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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: generating dramatic tension

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

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

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

TENSION.

Secret-Keepers Resist the Urge to Explain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

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

Everyone Has Secrets

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

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

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

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

Real Self vs. Authentic Self

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

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

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

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

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

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

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

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

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

Secret-Keepers See & Craft the False Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret-Keepers FEAST on False Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

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

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

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

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

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

CUT!

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

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

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

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

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

*nods to The Bird Box* #SheerGenius

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

Where was I?

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

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

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

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

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

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

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

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

Again. Resist the urge to explain. 

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

What are your thoughts? Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

JANUARY & FEBRUARY’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

Self-Publishing for Professionals

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

The Business of Writing

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

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

Story Master: From Dream to Done

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

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

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

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

A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

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

Harnessing Our Writing Power: The BLOG!

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

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

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

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

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

The Business of Writing

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

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

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

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

 

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Christmas movies, writing tips

Embrace the inner psychopath. If I could only teach ONE ‘trick’ for writing great stories, it would be this: The moral codes that make us excellent citizens make us terrible writers.

We have to remember the rules change when dealing in the realms of imagination. Fiction is NOT life, rather it is an imitation of life. It is life in distillate form.

To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, great stories are ‘life’ with the boring parts cut out. Yet, so many emerging writers forget this.

Novelists aren’t just good with words, novelists excel at using words to create a STORY. This is why so many first ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. Because being good with words isn’t enough.

If it were enough, then chefs could perform heart surgery because they’re ‘really good with sharp blades.’

Being ‘good with words’ has to be refined. Good with words…HOW?

Prose and description so glorious angels sing does not a novel make. What makes a novelist is how we wield those words. Yet, here’s the catch. If we want to write stories readers can’t put down, then can’t get out of their heads, then cant stop talking about?

We must embrace our inner psychopath. If we don’t have one, then we need to train one.

Great Writers Embrace the Inner ‘Psychopath’

embrace the inner psychopath, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Christmas movies

The terms psychopath and sociopath are easy to confuse, yet they’re distinctively different disorders. Sociopaths have an antisocial personality disorder, which often leads them to ignore social and moral rules that guide an ordered society. They understand right from wrong, just don’t care.

So where does the sociopath part ways with the psychopath?

It’s believed that psychopaths are a more extreme version of the antisocial personality disorder. Thus all psychopaths are sociopaths but not all sociopaths are psychopaths.

The psychopath is, thus far, believed to be incapable of forging emotional bonds, whereas sociopaths can. Thus, the sociopath might not have any qualms about emptying a stranger’s bank account, but he wouldn’t do that to his best friend.

Psychopaths would make no such distinction and would empty anyone’s account they gained (manipulated) access to. The psychopath isn’t guided by any sense of shame or guilt. He or she doesn’t hold back, and is not hindered by empathy or sympathy.

Back to writing.

Superb fiction is an exercise in sadism. Why writers generally creep non-writers out is because we have the imagination to inflict so much suffering and pain.

The non-writer doesn’t understand HOW we can do what we do, but they enjoy it nonetheless…and they just make sure to keep their eyes on us.

***Refer to my post, Thirteen Reasons Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers.

Millions of people watch (and read) Game of Thrones knowing they are going to be tortured hour after hour…but they can’t get enough. And bear with me, because this goes for ALL great stories. We don’t have to write stories with rape, incest, cannibalism, and mass murder to still torture an audience.

Welcome to…

Christmas Chaos

For the writer psychopath, not even CHRISTMAS is safe. Think of all your longtime favorite holiday movies, the ones you watch year after year. What do they have in common?

They all involve chaos, mass mayhem and destruction.

There’s a reason for that. Without chaos, mass mayhem and destruction, there is NO STORY.

Who wants to spend an hour and a half watching a movie about a well-adjusted family getting along? #SnoozeFest

No, we want the GRISWOLDS! National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is about a man whose only goal is to have the most incredible Christmas ever…but his dream is systematically dismantled in increasingly awful ways.

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, editing, Christmas movies, writing tips

All of his dreams blow up in his face. His lights won’t work and when they do, he causes a massive blackout. His dream is to have the biggest best Christmas tree (good goal, noble goal), but the tree won’t fit in their house and then there is a squirrel and on and on. Nothing works.

Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong…twice. Then catches fire.

Christmas Vacation is funny, but it isn’t in my top five. I insist that Gremlins is a Christmas movie, yet Hubby doesn’t agree Gremlins is a Christmas movie (because he is wrong).

Then of course there is…

But, monsters taking over a town at Christmas and a hostage situation in a skyscraper are pretty obviously full of overt conflict.

So I decided to talk about the movies that are plenty tense, yet the conflict has more to do with people, their relationships to and with one another, and how desires and false idols collide.

My two favorite Christmas movies are ‘A Christmas Story‘ and ‘The Ref‘. I’m specifically mentioning these two because the screenwriters certainly knew how to embrace their inner psychopaths.

A Christmas Story…from HELL

A Christmas Story is all about a young boy in the 1940s doing everything humanly possible to secure the gift of his dreams, a Red Ryder BB gun. Every good idea he concocts blows up in his face. This poor kid can’t get a break.

I’d like to take a moment to mention that what separates the mundane from the magnificent has to do with VECTORS. When a writer embraces that inner psychopath?

NO ONE IS SAFE.

New writers very often forget to USE their other characters as more than stage props (plot puppets). Why A Christmas Story is SO fun is because mayhem strikes from every angle. Trauma sucker-punches everyone.

When the MC is only in a struggle against a singular antagonistic force, the story falls flat and becomes tedious. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Yet, in this holiday classic, Ralphie isn’t the only one who gets smacked. Dad wins a PRIZE he insists on putting in the front window, and he’s oblivious to his wife’s mortification.

Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. ~Ralphie as an Adult

The one thing the whole family—but most especially DAD—looks forward to is the Christmas turkey and the days and days of leftovers to enjoy. But nothing is safe from a writer who’s embraced that inner psychopath. Not even the Christmas turkey.

But look how chaos and destruction hammers EVERYONE (not JUST Ralphie).

The Ref

Speaking of mass mayhem. The Ref is one of the few movies that can make even this Griffendork root for a ‘bad guy.’ Dennis Leary *fan girl moment* plays Gus, a cat burglar who robs the wrong mansion…and his partner abandons him.

With the entire city’s police force out hunting for him, Gus makes a snap decision to lay low by taking a seemingly nice family hostage.

Ah, but the tag line for this movie is genius.

They might be his hostages but what they’re doing to this guy is criminal.

Gus begins with a plan, a plan he’s executed flawlessly until it goes horribly wrong. What’s better is it just keeps getting worse and worse until the end when…catharsis. 

See, all the great movies about the holidays present us with the MC’s ideal then the STORY smashes that ideal to pieces until the MC, and those around the MC, realize they’ve missed the entire point of something (family, love, peace, holiday spirit, giving, etc.).

YET, what I want to point out is this. The characters have to endure the torment to get the golden fleece. They cannot suddenly achieve enlightenment and say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had this all wrong! The holiday season is really about X!’

If they did, we’d call foul, be supremely ticked and tell everyone to avoid this movie more than the kiosk barkers at the mall.

Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, DO NOT let her buff one nail.

If we watched ninety minutes of a beautifully decorated home (description) with perfect people, we’d feel cheated and ROBBED if nothing went terribly, obscenely WRONG.

Why? Because if the MC doesn’t rightfully EARN revelation, enlightenment, etc. it’s a CHEAT. The writer cheated, which is why we feel cheated. Catharsis is what great stories offer. Release.

The harder it is for the MC (and others) to get to and through Act Three, the more intense the cathartic experience…and the better the denouement.

All righty. So Psychopath 101.

Make EVERYTHING Hard…No, IMPOSSIBLE!

Exactly my thoughts…

As my friend and mentor, the incredible Les Edgerton taught me, ‘Nothing comes easily for your characters. NOTHING. Not even directions.’ Advice I used very literally in my novel The Devil’s Dance.

When Special Agent Sawyer asks my MC where the closest tire place is located, her response is:

What do I look like? Google Maps?’

One of the LARGEST problems I encounter with emerging writers is y’all are too nice. I was, too. Still can be (which I then go back and remedy…with a hammer).

Many new writers still possess a conscience and a moral code…and that’s a problem.

Moral compasses point to the Land of Nod NOT to the Land of Literary Legends.

I cannot count how many samples I’ve read where everyone gets along. If the MC needs something, he or she finds it with uncanny (and boring) ease. If an MC discovers she has magical powers, she learns to use them flawlessly and almost overnight.

NO! We need to make everything hard and seemingly impossible or ZZZZZZZZZZ.

***STAR WARS TRIGGER WARNING:

I know this is controversial, and is only my OPINION. Alas, one of the MANY reasons I wish the Star Wars franchise would just STOP is that, as far as I am concerned, the core storyline’ played out back in the 80s.

To keep trying to push the same storyline is making Star Wars more Space Soap Opera than Space Opera.

Seriously, the Star Wars universe is large enough to begin fresh instead of hiding leftovers in suspicious casseroles.

Why do I mention this? Because Rae learning how to use a light saber like a master with no struggle makes my left eye twitch. She didn’t have to EARN her skills. Yes, she was a master with a long staff, but seamlessly transitioning over to wielding a light saber with NO learning curve?

FOUL!

Which is why the training of Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2 is EPIC…

In fairness, Kung-Fu Panda got a rougher time than Rae.

The harder the MC has to work for the prize, the sweeter the victory. Even in Hallmark Christmas movies. Not even A December Bride can catch an easy break.

And yes, I did actually just write a blog that placed Kill Bill 2, Kung Fu Panda and A Christmas Bride in the same place at once.

#YouAreWelcome

Stop making everything too easy. Look over your WIP and search for spots where something was too simple…then throw a rock in it. Once you do that, then set it on fire.

Whatever the MC Wants, It Better Cost BIG

Humans don’t value free or easy. There’s a reason most parents have a back seat full of ‘free toys and games’ from drive-thrus that our kids have never even opened. If the MC wants something it has to COST something.

No, it has to cost EVERYTHING.

This is why writers must embrace the inner psychopath and steal, destroy or ruin everything our characters love. We’re doing it for their own good.

When we look at my opening example—Christmas Vacation—Clark Griswold has to give up his false gods/idols (what he believes makes for the perfect family holiday) and exchange them for the real deal.

In fact, this is a fairly common theme of all holiday movies. Likely why writers are constantly dreaming up new and improved ways to destroy Christmas.

The MC has a belief about what the holidays are really about…then the writer psychopath destroys everything in the MC’s life so they can see truth.

The story conflict (crucible) is what supplies our characters with insight they didn’t possess before we wrecked their lives. By the end of our torment, our MCs have new eyes and are able to tell the difference between fool’s gold and real gold.

KILL THE SHINY

Remember, we are embracing the inner psychopath, which means we can appear to care about our fictional friends. But we’re really using them. We only care what the characters can DO for us (or rather our story). This is one of the toughest parts of what writers—good writers—do.

We use various combinations of 26 letters to create ‘real’ people our audience loves, bonds with, and connects to…then we torment or kill those characters.

And this is tough. It’s like being a farmer who has to name all the animals that will end up on the table. It can suck. We can find ourselves getting attached to the characters because we created them from nothing.

We breathed life into letters–EVEN Q and X!—and created a LIFE. If our creations are funny, noble, kind, loving, and self-sacrificing?

It is because WE made them that way.

In life, bad things happen to good people. But, in fiction, the worst possible things happen to even better people.

If your story feels sluggish, my advice is to kill your shiny. If we don’t, the story WILL suffer.

We fall in love with characters so we start ‘helping’ them by making life too easy. Instead of tormenting our characters, misdirecting them, withholding any sort of lucky break, we butter them up so they can glide along.

This is when we’re no longer writing fiction, we’re playing Literary Barbies/Literary G.I. Joe.

If our characters exist for the sole purpose of acting out our own happy endings, we need a shrink not Scrivner. In the end it will be cheaper to hire a superlative psychiatrist than to produce and market a bad book.

Remember Storytellers Tell STORIES

*shock face*

If our job was to write amazing description, we’d be called ‘describers’ not ‘authors.’ We belong writing ad copy not novels.

Our main goal as storytellers is to tell a STORY, not have a tea party, shopping spree, dinner gala with our imaginary friends. Why? Because NO ONE BUT US (THE WRITER) CARES UNLESS SOMETHING GOES DREADFULLY WRONG.

Think of this in life. You go out to dinner at your favorite fancy restaurant. It has beautiful decor, soft jazz, top notch cuisine, and includes a room full of well-dressed, well-mannered people having a good time.

Okay.

Do you really care about the other people in this restaurant? Or are they a backdrop you’ll forget as soon as the valet pulls up with your car? Will you remember this dinner for the rest of your life in fine detail?

Likely not.

Now, same restaurant, but the couple a table over escalates from a tense conversation to shouting to screams. The female suddenly bolts out of her chair, toppling the vase of roses and throws her glass of red wine in her date’s face. He’s doing his best to get her to calm down.

And since we ALL know the best way to get an angry woman to calm down is to TELL her to calm down…

SHE GRABS A STEAK KNIFE!

But her plan for unpremeditated murder is interrupted when strange woman tackles her!

…and it is the man’s WIFE!

Suddenly hair extensions are flying as the women wrestle in an undignified tangle of designer clothing and table linens. Then, when they take a breather both women realize…HE LIED TO THEM BOTH.

The girlfriend didn’t know her beau was married and found out, which was why she was breaking up with him. Thus, the new allies (the two women) descend on the babbling cheater with…ESCARGOT FORKS!

Guarantee you, most memorable dinner EVER 😉

Embrace the Inner Psychopath Because it is FUN

We can’t care about hurting people, killing people, or even crushing their hopes and dreams. We have to embrace the inner psychopath or we don’t have a story, we have a sedative.

One of the reasons fiction IS the most widely used form of escape is because, unlike cocaine and hookers, it’s legal.

But fiction also puts us in a world where the rules don’t matter and the consequences don’t either. Fiction permits the audience to embrace THEIR inner psychopath, too.

Consequences are for reality not fiction. Which is how movies like Lethal Weapon can exist. In reality, Riggs and Murtaugh would be riding a desk, and condemned to therapy until Internal Affairs finished their investigation…fifteen minutes into the movie.

But NO!

In fiction, cops can level entire city blocks, drive the wrong way down a highway causing countless car accidents, blow up buildings, shoot at bad guys in the middle of public places and no one in the movie mentions the words law suit.

John McClane is not turned into a social pariah, and sued for damages by everyone impacted by his actions at the Nakatomi Plaza. The NYPD doesn’t abandon him and force him into early retirement because him leveling a skyscraper in Los Angeles is bad department PR.

Nope, because it is FICTiON so McClane is still around to die harder in Die Hard 2.

Why do we tolerate this bad behavior? And LOVE IT?

Because in life we have to follow the rules, the laws and moral codes. The reason we watch and rewatch the same movies, read and reread the same books is because they liberate us from the chains of morality. We LOVE these stories….

…because there’s a little bit of psychopath in all of us 😉 .

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

Author Holiday Hotline

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Your Thoughts?

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Do you see the theme of chaos and destruction even in classics like It’s A Wonderful Life? Which ones are your favorite and why? Do you struggle being ‘mean’ to your characters? I still do. So many times I have to go BACK and take that shiny away…then kick them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have!

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

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

In the meantime, opinions!

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

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

The WANANANO Bundle

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

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

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


The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

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

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

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

You can also purchase each class individually.

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


ON DEMAND CLASSES!

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Author Branding TKO

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Blinding them with Science: The “X” Factor Classes

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

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

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

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

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


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Dangerous Dames: Creating Strong Female Characters

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

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

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

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


About the Instructors:

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

 

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

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

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Last time we talked about The Wound and how this wound is what drives a character and his or her choices. But here is the thing, almost always the protagonist has no clue they even have a wound and that is because of the blind spot.

The blind spot is a critical reason most people read fiction. Fiction acts as almost a holodeck, playing out the human drama. Fiction is real life….only with the boring crap cut out. Self-actualization happens in less than 300 pages. It is why we dig stories.

We might see ourselves in a character and when the character finally notices the blind spot and sees and acknowledges the wound? They are doing it for us as well. We see how they struggle and then triumph and it gives us insight into ourselves. It gives us information, inspiration and maybe even some hope that we aren’t all lost causes.

****A note of irony. I wrote most of this post early this morning before the gym then as I was leaving? A guy backed into me because I was in his….wait for it….BLIND SPOT (my vehicle above). I can’t make this crap up. But hell we are writers so WE USE EVERYTHING!

Where were we? Oh yes….

The Protagonist DOES NOT SEE the Blind Spot

Namely because if the protagonist does see the blind spot? Then blind spot is a terrible name.

Most fiction is a journey to self awareness. We have a protagonist in his/her normal world. Everything is fine…but not really. There is a critical missing piece keeping the protagonist from being self-actualized. This is plainer to see when we realize that most beginnings and endings of novels (and movies/series) are actually bookends.

Normal world is their world with the wound festering and hidden. The denouement? The world is restored but whole.

All of us have blind spots. If we didn’t, therapists would go bankrupt and have to get a “real job.” Truth is, most therapists know exactly what our problem is the first day we sit in their office. Problem is there are all kinds of other emotions clouding our vision.

This is one of the reasons shrinks do a lot of listening, nodding and asking questions. And probably a lot of doodling and playing tic-tac-toe on their notepads to stave off the boredom while they wait for us to catch up to the obvious.

Our story problem in a sense is extreme therapy for the protagonist. Instead of our character spending years on a couch being probed with uncomfortable questions and given homework to write letters to her inner child? She is thrust into a bank heist, an alien invasion, or her family is incinerated by a dragon.

Namely because all writers are sadists.

Anyway, when we create the story problem, we as Author God aren’t giving the protagonist any problem, rather the perfect problem that will reveal the wound crouching in the blind spot.

The Hobbits are handed a ring to toss in a volcano. Luke Skywalker is given a Death Star. Sarah is handed a labyrinth. Different challenges for different blind spots.

The Blind Spot is the Boundary Between Protagonist and HERO

My favorite book on plotting is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and every writer needs a copy of this book (Seriously, one of the best craft books EVER). For years I struggled with structure. It made sense when teachers wrote about three acts, but then when I went to write? It all fell out of my head. How could I distinguish one act from the others? Larry answered this critical question.

And since all roads that don’t lead to Star Wars obviously lead to Lord of the Rings….

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Normal World—-We establish how the protagonist lives on any other given day. We give a hint of the hidden character flaw.

The Shire. Birthday party. Setting off Gandalf’s fireworks prematurely. Griping about having a dull life devoid of adventure.

Inciting Incident—This is the moment when the core antagonist a.k.a. Big Boss Troublemaker‘s agenda (Sauron) directly intersects with the life of the protagonist and has the potential to interrupt the flow of his/her life.

WTH is this ring and why does it glow? What is that writing? (Note: Has not yet left Shire).

Turning Point Act One—The protagonist makes a decision that is directly reactive to the antagonist’s agenda.

Leaving The Shire for the first time ever to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony.

Act One—Protagonist is Running (COMPLETELY REACTIVE to antagonist’s agenda which he or she might not even yet be aware of—hitting at the dark)

Hobbits endure a series of ass kickings from the enemy namely because they are so naive they believe frying bacon on the side of a mountain at night while running from dead kings is a good plan.

Act Two—Protagonist as a Warrior (Protagonist starts to be PROACTIVE, yet still somewhat REACTIVE)

Frodo makes the decision to be the ring-bearer and Fellowship of the Ring created. Now understands Sauron behind all of this and there is an active plan that includes a party of allies.

Act Three—No longer a PROTAGONIST. Now a HERO. (FULLY PROACTIVE).

The naive innocent Hobbit has been transformed into a warrior who is willing to die to do what is right and destroy the ring and save Middle Earth (and The Shire).

Now, in the beginning of the story, had Gandalf said, “Okay, you want adventure. Cool. Well I am going to need to you toss a ring in a volcano and die there because there is no way back. Bad news is you’ll be dead but the good news is…WE WON’T BE! Isn’t that great?”

No one would want that deal.

So why do Frodo and Samwise accept this charge once on the side of Mount Doom? It is because they finally see past their blind spots, notice the wound and then triumph.

Once everything is stripped away, they see all they miss and took for granted. In their naive excitement, they diminished The Shire and how much, deep down they loved it. In the beginning, they couldn’t wait to cast it off and now? It’s all they want but will never have.

They accept they are going to die but now understand that The Shire is worth dying to save.

They did NOT see that in the beginning. It was firmly rooted in their blind spot and was part of the wound. They believed they were too little to make a BIG DIFFERENCE. The Shire’s worth was clouded by this inferiority complex. They couldn’t see what The Shire meant to them because they didn’t properly understand in the beginning 1) how much they took for granted and 2) that home might just not last forever and could be obliterated.

In their naiveté, they failed to respect the real danger they were in.

Yes, This is True in Character-Driven Stories, Too…

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Some of you might be saying, “This is all well and good for those *makes distasteful face* genre writers, but my work is more literary and character-driven. I don’t have a necromancer or a special volcano.”

True, but the blind spot—-hate to tell you—-is even MORE important for you guys. See in genre fiction, the character cog can be pretty much any size. Jack Reacher isn’t doing a whole lot of internal development as much as he is throat-punching bad guys and blowing $#!* up.

I read a lot of emerging writers who want a protagonist to go on and on and on about his inner turmoil and wax rhapsodic about inner demons and, speaking of throat-punching…that is pretty much all readers will want to do to that kind of character. Remember last time we talked about plot and character being cogs? Your character cog is larger, but the plot cog still needs to be there.

No one wants to read 300 pages of navel-gazing. We don’t like people who drone on about their inner struggles in person and we sure as hell don’t want to spend money and 15 hours of undivided attention to listen to self-indulgent tripe.

This is why that character needs a wound located in a blind spot that is eventually revealed when under pressure from a plot problem.

One of the best books I have ever read is A Man Called Ove and it is a great example of what I am talking about. Ove is a 59 year old man who just wants to die. He spends the entire book unsuccessfully trying to kill himself.

Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The government represented in the proxy of “Men in White Shirts.”

Ove has always been on the losing end when grappling with the power of the government. When he was a young man, “Men in White Shirts” stopped him from saving his home from burning, then different “Men in White Shirts” stole the land the house was built on. As an older man, more “Men in White Shirts” tried to take his wife after she was crippled in an accident. They also refused to build a wheelchair access ramp for her at the school where she taught (and Ove finally did it himself after he gave up fighting them).

Every time Ove has taken on any “Man in a White Shirt” he has failed.

But, the reason he has failed against the “Men in White Shirts” directly relates to the wound and the reason why Ove wants to die.

He is alone. To defeat the Men in White Shirts? He cannot win on his own and the core story problem (he finds out his neighbor and old friend is being forcibly put into a home by the state) is nothing he can conquer alone. But the problems thrust in his way serve to peel back what is wrong with Ove and make him come to understand that why he has always failed is because he keeps people at a distance and some battles need a team.

All good stories are a peeling back until the character finally sees what he or she has been missing all along. That is the purpose of PLOT even in a character-driven story. There must be an outside catalyst that disrupts the world, forces action, then generates change.

What are your thoughts? Other than POOR KRISTEN AND HER POOR CAR! LOL. It’s all good. The guy was nice and was just bad timing. But back to fiction, can you think of great stories and nail the blind spot covering the wound? Can you do this with your own writing?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors December 9th, 2016

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

 

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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

Image courtesy of Nebraska Oddfish via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Nebraska Oddfish via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

All stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way. Plot provides the crucible.

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone Has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, “Everybody lies.”

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus “Authentic” Self

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

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, “Grandma! TMI! STOP!”

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

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography. Yet, as their daughters grow into women, they see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are thousands of miles away from the past (China).

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

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

Secret #2—False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be acting out of guilt or control, not genuine concern for others. We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

In fact, we might not even be aware of them. It’s why shrinks are plentiful and paid well.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet. She wants others to believe she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

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

Watch any episode of House and most of the team’s investigations are hindered because patients don’t want to reveal they are not ill and really want attention, or use drugs, are bulimic, had an affair, are growing marijuana in their attics, etc.

Secret #3—False Guilt

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

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

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

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

This is one of the reasons I HATE superfluous flashbacks. Yes, we can use flashbacks. They are a literary device, but like the prologue, they get botched more often than not.

Oh, but people want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such.

Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY. Reveal pieces slowly, but once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Secret #4–The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Character arc is very often birthed from the biggest lies of all—the lies we tell ourselves. Your protagonist in the beginning should be raw an unformed. She has not yet been through the crucible (plot) that will fire out her impurities. Many of these “impurities” are the lies she tells herself.

I don’t need anyone’e help.

I am fine on my own.

I don’t have a problem.

These self-delusions are the biggest reason that your protagonist would fail if pitted against the antagonist in the beginning.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Army of Darkness. Even a silly low-budget movie takes advantage of the self-delusion. Ash is transported into another world where a great evil has awoken and seeks the Necronomicon (which is his only way back home).

Ash is a selfish ass who cares only about himself. He tells himself that others don’t matter, that he doesn’t really care about them and that he’s fine on his own. And he believes his own BS.

The challenges he faces (and often creates because of his poor character) change him and reveal that he was really lying to himself. He does kinda dig being the hero and he really does care about those around him. The lone-wolf maverick rises to be a leader who unites a frightened and divided people against the forces of darkness.

Good? Bad?

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Everybody LIES

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

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

When it comes to your characters, make them lie. Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly reveal the true self, and they will do everything to defend who they believe they are. Remember the inciting incident creates a personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Resist the urge to explain.

Feel free to write everything out in detail for your own use…but then HIDE that baby from the reader. BE A SECRET-KEEPER. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Could you possibly be ruining your story tension by explaining too much?

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

Shakespeare Twitter

I love to think of myself as an author, blogger, warrior princess in my own mind and? TALENT SCOUT! I also love collecting talented people, which recently my attorneys informed me this is technically called “kidnapping” and is a “felony.” Oh well. Anyway, when I ran across Alex, I couldn’t wait to share his talent and voice with you guys. He is smart, funny, brilliant, and, since he is a W.A.N.A. he is also unusually good-looking.

It is a curse we all bear….

*heavy sigh*

So to mix things up a bit, Alex is going to be helping me through the holiday season. This is a guest post by Alex Limberg from ‘Ride the Pen.’ Please welcome him with thunderous applause! His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. And today, he is here to inspire us to look at plot in a new way. Take it away, Alex!

*insert thunderous applause here*

****

You might think social media is a pretty new thing; and there is no denying it:

Edgar Allen Poe didn’t tweet his anxieties, Jane Austen didn’t present herself seductively on Instagram, and William Shakespeare never even wrote a single Facebook entry!

Or did he?

Let’s put it this way: While social media didn’t exist centuries ago, its underlying psychological principle is as old as mankind. And that principle is: The audience loves drama.

The tickle people nowadays find on Facebook and Pinterest, they could 400 years ago find in Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, in Shakespeare’s times, dock workers were watching his comedies laughing and slapping their thighs.

So what better to study for drama than Facebook and Shakespeare?

And as Kristen’s blog is about creative writing, out of the two we should pick Shakespeare. Let’s take one of the most famous plays ever written and see how a masterful dramatic plot comes about: Let’s take a look at Macbeth!

Plot? What’s Plot?

Macbeth tells the story of a nobleman (Macbeth), who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland one day. This might have sparked his appetite for power, for he subsequently murders the king and rules the kingdom with malice. In the end his tyranny becomes so bad an alliance of nobles has to get together to defeat him and behead him at his castle.

Monkey

 

Now let’s start out by explaining why an apple is an apple, i.e. answering the question: What is plot?

Plot is the movement of characters over the chess board of the story; it shows us what the figures do and what happens to them.

Good plot is plot that is moving the audience: It makes them feel suspense, laughter, anxiety or whatever else (Side note: If it’s a comedy and they only feel anxiety, you have it the wrong way). Plot is everything that happens, on a broader scale.

Additionally, plot will lead to POSSIBILITIES not acted out, which are very important as well, because they make the audience ask themselves QUESTIONS, e.g. the extraordinarily important question: What will happen next?

What MIGHT happen is often more thrilling than what actually DOES happen– you are aware of this if, for example, you have ever been out doing your thing while wondering whether you turned off the stove before leaving the house.

Excitement comes from what IS and from what COULD BE. What actually is reality, is a little less exciting, because, well, it is already. It’s the unknown that excites us the most, it’s the possibilities: How will your cat and your new pet canary get along? What will Grandmother say when she finds out your new boyfriend works for Burger King? Will drinking horse urine really improve your health?

Questions upon questions.

Once you get the answer, things might become very exciting for a short time, but the joy or desperation will wear off quickly. A question left hovering, however, could tickle you forever…

What REALLY excites your audience is not the answer to the following question, but the question itself: “WHAT THE $&*% IS GONNA HAPPEN NEXT!?“

So how do you make a plot really fascinating for the audience?

You do it by letting them wonder about as many QUESTIONS as possible. You see, this is the trick about creating a thrilling piece of plot: The game is about QUESTIONS! The more QUESTIONS the audience are asking themselves and the more urgently they are asking them, the more they will love your story.

Suspense is created by QUESTIONS the audience directs towards themselves (because, well, there is absolutely nobody better around to direct them at…).

Solving these questions, in turn, leads to new questions, and it is also essential to ask those new questions BEFORE the old ones are resolved! This way you are making sure you have your audience hooked constantly and without any gaps in between, which would mean a lagging plot, or, in the common man’s words, a really boring story.

While the plot constantly develops in a dynamic way, new burning questions will arise.

Your questions should also come up in your story NATURALLY. They should never feel as if they are just there because of the godlike will of the author. If a prisoner suddenly finds a file on the ground, and there is no cake around it, your audience might feel manipulated and won’t buy into the illusion of your story anymore.

You say so far this all sounds very theoretical? Now let’s take a look at how Master Shakespeare did it!

McDonald's Meme

Shakespeare didn’t have to post his dinner on FB– Look how he hooked the reader instead…

First act, first scene: Enter witches. First immediate QUESTIONS: Are those bitches crazy?

Speaking weird sh!% in rhymes, running around under thunder and lightning in wide open space, probably with hunches, crooked fingers and dressed in rags. QUESTION: What the *&%$ is this?

Well, it’s an unusual and very powerful way to start a play: Notice how an original setting immediately raises a LOT of questions, before even a single word is spoken (Who are they? What are they doing out there? What’s gonna happen next?), while also providing visually exciting elements on stage for entertainment-hungry 17th century, Twitter-less eyeballs (storm, lightning, open space, eerie women). Good sh!%!

Cut to second scene. We hear war cries and see a king and a bloody warrior laying out a recap of the battle– it’s all very dynamic, but you don’t see the actual fight. So the play even spares the director the hassle of having to stage the battle, which in turn saves him a couple of stuntmen.

Immediately, questions arise: Who is fighting against whom? Who is winning? What do they want? Who was killed? What happened? What’s the king’s mission?

See how the plot starts to unfold almost unobtrusively, while questions, atmosphere and characters engage the audience’s interest and spark their excitement?

We hear about Macbeth before we even see him for the first time– this is, combined with the play’s title, a very effective way to spike curiosity! Question: Who will he be?

We can’t go through every single scene here, or else you will have to witness me chew and digest my copy of Macbeth out of sheer madness, but you get the picture:

On a micro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in a single scene, or maybe in an act.

On a macro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in the whole drama and to overall wow them.

In the third scene of the first act the bitches witches, predict Macbeth will become king. With their prediction perhaps the two most intriguing QUESTIONS of the whole drama come to mind:

  1. Are those crooked women indeed capable of predicting the future (read as: Does fate exist)?
  1. Will Macbeth indeed become king eventually?

Those two questions essentially amount to the same single one. They will be resolved in the beginning of the third act, when we see Macbeth appearing as king for the first time.

Notice how by then, there will have been some urgent NEW QUESTIONS established, to never let the audience off the hook for even one second (Will the nobles ever discover that Macbeth has murdered the king? How will Macbeth cope with his own guilt? Etc…).

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Please don’t do it this way…

They say you only really value something once it’s gone. So I want to make you value Shakespeare’s plot by cold-heartedly taking it away from you. This is how Shakespeare should never, ever have done it, no way.

Had he done it like this, they would have booed him off the stage, which would have made him so depressed he would have spent the rest of his lifetime on useless crap like twittering about his digestion all day long (Btw, twittering back then probably worked with REAL birds, as in messenger pigeons).

Macbeth Done All Wrong

1st Act

The king, Duncan, in his castle, doing his thing (Instagram or whatever). We see him interacting with his sons and with nobility. He is friendly with them. No problems given, no questions asked, no solutions needed. He has a nice convo with Macbeth about the weather. He has supper with the nobles. He farts and goes to sleep.

2nd Act

In a short, easy-going monologue, Macbeth tells the audience he has killed the king. He is wearing the crown and is now the new king. Lady Macbeth is happy.

3rd Act

We see Macduff coming towards Macbeth’s castle, some soldiers behind him. Suddenly a soldier appears on stage and announces he has killed Macbeth.

THE END

ShakespeareDisappointed

Granted, Shakespeare’s play has much more content, but nevertheless the main point presents itself here in all its glory.

Notice all of the interesting questions missing: Will Macbeth murder the king? Will his guilt kill him? Will the predictions come true? How will Macduff react?

Much of the basic plot still happens: The king is murdered, Macbeth bullies the country, Macbeth gets killed. But there is no alluding to future events, no uncertainty around the acts or characters, no hovering possibility of doom.

No witches. No questions. No fun.

The Good-Bye Part (Summary)

I hope that from now on you will think of great plot in terms of QUESTIONS rather than in terms of events.

Create an outstanding plotline by raising intriguing QUESTIONS. Raise new QUESTIONS before you answer the old ones– this way your audience won’t ever be let off the hook!

With this new way of thinking, your readers will just have to know what happens next. You will get them eagerly turning the pages, completely addicted to your story. And you might, yes you just might…become even more important than Facebook to them.

 

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

What are your thoughts? Do you go too easy on your characters thereby tanking your plot? Do you kind of wish they had Instagram back then? How cool would it have been to see an Attila the Hun Selfie? What historical figure would you have loved to follow on social media? Do you find that unanswered questions are actually WAY more interesting? Do you know the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

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

OCTOBER’S WINNER is M DELLERT Please e-mail your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document. One-inch margins, double-spaced, Times Roman font to kristen@ wana intl dot com and congratulations!

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