Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: character

It’s back to school for everyone – not just kids. Vacation’s over. Fun’s over…or maybe the fun is just beginning.

This fall, W.A.N.A. is back with new classes, new instructors, and lots of exciting announcements coming up. Bookmark W.A.N.A. and make sure to subscribe to my blog to stay up-to-date with all the news!

Don’t forget to hop on over to the W.A.N.A. Tribe to join in our daily writing sprints in the chat room! The Tribe is a thriving community, and we are planning on some awesome upgrades to the entire Tribe experience this fall.

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2017

More than Gore - How to Write Horror. $35.00 USD. Tuesday, September 5, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Thursday, September 7, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!
Backstory: The Yarn Behind the Book. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 8, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Historical not Hysterical: Creating Authentic Female Characters. $45.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST. Click the link to register!
Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Writing Strong Female Characters. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
From the Ground Up: Putting the "World" in World-Building for Fantasy. $60.00 USD. Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Friday, September 15, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 16, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Elements of Literary Fiction. $40.00 USD. Tuesday, September 19, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Getting to Work: Professions, Politics, and Production in Fantasy World-Building. $60.00 USD. Wednesday, September 20, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Romps and Revels: Entertainment, Leisure, and Culture in Fantasy World Building. Wednesday, September 27, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

 

 

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday again, and you know what that means! Well, first, it means the obligatory photo of Denny Basenji. But right after that, it means that I’m going to take the Red Pen of Wrath to a topic, and today’s topic is medicine. Specifically, medicine in fiction. Why? Because I’m tired of being jerked out of stories by medical inaccuracies. It’s the literary equivalent of having to dig for a vein…for the third time.

So, first: Denny Basenji.

This is Denny Basenji coming out of surgery last summer. He’s wondering if the patient will get peanut butter ice cream…or maybe peanut butter jello…

Okay, let’s get down to business.

If we are going to put a character in the hospital, we need to know how to do it. We also need to know what happens inside a hospital and how long people stay. We need to know what nurses can and can’t do, what doctors can and can’t do, and why our character’s friend-of-family-doctor can’t simply take charge of her care. We need to know what happens after a character goes home in terms of when they can go home, why they are allowed to go home, and what the follow up care is.

I’m not a doctor, but I play one in my books

Why listen to me? Because I’m a f*cking gold star club card holder at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here’s a list of my experience and “qualifications.”

Yours truly getting her monthly immune suppression therapy intravenously. Still smiling after two tries for the iv and three separate sticks for blood work.
  • I’ve had a kidney transplant since 2007. I’m a walking encyclopedia on infectious diseases, pharmacology, and clinics.
  • I’ve had cervical cancer. Luckily, mine was caught early and completely by surgery. But, I went with my friend Jaime to her chemo treatments – all 19 of them. I know a few things about how chemo works now.
  • I have been hospitalized for infections, accidents, near-death drug interactions.
  • I’ve been taken in ambulances, taxi cabs, and driven myself.
  • I’ve ended up in the hospital in everywhere from Portugal to New Mexico.
  • I was hospitalized for pneumonia. Wheeze, cough. Cough. Ow.
  • I’ve been hospitalized for multiple infections of various kinds as a result of having no immune system (thanks, kidney transplant!).
  • I was hospitalized for a stomach infection (that had an upper GI endoscopy involved – SO much fun).
  • I’ve had miscarriages from 6 weeks to 5 months.
  • I’ve had enough iv’s and blood draws that I could be an iv nurse. Or part-time vampire.
  • I’ve worked in hospital administration. I am surrounded by friends and family who are doctors and nurses.
  • I’ve had ultrasounds, x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, stress tests, bone density scans, you name it. Interventional radiology procedures like angiograms are lots of fun, too.
  • I’ve sat at the bedside of my father as he went through heart attacks, surgeries, and finally the strokes that killed him. I know what it’s like to watch someone die.
  • I know how an ICU works.
  • Blood transfusions. I’ve got a frequent customer punch card.

Basically, I am at the hospital 2-4 times every month for various reasons. Mostly outpatient appointments, but I’ve got a collection of more than 30 wristbands that tell the story of my inpatient experience. You can just call me Dr. Cait. Or Nurse Cait. Or Frankencait.

Just one teeny weeny example: how to put a character in the hospital

So…there’s a famous set of books about a color somewhere between black and white…lots of people object to the rather “adventurous” sex scenes in it. Others object to the objectification of women and power dynamics of the main relationship. Me? I object to the ham-handed handling of the protagonist’s injuries that land her in the hospital.

She’s injured. She falls unconscious. She wakes up in a hospital room with her husband’s mother – a pediatrician – helping to manage her care.

Cue the…

 

Let’s call our character “Jane,” as in Jane Doe.

Please disabuse yourselves immediately of the standard “Jane wakes up in the hospital and doesn’t remember getting there.”

It almost NEVER happens like that, and if it does, Jane will have had to have been in a horrific, life-threatening accident. It’s actually pretty rare that people lose consciousness. The body’s defense mechanisms drive us to remain conscious, or at least semi-conscious, as much as possible.

If Jane does fall unconscious, the norm is to “surface” fairly quickly. Minutes, usually. Again, do your homework about just what could cause prolonged unconsciousness – and the side effects. Jane could be facing oxygen depletion in the brain and potential brain damage. Jane could have swelling of the brain, another life-threatening condition. Jane could have sustain other neurological damage. Prolonged unconsciousness is no joke, so please stop using it as a plot device unless you  know what you’re doing.

The Emergency Room

This is going to be the way Jane goes into the hospital in 99% of situations.

In the ambulance, Jane will have a paramedic with her, taking her vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature), and doing emergency stabilization if necessary:

  • Epinephrin shots to reduce allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock, angioedema, etc.
  • Morphine for pain management
  • Possible treatment for diabetic reaction
  • Defibrillation for cardiac arrest, along with emergency cardiac medication (depending on the situation)
  •  Insertion of an iv and bag of saline hookup if signs of blood loss, dehydration, low blood pressure, etc.

Forget what you see on tv about arriving via ambulance. It doesn’t happen that way. Unless you have a machete sticking out of your forehead (I saw that arrive at MGH once when I was in an ER bay myself – that was fun), there will be no running or shouting.

The paramedics will remove Jane’s gurney from the ambulance and wheel her inside. A triage nurse will be waiting, as well as a hospital registration admin. If Jane is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask her for basic information like, has she ever been a patient here before? Does she have an insurance card with her? Name, date of birth, address, person to notify, etc.

Please note, that even if Jane is in a ton of pain, as long as she is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask these questions. Trust me, I’ve been there before. It’s not fun to answer questions like that when you are burning up with fever or writhing in pain, but it has to be done.

Fever of 102. Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection). Missed complete organ failure by just a few hours. Bored out of my mind waiting for further test results. What to do? Play Candy Crush and take selfies. Because you can be near death, in the ER, and FULLY AWAKE.

The triage nurse in the meantime will be getting the paperwork and rundown from the paramedic. This will be happening calmly and quickly. Once Jane is done with the hospital registration admin, the triage nurse takes over.

Treatment in the ER

The triage nurse takes Jane from the arrival area into the treatment bay area. In an ideal world, Jane is given a curtained-off bay right away. In the real world, Jane might be placed “in orbit,” which means that her gurney will be lined up against the wall with other patients on gurneys, waiting for a bay to open up. Jane will receive the same level of care, just not in a bay.

Once Jane is in a bay, the triage nurse will return to her work at the triage station, and Jane’s primary nurse will come to take care of her. Jane’s primary nurse will also probably have an assistant – a patient care assistant or PCA.

Whether able to do it herself or with the help of the nurse and PCA, Jane will be changed into a hospital gown, and her clothes and personal effects put into a big plastic bag labeled with a sticker printed with all of her information and also the same barcode that is on her hospital band. Oh yeah, almost all hospitals now have barcodes on hospital bands now. These are scanned when medication is administered.

Jane’s primary nurse will ask for her version of the story of what happened to bring her to the ER. The nurse will also ask Jane about any medications she currently takes, as well as any allergies she has. While this is going on, the nurse will be putting on a blood pressure cuff (absolutely always), electrodes for echocardiograms (depending on the situation), taking her temperature (absolutely always).

Jane will be asked to rate her pain level from 1-10, with 10 being the worst.

Now, here comes the kicker. The nurse leaves Jane now. That’s right, unless Jane is actively bleeding to death or having cardiac arrest or something similar, Jane is left alone with a call button. This is because the nurse now goes and enters all of her information into the hospital records system, which then feeds it to the assigned doctor.

Ah, finally, the entrance of the doctor…sorta.

Jane will not meet the doctor just yet. The doctor will review Jane’s situation and order bloodwork, maybe a urine test, and possibly other tests like an ultrasound or x-ray. The doctor will also “write an order” for pain medication if needed. The doctor will also write an order for any anti-nausea medication or fever-reducing meds like Tylenol.

Once the orders have been entered into the system, two things could happen. One, the ER has its own mini-pharmacy with basic medications (anti-nausea drugs, Tylenol, certain types of pain medications), and the nurse can unlock the pharmacy cabinet with her ID badge. Or, the hospital pharmacy receives the orders on their computers, and processes all the requests, sending a delivery person to bring the meds to the ER.

This whole process generally takes anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour and a half. Yup. Jane just has to cool her heels and suffer through this time. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.

The nurse returns to Jane, drawing blood (which is a whole other post), and administering whatever medications the doctor has ordered. If Jane has to have an x-ray or ultrasound, a transport person will arrive and wheel her in her gurney off to the imaging area where she will be placed in a waiting area until the next available imaging tech is ready for her.

There will be another post about X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI’s and CAT scans, and interventional radiology, but for now, you just need to know the basic tests generally don’t take too long, and they can all be done with Jane either still in the gurney if she’s unable to move, or with Jane standing up.

Jane is returned to the waiting area in imaging until a transport person arrives to take her back to her bay.

The nurse will check on Jane, run her vitals again (blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature), assess her pain, and make sure Jane is as comfortable as she can be (did I mention the WARM blankets that they have available for patients?). There is no food or drink until at least initial results are back.

Denny Basenji strenuously objects to the no food or drink policy.

Then, it’s another waiting period for the results of the bloodwork and the other imaging tests to come back. Once it’s all back and the doctor actually has a minute to review everything, Jane will finally get a chance to meet the doctor.

The doctor will knock and enter, introducing himself (could be a herself, but for the same of less confusion with pronouns, I’ll go with a Dr. Taylor McHotterson), and asking Jane to tell him the story of how she came to be in the ER. Yes, it’s in her records, but every new nurse and doctor she meets from here on out will request her story. It’s protocol.

The doctor will definitely listen to her heart and her lungs, and potentially check her joints for swelling, as well as doing a hands-on exam of her belly to check her organs.

Then, Dr. McHotterson will explain so far what they have learned about Jane’s condition. Depending on what is wrong, this could result in more tests, starting intravenous drug treatment, emergency surgery (and no, they’re not going to run down the hall with her down on the gurney unless she is literally dying), admission to inpatient treatment, or discharge. Any or all of this basically requires Jane to do…nothing. Except wait. And try to sleep. If she going to be admitted, the staff has to contact the correct ward, find out if there are any beds available, and if not, when they might be or where else they would have to put her. All of this could take anywhere from an hour (record-breaking speed) to 12-14 hours, with an average of somewhere between 3-6 hours of waiting.

Do we really need to know all this?

Well, yes. We might not have to describe everything in agonizing detail like I have done above, but knowing the process will make the Jane’s inpatient scene more realistic. Having a basic grasp of the facts about whatever injury or condition our characters have helps us create more detailed, immediate, and immersive experiences for the reader.

Still, it can be daunting, trying to figure out what we need to know and how much we need to know medically, and then learning what we need to leave out in terms of writing craft. The good news is that with a little thinking, a little logic, Dr. Google, and MY CLASS, you can learn not just how to figure out your character’s medical care, but how to use it to up the tension, pacing, and conflict in your story!

 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $40.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

From fainting to family doctors in the OR, fiction today is full of medical malfeasance. Watching George Clooney or Ellen Pompeo run through the ER yelling “Stat!” may seem like just what the doctor ordered to up dramatic tension in fiction, it’s more likely to be 20cc of the wrong medicine.

Nothing shatters the fragile suspension of disbelief for the reader like inaccuracies, whether it’s historical, behavioral…or medical. Whether your character is injured in a car crash, poisoned, knocked unconscious, or comes down with the flu, it’s critical to get the details right.

Like a first responder, this class is on the scene to help you resuscitate realism in your medical scenes. This will be a crash course on how to avoid making the most common mistakes and how to get the facts for whatever you inflict on your characters in the future.

This class will cover:

  • From ambulance to admission, how your character actually ends up in the hospital;
  • What happens while your character is inpatient (from blood work and imaging, to iv’s – especially iv’s!!! – and hospital food);
  • The different kinds of medications, treatments, and timelines for characters to recover from a wide range of illnesses and injuries;
  • The truth about knocking your character unconscious: how, how long, and what the short- and long-term consequences are;
  • From birth to death, clinical procedures and protocols;
  • How to research medical information and get it right in your descriptions.

At the end of the class, we will have an open Q&A sessions where you can ask about medical scenarios for your characters.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. http://caitreynolds.com

 

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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below including the final class I will teach before taking off for NEW ZEALAND! I’m keynoting there for the Romance Writers of New Zealand, which while SUPER COOL….I’d be lying if I didn’t say the trip wasn’t making me more than a tad nervous.

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!

OMG! Like, How to Write On Fleek YA. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 23, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, August 30, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Class Title: Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Creating Strong Female Characters. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Wednesday, which is on its way to being officially renamed in the U.S. calendar of holidays as “Cait Reynolds Blogs for Kristen Lamb” Day. Denny Basenji, however, thinks it should be renamed “Curly Tail Problems” Day.

Announcing that you write erotic romances is certainly a conversation starter. Or stopper. Depending on your audience. Explaining that this is your livelihood and that you are proud of it will get you reactions from, “Wow, that’s cool!” to, “So, when are you going to write a real book?”

Let’s just get something straight, right off the bat. Erotica today is not “porn in pretty dresses.”

One of the first ground rules for taking an objective look at the changing face of romance publishing is to separate the quality of the writing from the message of the content.

The message of today’s romance, erotic romance, and erotica novels is that women are free to associate themselves (and pay the money to buy the books to drive this point home) with sexually experienced, sexually adventurous, and sexually knowledgeable heroines. Heroes today are expected to spend as much, if not more, time focused on the heroine’s pleasure than their own.

While certain tropes like the Cinderella rescue persist, the nature of their portrayal has changed. For example, you now find the Cinderella rescue scenario played out in LGBTQ romances as much as heterosexual romances. Often the “heroine” is just as or more successful professionally than the “hero” (regardless of gender or orientation).

Heroes now have room to be complex, and heroines can genuinely be strong. Erotic romance novels fearlessly explored issues of mental illness, adoption, divorce, depression, anxiety, socio-economic differences, even while so-called “mainstream” books were still tip-toeing around sensitive topics.

The readers of these erotic romances are a truly diverse group, and people are starting to take note of this sociological change (and you can thank good ol’ “Fifty Shades” for the mainstream media attention erotic romance has gotten).

But who are the writers of these books? These are men and women who sit down, day in and day out, and put fingers to keyboard to produce these stories. I am one of them.

I used to be tremendously embarrassed by the fact that I wrote erotica. I felt like everyone was always expecting me to use it as a “stepping stone” to my “real books.”

Well, guess what? The books I write as Fiona Blackthorne ARE real books. I lost sleep, tweeted, swore, chatted, paced, dog-walked, typed, ground my teeth, wrote notes on receipts, and sketched out entire storyboards for these books. I had to submit them to my publisher, Siren Publishing, wait for them to be accepted, then go through an intense, fast-paced editing phase that would leave your head spinning. Then, there’s all the marketing work I had to do to get my website up and running, and promoting my books.

Yes, I work from home, and yes, I can start my day in my pajamas. But my workday starts at 7:00 a.m. and doesn’t really stop until I go to bed. Sure, I can change the laundry in between chapters, but you can bet I’m still working through a paragraph in my head. Yes, I have a flexible schedule. That just means that if I need to work from 7pm to 2am because my day was already full of other stuff, then I’ll suck it up and work from 7-2.

You want to know what it’s like to write a sex scene…or seven for a book? Sometimes, it’s a delightful literary challenge, because I never want to write a sex scene the same way twice. I always am looking for different words, moments, things to notice, ways to enhance the experience for my reader. Sometimes, it’s good fun for *ahem* me as well.

Sometimes, though? Sometimes, it’s like pulling freaking eye-teeth. You can get really tired of writing sex scenes. You always have to be on your guard against dropping into the mechanical and clinical just to get through it.

Then there are those moments when you are thinking to yourself: “Okay, about 700 words left in the chapter. That means if I can get her to her climax, then, hmmm, no, that won’t take enough words. He’ll have to stop just short of it. Oh, and then he can actually pick her up and put her on the bed. That’s about fifty words right there. Then maybe he ties her up? That could be a good hundred words or so, and I could finish this goddamn scene in 500 words after that.”

Yeah. It happens.

Then, I remember Anais Nin, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and I am strong again.

Erotic writing has been around for as long as the oldest profession has been around…and when people couldn’t read or write, they carved things on walls and painted them in caves. Clearly, something that is so deeply tied to our biological drive for survival and procreation deserves attention, study, and respect, not dismissiveness or judgment.

This is why I am teaching a class on writing erotica. We write the stories that are the mirrors reflecting the changes in society’s sexual mores and gender roles. Good, bad, indifferent, it is our writing that helps to push boundaries, expand horizons, and drive acceptance.

Who are the writers of erotic romance? Why do they write this when they could simply leave out all the sex? What are the blessings and consequences of this life? For once, it’s time to tell our own stories.

Baby, It’s Hot in Here!…a Sizzling New Class from Cait Reynolds

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD

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

When: Friday, August 4, 2017

Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write.

Wait. No. Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write well.

From pacing (literally) to placing, this class is gonna go…deep. Yeah. Couldn’t resist. In all seriousness, how do you handle the paradox of writing a book with compelling characters and interesting story when it’s really about sex?

The answer is this: good erotica is not about sex. It is about seduction and intimacy. In this class we will cover:

  • Understanding why readers choose erotica, what they are looking for, and how to both deliver and guide them to wanting more;
  • How to apply and adapt standard plotting structures to erotica;
  • Creating a story that is interesting enough to sustain a full-length novel;
  • Developing characters that are complex, memorable, and desirable;
  • Avoiding repetitive, mechanical sex scenes;
  • Maintaining the heat throughout a  book;
  • How to push yourself to write better and use quality as a unique marketing strategy;
  • Bonus: history, fun facts, and trivia about literary erotica through history!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable erotica books and romance novels, let Cait help you stand out in the one way no marketing can compete with: hot, unique stories that turn readers into fans who will BEG you for more! 

Erotica GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

Erotica PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and a detailed edit and critique of one sex scene up to 2,500 words.

Register today!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Learn more at http://caitreynolds.com.

 

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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below (including writing layered characters and strong females) and sign up!

Summer school! YAY! 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!

OMG! Like, How to Write On Fleek YA. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 23, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, August 30, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Class Title: Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Creating Strong Female Characters. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 7.18.43 AM
Twig the Fairy

My father loved to spin yarns and tell jokes, and one of my favorite jokes of his was the one about the twins (some of you have heard this before, but it never gets old). One was a pessimist and the other was an optimist. As my father told it…

Scientists were conducting an experiment to study the difference between pessimists and optimists. So, they searched far and wide for parents with twins—-one an optimist and one a pessimist. Finally, they found a pair of boys, and, after all the waivers were signed, the experiment could begin. There were two rooms, both were waist-deep in horse manure. The scientists watched from behind the two-way mirror to see what would happen.

One boy (the pessimist) cried and moaned, “I just knew it. This stuff always happens to me. I should have known that something bad was going to happen. Why can’t I ever get a break?”

The other boy, though, was slogging happily around the room and laughing as he flung horse manure into the air, each time with a healthy giggle. Baffled, the scientists had to enter the room of the optimistic twin and ask, “What on earth are you so happy about? Don’t you realize you’re waist-deep in animal feces?”

The boy replied, “Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I be happy? With all this horse sh!% there has GOT to be a pony in here somewhere!”

Meltdown

The past three months have been crazy. October and November were a train wreck when it came to my personal life. Just about the time I was seeing some light, Dallas/Fort Worth was hit with a major ice storm last weekend, which wasn’t so bad until Saturday when every sink, tub, shower and toilet decided to back up water and sewage and flood the floors. We used every towel we owned to keep the walls and carpet from being ruined…and every plumber in DFW was down. They, too, couldn’t get out because of the ice.

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday cleaning the epic mess.

But you know what?

I don’t believe it is any great test of character to be happy when everything is going our way. Anyone can do that. The real mark of a person is how he or she behaves when the world seems to be caving in. Can we be peaceful, calm, happy, and look for the good….no matter what?

Yes, I freaked out for a few minutes and cried about the mess and that no plumber could come help. But, after I had my five-minute pity-party, I worked with my husband to make a plan to endure the freeze. We cleaned up as much as we could then began pouring boiling water with dish detergent down the main sink. Soon, the plumbing wasn’t backing up into the tubs, sinks and showers and we could take brief showers and use the sinks and toilets…carefully.

I set my mind that the ice storm was really a blessing. We wouldn’t have to pay the $250 emergency fee just for a plumber to show up. We made it until Monday and guess what? It was a regular plumbing visit (a clog) and the total was $218. If one of the four companies I’d called when I was freaking out on Saturday had actually been able to come over? It would have easily been close to $500.

Feelings Need Discipline

We train our minds much like we train our bodies. We need to exercise them and discipline our habits. We have a choice how we react and a lot of this is influenced by our expectations. What are we expecting to happen? Are we looking for the good? Or looking for how we will be somehow wronged?

I know that I was born an optimist. I think that is why my father used to rib me with that joke. But, there was a span of about 15 years that I allowed other negative people to convince me that I was a fool, an idiot, an unrealistic Pollyanna. I started expecting the worst, and I wouldn’t allow myself to hope for anything, because if I didn’t expect good things then I couldn’t be disappointed. I became a grouch, a complainer and a seed of discontent…and no one wanted to be around me. My life was full of junk, and why wouldn’t it have been? I didn’t expect good things, so I couldn’t even see them when they sat right in front of my face.

Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I started being very careful about my thought life. Our mind doesn’t have to be a garbage dump. We are in control of our thoughts, and we don’t need to dwell on every thought that drifts into our brains. Focus on good things, and it is amazing how quickly the tough times will fly by. Life, people, your work will disappoint you. Sometimes, they might even rip out your heart and show it to you.

We can cave or we can change.

Yes, the view from the mountain’s summit is breathtaking, but nothing grows there. The most growth happens in the valleys. Film is developed in the dark and so is character. When hurt, pain, loss, disappointment, frustration come our way we have a choice in how we view the situation. All of us have rough spots, and those setbacks, hurts and trials are the spiritual sandpaper that will shape us into a more excellent version of ourselves.

I know that life is about seasons. There are seasons of joy  and abundance and it seems that everything is going my way. In turn, that isn’t all of life. Gotta have the sour, or the sweet isn’t as sweet. And, if I have to endure the sour, I choose to do it with a smile, with great expectation of the better Kristen those trials will make me.

With all this horse sh*& there has GOT to be a pony in here somewhere :D!

What do you guys think? What are your opinions? Thoughts? Ideas? Have you ever experiences something that appeared to be a disaster, yet was a blessing in disguise? I love hearing from you guys! Btw, the above image is Twig the Fairy if you want to follow her on Facebook. I’ve met her and she is seriously NEAT.

I love hearing from you!

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

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World onAmazon or even Barnes and Noble.

Today we are going to talk about character, but I want you guys to breathe and relax. Give yourselves permission to not know everything. Art is not one of those things that we take a few lessons and “graduate” as experts. True artists never stop learning.

We read, take classes, and always push ourselves to the next level. Most new writers do not sufficiently understand plot, but I will say that the key to creating better plots rests in a deeper understanding of character.

But How Do We Come Up with Plot?

Some people naturally think in terms of plot. They are the kind of people who think of a story problem, but then need to cast characters appropriate to the story. Other people think in terms of character, a person who they want to cast, but they need to find the right story. Both ways of thinking are fine, but both require an in depth study of character.

Story/Plot Comes from Characters—Characters Create the Problem

Take a handful of flawed humans with agendas, put them together, shake, slowly turn up the heat and watch the drama ignite. Great fiction is fueled by bad decisions and human weakness. All good stories are biblical. They are all birthed by inherent human flaws—the desire for power, control, recognition, jealousy, rage, cowardice, lust, vengeance, etc. This is why perfect characters are super boring. We can’t relate.

Failure/Weakness is the Hinge Point of Connection and Story

Character flaws help us connect. In good stories, we should be able to connect with both the protagonist and the antagonist. If our antagonist is a pure evil mustache-twirler, that generally leads to a literary snooze fest. In fact, the more we connect with the antagonist, the better the story.

For instance, the movie Law Abiding Citizen is an excellent example. The antagonist, Clyve Shelton, is a husband/father whose wife and young daughter are brutally raped, tortured, then slaughtered by two repeat offenders.

Clyve is beaten, bound and left for dead, yet survives to testify. In the end, the justice system fails to serve appropriate justice and one of the bad guys cops a plea and walks free. Clyve Shelton is a father/husband out to avenge his murdered family and to punish a lax justice system.

Vengeance is definitely biblical.

It is really hard not to root for the antagonist in this movie, which is what makes Law Abiding Citizen a superior example of story-telling.

We see easily how story/plot is birthed from character. When we look at Shelton’s background, we see that he is a tinkerer of the deadliest sort. He has used his skills on all kinds of black bag operations. NOT a guy to screw with.

Thus, we see how, if the murderers picked on the family of an ice cream truck driver, we could have never had the construction materials for the plot of Law Abiding Citizen. Story is birthed from the fact that the justice system failed the wrong citizen. They failed a guy who has the skills to take them out….literally. We find ourselves rooting for him because we connected emotionally. What would we do for our own children?

Dig Down to the Uncomfortable Stuff

We cannot bear when our children are hurt…

This is a photo of my son after he’d been terribly injured. I struggled with whether or not to post it, but this image (captured on my cell phone) was just so haunting, and it spoke volumes with its quiet pain. All of us react viscerally to injustice and pain, especially when an innocent is involved.

There are times, like with my son, that the injury is a result of an accident. Yet, doesn’t this terrible yet beautiful picture speak an untold story? What if this injury was the result of an abuser? A kidnapper? What acts would we “forgive” in the pursuit of “justice”? How easily could the lines of hero and villain blur? This is when things get sticky.

Sticky = Interesting

Law Abiding Citizen connects us on the same emotional fault lines. We are willing to forgive the antagonist, but how far? That is the question the screenwriters explore. The story is one that will leave audiences talking and taking sides. The premise isn’t neat and clean. It is an ugly jagged gash with no clean edges, which makes excellent fiction.

And, just so you guys know, my son is just fine.

All better!

Plot is birthed from character. Characters are vital to plot, and that is one of the reasons that attendees of my old critique group were required to write very detailed character backgrounds before plotting. We needed the character’s history to understand her story.

What were her inner demons? What world-view did the character have? What need is not yet fulfilled? What is she afraid of? What are the character’s strengths? What does the character believe she needs to be happy? What does she need to prove? How is the character used to getting her way? Is this tool effective?

This is Especially True for Literary Fiction

Despite what anyone tells you, literary fiction must also have a plot. The only difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction is that the character arc takes precedence and plot is of lesser importance (lesser importance, not NO importance).

For instance, in The Road by Cormac McCarthy, there is a plot. Man and Boy must make it to the sea. But it is more important HOW they make it than IF they make it. If the Man and Boy resort to cannibalism, that is an epic fail. They must make it to the sea, but without sacrificing their humanity. Yet, if you read The Road there is a three-act structure, turning points, rising stakes, etc.

There is an end goal—make it to the sea. No journey, no crucible. If the story is Man and Boy sitting in a cave reminiscing about the good old days and being bummed about having no food, we have a bad situation. Bad situations are not conflict.

But again, story is birthed from character. There is a Man and a Boy who are obviously father and son. Much of the plot and decisions stem from this being a father and son. The story would be very different if the characters were different. The Man might have laid down and died if he had nothing to live for, to fight for.

It makes the conflict far more interesting. As parents, would we watch our child starve to death, or would we serve up some hobo BBQ with extra ketchup and tell the kid it’s chicken? The child would live, but at what cost? This story probes the really hard questions. What would we do to survive? What is “living” if we forfeit humanity? Again, the questions are not easily answered because the problems aren’t black and white.

Go Deeper

Whether we are plotters or pantsers, we still need to ask the tough questions. We need to play armchair psychologist and get to the heart of the character, to go beyond hair and eye color. It is the weaknesses, demons, and skeletons in the closet that make the best stories. This is an especially important for step plotters, otherwise, it is easy for all your characters to become “talking heads.”

To help, I highly recommend Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, Fire in the Fiction by Donald Maass, and The Successful Novelist by David Morrell.

What are your thoughts? Who are your favorite characters? What do you think adds dimension to fiction? What are some exercises you recommend?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, 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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of August I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. 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 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.