Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: storytelling

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!

Voice flowers from the heart.
Voice blooms from the heart.

All agents want one and all writers want to know what the heck it is. If it was easy to define, then we wouldn’t have countless articles, books and classes to demystify “voice.” Today, I will put in my two cents and see if it can help the light bulb go off.

Voice is, in its essence, that uniqueness that we as artists bring to the story. Remember, humans relied on an oral tradition for tens of thousands of years. We are a story people and “voice,” in my opinion, is a holdover from that oral tradition.

Ah, but the original storytellers were not only the precursors of the modern writer, they were also the precursor to the modern ACTOR. I can imagine the one dude in the cave who used the most dramatic gestures and movements and the best inflection at just the right time AS he told the story probably had the best audiences.

Writers are Also Composers/Directors

TIMING, is a HUGE part of being a good storyteller, thus it is naturally a large component of “voice.” Writers must have a natural sense of when things should be tense, versus the times we need to let the audience have a breather. Writing a novel is very akin to writing a symphony.

If everything is crescendo, then nothing is. If every page is mind-numbing tension, then nothing is. Conversely, if our writing is just a character thinking, then thinking some more, then thinking some more, then that is not a story, it’s a diary. It’s the elevator music of story.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

As writers, we are also directors. We need to take charge of the setting, the lighting, the mood and then tell the characters what to do (give stage direction). Our words are what give the pauses between the push. We must choose the right words at the right time to always control the pace, the push and pull of conflict.

We not only must make sure the plot arc is progressing accordingly, but the characters must arc as well. All of this must be balanced until the grand finale, the Big Boss Battle that every chapter has let up to. How we balance all of this is known as “voice.”

Writers Have a Lot in Common with Actors

Just like actors have to get in the head of a character they must portray on stage or in film, we, too, must learn to “get in the head” of our characters…ALL of them. An actor must play a singular part, but we must, to a degree, play ALL of the parts. It isn’t enough to be in the head of our protagonist. If we cannot also learn to empathize with the antagonist and even the supportive characters, our writing will be flat and will lack dimension.

New writers lack confidence and skill, so often what will happen is they parrot a popular author. They become a bad copy instead of an awesome original. But, the bigger mistake I see is voice often comes with preparation, and new writers often fail to prepare. New writers fail to understand the characters before they start writing. They get a flash of a scene in their head and then start typing. This is like an actor not taking any time to study the part before he begins reciting lines.

Not that this way is wrong, but it can make the difference between a Saturday Night Live skit performance versus a performance that brings home an Oscar.

I’ve read many a new writer whose characters all sounded like the same person. They hadn’t taken time to understand the characters–all of them–and really think about GCM (Goal, Conflict, Motivation via Debra Dixon). Thus, either all the characters sounded alike and the dialogue sounded like a bad third-grade play, or the protagonist was the only character with depth (because he was based off the writer) and all the other characters are talking heads or bad knock-offs off the protagonist.

Voice Can Affect Our Career

First of all, voice can affect our career because if we don’t have a solid voice, we won’t connect with readers. Agents love a strong writing voice because they love finding works readers will love. We can have the best plot ever written, but if all the characters are talking heads, it doesn’t matter. We can have the most interesting characters, but if we cannot put them in an interesting and compelling story, we still have a problem (though, granted, an easier one to fix than the former).

But voice can affect more than whether we get an agent. Voice can affect how well we write. Do we have the right genre for our natural voice? This is why we should never write for the market. We shouldn’t write romance because it’s a hot market. We should just ignore trends and write the best story for us to write.

How Does Genre Affect Voice?

Let’s extend this idea of actors being related to writers. Let’s say I have a role to cast. I want a male actor to play a cowboy. I have three different actors. I have Clint Eastwood, Jack Black, and Robert Deniro. Same story, different actors. Can you see how the choice of actor–the choice of the voice–becomes essential to how the story will play out? If I cast the wrong actor for the story I as a director want to tell, I can have a disaster, even though ALL THREE ACTORS are highly skilled and talented.

If I want a Old School Western? Clint Eastwood. But if I want a comedy? Clint might not be the right actor, unless Clint wants to branch out and do some intensive study in the area of comedy. With a lot of work and training, Clint could pull it off. But does he really want to? Does the director want to mess with it when it is simply easier to cast Jack Black?

This is why we must really understand our voice and develop it accordingly. I LOVE thrillers, but I’m naturally a humor author. I find that I might love reading thrillers, but had a tough time writing them. I would get far too sidetracked with comedy that wasn’t appropriate for the character. Traditional “serious thrillers” are not a natural fit with my writing voice, which is why the novel I’m finishing has shifted to more of a Janet Evanovich style.

I made a mistake of believing that because I loved to read thrillers, that I should then write them. Yeah…um, no.

It took writing three “serious” thrillers that I was less than thrilled about (bada bump *snare*) to see what my true writing voice really was. My NF has been a success because I am true to my voice, whereas my fiction was good, it’s won contests, but it never felt…right. It didn’t have that connection that my NF did.

Yet, it is only because I wrote a lot that I figured this out. I experimented and I also gained CONFIDENCE to admit where I really needed to be writing. I was less prone to listen to what other people thought and decided to take my path. Take a thriller and then add in a sympathetic, funny character.

This is why writing and writing A LOT will reveal our true voice. We get time to try the genres we like and if they are a fit? Perfect! If not? We’ll see it sooner.

Voice and Empathy

I feel a HUGE part of voice is the ability to truly develop the ability to empathize. The more we study the human condition, the easier we can get in the head of a character. This is why reading fiction is so vital. By reading good fiction, we are essentially studying people through stories. This is why I can spot writers who don’t read.

Writers who read a lot of fiction are better writers. Ah, but want to get even BETTER?

Broaden the Palette

Read NF, particularly psychology and sociology books. The more we study people, the easier it is to empathize and it will also ring as authentic. Read body language books. Read history. Read as much as you can. Then get out of your comfort zone and live life. Take risks. I jumped out of an airplane (a few times), but, in retrospect, I could have probably taken a pottery class and been fine. LIVE, then bring that to your craft. Get out among people. Listen to them. Study them. Take part in the human condition.

If our voice is our art, then how many colors, shades, textures and tools do you want to bring to the table? Sure, we are free to finger-paint with three primary colors, but it will limit our art.

So, do you guys feel that you finally understand what voice is? Do you have questions? What are your thoughts? Your suggestions? Do you think people are born with their natural voice? Or do you feel life experience shapes voice? If we don’t have a voice can we develop one? Do you believe there are “tone deaf” writers who will never improve no matter how much teaching?

Share! I love hearing from you!

I LOVE hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

Image via Flikr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.
Image via Flikr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.

What is “Voice”? In my humble opinion, voice is the “God Particle” that influences and shapes all things. Though we clearly perceive that it’s everywhere and that it holds everything together, we can’t see it. We can’t touch or smell it or even easily define it.

Voice eludes us.

In the world of particle physics, the Laws of Nature include four major forces—electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravity. The interplay of these four forces governs the universe—creation, destruction, preservation, order, disorder, orbits and entropy. Laymen frequently refer to the force of gravity (Higgs-Boson) as “The God Particle” simply because the Higgs-Boson happens to be this evasive, seemingly indefinable particle that explains creation of the universe (and for the scientists out there, if I botched this, it’s an analogy and I am a writer, not a physicist).

Why do “things” have mass?

We know gravity is at the heart of all things, but we struggle to see gravity or define it. We also know that the “God Particle”, though the “weakest” of all four forces, seems to be the most important in that it governs the other three.

I believe voice is much the same way. As writers, we are little gods creating worlds, people, empires, magic, dynasties, and dramas all using various combinations of black symbols on a white page.

The Four Forces of Literary Nature could be named—plot, characters, style and voice. Plot, characters and style are easy to see, break apart, define, explain and diagram on a whiteboard.

But voice? It just IS.

It’s our God Particle. We need it to create our worlds and hold things together, to give them mass. We require voice to bring the other three forces into play and guide them in shaping our universes.

Writers are gods over the worlds we create. Some of us might be tiny gods, dreadful gods, absent gods, benevolent gods, generous gods, engaged gods, preoccupied gods, deadbeat gods, untalented gods, visionary, inspiring, or resourceful gods, but, to be gods, we must all have our distinctive God Particle known as our “voice.”

Our voice is our creative particle that is as unique to us as our own DNA. It’s why voice is often imitated, but not well, and why it always betrays our identity.

This God Particle we call voice is how we use all the forces of literary nature, how we employ them, what we include and what we omit. We can be gods as flesh among men (1st person or 3rd person POV). We can be gods up on our throne, looking down on it all, comfortable in our omniscience (Omnipotent POV). We don’t fashion man from dust, rather we fashion them from letters and printer ink. We separate the light from dark and water from land and we do it all with our voice.

…until we admit it is good and rest. You can smite the adverbs later. They were warned ;).

Quick Announcement:

If you want to learn how to create a good author blog that appeals to readers not just other writers, please sign up for my next class. Registration is now open and there are all types of packages for every price range. The class can be done at your own pace and in your own time and you will have a team of support.

What are your thoughts about “voice”? What makes up an author’s voice? Does it change over time, or is it essentially the same only a stronger, more refined version? Who are some of the authors you LOVE simply because of his/her voice? Would this make you buy books if they wrote in a genre you don’t ever read? Btw, if you want to learn more about voice, one of our WANA instructors, Les Edgerton has a great reference out there Finding Your Voice

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

To prologue or not to prologue? That is the question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem. Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.

So without further ado…

The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues

Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…

In my critique group, one of the first tasks each member must do is they must write detailed backgrounds of all characters. I make them get all of that precious backstory out of their system. This is a useful tactic in that first, it can help us see if a) our characters are psychologically consistent, b) can provide us with a feel for the characters’ psychological motivations, which will help later in plotting. I have a little formula: background–> motivations –>goals–>a plan–>a detailed plan, which = plot and c) can help us as writers honestly see what details are salient to the plot. This helps us better fold the key details into the plotting process so that this vital information can be blended expertly into the story real-time.

Many new writers bungle the prologue because they lack a system that allows them to discern key details or keep track of key background details. This makes for clumsy writing, namely a giant “fish head” labeled prologue. What do we do with fish heads? We cut them off and throw them away.

Sin #2 If your prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.

This point ties into the earlier sin. Do this. Cut off the prologue. Now ask, “Has this integrally affected the story?” If it hasn’t, it’s likely a fish head masquerading as a prologue.

Sin #3 If your prologue’s sole purpose is to “hook” the reader…

If readers have a bad tendency to skip past prologues, and the only point of your prologue is to hook the reader, then you have just effectively shot yourself in the foot. You must have a great hook in a prologue, but then you need to also have a hook in Chapter One. If you can merely move the prologue to Chapter One and it not upset the flow of the story, then that is a lot of pressure off your shoulders to be “doubly” interesting.

Sin #4 If your prologue is overly long…

Prologues need to be short and sweet and to the point. Get too long and that is a warning flag that this prologue is being used to cover for sloppy writing.

Sin #5 If your prologue is written in a totally different style and voice that is never tied back into the main story…

Pretty self-explanatory.

Sin #6 If your prologue is über-condensed world-building…

World-building is generally one of those things, like backstory, that can and should be folded into the narrative. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a little world-building, but think “floating words in Star Wars.” The yellow floating words that drift off into space help the reader get grounded in the larger picture before the story begins. But note the floating words are not super-detailed Tolkien world-building. They are simple and, above all, brief.

Sin #7 If your prologue is there solely to “set the mood…”

You have to set the mood in Chapter One anyway, so like the hook, why do it twice?

The Prologue Virtues

Now that we have discussed the 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, you might be asking yourself, “So when is it okay to use a prologue?” Glad you asked.

Virtue #1

Prologues can be used to resolve a time gap with information critical to the story.

Genre will have a lot to do with whether one uses a prologue or not. Thrillers generally employ prologues because what our hero is up against may be an old enemy. In James Rollins’s The Doomsday Key the prologue introduces the “adversary” Sigma will face in the book. Two monks come upon a village where every person has literally starved to death when there is more than an abundance of food. Many centuries pass and the very thing that laid waste to that small village is now once more a threat. But this gives the reader a feel for the fact that this is an old adversary. The prologue also paints a gripping picture of what this “adversary” can do if unleashed once more.

The prologue allows the reader to pass centuries of time without getting a brain cramp. Prologue is set in medieval times. Chapter One is in modern times. Prologue is also pivotal for understanding all that is to follow.

Virtue # 2

Prologues can be used if there is a critical element in the backstory relevant to the plot.

The first Harry Potter book is a good example of a book that could have used a prologue, but didn’t (likely because Rowling knew it would likely get skipped). Therese Walsh in her blog Once Before A Time Part 2 said this:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is told in a close 3rd person POV (Harry’s), but her first chapter is quite different, told when Harry is a baby and switching between omniscient and 3rd person POVs (Mr. Dursley’s and Dumbledore’s). Rowling may have considered setting this information aside as a prologue because of those different voices and the ten-year lag between it and the next scene, but she didn’t do it. The info contained in those first pages is critical, it helps to set the story up and makes it more easily digested for readers. And it’s 17 pages long.

This battle is vital for the reader to be able to understand the following events and thus would have been an excellent example of a good prologue. But, Rowling, despite the fact this chapter would have made a prime prologue still chose to make it Chapter One so the reader would actually read this essential piece of story information.

Food for thought for sure.

Yes, I had Seven Sins and only Two Virtues. So sue me :P . That should be a huge hint that there are a lot more reasons to NOT use a prologue than there are to employ one (that and I didn’t want this blog to be 10,000 words long). Prologues, when done properly can be amazing literary devices. Yet, with a clear reader propensity to skip them, then that might at least make us pause before we decide our novel must have one. Make sure you ask yourself honest questions about what purpose these pages are really serving. Are they an essential component of a larger whole? Or are you using Bondo to patch together a weak plot or lazy writing?

But, don’t take my word for it. I actually scoured the Internet for some great blogs regarding prologues to help you guys become stronger in your craft:

Once Before a Time: Prologues Part 1 by Therese Walsh

Once Before a Time Part 2 by Therese Walsh

Agent Nathan Bransford offers his opinion as does literary agent Kristin Nelson

Carol Benedict’s blog Story Elements: Using a Prologue

To Prologue or Not To Prologue by Holly Jennings

If after all of this information, you decide you must have a prologue because all the coolest kids have one, then at least do it properly. Here is a great e-how article.

So if you must write a prologue, then write one that will blow a reader away.

What are some of the questions, concerns, troubles you guys have had with prologues? Which ones worked? Which ones bombed? What are your solutions or suggestions?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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 February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Congratulations!

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique is Kristie Jennings Kiessling. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

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 . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! 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.

 

From the WONDERFUL movie Finding Nemo

Last week we took a break away from talking about the antagonist because I needed you guys to be able to see how fiction looks when broken down to its fundamental parts. All fiction can be boiled down to cause, effect, cause, effect, cause, effect. But, beyond that, novels are broken into scenes and sequels. For those who missed this post, I highly recommend you go here.

So how do we know when to cut a scene? How do we knew when to begin and end chapters? How do we know what to trash and what to keep? Structure and conflict are like two gears.

Gears cannot turn unless there is another key wheel turning the opposite direction. No opposition, no power, no momentum. Same with a story.

All scenes have action. Action is more than a car chase or a bomb being diffused. Action does not mean a “bad situation.” All stories must have one main story goal, a core problem that must be resolved for the story to end.

Find Nemo.

I love studying children’s movies because they make it very easy to see and understand fundamental story structure.

In the Pixar film, Finding Nemo, what is the story goal for Marlin (the Clown fish father and protagonist)? Find his only son. How do we know when the movie is over? When Marlin and Nemo are reunited and safe at home, right?

Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker in Finding Nemo? The BBT is the character responsible for the story problem. The BBT is Darla the Fish-Killer, who we, the viewer, don’t even see until Act II. Darla is the horrid little niece of a dentist who likes to go diving. The dentist (Minion) collects little Nemo from the ocean as a birthday gift, beginning the adventure of a lifetime for Marlin and Nemo. 

In Normal World, Nemo and Marlin live in a sea anemone. Overprotective father Marlin finally allows little Nemo to go off school (pun intended), even though everything in his life revolves around keeping his son safe. This decision to let Nemo go to school is the inciting incident. If Nemo never went to school then he would never have been taken by the diver dentist.

The turning point into Act One is when Nemo is taken. That gives the clear story goal and the journey of the story is clear—Finding Nemo.

Today we are only going to look at scene antagonists who drive the action.

Obviously Marlin will not find Nemo right away. That would make for very boring fiction. No, there are a series of sub-goals that must be met to find his son.

Marlin takes off after the boat, but then fails to catch up.

He loses the boat and all seems lost, when he runs into another fish, Dori, who says she knows which way the boat went. Marlin follows, renewed in the chase and hopeful he will find Nemo, but then his new ally turns on him wanting to fight. She is unaware why Marlin is following her. Marlin soon realizes the only link to finding his son is a fish ally who suffers short-term memory loss.

Great.

We, the audience, think the journey is over, but then she tells him she does remember where the boat went. Marlin wants to go after his son, but then Bruce the Great White interrupts.

At first Marlin and Dori look doomed, but then Bruce collects them to join him in the Fish are Friends Not Food meeting (think shark AA—Fish Anonymous). So instead of Marlin being able to continue on his journey, he must stop to attend this Shark FA meeting. He has to play along lest he get eaten and not be able to continue his journey. To make matters worse, the FA meetings are held in a sunken sub that is surrounded by mines. So we have outside obstacles—mines—and character obstacles—the Great White addict needing a Fish Friend for his meeting.

Marlin wants to look for his son. Bruce wants a fish friend to attend his FA meeting. This is what Bob Mayer teaches as a conflict lock. Please check out Bob’s books if you want to learn more.

At this point, Bruce is not Marlin’s enemy, but see how he is the antagonist? Bruce’s wants are in direct conflict with Marlin’s. Only one party can get his way. Marlin is held back from achieving his goal.

Through a fun series of events, Bruce ends up losing it and going after Marlin and Dori with the fervor of any addict as his shark buddies try to keep him from totally “falling off the wagon.” Marlin and Dori swim for their lives and while running, Marlin spots the diver’s mask (The diver dentist who took Nemo dropped his mask). The journey, otherwise, would have ended, but a wild twist of fate has renewed the search.

They have a clue and apparently Dori, the Forgetful Fish Ally that Marlin was going to dump at the first opportunity, can READ. He needs her.  But they must escape Bruce and get the mask.

They escape Bruce by detonating all the underwater mines, but then both Marlin and Dori are knocked unconscious. They awaken and realize that they are pinned under the sub, which is now sitting precariously off an undersea trench. The mask and only clue to finding Nemo is wrapped around Dori. As they try to look at the mask, the sub starts to slide and they lose the mask.

Scene goal. Marlin wants to get the clue, but then the submarine sends them fleeing for their lives. Just as they grasp for the mask, it drops down into the deep.

See how Marlin is progressively worse off as the story progresses? He seems farther away from finding his son, when in reality these are the necessary steps to FIND Nemo.

All looks as if it is lost. Marlin goes to give up, but his unlikely ally encourages him to go on and swim down in the deep to find the mask. Marlin has a chance to give up. He could at this point go home and give his son up for lost, but that would make a seriously sucky story. Marlin is a control freak who is ruled by his fears. He has to learn to be the master of his fears in order to rescue his son. He must press on in order to find Nemo. He swims down into the abyss as all good heroes should.

Marlin WANTS to find the mask, but then he and Dori soon realize it is nothing but blackness and they cannot see to find the mask. All seems lost. Ah, but then they spot a pretty light in the darkness…which turns out to be an angler fish that wants to eat them both.

Marlin wants to find the clue (mask).

Angler fish wants dinner.

Do you see how every break the protagonist gets comes with a new test? This is why it is so critical for us to at least start out with our story’s log-line. What is our story about? Learn more about log-lines (BIG story goal), here.

If the screenwriters didn’t know that the overall goal was for a neurotic fish father to swim to Sydney, Australia to rescue his son from a dentist’s fish tank before Darla the Fish-Killer’s birthday…this would have been a booger to plot. In ways it still is. How do we get Marlin from the Great Barrier Reef to a dentist’s office in Sydney? This is where setting sub-goals (scenes) makes life easier. When we know the ending, the main goal then it is far easier to plot the course.

Each scene needs a key wheel—an antagonist—to provide the opposition that will drive forward momentum.

Bruce the Great White and fish-addict in recovery is not Darla the Fish-Killer (the BBT), but he does keep Marlin from his journey…finding Nemo, so he IS an antagonist. In retrospect, Bruce’s intervention was fortuitous in that they never would have been in the area of the ocean where the one clue—the mask—was dropped.

Every scene needs an antagonist. Scenes MUST have conflict. No conflict? Not story. No forward momentum. We must always take a good hard look at our scenes and ask the tough questions. Ask, “What is it my protagonist wants? Who is in the way?” If no one is in the way, then who can we put in the way? Conflict can even be as simple as allies disagreeing about a course of action—chase after bad guys or call the police and play it safe? Will the Elves take the Ring of Power to Mount Doom or will the Dwarves?

If everything is happening easily and all our characters are getting along? That’s a formula to bore a reader. Scenes where we have our protag thinking? That isn’t a scene, that’s a sequel. If a character is thinking, it better relate to something that just happened (a scene) and what to do next (next scene).

A “scene” that has characters talking about other characters is contrived information dump, not a scene. We can offload information in dialogue, but that cannot be the only purpose. Scenes are sub-goals—action blocks—that lead to solving the final problem.

I highly recommend reading Bob’s books for more about understanding antagonists and conflict. Then, watch movies and practice. Break apart movies. Who is the BBT? Who are the antagonists for each scene? What purpose does the antagonist serve other than standing in the way of the goal? We will talk more about this next week.

Do you guys have any questions? Insights? Opinions? Have any resources you would like to recommend?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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 May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last week’s winner ofr 5 page critique is AMY ROMINE. Send your 1250 word document as an attachment to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

My book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media hit THREE best-seller lists for Kindle. #2 in Computers & Technology, #13 in Authorship and #17 in Advertising. THANK YOU!!!!! This book is recommended by some of the biggest authors AND agents in New York, so make sure you pick up a copy if you don’t have one already.

Also, if you want to learn how to blog or even how to take your blogging to a level you never dreamed possible…get your copy of Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer today. This book hit #1 on the best-selling list in less than 48 hours after its release thanks to all of YOU!!!!! Not only will this book help you learn to blog, but you will be having so much fun, you will forget you were supposed to be learning.

Happy writing!

Until next time….