Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Writing Tips

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

I get it. I get it. Game of Thrones is not for everyone. Yet, even if you refuse to sample a single episode, it doesn’t mean you (writers) can’t get some benefit from understanding what the series did right…and then how the story went so horribly wrong.

On my end, I confess I waited four seasons to even start watching—okay binge-watching. There’s something about me liking a show that seems to spell out its inevitable doom.

To be blunt. If GoT wasn’t going to stick around for the long haul, I didn’t want to get too attached.

***Sorry about ‘Firefly,’ btw…

Also, some spoilers ahead for those who keep reading. For everyone else? Feel free to continue day-drinking…

What Game of Thrones Did RIGHT

Go Big, or Go HOME

The single largest problem I see in new novels is the author thinks too small. Superlative fiction is regular life amplified. The more terrible the odds, the higher the stakes, the more hopeless it all feels, the deeper a story hooks the audience.

All the best stories go BIG (literally or metaphorically). There is so much on the line, we cannot help but keep turning pages/watching episodes because we HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

Humans long for catharsis. The slower and more intense the build up, the better the payoff.

***At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Once hooked, we become so immersed that an intense story experience is the closest we’ll get to astral projection (without years of training or psychotropic drugs).

When it came to going BIG? Game of Thrones set the ‘vastness’ bar so high it made Lord of the Rings seem like a Prius parked next to a Monster Truck.

Suffice to say that, over the past seven seasons, Game of Thrones set our expectations somewhere in the upper stratosphere.

Everything was over the top from the story to set design and film locations, and on and on. The story was boundless, complex, and sometimes infuriatingly detailed.

Also, this last season took over two years to release. Suffice to say we were primed and ready for the promised payoff (more on this later).

Bad Decisions Birth Great Stories

Game of Thrones, Paging Dr. Phil…

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Next on the list? Bad decisions. Game of Thrones contained so many bad decisions, it was like seeing what would happen if every supermax prison documentary made babies with all twenty-seven seasons of Jerry Springer.

I think this is what intrigued me so much.

I know many people hated GoT (or refused to watch it) because there’s every sort of debauchery, violence, perversion, and more perversion. Did I mention debauchery?

Trust me, I get it. I finished the series far faster, namely because I used a LOT of the three-arrow feature in my controller.

Okay, yes loads of sex and more sex and weird and weirder sex. Got it. Can we get back to the intrigue and back-stabbing?

Yet, to me, this is what made Game of Thrones biblical in proportions and dimension. I can only speak from my own faith perspective but, seriously.

Game of Thrones was like watching the Old Testament…only with dragons.

Granted there’s honor, family, loyalty, justice and a profound longing for order in a chaotic and cruel world. Humans aren’t all bad all the time.

We mean well.

Alas, Game of Thrones then served these noble intentions alongside heaping portions of power-grabbing, corruption, misogyny, misandry, subversion, false prophets (or not), zealots, revenge, insanity, racism, eunuchs, classism, incest—takes breath—resurrection, false gods, evil generals, prodigal sons, bastards, executions, rebellions, ambushes, demonic creatures, necromancy and….

Meh. Y’all get the point.

Art Revealed in Efficiency

Game of Thrones & Chekov’s Prophecies

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Game of Thrones did this incredible job of using…pretty much everything. Before you shout me down, I know they could have done this better but that is for later in the post.

Yet, by and large we (the audience) HAD to pay attention.

Snippets of dialogue, a camera lingering on a book, a glance, the casually mentioned name of a sword, etc. all played a part in the story.

I learned early on to a) take nothing for granted and b) if you think you figured it out? Guess again and c) don’t get too attached to anyone…not even pets.

Prophecy, in my POV, served as the hub for much of the suspense. Everyone had their own idea of HOW the prophecy would be fulfilled, each faction creating their own spoke.

Perhaps this was the wheel that Dany insisted be broken?

There was a tremendous amount of misdirection—which is great—but misdirection can be a double-edged sword.

As a fan, we’ve all tried to figure out how everything would play out.

Some fans wanted this…

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

The rest of us knew George R.R. Martin and his reputation for dangling a glimmer of hope that our favorite character(s) would live…then tossing them into a literary tree mulcher.

All of this to say that Game of Thrones did an amazing job of keeping us guessing. Short of a tinfoil hat and a wall covered in pictures and red string? I had plenty of guesses myself.

Great stories should use everything. Setting, dialogue, speculation, props all have a job. Nothing should live in our stories rent-free. The trick, however, is to misdirect the audience about how much weight each of these carry.

The greatest compliment an author can ever receive is, “I never saw that coming” followed by “How did I never see that coming?”

What Game of Thrones Did WRONG

Expectations and Reality

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Anger is the emotion we experience when our reality fails to meet our expectations. The greater the distance, the hotter the rage.

Ironically, what GoT did right in the beginning is directly responsible for why so many fans are now seeing red.

Early on, GoT held as true to George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire as was possible in the visual medium. I’d only read the first two books, but even I was seriously impressed.

Unfortunately, this grew problematic when the HBO series caught up to the book series far more quickly than George R.R. Martin anticipated. Because Martin hadn’t finished the final books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, HBO had a problem.

There was no way to convey the same level of complexity from the previous seasons that had been based off the published books.

This is why we start seeing deviations around Season 6.

Martin could only offer broad strokes of the various ways he’d intended for every through-line to play out and for the series to end…but that was all.

HBO had to then use the pieces on the board and refashion a satisfactory ending from what they had. #SuckedToBeThem

HBO had already SET the operational tempo for this story. Over time, people either got bored (not fans) or we learned to adapt, enjoy, and even revel in the slow torture (TRUE fans).

Sure, we all moaned and complained, but it didn’t mean we didn’t LOVE to suffer and commiserate about our collective pain.

***Dallas Cowboys fans know this feeling all too well.

Pacing and Plot Puppets

Characters, Like Chess, Have ‘RULES’

Is it possible for a character to do something utterly ‘out of character?’ Sure! Good storytellers create characters who surprise us. If the audience knows exactly what the characters would and would not do, there’s no magic.

This said, having characters shock us is colossally different from a character going completely off the rails and doing a thing because we (the writer) NEED them to.

Plots—notably plots like Game of Thrones—are a giant chess game. There are innumerable variables, outcomes, wins and losses that can be chalked up to strategy (good or bad), fatigue, impatience or even simply not seeing a threat.

A game of chess is only a game of chess because of the pieces on the board. Same in fiction. Plot means nothing without the characters on the field. Story is always made better because each character possesses certain constraints in every scene (move).

In chess, just because we’re losing a match doesn’t mean pieces can suddenly start moving any way we want them to. We can’t move a rook like a knight simply because we want to speed up the game and ‘win.’

That’s cheating.

Storytelling is very similar. When characters start rushing and acting in ways that haven’t been foreshadowed simply because the writers NEED them to do X, Y, and Z…it’s cheating.

There are very good reasons fans are screaming ‘FOUL!’

Red Herrings & White Walkers

Game of Throne…OF LIES!

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Game of Thrones was released in 2011. Pretty sure if there is a GLOBAL following EIGHT YEARS LATER, we would have been okay with slowing the hell down.

Yes, as writers we want to mess with the audiences’ minds, step on their expectations. They will hate us, but also love us for it.

But, there’s a line we shouldn’t cross unless we’re ready for some righteous blowback.

As far as I’m concerned, the HBO ending is only mildly better than if Brandon Stark had bolted up in bed, sweaty….realizing it was all a bad dream.

We have been groomed for eight years to BELIEVE the Night King and his White Walkers posed a serious threat.

Part of why I found myself railing at the heavens had to do with all the petty fighting about who was going to be king or queen or duke or earl of whatever when there was definitive PROOF there were ICE ZOMBIES.

Why I gave it a pass? It is SO human nature. Though maddening, it WORKED. Humans have a loooong reputation of sucking at priorities whenever a crown, a throne, money, revenge, or free Animal Fries are on the line and there to distract us from stuff that matters.

I have no doubts that if an asteroid is going to strike Earth, if it happens on Black Friday, Walmart will STILL erupt in fist fights over who scores the last flat-screen.

So the infighting over the World’s Most Uncomfortable Chair, while ludicrous, made sense in a pathetic way.

Humans are masters of idiotic compartmentalization.

But building up this terrifying enemy just to…and then the waiting TWO years for…..

*weeps* WHYYYYY?

Winter is Coming…JUST KIDDING!

How many memes, t-shirts, mugs all sported the famous saying, ‘Winter is Coming’? If you even read the first few chapters of the books, you get the impression that winter in this ‘world’ is a threat alone (White Walkers or not).

The entire push to secure the Iron Throne and thus stabilize the seven realms (at least early) largely had to do with the fact that winter lasts a LONG FRIGGIN’ TIME.

So the seven-year winter (possibly longer) was declared and thus presumed imminent.

***Vaguely recalling snowflakes dropping in Season 3? Or maybe that was last night.

#CalmDown #GenXJokes

But winter NEVER COMES. Well, sort of. More like a Texas winter. All smoke, ashes and fire one day, snow the next, but PICNIC weather by the weekend.

One might have even intimated the ‘Winter is Coming’ to be metaphorical. But again, the Night King and his armies melted faster than an Amarillo blizzard.

Here’s a tip. DON’T make a HUGE deal out of something to simply drop it. This ticks us OFF. Conversely, don’t almost completely IGNORE something then POOF!

Here’s your ENDING!

There WERE Simple Fixes

Game of Thrones & Resting Bran Face

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

I can appreciate that HBO was in between a rock and an Iron Throne, but slowing down and adding a couple more episodes likely could have at least tempered our outrage.

In the span of a couple more episodes, the writers could have:

a) Made the battle against the White Walkers more than the single largest disappointment since New Coke.

b) Ratcheted the ‘end of the world’ feeling that WOULD entice characters make utterly STUPID decisions.

I’m looking at you, Jaime Lannister.

c) With heightened doom—losses against the Walkers and weather, Cersei refusing to render aid, and the sheer emotional stress that Dany was failing those she’d promised to save—Dany’s final acts of madness would have felt far more organic.

Her zealotry could have grown from subtle (which they already HAD) but then her fanaticism would’ve had a bit more time to bloom in proportion with the threat.

If she believes she’s the ‘messiah,’ the more people die, the more irrational she’d become (contrary to a resounding and relatively easy victory).

With a growing power of White Walkers heading south, along with really bad winter weather that would have limited any advantage the dragons offered, that is a LOT of pressure.

Combine this with losing all her dragons but one…only to have Jon Snow friend-zone her?

I could see someone finally snapping.

She wouldn’t be the first female to set things on fire after a nasty breakup.


We wouldn’t have LIKED her mad rampage, but we would’ve understood/accepted it more easily than the writers turning Dany into Ani Skywalker on a dragon.

d) Finally, with more TIME, the writers could have reintroduced the all-but-forgotten Brandon Stark into the main storyline…as opposed to leaving him some Fur-Lined Macguffin Recliner in the background (to help hide the Starbuck’s cup and water bottle).

Face it, we already had SO many theories of how this would end that adding in Brandon Stark as another contender likely wouldn’t have swayed us much from our own deeply entrenched pet theories.

In the End

Humans are Never Happy

George R.R. Martin is and will always be a genius in my book (as if he cares, but I said it). This post has nothing to do with his writing or storytelling abilities or any lack thereof.

*prostrates shamelessly*

Once HBO did its job a tad too well—Game of Thrones catching up to the published books—they had a real problem. Noted.

***HBO you did a brilliant, brilliant job…mostly.

But, I believe the biggest mistake HBO made—in truth—was they seriously underestimated their fans.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I would’ve rather had a couple more episodes or an unexpected additional season than the rush job that made me want to rend my Mother of Dragons tees and replace them with sackcloth better for rolling in ashes.

Fans Can Be Forgiving if We TRUST Them

We as authors must remember that audiences can be very forgiving if we permit room for them to readjust.

Want to speed up the pacing? Slowly accelerate. Need to floor it? Then give us a Night King or an incoming Ice Age or at least a solid reason for sudden madness, weird left turns, irrational choices and ridiculously bad judgement.

Stuff just happening because it HAS to? It pisses us (audience) off and stories—whether this is fair or unfair—are almost always remembered by how they END.

Keep that in mind ūüėČ .

Anyway, playing armchair editor/writer is always an easy thing to do. But I hope this blog—whether you watched Game of Thrones or not—can offer valuable lessons to make your own writing better.

Study what HBO did brilliantly, but also be willing to dissect what backfired and why and how to get around those pitfalls.

Your fans will thank you.

***Oh and HBO. If this happens again? Call me. Seriously.

Playing Game of Groans…

What are your thoughts?

Other than the folks who never watched it. I get it and appreciate why. Maybe you have other series that made similar mistakes you could share?

Also, I know I don’t have a PhD in GoT like many of you, but what are your thoughts on the storytelling? I want to hear your opinions!

What did you love? Hate? Miss? Can you think of other ways HBO could have avoided rushing our series off a cliff?

Thanks for playing, and now a mention of what funds the time for me to tear apart all the stories you love to use for Gross Anatomy Fiction Edition.

On Demand Classes: LAST CHANCE!

Ready for summer school? Come on! You can even go buy a NEW notebook.

*wiggles new pencils in front of your noses*

A final note these ON DEMAND classes on CRAFT and BRANDING are about to be removed from the server (and possibly not offered again).

All these classes ran long (closer to three hours) so they’re all a bargain…delivered right to you to enjoy at your leisure.

***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

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On Demand Story Master: From Dream to Done (A.K.A. Fast-Drafting 101) 

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On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

Which is more important? Plot or character? To write great fiction, we need both. Plot and characters work together. One arc drives the other much like one cog serves to turn another, thus generating momentum in the overall engine we call “STORY.” Writers have a unique challenge. On one hand we need a rock solid plot and (ironically) the best people to execute this solid plot? Flawed characters.

If we goof up plot? Readers/Audiences get confused or call FOUL. Watch the movie Ouija for what I am talking about *shakes head*.

Goof up characters? No one cares about the plot.

New writers are particularly vulnerable to messing up characters. We drift too far to one end of the spectrum or the other—Super-Duper-Perfect versus Too Dumb to Live—and this can make a story fizzle because there is no way to create true dramatic tension.

This leaves us (the frustrated author) to manufacture conflict and what we end up with is drama’s inbred cousin¬†melodrama.¬†

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

If characters are too perfect, too goody-goody and too well-adjusted? If they always make noble, good and professional decisions? Snooze fest.

Again. Bad decisions make great fiction.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more booksOf course, the other side of that is what I call¬†The Gilligan Effect.¬†Yes, I am dating myself here and I apologize if I upset any DIE-HARD Gilligan’s Island¬†fans, but I remember being a kid and this show nearly giving me an aneurism (being the highly logical child I was).

After the third time Gilligan botched up the escape off the island? Kristen would have gone¬†Lord of the Flies and Piggy Gilligan would have mysteriously gone “missing.”

I also recall how the stranded party could make everything out of coconuts except a freaking BOAT, and the only reason I kept watching was because it was better than being locked outside to play in heat that shifted asphalt to a plasma state.

Yay, Texas summers!

Yet, I’ve read books with characters that make Gilligan look like a rocket scientist…then been compelled to hurl the book across the room.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books
This is me after reading certain books *stabbing self*

Flawed vs. Too Dumb to Live

Today we are going to talk about how we can make characters flawed without crossing over into TDTL (Too Dumb To Live) Territory. This commercial never gets old *giggles*

Let’s hide behind the CHAINSAWS!!!!¬†*clutches sides*. Or this one about gals tripping too many times in horror movies. BWA HA HA HA HA HA!

Okay, I’m back *giggles*.

Great stories are filled with characters making bad decisions, and when this is done well, we often don’t really notice it beyond the winding tension in our stomach, the clenching that can only be remedied by pressing forward and seeing if it works out okay.

When characters are properly flawed, the audience remains captured in the fictive dream.

When we (the writer) goof up? The fictive dream is shattered. The audience is no longer part of the world because they’re too busy fuming that anyone could be that stupid. They also now cease to care about the character because, like Gilligan? They kind of want said TDTL character to die.

If this is our protagonist? Extra bad. Our protagonist should make mistakes, just not ones so egregious the reader stops rooting for him/her.

Bad Decisions Birthed from The Flaw

When we create a protagonist, we should remember that all strengths have a complimentary weakness. If a character has never been tested by fire, the protagonist is blind to the weakness.

For instance, great leaders can be control freaks. Loyal people can be overly naive. Compassionate people can be unrealistic. Y’all get the idea.

This dual nature of human strength paired with fallibility is why plot is just as critical.

Plot as Crucible

The plot is the crucible that tests the mettle and reveals and fires out the flaw. The strength ultimately will have to be stronger than the weakness because this is how the protagonist will grow to become a hero by story’s end.

A great example of this is one of my favorite movies,¬†The Edge.¬†Anthony Hopkins plays billionaire Charles Morse. Charles is extremely successful and very much in his own head. Though he’s a genius, he lives the sheltered existence of the uber-wealthy.

What happens when all that “head-knowledge” is what he needs to survive a plane crash in the unforgiving wilderness?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

When the plane crashes and he and the other two survivors make it to shore, Morse does the right thing. He knows they need to get dry before they all die from hypothermia. He also realizes Stephen, the photographer, is in full panic.

What is the intelligent thing to do? Put the photographer to work doing something fruitful to take his mind off his fear.

Bright (Bad) Idea Fairy

The problem, however, is Morse assumes the photographer has the same knowledge-base and doesn’t take time to show Stephen how to use a knife properly and the man is badly injured as a result. Now we’ve already had a problem (plane crash) and now we have a complication (bad injury) and then it gets worse.

Morse, again, being an in-his-own-head-guy and unaccustomed to having to communicate WHY he wants certain things done, tells Robert Green to bury the blood-soaked fabric.

Green is jealous of Morse and rebellious and instead of following instructions and burying the material? He hangs the blood-soaked rags from a tree where an incoming storm whips up the scent of a newly opened All You Can Eat City People Buffet.

Soon, the men are being hunted by an apex predator with the munchies for humans.

***Side note here. Look at the genius in the choice of character names. Morse, a cryptic person who must unravel the “code” of his situation and realize the bear is actually the (MUCH) lesser threat. Green, the man who envies to such a degree it drives him to plot a murder. Stephen is the first to die. “Stephen” was also the first Christian martyr, the first innocent to die for the greater cause—salvation.


Back to FLAWS

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more booksBut all of this was birthed from a myriad of flaws. Morse failing to communicate and assuming his comrades are operating with the same head knowledge (because he’s never had to use this type of information in a real-world way).

As a billionaire, Morse has never been required to explain himself before. He doesn’t understand that this might be a good time to START.

Additionally, the two photographers are city people who don’t have the training/understanding to know 1) NOT to drag a knife toward¬†the body and 2) that the smallest scent of blood will draw predators. BIG ONES.

These men are used to the “civilized world.”¬† When thrust into the wild, they make a critical error. They fail to properly appreciate that their position at the top of the food chain has drastically shifted.

Only ONE member of our stranded coterie gets that they’ve suddenly gone from ordering OFF menus to being ON the menu #DailySpecial #MarketPrice #JokesInPoorTaste…

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Bad Decisions Depend on Circumstances

Sometimes characters will make bad decisions simply because this is a completely new world or a set of circumstances they’ve never faced, thus have no way to fully appreciate. The “bad” decision was not a “bad decision” before the adventure.

A good example? Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings.¬†In the Shire, people talk and are sociable. These naive characters haven’t yet felt the consequences of this new and dangerous world.

To them? Chatting away and freely sharing information at The Prancing Pony is NOT a bad decision in their minds. Neither is frying bacon on top of a mountain.

They’ve always lived a life that if they were in a pub? They drank and made friends. If they wanted bacon? They just made bacon. They’ve never had to think beyond their mood or stomachs. The Hobbits don’t have the experiential base to grasp that fire is a “Come and Kill Me” beacon.

Bad Decisions & The Wound

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

We’ve talked about The Wound¬†in other posts. In¬†Thelma & Louise what is the wound? A lifetime of male oppression. In Thelma’s case, her husband controls every aspect of her life.

Thus, when she finally does get on her own, she has poor judgement and is naive and that’s how she nearly ends up raped in a honky-tonk parking lot.

Louise has been a victim (shamed and alone) and doesn’t trust men or the law. Thus, her baggage is what leads her to shoot Thelma’s attacker, but then also dovetails into the really, really bad decision to run.

But if we look at all these examples from an analytical distance, these characters are just DUMB. But why aren’t they TDTL?¬†Context.¬†Because of¬†plot¬†we (the audience) are not staring down at them like specimens through a microscope. We empathize with “bad” decisions. Why? Because there’s context (their world).

Making “Stupid” Forgivable

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

Great writing is a sort of alchemy that transforms the raw material of “stupid” into the literary gold we recognize as “damaged,” “broken,” and/or “naive”—which we have ALL been at one time or another.

This hits us in the feels. We relate, connect, and BOND with the characters because we’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it.

In The Edge,¬†“bad” decisions are forgivable because most of us are not wilderness experts. Readers can empathize with maybe doing something seriously stupid if stranded in a similar fashion.

In The Lord of the Rings¬†we, the audience, have “been” to the Shire—and know what world created the childlike Merry and Pippin. Thus, we appreciate these characters are grossly out of their depth and give them a pass.

In¬†Thelma & Louise we can understand how damaged people make poor decisions because, unless we’ve been living under a rock, we’ve made similar choices, and suffered consequences created from fear not reason.

What this means is that, while ALL of these characters made really wrong decisions, they are necessary and pardonable decisions that serve to drive the character arc and thus the plot’s momentum.

That is the final note on characters making bad decisions.

Plot Puppets

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

Do we have a character making a mistake, withholding vital information, acting irrationally because it is coming from a deeper place of flaws, circumstance or wounds?

Or, do we have a character playing marionette? Characters are making a mistakes because we NEED them to. The tension has fizzled, so let’s just let them do something epically stupid (and random)?

Audiences can tell the difference between mistakes that are organic and flow from deeper emotional waters versus something contrived. And we can ALL be guilty of forcing characters to make bad choices simply because we sense tension is missing. Even I have to go back and ask the tough question…WHY is this character doing this?

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts regarding characters making poor decisions? What are some of your favorite examples? Ever quit a book, movie, or show because you wanted everyone to DIE? What are some great examples of characters who you should hate, but you forgive? Why? Can you think of what activated empathy instead of disdain?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

FYI: I‚Äôm AM loading new classes. They‚Äôll be up next post. I know I said that last time, but whatever. I lied ūüėõ . We had massive flooding in Texas last week and I’ve had other priorities.

And, since I’m a writer who understands writing can be a real mother…

And am also mother who can appreciate being too worn out to properly celebrate any holiday (even one dedicated to ourselves), I am extending the Mother’s Day discount until Wednesday. Use the code MOM15 for $15 off all ON DEMAND CLASSES.

This is a REAL DEAL

Because a lot of these classes went long and, once I delete from the server, they will be either priced higher when I offer them again OR they’ll be broken into two classes. This means you’ll be saving a LOT by scooping up these classes now.

You will ALSO be helping ME out more than you can imagine. Though my blog is always a labor of love, your patronage is what permits me the time write these posts. I couldn’t do it without you. So…


***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

On Demand for a limited time. Watch all you like from comfort of home. $55

On Demand Story Master: From Dream to Done (A.K.A. Fast-Drafting 101) 

Yes, you can write a book in two weeks. I’ve done it using what I teach in here. On Demand for a limited time. $55 for basic/$349 for GOLD

On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

On Demand for a limited time. $55 Basic/$165 for GOLD


bad people, Kristen Lamb, unlikable characters, storytelling, writing a novel, characters

Bad people make better stories. Why? Because I cannot say this enough, ‘Fiction is about one thing and one thing only—PROBLEMS.’

Who better to create a lot of problems than damaged, broken, unlikable, foolish and possibly even unredeemable human beings?

***I use the term ‘human beings’ for all characters because aliens, otherworldly beings, and any ‘thinking’ creature will possess anthropomorphic (human-like) qualities.

So why do ‘bad people’ make better stories?

Perfect people, first of all, are unicorns and don’t exist. Secondly, they are boring.¬†Thirdly, we can’t relate to them because we aren’t unicorns (just deluded we are ūüėõ ).

What’s the story killer with perfect people? To be blunt, these characters have nowhere to grow. Since ‘perfect people’ handle every crisis with a level head and can be trusted to always do the right thing, the reader won’t ever worry.

If the reader never worries, guess what kiddies?¬† You don’t have a story, you have a lot of words.

Villains are a whole other post. So is the Big Boss Troublemaker (our core antagonist responsible for creating the overall story PROBLEM).

Today, what I want to address is HOW to roughen up our MC and supporting cast in ways that will ratchet tension and drive the character arcs of everyone around.

We need a change agent who will turn pages, without turning off readers.

***Please keep in mind, it is impossible to write a story everyone will love. Knowing this, get in and get dirty.

Bad for the Sake of Bad

One of the most common mistakes newbie authors make is that they lack the confidence to make any character (who isn’t the villain) flawed at all. From the perfect hair to the perfect outfit, these literary paper dolls do all the right things.

After enough rejection or feedback from critique partners, the emerging writer might start realizing that perfect equals dull.

What then happens is they can go to the other extreme and overcompensate. They create a character so abrasive and awful, readers can’t root for them. Always remember, that artists don’t craft a bad character solely to be bad.

Every character—even a ‘bad’ one—serves a purpose.

There are going to be some possible spoilers in this post, but I’ll work hard to maneuver around that. Usually I strive for older movies and series, but after almost two thousand blogs, I need fresher examples.

‘Bad People’ Make Great Mirrors

Kristen Lamb, broken people, Netflix, Bird Box, unlikable characters
John Malkovich in the Netflix original movie, ‘Bird Box.’

I read Josh Malerman’s novel ‘Bird Box’ and also watched the Netflix original movie. Both versions are excellent. The movie did a fabulous job (which is pretty remarkable in and of itself).

Even though the movie is very different from the book, it did a great job of maintaining the core idea.

***In this post, I’ll refer mostly to the movie version for simplicity.

I mention Bird Box because Douglas was one of my favorite characters. When chaos is unleashed and the world is very literally ending, our MC Malorie has no choice but to take shelter with a group of strangers or die.

Douglas is one of the founding members of this group, and he is not happy to add the very pregnant Malorie to their numbers.

Douglas is rude, selfish, acerbic, and blunt and one of my favorite characters because he is precisely what Malorie needs if she has any hope to survive and evolve. He’s a mirror.

What do mirrors do?

Mirrors show us what IS, not what we want.

When I look in a mirror, I’d love to see a hot babe with six-pack abs, the legs of a dancer, hair that rivals and an anime character…and flawless, wrinkle-free skin. But this is delusion, not reality.

A mirror shows me what IS. It shows me what’s good—that outfit is BANGIN’! But, it also shows me what I need to work on—maybe lay off the carbs. Ultimately, it shows me what I need to learn to accept and embrace—smile lines are a privilege denied to many.

Douglas minces no words. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is…a mean bastard who expects the worst and is usually right. Though it isn’t nice to say, Malorie IS soft (in more ways than being pregnant).

She’s been coddled by a modern world she took for granted. Malorie expected her sister to always be there, for her to simply have a doctor and hospital to give birth to a baby she doesn’t want. She’s transitioning into a world where a two-mile trip to get groceries costs lives.

Douglas shows her a new reality she must see if she has any hopes of living longer than a week.

To paraphrase Douglas, there are two kinds of people—@$$holes and the dead. The reason we ‘like’ him is he isn’t wrong. Civility is of zero value when civilization has collapsed.

Douglas also demonstrates a really painful truth.

Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend.

Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

While Douglas is ‘mean,’ he’s so much more than that. He’s a pragmatist, a survivor. According to Douglas it makes no sense to take in every person who begs for shelter, not in a world with limited resources.

It also makes sense to be extremely wary of WHO is allowed into their inner circle. Sometimes you have to make the hard choices for the greater good even if that means leaving a stranger outside to possibly die.

***Time will prove out how right he is.

If the goal is to survive when all hell breaks loose, then choose the party wisely. They no longer have the luxury of making bad choices, and not everyone is who they claim to be.

Douglas is very forthright and honest about who and what he is. He makes no pretense that he’s a miserable S.O.B. Yet, this is a quality that I found endearing.

When lives are at stake, truth is the most precious currency, even if it stinks.

‘Bad People’ Drive Change

Douglas minces no words about how he feels about Malorie. She is blind long before the blindfolds. She’s weak, soft and a liability. Mirrors show us what’s wrong, what we need to fix. Is our fly down? Do we have the back of our skirt tucked in our underwear?

Is there a giant glob of spinach between our teeth? Has a pigeon pooped in our hair and no one has told us because they ‘didn’t want to embarrass us’?

The mirror might show a lot of what we don’t LIKE, but it offers us the clearest vision of what must change. The same goes for our MC (and all characters if we do our job properly).

In¬†Bird Box, Malorie has to toughen up emotionally and physically to make it through. Yet, at the same time, one of the reasons she doesn’t like Douglas is because he reminds her of her father.

She doesn’t want to be like her father so she’s dismissed any quality her father possessed as ‘bad’ and ‘unwanted.’ The story will show her that the qualities she hated in her father (and in Douglas) are the very attributes that will ensure her survival.

Ah, but what she will ALSO learn (arc) is there is a time and a place for these ‘negative’ qualities.

Before the end of the world, Malorie’s dad irreparably damaged his marriage, family, and his two daughters. Even Douglas admits his personality flaws and his drinking cost him two marriages and any meaningful friendships.

What Malorie learns is to not summarily dismiss these attributes as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because these qualities have a time and a place.

When she’s fighting for survival, she can’t afford to be soft. Paranoia, ‘cruelty,’ emotional distance and a sociopathic level of compartmentalization keep her and those she cares about alive. But, once the storm has passed, the need for these ‘bad’ attributes fades away.

There’s a time to trade the plow for the sword and vice versa.

Should Malorie make it to safety with those in her care and FAIL to put away her father and Douglas’s attitudes and approaches? She’ll be alive, but won’t have a life.

Crafting ‘Bad People’¬†

Sometimes, as we just discussed, a character might be ‘bad’ to force change in our MC. What makes Douglas such a fantastic example is that, as awful as he can be? He makes sense. We (readers) can see that he makes very good points.

If they take in too many people, they will starve or increase odds of dying because they’ll have to venture out to resupply more frequently, etc.

When it comes to your story, how can we use ‘bad people’ to strengthen the MC?

What is your MC’s greatest fear? Her greatest shame? What does your MC believe is true, which is, in fact, a lie? A lie that is holding that character back from actualization?

For this, we’ll look to the Netflix series¬†Stranger Things.

¬†If you haven’t seen the series, I strongly recommend it because it’s one of the best examples of superlative storytelling and complex characters I’ve ever seen. I will work diligently not to spoil anything.

In¬†Stranger Things the focus isn’t solely on the lead MC. The party is the protagonist (much like¬†Joy Luck Club, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lord of the Rings,¬†etc.) and if the party fails, then so will the ‘MC’ Eleven, a.k.a. ‘El.’

What gives SO much depth and texture to this series is the complexity, the interlocking of all the supporting players. In the first season, one of the most interesting characters isn’t even (yet) part of the group of heroes.

Steve Harrington is the ‘popular kid’ trope from every 80s ‘Coming of Age’ movie. He has the great hair, the designer clothes, and drives a Mercedes. He’s a top jock from an upper middle class family surrounded by the standard superficial cronies we’ve seen in countless movies.

Steve is the CLASSIC rich @$$hole.

He’s self-centered, shallow and, ironically…he became one of my favorite characters.

It’s the story problem in Season One that makes him realize he’s shallow and that he’s surrounded himself with counterfeit friends (who are also miserable people). He has to choose between the keeping old him (popular Steve) or let go of that life and pursue Nancy.

Nancy isn’t vapid arm candy like all the other girls he’s dated. When facing the enemy, Steve finally realizes he wants more. The struggle offers clarity about who he’s willing to fight for, and he also learns what true friendship really is.

The transformation in Steve Harrington is nothing short of miraculous.

In Season Two, there was a different challenge.

Steve had changed…but not enough. He HAD to grow even more if the group had any hope of surviving Round Two with the enemy.

Steve’s greatest fear is being a nobody and his shame is that deep down, he really believes he has nothing of substance to offer. In Season One, the story problem forced him to see how he used his popularity, money and status as armor.

But what happens when all THAT is stripped away, too? When he can’t rely on being Mr. Cool to keep Nancy? How does he respond to being treated the way he treated others in Season One?

What does Steve DO when HE is the object of ridicule?

Steve can’t ‘level up’ unless he willingly lets go of the ‘old self.’ But, like most of us, Steve isn’t aware of the ‘old self’ and even if he is, it’s comfortable so he’s unlikely to give it up easily.

It will have to be STRIPPED away.

No better way to do this than to bring in a replacement. When the explosive Billy Hargrove screams into the school parking lot in his new Camaro—easily stepping in as the high school’s new Alpha male—Steve undergoes a personal extinction.

Billy Hargrove ‘Stranger Things’ Season Two.

Not only does he see who he used to be—and have to make peace with that shame—but he also sees what he is not. He’s no longer the strongest, the best, the baddest. This forces him to make hard choices.

‘Bad People’ Force the HARD Choices

Will Steve dedicate himself to fighting to regain the old, or will he evolve to something better? When he’s kicked in the confidence, can he find a better source of courage than great hair and status?

Without the almost sociopathic Billy Hargrove’s influence, it is fairly obvious Steve wouldn’t have a hard enough push required for meaningful change. Steve cannot hope to survive the story problem—the REAL PROBLEM—if he continues to care about that which doesn’t matter.

Billy is a VILE human being (though not without his own baggage and dimension I’m sure we’ll see in Season 3). He’s over the top in everything—his car, hair, clothes, sexuality, and especially his temper (RAGE).

But, Billy HAD to be virtually irredeemable for Steve to even see the message let alone ‘get’ it. Billy strips away Steve’s armor and this means Steve has to become stronger in who he is. If his insides are iron, he won’t need the external protection that can be so easily taken away.

In the End

‘Bad people’ make for amazing stories, and this goes for the MC too. If our characters don’t have flaws, weakness, blind spots, and shame, then they’re not ‘real.’ Readers connect with weakness, not strength.

We know pride, envy, fear, estrangement, insecurity, vulnerability, and anger. We’ve all been poseurs, pretenders, and done and said things we wish we hadn’t.

In your story, just make sure these ‘negative’ attributes serve a purpose.

Nothing lives in a great story rent-free.

‘Bad people’ don’t have to arc if they’re not the MC (or part of the protagonist party). Billy is a character that they ‘could’ kill off in Episode One of Season Three. It would be okay because he did his job in Season Two—he forced Steve’s character arc.

I hope they don’t do this because he’s too good of a character to waste. Also, there’s no better story than a redemption story. But, truth be told, it won’t harm the overall story if Billy isn’t in this narrative for the long haul.

It didn’t hurt in the movie¬†Bird Box. Douglas didn’t evolve because he wasn’t supposed to. His¬†purpose was solely to change Malorie.

On the other hand if your ‘bad person’ IS your MC or a major player (part of the group protagonist), then there will have to be something sympathetic/redeemable among all the grit.

We spend most of Season Two loathing Billy Hargrove, but there’s ONE scene that maybe could change some minds about why he’s the way he is and possibly who he could become (good or bad) in the future.

BUT, we’ll have to wait and see.

Suffice to say, all people are ‘bad people.’ Unless we’re a psychopath, we are all very well aware of where we fall short. Most of us struggle with habits, weaknesses and have a laundry list of what we’d like to change, remove or improve.

As authors, when we roughen up our characters, these flaws generate resonance. Personality collisions create the tension that drives the story and forces change in all the players.

Shiny and perfect is all right, but people pay fortunes for items with wear, that are ‘distressed.’ The dings, nicks, and stains show they’ve been through some stuff, have some stories to tell.

Their’ damage’ and ‘wear’ makes them all the more interesting…and valuable. So be bold and go do some damage! Bad people make better stories. If you need some more instruction on HOW to do this…


I have some fabulous classes for sale ON DEMAND ($15 off until midnight MONDAY May 13th). Delivered right to you to enjoy over and over on your computer (pants not required).

To celebrate Mother’s Day, use the code MOM15 for $15 off all ON DEMAND CLASSES. So if you are a mother or have a mother or just appreciate that writing can be a real mother *&^%$ use the code.

These classes won’t be offered again and I’m putting them on sale before deleting them from the hard drive to make room for the new. One of the reasons is these classes started running closer to three hours instead of two because there is so much new material. This means I need to split into two classes or charge more for the extra long class, so this is an EXTRA bargain.

Treat yourself!


***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.

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writing, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, how to write a novel, publishing

We all make mistakes, especially when learning anything new. Writing is not immune to process. Contrary to popular belief, writing great stories is HARD.

It takes time, devotion, training, mentorship, blood, sacrifice and the willingness to make a ton of mistakes. This means countless hours and probably years of practice (which also means writing a ton of crappy books/stories).

As I mentioned in the last post, George R.R. Martin didn’t become a legend because of his marketing abilities and mad HootSuite skills.

No, he’s a master because he’s practiced and honed raw talent until he could create a series that’s become a global phenomenon.

Kristen Lamb, writing mistakes, mistakes, writing tips

Same with J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and all the other ‘greats.’ They didn’t begin as legends. It took time, practice, and a fair share of ugly drafts and stories.

With practice, we learn what works, what doesn’t, what sizzles and what fizzles. We find, develop and mature our writing voice.

The problem I see these days is that, now that we’ve transitioned into the digital age and it’s so easy to self-publish, many writers are ‘ad-men’ before artists.

In the old publishing paradigm, writers faced rejection until they either gave up or learned how to tell better stories that audiences would pay to read. Writers made the mistakes in private before permitted onto the VERY EXCLUSIVE public stage.

Now? There are so many books flooding the market, it’s far harder to get authentic and useful feedback. Tougher to know what we’re doing wrong when the books don’t sell, no one leaves a review, or the agents keep sending form-letter rejections.

Today, I hope to address what might be wrong with stories that either we aren’t finishing or that aren’t selling (either to an agent or directly to the market).

Mistake #1: Skipping Learning HOW to Tell (Build) a Story

Kristen Lamb. mistakes, plotting, writing mistakes

A story is a structure like a bridge or a building. There is a method to the ‘madness.’ We can’t build a house, a shed, or a skyscraper without a foundation/proper framing and expect it to stand for long (if at all).

Similarly, we can’t expect a story with no internal structure to do anything but collapse.

Too many writers want to skip the dull parts of our craft, believing that if they learn structure, plotting, etc. it will make the writing formulaic (HINT: It won’t). They also assume that learning structure immediately means they have to be pure outlining plotters, which is also untrue.

I don’t give a rip how any author creates a structure so long as it’s there.

When it comes to great stories, everything is by design. It’s ALL intentional.

If Game of Thrones isn’t your cup of tea, read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Tana French’s Into the Woods, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Gillian Flynn’s¬†Gone Girl, and you’ll see that each and every one of these books possess a vastly complex structure.

These structures are not only strong enough to maintain the story integrity, but they are also deliberate in design. Each of these stories is crafted with ONE purpose—to capture readers and refuse let them go until they’ve done the full tour.

We cannot create this effect if we skip learning how this feat is accomplished. This is akin to an ‘architect’¬†winging it¬†when designing a house. Adding guest rooms here and a ballroom there, and a library would be LOVELY!

There are too many Winchester Mansion ‘Novels’ running amok.

Instead of doors that open to brick walls or stairs that lead nowhere, we have subplots that hit dead ends, characters that serve no purpose. Overall, there is no core concept that dictates design.

In the end, we’re left with an expensive novelty that only the creator can navigate without becoming hopelessly lost.

Mistake #2: Holding Too Tightly to First Book

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writing mistakes, writing, how to write, self-publishing mistakes, how to write a novel

Most first novels, even if we ARE in the process of studying and learning structure, end up being Winchester Mansion ‘Novels.’ We are LEARNING.

Yet, instead of writers letting go of the first novel, they keep doing like Mrs. Winchester and adding an orangery and another library and redecorating the sewing room.

Which is why they never finish.

With every painstaking addition the writer becomes more and more attached to their creation. It becomes increasingly more difficult for outsiders to talk them out of their madness.

In all my years fixing plots—and I have repaired hundreds of plots—I’ve only had a handful of authors finish their first novel.

In almost every case I recommended the writer let go of the first book. Shelve it. Take a new idea and we could plot together.

This way they could learn kinesthetically. I feel the best way to learn is to DO. It takes writing from the theoretical and translates it to the practical.

This tactic is far more effective because the writers aren’t as emotionally vested.

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writer mistakes, writing mistakes, writing tips

They aren’t pondering the hundreds of hours, the years and rewrites. It’s all unexplored territory, so they’re far more likely to listen, learn, do and finish. When they finish something that has flow, intention and design, then they can finally FEEL the victory.

They also—eventually—will gain the knowledge and emotional distance to return to the first novel and repair it.

Provided they still want to.

Odds are better they will see what I saw…the Winchester Mansion ‘Novel.’ Instead of trying to retrofit ballrooms and halls into a new design, they give the first novel permission to be what it was ALWAYS intended to be.

A learning experience.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Feedback

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, how to write, writing tips

It is HIGHLY unusual for an author who permits me to tear down their Winchester Mansion ‘Novel’ to actually use the new version.

Even though I work very hard to keep the core ideas the writer was most passionate about—the ideas they BEGAN with—and make them integral to the story…there is simply too much emotion.

So many snippets of dialogue, glorious sections of prose, characters I’ve cut away because they didn’t propel the story. To just leave that all behind? It can feel like a betrayal of the worst variety.

To abandon the old design for the new seems traitorous.


I worked on my own Winchester Mansion ‘Novel’ for almost six years. No matter what critique groups or editors told me, I felt they just didn’t ‘get’ my story. I braved the agent rejections and rewrote and rewrote, adding literary basements, gazebos, and indoor swimming pools.

Inside, I BELIEVED if I didn’t make that first ‘novel’ a mega-success I was a failure.

It wasn’t until I met my first mentor—who happened to be a New York Times best-selling author who’d published almost fifty novels—that I finally listened. When HE told me I had no story, I STILL argued…until I realized how ridiculous I was being.

Then, I went into depression for six months.

After that? I set aside the ‘novel’ and began to actually LEARN my craft. Writing is an artisan skill, which requires we seek the right feedback and listen. Our friends who tell us they can’t believe our novel isn’t already a movie are great encouragers (keep them, you’ll need them).

But if a critique group (a good one with successful authors) keep pointing out the same problems? If editors, beta readers, and people leaving reviews keep pointing out the same problems?

Entertain that they might have a point.

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writing mistakes, writing, publishing

Ultimately, understand that you are NOT a failure because you put the first book in a drawer and moved on. Humans are wired to learn from mistakes, from failure. It is perfectly acceptable to set a novel aside and try something fresh.

Now, if you’re making a habit of this? That’s bad and actually a red flag you need professional guidance and training. Odds are, you’re not understanding structure and the story is caving in.

I want you all to be finishers. But we can’t be finishers if we’ve set ourselves up for failure.

If we aren’t finishing, if no one is reviewing, if the book sales are lackluster, if we keep getting rejected? All good signs to dig in on training and PRACTICE.

Mistake #4: Failure to Understand What Makes a Story a STORY

As I just vividly described, too many ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. It’s why I’m liking the term writer less and less as I mature. Putting words on the page is critical, but a lot of words does not a story make. A lot of PRETTY words does not a story make.

Fiction is about one thing and one thing only…PROBLEMS.

To be more specific, a novel is about ONE BIG PROBLEM that will be solved by the end of the book…and not easily.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance. Be cruel to EVERYONE. If your MC loves something, take it away…then step on it. Smash hopes and dreams and everything they believed to be true.

Every single break they get better be earned with blood. Any new information better COST something.

There need to be stakes—shattering stakes—if the MC fails. Oh, and by the way? They don’t have forever to solve the problem. There’s a ticking clock because we are aging here and COULD be watching Netflix instead.

Stories are FLAWED people making bad choices until the CORE STORY PROBLEM forces them to see their faults, evolve and thus make better choices until they WIN, FAIL or DIE or maybe even ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Great stories are exotic torture devices a reader can escape only ONE WAY. The reader must finish the story to find the key that opens the cage we’ve locked them in.

Yeah, writers are sadists.

Mistakes are crucial when learning how to tell stories, because we’re learning ways of building better traps. Yet, these are the good mistakes, the mistakes that come with trial, error, improvement and innovation.

The fatal mistake?

Failing to understand the PURPOSE of a story. What does a story DO? Sure, stories entertain. But the good ones are clever traps that will torment the poor reader, make them scream and cry and rail and beg and walk out breathless at 4:00 a.m. on a work day…cursing our names.

What’s better?

The reader will be so high from the experience, she won’t be able to stop talking about it and telling everyone who will listen. The reader will wait in agonizing expectation for the next chance the author offers another opportunity to be trapped and tortured all over again.

No one evangelizes a book simply because they got it for .99. It won’t matter how many free books we give them or how fancy the marketing. If there’s no trap, no torment? No one cares.

Want to be a good trap-maker? Study traps.

Read a crap ton of books and DOG-EAR them. Yes, I am a monster because that is what good writers are. We are sociopathic, sadistic, masters of torment (but readers are masochists, so it works).

We choreograph torment that leads to the catharsis…the blissful release and euphoria!

***Yes, even the sweet ‘Hallmark’ romances torment readers if they’re well-written. Will guy and gal get together? Can the family overcome their petty fighting in time to do the traditional Christmas Eve sleigh ride one last time before they are forced to sell the farmhouse?

I dog-ear, color, underline and scribble on all books I read, then pull the story apart. How did it hook me? When did it hook me? What did the author DO? How did he or she pull a fast one on me? Can I duplicate that or do a variation? Is it possible to do it even BETTER?

Mistake #5: Breaking the Rules Before KNOWING the Rules

As I mentioned earlier, too many writers believe if they read craft books, take classes, study, learn plot, etc. that the writing will be ‘formulaic.’ All stories have a formula (noun), but not all stories are formulaic (adjective).

***Sort of like if you are¬†nauseated (verb), it means you’re sick to your stomach. Conversely, if you’re nauseous (adjective), it means your mere presence makes others sick to their stomachs.

Before we talk about formulas, though, we first need to define what sort of author we want to be, what genre we are writing, and what kind of books we want to write.

Romance has a formula. Deviate from this formula and you don’t have romance…you have women’s fiction or general fiction.

Most genre fiction has some sort of a formula. Mystery has a formula. There’s a crime discovered at the beginning that is solved by the end. One has to introduce red herrings, clues, etc. by specific points or the audience will call FOUL.

If there is a crime at the beginning but ALSO a race against time to stop some far greater crime at the end? Welcome to the thriller (refer to post on GENRE for more). It’s a thriller if we know who we are stopping, a mystery-thriller if we don’t.

Those who can write excellent pulp fiction quickly can make an incredible living. Before anyone gets snooty…

Some of the greatest works of modern literature have come from what was once considered ‘escapist trash’ (pulp fiction).

***Refer to my tongue-in-cheek post Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish 2 for a comprehensive list.

All this said, rules exist for a reason. Our job as artists is to learn and understand the rules before we go about breaking them. We have to know the WHY behind the rule.

Knowing the WHY is the magic.

Why are we breaking the rules other than to be different?

There is a pretty standard rule that we should pick a POV and stick to it. Why is there this rule? Because changing the type of POV is risky in the hands of the unskilled writer.

If we begin in first-person and switch to third, we can risk giving the reader a headache. Thus, we need a good reason WHY we are breaking this ‘rule’ other than our simple desire to be clever.

T. Jefferson Parker broke this rule in his novel Iron River. He used first-person for the antagonist, Bradley Smith (aka Bradley Jones), the man brokering a deal with the Mexican cartel chief to produce a revolutionary new handgun.


Because T. Jefferson Parker knows that first-person is the closest psychic distance.

He chose to put Smith’s POV in first person because he wanted the reader to bond more intimately with the antagonist, a man who’s forced onto his dark path when a faulty product drives his family business—Pace Firearms—to the brink of bankruptcy.

By using this close POV for the ‘bad guy,’ T. Jefferson Parker makes it harder for the reader to choose sides. He generates empathy, tension and conflicted loyalties.

All in all, T. Jefferson Parker DELIBERATELY broke the POV rule to elicit a desired and planned EFFECT on the reader. That’s what makes him an artist, and probably a good reason why T. Jefferson Parker is the only author to ever win three Edgar Awards.


In the end, make mistakes. The RIGHT mistakes. Mistakes can eventually become magic even though they make a hell of a mess. Remember that perfectionism is the elixir of the doomed. When has any artist ever created a masterpiece and not gotten dirty?

Stop reworking the first chapters of the same novel and finish. Even if it sucks. Stop plotting and re-plotting and revising. Yes, we need training (classes, books, coaches, camps, read loads of fiction and break it apart, etc.) but these activities can become great places to hide ūüėČ .

Get the training, then put it into ugly practice. If you need training, scroll down and I have some fabulous classes for sale ON DEMAND ($15 off until midnight MONDAY May 13th). Delivered right to you to enjoy over and over on your computer (pants not required).

To celebrate Mother’s Day, use the code MOM15 for $15 off all ON DEMAND CLASSES. So if you are a mother or have a mother or just appreciate that writing can be a real mother *&^%$ use the code.

It’s also Cinco de Mayo this Sunday, so tequila should be on sale. Might help with the killing little darlings.

Seems like a sign to me ūüėõ .


***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

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Kristen Lamb, self-sabotage, self-help, sabotaging our success, tips for success

Self sabotage is so common in our Western culture, I think we’re almost oblivious to how much we actually do it. We’re even more clueless about specifically WHY we do it.

The answer is pretty simple, but I’ll add in something special to spice it up a bit.

*jazz hands*


Whether we want to become a best-selling author, start a blog, get in shape, or drink more water, the foundation for all success looks pretty much the same. Yes, foundation.

Ever seen a foundation?

Foundations aren’t sexy. Rebar, concrete, maybe some pipes and pylons. That’s pretty much it. From skyscrapers to that shed in the back yard, if we want that sucker to remain standing long-term, we must have a foundation.

Same in life.

The foundation for finishing a novel, running a 5K, rearing well-adjusted children who don’t grow up to be serial killers, all looks fairly similar. There are no MASSIVE, HUGE actions that determine the outcome. Rather, it’s the compilation of countless small (and consistent) actions that makes the difference.

Those unsung moments no one sees or cheers. The boring parts. Oddly enough though, this is part of why we’re so prone to sabotage success.

#1: The Foundation of Success is BORING Kristen Lamb, sabotage, self-sabotage, success, why we self-sabotage, self-help

If you haven’t figured this out already, then let me be the one to drop the truth bomb. Most ‘success’ is a complete and utter snooze-fest. I have a soft spot for the folks who build foundations. They don’t get the sexy part of the skyscraper, mansion, or house. Nope.

They get the ugly, sticky, repetitive and unsung work.

Work that, oddly enough, is the part NO ONE sees or ever compliments. Nobody walks past the Chrysler Building in NY and exclaims, ‘WOW, I bet those buried pylons, pillars and rebar are AMAZING!’

No, humans admire all the stuff that isn’t nearly as critical and we’re all but oblivious to the very thing that’s keeping everything standing.

This is part of what makes sabotage so appealing, especially in our modern culture. Foundations aren’t fun. We could post or tweet about our foundation-building, but we’d annoy ourselves and others in less than a week.

Here’s a pic of my eggs and kale juice…again. Just like the last twenty days.

I threw my clothes in the hamper instead of on the chair!

Paid a bill as soon as it came it! GOLD STAR!

Made sure I flossed.

Calmly but firmly corrected my child for being disrespectful.

Wrote another five hundred words on my novel.

Sure, we might post on this stuff now and again, but seriously. Who wants to hear about this? Probably no one. And, since foundations are dull, we sabotage and fixate on other ‘activities’ that deliver more zing.

Insta-Fame seems so much more fun than waiting on a darkroom destiny. 

self-sabotage, Kristen Lamb, sabotage, social media addiction, codependency and social media

Successful relationships, businesses, parenting, gardening are all pretty much a lot of wash, rinse, repeat.

Want to be a great writer? Write every day. Read as much as possible. Study. Get professional feedback, help, training so you can improve.

Start the book and finish the book.

Write, revise, revise, revise, edit, revise, edit again, publish, repeat. Simple.

Not glamorous…at all.

One exception—NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

One month out of the year, writers excel at getting words on the page—November. Why? Because what the professional does in the dark eleven months out of the year is suddenly a big brouhaha. The unsung mundane drudgery of the author is suddenly ALLURING and EXCITING.

Hey, I am NOT dissing NaNo. Quite the opposite. I LOVE it. Heck, it’s why I DO NaNoWriMo! ONE month out of the year I get freaking BADGES and AWARDS for doing…well, pretty much my JOB.

We gather our friends and tweet our drama and struggles. People actually give a rip about the best line we wrote that day. There’s a counter to display word count and if we’re close to ‘WINNING.’

Now Let’s Talk About the REST of the Year

But once NaNoWriMo is over, how many writers finish? How many sabotage? We keep going back over those first chapters ‘perfecting’? There are so many¬†good reasons¬†why we’ve not finished that novel—and there ARE—but the truth is that often WE ARE BORED.

Sabotage brings back the sizzle.

Remaining committed to a novel until ‘published do us part’ is HARD. Sabotage? Way funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word…today). Start a NEW book, with an even BETTER idea. It’s HARD to figure out how to write my way out of a plot problem. It’s exhilarating to begin anew.

I know this from experience. Every book I’ve ever finished (and published) I never wanted to read AGAIN.


This is the paradox of progress. The more miserable it feels, the harder it is? Likelier the closer we are to achieving the remarkable.


Yep. All of it. I agree. I’ve been on both sides. Still am. I have SO many cool ideas for new books, but I’ve banned myself from writing any of them until I FINISH what I’ve started.

*primal screams*

Same in a lot of other areas. Sticking with one meal plan and exercise routine is a GRIND. Seriously, how much broccoli can a person eat? We allow tedium to have too much of a say and start a NEW plan.

Me? I’ve been RIDICULOUS here. I have LITERALLY begun a day with a plan for fasting in the morning but then by about 10:00 a.m.? Bacon sounds too good. So helloooo…um Keto? Keto is totally perfect. Until late in the afternoon when I really, really want some carbs and then ATKINS IT IS (because even induction lets me have¬†some¬†carbs).

By the end of the day? I’m eating marshmallow fluff with a spoon because, well…marshmallow fluff is ‘fat-free.’

*hangs head in shame*

Accept the boring parts, because the duller it is? Likelier the more vital.

One way to stop sabotage in all its many forms is to set our mind and keep it set. Accept that building foundations isn’t exciting…unless we fail to build them properly (or at all). Then it gets REAL exciting…and ugly, painful, and costly.

#2: Most of Success is Invisible

Sure, there are foundational behaviors that lead to success in all areas of life. We get that. But, foundations aren’t foundations unless we build something on top of that foundation. Otherwise? Unless we construct something meaningful on our foundation, we don’t have a foundation.

We have a really sturdy/well-plumbed parking lot.

But think about buildings, whether it’s a new strip-mall, sky-scraper or housing development. Aside from when we initially notice something is different—Hey, didn’t that used to be a scrap yard?—we pretty much zone out and go back to our lives.

We don’t pay attention to the framing and the drywall and the bricking and windows that are all being systematically added on top of the foundation. No one sees the grind (unless you’re the one in the grind). It isn’t until the builders are finished that we might even notice.

In our increasingly codependent world, we might sabotage because we crave attention and reassurance. This has only gotten worse, and is even impacting the groups who were initially the most resistant to participating on social media.

When I first started trying to get authors on social media, I thought they’d burn me as a witch.

Authors, historically, tend to be reclusive, anti-social, and prefer imaginary people and worlds over the real thing. We suffered and bled in silence. Braved rejection and wept and no one gave one single fig about our despair.

Once social media went mainstream, this ALL changed.

If one looks at the Myers-Briggs personality test, the INFJ is the author personality. It’s one of the rarest personalities. Yet, once social media went mainstream, I couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some ‘author’ posting about being an INFJ.

They couldn’t see the irony that the TRUE INFJ was more likely to be the Unibomber than to be posting countless memes on Facebook about being an INFJ.

Alas, the personality least likely to even BE on social media seemed to never get OFF of it.

Maybe these folks are INFJs and social media is simply their NEW personal holodeck where they can remain in their own minds. That IS part of what made INFJs such prolific authors.

They wrote TONS of novels because they had to put words on a page¬†if they wanted to experience a world they built and controlled and could live in most of the time without having to deal with people they hadn’t created themselves.

Me? I think Facebook Myers-Briggs tests aren’t entirely accurate. Also I’m pretty sure I was not Cleopatra in a previous life (well other than fab makeup, clothes, cats, worship and a hot Roman boyfriend…but no…okay on the fence if I believed in past lives).

In fairness, I am NOT an INFJ. I’m an ENFP¬†and everyone expects me to be hopped up more than a toddler on cocaine-laced Pixie Sticks.

***As a note, for those who care. The ENFP is the most introversive of the extrovert classifications. I require long periods alone without people to recharge.

Sabotage gives short-term gratification.

I understand why we are so prone to sabotage this way (regardless of personality). First, just being a functioning adult is an utterly thankless job. No parties for the person who (correctly) loads the dishwasher. Zero compliments for using our blinkers when changing lanes.

I’ve yet to get a¬†You Didn’t Go to JAIL Today!¬†sticker. Not even any stickers for,¬†Hey,¬†Your Kid is Still Alive!¬†Another Day NOT Worshipping Satan! GO YOU!¬†You’ve had 4,973 Days With NO Underground Pit Bull Fights!

Oddly, the better we are at something (like NOT going to jail), the less likely others will notice and compliment.

People don’t compliment punctual people for being on time. Strangers don’t compliment us for waiting our turn in line at a store. Thanks to the People of Walmart, no one gives us a pat on the back for wearing pants when we go outside.

Utilities companies never send extra letters to people who always pay on time.

***I can, however, attest, they send a LOT of letters—ones that even change color—to those of us who are prone to forget or procrastinate.

Sabotage and the Thrill that Kills

As a long-time author, I can appreciate why writers are increasingly prone to leaning on social media for assurance. With the implosion of traditional publishing and rise of self-publishing, the goal posts and mile markers we used to celebrate—that used to actually MEAN something—are pretty much extinct.

When I first started, I would imagine getting the agent, the book deal, seeing my novels on B&N shelves, the book-signing, the accolades and praise for gutting it out long enough to be one of the chosen few. I envisioned my novels leaving top book critics and reviewers gobsmacked.

Not once did I ever envision how book reviews would be a popularity contest. That our books would be open to just anyone who wanted to say something, even if it was cruel, stupid, or untrue.

Did I mention STUPID?

I couldn’t conceive of a world where ‘people’ who’d never bought or even read my books would be permitted an opinion—an opinion that directly impacted my life.

***FYI, this is why Goodreads is dead to me.

Our rites of passage are all but gone. Publishing participation trophies have replaced authentic triumphs.

Before Amazon, to even be able to claim one was a¬†published author inspired awe from strangers. Why? Because it wasn’t something just anyone could do. Even if our book sold five copies, we held a title most people would never attain.

We’d suffered years in private and made it through gate-keepers when most gave up. Now? I admit it’s hard for me to dream. The dreams are so much more daunting.

I could reasonably imagine landing an agent, getting a book deal, seeing my books on shelves.

To imagine being a NYT best-selling author, or that my books would be movies or HBO series was just bonus. In the realms of mythos. Sure, I’d have loved it to happen, but it wouldn’t have been necessary.


Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think the only way I’ll believe I’m a good writer is if I hit the NYT list and have my stories made into HBO series. Even then…

I already had ‘Imposter Syndrome’ like most creative people. But these days? In the digital paradigm?


Which brings me to my final point about success.

#3: Success is More than Vanity Metrics

You guys are smart, so you might see there’s been a bit of a theme running through this post. It is madness to define ‘success’ externally.

In regular life, we might find ourselves caring too much if people liked a post on Facebook or Instagram.

We can also fall into the comparison trap, judging our raw footage against other people’s highlight reels. I have family members who make Martha Stewart look like a slacker. They post pictures of their child taking art classes in London and the family trip to Lake Cuomo in Italy—which is FABULOUS and I am genuinely happy for them.

And then remind myself they LIVE in Europe and that a trip to Italy is like me going to Galveston for the weekend.

As for me and my life?

I just figured out the white bits on the bathroom wall are my cat Izzy’s art project. She’s very creative. I took away her yarn because she’d made the entire dining room into a God’s Eye/safety hazard.

So now?

I thought we just had a TON of nicks in the paint on the one bathroom wall…then I looked closer.

Apparently, Izzy has taken to tossing rolls of toilet paper into the bowl so she can scoop out the wet bits WHERE SHE THEN PASTES THEM ON THE WALL AND¬†WISH I WERE JOKING. I had to clean up an entire wall of ‘Cat TP-Mache Art.’

This is what an evil genius looks like….


Metrics don’t make mega-authors.

When I teach writers, far too many want to learn how to be mega-marketers instead of brilliant/skilled storytellers. As if George R.R. Martin became one of the most influential authors in modern history because of his social media marketing and NOT because he’s penned a gazillion short stories, novels, and series.

Not because he’s practiced and studied and worked to hone natural talent into awe-inspiring genius.

Nope. Had to be his ad campaigns and mastery of Hootsuite *face palm*

Sabotage and busy-work.

Granted, mega-authors like George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King were already household names before the major shift in our world and in publishing. Alas, there are other authors who’ve ‘come of age’ in the modern era and the reason they are successful is because they focus on what matters most.

Finishing books.

Yes, as a branding expert, I will tell you that if you want to do this writing thing full-time and be paid and have any hope of success, you must have a platform and brand. This is no longer optional unless your last name is Kardashian.

For those of us who don’t already come from famous and uber-wealthy families, we have to cultivate our audience because discoverability is a nightmare.

Ah, but here is the catch. A platform and brand is only useful for an author that writes and finishes and then publishes books.

***I have one finger pointed at y’all and three at myself.

Yet, far too many writers are fixated on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, building a newsletter, improving their metrics, and all this is a distraction. Worse, it’s a socially acceptable form of sabotage.

Even blogging can be self-sabotage. One has to be careful. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I’ve not been posting as much. I needed to be focusing more on other areas of my writing (and recovering from multiple rounds of dental work).

***Though, to be fair, prolific blogging will vastly improve our writing skills, our speed, self-discipline and ability to make self-imposed deadlines. Facebook and Instagram? Not so much.

Just DO IT

We might chat more on this another time, but all this frou-frou stuff is best summed up by the famous Nike slogan—JUST DO IT. Sure, we’ll talk later about our why and motives and all that other jazz. For now? Just DO it.

We all self-sabotage. There is no need for us to journal about or fears, to learn our triggers, or uncover all the reasons we feel like frauds. Granted, it’s good work…just do it AFTER the hard work.

Pretty much everyones self-sabotages. Why? For the same reason we eat junk food and binge watch Netflix. IT’S FUN. #Duh

But if we can simply accept that sabotage, while a great high in the short run, seriously sucks long-term (much like living on Twinkies and hard liquor). If we can just deal with THAT truth? Everything else becomes easier to endure.

If we can appreciate success (however you define it) is a lot of same ol’ same ol’ and that most people won’t give a fig about what we are doing or not doing…then we can move on with it and enjoy a life rich with meaningful accomplishments.

We can rear non-serial killer kids, build enduring friendships, find joy in small moments of mundane…and we can keep writing sucky books. Write sucky books and finish sucky books and eventually the sucky books start being less sucky and maybe even one day are GENIUS.

Won’t know unless we finish.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you find yourself getting stuck because every day looks so much like the day before? It seems so far to the finish line that you start taking a break here and there only to wake up and realize you’ve not written in months? Do you change your mind, diet, goals, plans, more than my kid changes socks?

***Hint: That is A LOT.

In the modern world of publishing, do you struggle with celebrating accomplishments because—short of landing your own HBO series—being a published author doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal?

Do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Wonder if your writing really is any good or if maybe you should consider learning how to do medical billing instead?

Are you frustrated with the world of popularity contests? With the push to be plugged in ALL THE TIME? I am.

Business idea. Someone PLEASE open a salon that forbids electronics. I miss going to get my hair done and chatting with other women. Now they all stare at tablets like zombies.

I LOVE hearing from you!

Really, I do. Y’all give me fresh perspectives. But if I don’t hear from you? That’s cool, too, because I have books to finish. And now that I am FINALLY through all my dental surgeries (I hope), new classes to create.

In the meantime, here are some FABULOUS On Demand offerings… ((HUGS))


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On Demand Story Master: From Dream to Done (A.K.A. Fast-Drafting 101) 

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On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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ON DEMAND: A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

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