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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to write a novel

writing, writing tips, writing faster, fast draft, editing, Kristen Lamb, how to write a novel

Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. 

Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..

Sigh.

Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but ‘One Title Wonders’ aren’t the norm.

Trying to hit big with one book is playing Literary Lottery with our careers. In the new publishing paradigm, it can be career suicide.

For most writers, it will be next to impossible to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.

Go visit a bookstore, new or used and you’ll see my point. Most authors who’ve made it to legend status were (are) all talented/skilled, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. Their books take up entire shelves.

It isn’t a singular title, rather a large body of work that has made them into household names (J.K.Rowling, Debbie Macomber, Stephen King, John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, H.P. Lovecraft, Liane Moriarty, Sandra Brown, etc.).

Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?

I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. One of my early mentors, Candy Havens, is an amazing lady as well as a talented and prolific author. She’s who introduced me to this technique. I was initially skeptical—okay, terrified—but I hadn’t managed to ever finish a book. What did I have to lose? I gave it a try and can attest fast-drafting 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.

HERE is a post on HOW to balance a smidge of editing for use 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.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. 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. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

NO.

While fast-drafting is NOT for everyone, I ask you at least entertain the concept. Stories written at a glacial pace aren’t, by default, superior (most are never finished).

I’ve posted on this before, and I like to explain the benefits of fast-drafting using—DUH—Star Trek.

Meet ‘Captain Kirk Brain’ and ‘Spock Brain’

fast-draft, writing quickly, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, writing a novel
…and fast.

Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we ‘are comfortable’ can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads lead back to Star Trek…

When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the ‘Inner Editor’ which I will call our ‘Spock Brain’).

Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—‘The Captain Kirk Brain’).

The Captain Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window.

He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action.

In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, ‘Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!’

writing, fast-drafting, writing a novel, how to write a novel, Kristen Lamb

Captain Kirk Brain can do its job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, ‘But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….’

The BEST line in the movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness is when the villain of the story (Khan) says to Spock, ‘You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?’ So, I’m going to apply this to writing.

Are you breaking enough bones?

Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.

Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules

All garbage. DELETE everything.

Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with ‘suspending disbelief’ and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.

The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart.

Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.

Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.

Blogging & Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain

writing, writing tips, how to write a novel, writing quickly, fast drafting, editing, Kristen Lamb

Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer.

We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that ‘This isn’t safe’ and ‘Where is our helmet?’ and ‘Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.’

When we get the stories out faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests.

FYI, I am teaching a NEW class HOW to fast-draft TONIGHT. Story Master: From Dream to Done. 

Remember, you get the recording for free with purchase 😉 *dangles candy*.

What are your thoughts?

Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

ON DEMAND AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

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

On Demand for a limited time. $55 for basic/$349 for GOLD. This teaches what I just covered in the blog above.

ON DEMAND: A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.

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: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

TENSION.

Secret-Keepers Resist the Urge to Explain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

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

Everyone Has Secrets

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

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

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

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

Real Self vs. Authentic Self

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

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

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

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

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

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

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

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

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

Secret-Keepers See & Craft the False Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret-Keepers FEAST on False Guilt

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

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

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

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

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

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

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

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

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

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

CUT!

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

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

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

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

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

*nods to The Bird Box* #SheerGenius

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

Where was I?

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

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

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

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

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

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

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

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

Again. Resist the urge to explain. 

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

What are your thoughts? Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

JANUARY & FEBRUARY’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)

Self-Publishing for Professionals

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

The Business of Writing

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

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

Story Master: From Dream to Done

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

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

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

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

A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

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

Harnessing Our Writing Power: The BLOG!

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

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

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

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

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

The Business of Writing

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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.

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