Kristen Lamb

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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!!! 

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Blogging for Authors $50 March 30th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

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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

We’ve been talking about the most critical flaw in most new manuscripts, and that is the lack of the CORE STORY PROBLEM. In order to make things simpler, I came up with the concept of the BBT (Big Boss Troublemaker) because the core antagonist is not always a villain. He/She/It merely has a goal that runs counter to what the protagonist wants. Without that core story problem in need of solving we don’t have a novel, we have Day of Our Lives.

Just bad situations mixed with melodrama and angst.

So we need to give our protagonist a problem and not just any problem, but the perfect problem and one that is seemingly insurmountable. Now, we as Author God know this is good for the protagonist, but our character will likely scream, cry and resist more than a toddler headed for nap time.

Yet, whenever I write about the BBT (core antagonist), inevitably I get this in the comments, which is perfectly fine and a legitimate question…

“Great article, Kristen. I have a question. What about novels with an internal conflict? Where the main character has to make a hard choice and all the conflicts with the “bad guys” in the story are really just manifestations of the MC’s own character flaws coming to light as she works out the solution? Is there a BBT in this situation?”

Short answer? YES!!!!

One of the toughest concepts to grasp in writing fiction is this notion of “inner demons.” In all my years working with writers and busting apart countless manuscripts, the single greatest weakness I’ve witnessed with writers is a failure to truly understand how to plot. And before anyone breaks out in hives that I am encouraging detailed outlines, I’m not.

But the problem with inner demons is they are…well…inner. This means that our job as writers is to draw the demons out so they can be destroyed. It’s kind of like The Exorcist, though green puke and spinning heads is all your call.

You might laugh but if you have ever seen any movie involving an exorcism, what is the general progression?

The victim starts acting weird. Not herself. At first it might be written off as depression or lack of sleep or not enough caffeine. Then as the demon gains a toehold, the outward symptoms become more pronounced. Maybe physical changes (growling voice, speaking in Latin). Priests intervene and stuff gets cray-cray but to defeat the demon, what has to happen?

The demon must give its NAME.

You know you watch far too many horror movies when you are no longer scared, but are yelling critique.

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But the point of this I want to make clear is that the one thing these exorcism stories pretty much all have in common is the demon must be NAMED and manifest OUTWARDLY to be defeated.

Same in fiction.

Inner demons are tricky for a number of reasons we will talk about today. The trick is finding the plot problem that will drive the demon to the surface so it can be defeated.

Inner Demons are Inner

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Yeah, I already mentioned that but this is kind of a big deal. Many new writers begin the novel with a character doing a lot of internalization and thinking and thinking and more thinking.

This is problematic for a number of reasons but the biggest is we (readers) just don’t care. We haven’t spent enough time to be vested in a stranger’s emotional baggage.

Do any of us like spending time in person with folks who do nothing but talk about their character flaws and problems? NO. So we are unlikely to want to pay to endure this too much in a book. Can we get there eventually? Sure.

Just like dating. I would hope by the time we dated someone a couple months we might know they haven’t talked to their father in three years and we would care about this problem. In the first fifteen minutes of a first date?

*backs away slowly* *slips barista a $20 to create a distraction to cover ex-fil*

Demons Hide in the Blind Spot

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One key thing to remember about demons is they hide really really well. If they didn’t then shrinks would starve and be treated like writers.

Wow, you’re a psychotherapist? Really? What’s your “real” job? Seriously, people PAY you to listen to their problems?

This is another reason we don’t begin with a protagonist thinking about her inner demons. Odds are, she is oblivious they are even there. She isn’t yet that self-actualized.

Denial is more than a river in Africa 😉 . In fact, the stronger the denial, the better the story (or if you’re a therapist, the better the $$$$$). This is why your protagonist, if pitted against the antagonist in Act One should lose. He/She has not grown enough in order to defeat the core story problem.

Plot is What Exorcises the Demons

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The plot is the crucible that will fire this demon to the surface so the character can then defeat it. This is why understanding plotting becomes so vital. A great plot problem is going to sprout directly from that inner demon. Why?

Because fiction is the path of greatest resistance. What good is a plot problem unless it pits the character against her deepest flaw and weakness?

Some weaknesses might be fairly obvious—grief, betrayal or addiction. The problem, however, is no one wants to read 300+ pages of someone whining about a loss or a compulsion. We would probably want to smother such a person to get her to shut up.

Whining is not a plot.

Also remember that there is a reason for the grief, feeling of betrayal or addiction and THAT is the real inner demon that must show its head. There must be an outside challenge that forces the character to eventually choose to remain the same or to evolve (Act III).

You gonna keep hiding in a bottle? Or are you gonna face/defeat WHY you drink so you can walk your daughter down the aisle?

Not all inner demons are as obvious, though. The tricky demons look a hell of a lot like our greatest strengths, because…..um, they are.

Remember that every character strength has a corresponding weakness.

These inner demons are a real bugger to spot because they serve the character really well (or at least the character believes they do). In fact, this inner demon might be the very reason the character has always been successful…until you Evil Author Overlord hand her a problem where the old tools no longer work.

New level, new devil, baby 😉 .

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For instance, maybe your protagonist has a heart of gold. She is always there to help a friend, lend an ear, or fix a problem. Helping is the core of her identity.

But what happens when she wants to open a new cupcake bakery but then realizes she is spending too much time helping people who really don’t want to help themselves?

The plot forces her to recognize she sucks at putting down boundaries. She might even realize that she wasn’t helping after all…she was enabling or even controlling. She might come to finally see that the dark side of her helping. Deep down she doesn’t trust and so she always has to keep the ledger balanced in her favor. Or she could really believe she doesn’t deserve to be successful and helping others is a way of avoiding risk of failure.

Well, as soon as I get my brother sobered up, THEN I can focus on the cupcakes.

When the outside challenge—opening a cupcake bakery—reveals the BS of her core identity, what will she DO? See, before she had a dream of a cupcake bakery, she could be there for everyone and every problem. The plot problem, however, drives the demon to the surface and shows its real face.

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Notice how the problem (outside goal) helps this become a story, not just 300 pages of tedious navel gazing and infighting. Without the goal, there is no real way to see if our imaginary protagonist succeeds. Yet, add in a cupcake bakery and it is pretty easy to spot failure. If, in the end she is still nagging her brother to stop drinking and does not have a successful cupcake bakery?

She failed.

Every side trip to rescue others that stops her from realizing this dream makes us worry (dramatic tension).

It All Goes Back to the Paradigm

Remember a couple posts back we talked about paradigms. The paradigm is the set of lenses (flawed) that the protagonist sees herself and her world through. Inner demons are what create the distortion in the lens. I strongly recommend checking out the Emotional Wound Thesaurus because these wounds are what grind the distorted lenses through which your protagonist sees the world.

The needs, false beliefs, fears, strengths and weaknesses are all part of the paradigm. The BBT is what forces the protagonist to see the lenses are no good and propels her to do the hard work required to see her world and herself more clearly.

For instance, using our cupcake baker above, WHY does she feel the need to rescue? “She just does,” is a bad/lazy answer. Her need to rescue is merely a symptom of the wound. Her paradigm is family-centered. Her paradigm tells her, “I am not worthy of happiness on my own. I am only worthy when I am ‘helping’.”

Thus, if we know we are working with this sort of character and this sort of inner demon, plot becomes self-evident. We now know exactly what kind of existential crisis to toss in her path to make her fall. We place her in a situation where she no longer can help the way she used to. Take away her crutch, let her fall and eventually she will see she never needed it at all. She was always capable of walking.

In the end, all great stories involve inner demons (character arc). But even in literary fiction, the outside problem is what is going to make that inner demon manifest. So take time to really think about how your outside plot problem can make the protagonist squeal then make them suffer…a lot. It’s good for them 😀 .

***NOTE: Also pick up a Positive Trait Thesaurus for help finding your protagonist’s weak/blind spots.

What are your thoughts? Does this help you understand how to better make readers care about the internal struggles of your characters? Any questions? Suggestions? Additions? Recipes for holy water?

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

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

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages $40 March 18th, 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

Last time, we talked about the core antagonist or as I like to call it, the Big Boss Troublemaker. The BBT is responsible for creating the core story problem in need of being solved and we will continue our discussion on the BBT and different types of antagonists later.

But before we do that, I want to talk about a symptom of a novel with no BBT. Sort of like a doctor might take blood pressure or check off a list of symptoms before cracking open your chest to diagnose a bum ticker.

As an expert on plot, one clear symptom of a novel with no plot (or the fatally flawed manuscript), is the story will break out in little darlings. The more the severe the outbreak? The sicker the manuscript. Some cases are even fatal. Nothing to do but pull the plug and harvest for clever dialogue.

Why is this?

When we fail to have a core story problem, deep down we sense something is missing and so we put our best work into buttressing weaknesses. We spend hours on scenes of lavish description, or sections of super witty dialogue, or crazy twists and turns and a surprise ending that only makes sense if we use jazz hands and flannelgrams to explain them.

Because there is no simple CORE problem, we must invent contrived backstory, interstellar empires and black magic conspiracies to explain the, frankly, unexplainable. And, since we put a LOT of brainpower into this? Pulling us off these clever bits of our story is like trying to deprogram a family member from a New Mexico cult.

We’ve partaken of our own Kool-Aid and dammit, we like it!

Yet, the problem with a mass outbreak of little darlings is that, if we don’t spot them and then kill them dead? The novel has no chance of being saved because the little darlings are often the very thing keeping it sick.

What’s a Little Darling?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.”

Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian Google Doc where they would come back as really bad novels.

…oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. They can also look like “never before thought of ideas” and “wicked twist endings that put Shyamalan to shame.”

To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot. Why are little darlings so dangerous?

Because th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go. Here are three BIG reasons your little darlings need to die.

#1 We Risk Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. The characters’ agendas, secrets and insecurities collide.

As my awesome friend and talented author/writing teacher Les Edgerton mentioned a while back in his lesson about dialogue, subtext is vital. It’s more than what’s said. This can only happen when 3-D characters meet with real baggage that gets in the way of solving a CORE STORY PROBLEM.

Since little darlings are often birthed from a flimsy plot (or no plot), the writer is left to manufacture conflict (melodrama). This weakness often manifests in pointless fight scenes, chase scenes, flashbacks or hospital/funeral scenes that seem to go nowhere.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

We are creating bad situations, not authentic dramatic tension.

#2 We Mistake Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a demon, but a nice demon because in my world some of the demons actually were half human mage which makes them not evil. Anyway he’s a demon, well half-demon, and actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

Me: No, what does she need to do? What bad thing must she stop?

Writer: Someone is stalking her.

Me: *looks for closest bar*

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. As mentioned earlier, it’s my opinion that new writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—A CORE STORY PROBLEM IN NEED OF RESOLUTION. Without a core story problem, conflict is impossible to generate, and the close counterfeit “melodrama” will slither in and take its place.

I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a subconscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated.

When we fail to have a core story problem, often we resort to trying to fix the structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping it will fly. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o.

“Complicated” is Not Conflict

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complicated. We frequently get too complicated when we are trying to BS our way through something we don’t understand and pray no one notices.

Um, they will. Trust me.

Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we add more players trying to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

“Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.

I can prove this. Let’s take one of the most complex stories of the 20th century. Yes, yes, you know where I am going. Lord of the Rings. Simple story. I can give it to you in ONE sentence.

A race of naive and innocent homebodies must travel across a dangerous world to drop an evil ring in a specific volcano before a power-hungry necromancer takes over the world and casts all they love in darkness and despair.

The CORE of that complex story is two Hobbits tossing a ring in a volcano. Everything else supports that singular simple idea.

The difference between complex and complicated is this. With a complex plot we can say what the story is about in one sentence. When the story is complicated? Trying to unravel our plot is about as easy as unravelling the Gordian Knot.

#3 We Fail to Spot/Correct Weaknesses

We fall so in love with our fun characters, our witty dialogue, our amazing inter-stellar conspiracy that we never finish. We can’t finish.

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You’ve rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

Since we aren’t being honest about why the book isn’t working, we aren’t doing the hard work that would make the story publishable and we end up making a bad mess even worse.

In the end, be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. Make the hard decisions, then kill them dead and bury your pets little darlings for real.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies? If you need help looking at your own plot with honest eyes, I have never met a plot I couldn’t fix and am an expert at assisted suicide for Little Darlings, so email me at kristen at wana intl dot com if you need help. I would also strongly recommend my Hooked—Your First Five Pages class below because you get me shredding through your novel’s intro. I can spot every problem in a novel in 20 pages or less. So save some time and get my help. There is no shame in needing outside eyes.

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

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

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages $40 March 18th, 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

One of the major issues with first-time novels is that the young writer fails to understand what a novel really is. All great stories are about one thing and one thing only—PROBLEMS. More specifically? Every good story has one core problem in need of being resolved. Granted, there will be many other problems along the way, but they are the setbacks and are all related to solving the core problem.

The trouble is that many of us got our “author training” in school, which really is no training at all. That purple prose that scored us an A on our college short story won’t get us far in the world of commercial storytelling. Additionally, pretty prose might be fine for keeping a five page or ten page short story interesting, but it falls apart under a body as weighty as a novel.

The new writer often senses this, so will work in navel-gazing and inner demons and then random bits of stuff going wrong and, instead of a well-structured story where tension and drama flow organically? We end up with melodrama.

Our “novel” then devolves into Days of Our Lives where nothing is really happening. Conflict is manufactured instead of inherent. “Bad stuff” is happening because the writer needs it to, not because “bad stuff” was inevitable.

How do we fix this?

Antagonists

The antagonist is a highly confusing topic. Hell, it confused me for years which is why I came up with my own term, which we will discuss today. Remember we said every story must have a core story problem?

That core story problem is created by the antagonist.

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist. The antagonist is absolutely essential for fiction. He/she/it is the engine of your story. No engine, and no forward momentum.

Like cars, plots need momentum or they are dead. The antagonist provides the energy to move the story forward. Yet, the antagonist has many, many faces and that is what trips up most new writers.

Think of your antagonist like ice cream–infinite colors, flavors, and complexities. The antagonist is not always evil. Yes villains are always antagonists but antagonists are not always villains.

Villains are only a flavor of antagonist, much like chocolate is only one flavor of ice cream. And, even in chocolate, there are still limitless varieties. Guess what? Same with villains. We’ll talk about them later.

This series is to explore the many facets of the most important element in fiction. Today, we are going to begin with what I call the BBT–or Big Boss Troublemaker. Why? Because the term antagonist confused the hell out of me for years, so I simplified things.

No BBT and you have no story. The BBT is not always bad or evil. The BBT simply creates the core story problem in need of being resolved.

Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the protagonist’s world to turn upside down. The BBT creates the core story problem. The BBT is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle (Act Three).

The lead up to the show-down with the BBT is responsible for creating our story tension. Will the protagonist evolve and triumph, or will he fail?

In commercial fiction, it is generally easier to spot the BBT.

No Sauron and no need for the Hobbits to leave the Shire.

No Darth Vader, no reason for Luke to leave Tatooine.

No Buffalo Bill, and Agent Starling is left doing paperwork.

This might seem simple enough, but time after time I get new manuscripts where there is no core story because there is no BBT. I get fantasy or science fiction manuscripts with a lot of fancy world-building and magic and bad stuff happening, but no core party responsible for a singular problem….so it all just fizzles.

Even in more literary works there is also a BBT and that BBT must have a face despite all we heard about man versus man, man versus religion, man versus nature, man versus society, etc. in school.

When the BBT is not corporeal? This is when things get tricky. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism, which is why we then need the proxy.

Let’s explore these.

Man Against Society

Whatever larger idea your protagonist is battling, that idea will need a manifestation. For instance, in The Hunger Games trilogy, “the system” is represented by Snow. The story is not over until Snow is defeated and his defeat marks the system’s defeat.

In The Help, the BBT is racism, but it is manifested in the white socialites who mistreat the maids (I.e. Hilly Holbrook). “Racism” is defeated when the socialites are defeated.

Man Against Nature

Some new writers take this as man fighting bad weather, but really? Who wants to read about bad weather for 300 pages? Often these stories are not about the weather at all, but rather what the weather reveals in people.

For instance, In The Perfect Storm, was the storm really the BBT? Or was it merely the impetus that brought forth the real BBT…pride which was manifested in the captain, Billy Tyne?

The fishermen are suffering. They are on the verge of losing homes and marriages because of their dire economic situation. The captain decides to do one final fishing voyage even though it is the most dangerous time of the year. When the fisherman go out, they land the catch of a lifetime, but the refrigeration system breaks.

They are faced with a choice. Let the fish rot and then it was all for nothing. Or they can risk everything and take on the perfect storm (pride).

In my POV, the story is never man against nature, it is man against himself and nature is simply the catalyst.

Man Against Himself

No one wants to read a book of nonstop navel gazing. Thus if your character’s worst enemy is himself/herself? You need a proxy. The BBT will represent the particular aspect you are seeking to destroy and then the BBT will have a face.

For instance, in the movie 28 Days, the BBT is alcoholism, but it is represented in the proxy Jasper, the hard-partying boyfriend who fuels and normalizes Gwen’s addiction.

Gwen is her own worst enemy. She must defeat her own alcoholism. But this will be manifested when she can finally see herself as an addict and walk away from the life of addiction (where Jasper is its representative).

We could go on forever on this topic, but we won’t. Just pay attention to your favorite stories and see if you can pinpoint the BBT and then notice how it is always the protagonist-turned-hero who will face off with him/her/it at the end.

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

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

Rule #2—In ROMANCE, the love interest cannot be the BBT. Romance has rules and this is a big one. Now, in romance, the love interest will take on the role of antagonist in scenes, but they cannot be the BBT. Why? Because the BBT must be defeated in the Big Boss Battle, and utter defeat isn’t exactly grounds for a lasting relationship. Romance is all about the HEA (happily ever after)

Feel free to break this rule, but I will warn you that when the BBT is the love interest, it is no longer a romance. It becomes Women’s Fiction 😉 .

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

There has to be a Big Boss Battle in your story or the story problem is not fully resolved. A lot of new writers are “writing a series.” And, oh, but Such-and-Such dies in book 12 of my series. Nope. Sorry. Try again.

There are two types of series. One type is connected only because of the protagonist. Detective books for instance (I.e. Harry Bosch books). In these it is pretty easy to see that the BBT must be defeated in each book.

The second type of series is connected through a singular story, but the thing is, each book will have a mini-BBT that marks the culmination of that part of the story. So I get it, your “Sauron” is not defeated in Book One, but that doesn’t absolve you of the Big Boss Battle for that book.

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

In the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, each movie had it’s own BBT. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie wasn’t over until the showdown against the Uruk-Hai who is actually a minion of Saruman (The Two Towers) who is a minion of the Big Guy, himself…Sauron (defeated in The Return of the King). Each movie has a Big Boss Battle against that movie’s BBT. If we panned back, each movie would make up one Act of a larger 3 Act whole.

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. The antagonist is tough, and hopefully this series will break its complex nature down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

I LOVE hearing from you! And if you want me to look at your writing, make sure you check out my Hooked class. I am offering levels that come with edits from MOI! *smooch* And I only do this class a couple times a year so sign up and get your spot.

****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!

NEW CLASS!!!! Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg’s Master’s Series: HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR EARNING POTENTIAL AS A FULL-TIME AUTHOR (Includes all classes listed below) Normally $400 but at W.A.N.A. ONLY $199 to learn from Joel IN YOUR HOME.

OR, if it works better, purchase Joel’s classes individually…

Potentially Lucrative Multi-Media Rights $65 February 21st, 2107 (AVAILABLE ON DEMAND)

How to Sell to Your Niche Market $65 February 28th, 2017

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows YOU $65 March 7th, 2017

Making Money Speaking, Teaching, Blogging and Retaining Rights $65 March 14th, 2017

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 March 30th, 2017

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

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages $40 March 18th, 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

Last time we talked about paradigms, and how paradigms are what make the difference between a flat one-dimensional character background and a fully dimensional creation. The paradigm is the meaning of the background, the character’s interpretation of their own experiences.

The context.

We all know there is an inherent X factor to humans. Theologians, scientists, geneticists, sociologists, psychiatrists and self-help gurus have all been trying to unravel that X factor probably since humans had enough free time to get existential. The nature-nurture argument is still alive and well with no clear answers.

The paradigm represents this X factor.

One person gets mugged and becomes agoraphobic. Another becomes a black belt. And yet another brushes it off and is just more careful and maybe carries pepper spray. Humans are all vastly different, and this provides the wide pallet of color from which the skilled writer can then create.

In the last post, we referred to the paradigm as a set of lenses. Experience, birth order, genetics, etc. all serve to grind the lenses the character wears. As also mentioned in the last post, the protagonist wears these lenses but only we—Author God—know these lenses are flawed and in need of replacing.

The protagonist believes he is seeing clearly. The plot problem is what eventually shows how wrong the protagonist is.

Now when we simply look at the protagonist—because it is HER story—we know the core plot problem we create must be directly related to shattering HER particular paradigm. If the plot doesn’t do this? It’s going to fizzle, because there simply won’t be any conflict. The paradigm reveals the pain point, the critical node and perfect place for us to strike.

If the character is family-centered, we go after the family. Job-centered? Go for the job. Relationship-centered? A break-up is on the horizon.

Y’all get the gist.

We need to smash what the protagonist believes is important and reveal what really is important. Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how this works. I’m going to use different genres so you guys get a better feel for what I am talking about.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Frodo is achievement-centered. He believes The Shire is holding him back. It is too prosaic, too mundane. No, he is called to adventure and wants to see the world and experience dragons and orcs and look for treasure. He has a romanticized notion that what is outside The Shire is far more important than The Shire.

This means we need to give him a plot problem that 1) gets him out of The Shire (give him what he believes he wants) 2) exposes that all this adventure he has been dreaming about is seriously NOT as wonderful as he’d imagined 3) place The Shire and all he took for granted in genuine danger of being lost for good.

In the beginning of our tale, Frodo cannot wait to leave The Shire. In the middle (Book Two) all he wants to do is return to The Shire and by the end (Book Three) he is willing to die to save the very place he took for granted. His lenses of All Outside the Shire is Super Awesome have been shattered and replaced.

The Minority Report

John Anderton not only heads Pre-Crime, he is a bonafide acolyte of a system that uses the Pre-Cogs to see a crime before it ever happens. With Pre-Crime the murder rate in D.C. has dropped to almost zero, and with less-than-subtle encouragement from his mentor? John firmly believes that Pre-Crime is the answer to human sin, that if it had only been around a few years earlier, he would never have lost his son.

John drinks the Pre-Crime Kool-Aid.

He honestly believes there really is no such thing as free will, that humans don’t have the ability to choose. That what the Pre-Cogs see is set. He is all about the job, because his job is changing the world and making it “safe.”

John is job-centered. His entire identity is wrapped up in Pre-Crime.

So, knowing this, the screenwriters (tasked with adapting the Philip K. Dick version for film) understood precisely where to strike. They knew to hit John Anderton right in the job, right in his belief in the infallibility of Pre-Crime. How did they do this?

They red-balled him (a red-ball is a warning of premeditated murder).

John believes that the Pre-Cogs are infallible. But how is he supposed to murder a man he has never even met? By the end of our tale, the man who believed enough in Pre-Crime to lead the charge to take it national, is now the one who destroys it. By the end he can finally see the wreckage of his life.

Before, when he had the job-centered lenses, he was driven by the career, fueled by drugs and haunted by his guilt. In all of this he’d pushed away his wife, destroyed his marriage and haloed countless potentially innocent people who very well might have made a different decision in the seconds before…just as he had.

With new lenses, he can finally SEE his flawed world and set it right. Tear down Pre-Crime, free those jailed under it, let go and mourn his son, and reunite with his estranged wife.

Big, Little Lies

I touched on Liane Moriatry’s Big, Little Lies last time. The story actually blends the threads of three major characters but for the sake of brevity? We will continue to pick on Madeline. As I mentioned last time, Madeline has a family-centered paradigm. Her entire worth and how she sees herself and her world is caught up in her ability to be a mother.

More accurately, how much her daughters need her.

In the beginning of the story we get that Madeline is losing her grip. Her youngest daughter Chloe is finally in grade school and is becoming more and more independent. To make matters worse, Madeline’s ex-husband, Nathan, who abandoned her and the older daughter Abigail years before is back with a new (and far younger) wife, Bonnie. He also has a new daughter Skye, who’s enrolled in the same school (and same class) as Chloe.

Madeline already feels her identity grip slipping in the beginning, so what did Moriarty do? She stomped on Madeline’s fingers and dropped her off the ledge. If her entire being rests on her children needing her, what will she do when Abigail bonds with her “replacement” Bonnie? When her daughter decides to leave the mother who stood by her for the man who abandoned them both?

The story problem forces Madeline to learn the old adage, If you love something, let it go and trust that her daughter will return. Trust is not Madeline’s strong suit for obvious reasons (namely abandonment). But Madeline is going to have to learn to forgive and to trust in order to be reunited with her older daughter.

She needs to lose the family-centered glasses and realize she is a person in her own right and that her identity cannot rest on her children’s need because that has led to control and not love.

I am hoping you are seeing the depth that the paradigm offers as well as how it is almost a witching stick for finding the perfect story for your character. By adding the paradigm, plot almost magically reveals itself. Next time we are going to take the idea of paradigms even further to show how this is going to generate page-turning conflict throughout and keep your readers up so late they will curse your name but secretly love you for all that missed sleep.

What are your thoughts? Can you use this idea of paradigms to see your favorite books and movies in a whole new light?

I LOVE hearing from you!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but that is a ONE TIME deal. After you do it once, WP will recognize you as a regular *sings Cheers theme song* once I approve the comment.

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

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

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages $40 March 18th, 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