Archive for category Writing

Writing Spies: Five Dos and Don’ts

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 10.49.02 AM

Piper is back to guest post once more. I’m scrambling to catch up after being flattened from travel/work. Le sigh. Also have to get my NaNo tools together. Coffee, candy, energy drinks, stun gun, duct tape. So enjoy your Halloween. It’s kind of like New Year’s Eve of the Writing World. Party hard and have your fun because tomorrow….

Anyway, if you happen to be working on an action or thriller or some book involving those of the intelligence community, this post will help tremendously. Great writers ALWAYS do their homework. No one cares about our glorious prose if we goof something that five minutes on Google would have answered. But for the stuff maybe Google CAN’T answer? We have Bayard and Holmes…

By Piper Bayard

Spy thrillers are a staple of genre fiction, and a good “Bond” never goes out of style. However, a bad “Bond” can have those in the know throwing your book out the window of an Aston Martin faster than you can shake your martini. My name is Bayard. Piper Bayard. And my best friend and writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a 40-year veteran covert operative. I’m here today to help you write books that stay inside the sports cars.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin Image from Goldfinger Many books have been thrown from this car.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin
Image from Goldfinger
Many books have been thrown from this car.

 1. DON’T let your covert operative announce her identity, or that she is a covert operative.

Cover operatives are . . . wait for it . . . covert. Unlike James Bond, covert operatives don’t reveal their identities, and especially not while on missions. Even decades after they are out of deep cover, they keep their work to themselves. That’s because when they are revealed, former assets and current loved ones alike can become targets.

That also means that, when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.

2. DON’T call your spooks “spies.”

Yeah, I know. Then what’s with the title of this article? I hadn’t gotten to tell you that “spies” are actually “spooks” yet. I didn’t want to confuse you on that point before you got this far.

Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”

Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”

There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt Not Holmes Image from CanstockPhoto

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt
Not Holmes
Image from CanstockPhoto

3. DO put on your spook’s seatbelt.

Car chases happen, but they don’t happen without seat belts. Every now and then, a spook might have to drive the wrong way up a one-way street or wheel down the Spanish Steps. *cough, cough, Holmes, cough, cough* But when he does, he wears his seatbelt. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”

4. DON’T let your spook duck into a doorway to spy on her target.

That’s a good way for a real spook to get dead.

One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. If they duck into doorways and peek around the edges, they are making it obvious to anyone behind them that they are watching someone.

That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.

 

Rosa Klebb -- Room service gone bad. Image from From Russia with Love

Rosa Klebb — Room service gone bad.
Image from From Russia with Love

5. DON’T let your spook order room service.

How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.

This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on missions. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his house. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.

These are only a few of the most common blunders that Holmes and I see in movies and books. If you’d like to learn more about writing spooks, keep an eye out for Truth & Fiction posts at Bayard & Holmes.

Do you have any questions? I will answer some here in the Comments section and some on posts over at Bayard & Holmes.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official PhotoPiper Bayard is a bestselling author and a recovering attorney. Her spy thriller writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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Write a Terrific Novel (NaNo), Minimize Revisions, & Improve Odds of Finishing AND Publishing

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful Hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

We’ve already discussed the importance of  fueling the muse BEFORE NaNo. But, fueling the muse, creativity, talent and all that jazz IS NOT enough. Finishing, while fantastic, is ALSO not enough. If we finish, yet have written something that can never exist off life-support? We’re back at Square One.

Though I am a fan of NaNo (National Novel Writing Month which is NOVEMBER) and Fast Draft, these tactics will work for writing ANY novel and minimize revisions.

AND…you don’t even have to be a plotter (Hint: I’m not. More of a Plotser–> Plotter + Pantser)

One of the major reasons many writers fail to complete the story is there isn’t a single CORE story problem in need of resolution. The story dies because it lacks a beating heart and a skeleton.

Stories with no hearts and skeletons are primordial adverb ooze and not good for much other than scaring small children.

A great trick one of my early writing mentors taught me was to go to the IMDB and look up log-lines of movies. Search for ones similar to the story you want to write and use it as a template. I will use an older and timelessly popular movie so I don’t spoil anything. Y’all have had 30 years to see the movie, so, yeah.

For instance, the log-line for Romancing the Stone is:

A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

Okay, so here is “Kristen’s story”:

An OCD accountant sets off to Mexico to find her missing little brother and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

It’s good enough. But, I am a perfectionist and not a fan of “good enough.” Let’s give more detail. When it comes to log-lines, I would have written Romancing the Stone THIS way with this formula:

Protagonist must do X (active goal) in order to stop X (antagonist) before super bad thing happens (ticking clock).

A fraidy-cat romance (INHERENT PERSONALITY TRAIT THAT ASSUMES ARC) author (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Columbia and partner with a shady smuggler to rescue her sister (ACTIVE GOAL) from jewel thieves (ANTAGONIST) before they feed her sister to alligators (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK/STAKES).

Using this formula and log-line, we can use it as a pattern for my made-up-this-morning story:

An OCD accountant (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Mexico City and partner with a former Green Beret ex-patriot to save her prodigal brother (ACTIVE GOAL) from a drug cartel (ANTAGONIST) before the cartel makes him an example to other dealers who lose shipments to Border Patrol (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK).

I just made up this log-line, but doesn’t it speak VOLUMES about the story? Why is the accountant OCD? Is she the older child who took care of a younger brother who was out of control? The more little brother got involved with bad people, the worse her OCD became? By using “prodigal brother” we get a sense that maybe he was trying to turn his life around and leave being a user and a dealer.

Ah, but “getting out” isn’t so easy.

By saying we have an “OCD accountant” we’ve picked the WORST person to send into the filthy bowels of cartel-land, let alone partner with a Green Beret. She’s going to want to control everything and maybe even use disinfecting wipes on all things in sight (including her Green Beret friend). We see how this could easily be a thriller, a romance, or even a comedy depending on how we write it.

With just this ONE sentence, we KNOW how the story ends and where. It ends in Mexico with brother alive and drug cartel either dead or in jail. So, we know where we are GOING. This makes plotting (even very basic Pantser-Plotting) simple. If our OCD accountant ends up in Kansas instead of Mexico, we know we took a wrong turn.

NaNo can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

There are now only so many options that lead to Mexico and finding little brother. There are only so many ways she can encounter an ex-pat Green Beret. Does he save her from being mugged? Does she HIRE him? Does he hit on her in the airport and she turns him down because his clothes are wrinkled and now she can’t get rid of him?

This log-line tells us VOLUMES about character arc, and, as the late Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!”

Accountant is going to have to get over her OCD and become less controlling/neat-freakish and probably FORGIVE little brother, and maybe Green Beret needs to lighten up or even be more serious. If he’s an ex-pat, he could be running a sunglass kiosk on the beach and his motto is “Don’t worry, be happy” because he spent enough years being serious. His relaxed manner might drive her insane.

Formula for AWESOME conflict.

By looking at the IMDB, we can check out movies we loved and likely find there was a solid core story problem (code for “good log-line”). Most of the movies we hate? The ones where we are all like, “Great, two hours I can NEVER get back.” Odds are? Crappy log-line.

Worst….movie….ever (and I don’t give a rip what Sundance says). Melancholia. But I should have known from the log-line:

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.

Image from "Melancholia" but also Kristen's face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Image from “Melancholia” but also MY face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Who is the protagonist? There ISN’T one (trust me on this). What is the active goal? Again, NOT THERE. “Finding a strained relationship challenged” is NOT AN ACTIVE GOAL.

It’s a sentence for misery. And, yes, I am bitter.

The movie is literally two sisters b!tch!ng at each other until everyone dies….and there was much rejoicing because I hated everyone in the movie and was happy they were all obliterated.

Yes, there is a super bad thing/ticking clock (a mysterious planet threatens to collide with the Earth) but there is NO WAY TO STOP IT. So the viewer is trapped with the Family from HELL until everyone dies.

The end.

ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

We can learn a lot about what TO DO by studying what NOT TO DO. Yeah, yeah, Melancholia was pretty and had great cinematography and if you watch the movie on MUTE, it probably rocks. But for story? Not there. Trust me. This is three and a half hours of my life I will never get back AND $15 because I was stupid enough to BUY the movie and I can’t even regift it because there is no one I hate that much.

Sorry if I have offended any readers who LOVED Melancholia.

And for a movie that was NOT just supposed to be “art” here’s an older post about how Spiderman 2 (also known as THE MOVIE THAT WOULD NOT END) blew it because the log-line was LAME. Never underestimate the teaching capabilities of movies or books we hate. Why did we hate it? When did we lose interest? Why? Now, make sure WE don’t do that in OUR book ;) .

But, feed your muse a solid log-line to keep hold of and this will help you spot Bunny Trails of DOOM far easier. It will keep you on track and make that 50,000 words something solid that can be revised, because there will be the bones and beating heart of an actual story beneath all the superfluous description, poor dialogue or small rabbit trails all of us have to edit out later.

What are your thoughts? Does this formula help? What are some of the best/worst movies you have seen? Can you tell a stinker from the log-line? What catches your attention? What loses it? What movies are ones you watch over and over and buy a copy? WHY? Why THAT movie? For me? Minority Report, I Robot, and Monty Python’s–The Holy Grail. Generally because every time I see these movies I catch something NEW.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

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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NaNoWriMo, Gone Girl & Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Image via the motion picture "Gone Girl"

Image via the motion picture “Gone Girl”

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is days away. I’m loading up on fiction to feed my brain and imagination. I listened to the unabridged version of Gone Girl. Why? Because I kept hearing the same thing over and over for almost a YEAR.

These people are just SO horrible and yet? You can’t stop yourself.

Regular people. READERS told me this. NOT other writers.

***Bizarrely, I have found there can often be a BIG difference between what we loathe and what readers LOVE, which is why we must continue to write for readers, not other writers.

The READERS were right. And regardless of one’s opinion about the book, I will say it was masterful in that we could see the best and the worst of ourselves reflected back through the characters. The control, self-righteousness, cowardice, love, disappointment, manipulation, etc. (Btw, no spoiler alerts in this post).

Some people love candy-coated fiction. I love the dark stuff. The go-for-the-guts writing that puts the worst of us on display. Because if it isn’t out? We can’t change what we can’t see.

Meet, Kristen Lamb…The JERK

I’m one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are far rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we’ll touch on the highlights.

And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know ;) . Or maybe make your NaNoWriMo characters a bit richer. People loooove reading about screwed up people.

It’s like my fascination with horror movies. When I have a REALLY BAD KICK YOU IN THE TEETH DAY? Nothing perks me up like a good scary movie.

Why?

Because at least I am not (to my knowledge) possessed by demons….

Same with reading. Well, yeah, I’m totally screwed up, but not THAT screwed up.

Perfectionism

I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew love control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need acceptance more than “help.”

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I was a fraud.

On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect'” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.

People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?

Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof); my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?

I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a deafening montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….

BLURGH!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.

What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success. Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.

We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.

Pride

An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.

Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.

Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. GOOD people won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company. 

I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?

Probably nothing, LOL.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.49.52 AMThe funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale ;) . In the past few years? I have family members who’ve vanished. Family I believed LOVED me.

They did…until I outlived my usefulness.

Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.

Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!

Stupid, I know.

But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?

These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.

Whoud’a thunk?

Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and totally cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck :D . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.

*shivers*

I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. Shingles will show you painfully your own limitations.

I love to help. I DO. If I meet you at a conference and hug you and tell you that you will change the world and that I BELIEVE IN YOU or that I really DO care about you? It isn’t an act at all.

An energy drain, yes. But optimism as a superpower? I’ll roll with that.

Ugly truth? I used to say all the same things I do now, only I said them solely so you would “like” me. Not because I believed in you. I didn’t believe in me. How could I believe in you, too?

Optimism is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.

Then BOOM!

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE. You will NEED this gate more than ever when you decide to become a writer. You might need RAZOR WIRE on that gate for NaNo.

Writing isn’t a hobby or a fun cute thing we do. It is WORK. HARD FREAKING WORK and others will not respect that unless we draw a line.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Forgiveness

Everything we’ve discussed so far might be useful for you on a personal level. Maybe you aren’t as messed up as I was (am?). Chances are though, if you’re a writer, fiction is cheaper than therapy. The interesting thing about Gone Girl is it viscerally showed me how we could root for utterly unlikeable people.

Self-awareness.

The difference between a selfish, insecure jerk who is a horrible person versus a pure sociopath is that, eventually, the terrible-no-good-awful person realizes they are a terrible-no-good-awful-person. Maybe they try to change. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they do the right thing. Maybe they don’t. But the linchpin difference is their eyes are opened to the reality of who they truly are.

The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. Unlike some fictional characters, I chose to change.

My disaster of a life showed me that I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison. I had to forgive myself if I ever hoped to forgive others.

We Are All Works in Progress

We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.

But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better (so can our characters). We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others. As we become more dimensional, so does our writing.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.

I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you :D .

What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?

Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?

Are you afraid to write the awful character? Do you find yourself candy-coating? And share your thoughts on Gone Girl, just try not to spoil it for those who might want to still read it. I could write a BOOK about my opinions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!

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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NaNoWriMo: Know Your Weapons!

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I’m once again letting Piper hijack my blog to talk about a subject near and dear to me—GUNS. Chances are, many of you are writing thrillers or suspense or knitting books that involve FIREARMS. Piper and I are NOT the people you take with you to an action film unless you believe—like we do—most of these movies should be classified under “Comedy.”

We count rounds. Ooooh, I want THAT GUN. The one that NEVER runs out of ammo EVER! We also cringed in the Sherlock—A Game of Shadows movie. Remember? In the Arms Factory Scene, Col. Moran whips out the c96 Mauser pistol and loads it from the bottom, perhaps because this looked “cooler.” Historical Note: Good luck loading that gun from the BOTTOM. It loaded from the top.

I also love how movies have these LOOOONG shoot-out scenes with thousands and thousands of rounds fired. Afterward? No one is yelling like my 90 year-old Aunt Peggy when her hearing aid lost battery.

WHERE DID THEY FLEE?

YOU HAVE TO PEE?

NO! WHERE DID THEY GO?

NO! I DON’T HAVE TO GO! BATHROOM LATER! FIND BAD GUYS NOW!

Okay, I’ll stop and let Piper take it from here. The point of this blog is that, IF you are going to use firearms in your books? Please let the reader see you did your research. They will love you for it. And, if you (the author) put a safety on your revolver (actually had this happen) we will HURL your book across the room.

Take it away Piper and Holmes!

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

NaNoWriMo is almost here. Whether it’s your first draft or your tenth, the last thing you want to look like on the page is an amateur. Yesterday, we got rid of your backstory. (See Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I Need To.) Now we’re going to take a look at your terminology.

Whether your story is literary fiction, a romance, or a thriller, it might well have a firearm in it. Firearms should always be used properly, whether in person or on a page. So let’s make sure you have your vocabulary straight so that people like us and Kristen don’t throw your book against the wall.

Let’s start by clearing up the most common gun misnomer of all time— the “clip” vs. the “magazine.”

If your story has “clips” in it, you most likely need to be writing historical fiction. There are extremely few modern weapons being manufactured today that use clips unless they are replicas of old weapons. One rare example of a modern weapon using a clip is the Smith & Wesson 9mm revolver, which uses a moon clip. So if your character is using a weapon with an actual “clip,” you need to make it quite clear in your writing that it is either a historical weapon or one of the extremely rare exceptions.

This is one example of a “clip.”

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958 Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner
Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

These are “magazines” (BELOW). Magazines are widely used in both handguns and rifles.

They hold cartridges and can be quickly and easily reloaded.

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 Image by Piper Bayard

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
Image by Piper Bayard

These magazines fit into the handles of the pistols. Contrary to popular belief among certain circles of politicians who I shall not name, they can be reused countless times. They don’t magically get used up just because all of the cartridges are fired.

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 with accompanying magazines. Image by Piper Bayard.

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
with accompanying magazines.
Image by Piper Bayard.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the different types of firearms—automatics, semi-automatics, and revolvers.

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with M240B automatic weapon Image by US Navy, public domain

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with
M240B automatic weapon
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

With an automatic weapon, the cartridges load into a removable magazine. The weapon is called automatic because when you pull the trigger, it automatically fires repeated bullets until you take your finger off of the trigger. When the shooter fires, the brass shells of the cartridges are ejected from the weapon. Modern automatic weapons are generally illegal for private ownership without special licenses, a ton of paperwork, and a background check so thorough that it would make your personal physician cringe. These licenses are also so expensive that you’d be better off opening a small business instead of pursuing this type of weapon license.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic
Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

A semi-automatic also has cartridges that load into a removable magazine, which, in a pistol such as this one, fits into the handle of the gun. However, one trigger pull equals one shot, and the brass shell from each cartridge is automatically ejected. The weapon does not automatically keep firing.

Semi-automatics are legal in all states, but only to varying degrees in different places. In a few Western states, they practically come as prizes in the bottom of cereal boxes, while in others, only bodyguards of celebrities and politicians who advocate gun control get to carry them. In fact, if the celebrities and politicians are vocal enough in their opposition to private firearms, their bodyguards are approved to operate drones, drive tanks, and launch thermonuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction :D .

If you live in one of these latter states, such as California, check your laws before you put a pistol in your California character’s hand. California requires certain design modifications. Your readers will know this, and they likely could call you on it.

It’s extremely common for a semi-automatic to be inaccurately referred to throughout media, movies, and TV as an “automatic” weapon. No matter how hot the journalist, movie star, or soap opera star might be, don’t believe it just because they say it.

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

A revolver is so called because the cartridges reside in a revolving cylinder. Like the semi-automatic, one trigger pull equals one shot. However, the brass shells are not ejected automatically. A shooter must open the cylinder and eject all of the shells simultaneously. Again, the legalities of ownership vary from state to state.

Not to knock one of Piper’s favorites, The Walking Dead, but if you listen closely when Rick fires his Colt Python .357 revolver, you will sometimes hear the sound of ejected brass hitting the floor with each shot—something only semi-automatics and automatics do. Total audio fiction.

Speaking of weapons, Holmes and I are calling all bloggers for a contest in which the winner will be determined with a shot.

The Spy Bride Blogger Challenge

To celebrate our debut spy thriller release, THE SPY BRIDE in the RISKY BRIDES Bestsellers’ Collection, we are inviting all bloggers to write a post about absolutely anything espionage or wedding related. Link back to this post at out site to be entered in a contest for a $25 Amazon card and a copy of RISKY BRIDES.

Write about your favorite Bond movie, your favorite historical spook, or how you used to spy on your siblings. Tell us about your wildest bachelor party, you favorite wedding, or your worst bridesmaid’s dress. If you manage to write about both spooks and weddings in the same post, you’ll have your name entered twice.

Be sure to link back to the Spy Bride Challenge post at our site so we see your entry!

Click here to get to the post at our site.

The winner will be chosen on Thanksgiving Day. We will attach the names of all entries to a shooting target. Then we will blindfold Piper’s lovely daughter, DD, and she will shoot the target. The name that she shoots will be the winner of the coveted Amazon gift card.

DD ready to determine the winner.

DD ready to determine the winner.

And for our awesome readers . . .

We have some wonderful prizes for you, as well. Sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Newsletter and be automatically entered to win a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, or a bottle of sparkling wine from Mumm Napa vineyard.

Bayard & Holmes Newsletter Link–Click Here to Enter

Feel free to enter both contests!

Best of luck to all of you. Can’t wait to see your entries!

 

RISKY BRIDES

 

 

RISKY BRIDES is on sale for a limited time at only $.99 and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

Piper Bayard is an author, bellydancer, shooter, SCUBA diver, and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She writes spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, a forty-year veteran covert operative and a current senior member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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57 Comments

Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I Have To

Just in from teaching in Seattle and have NO VOICE. Hubby is a little more thrilled than he should probably show O_o. Anyway, the wonderful Piper Bayard is here for some more writing tips for those who want to NaNo. Even if you don’t? Backstory is ALWAYS a bugger. Kinda like in dating. Be mysterious, yet not weird, yet not clingy and OH DEAR GOD HE IS NEVER CALLING BACK TURNING THE NEXT PAGE…..

By Piper Bayard

NaNo season will soon be upon us. Speaking from experience, it is totally possible to write a solid first draft of a novel in one month, but only if you’re prepared. Now is the time to prepare.

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

First, give yourself permission to suck. Accept the fact that your first drafts are always going to suck. Everyone’s first drafts suck. That’s why God made editors. Perfectionism and over-editing during the first draft only make us all suck more in the long run. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, “There is no great writing, only great re-writing.” Your books won’t be great until they suck.

Maureen Johnson says it best. Dare to Suck!

 

Now that you’re keyed in to your sucking, you can get down to work to prevent unnecessary suckage. The best thing you can do to minimize your suckage is to know your story before you write it.

We’ve all read books with page after page of backstory. Okay, we’ve all skimmed books with page after page of backstory. Where does that extra verbiage come from, and why does the author put it in? Easy. Excessive backstory is the visible evidence that the writer is telling herself her story. That backstory is there for her, not for us. It means she didn’t know what she was writing about before she started writing.

I know what you’re thinking. But I’m a pantser! My story must be unsullied by forethought!

Forethought this. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Any successful business requires forethought.

We all write for different reasons: therapy, because it’s easier than talking, therapy, because we love words, therapy, because we’re unemployed, therapy, because it’s the closest thing we have to talking to adults while we care for our babies, therapy, because stories are swirling inside our heads and must get out, therapy, because a world where we don’t write is simply inconceivable. And some others write for therapy. Regardless of our reasons, forethought is our most powerful tool for shaping a story and actually getting it on the page.

Canstock 2014 Oct Rabbit therapy cartoon

 Here comes the surprise portion of this dissertation. When I’m talking about forethought, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting, though I personally find plotting indispensible. I’m talking about people. The characters.

(For all you sci-fi folks, you have a little extra work. Read through this article a second time and exchange the word “characters” for “world building” so that you don’t have to tell us how the planet was formed in the belly of a lizard and coughed out in the hairball of the cat that ate the lizard on the night the cat was locked out of the house because it had gotten mad when it’s owner ran out of soft food and only gave it hard food so it had peed on its owner’s clean laundry. In other words, you need to know your characters and your world before you start.)

The single best way to eliminate backstory is to know your characters and, therefore, your backstory, before you ever start your draft.

  • How old are they when the book starts?
  • What do they look like?
  • Where were they born?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • Did they go to school? Where?
  • What is their religion? Do they believe it, practice it, play along with it, or reject it?
  • Are they city or rural? Which city? Which country?
  • What were their relationships with their parents?
  • What were their parents’ occupations and educational levels?
  • Who was their first love? How did it end?
  • What were the watershed events in their lives, and how did your characters change because of these events?
  • How did they meet the other characters?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What are their inner conflicts?
  • What do they want?
  • Who is keeping them from getting what they want?
  • Absolutely anything else you can think of to ask about your characters.

In other words, don’t just know your serial killer Terrell is a psychopath. Understand exactly how Terrell became a psychopath, what sort of a psychopath he is, and why he is where he is when the book starts.

Do this for your antagonist, your minions, your protagonist, your love interest, your allies, your mentors, and anyone else who has more than twenty lines.

So how does knowing all of this about my characters minimize my backstory?

Thank you for asking.

The answer is summed up in another quote, this time from Hemingway. “. . . you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted, and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.” In other words, you can leave out anything as long as you know what you’re leaving out.

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out. Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953 JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out.
Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953
JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

This is twice-true with backstory. So if you don’t know your backstory, you can’t leave it out. On the other hand, if you DO know it, you don’t feel compelled to put it in, because you don’t have to tell yourself your own story while you’re writing it. You can focus on telling your story to your readers instead.

As an added bonus, when you know your characters, they will tell you your plot. You never have to wonder what’s going to happen next, because your characters will behave in characteristic fashion. You avoid moments of “Oh, no! What is Frida going to do now that Gomez has left her?” Easy. Look at Frida’s character profile, and let her do what Frida would do. If she’s a whiny brat, let her whine. If she has anger management issues, let her hunt down Gomez and run over him with her car. If you know your characters, your plot is less likely to leave you hanging.

Frida was here.

Frida was here.

Let me reassure you of this method with a little of my own backstory. My first manuscript SUCKED. No, seriously. It sucked with capital letters. In fact, Kristen edited it and spent five hours (count ’em—five) on the phone telling me just how bad it sucked. It is now being used for enhanced interrogations at Guantanamo, and no one has lasted past page 25. The US Navy sends me thank you notes and cookies for my birthday each year.

Out of 157,000 words (really) I threw out all but five—a, and, the, but, or—and I started over by getting to know my characters. That’s because Kristen didn’t just tell me my book sucked. She told me how to fix it. I highly recommend you listen to her writing advice. She knows what she is talking about.

When I sat down to re-write the book, I discovered something. I naturally left out everything except the actual story. It was an epiphany. As a result, I have a far better story. That book became my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS.

Now, I’m writing spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, who is a forty-year veteran covert operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. Our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, is in the Bestsellers’ Collection RISKY BRIDES, where we join USA Today Bestsellers Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, and Kathy Carmichael, and veteran authors Kimberly Llewellyn and Tara Randel to share our unique take on what it means to be a risky bride. 8 novels and novellas—8 genres—8 RISKY BRIDES. RISKY BRIDES releases today for only $.99 and is available for a limited time at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

 To celebrate our release, Holmes and I will give away one copy of RISKY BRIDES to someone who comments below. To determine the winner, I will put the names of everyone who comments below in a hat and have my daughter draw one out at random on Friday, October 24, at 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

And to celebrate going from super-suck to published authors, Holmes and I will also be giving away three prizes—a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, and a bottle of Mumm Napa sparkling wine—to three randomly selected subscribers to our newsletter on November 27. Sign up now for the Bayard & Holmes newsletter to enter.

What are your issues with backstory? Do you develop your characters before you write? Do you have any questions for me?

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Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper Bayard is an author, bellydancer, shooter, SCUBA diver, and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She writes spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, a forty-year veteran covert operative and a current senior member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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108 Comments

8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny. That rabbit is DYNAMITE!

I promised not to leave you guys hanging with my last post. Now that I have a lot of you beating your shields ready for NaNo, I’m going to give you battle tactics to come out victorious (or maybe at least alive).

Sure, NaNo is great to just learn to turn off the Inner Editor and get those 50,000 words DOWN. But, if in the end, all we have is a gelatinous ooze that eats people and attacks the city? They call in the National Guard to take out our WIP, because no revision can tame it.

What to do? This post is incredibly redacted, but it’s a blog. So roll with it ;) .

These tips will work for any novel, but they are SUPER important in NaNo, lest we write ourselves into the Corner of NO Escape by November 10th. These tips will ward off plot bunnies, keep the muse cooking, and hopefully help you finish.

Last I checked, finished books sell the best.

Anyway….

Active Goals

Our WIP can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

A lot of time when I’m called in to repair critically injured plots, the main problem is…well, the problem. It’s passive. If your story involves “protecting” something, “escaping” something, “avoiding” something? Not going to work.

Think of it this way. I want to write a story about protecting the princess or the world will be robbed of all glitter and chocolate and all the people will be super sad. Oh-kay. What’s the plot? Stick her in a giant human-sized hamster ball and make sure it’s heavily guarded? Guarding is not ACTIVE.

A teenage boy inherits the power to time-travel but he will rip the space-time continuum if he does. He must never learn he can time-travel or use his powers.

Again, oh-kay. So does the book involve distracting him with video games for 65,000 words?

I call this The Containing Communism Conundrum. Didn’t work in the Cold War, likely will be equally ineffective/frustrating in a novel.

And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I will get a bunch of comments with, “But Such-and-Such did this and it was a TOTAL HIT in 1875.” Have fun storming the castle. I won’t stop you.

I will, however, wager that the stories one might be tempted to cite, really DO have an active goal.

Core Story PROBLEM

screen-shot-2012-03-27-at-6-17-32-pm

Novels are simple. Solving a PROBLEM. Why do we dig reading novels? Because of life. Life is just one problem after another and it never ends…EVER. Don’t believe me? Come check out my laundry room or peek at your e-mail. We like it when characters go up against something seemingly insurmountable and WIN. It FINISHES.

Maybe it takes 20 books to finish, but it does eventually END. As a caveat, within the series, the problem of that episode book will be SOLVED.

Lately we’ve been watching the series Grimm. And yes, I’m slow to series namely because I like to binge and also, if I watch something in the first season and LIKE it? Surefire way to kill it. Still sorry about Firefly.

Anyway, for those who’ve not watched Grimm, it’s a take off the old Grimm’s Fairy Tails and the Grimms are humans with special abilities to spot and stop the beasties living among humans and causing problems. Granted, there is a BIG problem involving seven keys and world domination, but this is obviously not solved in ONE episode.

Now, the werewolf that robs the convenience store in the opening scene? He’s apprehended or killed by the end of 50 minutes.

ACTIVE: Wow, who/what ate the poor QT clerk and took all the Snicker’s bars and stole the Slurpee machine? This person/thing needs to be stopped.

Interesting Problem

Self-explanatory.

Stakes

And Grumpy Cat

What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes the better the story. These can be outward or inward stakes but there must be stakes. Oh, and inward stakes need an outward manifestation. They also need to be BIG or…who cares?

For the literary folks, I like to cite The Road. Man and Boy have an ACTIVE goal. Reach the ocean. No idea what’s there, but seems like a good idea. Here’s the kicker. Humans somehow did something that killed every living thing on the planet, except people (and I’m really ticked McCarthy never divulged what that was). Thus, humans have devolved to cannibalism.

The point of the book is less about making it to the ocean and more HOW they make it. If they stop to snack on some fellow travelers? They fail. The stakes are Would you die (stave to death) to protect what it truly means to be human, OR would you resort to the animal state?

Weakness

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.19.39 PM

Perfect characters are boring. Good story problems force the protagonist to do what he or she would NEVER have done in a GAZILLION years had the problem never surfaced. The inciting incident rattles the character’s cage and the first turning point is when the protagonist steps out of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is also a coping mechanism that has worked great up until said story problem.

For instance, in The Labyrinth Sarah is doing just peachy hiding in her room with her toys and costumes and refusing to grow up. It’s easier to resent her parents and baby brother. She calls on the Goblin King to take the baby away and WHOA! He shows up, takes the a baby and offers her all her dreams.

And any preteen girl who saw this movie took another 20 years to figure out why she didn’t take the deal.

But, since that would have made for a seriously short movie, Sarah has to go face the Labyrinth lest she be grounded FOREVER for selling little bro to the Goblin King. She must leave the safety of her carefully constructed world and see her flaws. Life isn’t fair and love is about sacrifice, not control.

Blind Spot

Oh, Scarlett

Oh, Scarlett

Every strength has a counterpoint. The very thing that makes ANY character good at what he or she does is also the Achilles Heel. Most characters are not evolved enough to know what their blind spot is and that’s okay because that would make them boring. Heck, it takes years of expensive therapy for most of us to pony up to what we always knew our biggest problem was/is.

I HIGHLY recommend the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri for help. If a character is funny and charismatic, they can also be flaky and undependable. Show me a great leader and I’ll show you a control freak. Give me a loyal person, I’ll show you a sucker. Scarlett might have been a spoiled brat and a pit-bull, but she had what it took to keep it together when $#@! got REAL.

The plot serves to help the character see, then face, then overcome the blind spot/weakness and harness the counterpoint (the strength).

Secrets

RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN. You may need to know why such-and-such is a certain way as WRITER-GOD, but that might not be good for the story and the reader. Keep secrets. Reveal slowly. Ever been on a date with someone who told you every intimate detail of their lives and the waitress had yet to bring the Bloomin’ Onion? Don’t be THAT date writer.

The Force was better before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians?

Really?

Secrets drive great fiction, and for more on that, check out this post on being a great secret-keeper so that THIS post isn’t uber-long.

Restoration

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Photo courtesy of JM Powers WANA Commons

Books must eventually end or they are called Days of Our Lives. Is Stephano still around?

When we create an ACTIVE goal for our character(s), our ending should be far clearer. I’m not a plotter. More of a plotser (I know my main story points and riff from there). But, though I don’t do outlines, I will tell you that it seriously helps to at least have an idea where you’re going.

In The Labyrinth we KNOW the ending. Sarah solves the Labyrinth and has baby bro home before she’s hauled away by police yelling, “The dingo Goblin King got the baby!”

The Death Star is blowed up. The Ring of Power is melted. Buffalo Bill is stopped from making more human-skin-lady-suits and senator’s daughter rescued (and has to have even MORE therapy about being a size 14). The Deadites have to be defeated, the portal closed, curse broken, disease cured, wedding stopped, Voldemort destroyed, Amway stopped, etc. etc.

These are the broad strokes that should help tremendously. They’re simple, but NOT easy. Despite what others may very mistakenly believe, writing a novel is HARD. Most people cannot do it. And just remember that the same folks who are telling you writing books is “easy” are the same people who were willing to pay you a hundred bucks to write a 500 word paper for them in college ;) .

What are your thoughts? Do these tips help? Make you want to go run in traffic? Have you skipped one or all of these steps and ended up with a plot so complicated you didn’t even understand it? Hey, I’ve been there.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!

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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64 Comments

This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.18.07 AM

NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of opinions floating around about NaNo and I can’t tell you guys what to do. Wait, I do that all the time. Hmmm. Okay, I can’t MAKE you try NaNo, but I am the friend who will gently and lovingly shove you off a cliff because it’s good for you.

WHAT!!??? You SAID you wanted to go BASE jumping be a professional author.

In my 20s, I lived life like a Mountain Dew commercial. You name X Dumb Thing? Sign me up! One of my favorite suicidal activities was skydiving. If I was having a really bad time, nothing to perk me up like free falling from 15,000 feet. But I’m a natural idiot adventurer.

My little brother? Was probably the more cautious/sane one, but I could tell from this spark in his eyes that he’d one day like to just go for it and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

One day, I was headed out to jump and invited my brother. “Hey, you can just watch. Check it out. See if it might be something you’d like to try one day.” He rides out there with me and, to his horror, I’d signed BOTH of us up and paid for his tandem.

He should have known from our history together that Big Sisters are pathological liars. Also, I was the one who convinced him to jump off our roof with an umbrella when he was five, so, in fairness, he should have TOTALLY seen that coming.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time. You’ll just float down.

*CRASH*

Oops.

Little Bro was “fine.” But I didn’t make him do anything I hadn’t already done. Trust me when I say he was a changed person after that experience (and for the better).

Back to NaNo…

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

For those who have not tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), at least consider it. Even if you only partially finish (land on your knees and then get dragged through stickers by your chute that caught a sudden updraft) you are now part of a percentage of very few people who TRIED.

And, unlike skydiving, I’ve yet to encounter any NaNo fatalities.

The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author. Pros have a VERY different operational tempo.

We don’t play to win, we play for keeps.

I’ve finished NaNo quite a few times (and fast-draft everything I write), but every day is NaNo for me. I have a thousand words written before most people wake up. Was it ALWAYS that way? Sure!  :D *thunder rumbles*

OKAY, I totally just lied. I used to be thrilled if I had three sentences by the end of the day. OMG, if I could like, write FIVE HUNDRED words a day, THEN I will be EPIC.

There were a LOT of roadblocks to me being a “real writer,” roadblocks that NaNo can help us face and overcome.

No Such Thing as Schrodinger’s Writer

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.

Ditch Perfectionism

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.46.35 AM

Want a surefire way to NEVER finish NaNo, or any book for that matter? Edit Frenzy. NaNo is NOT for the perfect book ready for sale on December 1st. Sure there are some pros out there who can whip out a perfect book in 30 days…I think. I’ve never met one, but like Sasquatch, we like to believe they could exist.

The world does not reward perfection, it rewards finishers.

Learn to SHIP. No unfinished idea ever became a NY Times best-selling book.

Word Count

One of the complaints I hear about NaNo is there is too much focus on word count. Oh-KAY. Get a three-book deal and see how important word count becomes. Word count IS critical, because without words? We don’t have a BOOK.

The Muse

Kill it with FIRE.

Kill it with FIRE.

A lot of new writers wait until inspiration strikes. The rest of us go to work (paraphrased Stephen King). Inspiration is for amateurs and hobbyists. If we look to some of the most successful authors in history, a large percentage shifted over from journalism. Reporters who wish to remain employed can’t wait for the muse to report about the four-alarm fire. Learn from that and SHIP.

NaNo is NOT the Time for REVISION

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NaNo is for getting as many words on the page as possible in 30 days. Revise LATER. It’s NaNoWRIMo, not NaNoWriReviseAngstDrinkMoWineMo.

Humans have two sides to the brain—the creative side and the logical side. The reason NaNo is fabulous is it trains us to remain in the creative hemisphere of the brain. Stay in the fictive dream and play your guts out. Logic brain will have its turn…LATER.

Ignore typos, misspellings, run-on sentences and WRITE.

NaNo Pushes Boundaries

Most of us are capable of a lot more than we believe we are, but we dig the Comfort Zone. It has WiFi and lattes. Excellence is born in a fiery crucible. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

NaNo Strips Excuses

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Life will not change one you are a published or successful author. Today is my Dad’s birthday and the 15th anniversary of his death. Hey, he was Scottish and we are known for efficiency. My SIL went in this morning for serious and painful eye surgery to prevent her from going totally blind. I have Shingles, my house is a WRECK and I have a cat I love who’s teetering on death that I have to syringe feed every other hour. Our family business was half-flattened by squall lines last week and…blech.

But I write. Doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about those other things. But if I were in any other job, I might be able to justify a couple days away, but other than that? I’d have to show UP and do my JOB.

I know Mr. Smith has a tumor I was supposed to remove today, but my cat is sick and I am still tired from Shingles, have storm damage to clear and no clean SOCKS to perform surgery in and….

Uh huh.

Writer UP

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You guys don’t have to do NaNo or like NaNo. It isn’t for everyone, but neither is this profession. I participate in NaNo, support it and recommend it.

Just for the LOVE of all that is chocolate, DO NOT believe you are finished after 50,000 or more words. You WILL need revisions and edits, so hold off on the CreateSpace or the query. You might probably will have a literary train wreck. But you have a FINISHED train wreck. EXPERIENCE will teach you what to do and even what NOT to do.

There are ways to have less of a mess at the end, but we’ll talk about that next time.

NaNo trains speed and discipline. Style comes with preparation, time and practice, not nit-picking.

So *beats shield* come back with your first draft or ON it ;).

THIS…IS…SPARTA NANO!

Haters: We will darken the skies with our criticism.

Real Writers: Then we will WRITE in the SHADE.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of NaNo? Good. Now suck it up. Have you tried before and failed to finish? Why? Have you revisited the “footage” to see what you could change to improve odds of finishing? Do you over-edit? STOP IT. Do you have friends, family or activities that interfere? Hint: They aren’t going away.

Share your successes, monsters, defeats and we will raise our goblets coffee mugs and spears red pens to the Elysian Fields! We will forever be Brothers and Sisters at Arms. Sign up HERE for NaNoWriMo.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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).

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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