Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: dramatic tension

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Every story begins with an idea. Alas, stories can only be created when at least two vastly different ideas collide. The place where they meet is the BOOM, much like the weather. Storms erupt because two very different bodies of air meet…and don’t get along.

Only one will win out. In the meantime, lots of rain, lightning strikes and maybe some tornadoes. After the powerful storms, the landscape is altered, lives are changed, some even lost.

It’s the same with powerful stories. Yet, instead of weather fronts colliding, differing ideas are colliding.

It’s wonderful to have a great story idea. Alas, an idea alone is not enough. It’s a solid start but that’s all. Loads of people have ‘great ideas’ and that and five bucks will get them a half-foam latte at Starbucks.

Ideas are everywhere.

What differentiates the author from the amateur is taking the time to understand—fundamentally—how to take that idea and craft it, piece by piece, into a great story readers love.

Building Ideas into Stories

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Stories have key components required for building, and I promise we’ll get there. My goal, this go-round has been to elevate the teaching and deep-dive in a way I hope you’ve not experienced before.

I always found craft teaching either was so simplistic I was all, ‘Got it, sally forth.’ *taps pen* Or, the instruction was so advanced (assuming I was far smarter than I was) and it made me panic more than anything.

Like the ‘write your story from the ending.’ Sure, meanwhile, I’ll go build a semi-conductor.

There was this MASSIVE gap between X, Y, Z and why I was even doing X, Y, and Z. Why not Q?

And all to what end? How did I make all the pieces FIT? *sobs*

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Anyway, this is why we’re taking things SLOWLY. I want to fully develop these concepts so you can create incredible stories far more easily. Yes, this is master class level stuff, but hopefully I will help mesh with 101 concepts so even beginners will feel challenged (as opposed to utterly LOST like I did).

For those new to this blog or anyone who wants to catch up, here are the lessons so far:

Structure Matters: Building Stories to Endure the Ages

Story: Addictive by Design

Conflict: Elixir of the Muse For Timeless Stories Readers Can’t Put Down

The Brain Behind the Story: The Big Boss Troublemaker

Problems: Great Dramatic Writing Draws Blood & Opens Psychic Wounds

How to Write a Story from the Ending: Twisted Path to Mind-Blowing End

Ideas as Character Catalyst

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

When we discussed the BBT, I showed how all BBTs are an IDEA. This IDEA might manifest as a villain or as a core antagonist. The core antagonist only different from a villain in that this person’s goal is not inherently destructive, evil or nefarious. Their idea(s) simply conflicts with what the protagonist’s idea(s) and what the MC believes he/she desires.

This antagonist generates a core story problem BIG enough to shove the protagonist out of the comfort zone and into the crucible. This pressure (problems) creates heat which is the catalyst that creates the cascading internal reaction which will fundamentally alter the protagonist.

These internal changes are necessary for victory over the story problem via external action (choices/decisions). The MC cannot morph into a hero/heroine carrying emotional baggage, false beliefs, or character flaws present in the beginning. Why?

Because these elements are precisely WHY the MC would fail if forced to battle the BBT head-on in the opening of the story.

The story problem, and what it creates, is like a chemical reaction. Our protagonist, by Act Three should transform into something intrinsically different…a hero/heroine (a shining star instead of a nebulous body of gas). The problem should be big enough that only a hero/heroine is able to be victorious.

Villains as BBT

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Villains are fantastic and make some of the most memorable characters in fiction whether on the page, stage or screen (Joker, Buffalo Bill, IT, Dr. Moriarty, Cersie Lannister, etc.). A common misperception, however, is villains are ‘easy’ to write. No, mustache-twirling caricatures are easy to write. But villains, villains that get under our skin, who poke and prod at tender places take a lot of preparation and skill.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is extremely dimensional. We, the audience, are conflicted because he’s horrible, grotesque, cruel… and suddenly we find ourselves rooting for him.

That seriously messes with our heads.

Dr. Lecter has an IDEA of polite society. Act like a proper human and be treated like one. His IDEA of what a human is entails all that separates us from animals, namely manners and self-control. Act like a beast, and beasts–>food.

This cannot help but conflict with any FBI agent’s duty to protect all lives (deserving or not), and help mete out justice in all homicides (even of those horrible folks we’re all secretly happy Hannibal made into a rump roast).

All I can think is thank GOD Lecter is fictional or half the folks on Facebook would now be curing world hunger.

Anyway….

Superb characters are never black and white, right or wrong because that’s an inaccurate reflection of humanity.

We (the audience) sense the falseness of such a simplistic character, and, while one-dimensional characters (villains included) can be amusing for a time, they’re not the sort of character that withstands the test of time. They don’t possess enough substance/dimension/gray areas to elicit heated debate and discussion among fans for years to come.

But villains are not ideal for all stories or all genres.

Core Antagonist as BBT

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

There are what people call character-driven stories which don’t require a villain. I twitch when I hear the term ‘character-driven’ because too many mistake this as a pass for having to plot. NOPE. We still need a plot ūüėČ .

Plot is what will drive the character change.

I’ve used the examples¬†Steel Magnolias and¬†Joy Luck Club¬†in other posts so we’ll pick a different one today.¬†The Mirror Has Two Faces is one of my favorite examples.

The BBT in this story is the IDEA that physical beauty is bad.¬†This IDEA is manifested in the story problem, which is created by Professor Gregory Larkin. He believes he knows why he’s always been unlucky in love.

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension
He’s attracted to her…mind.

Being an analytical Mathematics teacher at Columbia he gets a bright idea. He believes superficial attraction and sex is what has ruined all his relationships (and is partially correct).

He theorizes that physical attractiveness always undermines authentic intimacy. Thus, he postulates a solution. Find and date a woman he finds completely physically unappealing. Then he’ll find true love (Story Problem).

Enter in Professor Rose Morgan, a shy, plain, middle-aged professor who teaches literature also at Columbia. Ah, but Rose also happens to have a stunning older sister and a mother who was model-gorgeous in her heyday, a mother who always has to be the center of attention.

Gregory Larkin believes he can only find love without physical beauty, that physical attraction has only a bad ending.

Close, but No Cigar

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Rose Morgan also has issues with beauty, though is not actively aware of it initially. Her mother’s obsession with her own beauty has propelled Rose to demur and become a wallflower. She dresses in frumpy clothes, wears no makeup, doesn’t exercise and does nothing with her hair.

Namely, she doesn’t want to compete with Mom. Mom’s distorted overvaluation of physical beauty has created an equally distorted devaluation of physical beauty in Rose.

When Larkin asks Rose out and the relationship blooms enough for them to marry, it seems his theory is sound. Rose wants to believe she’s okay with this. That she is okay that she was picked because she was utterly unattractive on the outside.

Sure, it stings, but in the end, does it matter? They are close, share similar interests, enjoy each other’s company and she’s no longer terminally single.

Only once married, does Rose realize she’s sold herself short in a big way.

She didn’t believe she longed for Puccini and romance and lust and for a man (her husband) to want her. That was for ‘pretty girls’ and she was lucky to even be picked at all. Right?

Right?

Wrong

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

One night, Rose presses Gregory for sexual intimacy and he freaks out. He rejects her advances, and is angry at her for upsetting his tidy formula for lasting love.

This crushes Rose.

Rose believes she repulses him, but is very wrong. He did want her, probably more than any woman ever before. Yet, he still clings to his false IDEA. He remains undeterred that physical attraction/relations will ruin true love. He leaves right after this disastrous night for a lengthy lecture tour.

Rose finally faces her fear of being pretty and her false beliefs that she a) is not pretty and b) does not deserve to be pretty. She cleans up her diet, gets her hair done, changes her wardrobe and wears makeup. She feels differently and notes others treat her differently, too.

Gregory also does some soul-searching and starts pondering he might be wrong.¬†Maybe¬†outer beauty does not instantly negate inner beauty. Perhaps beauty, physical attraction, lust wasn’t the problem. He was.

Maybe.

Showdown Between the Ideas

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Gregory returns to NYC and sees¬†Rose has bloomed. She’s a very different wife inside and out. Not only is she stunning, but she’s now confident and knows what she wants, what she deserves.

She apologizes for her part in the problem. Confesses she never should have agreed to a passionless marriage. She thanks him for helping her see her own cowardice, but in truth she wants passion and Puccini, love and sex and more than marriage melba toast.

Gregory is dumped…again.

This forces him to take a hard look at himself and his ‘theory.’ He’s forced to choose between his ‘flawless theory of perfect love’ or Rose.

Will he let Rose dump him and go in search of an even more physically unattractive female? Or will he ditch his theory and woo Rose back?

Ideas as Weather Fronts

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

What happens when a cold front meets with a hot front? A STORM! Same in stories. This is why it’s critical to understand the BBT and the proxy carrying out the idea. It’s why it’s just as vital to understand the protagonist and his or her IDEA to be challenged.

Like in weather the colder and drier the cold front and the hotter and moister the hot front, the bigger the BOOM.

Thus once you’ve selected the IDEAS that will clash and what sort of characters will serve as the delivery mechanisms, make sure to choose who will suffer/change the most. The higher the stakes the better the story.

Also ask (for both sides):

What does he/she want? Why does he/she want it? Why now? What happens if he/she fails to get what they want?

When we articulate these and craft these ahead of time, we can make sure to pack as much punch into the plot as possible. No reader wants to invest 12-15 hours into a story where there are low stakes or no stakes. Where no one changes. ZZZZZZ.

Y’all might laugh, but I’ve edited many a work with no stakes. When I asked the writer, ‘What happens if she doesn’t find out the secret?’ Usually, I got, ‘She um…just doesn’t?’

Nope. That isn’t a story, it’s a sedative.

√Ä la fin…

narrative structure, ideas for stories, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, generating conflict in fiction, dramatic writing, how to write a novel, writing tips, The Mirror has Two Faces, story tension, dramatic tension

Ennui Cat says love is for fools and brings only pain. He’s judging your book…and you.

But mostly you.

In the end, think how many weather metaphors we use when talking about people and conflict.¬†A storm’s brewing. Lightning rarely strikes twice. Could feel the crackle in the air.

If conflict is thought of like storms, then reverse engineer this. How do storms work? What makes them bigger and nastier? Use this to help add power to your plot problem.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY.¬†Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like ūüėÄ .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist¬†on March 29th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does this help make plotting a tad less intimidating? Are you perhaps seeing where/why your previous idea floundered? Didn’t realize you needed at least TWO for a story?

Where do you struggle? Because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

***Will announce February’s winner next post.

By the way, yes I also offer classes, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author¬†Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

Now that we’ve discussed the Big Boss Trouble Maker who creates the core story problem in need of resolution, we’re going to tackle…endings. When we authors know our story ending ahead of time, we gain major creative advantage.

What is this madness? How can I know the END?

Calm down. I’ve been there, too. Which is why I’m here to walk you through and help this puzzling concept make total sense.

*hands paper bag*

If you’ve followed this series on structure, you already know why the BBT is so critical. The BBT creates the external problem that launches¬†everything¬†to come, the problem to be resolved (ending).

No Darth Vader and Luke likely remains a moisture farmer on Tatooine. Unless there’s a major external problem—Darth Vader and a Death Star—Luke can/will never become a Jedi.

No WWI pilot crashing through the veil hiding Themiscyra? Amazons continue doing Amazon stuff. Without the pilot, and the massive threat beyond the bubble (pre-Nazis), there is no external force burdening Diana of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, to make a tough moral choice.

Remain hidden in Amazon Safe Space and hope for the best, or step into the fray? No external problem and Wonder Woman can never exist.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension
Okay so maybe not exactly Thucydides. Plato and Napoleon Bonaparte get some credit, too.

A protagonist cannot become a hero/heroine without triumphing¬†over a big problem, despite all we (as Author God) will throw at them. Once we know the problem, it’s far easier to have a sense of the ending.

If we’ve crafted the core problem in need of resolution, we should have a fairly solid idea how and where the story wraps up. Granted, we may not end our novel precisely the way we first envision, but that’s okay. A general idea is totally cool. When we begin writing our story, the ending we have only needs to be close enough for government work.

This loose boundary is what will fire up the muse for endings that are ‘surprising yet inevitable‘, as the great playwright David Mamet likes to say.

Surprising, Yet Inevitable

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

I believe the greatest compliment any story can earn is the surprising yet inevitable ending. When we craft a story, ideally the reader will finish and say two things.

I never saw that coming and How did I NOT see that coming?

If we do a bit of work on the front end, and are vastly familiar with our core problem, then this offers us (writers) a myriad of ways to mess with the readers’ heads.

How? We¬†know what they will expect. Why? Because (logically) we’d expect it, too. So, we don’t do THAT.

This is when the reader settles in for that smooth right turn he’d anticipated…and then we zing left across four lanes and take that weird left exit and U-Turn¬†(for bonus smart@$$ points). Meanwhile, the reader screams and hangs on for life, simultaneously hating and loving us.

The reader is stunned, breathless, and maybe indignant.

Ah, but if he’d paid closer attention, he would’ve noticed we (the author)¬†did¬†put on our story blinker and it wasn’t signaling right ūüėČ . Yet, we had so much distraction in play, the reader missed the blinker signaling LEFT and hidden in plain sight.

Not to give an excuse for sloppy writing, but a story problem that gut-hooks can compensate for a lot of weakness. Conversely, no solid story problem and no one cares how pretty the prose is. Why? Because the reader longs for a bookmark much more than she longs to know the ending.

Case in Point

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

Recently I listened to an audiobook, a psychological thriller (legacy published). Overall, the novel was dreadful. I about choked on the purple prose, and if we made this author’s word echoes into a drinking game? Alcohol poisoning by Chapter Five. Why did I press on? Because the story PROBLEM hooked me.

I knew I had the mystery solved as in who did what, but couldn’t quite nail the HOW. I pushed on through the swamp of overwriting because I had to know the ending…which was surprising and inevitable.

Granted, don’t know if I’ll ever read another work by this writer, but alas, the author did the job. The writer created a compelling story problem. So compelling, I was willing to gut through the slow pace, the protagonist who was too dumb to live, and absurdly detailed descriptions of…everything.

Why? Because I had to KNOW the ENDING.¬†And, the ending made me happy, so we’re cool.

Problems Reveal Endings

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

If we know an evil necromancer is taking over Middle Earth, and the ONLY way to ultimately destroy Sauron is to melt a special ring in one specific volcano? Care to make a bet where and how that story should reasonably END? Likely the ending somewhere close to Mt. Doom. (The Lord of the Rings).

When a self-absorbed teenager wishes away her baby brother to a Goblin King—who takes baby brother—and the only way to get him back is to solve the Labyrinth? Again, care to hazard an ending? Labyrinth solved and baby brother safe (The Labyrinth).

When a daughter loses her mother before she has a chance to reconcile and forgive, that’s a bad situation. But when she’s offered a chance to board a boat to China to meet her long lost half-sisters—the twins her mother ‘abandoned’ and the blade daughter often used to slice mom—how should the story END? Disembarking a boat in China to meet the long lost twins, fulfilling her dead mother’s dream (Joy Luck Club).

When a prince in Denmark’s father dies, that is a problem. It’s also a problem when he returns home to his mom who’s married his Uncle Claudius before Dad’s body is even cold in the ground. Oh, and uncle has also declared himself king—despite Hamlet being next in line. It takes no genius to figure out,¬†Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Also doesn’t take a ghost to put two and two together. Seems fairly clear King Uncle-Dad Claudius offed his brother to take his place.

And y’all thought your family was jacked up…

Thus, how should the story end? By Claudius in some way paying for his crime and someone other than Claudius crowned king. And, since Shakespeare wrote it, everyone dies. BUT, we do know the ending. Claudius will pay dearly and will not be king.

Ending with Intention vs. Formulaic Writing

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

I can hear all the howls of complaint.¬†Kristen, but I don’t want to be crammed into formulaic writing.¬†Having a story ending that is surprising and inevitable is not ‘formulaic.’ Great drama has an ending.

The ending to a story is as integral as scales on a lizard. When a ‘lizard’ has fur instead of scales, it ain’t a lizard. Don’t know what the heck it actually is, but reptile pretty much ruled out.

When ‘stories’ have no clear ending, we call those soap operas.

Note: Still unsure if Stefano actually dead.

Formulaic is when we write some paint-by-numbers story where nothing is shocking. We (readers) are never fooled or mislead. When and if the audience reaches the ending of a novel, play or movie and have managed to predict everything as if by telepathy? THAT is formulaic writing.

Formulaic writing abounds more now than ever because quantity has taken over quality.

Emerging writers rush to ‘write a novel’ without taking time to train and learn to ‘craft a story.’ Publishing and the movie industry are pushing the next thing and the next and the next.

The entertainment business model has shifted because the digital age has opened up distribution and drastically lowered production costs. Now, the business model is to make a little money off a lot of crappy stories instead of make bank off something truly remarkable.

This is a major reason I’ve all but given up on most Hollywood movies. Their endings inevitably make me want to throw things.

The Cage that Frees the Muse

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension
Recreation of Kristen’s playpen.

Structure erects boundaries and parameters. Many new writers wail that structure (I.e. conceptualizing endings ahead of time) wrecks creativity. Yet, I believe quite the opposite.

Ever put a toddler in a playpen then gotten distracted? Trust me, they get REAL creative. Study any super-max prison and one thing you’re guaranteed to witness? Mad creativity, boundless imagination.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this series, I don’t care how any writer constructs the story so long as the end result is solid. It doesn’t matter if we outline in detail, write by the seat of our pants, or work out the story in jazz hands while channelling Liberace.

Plotter, pantser, or plotser? That’s¬†process, which is personal. But all processes will work far better with a solid understanding of what the story must eventually accomplish. Having the problem and a notion of the ending, makes this way simpler.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

If I know my goal is to drive from Dallas, Texas to California (ending) then this automatically rules out thousands of roads. I-20 East is a dumb plan unless my goal is to circumnavigate the globe.

Ah, but then my goal (ending) actually is to get to California from Dallas, TX by circumnavigating the globe. This ALSO rules out thousands of routes. In this case. I-20 West not a good place to start, since it is too direct for my goal of having to circumnavigate the globe to reach California (ending).

***Or it’s proof I’m using Apple maps.

Use the Ending to Torture Readers

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension

If we don’t even know where WE are going, this craters imagination. When we’re unsure how the story will (likely) end, it’s impossible for us to misdirect readers. We lose that amazing capacity to mess with the audience’s head. Readers love books that defy expectations, that ‘fool’ them and make them¬†suffer.

Readers relish a challenge, and look to US (authors) to present them a challenge worthy of their money and 12-15 hours of their most precious possession—TIME.

Endings also insert necessary context for dramatic tension. If we give the audience no sense of how the story should/will end, then there is no way for them to discern a setback, and thus, worry.

As an author, if I crash a plane of soccer players on a mountain in the Andes, where they’re forced to eat their dead teammates to survive, that’s morbidity. Interesting in a gruesome way, and a problem, but not yet a story.

***This is why survival alone is not a story.

Ah, but what if when the blizzard clears, off in the distance there’s what appears to be an abandoned ranger station or hunting lodge? Something to use as shelter, but that might also have provisions (beyond that center half-back) and a radio? Or flares? Some way to signal for help.

NOW we have a story¬†because there’s something resembling an ending. Every setback that prevents the surviving soccer players from reaching THAT station makes us worry. Avalanches, blizzards, injures, hypothermia, frostbite all evolve from ‘bad situations’ to ‘dramatic setbacks.’

There are also CHOICES to be made.

Stay at the crash site or move? Staying increases odds rescuers will find our unfortunate group. But, the plane is unstable, could crash down the mountain. Also, the region is so remote, who knows when help will come?

Oh, but trek for that thingy that seems to be an old ranger station and what if it isn’t? What if it’s a hallucination? A mirage? The Unibomber’s old time-share, equipped with nothing more than rage and a typewriter?

Now, characters can FIGHT. They fight each other, fight with themselves, fight against nature and fight to LIVE and to WIN! And this, my friends, is now a story ūüėČ .

√Ä la fin…

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, ending, novel structure, dramatic writing, novel structure, how to write a novel, how to plot, story endings, David Mamet, dramatic tension, ennui cat

Ennui Cat says nothing matters and life is futile, and he’s judging your book…and you.

Mostly you.

In the end, mastering structure unleashes imagination, provides opportunities to create mad twists, turns and endings that leave readers breathless. By gauging an ‘idea’ for our ending, we make plotting simpler.

Some added bonuses?

We’re far less likely to write ourselves into a corner unable to figure a way out. Also, since the structure is sound, revisions will be more pleasant…and less like water boarding while getting a root canal.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY.¬†Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like ūüėÄ .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist¬†on March 15th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Were you like me and when some ‘expert’ told you to write from the ending you were all SAY WHAT? Are you INSANE? Does it make a bit more sense now?

Where do you struggle? Because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

By the way, yes I also offer classes, and so does my partner-in-crime USA Today Best-Selling Author¬†Cait Reynolds does, too. We both want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales, and a world with better books.

Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, March 1st, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Or√©al says, you’re worth it! Also, a¬†recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Conflict is the core ingredient required for story. It is the magical elixir with the raw power to transform a story we think we’ve heard a million times before into something wholly unique and mesmerizing. FYI, there are no new stories, only new ways of telling the same stories. Just getting that out of the way.

A Thousand Acres¬†is basically¬†King Lear¬†on an Iowa farm, and Avatar is Pocahontas in Space. I could give a zillion more examples but won’t.

In fairness, this makes our job simpler. We really don’t want to create a story no one has ever heard before. Not only because it’s pretty much impossible to do in the first place, but it’s also highly risky even if we managed to pull it off. Why?

Because the story ‘never before told’ cannot possibly resonate emotionally. Humans have no emotional touchpoint for something they’ve never experienced…ever.

Resonance is Critical

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Love gone wrong? Betrayal? Messed up family? Righting wrongs of the past? Clearing one’s name from being falsely accused? Rebuilding after a loss? Finally earning approval, love, or acceptance? Impacts of abuse or addiction?

This stuff we get.

Most humans have real-life experience with these ‘common’ stories. Thus, when we stick to these core human narratives, that’s when we create that deep visceral resonance that ripples through generations of readers. It’s because people can relate.

Suffering is also interesting. What? Humans are morbid. Not MY fault, but definitely good for business if you’re a writer.

Now, the degree of ‘suffering’ obviously is determined by genre (or how bad the writing is).

A cupcake cozy mystery won’t probe at wounds the way a dark literary thriller like¬†Gone Girl¬†might. This doesn’t change that there’s ONE singular ingredient for all stories that must be present or it isn’t a story.

My goal in this series is to explore all the elements of structure, because the purpose of structure is to generate TENSION. Story is a machine. All parts serve a purpose and must work together lest we get screeching, smoke, meltdown, then breakdown.

Before we explore other elements of building a story, let’s discuss conflict.

Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, structure, novel structure

If we don’t have conflict, we DO NOT have a story. PERIOD.

A story captures us (readers) with a problem, then we turn pages because there are more problems! And we cannot possibly put down a book until we know everything is okay, right?

Few readers—emphasis on FEW—turn pages to see if the writer will use even prettier descriptions, employ even wittier references to obscure literature, or come up with even more clever names for starships/kingdoms/mythical beasts.

Readers aren’t picking up a novel to see if the author knows how to use a thesaurus or test the writer’s vocabulary skills. S.A.T. and G.R.E. prep manuals do that.

Want to read one of those in your spare time? Be my guest.

Granted, everything listed above (prose, description, world-building, excellent vocabulary) can all be wonderful elements to story, but none are powerful enough ALONE to BE STORY. Only one ingredient is inherently potent enough by itself to be considered story.

That ingredient is conflict. Conflict is story.

Here I am referring to BOTH external conflict and internal conflict, though mainly external. One CANNOT exist without the other. External conflict ignites and fans the flames of internal conflict.

Internal conflict alone is the literary equivalent of a diary to our inner child. Only therapists want to read self-exploratory navel-gazing…namely because they’re paid very well to do so.

What’s going to make readers care about internal conflicts are external problems ūüėČ .

Confusion with Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Conflict—who generates it and how—can be very confusing. I am here, hopefully, to help you make sense of it all. Today we’ll use broad strokes to help y’all see what I’m wanting you to grasp, then I’ll blog in greater detail on each aspect.

Every novel MUST have a core antagonist. I call this particular antagonist the Big Boss Troublemaker (BBT) to keep it straight in MY head. I do this because a lot of well-meaning craft books (that assumed I was WAY smarter than I was) confused the crap out of me for years by using ‘antagonist’ as a blanket term.

Also, I chose this because¬†Troublemaker is not inherently bad, evil, or nefarious. It’s merely trouble, which is subjective. This distinction (that the BBT is not, by nature, evil) will be important later, especially for certain genres.

EVERY STORY MUST HAVE A BBT. The BBT is responsible for creating the core story problem in need of resolution. When the core problem is resolved, THIS is how we (writer and readers) know the story is over.

***If the Hobbits don’t toss the evil ring in Mt. Doom and destroy Sauron (BBT)? NOPE not over.

Problem is, the BBT—while responsible for creating the core problem—likely isn’t present on every single page.¬†Herein lies the pickle. If the goal is to put conflict on every page, in every line, how can we possibly do that?

Easy. Much of our story’s conflict isn’t necessarily¬†directly a result of the BBT.

In any story, conflict will have many, many faces. Often you’ll hear this referred to as the antagonist. ‘Antagonist’ is a broad term, which includes any character whose goal stands in the way of what the main character desires.

Every character can at one time wear the antagonist hat (which gets shuffled around). Allies and love interests wear it most frequently, believe it or not. I’ll give you examples how, later.

The antagonist in play is almost always a person (corporeal being), which we will get to in finer detail as to why in another post. Suffice to say, humans don’t do so well with existentialism. When our MC is pitted against anything other than another person with an opposing agenda, we risk tanking the conflict.

Bad Situations are NOT Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Let me repeat. What makes readers turn pages is unresolved conflict. Conflict can only happen when opposing agendas meet.

Kristen’s riffed example:

Fifi, the teenage witch hunter must meet demonically possessed baton twirler at exactly midnight for the critical clue to who/what’s behind the drama nerds going missing.

***See, if the football team was going missing the authorities would care. But Fifi, being a long-time drama nerd and (unfortunately) a brand new witch-hunter knows she must step in to find her friends or no one else will.

This definitely IS a good story problem. Missing friends. Not to mention school administrators would loooove another reason to cut the drama program. It’s a juicy start, but not yet conflict.

For that? Add in *drum roll* MOM.

Mom, who previously worked night shift at the hospital switched THAT morning to day shift, because of her daughter’s strange behaviors and odd injuries. She wants to be there for her daughter, despite the cut in pay.

This means Fifi’s mom will be home, which gives boundless ways for any writer to sadistically torture readers. Mom being home (and NOT working at the hospital) gives a myriad of organic setbacks to generate high tension as Fifi desperately tries to sneak out to meet possessed baton twirler.

The clock ticks ever closer to midnight as Mom overcompensates to assuage her guilt for being previously absentee.

Pumpkin! I hear you’re awake. Hard time sleeping? Hold on! I’ll bring you up some hot milk like I used to.

Is mom BAD for switching to day shift? Is she a villain for not wanting her barely-legal-to-drive teen to leave the house at 11:30 P.M. on a school night (or ANY night)?

No their goals simply conflict.

Conflict is NOT Inherently BAD

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Fifi’s goal is to meet possessed baton twirler to find missing drama nerds and stop the evil force (a noble goal). Mom’s goal is to be a good mom (again, a noble goal).

It is still, however, CONFLICT.

Notice how the external conflict (problems) only exacerbate internal conflict. Fifi is trying to shield her mother from vastly dangerous supernatural forces. Mom is intent on protecting her daughter and making up for being a ‘bad’ mother by being a vigilant mother.

Yet…

As tensions mount, secrets, baggage, and benevolent lies pile up like old rags soaked in ‘oil’ (guilt, remorse, anger) waiting to inevitably go BOOM.

This is why other characters with conflicting agendas are GOLD.

If all that is keeping Fifi from meeting the possessed baton twirler is bad weather, a lost set of keys, twisted ankle, a broken down car, these are bad situations not conflict. Bad situations are useful only for the momentary setback, but they lack the same power to inflame the internal conflict.

Can we use bad situations? HECK YEAH…just not at the expense of authentic dramatic tension, which can only be created by antagonists.

Why the Confusion?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

One reason many emerging writers get confused (I sure did) is that the term ‘antagonist’ is often used interchangeably with ‘villain’ which is bad (or at lease incomplete) teaching. Not all stories have villains but ALL stories must possess a BBT and antagonists throughout. As y’all see with my Fifi example, Mom is an antagonist, but hardly a villain.

Antagonists are like ice cream, and ‘villains’ are like double-fudge ice cream. While all double-fudge ice cream IS ice cream, not all ice cream is double-fudge ūüėČ .

Do We NEED a Villain?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Yes and no. If your character is up against something existential, that existential thing should be pretty BAD (death, disease, poverty, alcoholism, racism, abuse, etc.). Problem is, these ‘concepts’ need to be represented via a proxy which may or may NOT be a villain.

I know, a brain-bender but work with me. Breathe.

I like to use the example of¬†Steel Magnolias which does have a villain—DISEASE/DEATH. Ah, but the ‘Villain’ BBT is represented via proxy by the daughter Shelby.

Shelby has life-threatening diabetes. She tries to adopt but fails and longs to be a mother. Her decision to get pregnant knowing it very well could cost her life creates the core story problem (making SHELBY the BBT).

M’Lynn is the dutiful mother who’s there to take care of everything and everyone. Her goal is to outlive her daughter, to protect her. To give her very life if need be to save her daughter.

In this situation, however? She can’t. She has no control (which is her problem. btw).

Shelby’s desire to be a mother conflicts with M’Lynn’s desire for her daughter to outlive her and to live a long and happy life.

BUT this decision is critical for M’Lynn for grow, to evolve from being a control freak, and embrace all of life—even the ugly parts—to get to the truly good parts (I.e. the grandson Jackson).

Many Faces of NOPE

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

All stories must have a BBT that creates the core story in need of being resolved. Once we have defined this core story problem, casting becomes simpler. Ideally, we want to cast an MC who’d rather crawl across razor-wire than confront the story problem. But what is on the OTHER side outweighs the fear (most of the time).

Then we can layer in love interests, allies, threshold guardians, minions and all the BBT has to throw at the MC on every single page. Yes, it CAN be done and I will blog more on how. For more about that now? Buy a copy of¬†HOOKED¬†by Les Edgerton. He’s my mentor and one of the toughest yet finest writing teachers ever.

Anyway, this colorful cast of antagonists (friend and foe) and all their baggage is what will keep readers riveted to their seats wanting to know HOW IT ALL ENDS! By crafting organic opposition onto every page (every line), this is how we steadily wind tension tighter and tighter until it’s almost ready to snap nerves.

Readers will be begging for release. Hey, it isn’t called the climax for nothing *rolls eyes* . Alas, now that y’all grasp what I mean by conflict, we can now proceed to the next layer of learning next post.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY.¬†Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like ūüėÄ .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist¬†on March 15th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Has the term antagonist confused you too? Heck, it sure confused me. Same with conflict. I need more conflict? Okay, I can put in a car chase. Kinda weird for a chick-lit, but alrighty! I do love hearing from you. Where you struggle, because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

By the way, yes I also offer classes. I want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales. Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Or√©al says, you’re worth it! Also, a¬†recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is¬†FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s¬†workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 10.17.54 AM
Hmmm, what’s the story behind THIS?

There are all kinds of arguments about which area of craft is the most important for creating great fiction. Plot? Character? Voice? Theme? My opinion. They’re all organs in one body. Our brains will still work if our lungs have bronchitis, but maybe not at an optimal level. Similarly, there are people with brain injuries who have a strong heart. A body can “live” without everything operating in concert, and so can any story.

It’s ideal to hone our skills in all areas, and our goal is to be skilled at all of them. Can we be equally skilled? That’s another debate for another post.

I will say that plot (skeleton/brain) is very important. Our characters (heart) are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters. Ah, but here’s the sticky wicket. WHY do we remember characters? Because of plot. Stories are more than about people. Great stories are people overcoming great odds.

We don’t remember Luke Skywalker because he hung out on Tatooine waxing rhapsodic about his plight as a moisture farmer. We remember him and his allies because they went up against seemingly unbeatable odds and WON.

Yet, even if we come up with the coolest plot in the world, there are elements of character that should also be in the mix, lest our novel can become the literary equivalent of a CGI Star Wars Prequel NIGHTMARE. Characters should develop organically or the reader will call FOUL.

Additionally, if our characters are as deep as an Amarillo puddle, it will be virtually impossible for readers to emotionally connect.

Among¬†many other reasons, I think this is why the¬†Star Wars Prequels were like a bad acid trip at Chuck E. Cheese. Anakin was utterly unlikable and unredeemable simply because the writers were more focused on how many characters they could make into McDonald’s Happy Meal toys instead of sticking to the fundamentals of GOOD storytelling.

But Obi-Wan doesn’t take me seriously. Whaaaaahhhhhh! *SLAP*

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.40.53 AM

If we’re missing emotional connection between the audience and our characters, our story loses critical wattage. What are some ways we can help form that connection? Today…

The Wound

Real humans have wounds that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Recently, I was helping a student of my Antag-Gold class plot her novel. She had a good protagonist who was a control freak. My question: WHY?

Yes, genetics will have a role in forging our personality, but genes do not a good story make. Having a character be a certain way simply because we need them to be or act that way will work, but so will a heart with damaged valves.

Wounds drive how we perceive our world, what we believe we want, and how we will (or won’t) interact with others. This is critical for generating story tension and character arc.

For instance, my father abandoned us, my mother was chronically ill, and my little brother was legally blind. I was left to grow up too fast and take care of far too much way too early. THIS is why I struggle with being a control freak. From MY wound, %#!* didn’t get done unless I did it.

Additionally, because I grew up in the wake of constant broken promises, I’ve had to work hard to trust. It’s been a challenge to delegate and allow others to fail or succeed without my meddling. Also in my growing up years, achievement=love/attention. That wound drove me to seek dreams that weren’t mine to please others. I had to “arc” to walk away from people-pleasing if I wanted fulfillment.

Wounds Don’t Have to Be Big to Be BIG

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Often, new writers will default to wounds like rape or death or some big tragedy to create the wound. To be clear, I am not saying these aren’t viable wounds, but never underestimate the “smaller” and more relatable emotional injuries. The more a reader can empathize with one or more characters, the deeper that connection becomes.

Not everyone has lost their family to a sudden alien invasion— ūüėČ — but they can empathize with maybe never living up to expectations, being bullied, or not fitting in. LOTR rests on a small band of Hobbits who believe they are too little to make a BIG difference.

Perhaps the character is the invisible middle child trying to forge an identity, the eldest trying to hold the world together, or the baby who “got away with murder” and “was handed everything.” Never underestimate family dynamics as sources for realistic and powerful psychic wounds.

For instance, my father was all play no work. Unfortunately, we suffered the consequences. Ironically, my grandfather was all work no play. Doubly ironic, my childlike father created a workaholic daughter (me); like thread, one loop feeding into the next weaving the “pattern” until someone changes “the pattern.”

Arc.

I’ve had to learn to lighten the hell up and balance The Force. But my workaholic, overachieving nature served up far more thorns than fruits.

Wounds Will Distort Happiness

Wounds generate illusions. Because I grew up poor and lived hand-to-mouth all through college, I “believed” that money and financial security would make me happy. At 27, I made more money than any person in their 20s should make‚Ķand I was¬†miserable.¬†I was eaten alive with emptiness. I’d achieved all that should have filled that hole—the college degree, the premium job and premium pay. And yet?

I was the person stranded in a desert gulping sand I believed was water from an oasis.

Am I "there" yet?
Am I “there” yet?

Character arc comes when a protagonist is placed in a problem strong enough to challenge the illusion and break it. The protagonist¬†believes X=happiness/fulfillment. It is only through the story problem that the protagonist rises to become a hero, a person capable of realizing they were wrong and that they’d been coveting a shill at the expense of the gold.

Thus, when creating characters, keep the wound at the forefront of your mind.

How does it affect what he/she believes about their own identity? What do they believe will make them happy? What is it that you (Author God) know that’s¬†really what will make them happy? What needs to change for that character to lose the blinders? What is the perfect problem (plot) to force the protagonist to see the hard truth of the unhealed wound?

What are your thoughts? Writing can be healing and therapeutic. Have you ever siphoned from your own hurt-reservoir to deepen your characters? Can you think of how even small hurts can become super-sized? What are some ways you’ve witnessed wounds driving people in wrong directions toward false happiness? Have you been there, done that and earned the t-shirt?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Winner for August is Lara McGill. Lara, please send your choice of 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. You can also choose to send a query letter (250 words) or a synopsis (up to 750 words). Congratulations!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

TONIGHT is Going Pro Craft, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding September 6th, Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

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.¬†

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 8.20.24 AM

Recently, I’ve added homeschooling The Spawn to the list of what I already do. Blog, write books, teach, run two small businesses and keeping a house clean, the yard mowed, and my family fed. As an introvert who works from home, it’s easy to realize you no longer leave the house and are talking to yourself way more than is healthy. Thus, I’ve been on a mission to break some patterns and do what might scare me (talking to other people in person).

Btw, writers don’t count.

Welcome to Nerd Land

In the spirit of this “Doing Stuff Differently” I joined some friends for a monthly game of Dungeons and Dragons, and took Hubby as a hostage teammate. I hadn’t played D&D since I was in high school so there is a learning curve. But one thing that struck me is how being an author had changed my perspective. The first duty I had was to choose and create characters for me and Hubby.

When I looked at who was playing what, I spotted a big problem. The existing party was far too homogenous, so the only real conflict was going to come from whatever bad creatures they happened to fight. What did I do? My writer’s mantra.

THROW A ROCK IN IT.

Image via http://www.kencyclopedia.com/kender/art/page7.cfm
Image via Lui Yanqing

 

Instead of playing a ranger as I always had, I chose a Kender (Halfling). Kenders are loved and despised. They are tiny and childlike and have an affinity for anything shiny (yeah, it fits). They can pick locks, spot and disarm traps, and they have boundless curiosity paired with sticky fingers and that can land them in hot water.

Since Kenders place no material value on anything, stealing to them is more‚Ķ”borrowing.” Also, they have no social filters and say whatever they’re thinking. One of their strongest powers in a fight is “the taunt.” They can get the enemy so riled, bad guys don’t think clearly and make mistakes. They are a chaotic good character, emphasis on the chaotic.

Now pair this Kender with Hubby who is a Lawful Good Paladin. BOOM!

Hey, I only “borrowed” his sword. Was totally going to give it back *rolls eyes*.

But what was interesting about our first game with the other party members, is that they all groaned and wanted roasted Kender. Apparently a Kender played poorly is simply a pain in the a$$. Like any D&D character, it is up to the person playing the role to breathe in life and to dig below the surface and harness strengths and weaknesses. By the end of the game, everyone (including the barbarian) was yelling to the Kender for help.

***My name is Idgy Thistletuft—or IT for short ūüėÄ .

Case In Point

For instance, Kenders are fearless in regards to their own lives. Instead of staying with the party, I decided to run off and climb a tree. Very popular move when everyone was “strategizing.” Ah, but once up in the tree, I spotted enemies over the rise. I used the powers of taunting to draw the orcs and goblins all to the base of said shiny tree and then FOCUS their anger on me‚Ķthen the party had an easier time defeating them.

Also, Hubby being a Paladin added even more conflict. Our mage put the goblins to sleep, but a Paladin will never kill an enemy (even an orc) who is helpless and will actively stop others from doing harm to a helpless foe. It isn’t “noble”‚Ķso we used me to distract Hubby while others whacked sleeping orcs.

This is SO Hubby...
This is SO Hubby…

But the game was FAR more fun, since now the conflict was being generated within the party itself. Each character is guided by a code, a background and a personality. When those conflict? Fun times!

Why do I mention D&D? Because I believe Dungeons & Dragons ‚ĄĘ offers a litmus that is HIGHLY useful in creating great characters.

Alignment

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When I used to run writing groups, I would challenge participants to explore their character‚Äôs alignment which is basically a way to categorize a character‚Äôs moral and ethical perspectives in relation to the greater societal framework. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook. TSR, Inc. breaks down character alignments into the following:

Lawful Good     Neutral Good      Chaotic Good

Lawful Neutral     Neutral Chaotic     Neutral

Lawful Evil       Neutral Evil          Chaotic Evil

These nine classifications are used to help determine how a character will act (or react) in any given circumstance.

***And, yes, my fellow nerds, I know they have since whittled this list to five, but the original classification system, I feel, is more useful for crafting characters. So delete your e-mail correcting me :). Or add some wisdom in the comments.

Anyway…..

We as writers are tasked with creating characters that can easily be mistaken for living breathing people. In order to do this, we have to develop ‚Äúpeople‚ÄĚ who act in ways consistent with their backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. In other words, we must assign ‚Äúalignment.‚ÄĚ

Also, most of our conflict will not come from the core antagonist, rather it will come from allies and those closest. Anyone who’s ever been to a family reunion or been forced to do a group project knows I’m correct.

In our novel? If too many allies are agreeing? Something is wrong. 

Back to Dungeons and Dragons

Each D&D alignment is associated with an archetype which we see reflected in literary examples.

For convenience, the following definitions/excerpts/examples are taken from a Dungeons & Dragons Alignment article in compliance with the Terms of Use as stipulated by Wikipedia. This hyperlink will take you to the complete article, where you can learn more about alignments in greater detail. As a former D&D acolyte, I can (sadly, LOL) attest to the accuracy of the following information, and I hope it helps guide you in your writing.

Lawful Good

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‚ÄúSaintly‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúCrusader‚ÄĚ alignment. A Lawful Good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. Lawful Good characters, especially paladins (knights), may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey law or good when the two conflict – for example, upholding a sworn oath when it would lead innocents to come to harm – or conflicts between two orders, such as between their religious law and the law of the local ruler.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒSuperman, Joan of Arc, Olivia from Law & Order.

Neutral Good

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Neutral Good is known as the “Benefactor” alignment. A Neutral Good character is guided by his conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A Neutral Good character has no problems with co-operating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict that a Lawful Good character would. A doctor who treats soldiers from both sides in a war could be considered Neutral Good.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒZorro, Spiderman, Elliot from Law and Order.

Chaotic Good

And….me :)
And‚Ķ.me ūüôā

Chaotic Good is known as the “Beatific,” “Rebel,” or “Cynic” alignment. A Chaotic Good character favors change for a greater good, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well. They always intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of alignment with the rest of society. They have no use for those who would try to push them around and tell them what to do.

While they do not have evil intentions, they often do bad things (even if they do not necessarily enjoy doing these things) to people who are, in their opinion, bad people if it benefits their goal of achieving a greater good.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒStarbuckfrom Battlestar Galactica , Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly, and Robin Hood

Lawful Neutral

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Lawful Neutral is called the “Judge” or “Disciplined” alignment. A Lawful Neutral character typically believes strongly in Lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules and tradition, and often follows a personal code. A Lawful Neutral society would typically enforce strict laws to maintain social order, and place a high value on traditions and historical precedent. Examples of Lawful Neutral characters might include a soldier who always follows orders, a judge or enforcer who adheres mercilessly to the word of the law, a disciplined monk, or a cowardly commoner.

Characters of this alignment are neutral with regard to good and evil. This does not mean that Lawful Neutral characters are amoral or immoral, or do not have a moral compass; but simply that their moral considerations come a distant second to what their code, tradition or law dictates. They typically have a strong ethical code, but it is primarily guided by their system of belief, not by a commitment to good or evil.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒJames Bond & Odysseus.

Neutral

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Neutral alignment, also referred to as True Neutral or Neutral Neutral, is called the “Undecided” or “Nature’s” alignment. This alignment represents Neutral on both axes, and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment. A farmer whose primary overriding concern is to feed his family is of this alignment. Most animals, lacking the capacity for moral judgment, are of this alignment. Many roguish characters who play all sides to suit themselves are also of this alignment.

Some Neutral characters, rather than feeling undecided, are committed to a balance between the alignments. They may see good, evil, law and chaos as simply prejudices and dangerous extremes.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒLara Croft & Han Solo.

Chaotic Neutral

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Chaotic Neutral is called the “Anarchist” or “Free Spirit” alignment. A character of this alignment is an individualist who follows his or her own heart, and generally shirks rules and traditions. Good and Evil come a distant second to their need for personal freedom, and the only reliable thing about them is how totally unreliable they are.

They typically act out of self-interest, but do not specifically enjoy seeing others suffer. Many free-spirited adventurers are of this alignment. Alternatively there are madmen whose actions are chaotic, but are not themselves inclined towards evil.

An unusual subset of Chaotic Neutral is “strongly Chaotic Neutral”, describing a character who behaves chaotically to the point of appearing insane. Characters of this type may regularly change their appearance and attitudes for the sake of change, and intentionally disrupt organizations for the sole reason of disrupting a lawful construct.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒJack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean. Al Swearingen, Deadwood¬†

Lawful Evil

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Lawful Evil is referred to as the “Dominator” or “Diabolic” alignment. Characters of this alignment see a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit, and show a combination of desirable and undesirable traits; while they usually obey their superiors and keep their word, they care nothing for the rights and freedoms of other individuals. Examples of this alignment include tyrants, devils, undiscriminating mercenary types who have a strict code of conduct, and loyal soldiers who enjoy the act of killing.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒBoba Fett Star Wars & X-Men‚Äôs Magneto

Neutral Evil

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Neutral Evil is called the “Malefactor” alignment. Characters of this alignment are typically selfish and have no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment. They have no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit to it. They abide by laws for only as long as it is convenient for them. A villain of this alignment can be more dangerous than either Lawful or Chaotic Evil characters, since he is neither bound by any sort of honor or tradition nor disorganized and pointlessly violent.

Examples are an assassin who has little regard for formal laws but does not needlessly kill, a henchman who plots behind his superior’s back, or a mercenary who switches sides if made a better offer.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒX-Men‚Äôs Mystique. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series).

Chaotic Evil

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Chaotic Evil is referred to as the “Destroyer” or “Demonic” alignment. Characters of this alignment tend to have no respect for rules, other peoples’ lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have any regard for the lives or freedom of other people. They do not work well in a group, as they resent being given orders, and usually only behave themselves out of fear of punishment.

It is not compulsory for a Chaotic Evil character to be constantly performing sadistic acts just for the sake of being evil, or constantly disobeying orders just for the sake of causing chaos. They do however enjoy the suffering of others, and view honor and self-discipline as weaknesses. Serial killers and monsters of limited intelligence are typically Chaotic Evil.

Literary Examples‚ÄĒJoker from The Dark Knight. Stargher‚Äôs evil half in movie The Cell (2000).

An author‚Äôs task is not easy, but it can be simplified. Alignment is just one of those tools that can help us get a better idea of who each of our characters are. Once we ‚Äúknow‚ÄĚ them, it then becomes far easier to craft scenes, because we know how each will act/react in any given situation and within any stipulated context.

Once we understand their moral compasses (or lack thereof), we can then plot their courses accordingly. Alignment is also valuable for understanding character arc, goals, and motivations and priceless for crafting conflict that will test and fire their mettle.

What are your thoughts? Other than yes, we can all argue what alignment certain characters are (I.e. Batman). But it really is that tension in the “not knowing” that is fabulous for CONFLICT. Think of the characters above and how they not only interacted with their respective antagonist, but also how they interacted with allies and you’ll see that casting our novel is a HUGE deal. And BIG THANKS to Wikipedia for the help. also a HUGE thanks for people with enough free time to create such AWESOME memes.

Any fellow D&D nerds players who might have another perspective or additional insight? Never heard of D&D? Or maybe you’ve heard of D&D and now are unsure we can be friends because I told you I play D&D?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, 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).

Announcements:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

July 19th is my First Five Pages Class¬†¬†and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on July 26th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.