Kristen Lamb

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The Blind Spot—Because DENIAL Makes for Excellent Fiction

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Last time we talked about The Wound and how this wound is what drives a character and his or her choices. But here is the thing, almost always the protagonist has no clue they even have a wound and that is because of the blind spot.

The blind spot is a critical reason most people read fiction. Fiction acts as almost a holodeck, playing out the human drama. Fiction is real life….only with the boring crap cut out. Self-actualization happens in less than 300 pages. It is why we dig stories.

We might see ourselves in a character and when the character finally notices the blind spot and sees and acknowledges the wound? They are doing it for us as well. We see how they struggle and then triumph and it gives us insight into ourselves. It gives us information, inspiration and maybe even some hope that we aren’t all lost causes.

****A note of irony. I wrote most of this post early this morning before the gym then as I was leaving? A guy backed into me because I was in his….wait for it….BLIND SPOT (my vehicle above). I can’t make this crap up. But hell we are writers so WE USE EVERYTHING!

Where were we? Oh yes….

The Protagonist DOES NOT SEE the Blind Spot

Namely because if the protagonist does see the blind spot? Then blind spot is a terrible name.

Most fiction is a journey to self awareness. We have a protagonist in his/her normal world. Everything is fine…but not really. There is a critical missing piece keeping the protagonist from being self-actualized. This is plainer to see when we realize that most beginnings and endings of novels (and movies/series) are actually bookends.

Normal world is their world with the wound festering and hidden. The denouement? The world is restored but whole.

All of us have blind spots. If we didn’t, therapists would go bankrupt and have to get a “real job.” Truth is, most therapists know exactly what our problem is the first day we sit in their office. Problem is there are all kinds of other emotions clouding our vision.

This is one of the reasons shrinks do a lot of listening, nodding and asking questions. And probably a lot of doodling and playing tic-tac-toe on their notepads to stave off the boredom while they wait for us to catch up to the obvious.

Our story problem in a sense is extreme therapy for the protagonist. Instead of our character spending years on a couch being probed with uncomfortable questions and given homework to write letters to her inner child? She is thrust into a bank heist, an alien invasion, or her family is incinerated by a dragon.

Namely because all writers are sadists.

Anyway, when we create the story problem, we as Author God aren’t giving the protagonist any problem, rather the perfect problem that will reveal the wound crouching in the blind spot.

The Hobbits are handed a ring to toss in a volcano. Luke Skywalker is given a Death Star. Sarah is handed a labyrinth. Different challenges for different blind spots.

The Blind Spot is the Boundary Between Protagonist and HERO

My favorite book on plotting is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and every writer needs a copy of this book (Seriously, one of the best craft books EVER). For years I struggled with structure. It made sense when teachers wrote about three acts, but then when I went to write? It all fell out of my head. How could I distinguish one act from the others? Larry answered this critical question.

And since all roads that don’t lead to Star Wars obviously lead to Lord of the Rings….

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Normal World—-We establish how the protagonist lives on any other given day. We give a hint of the hidden character flaw.

The Shire. Birthday party. Setting off Gandalf’s fireworks prematurely. Griping about having a dull life devoid of adventure.

Inciting Incident—This is the moment when the core antagonist a.k.a. Big Boss Troublemaker‘s agenda (Sauron) directly intersects with the life of the protagonist and has the potential to interrupt the flow of his/her life.

WTH is this ring and why does it glow? What is that writing? (Note: Has not yet left Shire).

Turning Point Act One—The protagonist makes a decision that is directly reactive to the antagonist’s agenda.

Leaving The Shire for the first time ever to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony.

Act One—Protagonist is Running (COMPLETELY REACTIVE to antagonist’s agenda which he or she might not even yet be aware of—hitting at the dark)

Hobbits endure a series of ass kickings from the enemy namely because they are so naive they believe frying bacon on the side of a mountain at night while running from dead kings is a good plan.

Act Two—Protagonist as a Warrior (Protagonist starts to be PROACTIVE, yet still somewhat REACTIVE)

Frodo makes the decision to be the ring-bearer and Fellowship of the Ring created. Now understands Sauron behind all of this and there is an active plan that includes a party of allies.

Act Three—No longer a PROTAGONIST. Now a HERO. (FULLY PROACTIVE).

The naive innocent Hobbit has been transformed into a warrior who is willing to die to do what is right and destroy the ring and save Middle Earth (and The Shire).

Now, in the beginning of the story, had Gandalf said, “Okay, you want adventure. Cool. Well I am going to need to you toss a ring in a volcano and die there because there is no way back. Bad news is you’ll be dead but the good news is…WE WON’T BE! Isn’t that great?”

No one would want that deal.

So why do Frodo and Samwise accept this charge once on the side of Mount Doom? It is because they finally see past their blind spots, notice the wound and then triumph.

Once everything is stripped away, they see all they miss and took for granted. In their naive excitement, they diminished The Shire and how much, deep down they loved it. In the beginning, they couldn’t wait to cast it off and now? It’s all they want but will never have.

They accept they are going to die but now understand that The Shire is worth dying to save.

They did NOT see that in the beginning. It was firmly rooted in their blind spot and was part of the wound. They believed they were too little to make a BIG DIFFERENCE. The Shire’s worth was clouded by this inferiority complex. They couldn’t see what The Shire meant to them because they didn’t properly understand in the beginning 1) how much they took for granted and 2) that home might just not last forever and could be obliterated.

In their naiveté, they failed to respect the real danger they were in.

Yes, This is True in Character-Driven Stories, Too…

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Some of you might be saying, “This is all well and good for those *makes distasteful face* genre writers, but my work is more literary and character-driven. I don’t have a necromancer or a special volcano.”

True, but the blind spot—-hate to tell you—-is even MORE important for you guys. See in genre fiction, the character cog can be pretty much any size. Jack Reacher isn’t doing a whole lot of internal development as much as he is throat-punching bad guys and blowing $#!* up.

I read a lot of emerging writers who want a protagonist to go on and on and on about his inner turmoil and wax rhapsodic about inner demons and, speaking of throat-punching…that is pretty much all readers will want to do to that kind of character. Remember last time we talked about plot and character being cogs? Your character cog is larger, but the plot cog still needs to be there.

No one wants to read 300 pages of navel-gazing. We don’t like people who drone on about their inner struggles in person and we sure as hell don’t want to spend money and 15 hours of undivided attention to listen to self-indulgent tripe.

This is why that character needs a wound located in a blind spot that is eventually revealed when under pressure from a plot problem.

One of the best books I have ever read is A Man Called Ove and it is a great example of what I am talking about. Ove is a 59 year old man who just wants to die. He spends the entire book unsuccessfully trying to kill himself.

Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The government represented in the proxy of “Men in White Shirts.”

Ove has always been on the losing end when grappling with the power of the government. When he was a young man, “Men in White Shirts” stopped him from saving his home from burning, then different “Men in White Shirts” stole the land the house was built on. As an older man, more “Men in White Shirts” tried to take his wife after she was crippled in an accident. They also refused to build a wheelchair access ramp for her at the school where she taught (and Ove finally did it himself after he gave up fighting them).

Every time Ove has taken on any “Man in a White Shirt” he has failed.

But, the reason he has failed against the “Men in White Shirts” directly relates to the wound and the reason why Ove wants to die.

He is alone. To defeat the Men in White Shirts? He cannot win on his own and the core story problem (he finds out his neighbor and old friend is being forcibly put into a home by the state) is nothing he can conquer alone. But the problems thrust in his way serve to peel back what is wrong with Ove and make him come to understand that why he has always failed is because he keeps people at a distance and some battles need a team.

All good stories are a peeling back until the character finally sees what he or she has been missing all along. That is the purpose of PLOT even in a character-driven story. There must be an outside catalyst that disrupts the world, forces action, then generates change.

What are your thoughts? Other than POOR KRISTEN AND HER POOR CAR! LOL. It’s all good. The guy was nice and was just bad timing. But back to fiction, can you think of great stories and nail the blind spot covering the wound? Can you do this with your own writing?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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24 thoughts on “The Blind Spot—Because DENIAL Makes for Excellent Fiction”

  1. dwane779dwane779

    If there is no blind spot would the character have a flat arc? Causes me to consider finding a hidden flaw for a protagonist that knows she failed before (is flawed.) and is trying to avoid failing again. Hmmm.

    Sorry about the car. Been there,

  2. Christa AllanChrista Allan

    Is this a version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? !

    Great info. Just need to digest it.

  3. Elizabeth RoseElizabeth Rose

    Hah, all writers are sadists!

    The blind-spot really is an important part of most stories. It gives the character something to grow to overcome. As you note, the blind-spot changes depending on what you’re writing. One of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, the hero’s blind-spot is in the title. That plays a much larger role than in an action story.

    My only caution is, please don’t make the blind spot so obvious that your audience rolls their eyes. I’ve read it, and it can lead to characters I perceive as too dumb to live. Once they fall into this bucket, I hope the author finds a creative way to kill them off, or I put the book aside never to be opened again

  4. Chris SaperChris Saper

    You are seriously funny and I’m enjoying following you!

  5. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    I agree with you about Story Engineering – love that book!
    I think my MC’s blind spot is her lack of understanding about what it really means to be monarch – she’s princessing around in pink lace when she needs to step up, toughen up and become queen.

  6. lauriekozlowskilauriekozlowski

    Thoughts aside from POOR KRISTEN! lol …
    What a weird lot we writers are 😉 I once was trying to figure out how to write an ooozing blood scene (would the blood be thick and slow or thin and fast? How would the gash feel when the heroine was injured? What type of wound is apropros for her predicament?) and promptly skidded to a halt, face planting on the pavement at the park. The gash in my arm from a sharp rock took weeks to heal, but I got my scene written…nearly with my own blood! (haha) ???
    Laurie Kozlowski

  7. Irene KesslerIrene Kessler

    I enjoy following you and have done so for a long time. The humor and information are terrific. Did not get the connection between wound and blind spot before, so thanks for this one, it came at the perfect moment.

  8. Jan M. FlynnJan M. Flynn

    Your last two posts have me doing some serious rethinking on my most recent NaNo draft. Hugely valuable, Kristen. Maybe you didn’t have to get your car bashed in just to help me out of my own blind spot, but gosh, thanks 🙂

  9. Dreama FriskDreama Frisk

    Dear Kristen,

    I have not received the CD from the class on Query and Synopsis. Tomorrow
    marks a week since the class. Also had not seen the film, The Labyrinth,
    used for explanation in classwork.

    Much to appreciate in your teaching but kind of bummed by the Labyrinth
    business. I need the CD to see if the class was useful to me at all. You
    offered me a line for the synopsis, “A family trying to find its way in the
    world. . . The protagonist doesn’t want to become a patriarch — I need to
    hear the fuller explanation.

    In case you want, to add anything,

    Here is my old synopsis: Before We Left the Land

    Before We Left the Land
    A Synopsis

    In the summer following the beginning of World War II, the youngest son of the large Bancroft family, eighteen-year old JUNE (ROY JUNIOR) continues to set his heart on coon hunting, football, and chasing girls (in that order). The absence of his brother, CARL, from the family farm on Clyde’s Run, West Virginia after his enlistment in the Army Air Corps overshadows every day. June’s nine-year-old niece, EMOGENE, rides the Greyhound bus for her summer visit to the farm and witnesses segregation in the wider world. She secretly plans to make the farm her real home.

    At the height of summer a telegram arrives to announce Carl’s death at MacDill Air Station near Tampa, Florida. A riot of grief sweeps the family. BONNIE, the oldest sibling at the farm, teeters on the edge of a breakdown. When the opened coffin stands in the parlor, a shocking discovery about the corpse further horrifies the family. The mother, HELEN, detects the back of Carl’s head has been reconstructed. This begins a mystery that torments the family. At the funeral, Emogene ponders the grotesque stories she overhears about the escape from Germany of the Jewish family for whom her mother works.

    At the insistence of his UNCLE MARSH, June agrees to drive to MacDill Air Base to investigate Carl’s death. This is his first time away from West Virginia. News of German U-Boats in the Gulf of Mexico and spies coming ashore tighten security on the base. Wartime confusion and official incompetence thwart attempts to find out what happened to Carl. A chance meeting with one of Carl’s buddies at the urinal in the mess hall restroom offers small hope for resolving the mystery after the war. For June, the long, exhaustive trip is a voyage of discovery of both the world outside of Appalachia and his inner resources. His new equilibrium is quickly put to test by challenges on his arrival back home.

    Dreama

    http://www.dreamafrisk.com

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Got it. I got rear ended this week and it has me behind sending things out. Been sidetracked with accident stuff.

  10. Lyn Fairchild HawksLyn Fairchild Hawks

    So helpful. I am rethinking my Act 3 now because of your clear outline of the key stages a heroine has to experience. My character will be a warrior by the time she sees that blind spot!

  11. J. A. AllenJ. A. Allen

    Loved this!
    Could you please share your knowledge with the writers of Jennifer Jones!? That show had so much potential–except for all the furreaking inner demons. GAWD. There are really only so many inner demons one can stand.
    Great post.

  12. Joe OwensJoe Owens

    If there is ever an equivalent tot he Vulcan mind meld your mind is the one I want to download. You seem to have such great knowledge I crave to know about my writing. Keep up the great work!

  13. jenapetriejenapetrie

    Great post, Kristen! This summing-up particularly resonated with me – All good stories are a peeling back until the character finally sees what he or she has been missing all along. That is the purpose of PLOT even in a character-driven story. There must be an outside catalyst that disrupts the world, forces action, then generates change. Have to go back to my WIP now and check!

    Reply
    December 10, 2016
  14. ScottScott

    This might make me appear terribly ignorant, but I always saw that moment at the end of the Council of Elrond, when Frodo says “I will take the Ring to Mordor” as the first plot point. I mean, it’s a long story, so having the FPP that far in isn’t unreasonable. But I was thinking about the HERO part, and it always seems that Sam come out to be the hero. Anyway, LOVE that story.
    And I took your advice a while ago and bought STORY ENGINEERING. It is like my bible! Thanks for turning me on to that piece of education.
    I will be going back and making sure I know my protagonist’s blind spot before writing anymore! Thanks for edu-ma-cating us!

    Reply
    December 10, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      It is the turning point to Act Two. Remember that Act Two is a lion’s share of the actual story so it isn’t technically wrong you would think that.

      Reply
      December 13, 2016
      • ScottScott

        Thanks for the insight! I will definitely go back and read LOTR with this new perspective.

        Reply
        December 13, 2016
  15. shanjeniahshanjeniah

    This is spot-on and perfect! I’ll be referring to it again and again. Thank you, Kristen!

    Reply
    December 14, 2016
  16. mitchteemleymitchteemley

    Absolutely! A great way of creating character-driven plot development.

    Reply
    December 14, 2016
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