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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Writing

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.

#JustSaying

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!

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

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.

#DeepThoughts

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…

ON DEMAND CLASSES!!!

***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…

REMEMBER ON DEMAND CLASSES ON SALE FOR ‘MOTHER’S DAY’!

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!

ON DEMAND CLASSES

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self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

Editing has always been a critical factor regarding any book’s success. This has NOT changed. If anything, proper editing is a complete game-changer now more than ever in the history of publishing.

Why?

Because too many writers fail to appreciate just how vital proper editing is. They skimp on the editing for the sassy cover and the cool promotion material.

Problem is, no one can get through Chapter One without risking a brain bleed.

Who cares how amazing the story is if we (the reader) keep getting jerked out of the fictive dream?

More importantly, in a world drowning in bad books, those rare jewels—books well-written and properly edited—shine like polished jewels scattered on chunks of asphalt.

Readers glom onto authors they know they can TRUST for great stories, professionals who went the extra mile to make their product the best it could be.

Alas, there is a common fallacy among many emerging writers. They believe (very mistakenly) that authors only write the books. Then, once finished, agents will fall in LOVE and someone else will do ALL the editing.

*clutches sides laughing.*

Yeah…no. And woodland creatures don’t help with housework. Sorry to break the news. Bummed me out, too.

The hard truth is the onus is on us (writers) to make certain our manuscript is properly edited before sending a query. Remember, agents are actively searching for reasons to STOP reading. Self-editing skills can mean the difference between a sweet deal or a spot in the slush pile.

Even if the story is amazing, agents know editing is time-consuming and costly. This means they’re more likely to wait for another ‘amazing story’ that doesn’t cost as much as a Caribbean cruise to get bookstore ready. They’ll be far more likely to sign an author who possesses solid self-editing skills.

But what was that old saying?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Applies to agents and to readers.

Self-publishing is a whole new level and new devil. If we’re doing our job, the self-published novel should be at least as good as anything legacy published. This means we bear the burden (and cost) of making sure our manuscript is the best it can be.

Superior editing makes the difference between releasing a novel versus unleashing one. Many emerging writers—once the novel is ‘finished’—make some major errors when it comes to ‘editing.’

Here are a few biggies:

  • The writer actually¬†believes the novel is finished and hits PUBLISH (Ahhhhhhh! NO!);
  • Emerging authors fail to understand proofreading is NOT synonymous with editing. Proofreading is merely one type of editing;
  • New authors don’t research how much good developmental editors/substantive line-editors charge for services.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

The above guidelines are from the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Since all novels require editing, the more we know how to do ourselves, the lower our costs will be. Trust me. Y’all do not want to pay a developmental editor to turn a 90,000 word mess into something readable (forget publishable).

Feel free to do this, but be ready to cough up a few thousand dollars and part of a kidney.

A more cost-effective option is to understand plot and the mechanics of story so we can repair the flaws ourselves. Sure, a good developmental editor will spot the massive plot holes and guide us how to repair them, but (again) it’s gonna cost us.

A lot.

Additionally, we can pay someone to insert all our proper punctuation and correct poor grammar, OR we can learn how to do this stuff ourselves.¬†Then we’re only paying for a proofreader to catch what we missed or goofed.

Trust me, no matter how good the writer, we ALL miss/goof stuff.

Self-Editing and ‘Cost vs. Value’

As I already mentioned, good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses we could’ve easily repaired ourselves?

We’re burning cash and time.

Self-editing can be a real life (and cash) saver.

Yet, correct the problems we’ll be discussing today, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of our novel. This means you will spend¬†less money¬†and get¬†far higher value.

Over my career I have literally edited¬†thousands¬†of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My particular specialty is content and developmental edit. Though I’ll correct punctuation and spelling as I go (because I am OCD and generous) MY job is to make a STORY the best it can possibly be.

Problem is, most of the time I can’t even get to the story because it’s obscured under layers of bleh the writer could have removed in revision.

#1 DIY Adverb Removal

Despite what you might have been told, not ALL adverbs are evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly?

***Wow, glad the author explained how ‘whispering’ works.

Ah, but if a character whispers¬†seductively? The adverb¬†seductively¬†gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t inherent in the verb.¬†Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones.

Either we need to choose a stronger verb, or we’re treating the reader like an idiot.

If a character walks quickly to the train platform, then choose a verb that means ‘to walk quickly’ (stride, jog, hurry) and use that one instead. If a character¬†yells loudly, ditch the¬†loudly.¬†

We understand how yelling ‘works.’

#2 Cut the Cray-Cray

First and foremost, readers want a STORY. Stories are more than loads of ‘pretty writing’ using thousand-dollar words. Stories are about problems. A character thinks life is fine, then PROBLEM. The character then must struggle, grow, evolve, make choices to eventually SOLVE the problem (win, lose, draw).

Pretty description is optional. Big words are also optional. Alas, if we want to be a writer who uses description then we need to wield with economy.

Few things make me as giddy as a glorious line of description or a new vocabulary word. Many readers (and writers) are like crows.

We see the shinies and tuck them away because they’re THAT cool. The last book I read was¬†The Devil in the White City.

When describing a miserable afternoon in late 19th century Chicago, the author had many options of how to do this. Instead of, ‘The day was humid and stifling,’¬†Erik Larson wrote, ‘The air hung with the heavy stillness of a tapestry.’¬†

There’s nothing, per se, wrong with the first description. But Larson’s line was far more visceral because he made use of multiple senses simultaneously.

But some writers take similes too far.

I’ve seen writers who’ve used so much ‘wordsmithery’ that I had no idea what the hell they were even trying to say. The goal of a novel is to hook readers into a dramatic narrative, not prove we own a thesaurus.

Exhibit A:

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic literary devices, but need to be used with intention. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using forty-two metaphors in five pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called ‘purple prose.’ Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes.

Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST.

Any kind of description must serve the story and propel the dramatic action forward. If it doesn’t do this? CUT!

#3 Cut the Stage Direction

Again, the more time an editor devotes to a project the higher the bill. Also, if an editor charges by the page, we could be paying for a lot of filler we could have removed ourselves.

Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.’ Readers¬†don’t need every single step of a day. We live it, why would we read it?

Yet, I see a lot of samples like this:

Fifi opened her eyes at dawn. She pulled back her covers and placed her feet on the floor. Padding across the room, she reached for a robe hanging on her door. Her stomach growled, so she went downstairs and opened the fridge for the carton of orange juice, then grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Turning around, she searched for a granola bar….

OH, GET ON WITH IT!

An editor is going to cut all of this because NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Also, readers pretty much know how the whole ‘getting juice’ phenomenon works. They don’t need a blow-by-blow.

Fifi reached out her hand to open the door.

NO KIDDING.

Unless Fifi has telekinetic powers, do readers need the direction?

Filler pads the word count, but it also pads the editing bill. The verbs¬†turn, look, grab, pull are possible¬†red flags you’re doing too much stage direction. My advice is to do a Word Find and search for these verbs and their variations (I.e. look, looked, looking). See if the action is necessary or if you’re holding the reader’s brain.

If you’re holding the reader’s brain? Return it, please.

#4 Beware of Painful & Alien Movement of Body Parts

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

His head followed her across the room.

Um…ouch.

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

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

#5 Ease Up on the Physiology

Fifi’s head pounded. She ran for the door, her heart hammering and wild pulse beating relentlessly in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs. All she could do was gasp. Panic made her throat clench and stomach heave. Mind numb, she reached for the door, fingers trembling.

GET TO IT ALREADY!

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of samples where the character has her heart pounding so much, I’m waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment.

Physiological reactions can become echoes. If every page the character has her stomach churning, roiling and rolling, our reader will need an antacid before finishing the chapter (provided she finishes at all).

I strongly recommend a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We just don’t need to be told this over and over and…over.

We (readers) assume the character’s heart is still pounding until she’s out of danger.

No need to remind us.

Really.

#6 Odd Sentence Construction

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

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

First, this is backing into the action. Though technically correct (enough), it’s easy to lose a reader if we have too many sentences like this. Active sentences are the easiest on the brain and keep the reader immersed in the fictive dream.

Then there are the picky issues with the example above. For instance, when we use the word ‘down,’ then ‘on’ is redundant.

Also, Jessie is either ironing or not ironing. ‘Started’ is overused and makes sloppy writing (this actually goes back to the whole stage direction thing).

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

Another way writers will vary the beginning of sentences is they’ll default to what’s known as passive voice.

Passive:

The door was kicked in by the police.

Active:

Police kicked in the door.

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

Many writers end up with strange sentence construction because they realize every sentence is starting with the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. They’re trying to ameliorate the repetition of Jessie, Jessie, Jessie, she, she, she. The problem, then, is not sentence construction, rather the writer needs to open the lens of the storytelling.

Remember our character doesn’t need to be the subject of every sentence. We’re telling a¬†story. This means we can work with setting, other characters, etc.

#7 Get Rid of ‘Clever’ Tags

Ideally, if we do a good job with our characters, the reader should know who’s talking without tags because speech patterns differ. If all our characters ‘speak’ the same way, that is an issue we need to remedy.

Yet, we can’t always do this, which means we can use a tag. Tags are fine, but keep it simple. This isn’t the place to get clever.

‘You are such a jerk,’ she laughed.

A character can’t ‘laugh’ something. They can’t ‘spit,’ ‘snarl,’ or ‘grouse’ words either. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said¬†used properly becomes white noise.

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

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

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

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

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

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

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

There you go!

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

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

And we should always be growing, learning and sharpening those skills, so please check out the upcoming classes. Remember, a recording of all classes is included in purchase price ūüėČ .

MARCH’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

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

Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be In Witness Protection

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, March 12th 7-9 PM EST $99

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Too many voices telling ALL THE THINGS! AHHHHHHHH!

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Friday, March 15th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

***Yes, I will be teaching about Instagram among OTHER new business developments in this class.

Harnessing Our Writing Power: THE BLOG

Taught by Kristen Lamb Saturday, March 16th 2-4 PM EST $55 General Admission/ $165 GOLD)

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, March 28th, 7-9 PM EST ($55/$349 GOLD)

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, March 30th 2-4 PM EST $55

 

Kristen is away at a conference in San Francisco….so that means today, you get ME! And despite what the title implies, I’m not here to talk about the failed New Year’s diet (ask me if I even bothered).

diet, fantasy, food, writing

No, today, you get a super special fun rant from me about food in the fantasy genre. Why? Because I can. But also, because it’s a real problem.

Not to mention that our characters are going to end up with some serious nutritional and health issues if all they ever eat are bread and cheese.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some bread and cheese as much as the next person. But…even if the story is loosely Ye Olde Faux Medieval, there seriously has to be more than just bread and cheese in the larder.¬†

It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Of course Our Heroes‚ĄĘ are going to pack food for their quest or steal it along the way (or buy it...why do they never have money to buy stuff?). Bread and cheese seems simple and safe to use. Yet, these details, as seemingly throwaway as they are, define the difference between amateur hour and professionals.

Because why have bread and cheese when you could have dried figs and honey, sweet spiced mead, smoked meats with cracked pepper crusts, and hard savory biscuits that soften when used to soak up the juices of any meat or stew cooked over the campfire?

The Locavore Diet

If we are dealing with a fantasy setting that is pre-any-kind-of-industrialization (magic notwithstanding), then there are certain things we have to keep in mind.

Good world-building includes consideration of climate and geography. Do characters live in tropical mountains regions or cold mountain regions? This question naturally leads us to comparisons with more familiar, Earthly parallels. For example, tropical mountains could easily be the rain forests and mountains of Rwanda and the Congo. Cold mountain regions could be Scandinavian or maybe Inuit.

diet, fantasy, writing

While we might not be writing an exact transposition of those cultures into our fantasy world, there are some hard facts about climate, farming, and resources that we need to understand, and real information about those regions can help us. Year-round farming may be possible in the tropics, but food spoils faster in the heat. Farming is a bigger gamble in cold climates as there is just one shot at a growing season. On the other hand, characters have a refrigerator right outside their door for nine months of the year.

Geography and seasonality also determine the nutritional profile of a character’s diet. Colder climate settings could mean increased meat and dairy, possibly with fish and root vegetables. This is a diet that also happens to suit the body’s ‘insulation’ and energy expenditure needs to survive the cold. Warmer climates provide an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, all which have high water content which help keep the body regulated and healthy.

Locals might drink well water and be okay, but Our Question Heroes From The Kingdom Next Door‚ĄĘ probably shouldn’t. Without indoor plumbing, sewage systems, and water filtration, I’m pretty sure that giardia would also still be a thing. And magical springs are a whole other headache. I mean, what is the bacteria in our digestive tract supposed to DO with enchantments?

Too much? TMI? Whatevs.

Ye Olde Tupperware

Going back to the whole pre-industrialization thing, let’s stop for a moment to consider food storage.

On the one hand, it’s kind of awesome to think of a world that’s by default 100% organic and 100% non-GMO (mostly because they don’t have any other choice). Also, there’s no low-fat anything unless it’s a vegetable or straight-up starvation. And there’s the eternal toss-up between dying of hypertension/heart disease because of all the salt used to preserve food or dying of some really nasty gastro-intestinal parasite (that wears a little wizarding hat because hey, magic!) because Guidwyfe Jellichoe wanted to try this new-fangled thing the traveling physick had mentioned called a ‘low-sodium diet.’

diet, fantasy, writing

In very general terms, food preservation breaks down into a couple of processes: salting, smoking, spicing, and sun-drying. There are probably more, but let’s just roll with these for now. The mains goals of preservation are to remove moisture or change the chemical balance to slow sensitivity and decay. Each has pros and cons that are dependent (you guessed it!) climate and geography.

Salting gives us delicious things like salami and bacon, but there was a time when salt was either hard to come by or fairly expensive if you didn’t live close to the ocean. Smoking works, but it’s pretty miserable to do when you live in 100F heat with matching humidity. Sun-drying is only as good as the number of hot, sunny days that coincide with a harvest. Using spices is one of the ways people change the chemical balance of food. An example of this would be making curries – which, incidentally uses spices that only grow in those climate regions…which is kind of a neat trick on nature’s part, though I still take issue with covering 2/3 of the world in UNDRINKABLE water. LOL

diet, fantasy, writing

If Our Heroes‚ĄĘ need to take food with them, how are they going to carry it? What kind of pre-industrial packaging are we going to have? Leaf-wrapped lembas? Hard, smokey cheese wrapped in linen? Wax-sealed clay jars for wine? Again, think about the impact of geography and season on the food storage and transportation options for Our Heroes‚ĄĘ.

Have a Snickers, Cait

I know that I tend to be a little over-enthusiastic about going down research rabbit-holes. It’s the frustrated ivory tower academic in my soul. And the beautiful part about fantasy is that it really¬†doesn’t require all that much research.

But, it DOES require the time and effort to¬†think things through. Just because we are writing fantasy doesn’t mean we get a pass on facts, logic, and realism. If anything, it SHOULD hold us to an even higher standard of rigor in order to help the reader become fully immersed in the world and invested in the characters.

Thoughtful, unique details can make a moment come alive. Illogical or trite details can turn a reader off faster than Gollum can say, “Sssssally sssssellsss sssseashellssss.”

Just a little time spent with Dr. Google, Professor Wikipedia, and Head Librarian Google Books (all free except for some parts of Google Books) will be worth its weight in cursed dwarvish gold when it comes to creating a fantasy world that readers want to visit again and again and again…

Have a Snickers, Cait (Redux)

No matter how ranty I seem, teaching about fantasy world-building is one of my favorite things to do (no joke). And, this Friday, I’m teaching one heck of a class on it. Three hours live (plus recording) of 1,001 things you can do to make your fantasy world stand out from the crowd (something that no amount of newsletter advertising or Rafflecopters can do for you long-term…).

 

Wizards, Wishes, and Washboards–Next Level World-Building for Fantasy

Taught by USA Today BSA Cait Reynolds February 22nd, 7-10 PM EST ($99)

THIS IS A 3-HOUR CLASS BECAUSE THERE IS LITERALLY SO MUCH TO COVER! (Remember, you also get a recording of this class to keep forevernevernevernever)

Come prepared to take LOTS of notes and ask lots of questions!

This class will cover a REALLY wide range of topics, including (and certainly not limited to):

  • WTF is etymology, and why does it matter?:¬†¬†What are the fundamental rules of creating names, vocabulary, and language;
  • This land is your land…:¬†We will dig into geology, geography, cartography, and probably some other ‘graphy-s’, and how to use them¬†literally¬†in world-building;
  • Keeping it real:¬†Tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants;
  • Trope is as trope does:¬†What elements of fantasy are ‘required’ for the genre, and how to separate those from the eye-roll-inducing tropes (I’m looking at you, servant-girl-turned-magical-warrior-princess!);
  • Thinking it up vs. thinking it through:¬†Just because it seems like a cool idea to have glow-in-the-dark dragons doesn’t mean it actually is, and who knew it would come back to bite you in chapter 17, stalling out your book, and…yeah…or, how to spot ye olde speed bumps before they wreck the carriage;
  • DETAILS ARE FUN!:¬†This is the motherlode of all the different nitty-gritty details that either lure the reader into the deep end of immersion or leave them cold in the kiddie pool;
  • AND SO MUCH MORE…

More Classes from Kristen!

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

Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be In Witness Protection

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, March 7th 7-9 PM EST $99

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Too many voices telling ALL THE THINGS! AHHHHHHHH! Taught by Kristen Lamb, Friday, March 15th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

Yes, I will be teaching about Instagram in this class.

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, March 28th, 7-9 PM EST ($55/$349 GOLD)

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, March 30th 2-4 PM EST $55

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