Archive for category Writing Tips

Being GOD 101—The Basics of World Building

Nice to beep you

In case I still need to introduce him to you: Alex Limberg has been a steady guest on my blog for the past couple months, and since he has taken to crate training far better than I anticipated, I might keep him around even longer.

Who’s a good guest blogger? *dangles treat*

Alex is a copywriter and blogs on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. Check and improve your stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story (very helpful checklist for anybody who writes fiction).

All righty. How do you create your own fictional world from scratch? So glad you asked! World building is critical to writing a good story, especially in certain genres like fantasy, high fantasy and science fiction. As an editor, I can always tell writers who skipped this step, namely because it makes me want to throw their book across a room. We have to establish a world and the rules of operation in that world before doing anything else, but I am prattling on and Alex is going to help you today.

Take it away, Alex!

***

Admit it, you want to be a god.

You despotic, power-hungry person, you need your own little space where everybody (and everything) bends to your rules, and you need to get your way.

Why else would you write fiction?

Ok, maybe you have other, more noble motives as well. Nevermind, sorry for prematurely accusing you (maybe).

But still, one of the most satisfying feelings for a writer is to create his own universe. Where else can you string along any individual, save or extinguish them just as you please, decide about the colors and shapes of what is and even bend the laws of the world to your liking?

You will build your most complete worlds in two genres: Fantasy and science fiction. Here, you can recreate the entire world and re-invented every little detail, should you choose to do so.

Maybe people eat shoes and walk on bread. They might have one billion twenty-two hundred million and fourteen eyes or none. What’s an eye anyway?

For his fantasy world Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien even went so far as to invent not one, but several languages. Diving into a world that detailed and miraculous must feel very tempting to a lot of people. That’s why the masses pilgrimaged to movie theatres all over the world to watch Lord of the Rings: No doubt they would rather be guided by Gandalf than by their own employer!

Science fiction on the other hand represents a harsher, less elfish and cozy world. Whereas fantasy says This could be, science fiction tells us This will be, which is a call much more threatening call to make… we feel more personally affected by science fiction.

In the end, no matter what genre you are writing in, you are always building your very own universe.

Maybe your story plays in a police department, in a hospital, or any other environment that has its very specific code of conduct, look and pace.

Maybe people in your novel talk very realistically or maybe your characters are just goofy and funny.

It might be just about the angle your story is coming from: In a thriller, there is very little room for laughter, everything is looked at from a factual, suspense-driven angle; in a comedy, everything is supposed to be funny. You might have noticed though that in real life funny and tragic moments often take turns very quickly and even come as a package within the same experience.

So it’s finally proven: Your TV set is not your real life!

Ok, so you want to be a young god or goddess respectively, create your own science fictional world, kill everybody, and let the rest live to your liking… now how do you go about it? What tips and guidelines am I able to supply you with on your honorable quest?

Let’s look at a simplified recipe on how to prepare your own world like a warm, steaming, yummy apple pie.

And let’s use one of the most famous science fiction movies ever to inspire us.

The Outline

Before you start writing your first draft, I whole-heartedly recommend you spend some time on preparing a detailed outline for your background. Be absolutely clear about what it looks like and which rules it adheres to.

Even writing in a more “realistic” genre will be difficult without an outline (although it depends on which type of writer you are). But inventing your SF or fantasy world “on the fly” is certainly a bad idea.

Think about it: The less you know in advance, the more of your mental disk space the story background will occupy while you are writing. You can only concentrate on so many things at the same time. So while you think about what a driving tests for talking ostriches looks like, you will miss out on the characterization or on writing sharp dialogue, I can guarantee you.

Make sure to write a detailed outline on your background.

The Feeling

As a first step, you should settle on the mood you want to create: What feeling should your world evoke? Is it funny or serious, very technological or rather simple? How far off is it from the good old world we inhabit?

Sexy in Space

Image by Ludovic Bertron/Flickr CC

For example, it could be “fantastic” science fiction with many curious races involved, like Star Wars. Or it could be a high-tech futuristic environment drifting through the vast reaches of space like Star Trek.

What does it feel like, which aspect of science fiction does it highlight?

Remember the 80s movie Blade Runner?

Its plot is a bit thin. But it’s a perfect example to study background, because it consists mainly of atmosphere. The wonderful production design, the highly acclaimed cinematography and Vangelis’s gloomy score all make for an extremely moody environment.

Blade Runner outlines a dark cyberpunk world and emphasizes the somber, haunted aspect of science fiction. It’s a cold, lonely, alienated world, one in which you can’t be sure if your opposite is human or an artificial clone looking like a human (called replicant).

Of course, you could go an entirely different route and make your world a friendly place with aliens looking like SpongeBob, feeding you grapes all day long. Whatever floats your boat. The SpongeBob version would render a completely different context and statement, and would of course require entirely different details and procedures (see below).

But whatever background you choose, here is the trick:

Give it a healthy balance between a world well known to the reader and a completely unknown one!

If you use certain things and procedures that are familiar to your audience, they will identify with your world. The more you can wrap your reader up in the feeling of a real, existing world, the more she will care about your story.

On the other hand, if you embed these things in a new, futuristic context, you take your readers by the hand and lead them into a world full of wonders, which is exactly what fiction should do: Take queuing at the register in the supermarket (a familiar, slightly annoying feeling, but in your world it’s done resting on hovering chairs), or meter parking (city administration is ready to charge again, but in your world they want your karma).

Balance between realism and imagination matters. For if your entire reality is a completely new one, your readers won’t recognize themselves in it anymore; but if your reality is too close to the known world – well, it’s not science fiction any longer then, is it?

Reality

Image by Byron Villegas/Flickr CC

The Surface

Next, there is the purely physical level: Based on the mood you want to create, what does your world look, sound, feel like?

The future looks streamlined, sounds mechanic and feels waterproof – at least that’s what the convention in science fiction wants to make us believe.

What the audience “sees” and “hears” right away is the uppermost layer of your universe: In the case of Blade Runner, do you remember all of the tubes, consoles, screens, scanners and the feeling they gave you – apparently enough emotion to hook you for a full two hours (because remember, thin plot)?

Can you recall the dark, threatening details of that world, whether it was an abandoned, deranged apartment block or stacks spitting huge clouds of fire?

Technology taking over our lives is often the idea behind science fiction. Technology, by default, is artificial; science fiction worlds are user-friendly, repellent, made of plastic and metal. Have you ever seen an iPad made of raw meat? Me neither; these worlds are all synthetics and steel.

Typical science fiction design looks streamlined, reflecting, immaculate; it sounds mechanical and automated, like a clicking, a buzzing, a laser-like swoosh; it feels smooth, firm and cold. Minimalism and functionality prevail. Everything is made for quick use and to save time. Keep this in mind when you are describing your world and what the characters see, hear and feel.

Then again, all of this is just an idea, a stereotyped label. Yes, just go ahead, create some science fiction with overwhelmingly furry surfaces – show me that meaty iPad!

Cool in Space

Image by L.E.Spry/Flickr CC

The Procedures

Now you know what your world looks and feels like. But what about its inner mechanics?

Think about the technology in your world – what’s ridiculously easy for people to do now? Do they beam themselves to work? Read each other’s thoughts instead of listening to them (time saver)?

Look at the technological advance. Then think logically and realistically: Because of the new technology, which changes might have happened in social life, in transport, in administration, in communication, in trade, etc…?

Throughout the centuries, technological changes have always brought along big changes in all other aspects of life: Take the law, for example. We have the internet now, people have access to never-before-seen technology to exploit each other on a whole new level; so we need a whole new set of rules, e.g. against cyber-criminals.

Think of all the areas of life internet has had a major impact on: Commerce (online sales), love (online dating), financials (online stock exchanges), and many, many more. With the advance of the internet, technological advance brought massive shifts in many other areas of life.

But let’s consider law again for a moment: Say if people read each other’s thoughts to save some time – where is the legal limit?

Are there thoughts nobody is allowed to read, private thoughts?

How is thought reading controlled, what’s the punishment for stepping over the line?

What’s the legal consequence of reading a policeman’s thought?

And as we are already at it, the government’s inclination to control its population always brings new threatening elements with it – that’s fertile ground for any science fiction story and some healthy paranoia.

In the Blade Runner world, citizens have to take emotional tests to expose if they are replicants or not. Replicants will be retired (executed). See how new technology (production of replicants) inevitably leads to new social and legal ramifications?

And sometimes, just once in a while, technology backfires – wasn’t the internet invented to save us a lot of time? And how much time did you waste on Facebook this week?

This is the irony of progress.

The Imagination

Finally, remember: That new universe of yours has to be imaginative! Had your reader the desire to read about the trashcans and trees behind his house, he would have just studied an essay about waste recycling in Dipshit, Ohio. Instead, not only give him something he doesn’t know and won’t ever know, but give him something nobody has ever experienced before.

What is it that makes science fiction so appealing?

It’s just that we love to imagine what the future holds in store for us! This is how human beings are wired, this is the dream of humanity – to live without the boundaries of gravity, of our bodies, of place, of time. So hand out some candy to the reader:

Which unimagined possibilities can he experience in your story that he won’t ever be able to enjoy in real life?

Is it time traveling to tell his younger self about the pitfalls of life’s journey?

Is it a robot who does all his homework?

Free-of-charge love with a clone?

In Blade Runner, we have things as mundane as a video device reacting to vocal commands; we also have flying police cars, which admittedly sound more like a nightmare than a dream to the average traffic participant – but at least they are every policeman’s wet dream!

So there you have it: The future is limitless and time is incomprehensible to the human mind. Humans will always wonder what the future has in store for them and humans will always be fascinated by science fiction.

And when the future finally arrives – it will be the new past within the blink of an eye… and a new future will be awaiting!

Alexander Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your world building, realism and many other story elements with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Kristen here; I have beamed my way back into this post.

And now over to you: Have you written science fiction or fantasy before? Or any other genre when it felt like you were very much building your own world? Do you have a secret sauce to draw your readers into your universe? How do you make sure your audience is as fascinated by that universe as you are? Is riding a rollercoaster equally fun on Mars? If our knees would bend in the opposite direction, what would chairs look like? Let us know about the future of humanity in the comments!

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 FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. 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.

Before we go…

THIS SATURDAY! Branding for Authors. This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

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

, , , , , , , ,

35 Comments

The Truth About Harnessing Creativity

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.28.36 PM

Image by PureSolution/Shutterstock.com

Thanks for joining me on the emotional ride we’ve had for the last couple posts. Good times. Who knew paying writers could be so controversial? And if y’all think I have for a moment let this go? *laughs hysterically* Nah, it’s all good. We just probably could all use a drink break.

Blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg assisted me through the holiday season, and now he’s here today while I go get stitches from twelve days of verbal cage fighting. Just so you know? I fight for you guys. I do it for LOVE *sniffs*

Adrian!

Make sure to check out Alex’s free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you get the best out of your ideas and create intriguing stories. Today he shares with us a deep truth any creative should be aware of. Ready? 3, 2, 1… Go!

***

Wherever we turn in our lives, we always see these pairs of two that keep things going:

Men and women. Night and day. Plus and minus. Ebb and flow. Work and leisure. City and countryside. Your left leg and your right leg. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Mickey and Goofy. Calvin and Hobbes.

Wherever you look, the world is held together by two polar opposites that complement and nurture each other, a Yin and a Yang. And in writing, it’s no different.

Whether your writing output will shine or you can throw it in the bin will be determined by the Yin and the Yang of your creative work.

So here it comes, the big truth I promised you in the headline. To me, this is the most important secret about all creative work, and I’m not even going to make you wait until the last paragraph; just take it and run: Your writing needs a creative and a rational side.

Let’s dive in knee-deep and take a look at how you can put each of them before your inner creative horse:

The Creative Side

On one hand, we have creativity.

Creativity is giving birth to something new; it’s risking, not overthinking, it’s the odd straw. A truly creative mindset is a relaxed and very, very playful one – think of a little kid toying around with his toy blocks.

The kid doesn’t sit down to study toyblockology for twelve semesters, he doesn’t calculate an elaborate blueprint for the most correct way to assemble square objects in three dimensional space, and he doesn’t need a teacup full of Valium when his little tower breaks down.

That kid is not analyzing and not second-guessing himself, it just lets his ideas pour out through him. It’s in a complete flow state.

Ideally, you are that kid.

Child in Box 2

Image by Sunny studio/Shutterstock.com

You are sitting down to toy around with your characters, with your ideas and words, self-absorbed, fascinated, totally thrilled by what you are doing, forgetting about the outer world. Ideally, you are experiencing a full-on flow state.

Now this is the important part: In creative mode, you can do whatever you want and your mind is not constricted by any rules whatsoever! No idea is too weird, too bumpy, too far out to be put on paper.

You could write about a cruel, perverted murder, which is something that would repel you in real life; you could write about flying pigs; you could even deconstruct words and sentences and assemble an abstract poem – or an abstract novel (see how I constricted myself here for a moment by assuming that if it was abstract, it had to be a poem?).

You can do anything. You are a big kid!

Creative mode is a state of extreme freedom that most people don’t get to experience very often in their lives – which might be the reason why we like writing in the first place. It’s a free-floating, curious, roaming state of mind. Its freedom sometimes brings out incredible results. No maps, no boundaries. No rights or wrongs. This is creativity.

We are not questioning ourselves in any way in this state, we just follow our gut feelings. No inquiries accepted – in fact, questions seem outright distasteful!

That’s the reason why during brainstorming sessions nobody is allowed to make derogatory comments: You must keep the mood non-judgmental to not choke creative thinking.

Crazy Man 3

Image by Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

The Rational Side

Then, on the other end of the seesaw, we have the rational mind.

That’s the way of thinking most people use the vast majority of each and every day in their lives, above all in their jobs. They might mercifully allow their creative side to come out a bit after finishing time to have a beer with her, but mostly we are way too occupied. We have to check phone calls off our lists, organize transportation for our kids and file tax returns, and we can’t give our creative side the time of day.

Social pressure keeps our creative side locked up as well: Getting naked in the middle of the street for a round of expressive dance is generally not appreciated within our society. If it was, society would come apart at the seams, so there must be an evolutionary reason why we don’t let that kind of behavior slide.

Rational thinking is very logical and streamlined. Everything has its place and rights and wrongs are clearly defined. If something isn’t right, by default it must be wrong.

There is no room for ouside-the-box; in fact, the box is all that counts. Rational mode is about executing things the right and logical way and in the right and logical order. We have to handle things the way we have learned they work; no experimentation. It’s a problem-solving mindset. As we have many problems (or at least we think we do), we have to employ it very often.

This kind of thinking leads to measurable results. Without it, we would be sitting in wilderness, drooling from the corner of our mouths, using berry juice to paint funny circles on a rock.

Rational thinking sets barriers. It lets us steer towards clearly defined goals and manage our daily duties. It separates the successful from the failed and it lets us question and therefore improve things. It’s judgmental. And in this life, more often than not, we need to judge in order to be able to take well-informed decisions.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.29.20 PM

Image by hidesy/Shutterstock.com

The Balance

Now where does all of this come together for our, the writers’, purposes?

Here is the trick: To bring out your best writing, you have to establish a healthy balance between your creative and your rational side!

You depend on your creative side to make your stories fruitful, imaginative, and mesmerizing. Without creativity, your story might read “technically” correct, but totally bloodless and dull. You might avoid using quotative verbs with adverbs during dialogue exchanges, the rhythm structure of your language might be precisely calculated, your characters’ psychology might be structured logically, so congratulations – but your writing will still put even the most avid reader to sleep!

What are you even writing this for?

Somebody with the mindset of an accountant might have that problem, especially if he has been working as an accountant for three decades and has thus completely trained his mind to rational thinking.

Then again, look at the other extreme: Without any rationality, your writing will be frayed at the edges, shapeless, not compact. It’s like it’s too much, not cut at the borders where needed, no separation between the well-made and the awful parts.

And what happens if you don’t select, if you don’t judge and separate the successful from the failed? It all ends up out of shape and overshooting the mark – in other words, a big mess.

Selectivity gives you a chance to check if the story is following rules that have proven effective. That means cutting a scene if it’s overwhelmingly long and running out of juice, crossing out a metaphor if it has missed the mark, trimming back a character trait if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the character.

It means cutting everything back to levels that make sense, just like you would cut a bonsai into rectangular shape to fit it into a box.

This “trimming” part can be difficult to do, especially for inexperienced writers. They often love to put their stories to paper, their creativity is overflowing, but they haven’t developed a sense for the “complete shape,” for the rules of the trade yet.

It will come with practice. It will come if during editing they will question their writing and think about story elements and whether each one is in the right place or not (check out my free ebook, it’s the ideal tool to help you distinguish).

Don’t question yourself during the original writing process though; while writing the first draft, give yourself permission to do anything – just like that little kid gives himself permission to do anything! During revision, be more present with your logical mind and challenge yourself. Take educated decisions about what can stay and what has to go.

This is exactly what Hemingway would have meant, had he indeed said: Write drunk, edit sober.

Creativity is chaos. Rationality is order. If you find the right balance between the two of them, people will not only be fascinated by your stories, but will also want to read through your entire tale.

And Yin and Yang, which are essentially just two slightly distorted, happy smiley-faces at peace with each other, will shine down on you knowingly.

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). Check your creative story output with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

That was some empowering truth about creativity.

And now it’s your turn: What gets your creative juices flowing? Do you find it difficult to cut down your beloved stories? What’s your biggest problem when you try to balance your wild creative side and your inner thinking nerd? Will they ever be friends and go for a coffee together? If they do, will you join them? How does it feel to be schizophrenic? Come on, let us know in the comments already!

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 JANUARY, 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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. Also Blogging for Authors THIS SATURDAY.

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

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

, , , , , , , ,

27 Comments

PAY THE WRITER—Pirates, Used Bookstores & Why Writers Need to Stand Up for What’s Right

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

NOTE: Since there has been confusion about this article, I’m editing areas of confusion in another color to clarify and hopefully refine the conversation back to the original intent. It’s okay to promote used bookstores without bashing digital and Amazon and reader-shaming those who like e-books. It is okay to promote used bookstores without slamming the remaining ways we are paid. Writers cannot keep working for free and for “exposure.” 

All righty. I’d vowed to take off for the holidays but *laughs hysterically* sure. Like THAT was going to happen. No, seriously, I’m working on resting more. I’m also working on learning to shut up. Clearly those two goals are getting re-slated for 2016 resolutions because the whole “Inside words stay inside…”

Not working out for me. So why not leave 2015 with a bang? Haters gonna hate.

To quote the great Tywin Lannister, Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of sheep.

Today I’m going to say something that could quite possibly be grossly unpopular, but whatever. It’s for your own good. I’m feeding y’all broccoli to offset all that fudge and alcohol you’ve consumed during the holidays.

There’s a trend that just makes me see red and I’m calling it out today because if we do not address this 500 pound used paper elephant in the room, then it’s going to be really, really hard for you guys to reach your dreams, which I assume is to work as a full-time PAID writer.

For those of you who do NOT want to be PAID to write? The following does not apply. If you are content to work a full-time regular job AND slave over a manuscript as a second job and your ONLY reward is simply nice reviews, compliments, hugs, cuddles, and the joy your stories might create in the hearts of others?

I am NOT talking to you.

If, however, you have ever complained about “an evil day job” that you really wish you could leave because it is sucking out your soul and your very will to LIVE day by day and you would rather be lobotomized than return to Satan’s Cube Farm after the holidays?

Then probably want to pay attention.

Readers ARE Excused

Readers are different. Readers are excused from what I am about to discuss. Readers are NOT writers. Yes, I understand that many writers began as readers. But there is a difference. We have progressed past the point of consuming an intellectual/creative property and now we are producing this intellectual/creative property.

We now have something at stake.

So why am I in a tiff?

Yesterday, I was on Facebook and it would have been one thing to see one writer post this link. But I saw like TEN writers post this link and they were excited…as if this Washington Post article were announcing a GOOD thing for our profession.

In an Age of Amazon, Used Bookstores Making an Unlikely Comeback.

Here’s the deal. I don’t care about bookstores. I care about writers. In fact, readers should care about writers more than bookstores because no writers? Well no real point in bookstores now is there? Because if a bookstore has no inventory, no point to its existence, so I feel we are wise to care about writers first…bookstores next.

Want to support the arts? Pay artists. Want to support books? Pay writers. It is simple. Do this? Bookstores will do just fine. Before we go any further, some education…

How Are Writers Paid?

This seems a bit silly, but we all need to learn this when we decide to do this writing thing as a job.

First of all, I am not against doing stuff for free. But the thing is? Writers already do all kinds of stuff for free. Every friend, colleague and family member expects us to be an on-call resume-writing, essay writing and editorial service.

Most of the time? We oblige.

Often, we blog for free (though if you do it the way I teach you actually DO get a return on that investment). Once we are published? We do interviews and guest posts for…FREE.

So please. Do not expect to ALSO get our books for free. We are frankly DONE with free.

How can a writer get PAID?

So happy you asked.

Digital pays writers the best. Then print copies. NEW ones. Buy on-line or in a bookstore or at an event in person. We writers get a royalty. Depending on the contract, writers can even get paid if a book is checked out of a library. That library PAID for the book and the writer was then, in turn, paid a royalty.

Upon so many times checked out? The writer is then PAID again for a new “copy” of the book.

Want to support a writer in the new year? BUY BOOKS.

Writers are NOT PAID for the purchase of used copies. So while I LOVE used bookstores I want to make a point here. Writers make no money.

As a professional, I treat my fellow writers-at-arms the way I want to be treated. I do not buy used books as a first choice. If I DO happen to buy a used book, I make sure to purchase at least a digital copy so that writer is PAID for his or her hard work.

But that article? That article in The Washington Post was beyond the pale. I was livid. Ripping off artists is not cool. It is not cultural, not avant garde. Why did I feel ripped off? Because the article was shaming digital and Amazon sales….the best ways writers earn a living. It was possible to hail the used bookstore without also further undermining writer’s earning abilities.

To be clear, I do not mind used bookstores. What I mind is the attitude that somehow digital is bad and Amazon is bad whereas “paper” and used bookstores are “cultural” and therefore GOOD and preferable for writers.

And unfortunately, I witness a lot of this among writers. I “get” that many of you love old books and browsing dusty old shelves and discovering old treasures. For out of print books? No argument from me. Rock on. But…

We have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.

We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.

Surgeons work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the sales clerk gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso peppermint soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles in a special red holiday cup and does not commit MURDER gets paid.

Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool? It’s okay to denigrate digital and hurt our best earnings?

No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates bookstores!” No. Pay attention.

I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Jane Eyre? Be my guest. I doubt Charlotte Bronte is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade her Scrivner or unscrew Windows 10 or, I dunno, eat.

Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family and career? Buy new ones or e-books.

Encourage and educate readers to do the same. Because here is the deal. If we writers go around cheering how AWESOME used bookstores are without also asking for a new sale? How the heck are readers going to know they are benevolently gutting our careers?

They (readers) see us posting the links. They ASSUME we are benefitting. They have no idea how we get paid. Why not direct them to places where we might make money?

I will parse this article in a moment but first? Let’s look at some of the common reasons people defend the used bookstore.

Used Bookstores Allow Readers To Discover New Authors for a Smaller Investment

Okay, so does digital. Difference is? The writer actually gets paid from an e-book.

Know who else claims they are doing writers a favor by letting readers “discover” new authors on the cheap?

Pirates.

Writers are the first to grab digital pitchforks when their work is pirated because they don’t get paid any royalties. GASP! The horror!

Some site offering their books and they don’t get a royalty. Burn them! Take down the site! They are stealing! Oh, but when a used bookstore does the exact same thing also sells a book where a writer earns no royalties?

It’s okay. Because, well, it’s paper. It’s “culture.”

*head explodes*

Why? That pirate used bookstore gave you “exposure.” Shouldn’t you be happy that a reader could…”discover” you. That pirate used bookstore is doing you a favor really.

Just to be clear, piracy is a whole other blog and not the topic of today and I KNOW used bookstores are not actually stealing. I am only using this to point out how Janus-faced we writers can be about the “Ooh! Exposure!” crap. Exposure in and of itself is not always a good thing.

The Author Can Get “Exposure”

Will Wheaton took Huffington Post to task on this. Again, what I am seeing is a Digital Versus Paper Bias. Huffington is a Pulitzer-winning news outlet that when it sold last year, sold for over $300 million dollars. Why can’t it then PAY writers who submit? (Hint: It can. Just doesn’t want to because it doesn’t have to).

Oh but you get “exposure.”

Granted, I bit. I allowed Huffington to repost a couple of my blogs that had already gone viral. I was flattered to be asked to write for them and then wrote a couple of pieces just to be able to add “Huffington” to my resume of accomplishments.

But, I’m ultimately a businesswoman. I had to ask the HARD question. What were they doing FOR ME?

Truth was? Not all that much. It wasn’t worth being troll food, because, when you post for Huffington, you have no control over comments and you have to be nice to people whose sole purpose in life is to crap in your Cheerios.

Here? I am benevolent dictator and do not have to be nice.

If you want to comment here and write something like this:

Kristen, you are a talentless hack and a hopeless amateur. Every time you speak a kitten dies from the sheer stupidity you spew into the ozone layer.

I have this wonderful thing called “edit function.” I can delete. OR, I can change your comment to read.

OMG, Kristen. You are supreme writer of all that is genius and I want to be JUST LIKE YOU one day. I have even started dressing JUST LIKE you, which is weird because I am a dude! <3 <3 <3

Probably shouldn’t have told y’all that. Oh well. Sally forth…

Yes, here I blog seemingly for “free.” But I trust me, I don’t. Not wholly. Because this is MY blog. I own the content. I make money off my hard work. Which, by the way, is as it should be.

By the way. YOU work hard and guess what? I believe YOU should be paid, too. Wow! Imagine that.

Heresy!

And writers seem to have no problem getting very indignant that so many blogs and digital outlets expect them to work for free.

Oh, but sell my paper books and make all the profit? Go ahead! That’s “culture.” 

And before anyone gets too ticked at me, yes, Amazon sells used books, but the difference is that there is ALSO an active promotion of that author’s OTHER books that are NOT used where the writer CAN be paid. On Amazon, it is also extremely easy for a browsing reader to discover and purchase other titles by that particular author.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 10.56.59 AM

So maybe I do buy a used book because it is out of print, but then I CAN buy something IN print so the author can…I dunno. EAT.

Back to This Article…

I think why this article aggravated me so much (aside from writers promoting the heck out of it) was it was treated as it it was some “grand thing” for the arts and some big favor to authors. It isn’t. It helps readers. YES. Writers? Eh, not so much. Passive exposure is not nearly as effective as it once was. Sure, before the Internet when our only option to get more books was to go to B.Dalton? yes, exposure was great. Now? It isn’t near enough though writers keep getting told it should be.

Let’s take a look, shall we? From the article…

Quote #1

Sierra, like ­other book lovers, has read articles about slowing e-book sales and watched as independent bookstores such as Politics and Prose thrive, catering to readers who value bookish places as cultural hubs and still think the best reading device is paper.

First of all, Sierra, e-book sales are NOT slowing. That is a patently FALSE claim that does not account for the explosion of indie and self-publishing. Yes, e-book sales have slowed for traditional publishers and print has picked up for traditional publishers, but namely because when publishers insist on charging the same for a PAPER book as an e-book? Readers will just go ahead and buy paper because $14.99 is just simply ridiculous for a digital book.

But even if that were the case, if you really do love books? Be a sweetheart and try supporting those who write them. Thank you.

Quote #2

And it’s a business with good economics. Used bookstores can beat Amazon and other online booksellers on price, offering shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one. Also, profit margins on used books are better than new ones.

That part I outlined in red was my favorite.

It is amazing how much profit margins increase when you don’t actually have to pay the person who worked long and hard and sacrificed to create the product you are profiting from. The sky is the limit! Again, why are they insisting on bashing the best ways writers get paid new? Yes, I was hot.

Then there is THIS gem.

Quote #3

“It’s (the used bookstore) like having a museum or a theater. It’s a cultural center.” ~Gottwals

Except that museums are supported by private donations, government funding, grants and patrons PAYING A FEE to walk around and look at the collections. And theaters? Same thing. Try going to Phantom for free, Mr. Gottwals. Good luck getting a seat NOT in the nosebleed section for under $250.

Quote #4

“I can find these books online, but I don’t want to…and if you don’t support the little guys, they won’t be around anymore.” (Customer)

Exactly, dear customer. If you don’t support the little guys they won’t be around. They will have to give up writing and work retail and then saw open their wrists with a spork while listening to Bjork and I hope you are happy #writerkiller  :P

We Must Take Ourselves Seriously

Yes, I admit it. I’m ranting today. Why? Because if writers don’t take themselves seriously, why would anyone else? When I protested the article on social media, writers argued with me. They acted as if a book is the same thing as a house or a car.

NO.

A car is a tangible property, not intellectual property.

I have no problems with people reselling books to used bookstores. I do it. I buy books from used bookstores. BUT, I also actively go out of my way to make sure writers are PAID. 

Because here’s the thing. We cannot cheer that used bookstores are “socking it to Amazon” and at the same time bemoan we aren’t making any money.

We cannot collectively cheer the “return of paper books” when they are in the used form and then also cry that we can’t leave the day job because we are not being paid for our work.

We can’t promote articles like these that reader shame people who like digital and Amazon, directing readers to outlets where we don’t make royalties and then stand mystified that no one takes our career seriously. Why are we promoting businesses who brag about not paying us? Again *head explodes*

We cannot say, “Well I am just happy when a reader discovers my story” if we are not in fact simply okay with just that. If cuddles and compliments are enough? Then good. But do not let me hear any complaint. I do not want to hear ONE word about how much that day job sucks.

And if we ARE going to promote used bookstores (which IS fine) then by GOD educate readers and ask for the sale. Let them know that you will not be paid off that sale and to please also buy a full-price version if they like your book.

Educate your readers because the bookstores aren’t going to. Clearly they do not care if writers get paid because they make money either way. In fact bookstores make MORE money if writers don’t. That’s just math.

Working for free while others are sole profiteers is NOT okay. It is exploitation. And we’ve done enough being expected to work for free. 

No one else works for free. You shouldn’t either.

You don’t fill up gas and expect it for free. You don’t expect cashiers to work at the grocery store for free. You don’t expect people who cut your hair to do it for free. You value others and what they contribute to your life. And maybe I’m a jerk because all I am asking…all I am imploring is that you give the same honor to yourself.

Because in the new year? It won’t matter one whit what resolution you make. WE are the first step. WE have to draw the line and say that what we do has value. And we have to call people out when they devalue what we do.

And when bookstores go around bragging to The Washington Post about how much profit they make because the margins are so much better on used books than on selling NEW books (which is code for:We don’t have to pay royalties) and expect me the author to bite on some Book-Buying-Trickle-Down-Economics wrapped up with an “It’s Culture” ribbon?

NO!

Yes, I love paper books too. I buy them NEW.

Honor yourself. Honor your fellow authors. I love all of you. I believe in you and hope you see that I DO support bookstores, but dammit…it is about %$#ing time they returned the favor and supported those who are bleeding to line their pockets. You can promote used venues without hamstringing the artists who are supplying inventory. It IS possible to promote a used bookstore without undermining authors making a living wage.

You matter. Your dreams matter. Your work matters.

What are your thoughts? Have I finally gone too far? She is MAD! Mad it tell you! I would blame it on alcohol but I haven’t started drinking…yet. I needed to drink after that article. What are your thoughts? Do writers need to stand up more? We already do way too much for free. We needed to with the expansion of Web 2.0 But now that the Internet and social media has hit a critical mass, do you think we need to step back and start saying NO more? What are your thoughts? Were you unaware how writers were paid?

Do you think use bookstores need to do more to support the actual WRITERS instead of this cop out of “exposure”? Maybe take some of those “high profits” and invest in apps or tablets with links to NEW works by the authors? Maybe let authors come in and talk and promote NEW works so they can continue to WRITE? What are your thoughts? Are you dressing just like me? :D

By the way, I LOVE this short film. There IS STRONG adult language so you are warned. But THIS!!!!!!

I love hearing from you!

Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes! This is part of how I fund my plans for global domination. Purchase a class! Buy a book! OR ignore all that follows but DAMN sure buy all your books NEW or I WILL FIND YOU O_o ….

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

, , , , , , , , ,

264 Comments

Writing Kick@$$ Action Scenes–Hook! Cross! T.K.O.

Gladiators

It might remind you of the movie Groundhog Day: Yes, it’s true, Alex Limberg is here with us once again. Like all that glitter that fell off your Christmas decorations? Can’t get rid of him. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. Also, his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story will help you with creating intriguing stories. This time he puts on his action hat and shares a clever recipe to write your readers’ socks off with action scenes. Let’s get right to it.

***

BOOM! CRASH! BANG!

It’s Batman chasing Superman through James Bond’s porcelain collection. Broken glass, bones and promises everywhere.

But here’s the problem: It reads like an academic lecture about 17th century German philosophy.

If the style can’t convey your action in an edgy and dramatic way, even the most wicked scene structure won’t help. You are a writer, thus you need to get under your readers’ skin with your words.

When you hear “action scene,” what comes to your mind first?

It’s probably a movie and not a book, because movies are the ideal medium for action: Graphic, supported by audio and all kinds of (special) effects, easily creating pace with cuts, and the audience can save themselves the effort of active reading.

So if your story contains a fast-paced action scene, you want it to play out in your reader’s head just like a movie: High speed, quick cuts, graphic images, lots of tension.

Here are some techniques to give your reader a fast, exciting, high-octane experience:

1. Motion vs. Emotion

Great action scenes consist of two elements that interlock like precisely designed gear wheels.

Motion is the tickling surface that provides the kick, like spices on a dish. It’s the breathtaking real-time stuff; punches are thrown, knives are pulled, jumps are dared. We love it, because something is happening, and it’s happening explosively fast.

In contrast, emotion is the core of the matter, the fuel for the audience’s feelings. It’s the real underlying reason why action grabs us, its psychological motivation. Just seeing anybody knocking a chair over anybody’s head might hold your interest for a second, but knowing Joe knocked a chair over Desmond’s head because Desmond tried to scam Joe’s dad?

That makes you really feel the action in your gut and root for the characters.

You should tap into both, motion and emotion; one to make your scene quick and tingling and the other one to get your audience all caught up in the scene.

2. Create Pace with Motion vs. Emotion

The trick is to make motion and emotion blend in well with each other. When they take turns, each of them has a very special rhythm to it.

While motion should happen really fast to keep your reader at the edge of her seat, emotion will take longer to dive into.

It’s great they are so different, because a change of rhythm is helpful for your story anyways. Variation keeps things interesting.

So speed up your scene with a physical description of the fight, the blood, the explosions and whatever fun you have going on there. Then, when you describe emotions, use that part to slow the scene down.

When you slow down by getting into your character’s head and describing his thoughts and feelings, you provide the “emotional fuel” for the scene, while at the same time varying its rhythm – two birds killed with one stone.

Batman

Every scene has its very specific pace, and fast-fast-fast gets old um…fast? Fast-slow-fast is much more effective, because any characteristic stands out more strongly next to a completely contrary characteristic. A dark spot always looks much darker when placed next to a light spot.

For example:

“Amy reached out for the gun on the table. She knew terrible things would happen if Richard could lay his hand on it first. Her mind couldn’t help but paint graphic images of blood and despair. (slow) Then her hand was on the gun, his hand on hers, a stinging pain as she gasped for air, the bone of her wrist cracking, the gun flying through the air. (fast) ‘It has landed in the corner,’ she could observe herself thinking. ‘It hurts so bad, but I have to be the first one there.’ (slow again)”

Slow-fast-slow, as simple as that.

Don’t take this rule too strictly though. You can write your scene as you need to – just be aware of the rhythm you create!

3. Amp Up Speed with Language

But how exactly do you make your language and descriptions “quick”?

Glad you asked.

A very effective way is to shorten your clauses and words as much as possible: Use brief and simple phrases, short words, a spurt of syllables. The quicker the reader can skim through this, the quicker it will play in his mind.

Also, use as few periods as possible. Periods always make the reader experience “mini-stops,” thus slowing down the reading experience. Just a staccato burst of short, graphic verbs and nouns is the most effective way to pick up speed. Compare these two passages:

“He cut forward with his knife and saw its blade flashing in the bright sunlight. As he heard the guy screaming, he realized that he had cut through his shirt. Now he found himself staring into his face, which was showing its bare teeth. The guy attacked again.”

OR

“His knife cut forward, blade flashing in the sunlight, the guy screamed, his shirt cut open, with bared teeth he attacked again.”

Would you say the second one feels much more dynamic?

4. Use a Sudden Detail for Slow Motion

Here’s another way to wind down pace, this time while heightening suspense at the same time: Employ a sudden, graphic detail that symbolizes the tension in the air.

Pick a detail that demonstrates the risk, the power, the fear. For example, think of a pearl of sweat on an eyelid that does (or doesn’t even) blink, or of a reflection in the blade of a knife. It can be as simple as describing the shiny, hard, red round of a boxing glove.

This is a very cinematic technique, and what you are writing is essentially a close-up. You are zooming in, freezing time for a second and concentrating on the thought or feeling the detail evokes in us.

If you use this trick very sparsely, it can be extremely effective. At the same time, you delay what will happen and therefore you heighten the suspense.

Dragonfly 2

5. Use Action Words

Certain types of words are more powerful and dynamic than others and will create a more intense “action-experience.”

Think about it: It’s pretty obvious that verbs of movement are more energetic. Push, shove, run, grab, duck, blow, scratch, kick, paddle suggest a lot more action than stand, sit, think, look, be, wait. So when you want to speed up your scene, use as many words of active movement as possible. Use static verbs when you want to slow down.

When it comes to nouns, things you can touch are very effective. Any palpable word suggests way more action than an abstract, theoretical one. After all, which phrase lets you feel the action more:

“Vincent was afraid of the huge threat to his life.”

OR

“Vincent was afraid the giant bumper would squash his head like a pea.”

Take your pick…

So there you have some essential tricks to make your story more action-packed than a Schwarzenegger movie crossed with a Bruce Willis flick. Go apply them!

AL, Photo 3

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing action (and other) scenes with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Got it, Alex.

Ok, now we want to hear from you: What does a scene need to do to punch you in the gut? What’s your favorite way of grabbing your readers with action? What do you think about huge, neon-colored speech bubbles that say “Peng!” and “Pow!”? Did you ever arrange a vase fight with your grandma’s most precious crystal and alabaster items? What, in your opinion, actually does work? Definitely share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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 DECEMBER, 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.

, , , , , , , , ,

31 Comments

Charles Dickens—Using Symbol, Theme & Allegory to Create Enduring Stories

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 9.50.41 AM

Why are there certain stories we just can’t get enough of? Why do some stories fade away while others become staples for every generation? Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been made into all kinds of movies, plays, cartoons, musicals and there are countless variations of Dickens’ original story: A grumpy old miser who is transformed by the power of love.

Today we are going to explore the many brilliant layers of a very simple and timeless tale and maybe even extract some lessons to make our own writing even better.

One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it a story that never grows old? Today, I want to talk about a couple of the elements that speak to me, because they rest at the heart of great writing.

A Little Background

A Christmas Carol is a beautiful story, but I find it’s true beauty when it’s explained in the Christian context that inspired it. A couple years ago, Toddler Spawn was watching Bubble Guppies and they tried (dismally) to tell the same story inserting “holiday” so as not to offend anyone, I presume.

Yet, the story fell flat.

The PC had ruined the beauty of this tale and made it more of a lesson about embracing shallow commercialism once a year than a story of love’s power to redeem the irredeemable. Thus, this post will use scriptural and religious references to explain why I believe this story is so moving and timeless.

Charles Dickens was a Christian and his beliefs are wound all through the story, thus this post is only to explore in light of that reality. For instance, if we were parsing apart The Golden Compass we’d be approaching from a vastly different ontological angle. Namely, Pullman is an atheist and thus his fiction is also an extension of his values.

Back to A Christmas Carol…

Instead of Dickens preaching his beliefs, he created the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and then through theme, symbols, motifs and allegory drove home very powerful lessons.

The Power of Names

Naming characters can be vital. Great writers use the power of parsimony. Each element should serve as many purposes as possible. A name is more than a name. It has the power to be a story within a story.

I recall the moment I was first introduced to what would become my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings. One verse stood out:

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Here by Thy great help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.

Ebenezer? Raise an Ebenezer? I needed to know more. Ebenezer is actually אבן העזר, Even Ha’Ezer, which literally means stone of help or monument to God’s glory and is referenced in the book of Samuel.

Thus, when Dickens chose a name for his protagonist, he chose the perfect name for the redeemed sinner. What is a better testament to a God of grace, than the hardened heart melted by the power of love? The current climate of political correctness aside, A Christmas Carol is most definitively a Christian story and the theme is reminiscent of Proverbs 25:22:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat

and if he is thirsty give him water to drink

for you will heap burning coals on his head

and the Lord will reward you.

Very often this verse is misunderstood. “Yeah! BURN ‘EM! THAT’LL TEACH THEM TO MESS WITH ME! COALS! BURN BABY BUUUURN!” Yet, if one looks to the ancient Hebrew, the heaping burning coals is literally the holy fire of LOVE that melts the hardened heart so it can be remade (think of melting a weapon of war to remake it into something of beauty or a tool for healing or farming).

The path to redemption is love, for only love holds the power to redeem those who have committed grave wrongdoings. Only love can repair what’s been broken and “remake” it into something entirely new.

The Christian story is a story of love, of redemption, of second chances and not because one has earned it or deserved it.

Scrooge is a dreadful man, yet as the story unfolds, not only does Scrooge’s heart begin to melt as he’s faced with the truth of who he is, but our hearts melt toward Scrooge as we travel through the past, present and future and see what has created such a embittered, cruel person. We empathize and start to have compassion and love the unlovely.

Scrooge has done nothing to earn redemption, but his redemption is precisely why we cheer at the end.

The spectral visits serve to show Scrooge the truth, which again is reminiscent of scripture; and then you will know the truth and it is the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). Scrooge cannot change what he cannot see and it is the three ghosts who come to reveal what he’s failed to see on his own.

Repentance is not the mumbled and counterfeit “Sorry.” Rather, it is finally seeing the truth of who we are and what wrong we’ve done. It’s a decision to make things right and turn away from wrong.

By the end of the story, Ebenezer is authentically repentant. He’s a changed person determined to share the love and grace that was freely given to him when he didn’t deserve it.

Again, what a wonderful testament to God’s love. What a lovely “Ebenezer.”

Jacob Marley is another symbolic name. Jacob Marley is the name of Scrooge’s old business partner, and it is he who intervenes to try and redeem his old friend before Ebenezer is sentenced to share Marley’s fate. The name “Jacob” actually means “thief and liar.”

In the Bible, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing, then manipulated, lied, stole and connived until it came back to bite him multiple times  (Jacob later wrestled with an angel until he could be given a new name, Israel and he’d become the father of a great people). What better name to give someone sentenced to roam as a specter for eternity carrying the weight of his ill deeds than a name that literally means thief and liar?

 

The Power of Symbol

When the ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge:

The chain he drew about his waist was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel…

Why cash-boxes? Why deeds? Why purses?

In life Jacob was a money-lender. He was ruthless in his dealings and never forgave a debt. Yet, Matthew 6:12 (part of The Lord’s Prayer) reads: Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

Jacob forged his chains in life. He refused to show mercy, compassion, or kindness. He was ruthless and legalistic, thus he has sealed his fate. God has promised to forgive us the same way we forgive others, which is why the scripture pleads for grace, compassion and mercy. Also, forgiveness of debts is the heart of what Christmas is about, for unto us a child is born.

Christians believe God sent His only begotten son (God in the form of Man) to pay a debt we cannot hope to pay. God loves us as His children, and our actions have left us hopelessly out off our depth, incapable of paying our debts.

Yet, Love cancels the debt.

Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished” literally translate “Paid in FULL.” Jacob turned away from the grace freely offered, so now he wanders, burden by the debts he cannot pay.

Jacob now finds opportunity to warn Scrooge of the chains he is now forging with his actions (and inaction), chains that are longer and heavier than even his. The only way for Scrooge to free himself is to learn to value himself and his fellow human beings.

Smaller Truths Reveal Larger Truths

Dickens makes it a point to show us that Scrooge is a miser. Scrooge shows no mercy, has no warmth, shares none of his wealth…with anyone, including himself. Scrooge is a very wealthy man, yet he wears old clothes, lights no coals for warmth because coal costs money. His home is threadbare and his food measly and meager.

The full story of redemption is that Scrooge not only sees his fellow man differently—worthy of compassion, love and generosity—but in changing how he views his fellow man, his view of himself changes (and heals) as well. The three spirits not only heal Scrooge’s relationship with his Maker, but with himself and others. Scrooge, for the first time, becomes part of the human experience, no longer content to be “solitary as an oyster.”

The POWER of WORDS

This point should resonate particularly with writers. There is a REASON the Ghost of Christmas Future refuses to speak. Words have creative power. If one looks at the first chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and all living things by speaking. “And God said…”

It was only humans He breathed life into. Everything else was created by speaking. Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are countless scriptures referencing the power of the tongue, of words, and warning they carry both the power of life and death.

This idea carries into Ebenezer’s story because, by the time he has this final visit, he still has choice over what his future will be. The specter cannot speak because words would cast his future and it isn’t for the Spirit of Christmas Future to decide.

Happy Ending

Scrooge deserves the death he’s shown by the Spirit of Christmas Future. He deserves to die alone with those “closest” casting lots for his garments. This is what he has sown with his lifetime of greed, hate and spite.

Yet, he is pardoned.

Scrooge is the resurrected heart, the dead brought to life. When God promises “everlasting life” it isn’t a promise that we get to float around on a cloud in Heaven after we die. Rather, it’s a promise that life begins at the moment we decide to accept mercy and love.

Scrooge has been “alive” but not “living.” He was existing. When he is redeemed, given a new chance, he changes. Out of gratitude for the mercy he is given, he reaches out to give what he’s been given. LOVE, MERCY, GENEROSITY.

Restoration

Sure, God could have rained down a miracle that healed Tiny Tim and landed Bob Cratchit a better job with a better boss, but Dickens saw God as a God in the business of finding and changing the lost, miserable and broken. Instead of giving the miracle to Cratchit and his family, God, instead, gives it to Scrooge, the least deserving of a miracle.

Why?

Because God is about working through people. Many of His miracles come from ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of kindness and sacrifice. By changing Scrooge, God could create a man who would become a benefactor. Cratchit has now a kind and generous boss, the community now had a passionate philanthropist, and Tiny Tim lives and the family thrived because one man’s heart could be melted.

 

It is no great feat to love the lovely. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much (Matthew 5:46). This story is so powerful namely because it shows that every human has value and is worth and an opportunity for redemption. God is in the business of changing hearts, and Dickens wanted to show that. A Christmas Carol is a masterful exploration of the true nature of Christianity, what it should be, what it was meant to be. Love. Above all.

What is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? What do you love about this story? What is your favorite part? I love The Muppet’s Christmas Carol (already told y’all that), but THIS is my FAVORITE part!

Also, here is my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I cry every time I hear this:

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

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

NOVEMBER’S Winner of the 20 page critique is Toni Kennedy. Please send your 5,000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations and thanks for supporting my guest blogger!

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

, , , , , , , , ,

69 Comments

How to Sneak In Any Amount of Information & Maintain the Fictive Dream

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

As an editor I have some pretty standard red flags I look for, but a REALLY common blunder is the dreaded information dump. Some genres are more prone to this than others. Science fiction and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. How DO you keep the pace of the story and still relay about the prophecy, the starship, the dragons and the dragons prophesied to have starships?

It’s tough.

Once again we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us. And if you’re already tired of him? Suck it up, Buttercup, because I LIKE HIM. He’s helping me through the holiday season so I can dig out of the pile of work that buried me when I got the flu.

So Alex is here to share ways to help fold in information so that you (the author) don’t inadvertently shatter the fictive dream. He’s here to give you some tips on how to relay the information required so the reader isn’t confused, but also maintain the spell you’ve cast.

Definitely check out his free ebook that lists and explains “44 Key Questions” about any narrative– if you get them right, you will have an awesome story. Aaaaaand, here we go. Take it away, Alex!

*****

Some parts of storytelling are way more exciting than others.

For example, you get to page 724 of your grand novel, and finally Richard the Lionheart faces the seven-headed hydra right in front of the abyss and sends her to hell once and for all.

It’s the absolute peak of your story, nail-biting suspense, unbearable tension, action, risk, fear in the middle of a breathtaking scenery. Everything you have worked for so long, it’s all coming together.

Plus, Richard and your readers don’t even know yet that the seven-headed hydra can spit fire too. Boy, that’s gonna be some BIG surprise…!

On the other hand, some parts in fiction writing we hate.

For example, weaving in the personal history of Richard, so we get to know him better and root more for him.

Or bringing in very unobtrusively 200 encyclopedia pages of background knowledge about medieval England, to establish realistic background.

And where should you discreetly slip in the fact about the hydra’s failed gallbladder surgery?

Hydra 1

Bringing information into your story is like forcing healthy vegetables down a kid’s throat: It’s necessary and the right thing to do, but the work sucks.

When it becomes obvious the author just wanted to insert information, that’s an information dump. What an ugly word!

But it seems like the word exists for a good reason.

Think about it: Somebody took an information dump. That’s when the information comes out and it’s too concentrated, and you can smell the author’s intentions 100 miles against the wind.

Imagine Tracy telling her husband over dinner: “I don’t love you anymore like I loved you 16 years ago when we married. Me and our son Philipp, who is 15, has outstanding grades and dreams of a career as a professional hockey player, lost all our respect for you when you drunkenly caused that car accident. I like cooking and painting and I’m afraid of being alone, that’s why I’m still with you, but I have an affair with our neighbor who is a certified animal trainer.”

The hand of the author becomes really visible here…

Fiction shouldn’t list facts like a newscast. If we wanted to read the news, we would go on the New York Times website (and some of us would actually buy a newspaper, or borrow one from the waiting room of our favorite doctor). In fiction, the reader wants to be gently taken by the hand and led into the carefully woven illusion.

But how can we do that?

They say Don’t give them fish, give them a fishing rod!, and so it shall be. There are a million ways to discreetly distribute some pieces of tasty sushi amongst your readers– you can and should be very creative with it! But start with these five basic ways to avoid an ugly pile of information:

1. Let Your Characters Say It

No, you, the author, got nothing to do with it; it’s your characters who are spreading all that good information like wildfire. Keep in mind the key rule though, so your readers don’t feel cheated on: Your character needs to have a reason to mention the information!

The two most natural reasons that come to mind are:

  • He has to pass his info on to another character who doesn’t know about it.

Imagine a colonel who has to report some military information to his general about what just happened in battle.

  • The character’s emotions are boiling over.

Imagine the accusation of an overworked co-worker to a lazy colleague: “I’m so sick of this! You never get your tasks done on time!” Or take enthusiasm: “Jim, you will never believe what just happened! I won the lottery!”

It’s a very natural and discreet way of smuggling some high-octane info into your story.

2. Don’t Tell the Show

Here it comes, the old Show, don’t tell!

While in some cases it is okay to say “Uncle Albert was tired,” it’s generally much more literary to let the reader discover herself how tired Uncle Albert was.

Describe the “dark circles” under his eyes, his constant yawning and how he forgets his keys at the office. Often it’s much more elegant to not tell about a condition or past events, but to show a couple of clues that hint at them.

3. Spread Your Info Thin

Small chunking over many pages or chapters makes your info a lot more unobtrusive than serving it in one big indigestible cluster.

It’s often convenient to let your reader have the info a little while before she actually needs it; in any case, make sure she doesn’t get it right before she needs it, because that would really look constructed.

Sometimes, a piece of info isn’t absolutely necessary to understand the story, but it gets the reader more involved emotionally. Because it’s not vital, you have more time to nicely gift-wrap it with a ribbon on top– but on the other hand, the longer you wait, the longer you leave out an opportunity to engage your reader further.

For example, we don’t have to know that Walter White has terminal cancer in Breaking Bad. We already understand that he is producing meth and can follow the trouble he gets himself into.

But when we learn about his cancer, it lets us empathize and identify with him more– his decisions become easier to understand, he becomes a more multi-faceted character and thus the story engages us more.

You have more time to bring in information like this.

4. Harness the Power of the Media

From where does the most overwhelming flood of information descend upon us unsuspecting characters?

From the mass media, of course: TV, radio, newspapers and internet. You can let your readers know much just by letting the character watch TV or read the newspaper out aloud to his wife; and any info mankind never wanted can be found on the internet (except for why girls are so much into Justin Bieber). Just make sure your character has a reason to look for the info.

Likewise, make sure the info is available to the media and it’s interesting enough for them to broadcast or feature it.

That’s not too hard to do, because as author David Mamet famously said:

“The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.”

So don’t be shy about letting the media rule even over your little yellow press scandals, man-bites-dog style.

Humanity

5. Plain description: Just Say It!

Sometimes it may be acceptable when the author simply states information.

How well this works will depend on the overall style and tone and the point of view of your story; it’s basically a question of distance between the author and his narration.

Look at the beginning of Suskind’s Perfume, for example: “In the eighteenth century in France lived a man (…) His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (…) not because Grenouille was second to these more famous villains in pride, contempt for mankind, immorality (…)” Plainly stating how it is, upfront.

This style reminds of some short stories, in which the narrator assumes a more zoomed-out position, because there simply aren’t enough pages to carefully spoon-feed information to the reader.

In general, this position is less elegant and artistic, but you can make a virtue out of a vice: If the large distance to your character seems believable and fits into your story, your readers will just accept it as “your style of choice”– a choice of speeding things up, that is.

Just be aware of your choice, should you decide to use this technique.

Alex Limberg, Photo

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies) and he is now tired of talking about himself in third person. Create intriguing stories with my free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. I have worked as a copywriter in Hamburg and also lived in Vienna, Los Angeles and Madrid.

Ok, that was nice.

Now it’s your turn: How do you stuff that stupid information in there? Are your characters helpful or couldn’t they care less? Isn’t it a good feeling when the reader finally gets what he should know? Do you like information about information?

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 DECEMBER, 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.

And YES, I AM BEHIND. I will announce November’s Winner on Monday. Holidays and all that jazz. Also, remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors.

, , , , , , , , , ,

26 Comments

3 Simple Tricks to Create a Character OH SO Different From YOU

Characters

As some of you know I am still recovering from the flu. Also, the holiday season gets more than a little insane so it is always a joy to run across fresh talent to share with all of you. The bad news is that Alex Limberg lives in Vienna so taking him as a hostage? Can you tweet #logisticalnightmare? Good news is, apparently Austrians work for compliments and candy cigarettes #littleknownfact.

So, with my Amazon Prime Account, I was able to secure SWEET blog content and all of us could avoid any sticky international incidents with the Austrians.

Which is best for all because, well who doesn’t dig their pastries?

This is another guest post by copywriter Alex Limberg. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season until he makes his New Year’s resolution to kick his candy cigarette habit *rolls eyes*.

…and then we’ll just have to catch him when he relapses.

His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. Have you ever written a character you thought you couldn’t portray well because he was too different from you? In this post, Alex lays out three secrets on how to make a character like that come to life. Please give him a hand once again!

****

The situation feels so awkward for you: This guy, you just can’t understand what he is all about.

You have really given your best to make it work.

You wanted to discreetly overlook his annoying sense of entitlement (from his perspective, you won’t ever get anywhere, because you are way too modest).

You tried not to judge his ridiculous uptight correctness (he thinks you have no manners).

And you really made an effort to explain that you don’t enjoy small talk and you feel happiest when you are alone with a book (to him, you are too withdrawn; he seems to even get a kick out of chatting with the sales assistant).

But you absolutely don’t understand him. It’s just that the two of you are so different.

The worst part is, you have an important project together and you will have to work with him for months and see him almost on a daily basis.

You have no idea how you will be able to work with somebody like this. Seriously, this will be bad.

But there is also good news: The guy just exists in your head.

He is one of the main characters in your newest novel. If you want to make that novel work though, you better get to understand him on a level as intimate as your very best friend.

Here are three highly practical tips on how to connect with a character who is very different from you:

1. Find the Perfect Template Person in the Real World

You would never step on anybody’s toes, but in your novel you have to deal with a very bold character?

For sure you know somebody who doesn’t shy away from collecting ten free samples at once or “accidentally” taking the hotel towel with him when he checks out (my brother even tried to take the sheets with him once, true story). How would that real life person feel in your scene, how would she act, react and express herself?

Some writers have used their husbands, siblings or parents in a dozen different books, in a dozen different ways.

It’s a lot easier to imagine how a person you know very well would act. All the experiences you have had with that person will tell you. Your intuition will speak to you. Just transfer that gut feeling onto your character.

Most of your characters will not be exactly as their real life prototypes, because after all you are writing fiction and not a biography. Instead, your figures will rather be hybrids of people you know; for example, as brilliant as your sister and as restless as your best friend.

Take from everybody just what you need. The more life experience you have, the more characters you have met over the course of your life– great! Society around you is just a big, yummy, neverending buffet of character traits. Feel free to feast at your convenience.

Funny Tree

2. Don’t Act, Be!

In some way, writing is like acting– the difference is that you have to be all of the characters at once. Being able to switch between so many different shoes from one moment to the next is a major point that distinguishes great writers from not-so-great ones. Fiction writing is a bit like puppet theater.

Have you ever heard of “method acting”?

In method acting, you don’t try to pretend you are a different character. Instead, you just ask yourself: “If I was that cheerful/vain/sneaky/dumb, how would I act?”

The moment you are answering that question, you are already in a different headspace. You are doing what the best actors in the world have a gift for: They don’t act, they are for a brief moment. They are just for an instant as the character does his thing, but they are with all of their being.

It’s a step in between pretending and naturally being.

“Method acting” is actually an excellent way of auto-suggestion. Imagine you had a hypnotist make you believe that you are your protagonist. And that you are the antagonist. Plus that other really cool main character. And his wife. And a couple of supporting characters… you would be in the lunatic asylum for schizophrenics in no time, but you would write excellent prose.

That “self-hypnosis” is basically what you are doing when you suggest to your subconscious you are that character.

Ask yourself: “How would I act, if…?”

Cat 1

 

3. Remember a Situation That Brought Out the Opposite in You

We all have multiple sides to our personalities. The sad ones are sometimes joyful, the mature ones can be childish, and yes, even the dumb ones are smart sometimes, because there are very different types of intelligence.

So that trait your character embodies but you think you don’t, is hidden somewhere deep inside of you.

Here is how to bring it out: Think back to a situation in which you really, really felt that way. Maybe you usually don’t feel so confident, but that one time after you got your promotion or passed that exam in university, you felt on fire and were just invincible for the next couple of days.

Close your eyes, go back to that situation: What did the scenery feel like? What did you see, hear, smell? And how did you feel?

Try to tap into the feeling you had back then with your entire body. Yes, this might sound overly esoteric, but give it a try and see if it helps you. Breathe confidence when your character is very confident on paper– and take it from your emotional memory!

Adorn Yourself with the Most Beautiful Borrowed Plumes

So there you have basic advice on how to be somebody else. Don’t become schizophrenic, but keep on practicing your talent for wearing unfamiliar skin.

If you do this well, you have taken a huge step towards becoming a great writer. People love stories because they are fascinated by their characters. And if you can create intriguing characters, you readers will desperately have to know what happens to them next and will devour your stories.

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

Now it’s your turn: How do you handle a character whose nature seems very alien to yours? Did you ever run out of patience with one of your figures? Are all your characters like you and you can hardly distinguish them, so there is never any trouble? Do you sometimes have long discussions with yourself in front of the bathroom mirror? Who wins?

Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic and so am I….and THAT NEVER GETS OLD!

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 NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

, , , , , , , , , ,

26 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52,606 other followers

%d bloggers like this: