Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: writing fiction

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

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

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

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

How do we fix this?

Antagonists

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

That core story problem is created by the antagonist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s explore these.

Man Against Society

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

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

Man Against Nature

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

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

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

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

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

Man Against Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February’s winner of the 20 page critique is Dominic Scezki. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (12 point, Times New Roman, one-inch borders, double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl.com.

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Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My greatest frustration always was (and still is) when I couldn’t even GET to critiquing the deeper story elements because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

Good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really? O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

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When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

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#4 Too Much Physiology…

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more.

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

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Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

 Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors February 3rd, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies February 17th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character February 24th, 2017

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

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I do a ridiculous amount of reading because it is part of my job as a writer. My job in particular because I blog about craft. I read all genres and go through anywhere from 2-4 books a week. Audible will go bankrupt if I’m ever hit by an ice cream truck.

This said, I think I’m in a fairly good position to guide you guys on pitfalls to avoid from a reader’s POV. These are the mistakes that will have me railing at the heavens and throwing a book across the room…followed by depression because I can never get those wasted hours back.

I just returned a book so bad that I cannot believe I read as much of it as I did. It is a prime example why reviews can be misleading, even good ones.

I finally had to return it because there was just not enough blood pressure medicine in the world. I’m not a reviewer. It isn’t my brand so I’m not going to name names. Also, fiction is highly subjective so this is what pulled ME out of the story. But I’m hoping the thin silver lining from this dreadful experience is maybe I can use the flaws in this book as a cautionary tale.

Good Fiction is About Problems

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First and foremost good fiction is the path of greatest resistance. NOTHING should come easily for the protagonist. This is fiction, not a frigging Barbie Dream House for a writer to play out her dream life.

The protagonist had absolutely NO resistance whatsoever. After the death of her fiancé and childhood sweetheart, she decides to open a coffee shop. Magically she is gifted almost a quarter of a million dollars at the funeral. Okay. Plausible. Then she needed a space but her credit was bad…oh but magically mystically the owner of the space and a total plot puppet visits her house and gives her the lease and tells her he won’t charge rent until she opens and to take as long as she needs.

Oh-kay.

Then her friend—a premium designer—offers to redo the space gratis. And on and on and on. She never has a setback and the world is just bending over backward to hand her whatever she needs.

Now the book began sort of interesting. A psychic shows to the funeral to tell her her fiancé is alive. Okay, cool, that is a story. But does the protagonist pursue this? Ask any questions? Maybe fly to Mexico where the love of her life disappeared to check it out for herself? Even though she is flush with plenty of cash?

Nope.

We spend I kid you not, half the book of her essentially playing literary Barbies…including Sexy Photographer Ken who is every woman’s dream and who is willing to stop globe-hopping taking award-winning gallery quality shots….to be her barista for her gourmet coffee shop even though she refuses to date him.

Whenever we write fiction, of course we are injecting our fantasies into a book but we also need to make sure that everything isn’t going so smoothly that the reader is a Fly on the Wall of NOTHING FRIGGING HAPPENING.

Characters Who Are Too Dumb To Live

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As I mentioned, the book hooked early with the promise of a faked death and a psychic. But even after a vision of her love being in danger, in water, bullets whizzing by…the protagonist never pursues the question.

What is interesting is she (Barista Barbie) is happy to keep Photographer Ken waiting on the hook for TWO YEARS while she opens her Barbie Playhouse Gourmet Coffee Shop. The protagonist cannot date him because she still has questions whether or not her fiancé is still alive….

WTH?

YOU HAVE HAD TWO YEARS!!!!! So you keep Photographer Ken on the hook for two years because you are unsure if the psychic was right? That your love could be alive? But you NEVER look into it? IN TWO YEARS?

What…is…wrong….with…you?

Even more perplexing, what is wrong with Photographer Ken? Move on. She is a game-playing b$#@!.

Every mystery masquerading as tension was something easily remedied with a google search or a PHONE CALL. When there a deep nagging questions that can be remedied with a five minute conversation, and that conversation never happens?

*left eye twitches*

The entire premise of this book is that maybe her fiancé isn’t dead. NOT ONCE does she ever ask, “Hey those remains you found and that we buried? How did they identify it was him? Dental records? DNA?”

NOT ONCE.

*shoots self*

Dumb Factual Errors

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Right now I’m writing a Western Horror and historical is a totally new thing for me. I’m constantly stopping to research my facts and I know that one day when it is in print I will have some Curator of All Things Western probably nail me on some detail I botched. But, I tried. I did my due diligence. Thing is, we probably will all miss a fact here and there and that is all right. I really don’t mind that stuff.

But when an author has an error that could have a) been fixed with simply thinking for a minute and if still in doubt? b) GOOGLING IT…it ticks me off.

So after an absurd amount of time, protagonist FINALLY takes a break from baking and making frou frou coffees to check out Mexico and maybe see if the love of her life is still alive. What a peach! She lives in San Jose and it is a NINETEEN HOUR FLIGHT to Mexico?

Whisky Tango Hotel?

You don’t even need to be local to California to know that there is no way in hell that flight is NINETEEN HOURS. She could fly to New Zealand in THIRTEEN. This was actually the point I tapped out and gave up.

Seriously, the devil is in the details. It is too easy to get most of our facts correct in this day and age so when we bungle something that obvious? It frustrates the reader.

Word/Phrase Echoes

Again, this is something all of us do, though hopefully a good editor will help you remove them. Word echoes are my super power so I tend to be lenient when reading because I know I’m trained to see these things and so I’m tougher than most. I’ve learned to lighten up. But if we have a word or a phrase that we use to the point of distraction? It wrecks the reading experience.

When reading this book, I pondered making a drinking game out of it. You know, take a shot every time a character “rounded his eyes” (whatever that is—surprise?)…but I would have gotten alcohol poisoning in less than three chapters.

We need to mix it up and if you need help? Seriously, get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. 

In the end, any one of these oopses might not tank a book but these are at least some good things to keep in mind when writing and later editing.

What are your thoughts? What are your pet peeves? What makes you want to punch a book in the face?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

 

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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

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Today’s post is a repeat because I am scrambling to get ready to fly to L.A. for the Writers’ Digest Conference, but I think this is a truly fun post that is perfect for Halloween and also get get you guys fired up for NaNoWriMo. Writers really are a strange breed and just so y’all know? The normal ship sailed without you a long time ago so relax. Your family or friends might not “get” you but we do.

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I once spent an entire afternoon googling Fort Worth hotels to find the right one with a balcony to toss someone off of. I was like the Goldilocks of murder.

Nope doesn’t face a street.

Not high enough to be fatal.

Don’t want them landing in a pool.

Apparently “normal” people do not do this, which is why being normal is totally boring and for losers.

So before friends and family turn you into the FBI, here is a handy list of ways we writers are often mistaken for serial killers.

#1 Serial Killers Writers Need Alone Time

Generally, dealing with the public is only for a purpose (like making others think we are normal). To truly recharge and immerse in the art of what we do, we need to pull back and simply “get away.” Many writers can be found in basements, dark corners of libraries or lurking behind a desk surrounded with bear traps.

#2 Serial Killers Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job

Many writers are also teachers, engineers (or likely married to an engineer—What is WITH that?), lawyers, doctors, or even librarians. We are friendly, polite and on-time and hold down gainful employment. This is what makes writers SO terrifying. You probably work with one.

You might even be married to one.

#3 Serial Killers Writers Can Look Just like YOU

When our book comes out, neighbors will say, “But she seemed so nice and normal. Really polite. Always thought something was off, but writing? Really? Who can ever know these things.”

#4 Serial Killers Writers Understand Law Enforcement

And probably dated it 😀 ….until they married an engineer.

When planning any murder or series of murders, we have to know our enemy. The cops. What are ways we can confuse them? Can we kill in multiple jurisdictions knowing the law agencies will never properly communicate and thus we can kill as many people as our plot requires? Can we run the police down a rabbit hole of distraction?

Can we evade them altogether? Get rid of ALL the evidence?

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)
Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

#5 Serial Killers Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.

Throw T.O.D. around a writers’ group and no problemo. But using this term at Thanksgiving with the family? Meh. We writers know the best time of year to kill and dump the body and which season a shallow grave is an acceptable option. No writer ever sees just a freezer. Or just a car trunk. 

Trust me, we are thinking how many people we can fit in that sucker and if we’ll have to saw apart the body first.

#6 Serial Killers Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill

And often talk to those voices. We might be driving to Costco when the Voice visits and tells us that we really shouldn’t kill that asshat who stood us up for prom. No, the slutty cheerleader he dumped us for is a way better choice. Then, so enraptured with talking to the Voice, we find we missed the last fifty exits and have to hope there’s a Costco in the neighboring state.

#7 Serial Killers Writers Choose Victims Carefully

Generally our victims will include anyone who picked on us in high school or ever broke up with us via Facebook or text message. Victims can also include anyone who ever worked in HR or customer service for AT&T.

#8 Serial Killers Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically

Sure you might get the fantasy or sci-fi author who just exterminates an entire race, but for the rest of us? No, we thought those kills out. We can’t just kill anyone lest we be left with a pacing and plot problem.

Duh.

#9 Serial Killers Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills

Sure the body count will rise, but during revisions? We just go back and spend quality time with the souvenirs we took off our victims. We might even take breaks between books because we can’t murder characters without a plan. Helloooo?

#10 Serial Killers Writers are Narcissists 

Seriously, we have to be. Who else can write hundreds of thousands of words just knowing the world will love every bit of what you put down? And PAY MONEY to consume it? Narcissists have a God-complex but unlike serial killers who pretend to be God?

We writers actually ARE.

#11 Serial Killers Writers Take People Apart

We crawl in your head, but don’t get too freaked out. We crawl in everyone’s head. We think like you. We become you. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.00.56 AM
Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

What???? Don’t judge me. You do this too! 😛

Okay so when ACTORS do this it is OKAY but a writer does this and it’s creepy? We need to know how people think, what makes them tick, what sets them off. What are the right pain points and speaking of pain…

#12 Serial Killers Writers Are Also Sadists

Excellent fiction is the path of greatest resistance which means good writers are all about exacting pain. Doling it out bit by bit. Upping the heat and making that victim and all who love him squirm, then panic, then question the very meaning of their existence. We push our victims until just before that spark of hope in their eyes extinguishes completely.

And then we give them a bone and rescue them so there. We aren’t completely heartless. Sheesh, these people are imaginary. Why so freaked out?

#13 Serial Killers Writers Struggle with Addiction/Compulsion

Drugs and alcohol? Maybe. Books and cute bookmarks we never use because we lost them and so have to use the receipt from purchasing the freaking bookmark as a bookmark? Definitely. Female serial killers writers can often be spotted wandering around a craft store talking to the yarn. Males? Computer stores.

Angels and Devils

Yeah yeah writers could be mistaken for serial killers but in the end, everything we do is for the ultimate good. We actually have to write in mistakes lest our villain remain free and that is bad fiction.

Speaking of which, have you ever created a villain so good you had to go BACK and write in some oopses? Like, “Wow, this guy’s good. Nope, they’d never catch him. Ah sh#!.”

Okay so some of you by now are either laughing and nodding…or you’re dialing an FBI hotline ready to link them to my blog. Fine, when they haul me away in cuffs, trust me I am taking notes so when I write a similar scene? I know how cuffs FEEL.

So there 😛 .

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had strangers overhear you talking about how to kill someone and you had to stop and say, “It’s okay. I’m a writer.” Do you love Discovery ID just a bit more than is probably healthy? Do you freak out friends and family because autopsies make you giddy? Are you more than a little weirded out that we all seemed to marry engineers?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Dog Body Language
Image by Gopal 1035

Today regular guest writer Alex Limberg is back with a post that will make any of your dialogue scenes sound so much smoother. His piece is about body language. Raise your eyebrows and drop your chin in delight, because Alex is about to help you get under your readers’ skin with your dialogue. Also, you should definitely check out his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Now clap your hands: 3… 2… 1… here we go:

***

“Crossing my bridge on your flying rhinoceros? You better reconsider that,” the troll said and raised his fist.

When you are reading the sentence above, you know immediately what the situation is about: The troll is threatening the other person (and a flying rhino is coming your way). And the reason you know exactly what’s up is, you guessed it, the fitting description of body language. Body language is added in just four tiny words. But those four words add a lot of depth to the scene.

The physical snippet makes your reader visualize the scene; it puts the graphic image of a big, green, threatening troll fist in his head.

It also brings some nice variation to your dialogue; it’s more interesting than a plain, boring dialogue tag (“the troll said” or “the troll shouted.”)

It introduces character and overboiling emotion – you know it’s better not to tangle with the green guy.

And finally, it adds some physicality to your story, as opposed to just “blah, blah, blah” dialogue and scenic description. It makes for well-balanced speech.

Troll Warning
Image by Gil

All of this is the power of using body language.

Here is a short Body Language 101 that will help you with “puppeteering” your characters’ bodies:

1. Use Body Language Only From Time to Time

If you use body language too much, it will become annoying and obvious and lose its subtle qualities. Instead, only describe characters’ facial expressions and postures from time to time. Make them smoothly blend in with the dialogue and the other scenic description.

Sneak your body expressions into the mix unobtrusively. Remember that you have several other options to “tag” and break up your dialogue lines:

  • You could use a dialogue tag (“Let’s go to the party then!” Sandra squealed.)
  • You could describe what the characters are doing (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra held the invitation out to him.)
  • You could describe what else is happening in the scene (“Let’s go to the party then!” Suddenly the doorbell rang.)
  • You could just leave the dialogue line standing alone (“Let’s go to the party then.”)
  • You could describe a facial expression, posture or movement of the character who is speaking and put it directly before or after his dialogue line, to let the reader connect the dots himself (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra’s face lit up.)

Try to vary these options, so none of them gains the upper hand and becomes annoying. That way you will get a well-balanced and structured scene that pays equal attention to dialogue, characters and descriptions.

When you insert body language, always do it in passing and don’t give any extra weight to what you describe.

2. No Explanation, Just Body Language

If you want to look really stupid, you could write like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked with eyes narrowed to slits, because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

This example does both, showing and telling. That’s one too many, and the too many one is the telling part! Cut out “because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

When you write like this, you also take your reader for stupid. Let her connect the dots herself – if she has followed the story, she will know why Georg’s eyes are pressed to slits.

Try it like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked, his eyes narrowed to slits.

That’s much better, now we don’t even have to go inside George’s head artificially, we can just describe objectively what the reader sees.

Whenever possible, don’t name the feeling, but just show the body language. And definitely never put both of them (body language and description of feeling) together in the same sentence.

Showing, not telling is sometimes not easy to do when you are caught up in the writing process. That’s why I created my free checklist about “44 Test Questions” to make your story great. It’s a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, and you can download it right away.

Body Language 1

3. Have a Very Clear Idea of What Your Character Is Feeling

Take a look at this ambitious description of body language:

“Randy held one hand in his other behind his back, then suddenly stroked his throat while he was leaning towards Linda.”

What’s happening here? Nobody knows, Randy’s behavior is too much. As far as we are aware, it doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the writer pays attention to the undertones so much, that in the end he is not really saying anything.

Don’t write so cryptically that nobody can understand where your character is coming from. A simple description of one piece of body language at a time is absolutely enough. You, the author, always have to be clear about what your characters are feeling. And their body language has to match those feelings.

4. Follow Your Intuition When Describing Body Language

But where can you take an accurate description for flattery or envy from?

Your best bet is to take it from yourself. Imagine you feel flattered by an enormous compliment, like the best compliment ever. What expressions would your face, your arms, your body be making? Totally immerse yourself in the feeling like a good actor, and see which body expression fits.

Remember the last time you felt really envious about somebody? Use that memory to immerse yourself in the feeling for a second and ask yourself how your body would react.

Reading a book about body language is also an excellent idea. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease is a very systematic and comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about body language. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Acting 1

5. Several Types of Body Language You Can Use

Our bodies have several ways of giving our secrets away. Here are some examples and a bit of inspiration on what’s possible:

  • Facial expressions: The human face is an endless source of expressions. Think of raised eyebrows, tightly pressed lips, blown up cheeks, wrinkled noses, wide eyes, frowned brows, poked out tongues, widened nostrils… most feelings show through several features
  • Body postures: Crossed arms, legs wide apart, foot put forward, leaned back upper body, spread elbows, locked ankles, body pointing away, tilted head… all of these have something very distinctive to say
  • Body movements: Adjusting tie, nibbling on temple of glasses, whipping foot, raising hand with palm toward opposite, flicking the hair, putting hands in pockets, grabbing the other’s upper arm, scratching one’s nose… do you know what all of these mean?

Equipped with all of this knowledge, you now have an extremely elegant and effective way to describe what’s really happening under the surface of your scene. You can now go fill your characters with overflowing emotions and life.

Once you manage to describe how their feelings subconsciously pour out of them, your figures will automatically take on a life of their own and feel like they were standing next to you in your living room. And your reader won’t be able to keep from loving or loathing them whole-heartedly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your dialogue, plot, characters and much more to greatness with his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thumbs up, Alex!

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: Are you guilty of completely neglecting body language in your stories? Do you have a favorite body part or movement to describe? Aren’t knees so much cooler than elbows? Do you ever forget to jump up and down when you are happy?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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