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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to write a novel

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

If you’ve been writing any amount of time you’ve been there—STUCK. Stuck is the place we never want to be, but goes with the job.

Every writer at one time or another has experienced the literary doldrums. We hit a spot that, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to move our story forward. Every word we write feels like pulling frogs’ teeth and we wonder why we ever thought writing a novel was a good idea.

Some call this ‘writer’s block’ while others claim ‘they’re only in a dry season’ or ‘going through a rough patch.’ Regardless what name we give this feeling, it all feels a heck of a lot like being STUCK.

Many writers, particularly new writers, see being stuck as a sign that they may be writing in the wrong genre. When they get stuck, this is a perfect opportunity to start working on something NEW. Story gets stuck, and this is SURELY divine evidence that the book really should have been a SERIES, not a standalone or a standalone and not a series.

Whatever.

From personal experience combined with my experience with thousands of writers the process from Start to Stuck can look like this.

Zoom to DOOM

Shiny Idea Time—You get the coolest idea ever conceived of and cannot believe such genius has never before been put to the page. It’s as if angels have come down and handed you a golden feather that will whisk you to the realms of literary nirvana.

First 20K Words—You’re flying high. You wonder why you ever had such difficulty with word count before. You cannot stop the flow. Perhaps you forget to eat, don’t want to sleep and you even dream of the world you’re creating.

20K-30K—This is when the pace begins to slow. It’s okay though. Perhaps you’re simply tired. It’s okay. This…THIS is the story idea you’ve been waiting for.

31K—Your pace slows dramatically. If you’ve ever been driving and suddenly had a flat tire? You know the feeling only this is in the brain-fingetips connection. There is a THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP…and your mental steering wheel jerks wildly. You might try to ignore, but eventually? You pull over to see what’s wrong.

But then? Nothing seems wrong. That’s weird. Mental tires all look properly aired. Maybe more caffeine is in order.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

Perhaps you make it to 40K but by then? All the glitter is gone and you wonder what the hell happened. At this point, you likely will be visited by other story ideas. They see you on the side of the creative highway bewildered and seeming to need a ride. Though you don’t yet have your thumb out, these other newer and shinier ideas are quick to pull over and chirp, ‘Hop in!’

Just abandon that old clunker and GO!

It’s all so tempting. Especially since the longer you stay trying to fix your broken down WIP, the more shiny ideas come passing by.

When you started your journey, the road was free and clear for you to floor your brain and write like the wind! Now? You can barely concentrate on where you placed your mental jack because temptation whizzes by every other minute.

I think this is a fairly accurate prediction regarding word count. If it weren’t accurate, then NaNoWriMo would be easy peasy. But, alas, there is something about making it to 50K. It’s a number that leaves most who attempt such a feat broken down wondering what went wrong.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Before you call a tow truck for the WIP and sell it for parts, I’d like to offer you some insight and maybe even some solutions to get you speeding down the Imagination Express once more.

Problem #1—Stuck Because the Antagonist is Weak or Nonexistent

After years of working with writers, it became clear to me that many didn’t understand—truly understand—the antagonist. It doesn’t help that a lot of existent teaching on the subject can be terribly confusing.

I’ve sat through craft classes where instructors used the term ‘antagonist’ and ‘villain’ interchangeably as if the terms were synonymous, but that is grossly inaccurate.

A villain is only ONE TYPE of antagonist.

All stories must have a strong core antagonist, because the antagonist (BBT) is responsible for the story problem.

No antagonist, no story problem in need of solving. Too often, new writers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the hero and don’t give near enough thought to the opposition.

To be fair though, the whole ‘antagonist’ concept was slippery even to me. I had to INVENT my own term—Big Boss Troublemaker—to make the amorphous concept of the story’s central antagonistic force more concrete.

Yes, there should be an antagonist on every page, but the ‘antagonist’ is, simply, any character standing in the way of the MC’s goal. Pushback.

While allies and love interests and even unnamed characters might wear the ‘antagonist’ hat for a spell, they’re not responsible for the core problem in need of resolution. The BBT supplies this.

Problem #2—Stuck Because the Plot Weak or Nonexistent

If a writer has failed to understand the antagonist (opposition) and truly know what this opposing force wants then the plot will simply disintegrate. When we’re crafting any work, we have to create a problem that is strong enough to bear the weight of the word count.

For instance, I’ve consulted many writers who had an excellent idea…for a short story. The problem was inherently too weak to sustain the bulk of a full-length novel.

Instead of plowing forward, often we can make some really simple adjustments to buttress that core idea. But if we don’t? It’s like trying to drive 90 mph pulling a crappy trailer. The wheels eventually WILL go flying off.

Often when we’re stuck, it’s the subconscious mind hitting the breaks. It’s trying to tell us our plot needs to be more robust or even clarified, which dovetails into my next point…

Problem #3—Stuck Because Too Many Ideas are Crammed into One Book

Some writers might not have enough heft to the plot and others? Perhaps you’re loading on far too much. It’s not uncommon for me to talk to writers who are jammed up in a bad way only to find out they are trying to develop five ideas in one book.

Since the author failed to articulate what the book was about in ONE sentence (truly understand the BBT’s agenda), then the author was at liberty to explore whatever cool rabbit trail presented itself.

This isn’t particularly bad, but it does require we STOP, get focused and maybe tease out those other ideas for subsequent books. You might think you only have one book, when you have two others freeloading and bogging down your momentum.

Problem #4—Stuck Because We’ve Chosen the Wrong Protagonist

Casting the wrong protagonist is really easy to do, especially if we failed to properly develop the antagonist. Remember at the core of most great stories is an antagonist who’s essentially the shadow self of the protagonist.

For instance, in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney. He represents drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and gang members. He has grown jaded with the justice system and prides himself on his ability to manipulate.

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

His greatest fear is representing a truly innocent man. What is the perfect story problem for such a character? Present him with an irresistible case that tosses him into what he fears the most.

Representing a truly innocent man.

This means that Connelly had to create a crime (case) where the client would undoubtedly look guilty and who would have enough cash to make Haller question any misgivings about taking on the case. Without a case where an innocent man is involved? The Lincoln Lawyer falls apart at the seams.

If Connelly had cast a lawyer who was all about truth, justice and the American Way? The plot would have been meh.

An attorney who works pro bono searching for truth is expected to risk everything to save the life of an innocent man. This would have been the wrong protagonist to cast for such a plot.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance and Connelly, being a master, cast the one guy who probably would have run screaming from this case had he know was he was in for.

If your story seems to be sagging, check and make sure you’ve slated the right person for the job. Sometimes some quick fixes to who this character is or even giving that character some additional baggage might be enough to get you unstuck.

Problem #5—Stuck Because We Are Just Over Thinking

stuck, writer's block, what to do when your story is stuck, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, how to write a novel, getting over writer's block, what is writer's block

STOP IT! This is the one I am most guilty of. It’s why I am a HUGE fan of fast-drafting because then we simply don’t have time to over think every step we’ve made.

All writers have two different phases:

Oh! Wow! I wrote that!

Oh, wow…I wrote that.

We all think we’re geniuses…only to later read the exact same section and become convinced we are little more than brain-damaged spider monkeys banging away on a keyboard.

It happens, especially when we are in the thick of the story. It is tempting to go back and perfect, but resist the urge to go BACK. Feel free to correct typos or make notes (in a different color) but do not change your writing.

Your subconscious could be planting seeds and what looks like a weed might just be the greatest plot-twist EVER germinating. Just leave it alone and stop being so hard on yourself.

Remember, no unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have 😉 .

Truthfully, if you finish and just cut yourself a break you will likely go back to those parts you were going to chop and see they aren’t nearly as bad as you’d imagined. Remember that while your subconscious is there to help you? Your ego is a selfish passive-aggressive diva who can’t stand that something might be prettier than she is.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.11.38 AM

You really want to be hard on yourself? Fine, just do it in the correct places. Instead of nitpicking the life out of your prose? Get your @$$ in the seat and keep pressing.

Tips to Push Through

Right now, I hear the gnashing of teeth. Great, Kristen, we now know WHY we are stuck. A little help to get un-stuck? Sure. I can give y’all a couple tips.

1) Resist the urge to edit.

New writers are especially bad at looking back and perfecting the beginning. This is a BAD habit. For the sake of brevity, I recommend reading my post The Dangers of Premature Editing: Pruning Our Stories vs. Pillaging Them.

2) Learn to fast draft.

Fast drafting might not be for everyone, BUT I will say that if you’ve never tried it and you have a stack of unfinished ‘novels,’ what can it hurt to give it a try? What’s the worst thing that will happen? You’ll add one more unfinished novel to the pile?

I’m a huge fan of fast draft.

Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.

I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.

To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month after a fellow writer mocked him that writing so quickly created only junk. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. King has written fifty-nine novels and over two hundred short stories.

Speaking of Stephen King, this brings me to my third tip for getting unstuck…

3) Kill someone.

IN YOUR WIP! Jeez, do I need a legal disclaimer here?

Yes, when our WIP stalls, a great way to slip free is by liberally applying imaginary blood and the tears of those who mourn.

Granted, this might be weird if you write kid books. But, give it a try anyway 😛 .

One MAJOR reason so many stories stall is because new writers have yet to hone the art of being a total sociopath. They’re afraid of grit and mess, so their ‘novel’ is far too sanitized (code for BORING).

Have a favorite supporting character you love, your mom loves, and your writing group adores? FANTASTIC!

Now go kill that character.

#YouWillThankMeLater

*smooch*

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does the pattern I spelled out in the beginning feel far too familiar? You are off like you’re mainlining jet fuel only to sputter out and DIE? Are you being too nice to your characters? I love hearing your thoughts, tips, struggles (and I reward those who comment).

There are a lot of ways to break out of this pattern. Sometimes though, you may need a tow (pro).

Generally, a pro can spot all your weaknesses (and strengths) in twenty pages, but what do we see?  Why is the story starting out strong only to fizzle and fall apart?

Currently, I’m running my ‘Write Stuff Special’ and there are a few slots left, but they go quickly so get your spot HERE. 

Other than that…

I love hearing from you!

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

***I will announce August’s winner next time I post.

Upcoming Classes for August & September


Brand Boss: 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, Thursday September 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 

 


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 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


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 8th, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

 


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

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

REGISTER HERE

 

 


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 8th, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Purchase includes FREE recording of all three classes.

 

 


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

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

Research can be a double-edged sword. It can elevate writing to an entirely new level, but can also be a place we hide, procrastination masked as ‘work.’ Recently, I posted on the dangers of premature editing and gave tips to help keep us moving forward on that first draft until it is FINISHED.

A common place we might stall is when we reach a point we need to fact-check or research. To maintain momentum, my suggestion is to write a note and keep writing. For instance, I might be writing a story set in the jungle. It is tempting to halt, open a browser tab then spend the next three weeks researching jungles.

Problem is, the goal is to finish a novel, not to become an expert in rain forests.

Thus, what I recommend is to write the scene anyway, and, in another color or bold or all caps, type something like ADD IN COOL STUFF ABOUT JUNGLE HERE. Then? Sally forth.

Research is vital for great stories (so long as we contain it).

Research Genre Expectations

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

Choosing a genre is critical for success. Many emerging writers believe genre is too constricting, that it will make a work ‘formulaic,’ but nothing could be further from the truth. First, genres often have a lot of crossover.

As an example, my new novel The Devil’s Dance has ranked very well in mystery, mystery-thriller, thriller, suspense, mystery-suspense, women sleuth, pulp and even…financial.

Why ‘financial?’ My best guess is it is because a massive financial crime of Enron proportions kicks off my story. The murders that later ensue serve the BIG goal, which is motivated by money.

Genre is critical in that it helps fans find and discover our work. Readers can’t fall in love with a novel they can’t locate. Also, readers pick a certain genre for reasons. When we know these reasons, our stories can serve the consumer what she craves.

Mystery readers want a puzzle. The puzzle needs to find the sweet spot between ‘So Easy a Six-Year-Old Could Solve This’ and ‘There’s No Way Anyone Could Solve This.’ They want twists, turns, and to be surprised and even fooled.

With romance, readers want a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily For Now). If the couple doesn’t come together at the end, this is not a romance. It’s a different genre, likely a women’s fiction.

Every genre has boundaries (here is a post to help). Knowing our boundaries helps us push them in new ways, but we can’t break rules until we know them first.

The best way to research the genre we want to write is to READ that genre. As many books as possible.

Research Audience

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

This dovetails into my last point about genre. When writing any story, it is essential to always keep the audience in mind. If we want to sell books and write for a living, then stories are for the readers, not for us. We can feel free to write for ourselves, but that is writing as a hobby.

Sort of like my crochet.

I love crocheting, but don’t expect any of my blankets or scarves to be for sale on Etsy. My crafting is for relaxation, not for making my living (…thank God).

When I do edits, one of the most common problems is the writer who fails to consider his/her audience. This oversight plagues virtually every genre.

If you desire to write a Regency romance, it is imperative to read A LOT of Regency and to know that time period inside and out. Social conventions, their world, how they spoke, what they valued, etc.

This holds for any form of historical fiction. These audiences are passionate about history, and very knowledgable, too. If we do our research and make sure the details are correct, fans will love us. If we don’t?

Readers will burn our novel at the…steak.

😀  *evil laugh* *all the writers scream in pain*

With mystery, thriller, crime, etc. we must appreciate that readers who buy those books watch a lot of crime shows. This audience likely has an addiction to Discovery ID, Dateline, and documentaries about forensics and all things criminal justice.

Thus, we need to understand jurisdiction, procedure, and have characters using the proper nomenclature. Know who handles what and how they talk as they work the scene.

In the U.S. at least, if dispatch notifies a beat cop about a possible DB (dead body), there is a process. Once that officer confirms there IS a body, this officer then has a limited role in what happens next (call in homicide, notify the Crime Scene Unit, cordon off area to preserve the scene and make sure evidence isn’t trampled through).

The officer will NOT do the footwork a detective does, like interviewing POIs (Persons of Interest).

We need to know this, or readers will holler FOUL.

Research Readers

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

This is similar to researching the audience, but with a very slight difference. For instance, if we write Middle Grade, we are selling to parents, teachers, librarians, etc. Here’s where it gets dicey. When writing for young people, we need to THINK like young people of TODAY.

I’ve edited many MG pieces and it’s from the vantage point of a middle-aged (or older) writer. Middle Grade stories are to entertain 8-12 year-olds, not relive our youth. We must appreciate children of the 21st century are tech-savvy and most don’t possess the same freedoms we did as kids.

Thus, the notion of a ten-year-old having a paper route, where she/he wakes at dawn to throw papers unsupervised is anachronistic. First, the parents would likely get a visit from Child Protective Services and secondly, newspapers are pretty much a relic.

An Example

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

Last Halloween, a store had all these spooky telephones on display with the laughing skulls and dancing bats. Spawn (my then seven-year-old son) had NO IDEA what these ‘telephones’ were.

At first, I was floored, then realized something crucial. My son has grown up in a world of cell phones and has never used a land line.

If we want to write Middle Grade, then we need to take into account the world of our young readers.

This is not to say our child protagonist won’t come into contact with a pay phone, a land-line, a camera with film, a typewriter, or a newspaper. They can encounter these items, but their attitude toward commonplace fixtures of our youth, would be a source of mystery and confusion for the modern child. They’d have little or even no concept that phones were not ALWAYS the go-to way to take pictures.

It would be akin to me, a child of the 80s, encountering a telegraph machine.

It is OKAY to ASK

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

These days we have unprecedented access to information. As mentioned earlier, one excellent way to research is to read A LOT of works in our genre. Tess Gerritsen was once a physician. Michael Connelly was an L.A. crime reporter. John Grisham was a lawyer. Their novels are excellent resources for learning.

Additionally, there are many professionals out there who are ready and willing to help writers with the details. If you’re writing a thriller and the character uses a gun, learn about guns. Ask someone in the know.

I once threw a book across the room because the writer’s protagonist ‘put the safety’ on her revolver. I’m from a military family, and married to a man who was a competitive shooter for the Air Force. I’m that annoying person who counts shots fired in movies (which is why I detest most action movies).

Wow, I want a magic magazine that never runs out of ammo.

I’ve also studied martial arts since I was a kid. I was testing for a brown belt in traditional Jiu Jitsu when life got in the way and I stopped. Later, I changed to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (ground-fighting) and am an upper belt with over two years training.

Why does this matter?

First, I know what women can and cannot do in a fight. Secondly, I also know that being in a fight SUCKS (which is why I avoid them). Punching someone HURTS. Being punched hurts, too. This makes me REALLY picky about fight scenes.

I grow weary of delicate females throwing punches like Mike Tyson and never having to ice down a hand that would swell the size of a small melon (likely due to broken bones). Badass heroines who kick and punch and take down men twice their size…and never break a nail?

Uh huh. Sure.

Just to train I had to tape finger joints to prevent dislocations.

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers
Nice swollen hands after a night at Jiu Jitsu.

Again, if we are unsure about something? ASK. Social media is wonderful for locating an expert. Ages ago, I was editing a military thriller. The author had her hero pulling another soldier out of a Humvee that was ablaze.

Problem was, there was no way this would’ve been possible.

At the time her story was set, the uniforms had WAY too much synthetic fiber, and her hero would have lit up like a human torch. In fact, the uniforms were so flammable, the U.S. military finally had to reissue all new uniforms because the old ones were a hazard.

How did I know this? I vaguely recalled this uniform change with Hubby (since I had to wash them). To be certain, I went to military friends on Facebook then Hubby to confirm this detail.

I stopped and ASKED. There is no shame in not knowing something. Seriously.

Military people read military books and maybe this detail was silly, but it very well could have been a deal-breaker.

Why risk it if a question can save the grief?

Research Adds Depth and Dimension

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers

On one hand, the devil is in the details. Readers will judge us on accuracy. On the other hand, when we do our research and get the details right, readers will LOVE us for it. We shouldn’t feel pressure to hose readers with factoids. Remember, readers want to enjoy a story, not something that reads like an encyclopedia.

Yet, if we immerse ourselves in the facts, we’ll have a treasure trove of details to select from. The right detail in the right place can transform the mediocre to the magnificent.

Additionally, research helps our characters come to life. Who we are (profession) colors our world, what we notice or don’t.

Put a CIA operative in a restaurant, and the agent would notice points of ingress and egress. A chef would notice the wilted watercress, the shoddy plating, and the tiny chip in the water glass. An architect might note the design of the room, structural flaws, or possibly admire the wainscoting and use of natural light.

Profession, age, socioeconomic status, education level, gender, etc. all factor into character and what that character would notice or pass over completely. What would they prioritize? A teenager would prioritize wifi access over the cost of the hotel room (parents).

Y’all get the gist.

Research Setting

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, research and writing, details and writing, adding depth to stories, research and character, how to research, why research is important for novels, how to write a novel, research readers, how to find more readers
Rotorua New Zealand, and YES it smells of sulfur. I KNOW this NOW.

A major way we can hook readers into our story is with the worlds we create. Part of showing, not telling involves using setting as more than a backdrop. If our character is in prison, then what kind of prison is it?

What kind of farm? Which city? What part of the country?

What are smells, sounds, routines, textures? A supermax prison will be vastly different from a county lockup, just as a family-owned bed and breakfast won’t share much in common with a major hotel chain. The five senses of a character are woven into setting (or at least should be).

In the end, details add layers and dimension to characters, and help bring them to life. The better our research, the more nuance we have on hand to add depth to our stories.

If you need outside eyes to see if you’re using your detail for max effect, I have a couple slots left in my Write Stuff Special (detailed content edit 20 pages for $55).

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does this help you see research in a new way? Do you go nuts when a writer or Hollywood botches a detail that should be something simple? Do you fall in love with writers who’ve taken time to do the hard homework? I know I do.

What detail bumbles make you cray-cray? My mom is a nurse so we have to hide any medical shows. Hubby? No military movies. Me? Action movies give me hives.

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming! THIS WEEK!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas are everywhere.

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

Building Ideas into Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structure Matters: Building Stories to Endure the Ages

Story: Addictive by Design

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

The Brain Behind the Story: The Big Boss Troublemaker

Problems: Great Dramatic Writing Draws Blood & Opens Psychic Wounds

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

Ideas as Character Catalyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villains as BBT

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

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

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

That seriously messes with our heads.

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

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

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

Anyway….

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

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

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

Core Antagonist as BBT

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

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

Plot is what will drive the character change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close, but No Cigar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

Wrong

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

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

This crushes Rose.

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

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

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

Maybe.

Showdown Between the Ideas

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

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

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

Gregory is dumped…again.

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

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

Ideas as Weather Fronts

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

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

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

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

Also ask (for both sides):

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

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

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

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

À la fin…

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

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

But mostly you.

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Your Thoughts?

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

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

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

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

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

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

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

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

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

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

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

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

*hands paper bag*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprising, Yet Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reader is stunned, breathless, and maybe indignant.

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

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

Case in Point

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

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

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

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

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

Problems Reveal Endings

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

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

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

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

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

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

And y’all thought your family was jacked up…

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

Ending with Intention vs. Formulaic Writing

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

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

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

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

Note: Still unsure if Stefano actually dead.

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

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

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

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

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

The Cage that Frees the Muse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use the Ending to Torture Readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also CHOICES to be made.

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

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

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

À la fin…

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

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

Mostly you.

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

Some added bonuses?

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

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

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

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

What Are Your Thoughts?

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

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

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

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

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

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

NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

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

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

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

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

Topics include:

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

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

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

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

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Humans are hard-wired for story. For thousands of years, every culture on every continent has used stories to pass on information of every kind. Why? Because humans are wired for story.

We might not recall facts, but story has a way of embedding into our minds and remaining with a tenacity only rivaled by music.

There’s a reason the two (story and music), when paired together, have double the power. Just as a song can get stuck in our head, stories can, too. A song or story can become addictive by accident, but true artists create addicts (fans) with intention and design.

Story as Music

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

It’s interesting that patients with advanced Alzheimer’s often lose the capability to remember family, friends, names, dates, but can sing a song from their youth and recall every lyric. I never cease to be amazed how I might forget where my keys are, yet I can hear a song from thirty years ago and know every line.

One reason is great songs also tell riveting stories. The second is great music is delivered in a structural way that hooks, then binds into our gray matter.

Great stories are exactly the same. It isn’t enough to have an incredible story idea.

The goal is to deliver that story idea first with a HOOK, then with a structure, pacing, tempo, timing, and climax that will remain with the reader longer than purple rain 😉 .

Just as music must possess a certain kind of intrinsic structure in order to optimally resonate (I.e. a hook in the lyrics/chorus), superlative stories must do this as well.

We Got the Beat

We got the beat, we got the beat…YEAH! We got the beat!

Narrative structure is a critical skill. The single biggest reason most novels flop? Structure. Pretty prose does not a novel make.

Each of these blogs will build upon the previous lesson so feel free to go back to last post to catch up. Yes, I’ll be mixing metaphors more than a 90s DJ but y’all are sharp.

By the end of this series, my goal is to equip you with the fundamental skills essential to honor our craft, regardless if we are plotters, pantsers, or plotsers.

In fact, let’s take a moment here. I don’t even care to discuss plotting, outlining, pantsing, notecards, spreadsheets, etc. Why? Because those topics are not salient to what we’re discussing here.

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

HOW any writer utilizes structure is ‘process,’ thus completely up to the writer and none of my business.

I don’t care if your process involves a salt circle and channeling a spirit guide for nifty ideas so long as, at the end, there’s a finished novel that respects and values the reader’s TIME.

If your process involves body glitter, while reading tea leaves and wearing a tutu…I DON’T CARE. Unless you’re turning out mind-blowing, amazing novels readers inhale…then PLEASE share precisely which body glitter, tea and tutu is helping you do that… because I have Prime, free shipping, and no pride.

What I do care about is that you, me, all of us respect what we do enough to learn how to do it with excellence. Anything less is intellectual laziness and disrespectful to ourselves, our art, and our readers. 

*tucks away soap box*

Don’t Want No Scrubs

No, I don’t want your free book. No, not gonna pay a dime. And no, I don’t wanna read it nowhere. No, wastin’ none of my time.

No, I don’t want no scrub. A scrub is a book that can’t get no love from me. Tweeting out the messenger side of a free web site…tryin’ to holler at me.

Get THAT out of your head, LOL.

Anyway, structure is one of those topics that I feel gets overlooked far too much, which is why Amazon is bulging with ‘scrub books’ that talk a good game, but in truth, have nothing to offer readers (unless one counts buyer’s remorse).

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

There are a lot of workshops designed to teach new writers how to finish a ‘novel’ in four weeks or three or two or whatever. And that is great…if a writer possesses a solid understanding of structure.

If not? At the end of 4 weeks, you could very likely have a 60K word mess that no editor can fix (but that may require a salt circle to protect the unsuspecting world from it escaping).

Some of you might be in the midst of having to face some hard truths about your book. If you’ve been shopping that same book for months or years, and an agent has yet to be interested, likely structure is the problem.

If you went ahead and self-published, but sales are lackluster? Likely ‘promotion’ not the problem, product is. Many of you might have a computer full of unfinished novels. Yes, again, structure is the most likely culprit.

Oops! I Did It Again

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Been there *fist bump*. Plenty of my own bright ideas languishing in literary limbo, which was why I made it my mission to understand everything possible regarding narrative structure.

Good news is that most novels can be fixed, although many times that requires leveling everything to the foundation and using the raw materials (original idea) to begin anew…the correct way and killing a lot of little darlings along the way.

Last post, I broke the bad news. Novels have rules. Sorry. They do. I didn’t make this stuff up. When we don’t follow the rules, bad things happen. Just ask Dr. Frankenstein.

Authors who break the rules do so with a fundamental understanding of rules and reader expectations. Remember the pizza analogy? We can get creative with pizza so long as we do so with an appreciation for consumer expectations.

A panko crusted trout served on mango-infused naan bread might be super clever…but is not recognizable as a pizza. We can call it pizza until we’re blue and a consumer will just think we’re a nut.

Same with any story, regardless of length. Readers have expectations. Deviate too far and we will have produced a commodity so far off the standard expectations that readers won’t touch it, which is why agents won’t rep it. They are in the business of creating best-selling authors, not most-clever authors.

One pays way better.

This said, I can tell if a writer understands structure in ten three pages. So can an agent.

Doctor, Doctor!

Can’t you see I’m burning, burning…?

Yep.

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Agents, editors, proofreaders, craft experts. We can see your WIP is burning and why, because we’re trained diagnosticians who spot symptoms of fatal story ‘diseases’ at a glance. No, we don’t need to read the whole book. Really.

***Much like a neurologist doesn’t need to saw open a patient’s head to know that person’s suffered stroke.

Last time, we zoomed in and explored the most fundamental building blocks of a story. Today, we’re going to get an aerial shot—the Three Act Structure.

Aristotelian structure has worked for a couple thousand years for very good reasons. There are variations of this design, sure. But there’s something fundamentally resonant about three acts. Beginning, middle, end.

Cut off a song halfway through a chorus, and a three-year-old will call foul. Stop a bedtime story in the middle. A four-year-old won’t fall for that trick. How does it END?

We can get creative, but get crazy at our own risk.

We’ll Be Counting Stars

Let’s stop counting dollars, let’s start counting stars….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

I understand that this is not a hard and fast rule, but still fairly safe to assert good books sell better than crappy books. How, then do we write a great story?

Ideally, our story’s tension will steadily rise from the beginning to end, growing progressively more intense until the grand finale, much like a symphony. But for a more visceral explanation of story, I prefer to compare the larger story structure to roller coasters.

People line up for great books for the same reasons they stand in withering summer heat to ride the latest roller coaster, and even pay extra for fast passes to skip to the front.

They yearn for a THRILL.

The Thrill of It All

Well, that’s my story, you’ll be sticking to it, since I’m a master of the lie. Forget your problems that don’t even exist, cuz my book will make you high…

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

I want you to envision the best roller coasters, how they are put together. All thrill rides begin with an immobile metal bar that closes over your lap. No getting of the ride now (the story hook).

Then there’s an initial slow, creeping up, up, up a hill where your gut twists from fear laced with anticipation (Inciting Incident that introduces the story), a small dip to catch your breath, and then (turning point) you’re committed to the very end when the bar unlatches.

If the biggest loop, wildest twist or tallest hill is at the beginning of the ride (story), the rest of the ride cannot help but be a complete letdown because of poor design.

Engineers know this (great writers do, too). This is why no thrill ride is even built until there is a prototype/design that satisfies investors that park patrons will LOVE it.

Writers are wise to do this as well.

I Hate You, I Love You

I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you. I hate that it’s past two. Should sleep but don’t want to….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books

Great stories and great rides. We hate them and love them and hate that we love them. Now, let’s go and WRITE one 😀 .

Theme parks know it’s stupid to invest millions of dollars and countless man hours into something that by design no one will bother waiting in line to ride. Or a ride so bad it will infuriate anyone who bothered to stand in line…who will then tell every single person they find how awful the experience was.

Same happens with books.

Engineers fundamentally understand that thrills are crafted, not accidental. They grasp that an optimally designed roller coaster gives escalating thrills—bigger and bigger hills, twists, turns, dives, climbs and loops—with fewer and fewer troughs to catch a breath.

This all inevitably leads up to the largest loop/twist/inversion that then deescalates with incrementally slower and smaller loops and turns. The ride all culminates with smooth glide home to the other side of where it all began.

Every person locked on that ride desperately wants it all to end, but they do so with a mix of terror, dread and glee. Riders stagger away, breathless. They’re simultaneously thrilled and crushed it went so quickly.

So they stand in line AGAIN (or pay big bucks for fast-passes to skip to front).

Stitches

I thought that I’d been hooked before, but no book ever left me quite this sore. Your hooks sunk deeper than a knife, now I need book two to bring me back to life….

story structure, narrative structure, humans wired for story, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel, write addictive books, writing tips. how to sell more books
These are REAL fans…

When writers NAIL structure, they can design a similar ride—something that delivers the pain/pleasure readers crave to feel ALIVE. To SIZZLE with life!

We want readers who stay up all night (against their will), who will happily endure the book-hangover and tell all their friends to get in line for the same experience.

Sure, runaway book success can happen by chance, but luck favors the prepared.

We can design stories that lock readers onto a thrilling, chilling, mind-blowing emotional roller coaster and heck of a ride. Crafted properly, readers will be begging for ‘the ride’ to be OVER-AND-OMG-I-CANNOT-TAKE-IT-BUT-I-CANNOT-STOP-I-MUST-KNOW. Readers will beg for it to end…then be depressed when it actually does. How we do that is STRUCTURE 😉 .

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

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen.

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

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

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

***January’s winner is Maria D’Marco. Please send your first twenty pages (5,000 words) double spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font (12 pint) with one-inch margins in a Word doc to kristen at wana intl.com.

CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

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

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

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

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

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

Topics include:

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

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

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

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

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

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