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

Everybody Arcs! How to Use Emotional Growth to Propel the Story and Capture the Reader

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE....

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE….

I’ve heard people say some books (or genres) are plot-driven and others are character-driven. My POV? This is a fallacy. All good books are character-driven and plot is what makes that possible. Characters have to make us give a hoot about the plot. If we don’t like or empathize with the characters, we don’t care about their problems.

Conversely, plot is the delivery mechanism and crucible for character (even in literary fiction). Characters can only be as strong as the opposition they face. Weak problems=weak characters. In a nutshell, character and plot can’t be easily separated.

For instance, in the Pulitzer-Winning The Road, the plot is simple. Man and Boy must make it to the ocean. Yet, since this piece is literary, the plot goal is subordinate to character goal.

It is less important that Man and Boy make it to the ocean than how they make it to the ocean. The world has been obliterated, killing every living thing other than humans. Many have returned to the animal state, resorting to cannibalism to survive. The question in The Road is less “Will they make it to the ocean?” and more “How will they make it to the ocean?” If they resort to snacking on people, they fail.

The Road

The Road

But I will say that while plot is great, characters are what (who) we remember. We have to be able to empathize. We want to love them, hate them, root for them and watch them fail, then overcome that failure. As the late Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!”

Often, this is the trick with series and why early books generally are more popular. Once our main character evolves, we are left with three choices:

1) Have plot create a new flaw in the protagonist.

2) Peel back another flaw that was already there, but hidden by a more visible flaw.

3) Protagonist can serve as a static character who drives growth in other characters.

Whether we are writing a standalone or a series, character growth is pivotal to good writing. I believe one of the reasons humans are a story people is that we fear change. Often, we see our own flaws and have NO IDEA how to correct them, how to get unstuck. We can feel defeated. Yet, through narrative, we watch protagonists become heroes and, unlike life, there’s full resolution. We can see some slice of ourselves in stories and it helps us change or at least maintain hope that change is possible.

Tools

I highly, highly recommend Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus and Positive Trait Thesaurus (and add in The Emotion Thesaurus to assist in execution). These books are awesome at helping us see how characters should grow organically. What I love about these books is Angela and Becca show positives of the negatives and negatives of the positives.

For instance, a flaky character can be annoying, unreliable and unpredictable. BUT since this character is unpredictable, she can be very useful because she’s unconventional. She can add comic relief (Phoebe Buffet from Friends) or even tension (Riggs from Lethal Weapon).

Both thesauri show behaviors, attitudes and examples which can make writing life MUCH easier. The Emotion Thesaurus gives us ways to show not tell to express these traits and keeps us from beating up the same descriptions (hearts hammering, hearts beating, hearts thumping, etc.)

How I Use These FABULOUS TOOLS

There is no one right way to write a book. What I did was read a lot of methods, tried them, took what worked and what didn’t and then cobbled my own. But here’s a peek into MY process and the process I encourage students to begin with.

Since I’m writing a trilogy, I needed to look at who my character was in Book One. In Book One, Romi is very loyal and innocent which is ultimately what lands her in trouble. She blindly trusts because she sees only the good in others and ignores or writes off red flags. By the end of Book One, she’s been through a MAJOR crucible and crawled through hell. To survive the Big Boss Battle, she has to kill or be killed. The person she has to kill is a person she cares about and trusted.

My pitch for Book One is Legally Blonde meets Killing Floor.

And my protagonist is a person who, at the beginning of the story, couldn’t step on a bug let alone take a human life. This final action changes her irreparably and damages her innocence.

So, in Book One, my protagonist evolves from Green Pea Pollyanna to Hero Willing to Do What It Takes to Do the Right Thing.

Ah, but doing the right thing has a price. In Book Two, I can’t have her be the same person as Book One or she isn’t believable. Book Two, she’s flipped to the other side of the loyal-trusting-innocent coin and is two steps away from wearing a tin foil hat. Now she questions everything and can never relax. Everybody lies, is her motto. She no longer talks to just anyone, questions everything and is controlling and isolated (but for very good and sympathetic reasons).

Yet, let’s glance at The Positive Trait Thesaurus and I’ll shorten for brevity’s sake.

Book One: Romi Lachlann

Positive: Innocent characters are pure and trusting. They take people at face value and want to believe the good. Easy characters to like and protect.

Negative: In their determination to only see the good, innocent characters may not view the world and other people as they really are, which puts them at a disadvantage.

When we look at this character’s personality, plotting becomes easier. We can also clearly see her Achilles Heel. She needs to be betrayed by someone she trusts blindly and be able to act in a way that is completely contrary to her nature. Also, by knowing who she is (in the beginning) it’s simpler to see who to cast as the antagonist and even allies. She needs allies who challenge her willingness to swallow whatever story she’s fed and help her toughen up.

The core antagonist has to be someone she never sees coming.

When we glance at The Negative Trait Thesaurus, we see that the dark side of Innocent is Childish.

Positive: Innocent and naive. Like children, they are teachable and adapt quickly.

We can use this positive attribute for the protagonist when we look at the proposed solution in The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

Overcoming The Trait as a Major Flaw: A character can defeat his immaturity by growing up. For some, this will mean encountering trials that force them to mature in a short period of time. Other characters will have to face past demons that are keeping them enslaved in this childish state.

This gives me guideposts as to what Book One must accomplish. Romi is tossed head-first into BIG TROUBLE and most of that trouble involves facing a past she believed she left behind when she ran away from home. The story problem forces her to go back to the place she vowed she’d never return.

I could leave my first novel alone. It’s complete. All books (even in a series) should be able to stand alone.

Romi arcs from innocent and blindly trusting person to a determined fighter. But, I wanted the challenge of trying a trilogy, so I have to repeat the process all over again. What is the opposite of Innocent? Resourceful. What is the dark side of resourceful? Paranoid.

And thus I repeat the process. Who is she in the beginning? Who do I need her to grow to be by the end? She can’t live in a hole hiding and terrified of dying. Something has to push her past her fears to face that she’s regressed into an unhealthy existence. Something has to make her rise above her fear and restore her faith. 

There will be residue of that innocent-loyal person, but it now has a hardened shell as a defense mechanism. The “thing” that lures her out of hiding is likely tethered to her core nature. Being uber-paranoid isn’t who she truly is. It’s a coping mechanism, a protection.

Remember, in the beginning, I said one plot problem can create a new character problem. Like cogs in a wheel these arcs propel narrative and drive growth and change.

Also, remember that no character is only ONE of these attributes. Strong characters are a unique blending or we end up with caricatures. An innocent character can also be loyal and funny (Elle Woods in Legally Blonde) or they can be isolated and fearful (Edward Scissorhands).

Favorite Story Example

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings

I love Lord of the Rings probably more than is healthy. I loved the arc of the Hobbits. Sauron never saw Hobbits as particularly useful (they didn’t get a ring) and he never perceived them as any sort of threat. Yet, it is their innocence that becomes Sauron’s ultimate undoing.

Unlike the other races, Hobbits are not as susceptible to the Ring of Power’s sway because of their innocence and inherent goodness. But, in the first book (or movie) their naiveté nearly gets them and all their allies killed.

***Um, cooking bacon on a mountain while EVIL DEAD KINGS are chasing them and trying to KILL them?

The Hobbits must toughen up and lose some of that innocence…but not all of it. If they lose all of it, the Ring of Power will never be destroyed and Sauron wins. Yet, my favorite scene in all cinematic history (which makes me cry EVERY time) is the end of Return of the King. We see the once childlike Hobbits around a pub table, silent, sharing a drink and we see what they sacrificed to not only save the world, but preserve the inherent goodness of their people.

While the other Hobbits dance and laugh and drink in the background, these warriors are quiet and somber. They likely have PTSD and are trying to recapture what they’ve lost, but can never regain. They will never again see the world as they did before that first day leaving The Shire. It is tragic and beautiful all in the span of a few moments.

I hope this gives you some new ideas of how to create dimensional characters. When we know who our characters are (protagonists and antagonists) and where we need them to be/grow, plotting is far simpler.

What are your thoughts? Have you used these books? Maybe used them in a different way? What are some of your favorite character arcs? Do you dislike super-perfect characters?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have TWO classes coming up to help you!

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

 

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Starting the Story “In the Action”—Understanding “In Medias Res”

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Last week I gave FIVE editor tips to help you guys know if you needed revision. One of the most CONFUSING mistakes (in my POV) is the notion of “Starting with too much action.” I know all of us have heard the “Start in the action” “You have to HOOK” and so we devise car chases, bombs, funerals, etc. in hopes that we will engage a reader.

Before we start, I will add a caveat. Genre might affect the first pages of your novel. In a thriller, mystery, mystery-thriller or suspense, it is common to begin with a body or a terrible act.

In The DaVinci Code, we begin with a horrible murder in an art museum.

BUT, this scene is often NOT a scene with the protagonist. When it comes to the protagonist, we need to begin in what is called in medias res.

The first scene with the protagonist in The DaVinci Code involves the hero at a lecture, which is interrupted by a problem.

Protag’s Goal: Complete lecture, sign some books and maybe have a nice dinner in Paris and go to bed early.

Antag’s Goal: Drop everything and come check out this crime scene. We need your expertise and you don’t have an option of declining.

Note the scene antagonist is not a bad guy but his agenda trumps what the protagonist wants.

The Trouble with In Medias Res

In medias res quite literally means “in the middle of things.” This is a literary tactic that has been used since the days of Odysseus. It is a tactic that forces the writer forward, to begin the story near the heart of the problem.

Ah, but this is where we writers can get in trouble. I see writers beginning their novels with high-action gun battles, blowing up buildings, a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scene in a hospital or at a funeral, all in an effort to “hook the reader” by “starting in the middle of the action.” Then when they get dinged/rejected by an agent or editor, they are confused.

But I started right in the action! What is more “in the action” than a high-speed chase through Monte Carlo as a bomb ticks down to the final seconds?

Bear with me a few moments, and I will explain why this is melodrama and not in medias res.

Commercial Fiction Ain’t A Tale of Two Cities

For many centuries, there was a literary tendency to begin “in the early years” leading up to the story problem. Authors would wax on rhapsotic about the setting and spend 10,000 words or more “setting up” the story. The reader was privy to “why such and such character” became a whatever. There was a lot of heavy character development and explaining the why of things.

This, of course was fine, because in the 18th century, no writer was competing with television, movies or Facebook.

Thus, if a book was a thousand pages long, it just meant it must have been extra-awesome. Also, authors, back in the day, were often paid by the word, thus there was a lot of incentive to add extra fluff and detail, layer on the subplots and pad the manuscript more than a Freshman term paper. Writing lean hit the author in the piggy bank, so most authors lived by the motto, No adverb left behind.

Then Hemingway came on the scene and…well, let’s get back to my point.

In medias res was not employed by many early novelists. They started the book when the protagonist was in the womb (being facetious here) and their stories often took on epic proportions.

Modern writers can’t do this. Yes there are exceptions to every rule, so save the e-mails. Just trust me when I say that modern readers have been spoiled by Hollywood and iPhones. They are used to instant gratification, and most modern readers will not give us writers 15,000 words to get the the point.

These days, especially when readers are deluged with choices, our sample pages are more vital then ever. We need to get right into the heart of the action from the get-go. But if “the heart of the action” doesn’t involve a gun battle, funeral or cliffhanging scene, what the heck does it look like?

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

Example from Life

In medias res is the front gate of Six Flags over Texas.

Do we need to start in the years that Kristen was too young to go to Six Flags? How she would see her teenage cousins leave for a day of roller coasters and cry herself to sleep in her toddler bed for not getting to ride the roller coasters? How she vowed at four that she, too, would one day brave The Shock Wave?

Uh…no.

Do we start the story on the biggest loop of the roller coaster? The screams and terror mixed with glee?

No, that’s too far in. If we start the story on a Big Loop (HUGE ACTION–like car chases, bank heists, etc.) then we risk the rest of the book being anti-climactic. If we blow up a building in scene one, do we later blow up two? Three?

So where do we begin?

We begin at the gates of Six Flags over Texas.

We see young Kristen in the back of the station wagon and as her parents pull into the giant parking lot. We are present when she catches a glimpse of the Shock Wave (story problem) in the distance. Wow, it is bigger than she thought. We walk with Kristen through the line to get into the amusement park, and get a chance to know her and care about her before she makes the decision to ignore the Tea Cups and take on the roller coaster (Rise to Adventure).

Kristen could have totally chickened out and stayed on the baby rides, but that would have been a boring story. Yet, because the Tea Cups are in the context of the larger ride, it means something when she decides she MUST ride the roller coaster.

In medias res means we start as close to the overall story problem as possible.

Beginning With Action

This term “action” is often misunderstood, so I hope I can clear it up. There are two components to fiction, the scene and the sequel. The scene is simple. Our character has a GOAL, then someone stands in the way of that goal (antagonist) and there is a setback (or a victory). Most often there will be setbacks because setbacks ratchet tension. The protagonist needs to be one step forward, ten steps back.

The sequel is the processing of some event/setback that just occurred. This is where our character can do some thinking, emotional processing or even discussing with others.

What new writers often do is they begin the book with the sequel, yet a sequel can only come as a result of a scene.

Scenes are action. The character is wanting, needing, doing something. This is a place where we as readers can empathize with the character and connect with the protagonist and begin to root for him or her.

For instance, Les Edgerton is a pal of mine and his book Hooked is the bible of beginnings. He was kind enough to look at the first chapter of my novel and…he SLAYED ME. But, the cool part about Les is he teaches WHY he kills what he kills.

Now, I thought I got into my “action” quickly. I began with my character, Romi, cooking half to death in a parking lot. She’s dreading the Unemployment Office. She is funny, self-deprecating and we do feel sorry for her.

Les chopped off ALL OF IT.

Though only about three pages, Les told me that I began my story in the wrong spot. He chastised me and told me that, while my writing was hysterical, it had to GO.

My actual story began when Romi pushes through the door to the Unemployment Office and realizes Angry Bird (what she’s named a dreadful bureaucrat who treats her like dirt) is working that day. She wants a job. She wants an ally, someone who will help and not judge her. What she gets is a roadblock.

We feel sympathy for her. Most of us know how badly it sucks to look for a job, and that the Unemployment Office is humbling and even humiliating. This is a small event, but one that pulls the reader to the side of my protagonist. Within five pages, she meets another setback.

She finds out she has been blackballed because she was engaged to a man who pulled an ENRON and stole over a half a billion dollars then vanished (and also wiped out all her bank accounts leaving her so broke she can’t even afford to eat).

She’s given a challenge. “Find your ex. Find the money or you will never work anywhere that doesn’t involve a toilet brush and being paid in cash.”

Thus, I hope you can see how the initial setback isn’t massive. It isn’t a funeral or a car crash. It’s gutting it through the front doors of the Unemployment Office and dealing with someone who is supposed to help, but who is sarcastic, rude and a tad cruel. The scene gives us time to empathize, yet it is interminably linked to the major story problem.

Protagonist’s Goal: Get a job before being evicted.

Antagonist’s Goal: Keep her from finding work to starve her into finding missing money.

When Romi enters the Unempolyment Office, she is hopeful this day will be different. She will find a job. She leaves ten steps back. Not only is she unable to find a job, but she never will and has no clue where the missing money is or even where to begin looking. She’s out of money and is out of options. She has to fall back to the ONE place she vowed she’d never return…home with her crazy trailer trash family who resents her for leaving home to go to college.

Also note, (again) that the antagonist isn’t necessarily evil. His father was one of the investors fleeced out of millions. He believes Romi knows where the money is, and he’s using what sway he has for “justice.” Problem is, Romi really is innocent.

I hope this has helped you guys understand what makes a great hook. Begin with a problem (scene), not THINKING (sequel). The problem doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, and if it is, make sure it’s something you can outdo later. Don’t have the biggest loop of your roller coaster at the front of the ride or everything else will be anticlimactic.

What are your thoughts? Any lightbulbs? Did this technique confuse you guys as much as it did me?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have TWO classes coming up to help you!

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

 

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52 Comments

The Burst of the Social Media Bubble, Rise of the Indie Author & Why Coffee is to Blame

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 7.10.36 AM

(Original image courtesy of Matthew Pearce via Flikr Creative Commons.)

Many of you are old enough to remember the dot.com boom (then bust) of the 1990s. The Internet was growing in popularity. More people were owning PCs and commerce was shifting on-line. The Old Guard yelled “WITCHCRAFT!”, threw holy water and shorted out their keyboards. The New Guard dived in with the enthusiasm of a kid at Chuck E. Cheese hopped up on sugar.

Creativity abounded. What products or services could be offered on-line? How could we improve the on-line experience? How could we make purchasing faster, safer, more appealing?

Early Adopters jumped all over this because that’s what Early Adopters do. Hey, someone had to be the first to eat an oyster, right?

The Early Adopter Instigator

Most revolutions begin with other revolutions that set the stage. Case in point. For centuries, water was unsafe—okay deadly—to drink. Most workers actually brought beer to work (or some other fermented drink). Then Western society took a fancy to this new beverage from Asia called TEA and then later COFFEE from South America. When tea and coffee (um CAFFEINE) replaced alcohol as the beverage of choice, workers were more productive.

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

I was skeptical too, so I tested beer then coffee to make sure the empirical data was sound. When I began my workday with beer? Much more napping and looking up exes on-line. A double Starbucks espresso improved word count.

Joking aside, three major developments 1) the invention of the clock/watch 2) the standardization of time and 3) the shift from alcoholic beverages to caffeinated ones laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution.

The eight-hour workday was easier to implement once people understood what the heck “an hour” was. Also, laborers were able to focus better and be far more productive when sober.

Science :D .

Fast-Forward—How Coffee Transformed the Publishing Paradigm

Coffee not only fueled the Industrial Revolution, but apparently staying up all night unable to sleep led to the invention of the “computer,” “the Internet,” and later “iTunes.” The shift from “going to a physical store” commerce to more “e-commerce” set the stage for a number of unanticipated revolutions in the arts. If we think about it, when did the mega-bookstore enjoy its Golden Years?

Hint: Right about the time of the movie You’ve Got Mail, clearly marking the brief historical epoch when we actually enjoyed getting e-mails. 

In the 90s, the retailer was still king (and the Internet a novelty). Thus, the biggest store with the most bells and whistles and coffee shops won. Why? For centuries we’d been conditioned to going to a physical space to shop. Only the Early Adopters were thumping their legs at this notion of buying stuff without having to drive anywhere.

Granted, this was also the time when SUVs the size of a small semi were all the rage and gas was roughly $1.25 a gallon. Most of us were uncomfortable with the hoo-doo-voo-doo of electric lighting automobiles on-line shopping and still preferred to GO somewhere to buy what we wanted/needed.

Yet, despite initial skepticism, the tsunami of technological innovation decimated many types of businesses, some that had been asking to be smacked for a LONG time. Technology gave beating to the Old School phone companies (cell phones) and wiped out record stores (iTunes) and then later obliterated video stores.

Frankly, Blockbuster had it coming with those ridiculous late fees. Every time I see a Red Box I smile and think of the time Blockbuster refused to work with me on $128 in late fees. Apparently spending four days in the hospital was no excuse for not turning my movies in on time.

Jerks.

The Bursting of the Dot.Com Bubble

Of course, the problem was enthusiasm often has this way of trumping business sense. Once the dot.com fire caught light, everyone was a dot.com and many were nothing more than paper dragons with no business plan, no capital and frankly no idea what the heck they were doing.

We enjoyed a boom and then saw a BOOM. Dot.coms that had their act together became the vanguards for a new age of commerce and the digital wheat was separated from the virtual chaff.

In the wake of the Digital Tsunami, many industries crumbled. In my POV, the music industry is the only one that had a valid excuse not to reinvent. But, after Tower Records toppled, Kodak had time to rework their business model and yet didn’t—People will always want film!—which is why we now will talk of Kodak to our kids the way we talk about cassette tapes and Pet Rocks.

Viva la Revolution

We had to have the Alcoholic Beverage vs. Coffee Revolution to gain a viable and productive Industrial Revolution.

****Rumor has it that writers were equally divided Alcohol/Coffee Debate.

Then, we had to have affordable PCs and a viable Internet to have the On-Line Shopping vs. Retail Space Revolution in order to gain digital commerce. Once digital commerce shifted from Early Adopters to the Early then Late Majority, we witnessed yet even more revolutions spark to life, revolutions that had no way of happening until that particular time in history.

All started by coffee. See the cool stuff you learn here?

Many of these upheavals completely altered the business landscape, and the creative industries saw MAJOR shifts. Indie Bands, Indie Movies and yes, Indie Authors.

Word on the street is that Indie Authors are being supported by an underground resistance financed by Starbucks.

The Social Media Bubble

In roughly 2003-2004 I saw what a major game-changer social media would be for authors. Up until that point, only non-fiction authors had any practical way of building a platform before a book was finished. Novelists had to write a lot of books (and make it past NYC gatekeepers) to have a platform because books were the only way of having a platform/brand.

But with social media? Different story.

Of course when I pitched this idea of branding through social media to agents as late as 2008, they laughed in my face and called me a witch.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

Alcohol vs. Coffee —> Industrial Revolution —> Internet —> Commerce Revolution/ Dot. Com Boom —> Tower Records Collapses —> Kodak Collapses —> iPad and Nook released —> Amazon gains publishing influence —> Early Adopters defect to go Indie —> Social Media Boom —> Indie Authors start seeing success —> Borders closes and Barnes & Noble starts bleeding out—> Big Six becomes Nifty Five —> Author Boom

Three components were critical to the success of the Indie Publishing Revolution:

1) Creation of the Product

Ten years ago, this was a pipe dream. Five years ago, self-published books looked self-published. They were also far more expensive and complicated to produce. Technology and the market has transformed this. Authors can now create a book that looks as good as anything purchased from the last remaining B&N in your city (without going broke).

2) Distribution

So long as major retailers had the upper hand, authors were limited in sales. As e-readers shifted from the Early Adopters to the Early and Late Majority (my GRANDFATHER having a Kindle), retailers lost their monopoly.

3) Visibility

Social media helped authors build a brand and platform that could drive book sales even as traditional retailers began to vanish. Social media BOOMED.

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…

Social media experts came out of the woodwork to assist writers. It seemed that just about the time a social media site was AWESOME, it collapsed, so we did need guides to help.

Has the Social Media Bubble Burst? What Does This Mean for Authors?

My opinion is we’re seeing a bubble burst that looks a lot like what happened to the dot.coms. Social media has reached an asymptote (not many “drastically new” features to add). Unless Facebook does something EPICALLY STUPID, it will probably remain. Same with Twitter. Fad frenzy has normalized and this new way of interacting has integrated into our culture.

Yes, new sites will emerge, but the rules of the game will stay the same. Since it is social media, those who are authentic, offer value, and are good at creating community will do well. Algorithmic alchemy doesn’t work as well as it used to and never worked long-term.

The handful of writers who adopted social media early did reap rewards. Why? Most other authors didn’t want to go there. This limited competition and gave the Early Adopter Authors an advantage. Most people were on Facebook, yet many authors were NOT.

Then, authors saw the success of the Early Adopter Authors and many a social media guru promised get-rich-quick programs….thus flooding every social site with book spam and bad 20th century marketing retreads. Experts terrified and bedazzled authors with tech-speak and marketing plans.

Yet, in the end, technology is the means not the ends, and society has fundamentally shifted yet again. As I’ve said before, “If we wanted to buy more stuff, we’d be on the Home Shopping Network, not the social network.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 10.52.17 AM

Social media has become such a staple in modern culture we’re finally establishing concrete etiquette for using it. Kinda like, the “Don’t call people before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.” probably didn’t come about the instant the telephone was invented.

Yes, there were “rules” we knew intuitively, but it took a couple years of poor behavior for us to say, “ENOUGH. I’ve had four direct messages from you on Twitter thanking me for the follow and asking for me to buy a book….UNFOLLOW.”

Pop! Goes the Bubble

Is social media essential for author success? Of course it is. Just because a gazillion dot.coms went under doesn’t mean on-line shopping isn’t bigger than ever. As with any revolution, it takes a lot of people jumping in with new ideas to sort the stinkers from the stickers. Buying books on-line? YAY! Grocery shopping on-line? Eh.

We still want to squeeze the Charmin tomatoes.

What I love about the new paradigm is it will test our motivations. Those writing for the wrong reasons (getting RICH) will probably burn out and grumble away. But those of us writing because we LOVE writing will keep pressing, keep working, keep connecting, and trying new things. We will be the new generation of authors no matter the path we choose—traditional or non-traditional.

Social media training will be less about technology and more how to become expert connectors and community-builders, which is what my latest book Rise of the Machines-Human Authors in a Digital World teaches how to do. So long as people buy on-line, social media (and doing it WELL) will remain a key component to success.

But creating relationships has always been a solid business practice. Maybe buy them a coffee ;) .

I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts? Did you underestimate the power of coffee to change the world? Do you think social media has normalized like on-line commerce? Do you think regular people are becoming more aware of an existing etiquette? Are you less permissive of “rude” behavior you might have forgiven three years ago?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

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61 Comments

Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 11.38.45 AM

Original image via Jenny Downing Flikr Creative Commons

We can have the best story ideas in the world, but to be blunt? There’s a lot to be said for delivery. While these problems might seem picky, there are some fundamental errors that can weaken the writing. If our writing loses power, this can become distressing or distracting to readers.

Many readers (not being editors or professional writers) might not be able to articulate specifically why they lost interest in a story, but often the answer is simple. It can be an accumulation of the small things. The little foxes spoil the vine.

Most of us make one or more of these errors, especially when we’re new. Hey, that’s called “being NEW.” No one is born with the natural ability to write brilliant, perfect novels coded into their DNA. It takes time and practice, so give yourself permission to make mistakes…then learn, suck it up and back to work.

It writes the words or it gets the hose *pets fluffy white dog*

To maybe make you guys feel better, I’ve written well over a million words in blogs and articles alone. I’ve also written three books, two novels and scads of short stories. As much as I have written—and EDITED—even I have to seek outside editors to look for these issues.

We ALL make these oopses. But, hopefully, this blog will give you a nice little checklist so you can clean up your own work as much as possible before handing it to a pro.

Not only will cleaning up these oopses make the editing process faster—because your editor can actually get to the MEAT of your work instead of being distracted by small errors—but the bill should be smaller because your editor can work faster because there are fewer problems to correct. Also, if you’re sending sample pages to an agent and he/she sees too many of these newbie blunders?

NEXT!

Oh, and a biggie? In The Digital Age, sample pages are the most POWERFUL tool we have for making a sale. Our first five pages can be the most important in the entire book ;) .

Today I’m again donning my editor’s hat to give you a peek into what red flags editors, agents (and even readers) see in those first five pages.

Red Flag #1

If Your Novel has More Characters than the Star Wars Prequels, You Might Need Revision

Don’t even get me started about Jar Jar Binks.

Whenever the author takes the time to name a character, that is a subtle clue to the reader that this is a major character and we need to pay attention. Think Hollywood and movies (good ones, NOT the SW prequels). If the credits roll and there is a named character in the credits, then we can rest assured this character had a speaking part.

I did not know this, years ago, and I felt the need to name the pizza guy, the florist, the baker and the candlestick maker. Do NOT do this. When we name characters, it is telling our readers to care. Sort of like animals.

Only name them if you plan on getting us attached.

We do not have to know intimate life details about the waitress, the taxi driver or even the funeral director. Unless the character serves a role—protagonist, antagonist, allies, mentor, love interest, minions, etc.—you really don’t need to give them a name. They are props, not people.

And maybe your book has a large cast; that is okay. Just don’t feel the need to introduce them all at once. If I have to keep up with 10 names on the first page, it’s confusing, ergo annoying. Readers (and agents) will feel the same way.

Red Flag #2

If Your Novel Dumps the Reader Right into Major Action, You Might Need Revision

Oh, there is no newbie blunder I didn’t make.

Lola leaned out over the yawning chasm below, and yelled to Fabio. She needed her twist-ties and lucky purple rabbit’s foot if she ever was going to defuse the bomb in time. Sweat ran into her eyes as she reached out for Malfio’s hand. They only had minutes before Juliette would be back and then it would all be over for Katy, Skipper and Mitzi.

Okay, I just smashed two into one. Your first question might be, Who the hell are these people? And likely your second question is Why do I care?

We don’t care. We (the readers) aren’t the writer who knows these characters and is vested. On this blog, we’ve discussed before how Normal World plays a vital role in narrative structure. As an editor, if I see the main character sobbing at a funeral or a hospital or hanging over a shark tank by page three, that is a big red flag the writer doesn’t understand narrative structure (or might be trying to “reinvent it”).

Thing is, three-act structure has worked since Aristotle came up with it. There are better uses of time than us trying to totally remake dramatic structure.

It’s like the wheel. Round. It rolls. The wheel works. Don’t mess with the wheel. Don’t mess with narrative structure.

Some other picky no-nos… .

Red Flag #3

Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts? Time for Revision

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow…the carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

Red Flag #4

Too much Physiology? Time for Revision

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more. Get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus.

Red Flag #5

Too Many Evil Adverbs? REVISE!

Most of the time, adverbs are a no-no. Find a stronger verb instead of dressing up a weaker choice.

She stood quickly from her chair.

She bolted from her chair.

Also be careful of redundant adverbs.

She whispered quietly…

Um, duh. The verb whisper already tells me the volume level.

She can, however, whisper conspiratorially. Why? Because the adverb isn’t denoting something inherent in the verb. To whisper, by definition is to be quiet BUT not necessarily to conspire. The adverb conspiratorially indicates a certain quality to the whisper.

Avoiding these pitfalls will make for far smoother, cleaner writing and help you more easily spot what and where revision is needed.

Some books to help you clean up your prose and become a master at your craft? Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a MUST HAVE in your library. I LOVE ANYTHING written by James Scott Bell, but my favorite is probably Plot & Structure. Hooked by Les Edgerton. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Buy these and study them.

You will thank me later.

(And, of course, for social media/branding help, there is my book *bats eyelashes* Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).

What are some troubles you guys have? Maybe some questions you want me to address? Throw them up here. Takes a load off my brain so I don’t have to think this stuff up all by myself. Any tips, suggestions, books you recommend we read? Did this blog help you? Confuse you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

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116 Comments

Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

One of my AWESOME on-line pals posted something troublesome on my Facebook page. Apparently there is a recent article in a major writing magazine that declares social media does not sell books and, in a nutshell, isn’t worth the effort. I’ll warn you guys ahead of time that I went hunting for the article—at the last remaining Barnes & Noble within a 25 mile radius of my home—and couldn’t find said article (and have asked Kim to get me the specific issue). But, since this type of commentary is prevalent enough in the blogosphere, I feel I can address the overall thesis accurately enough.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC three years ago and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Could feel like THIS?
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (Osama bin-Laden captured) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have the article (sorry), I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume there was no panacea offered to replace social media. If social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores will have a resurgence, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. I saw this in the cosmetics section of my grocery store a few months ago. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

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Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over two years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time? Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).WANA ways WORK but they take time. ROM has a step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I just care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings. Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ;) .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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).

 

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136 Comments

Why Series are Becoming Hot, Hot, HOT! How Dragging Out the Pain is Good for Your Readers

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

Every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. I love these words. No idea who said it, but it rocks. Life has a way of being awesome, amazing, fantastic…and a ROYAL @$$whipping, too. Not only is this quote great to hold close to our chests when life has us on the spin-cycle, this is a FABULOUS mantra for writing memorable, epic stories.

Hubby and I just finished a marathon session of gorging ourselves on Battlestar Galactica and are now careening through Caprica because it is backstory for BSG. I refuse to watch any show that doesn’t have at least four seasons complete, namely because, if I like a new show? Apparently it spells its DEATH for the new showThus, I don’t like getting too attached. I wait, then inhale an entire season a day.

Don’t judge. I know you do it too O_o.

I feel that series, complex series, are actually the way of the future (and have felt this way since roughly 2004). There’s a fantastic book that explains why, called Everything That’s Bad for You is Good (and I strongly recommend it). In a nutshell, popular opinion seems to be that, as a society, we are getting DUMBER, spiraling toward an Idiocracy.

In the face of Honey Boo-Boo and The Bachelor, it’s tough to argue. But those shows are mindless brain junk food, and thus we’re comparing apples to oranges when we place them next to Breaking Bad or Walking Dead. Those other shows aren’t storytelling. Don’t tell The Real Harpies Housewives of the OC.

*shivers*

*shivers*

From Big Screen to Small Screen

When I was a kid, all the best actors (acting) were on the big screen. To see an actor go from movies to television was a clear sign they needed to stop doing drugs fire their agent their career was likely over. Television equaled death. Now? We see the opposite. I’ve all but given up on most movies. They bore me into a coma. Most are abysmally predictable or just showing off CGI skills instead of telling a great story. My opinion? Television is now where we are seeing the most successful stories and the most talent (been that way for a while).

Why is That?

Audiences, despite what people might want to believe, have become far more sophisticated. If we had a time-machine and could transport an avid TV fan of Gilligan’s Island to 2014 and sit him in front of Game of Thrones? His head would explode.

Boom.

Ugly.

Anyone got a squeegee?

Modern audiences love a complex plot, numerous story lines, and obscure references. We want a large cast to fall in love with or hate. 

We watch certain movies/shows over and over because there are jokes, innuendo or backstory we missed. Seinfeld is a great example. Every episode had its own plot and humor, but if one hadn’t watched the other shows there were a lot of jokes one simply would NOT get.

Shows like Seinfeld were revolutionary this way. It had never been done before. I Love Lucy was all contained to each episode. Every episode stood alone.

The greatest comedic writing out there is great primarily because of the obscure wink-wink-nod-nods to other iconic movies. For instance, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Scary Movie 5. But if you aren’t a horror fan, it won’t be nearly as funny. Same with Tropic Thunder. One has to have seen Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Tears of the Sun etc. in order to understand the movie and “get” the jokes.

The Simpsons, South Park and Pixar employ a similar tactic by threading pop culture references into the stories.

Finding Nemo has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Now, The Spawn has loved this movie since he was two. There is a level of humor that renders a toddler a quivering puddle of giggles. But, at a higher level what adult hasn’t lost it in the Shark AA Fishaholics meeting scenes? A toddler has no concept of a Twelve-Step Program, and yet as adults? WE GET the reference and so it launches the humor over the top.

These factors are why many of these movies (or series) are worth buying. We see something new every time we watch. We peel back a new layer, spot a new subplot, finally “get” that double entendre. We can rematch Battlestar Galactica with a fresh set of eyes and see new territory. 

Modern audiences are growing increasingly sophisticated and they long for the mental challenge of keeping up. One can watch BSG and have to recall some detail from ten episodes earlier. We LOVE the mental challenge and this is why the big screen won’t last for the adult audience. The main factor working against movies is TIME.

Most people are pushing it to sit through a three hour movie. A screenwriter, director can only do so much plot or character development in three hours or less. Compare this to a TV series with a hundred hours. We have the time to get to know more characters, more backstory, more subplots and our brains crave the challenge.

What does Twitter and Game of Thrones have in common?

There are 140 characters and everyone is pissed off :D . *bada bump snare*

Ah the Setback

I began this post with a killer quote and I want to use it to show why series are becoming hot, hot, HOT. With a series there is, bluntly, more time and more opportunities to 1) generate love and affection for a wide cast of characters and then 2) torture them then 3) wait for the comeback. Some of the finest series out there will wind your nerves so tightly you feel like you need a drink and a Xanax to get to sleep.

WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN? :O

Is Starbuck alive? Dead? Is she real? A Cylon? Ok, I can sleep WHEN I’M DEAD *clicks for “Next Episode”*

The same urges that drive viewers to lose an entire weekend or night of sleep dying to find out what happens on a show (or video game *cough* Gears of War) is the same phenomena that is driving series and novellas to greater popularity.

For Those Who Want to Write Stand-Alones

If series aren’t your thing. Don’t fret, but remember that every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. The greater the setback the better the comeback. Fiction is the opposite of functional sanityNormal human beings seek to maintain peace and healthy relationships. Your job as good great superlative writers is to maim, torture, crush and kill. Find that shiny thing. Get the protagonist sooooooooo close they almost…have….can…touch…..the edges……..

….and then SMASH IT. SMASH IT, KILL IT….BUUUUURRRRRNNNN IT!

Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Your readers will hate you, but it’s good for them. Do NOT protect your characters. Screw up their lives more than a meth-addicted multi-personality mother-in-law. Your characters NEED a crucible. No one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, maybe I have a pride problem. I should totally work on that.” NO! Instead of that promotion they know is in the bag, they get FIRED. Worse, they get blackballed. Worse, they have to apply for food stamps.

Worse, the person at the food stamp office is the very person they were horrifically RUDE to and now they need this person’s mercy. Do they get it? NO! ARE YOU HIGH? STOP BEING A SOFTIE. Do you want to be a WRITER? Then lose that soul and sense of decency (for a bit).

Take the food stamps away! Get them a job at McDonalds and they get fired from THAT TOO. IN THE RAIN!

Run over that character with an emotional panel van, then back over them, then run over them and repeat until they are a pile of GOO.

Gee, I wonder why people feel nervous around writers? :D

Ah, but once that character has withstood the tests…you as Author God then can give them a new shiny and a better shiny. Show them they shiny they wanted in the beginning was Fool’s Gold and let them earn the real deal.

And your readers will then forgive you for the torture.

Series are simply becoming more popular because there is an increased demand for entertainment and people are spoiled with a lot of variety. We are also masochists. Fiction shows us our ugliness, but unlike life? There is a resolution. And, that, my friends, is why we all love a great story.

What are your thoughts? Are you too easy on your characters? Do you have a tough time taking away the shiny? What TV series do you love and why? Are you losing interest in the big screen, too? What are some of your favorite characters from a series and that you might never have known intimately if it were a movie (um, SPIKE)? Do you agree/disagree that publishing is now favoring the series? Are you a series-gorger, too? Do you kill new shows if you like them?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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 a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

Winner for March’s  Contest–Aaron Davis. Please send your 5000 word Word document to kristen at wan a intl dot com or a 1250 word synopsis or 250 word query.

 

 

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118 Comments

Don’t Freeze Your Family—Physics PROVES Why We Writers Need to Lighten UP

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.51.25 AM

Many of us are running around like a one-legged man at an @$$-kicking contest. Writers juggle a lot of things at the same time—day jobs, family, laundry, dishes, finances, family, sickness, loss, and THEN there is the actual WRITING. I’ve come to understand that most of us writers live in two opposing states of being:

The State of I SO ROCK Narcissism and The State of I Don’t Deserve to LIVE, What the Hell Was I THINKING?

We write a few pages and think: “OMG, this is AWESOME.”

Next Day: I suck *hangs head*. Where is that brochure for dental hygienist school?

We revise and revise trying to make our work perfect. Whether it’s a book, parenting, or doing bills many of us hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We just about get the house clean and then…the family comes home. Just finish the dishes and…time to start dinner. AHHHHGGGGGG!

We wonder if it’s illegal to cryogenically freeze our spouse, kids and pets so we could have JUST ONE DAY that everything stayed CLEAN. Can we stop time and bask in loving what we just wrote? Didn’t we just DO laundry? Is that ketchup stain we ignored in the refrigerator trying to open a portal to a demonic realm? O_o

I just CLEANED THESE!

I just CLEANED THESE!

As a recovering perfectionist, I’m here to “scientifically” prove why we all need to lighten the hell up. How am I going to do this? Using tinfoil, swizzle sticks, glitter and the Three Four? Laws of Thermodynamics. And every reader who is a real scientist can just chillax.

This is “science.” Don’t argue.

(All “actual” laws contributed via Wikipedia)

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics

If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they must be in thermal equilibrium with each other. This law helps define the notion of temperature.

Zeroth Law means that temperature/energy will always seek a way to equal out. Two hot bodies (steaming EPIC tamales) placed next to ICE COLD margarita long enough? Margarita will suck heat and cool off tamales….leaving tamales too tired to finish revisions.

Life Application: This is empirical “proof” that yes, we parents were correct. Toddlers do drain energy. This also “proves” that children, as they get bigger, drain even MORE energy. Think how fast a 98 oz. margarita would chill your tamales (being “Tamale Mom” and “Tamale Dad”) and this explains why teenagers drain energy faster…unless the 98 oz margarita  teenager wants to date or wear too much makeup and that will temporarily heat the tamales parents.

The Spawn and his minion Lazr Cat.

The Spawn and his minion Lazr Cat.

Also, the hotter the WIP and the tougher the editor, the more we the writer will want a margarita. Told you! SCIENCE :D .

But don’t get too excited, there are three more “laws.”

The First Law of Thermodynamics

Because energy is conserved, the internal energy of a system changes as heat flows in or out of it. Equivalently, machines that violate the first law (perpetual motion machines) are impossible. Heat is the flow of thermal energy from one object to another.

Did you catch that? Okay, so maybe it was the only part of this I understood. Perpetual motion machines are IMPOSSIBLE. Gee, I wish I would have learned this last Thursday. Okay, Thursday of somewhere in 1992. We can’t do it all. Heat is synonymous with energy and as we expend energy, we um—Aw crap, hold on *finds Thesaurus function for another word for “expends”*—oh, there it is. WE LOSE IT. WE LOSE ENERGY and cannot run on Red Bull forever.

spawn2

Life Application: Apparently, despite what the world wants to tell us, we are incapable of doing everything forever. Yes, there are gizmos, gadgets and apps that “promise” us we can have six-pack abs, a refrigerator that doesn’t make us shriek little a little girl when we reach into the vegetable drawer, and write a perfect book in two weeks. But physics proves they are LYING.

Next time someone complains you are taking a nap, tell them physics has proven you need one.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The entropy of any isolated system cannot decrease. Such systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy of the system. Equivalently, machines that violate the second law (perpetual motion machines) are impossible.

In English? Everything is hurdling toward chaos. If you have kids, a closet, a heartbeat, you have a lot of experience with entropy. It’s impossible to isolate any system. I’ve tried! Banning the toddler from walking across my freshly mopped floor only attracts a cat to puke on freshly mopped floor.

This means….we need to just suck it up and expect some imperfection.

Life Application: This also goes for our art/craft. It is called a creative PROCESS. Sure, we can write the “perfect book”….if we are stranded on a desert island and somehow found a way to power up our computers using coconuts (Heck, they did that on Gilligan’s Island). The problem is that this perfect book is likely something we want to sell and make a living off of. Which—DANG IT—requires other people part money and time to buy it and read it and love it.

Problem is, readers can’t be sealed away (legally—I know, I checked) and thus tastes, preferences, ideas, passions are ever-shifting.

My advice? Give up on a perfect book and settle for a finished one. Finished books DO exist, perfect ones do NOT.

Also, again, notice the reiteration that a perpetual motion machine is impossible because it violates this Second Law. So take that nap. You’ll thank me later.

Third Law of Thermodynamics

The entropy of any pure substance in thermodynamic equilibrium approaches zero as the temperature approaches zero. The entropy of a system at absolute zero is typically zero, and in all cases is determined only by the number of different ground states it has.

We can never cool anything to the true point of Absolute Zero (no energy), only get close enough for government work.

Life Application: Do NOT freeze your family. I triple-checked and yes, it IS illegal and your house will still be a mess so it isn’t worth the legal bill.

Freeze some ice cream or a daiquiri instead.

Don’t y’all feel smarter already? I really wish I’d paid more attention in high school.

As we all collectively learn to give ourselves a bit of slack, we can know that science has our backs (unless you are Pluto and then you got screwed). Enjoy your family, your writing, your friends and life and just roll with it. Embrace the imperfections and laugh. Laughter increases energy and warms up the “bodies” around you, staving off entropy for at least a little bit ;) .

Throw a PARTY!

Speaking of a lot of energetic bodies together in ONE space, I am finishing this post out to invite ALL of you to come and celebrate my 40th birthday with me this Sunday (even though my birthday was a week ago, but entropy tried to kill me so the party was moved).

It is a virtual party in one of our WANA International classrooms, and, if the WANACon after-parties are any indication of how fun this will be?

We might very well break the Internet.

But most of the people I love and care about are on-line. Since kidnapping air-fare for people all over the world is more expensive than the legal bills after freezing one’s family, my attorney has advised me that a virtual birthday party is the best option.

THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 6th from 6:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. Central Standard Time (or 7-9 NYC time) we are having an 80s themed party. So bring your sky-high bangs, and favorite A-Ha videos. Also, for the moms who have accidentally worn their bra on the outside of their clothes, remember, Madonna did it, so now you are “fashionable.”

To attend this party, go to the WANA International home page at the time of the party (we will open the room 15 minutes early for those who wish to spike the digital punch). Off to the right, you will see the WORDS Big Blue Button. There is a selector. Choose the room named “Birthday Party” and the password is “Big80s”.

What are your thoughts? Feel better now that physics has “proven” you can relax a little? Do you find yourself swinging between GOD-LIKE CONFIDENCE and wondering why you wanted to write?

What are some of your favorite 80s memories? Songs? Fashions? I always wanted a SWATCH, but we were too poor. Favorite 80s movie? Best love songs of the 80s?

Are you an 80s kid and wonder how the heck you SURVIVED? We drank out of hoses, played on playgrounds made of INDUSTRIAL STEEL, and streetlights were our curfew. How any of you are even around to attend my party is frankly…amazing. And if no one shows, I will assume you likely died in a Slip-and-Slide accident when you were eight.

Will announce winner for March next post.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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 a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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56 Comments

Is Your Life Out of Control? What Can We Do When Nothing is Going Right?

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

One of the things I’ve strived for with WANA, this blog, my teachings is to offer practical lessons, honesty, tools for growth and change and support. Change is tough, right? I love to serve, to help, but I’m challenged daily to live the life and walk the talk. I have good days and bad days and OH DEAR LORD IS THERE A REWIND days (been having A LOT of those recently).

I believe our character will impact our dreams, our relationships, our well-being. And I would love to tell y’all I’ve got it all together, but I’ve been struggling…a lot. And I have some seriously clever excuses involving alien abduction, but….sigh. Tempting as it is, I won’t go there.

The Infestation

I remember a dream I had in 2008, and it’s been such a guide in cleaning up my behaviors and attitudes. I dreamed I inherited a beautiful cottage-home. From the outside it looked almost perfect. Just needed a little bit of paint…

.…yeah.

So in the dream, I begin to paint and notice the wood is loose. I know I can’t paint bad boards, so I pull them back with a pry bar.

AAAAAGHHHHHHHH!

Vermin everywhere. I scream, get them cleaned out and prepare to paint. But then I open the cabinets. WTH? OMG! You guessed it. More rats, roaches, termites. I’d just about get it pretty then see another layer and another and another. I couldn’t even DO any of the fun stuff—painting, decorating, picking out cute curtains—because what was “beneath” was infested and rotten.

My subconscious knew me better than I did. Pretty on the outside, but LOTS of problems on the inside.

It sounds strange, but I’m happy I’ve had to earn things the hard way when it comes to being an author. Growing up, I was naturally smart, the person who didn’t study and made As. As much of a blessing as it was, it was really a curse.

I could cruise through “appearing” to have it together, but it created a lot of BAD habits and rotten attitudes and behaviors. I’ve cleaned out a lot of the “infestations” but there are always more. Also, even if we do rid our “homes” of rats, mice, roaches, termites, we have to be in a habit of keeping the place clean so we don’t invite in new unwanted guests.

Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.

Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.

Living Mindfully

There are dumb things we can do that can have serious consequences. For instance, out at our ranch, one of my relatives forgot a bag of feed corn on the porch. When we got out there, there was CORN EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t open a drawer, a cabinet, a closet that there wasn’t some well-fed family of mice with a lovely stockpile of corn. The mice chewed through wiring and the hoses on the dishwasher…which then spewed water all over the floor.

A momentary lapse of mindfulness created hours of expensive, dirty and dangerous work. Not only that, but guess what LOVES to snack on mice? Rattlesnakes. Snakes that normally would have been quite happy out on the property discovered there was a SWEET buffet at the Lamb Ranch if you hung out on the PORCH.

Hubby and I spent an hour trying to coerce a rattler off the homestead property. I have this hysterical video of Hubby flinging a very annoyed rattler through the air. And yes some people would shoot the snake, but why? We invited him for dinner. Snake was just doing what snakes do.

And there is one brain-damaged snake now wandering our property with head trauma and a grudge.

Which is to say that life is always moving forward. We think life is a static picture like a magazine, but it isn’t. The kitchen will always need cleaning, there will always be more laundry and more bills. We need to shower more than once in a lifetime, and this also applies to our attitudes and habits.

If we slow down (and I am LEARNING) we can be more mindful about where we commit, what we start, or what we need to finish. Give ourselves grace, but be brave enough to address small problems early before they rage out of control.

Name It and Claim It

We can’t change what we won’t face. I have a saying. Name it and claim it. To offer a bit of insight, this has been a rough couple of years. It’s like everyone in my family is getting sick, ill, injured or dying. We’ve lost four family members in just the last year. Five in the last two. FOUR major surgeries, three of them life-threatening. As a person who loves and honors family I chip in to help the best I can.

I’m sure you guys have been through seasons like this. It’s as if life DOG PILES you and just about the time you come up for air, you get hit again.

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

But the thing is this is life. When I became published, no cute forest creatures showed up to style my hair and help me clean.

LUZRS.

Times of trial can be crucibles that reveal our weak points. I used to be a MAJOR WHINER. Oh poor me. I just about get going the right direction and SOMETHING happens. I was at the mercy of situations.

What these recent life events have shown me about myself are embarrassing, but I have to face these flaws even though truth stings.

I need to be better at communicating. For some weird reason, I will work myself half to death before I think, “Hey, I could possibly ask for HELP. Whouda thunk?” I’ve come to see that I overcommit. That is a BAD habit. If I give my word, I need to follow through because I want to be a person of integrity. This means I need to strive to be better at saying, “Let me get back to you.”

I’ve also developed this awful habit of cramming my schedule to the point that I can DO everything…so long as everything goes smoothly and the planets perfectly align. They WON’T. We NEED margin. If the Internet goes out, the weather goes nuts, the car breaks down, the business hits a rough spot, the kid gets sick, a spouse loses a job, it will affect everything else.

I’m working diligently to be more honest and realistic. Sure, I want to help people, but if I just flake out, forget, lose stuff, I’m doing more harm than good.

Yes, I need to give myself grace, but I can always seek to come up higher, too.

We NEED a Support System

Stress is a lot like being drunk. Our bodies default to limbic brain. We run on adrenalin. As a survival mechanism, we cannot harness our higher thinking centers. Apparently pondering Nietzsche while running from a bear is BAD. Yet, in modern society, we have the equivalent of bears all the time (and they look a lot like the unfinished WIP, piles of toys, a stack of bills and the IRS :D ).

This is why we need the similar equivalent of a Designated Driver. We need people who love us and are honest enough to say, “Go sleep. Say NO. Finish what you promised.”

Jay Donovan is a fantastic friend. Why? He encourages me. He is there for me. But, he’s also unafraid to send me a kind but scathing e-mail when I need my butt kicked correcting. I have a looong list of stuff to finish, but baby steps.

You guys have been an amazing support team and I’m so grateful. When I was up all night with The Spawn in the ER because he knocked out all his front teeth, people on-line were there to keep me calm and offer prayers, love and support. Same with the deaths, etc. You are the voices that make the world more lovely and never lonely.

WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.

WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.

But last week I had a major revelation. My husband, The Spawn and I are too isolated. We have family, but no one who lives nearby. I have no one to lean on when I am sick, worn out, overloaded or on the verge of just crying for a month. We’ve lived in this house for almost five years and know none of our neighbors. We don’t have any friends in the local community.

Last week, I stepped out of the comfort zone. I needed more. I NEEDED people close who might let me have a day where I can take a long nap. I can’t run forever on sheer force of will. As much as I love social media, it can’t be our only resource of support.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a GREAT resource, just like chainsaws are AWESOME for cutting up trees downed in a storm (but not so great for hanging pictures on the wall). We need to diversify our relationships. I need to as well even though I am an introvert. On-line friends are far less terrifying than talking to…*shivers* neighbors.

But, Suck it up, Buttercup.

It’s OKAY to BE WEAK

We aren’t robots. We live, laugh, love, screw up, start over, do better, blow it, then try again. I do. And there is a blessing to being weak. It offers others the gift of being strong for us. When we allow others to help us, we are giving them a gift. We feel good when we can help others. Why would others be different? So many of you take time to comment, encourage, offer help and you guys make me better each day.

We are not alone ;).

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like renovating your attitudes, habits, behaviors is overwhelming? Do you get discouraged too? Are you bad about overcommitting or not stopping to realize maybe you could kinda-sorta-maybe use some HELP? Are you hesitant to make friends with neighbors? Do you work your schedule off plank time? LOL.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

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65 Comments

Pride, Perfectionism and Anger—Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

I am 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. But I know that all of us struggle and fail and fall and often what keeps us pressing is to know others have been a mess (or still are one). It’s why I’ve branded everything I do under We Are Not Alone.

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 much 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 will 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 ;) .

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 control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need love more than “help.”

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I was 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 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 (Yes, I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately). 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. Others 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. 

In the United States, the average household has SEVEN credit cards. Out of your hundred closest neighbors, four homes are on the verge of being foreclosed upon. How many of us buy into the lie that others care that much? We run and scramble to keep up with the Joneses when we aren’t seeing the Joneses are BROKE, hurting and miserable.

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 ;) .

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 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. I love to help. This 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.

Three of my best friends, Ingrid Schaffenburg, Jay Donovan and Piper Bayard pointed this out (among other things). It hurt. I defended. I railed against the unfairness…then realized *sigh* they were correct.

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.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

We need to let people in and out and through, but this doesn’t mean we offer them permission to dump old tires and toxic waste into our space. I was letting others bring in junk and saying, “Oh, it’s okay, set the rusted emotional refrigerator there…but next time.” No, it isn’t okay. It wasn’t okay. This led to anger, resentment and then an outburst.

HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you…. Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you….
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

I’d explode, then justify. Then talk about it over and over and over as if this replay made me being an angry jerk okay (Hint: It didn’t). And then I’d think about it over and over and that’s when anger had a chance to take root. I didn’t know how to forgive, thus adding to my Supreme Jerk Status.

Are We Ringing the Bell?

I used to believe that forgiving others gave them a pass, that they were somehow “getting away” with something. Unbelievably, I’d somehow forget about all the times I’d shown MY butt and wanted grace. I was wanting from others what I was unwilling to give in return.

Then I heard another story and it changed me (because I dig anecdotes).

There once was a young monk who’d been terribly wronged by another. He prayed and prayed but the anger never went away. He could not forgive no matter how hard he tried. So, he went to the old parish priest and asked for advice. The older priest knew the young man was in charge of ringing the bells for service. He said to the young man, “When you pull the rope to ring the bell, does it only sound once?”

The young monk replied, “Well, no, it keeps ringing.”

“But the ringing eventually gets softer then fades and finally stops. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“My son, anger and forgiveness is the ringing of the bell. The pain will be deafening at first and will take time to fade. Our job is to not continue to pull the rope.”

I used to believe that if I forgave, that magically-mystically the pain would go away. It doesn’t. It takes time. This is why my family was so angry (and many still are). They are still talking about when Such-and-Such did this or that and how awful they were and GOOD GRIEF that person has been DEAD for 15 years! Enough already!

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.01.45 AM

Maybe some of you have relationships where you aren’t in trouble for something you just did, you are still getting hammered with how you failed a month ago, a year ago, or when you were FIVE.

And the bells still ring.

I didn’t realize I was doing that to others. To make my poor behavior somehow better, I’d talk about how Thus-And-Such did this or that and HOW AWFUL and poor ME. Then, I was oblivious to why I couldn’t have solid relationships.

Here’s the hard news. All of us will be hurt and all of us will hurt others. It’s life. With some, we need to stop ringing bells. I was terribly abused by certain people and I had to discipline myself to let it go. I was letting someone rent space in my head for free. Failing to forgive was like drinking poison and hoping the other person would drop dead.

And this is why the gate is vital. We need to forgive. Forgiveness is for US. This doesn’t, however, mean we allow the person free reign to trample though our garden. Some people might never get to come through the gate. This doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven or are still angry, it means we are setting a BOUNDARY.

For instance, I have a family member who is like living with Mt. Vesuvius. Everything has to be HER way and she looks for opportunities to create strife. I recall the family throwing a birthday party and, as par for the course, this person arrived and within minutes, the conflict began.

In the old days, I would have bitten. It would have become a Jersey-Shores-Jerry-Springer-Argument over who’d done what or worse or whatever. We’d have fought over a list of wrongs reaching back to the 80s.

This time? I didn’t. I calmly said, “I understand you’re upset. Please go take ten minutes to cool off. But, we are here for a birthday celebration and we still want to be. But, if you are going to act this way, then I’m afraid we will have to leave. I hope you choose to let it go and enjoy the fun we’ve prepared.” And the difference this time was I was calm, but I was also FULLY prepared to leave.

As a recovering jerk, I was unwilling to take the bait. I’d learned that if I maintained peace, the offender would be the only jerk left standing. Jerks can be like a hurricane. They NEED that hot-moist air to fuel their raw powers of destruction. If we refuse to fuel them, they fizzle.

Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.

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. To change, I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison.

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. 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.

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?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

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126 Comments

Lessons from Oleander–The Dangers of Premature Editing

Please don't kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost five years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic. Normally, oleander this size were over $100 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage. Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death. In the novel I just finished, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I am. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

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120 Comments

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