Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: antagonist

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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’?

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

Resonance is Critical

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

This stuff we get.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

That ingredient is conflict. Conflict is story.

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

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

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

Confusion with Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Situations are NOT Conflict

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

Kristen’s riffed example:

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

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

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

For that? Add in *drum roll* MOM.

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

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

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

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

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

No their goals simply conflict.

Conflict is NOT Inherently BAD

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

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

It is still, however, CONFLICT.

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

Yet…

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

This is why other characters with conflicting agendas are GOLD.

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

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

Why the Confusion?

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

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

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

Do We NEED a Villain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Faces of NOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Your Thoughts?

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

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

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

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

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

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

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

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

Topics include:

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

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

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

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

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

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

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! Though, at this point, it’s more of a sublet than anything. I was planning on writing something snarky and funny today, but I woke up with the first sentence of this blog screaming in my head. Clearly, someone forgot to give my muse her decaf.

Naturally, though, we begin with the obligatory Denny Basenji picture.

Dear Leader is pensive this morning.

Please don’t worry that I am about to abandon the magnificent and wonderful tradition of this blog in staying the f*ck away from politics, etc. However, I found that the recent ugliness that claimed the life of an innocent woman raised a truly poignant, pertinent question for writers:

How do we as writers properly use ugly things?

Sure, a lot of us stay away from these topics or avoid writing in the genres that might land us in cultural minefields. But, we all reach a moment when our fingers pause over the keyboard as we wonder if we really should use that word, or describe a character with a particular label, or hint at a certain belief. It’s universal and unavoidable, really. Because when we are telling stories that mean something to us, that meaning is by nature complex and reflective of the entire spectrum from white to grey to black.

What are your intentions toward my novel, young man?

Writers are sneaky. We like to explore our vulnerabilities, controversial or dark thoughts, and unpopular opinions using the cloak-and-dagger of “plot” and “characters” and especially “the antagonist.”

This is absolutely the right thing to do. Our ability to slip in and out of disguise, to inhabit other lives and other worlds, is the Promethean gift to writers. Actors are similar to us, except they do it in a way that is physical and immediate. Whereas, we writers sip our tea, smile a little, and ponder if gutting the host with a cheese knife would leave enough forensic evidence for the pathologist to know that we were served camembert instead of brie.

This is all well and good.

Things become sticky when we fail to be honest with ourselves about our motivations. The ability to “shape shift” into our fiction comes with an equal measure of responsibility. We need to look at what we are saying and why we are saying it. Not just the general theme or message. We have to ask the hard questions of ourselves:

  • How did we get to this point in our lives where we need to write about this theme?
  • Could my message be seen from a different viewpoint? Can I accept that? Why or why not?
  • What does this message say about me as a person and what I believe and value?
  • Am I doing this to work off a grudge? Against whom or what? Why or why not?
  • Am I doing this so I can say things I am not normally allowed to say in society? Why or why not?

Notice that little phrase I keep using? “Why or why not?”

We can’t just stop at the first level of answers we give ourselves. If we are going to be authentic, honest, and meaningful, we must push ourselves to look unflinchingly at the truth – good, bad, ugly, and bad hair day – of who we truly are.

It is only when we are truthful about our own motivations that we can be meaningful…and careful when we handle ugly things.

You have the right to remain silent.

Writing difficult, ugly, and controversial things is a privilege, not a right. I mean, technically, yes, we have the First Amendment on our side. But, the moment we write something carelessly or thoughtlessly, we forfeit our alibi with our readers…and ourselves.

This is not about political correctness, identity politics, or anything like that. Those are incendiary labels that get shot back and forth in society like flaming tennis balls at the Wimbledon from hell.

This is about being honest with ourselves and doing the work to think through not just why we are writing something, but also tapping into our empathy to see if we are carelessly or thoughtlessly saying something that is needlessly hurtful to others.

That’s not to say that as writers, we can’t use stereotypes, prejudices, etc. We absolutely can – and often should. The difference is in our motivation and the care with which we do so.

Please note the second half of that sentence: the care with which we do so.

Because if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, thoughtful writing craft is the GPS of salvation. 

Handling ugly things requires the care and skill of a Ming dynasty vase collection curator. When we we use an ugly thing, we need to slow down, maybe even come to a full stop. This is a moment for analyzing what we are about to say, why we are saying it, which character/POV is saying it, why we chose that character/POV, what are that character’s motives and beliefs, and is this truly necessary to the story at that moment?

Ugly things are powerful. Ugly things evoke a visceral reaction in a reader that few other aspects of fiction can do. Ugly things can bring up ugly memories, traumas, deep fears, blistering rage, and gut-wrenching sorrow. Ugly things can turn the reader’s world upside down or make them face a world they had been hiding from.

This would be a moment to insert that old chestnut about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Sure, we as writers may not be making the kind of bank that a hedge fund manager or anesthesiologist makes, but we have the ability to haunt someone’s waking moments for weeks – if not months – after reading our words. That, my friends, is absolute power.

If we cannot or are unwilling to do the work to use our power responsibly and respectfully, then perhaps we should remain silent…

Speech therapy.

I have been toying with the idea of offering a class on this subject. I’d want it to be something where we really get into the weeds of how/when/not to use specific words, stereotypes, etc. However, it’s all too easy for a class like that to degenerate into a session of everyone complaining about the wrongs done to them as a person or as a writer. I include myself in this worry because this topic is a slippery slope. No, wait, it’s a glass slope covered in ice, with a layer of oil poured on top, and paved with banana skins for good measure.

Still, I think it might be something worth trying out. If you’d like to be part of this experiment, leave a comment and let me know!

***

For the month of AUGUST, 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).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

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If you’ve been writing any amount of time you have been there—THE SUCK. This is where no matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to move your story forward.

Though “normal” people might laugh at the above meme? Writers know that quicksand is freaking everywhere. You think you’re on firm footing and then down you go and the more you struggle, the worse it gets.

From personal experience combined with my experience with hundreds of writers the process can look like this.

Shiny Idea Time—You get the coolest idea ever conceived of and cannot believe such genius has never before been put to the page. It’s as if angels have come down and handed you a golden feather that will whisk you to the realms of literary nirvana.

First 20K Words—You’re flying high. You wonder why you ever had such difficulty with word count before. You cannot stop the flow. Perhaps you forget to eat, don’t want to sleep and you even dream of the world you’re creating.

20K-30K—This is when the pace begins to slow. It’s okay though. Perhaps you’re simply tired. It’s okay. This…THIS is the story idea you’ve been waiting for.

31K—Your pace slows dramatically. If you’ve ever been driving and suddenly had a flat tire? You know the feeling only this is in the brain-fingetips connection. There is a THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP…and your mental steering wheel jerks wildly. You might try to ignore, but eventually? You pull over to see what’s wrong.

But then? Nothing seems wrong. That’s weird. Mental tires all look properly aired. Maybe more caffeine is in order.

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Perhaps you make it to 40K but by then? All the glitter is gone and you wonder what the hell happened. At this point, you likely will be visited by other story ideas. They see you on the side of the creative highway bewildered and seeming to need a ride. Though you don’t yet have your thumb out, these other newer and shinier ideas are quick to pull over and chirp, “Hop in!”

Just abandon that old clunker and GO!

It’s all so tempting. Especially since the longer you stay trying to fix your broken down WIP, the more shiny ideas come passing by. When you started your journey, the road was free and clear for you to floor your brain and write like the wind! Now? You can barely concentrate on where you placed your mental jack because temptation whizzes by every other minute.

I think this is a fairly accurate prediction regarding word count. If it weren’t then NaNoWriMo would be a cinch. But, alas, there is something about making it to 50K. It’s a number that leaves most who attempt such a feat broken down wondering what went wrong.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Before you call a tow truck for the WIP and sell it for parts, I’d like to offer you some insight and maybe even some solutions to get you speeding down the Imagination Express once more.

Problem #1—The Antagonist is Weak or Nonexistent

This is one of the reasons I love teaching my Bullies and Baddies class (and yes we have one coming up SOON). After years of working with writers, it became clear to me that many didn’t understand—truly understand—the antagonist. It doesn’t help that a lot of the teaching on the subject can be terribly confusing.

I’ve heard classes where instructors used the term “antagonist” and “villain” interchangeably, but that is grossly inaccurate.

A villain is only ONE TYPE of antagonist.

All stories must have a strong core antagonist, because the antagonist is responsible for the story problem.

No antagonist, no story problem in need of solving. Too often, new writers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the hero and don’t give near enough thought to the opposition.

Problem #2—Plot Weak or Nonexistent

If a writer has failed to understand the antagonist (opposition) and truly know what this opposing force wants then the plot will simply disintegrate. When we’re crafting any work, we have to create a problem that is strong enough to bear the weight of the word count.

For instance, I’ve consulted many writers who had an excellent idea…for a short story. The problem was inherently too weak to sustain the bulk of a full-length novel.

Instead of plowing forward, often we can make some really simple adjustments to buttress that core idea. But if we don’t? It’s like trying to drive 90 pulling a crappy trailer. The wheels eventually WILL go flying off.

Often when we’re stuck, it’s the subconscious mind hitting the breaks. It’s trying to tell us our plot needs to be more robust or even clarified, which dovetails into my next point…

Problem #3—Too Many Ideas Crammed into One Book

Some writers might not have enough heft to the plot and others? Perhaps you’re loading on far too much. It’s not uncommon for me to talk to writers who are jammed up in a bad way only to find out they are trying to develop five ideas in one book.

Since the author failed to articulate what the book was about in ONE sentence (truly understand the antagonist’s agenda), then the author was at liberty to explore whatever cool rabbit trail presented itself.

This isn’t particularly bad, but it does require we STOP, get focused and maybe tease out those other ideas for subsequent books. You might think you only have one book, when you have two others freeloading and bogging down your momentum.

Problem #4—Wrong Protagonist

Casting the wrong protagonist is really easy to do, especially if we failed to properly develop the antagonist. Remember at the core of most great stories is an antagonist who’s essentially the shadow self of the protagonist.

For instance, in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney. He represents drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and gang members. He has grown jaded with the justice system and prides himself on his ability to manipulate.

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His greatest fear is representing a truly innocent man. What is the perfect story problem for such a character? Present him with an irresistible case that tosses him into what he fears the most.

Representing a truly innocent man.

This means that Connelly had to create a crime (case) where the client would undoubtedly look guilty and who would have enough cash to make Haller question any misgivings about taking on the case. Without a case where an innocent man is involved? The Lincoln Lawyer falls apart at the seams.

If Connelly had cast a lawyer who was all about truth, justice and the American Way? The plot would have been meh.

An attorney who works pro bono searching for truth is expected to risk everything to save the life of an innocent man. This would have been the wrong protagonist to cast for such a plot.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance and Connelly, being a master, cast the one guy who probably would have run screaming from this case had he know was he was in for.

If your story seems to be sagging, check and make sure you’ve slated the right person for the job. Sometimes some quick fixes to who this character is or even giving that character some additional baggage might be enough to get you unstuck.

Problem #5—You Are Just Over Thinking

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STOP IT! This is the one I am most guilty of. It’s why I am a HUGE fan of fast-drafting because then we simply don’t have time to over think every step we’ve made.

All writers have two different phases:

Oh, wow! I wrote that!

Oh. Wow…I wrote that.

We all think we are geniuses…only to later read the exact same section and become convinced we are little more than brain-damaged chimpanzees banging away on a keyboard. It happens, especially when we are in the thick of the story. It is tempting to go back and perfect, but resist the urge to go BACK. Feel free to correct typos or make notes (in a different color) but do not change your writing.

Your subconscious could be planting seeds and what looks like a weed might just be the greatest plot-twist EVER germinating. Just leave it alone and stop being so hard on yourself.

Remember, no unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have 😉 .

Truthfully, if you finish and just cut yourself a break you will likely go back to those parts you were going to chop and see they aren’t nearly as bad as you’d imagined. Remember that while your subconscious is there to help you? Your ego is a selfish passive-aggressive diva who can’t stand that something might be prettier than she is.

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You really want to be hard on yourself? Fine, just do it in the correct places. Instead of nitpicking the life out of your prose? Get your @$$ in the seat and keep pressing. And just so y’all know? While I have one finger pointed at you, three are pointing back at me.

Before we go…

I have three classes to help you out with all of this. W.A.N.A. classes are all easy to use from home. All you need is an internet connection and pants are totally optional. Recordings are included in case you miss or you just want to refresh the information.

If your antagonist is weak and you need help learning to plot? Bullies and Baddies. If your story idea is jumbled, confusing or unformed? Your Story in a Sentence. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can almost always tell what is wrong (or right) with a plot by the log-line. The first ten signups are guaranteed to have their log-line shredded and fixed in class and for FREE.

Worried about the strength of your actual writing? Are you starting your story in the correct place? Take my First Five Pages class. Right now I am offering double pages for all Gold and Platinum signups (and I have only done this once before and that was almost a year ago). Friends, family and critique groups can only offer so much. So if you want a set of ruthless eyes on your work? I am here to help!

What are your thoughts? Do you nitpick your work to death? Is your computer filled with stories that started out golden then fell flat? Do you struggle with being able to just FINISH? Have you thought you might have cast the wrong protagonist? Are you stuck?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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.

April’s WINNER of my pages contest is:

C.E. Robinson! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (double-spaced, New Times Roman, one-inch margins) to kristen at wanaintl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS! *throws confetti*

ONE MORE CLASS!!! 

May 16th I am holding When Your Name Alone Can Sell—Author Branding. We can have the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows it exists? Yeah. These days discoverability is a NIGHTMARE, but I am here to help you learn how to get your work seen…so it can then be loved. Best of all? I’m not trying to change your personality. I’m here to give you the time to do what you do best…WRITE.

Also, for more help with branding and social media, if you don’t yet have a copy… make sure to pick up Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.

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Ah, structure. We are discussing the fundamentals of story. No skeleton and our story is a puddle of primordial adverb ooze. In Part One, we talked about the micro scale of fiction the scene and the sequel, cause and effect. In Part Two, we panned out for the BIG picture, Aristotelian Three-Act Structure.

Today? We talk about the essential ingredient for ALL fiction. Just like carbon is the ONE key ingredient for all LIFE, conflict is the key ingredient for ALL stories. No conflict? No story.

If you want to self-publish or indie publish, I would assume most of you want to be successfully published, regardless the format or distributor. To be considered “successfully published” we have to sell a lot of books. To sell a lot of books, we must connect with readers. That is what this series is about. Structure is how readers connect to stories. The stronger the structure, the better the story.

Let’s get started.

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Yes, we can break rules, but we must understand them first. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist.

I am not going to use that term in the traditional way because I think it can be confusing. Every scene in your book should have an antagonist, but I am getting ahead of myself. Today we are going to start with the Big Boss Troublemaker. No BBT and you have no story. Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the hero’s world to turn upside down. The BBT creates the story problem that must be resolved by the end of your tale. The BBT is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle. In Star Wars, the BBT was the Emperor. It is his agenda that causes the inciting incident and it is he who must be faced in the final battle or the movie ain’t over.

In the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick is running from bounty hunters. Due to the nature of the story, it begins right in the action. Who is the antagonist? In that scene it is the bounty hunter.

Riddick’s goal—remain free

Bounty Hunter’s goal—capture wanted criminal Riddick

Their goals are in conflict. The bounty hunter is the antagonist in the scene, but he isn’t the Big Boss Troublemaker.

Lord Marshal actually was the party responsible for bounty on Riddick’s head (via the Elementals). The Lord Marshal was also responsible for the extinction of Riddick’s home world in an effort to kill the Furyan male who was prophesied to bring his end. Who is fighting in the Big Boss Battle?

Riddick and the BBT, Lord Marshal.

The stronger your BBT, the better. In the beginning, your protagonist should be weak. If pitted against the BBT, your protag would be toast…or actually more like jelly that you smear across the toast.

The Big Boss Troublemaker doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a storm, like in The Perfect Storm or disease, like in Steel Magnolias.

Remember high school literature?

Man against man.

Man against nature.

Man against himself.

The first one is pretty simple, but the next two? This is where things get tricky when the BBT is not corporeal. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism. Thus, your story likely will lend itself more to a character battle (which will require a proxy). What is it about your protagonist that will change when pitted against nature or the worst parts of himself?

In The Perfect Storm, was the storm really the BBT? Or was it merely a catalyst that brought forth the real BBT…pride, manifested in the ship’s captain who acts as the proxy. In the end, the men lose. They believe that their skill will be able to triumph over the storm, and they are wrong, which is probably why I really didn’t care for the book or the movie, but that is just me.

In Steel Magnolias the BBT is disease/death, manifested in the proxy of the daughter Shelby. Shelby’s decision to get pregnant despite having diabetes (Inciting Incident) is what changes the mother M’Lynn forever. What must change about M’Lynn? She is a control freak who must learn to embrace life for all its ugliness. She cannot beat death, or can she?

 

We see M’Lynn in the beginning of the movie fluttering over her daughter’s wedding, controlling everything and tending to the flowers and the broken glasses (symbol). When Shelby dies, M’Lynn is once again trying to control everything, tending the flowers and the broken things—her husband and sons. She falls apart after the funeral.

M’Lynn has let go of control and the arc is complete. In the Big Boss Battle, the BBT is defeated. How? Shelby is dead. The BBT is defeated in that there is resurrection.

Diabetes and death have been defeated. Shelby lives on in the son she left behind, a grandson that M’Lynn would never have had if she’d gotten her way in the beginning and been permitted to control Shelby’s life. (Note that this entire movie is bookended by Easter).

In the movie Footloose the BBT is religious fundamentalism, which is represented by the town preacher and father of the protag’s love interest. Kevin Bacon wants to dance, BBT wants no dancing. The town preacher is responsible for the story problem. How can a dancing city boy hold a dance in a town ruled by religious fundamentalism?

Your BBT is the entire reason for your story.

No Emperor and there is no Star Wars. No Lord Marshal and Riddick would be off doing what Riddick likes to do when he isn’t killing things. If everyone agreed the storm was too big to mess with, then there would have been no Perfect Storm. If Shelby didn’t have diabetes, then there would be no challenge and, thus no story. In Footloose, if the town had been Catholic there wouldn’t be an issue.

So, once you have your Big Boss Troublemaker, you will have emissaries of the BBT. Depending on the type of story, usually the BBT will have a chain of command. Some will be actual characters. The Emperor had Darth and Darth had Storm Troopers that he could send out to cause massive inconvenience to others. They all trace back to the original BBT, though. The BBT is the core of the story and must be defeated by the end of the story. Everything leads to destroying the BBT.

So we have Big Boss Troublemaker.

We have the BBT’s emissaries.

Ah, but EVERY scene has an antagonist. What is the antagonist? The antagonist is whoever is standing in the way of your protagonist achieving her goal. Allies, more often than not, will serve as scene antagonists generating the necessary conflict required to drive the story forward.

In Romancing the Stone who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The BBT is the crooked inspector. Who are the emissaries of the inspector? The two thieving brothers who have kidnapped romance author Joan Wilder’s sister (the crooked inspector is using them as unwitting pawns to get the map and get the jewel). What is the goal? The jewel. What is the final battle? When the inspector and one of the thieves are fed to the alligators in an act of poetic justice, and the younger brother is taken to jail.

Who is the antagonist? That changes, but Jack (the love interest) often serves the antagonist’s role. Joan wants to just give the map to the thieves in exchange for her sister. Jack wants to use the map to find the jewel. CONFLICT.

Some Pretty Hard and Fast BBT Rules—Break these Rules at Your Own Risk

Rule #1—BBT (or a proxy of the BBT)  MUST be introduced in Act I. No leading us on for 50 pages before we get an introduction. BBT is responsible for Inciting Incident.

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Granted, we don’t have to be ham-fisted. In the book, Divergence, we are introduced to the Erudites and Jeanine Matthews in a very subtle way. Tris’ father is an Abnegation leader complaining at the dinner table about an Erudite leader who’s making his job running the government difficult and then the story moves on and focuses in on Tris’ defection to the Dauntless faction.

Though Jeanine is responsible for the story problem in need of defeating, we don’t get that in flashing lights. We see only extensions of her agenda for almost half the book (movie).

Rule #2—In romance, the love interest CANNOT be the BBT. He or she can wear the antagonist’s hat, but he or she CANNOT be the BBT. Why? Because the BBT must be defeated in the Big Boss Battle, and utter defeat isn’t exactly grounds for a lasting relationship. Also, in romance, even though guy and girl might not get along in the beginning, they do come together as a team for the final showdown against the BBT. If we deviate from this, we no longer have romance and now have general fiction or women’s fiction.

Pizza has rules and so does romance. I am sure there are exceptions, but it defies the code of great love stories and often leads to a very unsatisfactory ending.  Audiences have tastes that we are wise to appreciate. If we want to write romance, then there is a fairly strict code that guy and gal end up together in the end. It’s the whole point of reading romance, so we can believe love conquers all. If our romance mimics life too much, then there is no escape and that defeats the entire purpose of reading romance.

Yes there are exceptions. I am here to help you guys grasp the overall rules. Once we understand the rules, then we can break them.

Rule #3—BBT MUST be defeated in your book. Period.

There has to be a Big Boss Battle in your story or the story problem is not fully resolved. A lot of new writers are “writing a series.” And, oh, but Such-and-Such dies in book 12 of my series. No. Sorry. Try again.

In a series, the protagonist in every book MUST DEFEAT the BBT responsible for the story problem. We must treat that book as a stand-alone. If we were hit by an ice cream truck and never wrote another, the problem of our last book would be resolved.

We will talk more about this on another blog, because series are a whole other ballgame. I will give you a nugget to hold you over, though. Think back to what we talked about earlier. BBTs have emissaries sent to do their evil deeds. Treat each emissary as your BBT in each book (only you don’t have to tell the reader unless you want to). Each BBT is a necessary step to complete in the overall defeat of the series’ MAIN BBT.

(Book I) BBT–> (Book II) BIGGER BBT–> (Book III) HOLY MOLY! AN EVEN BIGGER BBT!!!!

Lord of the Rings

Defeat Uruk-Hai–> Defeat Sauruman–> Defeat Sauron

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. Structure is tough, and hopefully this series is breaking it down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

I want to hear your comments. Who are your favorite BBTs of all time? Do you still have questions or other topics you would like me to explore? Do you have any books or techniques you would like to share?

Exercise I–Watch your favorite movies. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise II–Recall your favorite books. Again. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries of the BBT? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise III–For the literary folk. Who was the protagonist? What internal flaw was the protag forced to confront? How was it manifested (BBT)? Was the character flaw defeated? How was the BBT defeated?

In Steel Magnolias the character flaw (need to control) is defeated when Shelby dies. M’Lynn lets go of control. Diabetes/Death (the BBT), however, is defeated with life. Shelby will live on through her son.

Yeah, it’s a brain-bender but great exercise for our story-telling muscles.

I do want to hear from you guys! What are your thoughts? Questions? Concerns? I LOVE hearing from you.

Lynette Mirie is the winner over at my Dojo Diva blog. Today at Dojo Diva, we are talking about the POWER of QUITTING. Since this is a new blog (and a way shorter one), I am running a separate contest for commenters so the chances of winning are A LOT better!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook