Archive for category Writing Tips

How to Write Mind-Blowing Plot Twists—Twisting is NOT Twerking

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.38.45 AM

Okay so on Monday I talked about 3 Mistakes that Will Make Readers Want to Punch a Book in the Face. One of the mistakes involved the twist ending. Very often a writer believes she has written a twist when in fact, it is NOT a twist at all, it is a twerk.

Twisting the reader? YES. Twerking the reader? NO.

You’ve heard the literary term MacGuffin? For the sake of a simple analogy, I’m adding a new one and it is called a MacGyver😛 .

How is a MacGyver a twist?

We know MacGyver is in a bad spot and he has two choices. The obvious one. A gun. Blast his way out. Or he has is det-cord, glitter, and coffee stirrers.

OMG! How can he ever survive?

MacGuyver uses what he is given and fashions the glitter, det-cord and coffee stirrers into a small incendiary device that creates the right distraction for escape. How? Because he paid attention in science class and knows that the components that make up glitter include copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, and iron oxides. He also knows the burn rate of det-cord and the tensile strength of coffee stirrers.

The cheap ones. Not the good ones we steal from Starbuck’s.

Using his knowledge and resources in his possession, he creates the “event.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.37.42 AM

This is how a twist and MacGyver are a lot alike.

A twist cannot happen unless the elements are there, provided by the writer either all at once or over the span of the story.

Also, all of MacGyver’s solutions come organically from who he is. We KNOW he is a geek who rocks at applied science, so it is no surprise that he fashions a glitter bomb. He doesn’t suddenly develop a skill set he never before possessed. His solutions are are not predictable, but they are always logical.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.35.49 AM

Twisting is not twerking. Readers LOVE a twist. Twerking just pisses them off….and makes them feel dirty.

Today we are going to explore a some components of a good twist. I’m going to use an example from my favorite author, Michael Connelly. If you have not yet read The Last Coyote I apologize for ruining it, but in fairness you have had since the 90s to read it.

Components of a Good Twist

Easter Eggs

A good twist whether that is within the story or at the end requires a collection of clues. We as writers are God, but our powers are limited. We can only create results from components. Meaning we cannot spontaneously create dynamite. Dynamite is C3H5(ONO2)3.

This means that over the course of the story, we must sprinkle around some carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen for the character (protagonist or antagonist) to gather. From THESE components (which could fashion everything from water to pencil lead) our character then fashions dynamite.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.46.32 AM

In The Last Coyote Detective Harry Bosch is on forced leave and going stir crazy. He decides to look into his mother’s murder even though it is a cold case over 30 years old. His mother was a prostitute who was strangled with her own belt (a belt Child Harry had given her as a gift) and her body dumped in an alley.

Throughout the story, there is emphasis on the belt (with silver shells), the earrings (gold) and necklace (gold). There is also emphasis on a set of fingerprints that have never been matched, but that belonged to the killer. Even though his mother’s death DID involve a lot of powerful and corrupt people (who are taken down throughout the story) they actually did not murder his mother.

Much of the story begins with a Christmas card Harry received from his mother’s best friend (Meredith Roman) who was also a prostitute. She was his mother’s best friend and a surrogate aunt to Harry. He’s ignored the card until now. He is in trouble with his job, in forced therapy and has to reexamine his life.

Roman sent the message that starts the investigation and by the end of the book, it is clear who the murderer really was…the woman who started it all.

Harry’s mother had found her “White Knight” and her way out of being a prostitute. Elated by the news, she’d run home to tell her best friend. Meredith felt betrayed and abandoned and snapped, killing Harry’s mother in a fit of passion.

How do we figure this out?

A number of other factors, but namely that women generally strive to coordinate (a notion later suggested to Harry by a female character who was studying the crime photos and found the choice of accessories “odd”).

At the time of her murder, his mother was wearing a dress that didn’t require a belt. So the long-held theory that she was strangled with her own belt falls apart. Her earrings and necklace were gold, so why a belt with large SILVER shells?

Before, police never could figure out exactly where his mother was killed. But in the beginning of the book we are told that the two women often borrowed each other’s clothes. This makes the likely crime scene the friend’s apartment…a place detectives at the time would never known to look.

Once Harry opens his mind to the idea that his mother would have never worn that belt, that someone else might have used it as a weapon of convenience, he then can explore a new avenue never before imagined. He takes the card (the one from the beginning of the book) has the prints lifted and compares them to the prints lifted off the belt.

BINGO.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.52.11 AM

But Harry had to have all of these other elements in order to make the connection or it is no longer a twist. It would be cheating. He would have to know that the women shared clothes, that the friend had been rejected before by the man who eventually proposed to his mother. He would have to ponder the meaning of the gold and silver mix. He would have to have the card with the prints embedded in the paper.

Additionally, these insights are logical. They are logical in context of chronology. It is logical that in the 1960s a female would not have been part of the investigation, thus this “feminine” angle was logically overlooked.

They are logical in terms of character. It is logical that Dr. Carmen Hinojos (a police psychiatrist) would note the discrepancies from a female POV (thirty years later).

It would not have been logical for a hard-boiled, chain-smoking male detective to say, “What? My mother didn’t match accessories? Clearly this is a fashion felony! We must investigate!” *swishes out of room for a half-foam sugar-free latte*

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.53.37 AM

After the Obvious, Only the Inevitable Remains

Throughout the book, all of the obvious players are taken out. The hard-nosed DA who was tough on crime (but who was seeing a hooker and who stood to lose his career in scandal). The shady detectives who buried the case. The high-powered political broker who was counting on the DA to make it all the way to the White House…save for his secret. The angling pimp, and on and on.

Remember, after all the obvious is discarded, all that remains is the inevitable.

We were served the killer in the beginning (Roman). But, in the beginning we lacked enough information to solve the problem (same as our protagonist). But as the events unfold, we come to see what was right in front of us all along.

Good Twists Evolve from Character

Yes, good twists evolve from the components provided, but they also arise organically from character. 

Like MacGyver cannot help himself from choosing to make a glitter bomb over using a gun, Heironymous Bosch cannot help himself from seeking the truth, no matter the personal cost. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Even though the obvious suspects have gone down, the killer has not.

This propels Harry into Act Three.

Act Three is where the protagonist undergoes metamorphosis from lowly protagonist to hero. The difference is a hero continues when most mere mortals would have been satisfied with the answer.

Harry has no one. He was an orphan and Meredith Roman is the only family he has left in the world, but truth trumps all.

A Solid Story Can Stand Without the Twist

Jenga Cat hates your plotting.

Jenga Cat hates your plotting.

In all fairness, The Last Coyote would have still been a good book had it just been about taking down the multitude of powerful people who’d buried the murder of a prostitute.

Very often new writers hinge the entire story on the twist. Remove the twist and the book collapses. That is because it is a twerk and NOT a twist😉 .

I know that most of us love the movie The Neverending Story but this is a prime example. The story is beloved because of amazing puppets and pioneering efforts of CGI. Story?

Meh.

The protagonist (Atreyu) sets on an adventure to stop The Nothing from devouring the realm. He is sent to the Swamp of Sadness and we all cried when his horse, Artax died. Boy comes across a giant turtle who is off his meds who tells him he can only find his answer at the other end of the world and it is a billion gazillion miles away.

Dramatic music cues. Unlikable boy hero sinks into swamp…until a LUCK DRAGON rescues him and flies him exactly where he needs to go.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.34.55 AM

Without intercession from Falkor the Luck Dragon, the entire story falls in on itself. Additionally, there are no Easter Eggs provided for this intercession. It just happens because the screen writers got themselves in a major plot problem and invented the Luck Dragon lest they be fired.

Also, we as viewers could never have predicted this change in events. Remember a good twist is not obvious but is logical. This radical shift in events is not birthed from the characters. Atreyu does nothing active but is rather whisked along by serendipity.

If your novel comes with giant Jim Henson puppets and CGI? Feel free to ignore my suggestions. If not? At least consider them.

A good rule of thumb is we can always use coincidence to get us INTO a problem, but not OUT of one.

To review. THIS is a twist.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.41.01 AM

THIS is a twerk.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.40.08 AM

So what are your thoughts? Do you see these as being necessary components of a good twist? Are there some others you can think to add? Are there some ways twists are blundered? What are some of your favorite twists?

I love hearing from you! (btw NEW CLASSES LISTED BELOW😀 )

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

Upcoming Classes

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

I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?

Battle of the First Pages

June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25

This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35

Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.

We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.

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

, , , , , , , , ,

39 Comments

3 Mistakes that Will Make Readers Want to Punch a Book in the Face

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 12.13.22 PM

To do my job well, I do a tremendous amount of reading. Additionally, I make it a point to make sure I read different genres so I get a sense of what writers do well (or not so well) regardless of the type of story.

I’ve been inhaling Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series as of late and I got ahead of my credits so I decided instead to take advantage of Audible’s Daily Deal. It was a suspense from a legacy published author. The book had almost a thousand reviews and almost all of them four and five stars. So I figured, why not?

Take a chance.

Shoot. Me. Now.

That was me.

That was me.

The book was absolutely awful. I won’t say which book because I won’t do that to another author. I have a personal rule. If I can’t give a book 4 stars or more I just shut up. Three would be the minimum. Since this one was a solid TWO? Yeah, just shutting up.

And FYI, I was beginning to think I was being too hard on the book but then went and looked at the handful of bad reviews and they complained about the same things…so I had NOT lost my mind.

Anyway…

I kept listening, thinking, “Seriously, this has GOT to get better.” It didn’t. So instead of just complaining about the hours I wasted getting dragged through this awful book, I figured I could harvest it for some lessons about what mistakes we can avoid.

Mistake #1—Protagonist Too Dumb To Live

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.44.42 AM

 

Our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable. There are all kinds of examples of this in literature and movies. Often anti-heroes are pretty despicable folks. We simply need a way to emotionally connect with this character, to empathize. Often this is done by making a character’s goal empathetic (I.e. Breaking Bad) even if the means are ugly, or by juxtaposing this character against a greater evil (I.e. Pulp Fiction).

This said, our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable, but we as readers have to respect them. When characters are too dumb to live, it doesn’t matter how good or noble the cause we don’t care.

In the book I was reading the protagonist was in a bad crash and is suffering from amnesia. She awakens to realize someone close to her has been brutally murdered and she is the #1 suspect.

Over the course of this plot that moved with the momentum of frozen maple syrup, this character “remembers” that her sister who has been taking care of her on their isolated farm since the accident…is actually a violent sociopath.

She is assaulted with visions of this sibling very literally torturing her growing up (including one scene where the sister kills a cat slowly and makes her watch). Though she hasn’t remembered everything, any person with one eye and half sense, might at least come to the reasonable conclusion that perhaps the sister murdered this loved one and is now framing her.

Everyone but the protagonist apparently.

What does she do? She decides to return back to the isolated farm unarmed without telling anyone (even the cops) to confront her sister about her memories.

WHYYYYY?

WHYYYYY?

I get that characters should not be predictable. But they should NOT do stupid stuff simply because we need to move them to a certain “place.” Because devoid of any threat (I’m holding your best friend hostage and you better come alone. No guns and no cops) it just made this character a Class A Moron.

If her sister didn’t kill her, I wanted to.

Mistake #2—Protagonist is Passive

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 12.02.45 PM

The protagonists needs to be proactive, meaning actively going after a goal. This is one of the reasons passive goals really don’t work in fiction. It also needs to be something the character earns.  Frankly, I knew better than to pick up an amnesia book, but in light of the rave reviews I second-guessed myself.

The protagonist needed to solve the mystery using outside clues that had nothing to do with the missing memories. But the entire book was really just her getting snippets or memory back then reacting…until she got enough memories back and then it all was clear.

That’s cheating. She didn’t earn any kind of a victory. It was all a matter of “remembering” of regaining something she already possessed.

Passive goals will make fiction fizzle. It’s like “containing communism.” Didn’t work in Vietnam or Korea and won’t work in our story.

Any plot that involves “protecting,” “evading,” “avoiding” or “remembering” is usually at the very least half-baked. These are all passive goals. “Maintaining” is not a story-worthy verb.

Mistake #3—Cheating at the End (Twisting is NOT Cheating)

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 12.04.40 PM

We all love a good twist. Part of why I LOVE the Bosch books is they are tough to figure out and always serve up excellent surprises. Same with Dean Koontz. Twists are wonderful and we need to work to get good at writing them. No reader likes a book she can accurately (and easily) predict.

This does NOT mean we get weird.

There was another book I read recently form a MAJOR author who is a household name. This author did a fantastic job of creating a serial killer that I found truly terrifying, which is a tough thing to do since I’ve been rather desensitized over the years. I recall even telling my mother how AMAZING this villain was.

So I’m cooking along and this killer is always, I MEAN ALWAYS ahead of the FBI. Then we get to the ending and the author serves up the twist total BS bait and switch…

“ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING ME?”

See, thing was, this author gave no clues to the “twist” (meaning it doesn’t count as a twist). We need clues and hints along the way. We as readers need some slim chance we might figure it out.

The author just suddenly banking hard left? I call foul.

We can’t have a novel end with a twist that absolves us of writing a great ending. “And just as the dragon closed in, she woke up. It was all a DREAM!” It’s a variation of deus ex machina and it pisses us off.

Real twists, great twists evolve organically from the plot and the facts given along the way. There is no strange deviation no one could have seen.

Real twists? The good ones? The reason they kind of sucker punch us is we go, “Ah, hell! I thought that was weird then blew it off,” “Oh, why didn’t I see that?,” “It was right there all along.”

Endings are tough to write well, but so are beginnings and middles😛 . We should strive for a twist, but if we can’t make it work with what we’ve already supplied to the reader? HUGE RISK.

Twists are like plants. They only grow from seeds we already planted.

Anyway, there are other bugaboos that might make a reader want to punch a story in the face, but if we can avoid these big no-nos then were are going to be doing pretty well.

What are your thoughts? What are some things that make you stop reading? What characters make you just want to scream? Do you feel the same about twist cheating?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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

, , , , , , , , ,

107 Comments

The Hard Truth About Being a Professional Writer

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 9.06.09 AM

I happened to see this meme (above) on Facebook and I lost it laughing. This is such a great metaphor for what it is like to be a writer. In the beginning I was a rose, then I learned to become the dandelion. The dandelion might not be as pretty, but it is prolific and it is a survivor.

When I decided years ago to leave sales and become a writer, I had a far more glamorous idea of what it was like to be a professional writer (pieced together from movies). Additionally, it didn’t help that my first “novel” was so much fun to write.

Of course it was fun! I didn’t have to be constrained by these pesky things called “rules” and “craft.” I was like some kid banging away on a piano believing I was, in fact, making music.

Yet, when I joined a writing group and quickly learned how little I knew, there was this interesting change in my energy and how I approached writing.

Because now I had to think of things like “genre constraints”, “plot points”, “pinch points”, “pacing”, “scene and sequel” I found that all the fun rushed out of the process with the violent force of a depressurized jet liner. I started getting stuck. Then I’d flit from new idea to new idea trying to recapture the magic I’d once had.

Like all newbies I too started wanting to know how the pros found “inspiration” because the only thing I felt inspired to do was drink heavily and complain.

Thus, today we are going to talk about what it is really like to do this job.

When we are new, there are elements we believe we MUST have to be successful, when in truth? They are great, but seriously overrated.

Well, at least for the dandelion😉 …

Inspiration is Overrated

Seriously. I do believe inspiration is there and it is a necessary and vital ingredient of what we do, but it’s like trying to bottle a rainbow. We enjoy it when it appears then move on when it’s gone.

When I was new, I had to feel in the “mood” to write and if anything interrupted that mood? I withered.

I was like the rose in the image, needing the perfect Ph to bloom. When I got good, though was when I became the dandelion. Any crack I could work in? I did.

CONCRETE! WHOO! HOO!

Talent is Overrated

I have met countless writers far more talented than I am. Problem was, they never sat down and got their a$$es to work. Talent is useless unless it is employed. We still have to do the work. And, the more we write, the more “talented” we become.

I know what it is like to sit in a critique group and hear another (more talented) writer read…then to feel discouraged. But, what I found happened more times than not was that super talented writer rarely finished. So me getting discouraged was just a waste of writing time.

Bees (readers) visit a lot more dandelions than they do rose bushes with no blooms😉 .

Feelings are Overrated

Feelings lie. They are fickle and fleeting and secretly jealous when you pay attention to other things (like doing the work). One of the reasons I love writers (especially new writers) having a blog is it trains in discipline. Writing is a seriously tough job, especially in the beginning.

There is no evil boss who will write me up and fire me if I don’t get in my word count.

I have to be self-motivated.

Blogging trains in the discipline of a journalist. Journalists can’t wait to feel inspired to write about that five-alarm fire. They don’t have the luxury of reworking and reworking a piece because it isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. Journalists have a finite amount of time to get the work done…then they SHIP.

Perfection is Overrated

One thing that will kill “inspiration” is to try to make the writing perfect. When we stop and fuss and futz with every sentence, we stall out. We leave a space for self-doubt, negativity and depression to creep in. Here’s the deal. No half-finished perfect book has ever become a NY Times best-seller, but a lot of crappy finished novels have.

Too may writers just are not giving permission to write that crappy first draft. Just write. Finish it. Then feel free to go back and refine. There is some really ugly hard work that is no fun that HAS to be done.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 9.05.36 AM

Guess what? The more you write the better you get. The only way to become really good at writing novels….is to write novelS. As in plural. This is science so don’t argue.

Seriously, would you trust a brain surgeon who’d only performed surgery once?

Think about it.

Pretty Prose is Overrated

One thing that stalls a lot of writers is they are too busy trying to craft every sentence to be so beautiful it makes angels weep. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, this verbal glitter often comes at the expense of a story. Pretty prose does not a novel make. I’ve gotten lots of submissions from writers who had glorious prose…but there was no hook. No story. Nothing to draw me in.

Fiction is about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. No problem? No story. Now, if we do have a problem and also the ability to weave in glorious prose? Awesome. Just we have to make sure we are not trying to substitute fancy language for actual story.

The next reason pretty prose is overrated is that if we use too much, it can actually harm the story. It’s jarring to the reader and adds nothing but confusion. Remember that this kind of prose is like super rich food. It’s incredibly tasty but we have to limit it and balance it with other lighter pairings or it’s too heavy (and makes the reader sick).

So what I hope you will take away from all of this is that writers write. Plain and simple. There are good days and bad days and days you will wake to the sound of your cat puking and the toilet overflows and the kid is sick, but it is still a job. It is a job that can be wonderful and rewarding and everything listed above—inspiration, talent, good feelings, perfection, pretty prose—are great when we can get them, but not necessary to bloom😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you busy waiting for inspiration instead of writing? Do you find yourself procrastinating because you don’t think your work is good enough? Do you suck at finishing? Are you giving your feelings too much of a vote? Or did you once struggle with all of this stuff and now you are a proud DANDEFREAKINGWEED of a writer?

I love hearing from you!

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

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. 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.

, , , , , , ,

104 Comments

Six Ways To Self-Edit & Polish Your Prose

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 11.38.45 AM

Whether you are new to writing or an old pro, brushing up on the basics is always helpful. Because no matter how GOOD the story is? If the reader is busy stumbling over this stuff, it ruins the fictive dream and she will never GET to the story. So today we are going to cover six ways to self-edit your fiction. Though this stuff might seem like a no-brainer, I see these blunders ALL the time.

….unfortunately even in (legacy) published books.

When I worked as an editor, I found it frustrating when I couldn’t even GET to the story because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

There are many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really?O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

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

#4 Too Much Physiology…

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

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

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “snip” “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said becomes white noise. Readers don’t “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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

, , , , , , ,

100 Comments

Making Fiction Come Alive! Using the Senses for Maximum Impact

Five Senses

Image by Rob Nunn/Flickr CC

Today’s post once again is by my Writer-in-Residence Alex Limberg. After 10 posts, I’m slowly running out of witty introductions for him. But hey, if you haven’t checked out his free ebook yet, definitely go ahead and do it now. It will equip you with ‘44 test questions’ to examine your story and make it all-around tight and intriguing. This time, Alex shows us how to describe senses, so your reader feels like he is in the middle of your story. Go, Alex!

***

Do you know 5D-cinemas?

I mean these movie theatres that make your chair bump harshly, whip your ankles, and when somebody on the screen sneezes, it sprinkles your face… Yeah, they are basically legal torture chambers people pay entry for.

Why are they such a fun experience for many?

It’s because these theatres feel more real than your ordinary cinema. And that’s because they talk to more of our senses, not just 2D-seeing and hearing.

Anything that talks to our senses feels a lot more real to us. It is through senses that we experience our entire world. We crave sensory experiences. That’s why it’s so much fun when the snot of that disgusting jailor troll hits us.

Senses are even deeply engrained in our language: We believe it when we see it. We hear it through the grapevine. Something smells fishy to us. We feel for somebody. We might show bad taste.

Ultimately, evoking sensory experiences with your descriptions is one of the most powerful talents you can have as a writer.

If you can do it well, your audience will eagerly suspend any disbelieve and completely succumb to the illusion you have prepared. You will draw your readers deeply into your story and make them feel like they are right beside your characters. They will ultimately truly care about what is going on.

Because it’s not easy to craft your story as a well-rounded illusion, you can find a free download with 44 test questions here; use it to check your story quickly and easily for anything that might be off or missing.

The good news is, describing senses isn’t even that hard to do. Let’s take a look at all five senses, one by one, and see how you can best take advantage of them:

1. Seeing

That’s the most obvious one. Can you imagine even the greenest newbie not describing to the reader what he is seeing?

In fact, many writers put too much weight on this sense, at the expense of the others. Don’t overdo the visual description! You don’t have to teach your reader every single detail, it’s much better to leave something up to her imagination.

When you do describe visuals, think of the different qualities of look you could use to make your description vivid. Color is a good example. By using color, you can paint vibrant images in your reader’s mind. What do you think about this description:

“He couldn’t help but notice her extraordinarily sexy make-up.”

Bad. That’s telling, not showing.

“Her bright red lipstick immediately popped out to him.”

Much better. We have now put a colorful image in the mind’s eye of the reader. The image has a color with very specific connotations.

We have also used the word “bright,” which is yet another quality to make your visual descriptions more interesting: Shadows are eerie. Spotlights mean heightened pressure. Dimmed, soft lights can be romantic.

You can add a lot of mood to a scene or to a detail by describing light.

2. Hearing

Hearing is used fairly often as well. You will mostly describe a sound when the situation draws special attention to it: A door creaks, your protagonist turns her head.

But don’t forget that a sound can also be used for a strong effect! You can employ it to get on your reader’s nerves, to alarm or to relax him. Think of the soothing babble of a little brook. How comforting, isn’t it? Cut to the shrieking sound of nails scratching over a chalkboard. You might even be close to goosebumps now.

Your reader will hate you when you employ an effect like this. And he should, strong reactions are excellent! In the end, he will love you for putting him through all of that tingling torture.

On top of this, you can use sounds very well for a serious shock effect. How often in your life have you been frightened by a sudden sound? Certainly a lot more often than by any other sense alarming you. Those little acoustic shock effects are deeply engrained in your reader’s unconscious as well.

Imagine the sudden uproar of a roaring chainsaw. And if the guy who is carrying it wears a hockey mask too, there is no doubt anymore what comes next…

Chainsaw Image

3. Smelling

Now we are getting into territory that’s neglected way too often. Many writers like to forget smell, because when they are busily visualizing their scenes, it just doesn’t come to them naturally.

But smell can have a huge impact on your reader. To be more precise, the memory of the smell you are describing will have a huge impact on her. Smell is the sense that is most directly connected to the memory part of our brains (through the so-called “olfactory bulb;” great word, isn’t it?).

When you think about it, smell is kind of an animalistic sense – think of dogs eagerly sniffing each other’s behinds. When you describe the smell of shit, you can be sure to get stronger reactions than when you describe the look or the sound of it…

Because it’s such an emotional sense, smell can be very sensuous too. A stimulating perfume in a love scene will catapult your reader right into the middle of the action. They say that lovers can “smell each other.”

4. Tasting

In your stories, you don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate how something tastes very often. You couldn’t let your protagonist quickly lick the mask of the guy with the chainsaw, just to report that it tastes… salty? Now that would be moody, but it wouldn’t make any sense…

However, on the rare occasions your character puts something in his mouth or licks something, be sure to describe the taste. Certainly your character (and your reader) will pay attention, because taste is a sense that’s bound to get a very strong reaction.

After all, taking something into your mouth or touching it with your tongue is a very intimate act; it’s a personal thing that goes deep into the private sphere. Think of your character taking a beating and biting the hard and dusty curb or tasting a lovingly prepared dish of pulpy monkey brain. Tastes like that are hard to swallow.

You can also describe an emotion as so dense, your character can “taste” it in his mouth. Intense fear is sometimes described as a “taste of copper.” It’s like the feeling is so strong it finally becomes physical. And what does success “taste like,” can you tell me?

Taste

Image by Melissa Gutierrez/Flickr CC

5. Feeling

Finally, we have feeling. It’s a very sensual sense as well.

Like with tasting, be sure to describe it whenever you get a chance. When your character touches something, tell your audience what it feels like and draw them in. How pleasant does the soft fur of a kitten feel? And how uncomfortable is the stingy hail of a thunderstorm? You have all the power of making your readers live, love and suffer with your figures.

You can use touch especially well to describe the nature of objects or people: The silky smooth feeling of a light summer dress, grandpa’s grey and raspy beard. Just make sure you have a reason to describe how it feels; somebody touching it should be the trigger that allows you to explain.

So there you have it, the complete five senses. The sixth sense is then best suited to a Bruce Willis flick.

Now go ahead and describe away. A skillful description of sense will make your reader dive into your story head over heels… and it will feel so tickling she will never want to surface from your story again.

 

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 story for intriguing description, plot, characters, dialogue and any other imaginable quality with his free e-book “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.

I see, Alex.

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: In your descriptions, do you take advantage of the big opportunities senses offer? Which sense do you tend to forget? Do you maybe employ one sense too much? Do you remember a book that totally drew you in with its sensory descriptions? If we could smell with our ears, would our nose only serve to hold our glasses? Have you ever seen a naked person that made you wish you were blind?

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

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

THIS SATURDAY!

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages MAY 14th. The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.

 

When Your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors MAY 16th. The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability. In a sea of infinite choices, connecting with our audience can be a nightmare. Our brand is our lifeline. What is a brand? How do we create one? How do we entice an overwhelmed and distracted audience to connect and care? How do we develop this brand over time? How can we make this brand resilient to upheavals? How can this brand then grow and evolve as we grow and evolve?

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. 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.

, , , , , , , , ,

23 Comments

How to Create Legendary Villains

American Horror Story "Freak Show" on FX

American Horror Story “Freak Show” on FX

This past Saturday I held my Bullies & Baddies class and a couple of the folks posited a really good question worth talking about. How do we write great villains? One of the reasons I love holding this class is that all stories require a core antagonist (who is responsible for generating the story problem in need of resolution), but there are different types of antagonists. All villains are antagonists but not all antagonists are villains.

But since we went there, what goes into creating a truly terrifying villain?

I watch a ton of movies and television series. I also read around three novels a week. I’m always studying, breaking stories apart so that I can understand them better. I do it for my fiction, but also so I can share what I learn with you guys.

Though the series isn’t for everyone (it’s pretty gory), I particularly love FX’s American Horror Story for studying villains. AHS is one of those shows that you have to get a few episodes into before you connect, namely because it is often cast with truly despicable characters.

It isn’t until you get a few episodes in that the writers start peeling back the layers and exposing the delicate undersides of the villains…and that’s when you really begin to care for them.

I know. Seriously. AHS is some of the best writing out there.

Jessica Lang almost always plays the core antagonist in each season of AHS (though she was absent in Season Five and it was evident). Of all the seasons, though, Season Four Freak Show was my favorite and that’s what I am going to use today. Btw, there is a bit of spoiler alert, but it’s necessary. So what do we do to really make the villain POP?

Give the Villain a Sympathetic Goal

Elsa Mars (via FX)

Elsa Mars (via FX)

In Season Four of AHS, Lang plays Elsa Mars. Mars is a self-centered, lying, conniving, murderous woman. But she is a deeply flawed and tragic character. Her goal is two-fold. First, she wants to become a star in Hollywood. Secondly, she wants to build the best Freak Show in the world.

As a young woman, Elsa is victimized by a man who promises her the starring role in a movie. What he fails to tell Elsa is she has the starring role in a snuff film. He films another man taking a buzz saw to both of Elsa’s legs then leaves her for dead. Through the sympathy and miraculous skill of an artist-sculptor, she’s saved and given life-like prosthetics and appears “normal.”

But this tragedy creates a horrible insecurity. She starts the Freak Show because deep down, she knows she’s a freak too. This makes her feel almost a maternal duty to collect the disfigured. To gather the tragic souls the world casts away and give them a home.

The Villain is the Hero of His/Her Own Story

Elsa is a mother figure. Under the circus tent, her “children” are stars and they are a family. She knows what life outside the show is like for a freak (she’s lived it). She also appreciates that she is a very different kind of freak. She has the ability to blend into society. Her children do not.

Make the Villain Conflicted

Mars is a very troubled and conflicted character. Her goal to take care of her charges and her desire to become famous in Hollywood are always in conflict. Also what makes Elsa so good is also what makes her so bad. She is relentlessly ambitious (good), but she is relentlessly ambitious (bad).

Remember that our best self and our worst self are often opposing edges of the same blade. This is true for protagonists (heroes) as well.

I see this even in myself. I have a compulsive personality. This is good (1000+ blogs), but can be very, very bad. I latch onto something like a pit bull and don’t let go…but sometimes I’ve latched onto something I should let go of (every ex-boyfriend ever).

As I like to say…

There is a fine line between persistent and stupid.

The reason this duality makes for a layered villain is that great fiction acts as a mirror and reflects a degree of reality back to the reader. When the reader sees the duality of the villain, she is also seeing the duality in herself. That is the part that can be deeply disturbing.

Maybe we believe we are incapable of murder, but are we really? Or have we simply been blessed with the right life circumstances that have permitted us to never have to really get an answer to that question?

Give the Villain Noble Goals

To dovetail off the last point I made, Elsa does some truly detestable things…but we do see there is a not-so-evil motivation behind her actions. Thus, we sympathize and I think that is one of the ways a good villain can truly get to us.

We see the ugliness in ourselves, the great evil we might be capable of in the right situation.

Elsa is profoundly insecure. It’s part of the reason she created the Freak Show to start with. If she owns and runs the show, she can be the main attraction. But again, Elsa’s goals collide with the intensity of a tectonic plate shift.

She knows the show has to make money because she clothes and feeds and shelters her “monsters”. But, to be blunt? She’s also greedy. So when another act overshadows her own? Her greed and her insecurity collide.

Make the Villain’s End a Sad Event

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 10.18.36 AM

For me, the best villains are the ones we almost are silently rooting for and are really bothered by that. Elsa is one of those characters that in one episode you hate her and in the next you’re rooting for her and the end of the season is beautiful and tragic.

My friend NYTBSA James Rollins says he knows he’s done his job when the reader cries for the villain at the end.

This is also why NYTBSA Allison Brennan and I have had a long-running argument that Hannibal Lecter is actually not a villain but an antihero. Allison thinks he’s a villain, but I posit that Hannibal is written SO well, he actually transcends those boundaries and becomes the antihero.

Y’all KNOW you cheered at the end of Silence of the Lambs when he said he was “having an old friend for dinner.” And what is SO EPIC about this is that the guy he is going to eat is a law abiding citizen who technically has done nothing illegal…but we still are rooting for Hannibal (a serial killer).

And that freaks us out more than a little bit.

Another great villain? The Goblin King from Labyrinth. Every woman over the age of 30 is still wondering why the hell Sarah didn’t take the deal.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 10.20.07 AM

Now For This Little Slice…

There is another kind of villain, a villain who deeply upsets us and who’s end is a joyous event. We cheer. We don’t want this type of villain defeated. We don’t want them dead.

We want them OBLITERATED. Salt the very earth of their soul.

Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer has the best example of this type of villain. The movie is great but the novel? O…M…G. The villain is positively terrifying.

Why?

Namely because this villain exemplifies what we fear most (and what protagonist Mickey Haller also fears).

That we won’t recognize pure evil when we see it.

At first glance, Roulet is the guy every girl would love to land. He’s smart, rich, handsome and charming. But is is a stone cold killer who exacts suffering for his own pleasure. What makes this character so disturbing is, like Haller, we believe Louis Roulet is innocent and that he’s been the victim of a terrible scam.

So when we hit that pivot point where we realize we’ve been duped? It rattles us to the core.

This type of villain will exhibit the same traits mentioned above, but they are all a deception. This villain is a venus flytrap who looks like a good guy but is only death disguised.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, Roulet has a sympathetic goal. He is an innocent man who’s been set up by a prostitute who is framing him so she can sue him for damages in civil court and use him as her ticket out of turning tricks.

Roulet is conflicted. He fails to share various pieces of vital information with his lawyer because he is “protecting his mother.” He doesn’t want to upset her and he cares deeply about her perception of him (I.e. he fails to mention he was going to Reggie Campo’s place to pay for sex).

Roulet has noble goals. For instance, he explains that the reason he carries a knife is because he discovered his mother (also a real estate agent) raped and brutalized in a home she was showing. He tells Haller that real estate agents often meet clients in homes alone and there is no real way to vet that they aren’t psychos (um irony), so he carries for protection.

Notice how Connelly hits on ALL the notes of a villain, but camouflages them as a hero.

THIS is why our world turns upside down when we realize it is all a lie. Roulet does not have a sympathetic goal at all! He’s a sado-mysogynistic killer and his only goal is to exact suffering…then destroy another man’s life by framing him for his crime.

This villain is not conflicted at all. He is very well aware of what he’s doing. He’s narcissistic and believes he is above the rules that govern society.

He does not have noble goals. His goals are as black as they come. This is why, unlike a villain like Elsa Mars, when Roulet meets his end? We cheer. In fact, regarding this, I actually prefer the ending in the movie where Roulet is badly beaten by Haller’s motorcycle gang clients before being hauled to jail.

A good way to make this kind of villain work is to create a deflection. Cast an innocent character as the “villain”.  It is essentially a “bait and switch.” In the case of Roulet, the prostitute he brutalized carried the mantle of villain until Act Two.

What are your thoughts? Does this help you understand how to give depth to your villains? What are some of your favorite villains from the page or even the screen?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages MAY 14th. The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.

When Your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors MAY 16th. The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability. In a sea of infinite choices, connecting with our audience can be a nightmare. Our brand is our lifeline. What is a brand? How do we create one? How do we entice an overwhelmed and distracted audience to connect and care? How do we develop this brand over time? How can we make this brand resilient to upheavals? How can this brand then grow and evolve as we grow and evolve?

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. 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.

 

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

45 Comments

5 Reasons Your Story is Stuck

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.16.05 AM

If you’ve been writing any amount of time you have been there—THE SUCK. This is where no matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to move your story forward.

Though “normal” people might laugh at the above meme? Writers know that quicksand is freaking everywhere. You think you’re on firm footing and then down you go and the more you struggle, the worse it gets.

From personal experience combined with my experience with hundreds of writers the process can look like this.

Shiny Idea Time—You get the coolest idea ever conceived of and cannot believe such genius has never before been put to the page. It’s as if angels have come down and handed you a golden feather that will whisk you to the realms of literary nirvana.

First 20K Words—You’re flying high. You wonder why you ever had such difficulty with word count before. You cannot stop the flow. Perhaps you forget to eat, don’t want to sleep and you even dream of the world you’re creating.

20K-30K—This is when the pace begins to slow. It’s okay though. Perhaps you’re simply tired. It’s okay. This…THIS is the story idea you’ve been waiting for.

31K—Your pace slows dramatically. If you’ve ever been driving and suddenly had a flat tire? You know the feeling only this is in the brain-fingetips connection. There is a THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP…and your mental steering wheel jerks wildly. You might try to ignore, but eventually? You pull over to see what’s wrong.

But then? Nothing seems wrong. That’s weird. Mental tires all look properly aired. Maybe more caffeine is in order.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 8.21.53 PM

Perhaps you make it to 40K but by then? All the glitter is gone and you wonder what the hell happened. At this point, you likely will be visited by other story ideas. They see you on the side of the creative highway bewildered and seeming to need a ride. Though you don’t yet have your thumb out, these other newer and shinier ideas are quick to pull over and chirp, “Hop in!”

Just abandon that old clunker and GO!

It’s all so tempting. Especially since the longer you stay trying to fix your broken down WIP, the more shiny ideas come passing by. When you started your journey, the road was free and clear for you to floor your brain and write like the wind! Now? You can barely concentrate on where you placed your mental jack because temptation whizzes by every other minute.

I think this is a fairly accurate prediction regarding word count. If it weren’t then NaNoWriMo would be a cinch. But, alas, there is something about making it to 50K. It’s a number that leaves most who attempt such a feat broken down wondering what went wrong.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Before you call a tow truck for the WIP and sell it for parts, I’d like to offer you some insight and maybe even some solutions to get you speeding down the Imagination Express once more.

Problem #1—The Antagonist is Weak or Nonexistent

This is one of the reasons I love teaching my Bullies and Baddies class (and yes we have one coming up SOON). After years of working with writers, it became clear to me that many didn’t understand—truly understand—the antagonist. It doesn’t help that a lot of the teaching on the subject can be terribly confusing.

I’ve heard classes where instructors used the term “antagonist” and “villain” interchangeably, but that is grossly inaccurate.

A villain is only ONE TYPE of antagonist.

All stories must have a strong core antagonist, because the antagonist is responsible for the story problem.

No antagonist, no story problem in need of solving. Too often, new writers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the hero and don’t give near enough thought to the opposition.

Problem #2—Plot Weak or Nonexistent

If a writer has failed to understand the antagonist (opposition) and truly know what this opposing force wants then the plot will simply disintegrate. When we’re crafting any work, we have to create a problem that is strong enough to bear the weight of the word count.

For instance, I’ve consulted many writers who had an excellent idea…for a short story. The problem was inherently too weak to sustain the bulk of a full-length novel.

Instead of plowing forward, often we can make some really simple adjustments to buttress that core idea. But if we don’t? It’s like trying to drive 90 pulling a crappy trailer. The wheels eventually WILL go flying off.

Often when we’re stuck, it’s the subconscious mind hitting the breaks. It’s trying to tell us our plot needs to be more robust or even clarified, which dovetails into my next point…

Problem #3—Too Many Ideas Crammed into One Book

Some writers might not have enough heft to the plot and others? Perhaps you’re loading on far too much. It’s not uncommon for me to talk to writers who are jammed up in a bad way only to find out they are trying to develop five ideas in one book.

Since the author failed to articulate what the book was about in ONE sentence (truly understand the antagonist’s agenda), then the author was at liberty to explore whatever cool rabbit trail presented itself.

This isn’t particularly bad, but it does require we STOP, get focused and maybe tease out those other ideas for subsequent books. You might think you only have one book, when you have two others freeloading and bogging down your momentum.

Problem #4—Wrong Protagonist

Casting the wrong protagonist is really easy to do, especially if we failed to properly develop the antagonist. Remember at the core of most great stories is an antagonist who’s essentially the shadow self of the protagonist.

For instance, in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney. He represents drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and gang members. He has grown jaded with the justice system and prides himself on his ability to manipulate.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.24.21 AM

His greatest fear is representing a truly innocent man. What is the perfect story problem for such a character? Present him with an irresistible case that tosses him into what he fears the most.

Representing a truly innocent man.

This means that Connelly had to create a crime (case) where the client would undoubtedly look guilty and who would have enough cash to make Haller question any misgivings about taking on the case. Without a case where an innocent man is involved? The Lincoln Lawyer falls apart at the seams.

If Connelly had cast a lawyer who was all about truth, justice and the American Way? The plot would have been meh.

An attorney who works pro bono searching for truth is expected to risk everything to save the life of an innocent man. This would have been the wrong protagonist to cast for such a plot.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance and Connelly, being a master, cast the one guy who probably would have run screaming from this case had he know was he was in for.

If your story seems to be sagging, check and make sure you’ve slated the right person for the job. Sometimes some quick fixes to who this character is or even giving that character some additional baggage might be enough to get you unstuck.

Problem #5—You Are Just Over Thinking

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.21.25 AM

STOP IT! This is the one I am most guilty of. It’s why I am a HUGE fan of fast-drafting because then we simply don’t have time to over think every step we’ve made.

All writers have two different phases:

Oh, wow! I wrote that!

Oh. Wow…I wrote that.

We all think we are geniuses…only to later read the exact same section and become convinced we are little more than brain-damaged chimpanzees banging away on a keyboard. It happens, especially when we are in the thick of the story. It is tempting to go back and perfect, but resist the urge to go BACK. Feel free to correct typos or make notes (in a different color) but do not change your writing.

Your subconscious could be planting seeds and what looks like a weed might just be the greatest plot-twist EVER germinating. Just leave it alone and stop being so hard on yourself.

Remember, no unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have😉 .

Truthfully, if you finish and just cut yourself a break you will likely go back to those parts you were going to chop and see they aren’t nearly as bad as you’d imagined. Remember that while your subconscious is there to help you? Your ego is a selfish passive-aggressive diva who can’t stand that something might be prettier than she is.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.11.38 AM

You really want to be hard on yourself? Fine, just do it in the correct places. Instead of nitpicking the life out of your prose? Get your @$$ in the seat and keep pressing. And just so y’all know? While I have one finger pointed at you, three are pointing back at me.

Before we go…

I have three classes to help you out with all of this. W.A.N.A. classes are all easy to use from home. All you need is an internet connection and pants are totally optional. Recordings are included in case you miss or you just want to refresh the information.

If your antagonist is weak and you need help learning to plot? Bullies and Baddies. If your story idea is jumbled, confusing or unformed? Your Story in a Sentence. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can almost always tell what is wrong (or right) with a plot by the log-line. The first ten signups are guaranteed to have their log-line shredded and fixed in class and for FREE.

Worried about the strength of your actual writing? Are you starting your story in the correct place? Take my First Five Pages class. Right now I am offering double pages for all Gold and Platinum signups (and I have only done this once before and that was almost a year ago). Friends, family and critique groups can only offer so much. So if you want a set of ruthless eyes on your work? I am here to help!

What are your thoughts? Do you nitpick your work to death? Is your computer filled with stories that started out golden then fell flat? Do you struggle with being able to just FINISH? Have you thought you might have cast the wrong protagonist? Are you stuck?

I love hearing from you!

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

April’s WINNER of my pages contest is:

C.E. Robinson! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (double-spaced, New Times Roman, one-inch margins) to kristen at wanaintl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS! *throws confetti*

ONE MORE CLASS!!! 

May 16th I am holding When Your Name Alone Can Sell—Author Branding. We can have the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows it exists? Yeah. These days discoverability is a NIGHTMARE, but I am here to help you learn how to get your work seen…so it can then be loved. Best of all? I’m not trying to change your personality. I’m here to give you the time to do what you do best…WRITE.

Also, for more help with branding and social media, if you don’t yet have a copy… make sure to pick up Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

35 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53,376 other followers

%d bloggers like this: