Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Novel Structure

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters
Image courtesy of Kevin Wood via Flickr Creative Commons

I put in a lot of work and study when it comes to honing my writing skills. This means I’m always searching for ways to become a stronger author and craft teacher. Want to get better at anything? Look to those who are the best at what they do and pay close attention.

This said, wanting to deepen my understanding of drama, I enrolled in David Mamet’s on-line course for Dramatic Writing (which has been superlative). In one of the lessons, Mamet said something that challenged my thinking regarding characters.

I won’t directly relay what his assertion was because it’s very much a class worth taking, and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone. Regardless, his commentary regarding character creation made me extremely uncomfortable.

At first, I balked. Big time. Challenging ideas do that.

I thought, Yes, well Mamet’s referring to stage and screen. With written fiction we have narrative. Actors don’t possess this.

Which IS true, yet Mamet’s unconventional opinion stopped me long enough to give his angle some serious consideration. Did his assessment relate to our sort of fiction?

Craft Crossover? 

Written form stories hold some major advantages, the largest of those being internal narration. The audience knows what’s going on in the head of the character (or can believe they know).

On stage or screen, it’s up to the actors’ abilities to accurately portray the internal, which is a tough order. It’s also why if a book is made into a movie, watch the movie first.

Otherwise…

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

This largely has nothing to do with the quality (or lack thereof) regarding the play/film. Internal narrative allows for a far more intimate psychic distance that is ONLY possible in the written form.

The medium is different and thus should be judged differently…though we still gripe the book was WAY better.

Stage and film rely on the screenplay which is very BASIC. It’s all dialogue and up to the director’s vision and the actors’ talent. Character creation for stage and screen cannot help but differ from written form, yet by how much? What can we learn from our sister mediums?

****Other than Sister Mediums is a way better reality show concept than Sister Wives? #SquirrelMoment

Character Creation

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters
Image courtesy of Kevin Wood via Flickr Creative Commons

I thought back over works I’d edited, earlier stories of my own and had a moment of revelation. Why were some characters so flat? As interesting as some form-molded widget popped off on an assembly line?

Conversely, what made other characters almost come ALIVE?

What was the X-factor?

Now that I’ve noodled this, I’ve revised some of my thinking. Multi-dimensional characters are not something writers can directly create. Rather, these lifelike people are forged from the crucible of story.

Dramatic writing uses a core problem (fire). The core problem generates escalating problems (the hammer). The trials (increasing heat/hammering) reveal, refine, define, and ultimately transform the narrative actors into characters.

Story alone holds the power to bestow resonance.

Fill-In-The-Blank People

Sure, we can do all the activities of filling out a character profile. But, these character sheets alone are about as telling as a ‘fill-in-the fields-profile’ on a dating site. Height, weight, build, nationality, attractiveness, education level, how many kids, previously married, hobbies, etc.

Dating profiles also provide blank spaces for additional ‘deep, character-revealing statements’ such as: I’m not a game-player, love Mexican food, and my favorite activities are crossfit and hiking.

FYI: ALL of that is likely a lie (other than enjoying Mexican food). Anyone who starts with I am not a game-player is almost guaranteed to be a game-player. It’s Shakespeare’s Rules of Romance. Or, as I call it, ‘The Lady/Dude Doth Protest Too Much’ litmus.

Anyway…

No School Like Old School

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters
….or not.

Do I create character profiles? Sure. I also put a lot of thought and research into what ‘people’ I want to cast in a given story. It’s a great activity, but be careful. We can’t camp there. Activity and productivity are not synonymous.

Ultimately, fictional characters reflect the real human experience in a distilled and intensified form. This, however, doesn’t give an automatic pass on authenticity.

Aristotle might be Old School, but his observations regarding drama resonate even into the 21st century. In Aristotle’s Poetics he asserts:

Since the objects of imitation are men in action, and these men must be either of a higher or a lower type (for moral character mainly answers to these divisions, goodness and badness being the distinguishing marks of moral differences), it follows that we must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are. ~Aristotle

This gives three schools: Polygnotus (more noble), Pauson (less noble), and Dionysius (real life).

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Even today these three schools of story thought are alive and well. Marvel’s Captain America movies proffer the larger-than-life hero, the man better than real men (Polygnotus).

Westworld and Game of Thrones provide a vast assortment of villains who are worse-than-life, an exaggeration of evil (Pauson).

Then, movies like Training Day or Glengarry Glen Ross show men as they really are…flawed. They’re not entirely noble or ignoble (Dionysis).

Granted, this is a vast simplification, but we can see novels fall into these schools as well. Genre dictates a lot of this. Harry PotterThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and A Man Called Ove could reasonably be placed in each category.

Talk is Cheap

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Why do I mention these ‘schools’ of story? Depending on genre, readers will have expectations when it comes to what they’ll find entertaining. As writers, our primary job is to entertain. This said, stories are for the audience. This means we need to either serve them what they enjoy, or serve them what they don’t yet know they will enjoy 😉 .

As a general ‘rule,’ readers who gravitate to stories like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy are fundamentally different than readers who prefer stories like Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. What readers are looking for—regarding story and characters—will be specific to the genres they gravitate to.

It’s critical to define what kind/flavor of story we want to tell, because an idea can be delivered any number of ways (parodies prove this).

Also, telling a story audiences don’t yet know they will love must work with the boundaries of preference. Take the boundaries and push them or deliver them in a new, fresh way.

J.K. Rowling didn’t completely ignore reader expectations and preferences for YA fantasy. She merely delivered her stories in a brand new way. She cast a boy (Harry Potter) as her lead protagonist.

At the time, the YA fantasy world was dominated by female protagonists. The genre’s audience expected one approach, but only because they didn’t yet realize they’d LOVE something else. An unwanted boy living under the stairs, unaware he’s a wizard destined for greatness.

Talk the Talk & Walk the Walk

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Earlier, I mentioned character backgrounds. These are a good start, but they’re only that. A start. Characters aren’t who we (the writer) say they are. Characters are composed of what they do or don’t do.

Go back to my analogy of an on-line dating profile. Someone can talk a great game on some dating site. Yet, it won’t be until that first awkward meet at a coffee shop—in person—that this profile is put to any real test.

Sure, he might say he’s a nice guy and have loads of pics of him with puppies and kids. But, how does he respond when the barista knocks a scorching hot venti Americano all over his best shirt? Does he laugh it off and try to calm the hysterical barista? Or, does he throw a fit, demand the barista be fired, and threaten to sue?

She might claim she longs for friendship and intimacy in her profile. But, at coffee, how often is she checking her phone? Her Facebook? Does she engage and listen, or does she have the attention span of a goldfish with severe ADD…who just smoked some crack?

Same in Stories

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

We can tell the reader a character is a certain way, but how that character acts matters more. For instance, I did an edit not too long ago and the writer said the female protagonist was a strong alpha female. Problem was, the MC didn’t act like one. I called the writer on the lack of continuity.

This is part of what we (editors) mean when we use the phrase, ‘Show, don’t tell.’

The writer can TELL me (the reader) all she wants how this character is an alpha take-no-prisoners gal, which the writer did in the set-up. Fair enough. But three pages later, when this alleged ‘alpha female’ is essentially begging for a chance at contract? I called FOUL. If she’s an alpha personality, then she needs to act like it. Actions speak louder than words.

We can TELL readers a character is anything, yet how that character acts is all that matters.

Talk is cheap and, adding to that…

Humans Are Liars

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters
*hangs head* Yep. Probably.

We’re all liars. We might lie to others (to one degree or another). Mostly, though, we lie to ourselvesWow, the dryer really shrank my pants!

No judgement. Goes with being human.

We all want to believe if something horrific happened, we’d act heroically. Maybe we would. But, perhaps not. We all want to believe we’d NEVER do X (kill, run, hide), but there’s only one way to know for certain.

Trial by fire.

Problem is, what we believe about our own character (integrity or lack thereof) is all theory until we’re faced with some crisis that puts that belief to the test. Only a test can reveal our belief as truth, half-truth, or a lie (self-delusion). Crises show us what we are made of (or not).

The hero-in-his-own-mind may, when faced with an actual trial, turn out to be a complete coward. Conversely, the person who wholly believes she could never be heroic might, in reality, be the most heroic of all.

It’s the same with characters in a story.

Character Crucible

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Structure (story) acts as the crucible and how we put the story together is what steadily turns up the heat on all parties involved. Next time we’ll focus in on the components of story, the scene and the sequel. But here’s a preview and how it relates to character.

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

Notice how the scene presents the problem, which then provides a way we (readers) can witness how a character acts/responds externally.

The sequel permits audience access to the internal. We can peer into the thoughts of that character. This is where we’ll witness how a character evolves/or devolves over time. For bonus points, internal narrative—in scene and the sequel—is a fantastic way to mess with readers’ heads (I.e. the unreliable narrator).

In the End

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Everyone has his or her version of the truth, but we as writers must tangibly demonstrate this. This means, when we strengthen the story, this automatically can strengthen the characters.

Everything in dramatic writing is and should be intentional. No extra screws or bits. Granted, practice will make us all better at this, but in great stories there are NO free rides. Period. No thought, setback, bit of setting, snippet of dialogue is there to simply take up space.

It ALL serves a vital/integral purpose.

And, if any character’s actions do not line up with who we (the writer) says he is? It better be intentional 😉 .

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 The Art of Character (March 22nd 7-9 EST). Advanced material, lots of FUN! Who better to teach character THAN a character? LOL.

I’m also offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist on March 29th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. Both are advanced-level material to take your writing to another level.

What Are Your Thoughts?

writing tips, novel structure, narrative structure, Aristotle's Poetics, David Mamet MasterClass, Kristen Lamb, writing fiction, dramatic writing, plot and characters

Is the saying, ‘Show, don’t tell‘ making a bit more sense? Can you see how problems are the ONLY way to really deliver character? How actions can be used in all sorts of ways, even as a way of misleading the audience for WHAMMO twist endings?

Where do 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 March, 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).

***February’s winner is Gabriella L. Garlock. Please send your 5,000 word Word document in a doc.x file, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, one-inch margins to kristen @wana intl dot com. Congrats!

By the way, yes I also offer classes, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

You can sign up HERE!

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Every story begins with an idea. Alas, stories can only be created when at least two vastly different ideas collide. The place where they meet is the BOOM, much like the weather. Storms erupt because two very different bodies of air meet…and don’t get along.

Only one will win out. In the meantime, lots of rain, lightning strikes and maybe some tornadoes. After the powerful storms, the landscape is altered, lives are changed, some even lost.

It’s the same with powerful stories. Yet, instead of weather fronts colliding, differing ideas are colliding.

It’s wonderful to have a great story idea. Alas, an idea alone is not enough. It’s a solid start but that’s all. Loads of people have ‘great ideas’ and that and five bucks will get them a half-foam latte at Starbucks.

Ideas are everywhere.

What differentiates the author from the amateur is taking the time to understand—fundamentally—how to take that idea and craft it, piece by piece, into a great story readers love.

Building Ideas into Stories

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Stories have key components required for building, and I promise we’ll get there. My goal, this go-round has been to elevate the teaching and deep-dive in a way I hope you’ve not experienced before.

I always found craft teaching either was so simplistic I was all, ‘Got it, sally forth.’ *taps pen* Or, the instruction was so advanced (assuming I was far smarter than I was) and it made me panic more than anything.

Like the ‘write your story from the ending.’ Sure, meanwhile, I’ll go build a semi-conductor.

There was this MASSIVE gap between X, Y, Z and why I was even doing X, Y, and Z. Why not Q?

And all to what end? How did I make all the pieces FIT? *sobs*

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Anyway, this is why we’re taking things SLOWLY. I want to fully develop these concepts so you can create incredible stories far more easily. Yes, this is master class level stuff, but hopefully I will help mesh with 101 concepts so even beginners will feel challenged (as opposed to utterly LOST like I did).

For those new to this blog or anyone who wants to catch up, here are the lessons so far:

Structure Matters: Building Stories to Endure the Ages

Story: Addictive by Design

Conflict: Elixir of the Muse For Timeless Stories Readers Can’t Put Down

The Brain Behind the Story: The Big Boss Troublemaker

Problems: Great Dramatic Writing Draws Blood & Opens Psychic Wounds

How to Write a Story from the Ending: Twisted Path to Mind-Blowing End

Ideas as Character Catalyst

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

When we discussed the BBT, I showed how all BBTs are an IDEA. This IDEA might manifest as a villain or as a core antagonist. The core antagonist only different from a villain in that this person’s goal is not inherently destructive, evil or nefarious. Their idea(s) simply conflicts with what the protagonist’s idea(s) and what the MC believes he/she desires.

This antagonist generates a core story problem BIG enough to shove the protagonist out of the comfort zone and into the crucible. This pressure (problems) creates heat which is the catalyst that creates the cascading internal reaction which will fundamentally alter the protagonist.

These internal changes are necessary for victory over the story problem via external action (choices/decisions). The MC cannot morph into a hero/heroine carrying emotional baggage, false beliefs, or character flaws present in the beginning. Why?

Because these elements are precisely WHY the MC would fail if forced to battle the BBT head-on in the opening of the story.

The story problem, and what it creates, is like a chemical reaction. Our protagonist, by Act Three should transform into something intrinsically different…a hero/heroine (a shining star instead of a nebulous body of gas). The problem should be big enough that only a hero/heroine is able to be victorious.

Villains as BBT

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Villains are fantastic and make some of the most memorable characters in fiction whether on the page, stage or screen (Joker, Buffalo Bill, IT, Dr. Moriarty, Cersie Lannister, etc.). A common misperception, however, is villains are ‘easy’ to write. No, mustache-twirling caricatures are easy to write. But villains, villains that get under our skin, who poke and prod at tender places take a lot of preparation and skill.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is extremely dimensional. We, the audience, are conflicted because he’s horrible, grotesque, cruel… and suddenly we find ourselves rooting for him.

That seriously messes with our heads.

Dr. Lecter has an IDEA of polite society. Act like a proper human and be treated like one. His IDEA of what a human is entails all that separates us from animals, namely manners and self-control. Act like a beast, and beasts–>food.

This cannot help but conflict with any FBI agent’s duty to protect all lives (deserving or not), and help mete out justice in all homicides (even of those horrible folks we’re all secretly happy Hannibal made into a rump roast).

All I can think is thank GOD Lecter is fictional or half the folks on Facebook would now be curing world hunger.

Anyway….

Superb characters are never black and white, right or wrong because that’s an inaccurate reflection of humanity.

We (the audience) sense the falseness of such a simplistic character, and, while one-dimensional characters (villains included) can be amusing for a time, they’re not the sort of character that withstands the test of time. They don’t possess enough substance/dimension/gray areas to elicit heated debate and discussion among fans for years to come.

But villains are not ideal for all stories or all genres.

Core Antagonist as BBT

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

There are what people call character-driven stories which don’t require a villain. I twitch when I hear the term ‘character-driven’ because too many mistake this as a pass for having to plot. NOPE. We still need a plot 😉 .

Plot is what will drive the character change.

I’ve used the examples Steel Magnolias and Joy Luck Club in other posts so we’ll pick a different one today. The Mirror Has Two Faces is one of my favorite examples.

The BBT in this story is the IDEA that physical beauty is bad. This IDEA is manifested in the story problem, which is created by Professor Gregory Larkin. He believes he knows why he’s always been unlucky in love.

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension
He’s attracted to her…mind.

Being an analytical Mathematics teacher at Columbia he gets a bright idea. He believes superficial attraction and sex is what has ruined all his relationships (and is partially correct).

He theorizes that physical attractiveness always undermines authentic intimacy. Thus, he postulates a solution. Find and date a woman he finds completely physically unappealing. Then he’ll find true love (Story Problem).

Enter in Professor Rose Morgan, a shy, plain, middle-aged professor who teaches literature also at Columbia. Ah, but Rose also happens to have a stunning older sister and a mother who was model-gorgeous in her heyday, a mother who always has to be the center of attention.

Gregory Larkin believes he can only find love without physical beauty, that physical attraction has only a bad ending.

Close, but No Cigar

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Rose Morgan also has issues with beauty, though is not actively aware of it initially. Her mother’s obsession with her own beauty has propelled Rose to demur and become a wallflower. She dresses in frumpy clothes, wears no makeup, doesn’t exercise and does nothing with her hair.

Namely, she doesn’t want to compete with Mom. Mom’s distorted overvaluation of physical beauty has created an equally distorted devaluation of physical beauty in Rose.

When Larkin asks Rose out and the relationship blooms enough for them to marry, it seems his theory is sound. Rose wants to believe she’s okay with this. That she is okay that she was picked because she was utterly unattractive on the outside.

Sure, it stings, but in the end, does it matter? They are close, share similar interests, enjoy each other’s company and she’s no longer terminally single.

Only once married, does Rose realize she’s sold herself short in a big way.

She didn’t believe she longed for Puccini and romance and lust and for a man (her husband) to want her. That was for ‘pretty girls’ and she was lucky to even be picked at all. Right?

Right?

Wrong

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

One night, Rose presses Gregory for sexual intimacy and he freaks out. He rejects her advances, and is angry at her for upsetting his tidy formula for lasting love.

This crushes Rose.

Rose believes she repulses him, but is very wrong. He did want her, probably more than any woman ever before. Yet, he still clings to his false IDEA. He remains undeterred that physical attraction/relations will ruin true love. He leaves right after this disastrous night for a lengthy lecture tour.

Rose finally faces her fear of being pretty and her false beliefs that she a) is not pretty and b) does not deserve to be pretty. She cleans up her diet, gets her hair done, changes her wardrobe and wears makeup. She feels differently and notes others treat her differently, too.

Gregory also does some soul-searching and starts pondering he might be wrong. Maybe outer beauty does not instantly negate inner beauty. Perhaps beauty, physical attraction, lust wasn’t the problem. He was.

Maybe.

Showdown Between the Ideas

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Gregory returns to NYC and sees Rose has bloomed. She’s a very different wife inside and out. Not only is she stunning, but she’s now confident and knows what she wants, what she deserves.

She apologizes for her part in the problem. Confesses she never should have agreed to a passionless marriage. She thanks him for helping her see her own cowardice, but in truth she wants passion and Puccini, love and sex and more than marriage melba toast.

Gregory is dumped…again.

This forces him to take a hard look at himself and his ‘theory.’ He’s forced to choose between his ‘flawless theory of perfect love’ or Rose.

Will he let Rose dump him and go in search of an even more physically unattractive female? Or will he ditch his theory and woo Rose back?

Ideas as Weather Fronts

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

What happens when a cold front meets with a hot front? A STORM! Same in stories. This is why it’s critical to understand the BBT and the proxy carrying out the idea. It’s why it’s just as vital to understand the protagonist and his or her IDEA to be challenged.

Like in weather the colder and drier the cold front and the hotter and moister the hot front, the bigger the BOOM.

Thus once you’ve selected the IDEAS that will clash and what sort of characters will serve as the delivery mechanisms, make sure to choose who will suffer/change the most. The higher the stakes the better the story.

Also ask (for both sides):

What does he/she want? Why does he/she want it? Why now? What happens if he/she fails to get what they want?

When we articulate these and craft these ahead of time, we can make sure to pack as much punch into the plot as possible. No reader wants to invest 12-15 hours into a story where there are low stakes or no stakes. Where no one changes. ZZZZZZ.

Y’all might laugh, but I’ve edited many a work with no stakes. When I asked the writer, ‘What happens if she doesn’t find out the secret?’ Usually, I got, ‘She um…just doesn’t?’

Nope. That isn’t a story, it’s a sedative.

À la fin…

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Ennui Cat says love is for fools and brings only pain. He’s judging your book…and you.

But mostly you.

In the end, think how many weather metaphors we use when talking about people and conflict. A storm’s brewing. Lightning rarely strikes twice. Could feel the crackle in the air.

If conflict is thought of like storms, then reverse engineer this. How do storms work? What makes them bigger and nastier? Use this to help add power to your plot problem.

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 29th (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?

Does this help make plotting a tad less intimidating? Are you perhaps seeing where/why your previous idea floundered? Didn’t realize you needed at least TWO for a story?

Where do 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 March, 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).

***Will announce February’s winner next post.

By the way, yes I also offer classes, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

Now that we’ve discussed the Big Boss Trouble Maker who creates the core story problem in need of resolution, we’re going to tackle…endings. When we authors know our story ending ahead of time, we gain major creative advantage.

What is this madness? How can I know the END?

Calm down. I’ve been there, too. Which is why I’m here to walk you through and help this puzzling concept make total sense.

*hands paper bag*

If you’ve followed this series on structure, you already know why the BBT is so critical. The BBT creates the external problem that launches everything to come, the problem to be resolved (ending).

No Darth Vader and Luke likely remains a moisture farmer on Tatooine. Unless there’s a major external problem—Darth Vader and a Death Star—Luke can/will never become a Jedi.

No WWI pilot crashing through the veil hiding Themiscyra? Amazons continue doing Amazon stuff. Without the pilot, and the massive threat beyond the bubble (pre-Nazis), there is no external force burdening Diana of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, to make a tough moral choice.

Remain hidden in Amazon Safe Space and hope for the best, or step into the fray? No external problem and Wonder Woman can never exist.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension
Okay so maybe not exactly Thucydides. Plato and Napoleon Bonaparte get some credit, too.

A protagonist cannot become a hero/heroine without triumphing over a big problem, despite all we (as Author God) will throw at them. Once we know the problem, it’s far easier to have a sense of the ending.

If we’ve crafted the core problem in need of resolution, we should have a fairly solid idea how and where the story wraps up. Granted, we may not end our novel precisely the way we first envision, but that’s okay. A general idea is totally cool. When we begin writing our story, the ending we have only needs to be close enough for government work.

This loose boundary is what will fire up the muse for endings that are ‘surprising yet inevitable‘, as the great playwright David Mamet likes to say.

Surprising, Yet Inevitable

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

I believe the greatest compliment any story can earn is the surprising yet inevitable ending. When we craft a story, ideally the reader will finish and say two things.

I never saw that coming and How did I NOT see that coming?

If we do a bit of work on the front end, and are vastly familiar with our core problem, then this offers us (writers) a myriad of ways to mess with the readers’ heads.

How? We know what they will expect. Why? Because (logically) we’d expect it, too. So, we don’t do THAT.

This is when the reader settles in for that smooth right turn he’d anticipated…and then we zing left across four lanes and take that weird left exit and U-Turn (for bonus smart@$$ points). Meanwhile, the reader screams and hangs on for life, simultaneously hating and loving us.

The reader is stunned, breathless, and maybe indignant.

Ah, but if he’d paid closer attention, he would’ve noticed we (the author) did put on our story blinker and it wasn’t signaling right 😉 . Yet, we had so much distraction in play, the reader missed the blinker signaling LEFT and hidden in plain sight.

Not to give an excuse for sloppy writing, but a story problem that gut-hooks can compensate for a lot of weakness. Conversely, no solid story problem and no one cares how pretty the prose is. Why? Because the reader longs for a bookmark much more than she longs to know the ending.

Case in Point

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

Recently I listened to an audiobook, a psychological thriller (legacy published). Overall, the novel was dreadful. I about choked on the purple prose, and if we made this author’s word echoes into a drinking game? Alcohol poisoning by Chapter Five. Why did I press on? Because the story PROBLEM hooked me.

I knew I had the mystery solved as in who did what, but couldn’t quite nail the HOW. I pushed on through the swamp of overwriting because I had to know the ending…which was surprising and inevitable.

Granted, don’t know if I’ll ever read another work by this writer, but alas, the author did the job. The writer created a compelling story problem. So compelling, I was willing to gut through the slow pace, the protagonist who was too dumb to live, and absurdly detailed descriptions of…everything.

Why? Because I had to KNOW the ENDING. And, the ending made me happy, so we’re cool.

Problems Reveal Endings

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

If we know an evil necromancer is taking over Middle Earth, and the ONLY way to ultimately destroy Sauron is to melt a special ring in one specific volcano? Care to make a bet where and how that story should reasonably END? Likely the ending somewhere close to Mt. Doom. (The Lord of the Rings).

When a self-absorbed teenager wishes away her baby brother to a Goblin King—who takes baby brother—and the only way to get him back is to solve the Labyrinth? Again, care to hazard an ending? Labyrinth solved and baby brother safe (The Labyrinth).

When a daughter loses her mother before she has a chance to reconcile and forgive, that’s a bad situation. But when she’s offered a chance to board a boat to China to meet her long lost half-sisters—the twins her mother ‘abandoned’ and the blade daughter often used to slice mom—how should the story END? Disembarking a boat in China to meet the long lost twins, fulfilling her dead mother’s dream (Joy Luck Club).

When a prince in Denmark’s father dies, that is a problem. It’s also a problem when he returns home to his mom who’s married his Uncle Claudius before Dad’s body is even cold in the ground. Oh, and uncle has also declared himself king—despite Hamlet being next in line. It takes no genius to figure out, Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Also doesn’t take a ghost to put two and two together. Seems fairly clear King Uncle-Dad Claudius offed his brother to take his place.

And y’all thought your family was jacked up…

Thus, how should the story end? By Claudius in some way paying for his crime and someone other than Claudius crowned king. And, since Shakespeare wrote it, everyone dies. BUT, we do know the ending. Claudius will pay dearly and will not be king.

Ending with Intention vs. Formulaic Writing

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

I can hear all the howls of complaint. Kristen, but I don’t want to be crammed into formulaic writing. Having a story ending that is surprising and inevitable is not ‘formulaic.’ Great drama has an ending.

The ending to a story is as integral as scales on a lizard. When a ‘lizard’ has fur instead of scales, it ain’t a lizard. Don’t know what the heck it actually is, but reptile pretty much ruled out.

When ‘stories’ have no clear ending, we call those soap operas.

Note: Still unsure if Stefano actually dead.

Formulaic is when we write some paint-by-numbers story where nothing is shocking. We (readers) are never fooled or mislead. When and if the audience reaches the ending of a novel, play or movie and have managed to predict everything as if by telepathy? THAT is formulaic writing.

Formulaic writing abounds more now than ever because quantity has taken over quality.

Emerging writers rush to ‘write a novel’ without taking time to train and learn to ‘craft a story.’ Publishing and the movie industry are pushing the next thing and the next and the next.

The entertainment business model has shifted because the digital age has opened up distribution and drastically lowered production costs. Now, the business model is to make a little money off a lot of crappy stories instead of make bank off something truly remarkable.

This is a major reason I’ve all but given up on most Hollywood movies. Their endings inevitably make me want to throw things.

The Cage that Frees the Muse

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Recreation of Kristen’s playpen.

Structure erects boundaries and parameters. Many new writers wail that structure (I.e. conceptualizing endings ahead of time) wrecks creativity. Yet, I believe quite the opposite.

Ever put a toddler in a playpen then gotten distracted? Trust me, they get REAL creative. Study any super-max prison and one thing you’re guaranteed to witness? Mad creativity, boundless imagination.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this series, I don’t care how any writer constructs the story so long as the end result is solid. It doesn’t matter if we outline in detail, write by the seat of our pants, or work out the story in jazz hands while channelling Liberace.

Plotter, pantser, or plotser? That’s process, which is personal. But all processes will work far better with a solid understanding of what the story must eventually accomplish. Having the problem and a notion of the ending, makes this way simpler.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

If I know my goal is to drive from Dallas, Texas to California (ending) then this automatically rules out thousands of roads. I-20 East is a dumb plan unless my goal is to circumnavigate the globe.

Ah, but then my goal (ending) actually is to get to California from Dallas, TX by circumnavigating the globe. This ALSO rules out thousands of routes. In this case. I-20 West not a good place to start, since it is too direct for my goal of having to circumnavigate the globe to reach California (ending).

***Or it’s proof I’m using Apple maps.

Use the Ending to Torture Readers

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If we don’t even know where WE are going, this craters imagination. When we’re unsure how the story will (likely) end, it’s impossible for us to misdirect readers. We lose that amazing capacity to mess with the audience’s head. Readers love books that defy expectations, that ‘fool’ them and make them suffer.

Readers relish a challenge, and look to US (authors) to present them a challenge worthy of their money and 12-15 hours of their most precious possession—TIME.

Endings also insert necessary context for dramatic tension. If we give the audience no sense of how the story should/will end, then there is no way for them to discern a setback, and thus, worry.

As an author, if I crash a plane of soccer players on a mountain in the Andes, where they’re forced to eat their dead teammates to survive, that’s morbidity. Interesting in a gruesome way, and a problem, but not yet a story.

***This is why survival alone is not a story.

Ah, but what if when the blizzard clears, off in the distance there’s what appears to be an abandoned ranger station or hunting lodge? Something to use as shelter, but that might also have provisions (beyond that center half-back) and a radio? Or flares? Some way to signal for help.

NOW we have a story because there’s something resembling an ending. Every setback that prevents the surviving soccer players from reaching THAT station makes us worry. Avalanches, blizzards, injures, hypothermia, frostbite all evolve from ‘bad situations’ to ‘dramatic setbacks.’

There are also CHOICES to be made.

Stay at the crash site or move? Staying increases odds rescuers will find our unfortunate group. But, the plane is unstable, could crash down the mountain. Also, the region is so remote, who knows when help will come?

Oh, but trek for that thingy that seems to be an old ranger station and what if it isn’t? What if it’s a hallucination? A mirage? The Unibomber’s old time-share, equipped with nothing more than rage and a typewriter?

Now, characters can FIGHT. They fight each other, fight with themselves, fight against nature and fight to LIVE and to WIN! And this, my friends, is now a story 😉 .

À la fin…

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension, ennui cat

Ennui Cat says nothing matters and life is futile, and he’s judging your book…and you.

Mostly you.

In the end, mastering structure unleashes imagination, provides opportunities to create mad twists, turns and endings that leave readers breathless. By gauging an ‘idea’ for our ending, we make plotting simpler.

Some added bonuses?

We’re far less likely to write ourselves into a corner unable to figure a way out. Also, since the structure is sound, revisions will be more pleasant…and less like water boarding while getting a root canal.

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?

Were you like me and when some ‘expert’ told you to write from the ending you were all SAY WHAT? Are you INSANE? Does it make a bit more sense now?

Where do 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, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

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

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

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.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction, narrative structure, novel structure, story structure

Problems are the essential ingredient for all stories. All forms of dramatic writing balance on the fulcrum of problems. The more problems, the better. Small problems, big problems, complicated problems, imagined problems, ignored problems all make the human heart beat faster.

Complication, quandaries, distress, doubt, obstacles and issues are all what make real life terrifying…and great stories captivating.

Face it, we humans are a morbid bunch. Most of us see flashing emergency lights on a slick highway, and what do we do? We slow down to see…while deep down desperately hoping we don’t see. We sit in a fancy restaurant and a woman throws a glass of red wine in her date’s face? Oh, we ALL pay attention.

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Screeching tires, glass breaking or even a spouse on the phone muttering Uh-oh and our chest cinches. We must know what’s going on. Humans require resolution in order to return to our ‘happy’ homeostasis, even if deep down we know that ‘resolution’ is a lie. Delusion is inherently human, and so is neurosis which is good news for writers.

Can you say ‘job security’? *wink wink*

Humans Wired for Drama

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If we take a moment to ponder people, it makes sense why problems make for excellent stories. First, all humans are wired for survival, thus any potential threat to survival makes us pay attention. We’re biologically designed to be egocentric. Thus survival is not a problem, it’s a given. It’s also why this conversation makes my left eye twitch:

Me: So what is your protagonist’s goal?

Writer: To survive.

Me: *face palm*

Survival is Not Story

Here’s the deal. We ALL have a goal to survive. If, at the end of the day, I am NOT DEAD? I consider that a pretty good day. My genetic desire to survive is why I don’t blow dry my hair in the shower, take up bear-baiting, or see how far I can drive backwards on a highway.

Survival isn’t interesting. Whatever threatens survival? That’s what’s interesting.

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Secondly, humans possess a deep compunction to assign order in a world brimming with chaos. Remember our first lesson, when we discussed cause and effect? Our desire for order is directly related to survival. If we believe A + B = C, then when A +B =Z, we’ll drive ourselves nuts to know why.

What changed? Did we do, say, think something differently? Does this deviation mean anything? Is it dangerous?

Every superstition ever imagined hinges on human desperation for order and control.

We won the game when I didn’t wash my underwear and lost when I wore clean ones. Dirty underwear=winning. 

Thirdly, humans are innately selfish. This proclivity for selfishness makes us all psychically vulnerable. For instance, we develop neuroses of varying degrees of severity. Neuroses, fundamentally, are false beliefs regarding cause and effect.

I smiled at the clerk and she was extremely rude. So it is true. People don’t like me.

Or, the clerk caught her boyfriend in bed her mother minutes before heading to work and—in truth—we (the neurotic customer) have nothing to do with her bad attitude. Aside from being in the blast radius of the poor clerk’s Jerry Springer drama.

Chaos Abounds

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When we factor in that humans a) are wired to survive b) crave order and c) are innately selfish, it makes sense why we are a story species. Stories are what discharges that leftover psychic energy left over at the end of every day.

Life rarely makes perfect sense, but stories do. Reality has no set order, but stories do. Every day bad guys win, good people die, and ‘stuff’ happens for no apparent reason which freaks us out.

These are the main reasons why stories are the balm that eases our jagged thoughts and weary heart. In well-written stories, we might not like the outcome, but it makes sense. The play or movie might not set well, but there is integral order. In dramatic writing, even when the good guy loses, he still wins.

Life can’t say the same.

The point of any great dramatic writing isn’t some canned message or ‘good guy always wins’ soma, or even some thinly veiled morality tale/lecture/pontification. Drama—when boiled down to its essence—is to feed the innately illogical and selfish id what it desires.

Entertainment.

But not simply any entertainment. Entertainment that speaks to the primal realms of the mind and offers release. Enter in…PROBLEMS.

A Hero Must Decide

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

Ever pay attention to the word ‘decide?’ De-cide. What other words end in ‘cide?’ Homicide, fratricide, sororcide, matricide, herbicide, pesticide, and y’all get the gist. Cide implies killing. Something, someone must die.

When we look to story, this is the point of a solid core story problem, because death is the ultimate objective. I know, I know. Missed my calling writing inspirational greeting cards, but bear with me.

In our last lesson, we unpacked my created literary term Big Boss Troublemaker, which is the BRAIN behind the core story problem in need of resolution. Strong BBTs make for stories that endure because IDEAS are impossible to completely destroy.

Like weeds of the human condition, we might eradicate a problem in one story but then POOF! It pops up again in another. Over and over, again and again.

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

This is why there are no new stories, only new ways of telling the same stories. All human stories are about the same things: love, betrayal, greed, acceptance, etc. These are emotional touch-points that imbue story immortality.

Same but Different

This is why Shakespeare’s plays are as relevant today as they were a few hundred years ago. It’s precisely how Baz Luhrmann can take a story about two star-crossed lovers trapped between two feuding families and set it in modern-day Verona Beach…and our brains don’t explode.

We accept Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as Romeo and Juliet. We accept beach duels and gunfights, and John Leguizamo (Tybalt) spouting, ‘Peace? Peace. I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.’ We accept the Montagues and Capulets circa 1996 and oddly? We’re cool.

THIS makes perfect sense….

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And this…

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Not only does this make total sense, and speak to our souls…it is AWESOME. Romeo & Juliet is a play that is hundreds of years old, that tells a story we witness every single day. TODAY. We see these same dramas play out in our lives daily, whether in person, on-line or in the news.

The point of any story is the hero (heroine) has no choice but to de-CIDE. Ideas must die or victory is lost. Romeo and Juilet physically die in the end, but the IDEA that love can triumph over hate wins. Granted it’s a Pyhrric victory, but the IDEA that hate is more powerful—that might makes right—is ultimately defeated.

***It also proves Shakespeare’s sardonic point that romantic love leads to terminal stupidity, but that’s another post.

The Problem & Push

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

In any good story there are at least two IDEAS at war, meaning lots and lots of problems. There is the BBT’s (opposition’s) central idea, which will inevitably collide with the protagonist’s central idea.

As we discussed last lesson, ideas are relayed via the corporeal and this happens by proxy.

The proxy has a plan that forces the protagonist out of the comfort zone, and eventually gives the MC no choice but evolution or extinction. It’s do or die, whether that is a physical death, a psychic death, or both.

DEATH is always on the line. Whether we are writing comedy or tragedy, genre fiction or literary this maxim is universally true.

The MC must change internally (the IDEA) as well as externally (behavior), since talk is cheap. Action is what matters, because action is belief made manifest.

Problems at Play

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

Let’s use an example. Today, we’ll look at Zootopia. Sure, it’s a kid’s movie but a fabulous example how we don’t have to be writing HamletThere Will Be Blood, or Glenngarry Glenn Ross to write terrific drama with depth.

Judy Hopps is a bunny who dreams of going off and being a cop in Zootopia, a place where all animals coexist in perfect harmony and are not prejudged based off species or history.

Sure.

Zootopia (like all utopian ideals) is vastly different from the pretty picture, as Judy soon finds out when she enters the police academy. Then she gets an even harder dose of reality as a rookie cop. It is true—Zootopia is a wonder for sure—but it also has its fair share of prejudice, stereotyping, and mistrust.

The BBT is the IDEA that prejudice is inevitable and dangerous and there is only one option—eat or be eaten. Our proxy of this IDEA is the seemingly meekest and most helpless of all creatures—a sheep (Bellwether)—who’s the ‘hapless/spineless’ assistant to Mayor Lionheart (a lion, of course).

Bellwether doesn’t believe prejudice can ever be overcome, that all creatures will eventually resort to their baser natures. As a sheep, her kind have always been prey. Unless she uses her wits, she and her kind will remain perpetually in danger, a permanent menu ‘option.’

Granted, it’s a manufactured danger (neurosis), since predator and prey animals have managed to coexist in Zootopia without anyone being eaten for generations. Yet, her argument is compelling because her belief is grounded in authentic fear.

It is Bellwether’s perceived inevitable reversal that compels her to force ‘fate’s’ hand. She cannot endure the stress that she (and other prey animals) could be the daily special any day. Thus, she takes action to ensure prey animals are in control. TOTAL control.

Great Antagonists Actually Make a Good Point

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This is what separates deep, layered antagonists (and villains) from caricatures. When we open our minds and think from the opposition’s POV, they kinda make a good point…which is what messes with our heads.

***FYI—Id, being primal and freaky, totally digs mind games and is still unsure if Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a villain or anti-hero. Sure he eats people, but only the ones who kinda deserved it.

Moving on…

Bellwether devises a scheme to ‘prove’ predator animals cannot be trusted, and thus must be contained for obvious public safety reasons. By inflaming deeply held, but politely hidden, beliefs among the animals, she will have all the justification needed to oppress those considered a threat (predators).

In the beginning, Judy Hopps naively believes she’s devoid of prejudice, completely enlightened, and without fear. Predators are not a threat. They don’t view her and her kind as food, but as fellow citizens and friends. All that being hunted and eaten stuff is ancient history.

This is Judy’s IDEA and it cannot help but collide with Bellwether’s IDEA that prejudice is inevitable and dangerous.

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Desperation forces Judy to ally with a fox (historically known for enjoying rabbits as munchies) in order to solve the mystery. Predator animals really are going berserk, seemingly reverting back to their wild natures. Why?

Strong Protagonists Face Personal Extinction

Deep down, Judy believes the animals of Zootopia have evolved and can coexist (though is now facing escalating doubts). Problems bash Judy’s IDEA repeatedly, harder and harder.

A psychic sledgehammer slams into her beliefs, testing their actual strength. No matter what she does or tries, the evidence mounts that she’s delusional.

Everything she sees and experiences only seems to affirm predators are dangerous, cannot be trusted, and must be contained.

The core story PROBLEM—Why are all the predators suddenly going berserk?—gives Judy only two choices. She can give up or be brave and to take a hard honest look at herself.

Is she really as devoid of prejudice as she once believed? Really all that evolved, all that enlightened after all? Or deep down does she actually agree with Bellwether?

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

In the beginning, Judy believed Zootopia was perfect, but by the end of Act 2? Judy doesn’t even know why she’s THERE. All her psychic wounds are open and bleeding.

Eventually the story problem forces Judy to de-CIDE. One idea must die. Either Zootopia dies or the notion that prejudice is inevitable and dangerous must die.

For that to happen, Judy Hopps must expose Bellwether’s true colors and stop her nefarious plan, or Zootopia implodes. The old ways return only the roles reversed (prey in control) and all progress goes up in flames.

À La Fin

narrative structure, novel structure, story structure, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Big Boss Troublemaker BBT, dramatic writing, problems, how to write fiction, elements of story, how to create conflict in fiction

Both sides, antagonist and protagonist have their own unique IDEA. The story is the crucible that fires out the BS, and reveals truth. Problems batter both sides until one side finally wins. Just as a suggestion, in commercial fiction, it’s a sound plan for the protagonist (hero/heroine) to win. Otherwise it’s called a French film 😛 .

La mort est inévitable. Pourquoi se battre? Boire du vin.

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, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GASKETS & GAITERS: HOW TO CREATE A COMPELLING STEAMPUNK WORLD

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY February 23, 2018. 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?

Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?

Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, and Industry: How to research these without dying of boredom?
  • Creating the Blend: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

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

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

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.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

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.