jags spent more time in the shop than on the road. Coveted brands are the only ones able to evoke that kind of blind love and loyalty.

Most agencies now will google our name when we submit. The platform/brand is now as, if not more, important than the book. We could have a novel so incredible angels weep, but if search engines don’t even know our name, then potential buyers don’t either. This makes us a risky investment and in these slim times, Big Five is not interested in Russian Roulette.

Do YOUR Work

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

These are publishers not daycare centers. It’s our job to know our craft and understand the business of our business. No one is going to hold our hand and do our work for us. There is no Publishing Sugar Daddy. If we suck at grammar, improve or hire someone to fix the mistakes. If we don’t know how to plot? Learn. Practice.

No agent/editor is going to baby us along from a typo-infested plotless nightmare “with promise” to a gleaming gem mega-seller like in the movies.

Being able to spell, punctuate and um, write is sort of expected with the profession. I appreciate that some people have dyslexia, or are terrible spellers. I’m severely ADD and often my sentences go off the rails…which is why even I hire pros for the polish. We need our work at its best before even thinking about an agent.

Speaking of agents, we need to do our homework. Research who represents what genre. Pay attention to what they’re in the market for. Agents are open about their “wish lists.”

Good writers are always avid readers. If you love a book and yours is similar, who’s the agent?

Another angle is to research an agent you believe would be a good fit, then read what they’ve represented and sold. This a) solidifies if it really WOULD be a good fit and b) is professional and flattering to the agent that we took time to do some work. You know, like a professional 😛 .

Follow %$#@*$ Instructions

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

This is a bugaboo that makes my left eye twitch. FYI, Big Five Publishers (actually all traditional publishers) have submission guidelines. Remember they are actively looking for a reason to NOT read our work. Sometimes the hoops are ludicrous, but they are there to weed out those who can’t follow directions.

If they ask for a 5000 word sample (20 pages) and instruct a Word doc double-spaced, one-inch margins, and 12 point Times New Roman font, then just do it. Because when they open a single-spaced, 10 point Courier font with three-quarter-inch margins, it doesn’t fool them.

It ticks them off.

Maybe by fudging the “rules” we squeezed in thirty-three pages instead of twenty but it won’t matter, because that agent won’t even read ONE page let alone thirty-three. An agent will take a single glance, then send the appropriate form letter about how our work not right for their agency.

Which is code for: We don’t have time for amateurs who can’t follow instructions.

Sell A LOT of Books

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember in the beginning I mentioned the numerous ways to attain our goal? If our goal is Big Five, nothing sweeter than fat sales figures to get our foot in the door.

Money is a universal language.

Impressive sales numbers take out all the guess work of what readers want to buy and offer evidentiary support our books are a solid investment. This dovetails into two earlier points about writing a good book and creating a strong platform/brand.

“Good” is subjective, the reader voting with purchases. No it isn’t fair, but fair is a weather condition. There are more than fifty shades of why it’s important to write books audiences want to read.

Write What Consumers Want to Buy/Read

Maybe you possess a burning desire to tell the story of a luchador who is mocked for his passion to write haiku. Instead of teaming up with his brothers in the ring, he longs to travel to Japan and unravel his inner demons. Go for it. But who would be the audience? A clue is in the reason for writing THIS story.

Perhaps, your reason for writing this is you lived in Mexico and found the luchadores fascinating and witnessed many others did as well. You yearned to tell this story, crafting it for an ignored audience with no voice.

Maybe upon submission you’re rejected. Self-publish and if it sells a gazillion copies, then Big Five will come knocking.

Yet, if you chose to tell the story of a luchador shunned for his love of haiku and the ONLY reason was to be “different” or “clever”…then have fun storming the castle. Cherry-flavored lutefisk is different, too, yet don’t foresee any long lines forming to consume it.

We can write for ourselves, sure. But if we fail to also consider our audience, then we are writing for ONE. Publishers have no interest in audiences that small.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Hard truth, I know. But in reality? Pretty simple stuff here. We CAN do this.

What are your thoughts? Do you long to be a Random-Penguin, too? Do you think it is harder and harder for writers to find ways to demonstrate authentic “success” with all the Amazon gaming, algorithmic alchemy, and the deluge of books not ready for public consumption?

Do you resent having to part with sales numbers or rankings to garner a smidge of respect? I know writers and creatives have always had a tough time being taken seriously, but these days it seems far worse.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU!

And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

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

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th (TONIGHT!!!), 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Today, it’s me, Cait! Join me as we venture into a common craft mistake committed by virtually every emerging writer—something I like to call ‘dismemberment.’ Because nothing says love like body parts strewn about.

Sarcasm aside, dismemberment is a bad habit that can impact the flow of the story, collapse the fictive dream, and confuse or even insult the reader.

Dismemberment is literary filler that demonstrates we (as the writer) don’t trust the readers’ intellect, thus we are “brain holding” as Kristen likes to say.

Offering fair warning: I’m in a stabby mood today. Really stabby.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Dismemberment is one of the most common craft mistakes, but it’s also one of the most insidious. It’s one of the most prevalent reasons readers lose interest in a story, or fail to get interested in the first place.

We (readers) get tired of stopping and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We keep pausing because our brains keep pondering tangents unrelated to the actual story.

If Taylor’s eyes just flew across the room at a dinner party, how does he discreetly get them back if he can’t see? Was any partygoer hit by a flying eyeball? Oh hell! Is one of his eyeballs stuck in some debutante’s expensive up-do?

Aaand this is when the whole story goes off the rails *explosion noises* *screams of pain*

So, what is dismemberment?

Dismemberment is when body parts move around independent of the character.

When we (as editors) see a sentence like, “Seraphina’s violet orbs roved around the room,” our first instinct is to stab. Uh, I mean pick on the obvious issues like…’orbs’ and ‘violet.’

For readers, their first instinct is usually…HUH? What the hell just happened? Do her eyes get dust bunnies on them?

The core issue has nothing to do with Seraphina gazing around the room. Rather, it’s her eyeballs going for a stroll *cue image of eyeballs rolling across the floor like marbles*

Now that you can’t un-see that in your head, let’s dig a little deeper into what dismemberment looks like, why it’s a writing no-no, and how to avoid, fix, and occasionally even use it (properly).

Dismemberment Makes Things Awkward

Remember The Addams Family and Thing?

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

The show was brilliant, and took the idea of dismemberment and ran with it. The show turned a disembodied hand into a character with attitude, opinions, relationships, and interaction with the other characters. It was hilarious…because it was so weird.

The problem is that what’s funny weird for a television show becomes disjointedly bizarre in a novel. Once we start being able to identify dismemberment, we can’t help seeing it everywhere. We also can’t help seeing the unfortunate imagery of random body parts moving around.

Eyes, hands, and feet are the usual body parts featured in dismemberment, though I’ve definitely seen a fair share of shoulders, legs, arms, and heads.

“His head flew across the room…”

“Her shoulders slumped down…”

“His hand reached out to her…”

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Why do we fall into the trap of dismemberment? One possible answer is that we are struggling with how to describe the action in a scene. This is the fault of what I like to call the Inner Pushy Stage Director. Similar to the Inner Editor, the Inner Pushy Stage Director has a lot to say about gestures, blocking, and interpretive dance. #JazzHands

The Inner Pushy Stage Director doesn’t trust the reader to instinctively know the series of movements involved in the simple actions of picking something up or a character moving through rooms.

Her hand reached out to open the door.

Oh-kay.

To be blunt, we (readers) are not stupid and we “get” one would have to reach out a hand to open a door unless telekinetic powers are involved. If telekinetic powers NOT involved, then we as readers assume the character can simply open a door without explaining how this “opening a door” process happens. We’ll keep up just fine. Promise.

By believing we need to give the reader every single detail of an action, we use twenty words to explicate what maybe two or three words could do far better. Inexperienced writers often resort to giving agency to a body part as a way to vary the prose away from constantly using the ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the driver of action.

And, that’s how we end up with Seraphina’s violet orbs roving around the room…maybe stopping to get a canape… See? Creepy, right?

Happy Feet

Body parts do not have emotions. Period. Ever.

There is no situation in which the following sentence is correct: “His hands clenched into angry fists.”

No. Nope. Zipit!

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another reason we fall into the trap of dismemberment is that we use it to portray a character’s emotion, whether it’s Seraphina’s POV or her noticing that Taylor is angry.

What has really happened is that we have flubbed the technique of drawing attention to a physical ‘tell’ for a character’s emotion.

Instead of:

His hands clenched into angry fists.

As opposed to clenching hands into joyous fists? #Weirdness

What we really mean to say is:

He clenched his hands into fists.

If we have the correct dialogue/action/inner thoughts leading up to that moment, we shouldn’t have to use the word ‘angry’ at all. We should also be able to avoid turning Taylor’s hands into their own POV characters. We also can just say that he clenched his hands since the word “fists” is implied.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
You do not want to end up like Cartman and Jennifer Lopez.

Why is Dismemberment So Bad?

Isn’t variety the spice of life? Aren’t we supposed to try and find new and creative ways of describing our characters and conveying actions? Couldn’t you say that it’s ‘artistic’?

No. No, and no. (See, totally stabby this morning.)

Dismemberment violates one of the fundamental rules of writing: Always maintain connection between reader and the story. Always.

You know what breaking the connection does? It creates…bookmark moments. Every instance of dismemberment lets the reader drift a little further away from the engrossing empathy that keeps them immersed and turning pages. It’s a subtle loss of connection that, given enough time, may even relegate our books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

I will sacrifice everything for a book hangover because I *have* to find out what happens to Seraphina. Or Taylor. I identify with the choices and emotions of Seraphina and Taylor, but if those choices and emotions are assigned to body parts, I’m just not as invested in the outcome of the characters.

If there is too much, Seraphina’s head flew across the room when Taylor unexpectedly arrived to the party, then I’m more concerned why the partygoers aren’t trampling each other in terror to flee the room and the flying head.

Dismemberment takes the edge off of tension and blunts the poignancy of the ‘either-or’ that drives plotting and character arcs.

There’s one other reason that dismemberment is so very, very bad.

Welcome to Amateur Hour

Dismemberment is one of the clearest symptoms of amateur hour. Editors can spot a sloppy writer in any number of painful ways, but dismemberment in a FINISHED, EDITED, AND PUBLISHED BOOK is the equivalent of the author holding a neon sign over his/her head flashing ‘AMATEUR HOUR – 24/7.’ 

Even worse? The fact that whoever was paid to edit and proofread did not catch the dismemberment…just maybe see about a refund.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

In my opinion, amateur hour editors sin worse than amateur hour authors. There is more to being an editor than running a manuscript through Grammarly and finding typos, which is why writers need to use prudence and maybe referrals when choosing an editor (not just price).

If you think I’m being harsh, I’m a small fry compared to agents and NY editors. They’re inundated with more manuscripts than they could read in a lifetime, meaning they are actively looking for reasons to stop reading. The moment these folks see dismemberment? Their head doesn’t fly across the room, our novel does.

#SlushPile #NoTimeForN00bs

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

So, now, we have to pick up all the scattered body parts and emotions, and order the 40-pack of super glue from Amazon.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

The first part of recovery is to train ourselves to recognize dismemberment so we can get out of using it improperly. While it might take some time to break the dismemberment habit, this is one case where we do need to stop and listen to our Inner Editor as we draft.

Instead of noting the dismemberment and promising to deal with it in revisions, we should take the time to correct it then and there. It’s simple to fix. Just delete a few words and reassign the emotions to the character instead of the body part.

Do this over the course of 50,000 words, and you’d be surprised how quickly a new and better habit forms…

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
When you start to hear Cait’s voice as your Inner Editor…

Of course, no one is perfect (except for me, duh). That is why there is the editing phase of writing, when we catch those sneaky little instances of dismemberment that slipped a body part in our path without us noticing.

In terms of actually fixing dismemberment, think of a movie. Really think and try to recall how often the director has the camera zoom in on a JUST a body part (okay ASIDE from porn).

Funny how it’s a little tougher than you thought to come up with examples. Why is that?

Well…wait for it…because the moviegoer identifies with the character, not the body part.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

There’s one other thing to watch out for when we are correcting a scene with dismemberment, and that is the dreaded ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ problem. In this case, it manifests in the far-too-frequent and indiscriminate use of the word felt.

Seraphina felt her ears heat up from embarrassment.

There’s no dismemberment in this sentence, but it’s kinda blah. I mean, the whole point of the sentence is to inform the reader that her ears are getting hot. Meh.

Like I said earlier, if we are guiding the scene the right way, we won’t need to point out that she’s getting embarrassed. The reader will already be getting the sense that Seraphina’s experiencing humiliation/shame/whatever.

We could make the sentence more interesting and ENGAGING with just a couple tweaks.

Seraphina fought to keep her expression neutral, even if her burning ears were bright pink giveaways.

In this example, I changed up the passive ‘felt’ for a more active purpose to the sentence. We still understand that she’s feeling embarrassed, but now, she doing something other than just passively experiencing a sensation. Also, I’ve given the other characters in the scene something to notice and/or react to with Seraphina’s obvious struggle to keep a straight face.

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

When correcting dismemberment, just remember: put the emotion back in the character’s head, and have him/her/it DO something to express it.

Disciplined Dismemberment

Like every rule, there *are* exceptions to the ban on dismemberment.

Once we are on auto-pilot in terms of avoiding dismemberment, we can finally use it as the tool it was really meant to be. (Hey, you can’t go through medical school without gross anatomy – dissecting body parts has its place!)

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

We can use body parts when we are trying to heighten tension.

For example, let’s say Seraphina and Taylor have been gagged and tied up, but there’s a knife nearby to cut their bonds. Just riffing here:

Seraphina held her breath as Taylor tried for the knife. His fingers flexed and stretched as long as possible, desperate for the blade. Tendons popped out on his hands, hands that reached farther and farther until they shook from strain, only to finally slacken in defeat.

In this moment, Taylor’s ability to reach the knife is critical. By zooming in on his hands and their actions, my goal is to build tension and create a vivid, visceral visual. It’s worth nothing that in this situation, Taylor’s hands are the only part of him that can have any action.

If he wasn’t tied up or his arms were free, then I’d describe the moment differently and put Taylor himself back in the driver’s seat.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another way of using body parts is by having the POV character notice a particular action or emotion on the part of someone else in the scene.

Taylor did a double-take when Seraphina’s eyes widened a mere a fraction. He wasn’t sure if she was surprised or angry, but it was enough to put him on his guard.

The reason this example works is because I’m showing, not telling, and the dismemberment provides something for the POV character to react to – in this case, a confusing signal from Seraphina. When used in this way, dismemberment can be an excellent tool for revealing or concealing clues, creating misunderstandings, and varying communication between characters between verbal and non-verbal forms.

THESE EXAMPLES DO NOT GIVE US PERMISSION TO GO BACK TO HACKING UP BODY PARTS AND HAVING THEM RUN AROUND DOING THINGS ON THEIR OWN!

Just like truffle oil…a little goes a very long way.

Class with Cait this Friday!

I’m offering a really cool class tomorrow night! It’s my blurb-writing class. In it, I will show you all my secret tips and tricks (even beyond what I wrote in this blog post) to painlessly writing those crucial 150 words that will SELL YOUR BOOK!

What’s extra cool about this class is that I will take TWO blurbs from attendees and rework them LIVE AND ON-THE-FLY IN CLASS to demonstrate just how simple and effective my techniques are.

Yeah, I know. Super cool.

Anyway, here are the details–hope to see you tomorrow night!

BLURB BOSS: WRITING BLURBS THAT SELL BOOKS

Blurb - Cait ReynoldsInstructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, your entire book in 3 short paragrahs) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping! I will pick two and edit them LIVE IN CLASS to show you just how easy it is!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Register today!

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

National Novel Writing Month is here (NaNoWriMo), which is a challenge to write 50K words in thirty days. Yep, write a ‘novel’ in a month, right in the holiday season. Because guess what? There IS no perfect time to write that novel…especially for those who want to go pro and stay pro.

Today’s tips, however, are evergreen. Good for every day and month and year, even if you are not writing a novel. Yet, when I’ve challenged folks in the past to at least TRY NaNoWriMo, I would get questions like this in the comments.

Blog Question: Kristen, I really want to do NaNoWriMo, but why did they have to choose NOVEMBER?

Dear Commenter,

NaNoWriMo chose November because it was probably started by writers and we are sadists who are trained to make people suffer. Also, writing will make you choose between your characters and family eventually, so get used to it. Bringing novels into the family is like adopting foster children/families who chew on the furniture and shoot guns in the air.

And look at the benefits. Holidays are priceless inspiration for baggage, drama, conflict, AND it’s socially acceptable to live off candy because it’s the “holiday season.” Do you really want to be challenged to write 50,000 words in a month in JANUARY, fueled by celery and sore from the gym? Or November, in stretchy pants, fueled by fudge, nacho dip and rum balls?

You’re welcome 😉 ….

Whether or not you are doing NaNoWriMo, these tips will help you go pro because for the pros? Every month is NaNoWriMo. Learn to embrace the G.R.I.N.D.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Most of us are going to have to work a day job and write so NaNoWriMo is a fantastic crucible. We also have a family and like me, you probably have spoiled them by actually feeding them every day. The world is not going to pause because we are writing a book.

Other writers frequently ask how I somehow manage to get a lot of stuff done, despite my having the attention span of an ADHD spider monkey…with a bad crack habit.

1. Make lists.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

I get distracted easily, so a list reminds me of what I need to get accomplished. I make separate lists—housework, fiction, non-fiction, business stuff, global domination using sea monkeys. Then, once I have the list, I do the hardest thing on my writing and business lists FIRST (housework can WAIT).

Like Covey says…

Never mistake the urgent for the important.

Do that NaNoWriMo word count right away. Just get it DONE.

2. Understand that feelings are pathological liars.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Writing is a profession, not a playpen.

Professionals ignore their feelings and do it anyway. Only children, amateurs and spirit mediums listen to their feelings. Feelings are fickle, lazy, and secretly jealous of your work and a tad pissed that you no longer hang out with them as much as you used to. The secret to success is to work your tail off. Be willing get up earlier and stay up later than others. Be willing to do what others won’t.

But I wanna write books. I don’t wanna do social media, toooooo. It’s haaaaard.

Yes. It is. There are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

3. Use the Force…of self-discipline.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Who cares HOW you get things done, so long as they get done?

I use the “Swiss Cheese” approach. I have my list and I take bite after bite after bite until the work is finished. Every book can be written in 250, 500, or 1,000 word bites and NaNoWriMo is no exception.

I CANNOT work linearly, so I don’t try and yes I was always in trouble in school but public schools were designed to train factory workers and corporate mind slaves, not people who get paid to play with imaginary friends.

Even I don’t get a pass during NaNoWriMo. I have blogs to write (LOTS of words that don’t count for NaNoWriMo), edits to complete, classes to prepare then teach, bills to pay, bookkeeping, taxes, laundry, litter boxes, and dirty dishes. #GlamorousLife

4. Mix it up.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

I am a writer, wife, entrepreneur, teacher, and mom who has yet to make enough money to afford servants (which sucks), and cats make lousy slaves. This means I get to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry and housework. Write your 200 words, fold a load of whites, empty the dishwasher, then write another 200 words.

Chip at the NaNoWriMo goal a hundred words at a time.

I LOVE audio books when my brain needs a break from MY writing. I can always tell writers who aren’t avid readers, because their writing sucks.

Want to be a great author? Read as much as humanly possible. I listen to audio books while doing housework. It makes the dishes go faster and hones my skills. It revitalizes the muse and keeps me in right-brain mode.

And I don’t want to hear, Oh well when I am writing I don’t like to read because that author’s voice will bleed over into my work.

All I have to say about that is If only we could be that frigging lucky!

Yes, please let Gillian Flynn infiltrate and hijack my work. Like NOW!

5. Suck it up, Buttercup.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Understand that sometimes—especially during NaNoWriMo—we will have to sit for a long time and focus. It’s hard. Whaaaaaaahhhhh, but anyone who thinks being a writer is a fluffy hamster dream has been hanging out with their feelings…and feelings lie, sabotage and will talk you into living on ice cream and cookie sprinkles.

6. Make mean writer friends.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Yes, the Swiss Cheese approach works well for people with ADD, and yes, there are times we need to duct tape our a$$es to the chair. This is why I befriend really mean people who kinda scare me. On the surface my friends are funny and sweet and would do anything for a friend…but that’s the issue. They will do anything for a friend, including ordering a hit on my television.

Come hang out on W.A.N.A.Tribe. It is a Ning I created just for writers and guess what? It is all writing all the time and no one spams or trolls or rants about whatever the Drama De Jure happens to be. Facebook is there for those who desire to be hysterical, depressed and spammed.

Since I don’t wanna listen to or see that crap, I built my OWN social site, because it’s cheaper than therapy or a criminal defense attorney. On W.A.N.A.Tribe I rule. I’m a kind, loving but vengeful god and will smite asshattery.

So if you need to escape Facebook and find those mean friends? We are there. We have been doing sprints on the CHAT page for OVER TWO YEARS. M-F (M-S for NaNoWriMo) all day every day even holidays.

I kick your @$$ every day free of charge.

You’re welcome.

*polishes riding crop*

7. Ditch loser friends.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

We all have them or have had them. People who like to complain, make excuses, indulge in their feelings all the time.

Ditch writers (and other people) who believe in luck, not work. Laziness, apathy, and whining are contagious. Treat excuses like EBOLA. A friend coughs blood excuses all over you, and, within two to three days, you start coughing up blood excuses, too…until your dream of being a writer liquifies and bleeds out and I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Killer.

8. Forget perfection (especially for NaNoWriMo).

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of successPerfection is an urban legend, started by Feelings (because Feelings are a needy boyfriend/girlfriend who don’t understand the world does not revolve around them.)

The world doesn’t reward perfection; it rewards finishers.

This is the big lesson NaNo is really trying to teach you. Often we lose focus on what we are REALLY doing, because we are getting sidetracked with nitpicking. Guess what, no half-finished novel ever became a runaway best-seller…but more than a few crappy-but-finished ones have.

9. Exercise.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Stuck on the WIP? Brain in a fog? Can’t seem to get the words down? Yeah, well hard truth time. Human bodies were not designed to sit on their butts all day. Our lymphatic and circulatory systems can only do their jobs if we add in physical activity.

Blood flow improves and our body can return the blood pooling at our feet fresh, oxygenated and revitalized (filtered through lymphatic system) back to OUR BRAINS where we kinda need it.

Again, I strongly recommend audio books. Cleaning counts as exercise if you do it properly 😛 . This is working smarter, not harder. Shiny floors and absorb greatness from literary legends while stimulating the right-brain. #Genius

10. Drink lots of water.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Going pro, go pro and stay pro, becoming a professional writer, how to be a professional author, Kristen Lamb, habits of success

Human bodies are a hydroelectric system, and water enhances conductivity (way better when we MOVE). Cool writer ideas/thoughts work this way.

Muse Pixies of Awesomeness are conducted through your brain to your fingers and they bring the cool story stuff. MPAs like to travel via fairy, or ferry on WATER. They can’t travel if the waterways are too dry and moor them on a cookie sprinkle…and then you can’t focus.

It’s science. Don’t argue.

I hope these tips help, because finishing NaNo is no easy task. In fact, I am creating this post during sprints (as in right now) on W.A.N.A.Tribe. Then, I’ll use it to get through edits and work then NaNoWriMo words.

Hop on the CRAZY TRAIN!!

Last year everyone who sprinted finished NaNoWriMo in record time…because they had to keep up with me (my record is finishing in 11 days). If you want to really experience the professional pace, come join us! Once a member, hit the CHAT tab and we are there every day and usually all day.

No ads, trolls, family, drama, politics, distractions, or spam. 100% HUSTLE. Okay that’s a wee lie. We hustle 40 minutes, I call time, we report what we accomplished, chat a few minutes then go again. So like 92% HUSTLE. All the social without the spam 😀 .

****FTY—If you sign up I have to personally approve you to make sure we keep bots out, so relax.

Share your thoughts! Ideas, suggestions, struggles, tips, recipes using hard liquor?

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

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

*****Saturday’s blog had a special contest for a free class, and Laura Drake is the winner.

Winner of OCTOBER’s Comment Contest is Susie Murphy. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font and one inch margins. Needs to be a regular doc or docx because I use track changes.

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 9th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s me, Cait Reynolds, and I’m going to be brutal here. You’ve been warned. But, honestly, I get a little stabby when I encounter a Mary Sue in a book. Mary Sues are death to fiction, yet they’re more common than head lice in Kindergarten (and about as desirable). For the sake of time today, we will focus on the most common Mary Sue peeve…the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

What is a Mary Sue Shopping Spree?

It’s wish fulfillment at its worst.

First of all, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term “Mary Sue,” the best definition is here at Urban Dictionary. But, for our shorthand use, a Mary Sue is an impossibly perfect character.

She’s beautiful (flaming red hair and emerald eyes, for example) and smart (better grades than Hermione Granger but never seems to be in the library). A Mary Sue falls in love with the hero/hero falls in love with her early, often and easily.

What IS a “Mary Sue”?

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

There are all kinds of Mary Sue’s–no genre is safe. Here’s just a sample:

  • Victim Sue! with an impossible streak of bad luck/tragedy/knack for getting kidnapped and/or stalked.
  • Warrior Sue! who has a mouth like a sailor, throws a mean punch, fights like Lara Croft and Bruce Lee’s love child (and probably has a lineage about as weird), and still looks amazing in a ball gown (but doesn’t want to be taken for a sissy girl!).
  • Magic Sue! with similarities to Warrior Sue in that she has unheard of powers that usually get her into trouble (see Victim Sue) until she learns to control them, and then with a wave of her (slender, delicate) hand, saves the day without chipping a nail.
  • Misfit Sue who is the proverbial ugly duckling, except all she needs really is some good conditioner, a fairy godmother, and a gift certificate to Forever21 in order to turn into the hottie that suddenly attracts all the guys.

There are so many issues with Mary Sues, but the single largest Mary Sue staple is—GROANS—the shopping spree.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

This is the point in a story where everything grinds to a halt so the heroine can get ready for the ball/date/wedding/party/sacred mage ceremony, etc.

You know the kind of scene I’m talking about…but in case you don’t, let’s look at an example.

Mary Sue Goes to the Ball

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s use my favorite Mary Sue stand-in Seraphina to illustrate. Seraphina has had a hard life as a disinherited princess living in hiding in a faux medieval village and secretly training to use her immense magical powers to take back the throne and rid the land of evil.

She finds a way to infiltrate the castle by sneaking into a fancy ball that the king is giving. But, in order to blend in with the crowd, she will need…a ballgown.

What comes next is any combination of the following descriptions:

  • Shopping or gathering all the necessary clothing
  • Hairstyles
  • Dresses
  • Jewelry, and other accessories
  • Makeup (!)

But…it’s not just descriptions. We, the readers, are subjected to descriptions in excruciating detail.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Also, every character involved in the scene is kind, excited, happy to help with the preparations, and relentlessly cheery. Apparently, there can be no conflict in the dressing room (unless it’s Seraphina objecting to the ‘girly pink’ or ‘frilly’ dress, thereby making a statement of profound strength of character and independence).

We read about sweetheart necklines, bias cuts, skirts that gently flare out, lace gloves, sleeves that come to just above the wrist, silver embroidery patterns of magical runes (or flowers, whatever).

Gritting our teeth, we skim over the part about hair that is piled high with loose curls falling softly around her face, or braids intricately woven with pearls and jeweled flower pins with just a few errant and untamable curls falling softly around her face.

The author beats us over the head with the fact that she only wears a little bit of eyeshadow and lip gloss (WTH? Do they even have lip gloss in faux medieval realms?) because she doesn’t really need any makeup to enhance her natural beauty.

That strangling noise?

It’s us. The readers. Being garroted….

With the heroine’s delicate chain complete with cheesy symbolic pendant (dragon, rose, snake, rune, whatever) because that’s not a dead giveaway to the bad guy(s).

Hey, doesn’t that girl with the opal-eyed dragon pendant that looks like the one that belonged to Queen Margitte look a lot like dead Queen Margitte?.

Also, a general rule of style is to match the formality of jewelry to the formality of the outfit. One doesn’t wear parure with buckskin breeches, and conversely, charm necklaces are not to be worn with ballgowns. (Yes, I just channeled my inner Tim Gunn.)

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s not forget how Seraphina chooses sensible low-heeled slippers as opposed to the…um…lucite platform heels offered by the empty-headed ninnies who only care about boys and clothes.

Because taking time out from pace, tension, plot, and relevance to talk about dressing a character totally doesn’t paint the author as having the emotional range of a fifteen-year-old. 

All joking aside, let’s look a little closer at WHY the Mary Sue Shopping Spree is so problematic.

Go Ahead. Sue Me!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s not really Seraphina’s fault that the author wants to play out a Cinderella fantasy. Unfortunately, this violates one of KLamb’s most basic rules: NEVER MAKE IT EASY FOR THE CHARACTERS!

Nobody wants to read about everybody being happy, getting along, and things going their way. Can you say, “Snooze-Fest?”

Can you imagine Harry Potter if he’d grown up with his parents alive, been BFFs with Draco Malfoy, and figured out how to vanquish Voldemort without leaving the comfort of Hogwarts?

No, you can’t because no reader would have made it past page TEN. Harry Potter would have been another forgettable character in yet another bad book.

But he isn’t. Why? Harry Potter is legendary because of CONFLICT and seemingly insurmountable odds. Not everything slipping in place as if his life is coated in Teflon.

The same goes for the Cinderella moment. Let’s look at why.

Slumber Party or Plot Point? 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Getting-ready-for-the-party scenes must obey the rules of fiction just like all the other scenes. Where is the conflict that drives the story? What is the relevance of the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene? Is there any character growth? Are there any obstacles?

If the answer is no, then we need to think twice about putting in a scene like this.

Hemming and Hawing 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Set aside the sins of over-descriptiveness for a moment. Instead, look at the science of how we read and process the written word. In general, we read at about 200-400 words per minute (cool, non? Read this for more!).

That means that careful description is critical to the FLOW of a reader’s understanding and visualization. If we STALL the flow by making a reader stop and try to visualize EXACTLY what a character is wearing (I’m looking at you, hem lengths and embroidered bodices!), we risk losing the reader’s immersion in our world.

Anachronism Alert!

The Mary Sue Shopping Spree also showcases when an author hasn’t bothered to do his or her homework with either historical research or fantasy world-building (LIP GLOSS???). With historical, this is easily solved with just a modicum of research–and luckily for you, I’m obsessed with historical fashion.

Check me out on Pinterest for a decade-by-decade breakdown of fashion across the centuries (and a WHOLE lot more!).

With fantasy, there’s still no excuse for not considering things like climate, culture, how easy it is to get your hands on expensive clothing, etc. Thinking it through isn’t hard. We just have to do it.

Get Seraphina a Personal Shopper and Move on

All of this isn’t to say that we can’t have a makeover scene now and then. There’s just a better way to do it. Here’s how.

Relevance

Makeover scenes must be relevant to the plot and/or character. For example in my book Downcast, I use a literal shopping spree to reveal Stephanie’s growth as a character, in beginning to make her own choices and tap into her own confidence.

More than that, though, Stephanie’s shopping spree sets up a MAJOR conflict.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest pivot points in the whole plot. Could I have used another ploy to get me there? Sure. But, a teenage girl going to the mall for her 18th birthday is both plausible and appropriate for the context (and the YA genre).

If we’re going to use the shopping spree–be it contemporary, ye olde, or beware hippogriffs! style–always ask three things:

  • Is it relevant? Does it move the plot forward?
  • Will it offer any new clues/information or set the characters up for conflict?
  • Does it reveal and/or conceal anything important about the characters (from each other, the reader, etc.)?

If we can answer yes to all three, then we move to the next step, which is…

Bippity-Boppity BORING!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Fairy godmothers way overrated. Why not have the wicked step-sister be the one to have to help get Cinderella ready for the ball? Will the Wal-Mart generic brand wand be up to the challenge of whipping up a ballgown?

Is there a crack in one of the glass slippers? Does the color blue make her look jaundiced? Is anyone willing to tell her that?

What if she really, really wants to wear blue, but the only color the Wal-Mart wand can produce is pink? She has to wear the pink dress. If you transform a pumpkin into a carriage, does it smell like pumpkin on the inside? Is that a good thing? Are the mice unionized?

You get the idea.

The point is the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene should be FULL of delicious difficulties and confectionary conflict. Remember KLamb’s rule: MAKE IT WORSE UNTIL YOU MAKE IT WEIRD. NOTHING COMES EASILY…EVER!

If everyone is happy and excited to help Seraphina get ready for the ball…meh.

What’s the point?

What makes me (reader) want to turn the page? But, if Lady Jordan slips itching powder down Seraphina’s chemise, or the fairy godmother makes an unthinking remark about how to fix the way Seraphina looks a bit puffy…well, NOW we have something to work with!

Give Up Control

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

The reader will never, ever, ever be able to picture a gown exactly the way we see it in our mind’s eye. Ever. You can tell me all you want about length and fabric and cut and jewelry. However, it’ll either be too much detail, and I’ll lose track of all of the bits I’m supposed to remember, OR, I will just skim and skip until the plot resumes.

Seriously, we need to give up the idea that our descriptions will ever create an exact picture for the reader. Descriptions are meant to be evocative. They also…yeah, you know what I’m going to say here…wait for it…have to be RELEVANT.

And, yes, here’s another handy checklist to work through to determine if a description is relevant:

  • Is there something unique, interesting, or important about the dress, jewelry, etc.?
  • What is truly different about these clothes for the character and her life experience?
  • Are there smells, textures, or sounds (like bracelets clinking) that are unusually pleasurable or uncomfortable?

For example, for a fantasy genre scene, I might describe Seraphina’s reaction to her ball gown like this:

Her first instinct was to decline the gown. The fine silk and rare lapis-dyed color screamed the kind of wealth she had barely ever encountered, let alone would feel comfortable impersonating. She didn’t dare touch it, afraid that the calluses on her fingers would catch and snag the delicate fabric.

Still, she drew closer, fascinated by the  pattern of dragons in mid-flight picked out in silver thread around the hem. When Lady Jordan gave the skirts an expert–if impatient–flick to smooth the creases, the embroidered dragons looked as if they were truly in flight.

A brisk ‘tsk’ from Lady Jordan jolted Seraphina from the daze of admiration, and she shrank from the disapproving moue on the older woman’s lips.

I would probably also make the dragons mean something or be symbolic in some way, though I might not have Lady Jordan inform Seraphina of that because…well, she doesn’t really like the girl or want to help her, and if she must dress a sow’s ear in a silk purse, then at least she will get some entertainment out of it later when the girl stumbles over the etiquette of the significance of the embroidery.

Because being mean to my characters is what makes it fun for my readers.

And, it has nothing to do with being a sociopath. AT ALL.

Next up…Getting Stabby About the Taylors and Shifters

If you’ve read any of my blog posts here, you know that Taylor is Seraphina’s male counterpart. And, Taylor can often be found in romance novels–especially shifter romances. If you think I’m prickly (and hilarious–admit it, you giggled at this post!) about Mary Sue shopping sprees, just watch me rip into shifters…and how to make them better.

You can even watch me do it LIVE this Friday!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

Date: Friday, November 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Shifter romance is one of the hottest genres in publishing right now. It’s easy, right? You just take a hot guy and have him morph into a wolf…or bear…or…panther…or…

Well, you and the thousands of other shifter romance writers. So, how are readers going to tell your lusty wolf boys apart from another author’s lusty wolf boys? Sure, you can invent clan/pack rules and give your shifters certain features or restrictions.

But, if you want to create unforgettable shifters that will have readers coming back for more, you need to shift your world-building into high gear. (See what I did there with the play on words with ‘shift’? Ha! I’m so funny.)

This class will help you create richer shifter ‘cultures’ by showing you how to:

  • Construct the history of your shifters, and by history, I mean real history
  • Use science (even if you’re not a science person) to add delicious bits of plausibility to your shifters
  • Catch world-building details that create giant gaps in logic that can distract the reader from your story
  • Develop stronger characters by giving them a richer, fuller historical, scientific, and world-building context
  • Drive action and plot twists in unexpected ways using expanded shifter world-building
  • Amp up the romantic and sexual tension using the history and science of your shifters

We are now offering ADVANCED LEVELS for this class. Extra help from an EXPERT.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable shifters, let Cait help you take your shifter to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL.

Shifter GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

Shifter PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Other upcoming WANA classes!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!