Posts Tagged Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World

Book Promotion that Makes an Impression—Don’t Advertise When You Can PADvertise

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Since most of us are neck-deep in work and NaNoWriMo, I thought it was time to talk about something OTHER than writing. How are you going to MARKET that NaNo novel by December 3rd, 2014?

Only amateurs need “revisions” *rolls eyes*.

We all know what we are writing is PURE GOLD begging to be unleashed  available for purchase in time to pay off all the money we’ll spend on Christmas gifts. That and being a NYTBSA by the end of January of 2015 is a great start, right?

Any of you who regularly follow my blog know that I am totally out of my mind a bit eccentric. Saturday, Hubby took pity on me and let us go out to eat (a rare treat around here). As I closed the door to the stall, I noticed all the advertising on the back of the bathroom door. This cluttered wall of ads made me think about all the authors spamming non-stop about their books on Facebook and Twitter.

In fact, just a couple days ago, a writer who’d never even said, “Hello” asked me to promote his new sci-fi book. Suuuuuure, right on that.

Some writers are becoming worse than an Amway rep crossed with a Jehovah’s Witness. I mean, can the author book promotion get any more invasive?

Wait…

Maybe it can.

I’ve blogged so many times about the dangers of automation and how spamming people is counterproductive. I’ve talked until I am blue about how advertising our books has a terrible ROI (return on investment) and how most people don’t pay attention to it. Ah, but then it hit me. The main reason spam doesn’t work is because people ignore it and no longer “see” it, but what would they see?

Panty Prose—Not Advertising, Padvertising (TM)

We all know that roughly 85% of readers are women, and what do women need? Panty liners. YES, but what do they need more than springtime fresh girl parts? More FREE! books. Indie authors shouldn’t spam about their latest book release or .99 cent promotional sale.

Why?

Because it’s rude? No! Because it is obnoxious? Not quite. Because it smacks of desperation? Not at all. The reason authors shouldn’t spam about their books is because spam is for amateurs.

The real writer of the Digital Age doesn’t settle on blasting out non-stop self-promotional tweets. That is SO 2012. The REAL writer of the Digital Age realizes a captive audience is a a buying audience.

Catch readers with their pants down with Panty Prose.

Panty Prose is perfect for the indie author. Most readers are female and even females need something to read in the bathroom. We at Panty Prose (an imaginary division of W.A.N.A. International) have teamed up with Always against their will to offer your readers the best deals right in their pants. PADVERTISING.

Panty Prose not only offers you Padvertising to a guaranteed clientele, but we have all kinds of layouts to suit your Padvertising needs. Technology is your friend with Panty Prose. Put your book where it counts…

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At Panty Prose, we even make it affordable for you to place your face in your reader’s pants…

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As you can see, Panty Prose is inserting your ads into a virgin market begging to be tapped.

Why are all the romance authors giggling?

Anyway, while others might see a protective strip that gets tossed in the bin, we see an unused space to Padvertise your latest novel AND save trees! Instead of throwing away that paper strip, we can print catchy lines from your book so fans can collect them ALL…

Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, WANA, We Are Not Alone

Make Your Readers Want MORE….

Make Your Readers Your Fan for ALWAYS….

My writer pal, Chad, was happy to step in and help me with a mock up of The Panty Prose Motivational Series:

Panty Prompts for Writers:

PantyPrompt

Serious Chad, the choice for the Serious Writer.

Panty Praise:

Available in "You're Losing Weight" and "No, Your Butt Doesn't Look Big at ALL"

Available in “Yes, I Noticed Your New Hair Style” and “No, Your Butt Doesn’t Look Big at ALL”

Panty Prose is dedicated to keeping women fresh while selling your books. Attending a writing conference? Well, there is a bathroom and everyone knows that even agents have to go potty sometime. Why not help them out? Keep them springtime fresh and give them your query. Elevator pitches are for losers, when you can use the Panty Pitch. The Panty Pitch comes in three fragrances, Sonnet’s Eve, New Office Supplies, and Double Espresso.

Panty Pitch:

Save agents time and keep them fresh!

Save agents time and keep them fresh!

Panty Prose for the Published Professional is a smart, savvy way to stand out from all the competition that still is relying on scheduled tweets, auto-DMs and posting ads on new FB friends’ walls.

Make an impression that will last for Always.

Yeah, I am a wee bit tired from NaNo and not enough meds. You know you’re punch-drunk (and have no social filters) when you spend a full day Photoshopping your face on a pic of a panty-liner, LOL. When I’m tired, my humor gets warped, even for me. But you know I am on to something!

W.A.N.A. is dedicated to giving you the evil genius you need for success. Aside from Panty Prose, what other “free spaces” could we exploit for book advertising? You know, to catch those who missed our 23 tweeted links, 6 auto DMs and five form letters.

So what do you think? Has the book spam gotten completely out of control? Are there other ways you can think of that are utterly invasive creative ways to market our books (Keep it PG, Please :D )? Does promoting/book marketing feel about as bad as Padvertising? ***Btw, it doesn’t have to be ;) ***

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. 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 (without using something as AWESOME as Padvertising), 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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Point of View—What IS It? How to Find the Perfect Voice for YOUR Story

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way ;) .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

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Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

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Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

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Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—”God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. 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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68 Comments

The Three “Acts” of a Writer’s Journey—From Newbie to Master

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

The mark of a great storyteller is they make our job look easy. The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless. Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

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Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

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Image via KcdsTM Flikr Creative Commons

It’s like when I first started learning clarinet and I had to think of SO MANY THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I was new at reading music, and I had to tap my foot to keep the beat at the same time I keyed notes (which I keyed incorrectly more times than not). I had to hold my mouth a certain way, blow air with just the right force, pay attention to the conductor…and most of the time I needed a nap afterwards.

Not to mention I sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose.

WHY did I want to play clarinet? I wondered this a lot.

Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while ;) .

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the clarinetist whose fingers now naturally go to the right keys without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

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Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Frankly, I am in the trenches doing NaNoWriMo with you guys. I can say it is A LOT easier this year than in previous years. We can’t refine and edit words that don’t exist. Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master ;) .

I love hearing from you!

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. 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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97 Comments

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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89 Comments

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.46.35 AM

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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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

The First & Most Crucial Step to OWNING NaNoWriMo

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.42.44 AM

No Spawn left behind!

I love all of you, so it might be best to hear this from me. Sit down. We need to talk. Writers are….”different.” This might not be news to some of you, but I imagine others of you are in denial. I know I was for ages. We try SO HARD to be normal, but normal is just so, so, so…BORING normal.

Our “differentness” weirds normal people out, because they’ve been trained by TV what the writer’s life should look like.

Just like DNA analysis takes less than 10 minutes on an episode of Rizzoli & Isles and the bad guy is caught and in cuffs in less than an hour, what “looks” like writing and the creative process in movies? Kind of isn’t. Not even CLOSE.

Too often, pop culture paints authors as caricatures instead of pros. We mainline coffee (okay, that’s accurate), are barely functioning alcoholics who dither around instead of writing. At the last moment, we are visited by the genius fairy, type for a full  week 24 hours a day to turn in a masterpiece (last minute) to our agent who’s been calling over and over worried sick about us.

*clutches sides laughing”

Um, sure.

***Though I will cop to being a functioning yarn and video game addict.

New Kindle cover…..

New Kindle cover…..

There are a lot of activities we must do to write great stories that, to the outside world, look a lot like goofing off. We aren’t goofing off (though without discipline it can become that). Lately (namely because of Shingles) I have traded Jui-Jitsu for crocheting until my doctor clears me for beating people up.

But there is a LOT of thinking and pondering going on while I work on my projects. I watch series and deconstruct plots, characters, etc. I note dialogue. I contemplate ways one could kill people with crochet needles and if I could write a series called The Etsy Murders (no stealing O_o).

…and have a nifty Kindle case to show for it :D .

We must fill our creative well before we write, or we have nothing to draw from.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Regular folks who clock in and clock out of jobs in cubicles are grazers. They do the same routine day after day. *munch, munch, munch*. I feel this is often why creative people feel so stifled in these environments. We’re tigers stuffed in a non-tiger role.

TIGER BLOOD! *giggles*

Strong writers are apex predators who lurk, plan and power-up until go-time.

I spent two and a half years researching for my last social media book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. I read stacks of books on neuroscience, sociology, communication, the history of communication, leadership, sales, etc. This probably didn’t look (to many others) like working. Yet, it was. I was filling my mental reservoir. When my hands met the keyboard, I wrote almost 90,000 words in six weeks that needed minimal revision.

Same in fiction. I knew I wanted my series to involve Mexican drug cartels. What did I do? I watched A LOT of documentaries, read books, articles, blogs, collected images, and played video games.

Yes, video games.

Take Time to Fill Up

Too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they haven’t fueled up properly. If one studies any endurance athlete, what do they do before an Iron Man or the Tour de France? They EAT. A LOT. Endurance athletes know they need the extra weight because it isn’t uncommon for participants to lose as much as twenty pounds by race end.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Yet, how many of us go into writing a book with a malnourished, anemic muse?

Feed the Subconscious

Part of why I love NaNo and Fast Draft is it does a number of things. First, it tires out the analytical side of the brain that wants to edit and make everything “perfect.” REFUSE TO EDIT. If you’ve taken time to feed the muse, your “Boys in the Basement” could be doing some seriously cool mojo, and if you edit that out? You can benevolently tank your story.

Often a lot of the subplots or cool twists and turns come from all the stuff we fed the muse ahead of time. For instance, there is a scene in the first book of my trilogy book where the two main characters find an old drug house and of course teenagers and addicts have been in there and there’s a ton of graffiti. There are the usual pentagrams, devil-worshipping symbols, goat heads, gang signs, profanity, etc. but my fingers typed (seemingly of their own accord) that there was also a veve of Papa Legba.

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Huh? Voo-doo in southwest Texas? Where did THAT come from?

Probably a documentary. I began to backspace over it, but then let it ride. My FBI agent notices the veve, recognizes it, and finds it odd and “out of place.” This is all that is mentioned of the veve in this book, because my subconscious already had the plot for Book Two which involved…Santeria.

My subconscious must have pulled up the multiple news stories of bodies with hearts removed (or headless) who were presumed to have been killed in ritualistic fashion by cartel leaders for otherworldly protection over their operations. My muse was placing the perfect bread crumb in the story to lead to the next one.

But what if I hadn’t “wasted” all that time reading and watching documentaries? What would my muse have been able to draw from? A bag of stale Goldfish or a 10 course meal?

Another reason I love NaNo is that once we tire out the analytical side of the brain, we can fall into a sort of trance, much like a runner’s high. This is where the muse hits overdrive, and, since we are SO immersed in the story, we become part of that world.

This means we’re less likely to lose ideas or make major mistakes because we’re hyper-familiar with the terrain. If we start writing, then put a book away for a month and try to pick it back up, we need to do a lot of refreshing and the story can become jaunty and incongruent.

I recommend checking out another of my posts: Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “Spock Brain.”

My recommendation before writing ANY book is total immersion. I read a lot of submissions and many of them have a bunch of fluff and filler and that could have been avoided if the writer had more research to draw from.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

It’s easier to use setting powerfully if we’ve researched the terrain ahead of time. What do people in certain roles or regions talk like? The more facts, images, and stories (even news stories) we have in our head? The richer the work and the easier to give our writing texture.

Later, we’ll discuss some ways to fill the muse. And yes, a lot of it might look like goofing off, but runners preparing for a mega-marathon do a lot of what looks like eating a ginormous bowl of pasta or downing special protein drinks. Not especially glamourous, but essential for success.

How do YOU fuel? What things do you do to enhance creativity that looks like slacking? Are you afraid to watch TV or movies because you fear you aren’t…GASP…writing?

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).

Will announce September’s winner later this week. Have to tally :D.

Super Cool WANA Announcement!

WANA has a super cool class coming up October 4th. VERY RIGHT BRAIN and a cool and unique way to envision your story and prepare a rich, textured novel with deep and dimensional characters. Rachel Funk Heller is teaching Prepare for NaNoWriMo–Writer’s Coloring Book. Give yourself and your brain a play date. It’s good for BOTH of you!

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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