Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: fiction

There is nothing wrong with sitting in a bar on Halloween wearing steampunk. Even if no one else is.

It’s me! I’m back! It’s another #SquattersRights day on Kristen Lamb’s blog, and today, I’ll be talking to you about steampunk (and no, you do not capitalize it because it is just another genre like horror, fantasy, or romance).

Some people like to credit Will Smith with ushering in the great age of steampunk because of that stellar cinematic festival of delight: ‘Wild Wild West.’ However, they are wrong. Steampunk originated with the original badass Victorians who actually used steam and their imaginations to dream up some crazy shizz.

What’s that I hear? The cat call for me to name them?

H.G. Wells. Jules Verne. You might even argue that some of Edgar Allan Poe’s lesser-known stories dipped a timorous toe into steampunk.

So, what is steampunk? Ha! Trick question. I’m not going to define it because there are far too many sites out there that spend blog post after blog post debating the finer delineations and spraying down commenters with flame throwers. I could say it’s kind of like pornography. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

What I will do is share with you some of the key characteristics of steampunk and how to avoid the world-building pitfalls that make readers flip tables and leave books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. Obviously there is a lot to world-building that is common to all genres, but a few things are specific to steampunk, and while they are part of what make the genre so fun, they also require more work than most we generally think. At least, if we want to do the job well and play the role of frantic slave to KENP. (See my manifesto, er, blog post over at caitreynolds.com)

Victorian, Schmictorian

The first question we have to ask in creating a steampunk world is just how Victorian do we want to get? An undeniable part of the charm of steampunk is the contrast between the stodgy, fussy prissiness of Victoriana and the wild, unexpected consequences of ‘steam science’ upsetting the well-ordered apple cart of society.

You probably know what I’m going to say here. Wait for it…wait for it…

That delightful contrast can only be created if we do the research.

Boston in 1875 was a very different place from London in 1881, and even more different than Paris of 1890. I’m not talking just about the style of dress, which went from bustles to leg-o-mutton sleeves. I’m talking about political movements, social changes from abolitionism to colonialism, the development of the modern police force and formalized investigative techniques, and that little tiny detail of scientific progress and industry.

A lot of writers make the mistake of thinking that just because they are writing steampunk, they can get away with not doing research. They couldn’t be more wrong, and it shows in their shoddy, unbelievable world-building. Even worse is when writers mention something that they think would be a cutting-edge invention, yet the invention had in reality already been around for several years.

Without a firm grounding in historical knowledge, steampunk produces characters that are anachronistic (I’m looking at you, feisty heroine who doesn’t want to get married and wants to be an inventor), a society that is a poor pantomime of actual Victorian manners and beliefs, and steampunkish inventions that are trite and unexciting.

Feathers and Flying Machines

Dirigibles, ether, and time travel machines are some of the stock technical steampunk ‘accessories.’ It can be a lot of fun to figure out how to reverse engineer today’s gadgets and make them work using the technology, tools, and material available in the 19th century.

But, creating the technological and mechanical anomalies of steampunk is a delicate balancing act. If we fall off to one side, we risk over-complicating things with gadgets that are irrelevant to the plot. If we fall off to the other side, we fail to come up with anything really interesting or useful to the story. So, how do we avoid doing this?

There are a couple of things we can do.

First, decide exactly what year we are writing about. I don’t care if I pick it out of a hat, but if 1877 is the year that comes up, then that is what I am going to use. Why? Because I need to the year I’m going to base all my research on. In addition to all the general historical research I’ll do, I will go further and read everything I can about the state of science, industry, and transportation in that year. By doing this, I’ll know precisely what scientific advancements they had achieved, how they traveled, and what machines were being used and invented. I’ll also read about the state of medicine to know just how badly I can injure my characters or how sick I can make them while giving them a fighting chance at recovery.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at this point, so instead of trying to upgrade everything mechanical to steampunk, I’ll narrow it down to two or three things that I want to be fun and different – always provided that they are relevant to the plot. I’ll figure out what the machine does, what it doesn’t do, what can break it, what can fix it, and what powers it. I’ll give it some features that are futuristic or advanced, but I will also set firm limits on what it can do.

All of this has to be based on facts, with logic and rules guiding the creation of the steampunk features of the story. Because of the complexity of world-building, steampunk requires an almost religious adherence to logic in order to keep the reader from getting lost in confusing details and conflicting ideas.

Oh, and while I’m at it, let’s just get one thing perfectly clear: there is no reason for characters to wear hats and gloves inside the home, nor would any self-respecting woman wear her corset on the outside of her clothing. It’s not just being a stickler for historical details. It’s about logic.

Now, if my characters need to wear a wrist brace, I will make sure that the gadgets or weapons on the brace are absolutely necessary to the plot and will come in handy late by being either exactly what the character needs or exactly what he/she doesn’t need (therefore creating more fun…er…conflict). This also goes for goggles.  Characters are not going to wear their goggles on their heads or hats unless they are actively in the middle of something that would require them, or they soon will be. While outlandish steampunk fashion looks cool on book covers, a more reasonable nod to reality makes for a more enjoyable, organic story for the reader.

Gaskets and Gaiters

Naturally, this is merely a fraction of what I have to say about steampunk world-building. Given a chance, I can rant by the hour. In fact, Kristen has given me a chance to rant…er…instruct by the hour. I’m teaching an entire class on steampunk!

Click on the image to register!

 

Class Title: Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 21st, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

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

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read. However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

  • Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?
  • Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?
  • Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry. This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

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

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

For the month of JULY, 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).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA TODAY Best-Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

     

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Award-Winning Author Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

Method Acting for Writers: How to Write Deep POV August 1st (TWO WEEK CLASS) $85

Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Writing Strong Female Characters   September 9th $40

It’s Cait again! The coup might be over, but I have now assumed squatters rights on Kristen’s blog. The fun part is that you never know when I’m going to pop up and come at you with stuff that is unusual, unsettling, and occasionally unnatural.

Today, I’m going to talk about writing young adult (YA) fiction. In the past decade, YA has experienced a renaissance and earned ‘theme park money’ for some lucky authors (I’m looking at you, sparkly vampire lady). Some YA has become incredibly sophisticated and gone to really challenging places both with its characters and subject matter (hello, dystopian-commentary-on-society and too-young-and-in-love-to-die-from-cancer books).

On the other hand, there is some really, really, really bad YA out there. Bathetic. Trite. Cringe-worthy.

The question is, how do we avoid all the traps and pitfalls that lead us to commit atrocities (i.e. write books) that are doomed to dwell in the 400,000 rankings on Amazon?

When Writers Need to be Grounded

When I wrote Downcast, I periodically went through my old yearbooks, notes I used to pass back and forth with my friends in classes, my old diaries from the time, and even a few of the papers I wrote for classes and kept for whatever reason. There was a method to my madness, because it’s absolutely madness to want to go back and torment yourself with looking at your yearbook photo from freshman year. (Note: if I get ten comments or more on this post, I will upload a copy of my freshman year photo…that is how much I believe in the cause…or something like that…)

The reason I delved not once, but multiple times into the memories of the micro-dramas and nostalgic optimism of my own high school experience was because it forced me to be realistic about teenagers, even the smart, responsible ones like myself. No other characters come with so much conflict and so many interesting limits already built-in simply by virtue of their age.

Let’s just list out the ways in which we are constrained as writers in working with teenage characters:

  • Teenagers live at home with their parents or other legal guardian figure;
  • Teenagers attend school Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.;
  • Teenagers must face and deal with the same people every day (other students, teachers, etc.);
  • Teenagers may or may not be able to drive;
  • Teenagers have curfews at night;
  • Teenagers generally have a limited income (after-school job, chores, etc.); and,
  • Teenagers have only had so much life experience in their 14-18 years and therefore almost everything can be and is new for them.

Of course, as writers, we get to break all those rules and constraints if we want. However, as every teenager will tell you, breaking the rules has consequences. The convenience of doing so is a slippery slope of permissiveness, and each exception pulls the character a little further away from reality and being easily identifiable with by the reader. There has to be a really good reason to change one of the baseline constraints for a YA character, and just because we are too lazy to figure out how to work within that particular restriction.

One of the early beta critiques of Downcast complained that it was boring to have the characters going to school every day, that it was…wait for it…repetitive. While I took that particular critique and beta reader with a grain of salt, I didn’t entirely discount her opinion. I knew that given my plot and world-building, there was no reason for these students not to be in school. Instead, I took the idea of repetitiveness and pushed it, turning the school week into something that was inescapable and claustrophobic. The protagonist had to face her tormentors every single day. There was no reprieve, no “I don’t feel like going to work so I won’t” choice. Thus, when things break down the structure and routine, it’s not just a variation. It’s cataclysmic and amps up the tension in the plot.

Like OMG!

So, we’re writing YA. We need to be au courant with the vernacular, the fads, the apps (Vine is sooooo 2015), and the fandoms. However, we run the danger of forgetting we are the grown-ups in this situation.

What does that mean?

It means don’t dumb it down.

Just because we are writing for young adults, we are not automatically required to use words of only two syllables and simple sentence structures. We obviously want to hit the right balance between clarity and casualness, eliminating a lot of the ‘like’s’ and ‘um’s’ that pepper both adult and teenage conversation. That doesn’t preclude the use of a broader, richer vocabulary or taking advantage of the full range of grammatical tricks to create provocative, evocative prose.

While being careful to avoid the verbose pomposity of obstreperous troglodytes, there’s no reason we can’t use words that teenagers might be unfamiliar with, provided we do so naturally and with context that suggests the meaning of the word in a way that mimics the organic process of learning language. YA shouldn’t just be engaging and challenging in the concepts it presents. Teenagers that read YA are at an age where reading should be both a pleasure and a learning experience, driving emotional and intellectual growth.

Also, we need to make sure that the emotions, motivations, and decision-making processes of our characters are easily relatable but not carelessly simplistic. A lack of life experience doesn’t mean that teenagers don’t have complex psychologies (just ask anyone with a teenager), even if they don’t have the vocabulary yet to explain fully.

We must respect our readers, no matter their age, and in return, they will respect us…even if they are teenagers

The Bell May Have Rung, but Class is not Dismissed!

Well, actually, class hasn’t even started yet.

Not surprisingly, I have SO much more to say on YA fiction. Therefore, I am teaching a W.A.N.A. class on it. Here’s the class description and where you can sign up. It’s gonna be totally fun.

Class Title: OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $40 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 7th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

As long as there are teenagers, there will be a demand for angst-ridden, unabashedly romantic YA fiction. Whether the story is paranormal, dystopian, fantasy, or everyday literary, YA demands the author walk a tightrope between realistically capturing the young adult voice and meeting some very grown-up standards in terms of plot, characters, and style.

Who wants to sound like a tax-paying grownup with a minivan pathetically trying to sound like a teen? Yeah. No one. But it happens ALL the time.

This class will discuss some of the critical issues in crafting a story and characters that truly resonate with the YA audience. Topics include:

  • Talking like a teenager without describing like a grown-up (or sounding like a dumb@$$)
  • Tip-toeing through the minefield of sex and swearing
  • Tropes, types, and technology
  • Techniques for getting in the mindset to write a YA POV
  • Teenage-level decision-making skills vs. Too-Dumb-to-Live decisions
REGISTER HERE!

 

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

For the month of JULY, 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).

NEW CLASSES WITH CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

      

  

OMG, Like How to Write On Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Writing – Or, How not to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8 $35 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

It’s Cait Reynolds again, and you know what that means…muahahahahahaha

Image courtesy of memegenerator.co

Historical romance is full of strong-jawed heroes in possession of a good fortune and in want of a wife…whether they know it or not.

In fact, if you add up all the fine, vast estates throughout England, you’d probably end up with a country the size of the North American continent. Actually, better add in Central America just to make sure we have enough acreage. (Thanks to my friend Britt for pointing this out to me all those years ago.)

For every Lord So-and-So, and Duke of Blah-Blah, there is a lovely, feisty young lady who much overcome a sad lack of fortune, sudden misfortune, or the tragedy of unfortunate connections in order to save the day, the estate, and the hero…who naturally obliges by falling in love with her.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Gone off the rails there.

We’re not talking puerile plotting today (and besides, that’s Lamb’s specialty). I’m here to talk about how to write about an ingratiatingly indignant and independence-loving heroine together with her seriously sensitive and sinfully seductive hero so that they are not walking, talking anachronisms that make readers want to tear their eyes out with the pickle fork.

Before we jump in, can I just ask…does it always have to be Regency England? Really? Historical writing is hard enough without thousands of experts ready to jump in and point out any inaccuracy or anachronism. I mean, I have seen virtual fisticuffs break out among the delicately natured about the precise method of shining Hessian boots as mentioned in a particular book.

Anyway.

We have to do the research. There is no silver bullet, no short-cut. We might not be doing the world-building of fantasy, but we are re-building a world that impacts every single thing our characters will do, say, think…and eat. Yes, certain emotions and reactions are consistent across time and fundamental to human nature. However, the way our characters understand the actions and circumstances that create those emotions and the way their reactions are expressed are absolutely rooted and shaded by their contemporary context.

Let’s take a look at a sample of the areas that we need to consider when tackling historical world re-building.

Dentistry, Dandruff & Deodorant

Perfume was invented for a reason. Back in ye olde, personal hygiene was far more…shall we say…individualistic? Perhaps optional would be a better word. I’m not saying people didn’t try to wash—somewhat. But, ‘somewhat’ had very different connotations and practices in the 12th century and the 19th century.

Even nobility had issues with the stink. I mean, think about it. You try walking around on a sunny, 70-degree day in several layers of silk and linen while having your internal organs constricted by whalebone. Oh, and don’t forget the wig (and attendant weevils and other creepy crawlies that would take up residence therein).

Bathing involved servants, buckets, lots of wood or coal, and a short soak in rapidly-cooling water. We should be considerate of Sally the under housemaid when deciding that your character is going to have a bath every day. She already has a lot of work to do around the house (including emptying your chamber pot), and helping to prepare a bath for you under the watchful eye of your abigail isn’t making her job any easier.

We don’t have to write that everyone stinks or about the housekeeper’s armpit hair. But, we need to think twice and do some research before glibly tossing out that Our Heroine shampooed her hair.

Watch Your Mouth

Seriously. If I read another manuscript where the author has used words like sure/okay/all right, I am going to reach for that pickle fork. But, it’s not just use of modern slang that can jar the reader out of the story, upsetting hoop skirts everywhere.

Even the way sentences in dialogue are constructed can indicate whether a character is speaking Tudorish, Regencyish, or Victorianish.

Image courtesy of Mental Floss

Even commoners would speak more formally than we do today—and the riff-raff, beggars, and laborers would also know just enough to speak with respect to their betters.

We should not make the mistake of thinking formal means ponderous or dull, though. It’s fun to play with that stereotype here and there, especially when writing the dialogue of a pompous, hidebound old windbag. But, formality and a more extensive vocabulary doesn’t mean we can’t have witty, chatty characters that are silly, sexy, and scintillating.

Help Wanted

Elizabeth Bennet did not repine the fact she could not go to university, or become a doctor or a soldier. She operated well-within the confines of acceptable social norms and expectations, and she did so because she naturally accepted that circumscribing and did not question it.

Why would she? It simply was how things were. Yes, she challenged the status quo about marrying for love, but she never challenged marriage or denied that there were only a handful of respectable options outside of marriage for a young lady.

This brings me to something that I see over and over again in stories: the feisty heroine who dreams of becoming X (insert impossibly modern career choice here). That’s not to say that we can’t write a good, convincing story about a heroine who dreams of becoming X, but we have to take a good, long, hard look at her starting place before we do.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net

Seraphina is bored with embroidering all day and wants to join her brother and become a knight. She’s all about how girls can fight just as well as boys, and girls should get a chance, etc. She tosses her golden hair as she fights openly with her father about wanting to learn how to use a sword.

Cue pickle fork.

Seraphina was always closest to her brother Rolf. They supported and protected each other while growing up in a difficult family situation. When Rolf is called to go serve the king in a crusade, Seraphina panics.

She doesn’t want to be left alone to deal with the difficult family situation at home. She doesn’t think she could handle waiting months or even years for Rolf to come home—if he even makes it home.

She is backed into a corner, but because of her native courage, she makes a daring choice. She convinces Rolf to let her come along in disguise as part of his retinue. Along the way, she has to practice and sharpen up her fighting skills in order to pass for his squire. It’s a different world out there, when wooden swords are replaced with cold, hard steel.

Basically, people need to stop shoving heroines with 21st century values and beliefs into ye olde days. The only way to avoid making this mistake is to read and learn about the cultural values of the period and to immerse our brains into thinking in this way so our characters will behave naturally in harmony with the times.

Not Bread and Cheese Again!

Would people please stop having their characters eat nothing but bread and cheese? There is so much bread and cheese in poorly-researched historical novels that I feel nutritionally-imbalanced just reading about it.

There is no excuse for bread and cheese. If anything, historical food is one of the easiest areas to research! Just type ’18th century English food’ into Google, and BAM! You’ve got blogs, Google Books, PDFs of actual recipe books, and even photos of meals cooked from authentic recipes.

Image courtesy of Me.Me

Also, pay attention to what your characters are drinking. Well water (hello, giardia)? Beer or ale? Possibly. You could have combination of sherry, wine, and port or brandy with dinner. Be careful of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate before the 18th century. Yes, they were around, but not universally, depending on the decade and country. And, don’t let me catch you talking about hot chocolate like it’s some Swiss Miss crap. Hot chocolate was just that. Hot. Chocolate.

So, next time you want to write food into your scene, don’t settle for Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles. Let loose with Sack posset, quail in puff pastry, Chelsea buns, turnip soup, and Portugal Cakes…with a couple bottles of good Madeira to go along with it all!

Dressing the Part

Our dear Charity has managed to get away from her odious great aunt and is at the house of her friend Isabelle, getting ready for the ball. We the readers are treated to an extensive description of fabric, décolletage, sleeves, overskirts, hems, and lace. Let’s not forget the incredible jewelry, hairstyling, and make-up.

There’s a whole other sermon I could write about the sins of describing outfits. Today, I’ll confine myself to discussing historical accuracy. We need to dress our characters according to their social position, and we know what that means (hint: it involves research). A barmaid will not have a closet full of everyday dresses. If some malmsey-nosed sot spills beer on her, she can’t go home and change. Most likely, she would go rinse out the beer from her skirt because this would be her only summer skirt, and her other outfit would be for winter. Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have one good dress for weddings and funerals, and that dress would probably have been cut down from one of her mother’s in a style of twenty years earlier.

Yes. That is me. I own a steel-boned corset, and it is damn comfortable!

Yes, almost all women who could afford them wore corsets. But, before you have our dear Charity go complain about having to wear a corset, stop. Just. Stop. That would be like complaining about wearing a bra. Yes, we all do it sometimes, and we know it’s possible to go without one. Yet, it’s not really a big deal. It’s just part of what we wear every day.

This also goes for cravats for the gents, because someone, somewhere thought it would be a marvelous little joke to make men strangle themselves every day in the name of fashion.

Clothing wasn’t so much put on as assembled onto a person, with people who couldn’t afford maids helping each other. Both sexes wore stockings (at least up until the early 19th century) with garters to hold them up. There were petticoats and felt strips, chemisettes and buckles.

Just be careful of underwear. Drawers, pantaloons, panties, and small clothes weren’t really all that commonplace until the 19th century. This means if you want to go deep POV, you could mention the occasional strategic draft…

Pickle Forks and POV

The point of all this work is to show, but not show off. Out of everything you learn, only 10% should make it into your book. Wait. Stop. There will be no flipping of tables while reading this blog! Hear me out.

It’s all about understanding POV. What is normal for the character versus what is noteworthy. Think about contemporary fiction: ‘Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potatoes.’ We can easily picture this in our minds. There’s a table, chairs, a dish, a bowl with potatoes and some kind of serving utensil. This sentence could work just as well in historical fiction just as it is (assuming we are working with a time period where potatoes were part of the European diet…and knowing that Taylor as a first name really wasn’t used back then but whatevs): ‘Sir Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potato and gruyere galette.’

We do not need to elaborate just to show off that you verified the status of potatoes or know how dishes were served in the 19th century. There is no real reason we should ever write: ‘Sir Taylor entered the formal dining room where even on ordinary, daily occasions, the family gathered to eat. He settled himself in an ornately carved chair and reached for the porcelain platter with the Potato and Gruyere Galette.’

Image (and RECIPE) from paperandsalt.org

Some people would snort and point out that there is nothing wrong with that sentence, that it is lovely and descriptive. Yes, it is descriptive, but would Sir Taylor really think about how interesting it was that the family used the formal dining room every day, or how ornately carved his chair was? Do we notice with mild surprise where our dining table is every time you sit down to eat? No? Then, why would Sir Taylor?

Stay focused on the character, the plot, and the action. All I had to do to evoke a fancy, historical feel to the food was to change it from potatoes to an actual recipe (one which George Sand was rather fond of). If I’ve done my job right earlier in the book/chapter/scene, I’ve already given you a feel for the manor house, its size, décor, etc., but all done in the context of dialogue and POV.

So, now that I’ve beat sloppy historical fiction about the head and ears, I’m going to tell you about an opportunity to learn how to do sufficient and efficient research to be credible, interesting, and subtle. I’m offering an online class on Saturday, July 8, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST on W.A.N.A.! Information and sign up links are below.

The Class

So, you want to write historical romance. Awesome. Now, you just need to learn everything about that time period. Yay! Yay? Oh…crap.

While we don’t need a PhD in history to write historical fiction, we do need to do your research so that we can avoid the pitfalls of anachronistic language, modern Mary Sues, and the unforgivable sin of having our characters pay morning calls before one o’clock in the afternoon.

But, how do we start researching? And, when do we end? How do we know we know enough to start plotting–let alone writing? How do we keep track of everything we need to remember?

This class answers all those questions and more.

  • Get a template that guides you through all the steps of research
  • Discover the tricks of effectively and efficiently using Google and Pinterest
  • Learn how to use historical context in character development (i.e. no more Mary Sues)
  • Find out when and how to take research shortcuts…and when you have to buckle down and just slog through it all
  • Learn how to build a research reference library of your own
  • Discover how to find non-fiction books that are NOT boring
  • Develop an understanding of what kind of historical details to put into your story, and more importantly, what to leave out

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

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

Historical PLATINUM
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, 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).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

 

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Since the boom of the digital age, would-be writers have been practically coming out of the woodwork. Everyone wants to be a writer and hey, I can’t blame them. Sweet gig if you can score it. Yet, many of these eager folks are ill-prepared for the reality of what all an author’s job entails and this job is so much more than simply writing the book (though that is a saber-toothed bugaboo all in itself).

Years ago, when I decided I wanted to become an author, I heard all the sage advice from my writing mentors. Stuff like:

The first three books you write likely will be total crap. Don’t get too attached.

You can’t do this for the money.

Book signings are WAY overrated.

Remember to put on pants when leaving the house.

Me, being a total neophyte completely rolled my eyes because I knew *flips hair* that I was the exception. Yeah about that.

Frankly all of this is seriously excellent advice, especially the part about the pants. But why am I mentioning all of this? Well, I decided to become a novelist…in 2002.

I just published my debut fiction…Tuesday. As in of this week.

Yes I am being serious.

Granted, I did take a side-trip. I knew social media was going to be a MAJOR game-changer for authors. All the people I saw teaching how build a platform were insisting writers turn into marketing robots that shoveled out spam faster than C-Span shovels out BS. And I knew their approach would be more successful at turning writers into cutters than actually selling any books.

For me, becoming a branding expert for creative people was a moral imperative…a calling.

Just not my original calling.

I recall a conversation with a friend back in 2011. She was laying into me that I needed to work on my fiction. My answer?

“Social media is one of the largest tectonic shifts in human communication. There need to be guides. In 5 years? We won’t be as necessary and in 5 years? People will still want thrillers. Social Media How-To’s? Meh. Not so much.”

My years of blogging and being a social media expert and craft teacher kind of remind me of the movie Karate Kid. Instead of writing glorious novels that became instantly famous and were made into movies? Here was Kristen….

Wax on. Wax off. Wax on. Wax off.

But, I was willing to do it (yeah that hadn’t happened before). Sure technical writing, and editing and blogging and writing social media books wasn’t making me a novelist…but I sensed it would get me there and that it was MY road. The road that I needed. The one involving way more @$$ kicking.

Image via www.freerepublic.com

Granted, if I am brutally honest, there is a part of me that feels like a complete loser that it took FIFTEEN years to become a novelist, but I wouldn’t change how this all happened because this seriously long@$$ journey changed who I was. It shaped this undisciplined, self-centered, unlikable, lazy pile of wanna-be-hack into an actual honest to God pro.

Process

Before I decided on “author” I tried a lot of things. Hell, I wanted to be frigging everything when I grew up.

I loved ballet. I wanted to be a dancer. I loved being on stage. But the bleeding, wrecked, blistered feet? Practice six days a week for four hours a day? Working my a$$ off just to end up in the background waving a rose?

Yeah, not so much.

Then I was going to be a doctor. Loved me some science. Even won a military scholarship to become a doctor. I looked seriously cool in the white jacket and practiced signing Dr. Lamb…and deliberately making it messy because who the hell ever heard of a real doctor with legible handwriting?

All was cool at first, but then I had to start dissecting stuff. I’m not squeamish at all. Hell, my mom is a nurse.

But then I hit a crossroad in Majors Biology with, of all things? A starfish. The super smart Indian kid next to me in lab? His starfish was PERFECT. Like razor lines and every tiny organ laid out and delicately pinned in artful perfection.

My starfish? It looked like it got drunk then called Chuck Liddell a p***y at which point said starfish got pounded into paste…then peed on.

And what I realized was that, while science and medicine “in theory” fascinated me, I just wasn’t in love with the process of getting any good at it. Hell if I did that to a starfish? Yeah. Probably best not to let me near people.

There is a point in all of this and hopefully one that you guys will find helpful. I certainly had aptitude for all the careers that interested me, but I lacked one critical element—love for the process.

Was I willing to do anything for however long it took to get good at it? Really good. Maybe even the best? Nope.

That was, until I decided to become an author. Then everything changed.

The Author’s Life FOR REAL

There is this myth perpetuated by popular culture that talent is vitally important, when in actuality it is highly overrated. People seem to believe that if we are skilled with language then magically we’re capable of creating a work spanning 60K-110K words as easily as breathing.

They seem to think anyone with command of their native tongue can whip out a novel, no problemo. Writing is EASY!

***Note: These were the same people paying us a hundred bucks in college to help them with a four-page essay while they chewed a Xanax *rolls eyes*

No, writing is not easy. It is a craft. We are builders. But instead of getting wood and nails and sheetrock and concrete and crews of people helping us build? We are tasked with creating entire worlds from various combinations of 26 letters…alone.

Yeah, super easy.

It’s a skill and it often has a long and brutal apprenticeship filled with blood, tears, rejection, and too much box wine. We get down on ourselves because friends and family, six months after we start, are certain we’re a failure because we aren’t toppling J.K. Rowling out of her top spots on the best-seller lists.

I know. Been there.

But this is why loving process is critical. When we love the process, we keep at it. We learn all we can. We are willing to tweet and blog and maybe even figure out what the hell is so interesting about Instagram. We learn to ignore the naysayers. We gut through the unfun stuff because love fuels all we do. It has to.

I am not particularly worried about the millions of other “published writers” because many won’t be in it for the long haul. A lot of them are there for the cover, the book in hand and a “signing” and “launch party” and nothing wrong with that. It is their fun. Not all dreams are meant to be life callings.

But, often when these sort of folks discover this isn’t all a giant unicorn hug? That sure we authors can get raving 5 star reviews, but we can also get raving ONE star reviews from lunatics who have nothing better to do than be cruel and crush a writer’s will to live?

They move on *shrugs*.

Or maybe they are pretty good writers, but they don’t want to do the unfun stuff like building a platform (which actually IS a lot of fun if you do it the way I teach it). And these folks will languish in Amazon purgatory because they only loved part of the process, the fun parts.

Some will invest years and never get there and give up because it is taking too long. Heck took me 15 years. I can appreciate that kind of discouragement.

My first book? Well it reminded me of that starfish from Majors Biology (dramatic reenactment of Kristen’s starfish performed by a pumpkin)

Image via Flickr Creative Commons via Josh McAllister

But I kept at it and kept at it and kept at it and now, my starfish looks like this! 😀

So yes! My romantic mystery thriller is finally out and available for .99 on Kindle (just click the cover pic above). We will do more official “launch” stuff next week. And thank you kindly for sticking with me these many long years. You have no idea how many times I would have given up had it not been for this blog, knowing y’all were there in the trenches rooting for me. So THANK YOU.

In the end, lighten up on yourself and give yourself a break. Not too much of one. You still need to get your tail to work. But remember everyone has their own road, their own journey and process and keep your eyes on YOU and YOUR work.

What are your thoughts? Do you get discouraged with the process of writing? I know I do. Would be awesome to just spend 8 hours a day making up stories but there is a lot more to this. Do you maybe feel better if you believed you were taking too long? 15 years is a tough number to beat, LOL. Did you have a similar experience? Did you try a career you thought you’d love but then went…yeah NO.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***April’s winner is Carl D’Agostino. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Double-spaced, one-inch margins and New Times Roman and CONGRATULATIONS!

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

BUNDLE DEALS!!! 

Book Bootcamp  $99 ($130 VALUE)

Book Bootcamp GOLD $269 ($430 VALUE) This includes the log-line class, antagonist class, the character class AND a three-hour time slot working personally with ME. We will either plot your idea or, if your novel isn’t working? Fix it! Appointments are scheduled by email. Consults done by phone or in virtual classroom.

Individual Classes with MOI!!! 

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Shift Your Shifter Romance into HIGH Gear $35 May 19th with powerhouse editor Cait Reynolds.

Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lose 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

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

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons sourtesy of German Poo-Camano

A lot has changed in the digital age of publishing and, with gatekeepers no longer in sole control over who is published, we’ve seen a rise of the virtual Wild West. Lots of would-be writers striking out in search of publishing gold. And as happens with any kind of “gold rush” there are always those who will capitalize (or even prey) on the dreams of the neophyte.

The goal of this blog has always been to be a guiding light in a dark and uncharted world. Though we’ve come a long way in the past few years, there is still so much left to explore. Yet? Fads abound. The reason these fads continue to rook in writers is they did work for someone somewhere at some time.

It’s sort of like the lottery. If no one ever won the Power Ball, no one would buy tickets and yet lottery tickets are a lousy substitute for financial planning and savings.

Fads and gimmicks and algorithmic voodoo might work for some and might work short term, but the plain fact is that no amount of social media magic, no newsletter, no blog can launch us to mega-author status.

So What Works?

Today, for the sake of brevity, we are going to focus on the single most important factor for author success. We will talk about other things like newsletters and blogs and social media later.

The single best way to be successful is to be prolific. Write a lot of books. And, since we are in a paradigm with no gatekeepers, I will add a qualifier. We need to write a lot of GOOD books.

I get sample pages that are so bad I could weep…only to find out the writer already has three or four or ten books out. They are mystified as to why their social media isn’t working and why they aren’t selling any books. The answer is simple. It’s because the books are terrible.

So YES be prolific, but we must make sure we are writing good books and then better books.

Seriously….

Last week we were hit with a brutal line of storms and were without power most of the week (which was I was absent 😛 ). So I went down to my local library and later my local used bookstore to do some work. I don’t know if one can be fully awe inspired by some authors the same way as experienced in either a library or a used bookstore. When you walk into a romance section and see three shelves filled with nothing but Debbie Macomber?

It just takes your breath away.

Sandra Brown, J.D. Robb, Susan Wiggs and then you go over to mystery and shelves and shelves are Sue Grafton and then thrillers it’s just a wall of James Patterson. Then in speculative, you have a gazillion books by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, etc. etc.

When we look at the mega-authors, one thing they ALL have in common is they are ridiculously prolific.

They write good books and LOTS of them. They aren’t writing one book and praying it makes them a legend. They become legends because you literally cannot turn around without bumping into their books. They have market saturation.

Danielle Steele has over 800 MILLION books in print. I read somewhere that Debbie Macomber after 1988 was putting out 2-3 books per year. If we look to the most successful indies? Go check out how many books (good books) they are putting out. It’s insane. And it is also my goal for this year. I have a novel and a novella coming out in the next three months and trust me, I am upping my game.

This is one of the reasons I hammer on learning how to plot. Learn how to get that log-line, write the synopsis and GO. Get it written. And this stuff works, I am telling you. I don’t feed y’all anything I don’t eat myself 😉 .

When we understand structure, we can write a lot of books. We can write quickly. We can also take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

Case in Point

On March 20th my publisher came to me and asked if I would like to be part of a contemporary romance box set (even though I didn’t write romance). I admire romance authors so much and I’ve never written it simply because I didn’t think I had the skill *bows to the romance authors*. So at first I was hesitant but then I decided to get out of my comfort zone and do something even though it scared me.

My publisher messaged me at lunchtime and an hour later I sent back this proposal for Deadline:

Sian McIntyre wanted to go off to Tyler, TX to get her MFA (only one she can afford), but when her father (Sean McIntyre) has a massive heart attack right before she applies for a fellowship, she has to run his crews lest he lose the entire business. He’s just landed his biggest client yet, Atticus Black, real estate tycoon and famous for his appearance on the reality TV show, “Boss from Hell.” He’s the somber, smoldering “I hate everything” guy.

When Atticus purchases a row of old buildings for conversion in the soon-to-be boomtown of Bisby, TX, he gets more than he bargained for with his tattooed, take-no-sh#! contractor. All he wants is to escape the reputation that made him rich, but when a dead body is found on the job site, and he is the number one suspect? Sian might be his only ally and last hope.

Problem is? She can’t stand him.

Because I understood structure, I was able to accept the invitation even though writing a romance was not in my plans. I was also able to complete this novella (102 pages) in four days. I turned in a final draft eleven days after being given the invitation.

Granted I know this novella, to an extent, was lightning in a bottle and God willing I will be able to recreate it next project. But because I fundamentally understood structure, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity and ended up with a story I’m very proud of.

I didn’t have to spend four months working and reworking because I didn’t have a solid skeleton. I didn’t have to go kill a bunch of little darlings and rein in a nest of plot bunnies. I didn’t have an idea for a novella that suddenly bit back, grew out of control, then morphed unexpectedly into an epic saga. I was able to work quickly because I had solid borders.

Suffice to say…

If we hope to be prolific, we must understand story.

I am not really a plotter or a pantser. I call myself a plotser. I write the synopsis and the main plot points then GO. Sometimes the story will change as I go, but because the major landmarks are there I have a lot of flexibility.

I knew with Deadline that the story was not over until the murderer was found, Atticus cleared, and the job site reopened. The plot? Pretty basic. Creativity came in execution.

If you are a pantser, that is fine but successful pantsers are formed with practice doing one of three things.

First, they start as plotters (I.e. Dean Koontz) and over time, structure becomes so ingrained, they no longer need to plot. Second, they write a crap ton of really bad books and eventually form an intuition for story structure through a tremendous amount of trial and error (most of these folks give up). Or third, they read and have read such an insane amount, that narrative structure is instinctual (I.e. Stephen King).

Regardless, the successful pantser must have a strong understanding of structure (probably stronger than the plotter because it isn’t mapped out ahead of time).

If we don’t understand story, then it will be almost impossible to be prolific. Stories get confusing, we start over thinking, we start layering in BS and glitter because we lack bones.

In short, to be prolific we must do these things:

Read A LOT

The more you read, the more you become attuned to structure. You will get a natural feel for what should happen when and where. I can tell in five pages if the writer doesn’t read. They have limited vocabulary, beat up the same words, default to cliches and the dialogue sounds like kids playing make believe.

Learn Your Craft

Yes, we need to have some amount of talent as I mentioned last time. But talent is worthless without training and practice. Read craft books, keep reading blogs, go to conferences, take classes, invest in one-on-one time with a pro. You would be shocked how much you can up your game just by getting personal time with a professional. And we never outgrow needing this. I hire people better than me to help ME grow.

Yes practice, but make sure you are practicing good habits. If I go hit 1000 golf balls a day but I have a crappy swing, that’s more a formula for back surgery than a pro career at golf.

Same with writing. If we keep writing bad books we just get better at writing bad books. Trust me. I have a desk full of the ones I wrote. Get help. Get training.

I have two classes listed below, Plotting for Dummies, and Pitch Perfect and those classes will teach you how to do what I did with Deadline. How do you take an idea and quickly shape it for execution?

WRITE THE WORDS

Learn to finish then SHIP. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Get skilled at finishing. Too many writers will never be successful because they do everything but write. Every day I am in WANATribe. I’ve been running writing sprints in the Main Room IM field every day for a year and a half. You know how many writers regularly take advantage of this?

Fewer than ten.

I’m there every day Monday to Friday, often ALL day. Forty minutes at a time. How much can you get done? I let writers work with me to experience a professional pace. But I can only pay for the site and show up. I can’t make people get to work.

No half-finished idea ever became a runaway best-seller. FINISH. PRACTICE.

How authors make a good living is off selling multiple titles and getting compounded sales. It’s way easier to make money off ten titles than one. Simple stuff here.

So remember all this the next time you go to a used bookstore. Look at the shelves. Really look at them and I guarantee most of those shelves are dominated by the same names over and over and over.

What are your thoughts? Other than an angel must have opened a seal somewhere because Kristen now a romance author 😛 . Hey it’s FUN! I think I am hooked! Do you struggle with speed? You keep having to work and rework?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

I will announce March’s Winner Next Post.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

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