Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to write a novel

What makes the difference between a meh novel and one we fall head over heels in love with regardless of genre? Good question and it sure would make our job easier if there existed one answer.

Though there isn’t one answer there’s a list of pretty good answers, thus for this post and the sake of brevity, we’ll pick one. Today, I posit that the reader, upon page one, is testing a potential relationship. Kinda like dating.

We (readers) BOND to the great stories much the same way we bond in human relationships. Think about it.

We even admit to this all the time without truly noting what we’re saying, “OMG, I fell in LOVE with that book! I LOVE that character!” etc.

When we authors roll with this metaphor, our job as storytellers becomes far simpler (though simple and easy are not the same thing).

Attraction

I teach a class called Hooked–Your First Five Pages (and offering it again) because those initial pages are critical. It’s like meeting a member of the opposite sex and noticing something that makes our heart flutter, that propels a longing to know more.

A vast majority of relationships start with this kind of heart-fluttering spark, though granted there are relationships where there was nothing/nada in the beginning, and, over time, something surfaced.

This happens in fiction though it’s rare. Every person who has ever recommended Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to me has told me essentially the same thing, “Oh the first hundred pages will bore the paint off the walls, but if you get past that….it’s AWESOME.”

Ok. I’m good, thanks. Not picking on this book, but just not my beer. Sorry.

I’m glad he has a great personality…. *looks for exit*

OPW versus NPW

Though not all relationships begin with an instant spark, it’s pretty amazing to have (and ideal, too). In fiction it is no longer optional. In a what I call the NPW (New Publishing World) we no longer have the luxuries of the OPW (Old Publishing World).

In the OPW, only so many authors were ever published. Discoverability wasn’t a nightmare. The competition was finite.

In the NPW? We gotta have that love-at-first-sight or the browsing reader will simply pass after glancing at the sample pages and move on until something sparks.

Story IS Seduction

All righty, so sparks are great but not nearly enough if nothing catches fire. Before Hubby, I had more than my fair share of bad dates which I want to use for the purposes of illustration.

Nothing Ned

When I was 20 a ridiculously hot Marine asked me out and he wasn’t gorgeous…he was breathtaking. Just looking at him made my knees weak…and then I went out with him.

I’m not picking on Marines because I know plenty who are brilliant, but this young man was not one of them. Though I think he was likely the most handsome man who’d ever asked me out, it was one of the most painful dates of my life. Agonizing might be a better word, namely because I find intellect attractive and this guy was about as smart as a tomato plant.

During the meal, I found myself wondering if he’d start leaning toward the light, postulating he might be able to photosynthesize his own food. Was the steak he ordered even necessary? 

Yes, I know. Not a very nice thing to think but I was only twenty. Gimme a break!

And maybe he wasn’t dumb and I simply assumed this because I was young and dumb, myself. Perhaps he was nervous or shy. But what killed the spark was he was a blank, a Nothing Ned. He parted with nothing of his own.

Me: *eagerly smiling* So, you like to mountain bike?

Him: *shrugs* Not really.

Me: *still perky* Okay, you have hobbies?

Him: *makes face* Nah. Not so much.

Me: *dying a little inside* Where are you from?

Him: *chews* Texas.

Me: *feeling the tailspin, reaching for anything* What music do you like?

Him: *butters more bread* I dunno. Really don’t listen to music.

Me: *wanting to commit Seppuku with sorbet spoon* So what do you do?

Him: *shrugs again* A lot of things.

Now maybe this guy was a genius and a layered and dimensional human being with loads of cool hobbies we could have bonded over. But, because on this ONE date he parted with NOTHING of himself, he came across as boring, dull, and frankly dull-witted.

Was he? No idea.

I didn’t have the bandwidth to endure another painful evening like that to find out. The spark of his looks were enough to get me to dinner, but nothing ignited because he refused to part with anything personal to act as tinder to make use of the spark.

Then we have the other kind of date. Again, really attractive guy, enough to spark a date and by the end of the evening…I wanted to throw myself out of a moving car.

Let’s meet…

Over-Sharing Oliver

Over-Sharing Oliver was the opposite of Nothing Ned and he spent hours using dinner as his personal confessional/therapy session relaying in vivid detail everything that had happened to him from childhood, the deets of his nasty divorce and why he hates and doesn’t trust women (but thinks I might be different—thanks) and on and on about himself.

HIS likes, accomplishments, job, hobbies, interests, opinions and thirty minutes into this ordeal I seriously wondered why the heck I was even THERE.

I felt like a prop whose sole purpose was so he didn’t look stupid eating at a restaurant and talking to himself (though he was essentially doing just that).

The Story as Romance

When we create our characters we must be vigilant to avoid the polar opposite ends of the backstory spectrum, and it IS a balancing act.

On one side the character can be a Nothing Ned. We fail to explore and articulate the backstory of WHO this character is and why he/she is a certain way. How do they see their world? Why do they act/react the way they do?

Dramatic tension cannot exist in a vacuum. There is nothing to emotionally ignite the relationship between the reader and our story.

Conversely, when we create the backstory, it doesn’t belong vomited on the reader all at once like Over-Sharing Oliver. As we talked about on Tuesday, mystery is a good thing. It keeps readers turning pages.

There is a reason the final big ending of a novel is called the climax *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*.

The reader and story bond in relationship that grows and intensifies with every struggle, setback and finally a triumph (climax)…which can be a betrayal (tosses book across room), an unsatisfying letdown (no more books by THAT gal), satisfying (cool, maybe get his next book), or a mind-blowing transcendent experience (in love, committed forever and no author does it better).

How any novel ends largely depends on the writer’s skills at wooing the reader then making them see stars 😉 . They will love YOU forever, eternally devoted. Frankly that is what we ALL want, readers and authors.

Learning to create fascinating and layered backstories is a great start, and USA Today BSA Cait Reynolds has a class on that tonight which I strongly recommend. Cait is a fantastic instructor.

Additionally, the worlds we create can in and of themselves become like a character where readers fall goofy in love because they ADORE that world (um…Cosplay anyone?).

This is why we are also offering world-building classes, because it involves so much more than one might think. Many of the MS I edit really are sad regurgitations of other worlds by other authors or, as in the case of Independence Day Resurgence a boring and bizarre cobbling of other worlds.

Hollywood: Hey, let’s retread Independence Day, slap on some Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica and a smidge of Call of Duty Infinite Warfare. It will be awesome!

…..yeah NO.

Instead our goal is to learn to create something grounded in familiar mythos, yet wholly ours and unique and captivating. Y’all can also feel free to peruse the archives of this blog for all kinds of free posts on character, backstory and world-building.

Either way, I want y’all to succeed and to create the stories we (readers) LOVE. I want that when we think of your novel we then blather on and on like we would over some guy/gal we had a mad-stupid crush on.

What are your thoughts? Can you relate to the horrible date? The one you believed you’d enjoy and ended up only wanting to chew off your leg to escape? What about stories? What stories captivated you instantly and you’re mad in love to this day? Why?

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, 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 FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

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, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

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!
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!
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!
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!

If you’ve been writing fiction any length of time, you’ve probably experienced getting stuck. There are authors who firmly believe there is no such thing as writer’s block, that it is lack of discipline and I agree that can often be the case.

Often…but not always.

I feel our subconscious is an excellent writing partner if we can learn to listen and stay in tune with it. Frequently, when something is very wrong, our subconscious will simply slam the breaks and not let us move forward because it is warning us there is something that needs to be fixed.

But, if we are unaware of the role the subconscious can play in story creation, we don’t recognize what is going on and do one of three things: 1) Shelve the project 2) Start a new project 3) Keep writing ourselves deeper into that hole by sheer force of will.

Thus, today I want to give you some tricks that might help you when you find yourself stuck.

Change POV

Different stories require different POVs. And I would love to give you some step-by-step explanation but I don’t have one. They just DO. Take a plot problem and seriously, POV changes the whole thing. Lord of the Rings written in first-person present-tense would be a very different ride.

Often we get a story idea and we just take off writing in the POV we find most comfortable…but it simply doesn’t work with the story. I had this happen with my debut novel The Devil’s Dance. I started writing in third limited and it was just….meh. I had never written fiction in first-person so to get unstuck? I changed POV and? It worked!

And the thing is, maybe you don’t stay in that POV. Sometimes just taking a scene and shifting POV is enough to nudge the subconscious over the hump.

Change Perspective

Also, if a scene is bugging you, literally change POV. Not the third person to first-person way I just mentioned. But switch heads. Tell what is happening from another character’s perspective. Again, probably not something you will keep because not every character is a POV character, but this can help get the mojo flowing again.

Recast

Sorry I am mentioning my debut novel a lot, but it was a hell of a learning curve. Again, this happened with The Devil’s Dance. I had my plot idea, which was pretty cool *gets cramp patting self on back*. I knew I wanted a small town in Texas and people dying and it had to do with the town’s newfound prosperity and Mexican drug cartels. My imaginary town, Bisby, was a wide space in the road that suddenly went BOOM. Instead of trailer parks, there were wine bars and million-dollar homes.

Why? How?

But originally I cast a resident of this small town and she was an Army veteran home from Afghanistan who was working at her uncle’s gun range. Nothing per se wrong with it, but she just kept falling flat. She was a former soldier and all badass and…boring as hell. So, I kept the plot idea and went the complete opposite direction.

Instead of some female action hero, I cast a protagonist who would be completely out of her depth. She was a disgraced software salesperson who’d done everything to escape Bisby and the trailer park where she grew up…who was then forced to go home to her crazy-as-a-bag-of-cats family and becomes the only one who can save the town she’d spent most of her life running from. I patterned her character off Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

And it ROCKED! The story flowed because the idea just worked better with an unlikely hero.

Skip Scenes

Again, our subconscious is our friend so let it work its magic. Recently I got onto my coauthor Cait about locking in her teeth and not letting go. We are writing a Western Horror and she’d had this scene she had been futzing with for weeks trying to get it perfect.

So first of all, perfect is the enemy of the good. On a first draft there is NO sense in perfecting anything because there is almost some hidden law that states the scenes most likely to be cut or completely rewritten are all the ones we spent far too much time fiddling with.

Sometimes, it helps to just write (in caps) what happens then move on.

Cait was tasked with killing a goat and apparently that was way tougher than either of us imagined it would be when plotting this goat’s demise. In our defense it is no average goat. It is a goat risen from the dead with a taste for human instead of petticoats. Now Cait messed with it and messed with it and finally got it to work but in fairness, if it had been my scene?

I would have written as much as I could then put AND THEY KILL GOAT IN SUPER SPECTACULAR WAY and then moved on and let my subconscious chew on it.

As you are writing, trust me, your subconscious is working on how to kill that goat D-E-A-D and often will come up with something FAR cooler than if we gut through it.

So my writing advice?

Sometimes the best way to kill a goat is to jump the goat.

Write Your Ending

A lot of writers cringe when we instructors mention doing this. You may be yelling, But I am not a plotter! I don’t outline! I am a pantser! And I will say, that is still no excuse. All stories must have a core story problem in need of being resolved. We should be able to say what our book is about in ONE sentence. Especially the pantsers. If all you know is the core problem in need of being solved? That is enough. And if you don’t know this, then prepare to spend months or years fixing a mess (if it can even be fixed).

As complex a story as Lord of the Rings is, I can fit it into ONE sentence.

A naive and innocent race of homebodies must traverse a dangerous realm to toss an evil ring in a particular volcano before a power-hungry necromancer takes over and destroys all they love.

How does this story end?

With a VOLCANO.

Say Tolkein got stuck somewhere in Rivendell. He could have theoretically skipped ahead to Mt. Doom and wrote that and then what is left are two defined points and a missing middle. It is often FAR easier to connect two defined points than to start from point A and keep going into infinity with no idea where it will end.

And again, you don’t have to keep that particular ending. It can be rewritten, but again, it gives the subconscious something to work with.

Ask yourself, How do I know when my story is over? And that is your ending. If you want help smooshing your tome into a single-sentence, I have a class coming up on that and I will help you do it and show you how you can do it yourself in the future (Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line).

What are your thoughts? And make sure to check out the upcoming classes below! Especially the Book Bootcamp! The bootcamp has all the instruction you need to write your novel AND to learn to plot and write QUICKLY. They key to making money in this business (even in legacy) is lots of titles.

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 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).

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!

Be a Better Hooker (How to Write a Compelling Newsletter)

April 29th $45

In this class, learn how to compose a newsletter that is entertaining and compelling—and all without stealing most of your writing time. Learn how to get your hooks in your readers and keep them until the end.

With a mailing list of over 15K subscribers, mystery/thriller author Jack Patterson will share some of his tips that will spice up your newsletter and get your subscribers opening it up every time you send one out.

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

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line $35 May 4th, 2017

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist $50/$200 (Gold) May11th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Growing an Organic Platform on Facebook $40 May 6th, 2017 Lisa Hall-Wilson is BACK! She is an expert on Facebook so check out her class!

Method Acting for Writers: How to Write in Deep POV $85 for this TWO WEEK intensive workshop with editor and writing instructor Lisa Hall Wilson.

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

 

We have been doing a lot of talking about structure lately because if we as writers don’t grasp structure? We can never deliver story. Sometimes to see what a novel IS, it helps to look at what the novel is NOT. Thus today I am going to pick on the most common “novels” I see that really are not novels.

Hey, just because we wrote 85,000 words does not mean it is a story.

Sucks. I know.

The “My Book is About Inner Demons” Novel

Code for: I have no clue how to plot so I am just going to wax rhapsodic and hope if I use enough BS and glitter, it will work.

Nope.

It won’t.

Last time we talked about inner demons, but inner demons alone are not enough. Inner demons are NOT a story.

All dimensional characters have inner demons. The inner demon is not proprietary to the literary genre (literary folks just have more leeway to camp out there). Commercial fiction—the good stuff, not the throwaway stories—have characters who are dealing with very real internal struggles and who conquer them.

These internal struggles are tossed into a crucible by the plot problem that makes the demons outwardly manifest. The characters are not simply solving any problem, rather the perfect problem, the one that will force the existential crisis that prompts change.

When I see a lot of internal thinking and more thinking and even more thinZZZZZZZZZ…….

Where was I?

*wipes drool off keyboard*

Oh yes, thinking. This is not a story. This is self-indulgent tripe.

Most people are not self-aware. Yes, we all battle with inner demons every day, but even regular people hire therapists at a hundred bucks an hour to help give them some clarity.

Why humans gravitate to story is that we may never be able to name our own demons, let alone conquer them. But in the fictional world? Victory is possible.

In the beginning the inner demon is only going to be reflected in the world-view (paradigm) of the protagonist.

For instance, we may show a workaholic (a protagonist with a work or achievement-centered paradigm). If the character is thinking and musing, Gee, I really work too much. My kids are growing up without a father. My wife no longer loves me. This character is TOO self-aware.

In the beginning, the protagonist believes the paradigm works and will scream and yell and cry when we Author God, rip it away.

He believes success=love, fulfillment, etc.

It is only when the plot problem challenges this belief, shatters it, pulls the blankie away, that the character is forced to rethink the worldview and uncover the WHY. Why do I feel I am only lovable if I have a phat paycheck?

If the character gains this internal insight at the beginning of the story, there is no room for growth and it is cheating. The protagonist has been given insight without the existential crisis.

There is no golden fleece without the quest.

Part of the tension that will keep pages turning is that the reader, much like any therapist, probably spots the protagonist’s baggage from the get-go. The tension is wondering if the protagonist will reach awareness before it is too late.

Remember that the protagonist would fail if pitted against the antagonist (BBT) in Scene One. The protagonist must evolve into a hero in order to triumph.

The “I Have Two (or 3 or 4 or 5) Protagonists” Novel

Nope, we need to ask, WHOSE STORY IS IT?

Remember we have been talking about creating a CORE STORY PROBLEM for our novel. This means there is ONE protagonist. When I get manuscripts where a bunch of stuff is happening and there are three or four or five POVs and I have no clue who I am supposed to be rooting for?

This is a huge red flag there is no core story problem. ONE character has the role of the protagonist. The reason is structure.

In Act Three the protagonist evolves into a hero (presses on when all others would have turned back). He alone fights the BBT in Act Three. He is the one who undergoes the most change because he is the one to solve the core problem.

A slight deviation (exception) to this is what is called The Buddy Love Structure. A good example of this is Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits (Samwise and Frodo) are essentially grouped into one. Can they toss the Ring of Power into Mt. Doom?

Now, LOTR is a super complex plot. There are lot of other subplots and they are all essential for the success of Frodo and Samwise. Yet, in the end? It is their story—not Aragorn’s, not Gandalf’s.

It really is Frodo’s story (with Samwise being a super close supporting actor). Why? Aragorn, Gandalf, Merry & Pippin all have their own subplots which help get Frodo on Mt. Doom….but they don’t have the ring.

HE DOES.

One other way to know the story is about Hobbits? IT OPENS WITH THEM.

Structure dictates that the first character we meet (unless an obvious POV from a villain) is our protagonist. We are like baby chicks and we imprint on the first person we meet.

*imprints on Frodo Baggins*

As I mentioned a moment ago, exceptions would be introductions (whether in prologue or Chapter One) from the antagonist’s POV.

So if an unnamed killer is gleefully chopping up coeds to Madame Butterfly? We get that is probably NOT or protagonist/hero. Yet, I will see works like this where the book opens with the POV of a murderer and then I get the POV of a unit secretary, a wife and then, three chapters later, the detective.

NO.

If it is the detective who brings down The Aria Killer, we meet him off the bat. If we deviate from this, it confuses the reader.

***We also would need to ask why the hell all these other people have been given a POV.

Remember that with every POV we (the reader) need TIME to get attached. Additionally we as the reader, must also dedicate time into resolving that POV character’s problem and driving their arc. Like Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!” But notice the word I keep using here.

TIME.

You have four or five or six POV characters? That is going to impact the overall length of the novel. Sure, Stephen King gets away with an 1100 page book, but can we?

And even in the case of two protagonists, one will be subordinate to the other.

Right now I am writing a Western Horror and I have the B story-line. The female bounty hunter plays a HUGE role in solving the plot crisis, yet it is my coauthor Cait’s character who will do the final face-off against the BBT. Also, just so you know, we have had to put this into a three-book series just because having multiple POV characters takes up space.

That whole time thing again.

The “But Lots of Bad Stuff Happens to Her” Novel

Bad situations are NOT a novel. Bad situations are not even conflict (but probably another post).

A novel involves a core story problem in need of resolution. Often what I will see are all these “pseudo-vignettes of bad things happening” with multiple POV characters and yet they are all roads that lead to nowhere.

This is not a novel, it is a mess.

Now, and we are getting to some advanced stuff here, there IS a vignette structure, but it is more than just unattached scenes of bad crap happening.

There is a method to that particular structure.

Often we see this structure when a GROUP forms the protagonist (Ya Ya Sisterhood, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Joy Luck Club), yet even then the GROUP will still have a point man (or gal). There will be an overall thematic point.

In The Joy Luck Club we have many vignette stories from all the members of the club, the mothers and daughters but, and this is a BIG BUT—two things make this different than The Novel that Is Not a Novel.

A true vignette will follow the rules of structure internally, meaning a protagonist presented with a problem who faces off and solves said problem by the climax of the story. It isn’t just scenes of passively reacting to bad stuff happening.

Additionally, the vignettes will group together to solve a bigger thematic problem.

Case in point. In The Joy Luck Club we open with Jing-Mei Woo who says this:

My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago. My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts.

The point of this entire novel is how the mothers left China trying to change, to set right the wrongs of their own mothers. Yet, though they changed geography, they’ve been unable to keep the same patterns from repeating in themselves and their daughters. The stories posit, Will they ever change? Can the chains of the past be broken?

And, though we get stories from many other POVs, it is bookended by Jing-Mei’s journey. Can she forgive her mother and get on that boat and meet her long-lost half-sisters or will she simply take her mother’s place and keep repeating the past?

The “But This is Really a Series” Novel

Often I will get “novels” where there either is not a core story problem, or there is kind of one….but the writer leaves off the book with a 1950s Batman ending. You know, protagonist is hanging off a cliff and all hope is lost, but the story is resolved if you read (buy) in the NEXT book….

Nope. That is cheating.

ONE CORE PROBLEM. If the book is a series, then there will be one core plot problem resolved by the entire series, but in each “entry” in the series, there is a core problem that must be solved to make it to the next leg of the adventure.

I get way too many writers who are fixated on having a series but they don’t even know yet how to write ONE book.

The “My Book is About Abuse” Novel

If I had a dollar for every new writer who wants to write about abuse…

And, in fairness, there is nothing entirely wrong with that…except that many emerging writers missed my earlier point that a bad situation is not a story.

Shock factor is NOT story.

Thus, the detailed account of abuse or rape or incest or whatever must be more than just the bad (or horrible) situation. A good writer must overlay whatever the topic is she/he is addressing onto the plot frame and that is where the character finds his/her power.

Thus, I recommend that if these touchy topics appeal to you, find books that do this well and pay attention to the story problem chosen to help the protagonist conquer the abuse.

Remember that often those abused don’t recognize they are being abused, so that paradigm in the beginning is often VERY skewed. The plot problem reveals the truth the character cannot bear to see and propels her to FACE it and face her tormentor and triumph.

Well there are probably dozens of other versions of Novels that Are NOT Novels, but this is a decent enough overview. And remember, there is a learning curve to all this. I wrote my own share of Novels that Really Were Not Novels when I was new, too.

What are your thoughts? Other than that you hate me and want to stab me in the face? Hey, I am offering my Plotting for Dummies Class, so that might help and breathe. We have ALL been there.

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 MARCH, 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).

February’s winner of the 20 page critique is Dominic Scezki. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (12 point, Times New Roman, one-inch borders, double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl.com.

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 March 30th, 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

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons
Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

All righty. So we have spent a couple of posts talking about getting our head right when it comes to doing this writing thing. Once we get our heads in the game, then the practical How To advice gets a heck of a lot more mileage. Today we are going to talk about the writing of the actual novel.

When I started out wanting to become a writer years ago, I was so clueless I didn’t even realize I was clueless. I had an overinflated ego from all those years making As in high school then college English. I believed I could write so when it came to reading craft books? I thumbed through them and decided I didn’t want my writing to be “formulaic” *flips hair*.

Trying to take a short cut cost me a lot of time and wasted words because I failed to appreciate that writing a work spanning 60K-100K words might just be a tad more difficult than that five page essay.

Once I realized how much I really didn’t know, I set about reading every craft book I could find, seeking out mentors, reading blogs and articles and taking classes until finally I actually became an expert.

In being an expert though, I run into a lot of writers who say the same things that I as a fledgling newbie said. I remember being utterly perplexed and most of the instructors I came in contact with had no good answer to my questions. Now in the position of teacher? I hope to give you what I had to find on my own.

You need to start in the action.

I did! How much more action do you need than blowing up a building with cyborg ninjas?

You don’t have any conflict.

Sure I do!

What is your book about?

Well, it isn’t about any one thing. Oh, but a lot of stuff happens to my character. She has a lot of issues.

What is your plot problem?

Oh, mine is a character-driven story.

Yeah.

This said, the single largest problem of most first time novels is there is simply no story. It really isn’t a novel, rather a collection of clever vignettes.

What is a STORY?

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)
Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? 🙂

Okay so one of the major problems I had when I started out is I was too narrowly focused on the pretty prose on the page. I had spent a lifetime being applauded for my brilliant use of language and since I was weak at structure, I relied on what I did well. BS and glitter. But the problem is that pretty prose does not a story make. A novel is not just a collection of cool sentences and witty dialogue. There must be a destination.

The destination is what the entire book is about.

Yes, this even applies to literary fiction so there is no copping out. In fact, when an emerging writer says, “Oh, my book is literary” or “My book is character-driven” I hear “I have no plot and really no clue how to create one.”

Bear with me…

All stories have a CORE SINGULAR PROBLEM that must be resolved in Act Three (or four or five—It doesn’t matter which structure we use, it is all basically Three Act Structure). So for the sake of simplicity, it needs to be resolved at the end.

And yeah yeah I am giving you “rules” but to break the rules we need to know and understand the rules. Yet on this one? Break it at your peril. We don’t want readers lost because we have failed to pick what our book “is about.” We also don’t want them getting all the way through the book then tossing it against the wall because we don’t understand story and thus delivered a frustrating and unsatisfying ending.

Me with sooooo many books.
Me with sooooo many books.

Back to the core problem…

Now, this core problem can have all kinds of subplots (and often does) but they are ALL tributaries feeding into the same river. For instance, in Lord of the Rings the core plot problem is to drop an evil ring into a specific volcano before a power hungry necromancer takes over Middle Earth.

Simple.

But there are all kinds of subplots (I.e. Aragorn no longer running, facing his failures and reclaiming his place as king. Arwen standing up to her father and sacrificing to be with the human she loves even though she is an elf and he is a human who has a lot of baggage with Dad).

But all of these smaller dramas impact the resolution of the story. If they don’t? They are plot bunnies that need to be caged.

Even in character-driven stories, there is a core plot problem. In The Road Man and Boy must make it to the ocean. If at the end, they are not at the ocean OR they are at the ocean but resorted to snacking on humans? They failed.

In The Joy Luck Club Jing-Mei (June) must make a decision whether or not to get on the boat to China to meet her missing twin sisters. If she doesn’t take the lessons from the stories, she will continue to hide and the sins of previous generations will continue. If she doesn’t get on the boat, it will mean she has failed to understand and thus forgive her mother. She fails.

Notice how even in these literary examples there is a physical representation that the character has succeeded—ocean and boat.

When there is an end-goal in mind, then it is far easier to deliver the character change. How the protagonist confronts the problem initially won’t work. The character will have to conquer inner demons and evolve into a hero in order to triumph.

This is why I STRONGLY recommend being able to write what our story is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do that? Houston, we have a problem.

Conflict Versus The “Bad” Situation

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.40.07 AM

If we do not have a plot problem it is impossible to generate authentic dramatic tension. I will give you an example.

Kristen oversleeps through her alarm. Worse, when she wakes up, she steps into squishy carpet. The toilet has overflowed. Then she tries to clean that up and the power goes out. Since she has places to be she packs up her stuff to shower at the gym. But after showering and dressing at the gym, she is then caught in bumper to bumper traffic and only once she is an hour away from the house does she realize she has forgotten her purse and has no I.D. or money.

Sounds like a pretty bad day, right? On some level you sympathize. But here is the deal, since this is all happening sequentially with no larger context, it is just bad situation after bad situation. It sucks, but there is no conflict.

Now, let’s add in one little thing. The end goal.

Kristen’s goal was to make an international flight. She is flying to keynote in Australia and this is the make or break of her career. If she fails to make it on time to Australia, she not only forfeits her speaker fee, she will wreck her reputation and also have to pay back the $2,000 for the flight. On top of that an entire hotel of people who have paid for a conference to see her speak, now will have no keynote.

NOW when these setbacks happen, because we know the goal (and what is at stake) we are practically white with tension. We know this isn’t just any other day and that THIS day is vital and so is every decision Kristen makes.

Starting in the Action

Starting in the action has less to do with car chases and bombs and fight scenes and more to do with getting as close to the story problem as possible. Using my example above, we wouldn’t want to start our story with the day Kristen left paper sales to become a writer. No. We would start as close to the day she is leaving to keynote and kick off the problems there.

Obviously there is a lot more to this writing thing, but starting with a solid core plot problem will alleviate a lot of problems. It won’t matter how witty the dialogue, how bad the bad situation, how glorious the prose if all of these are not feeding into the same goal—RESOLVING THE CORE STORY PROBLEM.

If you are struggling with that, sign up for my class about query letters and synopses this Saturday. I will teach you how to whittle your plot to bare bones and find and fix weaknesses. Also, sign up for my Master’s Series (all listed below and recordings come with purchase). I have one for Craft and though the Plotting for Dummies has passed and you can’t attend live, you will get the recording. These Master’s Series give you three classes for the price of TWO. The social media series literally has ALL you need to know to build a brand.

I also have a TOTALLY new Master’s Series with Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg. Normally this sells for $400. It is three classes, two hours a piece and Joel is offering it through W.A.N.A. for only $199. How to Maximize Earning Potential as a Full-Time Writer. So hello? Valentine’s Day gift? *wink, wink*

So what are your thoughts? Do you struggle with plot? Do you find yourself drifting off after plot bunnies?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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!

NEW CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

The End (2)

Once again, I invited blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg to spread his nuggets of wisdom amongst us. Today, he is closing in on closings. He is showing us several “typical closing styles” you can use as templates for your own stories. Yes, just rip them off mercilessly. Alex brings in a few famous authors like Agatha Christie, George Orwell and Bret Easton Ellis, so you can see one brilliant practical example for each closing. Make sure to download Alex’s free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your own stories awesome. And here is the beginning of the end…:

The beginning, so they say, is the most important part of your story. And that might very well be true. Or how do you think your reader will get to experience your genius climax, if a sleep-inducing beginning has put her into a coma long ago…?

However, the end is what your readers will take with them from your book. It’s your closing argument and the last thing they read. It’s what they will remember when they think back to your story in a couple of years, if they remember anything at all.

So you better make your ending count.

Story endings also have some special kind of magic to them. That feeling when you finish a great book you really enjoy, isn’t it… epicness? A grand feeling that stays with you for a while?

Here is the good news: A story ending to remember isn’t even that hard to write. You will now see five typical endings that will leave your reader in delight. Authors use these five endings all the time, and that’s because they work really well.

If all else fails, just use these examples as templates for your own story. That’s not very creative, but no harm done.

Also, if you want to thoroughly check your plot structures, including beginnings and endings, characters, dialogues, and much more, you can download my free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. It will help you make every part of your story tight and awesome.

Here are five archetypical closures that work astonishingly well, with one famous example for each:

1. Get Them by Surprise

Surprise works every single time. That’s because us humans are just curious creatures. You could uncover a surprising fact or give the action a surprising twist. Anyways, your readers will appreciate being astonished; after all, that’s what they are reading stories for.

Your readers will have certain expectations. They depend on the genre, the protagonists, the language, and so on… Be aware of your readers’ expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. Then give them something they don’t expect, but still makes sense for your story.

Maybe the thief turns out to be the narrator’s own husband or even the narrator herself. Maybe the girl doesn’t pick between her two suitors, but instead marries their uncle. Or plumber.

Agatha Christie, the master of plausible surprise, shows us perfectly how it’s done in And Then There Were None. Ten visitors are trapped on a small island and murdered one by one. As nobody else is on the island, it’s clear one of them must be the murderer… but who?

One suspect after another is snuffed, until only one person is left alive. It’s now clear she must be the murderer, until… the highly unexpected closure reveals she is not. The novel ranks amongst the bestselling books of all time.

Dinosaur Rearview Mirror 1

 

2. Play Their Sentiments with an Elegiac Fade Out

Milan Kundera takes a very different approach when he wraps up his The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.”

Kundera’s classic novel fades into the distance like a piece of music. The ending doesn’t want to bring suspense, puzzle or get you to think. It’s all about mood. It’s a slow ending.

Try to make your reader really feel the power of the moment, be it terrified, happy, sad, or sentimental.

Think of little symbols, like the butterfly above; with Kundera, it might stand for lightness, repeating the theme in the novel’s title. You could zoom in on a tapping finger or a dew drop, or zoom out to show wooded hills or a rural mansion. Landscapes and weather make very memorable finishing moments (“…and great shaggy flakes of snow began to fall.”).

Leave the reader with a unique vibe, and she will appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s all your closure needs.

3. Throw Them a Punchline

With this one, you have to be careful. Do you know that situation when Uncle Albert at the holiday lunch table makes a big fuss about his upcoming joke, but the punchline is almost non-existent? You don’t want to be like that. You could tell a joke or describe surprising action, but make it count.

Your punchline doesn’t have to be funny. It could be an action or a simple observation. In any case, it should connect to the stories topic, even if it’s just a symbolic hint. Otherwise it will be up in the air and look arbitrary.

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is one big parable on how totalitarian systems arise and thrive. It’s told in an animal world. Look at the clever, indirect and also depicting note Orwell ends on:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Punchline 1

4. Leave Open Questions and Create Suspense

If you want to tickle your reader with suspense, cue an open ending: Ok, the Apaches are defeated, but will they be back again? Got it, the starship has escaped the pudding-like aliens, but will it ever make its way home to planet earth?

These kind of endings will keep your readers on their toes and make them long for more. But be aware that they can also be very unsatisfying. After all, your reader bought your book so he can hear from you what happened. “Just imagine the rest yourself,” can be a little unsatisfactory. But if you have delivered a great deal of action beforehand and if the question is rather vague, it might be worth it.

Let’s showcase another one of the most successful novels of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It ends with Scarlett O’Hara longing to be together with Rhett Butler again – but can she? Also pay attention to the nice rhythm that keeps these phrases flowing: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

5. Repeat the Theme of the Opening Scene

Whatever your story is about, it probably circles around one specific topic: Be it the struggles of love, the rewards of honesty, or whatever else. It’s what keeps your readers breathless throughout the story. Now give them one last reminder of what they came for, one condensed moment of your topic, a big final exclamation mark!

You have many options to repeat your main theme in the closure. Think of people, actions, details.

Maybe your story is about the importance of friendship, and you wrap up with one friend putting a patch on the other friend’s abrasion. Or you end on one friend smilingly watching the other friend’s bag while she is away. Or a close up on the yin and yang badge on that very bag. It might be very simple, but it automatically gains meaning because it’s the last part.

Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel American Psycho starts by describing a graffiti with the text “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

The novel fittingly ends with a nihilistic paragraph as well. Large parts of the following text read arbitrary in content and form. In the end the very last words of the novel spell it out clearly: NOT AN EXIT.

“[…]this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”

You can end your stories in an infinite number of ways, but these five closings will intrigue your readers, no matter what. They will evoke joy, melancholy, surprise and other powerful feelings in your audience, and your readers will remember how they felt about your story for a long, long time to come.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Test your endings, beginnings, plot, characters and much more with his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Finished with your endings, Alex?

Kristen here. Now tell me: Have you used one of these five endings before? Which one of them is your favorite? Is there one you specifically like or dislike as a reader? How come even endings have beginnings? And why are sausages the only things with two endings?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

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

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