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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Writing

secret-keepers, lies, fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

Secret-keepers have what it takes to be legendary storytellers. Stories aren’t solely about pretty writing, glorious description, or witty banter. Excellent stories are about one thing and one thing only….CONFLICT.

Want to know the secret ingredient that turns responsible adult readers into reckless maniacs willing to stay up until DAWN to finish a book…on a work day?

TENSION.

Secret-Keepers Resist the Urge to Explain

secret-keepers, lies, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, how to write fiction, storytelling tips

Secret-keepers learn to resist the urge to explain, which we’ll talk about in a moment. Before any deception even comes into play, we—as authors—must make sure we cast jacked up people in our story. To be blunt, perfectly well-adjusted, responsible people are dull.

We want to deliver a powerful story not a powerful SEDATIVE.

This said, it’s tempting for us to create perfect protagonists and pure evil antagonists, but that’s the stuff of Looney Tunes cartoons and low budget 70s Spaghetti Westerns…not great fiction.

First of all, we want our characters to ‘feel’ real. In order to feel real, they must come with baggage (um, like real people do).

In some genres this baggage may be carry-on only (I.e. cozy mystery). Other genres require a cast with enough baggage to require military aircraft hangars (I.e. literary fiction, certain types of speculative fiction).

Also, remember that life isn’t black and white. We’re wise to appreciate that every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses and vice-versa. When we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler.

Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

One element that is critical to understand about legendary storytelling is this:

Everyone Has Secrets

secret-keepers, Kristen Lamb, dramatic tension, how to write fiction, writing tips

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge (again look to genre). Alas, the skilled author understands how powerful secrets can be and hones his/her abilities to be superior secret-keepers.

Skilled writers never part with anything the reader doesn’t work for. 

Real Self vs. Authentic Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see. If this weren’t true then my author picture would have me wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, yoga pants and a scrunchee, not a beautifully lighted photograph taken by a pro.

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers.

This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, ‘Grandma! TMI! STOP!’

No one wants to be trapped in a long line at a grocery store with the stranger telling us about her nasty divorce. Yet, if we had a sibling who was suffering, we’d be wounded if she didn’t tell us her marriage was falling apart.

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography.

Yet, as the daughters grow into women, the mothers see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are all thousands of miles away from the past (China).

The mothers have to reveal their sins, but this will cost them the ‘perfect version of themselves’ they’ve sold the world and their daughters (and frankly, themselves).

The daughters look at their mothers as being different from them. Their mothers are perfect, put-together, and guiltless. It’s this misperception that keeps a wall between them. This wall can only come down if the external facades (the secrets) are exposed.

Secret-Keepers See & Craft the False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be complete psychopaths using the false face for personal gain/entertainment (great fodder for incredible villains).

Other characters who seem loving, generous and selfless might be acting out of guilt, shame, or as penance, not out of any genuine concern for others. The over-achiever who excels at everything might not be at ALL confident, rather terrified and haunted by feelings of being a fraud.

We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet.

She wants others to think she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

Anyone walking toward her closets or asking to take a shower makes her uncomfortable because this threatens her false face.

What is the secret your MC will do ANYTHING to protect? Find that, then expose her.

Secret-Keepers FEAST on False Guilt

secret-keeper, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, how to write fiction, how to sell a lot of books

Characters can be driven to right a wrong they aren’t even responsible for. In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly is driven to find her father before the bail bondsman takes the family land and renders all of them homeless.

Ree is old enough to join the Army and walk away from the nightmare, but she doesn’t. She feels a need to take care of the family and right a wrong she didn’t commit. Ree has to dig in and dismantle the family secrets (the crime ring entrenched in her bloodline) to uncover the real secret—What happened to her father?

Dolly has to keep the family secret (otherwise she could just go to the cops) to uncover the greater, and more important secret. She keeps the secret partly out of self-preservation, but also out of guilt and shame.

Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train uses false guilt for max effect. MC Rachel’s entire life is a lie built on a foundation of authentic shame (she’s a raging alcoholic with no job pretending to be functioning) and false shame (her alleged ‘sins’ that have driven her to the bottle). Her desire to right a wrong she has nothing to do with (solve the murder of a total stranger) is, again, propelled by shame.

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

secret-keepers, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, creating conflict in fiction, how to write fiction

Secrets are SO powerful when it comes to storytelling, which is one of the reasons I HATE flashbacks. Oh, but my readers want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such.

No. No they don’t. They want to be tortured. Just trust me.

And, for the record, flashbacks are not the same as non-linear plotting. Also, the flashbacks I loathe are what I call ‘Training Wheel Flashbacks’ (since the sole reason they exist is to prop up a weak story).

What is a Training Wheel Flashback? It’s when any POV character is ‘thinking back in time’ for the sole purpose of EXPLAINING and diffusing tension. You spot one of these suckers?

CUT!

Before AT LEAST 2/3 of the way through Act Two, any shift back in time should ideally present MORE conflict, questions, unresolved issues. Should you part with any answers, my advice is to replace them with at least two more questions. Otherwise, all that tension bleeds out because the reader is satisfied.

Pro Tip: The ONLY acceptable time for a reader to be satisfied is after the last page and the five-star review they HAVE to give your book.

If we’re ONLY shifting back to explain why Such-And-Such doesn’t trust, acts like an @$$hat, or has an unhealthy obsession with all things Julio Iglesias, we’re diluting our own secret sauce.

We’re dampening that fire that propels our readers want to press on so they can know WHY.

Yes, our readers WANT to know WHY, but we are under no obligation to tell them immediately or…ever (depending on genre or if we have a series). In fact, non-linear plotting is one of THE BEST ways to be an almost SADISTIC secret-keeper, which is why it’s the preferred structure of certain genres.

*nods to The Bird Box* #SheerGenius

***FYI: I am teaching a class on non-linear plotting, and how to properly apply the flashback this Saturday. And, as always a FREE recording included with purchase 😀 .

Where was I?

Yes. Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY…even though we beg.

Expert secret-keepers reveal pieces slowly, but remember. Once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

secret-keeper, writing, Kristen Lamb, how to write fiction, writing tips
Yes. Yes I do.

They can be small lies, ‘No, I wasn’t crying. Allergies.’ Lies of omission. White lies. They can even be BIG lies, ‘I have no idea what happened to your father. I was playing poker with Jeb.’ Fiction is one of the few places that LIES ARE GOOD. LIES ARE GOLD.

Fiction is like dating. If we tell our date our entire life story on Date #1? Mystery lost and good luck with Date #2.

When it comes to your characters, make them lie (even if it’s only to themselves). Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly be open to seeing their true self, and—like in life and when WE go to therapy—the characters will do everything to defend who they believe they are.

Remember the inciting incident creates a sort of personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Again. Resist the urge to explain. 

Feel free to write backstory/secrets out for your benefit…but then HIDE those babies from the reader. BE SECRET-KEEPERS. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions?

What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Can you think of what your character’s ‘false face’ is? What is the lie that defines him or her?

Can you craft their self-delusion? Is there a weakness or weaknesses that they dare not show (but by not showing it, is ultimately inhibiting growth)?

Also, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your enthusiastic support! Y’all ROCK!

I’ve written  five books, almost 2,000 blogs, millions of words, and it’s all because y’all subscribe HERE, share these posts, and take classes (which keeps me gainfully employed and off the streets so I can write MORE BLOGS for y’all to enjoy).

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the blog (look in the sidebar), share it with your fellow writers via social media, and make sure to sign up for a CLASS! We have a ton of fun and I include a free recording just so you can enjoy the class and go back and review and study at your leisure.

***BTW, CONGRATULATIONS! December’s winner of my comments contest is Kat Kent. Please send your 5000 word WORD doc to kristen at wana intl dot com. Double-spaced, one-inch margins, and Times New Roman Font.

JANUARY & FEBRUARY’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

Self-Publishing for Professionals

Taught by USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynold’s on Friday, January 11th 7-10 PM EST PLUS EXTRA GOODIES ($100 for THREE hours of training plus bonus material). The LIVE class has passed, but the recording and bonus material is available with the BUNDLE.

The Business of Writing

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Saturday, February 2nd 1-3 PM EST ($55)

***GET ALL THREE (Self-Publishing for Professionals Jan. 11th, The Business of Writing Feb. 2nd & Pitch Perfect Feb. 7th) IN THE PUBLISHING TRIPLE THREAT BUNDLE for $155

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 12th, 1-3 PM EST

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, February 21st, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

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

A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 19th from 1-3 PM EST $55

Harnessing Our Writing Power: The BLOG!

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, January 24th 7-9 PM EST $55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 26th 1-3 PM EST $55

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be Stabbed in the Face

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, January 31st 7-9 PM EST $65

The Business of Writing

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Saturday, February 2nd 1-3 PM EST ($55)

Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Thursday, February 2nd, 7-9 PM EST ($55)

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Kristen Lamb, rest, rest for success, new year's resolutions, dreams, goals

It’s winter here in Texas, which means almost next to nothing since Texas is a female state. Today, I think I will be SPRING! No…winter. Wait, why not BOTH? 

While the temperature is all over, and most of the time we have no clue what to wear each day (aside from one of everything), the plants and animals at least seem to have a plan. They go dormant, hibernate and basically take time to REST.

**Sorry about the four-letter word.

Rest might seem an odd topic for the first week of January when everyone is ALL SYSTEMS GO. Yet, failure to appreciate the importance of R&R is why I believe so many people fail to ever reach those goals, meet those resolutions.

We can fall into all-or-nothing thinking and that is a fast track to burnout.

Ask me how I know.

Last time, we talked about New Year’s Resolutions and why it’s imperative to choose our pain. Because anything worth having or doing in life involves some sort of pain.

We exercise agency when we can embrace the process as much if not more than that glorious—and often short-lived—summit. Now that we’ve addressed pain, let’s talk about peace.

Trees go dormant for a lot of reasons, but the best one is TO STAY ALIVE. Metabolism slows and the tree goes into a sort of hibernation to survive the cold months and low sunlight levels.

But trees also go dormant because it’s impossible to be fruitful 365 days a year. There has to be some time to REST.

Plants are smarter than some of us *points at self*

Brain Drain

Kristen Lamb, rest, self-help, new year's resolutions, goalsFerris Jabr wrote an excellent article in Scientific American, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime that I recommend reading in its entirety. Our modern Western culture’s puritanical devotion to chronic busyness, in my POV, is nothing short of psychotic.

Though study after study empirically demonstrates that humans are not created to be ‘perpetual doing machines,’ the data does little to deter our world’s increasing determination to pile more on our plate.

Multi-tasking, email overload, meetings, meetings to discuss meetings, deadlines, through-lines, pipelines, downlines.

Our workplace has begun reflecting our world…borderless. The 9-5 workday is relic of our not-so-distant-past. In 1989, we got mail…in a mailbox or in a ‘finite’ In-Box (which was a LITERAL BOX). We could leave work at work, read our mail and see our in-boxes actually EMPTY.

This gave us time to rest. Really rest.

#TrueFact #IWasThere

Now? We wake daily to digital avalanches. Data poured over us from reservoirs with limitless capacity, all dumped into a human brain that can only hold so much. Our In-Boxes never empty…ever.

I gave up on my Yahoo e-mail and finally just let it go feral a few years ago. It’s easily at over 100,000 messages by now. Every SUPER IMPORTANT message promises to only take a couple minutes.

Now multiply a couple minutes by twenty or fifty. We maybe make it through our URGENT messages just in time for…another meeting. We eat breakfast and lunch over our keyboards or in our cars while listening to voicemails and memos.

By the end of the ‘work day,’ we aren’t even close to ‘finished,’ but frankly we wouldn’t recognize finished if it peed on our leg.

Finished is the Bigfoot of the modern world.

rest, Kristen Lamb, self-help, life coaching, success, New Year's resolutions

Since we aren’t ‘finished’ we take work home. Work bulges over its boundaries into our marriages and family lives where we check our phones instead of paying attention to what our significant other is saying or our children are asking. We do all of this because we are ‘working hard,’ but are we?

No.

Yes, I am a Corporate America Refugee.

This same ideology has oozed into the schools. Children are plugged into iPods and tablets and computers all day with no play. They come home and the homework is often another two to three hours.

As they get older, this additional work seeps into weekends and holidays. All the while, rest is moved further and further down the priority list.

Social Schizophrenia

rest, Kristen Lamb, social media, self help, goals, New Year's resolutions

Then, if we add in how human ‘socializing’ has shifted over the past decade, we have a Molotov Cocktail for a meltdown or burnout. I grew up in the 80s where every academic hailed how computers would usher in Utopia. Get your kids on a computer early, the earlier the better. 

Companies sold widgets and gadgets to parents and schools so young malleable minds could leap frog into the future and reap the boundless…

Insanity.

This probably sounds insane coming from a ‘social media expert,’ but social media is making us more antisocial than ever before. Granted this is merely my professional opinion, but I stand by it.

When we do get a chance to rest, where do we choose to GO? We scroll Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever the social platform de jour happens to be.

We’re not hibernating, we’re hiding. Hiding from responsibility, overwhelming email chains, all the demands that assail from every angle.

Like rats in some deranged experiment we tap buttons, get superficial dopamine highs off likes and loves and emojis. Speaking of emojis, we tell our young children to ‘use their words,’ and meanwhile we communicate using happy faces and anthropomorphic piles of poo.

Instead of having coffee and talking and, more importantly, listening, we trade authentic and healthy social time for the artificial easy substitute. Aspartame adventures, saccharin smiles, and partially hydrogenated conversations.

Instead of rest, we scroll and tap and like and on and on and we’re as bad as a toddler who refuses to part with a pacifier. If, for a second, we can’t find our phone, check our messages, look at what ‘amazingness’ everyone else has posted on InstaSnapFace…we panic.

No Rest for the Weary

rest, self-help, life coaching, Kristen Lamb, writers, goals

Invariably, all this busyness has a cost. One cost is that stress, like alcohol, impairs our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for making sound decisions.

There’s a reason we have designated drivers if we’re going to imbibe while out on the town. The reason is because after one or two drinks we might not ‘feel’ impaired, thus because we don’t FEEL impaired, we make bad decisions.

Same thing with all this busyness. 

We’re constantly checking email, Messenger, messages left on 42 social sites and this behavior—like drugs or booze—impairs our ability to discern we’re tired…or that we’re teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

We also make a lot of bad decisions.

***This explains the success of sites like Tinder SO much #LandOfBadDecisions

Fundamentally, the speed of our lives isn’t allowing enough interstitial time—code for REST BREAKS—for us to process all the influx. Downtime is critical for us to make sense of all the information we’ve ‘taken in.’ We sort through ideas, tie loose connections, note patterns, and ‘hot wash’ our decisions.

When we rest, our brain shifts into another mode that sifts through conversations, seeks ways we could improve, where we messed up, what we could do better.

In ways it reminds me of my childhood when my mom helped me clean my room (since FEMA was unavailable).

She’d dump out all my dresser drawers and we would sort through clothes that no longer fit, needed repair or were plain worn out. Then, the good stuff, we folded and organized and it made room for NEW STUFF.

Same with the toys.

We’d sift through what was broken to trash, or what didn’t interest me for donation.

I’d always find Barbies and Barbie clothes (and a crap ton of Barbie shoes) all buried places where I couldn’t enjoy them. Mom and I would return pieces of games back into their correct boxes so, instead of the games simply taking up space, I could actually play them with my friends.

Our brains do the same thing. Rest allows the mind to sort, sift, repair, reconnect, and get JIGGY creating and thinking and innovating!

We’re In Charge of Rest

rest, Kristen Lamb, self-help, goals

The irony of all this is that we’re the ones choosing to run about like kids hopped up on Dr. Pepper and Pixie Sticks.

Just say, ‘SIT!’

Now, I get that a lot of us can’t fully control our workplace @$$hattery, so we’ll simply have to accept what we can’t control. Ah, but when we DO have time off, we can use our interstitial time more wisely.

***Yes, I learned a new term and it makes me sound super smart. ‘I have to go manage my interstitial time,’ sounds so much cooler and grown-up than ‘I need my blankie.’

Suffice to say, I’m all for some goofing off on Facebook or YouTube. I do that myself. But my advice is to use a timer and limit how long we’re in cyberspace.

We also should heed how deep we go down the Wormhole of Distraction, lest we get the bends when we decide to suddenly surface for air.

I’m an introvert and social media is great because I can pace how much people-ing I do. Social media permits me to connect with fantastic people I’d meet no other way. Additionally, I work from home and also homeschool. On-line, I can talk to other adults…and discuss something other than Nazis (Spawn has been on a WWII kick for a YEAR).

Facebook gives me a place to laugh and chat and take a break, but it’s definitely an area best managed with strong boundaries.

Cyberspace is like the sun. Some exposure is good, even healthy. But too much? We fry and DIE.

Brain Management

rest, Kristen Lamb, goals, New year's Resolutions, self-help

I’m sure you’ve heard of pain management, but REST is brain management. A lot of y’all might be like me and believe if you’re not doing something every minute of every waking hour you’re—GASP—lazy! *screams* Yet, again neuroscience to the rescue.

Our brains frankly never turn off.

All the writers TESTIFY!

In fact, when we rest, nap, sleep, or even take power naps or do mini-meditations, our brains shift over to what’s referred to as the default mode network.

According to Jabr’s article (above):

‘…the default mode network is especially active in creative people. It’s believed that the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem.’

This is why I tell consulting clients with a plot problem to give me a night. I do my best problem-solving when I sleep 😉 .

And after all of this, trust me, I’m preaching about rest with one finger pointed at y’all and three back at myself.

For those who’ve followed my blog for a long time, you might have noticed I haven’t been blogging as frequently the past two months.

I needed to REST.

Refuel the Muse

How many of you have been on fumes for months? Ignoring the warning lights? Hey, been there and done that. Decided to change my ways.

During and after NaNoWriMo, I didn’t get on social media as much. As an introvert, socializing takes a lot of energy. Also—me being me—inside words take energy to remain inside words.

I still blogged because self-discipline doesn’t come to me naturally. It requires maintenance. So I still posted, just not as often. Y’all deserve my best, and I was too burned out to do that multiple times a week.

I’d rather post one longer FANTASTIC post that’s a great use of your limited and valuable cyber-time than simply slap up post after post of fluff out of a misdirected need to ‘be omnipresent.’

If I fail to post ONE week an y’all forget me, I need to be a better blogger 😉 .

Over the holidays I slept…a lot. I meditated and worked out hard at the gym. I discovered the Meditation Studio App on my iPhone and AM IN LOVE! There are guided meditations for everything—sleep, anxiety, joy, eating, pain management, work, performance, gratitude and on and on.

***I need guided meditations because if I have to sit still and do nothing? I’ll be playing with spit bubbles inside a minute.

Anyway, this app has exercises as short as a couple of minutes and as long as almost an hour. What I love is that I can take a break, put in headphones, and recharge in ten minutes or even less.

I can choose to add ambient noise or silence (in THIS house I turn up the thunderstorm LOUD).

App crush over…

All this to say, make goals. Set resolutions. If we dream big, we need to daydream bigger. Instead of ‘dressed for success’ how about we ‘rest for success’? Perhaps instead of dressing for the job we want, we might consider resting for the calling we feel 😉 .

Especially creatives! Yes, we need a platform and brand and all that but NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF THE ART.

More on that another day *smooch*

Happy New Year, y’all!

What Are Your Thoughts? I’m Listening!

rest, Kristen Lamb, goals, New Year's Resolutions, writers, writing

Do you struggle with focus? Feel guilty for taking a break? As a mom and pet owner, I’d be happy to go to the restroom alone.

*cats paw frantically at my bathroom door certain I’m escaping out secret passage*

This year, would it be good to plan in more ‘not doing’ instead of more ‘doing’? Do you have a hard time playing? I do. This year my goal is to LIGHTEN THE HELL UP. I really don’t need to be cleaning all the things all the time.

Really *left eye twitches*

Or are you AWESOME at meditation and resting? Are you good at loosening up and having fun (without heavy drugs or alcohol)?

What are some tips you could share?

Also, if your New Year’s Resolutions are to finish the novel, become a faster, stronger writer, land an agent, build that brand and platform, make sure to check out the classes below, many BRAND NEW!!!

All W.A.N.A. International classes are virtual (pants optional) and you get a FREE recording with your purchase. So you can take your TIME.

Enjoy the live class, play the recording again later to pick up what you missed. Or spend time with the family and catch the class on recording. You choose.

No muss or fuss and leaves time for that walk in the park 😉 . The FULL CLASS LIST IS HERE or scroll down.

I LOVE hearing from you! Comments come with REWARD…

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

***December’s winner will be announced next post.

JANUARY’S AWESOMENESS

Self-Publishing for Professionals

Taught by USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynold’s on Friday, January 11th 7-10 PM EST PLUS EXTRA GOODIES ($100 for THREE hours of training plus bonus material)

The Business of Writing

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Saturday, February 2nd 1-3 PM EST ($55)

***GET ALL THREE (Self-Publishing for Professionals Jan. 11th, The Business of Writing Feb. 2nd & Pitch Perfect Feb. 7th) IN THE PUBLISHING TRIPLE THREAT BUNDLE for $155

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 12th, 1-3 PM EST

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, January 17th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

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

A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 19th from 1-3 PM EST $55

Harnessing Our Writing Power: The BLOG!

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, January 24th 7-9 PM EST $55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, January 26th 1-3 PM EST $55

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be Stabbed in the Face

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, January 31st 7-9 PM EST $65

The Business of Writing

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Saturday, February 2nd 1-3 PM EST ($55)

Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Taught by Kristen Lamb on Thursday, February 2nd, 7-9 PM EST ($55)

 

 

 

revising a novel, editing, self-editing for writers, writing, Kristen Lamb

Today we’re going to talk about revising a novel. It’s a highly emotional and arduous task, but vital. Revising a novel is more than mind-bending work at a computer (or with a red pen for the retro crowd). It’s a tough emotional experience that can blindside us and land us in the mire if we don’t anticipate what to expect.

Some of y’all might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief.  For those unfamiliar, Swiss psychiatrist, Kübler-Ross first introduced her grief model in her book, On Death & Dying back in 1969 after years of working with terminally ill patients. Kübler-Ross identified five specific stages humans experience when faced with an emotionally overwhelming event.

The emotionally overwhelming event can be something traumatic like a death, but not necessarily. The human brain is a magnificent organ. The brain’s critical imperative is, first and foremost, to help us SURVIVE. Not thrive. SURVIVE.

We have to remember this to appreciate what we’re really going through when writing and then revising a novel, especially when we are new.

Our amygdala (Lizard Brain) is roughly the size of an almond, and responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze that kept our ancestors alive for enough generations to give us cool stuff like iPhones, Ikea, and the Internet.

Problem is, the amygdala isn’t terribly ‘smart.’ It can’t tell the difference between an attacking bear…and someone dumping us via text message.

It also can’t discern between experiencing death or revising a novel. This can become a problem, because we need to be in the higher thinking centers—HELLO PREFRONTAL CORTEX—if we hope to be objective enough to revise our first draft(s).

It’s a Process

revising a novel, writing, editing, Kristen Lamb, revisions

New writers often are unfamiliar with these five stages. Thus, they can become stuck in the grief process when revising a novel. Revising a novel is grueling, which is why it helps to know what it feels like. What is normal? When are we stuck? Why or when should we look for outside help?

Good questions, so back to the five stages…

Kübler-Ross caught a lot of criticism when she introduced her Five Stages of Grief. Many (mistakenly) assumed Kübler-Ross was suggesting humans went through the five stages in a neat, linear order. Some folks didn’t experience all five, etc.

The problem, obviously, is critics assumed humans make sense.

That, obviously, was the first mistake.

Those who’ve studied Kübler-Ross’s model now realize humans are jacked up and don’t follow instructions because we are not robots. #YayScience

According to some researchers, some humans facing trauma don’t experience any of these emotions, though I’ve yet to puzzle out how that is even possible. So toss that out for our purposes. We often won’t go through the five stages linearly.

Perhaps we can even get stuck on one, or vacillate back in forth in the Feedback Loop from Hell. The Feedback Loop from HELL is what is most pertinent to the Emotional Sheol that is revising a novel.

Kübler-Ross’s five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It applies to losing a loved one, and yep, also applies to writing.

Denial: My Book Is PERFECT

revising a novel, Kristen Lamb, editing, self-editing for authors, writing tips

This is something we experience most intensely when we’re new and have no friggin’ idea what we are doing. I remember my first ‘novel.’ It was—and I KID YOU NOT—187,000 words long.

One day, I just started writing, and writing and writing. Finally, I said to myself, ‘Well, this seems long enough. The End.’

I wish I were joking.

My novel was AMAZING. It had love, death, murder, comedy, tragedy, witty reparatee. It had everything!

…but a plot.

I didn’t want to be…’formulaic’ *flips hair*

This is the point where we might join a writing group or hire an editor because we need help with you know commas, spelling, punctuation *more hair flips*.

Many who finish NaNoWriMo for the first time can believe that the novel doesn’t even needs revising *clutches sides laughing* and that it’s cool to publish as is.

Please for the love of all that is chocolate do NOT PUBLISH OR QUERY. Finishing a novel is a lot like losing a loved one. Many loved ones actually in that when we finish, we have to say goodbye to ‘people’ who are very real to us.

Thus, selling our house, accepting proposals from death row inmates, or publishing a book are all MAJOR decisions we should put off…until we’re again legally sane.

Okay, for writers, legally ‘sane.’

The other side of denial (for the more seasoned/jaded author) is THIS IS ALL CRAP. Resist the urge to delete or sign up for barber college. May I introduce y’all to the seasoned writer after a first draft (or NaNoWriMo):

Have a Snickers…and a nap.

Anger: How Dare You Say My Book Needs Work?

revising a novel, self-editing for novels, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

Maybe we reach out to a beta reader, a critique group or even hire a professional. This is the gut punch. Again, this is more for the newer writers since, if one sticks to the craft long enough to be a seasoned author…we spin through these stages faster than a Roulette Wheel hit with too much WD-40.

A little side-bar here…

When we decide to become professional authors, it’s wise to master the craft in every way possible. STUDY STORY. Become an expert. I read a ridiculous amount of books in almost every genre.

Yes, binging on Netflix and series IS work.

I study story structure, character arc, dialogue, theme, etc. First, I do this to help write better craft blogs, give the best classes and offer superlative services. But I also do this for my ART.

Expertise gives us insight and ammunition.

When I was new, I hadn’t studied enough and there were consequences. First, I dismissed good advice. Secondly, I didn’t have any way of discerning good advice from bad advice, which can lead to the Franken-Novel (book by committee). Thirdly, if I wanted to stand by a creative decision, I couldn’t articulate why.

But back to anger. When others (even experts) told me I had problems, I got angry. Instead of doing the tough work, I ‘fixed’ surface stuff. If we get the opinion of an expert who’s any good, I guarantee you they’ll make you angry.

As a long-time editor, I can tell you the ‘perfect’ book doesn’t exist.

Even if a book is great, a good editor should be able to spot something that’s going to take it to that next level. Often, it’s something that requires painful sacrifice. Anger is natural, but take time to cool off and see if maybe that person has a point.

If it’s something you simply refuse to change that is perfectly okay. It’s your book.

Yet, I’ve learned if something makes me angry…there very often is something there worth exploring.

Bargaining: Okay, Maybe My Novel Needs Work

revising a novel, self-editing for writers, editing, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Bargaining is the place I believe most novels die. This is where we spend three or five or ten years reworking the same book. I can’t recall who first coined the term, but this is where we start ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.’ 

We can’t bear the thought of tearing down and starting over, so we futz with prose and description, move around chapters, decide we really have a series.

When revising a novel, we do everything BUT what needs doing. Sometimes we don’t have a core story problem. Or we have a weak core problem. Maybe we don’t have any stakes, or the stakes aren’t high enough.

Perhaps there is no ticking clock, thus nothing prompting urgency in the characters.

This is the hard birthing pains part.

Maybe we DO have a series, but series have structure. We can’t just parse a book apart at a certain page and say, ‘Book ONE!’ then ‘Book TWO!’ without doing some other modifications.

We always have to remember that the human brain is wired a certain way and when writers run contrary to what’s been ingrained in the audience’s very DNA, that’s a risk.

Dramatic structure is not an arbitrary—or even conscious—invention. It is an organic codification of the human mechanism for ordering information. Event, elaboration, denouement; thesis, antithesis, synthesis; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl; act one, two, three.

    ~David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, pg. 73

Depression: I SUUUUUCK & My Novel is DOOOOMED

No and no. Writing fiction is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. This is why most of us who finish NaNoWriMo spend the first weeks of December eating jars of marshmallow fluff from our blanket fort. We’re so shredded because we’ve poured out an incredible amount of psychic energy, which needs time to recharge.

Think if you were trying to remodel a bathroom. You throw yourself into the remodel for a month. You’ve had to pee in old Folgers cans, borrow a neighbor’s bathroom, you have to go to the gym to shower.

Finally, after thirty days, the functional stuff is in place: shower, sink and toilet work.

But you insist on continuing without charging any of the tools. Oh you plug in the drill while you break for lunch, then go back to trying to instal cabinets, but the drill is sluggish and dies.

That table saw you’re using to cut the flooring is portable because it has a battery pack. But you do the same thing you did with the drill. You plug in the battery while you run down to the mini-mart for a Monster drink…then BACK TO WORK!

Can you imagine the nightmare of ‘finishing out’ a bathroom with tools that barely have a charge and keep dying? The mistakes one might make by stopping and starting over and over to plug in the charger for a half hour?

THIS is what can happen if we start revising a novel too soon. We are worn out. Our tools need time to charge. We need perspective and if we force the process…we can make small problems much bigger.

Editing too soon, can cut the beating heart out of a perfectly good story. Premature editing KILLS.

Expert Intervention

Or, maybe you’re out of your depth. Using our bathroom analogy, you were able to do everything but some electrical wiring and plumbing. You have to flush the toilet to turn on the lights. Maybe it’s best to admit we’ve done all WE can do and just hire some help.

Yes, it costs some money, but what is your TIME worth?

If you have a plot problem I (or another expert) can fix for you in an hour or two, which is better? Calling us and fixing the problem and finishing the book or spending the next year fixing the problem when you could have written another book?

I have never met a plot I couldn’t fix. I’ve done in less than an hour what clients couldn’t do in years. So many cry and ask, ‘Why didn’t I call you sooner?’ My answer. It doesn’t matter. You called. And quick tip. It is OKAY to not know EVERYTHING 😉 .

Acceptance: Let’s Fix This

You’ve rested, grieved, watched Netflix until your brain hurt and, overall, gotten some distance. I recommend checking out a previous post, Self-Editing: 7 Tips to Tighten the Story & Cut Costs. This post has a lot of DIY tips that will keep costs down if you do hire an editor, because the good ones are not cheap.

If you go to the Editorial Freelancers Association, you can see the standard rates and different types of editing. A developmental editor isn’t the same as a proofreader. Yet, I WILL say, that if we fix as much as we can on our own (sort of like that bathroom remodel), when we DO hire a pro we gain major advantage.

First, the expert can SEE what needs fixing MUCH faster. Secondly, it’s easier for them to do their thang. The means YOU saved THEM TIME so YOU SPEND a lot less MONEY.

#YouAreWelcome

Revising a Novel: DIY Dilemmas

As an editor, if I can’t get past the word echoes, passive voice, bad punctuation, POV shifts—simple fixes but MASSIVE distractions—then you’re burning cash. If we can’t see through this stuff that’s easily fixed on your own quickly, then it will take more TIME to get to BIG issues like plot, characters, arc, etc.

I offer my ‘Write Stuff Special’ namely because I want writers to have an affordable way to experience a true deep edit. This is my way of helping y’all save a ton of money. When I was new, there were some pros who helped me out and this is how I pay it forward.

I can tell every bad habit and good habit in only a few pages. More importantly, I can spot major structure problems as well and will give suggestions how to fix them.

This saves a TON of time ‘fixing’ stuff that doesn’t need fixing.

***Agents can see this stuff, too, which is how they can reject a book with only a small sample. If a writer doesn’t grasp POV in the first 10 pages, it’s unlikely to get any better and no one wants to be trapped in The Blair Witch Project.

Fresh Eyes Help

Remember that even the mega-authors have editors. We never outgrow needing fresh eyes to help us get unstuck. These experts are invaluable. Using myself as an example, I had a major problem with finishing up my mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance. 

Agents spotted a problem, other editors spotted a problem, even beta readers spotted something was…off. They couldn’t tell me what. #Great

Finally, I handed it to my then editor and NOW my current coauthor. I kid you not, she read three pages and went, ‘Your problem is BLAH.’ And she was dead on.

*rails at heavens*

I’d read and reread my MS countless times over the course of a year and didn’t see that all I needed to do was remove three sentences.

Who do you think I now call FIRST when I am stuck?

Speeding Up the Cycle

Hopefully, now that we’ve explored the emotional rollercoaster that goes with revising a novel you’ll relax some. This is all natural. No, we won’t always go through all five stages. Sometimes we’ll hit them in a different order.

I have yet to figure out how one experiences NONE of these…but whatever.

Regardless, if we know this is a PROCESS and the parts of the PROCESS then we can more easily recognize when we’ve gotten STUCK.

Once we know we are stuck, we can then act. We can take a nap, work on something else for a while, take a class, read some books, crochet, watch Game of Thrones all over from beginning to end to recharge our bloodlust and dysfunction.

Whatever.

Just know if you’ve written a novel, even a crappy one, you did something that countless people claim they want to do…and DON’T. You finished and the most critical piece of success—in ANYTHING—is learning to be a finisher.

So give yourself a pat on the back and maybe a treat 😉 .

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

Author Holiday Hotline

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Your Thoughts?

Are you stuck revising your novel? Find yourself looping back and forth and never getting free? Hey, I’ve been there. Does this help you see the pattern? Give you some spark that YES, YOU CAN BE FREE! Revising a novel is TOUGH, so give yourself a break. If this job were easy it would be called rocket science 😛 .

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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

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

In the meantime, opinions!

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

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

The WANANANO Bundle

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

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

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


The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

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

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

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

You can also purchase each class individually.

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


ON DEMAND CLASSES!

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Author Branding TKO

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Blinding them with Science: The “X” Factor Classes

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

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

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

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

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


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Dangerous Dames: Creating Strong Female Characters

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

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

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

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


About the Instructors:

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

 

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

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

Money is fundamental to our lives but taboo in polite conversation…much like sex. But just like sex, money is one of the main drivers of human behavior. And what do we pattern our characters’ behavior on? Yup. Exactly.

Now, of course, I would never be so crass as to suggest that any of our protagonists are motivated by such indelicate—even sordid—things such as money or sex (*rolls eyes, but soldiers on*). Protagonists are always ultimately convinced to act solely from altruism, and villains are the ones who simply must be avaricious and lustful. (*accidentally rolls eyes so hard I fall over backward*)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Except, sex and money are just shorthand proxies for deeper, more complex psychological stimuli. In this case, ‘sex’ as a motivator encompasses everything from our biological impetus to procreate—because the world by now totally needs more humans *eye roll…OW!*—to the pleasures and comforts of companionship.

‘Money’ is the stand-in for scarcity, acquisition, and competition for what we need to survive, from basics like food and water to the finer points of existential fulfillment.

And, while plotting is totally Kristen’s wheelhouse, it’s safe to say all plots boil down to one basic premise: a character wants/needs/lacks something and must overcome obstacles to obtain it.

No matter what genre we write, character motivation matters. Therefore, money matters.

Haves, Have-Nots, and Have-a-Snickers-Cait-You’re-not-Yourself

I am not the kindest editor, and I’m a downright PMS-ridden-harpy when it comes to historical anachronisms.

Wanna trigger the transformation? Just drop any of the following little gems into prose:

Characters using generic ‘gold coins’ to pay for bread and cheese (a whole other rage topic for another time);

WORSE, using those same coins across international borders (because universal currency, exchange rates, and value of goods was so standard and easily handled. Genghis Khan’s forced standardization of currency conversion across his empire is a totally underrated achievement of his. Too bad Europe was all like, “Yeah, no, thanks, we’re good with our seventy-five-and-counting different currencies. Try back next century, yeah?”);

Money, writing, history, historical fictionLook, I get that researching and figuring out how to include depictions of money sounds about as much fun as listening to Gilbert Gottfried read Strunk & White at open mic night. But, we just have to suck it up and look at it as penance for our sins. Or something like that.

Wanna see the harpy pop out again? Give me a servant girl with more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert. Or the poor farming family whose feisty, independent daughter is always buying and reading books. Or the Regency version of the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

Quick, anybody got a Snickers? I’m feeling a little peckish.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Here is the most important tip for using ye olde economics in historical fiction:

Ask questions.

What questions, you ask? (OMG, stop me, I’m so punny!)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

ALL the questions, because to paraphrase/absolutely slaughter Socrates: we’re not always smart enough to know what we don’t know.Here’s a basic set of questions I use:

Where (literally) in the world are the characters? What are the local industries, geographical resources, etc.? Ship-building on the coast, sheep-shearing inland.

What are the major imports/exports of that region or country at the time? Robin Hood didn’t ever eat corn-on-the-cob (corn is SO 1492!).

What do the characters do for a living? How much is the wage or income for that time period/region/profession/social status? What would the modern equivalent be? The world wasn’t just nobles, peasants, and beggars. There were comfortable—even wealthy—craftsmen, tradesmen, physicians, lawyers, accountants, etc.

What is the currency of the region/country? What were the denominations in use? Was currency used at all, or was it a barter system? Nowadays, who remembers the French ‘franc’? How about the French ‘livre’ or ‘louis d’or’? Okay, yes, I do, but I’m a nerd.

Did they have servants? How many and what kind? What did they pay them? Elbow grease was the original renewable energy source, and even relatively poor families might have a ‘girl’ come in once a week to help out.

What exactly would a character own? Capsule wardrobe or queen’s trousseau?

If you are feeling a little freaked and a lot overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous, torturous research paper I have just assigned you…don’t. This is fiction, and while relative accuracy is necessary, footnotes are not required.In fact, I’m about to show you how to cheat.

My money’s on the answer…

I totally get it that not everyone dreams about spending hours organizing one’s non-fiction library by time period-topic-region. *cough*

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

So, for those out there who just want to get the job done, I present…the quick and dirty way to research just about anything for historical fiction.

Make sure you have a way to organize the research you gather because the last thing any writer wants is to find that *exact* detail we needed, then waste hours trying to find that page again.

Always start with Wikipedia. Print out or save the relevant articles. Make note of dates, places, foreign language words that will need translation if used in the story, specific terms, etc.

Don’t click away yet! Scroll down to the bottom and look at the footnotes! There’s gold in them thar hills! The cited books and articles are the next level of resources for when there’s time/interest.

Next up? Ask Dr. Google. The first entry is almost always Wikipedia, but usually the next hits are also established sources. Google also has great ye olde currency conversion links.

If you know an impecunious doctoral student, bribe them with home-cooked food in exchange for help accessing JStor, one of the largest online repositories of scholarly articles. Also, many public libraries and alma maters offer a wide range of research databases.

Often, Google provides the most precise results from Google Books (because Google is a self-referential bastard). Google Books basically is like a mini-Project Gutenberg (where all kinds of out-of-copyright primary sources are available for free download). Google Books will even HIGHLIGHT the relevant phrases on the pages of the book, and you just can’t get more silver-platter-research than that.

Adding it all up

All joking aside, here’s the process in a nutshell:

  • Get your questions ready.
  • Get ready to organize your findings so you can find ’em again.
  • Go to Wikipedia and print the heck out of the articles…and don’t forget the footnotes!
  • Do a Google search to find other professional or academic resources.
  • If you need to dig deeper, go to the public library or use alumni privileges to access JStor and other academic and research databases.
  • Search Google Books for info hidden in rare and out-of-print books, and Project Gutenberg for free, downloadable primary sources.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Time is money

I often get asked, “How long should I spend researching?”

The answer is easy.

It depends.

*ducks*

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

No, really, it does depend on a lot of individually-determined factors, like how familiar we already are with a time period, how comfortable we are with historical research, or even how much mind-numbing 18th-century prose we can take reading before we tear our hair out, wonder WTF we are doing with our lives, and go become meter maids because that looks like so much more fun than this *ish*.

However, I do think a good milestone is when our brains ‘click.’ Certain names, dates, facts, or events keep popping up consistently, and we begin to feel an almost-comfortable familiarity with them. Another good test is when we don’t need our notes to tell our long-suffering significant other/friend/stranger-duct-taped-to-chair/cellmate about the time period and what people lived like and could afford.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Like all things in writing (and life, but that’s another dissertation for another time), learning to research money takes time and practice. Luckily for penurious writers, the one thing researching money doesn’t take…is money.

(Unless people want to give me Amazon gift cards so I can make headway on my 35-page book wish list. Then I’ll totally take the money because then I can get more books and make things like this ‘Catalogue Raisonné about money, trade, economics, and shopping in history.)

money, history, writing
Want more of these Catalogues Raisonnes? I have a whole page of them over on my website. Just click the image!

NEW CLASS!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, November 16, 2018. 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. EST

So…how’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

The first 10k words? No problem. Another 5k? I can pants that.

Now…I’m at 18k words with 14 days left…and 0 clues about where to go from here.

Sound familiar? This is what I call ‘The Sticky Middle,’ and it is a treacherous swamp that can swallow even the most accomplished, focused writers. It is the moment when writers are most likely to be pulled under by the forces of writer’s block, insecurity, and exhaustion.

The Sticky Middle is the root cause of 98% (I’m guessing here, but I’m pretty darn sure I’m right) of all unfinished first drafts. This class will teach you how to get out of The Sticky Middle…not just for NaNoWriMo, but for every book you write from now on!

This class will cover:

  • Walking into Quicksand: Half of getting out of The Sticky Middle is knowing how we got in there in the first place…and how to avoid making these early mistakes next time;
  • Maslow Stripping: Assessing where characters are when we get stuck…and what we need to take away from them in order to move forward;
  • The Treasure Map: Making sure we have our eye on the prize (i.e. the ending), and how to use that to get through The Sticky Middle;
  • Stop! Break it Down!: (Couldn’t help myself with that…) A blunt, practical way to tackle the amorphous goo that is The Sticky Middle and wrestle it into realistic, achievable, bite-size steps.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

REGISTER NOW!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude.

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? Anyone currently doing NaNoWriMo is all, “WORDS! ONLY WORDS MATTER NOW! Get off my case, Blogger Chick. I’ll figure out plot and character later.”

*awkward silence*

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.”

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 EdgeAnthony 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 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

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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

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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’m AM loading new classes. They’ll be up next post. I know I said that last time, but whatever. I lied 😛 .

What are some classes y’all need? Topics you’d like me to talk about here on the blog. I dig suggestions!

BTW: October’s winner for the comment contest is Bjørn Larssen!

Please email your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. One-inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman font, please. Or you are also welcome to choose to send me a query or synopsis instead. Query shouldn’t exceed 500 words and synopsis 2,500 MAX. Congratulations!

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