Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Bob Mayer

They were Kung-Fu Writing! Those geeks were fast as lighting! Adverbs a little bit frightening! Okay, I’ll stop. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon! Hiyah! *does really lame karate kick*. And yes, I screwed up and initially put Year of the Tiger. But was it really a goof? I think NOT. 2012 is gonna be WAY better…it’s the Year of the Dragon…infused with TIGER BLOOD (Thank you, Charlie Sheen for going crazy. Bailed my @$$ out of a major oops!)

Anyway, I have been a writer for many years and you learn by a lot of trial and error what tools are awesome and what are a total time-suck and waste of energy or money. For instance, the Universal Control???? TOTAL waste of money. It did NOT allow me to control the universe.

Anyway….

Many of you have made New Year’s Resolutions to:

  1. Take your dream to write seriously.
  2. Invest more energy, time, resources to becoming a professional writer.
  3. Finish your novel.
  4. Self-publish.
  5. Indie publish.
  6. Land an agent.
  7. Train howler monkeys to use nunchuks on anyone who interrupts your writing time.

All of these are awesome goals and, when it comes to the howler monkeys, just take it from me and skip trying to potty train them. A diaper will work and Season Three of Toddlers & Tiaras makes them highly aggressive, ergo better bodyguards.

I wanted to take some time to list books, tools, and other miscellaneous items that I think all writers need to be less likely to end up on a roof with a shotgun and a pan of brownies successful. These are all tools that have helped me grow tremendously in my profession, and I would like time to share them with you guys.

Best Books for Learning the Craft & Profession (in no particular order, cuz they ALL ROCK!)

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Hooked by Les Edgerton

Save the Cat by legendary screenwriter Blake Snyder

The Writer’s Journey–Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Plot & Structure by Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches by Jessica Morrell

Fire in the Fiction & Writing the Breakout Novel by Mega-Agent Donald Maass

Write It Forward–From Writer to Successful Author & The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by NYTBSA Bob Mayer

Social Media & Author Platform 

Yes, I am partial here, but my methods are fun and won’t make your head explode.

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media to get you started.

Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer for when you’re ready to lose the Big Wheel and take on the Big Girl/Big Boy Bike and some training wheels.

Blogging to Build Your Author Brand Workshop in April for when you are ready to lose the training wheels for good. This class is limited to only 100 slots and this class fills up FAST.

Social Media for the 21st Century Author is to teach you guys about social media. What works? What doesn’t? What is a total time suck? What sites are essential and which ones can you ignore?

Favorite Conferences & Workshops

Anything offered over at Write It Forward is well worth your time and money. Many classes are taught by New York Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. There are all kinds of craft workshops and even a workshop to help you understand the new options in publishing. This class is designed to help you discern which publishing avenue might be the best fit for you and your work.

For those of you who write Historical Fiction, the amazing author Victoria Martinez will be teaching a course about How to Do Historical Research and Writing and Natalie Markey will be offering a class about How to Be a Mom and a Writer and Do It All….without using duct tape or shock collars. Who knew? *shrugs*

DFW Writers Workshop Conference 2012 I will be teaching three classes and MEGA-AUTHOR JAMES ROLLINS is the keynote speaker. I have been to quite a few conferences but this one is always my favorite. If you can’t go to any other conference, go to this one!

The Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention is a conference all writers must do at least once, even if you don’t write romance. The workshops and networking opportunities are almost unparalleled. Not only that, but those romance authors seriously know how to plan a party.

Essential Tools for Maintaining Health and Sanity

To keep your back and joints healthy, I cannot recommend Bikram Yoga enough. See if there is a studio in your area and try it out. For those of you in the DFW area, I go to Bikram Yoga of North Texas. Come hang out! Detox and prevent joint and back issues that are common to writers. (Or if you are like me and already have the joint and back issues, it helps A LOT!)

Yoga in general is AWESOME for writers. If you don’t have time or money to go to a studio, I recommend Rodney Yee on video (and pick up a copy of Joy Held’s Writer Wellness for more tips for being a healthy and balanced writer).

More MUST-HAVE Tools 

A Keurig Coffee Maker

I LOVE AND CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT MY…

KEURIG COFFEE MAKER

I love this little gadget. When I brewed coffee in a pot, I found I either had waste or ended up drinking too much coffee. If I happened to get engrossed in work, I could end up with old or burned coffee. No more! I can make my coffee by the cup so it is fresh every time. I can change my mind what kind of coffee I want.

Autumn Harvest? Donut Shop? Hmmmmm….maybe a nice French Roast or some of that Hippie Dippy Organic stuff I got from Sprouts. I can change my MIND, and, as a woman? That…is….awesome.

I can even switch to tea, hot chocolate or chai. The Keurig even makes ice drinks! Wheeeeeeeeeee! Huh? Too much caffeine? Why would you say…wheeeeeeeeee!!!!

The KINECT

Feel stiff or sore from sitting too long? Brain feel like silly-putty left in the sun? No more! I use my Kinect every two hours. I get up, turn it on and do a couple of fun obstacle courses that make me move and groove and get the blood back in my brains where is belongs. I like Kinect Adventures best for the purpose of getting the cobwebs out of the noggin. The only potential down-side is you do need to be self-disciplined enough to get back to work!

Kung Fu Fighting for Kung Fu Writing

If you want to have fun and get a great workout on your Kinect? Get Kung-Fu High-Impact. I laugh as hard as I fight. This game inserts you right into the plot of a bad Kung-Fu movie.

Want to do backflips on to rooftops? Be able to fight while flying? Want to shoot lightning from your fingertips? No problem! Be a star in your own Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was seriously low budget and had monsters…and an out of shape hero wearing yoga pants and a scrunchee.

Thing is, play is good for all people, especially CREATIVE people. Kung-Fu High-Impact makes you feel like a kid and you get a great workout, too. I totally know I cannot discipline myself to do this during the workday, but it does make an awesome reward for a hard day’s work.

Next Must-Have Item?

The Nook

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a Nook, but I do recommend you get some form of e-reader. I LOVE my Nook. It is portable and I totally dig that I can change the font to giant old lady print. I am reading genres I had started to avoid, namely because of the teensy-tiny letters. *cough* High Fantasy.

Why do I prefer the Nook? I don’t know if I do, because I didn’t see any reason to own two e-readers. I like owning a Nook because it allows me to borrow books and lend books to other Nook owners. And also, most writers are broke. I think this is in large part because we buy WAY too many books. With e-readers, we can still compulsively purchase more books than we will ever have time to read…only now it is CHEAPER.

I can also download my manuscript onto my Nook so I can read for flow, and, since I am not at a computer, I can’t nit-pick my writing until it bleeds and yells.

Moi???

Yes, I am a nit-picker.

This makes up my list of cool stuff all writers should own. And, of course, the thirty-foot Slip and Slide and snow cone machine are just a given *rolls eyes*. So of course I didn’t mention those. What are some other writing essentials? Books, tools, inflatable farm animals, lava lamps, hallucinogenic leftover meatloaf, or anything else I might have missed?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner’s Circle

Winner of Last Month’s 15 Page Critique is Gloria Richard. Please send your 3750 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com (Yes, I am looking for a new assistant. Gigi got a promotion at her other job which is AWESOME…but I really kinda miss her).

Winner of Last Week’s 5 Page Critique is Lanette Kauten. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com,

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

See you next year!

Yes, I solicit hugs. Sue me. This is LA Times best-selling author Stephen Jay Schwartz and me at the Romantic Times Convention in Los Angeles 2011.

On Wednesday’s blog, Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books, there was some really cool discussion about self-publishing–why it was horrible, would bring the doom and destruction the Mayans foretold, or even why it was the greatest invention since Pop Rocks. Today I am going to be a tad controversial and share my thoughts and opinions about the developments in our industry and why I, personally, want to hug the self-published author.

Originally, I loathed self-publishing and was even highly suspicious of indie publishing. I had all the same fears as many other people.

Great Scott! We already have a hard time getting people to read, and now we will flood the market with crappy books?

How will anyone find the good books?

It is going to mean nothing to say we are a published author when the market is filled with wanna-be-hack-poseurs!

I had pretty good reason for my feelings, since I hadn’t had the best experience with self-published authors. I had one writer in my critique group whose writing was so bad it should have been banned by the Geneva Convention. Not only did he “publish,” but then happily invited the entire group to his book signing at Barnes & Noble…after he’d tortured us with his brain vomit novel for a year.

Not long after that, I had another doozy of an experience.

Hubby and I were waddling through a Barnes & Noble (All right. I was the one waddling. I was very pregnant at the time). On my way to get a cup of tea, I spotted an older man sitting as a card table with stacks of books. Now, being in my profession, I could spot a self-published author who’d somehow scored a book-signing a mile away, and knew better than to make eye contact. But then again, my husband is a far kinder person than me.

I am still really stoked that he hasn’t yet figured out that I married WAY better than he did.

Anyway, Hubby decides to be nice and go talk to the older gentleman who had at least eight different books for sale, even though we’d already had a discussion about talking to the self-pubbed authors. We had at least a half a dozen $30 poorly written books at home that no one was ever going to read. I hated reading crap, and hated being gouged for a fancy hard-cover edition of crap even more.

I groaned, eyeing the Starbucks that adjoined the store. But I let Hubby talk to the author as I politely thumbed through a “novel” that wouldn’t have survived one minute in my critique group.  All was fine until I noticed he had a book about how to be a super successful published author.

Thumbing through, I saw page after page of advice that was more likely to get an aspiring writer tarred and feathered than published. Advice like “be distinctive with your query, like sending it in a pizza box or on scented paper.”

It got real ugly from there and I don’t think I am allowed in that Barnes & Noble anymore.

See, I tolerated that he wanted to publish and even mildly admired his gusto. But, when it came to making $25 a copy to give writers really bad, tragic advice? I was done.

I am very protective of baby writers….and we can probably just blame pregnancy hormones. I behave much better now. Hubby took me for clicker training at Petsmart.

So why did I take the time to share those stories with you?

Because they are Cousin Ray-Ray stories. Everyone has a horror story, but horror stories are not necessarily the norm and certainly are no reason to jump to conclusions. Also…

Just because something starts off ugly doesn’t mean it cannot transform.

For instance, it was possible to shop on the Internet back in the 90s. Now, you took your identity in your own hands doing it. We didn’t have good security measures and people, being naive, didn’t know what to look for when it came to plunking their personal information into a fill-box.

Now? Because people continued shopping on the Internet? Totally different experience. Why? Well, better filters from companies and a savvier customer who doesn’t just tell anyone her Social Security number.

Why Self Published Authors are Awesome

Oooh. I know some of you just cringed a little. Hear me out.

Five years ago I told anyone who would listen that publishing would go the way of the music industry. The traditional gatekeepers would lose their monoply and more power would flow to the artists. I predicted that the only thing that needed to happen for the walls to fall, was for an e-reader to become simple to use and affordable.

Ironically, I went to a writing conference in April of 2009. An agent on the panel declared that e-books were statistically insignificant and always would be. They would be the new audio book.

Yeah, I struck him off my query list. Clearly, he had no vision.

Then, three weeks later the first iPad released and proved my predictions correct. The e-book market exploded. Then came the Nook and y’all know they rest.

So why should we all hug a self-published author?

Because people who self-published, especially in the beginning, were what are called “early adopters.” Early adopters are those brave enough to buy the first VCRs, to be the first to buy stuff off a web site, the first to explore what it means to upload their manuscript as an e-book or print POD.

Think of it this way. If we hadn’t had people willing to look ridiculous clunking around in a steam-powered horseless carriage, we’d still be saddling up a horse to go to the store.

Monopolies Stifle Innovation

I am not picking on traditional publishing. But here’s the thing. When a company holds a monopoly on any industry, there is no impetus to change, become more efficient, or look for new ways to please a consumer. This is why entrepreneurs are good for all markets. They bring healthy competition that forces creativity, innovation and efficiency.

Monopolies are not fertile ground for the early adoption behavior that fuels the big industry changes.

Traditional publishers don’t generally have the luxury of being early adopters. Are they evil and thinking of ways to make writers lose hair? No. They have a lot of people depending on them, so they are less likely to take risks.

Yet, we need explorers and risk-takers to create the ripple that becomes the tidal wave of change. This is why we all need to thank a self-published author. They laid the ground for the “new norm.” They pressed and pushed until e-books and POD BECAME relevant and competitive and this made traditional publishing rethink its business approach.

Almost all writers of today and the future will consider e-books to be a huge part of their royalty portfolio.

How did this happen?

Self-published authors 1) couldn’t make it past the gatekeepers 2) didn’t want to mess with the gatekeepers. These two factors made them motivated, bold and willing to look dumb.

The deal is, there was an obstacle and self-published writers dared to find away around it or, if need be, through it.

My favorite saying?

Aut viam in veniam aut faciam.

I will find a way or make one. ~Hannibal

Self-Publishing Serves the Consumer

Make no mistake, I am well aware that there is a tidal wave of crap out there, but we will discuss this another time.

Many authors had good or even excellent writing…that simply could not get a traditional break.The reason for a barrier wasn’t always because the writing was bad. There are many reasons books get turned away.

Maybe the book didn’t fit cleanly into a genre and the agent couldn’t sell it. Maybe a sci-fi author now wanted to write a romance and the publisher wanted more sci-fi books. Maybe the publisher already had three werewolf books slated for the year. Here are books that would have been shelved, that now can get to readers who can then fall in love.

Self-Publishing and Indie Publishing Gave New Life to Dead Books

Maybe an author had a wonderful backlist that was now out of print and the publisher no longer wanted them. NYTBSA Bob Mayer is an excellent example. He had scads of titles that had hit the NYTBS list and even the USA Today List, but they were out of print and the publisher was done.

What about all the hours of hard work? Bob’s books were awesome, but now they’d been retired to some book nursing home when they still had a lot of life left. They could find new readers to love them, but if Bob had just given in, they would have faded away and been forgotten.

Bob, thankfully was a Green Beret and “give up” is not in his vocabulary. Not only did Bob not wave the white flag, he started he own publishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing. You can check out his amazing books here.

Maybe a writer had an AWESOME book, but no one in traditional publishing could help. It happens. It happened with a book about how writers could use social media to build a platform, but traditional publishing was too slow to get the book to market before the content would be obsolete ;).

Thus the book was dead until indie press gave it life, and we now have the #1 best-selling We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Traditional marketing could not help me, but Bob’s company Who Dares Wins Publishing could. How many writers have benefitted from a book that might have just died in a slush pile?

Self-Publishing Brings New & Fresh Variety

There are times when it makes no sense to query traditional publishing. For instance, if a writer happens to write poetry, short stories or even screenplays. Traditional publishing will almost never publish those non-traditional works. Ah, but talk to Chuck Wendig if you would like to enjoy some of this unconventional literary fare.

Is it because people don’t want to read short stories or is it more because the publisher can’t sell enough poetry books (unless the poet is Jewel) to make it a good investment for them and the author?

The same thing happened in the music industry. People thought the world would end because any band could get their chance at the spotlight. Music-lovers would be overwhelmed with crap since they didn’t have Empire Records telling people what to like.

What happened?

People bought more music than ever before. Since they were no longer forced to buy an entire LP, they were more inclined to listen to NEW kinds of music now that they could get songs for 99 cents (Thanks to Steve Jobs). The current generation has a very broad palette and dynamic tastes. How were they able to sort through all the choices, sift the treasures from the garbage? The same way people will sort the literary treasures from the garbage.

Good content. Positive word of mouth.

I think people are reading more and more and this is exploding in exponential proportions. Writers should be doing a big fat happy dance. With e-readers and smart phones, people read more than they ever have in human history. They are also far more likely to explore new genres, new authors, and sample new content.

But without the tenacity of the self-published (or indie) author, would we even have the e-reader? Would we have had it as soon? Would we have millions of people willing to read all kinds of genres? Or would we still be limited to paper books and griping that people don’t read anymore?

So back to the beginning of my story. Sure, those two self-published authors made me want to slam my head in a door. But now? In retrospect? Both of them invested hard work, money and time into exploring new ways to get their product to the consumer. They dared to be different.

The self-published author had nothing to lose, so he was more willing to test out, try and invest time and money into unconventional methods….methods that we now commonly enjoy.

I cannot tell you the joy I now have for reading now that I have a Nook. I have read more books and more genres than ever before. My husband downloads almost a book a week. Before e-books, he never read. My mom uses a Nook because she can make the font large enough to make reading enjoyable.

We enjoy these new luxuries because entrepreneurs dared to think outside the box and would not back down from getting their chance to shine. Some of them failed, but they failed why daring greatly…so I thank them. We all should thank them, no matter what kind of writer you aspire to be, traditional, indie or self-published.

So what do you think? Do you think  of self-publishing a little differently? Do you think I am the devil’s handmaiden? Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

What is the one ingredient we MUST include to have great fiction? CONFLICT. No conflict, no story. One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see in new writers is that they fail to understand the difference between authentic conflict versus a bad situation. Bad situations do not make good fiction. Bad situations are boring and probably the largest source of melodrama. Today I am going to give you tools to make sure your fiction grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. The best way to ensure your reader is your captive is to have conflict on every page.

The most important component to creating loads of conflict is that our protagonist must have an active and tangible goal.

Conflict is relative. If we have no idea of the objective, then bad events are just bad events. Bad events must become setbacks. How can we transform bad luck to a setback? Give a hint of the end goal.

Want to know one of the quickest ways to get a reader on the edge of her seat? Show a glimpse of the mountain summit, then throw rocks at the characters and knock them off every cliff. If they get to a nice place for a breather, there better be at least a small rockslide to knock them back a 1000 feet. Yet, these setbacks will mean nothing if the observer doesn’t see the end goal.

Too many new writers do not present the story goal, or the goal is passive. Passive goals suck. Passive goals are like “containing Communism.” Guess what? Didn’t work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in our story either.

In my Warrior Writer Boot Camp (inspired by Bob Mayer), every participant MUST tell us what her story is about in ONE sentence. I recommend you check out this earlier blog for a more detailed explication.

ONE SENTENCE?

Yes. ONE sentence, and the number of the counting should be ONE. Not three, not two. FIVE????…is right out! But the number of the counting shall be ONE. Then thou shalt cast off thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and blow thine enemies to teeny tiny….

Oops. Got sidetracked. Okay. ONE sentence. That sentence needs your protagonist, the antagonist, and an active goal.

Recently one of my WWBC participants sent in this log-line.

A teenager must protect the princess of Atlantis from an angry grief-stricken scientist who wants to take her power which will unknowingly release Chaos into the world.

Um, all righty. What is the goal? Protection. This is a passive goal. This is “containing Communism.” It sounds kind of interesting, but do we really get a picture of what this story is about? For all we know the entire story could be an Atlantean Princess stuffed in a human-size hamster ball with the protag guarding her with a shotgun. Not very interesting fiction.

Protection is one of those things that is kind of implied. I recently edited a book for a friend, and her protag’s main goal was “to survive.”

Okay, don’t know about you guys, but survival is my goal every day. In fact, when I wake up each morning, probably my biggest objective for the day is, “Don’t get killed.” It’s why I don’t blow dry my hair in the tub or lick light sockets. It’s why I wear a seatbelt and don’t run through my house with knives.

Duh! Unless we are suicidal, EVERYONE’S goal is survival. Fiction is only interesting when characters have goals that are special and unique, and since most of the world’s population has the goal to stay ALIVE…survival is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!

A main goal to protect or survive is IMPLIED. When Frodo and Samwise set out with the Ring of Power, I guarantee you that they want to protect the Ring. I also guarantee you they want to survive, but these two goals are not what make The Lord of the Rings interesting. What makes it interesting is that they MUST protect the Ring long enough, and stay ALIVE long enough to toss the evil ring into the fires of MOUNT DOOM.

Okay…volcanoes are interesting. Volcanoes named Mount DOOM are super interesting.

 

So my little writer had a passive goal with his “protecting the Princess.” Boring!  After a sound thrashing from the Death Star as my students fondly call me, the participant came up with THIS…

A popular computer geek and the princess of Atlantis must find the last remaining time machine in order to prevent an idealistic Guardian from stealing her power and controlling Atlantis.

Awesome! Now we have a GOAL. The protagonist and allies must make it to a time machine before the bad guys do or BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Those bad things that must be prevented are called STAKES. Great books have HIGH STAKES.

YES, I HAVE HAD A LOT OF COFFEE TODAY AND I AM USING THE CAPS A LOT.

STAKES ARE INTERESTING.

In this new log-line, there is a tangible finish line and a goal that is different than the rest of the world. I bet you woke up today wanting to survive. Did you wake up with the sole notion that you would find a time machine???? Okay, you in the back be quiet, and if you find one, let me know.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I would wager that most of us did not wake up this morning with the goal of finding a time machine. Locating a time machine is an interesting goal.The writer has now provided us with a glimpse of the “summit.” We also know bad things will happen if our hero fails. We will also worry and bite our nails as we get closer and closer to the end of the book and still no time machine and the clock has almost run out. STAKES! TENSION!

When we do not have a tangible goal for our protagonist, this is like dropping him in the Andes and watching him eat his friends to stay alive. Kind of interesting in a morbid way, but we have nothing to root for. It is different than dropping Pedro and his soccer team in the mountains and they have to make it to THAT mountain…THAT mountain over THERE…because there is a shed full of food and a radio.

Before, our soccer team was just stranded. Every blizzard and rockslide was merely a BAD SITUATION on top of a BAD SITUATION. Yet when Pedro and the Halfbacks set out for a particular mountain the quality of the situation changes. NOW there is a specific objective that we, the observer can SEE. Every avalanche that takes them farther from food, blankets and a radio makes us squirm in our seats and worry if they will make it in time.

But still, as I just said, that is just a Bad Situation layered on a Bad Situation. Not really genuine conflict…yet. To ensure GREAT fiction, we need a CONFLICT LOCK (via Bob Mayer again :D). A conflict lock can only happen when two parties disagree. If you have a scene with only one person, there ain’t conflict. Sorry. Navel-gazing is therapy, not great storytelling.

And don’t try to cheat with the She is her own worst enemy. Who among you LIKE those people let alone want to see them win? Seriously. I know a lot of people who cannot stand prosperity and will sabotage every good thing in their lives. They are annoying. Readers want to follow heroes and heroines…not losers who can’t get their act together.

If you have a scene, there need to be two people (minimum) and they cannot agree…ever. In fact, it really has to get bleak before they can work as a team. I find it so funny that I get all these novels and everyone just works together. No one questions authority. Yeah, right.

Great fiction mirrors life and I can tell you from experience that if you have more than three people with the same goal, they will almost never agree. Go run a committee for ANYTHING and tell me I am wrong.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance.

Back to the Andes….

If Pedro and Juan are the only two living soccer players, Pedro will want to keep climbing and Juan will want to lie in the snow and die. And the reader will be screaming and hoping that Pedro can convince Juan to keep going…despite the avalanche that just knocked them back 1500 feet down the slope and took their shoes.

Every scene needs a problem that needs to be solved so that protag and allies can make it closer to the goal.

Big Goal: Make it to top of Big Mountain where there is a shed of supplies.

Scene Problem: An avalanche sweeps Pedro and Juan 1500 feet and takes their shoes.

Conflict Lock:

Pedro wants to continue barefoot to the top of Mount X no matter what.

Juan has given up. He wants to lie in the snow and die.

Stakes: If they don’t keep going they will DIE.

Every scene needs a conflict lock, which means every scene needs an antagonist. The scene antagonist is whoever is in opposition with the protagonist. Juan is interfering with the main goal of getting to the shed on Mount X, ergo he is the antagonist. Refer to last week’s blog for clarification. His refusal to be on board with the party plan is what injects genuine conflict into the story. It makes the reader worry. Worried readers can’t quit turning pages until they get relief from the nail-biting tension…the conclusion.

THAT is good fiction.

Why must our characters never agree? Because if they do agree, there is only so much we can throw at them before it is just wash, rinse, repeat. This happens in a lot of bad action movies. We only can endure so many car chases and explosions before we are bored. Same with our stranded soccer players. Great, there have been 12 avalanches. We get it. Oh, but this is a bigger avalanche? Oh, a bigger blizzard? Yeah. Sorry. Really don’t care. That is bad luck, not good fiction. For more about bad luck versus authentic conflict, I HIGHLY recommend Les Edgerton’s Hooked.

Remember:

1. Goals must be active and tangible.

2. Bad situations are not enough. Tragedies are not fiction, they are news headlines.

3. Every scene needs a conflict lock. (Seriously check out NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s workshops to really learn how to do this technique)

4. There must be high stakes; either physical or emotional annihilation.

So what are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite stories? What kept you glued to your seat? What are some books or movies that fell flat? Was it because of one of the reasons I just mentioned? I want to hear from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last week’s winner of 5 page critique is Tim O’Brien. Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant. gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com. Congratulations!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

I’ve run critique groups for almost eight years. I also have edited literally hundreds of manuscripts, and one thing that most new writers do not accurately understand is the antagonist.

I have to admit that I didn’t understand the antag the way I needed to until a few years ago, and this pivot-point in my education would not have happened without the fabulous Bob Mayer. Not only is he a NY Times and USA Today Best-Selling mega-author, but he is a great writing teacher as well. A couple years ago, Bob actually taught me a technique that changed everything about the way I wrote. Bob advised that I start thinking of the antagonist FIRST. Initially, I was resistant. I mean, I wanted to construct my heroine. She was far more fun. But, as I would soon learn…that was backwards thinking.

Construct your antagonist first. Trust me. You will thank me (and Bob ) later.

As I have said in previous posts, there is no story without the antagonist. Period. The story IS the antagonist’s agenda.  No Buffalo Bill, no Silence of the Lambs. No Darth Vader, and Skywalker doesn’t have a Death Star to destroy. If Joker was a choir boy, Batman’s life would have no meaning.

Antagonists are the Alpha AND the Omega—the beginning AND the end.

Once we understand the antagonist, narrative structure falls into place with far less effort. The antagonist is responsible for the inciting incident (beginning) and the Big Boss Battle (the end).

When we know our antagonist, it is easier to find a beginning point.

Too  many authors have awkward prologues that serve no real purpose. They are just stuck on the front because the new writer wants to “hook” the reader because she intends on spending 50 pages to get going (normally with a lot of back story about the protag’s childhood). Hey, I made the same mistakes when I was new, too. We are here to learn ;).

So there is this awkward prologue slapped on the front to hook the reader. Yeah, um no. Prologues are bad juju. Read why here.

Back to antagonists and structure…

When we understand what the antagonist WANTS, then it is easier to pinpoint where and how his life intersects with our protagonist—also known as the inciting incident.

Normal World—Shows us the protag’s life as it would have remained had the antag never come along to disrupt the protagonist’s life. Normal World grounds us and gives us a chance to become vested in the protag. We need to connect if we are going to spend the next 80-100,000 words caring for this character. Normal World hints that all is not well. It doesn’t hang us over a cliff or a tank of sharks or have us in a hospital weeping over a lost loved one. That is melodrama.

Inciting Incident—Is that event that offers the possibility of change. The protagonist still has to MAKE a choice before we make it to the first major plot point. The inciting incident is that point where the agenda of the antagonist intersects the life of the protagonist.

Normal World–>Inciting Incident–> (Choice) Turning Point into Act One

In screenplays there are three acts, always. In novels, there are four acts. Normal World, Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3.Screenplays generally condense that Normal World so much that it is just part of Act One. In novels, we need time to be vested in the character. Hooking the reader is less about fast action or heart wrenching melodrama and more about presenting a character we like, and who we care about. We connect and we sense trouble, so we worry, and that’s why we stick around.

When we understand the antagonist and his agenda, it is far easier to write great endings.

In Star Wars, we knew Darth’s plan involved the Death Star. Thus, the ending logically would involve the Death Star getting all blowed up, right? In Romancing the Stone, the bad guys kidnapped Joan Wilder’s sister in order to get the jewel. Thus, even if we had never seen the movie, it would be easy to extrapolate that the ending likely involves rescuing a sister and making sure bad guys go to jail and don’t end up with the jewel.

Our beginnings will change a dozen times or more before we make it to the final draft. If you are beginning a book, my advice is that you write out your antagonist’s history. What does he want? Why does he want it? How does he plan on getting what he wants?

Also, remember that the antagonist, in his mind, is not the bad guy. This will help give your antagonist dimension. Antagonists are not always villains. Villains are merely ONE FLAVOR of antagonist.

Remember that the antagonist is the hero in his own story.

Great villains do not believe they are the bad guy. Hannibal Lecter felt he was doing society a service by eating the less desirable members of the species. It is his warped justification for his actions that makes him even more fascinating.

Antagonists are not always wrong; their goals just conflict with the protagonist and disrupt her life and force change.

For instance, the antagonist in Steele Magnolias is the daughter, Shelby. What is her agenda? Have a baby despite having severe, life-threatening diabetes. That is a noble goal that isn’t necessarily wrong. Why does this make Shelby the antagonist? Because, if Shelby had been happy to adopt, then M’Lynn’s (mom-protagonist) life would have remained the same. When we understand Shelby’s plan—have a baby despite life-threatening diabetes—then plotting becomes far easier. At the end, there must be a baby. Whether that baby lives or dies is up to the creator.

Your protagonist will be reacting to the antagonist’s agenda for roughly 75% of your story. It is only in the final act that your protagonist will transition into a hero and will start gaining ground.This is why, when we begin a novel, it makes sense to figure out out ending first. Then, plotting becomes MUCH easier in that we know how and where the story ends. Then plotting is just a matter of getting the protag from point A to point Z.

Some outstanding references to help you guys:

Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.

James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Bob Mayer’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit

What are some of your favorite movie endings? Some really well-layered antagonists that had you on the edge of your seat? I vote for Law Abiding Citizen.  I had a hard time rooting for the protag, and found myself hoping the “bad guy” would win. It was very surreal, but proof-positive that this was a BRILLIANT antagonist that made for a spectacular ending…because his PLAN was just that darn great.

What about you guys? I love hearing your opinions and thoughts.

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner’s Circle

Winner of 5 Page Critique is Joseph Kurtenbach. Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant Gigi. gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

Winner of 15 Page Critique is Jennifer Jensen. Please send your 3750 word Word document to my assistant as well.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Welcome to Part III of my Structure Series. 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. I highly recommend that you read Part I and Part II of this series, if you haven’t already in that each lesson builds upon the previous lesson.

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 (This technique, called the Conflict Lock–is taught by NYTBSA Bob Mayer). 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. 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.

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.

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.

Rule #2–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.

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 Saurauman–> 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!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 page Critique–Angela Quarles. Please send your 1250 word Word doc to my assistant. Gigi. Her e-mail is gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.