Author Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb is the #best selling author of "Rise of the Machines--Human Authors in a Digital World", "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" & "Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer." She is the CEO of WANA International, a company dedicated to empowering artist of the Digital Age. She's also the creator of WANATribe, the social networking site for creative professionals and a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post.
Posted in Writing Tips on March 23, 2015
Hubby and I are now careening through Hannibal, which is some of the most amazing writing I’ve ever seen. I would have never believed any actor could even rival Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but…? Mads Mikkelsen might actually be better. I don’t know if I have ever felt so conflicted about a character. Hannibal is a stone-cold killer, but then I catch myself rooting for him?
Wait…no, he’s the BAD GUY. Right?
I’m so confused *head desk*
Yet, this series is such a prime example of why series are superlative storytelling. Instead of containing a character like Lecter to 90-120 minutes, we now have what no movie can offer…TIME. This allows for a layering, a depth, an exploration we always craved, even if we weren’t entirely aware of it at the time.
I find it harder to make snap judgements (like I do in a movie) because just about the moment I am horrified by Lecter, he has another scene where he is kind, compassionate, supportive (um, psychopath?) and I’m back being conflicted.
Much like that guy I dated when I was 21 ;) .
Right about the time I was sure he was a jerk I never wanted to talk to again, he’d show that side I’d fallen for and I’d give another chance.
So yes, the writers of this show are master manipulators and play (at least my feelings) like a violin. They keep pushing buttons, enticing our innate human curiosity to understand WHY? Like a dangerous snake that fascinates us, we are staring, tapping at the glass and enamored (conveniently forgetting the snake just ate a cute little mouse earlier).
For me, this series is more than superior storytelling. In ways, the writers have done a masterful job of placing the viewer in the role of those who deal with psychopaths. It’s like being on a roller coaster, experiencing the thrill of near-death but without the real danger. And isn’t that what superb writing is all about? Offering a slice of danger for the audience to experience and explore from safety?
Series Are Taking OVER
I refuse to watch any show that doesn’t have at least two seasons complete, namely because, if I like a new show? Apparently it spells its DEATH for the new show. Thus, 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.
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
she needed to stop doing drugs fire her agent her 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).
But Again, 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.
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 rewatch 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.
How does George R.R. Martin use Twitter?
He has 140 characters and everyone DIES :D . *bada bump snare*
Ah the Setback
Every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. This is largely why series are becoming HUGE. 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?
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.
Fiction is the opposite of functional sanity. Normal human beings seek to maintain peace and healthy relationships. We are NOT NORMAL (in case no one has yet broken the news to you). Our job as
good great epic writers is to maim, torture, crush and kill. We are emotional, deeply empathetic, loving and caring creatures…but we writers are also kinda psycho.
To write great stories, we have to channel some sadism. The relationship between author and audience is actually pretty toxic, but it’s the only “toxic” relationship that’s GOOD for people. We throw a rock in sanity and readers want more. In fact they punish us if we are too sane ;).
Being crazy and dysfunctional is our JOB. Conflict and problems are the heart and soul of stories. Of course, unlike psychopaths in life? Writers offer resolution and closure.
Yet, in the meantime?
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!
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.
And now you know why writers are on the list of professions psychopaths gravitate to….oooooh, chew on THAT :D .
Series are simply becoming more popular because there is an increased demand for entertainment and people are spoiled with a lot of variety. Humans are also masochists. Fiction shows us our ugliness, but unlike life? There is a resolution.
Writers are a strange breed of magicians. Humanity has always relied on us to do what it cannot. Others might be in the world, but writers notice the world. We reverse-engineer life and boil it down to its marrow. It’s the difference between the regular person who enjoys a glass of wine versus the author who can tell you (in detail) WHY you enjoyed it.
It’s the notes of dark cherry with licorice and a hint of spice…
We also start the hard conversations that people didn’t even know were there.
For instance, when watching Hannibal, Hubby and I got into a long debate about how society needs a certain percentage of psychopaths. Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are ruthless killers. Many are very successful because they gravitate to careers that reward those who can make tough decisions even when under extreme pressure (pressure that would likely cave more emotional types).
Psychopaths are devoid of natural human emotion, and for me? That can be okay. I do NOT want my surgeon getting emotional. I want him to do his JOB.
And this is a WHOLE other blog, but it shows how a series has the power to dive deeper into human dialogues (which is a HUGE part of their appeal).
***Btw, if you are interested in learning how to write a series, I am teaching my Antagonist Class (details below) where I show you how to generate tension on any scale from short-story to epic series.
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? Are you simultaneously horrified and fascinated by characters like Dr. Lecter?
Do you think writers have to have a touch of psychopathy? Come on, our browser history is already evidence against us :) . I have to be careful in restaurants. He has to die. I know he is really nice, but he needs to die, only they can’t find the body right away and it has to look like natural causes. *notices restaurant suddenly quiet* *turns* *nervous laugh* I’m a writer…
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).
Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.
I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
Posted in Self-Publishing on February 23, 2015
For those who are considering self-publishing, there is an element almost as important as the writing itself, but it’s a bit of an unsung hero. Formatting.
Presentation is vital. Chefs get this. Fashion designers get this. Car dealers get this. So should we. This is our art, but what makes us professional is when we care enough to send the very best.
We live in the best time to be a writer. Paper is going away. Not all the way, of course. Yet, with digital devices taking over every aspect of our lives, we need to think like business people. In sales, we used to say, “Fish where the fish are.” With the mass influx of smart phones, tablets and e-readers, the most likely place a reader will consume our work is going to be via digital. Also, when one considers we now have entire generations where paper is an anomaly? Digital is critical.
Writers often make the mistake of believing readers (consumers) are like them. We can believe they love the smell of a bookstore, the feel of paper *shivers*. This is short-sighted considering that only roughly 8% of the literate population would list “reading” among the top ten hobbies.
In fact, every novel that’s ever broken records has managed to do the remarkable—hook people who normally believe they don’t like reading (interest the fat part of the bell curve). From Harry Potter to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, these books captured the attention of “non-readers” and that’s why they broke bank and made history.
We have a tough job as authors. We need to convince people to pay money and invest a minimum of twelve hours to do an activity they believe they do NOT enjoy. Yes, we can help this with a great story, but we must also remove what’s called friction.
Ah, friction. I’ll give an example. I loathe shopping for clothes with the power of a thousand suns. One time I saw a REALLY cute top on Facebook in my feed (one of those paid inserts). I did what I normally would NEVER do. I clicked. At this point, they’d pretty much made the sale.
But then, I had to create a log-in and then approve the password and then when I returned to the site? The shirt that captivated me was nowhere to be found and there were too many pages to search through. I deleted my account and will never return. Likely will never click on another clothing ad.
The retailer made the sale too HARD.
When it comes to our e-books, potential buyers will often look to the sample pages and, if the formatting looks like it was done by a one-eyed marsupial with a meth habit? Pass. Or maybe the consumer goes ahead and downloads or makes the purchase. Formatting is crucial.
In writing, anything that interrupts the fictive dream is BAD JUJU. If our formatting is a train wreck, odds are the reader won’t finish, let alone recommend. Also? People can give nasty reviews that have nothing to do with story, so why take the chance when that ticked off one-star review is completely avoidable?
This said, our job is to make sure everything goes as seamlessly as possible. We have two choices when we self-publish. Since we are taking on all the roles traditionally handled by a publisher, we can either learn to do it ourselves or hire a pro.
Even if we outsource, learning to do this on our own can help us be better at hiring good formatters since we understand the lingo and what to expect.
I rarely do this, but Kait Nolan is one of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with. She’s put together a fun list of 5 Things To Do Instead of Formatting EBooks. As a huge fan of outsourcing? I’m inclined to agree with her list and she is a PRO when it comes to formatting.
Take it away, Kait!
I have long been a proponent that formatting ebooks is not hard. I’ve talked at length elsewhere about why it’s important that you know how to do it (even if you hire out), and I even teach a class on exactly how to do it, step-by-step for those who have an industrious DIY spirit and want to learn. But despite all that, there is one incontrovertible truth about ebook formatting:
It’s a pain in the butt.
Formatting ebooks, particularly if you’re new to it, is a tedious and exacting process. Not HARD, but definitely time consuming. That’s where I come in. I format ebooks often, fast, and well–and you can hire me to take your manuscript and turn it into whatever form of ebook you want—from a basic “Meatgrinder” ready Smashwords file to every major file format available. Because I’m chained to a computer most days, I can generally offer quick turn around and ready answers to all your formatting questions. All that is to say that if you hire me, you can use your time for more important things.
- Instead of sorting out how you’re supposed to change out the 175,000 tab indents you used at the start of your paragraphs to correct paragraph styles, you can plot the demise of Julian Fellowes for daring to Do Something Horrible to the Adorable Bateses on Downton Abbey.
- Instead of digging into the code of the EPUB that Smashwords keeps rejecting to figure out what in the heck they’re talking about being wrong when the file clearly passes the IDPF validation test for EPUB 3, you can write a fanfic of the Olicity reunion that should TOTALLY happen in Season 3 of Arrow.
- Instead of beating your head against a wall trying to figure out why Kindle keeps indenting your block paragraphs even though they are set to block paragraphs, you can make a pie and enjoy it while watching the King of Pie Appreciation, Dean Winchester, in…pretty much any season of Supernatural (3 is my favorite).
- Instead of going through the whole nuking of your formatting to get rid of garbage code (and following that with tequila shooters because OMG), you can watch Pitch Perfect for the three hundredth time in preparation for getting Pitch Slapped in May. #AccaAwesome!
- Instead of getting an eye twitch trying to design an NCX table of contents from scratch, you can even be all responsible and stuff and use all the time you’ve saved to take care of the rest of your business concerns–promo, blog tours, writing the next book…or marathoning all of Firefly. Your call.
However you decide to spend all that freed up time, you won’t regret the investment in a professionally formatted product. So the next time you need a book formatted for publishing, look no further than The Forge Book Finishers for affordable ebook finishing.
Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.