Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Writing

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

A fallacy among many emerging writers is that authors only write the books. Then, once finished, agents will fall in LOVE and someone else will do ALL the editing.

*clutches sides laughing.*

Yeah…no. And woodland creatures don’t help with housework. Sorry to break the news. Bummed me out, too.

The hard truth is the onus is on us (writers) to make certain our manuscript is properly edited before sending a query. Remember, agents are actively searching for reasons to STOP reading. Self-editing skills can mean the difference between a sweet deal or a spot in the slush pile.

Even if the story is amazing, agents know editing is time-consuming and costly. This means they’re more likely to wait for another ‘amazing story’ that doesn’t cost as much as a Caribbean cruise to get bookstore ready. They’ll be far more likely to sign an author who possesses solid self-editing skills.

But what was that old saying?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Applies to agents and to readers.

Self-publishing is a whole new level and new devil. If we’re doing our job, the self-published novel should be at least as good as anything legacy published. This means we bear the burden (and cost) of making sure our manuscript is the best it can be.

Superior editing makes the difference between releasing a novel versus unleashing one. Many emerging writers—once the novel is ‘finished’—make some major errors when it comes to ‘editing.’

Here are a few biggies:

  • The writer actually believes the novel is finished and hits PUBLISH (Ahhhhhhh! NO!);
  • Emerging authors fail to understand proofreading is NOT synonymous with editing. Proofreading is merely one type of editing;
  • New authors don’t research how much good developmental editors/substantive line-editors charge for services.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

The above guidelines are from the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Since all novels require editing, the more we know how to do ourselves, the lower our costs will be. Trust me. Y’all do not want to pay a developmental editor to turn a 90,000 word mess into something readable (forget publishable).

Feel free to do this, but be ready to cough up a few thousand dollars and part of a kidney.

A more cost-effective option is to understand plot and the mechanics of story so we can repair the flaws ourselves. Sure, a good developmental editor will spot the massive plot holes and guide us how to repair them, but (again) it’s gonna cost us.

A lot.

Additionally, we can pay someone to insert all our proper punctuation and correct poor grammar, OR we can learn how to do this stuff ourselves. Then we’re only paying for a proofreader to catch what we missed or goofed.

Trust me, no matter how good the writer, we ALL miss/goof stuff.

Self-Editing and ‘Cost vs. Value’

As I already mentioned, good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses we could’ve easily repaired ourselves?

We’re burning cash and time.

Self-editing can be a real life (and cash) saver.

Yet, correct the problems we’ll be discussing today, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of our novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My particular specialty is content and developmental edit. Though I’ll correct punctuation and spelling as I go (because I am OCD and generous) MY job is to make a STORY the best it can possibly be.

Problem is, most of the time I can’t even get to the story because it’s obscured under layers of bleh the writer could have removed in revision.

#1 DIY Adverb Removal

Despite what you might have been told, not ALL adverbs are evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly?

***Wow, glad the author explained how ‘whispering’ works.

Ah, but if a character whispers seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t inherent in the verb. Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones.

Either we need to choose a stronger verb, or we’re treating the reader like an idiot.

If a character walks quickly to the train platform, then choose a verb that means ‘to walk quickly’ (stride, jog, hurry) and use that one instead. If a character yells loudly, ditch the loudly. 

We understand how yelling ‘works.’

#2 Cut the Cray-Cray

First and foremost, readers want a STORY. Stories are more than loads of ‘pretty writing’ using thousand-dollar words. Stories are about problems. A character thinks life is fine, then PROBLEM. The character then must struggle, grow, evolve, make choices to eventually SOLVE the problem (win, lose, draw).

Pretty description is optional. Big words are also optional. Alas, if we want to be a writer who uses description then we need to wield with economy.

Few things make me as giddy as a glorious line of description or a new vocabulary word. Many readers (and writers) are like crows.

We see the shinies and tuck them away because they’re THAT cool. The last book I read was The Devil in the White City.

When describing a miserable afternoon in late 19th century Chicago, the author had many options of how to do this. Instead of, ‘The day was humid and stifling,’ Erik Larson wrote, ‘The air hung with the heavy stillness of a tapestry.’ 

There’s nothing, per se, wrong with the first description. But Larson’s line was far more visceral because he made use of multiple senses simultaneously.

But some writers take similes too far.

I’ve seen writers who’ve used so much ‘wordsmithery’ that I had no idea what the hell they were even trying to say. The goal of a novel is to hook readers into a dramatic narrative, not prove we own a thesaurus.

Exhibit A:

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic literary devices, but need to be used with intention. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using forty-two metaphors in five pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called ‘purple prose.’ Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes.

Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST.

Any kind of description must serve the story and propel the dramatic action forward. If it doesn’t do this? CUT!

#3 Cut the Stage Direction

Again, the more time an editor devotes to a project the higher the bill. Also, if an editor charges by the page, we could be paying for a lot of filler we could have removed ourselves.

Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.’ Readers don’t need every single step of a day. We live it, why would we read it?

Yet, I see a lot of samples like this:

Fifi opened her eyes at dawn. She pulled back her covers and placed her feet on the floor. Padding across the room, she reached for a robe hanging on her door. Her stomach growled, so she went downstairs and opened the fridge for the carton of orange juice, then grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Turning around, she searched for a granola bar….

OH, GET ON WITH IT!

An editor is going to cut all of this because NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Also, readers pretty much know how the whole ‘getting juice’ phenomenon works. They don’t need a blow-by-blow.

Fifi reached out her hand to open the door.

NO KIDDING.

Unless Fifi has telekinetic powers, do readers need the direction?

Filler pads the word count, but it also pads the editing bill. The verbs turn, look, grab, pull are possible red flags you’re doing too much stage direction. My advice is to do a Word Find and search for these verbs and their variations (I.e. look, looked, looking). See if the action is necessary or if you’re holding the reader’s brain.

If you’re holding the reader’s brain? Return it, please.

#4 Beware of Painful & Alien Movement of Body Parts

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

His head followed her across the room.

Um…ouch.

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

#5 Ease Up on the Physiology

Fifi’s head pounded. She ran for the door, her heart hammering and wild pulse beating relentlessly in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs. All she could do was gasp. Panic made her throat clench and stomach heave. Mind numb, she reached for the door, fingers trembling.

GET TO IT ALREADY!

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of samples where the character has her heart pounding so much, I’m waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment.

Physiological reactions can become echoes. If every page the character has her stomach churning, roiling and rolling, our reader will need an antacid before finishing the chapter (provided she finishes at all).

I strongly recommend a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We just don’t need to be told this over and over and…over.

We (readers) assume the character’s heart is still pounding until she’s out of danger.

No need to remind us.

Really.

#6 Odd Sentence Construction

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many emerging writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

First, this is backing into the action. Though technically correct (enough), it’s easy to lose a reader if we have too many sentences like this. Active sentences are the easiest on the brain and keep the reader immersed in the fictive dream.

Then there are the picky issues with the example above. For instance, when we use the word ‘down,’ then ‘on’ is redundant.

Also, Jessie is either ironing or not ironing. ‘Started’ is overused and makes sloppy writing (this actually goes back to the whole stage direction thing).

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

Another way writers will vary the beginning of sentences is they’ll default to what’s known as passive voice.

Passive:

The door was kicked in by the police.

Active:

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

Many writers end up with strange sentence construction because they realize every sentence is starting with the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. They’re trying to ameliorate the repetition of Jessie, Jessie, Jessie, she, she, she. The problem, then, is not sentence construction, rather the writer needs to open the lens of the storytelling.

Remember our character doesn’t need to be the subject of every sentence. We’re telling a story. This means we can work with setting, other characters, etc.

#7 Get Rid of ‘Clever’ Tags

Ideally, if we do a good job with our characters, the reader should know who’s talking without tags because speech patterns differ. If all our characters ‘speak’ the same way, that is an issue we need to remedy.

Yet, we can’t always do this, which means we can use a tag. Tags are fine, but keep it simple. This isn’t the place to get clever.

‘You are such a jerk,’ she laughed.

A character can’t ‘laugh’ something. They can’t ‘spit,’ ‘snarl,’ or ‘grouse’ words either. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally see it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed and flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉

There you go!

SEVEN easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

NOW OFFERING…

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is two hours long, 90 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

***A free recording is included with purchase.

General Admission is $40 and there are some SUPER COOL upgrades! Get your spot HERE.

 

MORE CLASSES!

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming! 

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

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 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

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what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

A platform offers major advantage when it comes to selling books. Before social media, non-fiction authors had an edge. These authors already had an existing audience by the time their books were ready for sale.

Novelists, conversely, found themselves relying on a lot of pure luck, prayer, and alignment of the stars. The fiction author had little to no control regarding the business side of their business. The only way to build a platform was to not completely FAIL with book one.

Great.

Non-fiction authors, however, were not nearly as vulnerable because they had ways to cultivate a following ahead of time. Those ways also permitted them to KEEP growing the platform even bigger as they continued to publish more works.

For instance, if one happened to be an expert of some sort, it was far easier to build an audience interested in your topic. Therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, personal trainers, business owners, etc. obviously could begin with their ‘job’ (I.e. a private practice). Then these experts progressively expanded their platforms in a logical fashion.

They might broaden to speaking engagements, guest appearances on television and/or radio, serve as ‘experts’, and maybe even fold in lectures and seminars. With every expansion, the NF author added more numbers to their ‘platform.’

What IS a Platform?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

When we think of a platform for the NF author, it’s simple. Dr. Jane is an expert pediatric psychiatrist with a thriving practice. She graduated from Super Fancy School. Dr. Jane has successfully treated X amount of children for social anxiety for fifteen years. You may have even seen Dr. Jane on daytime television or listened to her on NPR. Dr. Jane knows what she’s doing because look at her c.v.!

If we have a kid whose shyness is to the point of a neurosis, we (audience) feel confident Dr. Jane might have an answer. We buy her book(s).

For the NF writer, the platform is far more cut and dry. The point is to be an expert people trust to answer a question or solve a problem. If I want to learn how to start a business, cook French cuisine, lose twenty pounds, or train my cat to stop terrorizing my bed skirts, I look for an expert. Right? Thus the NF platform, in a nutshell, is measured by how many people trust you for information and guidance.

Again, What IS a Platform?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

Right now I know a lot of you are scratching your heads (or panicking). Um, Kristen, I write paranormal. Am I supposed to be an expert in summoning demons?

No. First, because all writers know more than they want to about demons. They live in Windows 10 and Printer Possession is unusually common.

It’s why we creatives all marry or partner with ‘engineer’ personalities who seem to be able to coax possessed printers into cooperation. I no longer even try. My printer just shouts profanities at me, then uses up all the green and yellow ink so I’m rendered unable to print something in BLACK.

Squirrel…

I’ve seen many ‘experts’ answer this question, ‘What is a platform?’…badly. They’ll claim the novelist needs to blog (I agree) and become an expert in a topic (NO!).

To the first point, novelists are entertainers. Stories are RIGHT BRAIN. It makes no sense to sell a right brain product with a left-brain tool.

Blogging about writing, doing book reviews, conducting interviews is a useless time-suck. Yes, I blog about writing and social media because my audience is mostly writers. I’ve spent a decade demystifying the blog for the writer who’s solely an entertainer.

For the author who’s a pure storyteller, the blog is merely the watering hole where you can craft content appealing to your ‘tribe.’

If I write fantasy, then blogging on all things nerdy is a good idea. What are people who read fantasy interested in? CosPlay, ComicCon, Dr. Who, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. Talk about the same stuff you would with your other fantasy ‘geek’ friends.

That’s it. The platform then simply becomes the number of people who recognize your name and attach descriptors and emotional experiences to it (also known as a brand, which we discussed last time). If brand is what people know, then platform is how many people know 😉 .

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

Story Solutions

If our brand is our story (narrative) then platform is simply how many people have heard, know about, and follow our stories. How many people connect to us enough that they’d be likely to buy our books? In a world where consumers are drowning in choices, they’re gravitating more and more to people they know, like and trust.

Our goal is to gather as many of them into our virtual community as possible—platform. This way, once we DO have a book(s) for sale, other people KNOW about us and are vested in us.

Otherwise, we’ll have to pay for enough ad space to break through the din and that, my friends, is NOT cheap (and doesn’t work that great anyway).

For authors, the blog affords the most bang for the buck. First, writers write. It plays to our strengths. It trains self-discipline, which is essential for success. Blogging regularly makes us leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner writers.

We can cultivate our fan base before our first book is even finished because we’re posting merely to start a dialogue, create community, and chat about something we (and our audience) enjoys. Visitors aren’t feeling all weird that we’re only interested in trying to score a sale.

If we DO have a book for sale? It’s off in the side-bar. Followers can look…or not.

I wrote a post What Went Wrong With the Star Wars Prequels? seven years ago. People are still commenting. I get it. I am an ‘expert’ but I am also a free-range nerd. The brand is me—KRISTEN LAMB—and so I have flexibility to talk about other stuff, too. Topics I find fun. Like Star Trek, Wonder Woman, and Atomic Blonde.

Trust me. Nerds? We all feel very passionately about imaginary universes.

And like to argue about them.

A lot.

Just watch.

Loki is hotter than Thor *throws grenade and runs*

Posts that talk about what we enjoy are incredibly fun to write. It also takes pressure off us to sell, sell, sell. Engage, then go back to writing books. Our blog can be a fun place where people can join in on ENJOYABLE debates, discharge pent up psychic energy and have a good time.

Kidding! Cap is hottest *runs with glitter*

Using Time Wisely

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

No, you do not have to blog. No one is going to take you to writer jail if you don’t. Tricky thing is we still need a brand and a platform if we want to sell enough books to do this full-time.

I don’t know about y’all, but I prefer working smarter, not harder.

Yes, we can create this brand and platform on any social site, but the reason I remain steadfast in support of a blog is because of the following:

The blog is stable.

The blog has been around since the 1990s and was popular before Web 2.0 even existed. Short of the internet imploding, the blog will remain because it provides what humans have wanted since the dawn of time—information, entertainment, community.

In my opinion, the blog is an ideal way for writers to build a platform because it’s as stable as it gets on-line.

Stability is vastly important for any brand/platform, namely because we want to have control. It makes no sense to spend years building a massive following only for that entire following to one day vanish. I found this out the hard way by starting my blog on MySpace.

I lost a year of blogs and a large following (that took three years to build) when MySpace imploded almost overnight. After that experience, I vowed to never again be that vulnerable.

We control our domain.

If we build our entire platform on a social site, we are sitting ducks praying nothing will go wrong. Our author web site (blog) is very stable because we PAY for it. We own our content, our domain and possess a degree of immunity to outside shifts.

For instance, on a social site, some troll could gather all his/her troll friends and report us for nonsense just for the fun of being jerks. Our page is deleted and either we have to start over or pray whatever social site will let us have our stuff back.

Sometimes people are deleted without the social site even investigating whether the ‘complaints’ are valid or vicious harassment. It takes a lot of time, gray hair and hassle to get your stuff restored if this happens. Bad news is sometimes we lose and don’t get it back…ever. Trolls have a lot more power to do damage in places where we are not in charge.

Ugh, then Twitter. I have an author friend who recently lost SIX MILLION Twitter followers (built over the span of almost ten years) after Twitter changed their ToS. #OUCH

Don’t get me started on Goodreads.

When we are anyplace we do not control, trolls can say and do just about anything and we have no say about being abused.

Shifting trends.

Regardless how many fail-safes we put in place, it doesn’t matter. We could spend years building something HUGE….only for the social site to be sold, change the rules, change Terms of Service, or go cray-cray and finally piss off enough people that they begin to bail like rats off a sinking ship…and POOF.

GONE.

In light of Facebook’s grotesque privacy violations (the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s botched plan to access confidential medical records), accusations of censorship, ‘news curation,’ and more, the social media behemoths are hemorrhaging users.

Nothing is ever too big to fail 😉 . In fact, I have been a social media expert so long I now believe I know how Plato felt writing The Republic.

*gets cramp feeling smart*

Cycle of Social Media Rule

Timocracy (Web 1.0) where only super wealthy could afford websites or computers to even look at websites.

Oligarchy—earlier social media where only those who could afford computers/internet could join chat rooms or social sites OR (currently) social sites where we might pay a fee to participate.

***On WANATribe (a Ning I built for writers), we meet every day M-S to sprint pretty much all day. I pay $70 a month of my own money to have a virtual workspace and a drama-free zone where I play benevolent dictator 😀 . There are no ads but that is because I fork out money to keep it that way. Book spammers (all spammers) are smited—smote? smoted?—without mercy. The point is someone is willing to put up CASH for the peace and quiet.

Democracy—FREE! Everyone can join! And do whatever they WANT TO DO! Want to automate 700 identities to post on the hour everywhere? GO FOR IT! You are free to do what YOU WANT, and mob rule is the only rule!

Oh, but remember the social site is free to do what they want to do, TOO! Free! Free to harvest our private information and sell to the highest bidder!

Eventually people (on both sides) go too far with their ‘freedoms’ and those participating need some sense of order and rules so they don’t lose their minds.

Rules start creeping in and the powers that be realize they DIG that kind of power and POOF–>Tyranny. The social site goes all nutso with power. Also, on the other side, jerks/trolls use ‘the rules’ as weapons to unleash mayhem on anyone unfortunate enough to cross them.

We (regular users) rise up against the social site bullying and revolt. Start a NEW site (a republic perhaps?) which won’t have ANY of those problems.

Yep.

Still waiting on the social media philosopher-poets to rule. Not holding breath, though.

Refuse to be an ad mule. Own your SPACE.

Any outside social network trades a FREE service then monetizes US. They use us for data mining, blast us with ads, make us pay to play (open up the algorithm so more than three people see our posts), and more.

FREE is never FREE.

Some social sites are paid to blast us with ads using our data. Conversely, creatives are being blatantly and unapologetically EXPLOITED. We are the ones creating the lure for the clicks that pay REAL MONEY…while we work for free.

Refer to my earlier posts about the exposure dollar grift and how places we can blog for exposure really are companies using us as a massive unpaid labor force. We generate all their content, content which cannibalizes our own SEO and brand. Meanwhile those in power make hundreds of millions…then write books about how money isn’t important.

Either way, whether we are using a social site or creating content for a blogging site, when we do not own our domain? We’re an ad mule.

Blog Gets Bigger With Time and Love

The blog gives back what we invest. I gain new followers daily from stuff I forgot I wrote. I began blogging just because I was a slacker who needed to learn self-discipline. Now? This blog gets 1.1 million hits a month. When I take out those who are likely spammers, I am still close to 100,000 visits a month from actual people.

This isn’t because of one or five blogs. It is because of almost 1,300 blogs. A little bit over time adds up. Search engines send people to my blogs. Google has yet to send anyone to my quippy tweet from June 11, 2011.

Newsletters by and large have the same open rate as direct mail (less than 8%) and unlike a blog, a newsletter can only reach those who subscribe (provided the newsletter doesn’t end up in the spam filter). It has no ability to go viral.

The blog does.

Blogs, unlike social sites, can also be harvested for content and made into books. Sure the content is on-line and FREE, but what is our TIME worth? Don’t know about you, but if I love a blog, I will drop the five bucks for a Kindle version that is neat and edited and easy for me to navigate.

Every angle you look at it, in my opinion there is no better ROI than a blog. And I mentioned the safe and stable thing already. And you can put troll comments in trashcan where they belong. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Is What It Is

Now, I know I might have y’all feeling down (sorry), but this is just the way our world is shifting right now. I use social sites all the time. I just don’t build my platform on them. While fabulous for reaching others, they make a lousy foundation for my brand.

Too…shifty.

Social networks are great for…networking. Ideally, we can use them to encourage others to visit our site and LOVE it enough to hang out. Our website is OURS. We can monetize it, instead of IT monetizing US. The power dynamic shifts. We can add in merchandise, a shopping cart, or get large enough we might court advertisers to pay us.

Our hard work builds OUR SEO, not some mega-brand who expects us to work for free. If we’re going to work our tails off, then it might as well be for OUR benefit, right? This means we can hop on Pinterest or Facebook or InstaSnapPlus and meet and greet…but the party is ALWAYS at OUR place 😉 .

Then, once the book comes out, it’s far less invasive and weird to mention it. Like if you want to learn about social media, check out Rise of the Machines. Feeling bold? You can try my FICTION—The Devil’s Dance— a mystery thriller with even more inappropriate gallows humor and even higher body count than my BLOG!

AMAZING, I KNOW!

I can even mention classes, like my ON DEMAND Blogging for Authors.

Or the other classes (scroll down).

I dunno. Maybe you want to give it a try blogging or writing a novel and don’t want my ten-year learning curve 😀 . I know we writers are masochists but come on. There’s a limit.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

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 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

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I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

March’s winner will be announced next post. I know I said this post but have STILL been sick and am a writer so I lie 😛 . Very sorry, but I will make sure I announce it. Been a rough few weeks.

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

Editing is essential for crafting a superlative story. We clip away the excess, delete the superfluous and prune away the detritus to reveal the art. Yet, editing is something we’re wise to handle with care.

While lack of ANY editing is a major problem today, editing too much, too soon is just as big of a problem. Perhaps an even a bigger one.

For clarity, not all ‘editing’ is the same.

Today, we aren’t discussing proofreading and line-edit. Correcting punctuation, spelling, and grammar is perfectly fine. Moving some commas around is unlikely to endanger story integrity. We’re addressing the perils of premature content edit/developmental edit.

If we think about this for a moment, what I’m saying should make sense. If a work is only partially finished, there’s no way we can truly know what to cut and what to keep. We don’t yet have enough content/context necessary for clarity.

Editing too early is detrimental in a variety of ways.

Early Editing Uproots Subconscious Seeds

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Our subconscious mind is an amazing machine. Stephen King referred to the subconscious as ‘the boys in the basement.’ The prudent author allows those ‘boys in the basement’ to do their thing.

The best way to help? Stop interfering. The subconscious mind can see the big picture in ways our conscious mind cannot.

Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious is always working. Busy, busy, busy. It’s fitting all the pieces together in ways we’d have a tough time consciously doing.

King has his analogy, and I have mine. I think in terms of planting and cultivating a garden.

We have a story idea (overall image of the ‘garden’ we want). Then we might write out a log-line, major plot points or detailed outline (a plan). Overall, we’re at least generally aware of the story we want to create.

As we write, our subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will frequently seem to make no sense. The idea needs time to put down roots and grow large enough for the conscious mind to accurately discern whether it’s something to keep or something to cull.

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Also a garden generally is not a singular plant. A garden is comprised of many plants of various types, colors, heights, widths, etc. Until our garden reaches a point where we can get a view of the creation as a whole we’re wasting time. Pruning, moving, replacing is wasted time and energy because we’re working blind.

Maybe that hyacinth needs to be moved because it’s too tall OR maybe we need to chill out and wait for the peonies planted nearby to come in.

Once all we’ve planted grows and blooms, THEN we have a way better idea of what plant needs to be moved, which should be filled in more (add in more coleus), and what’s a WEED that needs to GO.

Story as a Garden

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

I love to garden. In the fall, I decided to start over after a blight ravaged everything I’d cultivated for six years. I removed all the plants, and prepped for spring. After widening the stones (since I wanted a larger garden) I filled the area with at least a couple thousand pounds of clean soil topped with mulch.

Since I had yet to plant anything intentionally, anything that popped up over fall and winter clearly was a weed.

GONE!

This all changed once I began planting. I had an idea of what I wanted: a beautiful garden bursting with blooms known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Once I had the idea, I planted the bulbs and spread the seeds. Yet, if I ever hope to have my dream garden, it’s critical for me to resist the impulse to pull anything green and sprouting because it ‘might’ be a weed.

Until whatever seedling poking through the mulch grows to a certain point, I have no way to discern flower from weed.

Same with story. We don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to germinate and take root in the fertile soil of our overall idea.

By editing too early, we can possibly uproot some mind-blowing twist or turn. We might remove the wrong character or delete a scene that should have stayed.

Y’all might find this hard to believe, but it actually is possible to edit all the life/magic out of a story.

Early Editing Feeds Fear

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

All writers experience fear. Many of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome. We’re prone to believe unless we are a New York Times best-selling author we are a fraud. If we don’t have twenty books under our belt or an HBO mini-series based off our stories, we aren’t real authors.

The problem is that we’ll never have ANY of this if we consistently fail to finish. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. No half-finished novel has ever become a runaway success.

A story doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ to be a hit. In fact, plenty of decent and even some outright dreadful novels have skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

Stories (like all art) are subjective. It’s impossible to craft a story everyone will love. There are way more than fifty shades of reader preferences.

Fear can paralyze productivity and halt professional growth. You know what? Maybe our novel is awful, but that isn’t necessarily because we lack talent.

We might simply be NEW. How many of you can pick up an unfamiliar instrument and are immediately ready to play on stage for money?

Storytelling is an artisan skill that takes years of training and practice. We get better by doing, by failing, then understanding what went wrong where and why. Then, armed with this new insight we write another story, and a better story.

Poisonous Perfection

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Editing is a common coping mechanism used to allay anxiety. Maybe we fear we really aren’t any good. We really are talentless hacks. Our book is terrible. Why are we even doing this? A brain-damaged hamster has more talent. On and on.

Thing is, perhaps all of this is true. We won’t know until we submit a finished product for peer review (and even then nothing is set in stone).

Yet, if we keep editing and reworking, this buys us time. We want to know if our writing is any good, but also can’t bear to think it might be truly awful. So long as we remain in literary limbo, we can hold onto our illusions.

My book is as good as (insert mega author), even better! I just have to tweak a few scenes before querying…

I want all of you who’ve even started writing a novel to embrace what a HUGE step that is. The world is brimming with people who spout nonsense like, ‘Yeah I always wanted to write a book, except I never could find the time.’

In their minds the ONLY reason they aren’t the next George R.R. Martin is a lack of time-management skills. We all know this is bunk. And yet? We have to be really careful we aren’t doing the same thing.

Getting past the hard part—starting—is a fantastic step. Now finish. Pros don’t find time, we make time.

Early Editing KILLS Momentum

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If we continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or our own self-edit, what happens is that we KILL our forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete.

We can prune or progress.

Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

Beginnings are not something I recommend spending too much time ‘perfecting.’ The big reason is that very often beginnings will change. Once we write the entire story and actually possess the BIG PICTURE, only then can we judge the merit of any opening.

We may have started too soon, too late, with the wrong hook, etc. Yet, if we spend weeks or months futzing with the opening, we get far too attached.

This means it’s all the harder to let it go because it’s a Little Darling. I’ve seen writers crater excellent plots because they refused to part with the opening they love. They would rather retrofit the rest of the novel than cut or change the beginning.

Great, now we have a super pretty opening…but the rest of the story is ‘meh’ because it’s all been redneck engineered to serve the first chapter(s) instead of the overall story.

An Editing Process I Recommend

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There is no ‘right’ way when it comes to process. All I can do is possibly share one to try. If you have a way that works? Fabulous. But, if you have a hard-drive bursting with unfinished stories, maybe try something new.

When I write a book (fiction or non-fiction) I leave any kind of content edit for after I’ve finished the entire first draft. FYI: Any time I ignore my own advice and don’t do this? It’s a disaster.

Now, is it okay to reread what we’ve written the previous day (session) in order to get grounded? Absolutely! It’s also perfectly fine to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

But, if the correction has anything to do with the STORY (narrative, dialogue, setting, etc.), instead of deleting and/or ‘fixing,’ try this. Make notes of what places you believe at the time should be fixed, deleted, changed or even expounded.

NO changing or deleting. Period. Feel free to highlight and…

Make Notes then Move ON

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My advice is—instead of changing/correcting, etc.—to make a note that you believe something should be taken out/added/changed at a later time, but leave it be. I also recommend making notes in color. Red, purple, blue.

This technique is valuable in other ways. For instance, it helps maintain momentum when we hit places in the WIP where we need to fact check or research. I’ve been coauthoring a Western and am new to writing historical.

Trust me, it’s easy to lose a whole day on the Internet researching. Instead of stopping, I might write the scene with the people and in another color, make a note, ‘Research first class trains in 1870s.’

This allows me to keep writing instead of wandering off and making myself an expert in 19th century American rail travel.

Another way this method helps is if you’re writing and find yourself STUCK. If you have a log-line and a solid plot idea that’s fantastic. Yet, there will be times when we can’t seem to fit the pieces together…so skip ahead.

When I hit a wall, I might write ‘AND THEN ROMI DOES SOMETHING COOL AND FINDS A CLUE’ and pick up at the next logical place. In the meantime, my subconscious will be working on my problem even while I sleep.

Often the ‘answers’ my subconscious comes up with are WAY better than anything I could have planned. This also makes for some psychedelic dreams 😉 .

This approach also keeps me from fixating and giving my brain vapor lock trying to figure it out. The longer we pause and stay in one place the harder it will be to finish. I am not judging. Literally one finger pointed at y’all and three at me.

In the End

Don’t look back, or you’ll turn into a pillar or unfinished novels 😛 . Once you’ve made it through the first draft…THEN go make the core changes to your story if/as needed.

You may be surprised.

Something you believed HAD to be changed six weeks previously might actually have morphed into the coolest part of your story. Or maybe it was perfectly fine and can be left alone. When you go back to those notes, odds are you’ll feel differently about what needs changing and even why and HOW it needs changing 😉 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

Are you addicted to over-editing? Do you keep reworking and reworking and seem to always get stuck? Are you a perfectionist too? Afraid of failure? Or maybe afraid of success? Me? Yes to all of the above. I am a work in progress, too.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve….

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 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Also, REMEMBER my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is THIS WEEK and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. Join me March 29th (7-9 EST). Recordings are always included FREE if you can’t make it and also for you to be able to review.

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).

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Genre is a word that makes a lot of new writers cringe. Many (mistakenly) believe any kind of boundaries will somehow impair or restrict creativity and crater imagination. This is why so many emerging authors (myself included) avoid learning about structure or how to plot until forced to…at gunpoint.

Fine! Yes, I’m being melodramatic, but close enough to the truth.

It’s easy to understand why we want to skip all that boring stuff. We’re eager to write, to create, to unleash the muse! Yet, in our haste, we can lose sight of what we stand to gain by truly understanding the fundamentals and respecting boundaries.

For any author who wants to eventually sell enough books to make writing a full-time occupation, genre is one of our greatest allies.

Genre Dictates Location

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Location, location, location. Yes, I remember being a neophyte, breaking out in hives when anyone mentioned I needed to choose a genre *shivers*. My book wasn’t a genre, it was all genres. It was a novel everyone would love. I didn’t need something as prosaic as…genre.

Yes, I was a clueless @$$hat so y’all can already feel better about yourselves. When we’re new, obviously we don’t understand the intricacies of the publishing profession. Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEW.

***By the way, it is okay to be new. We all begin somewhere. Stephen King didn’t one day hatch as a mega-author.

Before we even get to how genre impacts story, we must remember publishing is a business. Many of you long to submit to an agent in hopes of a sweet contract with the Big Five. Great! You yearn to see your books on a shelf in a bookstore. Wonderful! Me too. *fist bump*

So where would the bookstore shelve your novel?

This is a critical question all writers must be able to answer. Ideally, we need to know our genre before we ever begin writing the novel, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment. But first…

Genre Lands Book Deals

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Meh…there are better ways.

If we want to publish traditionally (legacy) the first step—beyond finishing the book, obviously—is landing an agent. Writers who take the business seriously research agents ahead of time because this is a partnership.

We don’t want just any agent, we want the right agent. Conversely, agents aren’t looking for any book, they’re on the hunt for books they can sell.

Most agents have a list of the sort of books they’re in the market to represent (which genre). Thus, if an agent’s bio states she’s looking for Young Adult and New Adult novels, we’re wasting her time and ours by querying our Middle Grade series. By doing a bit of research, we can locate agents who’ll be the ideal fit.

Agents create these wish lists for a reason. They know publishers all have wish lists, too. The agent’s job is to pay attention to those wish lists and hustle to deliver the goods. Their goal is to sell our book to a publisher and negotiate the sweetest deal possible for us (the author), because this benefits them, too.

Agents pay attention to the publishers’ shopping lists. If the publishers are no longer wanting Dystopian YA novels, the agent then knows that trying to sell the next Hunger Games is a fruitless endeavor.

Even if our book IS the next Hunger Games, agents won’t rep it because they already know they’re highly unlikely to sell it.

Genre Sells Books

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Now, traditional publishers might reject a certain genre for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book. Maybe they’ve already filled the X amount of slots reserved for a Dystopian YA. They don’t want to oversaturate the market. Perhaps Dystopian YA is not selling like it used to because Steampunk YA is picking up steam *bada bump snare*.

Thus, if you have an amazing Dystopian YA, you can go indie (if they’re open to representing it) or self-publish. Genre is still incredibly important because when we list our book for sale on-line, again, we have to tell Amazon (and other on-line distributors) where our story belongs.

Major publishers do, too.

Genre will directly impact metadata and will serve as a guide for keyword loading within the product description. Genre and the associated keywords will also influence which books are listed alongside ours (or vice versa). When we look up Gone Girl, we see…

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

This is how on-line retailers help readers find books they’re likely to enjoy more easily.

Genre Draws Fans

This is one of the reasons we really don’t want to write a novel totally unlike ANY other. The story never before told is a unicorn, first of all. It doesn’t exist.

Also, a novel that can’t be fit into any genre is unlikely to draw fans. Whether readers are browsing a bookstore or browsing on-line, they generally know what sort of books interest them and head that direction.

If they’ve just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and they’ve read all of Flynn’s other books and want to read more books LIKE hers, genre is the flashing arrow pointing readers to similar novels (and authors).

This is a fantastic way for authors who aren’t yet household names to be discovered. Fans of the genre can then evolve into fans of that author.

Because readers can discover our work on a shelf or on-line, our odds of selling more books vastly improves.

This isn’t rocket science. People are unlikely to buy something they a) don’t even know exists or b) can’t find.

Genre Builds Brands

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

As Cait mentioned in her post on best practices for publishing success, genre focus is a major factor in becoming a successful author. When we focus on a specific genre we build an author brand and cultivate a devoted fan base far faster.

A qualifier here, though. Just because we write a Psychological Thriller doesn’t mean we must only write Psychological Thrillers forever and ever. Often genres have ‘kissing cousins’ and, so long as we remain within that general genre region, it’s all good. Suspense, Mystery, Thriller, Sleuth, are close enough to count.

Once we’ve published enough books, built a solid brand and cultivated a large devoted fan following, then we gain more freedom to try something new.

Genre Helps Plotting

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When we choose any genre, there are certain reader expectations. Once we know what’s expected, we can then deliver what readers want. We also have a better idea how to plot. If we don’t understand how/why a thriller is different than a suspense, that’s a problem.

Let’s use these ‘kissing cousin’ genres as an example…

A thriller has large (global) stakes on the line. In the beginning a bad thing happens and it is a race against time to stop the MASSIVE bad thing by the end.

For instance, Lee Child’s debut novel Killing Floor is about a former MP-turned-drifter thrust by fate into a problem with global consequences. Reacher’s goal is to stop bad guys’ plan to inundate the market with counterfeit bills (which would destabilize the U.S. economy).

A suspense has more intimate stakes. In Thomas Harris’ book The Silence of the Lambs, the goal is to find and stop Buffalo Bill from murdering Size 12 women for his ‘woman suit.’ Ideally, Agent Starling will stop Buffalo Bill before the latest victim (a senator’s daughter) is killed. The stakes, however, are not global.

The F.B.I.’s image is at risk, Starling’s career is on the line, the latest victim’s life is in jeopardy, but overall?

Skinny girls are totally safe.

When we understand the dictates of a genre, we can plot better and also know what we’re selling (to agents, publishers, and readers).

Genre and Structure

Since this week is my birthday and the week I am re-launching my novel, The Devil’s Dance I’m going to indulge 😀 .

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My precious…

I’ve been blogging for a while about structure, and we’ll deep dive the different types of structure and how to use them and why and when more in another post. All have pros and cons.

Some structures are better suited for certain genres. When we know what genre we are writing, then selecting the perfect framework becomes easier.

The most well-known and widely read is the traditional three-act Aristotelian structure. This story structure works as well today as it did a couple thousand years ago. My debut novel is a mystery-suspense and I used traditional three-act structure and ALL THE COLORS!

Why THAT Structure?

I chose this straight-forward structure because, for me, it was the best scaffolding for the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to craft a story that blended the humor of a Janet Evanovich with the gritty edge of a Dennis Lehane. I’d always joke that my book was Legally Blonde meets Killing Floor. Since I was already being ‘creative’ with the KIND of story I was telling, I felt it best to not also try to be creative with structure as well.

***No novel quadruple axel for me, thanks.

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

I wrote The Devil’s Dance purely to entertain. The sort of novel one might inhale on vacation, or when stuck in an airport. Fun, gritty, straightforward and a very fast read. Since I wanted it to be a quick read, linear structure was ideal.

Yet, maybe we want to offer the reader a challenge beyond what straightforward linear structure can offer. This is when we might select a non-linear structure. A fantastic example of this is Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, which is also a mystery-suspense.

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Granted there are at least nine POVs and shifts in time ranging from the 17th century all the way to the 21st. The time shifts and different POVs delivered red-herrings galore. For mystery fans who want a challenge?

This book definitely is a brain-bender.

Keep in mind, though, that the downside to non-linear structure is readers can easily become confused, bored or lost. Good thing Paula Hawkins is a master storyteller, just sayin’. I’m on my third pass through to catch what I missed.

In the End

Genre is incredibly helpful in a vast number of ways. We can know and meet (then exceed or challenge) reader expectations. Since we know what fans want, we can serve them something they want or even something they never KNEW they wanted (I.e. Harry Potter). Knowing the story we long to tell helps us plot faster, since the objectives are clearer.

Once our story is complete, we know how to query our novel and to whom. Also, when the book is finally published, genre helps readers find our books!

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft, and next time we’ll resume talking abut structure. Those new to my blog, I hope you’ll check out this series. Look to the column over there–>

Need More Help? I Live to Serve….

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 😀 .

I’m offering The Art of Character (March 22nd 7-9 EST). More advanced material, and lots of FUN! Just because we’re tackling advanced material, doesn’t mean we can’t make it a party. As always, recording is included with all classes FREE of charge 😉 .

Also, my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is a great follow up, and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. It’s being held March 29th (7-9 EST).

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).

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats

Setting is an extremely powerful tool that can hook readers into a world they never want to leave. Oddly, too many writers fail to appreciate just how powerful settings can be. Details make the difference between the mediocre and the magnificent. Settings, written properly, can come alive and transition from boring backdrop to becoming an actual character (I.e. Hogwart’s).

Setting should be more than a weather report or a simple description of a room. When we harness the power of settings, we add in nuance and layers, give characters far more dimension, and deepen the emotional timbre of voice.

Today, we have a special treat. Award-winning author, Christina Delay (who’s represented by The Knight Agency) is here to give us tips to elevate the meh to the magical.

Take it away, Christina!

The Power of Settings

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats

You know that feeling when you read a masterful piece of writing and your entire world fades away? It’s as if you feel this inaudible click as those words shape themselves into a key that unlocks a place inside you?

Wanna write a scene like that? (Of course you do, so keep reading!)

Most unforgettable scenes have one central element that the author focuses on. It can be the emotion conveyed in the scene, a character revelation, an action-packed fight, or quick-witted dialogue, but every one of these elements has a central device that must be included.

Setting.

Without setting as the backdrop to each of these integral story elements, they simply cannot carry the power. It’d be like watching a film before it was edited, and you realize that the roaring dragon is really a stick with two legs and some wires propped in front of a green screen.

Setting carries your story.

So why pick boring, beige places to set scenes? Which would you prefer? Hanging out in a dentist’s office for 12-15 hours or wandering around The Shire for 12-15 hours?

Readers are the same.

Tips for Writing Unforgettable Settings

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Focus on Details

For scenes that need to pack a punch, delve into the details. Much like visiting a new place for the first time, in those scenes we need to have time to look around and soak it all in. We need to adjust our scope so that we take a close-up view of a few details.

But make these details specific.

Which moments or parts of the setting mean something to your character? And why? These are the moments we can reveal a little piece of backstory about our character, or allow a piece of the setting to lead them to a revelation.

Take this example from Tana French’s The Likeness and pay close attention to what she does with the details:

But children are pragmatic, they come alive and kicking out of a whole lot worse than orphanhood, and I could only hold out so long against the fact that nothing would bring my parents back and against the thousand vivid things around me, Emma-next-door hanging over the wall and my new bike glinting red in the sunshine and the half-wild kittens in the garden shed, all fidgeting insistently while they waited for me to wake up again and come out to play. I found out early that you can throw yourself away, missing what you’ve lost.

Share Setting Secrets

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats

Even if we’re writing a scene in Nowhereville in the middle of the desert where there’s nothing to meet the eye, work to find the secret of that locale to make it come alive. If we can’t find or create that secret, then that’s a setting best forgotten (changed) because it won’t resonate with readers.

In my personal travels and my travels with Cruising Writers, I always look for the secrets that only a person who had been there before would know.

For example, our Cruising Writers retreat to France in 2017 opened my eyes to a whole new level of setting. From the ruby red of poppies brushing against the bare vines of a French vineyard to the muted sound of church bells, muffled by wisps of fog, to the ruins of castles and tower lookouts speckling the rolling hills of vineyards.

After visiting France, you might bring in the dust from the unpaved roads or the narrow streets that American cars could never fit on, the paint on the edges of 500-year old buildings that have been scraped off of cars clipping their corners.

Maybe you’ll bring in the dog with sanitation issues that leaves a trail all around the French farmer’s market.

In every overarching setting you select for your book, find the secrets that only you know that will also bring to life the world for your readers.

Remember the Power of Lighting

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats

Have you ever noticed that sunlight looks different depending on where you are? Warm oranges and soft yellows weave between the trees during sunset on the West Coast. Sunset on a Caribbean cruise is neon and full of glamour. Think about what else comes with light and strive to thread those elements throughout your writing.

The feel of the summer sun on your skin after you’ve climbed out of freezing cold water, how your skin prickles when you pause in front of that diamond of light pouring in from a window in the middle of winter. The way the light can appear ominous or heavenly when set against a storm.

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreatsBeyond Google Earth

When you hear the writing advice, ‘Write what you know,’ I believe that applies to setting as well as theme. I’ve lived in Houston, Texas most of my life. This means I can write the details of living in Houston better than someone who lives in California, because I understand the nuances of my city.

Likewise, I can write the setting details and secrets of a cruise ship much better than someone who has never been on a cruise, but less well than crew member who lives on the ship. Google would only get me so far in doing research on a location. The best way to really get the details right is to visit the place in which we’re setting our story.

Write Settings That WOW!!!

Boring, dull, or filler settings? Who has time for that? There are so many books out there, so many titles to choose from, and readers want to be wowed. Settings can separate the so-so stories from the so-long and NEXT!

Setting is one of the most memorable parts of any great story, and as storytellers we need to give it the weight it deserves. Follow these tips, focus on the details, the secrets, and the firsthand experience, and elevate your writing to an entirely new level.

Do you agree that setting is one of the most important story elements? What are some of your tricks for writing unforgettable settings?

Thanks Christina!

As y’all can see from her bio (below), Christina is hostess of the Cruising Writers and this year I’m one of the SPEAKERS *evil laugh*. So if you have long dreamed of being trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean with me…

What? The Stockholm’s sets in quickly 😛 . Perhaps wrong approach. Trying again.

If you’ve been promising yourself a retreat, why not make it a paradise getaway? Think of the fun. Learn about craft, sun, experiences and HELLOOOOO! Agents and editors are reportedly lousy swimmers—*wink, wink, nod, nod*—so they have to talk to us 😀  #GeniusIDEA .

Seven DAYS of mischief and mayhe..um, becoming better writers. What other trip can you take where you leave with a great tan, loads of amazing memories, and maybe even a book deal?

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats


About Christina

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she’s not cruising the Caribbean, she’s dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or writing the stories of the imaginary people that live in her heart.

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world.

Cruise with us to Grand Cayman this October with Kristen Lamb (Bestselling Author and Marketing Jedi), Rachel Caine (Bestselling Author of 50+ books), Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency), and Alex Sehulster (St. Martin’s Press).

How to Write Unforgettable Settings Readers Never Want to Leave, settings, writing settings, tips for writing settings, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, The Knight Literary Agency, Diedre Knight, Margie Lawson, Christina Delay, Cruising Writers, Cruising Writers Retreats, writing retreats

Or get ready to Dive Deep and join us on a 7-day Immersion Cruise with Margie Lawson this December to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel!