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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: generating story conflict

Kirk

Whenever I blog about craft, I’m coming from the perspective of a long-time editor. I do understand that the creation process is vastly different from the editing process. I know this because I’ve been on both sides. But, if you want to minimize revisions and rewrites, it helps to have some basic editorial skills in your toolbox.

Since many of you might want to pursue self-publishing, you’re wise to hire an outside editor. The cleaner the text, the lower the bill. Even if you want an agent or to traditionally publish, the tighter the writing, the better the odds your work will earn positive attention.

Line-edit is important and no longer my area of expertise. I put commas everywhere and pay other editors the move them where they need to be. Typos happen even to the best of us. Right now, I’m editing my almost 100,000 word mystery-thriller and *head desk*. We all need a good editor. In the past 12 months, I’ve written well over 600,000 words. Yet, even with all this practice? I oops. You will oops. It happens.

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to up the tension and conflict. Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.

Tip #1—Perfect is Boring

Everyone has baggage and people who don’t aren’t the mettle of great fiction. Decisions are driven by life experiences good and bad (for fiction, bad experiences are more interesting). We don’t need to have a character who was beaten in foster care to have “issues.” We’ve all had our hearts broken, been betrayed, or even been around people who measure us against impossible standards.

A character can be impulsive because she came from a household that was far too structured. He can refuse to trust because his last job brought him in for a glowing quarterly review, only to fire him the next week. She can refuse to give in to love because she’s been self-sufficient so long she fears losing freedom.

Never underestimate the little things that can propel decisions (particularly bad ones). Many readers can’t relate to fifteen years of horrific sexual abuse, but they can easily relate to a parent, guardian or former love who was never pleased and withheld affection. They can connect to a character who’s deeply insecure because of being compared to a sibling.

I’m not saying we can’t have characters with nightmare backgrounds, but it isn’t mandatory. What is mandatory is that a character arc. If we begin with a fully actualized protagonist, then there is no way to grow, thus no crucible. The plot problem should be what fires away character flaws (refusing to be a team-player, unwillingness to trust, blind loyalty, etc.) and transforms a protagonist into a hero.

Tip #2—Some Personalities Naturally Clash

Every scene should have conflict. Conflict doesn’t need to be aggressive. Allies are often the best source of conflict in our arsenal. Think of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t the protagonist, but he creates a lot of tension because he’s utterly unpredictable. Allies never know if he’s going to sell them out to the bad guy, and often when he does, he comes to the rescue. He’s completely selfish, or is he?

If your protagonist is a paladin—embraces order and predictability, follows the rules, doesn’t like surprises—then a natural ally would be the maverick/loose cannon, the character who believes rules are “more guidelines.”

According to the Myers-Briggs, I score dead-even as an ENFP or INFP. While the MB jury is out as to whether I am an introvert or extrovert, I am off the charts on intuition. I make most of my decisions based off my gut. This gives my mom and brother—both ESTJs—a twitch. Why? We are polar opposites. I could care less about graphs, numbers and charts. My mantra?

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. ~Mark Twain

But? My mom, brother and yes, my husband, looooooove charts, Excel and bar graphs. Those closest to me process information and make decisions very differently than I do. This means, if I want them to be on the same page as I am? I have to write lists, show numbers, etc. Otherwise? We might as well be speaking two different languages. I speak the heart and they speak the head…and trust me when I say this has lead to a lot of conflict and misunderstandings.

Think Captain Kirk (all instincts) and Spock (all logic). We don’t need a ship of ticked off Klingons for all the tension. The dynamics between Kirk and Spock also propel the story and generate dramatic tension.

You're being highly illogical.
You’re being highly illogical.

If your character is a homebody? Pair her with a nomad. If he’s a rebel? Pair him with a rule-follower. You get the idea :D.

Tip #3—Nothing Worth Having Comes Easily

There is a difference between a “bad situation” and “conflict.” I recently beta read a book and part of my feedback was, “Everyone gets along too much.” Always run this simple litmus test:

“My character wants X, but then Y happens.”

It can be big stuff. Your character finds a key piece of evidence but then bad guys show and torch the place along with the proof of murder before a CSI team can get there. It can even be little stuff. Your protagonist needs to be able to unravel some problem and can’t think with noise, but one of her allies babbles like an idiot when nervous. Setbacks and roadblocks will intensify a story. Get your protagonist so close to what she wants she can taste it, then take it away.

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"
Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

Also, by mixing big problems with small problems, you will be able to better control the pacing of a story. If everything is a fight scene or car chase, it not only wears out a reader, it can quickly get boring. That is actually my complaint with the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Great stories, but another sword fight? I could only watch Sparrow swinging from ropes so long before it became tedious.

Whenever I do content edit, these are some of the areas I hunt for. A victim writer might get comments like “Too perfect” “Okay, I’m asleep” “Nothing happening” “Why does everyone get along so well?” Yet, whenever you do your own revisions, these are areas you can easily fix yourself. Even I am slashing through my novel looking for the Doldrums of Nothing Happening.

Do you have personalities that just hit you like industrial sandpaper? Maybe you are highly organized, but have a sibling couldn’t find her own butt with a flashlight and Google Maps? Can you think of people you know, but there is conflict because you process information differently? Is your partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) a person you like, if they didn’t drive you NUTS?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

The Road
The Road

On Monday, we talked about a major way writers can ramp up the tension in their novels. How do we do this? We externalize (or, in Corbett’s words “exteriorize”). Stuff in a character’s head has no outward consequences, thus making it impossible to generate dramatic tension.

The Road—Talk is Cheap

Many writers try to skirt externalization, because they “say” they want to write “literary works.” Yet, even in literary fiction, externalization is critical. Why?

Because 99 times out of a 100, when someone tells me their writing is “literary” this is actually code for “pages and pages of self-indulgent mind-vomit.” Hey, I’ve been guilty, too. Don’t feel badly. If we aren’t making mistakes we aren’t doing anything interesting.

Thinking does not literature make. Many writers don’t like externalizing because, as humans, we have been conditioned to shy away from conflict at all costs. Great fiction writers must do the exact opposite and generate as much (outward and inward) conflict as possible. Even “literary” writers don’t get a pass.

I have two Post-It Notes on my computer. One reads GO FOR THE GUTS and the other is THROW A ROCK IN ITThe second the characters get a breather? RUIN IT.

In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Award-Winning book The Road, we see a similar situation to Would You Rather? (discussed Monday). It’s one thing to say we will never give up our humanity, that we will never resort to the animal state…but what about when that is tested? How long can The Man go without food? How long can he watch his son go without food before he compromises?

These tough existential questions are what drive the tension of the book because the big questions are placed into context so they can be tested—a regular guy and his boy in a world that has gone horribly wrong. Yes, there is some internalization, but the outside characters and circumstances force that existential question out of the character’s mind and into reality.

Make Them Commit 

It is not enough for The Man to think about how society has gone to hell in a hand basket and he isn’t like them (those who’ve resorted to cannibalism to survive). He and The Boy have to be placed in situations that externally test this conviction. How will we (the reader) know the characters have succeeded? They will make it to the ocean without eating other humans or die trying.

Simple.

An Exercise:

Think about whatever it is that your character is battling, then externalize this. If the person is a drug addict, don’t go on and on with backstory of cocaine binges or drag us into backstory about his abusive father. Show his buddies stopping by in a limo full of hot babes with high-dollar cocaine to offer. Make him CHOOSE and MAKE HIM SQUIRM. Give him a problem, stakes and a real opportunity to fail and face BIG CONSEQUENCES.

TORTURE YOUR CHARACTERS—IT IS GOOD FOR THEM!!!

Give him a story problem with REAL stakes. Make him scream!

If your character is shy, force her to speak in public. If your character is a sex addict, have his coworkers demand he join them at a strip club for a bachelor party. If your character is a control freak (Marlin in Finding Nemo) pair him with an ally that will make him nearly break from stress (like Dori, another fish with short-term memory issues).

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some of the movies or books you like? Why do you like them? How did they torture their characters?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 4.17.22 PM

I grew up in a nightmare. Yes, we were that family. Drama, fights, threats, suicide attempts, break ups, make ups, then wash, rinse, repeat. I’m not that person anymore and we are no longer that family. We’re healthy. We love, laugh and there’s never a raised voice. We value peace, and peace is wonderful in life.

In fiction, it’s death.

As an artist, sometimes my domestication scares me.

I listen to all kinds of music. I have everything from Pavarotti to Coltrane to Ozzy to Eminem on my iPod. I think that’s because real music, great music is easy to recognize whether its in the form of an aria, a riff or a rap. When I was on Whitbey Island someone mentioned how poetry has really suffered in modern years, but I disagree. I think its changed forms if we are willing to be open-minded. I believe rap is a modern reinvention of poetry and no, it isn’t flowery and enlightened. It’s ugly, dark, and often offensive.

But so is life.

Art isn’t always supposed to be pretty. It’s to challenge us, make us think, shove us out of our comfort zones and challenge what we believe.

Now I’ll be blunt. There is a lot of rap music that’s junk (but that isn’t exclusive to rap). But, beneath a lot of the profanity-laden misogynistic drivel we see some amazing pieces of urban artistry, and I believe they have a lot to teach us if we’ll be open enough to listen. To me, Eminem’s songs strike at the heart of the urban plight, and whether we love him or hate him, his music is powerful.

I only like a handful of Eminem’s songs, but the few I like? I can never listen to enough. They make me emotional every time. Perhaps it’s a tether back to that old life. I don’t know. It permits me to remember what it felt like to be out of control and have no real answers. It puts me back in tune with the craziness that births the best stories.

It would be madness to live my current life this way, but as an artist I DO need to remember the crushing weight of a string of bad choices. The fear it ignites. The panic. The dread that makes you chew off your own leg to escape instead of looking for a key. I have to feel that again for my voice and my characters to be authentic.

So here’s a list of what Eminem has taught me (and I will use some lyrics from my favorite songs Love the Way You Lie and Lose Yourself):

Life is Messy

Good fiction involves a push and pull of a lot of agendas. There are no clean answers, no choices that don’t have consequences. Sometimes there isn’t a right answer, and a protagonist has to merely look for the rightest answer and be brave enough to face what follows (which is what transforms him into a hero).

I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like

and right now there’s a steel knife in my windpipe

I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight

As long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight.

High off of love, drunk from my hate

It’s like I’m huffin’ paint and I love it the more I suffer

I suffocate and right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me

She *&^%$ hates me, and I love it

Wait, where you going? I’m leaving you. No you ain’t.

Come back, we’re running right back, here we go again.

It’s so insane, ’cause when it’s good it’s goin’ great

I’m Superman with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane.

But when it’s bad it’s awful.

I feel so ashamed. (Love the Way You Lie)

In these lyrics we see the push and pull, the tug of feelings of wanting to do what’s right yet always seeming to choose the wrong path. Our characters need to do the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t need characters that are too dumb to live, but at the same time, if they always say the right things and make the right choices, we can’t relate. We can’t root for them to do better.

Great characters are deeply flawed, but they become heroes because, in spite of the odds, they rise above those flaws and finally DO change. Great characters need (forgivable) flaws.

In Joy Luck Club each of the women suffer from fear; fear of standing up to abuse, fear of wanting, fear of disapproval and this fear generates the story tension.

In The Divine secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood  Vivi (the antagonist)’s childhood is filled with abuse from her crazy Catholic mother who’s jealous of the attention her husband gives Vivi. Vivi also loses her true love in war when she’s only a teen. This fear of being vulnerable later divides her relationship with her daughter, Sidda(protagonist), and it fuels her abusive behavior. She tries to be a good mom and wife, the opposite of her nutso mother, but her fear of being hurt just propels her into another bad choice and another. Can this be repaired?

Great Fiction is Birthed from Poor Choices

Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean

And we fall back into the same patterns, the same routine

But your temper’s just as bad as mine is, you’re same as me

But when it comes to love you’re just as blinded.

Baby please come back, it wasn’t you, Baby it was me

Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems.

Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano

All I know is I love you too much to walk away (Love the Way You Lie).

This is the heart of the story, realizing love is there, it’s worth staying, but can it survive before the couple destructs? They have to grow, they must grow or they’re trapped. The conflict arises because no one is making good, sane or healthy choices and that is the beating heart of strong fiction.

Look at your characters. Are they too self-actualized? Too sane? Too level-headed? A lot of the page-turning conflict will be generated by personal agendas and baggage. Dig in to that place that scares you, and that’s where the great stories hide.

What are your character’s secrets? How do those secrets prevent good choices? How does pain from the past make decisions in the present so hard?

In Sworn to Silence the protagonist committed a horrible crime when she was young. Years later, she is the Chief of Police. Her secret keeps her from being able to be forthright in the investigation of a possible serial killer. Her failure to disclose only stalls the investigation as the body count rises, but if she confesses what she did, she could go to jail. The secret tinges her perception and leads her away from the actual killer. Guilt is driving her, not strong investigative instincts.

Great Stories Require High Stakes

Another of my favorite Eminem songs is Lose Yourself. This song is so rich because we feel the pressure to succeed because we know the price of failure.

Mom I love but this trailer’s got to go

I cannot grow old in Salem’s Lot, so here I go, it’s my shot

Feet fail me not, this might be the only opportunity I got.

We know that he feels trapped. He can’t pay the bills and provide for the family. He’s in a trailer and on food stamps and all he knows is there is ONE way of this hell, out of this generational curse. One ticket for him and his family or it’s death, prison or minimum wage slavery. The stakes rise and so does the pressure.

What happens if your protagonist fails? What are the stakes? In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly’s father cooks meth. When he fails to show up for his court date, the family stands to lose their home and land and be forced out on the street. Ree must find her father, alive or dead to save her mentally ill mother and two young siblings.

Remember, the higher the stakes, the better the story.

Here is the video to Love the Way You Lie (caution: adult situations and language)

What are your thoughts? What songs do you use to remind you of emotions you need for your art? Do you feel song is a powerful tool for writing? I never listen to music while writing. I like quiet. But I DO listen to music as preparation. What about you? Do you also have a weird variety of songs in your collection? What music inspires you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of February I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

January’s WINNER is Yesenia Vargas. Please send your 5000 word Word document to kristen @ wana intl dot com or your query letter or synopsis (limit 750 words). Congratulations!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

A Tail of Two Star-Crossed Lovers

I’ve been battling a cold this week, so I am just going to go ahead an post the next lesson on structure and will announce September’s winner on Monday. Trust me, you don’t want me tallying with a NyQuil hangover. Anyway, for the past couple weeks, we have been discussing story structure. I like to run this series around NaNoWriMo to get you guys prepared. There is no sense in knocking out 50,000 words, if, at the end, we have an un-fixable mess. This series is designed to help make sure at least the bones of your story are sound.

Part I of this series introduced the novel on a micro-scale. Part II explored the big picture and offered an overview of common plot problems. Part III introduced the most critical element to any novel, the BBT (Big Boss Troublemaker). Each of these blogs builds upon the previous lesson, so if you are new, I recommend reading the earlier blogs.

I bring the best teaching in the industry right to your computer in an easy-to-digest form to make you a great storyteller. Whether we are traditionally published, indie published or self-published, we must connect with readers and tell a great story. Structure is the “delivery system” for our story, so it’s wise to make it as solid as possible.

Welcome to Part IV of my Structure Series—Testing the Idea

I assume that most of you reading this aspire to be great novelists. Novels are only one form of writing and, truth be told, they aren’t for everyone. Stringing together 60-100,000 words and keeping conflict on every page while delivering a story that makes sense on an intuitive level to the reader is no easy task. That said, all novels begin with an idea. But how do we know if our idea has what it takes to make a great novel?

Many new writers start out with nothing more than a mental snippet, a flash of a scene or a nugget of an idea, and then they take off writing in hopes that seed will germinate into a cohesive novel. Yeah…um, no. Not all ideas are strong enough to sustain 60,000 or more words. Think of your core idea as the ground where you will eventually build your structure. Novels, being very large structures, require firm ground. So how do you know if the idea you have is strong enough?

Good question. Today we will discuss the fundamental elements of great novels. If your core idea can somehow be framed over these parts, you are likely on a good path.

James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure (which I highly recommend you buy & read, by the way) employs what he calls the LOCK system. Jim, being the SUPER AWESOME person he is, has granted me permission to talk about some of his methods today.

When you get the first glimmer of the story you long to tell, the idea that is going to keep you going for months of researching, writing, revisions and eventually submissions, it is wise to test its integrity. The LOCK system is one method we will discuss today.

Lead Objective Conflict Knockout… or, LOCK

LEAD

First, we must have a sympathetic and compelling character. It is critical to have a protagonist that the reader will be able to relate to. Our characters must have admirable strengths and relatable weaknesses. Many new writers stray to extremes with protagonists, and offer up characters that are either too perfect or too flawed.

Perfect people are boring and unlikable and they lack any room to grow. Perfect characters are no different. New writers are often insecure and our protagonists are us…well, the perfect version of us anyway. Our heroines are tall and thin and speak ten languages and have genius IQs and rescue kittens in their free time…and no one likes them. Seriously.

Think about it for a moment. Why do so many people demonize women like Angelina Jolie or Martha Stewart? Because most of us feel very insecure around women like these. They show us where we are lacking, and so we don’t like them. Most of us cannot wrap our minds around what it is like to be too beautiful or have zillions of dollars or the free time to carve pumpkins into sculptures while making our own curtains from recycled prom dresses. These individuals fascinate us with their “perfection,” yet we secretly wait for them to trip up so we can revel in their failure–I knew it! She isn’t perfect!

That’s why STAR Magazine can sell hundreds of thousands of tabloids with the promise of showing us that Angelina Jolie has cellulite. We want to tear her down and make her human. Not the best way to start out with your protagonist. If we make her too perfect, readers will revel in her destruction.

Bad juju.

We need readers to rally to her team, to like her and want to cheer for her to the end. How do we do this? Give her flaws, and humanize her. Additionally, if our characters are fully actualized in the beginning, there will be no character arc so our story will be one-dimensional and flat.

Bridget Jones and Forrest Gump are two great examples of great, flawed characters. We can all relate to not being the prettiest or the smartest and so these characters are easy to love and root for. What if you are writing a thriller or a suspense, something that generally has a cast of uber-perfect people? Give them flaws. Perfect characters are passé. Don’t believe me? Watch the new James Bond movies, and contrast Daniel Craig with Roger Moore.

Now, to look at the other side of the spectrum. Often to avoid the cliched “too perfect” character, an author will stray too far to the other end of extremes. The brooding dark protagonist is tough to pull off. In life, we avoid these unpleasant people, so why would we want to dedicate our free time to caring about them? Oh, but the author will often defend, “But he is redeemed in the end.” Yeah, but you’re expecting readers to spend ten hours (average time to read a novel) with someone they don’t like. Tall order.

To quote mega-agent, Donald Maas (The Fire in the Fiction):

Wounded heroes and heroines are easy to overdo. Too much baggage and angst isn’t exactly a party invitation for one’s readers. What’s the best balance? And which comes first, the strength or the humility? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that one is quickly followed by the other.

In my opinion, this was the single largest problem with the Star Wars prequels. Anakin Skywalker was a little-kid-killer, ergo never redeemable…EVER. He needed to die badly and slowly. Lucas should never have allowed his protagonist to cross that line. Heroes NEVER kill defenseless little kids. It was (my POV) an unforgivable action on the part of the “hero” that cratered the epic.

Objective

Your protagonist MUST have a clear objective. There are many times I go to conferences and I see all these excited writers who are all dying to talk to an agent. When I ask, “So what’s your book about?” I often get something akin to, “Well, there is this girl and she has powers, but she didn’t know she had powers, because, see. Hold on. Okay, her mother was a fairy queen and she fell in love with a werewolf, but werewolves in my book are different. Anyway she has a boyfriend in high school, but he is actually the leader of a group of wizards from another dimension and he is pitted against his inner demons because he lost his father in a battle against shape-shifters….”

Huh? *looks to wine bar in the corner of the room*

Your protagonist must have ONE BIG ACTIVE GOAL. Yes, even literary pieces.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a good example. The movie Fried Green Tomatoes very easily could have been just a collection of some old lady’s stories that helps our present-day protagonist (Evelyn Couch) bide the time while she waits for her husband to finish the visit with his mother, but that is far from the case.

Evelyn is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920’s Alabama. Through Idgie’s inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny (per IMDB).

Learning to be assertive is an active goal. Building is an active verb. Gaining the self-confidence to make your own friends shows a change has occurred, a metamorphosis.

Oh, but Kristen, that’s a movie. Novels are different.

Um…not really. I use movies as examples of storytelling because it saves time. But, here is an example in the world of literary fiction to make you feel better that I am steering you down the correct path.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan could have been just a collection of tales about three generations of Chinese women, but they weren’t. There was an active goal to all of these stories. The mothers left China in hopes they could change the future for their daughters, and yet the old cycles, despite all their good intentions, repeat themselves and echo the same pain in the lives of their daughters. Actually the protagonist in the book is the collective—The Joy Luck Club.

The stories propel the living members of the Joy Luck Club toward the active goal of finding courage to change the patterns of the past. The mothers seek forgiveness and the daughters struggle for freedom, but each is actively searching and eventually finds something tangible.

We will discuss this in more detail later, but keep in mind that running away from something or avoiding something is a passive goal. Not good material for novels. Novels require active goals…even you literary folk ;).

Conflict

Once you get an idea of what your protagonist’s end goal is, you need to crush his dream of ever reaching it (well, until the end, of course). Remember, on Monday we talked about the Big Boss Troublemaker. Generally (in genre novels especially), it is the BBT is who’s agenda will drive the protagonist’s actions until almost the end. Your protagonist will be reacting for most of the novel. It is generally after the darkest moment that the protagonist rallies courage, allies, hidden strength and suddenly will be proactive.

Riddick, for most of the story, is reacting to the Lord Marshal’s agenda. Riddick’s goal is to defeat the BBT, but there are all kinds of disasters and setbacks along the way. Logical disasters are birthed from good plotting. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of doing some plotting ahead of time is that it will be far easier for you to come up with set-backs and disasters that make sense.

There is a scene from the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles that I just LOVE. The prime villain, Hedley Lamarr, is interviewing scoundrels to go attack a town he wants to destroy so that he can build the railroad through it. There are all kinds of bad guys standing in line to give their CV.

Hedley Lamar: Qualifications?

Applicant: Rape, murder, arson, and rape.

Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.

Applicant: I like rape.

This sequence gets quoted quite a lot in my workshop. Why? Because there are many new writers who, upon noticing doldrums in their novel, will insert a rape scene.

I am not making this up.

And if I hadn’t seen it so many times in my career, I wouldn’t have brought it up. We can chuckle, but this is fairly common to the new writer, just as it is common for children to write the letter “c” backwards. It is a heavy-handed attempt by a new writer who hasn’t yet developed plotting skills to raise the stakes and tension. Robberies and rapes are justifiable conflict, if they genuinely relate to the story. Otherwise, it’s contrived and awkward.

Knockout

So your novel has thrust a likable, relatable protagonist into a collision course with the Big Boss Troublemaker. The Big Boss Battle must deliver all you (the writer) have been promising. Endings tie up all loose ends and sub-plots and, if we have done our job, will leave the reader a feeling of resonance.

Your protagonist MUST face down the BBT. No fighting through proxies. Luke had to face Darth. By employing the Jedi skills learned over the course of the story, he was able to triumph. Same in literary works. Evelyn Couch had to stand up to her husband and her monster-in-law. She couldn’t send in Ninny Threadgoode to do it for her. In the movie’s climactic scene, Evelyn employs the “Jedi skills” she learned from stories about Idgy. Her Jedi skills are confidence and self-respect, and she uses them to defeat her oppressors by refusing to take any more of their sh—enanigans.

This is why all this “my protagonist is the BBT/antagonist” WON’T WORK. In Fried Green Tomatoes, Evelyn is her own worst enemy. She is spineless and weak. But, the real enemy resides in those who desire to control and bully Evelyn. In each act of the movie, we see Evelyn learning confidence so that by the end, the BIG battle, she can tell her abusive mother-in-law to stuff it. She isn’t having an argument with herself. She is standing up to a very real antagonist…even though this is a character/literary story. Characters having inner angst for 80,000 words is therapy, not fiction. Humans do better with the tangible. Existentialism is great, but for a mainstream successful novel? Not the best approach.

So when you get that nugget of an idea and think, Hmm. THAT is my novel. Try using the LOCK system. Ask yourself:

Can I cast a LEAD who is relatable and likable?

Is this OBJECTIVE something that will keep readers interested for 60-100,000 words?

Can I create a BBT and opposition force capable of generating plenty of CONFLICT to keep my lead from her objective?

Does this story problem lend itself to a KNOCKOUT ending?

This is just a taste of the good stuff that James Scott Bell has to offer in Plot & Structure so I recommend buying a copy for your writing library. In the upcoming lessons, I will be using this book for reference, among others to help you guys become master story-tellers.

What are the biggest problems you guys have when it comes to developing your ideas? What are some setbacks you have faced? Do you guys have any recommendations for resources? Or, feel free to commiserate and laugh about all the good ideas that went oh so wrong.

Those of you who loved James Scott Bell’s LOCK system can check out his site for more fabulous learning material, workshops and seminars. I’ve been blessed enough to watch Jim teach in person, and if you can believe it, HE IS EVEN BETTER IN PERSON. It will be the best money you ever spend…aside from my blogging class, of course :D.

QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT!!!—Starting a Successful Blog

Time is running out to sign up! Class starts MONDAY. A lot of blogs fail simply because writers take off with no instruction, and, because of this, they are left to learn by painful trial and error. If you believe you would like to blog, but you’re uncertain, I’m doing something new. To accommodate those who are still on the fence, I’m now running a Basic level for my upcoming blogging class that starts next week (and it is only $50 for TWO MONTHS).

In the Basic class, you get to be part of the WANA1012 team and receive all the forum lessons (none of the live webinars are included). This is a really great place to learn if blogging is right for you (Blogging Training Wheels).

If you’re ready to skip the training wheels and get started blogging, then get your spot NOW. My classes have a history of selling out. I offer a Blogging Bronze, Silver, Gold, and even Diamond, for those who are ready to go all the way.

This is a TWO MONTH class—one month for lessons and one for launch—that you can do in your own time, at your own speed and from home. And since you will be part of a WANA team, you won’t have to do this blogging thing alone, so your odds of success are MUCH higher. For those who want to do NaNoWriMo, we can extend the two months if we have to. That’s one of the benefits of being the owner of the interface :D .

So whether you start your own blog or just get out there and read a few, getting in the mix and forging relationships is more critical than ever. Have I missed anything? For you bloggers out there, what makes you feel warm and fuzzy? What can writers do to get your attention that isn’t illegal in all Southern states?

Anyway….

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Will announce September’s winner on Monday.

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of October I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.