Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Running, marathon, heartbreak hill, Boston marathon, writing, Curse

It’s Cait Reynolds blog time, which, as you know, is probably both a blessing and a curse. Haven’t blogged for a while but, it’s like the old Country & Western song: How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away? But yes, I’m back which might be a blessing or a curse.

Speaking of curses, that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Writers tend to be a superstitious bunch, much like runners. Even the most skeptical among us can tell when the stars are not aligned on a writing day. Runners can feel when their bodies just aren’t hitting on all cylinders.

From drinking the same tea while writing to wearing lucky socks for race day, many of us can’t help but look for and cling to signs/omens/Tarot readings for encouragement.

Because we ALL need encouragement.

But, sometimes, there comes a moment when it feels like all the forces of nature are against us. No amount of stretching our prose or IT bands seems to make any difference. It’s positively spooky how blocked we get.

Now, living in Boston and being both a runner and a Red Sox fan, I consider myself something of an expert in curses. I mean, it took Bruce Springsteen’s rock n’ roll exorcism during his concert at Fenway Park to lift the curse of the Bambino…and that year, we finally won the World Series.

You can’t tell me that ish doesn’t work.

Running, marathon, heartbreak hill, Boston marathon, writing, Curse
Do you know how hard it was to find funny Boston memes without the f-bomb for this post? DO YOU?!! DO YOU F*$#@*&* APPRECIATE WHAT I DO FOR YOU????!!!!

I also happen to be descended from a long line of eerily prescient/omniscient/ohnoshedidn’t Slavic women who can look right into your soul and see you didn’t wash your hands after using the public restroom.

Yeah. I know my curses.

Now, settle in, my loves. Ignore the goat demon in the corner. He’s harmless. Mostly. Oh, and careful with the salt circle. Summoning with a smudged salt circle can be…messy.

29 and Feeling Fine

writing tips, how to write a novel, Boston Marathon, Boston Red Sox, writing tips, curse, Cait Reynolds, Heartbreak Hill, writing success

Like all curses, the Mile 25 Curse begins with the seduction of possibility, invincibility, and a good pair of running shoes.

We get the Big Idea. Get all excited, develop characters, settings, plot, outlines. When we jump in, it’s both feet first and hit the ground running like we are our very own NaNoWriMo on meth.

The words are flowing. It’s easy. Effortless. This time…this time is gonna be different. We’re going to ride that wave of effortless all the way through to THE END. It’s just gonna flow.

It’s like that first run, when we blast our way through 1.5 miles at a blistering 14:06/mi pace. Hardcore, man.

We blow through the first 29,000-30,000 words of a full-length novel in record time. And it’s good work. Some of our best. We’re in it to win it, and this is rocking!

We’ve reached the end of Act I, and now, our characters are on their way. Only, the yellow brick road turns out to be paved with the broken backs of melting Peeps, and now, we’re running on a road that’s slow, sticky, and somewhat distressing.

Welcome to HELL…or Act II. Too many writers mistakenly believe writing a novel is a sprint or a fun run. No, it’s a marathon that requires training, preparations, patience and a very high pain tolerance.

Because all novelists will eventually hit…

The Heartbreak Hill of the WIP

But hey, we’ve got a plan. We’ve got an outline. The fresh idealism of the first 30,000 words has worn off, but we kinda knew this was going to happen. We had hoped it wouldn’t. But, it did. Just like we wish training for a 10k simply felt like training for two 5ks…but it’s sooo not.

So, it’s not totally shocking, and while it may take a few days to resign ourselves to the fact Act II will always be a slower, harder slog, we’re ready to soldier on.

The first stirrings of real unease might pop up around 40,000-45,000 words. We feel a little proud we’ve gotten this far. That’s a lot of words, probably around a halfway point for the whole book.

It’s also the Heartbreak Hill of our story.

Heartbreak Hill is the cruelest mile of the Boston Marathon. It’s a steady 3.3% incline for more than 2 km. Now, that may not seem like much, but remember, runners have already done 20.6 miles. There have been shorter, steeper climbs and longer, quad-punishing downhills.

Boston Marathon sign at Heartbreak Hill

Runners are caked in salt, blood, and sticky dried Gatorade. It could be beating down icy rain or unseasonably hot. Healed injuries are tweaking, threatening to unravel. The playlist is failing to inspire. Even the kisses and oranges from the Wellesley College girls (both offered freely to all) can’t quite distract from the pain.

All the cowbell in the world can’t help you now.

2014 Boston Marathon: the famous Wellesley kissing line.
Wellesley College student Lauren Dow solicited and RECEIVED kisses from the passing runners. Section: Sports, Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Writers and runners slow and walk a few steps, cry a little, then grit their teeth and get back in the game. Because it’s only 5.6 miles or 45,000 words to the finish line. This is the hardest test of what we are made of. Can we ENDURE?

We got this….*weeps*

The Mile 25 Curse

I used to live right at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon, which is just before Kenmore Square (mile 25.2), where the crowds really start going wild. From Kenmore, it’s just one more mile to the finish line.

But there’s one last nasty surprise for runners. To get to Kenmore Square, they have to run over the I-90 overpass, a mini-Heartbreak Hill. It’s the psych-out sucker punch. CURSE it ALL!

Boston Marathon sign

For writers, that moment of despair generally comes at the end of Act II, or about 60,000 words-ish. It’s a sudden existential inadequacy and dread:

Oh-my-God-this-is-the-worst-stuff-I’ve-ever-written-what-was-I-thinking-is-it-too-late-to-take-up-Olympic-curling-as-a-career-instead-who-would-want-to-read-this-crap-I-suck-as-a-writer-I-should-just-go-crawl-in-a-hole-and-die.

You know…something like that.

Every writer faces a Mile 25 Curse moment. There are no talismans to protect us against it, no surefire cures. We are alone and unprepared to face our demons. Every. Single. Time.

The Mile 25 Curse can make us abandon our WIP to chase fluffy plot bunnies that PROMISE to be easier to write and give us instant fame, fortune, and a lifetime supply of Diet Coke.

The curse doesn’t care if our WIP is any good. It doesn’t care about our dreams. It has one goal: to trip us up before the finish line.

There are runners who collapse at mile 25 in the Boston Marathon, physically and mentally pushed beyond their limit. There are also the runners who slow to a walk as they digest the grim reality of one last hill. You can see them weighing the options in their heads. Should I just give up and walk the rest of the way? Do I have it in me?

How badly do I want this?

They take a deep breath…and resume running, even if it’s merely a limping jog. No way they’ve come this far to just give up.

So, they just keep running.

The Finish Line

And, really, that’s what I’m trying to tell you today. Keep pressing. Mile 25 is a finite thing. It is one mile…or 5,280 ft….or 1,500 steps, and each step brings you that much closer to the finish line.

Spencer the Boston Marathon dog will cheer you on!

When we are at the end of Act II, there isn’t that much further to go. It’s another 15,000-20,000 words at most for Act III. We know how the story is going to end (or should) and what needs to happen. There’s no more slogging through the confusing, mushy bits we’re not sure of in Act II.

This is a final sprint for the FINISH!

A marathon is about crossing the finish line. It isn’t about sashaying, moon-walking, or pronking across it. How we cross doesn’t matter. We simply have to cross it, limping, bloody, and shaking from way too much caffeine after writing the worst 12,000 words of our lives.

Nobody looks good crossing the finish line of a race. Even the 100-meter dash–sure, it’s not far enough that hair and makeup get mussed, but there’s the awkward ‘runner face’ everyone makes, which is halfway between the putting-on-mascara face and the O-face.

Not even Kenyans look their best at a finish line.

I have yet to finish a book and wake up the next morning looking like a million dollars. It’s more that I look like a reject extra for The Walking Dead. I probably smell like a reject extra from The Walking Dead, too, because who has time to shower when we’re 4,000 from the finish line?

The point is, it doesn’t matter if you are sweaty, blotchy, puffy, a drippy mess from allergies, or prone to random hysterical laughter by the time you finish your book. YOU FINISHED.

And as a fellow writer and perhaps a fellow runner…I’ll be there to cheer you on!

Coach Cait is ready! (Post-run on a GOOD day)

***

Thank You CAIT!

Kristen here. If anyone ever sees me running? RUN FOR YOUR $%#@#$% LIFE! Because there is something with teeth or a chainsaw behind me.

But, whether we are runners or not, writing is an endurance sport. I choose motherhood, grappling in Jiu Jitsu, and time with my mother to train my endurance. It helps 🙂 .

***Scroll down for new classes from Cait and for On Demand classes for hardcore storytelling training from MOI!

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you!

Do you find yourself starting and never finishing? Is this from lack of planning? Failing to fully prepare? Not enough training? Maybe underestimating HOW FREAKING HARD writing a novel ACTUALLY is?

Are you being too hard on yourself? A commenter last time was really down she couldn’t finish her FIRST ‘novel.’ Hell, it took me no less than FIFTEEN ‘novels’ before I finished. That whole ‘endurance training thing’ 😉 .

What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, 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).

Also NOW OFFERING MORE CLASSES PLUS ON DEMAND…

Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard (Cool Upgrades Available)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings.

Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible. Get your spot today! HERE.

The Yarn Behind the Book: Backstory

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

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

When: Friday, June 1, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Behind every good book is an entire story that happens before the reader ever opens to page one. This is the backstory, and done right, it is what sets the stage, provides clues and cues, and rescues you from writer’s block.

A good backstory will help with logic and consistency in the plot, developing complex motivations for characters, and sorting out exactly what needs to happen going forward as you either plot or pants your way to the end.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • The elements of a backstory;
  • How to take your current plot idea and work backwards into a backstory;
  • Integrating character profiles and the backstory;
  • How the backstory relates to the logline and synopsis;
  • Using the backstory to dig yourself out of corners and shake off writer’s block;
  • Why a backstory is crucial to writing a series.

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 neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

On Demand Training!

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

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

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! 

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

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Just say NO.

Genre matters. Genre is the foundation for longevity, building a loyal fan base and also the key to unlocking all the other plot bunnies (other genres/story ideas) we’ve been dying to try out. Regardless of the publishing path we choose, genre focus is the game-changer that transitions us from published authors to powerhouse brands.

Hello, My Name is Cait and I am a Plot Bunny Addict

Yeah, we’ll get there in a minute.

By now, all of you should know that when you don’t hear from me (Cait) for a while, you should probably worry because I’m holed up in my study either doing research or coming up with new and creative ways to achieve world domination–though so far, I’ve had to rule out hallucinogenic peanut butter, karaoke, and podcasting.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Frighteningly enough, I looked very much like this as a baby. *shudders*

But, I’m back now, ready to start sharing with all of you the fruits of my research. I’ve been doing some deep digging into the state of the publishing industry, analyzing trends, and preparing to throw down some predictions.

***Punxsutawney Phil ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Today, we’re going to explore current publishing trends and the strategy of choosing a genre. At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward, right? We like to write X, so X will be our genre.

But then…along comes that plot bunny with its cute wiggly nose and cotton ball tail, begging us to take a little side trip into Y genre. It’s cool. We can do that because we can self-publish, right?

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Not So Fast

No more rules. Freedom! We’ve broken the oppressive shackles of traditional publishing in all areas, including the ridiculous way publishers used to limit writers to one specific genre. We are now free to be a seven-genre-crossing author if we want! Ha!

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing
Yeah…it starts like this…

Well…sorta. Not quite. But kinda.

Let’s take a closer look.

In the beginning, BIG PUBLISHING said, ‘Let there be genres,’ and there were genres, and lo, the publisher saw that it was good.

Before Amazon glomped onto the scene with push-button publishing, authors actually had to pick a genre and stick with it….’til death did they part.

There were solid business reasons for this.

Books took a long time to write and even longer to publish, and this isn’t even accounting for the amount of money it took to produce a book and get it to market—pun intended. The agent then publisher invested a lot of time, thought, and care into helping the author choose a genre. This was imperative for crafting a brand—which is when a name alone has the power to drive sales.

Stephen King. Enough said.

The Downside of Genre Loyalty

While brand loyalty was great for book sales, it wasn’t always so easy on the authors. How many thrillers can one writer write before the thrill is gone? For the author and their readers. But, rules were rules and why mess with what worked?

Then indie…

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Back in the day, if we started writing historical romance…well, we pretty much kept writing more historical romance. Sure, there was some flexibility in the century we chose for our next book. But, it was a nigh-on-impossible quest to go from regency romance to noir crime thriller. Only a handful of already mega-successful authors really ever managed it well.

***Namely because rules don’t apply to them the same way as mere mortal authors.

The Big (Book) Bang

Enter the era of insta-hey-look-I-published-a-book. All the old rules (ostensibly) went out the window. Wanna go from cozy mystery to epic sword and sorcery? No problem! Just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button. Who needed fans of the cozy mystery genre to discover our books in the urban fantasy genre?

Genre schmenre. Social media wizardry would magically lead fans to discover US.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Sure, we might lose some people if we went a while (okay years) without publishing something in our audiences’ preferred genre. Maybe we’d see some drop off when we took that hard left from chick lit to shifter menage erotica. Perhaps our Amazon rankings even dropped below where we’re comfortable.

No biggie. It’s a phase. It will pass.

As long as we just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button, we can publish whatever we want in any genre we want. Vive la revolution!

Yes…and, no.

Babies & Bathwater

Interestingly, what I’ve learned from years of working in publishing and studying how it works is that we might have let excitement cloud our vision. To be blunt, in our desire to be unchained from one genre forever…we went a tad cray-cray (actual business term), and threw the book baby out with the bathwater.

Now that the dust is settling in the publishing world, evidence suggest genre focus matters more than we might have realized.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

The truth is that we authors need to position ourselves flexibly but firmly between these two extremes. There is a point between Write six hundred spy thrillers until you DIE and Write ALL the genres and even MIX them!

Regardless of what new shiny the muse wants to explore, picking then sticking with a primary genre is the foundation for great brands, books, and business.

Self-Publishing

Counter to what many have touted, it turns out self-publishing is especially sensitive to genre consistency.

Over the past two years, there were a number of minor fads and trends that had authors jumping from epic fantasy to fairytale retellings, to urban fantasy all within the space of six months. On the one hand, authors developed some momentum in KENP pages read and attracted new fans.

However, in every competitive analysis I’ve done on authors who self-publish, those who started with a primary genre and stuck with it for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period had the best book rankings, author rankings, social media followings, and Google name recognition.

And while I’m not privy to every single author’s sales numbers. Stupid restraining orders *rolls eyes*. I have been able to dig up enough data that permits me to make the following extrapolation:

Authors with a primary genre for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period made the most money and had the consistently bestselling books.

This isn’t to say these authors don’t also publish in other genres, but they don’t spend the majority of their writing time, social media time, and marketing resources trying to establish their name and brand in multiple genres simultaneously. That is not a formula for success, more a formula for a nervous breakdown.

For these authors, evidence demonstrates that a successful presence in secondary genres develops more organically and over a longer period of time.

What’s the Takeaway?

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

If our career goal is to be a hybrid author or even a purely legacy publishing track, then building in a primary genre becomes even more critical.

The Legacy Published Plan

Let’s start with traditional (legacy) publishing. Getting a book out with the Big 5 generally takes anywhere from 18-24 months. Most traditionally-published authors publish one book per year.

There’s a lot of time, a LOT of money, and a lot of resources invested in getting each book to market (as mentioned earlier). Thus, it makes sense for publishers to erect strong parameters around the the author’s brand. Focus is what generates traction, backlist, and a solid fan base with money to spend.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Nowadays, there is a teeny tiny degree of flexibility that has crept into the legacy model, most likely in order to compete with Amazon’s yoga-esque genre fluidity. That’s how we get writers like Emma Donoghue who can bend from Victorian mystery to the contemporary masterpiece of psychological drama that is ‘Room.’

Yet, she is the exception, not the norm. In truth, only a fraction of a percentage of traditionally-published authors have been able to pull off this genre-inverted-triangle successfully.

All to say that, if we want to publish traditionally, we’d better really, REALLY love the genre we’re writing in, because that’s going to be home for a long, long time.

The Hybrid Author Plan

With a hybrid publishing model (some books self-published, some books through a traditional publisher), our approach will depend on whether we start out self-published or traditionally-published.

If we start out as self-published but with a goal to eventually enter into the traditional model, genre consistency becomes essential (even if our long-game is to change genres once we break into traditional publishing).

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

There are major advantages for a writer who can demonstrate a solid track record of longevity and focus in a single genre. First, genre concentration tangibly demonstrates our ability to achieve long-term goals.

Secondly, by maintaining genre cohesion, this increases the odds we’ll build a vested fan base eager to BUY OUR future books. This makes our books a sound investment for agents/editors based off numbers (not hopes and luck).

Thirdly, genre focus is vital for building a strong author brand. Name recognition alone is useless and not a brand. Only a name that translates into an actual sale is a brand.

James Patterson—>Ka-Ching!

Weird Guy Who Book Spams Non-Stop—>Unfollow & BLOCK

Since legacy press is a business and not a non-profit, these three benefits can translate into (our) massive advantage when we’re seeking our own place in ‘the club.’

We need the club, but why does the club need us? That’s where we need to hustle.

If we’ve successfully stuck to a genre and created a strong fan base on our own, then traditional is the next logical business step to expand distribution for a product that is already successfully selling.

It is a win-win for author and publisher.

If we seek to change genres, it shows the publisher we can commit to the time and work it takes to build both the reputation and backlist required for success.

Again, win-win.

Expanding Genre ‘Horizons’

If we start out as traditionally-published and want to expand into self-publishing, there are several things to consider. First, we need to be very, very sure (as in, I-have-had-a-conversation-with-my-lawyer-agent-editor-sure) that we won’t be violating the terms of our publishing contract by putting out work in the same genre.

Once we have the ‘all-clear’ to keep writing in the same genre, there’s a big adjustment ahead we need to take seriously. First there is the frequency of publication required to compete effectively in self-publishing. Can we write at a pulp fiction speed and maintain quality?

***Often this is the impetus for legacy authors to also write indie. They long to produce at a far faster pace than the legacy model can accommodate.

Also, there’s the question of financial resources required to achieve parity between traditional and self-published books. Cover design, proofing, editing, formatting, etc. Fans have come to expect a certain quality and we better be able to meet or even exceed anything we published via legacy.

No easy task.

On the upside, our fan base should already be somewhat established, so YAY! We can just keep growing and growing…

Stretching Our Genre Wings

In another scenario, we may choose to expand into self-publishing because we’d like to try other genres, especially ones that might not necessarily jive with an already-established fan base.

Steampunk fantasy author Gail Carriger is an excellent example of this (as well as being one of my favorite writers). She has a firmly established seventeen-book steampunk genre backlist of traditionally-published books.

Gail chose to self-publish because she wanted to release shorter and more frequent works in her same steampunk universe (with special dispensation from her publisher).

Eventually, she started publishing works in the contemporary urban fantasy genre with an LGBTQ focus.

Carriger continues to publish both her traditional steampunk and is now consistently building her presence in this new genre. Because she approached her writing career with strategy, her brand has not only maintained integrity, but it is also steadily expanding.

The Plot Bunny Nursery

Also known as the TBW (to-be-written) pile.

At the end of the day, what does all of this mean for all of us writers along the publication continuum?

This is the question I asked myself one day in January as I looked at my writing and marketing plans for 2018. It’s a fact that I don’t so much have a plot bunny nursery as I do a crack house for wayward hares.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

I’m seriously all over the place in terms of my ideas. I have plot bunnies in steampunk, YA mythology, fairytales, historical romance, contemporary psychological thriller, shifter romance. While all my story ideas might be wonderful, I know it’s unwise to try to pursue them all simultaneously.

Strategy matters. This means, I know which bunnies get adopted first. The others can wait (and likely breed).

I confess. My brain bounces from genre to genre like a kangaroo in a bouncy castle. Yours might, too. That’s okay. We can write all the books!

Eventually.

If we publish with planning and intention regarding genre, we’re more likely to reap far better reward. The evidence doesn’t lie. Authors who’ve performed the best—whether traditional, hybrid, or self-published—are the ones who’ve done three things:

Written really great books.

Picked a genre and remained focused on it for at least three years.

Published consistently.

This is where the professional discipline that Kristen talks about really has to kick in. Sometimes, little bunnies have to just chill (drug them if you must). We can’t always do what’s fun and shiny and new. To make it in this highly competitive market, we have make a plan, then stick with the plan, even when it gets boring, or hard, or seems to be getting us nowhere.

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

Jumping genres non-stop isn’t the cure for sagging sales and rankings. Writing and publishing great books in a focused genre, then building from there is. So keep calm, stay focused, and the bunnies will be just fine.

Promise 😀 . Kristen has a professional plot-bunny-sitter….

publishing success, plot bunnies, genre loyalty, creating an author brand, genre loyalty advantages, self-publishing, legacy publishing, hybrid publishing

 

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GASKETS & GAITERS: HOW TO CREATE A COMPELLING STEAMPUNK WORLD

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY February 23, 2018. 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?

Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?

Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, and Industry: How to research these without dying of boredom?
  • Creating the Blend: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, March 1st, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

memoir, biography, autobiography, family history, oral history

Cait here. I know, I know. I mention the word ‘memoir,’ and we get nightmare visions of Snookie’s autobiography prominently positioned on a table at the front of Barnes & Noble with New York Times Bestseller emblazoned on the cover.

I could reduce you all to a mass of existential angst and tears of futility by bringing up the 1991 epic Ice by Ice from Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, or even Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever: My Story, but, I won’t. Because I’m a nice person.

Memoir, biography, autobiography, celebrity biography
I don’t even have to caption this or meme it. It just is… (Image courtesy of Justin Bieber Wikia and Harper Collins)

These days, memoirs, oral histories, and biographies seem less like a valid genre and more like an exercise in creating cringe-worthy categories like:

      • The autobiography (not written) by some 16-year-old pop sensation who has yet to get a driver’s license or go to rehab (hint: post-rehab books sell much better);

     

      • The true, inspiring story of struggle and strength from some athlete (who later will turn out to have been pumping more pills than pounds to achieve the incredible goal of <insert homeruns/touchdowns/speed record here>);

     

        • NB: The athlete may be substituted by any combination of one-gag-wonder YouTube sensation, HGTV host who rose to fame through aggressive full-body-contact crafting, or washed-out child star/rock star/Disney sitcom teenage actor from the 1990’s (because we’ve already run through most everyone from the 80’s).

       

      • The *gasp* SHOCKING *gasp* UNAUTHORIZED *gasp* NEVER-BEFORE-REVEALED TRUE STORY OF <insert politician, Hollywood icon, serial killer, royalty here>.

     

      • Let’s not forget the deeply personal and agonizingly extensive accounts of ordinary individuals suffering through chronic hangnails. These stories read like vaguebooking and an encounter group got drunk at a bar and hooked up for a bad one night stand that neither wants to remember in the morning;

     

      • The garden path paved with good intentions to mind-numbing boredom of listening to our aged relative go on and on about a half-century’s worth of knitting projects while we record her in the hopes of capturing the essence of a bygone era, but which in reality ends up being a special kind of hell because once we’ve recorded her, we realize we have to listen to it all over again in order to transcribe everything she said;

     

      • Finally, I should also toss a bone to the self-deprecating rags-to-riches archetype whose stories are meant to uplift and change our lives (well, until we spend the $3,000 for the weekend warrior seminar, workbooks, videos, and nutritional supplements that leave us exhausted, broke, and confused as to whether we’re supposed to do the ‘good dog’ head-patting self-empowerment exercise before or after we spend three minutes dancing naked before the $249 dreamcatcher add-on product that we bought in a moment of mid-seminar ecstatic dissociative fugue).

     

Legacy…it isn’t just for software any more

Like any cult leader worth their Kool-Aid, now that I’ve completely broken you down and destroyed your will to self-actualize and write any kind of personal story or work on a family history…let me build you back up…in my glorious image. *stops and shakes self, doesn’t know where that last part came from*

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Truly, though, somewhere in the middle of all this mediocre dross are two truths that are so fundamental to humanity, we often overlook them or fail to recognize their power as a driving force behind everything we do. What are these truths?

Narrative is the most primal and primary form of human communication.

We all want to leave a legacy.

When we tell our friend/spouse/partner how our day was at work, that’s narrative. When we comfort a friend who has just been dumped by sharing our own dating war stories, that’s narrative. When we explain how to do something to a new employee, that’s a form of instructional narrative.

Our histories, morals, lessons, entertainment, and culture are all passed along in various forms of narrative, from Grandma’s stories to *shudder* the faux-scripting of reality television. On the scale of what is of real value to humanity, frankly, YOUR life’s story has more to offer the world as a legacy than anything the Kardashians can come up with. Fan of the Kardashians? Fight me. *Warning: I am a mean-spirited, 5’1″ Slytherin who fights dirty. I will win.

Cue Bon Jovi

*sings* It’s my liiiiiiiife, it’s now or never….

Ready to start that family history or share your own story? Great! Let’s get started. Ready?

Ready?

And?…..

Bueller?…..

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Having trouble getting started, or even just knowing WHERE to start? I totally understand. It’s a common problem, and kind of ironic considering that we know the plot really, really well and aren’t just pantsing this particular story.

Let’s take a look at the 3 most common obstacles to getting a memoir project off the ground.

1. The Naturally Outgoing, Extroverted, Boastful Nature of Writers (NOT): If there’s a downward-facing-dog adjective for derision, we will find a way to put a ‘self’ in front of it–self-deprecating, self-effacing, self-sabotaging, etc. Even if we have something of real value to say that could either entertain or help others, we hesitate to convey it through narrative of our own personal experiences. We’d rather find a way to slip it as a theme into a plot where Taylor and Seraphina must stop a drug cartel from taking over a small Texas town populated by gluten-intolerant wolf shifters. We somehow believe that our own experiences are not worth it. If there’s not a jewelry heist, an AR-15, and Michael Bay-esque explosions involved, we think no one could possibly be interested in our lives.

2. An Embarrassment of Riches…: Okay, say we’ve gotten past the self-effacement syndrome and are ready and willing to share our story (or a family story). How do we start? Where do we start? From the egg? From the accidental backseat fumble to the accompanying crooning of Buddy Holly that led to that particular egg taking off on a spectacular career that lead to you? The first time we successfully made it to the training potty in time and the glorious lollipop of victory? The first date (the parental introductions alone could be an entire chapter in instructional humiliation)? For a body of material that we are entirely in control of and know to the last detail, it’s ironic that we can be so at a loss as to how to structure a narrative.

3. Truth, Libel, and Who Has to Die Before You Can Publish?: Ready to become an unwitting (and maybe unwilling) historiographer? When we undertake any kind of nonfiction biographical project, we are forced to join the ranks of historians who study the study of history, easily identifiable by the premature grey, dark circles, and habit of walking around muttering to themselves about theoretical frameworks, revisionism, primary source authentication, and hagiography. Any project involving people and history will have certain inalienable facts, but we’re also dealing with mushy memories, opinions, changes in perception over time, evolving social contexts, and some sticky legal and family issues when it comes to bringing some things to light. (Aunt Muriel’s Thanksgiving dinner is gonna be wicked interesting this year…)

Looking at all of this, it’s no wonder we would rather volunteer for the 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning carpool for the rest of eternity than tackle writing a memoir.

When in doubt, turn to M&M’s (&M)

Yes, chocolate is always a viable answer, but I’m actually talking about three ‘M’s’ that help break down the gargantuan project of a memoir into workable rules, structures, and craft.

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

1. MESSAGE: The idea of the message isn’t all that dissimilar to the theme of a work of fiction. What is the main truth/moral/advice/idea we want to convey in the telling of our story? Are we telling a story about survival against the odds, the power of love over hate, creating our identity anew after a life-changing event? Just like fiction, we can’t put everything into this narrative, so whatever we choose to include should be driven by and always tie back to the message. So…out with the glorious potty-training-lollipop-of-victory and in with how our first date taught us we can not only survive rejection, but learn to thrive and grow stronger.

2. MATERIAL: Before we decide what to put in or leave out, we have to get all the material we can in one place. This is the part of the process where we leave no stone unturned, no story unrecorded, no photo (however embarrassing) in the ‘out’ pile. From birth certificates to postcards, digital recordings to that unfortunate VHS video where you fell asleep face-first in your second birthday cake, it’s essential to chase down pretty much everything. In some cases, the material refreshes our memories or corrects a mistaken impression. In other cases, the material can help shape the message, raise challenging questions, and reveal unexpected truths. Gathering, organizing, and learning to interpret our resources is the foundation from which we build the narrative to support the message.

3. METHOD: There is no one-size-fits-all general methodology for memoirs and family histories. There is however a single one-size-fits-all rule: CONSISTENCY. However we decide to deal with blanks or gaps in the ‘record,’ we need to approach it the same way every time. This also goes for if/how much/what kind of family secrets we share, because let’s face it, once we publish anything, it’s the equivalent of running the dirty family underwear up the digital flagpole. We have to examine our own subjective viewpoints on people and events to see if we need either sensitivity training or ‘roid rage. There’s also the tedious bit where we have to do a basic survey of copyright, libel, and slander laws to make sure we don’t end up getting sued because we couldn’t resist sharing the story about the time Cousin Vinny ran 10 kilos of cocaine across the border in a riding lawn mower while singing Jimmy Buffett songs at the top of his lungs.

Maybe the goal isn’t to publish our story, but to create something we can give to the next generation of our family, or it’s a series of blog posts about something in our lives that was truly meaningful, or, it’s going through and organizing the boxes of old letters and photos to learn more about ourselves, who we are, and where we come from. Maybe, it’s just about spending some quality time with the people we love and learning things we never knew about them.

They say life is stranger than fiction, and I have to agree. Otherwise, where would Investigation Discovery get all the ideas for its shows? We all have something of value to share with the world, whether it’s our own story or our family’s story. Sharing narrative is the common thread that ties together all of humanity’s experiences into one beautiful, kaleidoscopic vision called life.

Life as a Story: How to Write a Memoir 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $65.00 USD

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

Date: Friday, January 26th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

We all have a story to tell, something worth preserving or even sharing. This might be the tale of our own life, or the life of someone dear to us.  Maybe we long to capture oral histories of relatives before the living past disappears forever.

Regardless, the memoir is a genre that requires an approach, voice, and technique vastly different from fiction.

Topics we cover in this class include:

  • Developing the thematic frame of the memoir;
  • Creating a compelling narrative structure out of facts and timelines;
  • The art of the follow-up question: going beyond the generic questionnaires to dig deep and mine memories to get the extraordinary details and important information;
  • Developing and refining your memoirist voice;
  • Knowing when extra research is needed, what is needed, and how to find it;
  • Filling in the gaps when no information exists;
  • Understanding legal constraints (i.e. libel) and how to maneuver around them yet maintain story integrity;
  • Recreating dialogue and excerpting from original documents (letters, journals, etc.);
  • Positioning your memoir for multiple markets.

A recording is included with class purchase.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

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

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

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

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $55). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Today, it’s me, Cait! Join me as we venture into a common craft mistake committed by virtually every emerging writer—something I like to call ‘dismemberment.’ Because nothing says love like body parts strewn about.

Sarcasm aside, dismemberment is a bad habit that can impact the flow of the story, collapse the fictive dream, and confuse or even insult the reader.

Dismemberment is literary filler that demonstrates we (as the writer) don’t trust the readers’ intellect, thus we are “brain holding” as Kristen likes to say.

Offering fair warning: I’m in a stabby mood today. Really stabby.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Dismemberment is one of the most common craft mistakes, but it’s also one of the most insidious. It’s one of the most prevalent reasons readers lose interest in a story, or fail to get interested in the first place.

We (readers) get tired of stopping and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We keep pausing because our brains keep pondering tangents unrelated to the actual story.

If Taylor’s eyes just flew across the room at a dinner party, how does he discreetly get them back if he can’t see? Was any partygoer hit by a flying eyeball? Oh hell! Is one of his eyeballs stuck in some debutante’s expensive up-do?

Aaand this is when the whole story goes off the rails *explosion noises* *screams of pain*

So, what is dismemberment?

Dismemberment is when body parts move around independent of the character.

When we (as editors) see a sentence like, “Seraphina’s violet orbs roved around the room,” our first instinct is to stab. Uh, I mean pick on the obvious issues like…’orbs’ and ‘violet.’

For readers, their first instinct is usually…HUH? What the hell just happened? Do her eyes get dust bunnies on them?

The core issue has nothing to do with Seraphina gazing around the room. Rather, it’s her eyeballs going for a stroll *cue image of eyeballs rolling across the floor like marbles*

Now that you can’t un-see that in your head, let’s dig a little deeper into what dismemberment looks like, why it’s a writing no-no, and how to avoid, fix, and occasionally even use it (properly).

Dismemberment Makes Things Awkward

Remember The Addams Family and Thing?

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

The show was brilliant, and took the idea of dismemberment and ran with it. The show turned a disembodied hand into a character with attitude, opinions, relationships, and interaction with the other characters. It was hilarious…because it was so weird.

The problem is that what’s funny weird for a television show becomes disjointedly bizarre in a novel. Once we start being able to identify dismemberment, we can’t help seeing it everywhere. We also can’t help seeing the unfortunate imagery of random body parts moving around.

Eyes, hands, and feet are the usual body parts featured in dismemberment, though I’ve definitely seen a fair share of shoulders, legs, arms, and heads.

“His head flew across the room…”

“Her shoulders slumped down…”

“His hand reached out to her…”

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Why do we fall into the trap of dismemberment? One possible answer is that we are struggling with how to describe the action in a scene. This is the fault of what I like to call the Inner Pushy Stage Director. Similar to the Inner Editor, the Inner Pushy Stage Director has a lot to say about gestures, blocking, and interpretive dance. #JazzHands

The Inner Pushy Stage Director doesn’t trust the reader to instinctively know the series of movements involved in the simple actions of picking something up or a character moving through rooms.

Her hand reached out to open the door.

Oh-kay.

To be blunt, we (readers) are not stupid and we “get” one would have to reach out a hand to open a door unless telekinetic powers are involved. If telekinetic powers NOT involved, then we as readers assume the character can simply open a door without explaining how this “opening a door” process happens. We’ll keep up just fine. Promise.

By believing we need to give the reader every single detail of an action, we use twenty words to explicate what maybe two or three words could do far better. Inexperienced writers often resort to giving agency to a body part as a way to vary the prose away from constantly using the ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the driver of action.

And, that’s how we end up with Seraphina’s violet orbs roving around the room…maybe stopping to get a canape… See? Creepy, right?

Happy Feet

Body parts do not have emotions. Period. Ever.

There is no situation in which the following sentence is correct: “His hands clenched into angry fists.”

No. Nope. Zipit!

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another reason we fall into the trap of dismemberment is that we use it to portray a character’s emotion, whether it’s Seraphina’s POV or her noticing that Taylor is angry.

What has really happened is that we have flubbed the technique of drawing attention to a physical ‘tell’ for a character’s emotion.

Instead of:

His hands clenched into angry fists.

As opposed to clenching hands into joyous fists? #Weirdness

What we really mean to say is:

He clenched his hands into fists.

If we have the correct dialogue/action/inner thoughts leading up to that moment, we shouldn’t have to use the word ‘angry’ at all. We should also be able to avoid turning Taylor’s hands into their own POV characters. We also can just say that he clenched his hands since the word “fists” is implied.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
You do not want to end up like Cartman and Jennifer Lopez.

Why is Dismemberment So Bad?

Isn’t variety the spice of life? Aren’t we supposed to try and find new and creative ways of describing our characters and conveying actions? Couldn’t you say that it’s ‘artistic’?

No. No, and no. (See, totally stabby this morning.)

Dismemberment violates one of the fundamental rules of writing: Always maintain connection between reader and the story. Always.

You know what breaking the connection does? It creates…bookmark moments. Every instance of dismemberment lets the reader drift a little further away from the engrossing empathy that keeps them immersed and turning pages. It’s a subtle loss of connection that, given enough time, may even relegate our books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

I will sacrifice everything for a book hangover because I *have* to find out what happens to Seraphina. Or Taylor. I identify with the choices and emotions of Seraphina and Taylor, but if those choices and emotions are assigned to body parts, I’m just not as invested in the outcome of the characters.

If there is too much, Seraphina’s head flew across the room when Taylor unexpectedly arrived to the party, then I’m more concerned why the partygoers aren’t trampling each other in terror to flee the room and the flying head.

Dismemberment takes the edge off of tension and blunts the poignancy of the ‘either-or’ that drives plotting and character arcs.

There’s one other reason that dismemberment is so very, very bad.

Welcome to Amateur Hour

Dismemberment is one of the clearest symptoms of amateur hour. Editors can spot a sloppy writer in any number of painful ways, but dismemberment in a FINISHED, EDITED, AND PUBLISHED BOOK is the equivalent of the author holding a neon sign over his/her head flashing ‘AMATEUR HOUR – 24/7.’ 

Even worse? The fact that whoever was paid to edit and proofread did not catch the dismemberment…just maybe see about a refund.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

In my opinion, amateur hour editors sin worse than amateur hour authors. There is more to being an editor than running a manuscript through Grammarly and finding typos, which is why writers need to use prudence and maybe referrals when choosing an editor (not just price).

If you think I’m being harsh, I’m a small fry compared to agents and NY editors. They’re inundated with more manuscripts than they could read in a lifetime, meaning they are actively looking for reasons to stop reading. The moment these folks see dismemberment? Their head doesn’t fly across the room, our novel does.

#SlushPile #NoTimeForN00bs

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

So, now, we have to pick up all the scattered body parts and emotions, and order the 40-pack of super glue from Amazon.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

The first part of recovery is to train ourselves to recognize dismemberment so we can get out of using it improperly. While it might take some time to break the dismemberment habit, this is one case where we do need to stop and listen to our Inner Editor as we draft.

Instead of noting the dismemberment and promising to deal with it in revisions, we should take the time to correct it then and there. It’s simple to fix. Just delete a few words and reassign the emotions to the character instead of the body part.

Do this over the course of 50,000 words, and you’d be surprised how quickly a new and better habit forms…

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
When you start to hear Cait’s voice as your Inner Editor…

Of course, no one is perfect (except for me, duh). That is why there is the editing phase of writing, when we catch those sneaky little instances of dismemberment that slipped a body part in our path without us noticing.

In terms of actually fixing dismemberment, think of a movie. Really think and try to recall how often the director has the camera zoom in on a JUST a body part (okay ASIDE from porn).

Funny how it’s a little tougher than you thought to come up with examples. Why is that?

Well…wait for it…because the moviegoer identifies with the character, not the body part.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

There’s one other thing to watch out for when we are correcting a scene with dismemberment, and that is the dreaded ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ problem. In this case, it manifests in the far-too-frequent and indiscriminate use of the word felt.

Seraphina felt her ears heat up from embarrassment.

There’s no dismemberment in this sentence, but it’s kinda blah. I mean, the whole point of the sentence is to inform the reader that her ears are getting hot. Meh.

Like I said earlier, if we are guiding the scene the right way, we won’t need to point out that she’s getting embarrassed. The reader will already be getting the sense that Seraphina’s experiencing humiliation/shame/whatever.

We could make the sentence more interesting and ENGAGING with just a couple tweaks.

Seraphina fought to keep her expression neutral, even if her burning ears were bright pink giveaways.

In this example, I changed up the passive ‘felt’ for a more active purpose to the sentence. We still understand that she’s feeling embarrassed, but now, she doing something other than just passively experiencing a sensation. Also, I’ve given the other characters in the scene something to notice and/or react to with Seraphina’s obvious struggle to keep a straight face.

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

When correcting dismemberment, just remember: put the emotion back in the character’s head, and have him/her/it DO something to express it.

Disciplined Dismemberment

Like every rule, there *are* exceptions to the ban on dismemberment.

Once we are on auto-pilot in terms of avoiding dismemberment, we can finally use it as the tool it was really meant to be. (Hey, you can’t go through medical school without gross anatomy – dissecting body parts has its place!)

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

We can use body parts when we are trying to heighten tension.

For example, let’s say Seraphina and Taylor have been gagged and tied up, but there’s a knife nearby to cut their bonds. Just riffing here:

Seraphina held her breath as Taylor tried for the knife. His fingers flexed and stretched as long as possible, desperate for the blade. Tendons popped out on his hands, hands that reached farther and farther until they shook from strain, only to finally slacken in defeat.

In this moment, Taylor’s ability to reach the knife is critical. By zooming in on his hands and their actions, my goal is to build tension and create a vivid, visceral visual. It’s worth nothing that in this situation, Taylor’s hands are the only part of him that can have any action.

If he wasn’t tied up or his arms were free, then I’d describe the moment differently and put Taylor himself back in the driver’s seat.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another way of using body parts is by having the POV character notice a particular action or emotion on the part of someone else in the scene.

Taylor did a double-take when Seraphina’s eyes widened a mere a fraction. He wasn’t sure if she was surprised or angry, but it was enough to put him on his guard.

The reason this example works is because I’m showing, not telling, and the dismemberment provides something for the POV character to react to – in this case, a confusing signal from Seraphina. When used in this way, dismemberment can be an excellent tool for revealing or concealing clues, creating misunderstandings, and varying communication between characters between verbal and non-verbal forms.

THESE EXAMPLES DO NOT GIVE US PERMISSION TO GO BACK TO HACKING UP BODY PARTS AND HAVING THEM RUN AROUND DOING THINGS ON THEIR OWN!

Just like truffle oil…a little goes a very long way.

Class with Cait this Friday!

I’m offering a really cool class tomorrow night! It’s my blurb-writing class. In it, I will show you all my secret tips and tricks (even beyond what I wrote in this blog post) to painlessly writing those crucial 150 words that will SELL YOUR BOOK!

What’s extra cool about this class is that I will take TWO blurbs from attendees and rework them LIVE AND ON-THE-FLY IN CLASS to demonstrate just how simple and effective my techniques are.

Yeah, I know. Super cool.

Anyway, here are the details–hope to see you tomorrow night!

BLURB BOSS: WRITING BLURBS THAT SELL BOOKS

Blurb - Cait ReynoldsInstructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, your entire book in 3 short paragrahs) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping! I will pick two and edit them LIVE IN CLASS to show you just how easy it is!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Register today!

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s me, Cait Reynolds, and I’m going to be brutal here. You’ve been warned. But, honestly, I get a little stabby when I encounter a Mary Sue in a book. Mary Sues are death to fiction, yet they’re more common than head lice in Kindergarten (and about as desirable). For the sake of time today, we will focus on the most common Mary Sue peeve…the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

What is a Mary Sue Shopping Spree?

It’s wish fulfillment at its worst.

First of all, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term “Mary Sue,” the best definition is here at Urban Dictionary. But, for our shorthand use, a Mary Sue is an impossibly perfect character.

She’s beautiful (flaming red hair and emerald eyes, for example) and smart (better grades than Hermione Granger but never seems to be in the library). A Mary Sue falls in love with the hero/hero falls in love with her early, often and easily.

What IS a “Mary Sue”?

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

There are all kinds of Mary Sue’s–no genre is safe. Here’s just a sample:

  • Victim Sue! with an impossible streak of bad luck/tragedy/knack for getting kidnapped and/or stalked.
  • Warrior Sue! who has a mouth like a sailor, throws a mean punch, fights like Lara Croft and Bruce Lee’s love child (and probably has a lineage about as weird), and still looks amazing in a ball gown (but doesn’t want to be taken for a sissy girl!).
  • Magic Sue! with similarities to Warrior Sue in that she has unheard of powers that usually get her into trouble (see Victim Sue) until she learns to control them, and then with a wave of her (slender, delicate) hand, saves the day without chipping a nail.
  • Misfit Sue who is the proverbial ugly duckling, except all she needs really is some good conditioner, a fairy godmother, and a gift certificate to Forever21 in order to turn into the hottie that suddenly attracts all the guys.

There are so many issues with Mary Sues, but the single largest Mary Sue staple is—GROANS—the shopping spree.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

This is the point in a story where everything grinds to a halt so the heroine can get ready for the ball/date/wedding/party/sacred mage ceremony, etc.

You know the kind of scene I’m talking about…but in case you don’t, let’s look at an example.

Mary Sue Goes to the Ball

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s use my favorite Mary Sue stand-in Seraphina to illustrate. Seraphina has had a hard life as a disinherited princess living in hiding in a faux medieval village and secretly training to use her immense magical powers to take back the throne and rid the land of evil.

She finds a way to infiltrate the castle by sneaking into a fancy ball that the king is giving. But, in order to blend in with the crowd, she will need…a ballgown.

What comes next is any combination of the following descriptions:

  • Shopping or gathering all the necessary clothing
  • Hairstyles
  • Dresses
  • Jewelry, and other accessories
  • Makeup (!)

But…it’s not just descriptions. We, the readers, are subjected to descriptions in excruciating detail.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Also, every character involved in the scene is kind, excited, happy to help with the preparations, and relentlessly cheery. Apparently, there can be no conflict in the dressing room (unless it’s Seraphina objecting to the ‘girly pink’ or ‘frilly’ dress, thereby making a statement of profound strength of character and independence).

We read about sweetheart necklines, bias cuts, skirts that gently flare out, lace gloves, sleeves that come to just above the wrist, silver embroidery patterns of magical runes (or flowers, whatever).

Gritting our teeth, we skim over the part about hair that is piled high with loose curls falling softly around her face, or braids intricately woven with pearls and jeweled flower pins with just a few errant and untamable curls falling softly around her face.

The author beats us over the head with the fact that she only wears a little bit of eyeshadow and lip gloss (WTH? Do they even have lip gloss in faux medieval realms?) because she doesn’t really need any makeup to enhance her natural beauty.

That strangling noise?

It’s us. The readers. Being garroted….

With the heroine’s delicate chain complete with cheesy symbolic pendant (dragon, rose, snake, rune, whatever) because that’s not a dead giveaway to the bad guy(s).

Hey, doesn’t that girl with the opal-eyed dragon pendant that looks like the one that belonged to Queen Margitte look a lot like dead Queen Margitte?.

Also, a general rule of style is to match the formality of jewelry to the formality of the outfit. One doesn’t wear parure with buckskin breeches, and conversely, charm necklaces are not to be worn with ballgowns. (Yes, I just channeled my inner Tim Gunn.)

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s not forget how Seraphina chooses sensible low-heeled slippers as opposed to the…um…lucite platform heels offered by the empty-headed ninnies who only care about boys and clothes.

Because taking time out from pace, tension, plot, and relevance to talk about dressing a character totally doesn’t paint the author as having the emotional range of a fifteen-year-old. 

All joking aside, let’s look a little closer at WHY the Mary Sue Shopping Spree is so problematic.

Go Ahead. Sue Me!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s not really Seraphina’s fault that the author wants to play out a Cinderella fantasy. Unfortunately, this violates one of KLamb’s most basic rules: NEVER MAKE IT EASY FOR THE CHARACTERS!

Nobody wants to read about everybody being happy, getting along, and things going their way. Can you say, “Snooze-Fest?”

Can you imagine Harry Potter if he’d grown up with his parents alive, been BFFs with Draco Malfoy, and figured out how to vanquish Voldemort without leaving the comfort of Hogwarts?

No, you can’t because no reader would have made it past page TEN. Harry Potter would have been another forgettable character in yet another bad book.

But he isn’t. Why? Harry Potter is legendary because of CONFLICT and seemingly insurmountable odds. Not everything slipping in place as if his life is coated in Teflon.

The same goes for the Cinderella moment. Let’s look at why.

Slumber Party or Plot Point? 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Getting-ready-for-the-party scenes must obey the rules of fiction just like all the other scenes. Where is the conflict that drives the story? What is the relevance of the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene? Is there any character growth? Are there any obstacles?

If the answer is no, then we need to think twice about putting in a scene like this.

Hemming and Hawing 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Set aside the sins of over-descriptiveness for a moment. Instead, look at the science of how we read and process the written word. In general, we read at about 200-400 words per minute (cool, non? Read this for more!).

That means that careful description is critical to the FLOW of a reader’s understanding and visualization. If we STALL the flow by making a reader stop and try to visualize EXACTLY what a character is wearing (I’m looking at you, hem lengths and embroidered bodices!), we risk losing the reader’s immersion in our world.

Anachronism Alert!

The Mary Sue Shopping Spree also showcases when an author hasn’t bothered to do his or her homework with either historical research or fantasy world-building (LIP GLOSS???). With historical, this is easily solved with just a modicum of research–and luckily for you, I’m obsessed with historical fashion.

Check me out on Pinterest for a decade-by-decade breakdown of fashion across the centuries (and a WHOLE lot more!).

With fantasy, there’s still no excuse for not considering things like climate, culture, how easy it is to get your hands on expensive clothing, etc. Thinking it through isn’t hard. We just have to do it.

Get Seraphina a Personal Shopper and Move on

All of this isn’t to say that we can’t have a makeover scene now and then. There’s just a better way to do it. Here’s how.

Relevance

Makeover scenes must be relevant to the plot and/or character. For example in my book Downcast, I use a literal shopping spree to reveal Stephanie’s growth as a character, in beginning to make her own choices and tap into her own confidence.

More than that, though, Stephanie’s shopping spree sets up a MAJOR conflict.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest pivot points in the whole plot. Could I have used another ploy to get me there? Sure. But, a teenage girl going to the mall for her 18th birthday is both plausible and appropriate for the context (and the YA genre).

If we’re going to use the shopping spree–be it contemporary, ye olde, or beware hippogriffs! style–always ask three things:

  • Is it relevant? Does it move the plot forward?
  • Will it offer any new clues/information or set the characters up for conflict?
  • Does it reveal and/or conceal anything important about the characters (from each other, the reader, etc.)?

If we can answer yes to all three, then we move to the next step, which is…

Bippity-Boppity BORING!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Fairy godmothers way overrated. Why not have the wicked step-sister be the one to have to help get Cinderella ready for the ball? Will the Wal-Mart generic brand wand be up to the challenge of whipping up a ballgown?

Is there a crack in one of the glass slippers? Does the color blue make her look jaundiced? Is anyone willing to tell her that?

What if she really, really wants to wear blue, but the only color the Wal-Mart wand can produce is pink? She has to wear the pink dress. If you transform a pumpkin into a carriage, does it smell like pumpkin on the inside? Is that a good thing? Are the mice unionized?

You get the idea.

The point is the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene should be FULL of delicious difficulties and confectionary conflict. Remember KLamb’s rule: MAKE IT WORSE UNTIL YOU MAKE IT WEIRD. NOTHING COMES EASILY…EVER!

If everyone is happy and excited to help Seraphina get ready for the ball…meh.

What’s the point?

What makes me (reader) want to turn the page? But, if Lady Jordan slips itching powder down Seraphina’s chemise, or the fairy godmother makes an unthinking remark about how to fix the way Seraphina looks a bit puffy…well, NOW we have something to work with!

Give Up Control

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

The reader will never, ever, ever be able to picture a gown exactly the way we see it in our mind’s eye. Ever. You can tell me all you want about length and fabric and cut and jewelry. However, it’ll either be too much detail, and I’ll lose track of all of the bits I’m supposed to remember, OR, I will just skim and skip until the plot resumes.

Seriously, we need to give up the idea that our descriptions will ever create an exact picture for the reader. Descriptions are meant to be evocative. They also…yeah, you know what I’m going to say here…wait for it…have to be RELEVANT.

And, yes, here’s another handy checklist to work through to determine if a description is relevant:

  • Is there something unique, interesting, or important about the dress, jewelry, etc.?
  • What is truly different about these clothes for the character and her life experience?
  • Are there smells, textures, or sounds (like bracelets clinking) that are unusually pleasurable or uncomfortable?

For example, for a fantasy genre scene, I might describe Seraphina’s reaction to her ball gown like this:

Her first instinct was to decline the gown. The fine silk and rare lapis-dyed color screamed the kind of wealth she had barely ever encountered, let alone would feel comfortable impersonating. She didn’t dare touch it, afraid that the calluses on her fingers would catch and snag the delicate fabric.

Still, she drew closer, fascinated by the  pattern of dragons in mid-flight picked out in silver thread around the hem. When Lady Jordan gave the skirts an expert–if impatient–flick to smooth the creases, the embroidered dragons looked as if they were truly in flight.

A brisk ‘tsk’ from Lady Jordan jolted Seraphina from the daze of admiration, and she shrank from the disapproving moue on the older woman’s lips.

I would probably also make the dragons mean something or be symbolic in some way, though I might not have Lady Jordan inform Seraphina of that because…well, she doesn’t really like the girl or want to help her, and if she must dress a sow’s ear in a silk purse, then at least she will get some entertainment out of it later when the girl stumbles over the etiquette of the significance of the embroidery.

Because being mean to my characters is what makes it fun for my readers.

And, it has nothing to do with being a sociopath. AT ALL.

Next up…Getting Stabby About the Taylors and Shifters

If you’ve read any of my blog posts here, you know that Taylor is Seraphina’s male counterpart. And, Taylor can often be found in romance novels–especially shifter romances. If you think I’m prickly (and hilarious–admit it, you giggled at this post!) about Mary Sue shopping sprees, just watch me rip into shifters…and how to make them better.

You can even watch me do it LIVE this Friday!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

Date: Friday, November 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Shifter romance is one of the hottest genres in publishing right now. It’s easy, right? You just take a hot guy and have him morph into a wolf…or bear…or…panther…or…

Well, you and the thousands of other shifter romance writers. So, how are readers going to tell your lusty wolf boys apart from another author’s lusty wolf boys? Sure, you can invent clan/pack rules and give your shifters certain features or restrictions.

But, if you want to create unforgettable shifters that will have readers coming back for more, you need to shift your world-building into high gear. (See what I did there with the play on words with ‘shift’? Ha! I’m so funny.)

This class will help you create richer shifter ‘cultures’ by showing you how to:

  • Construct the history of your shifters, and by history, I mean real history
  • Use science (even if you’re not a science person) to add delicious bits of plausibility to your shifters
  • Catch world-building details that create giant gaps in logic that can distract the reader from your story
  • Develop stronger characters by giving them a richer, fuller historical, scientific, and world-building context
  • Drive action and plot twists in unexpected ways using expanded shifter world-building
  • Amp up the romantic and sexual tension using the history and science of your shifters

We are now offering ADVANCED LEVELS for this class. Extra help from an EXPERT.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable shifters, let Cait help you take your shifter to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL.

Shifter GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

Shifter PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Other upcoming WANA classes!

Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!