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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Search Results for: literary barbies

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Christmas movies, writing tips

Embrace the inner psychopath. If I could only teach ONE ‘trick’ for writing great stories, it would be this: The moral codes that make us excellent citizens make us terrible writers.

We have to remember the rules change when dealing in the realms of imagination. Fiction is NOT life, rather it is an imitation of life. It is life in distillate form.

To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, great stories are ‘life’ with the boring parts cut out. Yet, so many emerging writers forget this.

Novelists aren’t just good with words, novelists excel at using words to create a STORY. This is why so many first ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. Because being good with words isn’t enough.

If it were enough, then chefs could perform heart surgery because they’re ‘really good with sharp blades.’

Being ‘good with words’ has to be refined. Good with words…HOW?

Prose and description so glorious angels sing does not a novel make. What makes a novelist is how we wield those words. Yet, here’s the catch. If we want to write stories readers can’t put down, then can’t get out of their heads, then cant stop talking about?

We must embrace our inner psychopath. If we don’t have one, then we need to train one.

Great Writers Embrace the Inner ‘Psychopath’

embrace the inner psychopath, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Christmas movies

The terms psychopath and sociopath are easy to confuse, yet they’re distinctively different disorders. Sociopaths have an antisocial personality disorder, which often leads them to ignore social and moral rules that guide an ordered society. They understand right from wrong, just don’t care.

So where does the sociopath part ways with the psychopath?

It’s believed that psychopaths are a more extreme version of the antisocial personality disorder. Thus all psychopaths are sociopaths but not all sociopaths are psychopaths.

The psychopath is, thus far, believed to be incapable of forging emotional bonds, whereas sociopaths can. Thus, the sociopath might not have any qualms about emptying a stranger’s bank account, but he wouldn’t do that to his best friend.

Psychopaths would make no such distinction and would empty anyone’s account they gained (manipulated) access to. The psychopath isn’t guided by any sense of shame or guilt. He or she doesn’t hold back, and is not hindered by empathy or sympathy.

Back to writing.

Superb fiction is an exercise in sadism. Why writers generally creep non-writers out is because we have the imagination to inflict so much suffering and pain.

The non-writer doesn’t understand HOW we can do what we do, but they enjoy it nonetheless…and they just make sure to keep their eyes on us.

***Refer to my post, Thirteen Reasons Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers.

Millions of people watch (and read) Game of Thrones knowing they are going to be tortured hour after hour…but they can’t get enough. And bear with me, because this goes for ALL great stories. We don’t have to write stories with rape, incest, cannibalism, and mass murder to still torture an audience.

Welcome to…

Christmas Chaos

For the writer psychopath, not even CHRISTMAS is safe. Think of all your longtime favorite holiday movies, the ones you watch year after year. What do they have in common?

They all involve chaos, mass mayhem and destruction.

There’s a reason for that. Without chaos, mass mayhem and destruction, there is NO STORY.

Who wants to spend an hour and a half watching a movie about a well-adjusted family getting along? #SnoozeFest

No, we want the GRISWOLDS! National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is about a man whose only goal is to have the most incredible Christmas ever…but his dream is systematically dismantled in increasingly awful ways.

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, editing, Christmas movies, writing tips

All of his dreams blow up in his face. His lights won’t work and when they do, he causes a massive blackout. His dream is to have the biggest best Christmas tree (good goal, noble goal), but the tree won’t fit in their house and then there is a squirrel and on and on. Nothing works.

Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong…twice. Then catches fire.

Christmas Vacation is funny, but it isn’t in my top five. I insist that Gremlins is a Christmas movie, yet Hubby doesn’t agree Gremlins is a Christmas movie (because he is wrong).

Then of course there is…

But, monsters taking over a town at Christmas and a hostage situation in a skyscraper are pretty obviously full of overt conflict.

So I decided to talk about the movies that are plenty tense, yet the conflict has more to do with people, their relationships to and with one another, and how desires and false idols collide.

My two favorite Christmas movies are ‘A Christmas Story‘ and ‘The Ref‘. I’m specifically mentioning these two because the screenwriters certainly knew how to embrace their inner psychopaths.

A Christmas Story…from HELL

A Christmas Story is all about a young boy in the 1940s doing everything humanly possible to secure the gift of his dreams, a Red Ryder BB gun. Every good idea he concocts blows up in his face. This poor kid can’t get a break.

I’d like to take a moment to mention that what separates the mundane from the magnificent has to do with VECTORS. When a writer embraces that inner psychopath?

NO ONE IS SAFE.

New writers very often forget to USE their other characters as more than stage props (plot puppets). Why A Christmas Story is SO fun is because mayhem strikes from every angle. Trauma sucker-punches everyone.

When the MC is only in a struggle against a singular antagonistic force, the story falls flat and becomes tedious. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Yet, in this holiday classic, Ralphie isn’t the only one who gets smacked. Dad wins a PRIZE he insists on putting in the front window, and he’s oblivious to his wife’s mortification.

Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. ~Ralphie as an Adult

The one thing the whole family—but most especially DAD—looks forward to is the Christmas turkey and the days and days of leftovers to enjoy. But nothing is safe from a writer who’s embraced that inner psychopath. Not even the Christmas turkey.

But look how chaos and destruction hammers EVERYONE (not JUST Ralphie).

The Ref

Speaking of mass mayhem. The Ref is one of the few movies that can make even this Griffendork root for a ‘bad guy.’ Dennis Leary *fan girl moment* plays Gus, a cat burglar who robs the wrong mansion…and his partner abandons him.

With the entire city’s police force out hunting for him, Gus makes a snap decision to lay low by taking a seemingly nice family hostage.

Ah, but the tag line for this movie is genius.

They might be his hostages but what they’re doing to this guy is criminal.

Gus begins with a plan, a plan he’s executed flawlessly until it goes horribly wrong. What’s better is it just keeps getting worse and worse until the end when…catharsis. 

See, all the great movies about the holidays present us with the MC’s ideal then the STORY smashes that ideal to pieces until the MC, and those around the MC, realize they’ve missed the entire point of something (family, love, peace, holiday spirit, giving, etc.).

YET, what I want to point out is this. The characters have to endure the torment to get the golden fleece. They cannot suddenly achieve enlightenment and say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had this all wrong! The holiday season is really about X!’

If they did, we’d call foul, be supremely ticked and tell everyone to avoid this movie more than the kiosk barkers at the mall.

Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, DO NOT let her buff one nail.

If we watched ninety minutes of a beautifully decorated home (description) with perfect people, we’d feel cheated and ROBBED if nothing went terribly, obscenely WRONG.

Why? Because if the MC doesn’t rightfully EARN revelation, enlightenment, etc. it’s a CHEAT. The writer cheated, which is why we feel cheated. Catharsis is what great stories offer. Release.

The harder it is for the MC (and others) to get to and through Act Three, the more intense the cathartic experience…and the better the denouement.

All righty. So Psychopath 101.

Make EVERYTHING Hard…No, IMPOSSIBLE!

Exactly my thoughts…

As my friend and mentor, the incredible Les Edgerton taught me, ‘Nothing comes easily for your characters. NOTHING. Not even directions.’ Advice I used very literally in my novel The Devil’s Dance.

When Special Agent Sawyer asks my MC where the closest tire place is located, her response is:

What do I look like? Google Maps?’

One of the LARGEST problems I encounter with emerging writers is y’all are too nice. I was, too. Still can be (which I then go back and remedy…with a hammer).

Many new writers still possess a conscience and a moral code…and that’s a problem.

Moral compasses point to the Land of Nod NOT to the Land of Literary Legends.

I cannot count how many samples I’ve read where everyone gets along. If the MC needs something, he or she finds it with uncanny (and boring) ease. If an MC discovers she has magical powers, she learns to use them flawlessly and almost overnight.

NO! We need to make everything hard and seemingly impossible or ZZZZZZZZZZ.

***STAR WARS TRIGGER WARNING:

I know this is controversial, and is only my OPINION. Alas, one of the MANY reasons I wish the Star Wars franchise would just STOP is that, as far as I am concerned, the core storyline’ played out back in the 80s.

To keep trying to push the same storyline is making Star Wars more Space Soap Opera than Space Opera.

Seriously, the Star Wars universe is large enough to begin fresh instead of hiding leftovers in suspicious casseroles.

Why do I mention this? Because Rae learning how to use a light saber like a master with no struggle makes my left eye twitch. She didn’t have to EARN her skills. Yes, she was a master with a long staff, but seamlessly transitioning over to wielding a light saber with NO learning curve?

FOUL!

Which is why the training of Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2 is EPIC…

In fairness, Kung-Fu Panda got a rougher time than Rae.

The harder the MC has to work for the prize, the sweeter the victory. Even in Hallmark Christmas movies. Not even A December Bride can catch an easy break.

And yes, I did actually just write a blog that placed Kill Bill 2, Kung Fu Panda and A Christmas Bride in the same place at once.

#YouAreWelcome

Stop making everything too easy. Look over your WIP and search for spots where something was too simple…then throw a rock in it. Once you do that, then set it on fire.

Whatever the MC Wants, It Better Cost BIG

Humans don’t value free or easy. There’s a reason most parents have a back seat full of ‘free toys and games’ from drive-thrus that our kids have never even opened. If the MC wants something it has to COST something.

No, it has to cost EVERYTHING.

This is why writers must embrace the inner psychopath and steal, destroy or ruin everything our characters love. We’re doing it for their own good.

When we look at my opening example—Christmas Vacation—Clark Griswold has to give up his false gods/idols (what he believes makes for the perfect family holiday) and exchange them for the real deal.

In fact, this is a fairly common theme of all holiday movies. Likely why writers are constantly dreaming up new and improved ways to destroy Christmas.

The MC has a belief about what the holidays are really about…then the writer psychopath destroys everything in the MC’s life so they can see truth.

The story conflict (crucible) is what supplies our characters with insight they didn’t possess before we wrecked their lives. By the end of our torment, our MCs have new eyes and are able to tell the difference between fool’s gold and real gold.

KILL THE SHINY

Remember, we are embracing the inner psychopath, which means we can appear to care about our fictional friends. But we’re really using them. We only care what the characters can DO for us (or rather our story). This is one of the toughest parts of what writers—good writers—do.

We use various combinations of 26 letters to create ‘real’ people our audience loves, bonds with, and connects to…then we torment or kill those characters.

And this is tough. It’s like being a farmer who has to name all the animals that will end up on the table. It can suck. We can find ourselves getting attached to the characters because we created them from nothing.

We breathed life into letters–EVEN Q and X!—and created a LIFE. If our creations are funny, noble, kind, loving, and self-sacrificing?

It is because WE made them that way.

In life, bad things happen to good people. But, in fiction, the worst possible things happen to even better people.

If your story feels sluggish, my advice is to kill your shiny. If we don’t, the story WILL suffer.

We fall in love with characters so we start ‘helping’ them by making life too easy. Instead of tormenting our characters, misdirecting them, withholding any sort of lucky break, we butter them up so they can glide along.

This is when we’re no longer writing fiction, we’re playing Literary Barbies/Literary G.I. Joe.

If our characters exist for the sole purpose of acting out our own happy endings, we need a shrink not Scrivner. In the end it will be cheaper to hire a superlative psychiatrist than to produce and market a bad book.

Remember Storytellers Tell STORIES

*shock face*

If our job was to write amazing description, we’d be called ‘describers’ not ‘authors.’ We belong writing ad copy not novels.

Our main goal as storytellers is to tell a STORY, not have a tea party, shopping spree, dinner gala with our imaginary friends. Why? Because NO ONE BUT US (THE WRITER) CARES UNLESS SOMETHING GOES DREADFULLY WRONG.

Think of this in life. You go out to dinner at your favorite fancy restaurant. It has beautiful decor, soft jazz, top notch cuisine, and includes a room full of well-dressed, well-mannered people having a good time.

Okay.

Do you really care about the other people in this restaurant? Or are they a backdrop you’ll forget as soon as the valet pulls up with your car? Will you remember this dinner for the rest of your life in fine detail?

Likely not.

Now, same restaurant, but the couple a table over escalates from a tense conversation to shouting to screams. The female suddenly bolts out of her chair, toppling the vase of roses and throws her glass of red wine in her date’s face. He’s doing his best to get her to calm down.

And since we ALL know the best way to get an angry woman to calm down is to TELL her to calm down…

SHE GRABS A STEAK KNIFE!

But her plan for unpremeditated murder is interrupted when strange woman tackles her!

…and it is the man’s WIFE!

Suddenly hair extensions are flying as the women wrestle in an undignified tangle of designer clothing and table linens. Then, when they take a breather both women realize…HE LIED TO THEM BOTH.

The girlfriend didn’t know her beau was married and found out, which was why she was breaking up with him. Thus, the new allies (the two women) descend on the babbling cheater with…ESCARGOT FORKS!

Guarantee you, most memorable dinner EVER 😉

Embrace the Inner Psychopath Because it is FUN

We can’t care about hurting people, killing people, or even crushing their hopes and dreams. We have to embrace the inner psychopath or we don’t have a story, we have a sedative.

One of the reasons fiction IS the most widely used form of escape is because, unlike cocaine and hookers, it’s legal.

But fiction also puts us in a world where the rules don’t matter and the consequences don’t either. Fiction permits the audience to embrace THEIR inner psychopath, too.

Consequences are for reality not fiction. Which is how movies like Lethal Weapon can exist. In reality, Riggs and Murtaugh would be riding a desk, and condemned to therapy until Internal Affairs finished their investigation…fifteen minutes into the movie.

But NO!

In fiction, cops can level entire city blocks, drive the wrong way down a highway causing countless car accidents, blow up buildings, shoot at bad guys in the middle of public places and no one in the movie mentions the words law suit.

John McClane is not turned into a social pariah, and sued for damages by everyone impacted by his actions at the Nakatomi Plaza. The NYPD doesn’t abandon him and force him into early retirement because him leveling a skyscraper in Los Angeles is bad department PR.

Nope, because it is FICTiON so McClane is still around to die harder in Die Hard 2.

Why do we tolerate this bad behavior? And LOVE IT?

Because in life we have to follow the rules, the laws and moral codes. The reason we watch and rewatch the same movies, read and reread the same books is because they liberate us from the chains of morality. We LOVE these stories….

…because there’s a little bit of psychopath in all of us 😉 .

Before I ask for your thoughts, I want to make a little announcement…

Author Holiday Hotline

All the On-Demand bundles are ON SALE. We’ve saved all the best classes for a limited time for ON DEMAND. This means professional author training in your home, no pants required.

I STRONGLY recommend the gift that’s going to keep blessing you all year, all career long. We record all classes to make training accessible and convenient, but these recordings take up A LOT OF STORAGE space. Come the new year, we’re going to have to free up space on the servers and these classes will be gone for good. Some we might not offer again.

We have classes on speculative fiction, plotting, character, blogging, social media, etc. Scroll down and pick out the ones you want, then you’ll have the recording to watch on YOUR schedule.

Also, we have two more classes for December and some listed for January. If you sign up before December 24th, you can get $10 off.

GET $10 OFF ALL LIVE CLASSES. Use the promo code Jolly18.

What Are Your Thoughts?

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Do you see the theme of chaos and destruction even in classics like It’s A Wonderful Life? Which ones are your favorite and why? Do you struggle being ‘mean’ to your characters? I still do. So many times I have to go BACK and take that shiny away…then kick them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have!

A lot of our On Demand classes need to be wiped from the server to make room for more training, so if you want professional training AT HOME? While in jammies during December when calories don’t COUNT? Grab you SOME! Gift it to yourself, a friend, YOURSELF!

ALSO, I’m offering my Write Stuff Special for a LOW holiday price. 20 pages of deep edit/critique for $55 and there are only 7 slots left. If you need some outside feedback to get you on the right track? Get a SPOT, TODAY! (You can use when you are ready).

In the meantime, opinions!

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

LIVE CLASSES! REMEMBER TO USE Holiday18 for $10 off!

The WANANANO Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds, Kristen Lamb
Price: $79.00 USD 
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

  • The Sticky Middle Saturday, December 14, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
  • NANONOWWHAT? Thursday, December 13, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (Just enough time to recover…)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off! You can also purchase each class individually.


The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

Instructors: Kristen Lamb, Cait Reynolds
Price: $155.00 USD (buy now and get that last tax deduction in before the end of the year!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

Normally, it would be $210 USD for these three classes.

With the Triple Threat Bundle ALL THREE CLASSES (10 HOURS LIVE and RECORDINGS) for ONLY $155 USD. (Three classes for the price of TWO!)

You can also purchase each class individually.

***Registration is open until an hour before the final class. If, however, you want to attend ALL THREE CLASSES LIVE, MAKE SURE TO SIGN UP BEFORE THE FIRST CLASS ON JANUARY 10th.


ON DEMAND CLASSES!

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Author Branding TKO

New Year New YOU! As they say, fail to plan and plan to fail. 2019 is almost here and the Author Branding T.K.O. delivers the training you need to make 2019 a success.

In this bundle, we’re going to take on then tame the three most terrifying topics. By the end? Easy peasy! You’ll wonder why this stuff ever had you so freaked out in the first place.

Normally all three classes would be $155…as well as spread across the entire year. But now, with the T.K.O. BUNDLE, all three classes in one place (your place) for only $99.

***Get your bundle TODAY. Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018. Gotta free up space on servers for 2019….


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – The Author’s Toolkit: Go PRO in 2019

Maybe have a New Year’s Resolution to write that novel? Have you started far too many promising stories, only to get stuck and never finish? Perhaps you just want to learn how to write FASTER without compromising quality? This bundle is the training you need to be a lean mean writing machine.

The Author’s Toolkit Bundle is six hours of intensive training that will help you write at a professional pace while minimizing revisions.

SIX HOURS of PROFESSIONAL TRAINING all at the same time, delivered to your computer. $165 when purchased separately, but in The Author’s Toolkit Bundle ONLY $99.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…


Blinding them with Science: The “X” Factor Classes

Tired of writing Soylent Green? Too many unfinished books trapped in the Twilight Zone? Ready to get weird…but way faster and at a professional level of weird? You came to the RIGHT PLACE! Cait and I are professional weirdos….(that sounded way more awesome in my head).

Anyway, the Blinding Them with Science Bundle is SIX HOURS of professional level training in speculative fiction at your fingertips.

***Just promise us that when you enslave the human race, we get cookies.

Three mind-bending classes for one low mind-blowing price. $165 in classes for only $99. ON DEMAND. Meaning enjoy at home in jammies.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Dangerous Dames: Creating Strong Female Characters

DOUBLE TROUBLE WITH KRISTEN & CAIT! Get the One-Two BAM! Two Power Classes with ONE T.K.O. PRICE!

Dangerous Dames BUNDLE. Regardless of time, place, or planet, these classes will train you to craft legendary bad@$$ females audiences can’t get enough of.

Normally $90 for both classes. With Double Trouble Bundle, enjoy BOTH classes for ONLY $75.

These classes are pre-recorded and won’t be offered again. This is the last chance to enjoy these classes before we free up space on the servers.


About the Instructors:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 

Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her highly acclaimed debut mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir, hook, writing hooks
Image courtesy of Randy Heinitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

How do we sell our stories? That is the big question. It is the reason for craft classes and editing and cover design and agents and editors and all the time on social media. And while platforms and covers and algorithms do matter, there is one tried and true way to sell more books.

Write a great story.

And not just any story, but a story that hooks from the very beginning and only continues to hook deeper.

Think of great stories like concertina wire.

The danger of concertina wire is not just in one hook, but hundreds or thousands. And it isn’t even in the thousands of hooks. It is the tension created by the coiled structureIf a person is snagged even a little, every effort to break free (turning a page for resolution) only traps the victim deeper in a web of barbed spines.

Now granted, this is a morbid visual, but y’all are writers and there is a good reason our family doesn’t like us talking at the dinner table.

So I was researching sucking chest wounds today and, hey, pass the spaghetti please?

Moving on…

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Many new writers finish their first novel, and (I know as an editor) that odds are more than good that I’m going to chop off the first 50-100 pages.

We dream killers editors call this the fish head. What do we do with fish heads? We toss them (unless you are my weird Scandinavian family who makes fish face soup out of them).

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
Image courtesy of David Pursehouse via Flickr Creative Commons

Often, when I go to do this kind of cutting, new writers will protest. “No, but you need this and the story really gets going on page 84.”

My answer? “Then let’s start on page 84.”

Too many stories fall flat because they lack the barbs necessary for snagging the modern reader who has the attention span of an ADD hamster with a meth habit. Additionally, a lot of us writers fall into bad habits of assuming readers are stupid, that they need all kinds of brain holding to “get” what we are talking about which means we not only lack barbs…but necessary tension.

I will prove readers are really smarter than we give them credit for 😉 …

Hook with a Problem

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir

One morning, on my way to take Spawn to school, as I stopped at my stop sign at a major business highway, a VW van passed at 50 mph and another car pulled out in front. BAM! Car parts, exploding glass, tearing metal, right in front of me. One driver screaming because his legs were crushed and he was pinned. All of this in less than 15 seconds.

Do you think I was hooked?

Did I need to know the history of the drivers, where they were going, what had the one driver so distracted that he would pull out into traffic? Did I need a description of the balmy, normal morning and a weather report? A description of the pale azure sky? Nope.

Now this is an extreme example, but it shows how even in life, we stop everything in light of a problem. A scream, a child crying, someone falling over a curb. We immediately halt everything.

Good fiction always begins with a problem because that is ALL fiction really is. Prose and descriptions and symbol and theme are all various delivery mechanisms…for PROBLEMS.

I cannot count the number of new manuscripts I read where the author spends most of her opening playing Literary Barbies. We really don’t care as much about your protagonist’s flaming red hair as much as we care about that warrant for her arrest. This is drama not a doll house.

Go look at books that have launched to legends and you will see this.

Andy Weir’s The Martian:

I am pretty much f**ked.

That is my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it has turned into a nightmare.

We don’t start the book on Earth or in the astronaut program at NASA. We don’t even start when they land on Mars and hint that trouble eventually will come. Nope. Weir tosses us face first into a problem.

Hook With a Question

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir

I have a mantra that all modern novelists must live and die by.

Resist the urge to explain.

One of the reasons emerging writers get that fish head is they do a lot of flashbacks and explaining and “setting up” the story and they are unwittingly destroying the single strongest propulsion mechanism for their story—curiosity.

If we look at the opening page of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the opening paragraph has a small character hook but six lines down we read:

The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.

When we craft any story, we are wise to harness the power of human nature. Humans are curious. Heck, we are downright nosey. Imagine sitting at a Starbucks and prepping the computer to write. Two women sit nearby chatting and one has obviously been crying (hooking with a problem). We might eavesdrop a little, arrange Post Its, set out our lucky thesaurus but the second one of the women says, “He would kill me if he ever found out.”

There went the writing.

Then we would be doing “research” 😀 .

Hook with Question and Character

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
What the HELL, HANNAH?

Sometimes the problem or question isn’t so obviously stated and there is a lot left between the lines. We humans love to fill in the blanks, so LET US.

We will use an example from my all-time favorite book Luckiest Girl Alive.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wustof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but was quickly going humid in my grip.

First of all, this is a great opening line. It hooks, but then it leads to another hook and another and another. The character is testing the blade. Why? A blade being moisture resistant obviously is a plus if you are planning on stabbing someone because less chance of slippage (Stuff Writers Know).

Who is she planning to stab? How is she planning on using the blade? What has her so nervous her hands are going moist?

And on PAGE ONE we realize the protagonist is out looking at knives with her fiancé. Why? That is unusual. China? Normal. Curtains? Normal. Knives? Not normal.

Especially since in paragraph FOUR, we read:

I look up at him, too: my fiancé. The word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal.

Don’t Eat Your Own Bait

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
…or drink it.

There are any number of reasons we as writers are failing to gut hook with our stories and often it is because we are falling prey to the very bait that is going to trap a reader. Problems bother us (because we are human) so we feel a need to “lead up to” something bad. We don’t like questions. We want to know…which is why we feel the urge to explain.

Just know that that clawing feeling inside that is driving you to pad the text is a good sign you are probably doing something right. Coil that barbed story all around and no escape until you’re cut free.

A FANTASTIC resource for teaching how to hook (other than me 😛 ) is my brilliant and brutal mentor Les Edgerton and his book Hooked. Read, learn, bleed, cry, grow.

If you’re wondering if your pages are hooking and, if not, how to remedy that? I am running my Write Stuff special. This is 20 pages of INTENSIVE content and line edit with an analysis included all for $55. Only ten slots are available and they fill up quickly, so get one today.

Your time is valuable and expert eyes are incredibly helpful to ensure you’re fixing the right things, or maybe letting you know to leave the pages ALONE that they are FINE. Work smarter, not harder.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked 😉 .

What are your thoughts?

How long do you give a book? I give ten pages max. On audio books I am more generous simply because I am a member of Audible and can return the book. I might give an hour. But I don’t have a lot of time and sure not spending what little extra I have on a dull book.

Does this post make the notion of the ‘hook’ make more sense? Oh, and by the way a book is like crochet, we need to hook through the entire thing. NO LOGICAL PLACE FOR A BOOKMARK.

Bookmark=DEATH.

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

March’s winner is Ben Gardner. Please send 5000 words in a WORD document double-spaced Times New Roman font, one-inch margins to kristen at wana intl dot com. CONGRATULATIONS! Thanks for the immoral support by commenting! Here is my gift back to you!

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

Ah, the masks we wear. We all have them because it’s impossible to be fully human and devoid of cracks. We are all wounded. Yet, therein lies the conundrum for those who long to become writers. We’re all cracked, damaged, dinged yet simultaneously bombarded by countless conflicting messages.

Media, culture, family, society are like a gaggle of cocaine-fueled stepmothers relentlessly determined to make us ‘perfect,’ only then to turn around and zing us for being ‘superficial’ and ‘fake.’

It’s okay to cry, darling. Just next time wear the waterproof mascara.You’re a mess.

Many of us are the walking wounded, encouraged to embrace our flaws, experience all our emotions…but then cover them up because no one wants to see that. Jeez!

This ‘logic’ is absurd enough in life, but for authors we must choose the painful path if we hope to write the great stories, the ones that change people and endure. Perfect, flawless, normal and well-adjusted spell death for fiction. Superb stories provide a safe place for readers to ‘feel and heal’ and our job is to deliver that 😉 .

Yet, this comes at a price. I know! Always a catch.

Funny Thing About Pain

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb
My leg after Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competition. What? I won the Silver.

I remember the first time I broke a bone. I was barely four. What stands out most is it didn’t hurt. At all. I remember gaping at my left arm in a spiffy S shape, unable to wrap my head around why there was NO pain. After many years and many more injuries I learned the wounds that hurt were never as bad as ones that didn’t.

Of course this is basic physiology. When an injury is bad enough it overloads the pain centers of the brain, short-circuiting our ability to feel anything. This gives time for the sympathetic nervous system to flood the body with hormones to keep us alive.

Heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and our endocrine system unleashes a tsunami of fight or flight hormones. All these physiological responses—in the meantime—are necessary for us to survive long enough to do something about the wound. But, if the shock is not dealt with, the victim will ironically die from the very mechanism designed to keep the body alive.

Emotionally Walking Wounded

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

Something similar happens to us when we experience emotional trauma. Emotional disconnection—also known as denial—is the mental equivalent of ‘being in shock.’ Denial was never intended to be a permanent solution, just a stopgap to protect our psyche from overload. It’s the brain’s way of protecting us from emotional implosion (I.e. a nervous breakdown or psychotic break).

Like the body lowers blood pressure and heart rate to keep us from bleeding to death, the mind dulls our emotions and minds to keep us from unraveling. There will (should) be a time and place to face the trauma, but drinking demons from a fire hose is not our brain’s first choice.

The trouble, however, is that though we need to face these traumas, denial can become a comfortable purgatory.

For many of us who’ve been through trauma we are still too damaged to face our pain. We have become masters at hiding, stuffing or numbing our emotions into submission. Maybe we’ve endured our wounds so long we’re unaware they even exist because pain is our ‘normal.’

Dare to Be Wounded

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

As authors, we’re wise to appreciate that readers read for the same reasons writers write. Wounds. This is where things get…tricky. Many writers write because we’re wounded. Face it, writing fiction is way cheaper than a good shrink or solid criminal defense attorney.

Murdering imaginary people is legal 😀 . *double-checks on Google* Yep, totes legal.

Yet, we writers simultaneously happen to live in a culture that shames the ‘damaged’ which makes us hesitant to admit we’re wounded. Many of us learned in high school it was safer to bleed in the library because the sharks were in the cafeteria.

Trouble is, being afraid to face or admit we’re anything but perfect makes for some seriously dull as crap ‘stories.’ Yet, I posit this:

All fiction is about a wound colliding with a core problem in need of resolution.

Fiction (stories) must possess both wounds and a core problem. If we only have problems, we don’t have a story. We have bad situation after bad situation after bad situation. Characters passively flung like flotsam and jetsam on the cruel currents of Life’s Unfair.

*yawns*

When we wax rhapsodic about inner demons (sans core problem in need of resolution), that isn’t fiction either. It’s comes across as self-indulgence, journaling, whining, lecturing or even pontificating. Why? Because fiction the wrong medium for solely discussing wounds. Essays? Self-help? Blogs 😀

Cool…maybe. As fiction? Snoozefest.

If we don’t have a wound or a core problem in need of resolution, we have pages of nothing happening. I call this the Literary Barbie Dream House (or Literary Holodeck if you prefer). No matter how glorious the prose, how lovely the description, how spectacular the world-building, it’s words on a page not a novel.

Writers KNOW Wounds

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

We’ve all heard that nebulous and seriously unhelpful advice, Write what you know. Um, I’m writing about space battles. Huh? Maybe you’re like me and tried to write a suspense with a cop as a main character, then thought, ‘But I’m not a cop.’ Then our idea slowly succumbs to Death by Research. 

This isn’t a pass to skip research but writing what we know is referring to wounds. We know human fragility and brokenness and often on a far deeper level than most. We see and sense what others miss. Many writers are extremely sensitive to the world and the feelings of others.

There’s a good reason many of us are introverts.

Dare to Unmask

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

We are all emotionally messed up to some degree. If you’re not at all messed up then you’re a) a robot b) in denial c) a sociopath d) not fit to be a writer. There is no normal. ‘Normal’ is a setting on the dishwasher. Normal is also normal (a.k.a. boring), ergo terrible fiction.

Perfect people are dull and we secretly resent them because we know perfect is a LIE. Readers cannot connect with perfect, but they will connect with wounds. This means we writers, uh, need to connect via wounds.

Yeah.

Also, the wounds we will write the best *tugs collar* will likely be the ones we hide deepest and….*mutters low* the ones we fear most.

My own writing was all Literary Barbies until I understood the gold is always guarded by a dragon. The larger the treasure, the bigger the beast. Emotional damage in fiction is GOLD.

This means, my relentless drive to hone my skills as an author has been a petal-lined path with unicorns, rainbows and daily facials.

Okay that was a total lie. WHAT? I’m a writer. I am PAID to LIE.

I had to face I am an OCD control freak, a rabidly critical perfectionist, and a Type A+ because Type As didn’t do the extra credit #Slackers.

So Many Masks

And so little time. If we want to excel at writing, first things first. What are our masks? What wounds are we hiding? If we are brave enough to do this hard work, this is when the great stories happen (which we’ll talk about in another post).

For me? My primary go-to mask is the clown. Shocking! I KNOW!

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb
Am I doing something wrong? Or are Kiwi butts smaller?

For me? Everything is funny. Like this (refer to image below). I saw this digital billboard while presenting in Dallas and fell over laughing.

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

All I could think was, Holy Moly! Lock up any moderately attractive males under thirty. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Also, SAIL? What exactly are these Seniors Active in Learning learning about? And does it have anything to do with the PSA about roving cougars?

Or is the Cougar Alert some new dating app like Tinder? Like if you’re a young man wanting romantic time with an older attractive woman, this can help you know if any are in your area?

Writer brains. Sigh.

Which humor is wonderful. I love to laugh and love making other people laugh even more. The problem, however, is that I use comedy to deflect, minimize, hide and, if pushed? Fight dirty.

Alas, there’s a good reason comedians have such a high suicide rate. They might be the funniest person in the room, but they’re often the most wounded. Jokes are a fantastic smokescreen for pain. This means most other people are oblivious to how deeply the ‘clown’ is hurting (I.e. Robin Williams). The self-defense mechanism ends up being the comic’s undoing.

Case in point, I was once in a horrible accident and had all the EMTs cracking up as they prepped me for the ambulance. My shame for actually ‘needing help’ spilled out in grand comedy, almost to my detriment. The first responders initially had no idea how badly wounded I really was because I kept them in stitches…since me needing stitches was *shivers* such a burden.

Though I hate admitting this, I’m fairly sure if I were shot I would either a) make jokes or b) profusely apologize for the mess as I tried to clean it up while stemming the bleeding…without using the good towels #Duh c) try to do surgery on myself with a glue gun and Batman stickers from Spawn’s last school project to save money or d) all of the above.

I learned to hide my weakness, needs, hurts behind a mask of humor and still do. When that doesn’t work? I have a vast collection of other guises to fake that everything’s fine. By paying attention to my own masks, I’m learning more about my wounds (many ignored so long they were forgotten).

Also, this is opening my eyes to others. What are their masks and what wounds are still bleeding beneath?

Born of Blood

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

Most humans are in some way driven by wounds (for good and bad). What we value, who we like, who we attract, our choices in clothes, friends, foods, music often have roots in an old injury (which is why The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is such a fabulous resource for crafting dimensional characters).

Setting my Comedian mask aside, here is the Controller. Trust me I deleted this at least seventeen times because vulnerability is not my strength. Since I am working on that, I am sharing about me *breathes in paper bag*.

I didn’t one day hatch an OCD control freak. I’m aware I possess rituals and habits other find silly or annoying. Fine. Ha ha ha. But that is MY finger above. Got myself while cooking last week. I always sharpen my knives before I cook. ALWAYS.

Even though I get teased about it.

Why do I do sharpen them every time? Because dull blades slip and this is what happens when I take someone else’s word the knife has been sharpened…and it hasn’t.

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

I’m way better than I used to be, and small stuff like a nicked finger rolls right off my back (when years ago it might have unhinged me).

Yet, while I’m better in some ways, in other situations, my OCD control freak behaviors escalate off the charts lest I suffer apoplexy. Why? Because there are still areas I’m deeply wounded. I’m terrified of large crowds. It’s why I chose a profession where I work from home. I always drive or at least keep the car keys once out of the car. Also, I shop alone.

Why? A number of reasons, but namely my father was a narcissistic sadist who found it extremely entertaining to leave me places…without me knowing.

As a kid, he’d take me to the grocery store, the mall, and even amusement parks and then just…leave. Like literally slip away when I wasn’t paying attention, go to the car and drive off. When I was eight, he found it very funny I spent the entire day at Six Flags looking for him instead of riding any rides.

I know. WTH? Dunno. It was the 80s and apparently not illegal to just leave a kid wherever so long as you eventually came back.

This said, while I still have lingering trauma that dictates the control behaviors, something else happened in me. I strive to be extremely considerate, careful, protective and there few people more responsible than me. In fact, I am over responsible.

I didn’t share this for any kind of self-indulgence (trust me). Rather, what I’ve learned is that writing can and has helped me heal a lot of issues and since my stories (I hope) are on a deeper level, readers might be able to experience healing as well. If I can find the courage to feel the old pain and bring it into the light, it can lead the way for the reader as well.

And makes a more interesting story. That jacked up childhood can be an anchor to drown me or an engine to propel me anywhere I want to go. Choice is mine.

The Wound Gives the Why

wounded, pain in fiction, writing dimensional characters, Kristen Lamb

I’m challenging you guys to embrace the wound because humans are born of blood and so are the best characters. It’s what makes them feel so real. Sure we can have a tattooed felon or a homeless prostitute as an MC but that damage is more obvious. Those types of characters also won’t work in some genres.

Some damage can only be seen by noticing the mask. Masks aren’t always beautiful, but are always deceptive.

What if your heroine is a doctor dedicated to saving lives? Great. Why? She’s wounded. Why does your hero sign up for every dangerous mission? Take on only the toughest murder cases? Sacrifice his/her personal life to rescue inner city kids?

Does your heroine really need to make every holiday storybook perfect? What propels your hero run into burning buildings? Why do any of these “people” do all these admirable and selfless and courageous things? They’re wounded.

And if not, they’re dull as dirt.

Once we (Author God) know the WHY, then everything else makes sense. We now know why she’s a serial monogamist who’s only attracted to bad boys and players. Or why he’s a nester who always falls for women who bleed him then leave him.

***For more on this I STRONGLY recommend a class Cait is teaching tomorrowBad Boys: Dangerous Love, From Rejection to Redemption.

A character’s need for order, or habit of always being late, or putting everything off to the last minute now has DEPTH because these ‘behaviors’ are tethered to something more than ‘just because.’

Wounds will enhance all fiction. ALL of it.

That cozy mystery with the cupcake baking sleuth? Yep, her, too. WHY is she chronically late? Because when she was fifteen she showed up early to meet her friend at the family business. She walked into a robbery, startled the gunman and knows she’s why her best friend’s dad was killed. If she’d been late, BFF’s dad would’ve been robbed but alive. In her mind EARLY means people die. No, humans are not rational (and good characters aren’t either). But the job of the story is to reveal the lie.

We don’t need to write deep probing Russian literature to create stories with meat.

Also, when we know and explore the wound, PLOTTING is MUCH easier because we know precisely what problem will create the most stress and force the most change.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you been afraid to write in a way that makes you feel vulnerable? Afraid to feel? I know I have. Working on it. What novels, series or movies resonated with you most? Looking back, did you connect because of what we discussed today? Have you used your fiction to work on your own masks, wounds, issues?

What are YOUR favorite go-to masks? Why do they help? How do they backfire?

I love hearing from you, and I am NOT above BRIBERY!

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

And a quick reminder of class tomorrow!

Bad Boys: Dangerous Love from Rejection to Redemption

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, December 1st, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Some Bad Boys have tattoos and motorcycles. Others wear three-piece suits and eat mergers & acquisitions for breakfast.

Whatever Bad Boy flavor you like, there are key characteristics they all share…and there are some common mistakes writers make that will turn his sexy, wolfish grin into the simper of an anxious bichon frise faster than you can say, “How you doin’?”

This class will cover:

  • How to leverage all the classic Bad Boy traits while making your character unique.
  • Keeping the Bad Boy on the tightrope between attractively arrogant and annoying a$$hole.
  • From macho to marshmallow: how to avoid the traps that turn your man soft mid-plot.
  • Write like a man (because no Bad Boy should ever come across like a soccer mom with an attitude problem).
  • Redemption vs. realistic redemption: creating the arc for a Bad Boy we can live with.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of frankieleon

I read a ridiculous amount of novels and I’m very picky, namely because I have the attention span of a fruit fly with a crack habit. Like most modern readers, it takes a lot to grab then keep my attention.

Most books I end up putting down or returning to Audible for another. There are books I finish then forget. Most are meh. Good way to kill time not much more. But then there are the ones that stick, the stories I never grow tired of reading and rereading and recommending and as you can see, I have very eclectic taste.

Some of my fondest loves are Heart-Shaped BoxBig, Little LiesAmerican Gods, Prisoner of Hell Gate, The Joy Luck Club, Luckiest Girl Alivethe Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, and anything written by Fredik Backman Britt Marie Was Here being my favorite.

Yet what do all these great stories have in common? Why do they make me laugh and cry and cheer? What is so cathartic about these books?

Shame.

Deep, profound, gut-wrenching and very identifiable shame.

The content of this blog is actually from a guest post I did for Rachel Thompson. But I think it’s a valuable lesson, especially for the new writers who haven’t yet developed the rhino skin to dare to be vulnerable themselves, let alone with their characters.

So I shall go first….

Back in 2002 when I finally made the decision to become a novelist, I had no idea what kind of a personal journey I’d signed up for. In fact that could make an entire book—okay series of books—in and of itself.

When I started writing I was not a very nice person (and that’s putting it mildly). I was angry, self-centered, bitter, undisciplined, and immature. But I did have great hair so it wasn’t a total loss.

In short? I was a jerk.

Often though, the trouble with jerks is they are the only ones unaware they are jerks. Kind of like that movie The Sixth Sense.

I see jerks. Everywhere. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re a jerk.

Yeah, that was me. It was everyone else. Everyone else was responsible for ***insert emotion/problem/drama here***.

And maybe this isn’t a very useful post for you because you’re all wonderful, perfectly adjusted individuals who rescue kittens when you’re not knitting onesies for cold baby goats. But maybe what I have to say today can help…a friend 😉 .

Shame

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alan Levine

I did not come from a healthy family. Scratch that. I was born in The Jerry Springer Show Reality TV Edition. As a kid I didn’t know it was not normal to have screaming fights lasting hours every day. That sane people didn’t kick in doors, throw things or constantly threaten a) abandonment b) suicide c) divorce.

As a kid, I only partially grasped why I wasn’t allowed to play with other kids in the neighborhood. I was a straight A student and a teacher’s dream pupil…but every parent on the street walled their kid off from me like I carried Ebola.

Eventually my parents divorced and my father decided it would be fun to just you know, disappear for two years without so much as a word as to whether he was even alive. Child support?

That’s funny.

My poor mom did the best that she could, but by the time I hit middle school we lived on spaghetti because it was cheap and lived in unending fear the power would be cut off. I wore thrift store clothes and Toys for Tots supplied my Christmas gifts.

I got bounced home to home and in the process switched schools a total of ten times; five times just in high school. And it was strange. It was like every school came standard with a gaggle of Queen Bees WASPs ready to skewer me with their stingers over and over and over.

What was even worse were the teachers (probably Queen WASPs in their high school heydays) who joined in the “fun” of tearing me apart. In fact, I had nightmares about one particular teacher well into my 30s.

No place. No person was safe.

The harder I tried to appease the WASPs in school and home, the more I was stung. I was a bleeding ruined wreck.

I’m fairly certain to this day that I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws. I’d skip and take refuge in the library. Books didn’t care that I only owned two pairs of pants and four shirts.

Eventually, I dropped out of high school…twice.

The only thing that kept me from getting a GED and being done with it was I’d always wanted to be in the military. I longed for structure and order and hell I was used to being yelled at and called worthless. Perfect fit!

But, in the 90s, you couldn’t get into the military without an actual high school diploma, so groans I had to go back. I was nineteen years old in an English class of fourteen-year-olds. Talk about a slice of humble pie.

Yet, to survive, I learned two key defense mechanisms. One, I became funny. Being funny works, it’s sort of like peeing yourself so no one eats you. High five! My possum friend! But when funny wouldn’t work? I became MEAN.

I’d always wanted to be a writer from the time I hadn’t even nailed down the entire alphabet song. I was good with words and after years of using them to flatter and pacify? I realized that didn’t work on bullies.

So I whipped out my whetstone and sharpened my words to a razor’s edge that rivaled any Samurai sword.

I truly believe that those who are born to be writers—good writers—have an almost preternatural power for observation. We very literally see what others don’t or even can’t. This meant I could meet a person (enemy) and instantly know every perfect pain point.

Thus, when I went for someone, I didn’t waste time. I went for their heart, for the thing they thought they’d buried so deep, hidden where no one could see.

And I’d carve it out and show it to them—still beating—in my hand.

If my tormenters were unwilling like me, they would by God fear me.

Of course while this worked to make the WASPs keep a nice and respectful distance, it also isolated me. Regular, nice people also were afraid of me and in my mind? I didn’t care. Being alone was safer. People always left anyway. Best not to care.

So why am I talking about all of this other than hey, FREE THERAPY!

When I became a writer and my goal was to become a novelist, I had to face who I’d become. Being a jerk made me a lousy writer.

My first novel (which of course I thought was perfect) sucked. But why was it so bad? Okay that is actually a loooooong list. But the main reason is that all my characters were “perfect.”

They were everything I had always wanted to be. My MC was tall and beautiful and eerily resembled Angelina Jolie and she had mad fighting skills and spoke 42 languages and Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Over and over I tried new stories and same deal. Why were all my stories boring the paint off the walls?

The reason? All great stories are birthed from SHAME.

I finally understood that I’d fashioned so much armor around myself cobbled together with self-delusion, B.S. glitter and flat out lies, that I couldn’t be vulnerable. I didn’t know how to be.

Until I acknowledged I was a jerk, I couldn’t start understanding WHY I was a jerk so I could heal those parts and then…change.

I didn’t know I was a jerk because I was deeply and profoundly ashamed.

Fiction as Therapy

To be a great author, we must understand this core truth…

Readers don’t connect to perfection; they connect to flaws. We aren’t telling stories to perfect people, we are telling them to lost and broken and hurting people who can pick up a book and by GOD at least there is one frigging place in the world where the good guy wins and bad people get what they deserve.

We writers must understand who we really are if we want to resonate with readers.

Writers are dealers of justice.

Because here’s the deal. We live in reality where the popular girl who tormented the poor kids in high school didn’t get what she deserved and never will.

No. She married rich. Then as a “stay at home mom”—with a full-time housekeeper and au pair—went on to start a home-based company selling non-GMO organic vegan nail decorations made from fair trade coconut oil.

And she made millions, because of course she did!

She spends every Spring Break in Vail, summers in Europe, and never loses one moment of sleep over the young girls she emotionally ravaged, has not a singular care for the self-esteems she plundered. She doesn’t even recall her victim’s names just hopes the pathetic little lemmings buy her nail wraps.

We all know villains like her exist in real life, certainly did in mine. And in real life, she gets away with her crimes…but in fiction? This is the place she has no power. Her looks, money and family connections mean nothing. In story, she can be held accountable for what she’s done.

But here we are talking plot. Now?

Character Arc

What about the protagonist? Because a protagonist ambushing the mean girl of high school and feeding her through a wood chipper FARGO style, while morbidly interesting, is not a story.

The story is always with the hero. Outward defeat of said villain is not enough. That is only half of the recipe for a perfect story.

How does the protagonist face this villain and finally change? How can she evolve to a point where she can finally say that crucial line?

You have no power over me.

She must not only defeat the villain, she must also face and defeat her own shame.

She must do the very thing that all of us—in real life—must do to find peace. To heal.

Facing Shame & Taming the Jerk

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie.

When I came to a point I realized I needed to face and explore my shame in order to write something people might like to read? I will admit it. I was a total chicken and too broke for “real” therapy. So I did what many writers do, I put it into story.

At the end of May, I released my debut fiction The Devil’s Dance and it IS a fiction. The plot is, at least. But I used my MC Romi to work through a lot of places where I felt shame, in order to expose then overcome them.

Like Romi, I grew up ashamed of where I’d come from, desperate to fit in, to be accepted. Trying WAY too hard. No matter what I achieved, I felt like a fraud, a poseur.

There is a real reason I use a lot of Breakfast at Tiffany’s references in the book. Holly Golightly in the iconic Turner Classic beginning is standing in front of Tiffany’s staring at all the beautiful things she desires. But she’s an outsider peering in through an impenetrable wall of glass. No matter what she looks like on the outside, it is the inside that must change. Romi’s journey is the same.

And Romi’s journey looks a hell of a lot like mine sans drug cartels.

But a really interesting thing happened when I wrote this story. I learned a lot about me. By placing my shame in a fictional setting, it was less frightening. It lost its power over me. I found that as I understood Romi, I understood me. I began healing and one day realized my armor was falling away like the husk of a cocoon no longer needed.

Because fiction helped me face shame, it helped me learn to be vulnerable and in being vulnerable I became a better writer and a better person.

Soooo….

I was joking earlier about y’all being perfect, though I am pretty sure some of you really are knitting onesies for cold baby goats. I finally mastered the potholder.

I do know many of you have your own wounds, probably a lot of them far worse than mine. Yet I think we can keep going around the same mountain over and over. If we miss the linchpin of why we’re hurting—SHAME—we can’t heal. It’s putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound and we’re walking around bleeding all over the place with no clue why we’re drawing sharks. Additionally, we will be too afraid to write characters with any depth and end up with Literary Barbies, not literature.

All I can say is that the road isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. And I have a secret to tell you. You’re much stronger than you realize 😉 .

I love hearing from you! What are your thoughts? What are some wounds you’ve dealt with via fiction? Do you struggle making your characters flawed or even vulnerable? Did you learn to use words as weapons? Have you struggled with the weight of your emotional armor? What is your story?

****And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! So scroll down and sign up!

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

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

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

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

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

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

  

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

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Baby It’s Hot in Here—Writing Erotica & High Heat Sex Scenes August 4th $45 General/ $90 GOLD/$150 Platinum

Classes with MOI!

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Award-Winning Author Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

Method Acting for Writers—How to Write Deep POV August 1st $85 (two-week intensive class & lifetime access)

Beyond Lipstick & Swords—Writing Strong Female Characters September 9th $40

Image courtesy of Randy Heinitz via Flickr Creative Commons.
Image courtesy of Randy Heinitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

How do we sell our stories? That is the big question. It is the reason for craft classes and editing and cover design and agents and editors and all the time on social media. And while platforms and covers and algorithms do matter, there is one tried and true way to sell more books.

Write a great story.

And not just any story, but a story that hooks from the very beginning and only continues to hook deeper.

Think of great stories like concertina wire.

The danger of concertina wire is not just in one hook, but hundreds. And it isn’t even in the hundreds of hooks. It is the tension created by the coiled structureIf a person is snagged even a little, every effort to break free (turning a page for resolution) only traps the victim deeper in a web of barbed spines.

Now granted, this is a morbid visual, but y’all are writers and there is a good reason our family doesn’t like us talking at the dinner table.

So I was researching sucking chest wounds today and, hey, pass the spaghetti please?

Moving on…

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Many new writers finish their first novel and I know as an editor that odds are I am going to chop off the first 50-100 pages. We dream killers editors call this the fish head. What do we do with fish heads? We toss them (unless you are my weird Scandinavian family who makes fish face soup out of them).

Image courtesy of David Pursehouse via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of David Pursehouse via Flickr Creative Commons

Often, when I go to do this kind of cutting, new writers will protest. “No, but you need this and the story really gets going on page 84.”

My answer? “Then let’s start on page 84.”

Too many stories fall flat because they lack the barbs necessary for snagging the modern reader who has the attention span of an ADD hamster with a meth habit. Additionally, a lot of us writers fall into bad habits of assuming readers are stupid, that they need all kinds of brain holding to “get” what we are talking about which means we not only lack barbs…but necessary tension.

I will prove readers are really smarter than we give them credit for 😉 …

Hooking with a Problem

One morning, on my way to take Spawn to school, as I stopped at my stop sign at a major business highway, a VW van passed at 50 mph and another car pulled out in front. BAM! Car parts, exploding glass, tearing metal, right in front of me. One driver screaming because his legs were crushed and he was pinned. All of this in less than 15 seconds.

Do you think I was hooked?

Did I need to know the history of the drivers, where they were going, what had the one driver so distracted that he would pull out into traffic? Did I need a description of the balmy, normal morning and a weather report? A description of the pale azure sky? Nope.

Now this is an extreme example, but it shows how even in life, we stop everything in light of a problem. A scream, a child crying, someone falling over a curb. We immediately halt everything.

Good fiction always begins with a problem because that is ALL fiction really is. Prose and descriptions and symbol and theme are all various delivery mechanisms…for PROBLEMS.

I cannot count the number of new manuscripts I read where the author spends most of her opening playing Literary Barbies. We really don’t care as much about your protagonist’s flaming red hair as much as we care about that warrant for her arrest. This is drama not a doll house.

Go look at books that have launched to legends and you will see this.

Andy Weir’s The Martian:

I am pretty much f**ked.

That is my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it has turned into a nightmare.

We don’t start the book on Earth or in the astronaut program at NASA. We don’t even start when they land on Mars and hint that trouble eventually will come. Nope. Weir tosses us face first into a problem.

Hooking With a Question

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I have a mantra that all modern novelists must live and die by.

Resist the urge to explain.

One of the reasons emerging writers get that fish head is they do a lot of flashbacks and explaining and “setting up” the story and they are unwittingly destroying the single strongest propulsion mechanism for their story—curiosity.

If we look at the opening page of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the opening paragraph has a small character hook but six lines down we read:

The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.

When we craft any story, we are wise to harness the power of human nature. Humans are curious. Heck, we are downright nosey. Imagine sitting at a Starbucks and prepping the computer to write. Two women sit nearby chatting and one has obviously been crying (hooking with a problem). We might eavesdrop a little, arrange Post Its, set out our lucky thesaurus but the second one of the women says, “He would kill me if he ever found out.”

There went the writing.

Then we would be doing “research” 😀 .

Hooking with Question and Character

What the HELL, HANNAH?
What the HELL, HANNAH?

Sometimes the problem or question isn’t so obviously stated and there is a lot left between the lines. We humans love to fill in the blanks, so LET US.

We will use an example from my all-time favorite book Luckiest Girl Alive.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wustof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but was quickly going humid in my grip.

First of all, this is a great opening line. It hooks, but then it leads to another hook and another and another. The character is testing the blade. Why? A blade being moisture resistant obviously is a plus if you are planning on stabbing someone because less chance of slippage (Stuff Writers Know).

Who is she planning to stab? How is she planning on using the blade? What has her so nervous her hands are going moist?

And on PAGE ONE we realize the protagonist is out looking at knives with her fiancé. Why? That is unusual. China? Normal. Curtains? Normal. Knives? Not normal.

Especially since in paragraph FOUR, we read:

I look up at him, too: my fiancé. The word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal.

Don’t Eat Your Own Bait

There are any number of reasons we as writers are failing to gut hook with our stories and often it is because we are falling prey to the very bait that is going to trap a reader. Problems bother us (because we are human) so we feel a need to “lead up to” something bad. We don’t like questions. We want to know…which is why we feel the urge to explain.

Just know that that clawing feeling inside that is driving you to pad the text is a good sign you are probably doing something right 😉 . For more on how to hook the reader, I am once again holding my First Five Pages class with upgrades available to get me shredding through your pages to help you start strong and stay strong.

The tricks we use to hook on page one we should continue to use until the final page. Coil that barbed story all around and no escape until you’re cut free.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked 😉 .

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you! And REMEMBER TO SIGN UP TO HANG OUT AND LEARN FROM HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER JOEL EISENBERG! Details are below. This is EIGHT hours with one of the hottest producers in Hollywood teaching everything from craft to how to SELL what we write! Recordings are included with your purchase for FREE!

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 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!!!! Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg’s Master’s Series: HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR EARNING POTENTIAL AS A FULL-TIME AUTHOR (Includes all classes listed below) Normally $400 but at W.A.N.A. ONLY $199 to learn from Joel IN YOUR HOME.

OR, if it works better, purchase Joel’s classes individually…

Potentially Lucrative Multi-Media Rights $65 February 21st, 2107 (AVAILABLE ON DEMAND)

How to Sell to Your Niche Market $65 February 28th, 2017

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows YOU $65 March 7th, 2017

Making Money Speaking, Teaching, Blogging and Retaining Rights $65 March 14th, 2017

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 March 30th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 February 17th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 March 20th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character $35 February 24th, 2017

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages $40 March 18th, 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