Posts Tagged novels

Structure Part 6–Getting Primal & Staying Simple

Image courtesy of Jami Gold WANA Commons

Sorry for the delay in posting. Busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kickin’ contest today. Some cool announcements, though. I am teaching a fun class called ACHOO! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral and it’s only $25. Also have a really cool Facebook class coming up taught by FB expert Lisa Hall-Wilson, which I actually will be attending because I know that there is probably a lot about Facebook even I don’t know. Need to keep my Social Media Jedi status and all. So I hope you’ll join me. And if, after all this plot stuff we’ve been talking about, you STILL feel like your head is about to explode? I recommend Jami Gold’s Plotting for Pantsers class.

Anyway, back to structure, since that’s why y’all are here. Or it’s a condition of your parole *shrugs*

Okay, so if you have read all the blogs in this series, you should understand what makes a scene vs. a sequel, understand the three-act dramatic structure. You also understand that the antagonist—or Big Boss Troublemaker—is the engine of your story. Without the BBT, your protagonist’s world would remain unchanged. The BBT’s agenda drives the story. It is the engine. No engine, no forward motion. By this point, you should be able to decipher a good idea from a not-so-good idea and then, once decided, state what your book is about in ONE sentence. You can have up to three, but let’s shoot for one.

Welcome to part SIX of my series on novel structure–whoo-hoo! Today we are going to discuss gimmick versus fundamentals of a good story.

First, gimmick. Here is the thing. There are only so many plots. DO NOT try to get creative with plot. Everything has been done. Seriously. Remember Part One of this series? There are only so many elements on the Periodic Table, yet everything in the universe is made up of some combination of these elements. Think of core plots like the elements on the Periodic Table.

Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. Leave the wheel alone. You do not have to revinvent plot as we understand it to tell a darn good story.

I find a lot of new writers get really excited about gimmick. Gimmick is dangerous, and gimmicks can bite back. Don’t believe me? Okay…M. Night Shyamalan. He got us with The Sixth Sense, but after that? It was over. Why? Because the “magic” only worked with a naïve audience. After The Sixth Sense we were like CSI Vegas with every Shyamalan story. Short of using a swab kit and blacklight, we paid attention to every last little detail trying to figure out the twist ending.

This also limited Shyamalan in that he was doomed if he did and doomed if he didn’t. If he told a story with a twist ending, then the audience (no longer naïve) was looking for the clues, so no ending could possibly measure up to The Sixth Sense. But, if Shyamalan tried to do a movie with no twist and do something different, then the audience was ticked because there was no twist.

Shyamalan, in my opinion, is a victim of his own brilliance, and I can see how The Sixth Sense really put him in a bind…because it worked so well. Most of the time gimmicks suck, but even when they are really good…they still suck. So avoid gimmick and just focus on becoming a darn good storyteller.

Anyway, back to my original point.  There are only so many plots, so don’t try to be cute and clever and unique because it is unlikely you will discover a “new element.” Go ahead and try. I guarantee you that one of two things will happen.

One is that you will think you have this new plot no one has ever seen. All excited, you will posit this new-and-shiny-never-before-imagined-idea to your fellow writing friends, and one of them (I promise) will go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like the movie Blah.” And then you are required to drink heavily and cry and wonder why you were doomed to be born a writer. The other end-scenario is that you get so weird that you barely understand your own story, and the poor the reader will need a Dungeon Master Guide and a sherpa to navigate your plot.

So, remember. Pizza has rules. Plot has rules. Can’t get too weird. If you still want to invent the plot never seen before? Have fun storming the castle *waves and smiles*.

Moving on…

Plots, at the very core, are usually simple. Why? The plot is the foundation. Now what you construct on top of that foundation can be super-complex. Note I wrote complex NOT complicated.  Even the most complex stories can be boiled down to very simple goals. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, James Clavell’s Shogun, and MacMurtry’s epic Lonesome Dove all have very simple forces driving very complex and dynamic stories.  Good versus evil. Struggle for power, for survival, for love. Very simple. As Blake Snyder says in his book Save the Cat: Is it primal? Would a caveman understand the core of your story?

Good storytellers connect with the audience on a basic level. So when you whittle down that idea or novel into a one-sentence log-line, step back and be honest. Does your story hinge on primal drives like survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, or fear of death? Does it have physical and or emotional stakes? Your story might seem complex, but at the core it should be very basic and connect at a visceral level.

People in China LOVED Titanic.Why? Because it is a love story. Love is basic. It is primal.

In the upcoming weeks we are going to discuss various methods of plotting, but before you start any novel, there are some fundamental questions we can use as a litmus test for our idea. Ask yourself:

Do I have a sympathetic protagonist? 

Notice I said sympathetic…not likable. Be careful here. If we are expecting readers to spend 10 hours (average time to read a novel) with our protagonist, it helps if they are rooting for him to win. If you have a rough protagonist, then you need to at least offer the reader a glimmer of hope that he can be redeemed. If he can’t be redeemed, then you must offer the reader something about your protagonist that puts the reader on his side.

For instance, Quentin Tarantino knew he had a potential problem in Pulp Fiction. His protagonists (Travolta & Jackson) happen to be a two hit men and human beings of the lowest sort. Tarantino was brilliant in how he handled introducing Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. First, he makes them funny. They stop for a burger before the hit and get into this funny dialogue about the Big Mac vs. The Royale.

So we find them funny and we relate. But then Tarantino takes it another step and makes the bad guy badder than these two hit men so that the audience will side with the lesser of two evils. When viewed “in relation” these guys are clear heroes. They are still deplorable, but they are sympathetic.

Do I have a genuine GOAL for my protagonist?

A lot of first-time novelists get fascinated writing novels about journals, letters and buried secrets. I have a theory about this. It is called, “We-Are-Squeaky-New-and-Don’t-Know-Jack-About-How-to-Plot Syndrome.” Guess how I know this? Yes, I was visited by the Bright Idea Fairy too. Shoot her. Now. Double-tap. It’s for the best.

Novels that involve a journal or finding about a secret past usually involve the newbie author’s favorite tactic…the flashback. Since we have no big goal at the end, forward momentum is scary, so we roll back…and this makes the reader feel as if she is trapped in the car with a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift.

Journals and letters, in my opinion, are so attractive because they provide the unskilled author a contrived mechanism for stringing together unrelated vignettes. That is not a plot. Sorry. I was bummed too. That is okay, though. Everyone starts somewhere. I’m here to help :D.

Yes, you can use journals in your story, but seriously? How many best-selling novels have you seen that involve someone reading a journal? Things written in journals are in the past, which means they have already happened and the world didn’t end so who cares? It becomes a Watch out for that glacier! No rising stakes and no pressing danger. Watch out for the glacier! It’s moving at an inch a year, but watch out!

Conflict drives stories. My best advice? Journals are for self-actualization. Leave self-actualization for therapy. Want a gut-wrenching plot? Stick to the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy ;).

Stories can have a journal/letters, but they MUST ALSO have a main conflict and the journal/letters are merely a tool that drives the present conflict…which is your plot. The journal isn’t the plot. Neither are the letters.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had conflict happening real-time. Yes, the novel contained each girl’s experience with the pants, but each girl’s story was a separate plot joined in one large plot and happening real-time. Each girl was facing a different challenge and had to mature in a different way, but the group of girls (the group is actually the protagonist) had to learn to mature while finding a way to hold on to childhood friendship.

Same with The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood. The Ya-Ya Journal was critical for the daughter and mother (present-day) to repair the rift in their relationship. So there was a present-day problem that the journal solved, and basically you have a Fried Green Tomatoes. Two parallel plot lines and the present-day plot relies on past-time events to drive forward momentum in the present.

Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook was the same thing. Two parallel love stories, but both had a plot arc. The love story told in the notebook drives the present-day love story in the nursing home.

Same with secrets. The secret must have something to do with the present-day story or it is just a contrivance. The secret can be a part of the story, but generally doesn’t work as the entire story. Linda Castillo executes this brilliantly in her novel Sworn to Silence. Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish, but made a choice to live in the world with the English. She is the Chief of Police in a small Ohio community of both Amish and English, and she acts as a cultural bridge. When a serial killer begins butchering women, Kate leads the investigation, but a secret from her past holds clues to catching the present-day killer. Kate’s secret drives the forward momentum of the present-day plot, and adds mind-bending tension.

Is my story primal?

Beneath the empires and spaceships and unicorns, is your main plot driven by a basic human desire/need? Here is a list of some best-selling novels to illustrate my point.

Michael Crichton’s Prey—Survival. Save/protect loved ones.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic ParkDon’t get eaten. Protect loved ones.

Lee Child’s Killing FloorVengeance. Protect loved ones.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games—Don’t die. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Cormac McCarthy The RoadSurvive. Protect loved ones.

Linda Castillo Sworn to Silence—Fear of death. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Jennifer Chiaverini The Aloha Quilt—Love. Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Bob Mayer & Jennifer Crusie’s Wild Ride—Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island—Survival. Vengeance. Protect loved ones.

Stephenie MeyerTwilightSex. Protect loved ones. Don’t get eaten.

Dennis Lehane’s Mystic RiverVengeance.

Okay, so as you can see, I read a lot of genres. But most great books can be boiled down to a very simple driving force. New writers very frequently rush into the writing with no idea of the story they are trying to tell. I know. I’ve been there. And since deep-down we know we do not have a core goal that is simple and primal, we try to compensate by making things more and more complicated.

That’s why so many writers have a panic attack about the agent pitch session. We are forced to boil down our plot to the primal core…and we can’t because there isn’t one. So we ramble and blather and try to fit 400 pages of world-building complications into our pitch while trying not to throw up in our shoes (Been there. Done that. Got the T-Shirt).

Being complicated is like trying to use Bond-O putty to fix your plot. Won’t work. Strip that baby down and look at the bare bones. Simple. Primal. This is why gimmicks are a sticky wicket. Gimmicks make stories complicated instead of complex. Stay away.

Remember that there are no new plots. So why not take a story you really love, look at the plot, then make it your own? The award-winning novel A Thousand Acres is King Lear on an Iowa farm. In my pov, Twilight is Jane Eyre with vampires (and I am not alone in this assessment). Instead of trying to totally revinvent story and plot as we understand it, why not take a book you love so much the pages are falling out of it, and see if you can use the premise in a new and exciting way?

Utilizing another author’s plot is not plagiarism. It’s smart. Remember…the number of plots is finite. I think this is where a lot of writers get stuck. Heck, I did! We believe we have to come up with a story never told before or risk being accused of plagiarism. Not so.

Plagiarism is when someone takes the execution of another author’s plot and tries to hide that by only changing surface elements. So if I wrote a book called Evening about girl who moves from Texas to Northern California to fall in love with a vampire who merely glimmers in sunlight…. See the point? Actually, a great way to come up with story ideas is to go to the IMDB and look at log-lines, then ask yourself how could you tell that story differently? (Cool tactic I learned from the awesome Bob Mayer :D).

A timid romance author must travel to South America and join forces with a handsome opportunist to rescue her sister who’s been kidnapped by treasure-hunting thieves. (Romancing the Stone).

A shy librarian must travel to South Texas and join forces with a handsome biker to rescue her brother who has been kidnapped by desperate drug-dealers. (Kristen’s Made-Up Story).

See how you can take a story that has already been done and make it something amazing and new?

So what are some problems you guys are facing when it comes to plot? Do you have any resources to share? Have I scared the socks off you or offered you new inspiration? Share. I love hearing from you guys. Lets me know I haven’t given you a massive coronary and killed you off, :D. I appreciate your loyalty to this series.

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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of October I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

, , , , , , , ,

49 Comments

Amazon–Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

 

Last week, I picked on The Big Six in Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm, so today we are going to talk about Amazon. There seem to be two camps when it comes to Amazon. Either they are a tool of Satan and are actually responsible for the cute kitten trafficking to fund drug cartels in Guatemala, or they are the great and benevolent Optimus Amazon Prime, the one to free the enslaved creatives from their oppressive Big Six Masters.

Which is the truth? More on that in a moment. A little story first to help this sink in…

Some of you may or may not care know that I actually earned my B.A. in International Relations with a heavy emphasis on political economy (specifically dealing with the Middle East and North Africa). Back in the day, I wanted to be a foreign service officer or an analyst. So what did I do? I booked a flight to Syria.

The day after graduation, a cohort and I boarded a plane to Damascus. Our goal was to modernize a small paper company. We sought to streamline production and minimize inefficiencies. We were young, we were smart, we were…seriously dumb out of our depth.

Our plan was to help a paper plant stuck in the 60s come join the rest of the world in the 90s. We believed we could help them become competitive in a digital world so they could be competitive in the 21st century. (Sound familiar?)

Yes, that was the plan. What did we actually do?

We spent most of our time waiting on our driver to come pick us up from the refugee camp where we were staying. Yep, waiting…and more waiting…and counting goats. And, beyond that? We tried to chew ourselves free from the bureaucratic red tape that kept us from doing anything meaningful…and we drank a lot of Turkish coffee.

Why the trip down Memory Lane? 

Little did I know back in 1999, that, a decade later I would become a voice for writers in a new paradigm. See, back then I thought my passion was politics, but it was actually people all along. I traveled halfway across the globe to one of the most dangerous places for a blonde with a big mouth and zero common sense to be. And, though I failed back then, I am better prepared now…to help you guys.

Huh? I’ll explain.

The Problem with a Monopoly

Here is the thing. Syria is a dictatorship, and being a dictatorship, they really don’t care for a free market system despite any rhetoric about wanting to modernize. The paper company we wanted to streamline? They were the ONLY paper company, so anyone who wanted to wipe their tush or blow their nose, HAD to buy it from this company.

Those at the top were, well, on top. They didn’t need to listen to well-meaning college graduates who might have actually helped them be more efficient and make more money. They already had a lot of money and they controlled anything paper.

Failure will teach us far more than success ever will…

That time in Syria taught me a lot. Aside from the sound pop on the snoot to teach me I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, I got a solid dose of the downfalls of a monopoly. You see,  success was the paper company’s worst enemy. They had a lock on an important commodity and no competition. With no competition, they got lazy. There were gross inefficiencies in production and distribution and quality control was dismal at best.

But why would they change? There was no one else consumers could go to.

Talk is Cheap

I also learned that talk is cheap. Companies can say they care, that they want to be efficient, that they want to offer good products. Heck they can say it until the cows come home and that doesn’t mean a thing. It is generally only when there is an outside threat that these companies will get their act together.

So what does this have to do with publishing?

Part of why The Big Six have been able to be so grotesquely inefficient has been due to the fact that, historically, they’ve controlled distribution. They held the keys to the kingdom. Big Publishing didn’t have any decent competition, so no credible threat, thus there was no real impetus to do things faster, better, cheaper.

Oh, but that has changed. Yet with all these changes and innovations, does the future look brighter for the publishing industry and for writers?

Not so hasty…

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

Amazon is the 500 pound gorilla in the room, only we can’t see it because it is hidden neatly inside a giant digital Trojan Horse. Don’t get me wrong, I buy plenty of stuff off Amazon, and they have done a lot to help shake up the industry and get New York hopping. Without them, I don’t believe we would have seen so many miraculous changes so quickly.

Ah, but every fairy tale has a dark side…

I really hope New York gets its act together, because, once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

Amazon right now is in the courting phase with writers, and it is using us (writers) as a weapon to kill our former masters. Ah, but if Amazon really gets its way…what then?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? And they already have a nasty reputation. They pulled that little stunt with a publisher who dared to cross them. Two years ago, they removed all the “Buy Buttons” off all the Macmillan titles. So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?

Lord Acton so eloquently said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that statement is as relevant today in 2012 as it was in 1887, because while industries change and technology changes, humans are timeless. So what happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

The Perks without the Works

Unlike NY, Amazon isn’t searching through all the millions of wanna-bes for a handful of investments. Anyone can publish quickly and cheaply. Writers are running to them! The problem with this is they get all the benefits of being a publisher without any real sacrifice.

A lawyer friend of mine noted that when writers publish on Amazon, we all agree to the same blanket contract. This gives Amazon all the perks of being a publisher without concerning itself with any of the traditional protections for the writer.

And, I understand that writers haven’t been treated all that great in the past, but we need to ask the tough question. Is this future better? Is trading one dictator for another a good plan?

Amazon having total control is a particularly frightening scenario for indie and self-published authors, because many aren’t repped by agents with the legal know-how to fight any injustice. Oh, I suppose we could sue, but Amazon has armies of high-powered attorneys to make a lesson out of any of us who tried.

I know this sounds a little Orwellian, but when everyone else is gone, what is to stop Amazon from having “technical errors” that just happen to lose YOUR books? What’s to stop another “Buy Button” glitch? What’s to stop them from demanding we all sell our books for $2.99 and if we don’t comply, we suddenly start having “technical errors”?

Yes, I read a lot of Asimov in my formative years.

Amazon is great at selling the cheapest stuff. They sell everything from camping equipment to push-up bras. Books are just another commodity…right?

Books are not TVs and Writers are not Camping Equipment

See, NY has its share of problems, but one thing NY has going for it is the LOVE of the written word. They VALUE it. Now, they might be valuing it in a way that isn’t competitive, but at the end of the day, they still VALUE it in a way that I believe eludes Amazon.

To Amazon? The gorilla doesn’t have the same sentimental connection. The bottom line and making money is all that matters, and, sure, they love selling motorcycles, but the romance genre alone is worth BILLIONS.

Caveat Emptor

Some people say, “It’s just business.” Yet, Amazon has not had any problem going to the mattresses to dominate the market and drive competitors out of the game. I guarantee you that, if Amazon does manage to finish off the major competition, they will soon open their own brick-and-mortar bookstores on Barnes & Noble’s grave. Why do I say this? In my book, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. How will we writers feel about this type of “business” when we land in the cross-hairs?

You will know them by their works…

Great, Amazon wants to bring affordable and convenient shopping to the consumer. Awesome. But the question becomes, what are they willing to do to increase their profit margin?

Publishers Weekly announced on February 1st of 2012 that:

Amazon is continuing to report record growth. The electronic and general merchandise segment that includes the Kindle devices posted a 51% fourth quarter increase and a 57% gain for 2011.

So, as a former wanna-be analyst and paper salesperson (post-Syria), what do these numbers say to me? They spell potential big trouble in the future. See, I know what it is like to be the sales guy. Sure, when you are opening up into a new territory with no competition and you have a 57% gain in a quarter, you are hailed a genius! A hero!

Ah, but the numbers always look good when penetrating a new market. It’s like turning on a water hose to fill an empty pool. Every drop looks awesome. But once the pool is full?

Those numbers don’t look as impressive and the board of directors want to know where you, the salesperson failed. Why aren’t we seeing the same profits? What do we need to do to see 57% gains every quarter? The shareholders want to see profits!

And this is usually where the trouble begins.

This is the point that the benevolent dictatorship monopoly turns into a tyrant, because it is all about the bottom line and the spreadsheets. They lose all sense of reality and fail to see that no company can make 57% gains every quarter into perpetuity. This is where they start gutting geese writers for golden eggs best-selling books.

Sure, Amazon is great now that everyone is allowed to publish, but what if, in a few years, they no longer like that business model and they only want shiny darlings like Eisler and Konrath? What’s to stop them from becoming Big Six 2.0? What’s to stop them from jerking around our royalty rates? What’s to stand in their way and keep them from trafficking cute kittens to fund Guatemalan drug cartels?

Writers

We seem to be the ones that get left out, but we are the most important. We weren’t well-represented at Digital Book World or even the recent ToC (Porter Anderson explores this in depth in the latest Writing on the Ether.) Yet, without writers there are no stories, no books to sell.

Take heart, my peeps. We hold more power than we know.

How do we make New York wake up, snap in line and treat us better than they have in the past? How do we keep the belly of the Amazon Trojan Horse closed and the greedy gorilla at bay? How can we help ensure that the indies popping up all over have a viable marketplace to grow and put down roots and fairly compete?

We band together, we get educated, and we become empowered. Our author platform is the most powerful tool at our disposal. It makes NY take us seriously, and it will help keep Amazon playing nice. I would even be so bold as to say that our platforms will determine the future landscape of publishing.

An author with a platform is a citizen, an author without one is a subject.

There are too many authors who want to just write and hand the books and the business to someone else. That is a dangerous and risky plan.

No Platform=No Options

An author with a viable social media platform is empowered, and is more than just an author. Writers plugged into the WANA community are transformed. They are a new breed of faster, smarter and strangely good-looking writers. They are a WANAuthor. WANAuthors are citizens of the new publishing paradigm with a voice and a vote.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

We Are Not Alone

Writers! Remember, We Are Not Alone (WANA) and together we are stronger. This is a great time to be a writer, and the future looks bright, but we are in this together. We are no longer indie, self-pub or traditional…we are WRITER-KIND. One global race comprised of storytellers, inspirers and educators with one mission…to fill the world with amazing books.

In a world where power corrupts and talk is cheap, we need each other more than ever. Our platforms and our voice keep the despots in check because we have the power to remove them from office take our business elsewhere.

What are your thoughts? Fears? Concerns? What do you see on the horizon and what are your solutions or suggestions? Hey, together we are stronger, but we are also smarter. I read every comment, so raise your voice!

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Those Who Can’t Self-Publish, Really? by Girls with Pens

The Big Six Publishers are Dead-6 Critical Factors for the Future by Richard Monro

Speak Strength to Yourself by Shelli Johnson

100 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt by Matthew Turner at Jane Friedman’s place

NYTBSA Bob Mayer has another perspective about Amazon over at his place.  The Reality of Amazon and the Digital Publishing World.

Publication–Perfection Not Required by the amazing Jody Hedlund.

25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called ‘Aspiring Writers’ by the word-pirate Chuck Wendig

Let the Good Times Roll AWESOME post by the talented Ingrid Schaffenburg

Women Peeing Outdoors by Natalie Hartford. Hey! It’s funny and makes the mash-up eclectic.

Jenny Hansen has an AWESOME lesson about Triberr (Triberr is a tool to manage all those blogs you like to read).

, , , , , , , , , ,

151 Comments

The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues

To prologue or not to prologue? That is the question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem. Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.

So without further ado…

The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues

Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…

In my critique group, one of the first tasks each member must do is they must write detailed backgrounds of all characters. I make them get all of that precious backstory out of their system. This is a useful tactic in that first, it can help us see if a) our characters are psychologically consistent, b) can provide us with a feel for the characters’ psychological motivations, which will help later in plotting. I have a little formula: background–> motivations –>goals–>a plan–>a detailed plan, which = plot and c) can help us as writers honestly see what details are salient to the plot. This helps us better fold the key details into the plotting process so that this vital information can be blended expertly into the story real-time.

Many new writers bungle the prologue because they lack a system that allows them to discern key details or keep track of key background details. This makes for clumsy writing, namely a giant “fish head” labeled prologue. What do we do with fish heads? We cut them off and throw them away.

Sin #2 If your prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.

This point ties into the earlier sin. Do this. Cut off the prologue. Now ask, “Has this integrally affected the story?” If it hasn’t, it’s likely a fish head masquerading as a prologue.

Sin #3 If your prologue’s sole purpose is to “hook” the reader…

If readers have a bad tendency to skip past prologues, and the only point of your prologue is to hook the reader, then you have just effectively shot yourself in the foot. You must have a great hook in a prologue, but then you need to also have a hook in Chapter One. If you can merely move the prologue to Chapter One and it not upset the flow of the story, then that is a lot of pressure off your shoulders to be “doubly” interesting.

Sin #4 If your prologue is overly long…

Prologues need to be short and sweet and to the point. Get too long and that is a warning flag that this prologue is being used to cover for sloppy writing.

Sin #5 If your prologue is written in a totally different style and voice that is never tied back into the main story…

Pretty self-explanatory.

Sin #6 If your prologue is über-condensed world-building…

World-building is generally one of those things, like backstory, that can and should be folded into the narrative. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a little world-building, but think “floating words in Star Wars.” The yellow floating words that drift off into space help the reader get grounded in the larger picture before the story begins. But note the floating words are not super-detailed Tolkien world-building. They are simple and, above all, brief.

Sin #7 If your prologue is there solely to “set the mood…”

You have to set the mood in Chapter One anyway, so like the hook, why do it twice?

The Prologue Virtues

Now that we have discussed the 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, you might be asking yourself, “So when is it okay to use a prologue?” Glad you asked.

Virtue #1

Prologues can be used to resolve a time gap with information critical to the story.

Genre will have a lot to do with whether one uses a prologue or not. Thrillers generally employ prologues because what our hero is up against may be an old enemy. In James Rollins’s The Doomsday Key the prologue introduces the “adversary” Sigma will face in the book. Two monks come upon a village where every person has literally starved to death when there is more than an abundance of food. Many centuries pass and the very thing that laid waste to that small village is now once more a threat. But this gives the reader a feel for the fact that this is an old adversary. The prologue also paints a gripping picture of what this “adversary” can do if unleashed once more.

The prologue allows the reader to pass centuries of time without getting a brain cramp. Prologue is set in medieval times. Chapter One is in modern times. Prologue is also pivotal for understanding all that is to follow.

Virtue # 2

Prologues can be used if there is a critical element in the backstory relevant to the plot.

The first Harry Potter book is a good example of a book that could have used a prologue, but didn’t (likely because Rowling knew it would likely get skipped). Therese Walsh in her blog Once Before A Time Part 2 said this:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is told in a close 3rd person POV (Harry’s), but her first chapter is quite different, told when Harry is a baby and switching between omniscient and 3rd person POVs (Mr. Dursley’s and Dumbledore’s). Rowling may have considered setting this information aside as a prologue because of those different voices and the ten-year lag between it and the next scene, but she didn’t do it. The info contained in those first pages is critical, it helps to set the story up and makes it more easily digested for readers. And it’s 17 pages long.

This battle is vital for the reader to be able to understand the following events and thus would have been an excellent example of a good prologue. But, Rowling, despite the fact this chapter would have made a prime prologue still chose to make it Chapter One so the reader would actually read this essential piece of story information.

Food for thought for sure.

Yes, I had Seven Sins and only Two Virtues. So sue me :P . That should be a huge hint that there are a lot more reasons to NOT use a prologue than there are to employ one (that and I didn’t want this blog to be 10,000 words long). Prologues, when done properly can be amazing literary devices. Yet, with a clear reader propensity to skip them, then that might at least make us pause before we decide our novel must have one. Make sure you ask yourself honest questions about what purpose these pages are really serving. Are they an essential component of a larger whole? Or are you using Bondo to patch together a weak plot or lazy writing?

But, don’t take my word for it. I actually scoured the Internet for some great blogs regarding prologues to help you guys become stronger in your craft:

Once Before a Time: Prologues Part 1 by Therese Walsh

Once Before a Time Part 2 by Therese Walsh

Agent Nathan Bransford offers his opinion as does literary agent Kristin Nelson

Carol Benedict’s blog Story Elements: Using a Prologue

To Prologue or Not To Prologue by Holly Jennings

If after all of this information, you decide you must have a prologue because all the coolest kids have one, then at least do it properly. Here is a great e-how article.

So if you must write a prologue, then write one that will blow a reader away.

What are some of the questions, concerns, troubles you guys have had with prologues? Which ones worked? Which ones bombed? What are your solutions or suggestions?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Congratulations!

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique is Kristie Jennings Kiessling. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

, , , , , , ,

110 Comments

10 Ways to Improve Your “Likability Quotient”

A couple weeks ago, I had a post about how to sell fiction. We explored the WHY behind the BUY. The same tools that will sell car insurance or bank accounts won’t work for selling books. Fiction is emotional, and often we will purchase based off feelings. This is why likability on social media is so crucial to marketing. We are no longer selling stories…we are selling ourselves, which just confirms for me that writers really are the oldest profession in the world. But that’s another topic entirely :D.

Often we will judge a book by its cover author. If interacting with the author is a pleasant experience, we feel better about purchasing their books and even promoting them to our network of connections. Conversely, if an author is self-centered, self-promotes non-stop, spams everyone in sight, takes without giving in return and acts like an equestrian derriere, we would sooner suck nails through a straw than part with .99 that would benefit the jerk writer. A few of you were concerned, however, about how to be “liked.” No need to panic. Today’s post is here to help. Connecting with others is so simple that we frequently make it harder than it needs to be. Being likable doesn’t mean we need to be phoney.

There are a lot of different ways to do social media. My WANA methods rely heavily on learning to be part of a team, and, as we have discussed before, this is very contrary to traditional marketing. I believe social media works like a barn-raising. Everyone does a little bit for the good of the whole. Even just being mindful to do small things makes a huge difference in the long-run.

One of the biggest obstacles we face in social media is that we do have to limit the self-promotion. It turns people off and they really aren’t likely to listen when we go around tooting our own horn. What do we do then? We do what is counterintuitive…we support others.

The single largest determining factor as to whether a person will succeed or not on social media is our L.Q. Heard of I.Q.? Well, L.Q. is your Likabilty Quotient.

We don’t care how smart you are as much as we care if we LIKE you. When working on our social media platform, the ever-present questions should always be:

Do people like me?

I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. And there is no need to panic. Calm down. You don’t need to hide all your Star Trek paraphernalia and tell your friends to get in the closet. This isn’t high school, where popularity is based on stupid stuff.

Likability is important. Why? We hang out with people we like. We promote them. We go out of our way for them. We want them to succeed.

Our information can be the best on the web, but when pitted against another blogger with not-as-great-information…but she connects to readers and we don’t? The likable blogger will win. If she promotes others and we don’t? Again, she will win.

Being an excellent writer is not enough.  When we get out on social media (or even launch a blog) we must make sure we have good content. That is a no-brainer. I don’t know about you guys, but find it hard to like people in person who ramble or talk to hear the sound of their own voice. On the web, I like substance just as much.

But, in addition to that great content, we MUST actively work on how others perceive us. We must become likable. How to we become likable? We serve others first. Remember the barn-raising? Help them raise their barn, and most people will be more than happy to return the favor.

Top 10 Ways to Raise Your L.Q.

1. If we are on Twitter and we know an author writes great blogs, RT (retweet) for them. It only takes a minute of time, and it earns you a reputation of being an edifier.

2. Comment on blogs (REAL Comments). A healthy comments section is a sign of a healthy blog. Comments are encouraging to bloggers who take a lot of time to craft meaningful posts. When readers take time to comment, it has the potential to generate dialogue. Dialogue is critical for a blog to thrive.  I want comments on my blog, so I go out of my way to comment on the blogs of others.

3. Reply to comments on our own blogs. I wish I could reply to every single last one of you. You guys have no idea how much you make my day when you take the time to post feedback, compliments or even your opinions. Remember in social media, our goal is to form relationships. Relationships are two-way streets.

4. Visit the sites of those who post in your comments. You guys might not be aware, but I am always on the lookout for great blogs for the mash-up. I regularly click on your websites and blogs.

5. Embed trackbacks (hyperlinks)…um the blue thingies. Link to other blogs you like. Link to books you like. Hey, we need all the help we can get these days. There are A LOT of choices. Mash-ups (lists of favorite links/blogs) and even recommendations are a great way to help out other writers and generate more traffic to your blog at the same time. Everyone wins.

6. Blog about your favorite books, then link to that author’s book, home page or blog. Need blogging ideas? Go out of your way to promote others. Part of why I talk so much about Bob Mayer, James Scott Bell, Les Edgerton, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, Jessica Morrell and Christopher Vogler is because these writers are my heroes. I believe that these are the best teachers in the industry. Now, instead of them having to go out and self-promote I have gifted them with the best gift a writer can have….a genuine word-of-mouth recommendation from a fan. Make life easy on other authors, and who knows? They might one day love to return the favor.

7. When you see a blog/book you like, take a moment to tweet the post or repost the link on your FB page. This helps the blogger/author gain exposure she otherwise wouldn’t have. It also benefits people in your circle of friends in that you are acting as a filter for great information…which helps your platform grow because people trust you for quality goods.

8. Openly praise. When I see a writer post a blog, I go out of my way to open, scan and take a look. Then, when I post, I make sure to add a “Great post!” or a “Very interesting!” Trust me. People remember an authentic compliment.

9. Repost someone else’s blog. Some people might get weird about this, but this is an amazing way to spread influence for you and the blogger you repost. Have the flu? Power outage and you don’t know how you will get a blog together in time? No worries. Just repost. How do you do this?

Give the title of the blog, and make it very clear you are reposting someone else’s content. Only give the first couple paragraphs…enough to hook a reader. Then add a hyperlink to the original blog. Now you have a blog post and the blogger you promoted now has exposure to your regular followers. I gain a lot of subscriptions this way. There are some people who had never heard of me until Marilag Lubag (Hi Marilag!) reposted one of my blogs. Her readers followed the hyperlink, loved my blog (in its entirety), and I have new fans. Yippppeeee!

10. At least hit the “Like” button. I know that sometimes I read blogs on my phone and I really don’t feel like trying to type out a compliment. I have a touch screen and there is an auto-correct function. My compliment would probably look like this:

 I loved your blood. You make so many grape poinsettias and I wish I wood have fought of it. Grape stuff. Looking forehead to next leek’s blood.

So if you don’t want a blogger thinking you want to “leak their blood” instead of “read their blog” it is fine. Hit the “Like” button. Takes two seconds and it encourages the writer who put their effort into the blonde…blood…blog. And they WILL remember your face.

You know, I didn’t always do things the right way. In the beginning, my blogs sounded more like lectures. Was I stuck up? No. Was I insecure and waiting for the digital cabbages to come flying through the screen? Yes. Fear of saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid or making a mistake can keep us from genuinely interacting. But when we fail to interact, what others see is a snob, not someone who is literally terrified that both feet will fly in her mouth. I know it doesn’t make sense, but humans are self-centered, insecure and neurotic.

If someone makes a weird face, we automatically assume they are looking at our fat thighs (okay, maybe that is just me). We don’t stop to think that person might be shy. Why? Because we are paranoid narcissists and like to believe we influence everything. It’s a control thing. You know I am right :D. You, in the back, lurking on my blog. We do like you, you just were so quiet you blended in with HTML. Come hang out. Have a snack.

Can you spot the writer?

Being likable is far easier than it seems. I guarantee you that if you just employ a handful of those ten tactics, your following will improve tremendously. Why? Because you will be giving others what we all desperately need…support, validation, compliments.

What are some habits/behaviors that you guys LIKE? What small or big things can others do that just warms your heart and puts you on their team? Conversely, what are some pet peeves? Maybe we are screwing up but don’t know. Educate us! I want to hear from you guys.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

156 Comments

Structure Part 7–Genre Matters

For the past several weeks we have been exploring structure and why it is important. If you haven’t yet read the prior posts, I advise you do because each post builds on the previous lesson. All lessons are geared to making you guys master plotters. Write cleaner and faster. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. Think of this like stocking your cabinet with spices. If you like to cook Mexican food, then you will want to have a lot of cumin, chili powder and paprika on hand. Like cooking Italian food? Then basil and oregano are staple spices. In cooking we can break rules … but only to a certain point.

We can add flavors of other cultures into our dish, but must be wary that if we deviate too far from expectations, or add too many competing flavors, we will have a culinary disaster. Writing is much the same. We must choose a genre, but then can feel free to add flavors of other genres into our work.

Ten years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-inspirational-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants. I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at a French restaurant.

Part of why I stress picking a genre is that genres have rules and standards. For example, last year, I had a student drop out of my critique group because she wanted to basically write a literary thriller. I couldn’t make her understand that there were serious pacing issues with this combination. People who love thrillers like fast, steadily rising action. If we stop to take time to explore feelings and social issues, we will vex the very audience we are trying to entertain. People who read thrillers and people who read literary fiction are two very different audiences.

Granted, there are people who like to read everything, but betting our writing future on entertaining statistical outliers is a serious gamble. It’s like creating tuna ice cream. Sure, there is likely a handful of pregnant women who would love tuna ice cream, but most people would just pass. I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

In writing as in food, some combinations are never meant to go together. Paranormal thriller? Okay. Cool. Popcorn jelly beans. Literary thriller? Tuna ice cream of the writing world. Just my POV.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit.

Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the LambsA murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your Big Boss Trouble Maker (read Structure Part Three if you want to know what a BBT is). Yes, the guy will likely be an antagonist, but that is different.

Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance.

Literary Fiction-is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Note: Literary fiction is not a free pass to avoid plotting. There still needs to be an overall plot problem that forces the change. People generally don’t wake up one day and just decide to change. There needs to be an outside driving force, a Big Boss Troublemaker, and a tangible physical goal. Again, in The Road, the man and boy have a tangible goal of getting to the ocean.

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers AssociationThe Dark Fiction Guild seemed to have a lot of helpful/fascinating links, so you might want to check them out too.

Young AdultI won’t talk long about YA, since YA beaks into so many subcategories. Often YA will follow the rules of the parent genre (i.e. YA thrillers still have a ticking clock, fast pacing and high stakes just like regular thrillers). The differences, however, is that YA generally will have a younger protagonist (most often a teenager) and will address special challenges particular to a younger age group.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin.

This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like children’s or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique is Jodi Aman. Congratulations! Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant Gigi. Her e-mail is gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

, , , , , , ,

53 Comments

Editing–Are You Butchering Your Creativity?

The topic for today is an interesting one and even possibly controversial. Editing is great, but it can KILL any kind of writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. I am currently participating in #nanowrimo. One consistent post I see looks like this. “Looked at the pages I wrote last week and now editing. What crap”…or something to that effect.

Editing too early can kill a novel. Yes, editing can be devastating to shorter works, but doesn’t have quite the killing power it possesses when introduced into longer works. In a novel that can span anywhere from 60-120,000 words (depending on genre), editing can be catastrophic if done at the wrong phase.

If you are writing a novel, you need to leave any kind of edit for once you have finished the entire first draft. Breathe. Get a paper bag. You will be okay. Just trust me. I learned stuff the hard way. I suffered so you don’t have to.

Now is it okay to reread what you have written in order to get grounded? Sure. And when you reread, feel free to correct any spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. It is okay to make notes of things you believe at the time should be fixed or even expounded. But don’t you dare hit that backspace button. Nothing gets deleted. Period. Feel free to highlight. Make a note that you believe something should be taken out at a later time, but leave it be. Also, anything you decide needs to be added needs to be written in any color other than your main document. Red, purple, blue. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a different color.

Yesterday, when I reviewed previous pages, I realized I’d divulged a tad too much information too early for my mystery-thriller. Instead of spending the entire day reworking the scene, I merely added in a note in red.

Rework this scene to make it seem like they are really after a possible serial killer. Increase tension.

Then I moved on.

Also, I must warn you that this applies to writing after NaNoWriMo. If you take part of your novel to a writing critique group before you are finished with the first draft, then you are taking a HUGE risk. You are asking for people to critique isolated instances out of context. The advice you get might do more harm than good.

You can still get advice, but, if you choose to do so, I recommend that you still follow these rules of editing. Any changes or suggestions need to be inserted in the form of notes (highlight possible deletions and make a notes as to why this section needed a change). Any additions need to be in another color…then sally forth.

Don’t look back, or you will turn into a pillar of unfinished novels.

Premature editing is very dangerous for three reasons:

1. Premature Editing Uproots Subconscious Seeds—Our subconscious mind is an amazing machine. It sees the big picture in ways the conscious mind cannot. As we write, our subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will likely seem to make no sense. Duh. That is like an acorn trying to envision life as a 100 foot tall oak tree.

These seeds need time to gestate. When we edit prematurely, all we see is a hunk of something smooshy. We don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to germinate and take root in the fertile soil of our story. By editing too early, we can possibly cripple our novel. By the end of the first draft, however, we will be able to look back and see sprouted weeds, which we can feel free to uproot. But the sprouts will be mature enough to distinguish from seedlings that need to be nurtured to their full potential.

This is especially true for those of you who did at least a basic plot of your main narrative points. When we do this, we have basically told our subconscious we need to make it from Point A to Point B (Inciting Incident to Turning Point Act One). Sometimes, our subconscious will want to show off and can dazzle us with how creatively it can make the trip.

So let it alone. Your subconscious could surprise you.

2.  Premature Editing Makes Us Mistake Busy Work for Real Work—Premature editing indulges our fears. Many times we writers do not continue forward due to subconscious fear. Deep down we might know our original idea is flawed, or not strong enough, or convoluted, or unclear. We may know that we don’t have a solid outline or framework to support a 100K words. We may realize our characters have problems, but it is going to take work and honesty to fix them. Or all of that might be just fine, but we fear failure or even success. We fear writing the gritty stuff because it leaves us exposed and vulnerable, or we fear writing real conflict because our human nature is to avoid it.

Premature editing gives us a false belief that we are being productive, when in fact it is sabotaging our work and reinforcing our fears by permitting us to procrastinate. Fears can only be conquered by facing them, and premature editing keeps us “busy” and gives us justification to stay mired.

 3.  Premature Editing Can Discourage and Keep a Writer from Finishing—This is another reason that traditional critique groups can be counter-productive. Again, other writers are seeing our work in a microcosm, and that limits how well they can critique. This is why I suggest using the techniques we discussed earlier. Just make notes.

Our fellow writers are invaluable, but we have to appreciate that they are seeing our work from a limited point of view. Their opinions may be dead-on (We HATE your protagonist and hope he dies), but they could be far off-base and serve only to uproot those subconscious seeds we discussed.

If we continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or our own self-edit, what happens is that we KILL our forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing bone saw.  Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, the point is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. That’s it. You can’t do this if you over think your work. If you hit a wall, just keep writing. Sometimes our brains are like water pumps. We need to prime them and get through the goo before the creativity flows. Just write. You can fix it later. Or, you can start over.

Doesn’t matter.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo, you need to remain focused on the entire point of NaNoWriMo…word count. That might not seem like enough, but trust me it is. Becoming disciplined enough to generate respectable word count and adhere to self-imposed deadlines is the clincher to doing this writing thing for a career. No publishing house will sign a writer who writes only when she “feels like it.”

NaNoWriMo is “career day” and newer writers get a taste of what it’s like to be an author. Career authors have to say no to family and friends, set boundaries and write no matter what…just like Nano. Professionals also have to learn to not edit too quickly. That is yet another valuable lesson from NaNoWriMo. So embrace the experience for what it is and let go of perfection for now.

So put down the red pen and use the Delete Key with care. With great power comes great responsibility. And, most of all, relax and have fun.

Time to hear from you guys, What do you love about editing? What do you hate? Do you have any tips or suggestions? War stories you’d like to share?

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

, , , , , , , , , ,

107 Comments

Author Blogs–Solid Platform, Wrong Audience

Happy Friday!!!! Today I have a really special treat for you guys. I do have to say that I love being right, but sometimes it kinda sux being right…but then it goes back to being awesome that I am right. Confused? Okay, well I started a ton of controversy surrounding writer blogs with such posts as Sacred Cow-Tipping–Why Writers Blogging About Writing is Bad and More Sacred Cow-Tipping–Common Blogging Misconceptions.

We have big folks in publishing claiming that blogging is dead, that blogging is a waste of time and does nothing to drive book sales. Yet, I counter with, “What if blogging isn’t the problem? What if writers just don’t know how to blog?”

GASP!

I mean if I ran out and spent $2000 on a Mac computer and the promptly used it to swat mosquitos and then loudly proclaimed that Mac laptops were a waste of money, everyone would think I was a lunatic, right? Yet we have the hubris to believe that because we can string together sentences that we instantly have the know-how to write a blog that connects to thousands of readers in a way that creates loyalty and drives book sales??? Hey, I’m not judging. I learned this stuff by making all the mistakes.

Yet, we have this amazing tool–the blog–and think that with NO instruction, we can be successful. Can we? Sure. Are there better approaches that are more effective? YES!!!

Blogging isn’t dead, but blogging is an art and a skill that needs to be learned. It can be learned by trial and error (like me) or it can be learned by those who have made all the dumb mistakes and who are willing to share their knowledge (from me). It feels good to be right, but sometimes it can bum me out, too. Yet, the awesome part is that, if I am right and I offer instruction to writers who want to blog, then there is a path to success and that is great reason to get excited.

Today my pal Susan Bischoff-who is an amazing writer and very sweet/supportive person-is going to share her experience. A couple weeks ago, Susan courageously e-mailed me and asked if she could share her story so that other writers could learn from her mistake. I think that is awesome and very brave and adds one more reason I adore her.

Thanks, Susan for doing this….

***

Kristen’s recent post, The Secret to Selling Books Part I–Let’s Get Sticky, certainly got a lot of people talking. Part of what’s interesting to me about the post and the buzz it’s created is that, in a lot of ways, it’s the same thing Kristen’s been trying to tell us all along. This idea that writers talking to writers about writing is not optimal use of social media if you want to sell fiction is something that’s clear in her books We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media (a.k.a. the WANA Guide) and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

So I wanted to talk about why, knowing and understanding Kristen’s advice regarding blogging to and for writers, I basically ignored her and did it anyway. More importantly, I wanted to give you a bit of case study about how that’s worked out for me.

Blog on topic…

From the time I read the WANA Guide, around the same time that I released my first novel, and I determined to get serious, to retake my neglected blog, to make an effort on Twitter, etc., I’ve experienced the frustration of not feeling like I had anything to talk about except writing. Kristen says to blog “on topic.” On something related to your book.

One suggestion she makes is to take the research you did for your book and write articles about that. If your fiction is set in a historical period, write articles about that period, about the clothes, food, events, technology, etc. People interested in that period will find you and may be interested in reading your fictional perspective. Write about ghosts? Then write about ghost hunters, paranormal science, ghost sightings, ghostly legends.

Even for those of us who don’t feel like we do much active research, like what we write comes purely out of our heads (Purely? Really? Not inspired by anything?) we could probably find something in the real world to tie in to our fiction.

I write about teens with superpowers. So I could write about comic book superheroes, superhero TV shows and cartoons, superhero movies, books about kids with abilities…

Yah. If had time to actually take that stuff in. And then analyze it for something to say besides ZOMG Squee! or Thor’s six-pack! :flail:. And then write about it in some way that makes it actually worth someone’s time to read about it.

Writing about writing is easy. It’s accessible to us. We think about it all the time. We discover things that are new to us, and we enjoy sharing those things with people who get it—the people we rarely meet in real life. Writing a writer blog is very gratifying.

In my case, I know that I didn’t see how I could maintain an “on topic” blog because I didn’t want to see it. I really wanted to keep doing what I was doing. And I see this from others all the time, in comments on Kristen’s posts and in what people say on their on blogs.

Just doing what came naturally…

It was very easy to convince myself that my writer blog was totally working for me. I was building a following on my blog. People were subscribing. I was selling a lot of books, in large part due to the Amazon machine. The way it works is that you hit a certain level of sales compared to everyone else, which causes you to achieve a rank, which causes you to hit their charts, which causes you to be easily seen by browsers, which increases your sales dramatically, which causes you to chart higher and more widely, which increases your sales even more, which means that some of those people are actually reading and some of those reading are actually reviewing, adding buzz and credibility to your visibility, getting you some more sales…

And where did I tell myself all of that started? In part, with all of my writer buddies. Every sale counts, and it doesn’t matter why someone bought the book, it still helped its rank.

  • I wrote a whole blog series about marketing ideas that helped me. It was very popular.
  • An article I wrote was published by a company which helps authors market. Many of those authors publish independently as I do.
  • Every time I wrote about a level of success I experienced, people who wanted so support independent publishing would say, “See, she’s sold more than 150 copies!”

And not only did those things send visitors to my blog, it did sell some books because the book itself was very inexpensive and people were curious about my writing. Some wanted to know how good a book has to be to sell like that (not like it was a huge seller) and some wanted to know if I was doing something so right that I was selling even a really crappy book. But they were all sales.

So I was writing about writing and catering to writers and I was doing just fine, thank you very much. I was being supportive and instructive. I was paying back and paying it forward, and getting all kinds of nice comments and blog love. I was building a blog and a solid blog following—something that I doubted I could accomplish. Yay!

When I realized it didn’t work…

So I went to publish my second book. Allegedly I had thousands of readers of the first book. But, uh-oh, I don’t know how to get in touch with them. Even though I offer a newsletter, only a few hundred people signed up for it. And what was really interesting to me about the newsletter, during the year in which I collected subscribers, was the fact that I didn’t know them. They were not the people who commented on my blog or talked to me on Twitter. They were people completely unfamiliar to me.

Oh, look! I think that may be a retroactive clue.

Okay, so I got ready to put the book out. I let everyone know on my blog. I asked for their help to spread the word. I wrote some extra good posts that brought in extra high traffic—posts aimed at writers and indie publishers.

The book went out. I let everyone know on social media. I posted links. My friends supported me with Twitter mentions, liking me on Facebook, carrying the badge for the new book on their blogs, writing whole blog posts mentioning the release. They were awesome. And they probably reached all the same people I reached because we have all the same followers.

Last time I put a book out, I had not built up my social media platform. If a writer friend promoted me, that message reached people I couldn’t reach. A year later, we’re all hooked up, linked in. Homogenized. I think people must get that on some level, which accounts for some of the scurrying about to find new friends and hobbies the wake of the “Sticky” post.

See, of all the people it was in my power to inform, only people who were fans of my books bought my second book. Right now I have a follower base who are fans of my writing/publishing advice.But that’s not what the book is about.

I neither want nor expect fans of the writing advice to buy my fiction if the content doesn’t interest them. I neither need nor expect pity or loyalty sales. The advice I gave, I gave for free. And I don’t regret giving it away in the slightest. I got a lot out of giving it, and that’s a big reason why I kept doing it, to the exclusion of focusing on my fiction/genre/topic stuff.

I built a writer blog. And that in itself is cool. In a financial sense, it would be cooler if I’d monetized my blog, if it carried ads. Then I’d get paid to build that following just for the sake of building it. In a marketing sense, it would be super cool if I also had books about writing or publishing to market. Then my blog would be selling my product. But my product is fiction.

Looking at my blog content as advertising, it’s like I wanted to sell jewelry and so I wrote about sports and ran the commercials on ESPN. Will I hit a few viewers who might be curious enough about me to look more deeply, a few who happen to like jewelry and then become my customers?

Maybe.

But in terms of ROI (return on investment), it is not the best use of my time and creative energy to maintain focus on a topic that has very little to do with my product. Nor to focus on a demographic that isn’t necessarily part of my target, a demographic with lots of book consumers, yes, but consumers who are over-saturated with book choices.

Solid platform, wrong crowd…

When I released my second book, I felt like I was standing on my platform, looking out over my sea of followers. People who respect me professionally or like me personally and care what I have to say about writing. People who have appreciated what I’ve been sharing with them as I’ve learned it. And there I was, ready to make my big announcement. And I said, “Hark, oh ye loyal followers, for now I have NEWS!”

And upon hearing the news, a few of them jumped up and gave me a squee, because a few of them actually like what I write. And some of them took the time to give me a grin and a thumb-up, and even a pat on the back, because they like me. But mostly they just went right back to talking to each other about writing like we always do.

Because we’re all writers. We’ve all got books coming out every week. Big deal.

Logical. Obvious. But I needed to have this experience for it to really hit home. To really understand what Kristen was saying. I had taken my evidence, my sales figures and my blog subscribers (and other social media numbers), and made them tell me something I wanted hear—that the writing about writing was really working for me. (Must be because I was just soooo good at it.)

(Please, girl.)

I want to continue to serve, to share what I learn, to be kind (and yeah, rack up some good karma). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do. But I need to understand that putting too much focus on that doesn’t serve what I say my goals are. That’s me becoming known as Susan: sweet, sensitive, and sometimes insightful writer girl. That’s not me developing a reputation as Susan: author of kick-ass teen paranormal romance.

If I focus on the writer persona to the exclusion or detriment of the author persona, for the sake of serving the writer community instead of my writing career…that seems a little martyrish.

So what now?

In terms of selling book 2, sales will come. I’m a good writer and it’s a solid piece of work. I just have to wait for a slow build that might have been faster if I’d been more linked in to my actual market.

And the platform?

I have a lot of thoughts. I mean, this element of what I did non-optimally is really only part of my recent mind-blowing epiphany. I think I have a better understanding of how I want to use my blog. One hundred topics for my blog that might actually sell my books? Nope. Don’t have those yet. A clue where I’m going to go to find my target demographic and how I’m going to reach out and interact with them without being spammy? Nope. I think I’m going to take Kristen’s upcoming workshop to try to figure it out. After all, it somehow seems like she’s always right.

***

THANK YOU SUSAN!!! And I really look forward to having you in class. For those reading, the class is still open but you need to sign up FAST. Class is about to start. It is $40 for TWO MONTHS. One month is for lessons and the other month is for launch. I help each participant create a brand that is special and unique and designed to connect to more than just writers. My goal is to help you connect to your future readers. 

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

56 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39,415 other followers

%d bloggers like this: