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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: writing tips

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

I get it. I get it. Game of Thrones is not for everyone. Yet, even if you refuse to sample a single episode, it doesn’t mean you (writers) can’t get some benefit from understanding what the series did right…and then how the story went so horribly wrong.

On my end, I confess I waited four seasons to even start watching—okay binge-watching. There’s something about me liking a show that seems to spell out its inevitable doom.

To be blunt. If GoT wasn’t going to stick around for the long haul, I didn’t want to get too attached.

***Sorry about ‘Firefly,’ btw…

Also, some spoilers ahead for those who keep reading. For everyone else? Feel free to continue day-drinking…

What Game of Thrones Did RIGHT

Go Big, or Go HOME

The single largest problem I see in new novels is the author thinks too small. Superlative fiction is regular life amplified. The more terrible the odds, the higher the stakes, the more hopeless it all feels, the deeper a story hooks the audience.

All the best stories go BIG (literally or metaphorically). There is so much on the line, we cannot help but keep turning pages/watching episodes because we HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

Humans long for catharsis. The slower and more intense the build up, the better the payoff.

***At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Once hooked, we become so immersed that an intense story experience is the closest we’ll get to astral projection (without years of training or psychotropic drugs).

When it came to going BIG? Game of Thrones set the ‘vastness’ bar so high it made Lord of the Rings seem like a Prius parked next to a Monster Truck.

Suffice to say that, over the past seven seasons, Game of Thrones set our expectations somewhere in the upper stratosphere.

Everything was over the top from the story to set design and film locations, and on and on. The story was boundless, complex, and sometimes infuriatingly detailed.

Also, this last season took over two years to release. Suffice to say we were primed and ready for the promised payoff (more on this later).

Bad Decisions Birth Great Stories

Game of Thrones, Paging Dr. Phil…

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Next on the list? Bad decisions. Game of Thrones contained so many bad decisions, it was like seeing what would happen if every supermax prison documentary made babies with all twenty-seven seasons of Jerry Springer.

I think this is what intrigued me so much.

I know many people hated GoT (or refused to watch it) because there’s every sort of debauchery, violence, perversion, and more perversion. Did I mention debauchery?

Trust me, I get it. I finished the series far faster, namely because I used a LOT of the three-arrow feature in my controller.

Okay, yes loads of sex and more sex and weird and weirder sex. Got it. Can we get back to the intrigue and back-stabbing?

Yet, to me, this is what made Game of Thrones biblical in proportions and dimension. I can only speak from my own faith perspective but, seriously.

Game of Thrones was like watching the Old Testament…only with dragons.

Granted there’s honor, family, loyalty, justice and a profound longing for order in a chaotic and cruel world. Humans aren’t all bad all the time.

We mean well.

Alas, Game of Thrones then served these noble intentions alongside heaping portions of power-grabbing, corruption, misogyny, misandry, subversion, false prophets (or not), zealots, revenge, insanity, racism, eunuchs, classism, incest—takes breath—resurrection, false gods, evil generals, prodigal sons, bastards, executions, rebellions, ambushes, demonic creatures, necromancy and….

Meh. Y’all get the point.

Art Revealed in Efficiency

Game of Thrones & Chekov’s Prophecies

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Game of Thrones did this incredible job of using…pretty much everything. Before you shout me down, I know they could have done this better but that is for later in the post.

Yet, by and large we (the audience) HAD to pay attention.

Snippets of dialogue, a camera lingering on a book, a glance, the casually mentioned name of a sword, etc. all played a part in the story.

I learned early on to a) take nothing for granted and b) if you think you figured it out? Guess again and c) don’t get too attached to anyone…not even pets.

Prophecy, in my POV, served as the hub for much of the suspense. Everyone had their own idea of HOW the prophecy would be fulfilled, each faction creating their own spoke.

Perhaps this was the wheel that Dany insisted be broken?

There was a tremendous amount of misdirection—which is great—but misdirection can be a double-edged sword.

As a fan, we’ve all tried to figure out how everything would play out.

Some fans wanted this…

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

The rest of us knew George R.R. Martin and his reputation for dangling a glimmer of hope that our favorite character(s) would live…then tossing them into a literary tree mulcher.

All of this to say that Game of Thrones did an amazing job of keeping us guessing. Short of a tinfoil hat and a wall covered in pictures and red string? I had plenty of guesses myself.

Great stories should use everything. Setting, dialogue, speculation, props all have a job. Nothing should live in our stories rent-free. The trick, however, is to misdirect the audience about how much weight each of these carry.

The greatest compliment an author can ever receive is, “I never saw that coming” followed by “How did I never see that coming?”

What Game of Thrones Did WRONG

Expectations and Reality

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Anger is the emotion we experience when our reality fails to meet our expectations. The greater the distance, the hotter the rage.

Ironically, what GoT did right in the beginning is directly responsible for why so many fans are now seeing red.

Early on, GoT held as true to George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire as was possible in the visual medium. I’d only read the first two books, but even I was seriously impressed.

Unfortunately, this grew problematic when the HBO series caught up to the book series far more quickly than George R.R. Martin anticipated. Because Martin hadn’t finished the final books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, HBO had a problem.

There was no way to convey the same level of complexity from the previous seasons that had been based off the published books.

This is why we start seeing deviations around Season 6.

Martin could only offer broad strokes of the various ways he’d intended for every through-line to play out and for the series to end…but that was all.

HBO had to then use the pieces on the board and refashion a satisfactory ending from what they had. #SuckedToBeThem

HBO had already SET the operational tempo for this story. Over time, people either got bored (not fans) or we learned to adapt, enjoy, and even revel in the slow torture (TRUE fans).

Sure, we all moaned and complained, but it didn’t mean we didn’t LOVE to suffer and commiserate about our collective pain.

***Dallas Cowboys fans know this feeling all too well.

Pacing and Plot Puppets

Characters, Like Chess, Have ‘RULES’

Is it possible for a character to do something utterly ‘out of character?’ Sure! Good storytellers create characters who surprise us. If the audience knows exactly what the characters would and would not do, there’s no magic.

This said, having characters shock us is colossally different from a character going completely off the rails and doing a thing because we (the writer) NEED them to.

Plots—notably plots like Game of Thrones—are a giant chess game. There are innumerable variables, outcomes, wins and losses that can be chalked up to strategy (good or bad), fatigue, impatience or even simply not seeing a threat.

A game of chess is only a game of chess because of the pieces on the board. Same in fiction. Plot means nothing without the characters on the field. Story is always made better because each character possesses certain constraints in every scene (move).

In chess, just because we’re losing a match doesn’t mean pieces can suddenly start moving any way we want them to. We can’t move a rook like a knight simply because we want to speed up the game and ‘win.’

That’s cheating.

Storytelling is very similar. When characters start rushing and acting in ways that haven’t been foreshadowed simply because the writers NEED them to do X, Y, and Z…it’s cheating.

There are very good reasons fans are screaming ‘FOUL!’

Red Herrings & White Walkers

Game of Throne…OF LIES!

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

Game of Thrones was released in 2011. Pretty sure if there is a GLOBAL following EIGHT YEARS LATER, we would have been okay with slowing the hell down.

Yes, as writers we want to mess with the audiences’ minds, step on their expectations. They will hate us, but also love us for it.

But, there’s a line we shouldn’t cross unless we’re ready for some righteous blowback.

As far as I’m concerned, the HBO ending is only mildly better than if Brandon Stark had bolted up in bed, sweaty….realizing it was all a bad dream.

We have been groomed for eight years to BELIEVE the Night King and his White Walkers posed a serious threat.

Part of why I found myself railing at the heavens had to do with all the petty fighting about who was going to be king or queen or duke or earl of whatever when there was definitive PROOF there were ICE ZOMBIES.

Why I gave it a pass? It is SO human nature. Though maddening, it WORKED. Humans have a loooong reputation of sucking at priorities whenever a crown, a throne, money, revenge, or free Animal Fries are on the line and there to distract us from stuff that matters.

I have no doubts that if an asteroid is going to strike Earth, if it happens on Black Friday, Walmart will STILL erupt in fist fights over who scores the last flat-screen.

So the infighting over the World’s Most Uncomfortable Chair, while ludicrous, made sense in a pathetic way.

Humans are masters of idiotic compartmentalization.

But building up this terrifying enemy just to…and then the waiting TWO years for…..

*weeps* WHYYYYY?

Winter is Coming…JUST KIDDING!

How many memes, t-shirts, mugs all sported the famous saying, ‘Winter is Coming’? If you even read the first few chapters of the books, you get the impression that winter in this ‘world’ is a threat alone (White Walkers or not).

The entire push to secure the Iron Throne and thus stabilize the seven realms (at least early) largely had to do with the fact that winter lasts a LONG FRIGGIN’ TIME.

So the seven-year winter (possibly longer) was declared and thus presumed imminent.

***Vaguely recalling snowflakes dropping in Season 3? Or maybe that was last night.

#CalmDown #GenXJokes

But winter NEVER COMES. Well, sort of. More like a Texas winter. All smoke, ashes and fire one day, snow the next, but PICNIC weather by the weekend.

One might have even intimated the ‘Winter is Coming’ to be metaphorical. But again, the Night King and his armies melted faster than an Amarillo blizzard.

Here’s a tip. DON’T make a HUGE deal out of something to simply drop it. This ticks us OFF. Conversely, don’t almost completely IGNORE something then POOF!

Here’s your ENDING!

There WERE Simple Fixes

Game of Thrones & Resting Bran Face

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

I can appreciate that HBO was in between a rock and an Iron Throne, but slowing down and adding a couple more episodes likely could have at least tempered our outrage.

In the span of a couple more episodes, the writers could have:

a) Made the battle against the White Walkers more than the single largest disappointment since New Coke.

b) Ratcheted the ‘end of the world’ feeling that WOULD entice characters make utterly STUPID decisions.

I’m looking at you, Jaime Lannister.

c) With heightened doom—losses against the Walkers and weather, Cersei refusing to render aid, and the sheer emotional stress that Dany was failing those she’d promised to save—Dany’s final acts of madness would have felt far more organic.

Her zealotry could have grown from subtle (which they already HAD) but then her fanaticism would’ve had a bit more time to bloom in proportion with the threat.

If she believes she’s the ‘messiah,’ the more people die, the more irrational she’d become (contrary to a resounding and relatively easy victory).

With a growing power of White Walkers heading south, along with really bad winter weather that would have limited any advantage the dragons offered, that is a LOT of pressure.

Combine this with losing all her dragons but one…only to have Jon Snow friend-zone her?

I could see someone finally snapping.

She wouldn’t be the first female to set things on fire after a nasty breakup.

#JustSaying

We wouldn’t have LIKED her mad rampage, but we would’ve understood/accepted it more easily than the writers turning Dany into Ani Skywalker on a dragon.

d) Finally, with more TIME, the writers could have reintroduced the all-but-forgotten Brandon Stark into the main storyline…as opposed to leaving him some Fur-Lined Macguffin Recliner in the background (to help hide the Starbuck’s cup and water bottle).

Face it, we already had SO many theories of how this would end that adding in Brandon Stark as another contender likely wouldn’t have swayed us much from our own deeply entrenched pet theories.

In the End

Humans are Never Happy

George R.R. Martin is and will always be a genius in my book (as if he cares, but I said it). This post has nothing to do with his writing or storytelling abilities or any lack thereof.

*prostrates shamelessly*

Once HBO did its job a tad too well—Game of Thrones catching up to the published books—they had a real problem. Noted.

***HBO you did a brilliant, brilliant job…mostly.

But, I believe the biggest mistake HBO made—in truth—was they seriously underestimated their fans.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I would’ve rather had a couple more episodes or an unexpected additional season than the rush job that made me want to rend my Mother of Dragons tees and replace them with sackcloth better for rolling in ashes.

Fans Can Be Forgiving if We TRUST Them

We as authors must remember that audiences can be very forgiving if we permit room for them to readjust.

Want to speed up the pacing? Slowly accelerate. Need to floor it? Then give us a Night King or an incoming Ice Age or at least a solid reason for sudden madness, weird left turns, irrational choices and ridiculously bad judgement.

Stuff just happening because it HAS to? It pisses us (audience) off and stories—whether this is fair or unfair—are almost always remembered by how they END.

Keep that in mind ūüėČ .

Anyway, playing armchair editor/writer is always an easy thing to do. But I hope this blog—whether you watched Game of Thrones or not—can offer valuable lessons to make your own writing better.

Study what HBO did brilliantly, but also be willing to dissect what backfired and why and how to get around those pitfalls.

Your fans will thank you.

***Oh and HBO. If this happens again? Call me. Seriously.

Playing Game of Groans…

What are your thoughts?

Other than the folks who never watched it. I get it and appreciate why. Maybe you have other series that made similar mistakes you could share?

Also, I know I don’t have a PhD in GoT like many of you, but what are your thoughts on the storytelling? I want to hear your opinions!

What did you love? Hate? Miss? Can you think of other ways HBO could have avoided rushing our series off a cliff?

Thanks for playing, and now a mention of what funds the time for me to tear apart all the stories you love to use for Gross Anatomy Fiction Edition.

On Demand Classes: LAST CHANCE!

Ready for summer school? Come on! You can even go buy a NEW notebook.

*wiggles new pencils in front of your noses*

A final note these ON DEMAND classes on CRAFT and BRANDING are about to be removed from the server (and possibly not offered again).

All these classes ran long (closer to three hours) so they’re all a bargain…delivered right to you to enjoy at your leisure.

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

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

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

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

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

On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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

Which is more important? Plot or character? To write great fiction, we need both. Plot and characters work together. One arc drives the other much like one cog serves to turn another, thus generating momentum in the overall engine we call “STORY.” Writers have a unique challenge. On one hand we need a rock solid plot and (ironically) the best people to execute this solid plot? Flawed characters.

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

Goof up characters? No one cares about the plot.

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

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

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

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

Again. Bad decisions make great fiction.

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

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

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

Yay, Texas summers!

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

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

Flawed vs. Too Dumb to Live

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

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

Okay, I’m back *giggles*.

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

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

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

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

Bad Decisions Birthed from The Flaw

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

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

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

Plot as Crucible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright (Bad) Idea Fairy

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

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

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

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

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

#DeepThoughts

Back to FLAWS

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

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

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

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

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

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Bad Decisions Depend on Circumstances

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

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

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

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

Bad Decisions & The Wound

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

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

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

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

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

Making “Stupid” Forgivable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the final note on characters making bad decisions.

Plot Puppets

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you!

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

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

FYI: I‚Äôm AM loading new classes. They‚Äôll be up next post. I know I said that last time, but whatever. I lied ūüėõ . We had massive flooding in Texas last week and I’ve had other priorities.

And, since I’m a writer who understands writing can be a real mother…

And am also mother who can appreciate being too worn out to properly celebrate any holiday (even one dedicated to ourselves), I am extending the Mother’s Day discount until Wednesday. Use the code MOM15 for $15 off all ON DEMAND CLASSES.

This is a REAL DEAL

Because a lot of these classes went long and, once I delete from the server, they will be either priced higher when I offer them again OR they’ll be broken into two classes. This means you’ll be saving a LOT by scooping up these classes now.

You will ALSO be helping ME out more than you can imagine. Though my blog is always a labor of love, your patronage is what permits me the time write these posts. I couldn’t do it without you. So…

ON DEMAND CLASSES!!!

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

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

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

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

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

On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Kristen Lamb, writing mistakes, mistakes, writing tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristen Lamb. mistakes, plotting, writing mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake #2: Holding Too Tightly to First Book

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

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

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

Which is why they never finish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provided they still want to.

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

A learning experience.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Feedback

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, how to write, writing tips

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

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

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

To abandon the old design for the new seems traitorous.

Trust me, I UNDERSTAND.

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

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

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

Then, I went into depression for six months.

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

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

Entertain that they might have a point.

Kristen Lamb, mistakes, writing mistakes, writing, publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, writers are sadists.

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

The fatal mistake?

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

What’s better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake #5: Breaking the Rules Before KNOWING the Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing the WHY is the magic.

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Go and BREAK THINGS

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

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

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

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

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

Seems like a sign to me ūüėõ .

ON DEMAND CLASSES!!!

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

On Demand Fiction Addiction: Write the Books Readers CRAVE!

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

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

On Demand: Harnessing Our Writing Power with THE BLOG!

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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 ūüėČ *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!

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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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

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

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

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

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

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

CUT!

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

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

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

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

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

*nods to The Bird Box* #SheerGenius

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

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.¬†

 

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