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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: Deadly Sins of Writing

Kristen Lamb, Star Trek, What Star Trek Can Teach About Great Writing, What went wrong with the Star Wars Prequels, Kristen Lamb, novel structure, storytelling

Last night I watched the new Star Trek movie directed by J.J. Abrams for the second time. As a writer, stories are my business, so I study them in all forms. Film is a favorite in that it takes far less time and allows me to study the written form in a visual way. I don’t watch movies like most people, much to my husband’s chagrin (he would put tape over my mouth if he could get away with it).

This recent version of Star Trek did very well at the box office and resonated with audiences in a way that other high-budget fast-paced sci-fi movies had failed. Why? I believe Star Trek was a wild success because Abrams adhered to some very fundamental storytelling basics too often forgotten in Hollywood and even in writing.

Yes, movies and novels have more in common than you might think. Today’s blog especially applies to sci-fi and fantasy, but I believe all genres can benefit from these lessons I plucked from the screen last night. Today I will address some of my favorite points, because this movie is such a fantastic tool for understanding great storytelling that I couldn’t possibly address all the lessons in one sitting.

Star Trek proved that imperfect characters resonate with audiences.

Audiences LOVE flawed characters. James T. Kirk was deliciously flawed at the beginning. He was on a road to self-destruction believing he could never stand in the shadow of his father’s greatness. He demonstrated how character strengths of a great leader, when not harnessed properly, are tools of great mischief and mayhem.

Did the plot really serve to change Kirk? Not really. His attributes were very similar, just refocused in a productive way. The inciting incident really just put Kirk on a path that would make better use of his buccaneer ways.

Time and time again I see new writers become far too fascinated with the too-perfect protagonist (been there and got the T-shirt, myself). The problem with the too-perfect protagonist is that audiences find it difficult to relate. While it might seem counterintuitive…

Flawed is often better.

Want an illustration from the fiction world? I believe that Twilight is a great example. Bella was deeply flawed and thus readers could easily slip into her shoes. They, too, could look at Edward and long to know what it would be like to be one of the beautiful people.

I think that is why a lot of movies flop. Who can relate to Angelina Jolie? In Tomb Raider she was fun to watch, but we have absolutely no way of connecting with Lara Croft. She is beautiful, insanely rich and lives a life of adventure. The movies would have done better had the writers/directors done something to make Lara Croft real.

The first movie did well simply because fans of the video game. Yet, audiences couldn’t connect to this super perfect (and not really likable) character, so the second movie bombed big time. And I am not alone in this assessment. Read Save the Cat by the late screenwriting genius Blake Snyder, which is a great book for all writers to read anyway.

Writers. Can we cast über perfect characters? Sure. But we do so at a risk. Perfect characters easily become one-dimensional and boring. As in movies, we need to connect with a reader, and most of us didn’t sit at that table in high school.

Star Trek perfected showing, not telling.

Star Trek did an unsurpassed job of showing, not telling. Yes, they can info-dump in movies. I gutted through Deadline with the late Brittany Murphy and there were convenient camcorder tapes along the way to info dump back story.

There were all kinds of scenes dedicated for the sole purpose of characters discussing a third-party. No, no, no, no, no! Bad writer! Had the screenwriter been in my workshop, he would have gotten zinged. Virtually everything in Star Trek happened real time.

The director didn’t dedicate entire scenes to Spock and Uhura explaining how Kirk was a reckless pain in the tush. Abrams employed scenes that showed Kirk crashing through their lives like a bull in a china shop. There was ONE flashback and it was information critical to understanding the plot.

Star Trek employed parsimony.

One element of showing and not telling is to make the most of your story. Employ setting, symbol and action economy. If a scene can do more than one thing…let it. In the beginning (prologue) Kirk’s mother is pregnant (with him). Bad guys appear, and Dad is left on board as acting captain of the ship.

He must sacrifice to save them all. It is no accident that the director did two things. First, all the battle noises fade away and symphony music rises. Then, the scenes cut from Mom giving birth to Dad giving his life. Birth and death, hope and sacrifice are suddenly in perfect harmony. That was done for a reason. In your novel, do all things on purpose.

Look at your scenes. Can they do more than one task? For some ideas, read my blog Setting—More than Just a Backdrop. Setting can be used for more reasons than to give readers a weather report. Lehane proves my point in Shutter Island (discussed in blog), which is a tremendous example of narrative parsimony.

Star Trek showed character via relativity.

In the beginning we see Kirk as this crazy guy power drinking and zooming around on a crotch rocket. Yet, the director knew he could have a problem. He needed Kirk to be a maverick risk-taker…but he also needed to prove to the audience that his protagonist wasn’t a foolhardy idiot.

No one wants to follow a raging moron with a death wish into battle. The director needed to show us someone who cared deeply about others and who was willing to risk everything for his men.

How did he do this?

There is an early scene where they have to do a space jump (think HALO jump). Kirk and Sulu go with a Red Shirt—which means Red Shirt dude is going to die for those who are not Trekkies. Red Shirt guys always bite it.

The interesting thing is that the Red Shirt guy is hooping and hollering all the way down like some idiot out of a Mountain Dew commercial. Kirk pulls his chute and begs the guy to open his. Red Shirt is too busy being a thrill-seeking idiot and ends up vaporized. Now we the audience can see Kirk takes huge risks, but we also understand that he cares about others and is not stupid.

Star Trek relied on character and story.

This is the single most important lesson for those writing sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal or horror. Tell us a story about people first. Relying on gadgets and gimmicks is not storytelling. There are all kinds of space movies that had far better special effects than the original Star Wars, yet Star Wars endures and will endure to future generations.

Why? Because it told a story about people first. I believe this Star Trek will do the same.

I know I risk making some die-hard fans angry at me, but I never could get through the newest Star Wars trilogy. Why? Because there was so much CGI (computer generated imagery) that I felt like I was trapped at Chuck E. Cheeses and having a bad LSD trip. I felt the computer images were far too distracting.

Star Trek used CGI, but not at the expense of the real focus . . .

The stories about the people.

I edit a lot of writers who want to write YA, fantasy, paranormal, etc. and too often they allow world-building to take over. The reader is so bogged down in gimmick that she cannot see the characters or the story. Frequently there isn’t a story.

World-building is something a writer must employ to assist or accentuate the core conflict. Our goal as writers must be to get a reader to relate and connect. People connect with people, not worlds. Conflict drives stories, not gizmos. Thus, all the magic and myth must be ancillary to the root story. If you have done a good job of plotting, that root story will be very simple and timeless and could take place in Kansas or on Planet Doom.

For those of you who haven’t watched the new Star Trek, I highly recommend it (duh :D) even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi.

Are there some movies you guys would recommend to help us grow in our craft? Put them in the comments and help us out.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

 

 

The Bog of Back-Story

 

Creating great characters has to be one of the toughest tasks for any fiction writer to successfully accomplish. Let’s be honest. Plot is important, but characters have the power to make or break a story. Most of us don’t remember plot…we remember people. We identify. There is something about characters that resonates within our soul, and we’re hooked.

Put it another way. Do you recall all the ins and outs of the Star Wars movies? Probably not. Most of us don’t. While we will always remember Darth Vader, we might have to pause and think about what nefarious deed Darth was up to in which movie. ***That scene with the cute fuzzy critters that looked like heavily-armed Shih Tzus was the third one. Right?

Characters are vital. They are the life force of your story.

Today’s blog will help you give life to great characters. How? By teaching you not to kill them.

There are a number of ways to strangle, smother, or otherwise crush the life from what could have been a wonderful character. One popular method of involuntary homicide (character-cide?) is the ever-tempting Bog of Back-Story.  Like a real bog, the Bog of Back-Story looks lush, verdant, and innocent from afar. One might even easily mistake this smooth green landscape for solid ground…but take a closer look. This sucker is nothing but mud and muck and quicksand. Step in deep enough and you ain’t getting out.

I have edited hundreds of short stories and novels. I cannot count the number of times I’ve read a really clever story that had some great forward momentum…only for the author to stop and go back in time to explain why such-and-such did thus-and-such. What? Huh?

It is my opinion that the Bog of Backstory is most often the by-product of a writer’s failure to plan ahead of time. Writers (especially new writers) often charge into a plot without ever understanding the psychological terrain of the characters. As a consequence, it is then easy for characters to wander off the path (plot) and end up stuck in the mire of memories and recollections. I know this from personal experience. This is how my first novel (years ago) somehow turned into an epic saga spanning multiple family generations, rendering it utterly unpublishable. This can very easily happen to any author, particularly a new author. Characters will take off and get into all sorts of trouble unless we, the “parents” put down some boundaries and stick to our guns.

In fact, in my Warrior Writer Boot Camp, the very first thing we begin with is an in-depth profile of all the players. We make the writer get it all out of her system. We write down everything that forged the characters who will be present the day of the inciting incident. We write down their childhood tragedies, love disappointment and all the abuse they have endured…so we can then get to the real story.

Think of it this way, if a guy is holding a gun to your head to take your car, do you really care about the childhood trauma that made him turn to crime? Uh…no. But basically that is what we do to the reader when we interrupt the flow of action to shift back in time and explain. Readers don’t generally care as much about our character’s past as we do. Just like no one will ever find our children cuter than we do :D.

So plan ahead of time.

Note of Caution: Writing the novel is not the time to get to know your characters and their motivations.

Possessing a good understanding of a character’s back-story is crucial to creating a character with depth. Note I said “a good understanding.” Back-story gives life to a character much like water gives life to a plant. However, filling a plot with back-story (like overwatering) will just kill forward momentum and drown your character.

So how do you avoid falling into the Bog of Back-Story? The same way you would avoid falling into a real bog. Do an Area Study. You wouldn’t consider charging off into the Florida Everglades without a map or guide or any basic understanding of the terrain. Why do it with your writing?

Here is some good news. Back-story that is crafted ahead of time, that is planned and purposeful, transcends into something altogether new—a character profile. And since character profiling happens to be a skill that takes time and practice to master, I highly recommend learning from those who do it well. Bob Mayer teaches some wonderful techniques for this in his “Novel Writers Toolkit, ” and Author Jody Hedlund recently posted a blog about crafting character profiles. There are all kinds of templates out there and I recommend that you use the tools that are out there. It will make your work stand apart from the thousands who all want to be successful authors too.

So stay on solid ground. Until next time…

The cool thing that comes with being a published author is that now people actually admit to knowing you. Hi, Mom!

My new book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media is now out in all forms, eBook, print and bus stop graphitti…yeah, sorry about that. I got a bit over excited.  I wanted to write a book that was fun to read. Writers. I have bad news. We have to sell, which means we have to market. Not only do we have to market, we have to market well so we have time left over to write great books. Most marketing books made me want to kill myself with a stapler, so I decided to remedy that. I created We Are Not Alone to make learning about social media marketing fun. Sort of like when you get a traffic ticket and have to take Defensive Driving…why not take Comedy Defensive Driving? My goal is to change your habits, not your personality.  I assume most of you aren’t doing this writing thing until your dream of working in sales pays off. No? No one? Cool!

Another exciting development is that I was asked to guest blog on the Top10Blog, which is popular in the UK and almost as exciting as my radio interview for that station in Kazakhstan. I highly recommend that any of you reading this will go by and read the other Top Ten Lists, but I figured I would post a version of my little contribution as a taste of what this site has to offer. Okay, well go visit anyway. So without further ado….. *drum roll*

Top Ten Reasons to Become a Writer

10. Therapy is getting too expensive

When you become a writer, the first thing that becomes clear is that if you are at all interesting enough to be able to write good fiction, then you are seriously screwed up. As in years of expensive therapy screwed up. Writers are not normal.

So why not take all those notebooks filled with letters to your Inner Child and turn those babies into cold hard cash? I say, it is time for us to demand Inner Child Labor. Instead of letting that ungrateful punk float around in our limbic brain, it is high time we make the little twerp pull his weight.

Have anger issues coupled with violent fantasies? You are a born horror author.

Attend sex therapy to deal with a porn addiction? Erotica author.

Have “Mommy” issues? Write guest posts for Top Ten Blogs.

9. Revenge, Duh

What better way to get back at that jerk who stood you up for the big dance? Or the toad who slept with your best friend? You got it. Become a writer. Surely you can think of a story that is in need of a pathetic cross-dressing hermaphrodite who gets killed by an inflatable doll. Slap the ex’s name on him. Just change the first letter of his last name. Heck, use your newfound power to help out your friends. Surely they can give you lists. Find a need for a character who has a tragically small penis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Become a writer and no one will cross you again lest they be found wearing hot pants while soliciting prostitution from sheep at the petting zoo in your next story. And hey, with the Internet, EVERYONE can be published.

8. High School Reunion Coming Up

So maybe you have done nothing with your life in the past 20 years. Who cares? All you have to do is find some out of print author and borrow his name for a bit. Hey, not like he is using it. Just tell those jerks you wanted to impress that you write under a pseudonym, and now you are “in between books.” Think of it this way, you can hold your head high that “you” accomplished something they never did, and, since you won’t have to see those wankers for another 5-10 years, no one will be the wiser. If you do get found out, it is just free publicity for the struggling dope you impersonated.

7. You drink a lot and it was either become a writer or attend AA

Enough said…

6. Can hang out with our friends somewhere other than the Renaissance festival

Renaissance festivals and Trekkie conventions can get expensive, especially when you work at a doughnut shop. And while living with Mom does help off-set the cost of rent, World of Warcraft isn’t exactly free. Form a critique group with your pals and all vow to become famous writers. Hey, you still get to hang out and talk about elves and wizards and what you would do if you were a vampire, only now it is considered “work.”

5. Because what other job comes with a dress code of thrift store jeans and juvenile T-shirts?

Do you just love Superman, Mickey Mouse, or even Mr. T? I pity the fool! Feel like expressing yourself on 100% pre-shrunk cotton? Hey, if you were a 37 year old accountant or airline pilot, others might think that an entire wardrobe comprised of Xena, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica T-Shirts meant you were emotionally immature or “touched in the head.” Now that you’re a writer, you can be…eccentric. Hell, throw in a beret just to be extra annoying.

4. Because “writer” sounds so much more glamorous than “unemployed” or “Starbucks Hot Beverage Consultant”

Refer to Number 8.

3. Because it is the next best thing to having your own reality show

Have a whacked out family or embarrassing habit? Write about it. The great thing is that now EVERYTHING is a tax write-off. Have an insatiable coffee, book and movie addiction? Then you are writer material. So go ahead and collect action figures, souvenir shot glasses and rare comic books. Do a “Tour of Pubs” and get plastered as you sample every beer under the sun. Or take that trip to Texas and ride the mechanical bull at Billy Bob’s. Just make sure you write about it, and then it is all deductable “research”…and the pictures your so-called friends post on their Facebook page of you being hauled away for Drunk and Disorderly Conduct are less “mortally embarrassing” and more “priceless promotion.” Just make sure you ask Denny’s for a reciept before they throw you out.

2. Because your family told you that you should be a doctor.

Don’t get along with your parents? Hey, go big or go home. What better way to insure your status as black sheep of the family than announce that you are giving up everything to become a writer? Short of announcing that you just converted to Scientology or that you sold all your stuff and are moving to a commune in New Mexico, telling the folks that you want to be a writer is guaranteed to make you the definitive pariah. And the plus side is that there is no studying chemistry or staying up all night to memorize Kreb’s Cycle. Just think of it this way, they will forgive you once you’re published anyway.

  1. Because you can be….GOD!

Yeah, now you get a glimpse of how it feels to be the Big Guy. What other job, short of an IRS agent or a meter maid gives the raw power of being able to make or destroy lives with ….a pen?

Happy writing! Until next time….

Critique has been a popular topic and has generated a lot of feedback and questions. Today I am going to debunk some myths about critique.

When I posted “Critique—If You Can’t Stand the Heat, then Get Out of the Kitchen,” some interesting commentary surfaced, but a lion’s share seemed to revolve around the nefarious breed of critic who apparently is so powerful, he or she has the power to crush a writer’s dreams. Like other creatures of the night, it was alleged that the Malus Critiqueus not only could give bad advice, but also apparently had the power to drain ambition and creative power like a succubus, leaving a hollowed out husk of what used to be an aspiring author who now cannot even bear to open Word.

Give me a break.

I will still stand by my assertion, All critique is useful. Just not all of it is valuable.

***A Note of Importance for All, but Especially New Authors

Before continuing, I would like to point out that good critique might very well make you angry. But, before casting judgment, take a break, calm down, then ask yourself why this person’s comments so upset you.

A really good critic is highly skilled at finding your greatest weaknesses. That is a good thing. Better to find and fix the flaws while a work is in progress and changes can be made. But, it is normal to react. Thus, the best advice is to breathe deeply. Listen. Calm down by breathing deeply some more. Ask questions. Check your ego. And then grow. Trust me. One day you will thank these people for having the courage to be honest.

Think of your time in critique like going to the gym. The goal is the happy medium. If after exercising you need ice and prompt medical attention? That is bad. If you don’t so much as break a sweat? You are wasting your time. A good critique is like a good workout. You want to walk away sore. It means you are pushing your limits, and therefore growing and getting stronger.

With that clarified, on to myth-busting…

Myth #1 Malus Critiqueus exists.

Um…no. No such thing. There is no Malus Critiqueus…but there are some people who happen to just be jerks. They were born little creeps who just grew into larger creeps. And here is a dose of reality….fully expect to find at least one of these folk in a writing group. Why wouldn’t you? Come on! Think about it. Most of us work or have worked day jobs. Didn’t there seem to be some sort of a hidden @$$hole quota? Like HR was tucked away in their offices watching a panel of hidden cameras?

Hmmm. All the folk over in accounting seem to be getting along. How about hiring that guy with that special talent for making people feel like an idiot? You know, the one who we can count on to make everyone dread coming into work. That guy.

Now Critique Jerk can take the fun out of a meeting, but always remember….he has the right to be wrong. But, better still, you have the right to be RIGHT.

Myth #2—Critique Jerks should be avoided.

Jerks are everywhere. And they are like an allergen. They get under our skin and make us puff up and wheeze and wish we were dead. But, the best way to get over this kind of severe reaction? Small exposures. Build an immunity. This person’s comments may make us want to scream and shout and carry an automatic weapon, but it isn’t going to get any easier. Also, since a lot of critique groups/writing groups are open to the public, it will be next to impossible to keep the Critique Jerk out—and you can count on this guy to have perfect attendance. So what can you do? You cannot control Critique Jerk, but you can refuse to add fuel to his fires. Just refuse to engage him and focus on the only thing within your control—your reaction.

Myth #3 Critique Jerks will eventually go away.

No, they just change form. Mean people do not disappear simply because we get published. If anything, they multiply in number and escalate in intensity. This is what Critique Jerks prepare us for.

There are actually people out there with nothing better to do than write hateful notes to authors. Bob could tell you some stories. Writers are also in a profession that is very public and open to the world for evisceration. Book reviewers can be brutal enough, but now with the wide-open world of the Internet, any twerp’s opinion can be up for public display….permanently.

A couple of months ago, I went to a friend’s book signing, and she was nearly in tears after some random person left a hateful review on Amazon. It didn’t matter that there were 42 other positive reviews. This one nasty human being managed to suck all the joy out of what should have been a really wonderful day. But, to give credit, my friend did hold it together very well. She exhibited true grace under fire…the sort of composure that, for most of us, does not come naturally. It is developed.

 Myth#4—Critique Jerks can derail a career.

So you may think the jerk in your writing group serves no purpose, but he does. He is there to rub and rub and rub and rub on you….until you build a callous. Publishing is brutal, and the thicker our skin, the better the chances we survive and thrive.

Critics (critiquers), in my opinion, only have the power we give them. As authors, there is a certain amount of responsibility we shoulder, and it is unwise to hand the keys to the kingdom to others. Professionals understand that knowledge is power. They actively read and educate themselves every day in order to arm and prepare against the onslaught of negativity and bad advice.

And not to be a smart-aleck, but how far can anyone’s bad advice really lead us astray without our own consent?

All writers should have a basic command of the English language. Don’t laugh. There are some great story-tellers who wouldn’t know a dangling participle if it bit them on the leg. That said, if punctuation and grammar are weaknesses, then it would be wise to read more books on these subjects. Eats, Shoot & Leaves (Lynne Truss), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar & Style (Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. D. Rozakis), The Elements of Style (Strunk & White).

If you are a grammar Nazi, but story structure is a weakness, then look for books on the craft of writing. The Novel Writers Toolkit (Bob Mayer), The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler),On Writing (Stephen King), Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Hooked (Les Edgerton), etc.

Go to writing conferences and instead of hitting every class on landing an agent, go to some of the classes that teach about the craft. Listen to experts.

Again, knowledge is power. Knowledge will help refine one’s ability to discern good advice from bad advice. The more education one has, the harder it is to be misled. To rely solely on the feedback of one critic or even a critique group is, at best, foolishness. And if we are too lazy to read books, and blogs, and articles, and do all the things professionals do…then we deserve what we get.

Myth #5 Critique Jerks can steal our dreams.

Malus Critiqueus is the Boogeyman of the writing world, an urban legend. No person should have the power to take away your passion. Bob Mayer tells this story in his workshops, but it is a perfect illustration. 

A young man received a violin when he was a boy, and started to play. He practiced and practiced and actually got quite good.

One day, he heard a great violin master was coming to his town, so the young man decided to play for the master and get his feedback.

The master agreed to see him and the young man played his violin as hard and as well as he could. When he was finished, he asked the master how he did and the master replied, “Not enough passion.” And turned and left.

The young man was crushed. He put his violin away and never played it again.

A few years later, the same master returned to the town, and the young man saw him at a party. The young man approached him and said, “Master, the last time you were here, I played for you. You said I did not have enough passion.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, I stopped playing the violin.”

The master replied, “I say that to everyone. In your case, I guess I was right.”

There are all sorts of ways to find a good critique group—fellow writers, the Internet, the public library, local chapters of RWA. But, in my opinion, the worst sort of critique group (or critique partner) is one that holds our hand and does not challenge us to grow. In fact, the only thing worse is the group or person who charges us money to have our hands held. Again, think of the gym analogy. We want a good personal trainer. The pill that promises us instant weight-loss and a six-pack abs with no sweat, no effort, and no discomfort is probably a scam.

Critique groups or editors who promise a pain-free experience aren’t doing us any favors. NY is not going to baby our feelings. There are too many other talented authors out there who have the skin of a rhinoceros, who can take the truth on the chin and keep on chugging. With this said, though, critique should also be productive. If you feel like throwing yourself off something very high after every critique…it is probably time to look for another group.  

The best critique partner or group challenges you, but also helps keep the fires of your passion burning bright.

But the person who succeeds will sometimes get there with luck. Most of the time, though, she gets there because she never, ever, ever, ever, ever gives up…no matter what anyone says.

Happy writing! Until next time…

 

I have had the unique privilege of experiencing Warrior Writer now on three levels—as an individual, as part of a group, and now as part of on-line training.  The Warrior-Writer concept is so life altering, so mind-blowing and unique that I find it a real challenge to put its essence into words, but I’m going to give it a try.

One of my favorite shows is “Kitchen Nightmares” with Chef Gordon Ramsay (Series Premiere tonight 1-29 on Fox).  Why? Because it is amazing how much the culinary world and the world of writing have in common. Opening a restaurant is, by and large, an emotional thing, fueled by ego and unfulfilled dreams, often attempted by amateurs with no real professional training for success. The restaurant business is brutal, with a standard failure rate of almost 62% in the first year. And while many will chalk up this shocking rate of failure to the “ways of the industry,” Chef Ramsay certainly provides us all with “food for thought.”

Bob Mayer, with Warrior Writer, is doing something very similar. Most of us didn’t become writers to make money, much like most independent restauranteurs. We write because we have to. It fulfills, releases, or validates something inside. For many, writing is the reward for living a responsible life of working a “real job” for others. Likewise, watch “Kitchen Nightmares” and I guarantee that, within three episodes, you will meet the retired police officer or the former construction worker, or the mom who wanted a family business, all of whom opened a restaurant for very emotional reasons…yet they are dying because they didn’t understand that one must possess more than passion to succeed.

These eager, well-intending individuals remind me of so many writers I’ve known over my career (including myself). Many writers dive head-first into the publishing world with little to no training, and struggle to thrive in an industry that doesn’t properly value the talent it depends upon. In one of my earlier blogs, I stated, “To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training for a chef.”  This is true when it comes to the writing, but it is much truer when it comes to the mentality of the professional author. This is where Warrior Writer comes in.

The publishing industry may or may not change, but with Warrior Writer, thankfully, we authors can.

Until now, there has been no real formal training on what it means to be a professional author. It is highly complex. Thus, I have decided to dedicate a new series to exploring it. As Bob will tell you, we writers are in the entertainment business, which is an oxymoron. Entertainment is emotional, while business is rational. The two have a tough time coexisting.

 And I will be blunt here. Part of what hurts most writers (especially new ones) is that they fail to understand you cannot separate entertainment from business or vice versa. Thus, many writers tend to either focus all their energies on the writing, or they scope-lock on the business. Both have to coexist.  What good is a brilliant novel if we don’t learn the business well enough to survive, let alone thrive? Similarly, what good does learning about finding an agent or even great marketing serve us if our product is crap?

For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to tackle only one half of this today. I believe one has to let this part of Warrior Writer sink in for the others to make sense. So today, we will address the entertainment part of the entertainment business, because these two words alone lend to internal conflict that will translate into external conflict if not understood and handled properly.

Writing is something all of us love, ergo why we became writers. Yet, after going through the Warrior Writer training, my eyes were opened to something key. As an editor for going on ten years, I had a hard time understanding why writers simply came undone if their work was criticized, sometimes violently so. I mean, this is a business, and that isn’t being very professional. We are critiquing the writing, not the writer. WRONG.

The writing is a key indicator of the person producing the product, both strengths and weaknesses. When Chef Ramsay is invited to help save a restaurant that is on the verge of disaster, what is the first thing he does? Does he look at the location? The menu? The management? The advertising? No. That all comes later. The very first thing he wants to see and taste is the food, and there is a very good reason.

Food, like writing, is interminably linked to emotion. Ramsay often can tell virtually everything about the restaurant that needs to be fixed by the food he is served that first day. Does the chef have pride in the food? Is the dish far too fancy with 20,000 ingredients and more garnish than substance? Is the food rotten, raw? Did the chef focus more on the presentation than quality of the food? Does the chef have focus, or is he making Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with a Curry Chutney?

This is a direct parallel to writing, and a lot of what Warrior Writer teaches us to see. What is the quality of the “food” we are serving up? And, more importantly, what is CAUSING us to do what we do? If you read Who Dares Wins (used in Warrior Writer), the first question Bob asks is, “WHO?” for a very good reason. We have to define who we are before we can find what we fear. Warrior Writer’s FIRST goal is to kick our FEARS out of the driver’s seat to our careers, and replace those fears with something more positive…like talent.

No writing class will fix this. I will give you an example. Last summer, I sat in the Warrior Writer class very dutifully, near the front with my laptop. Bob instructed us to write down our big goal for writing. Right away, I typed in, “My goal is to become a best-selling author in five years.” For a second I felt very proud and daring, then I looked closer (remember I had already run through an individual Warrior Writer, so I had new eyes).  I swear I literally heard the tumblers in my mind falling into place. A best-selling author of what? Romance? Suspense? Origami cookbooks? Here I thought I was making a specific goal, yet I was miles off base. But here is the strange part. Up until that point, I had been taking classes and reading books on structure, structure, plot, structure, plot. I was going crazy on why my novels kept breaking down over the long haul. Why could I fix it in others, but kept screwing it up myself? This one-sentence goal revealed my answer. If I, the author, had no clear direction or focus, why would my writing or my characters? No wonder I was serving up Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with Curry Chutney.

I have to say that after Bob’s Warrior Writer class, after understanding my critical flaw, I was able to finally see my own unwitting sabotage, and am now almost half finished with a fast-paced action thriller. Unlike all my other works, this one was well-planned ahead of time, was clearly outlined and now has focus. All the characters have a specific role, are no longer randomly created to force my unplanned plot in a needed direction.

The truth is, everything we put on that page is a part of who we are. For those who read my blog “Facing down the Beast,” http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/what-is-warrior-writer-facing-down-the-beast/ we can end up sabotaging ourselves by not digging deep enough, not putting enough out there and thus failing to deeply resonate with the reader. If we the writer are not genuine and vulnerable, how can our characters ever hope to be? The plain fact of the matter is that we cannot separate who we are from what we write. Thus, we must become the best to write the best. Bob always says, “To become is hard; to be is even harder.”

And later, I will explore how this translates into how we handle the business part of the entertainment business because I guarantee you that the same fears that hindering our writing are going to, at the very least, be kissing cousins with the fears that will hold us back in the business part of the equation.

So, in the meantime, think about what food you are serving up as your signature dish.

Until next time…

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I highly recommend visiting Bob Mayer’s site for more information on Warrior Writer training near you www.bobmayer.org. He also offers WARRIOR WRITER ON-LINE! Wow! So nothing stands in the way of the writing career of your dreams. Sign up TODAY!

If you miss Gordon tonight on Fox, then just make it a point to catch his show. Or, for instant gratification, you can also get familiar with Chef Gordon Ramsay via this link http://www.hulu.com/kitchen-nightmares. Episode 5 “Olde Stone Mill” is a great one to watch to better understand Warrior Writer.