Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: literature

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of adohnes

Years ago when I got the idea to write a novel, I did what a lot of new writers do and created the uber perfect protagonist. In fact, when I came up with the original plot idea for The Devil’s Dance, I cast a Sarah Conner badass…and she was dull as dirt and utterly unlikable.

Yay me.

Bizarrely, when those critiquing didn’t like my protagonist, I made her more perfect thinking that would fix it. Um, no. Made it worse. They went from disliking her to kinda wanting to stab her in the face.

Why did I do this? Why did I default to super perfect?

Fear.

Fear of being authentic. I had no concept of what it was like to be perfect. My family resembled Season Two of the Jerry Springer Show. After my parents divorced, my dad disappeared for years only to resurface and take a job as a cashier at Stop-N-Go so he could get out of paying the originally allotted child support. I was never #1 at anything (unless one counts truancy). Terrible at sports, last to be picked and the first to get nailed in the face in a game of dodge ball. I dropped out of high school…TWICE.

When it came time to write a story, I wrote the version of me that never was and likely never would be. She was…perfect.

And again, dull as dirt.

For a long time I was tremendously embarrassed about all the best material for a great story (stuff I knew, had experienced in MY life). In short, I was afraid to be authentic. So, after countless versions of my perfect character, I relegated her to the recycle bin and started again with a new character…Romi.

I discovered that I was far better at writing messed up people with imperfect lives, lots of baggage who were working through pain in imperfect ways.

Thus, today, I have a guest who is one of my closest friends and has been critique partner of mine for years, Lanette Kauten. She loves literary fiction almost as much as I love tormenting her for loving literary fiction. But Lanette is excellent at creating very flawed and interesting characters with lots of layers, so who better to ask to guest post about writing authentically?

Take it away, Lanette!

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Gerald Gabernig

Writing is a great adventure because we get to explore worlds and characters, diving into the psychology of humanity. And we long to share these wonderful stories we’ve created with the world!

In doing so, it’s natural to put a piece of ourselves, our worldview, into the stories. We want to share things—a belief or a bit of wisdom—but the question is how to do it without sounding didactic. Religious writers have a reputation of moralizing their stories and not coming across as authentic.

Is that a fair criticism? Maybe for some, but it’s not a brush that can be applied liberally.

Look at Dean Koontz. He’s a Catholic, and his books are amazing! Sometimes his readers can detect his overall worldview in his stories, but not always. He simply churns out good stories. Though he did write the most kick-ass salvation scene in his “Prodigal Son” series. Let’s also not forget about the works of two other great writers who happen to be Christians—Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor.

But what about books with other religious elements?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sukanto Debnath

I’m glad you asked because now we’re getting to the crux of this post. Life of Pi is not a Hindu novel. The Kite Runner is not a Muslim novel.

Both of those books portray beautiful stories, and are simply novels told from the worldviews of their respective authors. Yes, the main characters have religious beliefs. It’s part of who they are, and to deny it on the one hand or to make the stories all about that on the other wouldn’t have been authentic. And readers would’ve tossed the books aside without ever thinking about them again rather than gush about how great those two books are.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Navaneeth Kishor

My novels are written from my worldview, but anyone would be crazy to call them “Christian fiction.” My characters are a part of the world they live in and act accordingly.

I don’t attempt to hide from real life or shove my characters into a derivative little box. In one of my books, the main character is a confused atheist who escaped from her upbringing in a weird, Charismatic church. Even though she wants nothing to do with her parents’ religion, one of her closest friends is a Jesus freak guru who owns a club in an art district, and one of his employees is a pothead who believes just as strongly in aliens as he believes in Jesus.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of erokism

The book isn’t about her struggle with religion, but it’s a part of who she is. To cut all that out wouldn’t be true to her or to the story. However, to make the story about religion wouldn’t be honest either. Here I am as a Christian with a book about an atheist in a lesbian relationship, struggling to figure out where she belongs in this world. I don’t shy away from realistic people and situations.

For me, authenticity is key.

Readers are smart and can detect a false note as easily as hearing a wrong note played in their favorite song. It doesn’t matter what worldview you bring to your story (we all bring our beliefs and experiences into our stories); whether we’re Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, or whatever, we are wise to be authentic. We must strive to be honest in order to show the world as it really is.

Great. That sounds wonderful. How do we do it?

Be Vulnerable

Share your pain, your loss, your doubts. To be human is to feel. Dump your emotions on that page. Open up your vein and bleed. (Not literally. Please don’t bleed on your computer. It’s sticky.) Don’t shy away from the difficult questions because many of your readers will pick up on that and will feel cheated, and don’t edit your emotions as you write. Editing comes later.

Personalize It

This is similar to vulnerability, but here is where you get to shine. Share your worldview as something personal to you. Beliefs have broad implications, but they also have personal elements. Open up the beauty of that world to us in a way that feels real by focusing on the minute details. So often the smallest things have the biggest impact.

Know Your Characters

Your characters are key to showing their own authenticity. Let’s say you’re writing a Christian book, and your character is in a difficult position. Maybe she learned that a friend stole some money and that friend knows a secret about her. If she reports her friend, she knows her secret will be out.

What would your character do? Don’t think about the moral lesson you want to impart, but think about her personality, beliefs, what drives her, and how big the secret is (the bigger, the better) and have her act as she naturally would.

I write literary and some women’s fiction, so my novels are grounded in real life, yet when I say you have to show the world as it really is, I don’t just mean contemporary or literary fiction. You can write fantasies or sci-fi with amazing new worlds, but what is that secret ingredient that elevates the forgettable story to the unforgettable one? Writing our characters and stories with honesty.

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Thank you, Lanette! I hope y’all will check out her books and befriend her on Facebook. Also Lanette will be at Jamie Lynn Boothe’s launch party on Facebook tonight so I hope y’all will come by.

What are your thoughts? What resonates with you? What do you try to impart onto your characters to make them “real”? Are you like I was and terrified to be imperfect? It’s cool. We all do it. And, frankly, perfect characters also serve a role in other types of fiction (I.e. James Bond), so I don’t want to pick on them too much. Do you enjoy authenticity or prefer the escape of perfection? No wrong answers, btw.

I LOVE hearing from you and comments for guests count double in my contest.

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

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

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

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

NEW CLASSES!

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

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classes with MOI!

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

Blogging for Authors June 29th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

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

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

Last week, we started talking about voice. Voice is the essence of our writing, and having a strong, original voice can be the ticket to literary legend. I believe most of us are born with a storytelling voice. All humans are storytellers, and, in fact, humans passed on information, history, and stories orally for thousands of years and “voice” is actually a holdover from this oral tradition.

Humans are a story people.

Narrative structure is hard-wired into the architecture of our brains. This is how even a three-year-old can nail us when we skip part of the bedtime story. Unless one has suffered some brain trauma or debilitating psychiatric trauma, all humans are storytellers. Just like, unless one has lost a limb or suffered a major injury, all humans can dance. Now, all of us aren’t necessarily good storytellers (or dancers). Natural talent can make some of stand out from the crowd.

But is talent enough?

To quote Stephen King, Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

There are no shortcuts to publishing success. Yes there are strange literary savants who write one book and it’s perfect, but they are the odd outlier, not the norm. Go tell your family this so they stop hassling you.

We’ll wait.

So success in writing, like all other arts, comes with a lot of hard work, even if you happen to be graced with natural talent/voice. Yet, all new writers (I did it, too) believe that we can write one book and be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I am here to offer some tough love. Just because we hold a basic command of our native tongue in no way prepares us for professional publication. Sort of like a high school Home Ec class doesn’t prepare us to take over as head chef at Claridge’s. I know your friends and family might think college Literature 101 is enough to rocket you to the NYT best-seller list, but they are wrong. Learn to ignore them.

Every art requires training. Just because I run out to an art store and buy supplies doesn’t make me an artist. All art forms have basics that are drilled in over and over and over. I spent seven years in ballet, and all dancers begin with the basics–learn the five foot positions. If I decided to “skip all the boring stuff” and ran out and bought toe shoes on day one and just took off dancing Swan Lake, not only would it look more like Wounded Chicken instead of Swan Lake, but I could also expect a lot of pain and lasting deformities.

Same with writing.

Now all of us, I do feel have a natural writing voice. Then friends and family step in and make snarky remarks and this dings our confidence. Then, on top of that, the world is full of scared, boring people too chicken to follow their own dreams, and will always find time to criticize ours. Learn to tune them out or they can affect your natural voice and keep it from growing stronger.

Aside from ditching or cleverly avoiding family toxic people, the single greatest way to develop voice is to learn our craft.

#1 Know the Rules

There is a difference in being courageous and being reckless. Our job as writers is to learn the difference. How can we know the difference? We must study.

I recently went to an art exhibit here in DFW at the Kimball Art Museum. The museum is showing one of the largest collections of Impressionist paintings, and yes, I am the person who reads every one of the little placards along the way.  What I found interesting was that all of the masters like Monet, Degas, and Renoir spent extensive time studying the great painters of their day and even those masters who’d come before. Yes, they broke with all the traditions to become successful in their own rights. But…

They knew the rules so they could break the rules.

I can tell in less than five pages if a writer reads and if he or she has taken time to study their craft. People who know the rules and them break them are called artists. People who don’t know the rules and don’t seek to learn them are called amateurs.

#2 Understanding our Craft Creates Confidence

During the days of the emerging Impressionists, it was popular to paint noble subjects. Artists would stage elaborate sets in studios where they could control the light and arrange or rearrange the scene if they needed to. Painters like Monet, opted rather to “happen upon subjects” and they preferred the common and unexceptional to the lofty subjects of “popular artists of the day.”

The Impressionists painted scenes of ordinary life–a woman drawing water in a river, the steamships unloading timber, a factory churning black smoke into a summer sky. These artists made the mundane magical, but the only way they could do this was to know the rules so they could break them.

If our writing voice comes from confidence, then confidence can only come from knowing the rules. Sure I could hand any of you a clarinet and maybe one person in a hundred thousand could pick up that clarinet and be an instant prodigy. Most of us, however, need to spend time learning to read music and doing scales. When we are so accustomed to the “rules” that we know them in our sleep? When our fingers naturally move to position on the instrument? When we have studied the great musicians and know them so well we can instantly take off on a creative riff?

This is when magic sparks to life. This is true with a clarinet, a sketch pad and yes, a computer keyboard.

#3 Practice Indeed Makes Perfect

Writers don’t do scales or sketches or work on the barre, but we do write. We write good, bad, brilliant and boring. We write and write and write and write until we know the keyboard by heart. We work hard and it is through this sweat equity that we earn our right to be called an artist. We are all writers the second we put words to screen/paper. We have to train and suffer to become artists.

Each of the great Impressionist painters painted thousands of paintings and made thousands of sketches even though only a handful ever made it into the galleries. Renoir didn’t paint one painting and expect to make a fortune. Knowing the rules comes with practice. Practice creates confidence, and confidence creates artists.

Sorry, no shortcuts. Yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess this bummed me out just a little, too. So we just keep writing, keep reading and keep connecting with the masters of our art and trust that one day the magic will ignite.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any books you like about voice? My favorite is Les Edgerton’s Finding Your VoiceWhat are your thoughts? Struggles? Experiences?

I love hearing from you!

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

Winner #1 from two weeks ago is Pauline Baird Jones. Winner from last week is Anne Stanley. Ladies, please see your 1250 word Word document to me at author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com. I am still working on a new web site so we’ve had all kinds of issues with my other e-mail. Thanks for your patience.

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