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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to sell more books

bad people, Kristen Lamb, unlikable characters, storytelling, writing a novel, characters

Bad people make better stories. Why? Because I cannot say this enough, ‘Fiction is about one thing and one thing only—PROBLEMS.’

Who better to create a lot of problems than damaged, broken, unlikable, foolish and possibly even unredeemable human beings?

***I use the term ‘human beings’ for all characters because aliens, otherworldly beings, and any ‘thinking’ creature will possess anthropomorphic (human-like) qualities.

So why do ‘bad people’ make better stories?

Perfect people, first of all, are unicorns and don’t exist. Secondly, they are boring. Thirdly, we can’t relate to them because we aren’t unicorns (just deluded we are 😛 ).

What’s the story killer with perfect people? To be blunt, these characters have nowhere to grow. Since ‘perfect people’ handle every crisis with a level head and can be trusted to always do the right thing, the reader won’t ever worry.

If the reader never worries, guess what kiddies?  You don’t have a story, you have a lot of words.

Villains are a whole other post. So is the Big Boss Troublemaker (our core antagonist responsible for creating the overall story PROBLEM).

Today, what I want to address is HOW to roughen up our MC and supporting cast in ways that will ratchet tension and drive the character arcs of everyone around.

We need a change agent who will turn pages, without turning off readers.

***Please keep in mind, it is impossible to write a story everyone will love. Knowing this, get in and get dirty.

Bad for the Sake of Bad

One of the most common mistakes newbie authors make is that they lack the confidence to make any character (who isn’t the villain) flawed at all. From the perfect hair to the perfect outfit, these literary paper dolls do all the right things.

After enough rejection or feedback from critique partners, the emerging writer might start realizing that perfect equals dull.

What then happens is they can go to the other extreme and overcompensate. They create a character so abrasive and awful, readers can’t root for them. Always remember, that artists don’t craft a bad character solely to be bad.

Every character—even a ‘bad’ one—serves a purpose.

There are going to be some possible spoilers in this post, but I’ll work hard to maneuver around that. Usually I strive for older movies and series, but after almost two thousand blogs, I need fresher examples.

‘Bad People’ Make Great Mirrors

Kristen Lamb, broken people, Netflix, Bird Box, unlikable characters
John Malkovich in the Netflix original movie, ‘Bird Box.’

I read Josh Malerman’s novel ‘Bird Box’ and also watched the Netflix original movie. Both versions are excellent. The movie did a fabulous job (which is pretty remarkable in and of itself).

Even though the movie is very different from the book, it did a great job of maintaining the core idea.

***In this post, I’ll refer mostly to the movie version for simplicity.

I mention Bird Box because Douglas was one of my favorite characters. When chaos is unleashed and the world is very literally ending, our MC Malorie has no choice but to take shelter with a group of strangers or die.

Douglas is one of the founding members of this group, and he is not happy to add the very pregnant Malorie to their numbers.

Douglas is rude, selfish, acerbic, and blunt and one of my favorite characters because he is precisely what Malorie needs if she has any hope to survive and evolve. He’s a mirror.

What do mirrors do?

Mirrors show us what IS, not what we want.

When I look in a mirror, I’d love to see a hot babe with six-pack abs, the legs of a dancer, hair that rivals and an anime character…and flawless, wrinkle-free skin. But this is delusion, not reality.

A mirror shows me what IS. It shows me what’s good—that outfit is BANGIN’! But, it also shows me what I need to work on—maybe lay off the carbs. Ultimately, it shows me what I need to learn to accept and embrace—smile lines are a privilege denied to many.

Douglas minces no words. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is…a mean bastard who expects the worst and is usually right. Though it isn’t nice to say, Malorie IS soft (in more ways than being pregnant).

She’s been coddled by a modern world she took for granted. Malorie expected her sister to always be there, for her to simply have a doctor and hospital to give birth to a baby she doesn’t want. She’s transitioning into a world where a two-mile trip to get groceries costs lives.

Douglas shows her a new reality she must see if she has any hopes of living longer than a week.

To paraphrase Douglas, there are two kinds of people—@$$holes and the dead. The reason we ‘like’ him is he isn’t wrong. Civility is of zero value when civilization has collapsed.

Douglas also demonstrates a really painful truth.

Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend.

Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

While Douglas is ‘mean,’ he’s so much more than that. He’s a pragmatist, a survivor. According to Douglas it makes no sense to take in every person who begs for shelter, not in a world with limited resources.

It also makes sense to be extremely wary of WHO is allowed into their inner circle. Sometimes you have to make the hard choices for the greater good even if that means leaving a stranger outside to possibly die.

***Time will prove out how right he is.

If the goal is to survive when all hell breaks loose, then choose the party wisely. They no longer have the luxury of making bad choices, and not everyone is who they claim to be.

Douglas is very forthright and honest about who and what he is. He makes no pretense that he’s a miserable S.O.B. Yet, this is a quality that I found endearing.

When lives are at stake, truth is the most precious currency, even if it stinks.

‘Bad People’ Drive Change

Douglas minces no words about how he feels about Malorie. She is blind long before the blindfolds. She’s weak, soft and a liability. Mirrors show us what’s wrong, what we need to fix. Is our fly down? Do we have the back of our skirt tucked in our underwear?

Is there a giant glob of spinach between our teeth? Has a pigeon pooped in our hair and no one has told us because they ‘didn’t want to embarrass us’?

The mirror might show a lot of what we don’t LIKE, but it offers us the clearest vision of what must change. The same goes for our MC (and all characters if we do our job properly).

In Bird Box, Malorie has to toughen up emotionally and physically to make it through. Yet, at the same time, one of the reasons she doesn’t like Douglas is because he reminds her of her father.

She doesn’t want to be like her father so she’s dismissed any quality her father possessed as ‘bad’ and ‘unwanted.’ The story will show her that the qualities she hated in her father (and in Douglas) are the very attributes that will ensure her survival.

Ah, but what she will ALSO learn (arc) is there is a time and a place for these ‘negative’ qualities.

Before the end of the world, Malorie’s dad irreparably damaged his marriage, family, and his two daughters. Even Douglas admits his personality flaws and his drinking cost him two marriages and any meaningful friendships.

What Malorie learns is to not summarily dismiss these attributes as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because these qualities have a time and a place.

When she’s fighting for survival, she can’t afford to be soft. Paranoia, ‘cruelty,’ emotional distance and a sociopathic level of compartmentalization keep her and those she cares about alive. But, once the storm has passed, the need for these ‘bad’ attributes fades away.

There’s a time to trade the plow for the sword and vice versa.

Should Malorie make it to safety with those in her care and FAIL to put away her father and Douglas’s attitudes and approaches? She’ll be alive, but won’t have a life.

Crafting ‘Bad People’ 

Sometimes, as we just discussed, a character might be ‘bad’ to force change in our MC. What makes Douglas such a fantastic example is that, as awful as he can be? He makes sense. We (readers) can see that he makes very good points.

If they take in too many people, they will starve or increase odds of dying because they’ll have to venture out to resupply more frequently, etc.

When it comes to your story, how can we use ‘bad people’ to strengthen the MC?

What is your MC’s greatest fear? Her greatest shame? What does your MC believe is true, which is, in fact, a lie? A lie that is holding that character back from actualization?

For this, we’ll look to the Netflix series Stranger Things.

 If you haven’t seen the series, I strongly recommend it because it’s one of the best examples of superlative storytelling and complex characters I’ve ever seen. I will work diligently not to spoil anything.

In Stranger Things the focus isn’t solely on the lead MC. The party is the protagonist (much like Joy Luck Club, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lord of the Rings, etc.) and if the party fails, then so will the ‘MC’ Eleven, a.k.a. ‘El.’

What gives SO much depth and texture to this series is the complexity, the interlocking of all the supporting players. In the first season, one of the most interesting characters isn’t even (yet) part of the group of heroes.

Steve Harrington is the ‘popular kid’ trope from every 80s ‘Coming of Age’ movie. He has the great hair, the designer clothes, and drives a Mercedes. He’s a top jock from an upper middle class family surrounded by the standard superficial cronies we’ve seen in countless movies.

Steve is the CLASSIC rich @$$hole.

He’s self-centered, shallow and, ironically…he became one of my favorite characters.

It’s the story problem in Season One that makes him realize he’s shallow and that he’s surrounded himself with counterfeit friends (who are also miserable people). He has to choose between the keeping old him (popular Steve) or let go of that life and pursue Nancy.

Nancy isn’t vapid arm candy like all the other girls he’s dated. When facing the enemy, Steve finally realizes he wants more. The struggle offers clarity about who he’s willing to fight for, and he also learns what true friendship really is.

The transformation in Steve Harrington is nothing short of miraculous.

In Season Two, there was a different challenge.

Steve had changed…but not enough. He HAD to grow even more if the group had any hope of surviving Round Two with the enemy.

Steve’s greatest fear is being a nobody and his shame is that deep down, he really believes he has nothing of substance to offer. In Season One, the story problem forced him to see how he used his popularity, money and status as armor.

But what happens when all THAT is stripped away, too? When he can’t rely on being Mr. Cool to keep Nancy? How does he respond to being treated the way he treated others in Season One?

What does Steve DO when HE is the object of ridicule?

Steve can’t ‘level up’ unless he willingly lets go of the ‘old self.’ But, like most of us, Steve isn’t aware of the ‘old self’ and even if he is, it’s comfortable so he’s unlikely to give it up easily.

It will have to be STRIPPED away.

No better way to do this than to bring in a replacement. When the explosive Billy Hargrove screams into the school parking lot in his new Camaro—easily stepping in as the high school’s new Alpha male—Steve undergoes a personal extinction.

Billy Hargrove ‘Stranger Things’ Season Two.

Not only does he see who he used to be—and have to make peace with that shame—but he also sees what he is not. He’s no longer the strongest, the best, the baddest. This forces him to make hard choices.

‘Bad People’ Force the HARD Choices

Will Steve dedicate himself to fighting to regain the old, or will he evolve to something better? When he’s kicked in the confidence, can he find a better source of courage than great hair and status?

Without the almost sociopathic Billy Hargrove’s influence, it is fairly obvious Steve wouldn’t have a hard enough push required for meaningful change. Steve cannot hope to survive the story problem—the REAL PROBLEM—if he continues to care about that which doesn’t matter.

Billy is a VILE human being (though not without his own baggage and dimension I’m sure we’ll see in Season 3). He’s over the top in everything—his car, hair, clothes, sexuality, and especially his temper (RAGE).

But, Billy HAD to be virtually irredeemable for Steve to even see the message let alone ‘get’ it. Billy strips away Steve’s armor and this means Steve has to become stronger in who he is. If his insides are iron, he won’t need the external protection that can be so easily taken away.

In the End

‘Bad people’ make for amazing stories, and this goes for the MC too. If our characters don’t have flaws, weakness, blind spots, and shame, then they’re not ‘real.’ Readers connect with weakness, not strength.

We know pride, envy, fear, estrangement, insecurity, vulnerability, and anger. We’ve all been poseurs, pretenders, and done and said things we wish we hadn’t.

In your story, just make sure these ‘negative’ attributes serve a purpose.

Nothing lives in a great story rent-free.

‘Bad people’ don’t have to arc if they’re not the MC (or part of the protagonist party). Billy is a character that they ‘could’ kill off in Episode One of Season Three. It would be okay because he did his job in Season Two—he forced Steve’s character arc.

I hope they don’t do this because he’s too good of a character to waste. Also, there’s no better story than a redemption story. But, truth be told, it won’t harm the overall story if Billy isn’t in this narrative for the long haul.

It didn’t hurt in the movie Bird Box. Douglas didn’t evolve because he wasn’t supposed to. His purpose was solely to change Malorie.

On the other hand if your ‘bad person’ IS your MC or a major player (part of the group protagonist), then there will have to be something sympathetic/redeemable among all the grit.

We spend most of Season Two loathing Billy Hargrove, but there’s ONE scene that maybe could change some minds about why he’s the way he is and possibly who he could become (good or bad) in the future.

BUT, we’ll have to wait and see.

Suffice to say, all people are ‘bad people.’ Unless we’re a psychopath, we are all very well aware of where we fall short. Most of us struggle with habits, weaknesses and have a laundry list of what we’d like to change, remove or improve.

As authors, when we roughen up our characters, these flaws generate resonance. Personality collisions create the tension that drives the story and forces change in all the players.

Shiny and perfect is all right, but people pay fortunes for items with wear, that are ‘distressed.’ The dings, nicks, and stains show they’ve been through some stuff, have some stories to tell.

Their’ damage’ and ‘wear’ makes them all the more interesting…and valuable. So be bold and go do some damage! Bad people make better stories. If you need some more instruction on HOW to do this…

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writing, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, how to write a novel, publishing

We all make mistakes, especially when learning anything new. Writing is not immune to process. Contrary to popular belief, writing great stories is HARD.

It takes time, devotion, training, mentorship, blood, sacrifice and the willingness to make a ton of mistakes. This means countless hours and probably years of practice (which also means writing a ton of crappy books/stories).

As I mentioned in the last post, George R.R. Martin didn’t become a legend because of his marketing abilities and mad HootSuite skills.

No, he’s a master because he’s practiced and honed raw talent until he could create a series that’s become a global phenomenon.

Kristen Lamb, writing mistakes, mistakes, writing tips

Same with J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and all the other ‘greats.’ They didn’t begin as legends. It took time, practice, and a fair share of ugly drafts and stories.

With practice, we learn what works, what doesn’t, what sizzles and what fizzles. We find, develop and mature our writing voice.

The problem I see these days is that, now that we’ve transitioned into the digital age and it’s so easy to self-publish, many writers are ‘ad-men’ before artists.

In the old publishing paradigm, writers faced rejection until they either gave up or learned how to tell better stories that audiences would pay to read. Writers made the mistakes in private before permitted onto the VERY EXCLUSIVE public stage.

Now? There are so many books flooding the market, it’s far harder to get authentic and useful feedback. Tougher to know what we’re doing wrong when the books don’t sell, no one leaves a review, or the agents keep sending form-letter rejections.

Today, I hope to address what might be wrong with stories that either we aren’t finishing or that aren’t selling (either to an agent or directly to the market).

Mistake #1: Skipping Learning HOW to Tell (Build) a Story

Kristen Lamb. mistakes, plotting, writing mistakes

A story is a structure like a bridge or a building. There is a method to the ‘madness.’ We can’t build a house, a shed, or a skyscraper without a foundation/proper framing and expect it to stand for long (if at all).

Similarly, we can’t expect a story with no internal structure to do anything but collapse.

Too many writers want to skip the dull parts of our craft, believing that if they learn structure, plotting, etc. it will make the writing formulaic (HINT: It won’t). They also assume that learning structure immediately means they have to be pure outlining plotters, which is also untrue.

I don’t give a rip how any author creates a structure so long as it’s there.

When it comes to great stories, everything is by design. It’s ALL intentional.

If Game of Thrones isn’t your cup of tea, read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Tana French’s Into the Woods, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and you’ll see that each and every one of these books possess a vastly complex structure.

These structures are not only strong enough to maintain the story integrity, but they are also deliberate in design. Each of these stories is crafted with ONE purpose—to capture readers and refuse let them go until they’ve done the full tour.

We cannot create this effect if we skip learning how this feat is accomplished. This is akin to an ‘architect’ winging it when designing a house. Adding guest rooms here and a ballroom there, and a library would be LOVELY!

There are too many Winchester Mansion ‘Novels’ running amok.

Instead of doors that open to brick walls or stairs that lead nowhere, we have subplots that hit dead ends, characters that serve no purpose. Overall, there is no core concept that dictates design.

In the end, we’re left with an expensive novelty that only the creator can navigate without becoming hopelessly lost.

Mistake #2: Holding Too Tightly to First Book

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writing mistakes, writing, how to write, self-publishing mistakes, how to write a novel

Most first novels, even if we ARE in the process of studying and learning structure, end up being Winchester Mansion ‘Novels.’ We are LEARNING.

Yet, instead of writers letting go of the first novel, they keep doing like Mrs. Winchester and adding an orangery and another library and redecorating the sewing room.

Which is why they never finish.

With every painstaking addition the writer becomes more and more attached to their creation. It becomes increasingly more difficult for outsiders to talk them out of their madness.

In all my years fixing plots—and I have repaired hundreds of plots—I’ve only had a handful of authors finish their first novel.

In almost every case I recommended the writer let go of the first book. Shelve it. Take a new idea and we could plot together.

This way they could learn kinesthetically. I feel the best way to learn is to DO. It takes writing from the theoretical and translates it to the practical.

This tactic is far more effective because the writers aren’t as emotionally vested.

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writer mistakes, writing mistakes, writing tips

They aren’t pondering the hundreds of hours, the years and rewrites. It’s all unexplored territory, so they’re far more likely to listen, learn, do and finish. When they finish something that has flow, intention and design, then they can finally FEEL the victory.

They also—eventually—will gain the knowledge and emotional distance to return to the first novel and repair it.

Provided they still want to.

Odds are better they will see what I saw…the Winchester Mansion ‘Novel.’ Instead of trying to retrofit ballrooms and halls into a new design, they give the first novel permission to be what it was ALWAYS intended to be.

A learning experience.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Feedback

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, how to write, writing tips

It is HIGHLY unusual for an author who permits me to tear down their Winchester Mansion ‘Novel’ to actually use the new version.

Even though I work very hard to keep the core ideas the writer was most passionate about—the ideas they BEGAN with—and make them integral to the story…there is simply too much emotion.

So many snippets of dialogue, glorious sections of prose, characters I’ve cut away because they didn’t propel the story. To just leave that all behind? It can feel like a betrayal of the worst variety.

To abandon the old design for the new seems traitorous.

Trust me, I UNDERSTAND.

I worked on my own Winchester Mansion ‘Novel’ for almost six years. No matter what critique groups or editors told me, I felt they just didn’t ‘get’ my story. I braved the agent rejections and rewrote and rewrote, adding literary basements, gazebos, and indoor swimming pools.

Inside, I BELIEVED if I didn’t make that first ‘novel’ a mega-success I was a failure.

It wasn’t until I met my first mentor—who happened to be a New York Times best-selling author who’d published almost fifty novels—that I finally listened. When HE told me I had no story, I STILL argued…until I realized how ridiculous I was being.

Then, I went into depression for six months.

After that? I set aside the ‘novel’ and began to actually LEARN my craft. Writing is an artisan skill, which requires we seek the right feedback and listen. Our friends who tell us they can’t believe our novel isn’t already a movie are great encouragers (keep them, you’ll need them).

But if a critique group (a good one with successful authors) keep pointing out the same problems? If editors, beta readers, and people leaving reviews keep pointing out the same problems?

Entertain that they might have a point.

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writing mistakes, writing, publishing

Ultimately, understand that you are NOT a failure because you put the first book in a drawer and moved on. Humans are wired to learn from mistakes, from failure. It is perfectly acceptable to set a novel aside and try something fresh.

Now, if you’re making a habit of this? That’s bad and actually a red flag you need professional guidance and training. Odds are, you’re not understanding structure and the story is caving in.

I want you all to be finishers. But we can’t be finishers if we’ve set ourselves up for failure.

If we aren’t finishing, if no one is reviewing, if the book sales are lackluster, if we keep getting rejected? All good signs to dig in on training and PRACTICE.

Mistake #4: Failure to Understand What Makes a Story a STORY

As I just vividly described, too many ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. It’s why I’m liking the term writer less and less as I mature. Putting words on the page is critical, but a lot of words does not a story make. A lot of PRETTY words does not a story make.

Fiction is about one thing and one thing only…PROBLEMS.

To be more specific, a novel is about ONE BIG PROBLEM that will be solved by the end of the book…and not easily.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance. Be cruel to EVERYONE. If your MC loves something, take it away…then step on it. Smash hopes and dreams and everything they believed to be true.

Every single break they get better be earned with blood. Any new information better COST something.

There need to be stakes—shattering stakes—if the MC fails. Oh, and by the way? They don’t have forever to solve the problem. There’s a ticking clock because we are aging here and COULD be watching Netflix instead.

Stories are FLAWED people making bad choices until the CORE STORY PROBLEM forces them to see their faults, evolve and thus make better choices until they WIN, FAIL or DIE or maybe even ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Great stories are exotic torture devices a reader can escape only ONE WAY. The reader must finish the story to find the key that opens the cage we’ve locked them in.

Yeah, writers are sadists.

Mistakes are crucial when learning how to tell stories, because we’re learning ways of building better traps. Yet, these are the good mistakes, the mistakes that come with trial, error, improvement and innovation.

The fatal mistake?

Failing to understand the PURPOSE of a story. What does a story DO? Sure, stories entertain. But the good ones are clever traps that will torment the poor reader, make them scream and cry and rail and beg and walk out breathless at 4:00 a.m. on a work day…cursing our names.

What’s better?

The reader will be so high from the experience, she won’t be able to stop talking about it and telling everyone who will listen. The reader will wait in agonizing expectation for the next chance the author offers another opportunity to be trapped and tortured all over again.

No one evangelizes a book simply because they got it for .99. It won’t matter how many free books we give them or how fancy the marketing. If there’s no trap, no torment? No one cares.

Want to be a good trap-maker? Study traps.

Read a crap ton of books and DOG-EAR them. Yes, I am a monster because that is what good writers are. We are sociopathic, sadistic, masters of torment (but readers are masochists, so it works).

We choreograph torment that leads to the catharsis…the blissful release and euphoria!

***Yes, even the sweet ‘Hallmark’ romances torment readers if they’re well-written. Will guy and gal get together? Can the family overcome their petty fighting in time to do the traditional Christmas Eve sleigh ride one last time before they are forced to sell the farmhouse?

I dog-ear, color, underline and scribble on all books I read, then pull the story apart. How did it hook me? When did it hook me? What did the author DO? How did he or she pull a fast one on me? Can I duplicate that or do a variation? Is it possible to do it even BETTER?

Mistake #5: Breaking the Rules Before KNOWING the Rules

As I mentioned earlier, too many writers believe if they read craft books, take classes, study, learn plot, etc. that the writing will be ‘formulaic.’ All stories have a formula (noun), but not all stories are formulaic (adjective).

***Sort of like if you are nauseated (verb), it means you’re sick to your stomach. Conversely, if you’re nauseous (adjective), it means your mere presence makes others sick to their stomachs.

Before we talk about formulas, though, we first need to define what sort of author we want to be, what genre we are writing, and what kind of books we want to write.

Romance has a formula. Deviate from this formula and you don’t have romance…you have women’s fiction or general fiction.

Most genre fiction has some sort of a formula. Mystery has a formula. There’s a crime discovered at the beginning that is solved by the end. One has to introduce red herrings, clues, etc. by specific points or the audience will call FOUL.

If there is a crime at the beginning but ALSO a race against time to stop some far greater crime at the end? Welcome to the thriller (refer to post on GENRE for more). It’s a thriller if we know who we are stopping, a mystery-thriller if we don’t.

Those who can write excellent pulp fiction quickly can make an incredible living. Before anyone gets snooty…

Some of the greatest works of modern literature have come from what was once considered ‘escapist trash’ (pulp fiction).

***Refer to my tongue-in-cheek post Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish 2 for a comprehensive list.

All this said, rules exist for a reason. Our job as artists is to learn and understand the rules before we go about breaking them. We have to know the WHY behind the rule.

Knowing the WHY is the magic.

Why are we breaking the rules other than to be different?

There is a pretty standard rule that we should pick a POV and stick to it. Why is there this rule? Because changing the type of POV is risky in the hands of the unskilled writer.

If we begin in first-person and switch to third, we can risk giving the reader a headache. Thus, we need a good reason WHY we are breaking this ‘rule’ other than our simple desire to be clever.

T. Jefferson Parker broke this rule in his novel Iron River. He used first-person for the antagonist, Bradley Smith (aka Bradley Jones), the man brokering a deal with the Mexican cartel chief to produce a revolutionary new handgun.

Why?

Because T. Jefferson Parker knows that first-person is the closest psychic distance.

He chose to put Smith’s POV in first person because he wanted the reader to bond more intimately with the antagonist, a man who’s forced onto his dark path when a faulty product drives his family business—Pace Firearms—to the brink of bankruptcy.

By using this close POV for the ‘bad guy,’ T. Jefferson Parker makes it harder for the reader to choose sides. He generates empathy, tension and conflicted loyalties.

All in all, T. Jefferson Parker DELIBERATELY broke the POV rule to elicit a desired and planned EFFECT on the reader. That’s what makes him an artist, and probably a good reason why T. Jefferson Parker is the only author to ever win three Edgar Awards.

Go and BREAK THINGS

In the end, make mistakes. The RIGHT mistakes. Mistakes can eventually become magic even though they make a hell of a mess. Remember that perfectionism is the elixir of the doomed. When has any artist ever created a masterpiece and not gotten dirty?

Stop reworking the first chapters of the same novel and finish. Even if it sucks. Stop plotting and re-plotting and revising. Yes, we need training (classes, books, coaches, camps, read loads of fiction and break it apart, etc.) but these activities can become great places to hide 😉 .

Get the training, then put it into ugly practice. If you need training, scroll down and I have some fabulous classes for sale ON DEMAND ($15 off until midnight MONDAY May 13th). Delivered right to you to enjoy over and over on your computer (pants not required).

To celebrate Mother’s Day, use the code MOM15 for $15 off all ON DEMAND CLASSES. So if you are a mother or have a mother or just appreciate that writing can be a real mother *&^%$ use the code.

It’s also Cinco de Mayo this Sunday, so tequila should be on sale. Might help with the killing little darlings.

Seems like a sign to me 😛 .

ON DEMAND CLASSES!!!

***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

On Demand for a limited time. Watch all you like from comfort of home. $55

On Demand Story Master: From Dream to Done (A.K.A. Fast-Drafting 101) 

Yes, you can write a book in two weeks. I’ve done it using what I teach in here. On Demand for a limited time. $55 for basic/$349 for GOLD

On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

On Demand for a limited time. $55 Basic/$165 for GOLD

 

 

 

 

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

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

*awkward silence*

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

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

Goof up characters? No one cares about the plot.

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

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

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

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

Again. Bad decisions make great fiction.

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

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

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

Yay, Texas summers!

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

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

Flawed vs. Too Dumb to Live

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

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

Okay, I’m back *giggles*.

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

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

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

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

Bad Decisions Birthed from The Flaw

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

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

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

Plot as Crucible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright (Bad) Idea Fairy

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

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

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

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

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

#DeepThoughts

Back to FLAWS

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

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

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

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

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

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Bad Decisions Depend on Circumstances

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

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

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

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

Bad Decisions & The Wound

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

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

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

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

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

Making “Stupid” Forgivable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the final note on characters making bad decisions.

Plot Puppets

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you!

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

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Perfect is the crystal meth of the soul. We know perfect is bad for us, that we should avoid it because it is impossible to attain. Yet, when we fail to remain vigilant, perfect’s promising high lures us in. Perfect whispers in our ear that we’re in total control and can stop any time we like. But that’s the lie, the hook. Oh, and once those hooks sink deep, the only way free from perfect is to bleed.

I know it seems like I’m being a tad dramatic, but anyone who dares to pursue anything remarkable must know the enemy and this one is a doozy. Why? Because this is the perfect enemy.

Why is perfect so deadly, especially for writers? Oh SO many angles, and we’ll explore those later.

A Perfect Mess

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

We’ve been talking a lot about the log-line lately and how we can use this one sentence to test a story idea before we’re 30,000 words deep in an unfixable mess.

Conversely, if we’re already tangled in a story we can’t wrangle under control, the log-line can pinpoint what specifically is going awry.

If the story is grand, but we failed to make the stakes high enough, then we can quickly and easily fix THAT. Instead of wasting time adding in more subplots or more detailed description, we know the MC needs to have more skin in the game.

The log-line also saves a lot of time rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. If we’re missing a core story problem then we don’t have a novel, we have 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 words. Pretty big difference.

For those who’ve not yet read the post, the log-line formula is simple:

An Intriguing MC + Core Story Problem (Antagonist) + Active Goal + Stakes + Ticking Clock = Story

Perfect Characters

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

One of the single largest problems I encounter is that the MC is way too perfect. This is an easy mistake to make, especially for the newer writers.

When we’re first starting out, we lack confidence. We lack confidence because—despite what the world may believe—writing a GOOD novel is ridiculously difficult. There is a learning curve and writers need talent, training and time.

Many emerging authors are far more eager to give their MC a black belt in Judo than a black eye from a dirtbag spouse or lover. Characters have dream jobs, dream lives, and are fully self-actualized. Thus, all that remains is the oily residue known as whining. I want to get one thing straight before we go any further.

Fiction is about one thing and one thing only—PROBLEMS.

In order for an MC to be interesting, he or she must have some flaws. Juicy, interesting ones. That’s why I put the Intriguing MC as the first ingredient in our recipe for a spicy story. I will riff off a common enough example to demonstrate my point:

An immortal god with superpowers must understand his past in order to rescue the universe.

Even if we fixed all the other glaring problems with this log-line, can you spot IMMEDIATELY why this story is doomed?

If our MC is immortal, he isn’t ever risking his life. He can’t die. Also, he has superpowers so he’s already better than well-equipped to tackle even big problems. Can any of you intimately and personally relate to an immortal god with superpowers?

This all adds up to a steaming pile of WHO CARES?

Perfect Description

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

Since perfect characters come out of the brain bubble-wrap fully self-actualized, ideally prepared to take on any problem without breaking a sweat or a nail, this doesn’t leave much to work with. Perfect people are boring, and so is delving into their psyche.

Unlike seriously damaged characters—who have psychological warehouses crammed with skeletons and baggage—the PMC’s (Perfect MC’s) psyche is a spacious, orderly California Closet stocked solely with cruelty-free items.

FYI: This is bad news for a great story.

When we make characters fully evolved from the get-go, this defeats the entire purpose of story. Story is the crucible that will reveal the MC’s flaws, fire out his/her impurities and eventually forge the self-actualized hero.

If we’re starting our story with a California Closet, we really don’t have anywhere to go…unless….

We describe everything IN the California Closet, which obviously will be perfect *flips hair*.

It will also, by default, be extremely superficial because we don’t have anything else to work with. This is how we have so many MCs with emerald eyes (bet no one ever thought of THAT description) and flaming red hair (oh, another one I’ve never seen) or porcelain skin (*stabs self repeatedly*).

***Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I did this, too.

Give yourself permission to be NEW. This said, if we can walk into a fast food place and any random person off the street can come up with the same descriptions we did? THAT is a problem.

While descriptions of the PMC might fall flat, there’s “good” news. Since there’s no actual core story problem, we have plenty of room left over to gloriously describe…everything else.

This might be all right except description alone is not story. Many of us will sense this on some level, sense our reptile brains are nagging us that something NEEDS to happen after the MC goes shopping/has a meal/gets dressed.

I swear there is a drop-down menu somewhere in the zeitgeist.

Click to Insert: a) PMC gets party invitation, thus desperate need for new outfit and makeover b) Unexpected news that PMC is hosting a ball and requires new gown(s) c) Prophecy that war is looming and need to choose armor.

Perfect Pitfalls

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

Perfect characters lend themselves to page after page of description and a lot of nothing happening. Why? Because nothing CAN happen. Perfect has the hooks in and soon, short of alien abduction, we’re putting anything in the WIP just to say we’ve written SOMETHING.

There’s a reason this is happening…

If someone is rude, the PMC will handle with utmost diplomacy. Should a problem arise, our PMC will find the perfect spell instantly. And, since he or she is ridiculously powerful, talented, intelligent, the PMC can and will master whatever is necessary within a few pages.

But reptile brain is still there telling us we need to create PROBLEMS. Reptile brain has seen every season of Jerry Springer, worships Maury Povich, and believes that Dr. Phil is a total party pooper. Reptile brain is a huge fan of family holidays and always spoiling for drama.

Reptile brain, of course is right. Something DOES need to happen but, since we began with a perfect character, he or she can’t ever make bad decisions, which leaves generally two options.

Option One

The first option is the PMC has a lot of internal navel-gazing and angst which doesn’t make the PMC flawed, it only makes them unlikable and ungrateful. No one likes a whiner. And no one is going to feel sorry for a rich socialite who jets around the world and has looks, brains, and everyone’s unmitigated adoration waxing rhapsodic about how lonely she is.

*gagging sounds*

Our PMC often will also be more sensitive than a pre-menopausal mom caught in Christmas traffic with a mini-van full of hungry teenagers. The PMC completely overreacts to, well, pretty much everything.

And how we love THOSE people in life.

Or not.

Option Two

The second option is the PMC makes mistakes that render our PMC TDTL (Too Dumb to Live).

If I had a dollar for every perfect princess gifted with unrealized magical powers, the sole protector of her kingdom, the sole guardian of her people from certain doom…who for some seriously bizarre reason decides to go for a late night horseback ride.

Alone.

In the dark.

When she KNOWS her kingdom is on the verge of disaster, and that if anything BAD should happen to her, it’s game over for the kingdom.

Alas, despite fully understanding her hefty responsibility, she goes for a midnight ride. No guards or escort so she can do more…thinking. And, of course, she dismounts her favorite steed for a water break where she can conveniently gaze upon her spun gold/flaming red/black as night hair in her reflection.

All is magical and surreal (describe this part A LOT) until…

DUN DUN DUN!

She glances up and sees WHO?

*Refer To Dropdown Menu*

Our PMC is unarmed, unguarded and OF COURSE this would be the one time the a) evil wizard b) power-thirsty warlord c) demented rival ruler d) Other Bad Man So Long as He’s SUPER HOT would arrive.

OMG! I never saw that comi—yeah, saw that from a mile.

Why So Perfect?

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

As a reminder, I DID THIS TOO. I kid you not, in my first “novel,” I spent no less than six pages describing a flower market *face palm*. Again, give yourselves permission to be NEW. It’s wonderful to be new. It means you stepped out to do something grand. Just because we begin as amateurs, however, doesn’t mean we want to remain amateurs. Right?

Which is why I’m here to help shorten your learning curve 😉 .

Why many (newbie) stories fizzle flat has less to do with talent and more to do with insecurity and fear.

We’re prone to casting perfect characters because we’re not yet comfortable with the most valuable creative currency. CONFLICT.

When it comes to stories, handing out conflict is like tossing countless crisp hundred dollar bills into the air for everyone at the party #MakinItRain.

This is why authors who dole out the best (and the most) conflict have the largest entourage (Refer to George R.R. Martin, Tana French, Nora Roberts, etc.).

Is it okay to describe our characters and setting? Of course! That’s a ton of fun.

Is it okay to have hot MCs with superpowers? Sure it is! Ever heard of DC or Marvel? Certain genres even call for these over-the-top and larger-than-life characters.

All of this works…so long as the characters are imperfect.

Imperfect Makes Perfect (for Stories)

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

In order to be captivating, our MC needs to have baggage (more than carry-on, please). Issue them plenty of inner demons, a graveyard of skeletons in the closet, and decent-to-large helpings of weaknesses, addictions, and/or limitations.

Even the great comic book heroes are seriously messed up.

Batman is emotionally unavailable, filled with repressed anger, driven by false guilt, false shame and is prone to depression and masochism. He’s the great self-appointed martyr who believes he must sacrifice everything—love, family, Netflix—for the thankless Gotham City…even though no one ever asked him to.

***Hmmm wait a sec. HOLY CRAP! Batman is my NANA?

Feel free to give your MC some fantastical power…so long as there’s a cost (a BIG one preferably).

For example:

In the HBO series Carnivale, the Oklahoma farm boy Ben Hawkins has the ability to heal, but there’s a catch.

When Ben gives life he must also take life. The energy to heal comes from somewhere, and never from a source he can predict. Someone or something else must pay the price for Ben’s “gift.” In essence, Ben is stealing a life he has no real right to give away. Talk about some inner conflict and outer drama.

Do Some Damage!

And now that we’ve explored all this, we can return to our original “log-line” and fix at least PART of what is wrong aside from a crap-ton of redundancies:

An immortal god with superpowers must understand his past in order to rescue the known universe.

How about…?

When an egomaniacal god recklessly breaks an old and tremulous truce, thus igniting a needless war, he is stripped of his powers and banished to the mortal realm on Earth where…. (Refer to Thor).

See how it was perfectly fine to cast an immortal god with superpowers? It works, so long as we (Author God) take them away 😉 .

Weak is Strong

Kristen Lamb, perfect, writing, how to write fiction, writing tips, how to write dimensional characters, how to sell more books, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, creating dramatic tension,

In the beginning, I mentioned the allure of perfect. It’s natural to be afraid of giving characters flaws because we still need training, practice and confidence. Perfect attracts us because it’s easy to write.

It doesn’t take tremendous skill to write a 2,000 word “scene” where the MC shops for a new designer dress and giggles with her best girlfriends. Anyone semi-literate with half an imagination can write this sort of a “scene” where the only problems might be typos or grammar mistakes.

On the other hand, it takes far more skill to write a scene where the MC shops for a new dress and giggles with her best girlfriends…but it’s all a ruse. She’s living in a house of cards about to blow away.

On the surface she’s normal. Inside? She’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She doesn’t WANT to be at Neiman Marcus, but she has to keep up appearances (WHY?). The MC is terrified (WHY?) because she lost her sweet high-paying job a month ago and her severance pay has run out (WHY IS SHE KEEPING THIS A SECRET?).

She’s sweating bullets hoping her credit card isn’t declined because if it is, she will be nothing and no one. She will cease to be the only person she knows how to be—The Gal Who Has Everything.

This is a taller order. Our MC has to maintain the facade, but the “friends” will sense something is off. She’s edgy, jumpy and feels ill about lying. Why is she lying? What does this say about HER? None of her “friends” are aware of her dire situation, so what does that say about THEM?

Notice how the first “scene” is information dump. There are no QUESTIONS to keep us (readers) turning pages. The second example, however, is bursting with tension.

And we didn’t even need to travel to her childhood to find it 😉 .

In the End

Writing fabulous books readers love takes skill. This is a tough gig, albeit a fun one. Regardless of genre, messes make magic. We want characters we can relate to, and don’t know about y’all, but I am far from perfect. Questions hook readers because we don’t like loose ends. We’re a nosey species that longs to know “Why?” and “What happened?” and if whatever happened can be resolved.

Pretty prose doesn’t make us turn pages, PROBLEMS do. So go make a mess, so your MC can grow up and clean the mess up. Your readers will thank you.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you! Questions? Do you feel liberated to go mess up some lives now? It’s okay. Your MCs can fix them by the end (which is kind of the point, LOL).

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

Upcoming Classes for OCTOBER!

SPOOKTOBER!

paranormal, ghosts, writing, angels, demons

PARANORMAL: GETTING REAL WITH GHOSTS, ANGELS, AND DEMONS

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 12, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE!

 

Ever get the feeling that a paranormal romance WIP is turning out more reality ghost-hunting television than Demi Moore pottery party?

How about when a demon ends up sounding more like a goth teenager than an all-powerful agent of everlasting darkness? Or, when angels get confused as to whether they are supposed to be Nicholas Cage in ‘National Treasure’ or ‘City of Angels’?

Let’s not forget the time when asking friends and fellow writers for advice turned into a 172-comment trolltastic thread debating minutiae of scripture and ended with all our ‘Team Long Island Medium’ friends blocking our ‘Team John Edward’ friends.

All of this comes from a fundamental paradox in writing about the paranormal:

We are trying to define and describe the unexplained and unexplainable for the reader.

Well, get your EMF ghost meters and EVP recorders ready, because in this class, we’re going to turn off the lights and turn on the night vision cams…

This class will cover:

  • Ghostbusters: five questions every writer needs to answer when writing about the living-impaired;
  • Chills, chills, chills: writing the spooky stuff so readers feel like they’re really there;
  • Flirting with danger: walking the fine line between the mysterious angelic stranger and creepy stalker demon (hint – one of them stalks your Facebook);
  • The demon is in the details: from scripture to spirit boxes, how to get your ‘facts’ right, avoid trolls, and find that unique angle that will make your story stand out.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


PARANORMAL, URBAN FANTASY, GHOSTS, VAMPIRES, WRITING

URBAN FANTASY: SALT CIRCLE NOT INCLUDED

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 19, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE!

 

Be honest. How many voodoo dolls have you mutilated in your quest to become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Sherrilyn Kenyon?

  • 0-9: You’re probably too virtuous to ever get published.
  • 10-19: Equivalent of the New Year’s resolution of voodoo…fizzles in week 2.
  • 20-29: You’ve won NaNoWriMo once or twice and wear lucky writing socks.
  • 30+: Now, we’re talking.

In all seriousness, urban fantasy has emerged as one of the strongest and most competitive categories in publishing, building on the momentum of legends like Anne Rice and expanding to embrace all kinds of sub-genres such as YA, satire, and romance.

But for all its badass convention-breaking, urban fantasy also a genre boobytrapped with the worst pitfalls of all the genres it borrows from.

If we’re not overdoing the Mickey Spillane-esque hard-boiled grit, we’re confusing which supernatural creature has which power. Or, we’re creating characters that are so wrapped up in their love lives with <insert hot supernatural guys here>, they almost miss the climactic battle between good and evil happening a couple blocks over.

Fear not! Strap on your vampire-hunting gear, grab your wolfsbane gris-gris, and don’t forget to bring your sarcastic sidekick to this class where I will help you navigate the mean streets and treacherous back alleys of urban fantasy!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, PARANORMAL, GHOSTS, WRITING

BLOODY BEASTS: VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, AND OTHER BEASTIE BESTIES

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 26, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE!

 

Every few years, publishing declares, “Vampires are dead!” and technically, this is correct. They are undead. You can’t keep a good vampire down. Or a good werewolf. (Down, boy!)

Like a dog with a bone, readers keep coming back to stories about vampires, werewolves, and other creatures because there is something irresistibly compelling about the danger of the ‘other’ that makes us question what it means to be human. Plus, vampires and werewolves can be totally hot, amiright?

However, trite tropes and careless creature creation can raise a reader’s hackles faster than a bad batch of AB negative. Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the awful mixed metaphors and puns. Still, a story that doesn’t offer anything new or compelling will suck the life out of a reader’s interest faster than day-old vampire…yeah, I know…bad joke…sorrynotsorry!

This is going to be a super fun class with a lot of juicy stuff to sink your teeth into…can’t-stop-won’t-stop….

This class will cover:

  • Only human: how to walk the fine line between immortal angst and everyday relatability and create characters so cold, they burn, baby!
  • Sparkle, shmarkle: picking through the mystery, history, and science of vampirism to create your own believable and betwitching bloodsuckers;
  • That time of the month: from caricature to cryptozoology, what writers get right…and wrong…about werewolves and wolf shifters;
  • Mortal problems: Do vampires pay taxes? If a hunter shoots a werewolf, is it involuntary manslaughter? ignoring these details can deal a fatal blow to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


THE CREATURE FEATURE CLASS BUNDLE

GHOSTS, PARANORMAL, VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, WRITING

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

REGISTER HERE!

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

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.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Those who’ve followed my blog long enough know I’m no fan of the Schrodinger’s Writer Game. Is the writer real or unreal? What IS a real writer?

For ages, we quibbled that a real writer had an agent. A real writer scored a legacy publishing deal. One had to pass the NYC gatekeepers to be a real writer.

On and on and on.

Now that writers no longer regard self-pub and indie as publishing mutations that escaped an Amazon basement (mostly), the debate has lost heat.

Publishing existentialism is soooo 2013 *flips hair* .

Yet, I wonder if this new publishing paradigm is hurting more than helping. And that is a hard thing for me to say since three of the five books I’ve published never would have made it to print if legacy remained the only model.

Even though I signed with one of the most prestigious literary agencies in NYC (in 2012), the big publishers regarded a book on author branding and social media with as much enthusiasm as Ebola.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Maybe I was ahead of my time. Perhaps the stars were not in alignment. It doesn’t matter.

The only thing I know is that I would never have become a “real” writer without the other forms of publishing. Indie and self-pub are highly effective for “test marketing” new concepts, voices, and genres.

Alas, despite so many incredible benefits, I’ve been around long enough to see the long-tail. How has the digital age changed the WRITER? Some changes have been for the good. Others? Don’t bode well for our kind.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, full disclosure. I might have a finger pointed at y’all, but I also have THREE pointed back at myself.

Entropy is alive and well. We all slip if we fail to maintain vigilance. Excellence is tough, and can be easily mistaken for the shill…perfectionism.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA
Um…OUCH. *hangs head*

A REAL Writer WRITES

Seems so simple and yet, it is the hardest part of what we do. I know social media is a powerful tool. TRUST ME, it is why I wrote a book about how to do it well.

I wrote Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World to be evergreen so a writer could build a brand that actually sold books…and have time to do the most important part of our job. WRITE MORE BOOKS.

Write BETTER books.

My premise was that, if writers understood people—what makes them tick—then branding and social media is a piece of cake. Why? People don’t change.

Read Shakespeare or look up your ex if you don’t believe me.

If, however, we writers had to keep up with every time Google tooted a new algorithm, or InstaSnapFace added a gizmo? We’d burn out. Writing good books was tough enough without adding fruitless distractions.

I find it comical and depressing that in 2008 I had to BEG writers to even use email. Facebook was the devil and “nobody blogged anymore.” These days? It seems like writers contribute more word count to book spam, current events ranting, and pointless Facebook fights than to their novels.

November is the only month I can count on seeing writers actually WRITING a novel.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

It’s as if we’ve caught digital ADD and have the attention spans of a fruit bat on crystal meth. With self-publishing being an ever-present option, deadlines don’t mean what they used to. Might not mean anything at all, actually.

The modern writer must be extremely self-disciplined. I’d venture to say the modern writer has to be even MORE self-disciplined than 15 years ago, because there is no agent that will drop us or publisher who’ll hand us a pink slip if we tweet more than type.

The point I want to make here is that the self-discipline required to set aside all other fun and chores to actually finish a book or novel is ridiculous. Rank it up there with running a full marathon or competing in triathlons.

But too many “writers” are playing writer.

A REAL Writer Has High Standards

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Years ago, when I started blogging, I was unpopular (and probably still an acquired taste). In the early years, I was hard—really hard—on writers, especially anyone who wanted to take a nontraditional path. Our work had to be as good if not BETTER than anything coming out of NYC.

Indie and self-publishing could offer us a lot of benefits, but we needed to take the new powers we’d been granted seriously. Many writers did, and that is exactly WHY these routes have thrived.

Thing is, I’ve been editing since before the Kindle was invented, and have witnessed a steady decline in the overall quality of writing. What writers deem acceptable to turn in as their best.

Case in Point

I regularly run editing specials so writers can get professional feedback on their stories. This saves time and aggravation for a number of reasons.

For instance, a writer might be fixing something that isn’t even broken (description) while ignoring serious problem areas (no plot). Or, a writer may possess talent, but be WAY too green to even consider querying let alone publishing.

The story might be nebulous when it comes to genre, or breaking genre rules in unforgivable ways.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

YES, unforgivable ways (like making the love interest the main villain in a category romance). I get many folks don’t care for words like “rules” but rules exist for a reason.

RULES help us sell more books.

If we have no idea what genre our book even is, how do we sell it? How can we connect it to readers? FYI, rules also keep readers from hurling our books across the room.

Yet, the same people who grouse about rules and constraints are often the same ones complaining to me about lackluster book sales.

I’ve been running my pages contest (for comments) for ten years now. I’ve discovered no less than six writers with talent who I then connected to agents I knew (who then scored these writers contracts). I do the same sort of scouting with my editing specials.

If I see REAL talent and promise? I pass it to an agent (*makes note to ask for commission*). The problem? These days I am lucky if a writer takes time to properly punctuate. I can’t even make it to the STORY because the grammar issues alone are giving me seizures.

This is a craft.

It’s a profession, not a playpen.

A REAL Writer is ALWAYS Learning

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Come on….LAUGH! Lighten up 😛 .

Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi over at Writers Helping Writers , Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn, Icy Sedgwick’s Blog, Anne R. Allen’s blog, and Elizabeth Craig’s blog are GOLDMINES of information and professional help.

I can never thank all of these people enough for how much they helped ME in my developmental years. How they CONTINUE to inspire me and help me grow as a professional.

When I decided to become a “real” writer myself back in the dark ages, publishing hadn’t changed since radio shows were the hottest form of entertainment. Seriously, publishing had NOT changed in almost a century. The formula was exactly the same.

Write, query, get rejected, drink heavily, question one’s existence, and try harder. Repeat this process enough and eventually the “publishing gods” might grant favor.

Might.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

I remember breathlessly waiting for the new Writers’ Digest Magazine to hit shelves and hope the magazine was covering something salient to what I wanted to learn or write. I collected dogeared magazines in binders. Gathered photocopied articles, punched holes in them and added them to my resource list.

A REAL Writer Studies

I bought and read every craft book I could find. My personal favorites include (but are not limited to) Les Edgerton’s Hooked, James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Aristotle’s Poetics, David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama , Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art,  and Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Before Web 2.0, the only way an unpublished “aspiring writer” had a hope of connecting with the pros was to sacrifice and save money to attend a conference. The Internet wasn’t bursting with quality blogs, affordable classes, and on-line conferences or Gabriela Pereira’s amazing DIY MFA.

If we wanted to learn from professionals, the price of entry started at around $500. Unless one went for the Old School M.F.A. and that cost the same as a CAR. Yet now that it’s finally affordable and the quality is INCREDIBLE, how much do we take this treasure for granted?

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Now that becoming a “published author” is so easy anyone can do it, how hungry are we to learn more about the craft? How much time and money are we investing in being better…or even the BEST writers?

Not investing in being the best at marketing or promotion, or in learning how to sell books using InstaSnapFace, but the best at telling an amazing story.

How much has Web 2.0 made us comfortable, complacent, or dare I say…lazy?

A Real Writer is ALWAYS Reading

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

So many of the samples I’ve received over the past two years have left me shaking my head wondering if the contributor has ever even read a book. Not only craft books but novels IN the genre they’re writing and—God help us all—the genre where they are publishing.

I get it. I’m mean and cruel.

I can live with that.

Yet, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone could be an avid reader and yet have NO idea how to use the most basic punctuation.

And bear with me.

I understand there are writers with learning disabilities, dyslexia, etc. and we all rely on editors for where we’re weak (and even where we’re strong). We become so immersed in a work we cannot see the forest for the trees and need fresh eyes (skilled fresh eyes).

This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to a blatant disregard for the craft.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA
Yep. This has been me.

Because in samples with poor grammar or spotty punctuation, I should at least detect a STORY if this is ONLY a result of being new. In fact I’ve run across samples where authors were weak in technical areas, but showed real promise with a strong storytelling voice.

I was willing to invest in developing these writers (and still do) because a) voice usually is a sign the person has at least inherent talent and b) and voice demonstrates a person who might be new, but who READS.

They’re willing to honor the profession.

Though loathe to mention this, it is not uncommon for me to encounter writers who want to be mega-authors yet will loudly boast they never read books (and don’t even like reading). Brag about never reading craft books.

***So who wants to hire an attorney who brags he’s never read a law book? Just uses Google, trial and error, and is really great at advertising. No takers?

This is, in large part, why traditionally published authors suffered such horrific apoplexy in the emerging years of self-publishing. One can only take the likes of John Locke comparing books to cheap cheeseburger so many times before we SNAP.

(Granted, Locke made a sound business point—and a small fortune—and good for him and his success.)

Yet, how much has this mega-capitalization diminished novels as art? We’ve lowered the bar so low most of us no longer can see if one exists. A bar (standard) that once required heroic efforts to hurdle, now? Doesn’t even register as a speed bump.

A REAL Writer Owns It

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA
Aaand…this had been me, too.

Excuses are for hacks, poseurs and amateurs. Just so y’all know, this is what I say to myself when I hear excuses tumbling from MY lips. So I am no harder on you guys than I am on myself. I don’t serve anything I won’t eat.

Yes, life is hard and things happen. Trust me, I get it. For those who don’t know, I’ll be brief. In 2012 I had a very large (but aging) family. We had to RENT space large enough to fit us all. It’s now 2018 and I can count on one hand who’s left.

And you should have seen some of the pity parties I’ve thrown.

To be clear, I’m not minimizing. Being a caregiver for terminal loved ones is brutal. Death is painful. Losing a job can crack your world in two. Grief and loss should be acknowledged and tended with the greatest care.

But I’m all about transparency and so I’ll be honest.

I’ve often used my losses as an excuse to hide, my pain as permission to be a pessimist. I spent a long time being—feeling—completely discouraged and STUCK with no clue how to get UNSTUCK.

But I’ve learned two crucial lessons in my journey from wanna-be-amateur-know-it-all-hack to being a professional. The lessons?

1) Never underestimate the power of showing up.

2) You can’t DO THIS alone.

No, I didn’t have the answers and was hurting but I kept showing up on-line (W.A.N.A.Tribe sprints mostly). There, I had accountability. There were other writers I could encourage or who could even encourage me. I wouldn’t have made it without this strong support system.

In the meantime—in the middle of the pain—I kept reading craft books, kept reading authors in all genres, writers far more skilled than I was. Even when it felt like pulling frog’s teeth, I kept blogging, studying, kept doing SOMETHING trusting one day…I’d wriggle free.

Pain isn’t permanent and I knew one day I’d heal enough to use it. But I HAD to stay in the game, even if it meant being stationed at the @$$ end of literary left field.

Real writers make mistakes. We fail. A lot.

If you aren’t failing, it means you’re not doing anything interesting. You’re taking up space.

But, while we screw up…we OWN that we screwed up. We admit when we could have done better, then we do.

Part of being a REAL writer goes beyond never giving up. We must evolve and grow and learn and improve and that only comes with humility, hard work, and (if we have any sense) professional training. Oh, and a TON of practice. Writing stories. Finishing them.

What This ALL Means

There is nothing wrong with writing for fun, for a hobby. That’s what I do with drawing, painting, knitting and crochet.

Dr. Who’s “Empty Child” via K. Lamb.

It’s play, a release. But I’m not expecting people to buy my art or my scarves. We need to make a choice. Are we in or out? Stop griping about Amazon and algorithms and how it was so much more awesome before Amazon. Value those who are taking time and investing resources to make us better.

Roll up our sleeves and the DO THE WORK.

I believe in you guys and I know this transition in publishing has been NO cake walk. There have been times even I wanted to throw in the towel. But most of being successful in anything takes place in the mind because the mind forges the will and will is what yields results. Keep your eyes on the art and remember who you are.

You are a REAL WRITER. It’s a CHOICE.

Now go check out some of those incredible blogs I linked you to and treat yourself to some books or classes. Sure, I’d love you to take our classes (listed below and on classes page). But, if I’m not offering what fits your needs, go check out the other people I linked to. They’re the best of the best. Invest in yourself for a change.

The kids can wait 😛 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you grown jaded over the past several years with the changes in publishing? Feel like it doesn’t mean much of anything to be “published writer”? Have you found yourself steadily lowering your own bar without even realizing it? All because it seems TOO MUCH? Hey, I have. No shame here.

Are you excited to get back to writing as a craft and an ART?

I love hearing from you!

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

UPCOMING CLASSES! Scroll down or click over to the Classes tab.

NEW CLASS! Beta readers are crucial, but how do we find good ones…when they are pretty much as rare as unicorns? Cait is teaching a class on that TOMORROW NIGHT.

***Remember all W.A.N.A. classes come with a FREE recording included in purchase price.

Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers

beta readerInstructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.

REGISTER HERE

Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.

It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?

What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly?

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.

Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.

This class will cover:

  • Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
  • Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
  • Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
  • I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
  • Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


MORE CLASSES!

(Check out our page of current classes!)

Also, a small house-keeping note: if you’d like to see more of our shenanigans, check out our video page


When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, SEPTEMBER 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

LEARN TO BE A BRAND BOSS!

All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!

How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.

You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.

Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.

Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.

Can you say “James Patterson”?

The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.

This class will address:

  • What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
  • How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
  • Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
  • How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
  • Myths about exposure.
  • Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
  • Why most promotion is a waste of money.
  • A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
  • Knowing when and HOW to promote.

Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?

GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.

****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.


More Than Gore: How to Write Horror

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $40.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.

Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.

Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.

Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).

Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker being two examples).

Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.

In this class we will cover:

  • The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
  • Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
  • Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
  • The different types of horror fiction.
  • The importance of character in horror.
  • How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
  • How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when…

Our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

 

 

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

About the Instructors:

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 debut 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.

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.

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