Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: W.A.N.A.

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Original image courtesy of Phillip Capper Flickr Creative Commons

We live in a wonderful age to be a writer but a terrifying one as well. It’s wonderful because there was a time when we could have gone to our graves without ever seeing our work published and holding our work physically in our hands. Now? Good news is everyone gets a chance. Bad news is everyone gets a chance.

Before self-publishing took off, I was not a fan of the whole idea. The reason? I knew the problems it was going to create. We were opening a door we could never close.

When we had gatekeepers, there was an assumed standard. To say we were “published authors” actually meant something. Now? It means next to nothing.

Great you’re a published author. So is my cat.

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...
Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

With barriers to entry removed, we’ve created a problem with public perception when it comes to how they view our product—BOOKS and by association? Us (authors).

Perception is Reality

Ever heard the saying “Power perceived is power achieved”? Works for value too. “Value perceived is value achieved.” Therein is a lot of our problem. The sheer volume of books paired with the ability for everyone to be published has diminished the perceived value of our product. It is now up to authors to actively demonstrate value to the consumer.

See, in the “olden days” a book alone meant something. A book had inherent value. A book in and of itself represented more than just a story. A physical book in your hand represented countless other authors who tried and failed, but this author, this author got an agent, landed a contract and was…published. This author was worth a publisher’s investment. This book was worth shelf space at a bookstore.

Fast-forward into the digital age and now what is a book? Heck, what is a “real” author?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Since self-publishing was not a viable model until very recently, most of your average consumers really had no idea it existed…until now. These days, even regular people, if you say, “I am a published author.” The next question often will be, *weird face* “Yeah but are you self-published?”

This is because the very nature of the product has changed. Now in a world of infinite “shelf space” with no real barriers to entry, anyone can be published and the public has caught on to that. So “books” mean far less to them than ever before and for good reasons.

I am not here to pick on self-published authors because I am one. I have actually published all three ways (traditional, indie and self-pub). Sometimes, there are excellent business reasons to self-publish.

For me? I had one of the top agents in NYC. I was with Russ Galen. Love Russ. Great agent. But it turned out that a social media book just was not a good fit for traditional publishing. Russ worked his tail off because he saw a book like mine was necessary.

Though my agent loved my book, traditional publishing was at that time, simply not as open to the idea as Russ was. So? I published on my own. But Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World was guided and had the oversight of the best set of eyes in New York. I hired the best cover designer in the industry and the best interior designer and formatter money could buy.

Meaning? Not all self-published books are junk.

Problem is? Too many of them are.

What does all this mean? It means that twenty years ago selling a book was very different than selling a book today. Customers had a far different perception of the product twenty years ago.

Why the Struggle?

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons
Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

One of the reasons writers are struggling and will continue to struggle is that everyone thinks they can write.

See, the arts have always been vulnerable to people, consumers, corporations, etc. taking advantage of us. There is nothing new about that. But, for musicians, it’s different. The average person at least recognizes that they can’t play a guitar like Slash, the piano like Billy Joel or sing like Beyonce. The regular consumer for the most part doesn’t believe they can do what the musician does.

Now? We writers are in a real pickle. A lot of people honestly believe that simply having command of your native tongue qualifies you to be a writer. I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I just never had the time.” As if TIME is the ONLY factor separating that person from George R.R. Martin.

Could you imagine us saying, “Yeah I have always wanted to cut open a person’s head and do surgery. But wow I just never had the time.”

Before self-publishing, sure folks believed they could write a book, but they didn’t all believe they had what it took to get published. So at least we had that in our favor.

But now that everyone has the ability to claim the title, “published author” let’s just say we have to approach our careers very differently because “When everyone is special then no one is.”

Books Are No Longer Enough

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

When I first started this blog years ago I said this would happen and here we are. We have to have a brand and a platform capable of driving sales. It is not enough to have a book. Even if you want to traditionally publish, it doesn’t matter. Agents won’t even look at you of you don’t have a platform and for good reasons.

Platform and Brand Aids in Discoverability

There are millions of books for sale. Millions of choices and this is overwhelming for consumers. Our greatest enemy is obscurity.

Before the digital age, shelf space was limited and finite. Thus, the infinite shelf space of the web is a double-edged sword for authors.

If you read my post The Ugly Truth About Publishing then you know that one of the major problems created by the arrival of the megastores like Borders and Barnes & Noble was that they didn’t leave authors on the shelves long enough to cultivate an audience. Also, since shelf space was limited, authors no longer had their backlists available and this seriously impacted the earning ability of many writers.

The Digital Age helped this tremendously. Now, a new writer can publish a good book and maybe it only sells a handful of copies. But, because there is no expiration date for it being on the shelf, the writer has time to cultivate an audience and be discovered.

I had this happen with a writing duo who bought my first social media book. Saffina Deforges and Mark Williams (her coauthor and silent partner) went from selling a couple of books a month to selling a hundred of thousand copies in only a few months and breaking all kinds of records. Sugar & Spice, a book no agent would rep and no one would publish went from complete obscurity to one of the biggest selling e-books in UK history.

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Same book that sat at #1,372,760,092 on Amazon later shot to #1 in multiple categories. Same book that sold no copies later broke records. Only difference was they applied my methods and gained discoverability using social media.

What good is a book no one knows about?

Even traditional publishers appreciate discoverability is their problem too. Borders and B&N in their greed wiped out the indie bookstore ecosystem. Borders then imploded and B&N has experienced record contraction. Even if you go into one of the handful of remaining B&Ns it’s a lot of books to sift through and you want consumers to find your book, you will need a brand.

Books Have an Image Problem & Brands Can Fix That

Remember a book no longer holds inherent value.

Because the concept of “books” has been contaminated with so much bad writing, now the author also has to be part of the package. Told you guys we were really the oldest profession 😉 .

I have my contest that I hold every month to encourage you guys to comment. It’s my way of giving something back and nudging you out of your shyness. But I’ve gotten 20 page samples that were so bad I nearly could not finish. But when I sent the pages back, dripping RED…the author responded with, “Well, my publisher loved it and it’s being released.”

…and the other half of that sentence is—being released into the world and onto the unsuspecting public.

There are ways to counter this with the product. We write better books. Seek people who will be truly critical. Hire real editors. Invest in good formatting, covers, etc. The problem is, no matter how good the book is? It won’t matter these days. Until that book is in someone’s hands, all that is moot.

Fortune Favors Those Who Hustle

So branding is going to aid your audience in finding your work (they can judge you later). It’s no longer a nice little extra. It is mandatory if you want to make it in this business. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of authors having a blog is that it helps develop trust. Readers need that because a lot of other writers (or “writers”) have betrayed that trust.

You can’t slap lipstick on a pig and call it a super model.

When we claim I am published readers assume a level of quality. Too many writers were so eager for the title they cut corners and didn’t earn the title and relationships with readers have suffered.

Thus, sadly, all of us now feel like we are dating someone who’s broken up with a psycho. We now have this additional burden of proving we are not out to boil their bunnies.

This is where social media comes in and where a blog is super helpful.

These days people are looking for the pros and when they find them they latch on something fierce.

Search engines deliver new fans to me daily, but why I keep fans is because I have content. I don’t just blog when I feel like it. Most of my competition however? Does. Thus, when people find my blog, there are vast archives for them to peruse and get to know me. They learn that I am not “playing author.”

I am doing this for real. I am a pro. I show up no matter what. Also, blogs play to a writer’s strengths. Writers write. People get a taste of your writing voice and can fall in love with it. Even though I blog on writing, social media, pop culture, humor, etc, the unifying feature is my voice. Right now I have a mystery thriller that has been accepted by a traditional publisher. I assume when it is for sale, y’all might give it a go because you enjoy the blog. It is far simpler to go with who you know and like.

By reading this blog you learn so much about me as an author. The writing is clean. It isn’t riddled with typos. It’s coherent. It’s fun. It’s engaging. I’m using my blog to earn your trust. If I earn your trust here? Far easier to then ask for the sale because I have actively demonstrated I am valuing your time. You spend time with me and TIME WITH LAMB = TIME WELL SPENT.

Those who come across my blog and don’t feel time with me is time well spent, well they are clearly brain damaged and have bad fashion sense not my audience. My blog has done us both a favor. My voice connected me with the unusually good-looking and intelligent people out there who are my audience and weeded out the secret nose-pickers who would have possibly left a bad review except Amazon doesn’t let them review in Crayons.

Anyway…

It’s a great time to be a writer. Focus on writing the best book possible no matter which way you publish. There is no bad way to publish, no wrong way to publish. But you do need a platform if you would like to make money. 

For those interested in learning how to create an author blog, I am holding a class on it this Saturday in my W.A.N.A. International virtual classroom so you can attend from home and at your computer #pantsoptional. The recording of the class comes with purchase. Yes blogging is a very unique form of writing especially when you are blogging to build a fan base for fiction. Also you are going to need time to actually write books. We cover all that. Feel free to peruse the old free archives or pick up my book if you would like to know more.

And for some EXTRA FUN! ME! Hey, don’t feel dumb. I did once write crap too!

What are your thoughts? Are you frustrated that everyone believes they can write a novel? They can’t. But whatever. Are you vexed with the hacks and amateurs? What are your thoughts? Questions? Suggestions for what you’d like to see in upcoming classes?

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. 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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  Blogging for Authors THIS SATURDAY.

Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

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

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Today, I have a special treat for you guys. Author, speaker, editor and long-time W.A.N.A. International Instructor Marcy Kennedy is here to talk about internal dialogue—when to use it, why we use it and how not to get all cray-cray with it.

Trust us. As editors, Marcy and I see it all. Often newer writers swing to one extreme or another. Either they stay SO much in a character’s head that we (the reader) are trapped in The Land of Nothing Happening or we’re never given any insight into the character’s inner thought life, leaving said character as interesting as a rice cake.

Like all things in fiction, balance is key. Marcy is here to work her magic and teach y’all how to use internal dialogue for max effect.

Take it away, Marcy!

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Understanding why something is important to our writing lays the foundation for bettering our writing because it acts as a measuring post. When we know why we should do something and what benefit we’re supposed to gain by doing it, it helps us recognize when we’re not receiving that benefit.

Since I’m here to talk to you about internal dialogue, let’s look at what that means specifically for internal dialogue. If our internal dialogue isn’t providing one of these benefits, then we’re either doing it wrong or we’ve tried to include it in a spot where it doesn’t belong.

With that in mind, let’s look at the main reasons why internal dialogue is important to include in our fiction.

Reason #1 – Internal dialogue replicates real life.

When we write, we want our work to feel realistic and authentic (even if it’s set on a strange planet, includes magic, or has dragons living next door to our banker). We want it to feel like these people could have lived and would have done the things we describe them doing.

In our lives, we’re always thinking—noticing things happening around us, trying to solve problems, giving ourselves a pep talk or a dressing down. If we want our characters to feel real, we need to have them do the same thing.

How to Apply This to Our Fiction:

Make sure our point-of-view character reacts to important events through internal dialogue. For example, if we reveal a shocking piece of information—like an affair—our POV character better try to come to grips with it and think it through. You would, wouldn’t you? If they don’t have an appropriate reaction, the reader will feel like the story isn’t believable.

(And just as a word of caution – remember that fiction is supposed to be “better” than real life in some ways. This means we shouldn’t share absolutely every thought that goes through our character’s head. We only share the ones that matter to the story, including to the character’s emotional growth.)

Reason #2 – Internal dialogue creates a deeper connection between the reader and the characters.

For a reader to invest their time in our story, they need to care what happens. Internal dialogue is one of the tools at our disposal to make them care because it creates an intimate connection between the reader and the point-of-view character. We hear their thoughts in the same way we hear our own, and that allows us, as readers, to share their feelings and concerns, experiencing them as our own. We also get to know them better, and they become more real to us because of it.

How to Apply This to Our Fiction:

A large part of internal dialogue is our POV character forming opinions on what’s happening around them. Make sure to let them pass judgment and interpret the events around them and the people they meet. This shows their personality in a deep and personal way because they’re not trying to put on a mask for the outside world. Their private thoughts are meant only for themselves. They’re honest and raw. (If this leads them to form false impressions and later find out they’re wrong, that’s even better.)

Reason #3 – Internal dialogue helps control the pacing in our fiction.

I once heard the analogy that pacing in fiction is like creating the perfect rollercoaster ride. If you had a rollercoaster that only went up, only went down in one continuous drop for three minutes, or stayed completely level the whole time, no one would ride it. A good rollercoaster needs the anticipation of the rise, the heart-in-the-throat drops, and the shocking loops and twists. Good fiction needs the same.

How to Apply This to Our Fiction:

If our entire book is composed of high-speed action scenes, our readers are going to grow as bored as if our whole book is a character sitting in their room and thinking. We need the internal dialogue to create the anticipation for the action, allow the reader to breathe, and build them up for the next drop. To do this, we should have “sequels” following our “scenes” where our main character slows down for a minute to react to the setback and consider their options.

Reason #4 – Internal dialogue minimizes confusion by revealing motivations.

The heart of fiction is the why. Why is our main character acting the way she is? Why does he want to reach his goal so badly that he’s willing to suffer the possible consequences?

When those motivations aren’t clear to the reader, the reader ends up either feeling confused or feeling less engaged with the story. When the reader doesn’t know or understand our POV character’s motivations, their actions seem random and, at times, can even make our character come across as stupid.

How to Apply This to Our Fiction:

Before our POV character acts, it needs to be clear what their plan is and why they’re pursuing that course of action. So, for example, don’t have them shoot their best friend in the leg unless the reader knows why they did it. (You might think that’s a ridiculous example, but in my work as an editor, I’ve seen even worse unexplained events perpetrated by a POV character.)

Reason #5 – Internal dialogue conveys information that can’t be given any other way.

If, for example, you have a character who needs to deceive everyone around them, you’ll have them acting one way and thinking another. Another example of this is backstory that influences who our characters are and why (there’s that word again) they act the way they do.

They might not think that events in their past are influencing them, so they’d have no reason to talk about it with anyone else, but we can make the reader aware of it through their thoughts.

How to Apply This to Our Fiction:

Inserting backstory can be tricky. The key is to share only backstory that’s essential to the front story, to drip feed it, and to use a present event to trigger our character’s thoughts about the past events.

Need More Help with Internal Dialogue?

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Check out my book Internal Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn the difference between internal dialogue and narration, best practices for formatting internal dialogue, ways to use internal dialogue to advance your story, how to balance internal dialogue with external action, clues to help you decide whether you’re overusing or underusing internal dialogue, tips for dealing with questions in your internal dialogue, and much more!

It’s available in print and ebook format and most places (so you can grab it from Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, or Barnes & Noble).

If you prefer live teaching, I’m running a webinar called Internal Dialogue: The Voice Inside Our Characters’ Heads on Saturday, August 15.

The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.

Click here to sign up for Internal Dialogue: The Voice Inside Our Characters’ Heads.

P.S. I’m also running a webinar on techniques to make our dialogue shone on Wednesday, August 12. Find out more here!

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THANK YOU, Marcy! Alrighty, then. For being the AWESOME guests you guys are, all comments today count double in my contest.

WE love hearing from you!

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

I hope y’all sign up for Marcy’s class and, heck, why not make a DAY of it?

Remember! Due to popular demand I am running my Your Story in a Sentence class this Saturday (after Marcy) and participants have their log lines shredded and rebuilt and made agent-ready. Log-lines are crucial because if we don’t know what our book is about? How are we going to finish it? Revise it? Pitch it? Sell it?

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Hmmm, what’s the story behind THIS?

Can we answer the question, “What is your book about?” in one sentence. Is our answer clear and concise? Does it paint a vivid picture of something others would want to part with time and money to read? Plot is important, but a major component of a knockout log-line is casting the right characters.

Due to popular demand I am running my Your Story in a Sentence class in about two weeks and participants have their log lines shredded and rebuilt and made agent-ready. Log-lines are crucial because if we don’t know what our book is about? How are we going to finish it? Revise it? Pitch it? Sell it?

Once we have an idea of what our story is about and have set the stage for the dramatic events that will unfold, we must remember that fiction is about PROBLEMS. Plain and simple. Furthermore, it is about PEOPLE who have problems. But not simply ANY problems. Very specific problems, which we will talk about in a sec 😉 .

I will say that plot is very important. Our characters are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters. Ah, but here’s the sticky wicket. WHY do we remember characters? Because of plot. Stories are more than about people. Great stories are people overcoming great odds.

We don’t remember Luke Skywalker because he hung out on Tatooine waxing rhapsodic about his plight as a moisture farmer. We remember him and his allies because they went up against seemingly unbeatable odds and WON.

Yet, even if we come up with the coolest plot in the world, there are elements of character that should also be in the mix, lest our novel can become the literary equivalent of a CGI Star Wars Prequel NIGHTMARE. Characters should develop organically or the reader will call FOUL.

Additionally, if our characters are as deep as an Amarillo puddle, it will be virtually impossible for readers to emotionally connect.

Among many other reasons, I think this is why the Star Wars Prequels were like a bad acid trip at Chuck E. Cheese. Anakin was utterly unlikable and unredeemable simply because the writers were more focused on how many characters they could make into McDonald’s Happy Meal toys instead of sticking to the fundamentals of GOOD storytelling.

But Obi-Wan doesn’t take me seriously. Whaaaaahhhhhh! *SLAP*

 

If we’re missing emotional connection between the audience and our characters, our story loses critical wattage. What are some ways we can help form that connection? Today…

The Wound

Real humans have wounds that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Recently, I was helping a student of my Antag-Gold class plot her novel. She had a good protagonist who was a control freak. My question: WHY?

Yes, genetics will have a role in forging our personality, but genes do not a good story make. Having a character be a certain way simply because we need them to be or act that way will work, but so will a heart with damaged valves.

Wounds drive how we perceive our world, what we believe we want, and how we will (or won’t) interact with others. This is critical for generating story tension and character arc.

For instance, my father abandoned us, my mother was chronically ill, and my little brother was legally blind. I was left to grow up too fast and take care of far too much way too early. THIS is why I struggle with being a control freak. From MY wound, %#!* didn’t get done unless I did it.

Additionally, because I grew up in the wake of constant broken promises, I’ve had to work hard to trust. It’s been a challenge to delegate and allow others to fail or succeed without my constant meddling. Also in my growing up years, achievement=love/attention. That wound drove me to seek dreams that weren’t mine to please others.

I had to “arc” to walk away from people-pleasing if I wanted fulfillment.

Wounds are the NOTCH That Engages the GEAR

Think of plot like gears on a bicycle. So long as the gears are engaged and moving forward we have story momentum. Character is like the chain winding around those gears.

Some of you might be old enough to remember riding a ten-speed with the old shifters. You had to practice shifting gears to get the chain to engage a larger or smaller gear and if you didn’t get it right? The pedals spun and the bike just made weird noises. That’s because the chain has to be able to meet with the teeth of the gear via a space or a hole…or it won’t work.

Character functions similarly. We can have the gears (plot) and the chain (character) but if there is no notch (wound) that allows them to ever mesh and create tension? The story has no momentum and just makes weird sounds while we fruitlessly spin literary pedals. Wounds are the sweet spot, that hole, that allows plot and character to merge into dramatic momentum.

Some writers start with characters and others start with plot. It doesn’t matter so long as you let either be forged with “the wound” in mind. If you have a mental snippet of a rebellious renegade bad@$$ heroine and want to put her in a story, then think of a plot situation that will make her utterly miserable. She can’t grow if she’s comfortable.

Maybe instead of chasing bad guys, she is forced to become the caretaker for her three young nephews after her sister dies. This PLOT is going to force her to be vulnerable, maybe have a softer side, and lighten up. Now, character (chain) and plot (gears) are linked.

Same if we go the opposite direction.

Maybe you have a great idea for a story. You want to take down a mob boss. Who can you cast that will be the most uncomfortable and thus grow the most? A former hit man who’s given up killing because he promised his wife before she died? An agoraphobic ex-cop who can’t leave her house? A sweet, naive soccer mom who believes that Bedazzling makes everything way more AWESOME?

Genre will dictate some of the casting, but note if we cast someone who would reach our story goal with relative ease, we risk having a one-dimensional talking head. We also diminish tension because remember, readers LOVE seemingly unbeatable odds. So, if we cast a highly decorated detective to take down our mob boss, make sure there is something about him (a wound) that puts the odds against him.

Wounds Don’t Have to Be Big to Be BIG

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Often, new writers will default to wounds like rape or death or some big tragedy to create the wound. To be clear, I am not saying these aren’t viable wounds, but never underestimate the “smaller” and more relatable emotional injuries. The more a reader can empathize with one or more characters, the deeper that connection becomes.

Not everyone has lost their family to a sudden alien invasion— 😉 — but they can empathize with maybe never living up to expectations, being bullied, or not fitting in. LOTR rests on a small band of Hobbits who believe they are too little to make a BIG difference.

Perhaps the character is the invisible middle child trying to forge an identity, the eldest trying to hold the world together, or the baby who “got away with murder” and “was handed everything.” Never underestimate family dynamics as sources for realistic and powerful psychic wounds.

For instance, my father was all play no work. Unfortunately, we suffered the consequences. Ironically, my grandfather was all work no play. Doubly ironic, my childlike father created a workaholic daughter (me); like thread, one loop feeding into the next weaving the “pattern” until someone changes “the pattern.”

Arc.

I’ve had to learn to lighten the hell up and balance The Force. But my workaholic, overachieving nature served up far more thorns than fruits.

Wounds Will Distort Happiness

Wounds generate illusions. Because I grew up poor and lived hand-to-mouth all through college, I “believed” that money and financial security would make me happy. At 27, I made more money than any person in their 20s should make…and I was miserable. I was eaten alive with emptiness. I’d achieved all that should have filled that hole—the college degree, the premium job and premium pay. And yet?

I was the person stranded in a desert gulping sand I believed was water from an oasis.

Am I "there" yet?
Am I “there” yet?

Character arc comes when a protagonist is placed in a problem strong enough to challenge the illusion and break it. The protagonist believes X=happiness/fulfillment. It is only through the story problem that the protagonist rises to become a hero, a person capable of realizing they were wrong and that they’d been coveting a shill at the expense of the gold.

Thus, when creating characters, keep the wound at the forefront of your mind.

How does it affect what he/she believes about their own identity? What do they believe will make them happy? What is it that you (Author God) know that’s really what will make them happy? What needs to change for that character to lose the blinders? What is the perfect problem (plot) to force the protagonist to see the hard truth of the unhealed wound?

What are your thoughts? Writing can be healing and therapeutic. Have you ever siphoned from your own hurt-reservoir to deepen your characters? Can you think of how even small hurts can become super-sized? What are some ways you’ve witnessed wounds driving people in wrong directions toward false happiness? Have you been there, done that and earned the t-shirt?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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I hear all the time that “motivational stuff” is crap, that cheerleading is useless, that all those books and speeches are there simply to take our money. What is success? Well, I don’t believe that success is worth giving up everything. Life and love are more important than being the best. And, to an extent I will agree.

Motivational Stuff is Crap

I don’t know about you guys, but I love The Container Store. Every year I set my New Year’s Resolution and it always…always includes this phrase. “Be more organized.” This morning I was hunting for the cat food. I’d apparently hidden it from myself. In the bottom of my pantry I spotted one of those white-board weekly organizers…still in the WRAP.

*hides head in shame*

Exactly how well is that weekly organizer working for me tucked in the back of a pantry? Yes, The Container Store really does exist simply to take my money. They aren’t going to do a home visit and make sure I actually hung that calendar on my WALL. It is not their responsibility to make sure I applied that product for its intended purpose.

Same with motivational stuff.

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

Thing is, motivation alone is useless. Motivation is like food. If I buy a bunch of organic veggies and leave them in the fridge to die a slow, lonely death, they do zilch nada for my health and energy levels. Yet, my health and energy levels will suffer without them. I have to make the effort to ingest this fuel so my body can put it to use.

If I don’t feed my body it gets sick and weak and could eventually die. So then how effective will I be if I never feed my spirit?

Motivation is fantastic, but it is worthless unless applied. It is potential energy that we must convert into kinetic energy.

The Mind and Will are POWERFUL

If motivation wasn’t powerful, then why do we remember Ghandi, Churchill, Kennedy, and Vince Lombardi?

I love crime shows and after you watch a few thousand episodes of Law & Order or Hannibal or whatever, they kind of all blend together. But, there was one episode of Criminal Minds that affected me deeply. It actually wasn’t the goriest or the most gruesome of the killers. In comparison to some of the crime scenes from Hannibal? It paled.

Why did it disturb me so much?

I have looked for which episode it was and can’t find it, so here goes.

The team is discovering victims who clearly were abducted and held captive, but there is no clear reason why they are dead. They simply are.

What the team uncovers is the killer abducts a victim and holds them. Day after day they are fed, given what they need to survive (physically) and the killer brings in the one thing that keeps them hoping. In one case, it is a young mother. He wheels in a TV with video of her children as they are growing up without her. Day after day she sees the one thing that keeps her pressing.

Then, he stops. He continues to bring food and water, but no more footage of her children.

Without hope, the woman simply one day rolls over and dies.

When the team captures the killer and gets his backstory, he talks about being a boy and running across a young woman who’d fallen into a well on their property. She is treading water and screaming for help. He bent over and reached out a hand to help her and her face lit up. Then? He pulls his hand back and simply watches her. The moment she realizes she has no hope of being saved, her eyes change and she lets go and lets herself float down and die.

It was that look, that moment he craved. The moment in his vicim’s eyes when they gave up. When hope simply evaporated and there was no WHY to carry on. He managed to kill all his victims without ever laying a hand on them.

Though I saw this episode at least eight years ago, I still remember it. And it still freaks me out.

Granted, this is an extreme dramatization, but is it? We have all kinds of stories about people who survived POW camps, concentration camps, disasters, etc. who shouldn’t have. Why did they? They kept hoping. The mind and will were far more powerful and able to go beyond the limits of the physical body.

Success is Personal and It WILL Cost Us

When I talk about success, I am using very broad strokes. Success has to be defined by US. I actually have no interest in being a billionaire. Granted, it would be fantastic if it happened, but I am unwilling to have money at the expense of people and relationships. People are my WHY, not money. Success to me is then measured in those around me, not necessarily my bank account.

But that is ME.

Success of any kind has a price. To be a “successful” mother, I have to sacrifice. It is way easier for me to let The Spawn go feral and forage off chips for breakfast. It takes time to make him a healthy meal. It takes time to watch documentaries with him and teach him to swim and help teach his Jiu Jitsu class. But, I am sacrificing to invest in him. In our relationship and in his future.

A great marriage will cost us. A clean house, a tidy yard, a balanced bank account, a trim waist, etc.

If we want to be “successful” at this writing thing, the bare minimum requirement for “being a successful writer” is words written down…which will cost us time we could be spending watching Criminal Minds 😀 .

No One Else Can Define It 

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.
Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

First, I will say we have to take the wheel. What my success looks like and what YOURS look like are vastly different things. For years, I allowed others to define my success. I spent years reaching for outside approval that never came.

If you read last post, I told y’all I was a high school drop out twice over. I worked my tail off to win an Air Force Scholarship to become a doctor and I did. Why did I do it? After years of being a disappointment to all those around me, I wanted my grandparents to finally say they were proud of me.

When I came home to tell my grandparents the news I’d won, my grandmother’s first words were, “Well, they must have been short on their quota for women.”

*Kristen dies more than a little inside*

Later, I graduated from TCU with a degree in International Relations. Actually, it was Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. You know, one of those easy fluff degrees 😉 .

I did this hoping they’d be proud. Ehhh, no.

Then, I landed a premium job in sales hoping they’d be proud. Nope.

Then I got into law school. Nope.

Finally? I gave up trying to make others give me that atta’ girl and did what I loved. I became a writer. All those years I was reaching for dreams that weren’t mine, I was sick and miserable because I had the wrong WHY. When I finally went after MY dream, eventually I no longer cared if they were proud of me or not.

Definitions are Personal and Ever-Changing

When we read motivational stories or watch videos or movies, it is easy to feel like a loser. But, we all start where we are. When I was a baby writer, I remember thinking, Wow, if I could write 500 words a day, then I will have made it. Now, I write a thousand words before breakfast, but that took YEARS and YEARS.

But if I’d started with a goal of 2-3,000 words a day? If I’d beaten myself up because I only wrote 500? I would have given up a long time ago.

When was smacked with Shingles last year, my definition of a “successful day” had to change if I was ever going to get better. And I would love to say that I didn’t cry and whine and complain and throw tantrums. I did. Shingles involved month after month of pain piled on pain piled on even more pain.

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Actually this is a pic after it was a LOT better….

I hated everyone. I hated myself, my family and probably hated kittens and puppies, too. If Zig Ziglar had visited me? I might have just punched him in the face. It was hard to admit that “success” during that time, might have just involved getting out of bed and wearing a bra (the Shingles were all down my ribs).

But eventually we must adjust what is a “win” or our mind will devour us.

Of course, now that I am in remission from Shingles, I need to adjust. Wearing a bra is a noble goal, but I kinda should be past that 😉 .

No One Else Can DO It

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

We have to do the work. We have to define what we want and why we want it. Then we have to do the work. There is a lot of talk about giving others the right opportunity. I used to believe in that, but now? Not so much.

I was president of a writing group for years. They complained the reason they didn’t attend was the meeting place, so I got us a nice meeting space. None of them showed. Then, these folks griped that they couldn’t attend because we met at an inconvenient time, so I managed to find a second meeting space on Saturday mornings for those who couldn’t make a weekday evening.

Again, none of them showed. The handful of complainers who did sporadically attend never wrote anything.

Members complained when I recommended craft books. Was I suggesting they didn’t know how to WRITE? Most refused to go to conferences or take classes. They groused about the speakers. They didn’t have time to write the novel, but they had plenty of time to craft long e-mails complaining about some new thing I wasn’t doing for them.

Week after week, year after year, I showed and tried to add more “opportunities” to no avail. Finally, I learned a tough lesson I hadn’t wanted to believe. Talk is cheap. Though being part of that group was painful, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I thought I’d overcome my addiction to approval when I told my family to “Pound sand” and became a writer.

Ah, but did I?

Nope, I’d simply shifted my addiction from my family to a local writing group. I was still just as addicted to people pleasing and I needed others to “approve” of me and my dreams.

I had to learn that I could not expect average people to be extraordinary. Also, I could no longer hide behind their lack of approval as an excuse of not moving forward. I had to leave them behind and risk failing alone. I could not hand them enough opportunities and definitely could not motivate them into success.

Motivation is the fuel for the soul, but we have to light the spark and WE have to take charge of using and directing that for forward momentum. Like approval, motivation is wonderful, but not entirely necessary. Sometimes, we simply have to dig deep and keep going even when there is no outward sign we are doing anything right.

Writing is NOT an Easy Job

We don’t clock in and clock out. We don’t have a boss looking over our shoulders who will send us to Writer Jail if we don’t make word count. No one will discipline us if we don’t take any Continuing Education. Most of what we DO, others don’t see (or even value). This is a very unique profession that probably requires us take care of our Spirit Self more than other jobs.

Take time for yourself. Feed your spirit, but then put that fuel to work. Just like craft books do us NO good collecting dust on a shelf, motivation is similarly useless if not put into action. Opportunities are meaningless if we ignore them.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself falling into approval addiction or people pleasing? Do you have to revisit your goals because you’ve let others do too much influencing when it comes to what “success” looks like? Do you rely too much on motivation? Heck, I am guilty. Do you forget that your mind and will need nourishing too?

I love hearing from you!

Quick Announcement: 

Due to popular demand, THIS SATURDAY I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

Again, I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Writing is like anything else. The trends and fashions change along with the audience. For instance, Moby Dick spends an excruciatingly long time talking about whales, namely because the audience of the time probably had never seen one and never would. If we did this today? Sure, feel free to walk around in a literary gold-plated cod piece, but er…

Yes, awkward.

Epics were also very popular. Follow a character from the womb until death. FANTASTIC STUFF! Why? Because no one had HBO, Pinterest or Angry Birds. Books were a rare indulgence usually reserved for a handful of literate folks with the money or connections to get their hands on…a book.

Also, since writers were paid by the word, their works were padded more than a freshman term paper. Their motto? No modifier left behind. These days? We have to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner.

Recently, we talked about POV and which one might be the best for your story. I can’t choose for any of you, but before we talk about deep POV, I want to mention that POV is also affected by audience and I believe is a direct reflection of how connected we are as a society.

You guys may or may not know that POV has changed along with communication and connectedness. Waaaaay back in the day, omniscient with a god-like narrator was all the rage. But people didn’t travel at all. Most humans lived and died in the place they were born and in isolation from other communities.

With the early epics, we often had a narrator who was separate from the events.

Dear Reader, come with me for a tale of AWESOME…

Later, after the Dark Ages, people got out more, traveled more, etc. We see the narrator merging into just general god-like presence. Then, after the printing press was invented, more and more people were reading and a lot of monks were out of a job and started the first microbreweries.

Don’t argue. It’s history 😛 .

With pamphlets and papers, people became more engaged and journalism eventually gives birth to this new-fangled invention…first-person. Third person and third-person shifting only became popular after audiences grew accustomed to radio programs (and later television) and could mentally process the idea of a cut-to scene.

As people became networked closer and closer, we see the psychic distance closing. Now that we are a culture of reality TV and social media? Omniscient is a tough sell. I am not telling any of you what POV to choose, but I will say that modern readers will shy away from these older forms of POV because they “feel cold.” Modern readers LOVE being as close as possible, ergo my little side-trip through history.

And this is where we get *drum roll* deep POV.

You hear this word flung around the writing world. Oooh, deep POV. That is deep POV. Deep, Man.

Um, what is deep POV?

And, if you are like me, you go along and are too embarrassed to ask what the heck deep POV is? Everyone wants it. Readers love it. Uh, but what IS it? How do I do it? Can I order some on-line?

Deep POV is simply a technique that strips the author voice completely out of the prose. There is no author intrusion so we are left only with the characters. The reader is nice and snuggly in the “head” of the character.

Okay, clear as mud. Right? Right.

As an editor, I see the intrusion much more than authors. It is actually shocking how much you guys interrupt. In fact, you are like my mother chaperoning my first date who would swear she was quiet as a mouse.

NOT.

I actually like deep POV because I love tight pose. I loathe unnecessary words. Deep POV not only leans up the writing, it digs deeper into the mental state of the character. We probably aren’t going to stay completely in deep POV, but it’s a nice place to call “home.”

How do we do it? Today, for the sake of brevity, we are just going to talk about simple stylistic changes, not the actual writing. We will do that next time 😉 .

First, Ditch the Tags

Just using the word “said” tells the reader we (the author) are there.

Kristen’s Made-Up Example (don’t judge me, just roll with it)

“No, I always love it when you drop by,” she said. Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

Okay, so we get that Fifi is in a bad spot. But just that little word said tells us the author is present. So in the next layer we are going to remove the said.

While We Are Here? Thought and Sense Words—Ditch Those, Too

If we really pause and think about it, thought and sense words are frequently redundant. If we are IN the character’s head? We KNOW she is thinking. Who else would be thinking?

We aren’t dumb. Yes, it is my personal opinion, but I feel sensing and thinking words often qualify as holding the reader’s brain. We don’t need to. Readers are pretty smart.

Let’s look at my made-up example.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

So we ditched the said and that tightened it up. Did you notice how losing the tag tightened the psychic distance? Now let’s remove these stubborn stains  unnecessary sensing and thinking words.

***Also, try to ditch any “starting to”.  Do or do not, there is no try starting to.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi’s hands shook. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder. The street was deserted. All of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. He is going to kill me.

Do you see how just getting rid of those excess words upped the tension of this piece? We (the reader) go from being a distant observer to being in the potentially deadly situation. We don’t need to tell the reader Fifi is thinking or feeling or about to do something. The reader gets that and us putting in glowing directional arrows is a distraction.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.19.06 PM

Fifi felt Tom’s hands clamp around her throat.

Just get to it already!

Tom’s hands clamped around her throat.

So I hope this helps clear up some of your “deep POV” questions. Remember that we live in a culture that is spoiled with intimacy and we can give them what they love. Next time, we will discuss characterization and how to write in deep POV beyond the stylistic choices.

Before we go, y’all asked for it so here goes. I have two classes coming up. The class on log-lines Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line is $35 and as a BONUS, the first ten sign-ups get to be victims. I will pull apart and torture your log-line until it is agent-ready for FREE. Beyond the first ten folks? We will work out something super affordable as a bonus for being in the class so don’t fret. AND, it is two hours and on a Saturday (June 27th) and recorded so no excuses 😛 .

I am also running Hooking the Reader–Your First Five Pages.  Class is on June 30th so let’s make Tuesdays interesting. General Admission is $40 and Gold Level is $55 but with Gold Level, you get the class, the recording and I look at your first five and give detailed edit.

Our first five pages are essential for trying to attract an agent or even selling BOOKS. Readers give us a page…maybe five. Can we hook them enough to part with cold hard CASH? Also, I can generally tell all bad habits in 5 pages so probably can save you a ton in content edit.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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).

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Winner for May is Ugirid Haprasad and the Dojo Diva winner is Amy Kennedy. Please send 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

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