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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: fiction

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

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

*awkward silence*

To write great fiction, we need both. Plot and characters work together. One arc drives the other much like one cog serves to turn another, thus generating momentum in the overall engine we call “STORY.”

If we goof up plot? Readers/Audiences get confused or call FOUL. Watch the movie Ouija for what I am talking about *shakes head*.

Goof up characters? No one cares about the plot.

New writers are particularly vulnerable to messing up characters. We drift too far to one end of the spectrum or the other—Super-Duper-Perfect versus Too Dumb to Live—and this can make a story fizzle because there is no way to create true dramatic tension.

This leaves us (the frustrated author) to manufacture conflict and what we end up with is drama’s inbred cousin melodrama. 

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

If characters are too perfect, too goody-goody and too well-adjusted? If they always make noble, good and professional decisions? Snooze fest.

Again. Bad decisions make great fiction.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more booksOf course, the other side of that is what I call The Gilligan Effect. Yes, I am dating myself here and I apologize if I upset any DIE-HARD Gilligan’s Island fans, but I remember being a kid and this show nearly giving me an aneurism (being the highly logical child I was).

After the third time Gilligan botched up the escape off the island? Kristen would have gone Lord of the Flies and Piggy Gilligan would have mysteriously gone “missing.”

I also recall how the stranded party could make everything out of coconuts except a freaking BOAT, and the only reason I kept watching was because it was better than being locked outside to play in heat that shifted asphalt to a plasma state.

Yay, Texas summers!

Yet, I’ve read books with characters that make Gilligan look like a rocket scientist…then been compelled to hurl the book across the room.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books
This is me after reading certain books *stabbing self*

Flawed vs. Too Dumb to Live

Today we are going to talk about how we can make characters flawed without crossing over into TDTL (Too Dumb To Live) Territory. This commercial never gets old *giggles*

Let’s hide behind the CHAINSAWS!!!! *clutches sides*. Or this one about gals tripping too many times in horror movies. BWA HA HA HA HA HA!

Okay, I’m back *giggles*.

Great stories are filled with characters making bad decisions, and when this is done well, we often don’t really notice it beyond the winding tension in our stomach, the clenching that can only be remedied by pressing forward and seeing if it works out okay.

When characters are properly flawed, the audience remains captured in the fictive dream.

When we (the writer) goof up? The fictive dream is shattered. The audience is no longer part of the world because they’re too busy fuming that anyone could be that stupid. They also now cease to care about the character because, like Gilligan? They kind of want said TDTL character to die.

If this is our protagonist? Extra bad. Our protagonist should make mistakes, just not ones so egregious the reader stops rooting for him/her.

Bad Decisions Birthed from The Flaw

When we create a protagonist, we should remember that all strengths have a complimentary weakness. If a character has never been tested by fire, the protagonist is blind to the weakness.

For instance, great leaders can be control freaks. Loyal people can be overly naive. Compassionate people can be unrealistic. Y’all get the idea.

This dual nature of human strength paired with fallibility is why plot is just as critical.

Plot as Crucible

The plot is the crucible that tests the mettle and reveals and fires out the flaw. The strength ultimately will have to be stronger than the weakness because this is how the protagonist will grow to become a hero by story’s end.

A great example of this is one of my favorite movies, The EdgeAnthony Hopkins plays billionaire Charles Morse. Charles is extremely successful and very much in his own head. Though he’s a genius, he lives the sheltered existence of the uber-wealthy.

What happens when all that “head-knowledge” is what he needs to survive a plane crash in the unforgiving wilderness?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

When the plane crashes and he and the other two survivors make it to shore, Morse does the right thing. He knows they need to get dry before they all die from hypothermia. He also realizes Stephen, the photographer, is in full panic.

What is the intelligent thing to do? Put the photographer to work doing something fruitful to take his mind off his fear.

Bright (Bad) Idea Fairy

The problem, however, is Morse assumes the photographer has the same knowledge-base and doesn’t take time to show Stephen how to use a knife properly and the man is badly injured as a result. Now we’ve already had a problem (plane crash) and now we have a complication (bad injury) and then it gets worse.

Morse, again, being an in-his-own-head-guy and unaccustomed to having to communicate WHY he wants certain things done, tells Robert Green to bury the blood-soaked fabric.

Green is jealous of Morse and rebellious and instead of following instructions and burying the material? He hangs the blood-soaked rags from a tree where an incoming storm whips up the scent of a newly opened All You Can Eat Buffet.

Soon, the men are being hunted by an apex predator with the munchies for humans.

***Side note here. Look at the genius in the choice of character names. Morse, a cryptic person who must unravel the “code” of his situation and realize the bear is actually the (MUCH) lesser threat. Green, the man who envies to such a degree it drives him to plot a murder. Stephen is the first to die. “Stephen” was also the first Christian martyr, the first innocent to die for the greater cause—salvation.

#DeepThoughts

Back to FLAWS

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more booksBut all of this was birthed from a myriad of flaws. Morse failing to communicate and assuming his comrades are operating with the same head knowledge (because he’s never had to use this type of information in a real-world way).

As a billionaire, Morse has never been required to explain himself before. He doesn’t understand that this might be a good time to START.

Additionally, the two photographers are city people who don’t have the training/understanding to know 1) NOT to drag a knife toward the body and 2) that the smallest scent of blood will draw predators. BIG ONES.

These men are used to the “civilized world.”  When thrust into the wild, they make a critical error. They fail to properly appreciate that their position at the top of the food chain has drastically shifted.

Only ONE member of our stranded coterie gets that they’ve suddenly gone from ordering OFF menus to being ON the menu #DailySpecial #MarketPrice #JokesInPoorTaste…

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Bad Decisions Depend on Circumstances

Sometimes characters will make bad decisions simply because this is a completely new world or a set of circumstances they’ve never faced, thus have no way to fully appreciate. The “bad” decision was not a “bad decision” before the adventure.

A good example? Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings. In the Shire, people talk and are sociable. These naive characters haven’t yet felt the consequences of this new and dangerous world.

To them? Chatting away and freely sharing information at The Prancing Pony is NOT a bad decision in their minds. Neither is frying bacon on top of a mountain.

They’ve always lived a life that if they were in a pub? They drank and made friends. If they wanted bacon? They just made bacon. They’ve never had to think beyond their mood or stomachs. The Hobbits don’t have the experiential base to grasp that fire is a “Come and Kill Me” beacon.

Bad Decisions & The Wound

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

We’ve talked about The Wound in other posts. In Thelma & Louise what is the wound? A lifetime of male oppression. In Thelma’s case, her husband controls every aspect of her life.

Thus, when she finally does get on her own, she has poor judgement and is naive and that’s how she nearly ends up raped in a honky-tonk parking lot.

Louise has been a victim (shamed and alone) and doesn’t trust men or the law. Thus, her baggage is what leads her to shoot Thelma’s attacker, but then also dovetails into the really, really bad decision to run.

But if we look at all these examples from an analytical distance, these characters are just DUMB. But why aren’t they TDTL? Context. Because of plot we (the audience) are not staring down at them like specimens through a microscope. We empathize with “bad” decisions. Why? Because there’s context (their world).

Making “Stupid” Forgivable

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

Great writing is a sort of alchemy that transforms the raw material of “stupid” into the literary gold we recognize as “damaged,” “broken,” and/or “naive”—which we have ALL been at one time or another.

This hits us in the feels. We relate, connect, and BOND with the characters because we’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it.

In The Edge, “bad” decisions are forgivable because most of us are not wilderness experts. Readers can empathize with maybe doing something seriously stupid if stranded in a similar fashion.

In The Lord of the Rings we, the audience, have “been” to the Shire—and know what world created the childlike Merry and Pippin. Thus, we appreciate these characters are grossly out of their depth and give them a pass.

In Thelma & Louise we can understand how damaged people make poor decisions because, unless we’ve been living under a rock, we’ve made similar choices, and suffered consequences created from fear not reason.

What this means is that, while ALL of these characters made really wrong decisions, they are necessary and pardonable decisions that serve to drive the character arc and thus the plot’s momentum.

That is the final note on characters making bad decisions.

Plot Puppets

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, creating dimensional characters, fiction, flawed characters, too dumb to live, writing, the wound, the flaw, plotting, characters and plot, how to sell more books

Do we have a character making a mistake, withholding vital information, acting irrationally because it is coming from a deeper place of flaws, circumstance or wounds?

Or, do we have a character playing marionette? Characters are making a mistakes because we NEED them to. The tension has fizzled, so let’s just let them do something epically stupid (and random)?

Audiences can tell the difference between mistakes that are organic and flow from deeper emotional waters versus something contrived. And we can ALL be guilty of forcing characters to make bad choices simply because we sense tension is missing. Even I have to go back and ask the tough question…WHY is this character doing this?

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts regarding characters making poor decisions? What are some of your favorite examples? Ever quit a book, movie, or show because you wanted everyone to DIE? What are some great examples of characters who you should hate, but you forgive? Why? Can you think of what activated empathy instead of disdain?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oh, and it looks like we’re in Medieval England…again…

I’m Kim Alexander back to talk about fantasy world-building. This time I’m looking at those writers who make every heroine in their stories a—wait for it—princess.

This is different from Chosen One Syndrome, because when it comes down to it, every protagonist is a chosen one; you’ve chosen to write about them. In this installment, I’ll be talking about working for a living. (More about Chosen One Syndrome in an upcoming blog post!)

When we create fantasy lands like, oh, “Gondfloria” (pop. 2 mill. unicorns), it’s easy to use the default: faux medieval Europe. If we have a bunch of forbidding, craggy, windswept mountains with impenetrable fortresses (I always feel like it should be ‘fortressi’ even though I know better) atop them, the next thing we’re gonna do is make our main character a princess. (Or a prince, I don’t know your life.)

I’m here to suggest to be brave and try something else. I’m not saying we have to make our enchanted land of Gondfloria into an Arctic survivalist encampment. But, we need to think a little bit outside the box…okay, dungeon, especially if the dungeon is full of Northern European royalty.

(Full disclosure: the main character of my novel, The Sand Prince, is – as the title suggests – a prince. But I hasten to add that he’s astonishingly bad at it.)

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel I pick up is crewed by the same group:

  • The sullen yet hot warrior who is certainly hiding a secret (it probably has to do with sex)
  • The sassy thief
  • The wise elder (also a thief, possibly retiring, clearly not going to make it to the sequel)
  • And of course our hero, the member of nobility who under the cover of darkness runs with a bad crowd because Daddy Issues.

Any of them may be masquerading as the opposite gender because it’s…daring. My money is on the sassy thief.

Don’t any of these people have jobs? And no, I’m not counting ‘thief’ as a job. You can’t put it on a resume unless you’re actually applying to be a thief.

Even if we’ve decided it’s written in stone that Gondfloria has forests and castles and bears, we can still explore the lives of people living there without falling back on ‘princess’ or ‘thief.’

Here are a few suggestions, on the house: bear wrangler, bee keeper, lute carver, magical bee keeper (the bees, not the person), cook, fixer for the local mob boss, mob boss, magical bee keeper (the person, not the bees – gods, keep up!), innkeeper, wench (if you have an inn, you’ve got to have a wench; I don’t make the rules), bard, dog boy, horse girl, and then way down at the bottom, thief, and finally, princess. You’re welcome.

Look, we want our story to stand out in the enormous ocean of similarly themed and titled books. We can do that by either taping a $20 bill to the inside cover of each and every one…or by making it unique.

I look forward to reading your take on a hot yet sullen magical bee keeper who lives in the misty woods of Gondfloira. Feel free to get on your magical sassy pants and sprinkle some flash fiction in the comments. Also any suggestion for other cool roles (characters) who’ve been forgotten, overlooked, or given little or no love. Maybe one not yet thought about?

Oooooh, extra XP points!

Unicorn trainers? Those suckers are magical so surely they could be house-trained right? Dude in charge of the “Pigeon Messaging Service” that later was forced into rebranding and a name change because PMS a really bad name for a business in communication (one not involving knives and chocolate). Use your imagination! ALSO!

Are you tired of ye same olde same olde? Losing that loving feeling for fantasy because, when it’s all the same, that is well, to be blunt, the OPPOSITE of fantasy?

Next time: The Chosen One, or, It is foretold that you and you alone will fix this coffee maker and save mornings for all of Gondfloria!

***

I love hearing from you!

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

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

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Happy Friday! It’s Cait Reynolds, sitting in for Kristen – who is off GALLIVANTING in New Zealand. We’re not jealous. Or bitter. At. All. Anyway, while the cat’s away, other cats will come in and mark their territory.

Today, I am super excited to bring you Kim Alexander, fantasy writer extraordinaire. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a picky b*tch when it comes to fiction, and there are very few authors that I would go back to the well for, especially when it comes to series. Kim is one of them. Consider this a ‘ground-floor tip’ from me. She’s one to watch.

Kim Alexander and Cait Reynolds at Book Expo America 2017 in New York City. (Also, innocent until proven guilty.)

Encomiums aside, Kim is a master world-builder for fantasy. Today, she is going to talk about something very cool: books within books. This concept is interesting from two perspectives.

The first is the purely commercial aspect of it, (I’m looking at J.K. Rowling and sighing wistfully at the thought of her bank account). Books within books give us a chance to expand a series not just with a ‘back list,’ but with a ‘side list’ of related books.

The second aspect is how it brings the reader deeper into the culture and characters. We read, and we read about characters reading. But to read what they read and understand the impact of that reading…well, that’s a pretty awesome immersion technique. (Bonus points if you unraveled my sentences.)

Before we get to Kim, I need to share a quick programming note: Monday’s blog is going to be the announcement of our September 2017 class schedule. We have new instructors, new classes, and so much more planned!

Now, without further ado…Kim Alexander!

* * *

Traffic, Bilbo Baggins, and espresso (lots of it).

First of all, I have to thank your regularly scheduled squatter Cait who SWORE to me it was okay with Kristen that I take over her page today. Cait, you did tell her, right? RIGHT?

So…hello, friend. I’m Kim Alexander, and I live in DC and write epic fantasy. I used to co-run Sirius XM Book Radio, so I got to interview literally hundreds of authors. When my channel got cancelled, I took everything I learned over those past 5 years and started writing my own books. (I also was an old fashioned radio DJ as a dewy youth, so if you were in South Florida or the Keys you may have heard me kick off another seven song set with Aerosmith coming up after the break. After that I was a traffic reporter for approximately seven thousand years; yes, there was a backup on the beltway; yes, I went up in a helicopter a few times; yes, it was both hard and boring.)

These days, like the rest of us, I mostly start my day in a cold sweat, have a good shower-cry, drink a triple espresso, and do my best to get some work done.

It’s kind of hard to do that last part. Especially when we’re going through a tough time.

I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one who sometimes needs it all to just stop, just for a few minutes. And there’s no place better to escape than taking solace inside of books.

You know who else is working through some tough times? Almost everyone you’ll meet in those pages. I mean, they wouldn’t be there if things were super, going really well, thanks! If Bilbo just hung around the Shire smoking weed and having parties – no, that’s a bad example, I’d still read that. Okay, if Paul never left Caladan and grew up as a minor noble who never even heard of sandworms, that wouldn’t be much of a story.

So, things go wrong, and then they get wronger. Those stressed, heartsick, lonely, frightened characters – like us – sometimes get away by turning to their favorite imaginary books.

Great books that came from books (and some that didn’t).

I love books within books almost as much as I love footnotes.

Since I’m a weirdo, Lovecraft’s Necronomicon springs to mind as one of my favorites, although I don’t think anyone cracks it open with a cup of tea to relax. I could be wrong – I don’t know your life/allegiance to the Elder Gods.

Harry Potter has dozens of them, of course. Strategically releasing these books not only fed the feeding frenzy of all things Potter, it tided fans over until the release of The Cursed Child and the start of a new movie franchise.

Dune not only has pages of them, but references them liberally throughout the text. I’ve always wanted that thumb sized copy of the Orange Catholic Bible to go along with the ‘I will face my fear’ tattoo I’m going to get one day. Yes, I am way into Dune.

Fictional books have always appealed to me, as much, almost as books of fiction. They are the mystery that can never be solved, they impact our heroes (and villains) without ever showing their faces. It’s up to the author whether or not they want to expose their books-within-books to the light of day. They can be a joke, or a key, or commentary on the action. They add another layer.

They have great power.

I wanted one for myself, or rather, my books.

Not writing a book-within-a-book…then writing it.

In my epic fantasy novel The Sand Prince, my hero, the misfit demon prince Rhuun, finds just such a book – a marvelous story of the adventures of a human man and his friends and enemies on the other side of The Door, the mystical portal separating his own world of Eriis from the human lands of Mistra. The humans are a great mystery to the demons of Eriis, as The Door has been locked in the wake of a disastrous war a generation past. Rhuun is something of a mystery as well, even to himself. He sees something in the human book that resonates with him, and he sees a strange echo of himself in the painting of the human man and woman on the cover of his book. He thinks it’s a documentary, a blueprint to a way of behaving in a world he’s desperate to visit.

He’s mistaken.

Originally, the idea that a lurid, over-the-top, bodice-ripping romance novel would serve as my hero’s guide to the human world was a sort of joke. But then, as things tend to do with us writers, the joke got out of hand and took on a life of its own. I began to seriously consider it.

What if, I asked myself, the only thing Rhuun knows about the human world is what he read in this little book, without context? When he meets Lelet, our relatively modern human heroine, how will she react when he calls her a ‘wench?’ (Pretty much as you’d expect.)

To create my book within a book, I first wrote the epigrams appearing at the beginning of each chapter set in Mistra and taken from the imaginary novel, The Claiming of the Duke. I wanted them to reflect the action in the chapter, and I made the prose of each one more purple than the next.

Then, after The Sand Prince was published, I decided to try and write the whole book.

Since I had one character die twice, several murders, many heaving, creamy, alabaster bosoms, and some fairly ridiculous dialogue, I had a lot of work to do retro-fitting an actual plot with real characters into the twelve or so pages of text I’d already written. It was plotting something that hadn’t even really been pantsed.

I kept almost all (not quite all) of the original epigrams from The Sand Prince. I invented a mysterious dead wife for my Duke, and figured out how to kill off that pesky character who meets his maker twice. I have to confess, I sort of became quite fond of the Duke – to my own surprise – since he’s sort of an alpha-jerk. Only sort of, because even he has hidden and honestly kind of kinky depths.

In fact the most fun I had was sprinkling references to both The Sand Prince and its sequel The Heron Prince into The Claiming of the Duke. We find out why Rhuun picks ‘Moth’ as his name in the human world. If you’ve read those books, you’ll easily find your way through the darkened hallways of the once-great crumbling estate of Gardenhour. If not, welcome to Mistra and I hope you enjoy your introduction to my world within a world inside this book.

Oh! Nearly forgot to mention my inspirations and guiding spirits. Allow me to make your life a better place by introducing you to Leeloo and Onion.

Leeloo, pictured right, is A Lady. Onion, left, is Cattus Gooberus. We like to keep them folded away for neat and easy storage.

Here they are staring in obvious terror at something just above my head. Or an invisible bug. Or air.

So, the cats and I will see you in next month’s classes, and we’ll talk a little more about the ways you can make your fictional fantasy world come to life.

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening, and waiting on her cats. ?

Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned.

Kim Alexander Online

 

 

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For the month of AUGUST, 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).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday again, and you know what that means! Well, first, it means the obligatory photo of Denny Basenji. But right after that, it means that I’m going to take the Red Pen of Wrath to a topic, and today’s topic is medicine. Specifically, medicine in fiction. Why? Because I’m tired of being jerked out of stories by medical inaccuracies. It’s the literary equivalent of having to dig for a vein…for the third time.

So, first: Denny Basenji.

This is Denny Basenji coming out of surgery last summer. He’s wondering if the patient will get peanut butter ice cream…or maybe peanut butter jello…

Okay, let’s get down to business.

If we are going to put a character in the hospital, we need to know how to do it. We also need to know what happens inside a hospital and how long people stay. We need to know what nurses can and can’t do, what doctors can and can’t do, and why our character’s friend-of-family-doctor can’t simply take charge of her care. We need to know what happens after a character goes home in terms of when they can go home, why they are allowed to go home, and what the follow up care is.

I’m not a doctor, but I play one in my books

Why listen to me? Because I’m a f*cking gold star club card holder at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here’s a list of my experience and “qualifications.”

Yours truly getting her monthly immune suppression therapy intravenously. Still smiling after two tries for the iv and three separate sticks for blood work.
  • I’ve had a kidney transplant since 2007. I’m a walking encyclopedia on infectious diseases, pharmacology, and clinics.
  • I’ve had cervical cancer. Luckily, mine was caught early and completely by surgery. But, I went with my friend Jaime to her chemo treatments – all 19 of them. I know a few things about how chemo works now.
  • I have been hospitalized for infections, accidents, near-death drug interactions.
  • I’ve been taken in ambulances, taxi cabs, and driven myself.
  • I’ve ended up in the hospital in everywhere from Portugal to New Mexico.
  • I was hospitalized for pneumonia. Wheeze, cough. Cough. Ow.
  • I’ve been hospitalized for multiple infections of various kinds as a result of having no immune system (thanks, kidney transplant!).
  • I was hospitalized for a stomach infection (that had an upper GI endoscopy involved – SO much fun).
  • I’ve had miscarriages from 6 weeks to 5 months.
  • I’ve had enough iv’s and blood draws that I could be an iv nurse. Or part-time vampire.
  • I’ve worked in hospital administration. I am surrounded by friends and family who are doctors and nurses.
  • I’ve had ultrasounds, x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, stress tests, bone density scans, you name it. Interventional radiology procedures like angiograms are lots of fun, too.
  • I’ve sat at the bedside of my father as he went through heart attacks, surgeries, and finally the strokes that killed him. I know what it’s like to watch someone die.
  • I know how an ICU works.
  • Blood transfusions. I’ve got a frequent customer punch card.

Basically, I am at the hospital 2-4 times every month for various reasons. Mostly outpatient appointments, but I’ve got a collection of more than 30 wristbands that tell the story of my inpatient experience. You can just call me Dr. Cait. Or Nurse Cait. Or Frankencait.

Just one teeny weeny example: how to put a character in the hospital

So…there’s a famous set of books about a color somewhere between black and white…lots of people object to the rather “adventurous” sex scenes in it. Others object to the objectification of women and power dynamics of the main relationship. Me? I object to the ham-handed handling of the protagonist’s injuries that land her in the hospital.

She’s injured. She falls unconscious. She wakes up in a hospital room with her husband’s mother – a pediatrician – helping to manage her care.

Cue the…

 

Let’s call our character “Jane,” as in Jane Doe.

Please disabuse yourselves immediately of the standard “Jane wakes up in the hospital and doesn’t remember getting there.”

It almost NEVER happens like that, and if it does, Jane will have had to have been in a horrific, life-threatening accident. It’s actually pretty rare that people lose consciousness. The body’s defense mechanisms drive us to remain conscious, or at least semi-conscious, as much as possible.

If Jane does fall unconscious, the norm is to “surface” fairly quickly. Minutes, usually. Again, do your homework about just what could cause prolonged unconsciousness – and the side effects. Jane could be facing oxygen depletion in the brain and potential brain damage. Jane could have swelling of the brain, another life-threatening condition. Jane could have sustain other neurological damage. Prolonged unconsciousness is no joke, so please stop using it as a plot device unless you  know what you’re doing.

The Emergency Room

This is going to be the way Jane goes into the hospital in 99% of situations.

In the ambulance, Jane will have a paramedic with her, taking her vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature), and doing emergency stabilization if necessary:

  • Epinephrin shots to reduce allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock, angioedema, etc.
  • Morphine for pain management
  • Possible treatment for diabetic reaction
  • Defibrillation for cardiac arrest, along with emergency cardiac medication (depending on the situation)
  •  Insertion of an iv and bag of saline hookup if signs of blood loss, dehydration, low blood pressure, etc.

Forget what you see on tv about arriving via ambulance. It doesn’t happen that way. Unless you have a machete sticking out of your forehead (I saw that arrive at MGH once when I was in an ER bay myself – that was fun), there will be no running or shouting.

The paramedics will remove Jane’s gurney from the ambulance and wheel her inside. A triage nurse will be waiting, as well as a hospital registration admin. If Jane is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask her for basic information like, has she ever been a patient here before? Does she have an insurance card with her? Name, date of birth, address, person to notify, etc.

Please note, that even if Jane is in a ton of pain, as long as she is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask these questions. Trust me, I’ve been there before. It’s not fun to answer questions like that when you are burning up with fever or writhing in pain, but it has to be done.

Fever of 102. Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection). Missed complete organ failure by just a few hours. Bored out of my mind waiting for further test results. What to do? Play Candy Crush and take selfies. Because you can be near death, in the ER, and FULLY AWAKE.

The triage nurse in the meantime will be getting the paperwork and rundown from the paramedic. This will be happening calmly and quickly. Once Jane is done with the hospital registration admin, the triage nurse takes over.

Treatment in the ER

The triage nurse takes Jane from the arrival area into the treatment bay area. In an ideal world, Jane is given a curtained-off bay right away. In the real world, Jane might be placed “in orbit,” which means that her gurney will be lined up against the wall with other patients on gurneys, waiting for a bay to open up. Jane will receive the same level of care, just not in a bay.

Once Jane is in a bay, the triage nurse will return to her work at the triage station, and Jane’s primary nurse will come to take care of her. Jane’s primary nurse will also probably have an assistant – a patient care assistant or PCA.

Whether able to do it herself or with the help of the nurse and PCA, Jane will be changed into a hospital gown, and her clothes and personal effects put into a big plastic bag labeled with a sticker printed with all of her information and also the same barcode that is on her hospital band. Oh yeah, almost all hospitals now have barcodes on hospital bands now. These are scanned when medication is administered.

Jane’s primary nurse will ask for her version of the story of what happened to bring her to the ER. The nurse will also ask Jane about any medications she currently takes, as well as any allergies she has. While this is going on, the nurse will be putting on a blood pressure cuff (absolutely always), electrodes for echocardiograms (depending on the situation), taking her temperature (absolutely always).

Jane will be asked to rate her pain level from 1-10, with 10 being the worst.

Now, here comes the kicker. The nurse leaves Jane now. That’s right, unless Jane is actively bleeding to death or having cardiac arrest or something similar, Jane is left alone with a call button. This is because the nurse now goes and enters all of her information into the hospital records system, which then feeds it to the assigned doctor.

Ah, finally, the entrance of the doctor…sorta.

Jane will not meet the doctor just yet. The doctor will review Jane’s situation and order bloodwork, maybe a urine test, and possibly other tests like an ultrasound or x-ray. The doctor will also “write an order” for pain medication if needed. The doctor will also write an order for any anti-nausea medication or fever-reducing meds like Tylenol.

Once the orders have been entered into the system, two things could happen. One, the ER has its own mini-pharmacy with basic medications (anti-nausea drugs, Tylenol, certain types of pain medications), and the nurse can unlock the pharmacy cabinet with her ID badge. Or, the hospital pharmacy receives the orders on their computers, and processes all the requests, sending a delivery person to bring the meds to the ER.

This whole process generally takes anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour and a half. Yup. Jane just has to cool her heels and suffer through this time. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.

The nurse returns to Jane, drawing blood (which is a whole other post), and administering whatever medications the doctor has ordered. If Jane has to have an x-ray or ultrasound, a transport person will arrive and wheel her in her gurney off to the imaging area where she will be placed in a waiting area until the next available imaging tech is ready for her.

There will be another post about X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI’s and CAT scans, and interventional radiology, but for now, you just need to know the basic tests generally don’t take too long, and they can all be done with Jane either still in the gurney if she’s unable to move, or with Jane standing up.

Jane is returned to the waiting area in imaging until a transport person arrives to take her back to her bay.

The nurse will check on Jane, run her vitals again (blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature), assess her pain, and make sure Jane is as comfortable as she can be (did I mention the WARM blankets that they have available for patients?). There is no food or drink until at least initial results are back.

Denny Basenji strenuously objects to the no food or drink policy.

Then, it’s another waiting period for the results of the bloodwork and the other imaging tests to come back. Once it’s all back and the doctor actually has a minute to review everything, Jane will finally get a chance to meet the doctor.

The doctor will knock and enter, introducing himself (could be a herself, but for the same of less confusion with pronouns, I’ll go with a Dr. Taylor McHotterson), and asking Jane to tell him the story of how she came to be in the ER. Yes, it’s in her records, but every new nurse and doctor she meets from here on out will request her story. It’s protocol.

The doctor will definitely listen to her heart and her lungs, and potentially check her joints for swelling, as well as doing a hands-on exam of her belly to check her organs.

Then, Dr. McHotterson will explain so far what they have learned about Jane’s condition. Depending on what is wrong, this could result in more tests, starting intravenous drug treatment, emergency surgery (and no, they’re not going to run down the hall with her down on the gurney unless she is literally dying), admission to inpatient treatment, or discharge. Any or all of this basically requires Jane to do…nothing. Except wait. And try to sleep. If she going to be admitted, the staff has to contact the correct ward, find out if there are any beds available, and if not, when they might be or where else they would have to put her. All of this could take anywhere from an hour (record-breaking speed) to 12-14 hours, with an average of somewhere between 3-6 hours of waiting.

Do we really need to know all this?

Well, yes. We might not have to describe everything in agonizing detail like I have done above, but knowing the process will make the Jane’s inpatient scene more realistic. Having a basic grasp of the facts about whatever injury or condition our characters have helps us create more detailed, immediate, and immersive experiences for the reader.

Still, it can be daunting, trying to figure out what we need to know and how much we need to know medically, and then learning what we need to leave out in terms of writing craft. The good news is that with a little thinking, a little logic, Dr. Google, and MY CLASS, you can learn not just how to figure out your character’s medical care, but how to use it to up the tension, pacing, and conflict in your story!

 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $40.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

From fainting to family doctors in the OR, fiction today is full of medical malfeasance. Watching George Clooney or Ellen Pompeo run through the ER yelling “Stat!” may seem like just what the doctor ordered to up dramatic tension in fiction, it’s more likely to be 20cc of the wrong medicine.

Nothing shatters the fragile suspension of disbelief for the reader like inaccuracies, whether it’s historical, behavioral…or medical. Whether your character is injured in a car crash, poisoned, knocked unconscious, or comes down with the flu, it’s critical to get the details right.

Like a first responder, this class is on the scene to help you resuscitate realism in your medical scenes. This will be a crash course on how to avoid making the most common mistakes and how to get the facts for whatever you inflict on your characters in the future.

This class will cover:

  • From ambulance to admission, how your character actually ends up in the hospital;
  • What happens while your character is inpatient (from blood work and imaging, to iv’s – especially iv’s!!! – and hospital food);
  • The different kinds of medications, treatments, and timelines for characters to recover from a wide range of illnesses and injuries;
  • The truth about knocking your character unconscious: how, how long, and what the short- and long-term consequences are;
  • From birth to death, clinical procedures and protocols;
  • How to research medical information and get it right in your descriptions.

At the end of the class, we will have an open Q&A sessions where you can ask about medical scenarios for your characters.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. http://caitreynolds.com

 

For the month of AUGUST, 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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below including the final class I will teach before taking off for NEW ZEALAND! I’m keynoting there for the Romance Writers of New Zealand, which while SUPER COOL….I’d be lying if I didn’t say the trip wasn’t making me more than a tad nervous.

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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It’s Wednesday, which is on its way to being officially renamed in the U.S. calendar of holidays as “Cait Reynolds Blogs for Kristen Lamb” Day. Denny Basenji, however, thinks it should be renamed “Curly Tail Problems” Day.

Announcing that you write erotic romances is certainly a conversation starter. Or stopper. Depending on your audience. Explaining that this is your livelihood and that you are proud of it will get you reactions from, “Wow, that’s cool!” to, “So, when are you going to write a real book?”

Let’s just get something straight, right off the bat. Erotica today is not “porn in pretty dresses.”

One of the first ground rules for taking an objective look at the changing face of romance publishing is to separate the quality of the writing from the message of the content.

The message of today’s romance, erotic romance, and erotica novels is that women are free to associate themselves (and pay the money to buy the books to drive this point home) with sexually experienced, sexually adventurous, and sexually knowledgeable heroines. Heroes today are expected to spend as much, if not more, time focused on the heroine’s pleasure than their own.

While certain tropes like the Cinderella rescue persist, the nature of their portrayal has changed. For example, you now find the Cinderella rescue scenario played out in LGBTQ romances as much as heterosexual romances. Often the “heroine” is just as or more successful professionally than the “hero” (regardless of gender or orientation).

Heroes now have room to be complex, and heroines can genuinely be strong. Erotic romance novels fearlessly explored issues of mental illness, adoption, divorce, depression, anxiety, socio-economic differences, even while so-called “mainstream” books were still tip-toeing around sensitive topics.

The readers of these erotic romances are a truly diverse group, and people are starting to take note of this sociological change (and you can thank good ol’ “Fifty Shades” for the mainstream media attention erotic romance has gotten).

But who are the writers of these books? These are men and women who sit down, day in and day out, and put fingers to keyboard to produce these stories. I am one of them.

I used to be tremendously embarrassed by the fact that I wrote erotica. I felt like everyone was always expecting me to use it as a “stepping stone” to my “real books.”

Well, guess what? The books I write as Fiona Blackthorne ARE real books. I lost sleep, tweeted, swore, chatted, paced, dog-walked, typed, ground my teeth, wrote notes on receipts, and sketched out entire storyboards for these books. I had to submit them to my publisher, Siren Publishing, wait for them to be accepted, then go through an intense, fast-paced editing phase that would leave your head spinning. Then, there’s all the marketing work I had to do to get my website up and running, and promoting my books.

Yes, I work from home, and yes, I can start my day in my pajamas. But my workday starts at 7:00 a.m. and doesn’t really stop until I go to bed. Sure, I can change the laundry in between chapters, but you can bet I’m still working through a paragraph in my head. Yes, I have a flexible schedule. That just means that if I need to work from 7pm to 2am because my day was already full of other stuff, then I’ll suck it up and work from 7-2.

You want to know what it’s like to write a sex scene…or seven for a book? Sometimes, it’s a delightful literary challenge, because I never want to write a sex scene the same way twice. I always am looking for different words, moments, things to notice, ways to enhance the experience for my reader. Sometimes, it’s good fun for *ahem* me as well.

Sometimes, though? Sometimes, it’s like pulling freaking eye-teeth. You can get really tired of writing sex scenes. You always have to be on your guard against dropping into the mechanical and clinical just to get through it.

Then there are those moments when you are thinking to yourself: “Okay, about 700 words left in the chapter. That means if I can get her to her climax, then, hmmm, no, that won’t take enough words. He’ll have to stop just short of it. Oh, and then he can actually pick her up and put her on the bed. That’s about fifty words right there. Then maybe he ties her up? That could be a good hundred words or so, and I could finish this goddamn scene in 500 words after that.”

Yeah. It happens.

Then, I remember Anais Nin, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and I am strong again.

Erotic writing has been around for as long as the oldest profession has been around…and when people couldn’t read or write, they carved things on walls and painted them in caves. Clearly, something that is so deeply tied to our biological drive for survival and procreation deserves attention, study, and respect, not dismissiveness or judgment.

This is why I am teaching a class on writing erotica. We write the stories that are the mirrors reflecting the changes in society’s sexual mores and gender roles. Good, bad, indifferent, it is our writing that helps to push boundaries, expand horizons, and drive acceptance.

Who are the writers of erotic romance? Why do they write this when they could simply leave out all the sex? What are the blessings and consequences of this life? For once, it’s time to tell our own stories.

Baby, It’s Hot in Here!…a Sizzling New Class from Cait Reynolds

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD

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

When: Friday, August 4, 2017

Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write.

Wait. No. Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write well.

From pacing (literally) to placing, this class is gonna go…deep. Yeah. Couldn’t resist. In all seriousness, how do you handle the paradox of writing a book with compelling characters and interesting story when it’s really about sex?

The answer is this: good erotica is not about sex. It is about seduction and intimacy. In this class we will cover:

  • Understanding why readers choose erotica, what they are looking for, and how to both deliver and guide them to wanting more;
  • How to apply and adapt standard plotting structures to erotica;
  • Creating a story that is interesting enough to sustain a full-length novel;
  • Developing characters that are complex, memorable, and desirable;
  • Avoiding repetitive, mechanical sex scenes;
  • Maintaining the heat throughout a  book;
  • How to push yourself to write better and use quality as a unique marketing strategy;
  • Bonus: history, fun facts, and trivia about literary erotica through history!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable erotica books and romance novels, let Cait help you stand out in the one way no marketing can compete with: hot, unique stories that turn readers into fans who will BEG you for more! 

Erotica GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

Erotica PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and a detailed edit and critique of one sex scene up to 2,500 words.

Register today!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Learn more at http://caitreynolds.com.

 

For the month of AUGUST, 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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below (including writing layered characters and strong females) and sign up!

Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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