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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Writing

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Recently I blogged about the log-line, how it’s an incredible diagnostic tool for spotting flaws in a story idea. The brilliance of the log-line is the simplicity. As an editor/writing coach, I can zero in on a story’s every strength and spot every flaw with a single glance at the log-line.

How? Because the log-line is a prototype (a scaled-down model) of the final product.

Think about car designers. When they have some fabulous idea for the next car of the future, what do they build first? A prototype. It’s far easier and cheaper to see and fix problems when the car is small enough to fit on a table.

If a company sinks tens of thousands of dollars into a finished snazzy full-sized car, there’s a far greater level of commitment to keep going even when there’s that niggling sensation something isn’t quite right.

Why?

Because those involved in the project have already invested a lot of time and money. They also get too attached. Perhaps they fall in love with the color, the hand-stitched leather seats, and the pop-up digital displays.

In short, they become emotionally attached at the wrong point in the process.

There’s a heightened temptation to ignore problems and pray it will sort itself out. It’s much easier to start (and keep) throwing good money after bad. Sink more time into a disaster.

Same when it comes to building a skyscraper, office complex, condo community, etc. The first step beyond the concept and blueprint is to construct a scaled version (even if this is a virtual/digital model in 2018).

When developers and investors can see the final product—albeit miniaturized—everything changes. This abstract idea becomes concrete and flaws stand out waving red flags.

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Is the complex too close to a highway and the walls aren’t thick enough to meet code for sound-proofing? Can the building(s) be accessed easily from the highway?

Or, is the exit nine miles farther down making anyone who lives or works there have to double back and wend their way through a confusing maze of neighborhoods?

Is the art-deco-meets-minimalism idea something that seemed edgy and cool on paper? But, now that one can SEE the buildings, it looks more like a state prison had a baby with an insane asylum? These are things a builder/investor needs to know before they’re millions in the hole and the buildings are half-built.

Same with novels.

Problem With Pantsing

Lack of a clear prototype can create major problems when writing a novel. This is where we can run into trouble pantsing a novel (writing by the seat of our pants).

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, feel free to write any way you see fit. Yet, I will say pure pantsing is almost always a sentence for revision hell if you don’t at least start with a log-line. More often than not, there will be much tearing apart and starting over (refer to image above)…and drinking.

***Authors who are very good at pantsing with no preparation usually either a) began as plotters/outliners and know structure so intuitively they can plot by feel or b) have written and finished so many books they can write a sound structure by feel.

Either way, the pure pantster who doesn’t need a bazillion revisions is usually a highly experienced author…or an alien.

And my vote is alien.

Meet the PLOTser

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Anyway, outlines aren’t for everyone. I don’t like them either and refer to myself as a plotser. I’ve learned to start with a log-line and get that as solid as possible. THEN, I work out the major landmark points and once this is all accomplished, THEN I write.

The guideposts keep me focused on where I’m headed (eventually), but also allow some freedom for my imagination to play as well.

Sometimes on my way to a turning point I’ve pre-planned my subconscious will come up with something even cooler. BUT since I know the overall gist of where I’m heading?

No problemo. 

Log-lines can keep us on track. They can also make sure we actually have a story before we’ve invested tens of thousands of words into something that can’t be fixed without rewriting the entire manuscript.

I can’t count the number of clients I get who believe they have a finished novel, but what they really have is 80,000-100,000 words. Just because we have a lot of words doesn’t mean we have a novel.

#AskMeHowIKnow

A log-line prevents this reaction.

Often when I talk about log-lines I get samples like these (I am making these up, btw):

Despite being emotionally damaged, a highly trained warrior must fight for his people.

Oh-kay. Fight who? What? Why? This ‘log-line’ is actually a warning label: This ‘story’ contains random fight scenes with liberal amounts of tedious, self-indulgent navel-gazing.

That and if he’s a highly trained warrior, then fighting is what he already does well. So…all righty then.

#SnoozeFest

A defiant prince travels to a forbidden moon against interstellar regulations and must explain to the High Council why he defied the rules.

So a defiant prince is being—wait for it—defiant. All right.

He breaks the rules and goes to a moon deemed off-limits. Yet, if we made this log-line into a movie, would we sit on the edge of our seats chomping popcorn breathlessly waiting for the ending?

Must explain to the High Council WHY he defied the rules.

Perhaps it is me, but Alien C-Span doesn’t seem terribly exciting.

Assuming the writers haven’t already committed 100,000 words to each of these stories, we can easily see how a good log-line might help.

Try Again

EXAMPLE 1: Despite being emotionally damaged, a highly trained warrior must fight for his people.

This is a statement, not a story.

Instead, how about…?

EXAMPLE 1A : A once-revered general, betrayed by his emperor, disgraced and sold into slavery must use all his skills to earn fame in the gladiatorial ring for a chance to destroy the ruler who killed his men and butchered his family (Gladiator).

Then there was:

EXAMPLE 2: A defiant prince travels to a forbidden moon against interstellar regulations and must explain to the High Council why he defied the rules.

How about:

EXAMPLE 2A: A sheltered prince left in the desert to die must lead an untrained and disorganized rebellion on a campaign to overthrow an oppressive godlike regime that controls space-time. (Dune)

What Makes the Difference?

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Example 1 flounders because it’s incomplete. Sure, an emotionally damaged warrior fighting is interesting but what’s the rest of the story? Without a core problem, antagonist, goal, stakes and ticking clock we have a statement…not a prototype for a full story.

Anyone who’s watched Gladiator knows Maximus is a highly-trained warrior and ALSO very emotionally damaged. The actual log-line for the movie from the IMDB is: A former Roman General sets out to exact vengeance against the corrupt emperor who murdered his family and sent him into slavery.

In one log-line, we have someone perfectly trained to do the job (Maximus) of taking out the emperor. Ah, problem is that despite all his advanced military training…he’s been betrayed, his reputation smeared, and he’s a slave.

#SuxToBeYouMaximus

Thus, there are a lot of barriers preventing the perfect warrior from accomplishing the goal using his standard approach. The writer (God) had to strip his reputation, his men, his family, and his freedom so we’d have an interesting story.

If the writers didn’t strip away almost every advantage that made Maximus a target to begin with, the movie would’ve looked like this:

A skilled fighter gathers his loyal legions, tells them the new plan and they all march on Rome and flush the crap emperor.

Sounds like a movie I want to lov—sleep through.

Same with our other log-line, Example 2.

No one wants to invest 12-15 hours reading a novel that ends with the equivalent of an alien congressional hearing. Ah, but change a few things and we have something… spicier 😉 .

Instead of casting an MC who’s immediately all-powerful and perfect for the job, Frank Herbert made his MC more of ‘the least likely to succeed’ type of guy.

Sure, young Paul Atreides has had some hand-to-hand training in the palace via Jean Luc Picard (Gurney Halleck) and mind-power lessons from Mom. Despite this, though, he’s more of a ‘play on my Caladan iPad’ kind of leader than a ‘sand in my shorts and ride the worms’ messiah-type.

Which is why the story is still AMAZING decades later.

Stories Have RULES

(If we break them, be sneaky or readers scream FOUL!)

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

One of the major reasons the log-line is so helpful is we can easily see if our story idea has all the necessary ingredients: an intriguing MC, an active goal (CORE story problem with a CLEAR GOAL), stakes, and a ticking clock.

Intriguing MC

The most common mistakes I see are that writers will a) offer a name only or b) give us only some uninteresting qualitative descriptor.

I shall demonstrate…

Joe must free the ship’s crew who are trapped in cryosleep if he hopes to defeat the alien threat and find the wormhole back to Earth.

All right. Sort of cool, but who the heck is Joe and why should I CARE?

Hint: I don’t.

The captain must free his ship’s crew who are trapped in cryosleep if he hopes to defeat the alien threat and find the wormhole back to Earth.

Better. It’s a neat story idea but weak. Big frigging deal. He frees his crew. Um, he’s the captain. Kind of his JOB.

How about, this instead:

When the captain of an interstellar prison transport’s systems are crippled in an alien attack, locking the crew and the most violent prisoners in the galaxy in cryosleep, he must choose between risking everyone’s life to repair the ship and defeat the alien threat or do nothing, thereby consigning the innocent and the guilty to certain death.

Yes, the log-line is long. I said try to get it into A sentence. Never said it couldn’t be a LONG sentence. But look at the difference. The first one with Joe is a bad situation and we don’t know Joe from Adam.

The second example tells us (Joe) is a ship captain, but he is simply doing his JOB. Not terribly interesting. It is ONLY when we toss in a painful and impossible choice that we have ourselves a fabulous story problem.

Obviously one can glean the alien attack disabled the captain’s ability to selectively wake only the crew. Thus, it becomes the lesser of evils.

A person who is duty-bound to protect the ship and crew has two options and they both seriously suck. One makes a fantastic story with a zillion moral implications…and the other is a French film.

They all DIE.

The End.

#LifeIsSuffering

Casting is Essential

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Many new writers are uncomfortable with flaws and want characters to be larger than life and perfect. Larger than life is okay but perfect=BORING.

Do any of these stories sound interesting?

A brilliant surgeon finds a way to repair his destroyed hands.

An undefeated hockey team wins the gold medal in the Olympics.

The NYC ballet company’s most disciplined and committed ballerina lands the part of the White Swan and the Black Swan in Swan Lake.

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Let’s try again.

After the world’s most brilliant (and narcissistic) surgeon destroys his life, reputation, and hands, he must beg for help from those he’s openly mocked, but the cure comes with a cost and a crusade (Dr. Strange).

The worst hockey team to ever hit the ice must set aside their ego and all they believe they know about hockey to beat the seemingly invincible Russian squad in the 1980 Olympics (Miracle).

The NYC ballet’s most committed and disciplined ballerina must lose control of everything, including her mind and reality, in order to land the part of both the White Swan and Black Swan in Swan Lake (Black Swan).

Clear TARGET/GOAL

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Look at your story’s log-line and it should have an active goal. The MC can’t simply be flung along like flotsam by bad situations for the entire story. Sure MCs get tossed into the Life Vit-A-Mix, but by Act Two they start pushing back so they can be reborn as full-fledged heroes in Act Three.

Heroes eventually fight back and WIN.

When pondering your log-line, can you picture a film you wouldn’t dare get up for a bathroom break lest you miss how the story ENDS?

If there is a logical place to take that bathroom break anywhere in your story, TRY HARDER.

Stakes

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

What is at stake? What is the MC willing to risk, lose, give up for that which is BETTER? Life, reputation, sanity? What happens if your MC fails?

If Dr. Strange is unwilling to let go of what he believes he knows (his certainty) and humble himself, he’s doomed to life as a has-been surgeon with a shattered reputation and twisted hands. His life is a cautionary tale against hubris.

The only way to avoid this fate is to humble himself. Once he humbles himself, he realizes there are far larger battles than whether he’ll make it on a magazine cover. If he fails, the world is doomed.

In Miracle, if the team keeps training the way they always have, then they will again shame their entire country during the Cold War (when morale is crucial). The U.S. Hockey team is at a pivotal point: continue to be synonymous with LOSER or humble themselves and take a chance at being a MIRACLE.

Nina Sayers’ almost superhuman self-control is what makes her one of the best dancers in the world, but unless she lets GO of control she’ll never be THE best. She will never dance her dream role. Yet, everything comes at a price. Failure will cost her career and potential legacy…but success might just cost her sanity and her life.

The only question left to be answered is, “Will it all be worth it?”

Ticking Clock

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

Our characters shouldn’t have forever to do what needs to be done. Paul Atreides must lead the Fremen to victory before the Guild arrives with enough force to possibly put down the rebellion.

In Miracle, the team has until the 1980 Olympic games. Nina only has until the Swan Lake roles are finalized (ballerinas have a very short shelf life).

Notice how ALL these components ratchet tension and keep audiences riveted (turning pages). Can the unlikely, ill-equipped MC do what needs to be done in time? If the MC fails, what is lost?

***Hint: It better be BIG.

Diagnostic

Back to our prototype. I hope you can now see how every part of the log-line is critical to the story working as a whole. We can look at each component and see if we can do better.

Conversely, if a story is flagging, this is a great diagnostic to help us work on the parts that are actually BROKEN.

How might we make it harder on the MC? Can we make the problem bigger, messier, seemingly unbeatable? Is it feasible to condense the timeline? How can we up the stakes? What MORE can we place in jeopardy?

Remember stakes ideally should be internal and external. What does it mean personally for the MC to win/fail? How will the outer world reflect winning versus failing? As far as this part of the log-line, go big or go home.

Readers are parting with very limited free time so we need to make our stories a good use of that time. No one wants to invest twelve to fifteen hours in a novel where, if the MC fails, he just tries again next year.

flaws, story flaws, how to spot structure flaws, self-editing for writers, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, National NovelWriting Month, pantsing and plotting, how to write fiction

I LOVE hearing from you!

Does this break down help? Maybe make the idea of using a log-line more appealing? Can you see how, if one component is faulty, it impacts the entire story?

If you’ve been struggling to write a query or synopsis, try starting with the log-line. It might a) make the job easier or b) reveal what needs to be repaired before you query.

I know this is a detailed blog, but I DO have a class NEXT THURSDAY on how to write query letters and the dreaded SYNOPSIS (and recording of class is free with purchase).

The FIRST TEN sign-ups get ME repairing, polishing their log-lines for FREE.

This class can be a game-changer for an author’s career. Even if we land an agent, trust me, they’ll ask for a synopsis for the next book and next.

Also, if we become skilled at writing synopses, we can write at a much faster pace. So, I hope y’all will join me 😀 .

Otherwise, what are your THOUGHTS? I reward those who share *group hug*

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

Upcoming Classes for September


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

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, September 20th 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

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

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

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

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, Thursday September 27th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Time is one of many tools we authors can use when crafting a story. This said, bending time takes training and skill because it’s one of the toughest techniques to pull off well. Even those who bend time masterfully will have their fair share of critics because most audiences are accustomed to linear structure.

This is only natural.

We’ve all teethed on stories that have a clear beginning, middle and end. Any story that deviates from this familiar pattern can vex and confuse us.

This is why movies like Memento tend to divide into two camps: those who loved it and those who couldn’t make it through thirty minutes.

Time Has a Proper Order

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Humans take time for granted, which is why time is one of those things that will wig people out when someone starts tinkering with it. Remember this because we can twist the audience’s assumptions to our advantage (especially in certain genres).

Bending time can disorient and confuse readers, but that isn’t always a good thing.

Most audiences enjoy the traditional Aristotelian three-act structure (which is why the lion’s share of novels are written in linear time). Aristotelian structure has been around over a thousand years for good reason. It’s endured simply because it’s a story structure that reflects time as sane humans experience it.

Time is hardwired into our brains. Our world reflects linear structure.

Morning–>noon–>night. We are born–>we live–>we die.

When old age manifests where childhood should be, something is clearly WRONG (progeria) and has disturbed the natural order.

Time & the Flashback

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Whenever I’ve blogged about flashbacks being bad, inevitably commenters list a dozen books or movies where the writer (allegedly) used flashbacks all the time and it was super successful.

Clearly, I don’t know what I’m talking about 😛 .

First, I’d like to point out that, while we can learn from film, we must be careful mimicking movies in our work. Movies are visual, whereas writing is completely abstract. We’re creating people and worlds using combinations of 26 letters (and roughly four of those are pretty useless).

No one wants to play Scrabble and get Q.

Movies get a smidge more leeway because the audience can SEE changes in people, places and time and are less likely to suffer a brain cramp. Alas, even in screenwriting, flashbacks are a sign of lazy/amateurish writing for a couple of reasons.

First, most information can be relayed real-time. If I have a character who is OCD (As Good as It Gets), I don’t need to go back and explain WHY the character is trapped with a psychological disorder.

There is no need to hop into a literary DeLorean and go EXPLAIN. Audiences are smart and get that Melvin Udall has OCD by how he behaves.

That’s the whole show don’t tell thing at work.

In the original film version of Silence of the Lambs , director Jonathan Demme toyed with using a flashback for the tense moment when Hannibal Lecter demands Agent Starling part with her most traumatic memory in return for the key to locating Buffalo Bill.

***The time when young Clarice tries in vain to rescue one of the lambs from being slaughtered.

But Demme was too good of a director and Jodi Foster to great an actor. He knew the flashback would wreck the effect and so he nixed it and, instead allowed Foster to show just how incredible a performer she really was (which explains the Academy Award).

Because the story remained in the present, the memory was far more visceral. It intensified the story to nerve-shredding proportions.

Flashback FAIL

In most stories we don’t need to use flashbacks. In many new works I see the writer just about piques my interest, then slams on the brakes, throws it in reverse and takes me back to EXPLAIN WHY.

I have a mantra:

Resist the urge to explain.

Frequently, new writers jump back in time because they’re doing a good job at creating tension. Feeling the tension they’ve generated, they seek reprieve and so they explain. The problem with this is that they are killing the very element (tension) that will keep readers turning pages until 3 a.m.

Explanations are the antidote for tension.

What do we do when our kid acts up? We EXPLAIN. Sorry, he didn’t have a nap today. This serves to allay our own anxiety and relax the bystanders gathered round staring at us.

Explaining might work in life, but for fiction it spells D-E-A-T-H.

If the love interest in our novel is maddeningly evasive?  Leave it alone. Readers will keep reading to see if they find out/figure out what the heck his deal is.

If we go back and explain, “He has intimacy issues because his parents were murdered by a Mary Kay lady on bath salts,” we’ve just handed the reader a great place for a bookmark.

Hmm, question answered. I’ll get back to this later.

Let Them Wait

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Great writers keep layering on more and more questions that either are a) partially answered b) not answered until toward the end c) some not answered at all.

We can put some humdinger questions in a WIP and refuse to answer them. Seriously. Great writers are sadists. We’re ONLY required to fully answer the core story problem for THAT particular book.

Other than that? We writers are not required to tie everything up neatly with a bow. The best stories leave a smidge of unfinished business. Loose ends generate passion and conversations that linger long after readers have turned the final page.

***Additionally, if we want to write a series, it’s a good idea to NOT answer everything.

Tana French’s incredible book In The Woods does this brilliantly. She does her duty and answers the core mystery: Who killed the Knocknaree girl and why? But, there’s a lot more about Knocknaree’s dark past she withholds (likely so we’d read the rest of the series or because she is a brilliant author, a.k.a. heartless psychopath).

Readers long for catharsis—release—and the longer we (authors) can delay the reader getting what he/she wants, the better.

Flashback Apoplexy

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Flashbacks generally are a sign of weak writing. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, we can go back and forth in time so just be patient.

As I’ve mentioned before I’m a HUGE fan of horror and I love, love, love American Horror Story, particularly Season Four Freak Show. Elsa Mars is one of the most beautifully conflicted villains I’ve ever encountered.

She’s layered, complex, and unpredictable. Every character and storyline is pure heart-wrenching genius.

Then, in Season Five, Jessica Lange left the show and they substituted her with Lady Gaga *face palm*. For me, this is like serving me Tofurkey when I’m used a Thanksgiving turkey a la Martha Stewart. I mean no disrespect to Lady Gaga, but she’s a performer not an actor. ‘

I’m certain they cast her because she’s a huge name (draw) but she didn’t have the acting abilities to take center stage, which is why Season Five (Hotel) and Season Six (Roanoke) are painful to watch.

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Season Five is like being trapped in a car with a teenager learning to drive a stick. Just about get going forward then REVERSE. The series keeps going backwards to explain to the point that watching became more chore than fun.

In Season Six, AHS tried something different. It takes the form of a television show interviewing survivors and what happened is “reenacted.”

The HUGE problem with this is that no matter how many monsters, how much gore, how depraved the story gets, there is NO DRAMATIC TENSION. Why? Because of flashbacks. We know the people lived or they wouldn’t be sitting there being interviewed.

How can we worry about characters we KNOW are going to make it out alive? We can’t.

Time as a Literary Device

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

All this said, time CAN be used as a literary device. Progressing linearly isn’t always ideal, especially for certain genres. One surefire way to throw readers off is to mess with their sense of time. Non-linear structure is fantastic for mysteries, psychological thrillers, horror, and suspense.

If we choose to distort time, however, there needs to be a good reason for doing so. Let’s explore a handful of reasons…

Unreliable Narrator: Non-Linear Timeline

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Whenever we open a book (or start a movie) we’re programmed to trust the MC, that what he or she is relaying is truth. Non-linear plotting can use this human propensity to trust until given reason NOT to trust for advantage. Vanilla Sky, Black Swan, Shutter Island, and Fight Club are all superlative examples of twisting truth and trust.

Yet, notice the reason time is fractured in these stories.

The point is to intimate or even emulate madness. We begin trusting the MC but this trust erodes until we’re sucked into the chaos, our bearings lost, internal compass needle spinning and unable to find True North.

Past is Key to Present: Parallel Timeline

Sometimes the story shifts back and forth from past to present. Like train tracks running parallel they flow side-by-side until finally the past timeline converges with the present to solve the core story problem at hand.

We see this in Stephen King’s speculative fiction story The Green Mile. The story opens with elderly Paul Edgecomb in a retirement facility and establishes Paul’s present reality. THEN we go back in time to Louisiana State Penitentiary in the 1930s when young Paul Edgecomb worked as a prison guard in charge of Death Row.

Though we spend much of our time in the 1930s, we’re not going back in time for no reason. What happened decades ago on The Green Mile is essential for revealing a mystery in the present timeline at the retirement home.

A lot of literary works use the parallel timeline (The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan). Parallel timelines are also employed in general fiction.

The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood uses parallel timelines to resolve a feud between mother and daughter. Sidda (daughter) must understand the past from her mother’s (Vivi’s) POV in order to forgive her and heal the relationship.

Memory LIES…or Does It?

Mysteries employ this tactic as well, though many authors tend to dribble the past throughout but in the form of memories, dreams, fragments of recollections the MC doesn’t fully trust. A good example of this is James Patterson’s The Murder House.

Can We Trust Our Senses?

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Ultimately, when we deviate from traditional linear timelines, we’re jarring the readers sense of what she believes she knows. By going back and forth (I.e. In the Woods) we can throw readers off figuring everything out too easily and we make them work for the resolutions they crave.

This said, jumping back and forth willy-nilly is a good way to simply tick readers off. Even when non-linear timelines are executed with mastery, there will always be certain people who will hate it.

I remember walking out of Vanilla Sky feeling like I’d just had a spiritual experience, but the people around me were irate because “that stupid movie was just too confusing.”

There are probably more people who hated Pulp Fiction than those who loved Pulp Fiction. BUT, those who LOVED Pulp Fiction did so with such passion it’s now an iconic movie.

We can’t please everyone. In the Woods was one of those books that made me weep and think, “What am I DOING? I can’t WRITE! Whaaaaaahhhhhh!”

Yet, go check out the one and two-star reviews from readers who “grew bored” or “got confused.”

Whenever we authors play with time, just accept that some people will hate it. But, since no one ever wrote a book that pleased everyone?

Relax.

Caveat Auctor

I want to put a warning in here. Just because we are zipping back and forth in time doesn’t mean our structure is sound. Employing time as a literary device is tricky because we can lose readers very easily.

Many editors loathe ‘flashbacks’ with the power of a thousand suns, but here is a post regarding WHY.

Frequently, if a writer is going backwards and forwards in time, it is more a symptom of major story problems than an indicator of genius. The above post explains how flashbacks can be symptomatic of a flawed or nonexistent plot.

***For those who’d like training in advanced plotting, I recommend the class I’m teaching tomorrow, Beyond Planet X. USA Today best-selling author Cait Reynolds and I are doing a Speculative Fiction Saturday with three classes in a row (World-Building, Character, and Advanced Plotting). The XXXFiles Bundle is the best value. Three classes for the price of two (SIX hours of training) and recordings are FREE with purchase. 

If you want to mess with your reader’s heads, then do it with style 😉 . I’m excited to teach this much more advanced material and hope you guys will join me!

I LOVE hearing from you!

What are some of your favorite movies or books that used time to mess with your head? Which ones did you hate? Why?

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

***Chris Parrett is August’s winner. Please send your 5000 word Word doc to kristen at wana intl dot com. One-inch margins and 12 point Times New Roman Font, double-spaced. Congratulations!

***FYI: The Speculative Fiction Saturday has been moved to THIS COMING SATURDAY (9/15/18).

The software that powers our virtual classrooms kept crashing our servers #NotFun. Thus, we spent all last weekend upgrading/updating all the tech and it looks fantastic!

Again, for the value, I HIGHLY recommend The XXX Files Bundle (all three classes—world-building, character, advanced plotting—for the price of two). Speculative fiction includes sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, utopian, horror and basically all the weird stuff. Sign up and we can be weird TOGETHER!

time, flashbacks, non-linear plot structure, parallel timelines, Kristen Lamb, time as a literary device, In the Woods Tana French, how to write twist endings, story structure

Upcoming Classes for September


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, Thursday September 27th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Purchase includes FREE recording of all three classes.

 


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


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

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, September 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

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

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

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

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

 

 

 

 

 

 

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

Today we’re going to chat about log-lines. Some of you might be wondering if I was trying to give you a heart attack with my title. Maybe you think this feat is impossible. AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN ONLY ONE SENTENCE?

Maybe something simple, plebeian and commercially formulaic *flips hair* but ART cannot be forced into a box.

Yes. Yes it can.

I know, I know. Your novel is over four-hundred pages with made up technology and wizards and folding space using enchanted Thigh Masters….

I hear you. Calm down.

A log-line is a lifeline that will allow you to pitch a novel (or series) in ONE—YES ONE—sentence. The log-line is going to save you time, energy, and sanity (save the crazy for the fiction).

We’ll get to how a log-line is going to do ALL this AND give you six-pack abs in only five minutes a day in a moment…

***Legal Disclaimer: Consult your psychiatrist before believing any writing tool will give you six-pack abs. The giant pink bunny in the corner lies, too FYI.

Anyway…

I used to try to teach story structure from the perspective of an editor, but I found that my approach was flawed. Why? Because editors are like building inspectors. We have skills best used on a finished product. We’re trained to look for structure problems.

Is that a good skill? Sure. But do building inspectors design buildings?

No.

Architects do. Architects employ creativity and vision to create a final structure. Hopefully, they will have the necessary skills to create and design a structure that will meet code standards.

Creativity and vision are not enough. Architects need to learn mathematics and physics. They need to understand that a picture window might be real pretty, but if they put that sucker in a load-bearing wall, they won’t pass inspection and that they even risk a fatal collapse.

Aestheticism must align with pragmatism.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

This made me step back and learn to become an architect. When it comes to plotting, I hope to teach you guys how to have the creative vision of the designer, but with the practical understanding of an inspector.

We’ve discussed how plot works on a micro-scale (scene and sequel). After that, we panned back for an aerial shot, and discussed how great stories–like amazeballs rollercoasters—are addictive by design.

I’ve also covered how the single most important component to plot is the opposition, and l even have a tested method to make sure your core idea  is actually solid enough to be the foundation for an entire novel.

So what’s this log-line thingy?

Basically, we should be able to tell someone (an agent) what our story is about in one sentence. That is called the “log-line.” Log-lines are used in Hollywood to pitch movies.

In fact, a book that should be in every writer’s library is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on screenwriting, but every writer can benefit enormously from Snyder’s teaching.

In the world of screenwriting there is a tenet, “Give me the same, but different.” This axiom still holds true when it comes to novels.

Our story cannot go so far off the deep end that readers cannot relate, but yet our story needs to be different enough that people don’t just think it’s a retread.

We as writers have to negotiate this fine balance of same but different, and that is no easy task.

So let’s look at components of a great log-line:

Great log-lines are short and clear.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

I cannot tell you how many writers I ask, “So what’s your book about?” and they take off rambling for the next ten minutes. Often why writers are so terrified of the pitch session is that they cannot clearly state what their book is about in three sentences or less.

Here is a little insider information. When we cannot whittle our entire story into three sentences that is a clear sign to agents and editors that our story is structurally flawed. Not always, but more often than not. Your goal should be ONE sentence. What is your story about?

A good log-line is ironic. 

Irony gets attention and hooks interest. Here’s an example:

The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.

What can be more ironic than a murderer having the power of  healing? Think of the complex emotions that one sentence evokes, the moral complications that we just know are going to blossom out of the “seed idea.”

A good log-line is emotionally intriguing.

A good log-line tells the entire story. Like a movie, you can almost see the entire story play out in your head.

During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Didn’t you just see the entire movie play out in your head with that ONE sentence? Apparently Steven Spielberg did, too and that’s why he took Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park and made it into a blockbuster movie.

A good log-line will interest potential readers.

Good log-lines exude inherent conflict. Conflict is interesting. In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder relays stories of how he would take his log-line to Starbucks and ask total strangers what they thought about his idea.

This is a great exercise for your novel.

Pitch to friends, family, and even total strangers and watch their reaction. Did their eyes glaze over? Did the smile seem polite or forced? If you can boil your book down into one sentence that generates excitement for the regular person, then you know you are on a solid path for your novel.

Yet, if your potential audience looks confused or bored or lost, then you know it is time to go back to the drawing board. But the good news is this; you just have to fix ONE sentence.

You don’t have to go rewrite, revise a novel that is confusing, convoluted, boring, arcane, ridiculous, etc.

Think of your one sentence as your scale-model or your prototype. If the prototype doesn’t generate excitement and interest, it is unlikely the real thing will succeed. So revise the prototype until you find something that gets the future audience genuinely excited.

You have your log-line. Now what?

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

Your log-line is the core idea of your story. This will be the beacon of light in the darkness so you always know where the shore is versus the open sea. This sentence will keep you grounded in the original story you wanted to tell and keep you from prancing down bunny trails.

The Fear Factor

Fear is probably the most common emotion shared by writers. The newer we are the more fear we will feel. A side-effect of fear is to emotionally distance from the source of our discomfort.

This is why so many first-time novels fall apart.

I can tell everything that is wrong in a novel with a single glance at the log-line. Conversely, I can tell a writer what precisely needs to be fixed by looking at the log-line.

Does the story have a core problem? Is it a large enough/interesting enough problem to merit a whole novel? What are the stakes? Is there a ticking clock or have we given the MC forever to get around to accomplishing the goal?

If you’re like me and botched your first (hundred) attempts to write a novel, RELAX. It takes time to develop the level of sadism required to write spectacular stories. Not everyone is a born psychopath like George R.R. Martin.

New writers (in particular) tend to shy from any source of conflict, but conflict is the life blood of fiction. Log-lines can show us our story is flat-lining and WHY.

One of the best ways to learn how to write log-lines is to go peruse the IMDB (Internet Movie Database). Look up your favorite movies and see how they are described.

You can even look up movies that bombed and very often see the log-line was weak and the movie was doomed from the start. Look up movies similar to the story you are writing. Look up movies similar to the story you want to tell.

Solid novel log-lines will have 1) your protagonist 2) active verb 3) active goal 4) antagonist 5) stakes 6) ticking clock.

EXAMPLE: Here is a log-line I wrote for Michael Crichton’s Prey.

An out-of-work computer programmer (protagonist) must uncover (active verb) the secrets his wife is keeping in order to destroy (active goal) the nano-robotic threat (antagonist) to human-kind’s existence (stakes/ticking clock).

Hopefully you can see how this log-line meets all the criteria I set out earlier.

This log-line is ironic. An out-of-work programmer will uncover the robotic threat.

It’s emotionally intriguing. The main gatekeeper to the problem is his wife. This spells logistical and emotional complication to me.

Also, the MC doesn’t have forever to get around to stopping the threat. If he doesn’t ACT, humanity is doomed. Also, the price of failure and success is the same…everything he knows and loves.

It will interest potential readers. Considering it was a NYT best-seller, I think Crichton did okay.

So here is an exercise.

See if you can state your novel in one sentence. It will not only help add clarity to your writing and keep you on track, but when it comes time to pitch an agent or hook readers to BUY, you will be well-prepared and ready to knock it out of the park.

Practice on your favorite movies and books. Work those log-line muscles!

If you’re struggling, I’m giving a class next Thursday, September 20th, Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis That SELLS.

Part of this class is my special recipe/formula for amazing log-lines to impress your friends and, hopefully an agent. The first ten sign ups will get ME repairing your log-line, shining it up the snazziest it can be for FREE. Grab your slot ASAP. You can register HERE.

I LOVE hearing from you!

What are some problems you might be having? Do you find you wander too far off your original idea? What are your struggles with remaining focused?

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

***Chris Parrett is August’s winner. Please send your 5000 word Word doc to kristen at wana intl dot com. One-inch margins and 12 point Times New Roman Font, double-spaced. Congratulations!

***FYI: The Speculative Fiction Saturday has been moved to THIS COMING SATURDAY (9/15/18).

The software that powers our virtual classrooms kept crashing our servers #NotFun. Thus, we spent the entire weekend upgrading/updating all the tech and it looks fantastic!

I HIGHLY recommend The XXX Files Bundle (all three classes—world-building, character, advanced plotting—for the price of two). Speculative fiction includes sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, utopian, horror and basically all the weird stuff. Sign up and we can be weird TOGETHER!

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction
It will be FUN!

Upcoming Classes for September


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, Thursday September 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Purchase includes FREE recording of all three classes.

 


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


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

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, September 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

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

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

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

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to Mrs. Barbara Bender who taught my high school sophomore year American Literature class. It wasn’t that the reading selections were all that riveting, or that we had any kind of “Oh, Captain, my captain,” kind of moments. What made the class so pivotal in my formation as a writer is the fact Mrs. Bender made us write papers…and we hated it.

papers, writing, blogs

Why?

Because we had to submit an OUTLINE for every single paper, and the points had to match up. The outline had to create and support a logical argument supported by evidence from start-to-finish. It was a pain in the butt. But…wouldn’t you know it, writing outlines before writing papers soon became a habit.

Once I mastered how to outline an academic paper, it was like I was unstoppable. Yes, I know. This sounds like the Passion of the Nerd. In reality though, it’s more like the Redemption of the Procrastinator. But, becoming a master outliner helped me write papers faster and get better grades every time.

papers, writing, blogs

(No, seriously, I spent an entire semester pulling procrastination punishment all-nighters every Monday night cranking out three-page papers for my anthropology of Papua New Guinea class and got an ‘A’ on every single one…all because I could outline!)

papers, writing, blogs

Whether its academic papers or blog posts, creating an outline is a skill that every writer needs, and unconsciously, every reader appreciates. And today, I’m going to share with you Mrs. Bender’s simple-but-magical outlining tips and tricks from the introduction, to the middle, to the end..

The Introduction

Just like in fiction, a good blog post or academic paper starts with a catchy opening. It can be challenging, evocative, shocking, or revelatory.

papers, writing, blogs

Then, we start to circle the topic in general, sharing reasons it is interesting, relevant, worthwhile, etc. A good technique is ‘within, without, backward, forward.’ We address why a topic is important from within the field, in relation to society in general, in the context of the past, and its potential impact going forward.

THE THESIS STATEMENT COMETH. Just like a logline for a story, the thesis statement for a paper or a blog is the BURNING REASON we are writing this. It’s the single argument that everything else—no matter how many thousands of words—supports.

papers, writing, blogs

The Plan of Attack: Right after the thesis statement come the three main points that will support our argument. It’s the old “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em,” schtick.

Here’s an example of outlining an introduction.

Papers, writing, blogs

The Middle

Now, we’re into the thick of things. We’re sligning facts and logic right and left, maybe even footnoting stuff (Heaven forbid!). But, without a coherent structure, all those facts are going to end up overwhelming us and the reader. Think “I Love Lucy” and the chocolate factory conveyor belt.

papers, writing, blogs

Whether it’s fiction or blogs or papers, the middle is always the longest and hardest part. Luckily, there’s a trick to setting up this section of the outline, from the main point down to the individual paragraphs. Okay, maybe the trick is more like the bastard child of an illicit affair between a formula and a checklist, but it’s still one of God’s creatures, and I love it.

I call it ‘The Telescoping Rule of Three.’ Catchy, non?

Yet, it is an accurate description of both the flexibility and order we need for the middle of papers and posts of all lengths. We need the limit of three to help us focus our high-level arguments. But, at the same time, we need the open-ended ability to drill way, way down into details. We can’t lose ourselves in irrelevant minutiae if we stick to The Telescoping Rule of Three. Even if we do, the structure will guide us safely back.

The Telescoping Rule of Three

The rule starts with the having a plan of attack with three main points that support the thesis statement. This isn’t to say that there are more arguments we could make to support the thesis. It’s simply that these are three points we are choosing to illustrate because we believe they are a relevant, cohesive angle.

papers, writing, blogs
Okay, not precisely relevant, but I couldn’t help it.

Once we are done with the introduction, we tackle each point as its own section. We turn it into a mini-paper, complete with its own introduction with a thesis and plan of attack. From there, we illustrate each of the supporting points with three points…aaaaand you begin to see how this rule ‘telescopes’ to expand for a dissertation or contract for a 1500-word blog post.

It’s easiest explain this with a graphic.

Papers, writing, blogs

‘Three’ is not by any means a hard and fast limit. Think of it more like a boogie board in the ocean. It can help us surf the waves with that rush of speed and ease. But, it can also help us stay afloat when we get swamped by that unexpected swell..and get salt water up our noses like a gratuitous neti pot accident that makes us cough and swallow some of the saltwater while snotting the rest of it back out into the ocean.

papers, writing, blogs
Because we can’t have too many cat memes, especially on a boogie board. Check out Kuli’s story here!

Bonus—Paragraph Structure

Because it’s all starting to come full circle now…

I know you know what’s coming.

The fact that writing a paragraph starts with an introductory sentence that states the point of the paragraph.

The fact that there are three sentences that support that point.

The fact that there is a concluding sentence that segues into the next paragraph.

It’s getting kinda trippy, amiright?

papers, writing, blogs
Don’t hate it because it’s logical.

The Conclusion (in more ways than one)

By the point, it should be 4:00 a.m., and the caffeine shakes should just be starting to kick in.

In the prehistoric times when I was in college, we didn’t have Red Bull. Instead, I drank cold, black coffee from the mini coffeemaker in my room. That’ll wake you up. And put hair on your chest.

papers, writing, blogs
All of the stages are funny-not-funny, and sorry-not-sorry for sharing.

Until I figured out the secret to writing a conclusion, I struggled with this part of a paper. I would even go so far as to shower and fold my laundry instead of writing this bit. I know, right?

However, when I discovered that a conclusion is just an introduction in reverse, it was like the clouds parted and heavenly hosts appeared bearing white chocolate mocha lattes (no whipped cream).

This is the “Tell ’em what you told ’em” part of a paper. I used to feel it was repetitive, but then I realized it was okay. That’s the point of the conclusion. We have to remind the reader why the topic is important and affirm the fact that we proved the bejeezus out of our argument.

papers, writing, blogs

Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t the symmetry of it all move you to tears? Don’t you feel like you can write a better, more coherent blog or get a better grade on your paper now? *sniff, wipes away lone tear*

It’s like a full-circle-reverse-rule-of-three-telescoping…oh, whatever. I need more coffee.

SHARING TIME! Tell me your best all-nighter or turned-it-in-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth story! Also, if you’d like to suggest a topic for me to use for a fake paper to illustrate using this outline, put it in the comments. I’ll pick one and work it up. Maybe we can see if I still have the old zip and polish and do it as a timed event on Twitter, LOL!

Everything You Ever Wanted – A Weekend of Cait & Kristen!

Kristen and I are having a teachapalooza this weekend, starting with my class on Friday night – Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon.

Then, Saturday is going to be out-of-this-world (literally) with The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle. I’ll be geeking out on world-building for sci-fi, dystopias, apocalit, zombies, horror, paranormal, etc. Kristen and I are co-teaching how to take all that world-building and create characters we love to love and love to hate. Then, Kristen is going to wrap up the day with a master class in plotting for speculative fiction.

Even if you’re not writing this genre, there is so much here that is relevant to all fiction.

You can purchase each class individually, or, you can buy the bundle which essentially is all three classes for the price of two. And if you can’t make the classes live this weekend, they all come with a free recording so you won’t miss a thing.

Hope to see you this weekend!


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

If you’ve been writing any amount of time you’ve been there—STUCK. Stuck is the place we never want to be, but goes with the job.

Every writer at one time or another has experienced the literary doldrums. We hit a spot that, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to move our story forward. Every word we write feels like pulling frogs’ teeth and we wonder why we ever thought writing a novel was a good idea.

Some call this ‘writer’s block’ while others claim ‘they’re only in a dry season’ or ‘going through a rough patch.’ Regardless what name we give this feeling, it all feels a heck of a lot like being STUCK.

Many writers, particularly new writers, see being stuck as a sign that they may be writing in the wrong genre. When they get stuck, this is a perfect opportunity to start working on something NEW. Story gets stuck, and this is SURELY divine evidence that the book really should have been a SERIES, not a standalone or a standalone and not a series.

Whatever.

From personal experience combined with my experience with thousands of writers the process from Start to Stuck can look like this.

Zoom to DOOM

Shiny Idea Time—You get the coolest idea ever conceived of and cannot believe such genius has never before been put to the page. It’s as if angels have come down and handed you a golden feather that will whisk you to the realms of literary nirvana.

First 20K Words—You’re flying high. You wonder why you ever had such difficulty with word count before. You cannot stop the flow. Perhaps you forget to eat, don’t want to sleep and you even dream of the world you’re creating.

20K-30K—This is when the pace begins to slow. It’s okay though. Perhaps you’re simply tired. It’s okay. This…THIS is the story idea you’ve been waiting for.

31K—Your pace slows dramatically. If you’ve ever been driving and suddenly had a flat tire? You know the feeling only this is in the brain-fingetips connection. There is a THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP…and your mental steering wheel jerks wildly. You might try to ignore, but eventually? You pull over to see what’s wrong.

But then? Nothing seems wrong. That’s weird. Mental tires all look properly aired. Maybe more caffeine is in order.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

Perhaps you make it to 40K but by then? All the glitter is gone and you wonder what the hell happened. At this point, you likely will be visited by other story ideas. They see you on the side of the creative highway bewildered and seeming to need a ride. Though you don’t yet have your thumb out, these other newer and shinier ideas are quick to pull over and chirp, ‘Hop in!’

Just abandon that old clunker and GO!

It’s all so tempting. Especially since the longer you stay trying to fix your broken down WIP, the more shiny ideas come passing by.

When you started your journey, the road was free and clear for you to floor your brain and write like the wind! Now? You can barely concentrate on where you placed your mental jack because temptation whizzes by every other minute.

I think this is a fairly accurate prediction regarding word count. If it weren’t accurate, then NaNoWriMo would be easy peasy. But, alas, there is something about making it to 50K. It’s a number that leaves most who attempt such a feat broken down wondering what went wrong.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Before you call a tow truck for the WIP and sell it for parts, I’d like to offer you some insight and maybe even some solutions to get you speeding down the Imagination Express once more.

Problem #1—Stuck Because the Antagonist is Weak or Nonexistent

After years of working with writers, it became clear to me that many didn’t understand—truly understand—the antagonist. It doesn’t help that a lot of existent teaching on the subject can be terribly confusing.

I’ve sat through craft classes where instructors used the term ‘antagonist’ and ‘villain’ interchangeably as if the terms were synonymous, but that is grossly inaccurate.

A villain is only ONE TYPE of antagonist.

All stories must have a strong core antagonist, because the antagonist (BBT) is responsible for the story problem.

No antagonist, no story problem in need of solving. Too often, new writers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the hero and don’t give near enough thought to the opposition.

To be fair though, the whole ‘antagonist’ concept was slippery even to me. I had to INVENT my own term—Big Boss Troublemaker—to make the amorphous concept of the story’s central antagonistic force more concrete.

Yes, there should be an antagonist on every page, but the ‘antagonist’ is, simply, any character standing in the way of the MC’s goal. Pushback.

While allies and love interests and even unnamed characters might wear the ‘antagonist’ hat for a spell, they’re not responsible for the core problem in need of resolution. The BBT supplies this.

Problem #2—Stuck Because the Plot Weak or Nonexistent

If a writer has failed to understand the antagonist (opposition) and truly know what this opposing force wants then the plot will simply disintegrate. When we’re crafting any work, we have to create a problem that is strong enough to bear the weight of the word count.

For instance, I’ve consulted many writers who had an excellent idea…for a short story. The problem was inherently too weak to sustain the bulk of a full-length novel.

Instead of plowing forward, often we can make some really simple adjustments to buttress that core idea. But if we don’t? It’s like trying to drive 90 mph pulling a crappy trailer. The wheels eventually WILL go flying off.

Often when we’re stuck, it’s the subconscious mind hitting the breaks. It’s trying to tell us our plot needs to be more robust or even clarified, which dovetails into my next point…

Problem #3—Stuck Because Too Many Ideas are Crammed into One Book

Some writers might not have enough heft to the plot and others? Perhaps you’re loading on far too much. It’s not uncommon for me to talk to writers who are jammed up in a bad way only to find out they are trying to develop five ideas in one book.

Since the author failed to articulate what the book was about in ONE sentence (truly understand the BBT’s agenda), then the author was at liberty to explore whatever cool rabbit trail presented itself.

This isn’t particularly bad, but it does require we STOP, get focused and maybe tease out those other ideas for subsequent books. You might think you only have one book, when you have two others freeloading and bogging down your momentum.

Problem #4—Stuck Because We’ve Chosen the Wrong Protagonist

Casting the wrong protagonist is really easy to do, especially if we failed to properly develop the antagonist. Remember at the core of most great stories is an antagonist who’s essentially the shadow self of the protagonist.

For instance, in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney. He represents drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and gang members. He has grown jaded with the justice system and prides himself on his ability to manipulate.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

His greatest fear is representing a truly innocent man. What is the perfect story problem for such a character? Present him with an irresistible case that tosses him into what he fears the most.

Representing a truly innocent man.

This means that Connelly had to create a crime (case) where the client would undoubtedly look guilty and who would have enough cash to make Haller question any misgivings about taking on the case. Without a case where an innocent man is involved? The Lincoln Lawyer falls apart at the seams.

If Connelly had cast a lawyer who was all about truth, justice and the American Way? The plot would have been meh.

An attorney who works pro bono searching for truth is expected to risk everything to save the life of an innocent man. This would have been the wrong protagonist to cast for such a plot.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance and Connelly, being a master, cast the one guy who probably would have run screaming from this case had he know was he was in for.

If your story seems to be sagging, check and make sure you’ve slated the right person for the job. Sometimes some quick fixes to who this character is or even giving that character some additional baggage might be enough to get you unstuck.

Problem #5—Stuck Because We Are Just Over Thinking

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

STOP IT! This is the one I am most guilty of. It’s why I am a HUGE fan of fast-drafting because then we simply don’t have time to over think every step we’ve made.

All writers have two different phases:

Oh! Wow! I wrote that!

Oh, wow…I wrote that.

We all think we’re geniuses…only to later read the exact same section and become convinced we are little more than brain-damaged spider monkeys banging away on a keyboard.

It happens, especially when we are in the thick of the story. It is tempting to go back and perfect, but resist the urge to go BACK. Feel free to correct typos or make notes (in a different color) but do not change your writing.

Your subconscious could be planting seeds and what looks like a weed might just be the greatest plot-twist EVER germinating. Just leave it alone and stop being so hard on yourself.

Remember, no unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have 😉 .

Truthfully, if you finish and just cut yourself a break you will likely go back to those parts you were going to chop and see they aren’t nearly as bad as you’d imagined. Remember that while your subconscious is there to help you? Your ego is a selfish passive-aggressive diva who can’t stand that something might be prettier than she is.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.11.38 AM

You really want to be hard on yourself? Fine, just do it in the correct places. Instead of nitpicking the life out of your prose? Get your @$$ in the seat and keep pressing.

Tips to Push Through

Right now, I hear the gnashing of teeth. Great, Kristen, we now know WHY we are stuck. A little help to get un-stuck? Sure. I can give y’all a couple tips.

1) Resist the urge to edit.

New writers are especially bad at looking back and perfecting the beginning. This is a BAD habit. For the sake of brevity, I recommend reading my post The Dangers of Premature Editing: Pruning Our Stories vs. Pillaging Them.

2) Learn to fast draft.

Fast drafting might not be for everyone, BUT I will say that if you’ve never tried it and you have a stack of unfinished ‘novels,’ what can it hurt to give it a try? What’s the worst thing that will happen? You’ll add one more unfinished novel to the pile?

I’m a huge fan of fast draft.

Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.

I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.

To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month after a fellow writer mocked him that writing so quickly created only junk. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. King has written fifty-nine novels and over two hundred short stories.

Speaking of Stephen King, this brings me to my third tip for getting unstuck…

3) Kill someone.

IN YOUR WIP! Jeez, do I need a legal disclaimer here?

Yes, when our WIP stalls, a great way to slip free is by liberally applying imaginary blood and the tears of those who mourn.

Granted, this might be weird if you write kid books. But, give it a try anyway 😛 .

One MAJOR reason so many stories stall is because new writers have yet to hone the art of being a total sociopath. They’re afraid of grit and mess, so their ‘novel’ is far too sanitized (code for BORING).

Have a favorite supporting character you love, your mom loves, and your writing group adores? FANTASTIC!

Now go kill that character.

#YouWillThankMeLater

*smooch*

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does the pattern I spelled out in the beginning feel far too familiar? You are off like you’re mainlining jet fuel only to sputter out and DIE? Are you being too nice to your characters? I love hearing your thoughts, tips, struggles (and I reward those who comment).

There are a lot of ways to break out of this pattern. Sometimes though, you may need a tow (pro).

Generally, a pro can spot all your weaknesses (and strengths) in twenty pages, but what do we see?  Why is the story starting out strong only to fizzle and fall apart?

Currently, I’m running my ‘Write Stuff Special’ and there are a few slots left, but they go quickly so get your spot HERE. 

Other than that…

I love hearing from you!

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

***I will announce August’s winner next time I post.

Upcoming Classes for August & September


Brand Boss: When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, Thursday September 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Purchase includes FREE recording of all three classes.

 

 


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE