Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: WANA

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

I love to think of myself as having a special eye for talent, and when I find gems like Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, it just makes a gal go “SQUEEEE!” I’ve been following these ladies for a loooong time since they were relatively new in their careers.

These days?

Back up because they are a powerhouse and they offer up some of the most excellent writing instruction in the business. They are the authors of the legendary Emotion Thesaurus which eventually gave rise to stacks of other writing tools (I recommend and use them ALL) and now they are launching something truly special.

And, since they are rockstars, they have given me, the W.A.N.A. Mama a very cool deal to share with you guys at the end of this post. This is HUGE! This is the new state-of -the-art-site every writer needs. One place for all the tools we use, and Becca is here to tell us some more about how One Stop will help you reach your dreams and how to get it. You need this. You deserve it. NaNo is coming. You will thank me later 😉 .

But, the best editors will always say, show don’t tell so this isn’t simply a sales pitch. Becca is here to talk about how story elements must work together and then use that to introduce how One Stop helps make that happen (and then the super sweet deal) …

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 8.14.53 AM

Take it away Becca!

***

When it comes to writing a successful story, people tend to think in terms of two elements: plot and characters. Obviously, these are incredibly important, and if you want to write a story that readers will appreciate, you’ve got to get these two pieces right.

But there’s so much more to a good story: setting, symbolism, theme, emotion, voice. And as important as it is to do all of these things well, it’s just as important that they fit together.

Look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Characterization is a huge part of this story—particularly for the hobbits. The opening scene is Bilbo’s birthday party, and we see right off that hobbits in general are fun-loving, laidback foodie types who like their tankards almost as much as their pipes.

But it’s difficult to define this people-group without also referencing The Shire.

Their passion for this place, their organic connection to the hills and rivers and trees: Tolkien didn’t just pick a setting out of thin air. He created one that fits with the characters like a missing puzzle piece. The characters and the setting go hand in hand; you can’t imagine one without the other.

Which is why, when evil arrives, Frodo’s decision to take it far away and preserve the Shire is a no-brainer.

I find it interesting that the symbol for evil is a gold ring: something that really has nothing in common with the hobbits or their home. They’re simple people; yes they have whole rooms devoted to clothes and they’re proud of their residences, but gold and silver and coins aren’t a huge deal to them.

Tolkien could have used anything to represent evil in his story, but he chose something that had nothing whatsoever to do with The Shire. In doing so, he showed the Shire’s goodness and wholesomeness and the need for its preservation.

I could go on about other writing elements and how they all fit together to make a beautiful, resonant whole, but I think you get the picture. Very likely, none of us are present-day Tolkiens, but his work is the perfect study for how various elements aren’t only successful in isolation; they’re amazing in the way that they work together.

So how do we do accomplish this in our own writing?

Choose Thoughtfully

When it comes to the various elements of a story, it’s tempting to go with the things that excite us as writers: settings we’ve visited, character traits that we embrace, symbolic trinkets and knickknacks that speak to us. And while those things may work, they probably won’t be the best choices for our stories. When it comes to any writing element, don’t choose randomly. Ask yourself: What makes sense for my character and the story? This is the way to make sure that the elements you choose are the best possible fit.

Start With Characterization

I know, I know. Not every author or story is character-driven. But if you’re looking for ways to tie your elements together, the main character is a good starting point.

For instance, let’s say you’re trying to figure out the setting for an important scene. You could just pick one at random—a restaurant, the school cafeteria, an old barn, etc.—but your scene will have more impact if the setting ties in with your character.

Narrow down the virtually endless set of options by asking these questions: What locations have special significance for my character? What setting is emotionally charged for him or her? By choosing a setting to which your character is already connected, it comes with the potential for tension and high emotion—both of which are good for sustaining reader interest and building empathy.

Symbolism is another element that can be tied to characterization for added effect. In Great Expectations, the stopped clocks in Miss Havisham’s house symbolize her abandonment at the altar—the moment when her life essentially stopped.

Dickens didn’t choose a random, external object for this; he chose a specific time, down to the minute—an intensely personal symbol to represent the most formative event from Miss Havisham’s past. This is a great example of how choosing symbols that are personal to the character can add oomph to a story.

Know Your Characters Well

If you want to bring all the story elements together and you’d like to use a character as the centerpiece, it’s imperative that you know that character well. You don’t have to know every little thing about her; but you do need to have a clear understanding of the important parts of her past so you’ll know not only the kind of person she is in your current story, but also what objects, settings, ideas, and events are going to move her.

For a number of resources on building and understanding your character’s backstory, check out the Writers Helping Writers Tools page.

Bringing all of these elements together can seem daunting. But if you start with a solid working knowledge of your character’s backstory and who he or she is today, you’ll be able to move forward from there.

Once you’ve got that basic knowledge down and you’re ready to bring it all together, you might consider visiting One Stop For Writers. This new online library, dreamed up by Angela Ackerman, Lee Powell (creator of Scrivener for Windows) and me, is full of one-of-a-kind resources to help with various aspects of storytelling.

Its unique thesaurus collection covers symbolism, character traits, emotions, physical features, settings, and more—and it’s all cross-referenced and searchable, making it easier to tie all of these pieces together in a way that makes sense for your story and will resonate with your readers.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 8.12.19 AM

Most of us probably don’t aspire to be the next Tolkien or Dickens. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from their brilliance. Know your characters well. Choose your elements thoughtfully, and whenever possible, tie them in with your character and your story. If you can do these things, your work will be much tighter and will ring true with readers, which hopefully will lead to more people finishing your books and spreading the word about their new favorite author.

THANK YOU, BECCA!

All right, so last time we talked about channeling that inner Bad Girl (yes, this works for the guys, too 😛 ). No more Mr. Nice Guy. Take some time for yourself. You are important. Your writing is important and people like Becca, Angela and I have worked hard to give you what you need. Now, all you have to do, Sunshine is suck it up and WRITER UP! Give it a try!

Curious about One Stop For Writers? Register to check out the free version and get an idea of what it’s all about, OR take advantage of this sweet launch-week deal: 50% off any first-time subscriber plan—1 month, 6 months, or 1 full year. This deal is only available until October 14th, (6:30 PM EST), so if you’re interested, shake a tail feather and get on over to Writers Helping Writers for all the juicy details.

Bio:

Author, Blogger, Coach Begga Puglisi
Author, Blogger, Coach Becca Puglisi

Becca Puglisi is a speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via her newest endeavor: One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library like no other, filled with description and brainstorming tools to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

For the past few months I’ve been focused on writing and not on social media. Hey, even the Social Media Jedi can get burnout 😉 . But now we’re going to shift gears because, aside from writing the actual book, social media (branding) is the biggest part of our job. And I can hear the moaning and gnashing of teeth already.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to do social media. No one will take us to writer jail if we don’t. So I will narrow this down. If you simply love the art of writing and don’t necessarily long to be paid for writing, social media is not that big of a priority. Social media is only important for those of us who like money.

Thus, for those of us who want to make a living as a professional author, we must take author branding seriously. We are a business. Want to be successful? Do what successful people do. Successful authors have a brand and use social media well.

When I first began blogging about social media, an on-line platform was an edge. Now? It is a lifeline.

Point of Sale Has Changed FOREVER

When Hubby and I first married seven years ago, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bookstore. Barnes & Noble and Borders megastores crouched at every corner. They were large and fatted from all the small indie bookstores they’d devoured.

We would peruse the shelves and I’d dream of the day I’d see my books out on those display tables. But even then, I had a knot in my stomach. I knew these were halcyon days for the mega-store. We’d already seen what iTunes had done to Tower Records and logic dictated these mega-bookstores were already living on borrowed time.

And sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

Over the past seven years we’ve watched various evolutions of decay and decline. Borders consolidated and then finally went bankrupt. Barnes & Noble tried to launch the Nook. Instead of the front of the store being books, it was a display area for Nooks and Nook accessories. Then, when that didn’t ignite like the Kindle Fire, we saw a steady progression of more and more and more consolidation.

I am from Fort Worth. At one point, there were five Barnes and Nobles all within a couple miles of each other. They are now all gone.

ALL.

Thing is, Borders and Barnes & Noble erased all the indies. Now they are gone. What does this mean for writers?

Fewer point of sale contacts.

There are fewer and fewer physical places to purchase books. For those authors who were counting on readers discovering their titles while browsing? This is bad juju. I live in a very metropolitan area and I know of only a handful of Barnes & Nobles for the entire DFW Area (a metroplex the size of Connecticut).

I just sent off one of my novels to an agent. Would I love to see my book in Barnes & Noble? PSHAW! Duh, YES! I’m a writer.

Like you guys, I’ve dreamed of that since I wrote my first novels in crayon. But I am not naive. Yes, being in a bookstore serves my vanity, but it is no longer the major driver of sales that it used to be.

Even if bookstores sold a LOT of books, frankly there aren’t that many bookstores left.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much simply because there is a really good reason for this store shrinkage. And since I blogged about this until I was BLUE, I will only touch on this point.

We need consumers more than they need us.

Pay Attention to Consumer Behavior

#FUTUREREADERS
#FUTUREREADERS

Thing is, Barnes & Noble could have learned a thing or ten from iTunes and RedBox. Times have changed and so have consumer behaviors. We are an OnDemand world. In the old days, we had to go to the merchant. These days, the merchant comes to us.

CLICK TO BUY!

When I finish one book, my Kindle magically delivers other books like the one I just read. Instead of having to wear pants, brave traffic, find a parking spot, wade through the mall, wander the store, on and on and on…

One click and done.

I just got a new Kindle and O…M…G. They have a new feature where instead of my Kindle simply hibernating with some blasé picture, it has an advertisement for a book. I have bought more books in the past week than in the past year because instead of me having to use a bunch of brainpower sifting through a gazillion choices?

Amazon has done my thinking for me.

We Buy What We KNOW

What happens with authors who don’t have that neat Amazon ad to direct purchases? In a marketplace with fewer and fewer points of sale with more competition than ever in human history, how do we sell books?

We have to create a brand.

We live in a time where we have more choices than ever. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a Love-Hate relationship with Central Market. Granted, it is AWESOME. Central Market is such a cool grocery store that tourists actually visit. Every aisle is a foodie’s dream. They don’t just have “olive oil”, they have 700 varieties of an olive oil “experience”.

And there I stand for 40 minutes just trying to make a freaking decision about WHICH olive oil to buy…and end up just buying plain old Bertolli that I could have purchased at the Kroger’s down the road and that I certainly didn’t need to dress up, drive to Central Market and nearly get run over by a soccer mom in a Mercedes SUV to purchase.

Now, the only time I go to Central Market is if I need something specific because with all the choices? It would take me a day and a half to shop…and I’d need sherpas and GPS and wine that I brought myself because I can’t even figure out what kind of freaking OLIVE OIL I want, you think aI could choose WINE…?????

*breathes in paper bag*

Yet, with books, this is what is going on with consumers, even those of us who are avid readers. Just like we will forgo the pasta sauce with truffles, a virgin sacrifice and the distilled souls of Italian grandmothers in favor of good old-fashioned Ragu…

We will shy away from authors we don’t know in favor of those we DO know.

This is where social media and branding become almost as important as the book we write and have for sale. We could have a book so brilliant it makes angels weep, but if no one knows it is there? We are left with Schrodinger’s Novel.

We Must Always Be Cultivating the Fans of the Future

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

It is incumbent upon us as authors to be in charge of our careers for the short-term as well as the long-term. If you plan on selling books in ten years realize that Millenials will be your audience and they practically teethed on a keyboard. They’ve grown up with social media, so if we aren’t there?

We do not exist.

Smart authors understand this. Don’t believe me, go check out Anne Rice on Facebook and Twitter. She is a social media rockstar and that’s why she continues to be a legend.

It’s All Good

Before anyone has a panic attack, author branding is not that hard. Also, done properly, it isn’t all that time-intensive either. But, I teach branding and social media very differently namely because I am a writer FIRST. I don’t imagine most of you are just doing this writing thing until your dream job in high pressure sales comes through.

Didn’t think so.

I will blog more on this in the weeks to come, but I do recommend picking up my book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. Platforms take time to build so the sooner we start the better. Yes, I published the book a couple years ago, but unlike other “social media experts” I teach an approach that never changes because it is based on people and not technology.

Read Shakespeare. Humans don’t change. And, since humans don’t change, it only makes sense to build a platform based on people, not algorithms and “gaming” the system.

I also have zero interest in changing your personalities. I appreciate what it is like to be a creative introvert with severe social anxiety (I used to shop at 2 a.m. because crowds gave me panic attacks). My goal is to change your behavior, NOT your personality. I am also here to give you a way to create a powerful brand for FREE and still have plenty of time to do the most important part of the job.

Write more books.

So we will start chatting more about branding. What to do, what not to do. What’s a time suck and so forth.

What are your thoughts? Do you miss the small bookstores? I really miss B. Dalton. Do you still dream of seeing your book for sale on a table at B&N? Have you been powerless in the face of Kindle book ads? I had to sign up for a Kindle Unlimited membership before I had to go to a loan shark to pay for my habit. Are you overwhelmed by social media or has it given you a lifeline?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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.

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.30.15 PM

A lot of “stuff” has been going on in my life lately. Hard stuff. Heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that just makes me want to write massacre scenes….except I am so brain dead I had to google how to spell “massacre.”

Masicker? Missucker?

WHAT AM I DOING???? *breaks down sobbing*

I am supposed to be an adult an expert okay, maybe functionally literate. Fine, I give up! I have nothing left to saaaaayyyyyy. I am all out of woooords *builds pillow fort*.

I figured it’s time for a bit of levity. Heck, I need a good laugh. How about you guys?

We writers are different *eye twitches* for sure, but the world would be SO boring without us. Am I the only person who watches Discovery ID and critiques the killers?

You are putting the body THERE? Do you just WANT to go to prison? Why did you STAB them? Helllooo? Blood spatter? LOO-Min-OL? Moron.

I think it’s a writer thing. So, since today I am staring at the “White Screen of I SUCK and Why Did I Want to Be a WRITER?”, we are just going to roll with it…

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve learned that regular people are cute, and no longer get offended with this conversation.

Regular Person: What do you do?

Writer: I’m a writer.

Regular Person: No, I mean, what’s your real job?

You’ve come to understand that writers are a lot like unicorns. Everyone knows about them, they’ve simply never seen a REAL ONE.

You Might Be a Writer If…

The NSA, CIA and FBI no longer bother with you. Likely, they know you by name and now outsource to the creepy ice cream truck to just make a few passes and check to make sure you’re still at your computer.

author

As an extra bonus, the next time the NSA passes by in the panel van? Go out and ask them for a job application and maybe even a reference if you want bonus smart@$$ points.

You Might Be a Writer If…

Kind strangers hand you cash and sandwiches and offer to pray for you. Apparently you’re regularly mistaken for a homeless person because you haven’t bathed or changed clothes in weeks and are wandering around shouting at the air.

…aaaand, you are just doing Nanowrimo.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You hate texting because it takes too long to use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You know what’s the best time of year to dispose of a body to confuse TOD and that seriously creeps out your friends and family.

And you know what TOD stands for and that creeps them out even more.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re on such a roll with the WIP that you’ve forgotten a “real” world exists (including laundry). You’re down to wearing your husband’s socks and he’s either going commando or is forced to wear that thong given to him on his 40th birthday as a joke gift. The kids? Hell, they went feral a week ago.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.19.39 PM

You Might Be a Writer If…

You take a break from writing to go to the store and, on the way, begin untangling a plot problem. You finally realize you’re in the next state and have no idea how you got there. But good news is, you now know which poison is best to kill off the character modeled after that cheerleader who bullied you through high school. It’s the poison that will make her fat and wrinkly before she dies slowly from terminal acne.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You have NO CLUE what to do in case of a flood, a fire or a natural disaster, but you are actually looking forward to the collapse of civilization because you are pretty sure you will make an AWESOME Warlord.

 

You Might Be a Writer If…

You appreciate that if Febreeze is good enough for the couch, why not hose the kids? Hey, you spent extra for the anti-microbial one. It kills germs *rolls eyes*. Now your tot smells like a Hawaiian Breeze and his cooties can’t hurt others. You should get a freaking MEDAL for this kind of creativity.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve been diagnosed with Tourette’s, Multiple-Personality Disorder or both. It’s tough to explain you were simply working out dialogue when strapped to a gurney. But the upside is when they sedate you, it’s the only vacation you’ve had in months and insurance might even cover it. SCORE!

You Might Be a Writer If…

People believe you are a shy introvert, but you just can’t bring yourself to tell them that your imaginary friends are simply WAY more interesting.

You Might Be a Writer If…

A casket washes up in a Houston flood and while normal people are upset how tragic it is, you are wondering if there is GOLD inside. Or missing drug money.

Or if they open open it, could they unwittingly unleash the ZOMBIE PLAGUE?

Or what if it is the WRONG BODY? And it was all to cover up a mob leader faking his own DEATH?

You Might Be a Writer If…

You realize you are a horrible human being for getting so excited for that last one because NOW YOU HAVE A NEW STORY IDEA FOR NANO YOU SICK, SICK SOULLESS PERSON!

You Might Be a Writer If…

“Recycling” is using the same jerks from real life in a new story. We can kill them AGAIN! 😀

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re no longer invited to family events because they can’t take the incessant correction of their grammar.

Chickens are done, people are FINISHED.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re automatically safe from any episode of Hoarders because when you get enough books? Others naturally assume you’re a LIBRARY. Hey, maybe you can apply for government funding. Scratch that. Then, you’d have to let people borrow your books.

You Might Be a Writer If …

You willingly suffer frostbite hiding in a Costco freezer eavesdropping a couple’s fight, because dialogue that epic is worth a losing pinkie toe. Your coffee table’s already tried to assassinate it 342 times anyway.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve been mistaken for Gollum multiple times, because strangers found you in a dark corner whispering “My precious….” and it was just you and your Kindle.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You plow over the entire Kardashian family, because OMG there’s Stephen KING!

You Might Be a Writer If…

Your idea of fun is reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, talking to your friends at the Coroner’s office or reading/writing Amazon reviews of the Bic Pen for Her or the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer.

You Might Be a Writer If…

Speaking of the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, you actually bought one, not only to support the greatest comedic writing in human history, but also to screw with the TSA. Can you get it through airport security without a full-body search? Hide it near your shoulders and FREE NECK MASSAGE!

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve made it onto the Mormon and Jehova’s Witness DO NOT CALL LIST because you will only promise to convert with purchase of YOUR BOOKS (and favorable 5-star reviews).

You Might Be a Writer If…

Every time some overblown Third World dictator threatens to destabilize the world, all you can think is, “Pfft. Amateur.”

Have any to add? I know you do. So, “You Might Be a Writer If….”

I LOVE hearing from you!

Also, please swing by my funny Jiu Jitsu post over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

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

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 9.40.52 AM
Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends 😀 .

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

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

After six years in critique her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups also have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at resonating with readers, thus being successful.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for commercial publication.

In a good traditional critique group we learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” We learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and why modifiers aren’t always extra-nifty. We will hopefully learn self-discipline in that we need to attend regularly and contribute. We can also forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.15.49 AM

Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see structural flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell us nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

***A beta reader is a regular person who likes to read our genre and will tell us about the story from a reader’s perspective.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.48.53 AM

As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Fifi end up in Costco wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

They’ve missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Our job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections our critique groups can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.48.40 AM

Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Hooked by Les Edgerton, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell are a great start. In fact, ANYTHING written by Edgerton or James Scott Bell, just buy it and read it. You can thank me later 😉 .

That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half
Image via Hyperbole and a Half

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers who have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query or publication.

Scrap it, part it, shop it or ship it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for four, five, even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...
Can get you in trouble…

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many successfully published authors has the group produced?

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond that group for additional critique.

We must make sure our work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for this brutal career. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer us publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

If your goal is to write great novels, make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I spent way too many years in a critique group that produced all kinds of articles and NF, but no one had published a successful novel. Then I wondered why the critique was…eh.

When I left that group for the DFW Writers Workshop, my world tilted on its axis because DFWWW is AWESOME and is known for producing professionals in all genres. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without them. I also STRONGLY recommend joining RWA (Romance Writers of America) and find an RWA chapter nearby even if you don’t write romance.

RWA is by FAR the most professional group of authors any of us can connect with. They are at the leading edge of the industry and these folks will totally send in the flying monkeys if you don’t get back to writing. 

By the way, if you want to get more out of your critique group, I have a class this Saturday (details below) that can make sure your larger structure is sound. This class can do what your critique group can’t and it will help you spend your time more wisely.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Does your critique group seem to only run you in circles? Have you fallen for the perfectionism thing? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas?

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

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