Archive for category Writing Tips

Why I Hate “The Giving Tree”–But How This Story Makes Us Better Writers

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-9-03-05-am

I’m going to say something possibly unpopular and perhaps a bit strange. I hate the children’s book The Giving Tree, even though oddly, it was my favorite book. I remember being five and reading the story and just weeping for the tree, feeling devastated. Understanding what she was feeling. I recall hating the boy and the self-centered narcissist he grew up to be. Taking and taking and never giving.

Why did the narcissist cross the road? Easy. She thought it was a boundary.

As a child I was obsessed with most of Shel Silverstein’s work, memorizing poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends. But maybe my early fascination with Silverstein highlights what good writers do for their audience, no matter the age.

While many people love The Giving Tree and hail it as a wonderful tale of unconditional love, there is also the other camp who finds the tale remarkably disturbing. But look at what this simple story says about its audience.

Point of View

First of all, I wonder if the story is much like those images we see in self-help books. One person sees an old hag and the other a beautiful young woman staring in the mirror. Does the child who comes from a kind and loving family see the maternal tree as a caretaker who loves no matter what? No strings attached? Or is the child seeing a reflection of the dance of codependency and narcissism around them?

Children are very smart. They see with much more honest eyes than most adults.

Reflection of Self

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

I’ve talked about this before in my post, Drop the Donkey. I honestly believe that stories we gravitate to as children says a lot about our fundamental nature, our strengths and weaknesses.

I always loved the parable of the Tortoise and the Hare, namely because one of my strongest traits is my persistence. I loved the parable of The Crow and the Pitcher because I was always good at finding clever ways to solve seemingly impossible problems. The stories I loved possibly reflected back personality qualities that even at a very young age, I possessed and was even proud of.

But then there was my dark side, a side I noticed even by the tender age of four when I was sounding out the words And the tree was happy. My tendency to people please (Old Man Whickutt’s Donkey) and my seeming inability to set a boundary with those who would take and take until I had nothing left to give (The Giving Tree) and me happily enabling my own self-destruction. The anger I felt toward the tree being a fledgling anger I felt for myself.

Why did the boy feel the need to take all the apples? All her branches? Why couldn’t he just take some? Why did the tree feel the need to offer all her apples and all her branches? Couldn’t he see he was killing her? Did he even care?

When it came to her trunk? Why didn’t she tell him to just go pound sand?

God, how many times have I done the same?

Less is More

As writers we are often guilty of too much brain-holding, of coaching the reader. We want to control every emotion, perception and description yet often less is more. When we leave blank space for the reader to fill in, the fiction can have room to blossom into something unplanned for. The story becomes richer and the experience more visceral because it transforms into an echo of the audience’s self-projection. Thus instead of one fixed interpretation, we get countless.

We end up with a story that is told and retold for generations simply because we all disagree about what it’s even about.

Shel Silverstein didn’t write The Giving Tree with plans that it was a cautionary tale against toxic relationships. He didn’t write it to be some Christ-like example of selfless love. He wasn’t writing a tale of capitalism run amok or misogyny. According to him, he simply wrote a story about the complicated dynamics of human relationships. We, as the reader, assign whether this is a tale of warning or wonder, horror or hope.

Good Stories Make Us Look at Ourselves

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

One of the reasons humans gravitate to stories is we learn through them. There is even scientific evidence to support that learning becomes far more embedded in memory when it is delivered in the form of story. We are wired for narrative. This said, we all struggle in certain areas and stories are a great way that we can experience cause and effect, trial and failure through others. We have a safe place to learn the hard lessons.

Often if I encounter something that upsets me or makes me angry I know it is because it is something that is bothering me about myself. Instead of avoiding the feeling or dismissing it, I have learned instead to explore it and ask why.

I think this is why good fiction is so vital. Yes there is a place for the fantasy character we all long to be. The market is filled with beautiful tough heroines who know Kung Fu and bake cupcakes the Navy SEAL men who love them.

But then there are the other kinds of stories.

Great fiction will not just tell our story (the one we plotted), but it will tell the story of our readers, too.

Empathy, Injustice and Grief

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.49.05 PM

Spawn when he realized Daddy was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan.

Our culture is guilty (my POV) of assuming that every child’s story is to serve as a role model. Don’t bully. Be a good friend. This is what happens when you learn to share. But literature serves a higher purpose.

Isn’t the point of being a parent to rear a fully developed person more than simply being an activities director? That we are charged with rearing a grownup with fully developed empathy and a sense of injustice? Doesn’t it say something when a child reads a story like this and is incensed at the injustice of it all?

The children’s movie Inside Out explored how dysfunctional we have become regarding human emotion. We aren’t permitted to be angry, sad, disappointed, jaded or hurt. We can be depressed (because there is a pill for that). Yet these “negative” emotions serve a purpose. It is okay to be angry and sometimes it is downright warranted. It is all right to be afraid.

Our culture has become obsessed with never being offended and yet being offended is vital. There are things that should offend us. That is when real change is possible.

Insulating entire generations from ever experiencing negative emotions is in a word? Psychotic.

Silverstein didn’t believe in happy endings being a necessity. He felt that set children up for failure, that things didn’t always work out. That if every book had an HEA then children would wonder what was so wrong with them. They didn’t always get an HEA in  their lives. What were they doing wrong?

Nothing, my Wee One. It is life. Fair is a weather condition.

Good stories also serve as catharsis. We need to watch comedy because we do need to laugh, but you know what? Sometimes what we need is a good cry, too. And maybe we aren’t yet “evolved” enough to cry over what is going wrong in our own lives, but we can cry for a beautiful tree that was rendered a stump.

And that makes us all just a little bit more human.

What are your thoughts? Did you love or hate The Giving Tree? Do you find yourself reflected in that story? Have you, too, struggled with not allowing people to take every single apple and branch? What other works of fiction left blank spaces you were allowed to fill? Or allowed you to be angry or maybe even cry?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter TOMORROW! I have also included new times to accommodate the UK and Australia/NZ folks! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

TOMORROW! Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

WEDNESDAY October 5th Your Story in a Sentence–Crafting Your Log-Line

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Those who miss being in the first ten will get a deeply discounted workshop rate if they would like their log-line showroom ready.

SATURDAY, October 8th Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

48 Comments

Adding Depth to Your Fiction—Body Language 101

Dog Body Language

Image by Gopal 1035

Today regular guest writer Alex Limberg is back with a post that will make any of your dialogue scenes sound so much smoother. His piece is about body language. Raise your eyebrows and drop your chin in delight, because Alex is about to help you get under your readers’ skin with your dialogue. Also, you should definitely check out his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Now clap your hands: 3… 2… 1… here we go:

***

“Crossing my bridge on your flying rhinoceros? You better reconsider that,” the troll said and raised his fist.

When you are reading the sentence above, you know immediately what the situation is about: The troll is threatening the other person (and a flying rhino is coming your way). And the reason you know exactly what’s up is, you guessed it, the fitting description of body language. Body language is added in just four tiny words. But those four words add a lot of depth to the scene.

The physical snippet makes your reader visualize the scene; it puts the graphic image of a big, green, threatening troll fist in his head.

It also brings some nice variation to your dialogue; it’s more interesting than a plain, boring dialogue tag (“the troll said” or “the troll shouted.”)

It introduces character and overboiling emotion – you know it’s better not to tangle with the green guy.

And finally, it adds some physicality to your story, as opposed to just “blah, blah, blah” dialogue and scenic description. It makes for well-balanced speech.

Troll Warning

Image by Gil

All of this is the power of using body language.

Here is a short Body Language 101 that will help you with “puppeteering” your characters’ bodies:

1. Use Body Language Only From Time to Time

If you use body language too much, it will become annoying and obvious and lose its subtle qualities. Instead, only describe characters’ facial expressions and postures from time to time. Make them smoothly blend in with the dialogue and the other scenic description.

Sneak your body expressions into the mix unobtrusively. Remember that you have several other options to “tag” and break up your dialogue lines:

  • You could use a dialogue tag (“Let’s go to the party then!” Sandra squealed.)
  • You could describe what the characters are doing (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra held the invitation out to him.)
  • You could describe what else is happening in the scene (“Let’s go to the party then!” Suddenly the doorbell rang.)
  • You could just leave the dialogue line standing alone (“Let’s go to the party then.”)
  • You could describe a facial expression, posture or movement of the character who is speaking and put it directly before or after his dialogue line, to let the reader connect the dots himself (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra’s face lit up.)

Try to vary these options, so none of them gains the upper hand and becomes annoying. That way you will get a well-balanced and structured scene that pays equal attention to dialogue, characters and descriptions.

When you insert body language, always do it in passing and don’t give any extra weight to what you describe.

2. No Explanation, Just Body Language

If you want to look really stupid, you could write like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked with eyes narrowed to slits, because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

This example does both, showing and telling. That’s one too many, and the too many one is the telling part! Cut out “because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

When you write like this, you also take your reader for stupid. Let her connect the dots herself – if she has followed the story, she will know why Georg’s eyes are pressed to slits.

Try it like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked, his eyes narrowed to slits.

That’s much better, now we don’t even have to go inside George’s head artificially, we can just describe objectively what the reader sees.

Whenever possible, don’t name the feeling, but just show the body language. And definitely never put both of them (body language and description of feeling) together in the same sentence.

Showing, not telling is sometimes not easy to do when you are caught up in the writing process. That’s why I created my free checklist about “44 Test Questions” to make your story great. It’s a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, and you can download it right away.

Body Language 1

3. Have a Very Clear Idea of What Your Character Is Feeling

Take a look at this ambitious description of body language:

“Randy held one hand in his other behind his back, then suddenly stroked his throat while he was leaning towards Linda.”

What’s happening here? Nobody knows, Randy’s behavior is too much. As far as we are aware, it doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the writer pays attention to the undertones so much, that in the end he is not really saying anything.

Don’t write so cryptically that nobody can understand where your character is coming from. A simple description of one piece of body language at a time is absolutely enough. You, the author, always have to be clear about what your characters are feeling. And their body language has to match those feelings.

4. Follow Your Intuition When Describing Body Language

But where can you take an accurate description for flattery or envy from?

Your best bet is to take it from yourself. Imagine you feel flattered by an enormous compliment, like the best compliment ever. What expressions would your face, your arms, your body be making? Totally immerse yourself in the feeling like a good actor, and see which body expression fits.

Remember the last time you felt really envious about somebody? Use that memory to immerse yourself in the feeling for a second and ask yourself how your body would react.

Reading a book about body language is also an excellent idea. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease is a very systematic and comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about body language. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Acting 1

5. Several Types of Body Language You Can Use

Our bodies have several ways of giving our secrets away. Here are some examples and a bit of inspiration on what’s possible:

  • Facial expressions: The human face is an endless source of expressions. Think of raised eyebrows, tightly pressed lips, blown up cheeks, wrinkled noses, wide eyes, frowned brows, poked out tongues, widened nostrils… most feelings show through several features
  • Body postures: Crossed arms, legs wide apart, foot put forward, leaned back upper body, spread elbows, locked ankles, body pointing away, tilted head… all of these have something very distinctive to say
  • Body movements: Adjusting tie, nibbling on temple of glasses, whipping foot, raising hand with palm toward opposite, flicking the hair, putting hands in pockets, grabbing the other’s upper arm, scratching one’s nose… do you know what all of these mean?

Equipped with all of this knowledge, you now have an extremely elegant and effective way to describe what’s really happening under the surface of your scene. You can now go fill your characters with overflowing emotions and life.

Once you manage to describe how their feelings subconsciously pour out of them, your figures will automatically take on a life of their own and feel like they were standing next to you in your living room. And your reader won’t be able to keep from loving or loathing them whole-heartedly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your dialogue, plot, characters and much more to greatness with his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thumbs up, Alex!

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: Are you guilty of completely neglecting body language in your stories? Do you have a favorite body part or movement to describe? Aren’t knees so much cooler than elbows? Do you ever forget to jump up and down when you are happy?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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

 

 

, , , , , , , , ,

23 Comments

Writer’s Block? How to Get Your Novel Unstuck

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.20.28 AM

We’ve all been there. When we started off with this brilliant story idea we just simply knew this was the one. This story we would finish. This time would be different.

*insert screeching breaks* (pun intended)

Then we hit a wall. We simply can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard we try. We might even go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Death and Dying.

Denial

Oh it isn’t that bad. I just haven’t had enough caffeine.

Anger

What the hell was I thinking? A romance? No one wants to read about love. Love is dead. Readers want diet books and recipes with kale.

Bargaining

Maybe if I just go add in some super clever metaphors it will all improve. Can one use emojis in fiction? I find smilie faces spice up my Facebook posts. Brilliant!

Tiffany was thrilled Dane asked her to dinner😀😀😀❤❤❤😀😀😀

Okay, not brilliant. Note to self. Tell NO ONE you thought this might be a good idea.

Depression

I suuuuuuuuuck. I suck I suck I suck. I’m never going to finish a novel. I am just a pretender, a fake. A “real” writer wouldn’t have this problem.

Acceptance

Yes. Something is definitely wrong. Back to the drawing board.

I’ve been working with plot for going on ten years and not only do I have experience with countless writers who’ve hit a wall, but been there, done that and got the t-shirt. In fact, being a person who is obsessed with patterns, my own stalling was part of why I became so fixated on understanding plotting.

It seemed like I’d always go through the same process. First, caffeine. Duh.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.16.07 AM

Then….

0-10K Words

I am a frigging GENIUS. THIS, THIS was the idea I’ve been looking for. What was I thinking with all those story ideas?

The words just come pouring out. In fact family members might have to knock you away from your keyboard using a broomstick or a board or some other nonconductive material (similar to rescuing someone who’s grabbed hold of a live power line).

10K-20K Words

All, right. It’s a bit slower, but that is to be expected.

The words are no longer gushing forth with the force of Old Faithful, but water word pressure is still decent enough.

20K-30K Words

Wow, this is getting tough. But, persistence prevails when all else fails. Is that a plot bunny?

Hello, little fellow. Aren’t you cute? Where are you off to?

31K Words

How the hell did an alien invasion end up in my women’s fiction. Right, the plot bunny. Damn.

35K Words

Skip writing and go straight to drinking. And this idea had SO much promise. Maybe that plot bunny was onto something. Perhaps I’m a sci-fi writer. What was I thinking writing women’s fiction?

Begins watching episodes of Ancient Aliens on YouTube.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.14.27 AM

It’s okay. It happens to the best of us, even if you happen to be a plotter. Characters misbehave, the story veers off course and now you’re so lost you have no idea what to do.

With a novel? It is tempting to just start something new, but before you give up understand there are some common reasons you might be stuck and some tricks to get unstuck.

Yay!

I don’t like it when pros claim writer’s block isn’t real. It is real. Yes often laziness is mistaken for writer’s block, but sometimes it is our subconscious slamming on the brakes because it knows there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be repaired. It is keeping us from digging ourselves in deeper by making us stall out.

It’s a Check Engine light and ignore it at your peril.

I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.

It’s like the time was tired and accidentally got on the tollway in Oklahoma going north instead of south. If my goal was to eventually get from Tulsa to OKC, then to keep driving north was a ridiculous plan.

Granted it sucked when I snapped to in Joplin, Missouri and I felt more than a little stupid. But the best course was simply to turn around and get going in the proper direction.

Sure if I kept driving, in theory, I could have reached OKC, but maybe I didn’t want to traverse the north and south poles and come up through South and Central America.

Why You Are Stuck

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 6.20.53 AM

The biggest reason you might be stuck is you are being a perfectionist. Stop it. Go find your favorite authors on Amazon and read all the one and two star reviews and then you will realize there is no such thing as a perfect book.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

But, beyond this? Some practical advice:

The Seed Idea

The good news is it might not be your idea. You idea might be perfectly fine, it just maybe was not robust enough to support the story you want to tell. Or maybe it was confusing. It needed more focus. Maybe it was too broad or even too narrow.

This is why I strongly recommend writers creating a log-line. Tell what your story is about in ONE sentence (For more go HERE).

I.e. A fraidy cat romance author must travel to the jungles of South America to rescue her sister from murderous jewel thieves before they chop up her sister and feed her to the alligators.

You guessed it. Romancing the Stone.

When I do my log-line class (one coming up) I can simply look at a log-line and not only tell if a writer is going to have problems, but can also predict what those problems will be.

If you didn’t do one ahead of time, that’s all right. Go back and make yourself create one and then instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, you will actually have an actionable plan.

If you have a log-line, go BACK to it. Revisit the story you were wanting to tell in the first place.

The Cast

It might be you’ve miscast your protagonist. Maybe at first it seemed like a good idea, sort of like when the second season of True Detective cast Vince Vaughn as a hard core gangster. Was a nice try, but yeah.

Maybe go swap out some of the major players with a different type of character and see if that helps.

The POV

My first attempts at The Devil’s Dance (at publisher now) were a train wreck. No one liked the female protagonist no matter how many times I rewrote it. So? I switched from third limited to first person and the change in voice alone was enough to solve the problem.

The plot might not be the issue, rather you’ve chosen the wrong POV to tell it in. OR maybe it is the correct POV but just rewriting a chapter or two in a different POV is enough to get you unstuck.

In the end, yes keep writing. No half-finished novel even became a NYT best-seller but a lot of finished sucky ones have. But sometimes, the key to finishing is working smarter not harder😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you stuck? Do you have other tips for getting unstuck you’d like to share? Did you see yourself in any of this? Do you hit the same benchmarks? It’s kind of spooky isn’t it? I’ve found that it takes about 30K for plot flaws to become a game changer. If the plot is flawed we just won’t see it in only 20 pages.

If my tips aren’t enough, Icy Sedgewick has some different tips in her post How Do You Restart Your Stuck Novel?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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

 

, , , , , , , , ,

37 Comments

Mastering Conflict—Hook Readers & Never Let Them Go

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Last time we talked about how, if we want to sell more books, we need to give readers what they want—an excellent story. Very often writers believe they need to be clever and deep and super different and while all of that is excellent, it must all be built around delivering a terrific story…not simply being clever for the sake of being clever.

This said, we must always remember the beating heart of every story. Conflict. No heart? The story flatlines.

Conflict is not simply a bad situation.

I often get pages where it is almost like, “And this bad thing happens then the next bad thing oh and another bad thing.” It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bad action movie.

Oh there’s a fight scene, then a car chase, then another car chase and then another fight and OH! An explosion.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you have ever been to any family event, you have all you need for writing great fiction. Lots of personalities, baggage, history, and agendas all piled into one spot and BOOM!

Conflict.

Conflict is what hooks readers and keeps them turning pages. Every single scene needs conflict. Every page should have conflict. One of my personal mottos, is:

Bookmarks=DEATH

We should strive to never ever leave a logical spot to slip in a bookmark. No, we want to torture our readers and keep them up all night and sleep-deprived. We do this with conflict.

Humans don’t like unresolved problems. It is in our nature to want everything sorted out before we can relax. How do we keep readers up all night? Never let everything get completely sorted out.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 9.57.04 AM

Conflict obviously will happen internally and externally. The internal conflict gets center stage in the sequel and external conflict steps up during scenes.

Scenes are defined by action (an outside tangible goal).

The protagonist wants X but then…

Sequels are the spaces between scenes where there is a bit of a breather and the character is internalizing what happened and making a plan of what to do next.

By eventually spacing out the sequels and then removing them altogether is how we as writers can control the pace and ratchet the tension as we careen into the third act. For more on scenes and sequels refer to Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part One.

But whether it is a scene or a sequel it must have conflict.

Situation

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 6.43.07 AM

Obviously the outside situation might generate conflict (and frankly should).

Example:

Fifi simply must get the deposit into the bank before end of day, but then she ends up trapped in a traffic snarl and gets there right as the motor bank closes.

Question: Are you making it too easy for your character to get from point A to point B? Can you dangle what she wants just beyond reach? Can you insert more misdirection/setbacks?

Personality

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 5.50.19 PM

Sure the situation can generate conflict, but our protagonist does not exist in a vacuum. His or her decisions will happen around other people and thus be influenced by them.

Example:

Fifi is a very plain, no-nonsense gal who is Type A and if she isn’t fifteen minutes early, in her mind she is already fifteen minutes late. Unfortunately she opened her cupcake bakery with her little sister who always looks like she fell out of a fashion magazine, who would never dream of going out not looking like a model and who, as a consequence is pathologically late.

Fifi loathes being late.

So not only did Fifi have to get to the bank, she was forced to take her sister because she needed something to be notarized with sister’s signature for the business. Sister was just going to “take a minute to freshen up.” Of course had Fifi’s sister just gotten in the damn car, they would have missed the fender bender that caused the traffic snarl and would have made it to the bank on time.

Question: Who have you cast with your protagonist? Are they too similar? Do they get on too well? Opposites often attract, so who could you cast against your protagonist to make life all that much messier?

Baggage/History

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 6.47.44 AM

Clearly you all have baggage (and I don’t mean carry-on only) or you wouldn’t be writers. Great characters have loads and loads of baggage and often that baggage appears during conflict.

Remember that sane and well adjusted people make for lousy fiction unless we cast one of those types and that becomes the source of conflict. But if both people disagree in healthy ways? Snoozefest.

Example:

Fifi: When you choose to do your makeup and hair when you are aware we need to be somewhere, it frustrates me. Your chronic tardiness makes me feel as if you don’t value me or my feelings.

Sister: Well I feel that when you insist on looking like a hopeless frump all the time that you don’t value me. Lord, I have to be seen with you and we could be seeing potential customers for God’s sakes. And for the record, I feel like throat-punching you when you use your therapy speak on me. Is this garbage what you pay all that money for?

Pretty clearly we see there is a lot of baggage here.

Question: In your scenes can you ramp up the tension with barbed mentions of any chronic behaviors? Unhealed psychic wounds? Most people don’t completely operate in the present, the past likes to bum a ride. Are your characters both dealing with disagreements like healthy well-adjusted people? If they are? Stop it!

Worldview

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 6.38.23 AM

Remember that there are all kinds of sources for conflict all around us that are natural and organic and don’t seem forced. Age can be a factor. A parent won’t see the world the same way as a child and won’t have the same priorities.

When I am trying to get out the door, my main priority is not whether or not I have packed enough Hot Wheels. For Spawn? That is critical and trust me it creates conflict.

I am a Type A control freak and I loathe being late with the power of a thousand suns. Yet my husband, when we are going somewhere? He has three speeds. Slow, slower, and DEAR FREAKING GOD ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE?

Granted he is good for me. He makes me slow down, pay attention to detail, maybe even *shudders* enjoy the ride…but in the meantime, he’s maddening.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 6.39.55 AM

Yet there is some unspoken law that writers must marry engineers. Seriously, it is freaky.

Opposites attract and yet they also drive each other bonkers.

Question: Can you look at your cast then, using their worldview (age, personality, occupation) use that to create tension?

If you want a REALLY GOOD LAUGH???? Check out this quick video that perfectly illustrates differing world views.

I hope all of this has helped. Remember that yes, we must have a core antagonist who generates the singular story problem in need of resolution, but along the way we will need all kinds of micro-tensions and micro-aggressions to add depth to our story and keep readers riveted.

What are your thoughts? Are you a writer married to an engineer personality? Do you see all kinds of tensions flying about that you now can add to spice up your story? Are you leaving a lot of tension on the table?

If you want to become a master at plotting and tension, check out my Bullies & Baddies class below.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

34 Comments

The Problem with Pen Names

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.34.01 AM

When I first became a writer, one of my favorite activities was dreaming what my pen name would be. I’d even practice signing it so that, you know, I didn’t accidentally scribble Kristen Lamb in my runaway best-selling book at my glamorous book signing.

Don’t judge me. Y’all did it too😛 .

Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. If you want or need a pen name? Rock on! If you already have one? Keep it! If a sexy exotic name makes you write better stories? Go for it!

This is only a decision the author can make. My only goal here is to make sure y’all are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? They’re unnecessary.

The modern author already has to take on far more than simply writing, so why volunteer for more work?

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.51.25 AM

Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.

Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Dr. Who” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.54.23 AM

Some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*.

They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”

The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.

Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership. Readers buy from who they know and who they like.

When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books.

This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.29.08 AM

Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.

No.

First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.18.24 PM
If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).

You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.

Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable.

All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.

As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.57.14 AM

NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!

Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.

My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.

Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare.

When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform.

I finally sent off my mystery-thriller to the publisher. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like stories about murder and cartels? Don’t buy my book. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a thriller because it’s written by me.

*cute face*

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.42.33 AM

I once had a writer in my branding class who was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name. But what if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling that site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.

Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.

She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections—schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.

My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell

NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 11.11.32 AM

I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—.

Search engines will correct me if I goof it.

I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name

Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul.

But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone is searching my name for my blog/books and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the word “writer” to narrow the search.

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 10.34.45 AM

I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. But being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.

Just own it.

And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of her own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?

It is YOUR Decision

In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.

I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?

Um, they don’t read your post that day?

I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?

Um, they don’t buy them?

If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books😉 .

What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , , ,

74 Comments

Description—The Good the Bad and the Just Please STOP

Odin The Ridiculously Handsome Cat

Odin The Ridiculously Handsome Cat

In the last post, we talked about revisions and how often when we are making those next passes through we need to flesh, cut or refine our description. Can we be really honest about our description? Is it truly remarkable or just filling space? Are we weaving a spell that captures readers or are we boring them into a coma?

Okay, okay, do you have a point?

For those who never use description or very sparse description? Don’t fret. Description (or lack thereof) is a component of an author’s voice.

But obviously all writers will use some kind of description. We have to in order to draw readers into the world we are creating. If we don’t give them anything to sink their teeth into, they will wander off in search of something else.

So whether you are heavy or light on the description, here are some tips on how to do it well…

Avoid “Police Sketch” Description 

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.19.43 AM

I assume most of you have watched TV. A witness is asked to give a description of the mugger, murderer, whatever. Well, he was tall, with dark hair and dark eyes. Very muscular.

She was short, blonde and fit.

The reason I (as an editor) don’t care for this kind of description is a good writer is a wordsmith and we should be able to describe characters better than someone who’s been at the wrong end of a purse-snatching. Is there anything wrong with this description? Nah. Just it’s something anyone can do. It isn’t anything unique.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.48.39 AM

Avoid the “Google Maps” or “Weather Report” Description

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.22.23 AM

Weather can be vital and even its own character (which we will get to). But putting in weather just to tell us it’s snowing? Again, surface. Same with describing a location. Cities, streets, stores can come alive with the right description.

For some help with finding just the right words? Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have put together two setting thesauri, the Urban Setting Thesaurus and the Rural Setting Thesaurus.

Avoid “Info-Dump” Description

I was really bad about this when I was new. I described everything in a room. I believed the reader needed to know all the positions of the furniture, what was on the bookshelves and end tables, the colors of the walls, just to “get” what I was talking about. They didn’t need all that and likely lost interest in the point I was trying to make anyway.

I didn’t give my readers enough credit and most of that information was for me anyway. Novels are for the reader not for us, which is important to remember and easy to forget.

Good description doesn’t automatically mean MORE description😉 .

What Makes GOOD Description?

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.47.31 AM

Again, this is subjective, but I read…a LOT. I need a 12 Step Program for the sheer number of books I buy. Since I dig description, I often highlight it when it’s done WELL (which is why I cannot check out books from the library or EVER yell at Spawn for coloring in books).

The common denominator I see in great description is it delves beyond the surface and evokes some kind of feeling.

In this post, I’m merely giving some of MY favorite examples (from many different genres). I recommend that, if you want to use description, go to those stories that spoke to YOU. Those highlighted spots can be telling about your voice, preference and style.

You don’t need to copy, but you can deconstruct how the author did something WELL. And likely, if you are a fan of that kind of writing, others are too and you might share the same kind of readers.

Characters

For the Literary Folks I will use Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.12.21 AM

(Sheriff Bell) came across a hawk dead in the road. He saw the feathers move in the wind. He pulled over and got out and walked back and squatted on his boot heels and looked at it. He raised one dead wing and let it fall again. Cold yellow eye dead to the blue vault above them.

It was a big red tail. He picked it up by one wing and carried it to the bar ditch and laid it in the grass. They would hunt the blacktop, sitting on the high power poles and watching the highway in both direction for miles. Any small thing that might venture to cross. Closing in on their prey against the sun. Shadowless. Lost in the concentration of the hunter. He wouldn’t have the trucks running over it (Page 44-45).

In this story, a good lawman is after a soulless criminal who is nothing short of pure evil. This above description is important. The red tail hawk is a parallel of Bell. Bell is also a hunter who’s in danger of being so caught in the pursuit, it could get him killed.

Even though the lawman is tracking a criminal, he takes time to honor a fallen hunter even though it’s “only” a bird, something the psychopathic antagonist, who has NO VALUE for any life, would ever do.

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” thing😉. We don’t get a description of what Bell looks like, but through action, we know who he IS.

Weather/Setting/Information Without Being Info-Dump

For the sake of brevity, we’ll bundle three into one. Depp does a fabulous job of weaving weather, setting, and information in a tight cord of emotion. This selection is from Daniel Depp’s Loser’s Town.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.13.58 AM

The protagonist, Spandau, is a P.I. is following a Hollywood agent to a movie set to meet a client who’s being blackmailed:

Spandau smoked, and thought the city gliding past was much like an overexposed film, too much light, all depth burned away and sacrificed. All concrete and asphalt, a thousand square miles of man-made griddle on which to fry for our sins. Then, you turn a corner and there’s a burst of crimson bougainvillea redeeming an otherwise ugly chunk of concrete building. Or a line of tall palm trees, still majestic and still stubbornly refusing to die, stubbornly sprouting green at the tops of thick dying stalks, guarding a side street of bungalows constructed at a time when L.A. was still the Land of Milk and Honey….There was a beauty still there, sometimes, beneath all the corruption, like the face of an actress long past her prime, when the outline of an old loveliness can still be glimpsed through the desperate layers of pancake and eyeliner. (page 23)

In this description, we get more than a play-by-play of the L.A. streets he passes. Additionally, I feel the description is very telling about the character. Note the contrasting biblical references or even the tension inside the character. He hates this place, but can still see the loveliness that tears at him and keeps him there, keeps him coming back.

The description is an extension of the feel of the city—no depth, manmade, hardened, lost (but still something beautiful worth staying for).

Note the description is processed through the feelings and backstory of the character.

Instead of sounding like a travel brochure, there is emotional flavor adding depth. We pretty much know the weather—bright and hot. We experience the place rather than just “seeing” it in a boring “and then he turned on this street and then that street” fashion.

The description also shows us Spandau is likely an excellent detective—he sees more than the surface and instinctively searches deeper.

Again, description—how to do it, how much, how little—is subjective.

But, I believe that good description can make the difference in a caricature verses a “person” or “place” so real we’re sad to say good-bye when the book ends. Also, I hope I’ve given examples of how we can describe a character or a place without “describing” it.

Are we describing with the same depth as any literate person with a laptop could do? Or are we digging below skin and into marrow?

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself skimming description and didn’t know why? Do you highlight great description, too? Or are you a minimalist? There aren’t any wrong answers, btw. Who are some of your favorite authors who ROCKS description? What are maybe some tips/thoughts you have that takes description from blasé to beautiful?

Yes, my cat Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat has his own fan page😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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

 

, , , , , , ,

43 Comments

So You Wrote a First Draft—Dear God! What NOW?

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.30.54 PM

Once we have that crappy first draft usually there will be two major things we need to do…fill or cut. Okay, drinking makes three. And maybe wondering why we didn’t go to dental hygienist school instead makes four….

Anyway.

While it is true that too little substance can generate confusion, too much fluff can create distraction.

There needs to be a balance between…

Enough about the damn snowstorm! and Wait? There was snow?

Thus, once we have that completed first draft and begin our read-through we need to make these refinements to see if what we created meets or exceeds our expectations.

Sadly this is usually the first draft.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.49.42 PM

Much of what we will need to do is going to be dictated by what kind of writer we are. Are we a Trimmer or an Embellisher? There is a fantastic post over on Writer Unboxed that describes these two types of writers.

Some writers do a very sparse first draft that acts a lot like a frame for paper machet. It is really meant to just give an idea of the final form and serve as a guide.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Once the structure is inspected and found to be solid enough for government work, the writer then goes back through and fleshes in the work.

Other writers write super heavy then carve away what doesn’t serve the story.

And while I think all of us will identify with one type or another (Trimmer or Embellisher) it really helps to know what to add and/or what to cut.

If we add too much of the wrong thing, we can spoil the entire novel. If we cut too much of the right stuff we can collapse the story. Thus I hope today to at least give you some guidance beyond the more surface line-edit tips I’ve given before (6 Ways to Self-Edit and Polish Your Prose) though those are super helpful as well.

When I do a content edit for any writer, these are the main areas I am looking for.

What To Cut

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Character Redundancy

Each character should have a distinctive personality. This personality will give them a corresponding unique purpose to driving the story forward and generating conflict.

In Lord of the Rings the main story problem is of course created by Sauron (the whole evil ring thing). But, much of the story conflict is actually created by the cast members of the various parties who all have a specific role to play.

Merry and Pippin create a lot of chaos that generates sudden changes in the plan. For instance, the plan was to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony NOT to nearly fall into the Dark Rider’s lap outrunning a ticked off farmer.

The duo is naive, inquisitive and we can kind of bundle them into one because they are a team in their mischief. To have essentially another Merry and or Pippin type character would be a redundancy that would be a distraction.

Ask yourself then: Do I have any characters who could be merged?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Scenes that Don’t Move the Story Forward

All scenes have one common element. Conflict. There is a goal. No goal and that isn’t a scene.

Sections of information dump, flashbacks that have no ties to the main plot problem/resolution, or scenes with no conflict (I.e. two characters merely talking about a third character)? CUT.

Lackluster Description

Many of us love description. I do. My motto? No metaphor left behind! But description can have two main problems. Either we have a lot of good description but it is SO much that it is bogging down the story. Or, we have description, but it isn’t anything remarkable and we need to replace it with something better.

Ideally, it will be description that goes below the surface and adds to the plot, sets the tone and heightens tension.

Description is more than a weather report or a police sketch.

He was tall and handsome with a chiseled chin and dark wavy hair and…

And he took your purse?

I love this line from the beginning of Prisoner of Hell Gate, which is a literary suspense and one of my favorite books. This description hooks me and sets my expectations:

Dampness prevails, as always, but at this time less from the river and more from the mugginess that weighs on everything. It penetrates the very bricks, their crumbling mortar spongy to the touch.

I don’t know about you, but I am practically wilting reading this. It works way better than:

She walked beside the river on a hot summer night.

Though obviously style will dictate how we write description, even lean writers use words that will give the most impact.

He was a boring man dressed in an off-the-rack suit.

Maybe, instead…

He was the kind of man whose face you forgot even while you were still speaking to him.

Good description is less about piling on details and more about evoking a feeling.

What to Add

Sense of Time and Place

Is this a modern story? Or one set back in time? Is there magic? Technology? What is the setting? Now drop in the details that ground us. Talking heads in a place we aren’t oriented in is jarring. If this is in the beginning of a book, often it will fail to hook.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.47.12 PM

Character Nuance

If we just roughed out a bare-bones plot, we now need to go put the modeling clay on the skull.

Another one of my all-time favorite books is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. Now in a parallel world maybe he just wrote out that he needed “a brash bounty hunter with a red car” then later built it into this:

“It was a 1967 Pontiac LeMans Ragtop. Bloodred and so souped-up that she’d outrun any damn thing on the road. And I do mean damned thing.”

That’s how Charlie Matthias always described his car. Then, he’d give a big braying horselaugh, because no matter how many times he said it, he thought it was the funniest joke ever. People tended to laugh with him rather than at the actual joke, because Charlie had a 72-inch chest and 24-inch biceps, and his sweat was a soup of testosterone, anabolic steroids, and Jack Daniels… (Page, 24)

We learned a lot about this character from a three-sentence bit of dialogue, some power-packed description and even some narrative regarding how others responded in the company of this particular character.

This is a really short section that does a lot. It even hints at what type of book this is…a book about zombies. If we happened to pick up this story with no book cover, we’d “get” what it was about.

More Conflict/Tension/Surprise

Great stories are about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. Are our characters getting what they want too easily? Too quickly? Is their action toward each goal too linear? Are there enough stakes? Setbacks? Misdirections?

Are the characters’ actions too predictable? Can you maybe do better at defying reader expectations?

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.02.53 PM

Are the characters acting as three-dimensional “people” who carry a lot of baggage? Or are they plot-puppets merely doing and saying things because we Author God need them to?

What are your thoughts? Does this help give you a plan of what to do with that first draft? Are you afraid of your office because your WIP might bite you and thus far refuses to be potty trained? What items do you look for? Can you add to the lists I gave?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

52 Comments

%d bloggers like this: