Deep P.O.V. Part One—What IS It? How Do We DO It?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Writing is like anything else. The trends and fashions change along with the audience. For instance, Moby Dick spends an excruciatingly long time talking about whales, namely because the audience of the time probably had never seen one and never would. If we did this today? Sure, feel free to walk around in a literary gold-plated cod piece, but er…

Yes, awkward.

Epics were also very popular. Follow a character from the womb until death. FANTASTIC STUFF! Why? Because no one had HBO, Pinterest or Angry Birds. Books were a rare indulgence usually reserved for a handful of literate folks with the money or connections to get their hands on…a book.

Also, since writers were paid by the word, their works were padded more than a freshman term paper. Their motto? No modifier left behind. These days? We have to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner.

Recently, we talked about POV and which one might be the best for your story. I can’t choose for any of you, but before we talk about deep POV, I want to mention that POV is also affected by audience and I believe is a direct reflection of how connected we are as a society.

You guys may or may not know that POV has changed along with communication and connectedness. Waaaaay back in the day, omniscient with a god-like narrator was all the rage. But people didn’t travel at all. Most humans lived and died in the place they were born and in isolation from other communities.

With the early epics, we often had a narrator who was separate from the events.

Dear Reader, come with me for a tale of AWESOME…

Later, after the Dark Ages, people got out more, traveled more, etc. We see the narrator merging into just general god-like presence. Then, after the printing press was invented, more and more people were reading and a lot of monks were out of a job and started the first microbreweries.

Don’t argue. It’s history :P .

With pamphlets and papers, people became more engaged and journalism eventually gives birth to this new-fangled invention…first-person. Third person and third-person shifting only became popular after audiences grew accustomed to radio programs (and later television) and could mentally process the idea of a cut-to scene.

As people became networked closer and closer, we see the psychic distance closing. Now that we are a culture of reality TV and social media? Omniscient is a tough sell. I am not telling any of you what POV to choose, but I will say that modern readers will shy away from these older forms of POV because they “feel cold.” Modern readers LOVE being as close as possible, ergo my little side-trip through history.

And this is where we get *drum roll* deep POV.

You hear this word flung around the writing world. Oooh, deep POV. That is deep POV. Deep, Man.

Um, what is deep POV?

And, if you are like me, you go along and are too embarrassed to ask what the heck deep POV is? Everyone wants it. Readers love it. Uh, but what IS it? How do I do it? Can I order some on-line?

Deep POV is simply a technique that strips the author voice completely out of the prose. There is no author intrusion so we are left only with the characters. The reader is nice and snuggly in the “head” of the character.

Okay, clear as mud. Right? Right.

As an editor, I see the intrusion much more than authors. It is actually shocking how much you guys interrupt. In fact, you are like my mother chaperoning my first date who would swear she was quiet as a mouse.

NOT.

I actually like deep POV because I love tight pose. I loathe unnecessary words. Deep POV not only leans up the writing, it digs deeper into the mental state of the character. We probably aren’t going to stay completely in deep POV, but it’s a nice place to call “home.”

How do we do it? Today, for the sake of brevity, we are just going to talk about simple stylistic changes, not the actual writing. We will do that next time ;) .

First, Ditch the Tags

Just using the word “said” tells the reader we (the author) are there.

Kristen’s Made-Up Example (don’t judge me, just roll with it)

“No, I always love it when you drop by,” she said. Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

Okay, so we get that Fifi is in a bad spot. But just that little word said tells us the author is present. So in the next layer we are going to remove the said.

While We Are Here? Thought and Sense Words—Ditch Those, Too

If we really pause and think about it, thought and sense words are frequently redundant. If we are IN the character’s head? We KNOW she is thinking. Who else would be thinking?

We aren’t dumb. Yes, it is my personal opinion, but I feel sensing and thinking words often qualify as holding the reader’s brain. We don’t need to. Readers are pretty smart.

Let’s look at my made-up example.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

So we ditched the said and that tightened it up. Did you notice how losing the tag tightened the psychic distance? Now let’s remove these stubborn stains  unnecessary sensing and thinking words.

***Also, try to ditch any “starting to”.  Do or do not, there is no try starting to.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi’s hands shook. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder. The street was deserted. All of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. He is going to kill me.

Do you see how just getting rid of those excess words upped the tension of this piece? We (the reader) go from being a distant observer to being in the potentially deadly situation. We don’t need to tell the reader Fifi is thinking or feeling or about to do something. The reader gets that and us putting in glowing directional arrows is a distraction.

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Fifi felt Tom’s hands clamp around her throat.

Just get to it already!

Tom’s hands clamped around her throat.

So I hope this helps clear up some of your “deep POV” questions. Remember that we live in a culture that is spoiled with intimacy and we can give them what they love. Next time, we will discuss characterization and how to write in deep POV beyond the stylistic choices.

Before we go, y’all asked for it so here goes. I have two classes coming up. The class on log-lines Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line is $35 and as a BONUS, the first ten sign-ups get to be victims. I will pull apart and torture your log-line until it is agent-ready for FREE. Beyond the first ten folks? We will work out something super affordable as a bonus for being in the class so don’t fret. AND, it is two hours and on a Saturday (June 27th) and recorded so no excuses :P .

I am also running Hooking the Reader–Your First Five Pages.  Class is on June 30th so let’s make Tuesdays interesting. General Admission is $40 and Gold Level is $55 but with Gold Level, you get the class, the recording and I look at your first five and give detailed edit.

Our first five pages are essential for trying to attract an agent or even selling BOOKS. Readers give us a page…maybe five. Can we hook them enough to part with cold hard CASH? Also, I can generally tell all bad habits in 5 pages so probably can save you a ton in content edit.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Winner for May is Ugirid Haprasad and the Dojo Diva winner is Amy Kennedy. Please send 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

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

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89 Comments

You Might Be a Writer If…

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A lot of “stuff” has been going on in my life lately. Hard stuff. Heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that just makes me want to write massacre scenes….except I am so brain dead I had to google how to spell “massacre.”

Masicker? Missucker?

WHAT AM I DOING???? *breaks down sobbing*

I am supposed to be an adult an expert okay, maybe functionally literate. Fine, I give up! I have nothing left to saaaaayyyyyy. I am all out of woooords *builds pillow fort*.

I figured it’s time for a bit of levity. Heck, I need a good laugh. How about you guys?

We writers are different *eye twitches* for sure, but the world would be SO boring without us. Am I the only person who watches Discovery ID and critiques the killers?

You are putting the body THERE? Do you just WANT to go to prison? Why did you STAB them? Helllooo? Blood spatter? LOO-Min-OL? Moron.

I think it’s a writer thing. So, since today I am staring at the “White Screen of I SUCK and Why Did I Want to Be a WRITER?”, we are just going to roll with it…

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve learned that regular people are cute, and no longer get offended with this conversation.

Regular Person: What do you do?

Writer: I’m a writer.

Regular Person: No, I mean, what’s your real job?

You’ve come to understand that writers are a lot like unicorns. Everyone knows about them, they’ve simply never seen a REAL ONE.

You Might Be a Writer If…

The NSA, CIA and FBI no longer bother with you. Likely, they know you by name and now outsource to the creepy ice cream truck to just make a few passes and check to make sure you’re still at your computer.

author

As an extra bonus, the next time the NSA passes by in the panel van? Go out and ask them for a job application and maybe even a reference if you want bonus smart@$$ points.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You are regularly mistaken for a homeless person because you haven’t bathed or changed clothes in ages and are wandering around shouting at the air.

…aaaand, you are just in revisions.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You hate texting because it takes too long to use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You know what’s the best time of year to dispose of a body to confuse TOD and that seriously creeps out your friends and family.

And you know what TOD stands for and that creeps them out even more.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re on such a roll with the WIP that you’ve forgotten a “real” world exists (including laundry). You’re down to wearing your husband’s socks and he’s either going commando or is forced to wear that thong given to him on his 40th birthday as a joke gift. The kids? Hell, they went feral a week ago.

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You Might Be a Writer If…

You take a break from writing to go to the store and, on the way, begin untangling a plot problem. You finally realize you’re in the next state and have no idea how you got there. But good news is, you now know which poison is best to kill off the character modeled after that cheerleader who bullied you through high school. It’s the poison that will make her fat and wrinkly before she dies slowly from terminal acne.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You have NO CLUE what to do in case of a flood, a fire or a natural disaster, but you are actually looking forward to the collapse of civilization because you are pretty sure you will make an AWESOME Warlord.

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You Might Be a Writer If…

You appreciate that if Febreeze is good enough for the couch, why not hose the kids? Hey, you spent extra for the anti-microbial one. It kills germs *rolls eyes*. Now your tot smells like a Hawaiian Breeze and his cooties can’t hurt others. You should get a freaking MEDAL for this kind of creativity.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve been diagnosed with Tourette’s, Multiple-Personality Disorder or both. It’s tough to explain you were simply working out dialogue when strapped to a gurney. But the upside is when they sedate you, it’s the only vacation you’ve had in months and insurance might even cover it. SCORE!

You Might Be a Writer If…

People believe you are a shy introvert, but you just can’t bring yourself to tell them that your imaginary friends are simply WAY more interesting.

You Might Be a Writer If…

A casket washes up in a Houston flood and while normal people are upset how tragic it is, you are wondering if there is GOLD inside. Or missing drug money.

Or if they open open it, could they unwittingly unleash the ZOMBIE PLAGUE?

Or what if it is the WRONG BODY? And it was all to cover up a mob leader faking his own DEATH?

You Might Be a Writer If…

You realize you are a horrible human being for getting so excited for that last one because NOW YOU HAVE A NEW STORY IDEA YOU SICK, SICK SOULLESS PERSON!

You Might Be a Writer If…

“Recycling” is using the same jerks from real life in a new story. We can kill them AGAIN! :D

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re no longer invited to family events because they can’t take the incessant correction of their grammar.

Chickens are done, people are FINISHED.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’re automatically safe from any episode of Hoarders because when you get enough books? Others naturally assume you’re a LIBRARY. Hey, maybe you can apply for government funding. Scratch that. Then, you’d have to let people borrow your books.

You Might Be a Writer If …

You willingly suffer frostbite hiding in a Costco freezer eavesdropping a couple’s fight, because dialogue that epic is worth a losing pinkie toe. Your coffee table’s already tried to assassinate it 342 times anyway.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve been mistaken for Gollum multiple times, because strangers found you in a dark corner whispering “My precious….” and it was just you and your Kindle.

You Might Be a Writer If…

You plow over the entire Kardashian family, because OMG there’s Stephen KING!

You Might Be a Writer If…

Your idea of fun is reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, talking to your friends at the Coroner’s office or reading/writing Amazon reviews of the Bic Pen for Her or the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer.

You Might Be a Writer If…

Speaking of the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, you actually bought one, not only to support the greatest comedic writing in human history, but also to screw with the TSA. Can you get it through airport security without a full-body search? Hide it near your shoulders and FREE NECK MASSAGE!

You Might Be a Writer If…

You’ve made it onto the Mormon and Jehova’s Witness DO NOT CALL LIST because you will only promise to convert with purchase of YOUR BOOKS (and favorable 5-star reviews).

You Might Be a Writer If…

Every time some overblown Third World dictator threatens to destabilize the world, all you can think is, “Pfft. Amateur.”

Have any to add? I know you do. So, “You Might Be a Writer If….”

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Winner for May is Ugirid Haprasad and the Dojo Diva winner is Amy Kennedy. Please send 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

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

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166 Comments

Brave New Bullying—How to Protect Yourself from Cyberbullying

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I’ve talked before about how I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Recently, I have started assisting with teaching the kid’s class. It is shocking how much time we devote to training kids to stand up to bullies. Bullies, in my opinion, are among the lowest known existing lifeforms. I wouldn’t want to insult cockroaches and fleas by drawing a comparison.

I’d love to say that we leave bullies behind when we are no longer kids, but I think bullying just gets worse and harder to fight. As writers, we deal with bullies a lot. Tragically, I’ve received many messages from semi-suicidal writers who left their dream profession because they had the misfortune of landing in the crosshairs of cyberbullies and no longer could endure the stress.

I have a hard time blaming them. I know what it is like to be willing to do anything to escape the torment.

Kristen’s History With Bullies

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

I grew up most of my life being bullied. I switched schools at least once a year and there was always a new gaggle of Mean Girls to make my daily life a veritable hell. I think this is why I grew to love books. I skipped school so much (to seek sanctuary at the public library), that I’m fairly certain I’m the reason for the current Texas truancy laws.

I couldn’t get out of bed. I became ill at the thought of even walking through the front doors of my school. I was poor and these girls in their designer clothes who drove their BMWs to school took great joy in throwing away what little clothing I had when I was at soccer practice.

I couldn’t escape. They cornered me on the bus, in the lunchroom, in the halls. Most teachers did nothing. In fact, teachers were some of the worst bullies I endured.

One teacher made my life miserable because I stood up to her bullying a kid from another school. This teacher and her pets thought it was funny to stuff chocolate Ex-Lax into a brownie and give it to a kid that probably (looking back) had Asperger’s. I stood up to her over it and paid dearly.

Since she was “Teacher of the Year” no one, not even school administration would intervene and I endured her torment for three very long years. I had nightmares about her until my 30s.

Bullies Don’t Stay in High School

I’d like to say bullies went away. When I graduated and joined the workplace, I soon discovered bullies just grow older and more cruel. Female bullies are the worst. They don’t push and shove and bully in ways that a good tail-kicking can fix.

They are a slow poison with no taste or smell.

I’m certain Human Resources must have some hidden rule that they must hire at least one tireless jerk to torment their fellow workers.

Yes, part of why I left sales was my health. I threw up on the way to work every day. Why? A bully. She ruled the office and everyone feared her. She’d even once assaulted someone at the copy machine. I was responsible for a 2.5 million dollar quota and this person would make sure my orders were “accidentally” sent to the wrong place, my samples would get “lost in the mail” and important documents would disappear.

I kept having to change the lock on my office because this person thought nothing of helping herself to my personal belongings. One time, I’d worked months on a detailed presentation I had to give at the national meeting. I went to lunch and forgot to lock my office. She deleted the entire thing (though there was no proving it, of course).

Seven weeks of work had to be redone in 24 hours.

We had a major contract that came open. Business we’d had for a couple decades was being offered to our competition. I drove to Mississippi once a week for months to ensure we maintained the contract and won the bid. Finally, I got the green because they liked me. All I had to do was send the samples to a certain location.

The office bully deliberately mailed them to the wrong address (yes, she was the only one with the power to send out products). I have no idea how many people lost their jobs because we lost this major contract, and I was the salesperson so the blame was square on me.

And there was NO getting rid of her. I went to my boss, to the plant manager, to Human Resources and they acted as if I was just being sensitive. I left. She won. The factory closed. But what kind of person is willing to go to such extremes to hurt ONE person, that she takes out the jobs of others and then even her own? Why would a company tolerate this?

I’ve never found a satisfying answer.

I think that’s one of the reasons I have been so tireless when it comes to building the W.A.N.A. Community. I spent so much of my life alone, lonely, afraid and I never wanted anyone to feel the way I had for so long.

Brave New Bullying 

Now we live in a Digital Age and bullies abound. The Internet gives them access to torment us 24-7 no matter where we go. I was so thrilled the day I was asked to blog for Huffington, yet unlike here, I have no control over the tone of the comments. There are people who are simply made of spite and hate and they will take it out from the safety of a computer behind the anonymity afforded by monikers. Now when I post, I simply scan and, if anything is hateful in tone? I won’t even read it.

This is why I don’t read reviews before buying any book. There are too many sock puppets and trolls. Goodreads and Amazon are RIFE with bullying. I’ve had friends bullied on blogs and even once had someone start a hate blog directed toward me, “Kristen Lamb The Face of Misandry” which is “Man-hating”, btw. I had to look it up.

It’s sad to say, but when researching for this topic, it seemed most of the information was for kids, schools and teens. But bullies never go away. They often can’t be stopped, but maybe we can make it tougher for them to spread their cruelty.

What To Do

Be YOU—Don’t Let Bullies Steal Your Peace or Your Book Sales

First of all, use the name printed on your books. A moniker or a pen name won’t stop the hate. It’s still you. If someone called me names and ruthlessly attacked my character it wouldn’t matter if it was Kristen Lamb’s Blog or Penelope Fluffernutter’s Blog. It’s still me behind the computer.

When we try to hide behind a moniker to protect against the inevitable, all we do is make it harder to sell books. The bullies win. They can steal your peace and maybe even success.

When we get off the Internet because of these cretins, they win. It’s a “blaming the victim” mentality. If your skirt wasn’t so short blog wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be raped harassed by trolls. This is why I DO recommend a WP based site. There is this marvelous TRASH function.

Illegitimi non carborundum…

Keep Records

If you get hateful, threatening messages take screenshots. Save e-mails. If the troll is motivated enough they can easily slip into an area that can give you power legally. But, proof is what will help your case.

Manage Your Blog

I don’t allow hate. I am always open for respectful disagreement, but if someone gets out of control? I delete their comments. People need to feel safe to comment on my blog (and yours), and bullies will shred the fabric of your community. It’s our job to keep them in check. Set boundaries and refuse to tolerate abuse.

Stand Up for Friends

If you have a writer friend who’s being bullied, gather together and, when Amazon asks if a review is helpful? Click NO. The W.A.N.A. Community is massive. Let us know. We are happy to stick up for you, and a troll might be able to harass one or two pals who come to your aid, but a few thousand is a tougher challenge.

Report and Block

Report abusers on Facebook. The guy who started the hate blog about me wasn’t just harassing me, he was harassing all my friends who commented on my wall. He was PSYCHO. I went to Facebook and had him banned. I blocked his comments and profile (until FB could take it down).

DO NOT ENGAGE

Don’t feed the trolls. Negative attention is still attention. Often trolls will leave seething comments to upset people SO much that they HAVE to go to their blog/website to see WHO this JERK IS. It’s the only way they can get hits and comments and they feed on negativity. Starve them.

Hire a Professional

If you’re worried about your safety or your family’s safety because someone has gone THAT nutso? Contact Jay Donovan at TechSurgeons. Jay is an amazing human being, a tireless champion for writers and he IS The Digital Dark Knight. He’s a computer genius who can have said troll chasing his own @$$ down a hole of frustrated nothing. There are ways to protect yourself digitally and Jay is a master of security. Even if you want to take some preventative measures, talk to Jay.

Many of you know I am NOT a fan of pen names. What you may not understand is I’m not a fan of pen names, because a different name alone isn’t enough. Worse, it can provide a false sense of security. Writers are locking the screen door thinking that’s going to keep out the motivated ax murderer.

There are sound reasons for having a pen name. I advise against it most of the time because friends, schoolmates and family can be powerful mouthpieces and very helpful. A pen name limits how much of that energy we can harness and dilutes focus.

BUT, if you DO need a pen name for safety, security, etc. TALK TO JAY. Again, a different name alone isn’t enough. An eight-year-old with decent Google skills can find who you are without the skills of someone like Jay helping you.

Speak Up

I hate to say it, but if Goodreads doesn’t start protecting writers from abuse, then we can remove our books. Don’t think they would last long with no authors and, since Amazon owns them, they might be more inclined to listen.

In the end, trolls are often a sign we are doing something right. Get ten trolls and I think we are officially a celebrity. Learn to un-see. Focus on those who love you.

Power in Numbers

Over on my Dojo Diva blog, I am talking about self-defense and how to shut down predators. Predators, whether in life or on-line, think very similarly. They prefer to go after those who are alone and weak. Take that away by being part of a strong community. There is something to be said for numbers discouraging attacks.

Social isolation is fuel to the bully fire. Those kids and teachers who bullied me capitalized on the fact that I came from a broken home and had NO ONE. I very literally had NO safe haven.

I recommend Gracie Jiu Jitsu to everyone who will listen, but for more reasons than self-defense. That kid who is being picked on will have it far worse if they have no tribe, no system of support to reinforce others genuinely CARE. Our dojo is that tribe. Our mission is to protect the weak. We live it and breathe it.

My Jiu Jitsu brothers.

My Jiu Jitsu brothers.

On-line? We also are wise to ally with strength.

Join our W.A.N.A. Community (W.A.N.A. stands for We Are Not Alone, information here). We are a great refuge and support system. Like my dojo, our mission is to serve and protect. They don’t call me the W.A.N.A. Mama for no reason ;) .

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You can join us on Twitter at#MyWANA, on Facebook or even WANATribe (a social network for creatives). I have ZERO tolerance for trolls and have smiting powers.

I know it can feel very defeating sometimes, but a great circle of loving friends who have your back is a great start. Refuse to feed the trolls your peace, success and happiness. They exist, but together we are stronger.

What about you? Have you been bullied? Did you find any tactics that were effective? I am no expert, so I would LOVE any suggestions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Winner for May is Ugirid Haprasad and the Dojo Diva winner is Amy Kennedy. Please send 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

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

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79 Comments

Choosing a P.O.V.—What is BEST for YOUR Story? Structure Part 9

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This is my Upside-Down-Face

P.O.V. is a word that throws many new authors into panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra? P.O.V. stands for Point of View. Traditionally, I’ve not included this lesson in my teachings on structure, but I am amending that since P.O.V. will affect structure.

The structure of a novel written in first person is very different than a novel using multiple third-person P.O.V. characters. Scenes will need a different kind of balancing, so choosing a P.O.V. should not be taken lightly. Yes, often choice of P.O.V. will come from author voice, but not always. Sometimes genre might influence our decisions as well.

Thus, today, we are going to whiz through Kristen’s P.O.V. Spark Notes.

***Just a quick reminder though. Comment over at my new Dojo Diva blog and there is a separate contest for comments with better odds of winning my 20 page critique. We are talking about How to Be the Sheepdog. Not a wolf, not a sheep, but a sheepdog. Moving on….

Anyway…

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way ;) .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

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Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

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Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

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Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Veronica Roth brilliantly employs the first-person Come Along With Me in her Divergent trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Roth is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

Also, if you want to meet me and author and Hollywood TV/Film Producer Joel Eisenberg, we will be in Boaz, Alabama on June 15th. Joel will be doing a workshop called, “Catching Your Muse: How to Claim Your Artistic Spirit” and I will be there to help any of your social media angsts. We can also plot global domination using a weaponized Bedazzlers and trained hamsters….so REGISTER HERE.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Both winners will be announced next blog. We just came in from assessing flood damage at our ranch and I haven’t had a chance to tally the winner. So stay tuned!

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

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How to Manage Scenes in a Novel—Structure Part 8

And….ACTION!

And….ACTION!

As a fiction author, you will often feel like an acrobat spinning plates while standing on your head and juggling fiery chainsaws. There are so many components to keep track of, lest you end up down the Bunny Trail of No Return. Organization is key when it comes to being a successful novelist.

Before we continue, if you want better odds of winning my 20 page critique at the end of the month, I am running a separately drawn contest over on my Dojo Diva blog where I am talking about why everyone (but especially females) needs at least some basic self-defense training. Comments count for one entry. Comments with a hyperlink count for two. And you get to learn about beating up bad people.

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Moving on…

We have spent the past few weeks studying the fundamentals of what makes up a novel, and today we are going to discuss the actual scenes that make up a novel and how to keep track of them. It is easy to get lost when dealing with a structure as complex as a novel, so I hope to give you a nifty tool to keep everything straight.

First, let’s talk about scenes.

My friend and mentor James Scott Bell has given me permission to use a sample of his teachings as a guide, and again I strongly recommend getting his book. I was a pantser for ages and revisions were a nightmare. Plotting might as well have been sanskrit until I read his books and instead of reinventing my own methods, I just like to tell writers about the good stuff.

According to James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, scenes do four things. Bell calls these the four chords of fiction:

The two major chords are: (1) action and (2) reaction.

The two minor chords are (1) setup and (2) deepening.

Back when I used to content edit, I was known to draw cute little cartoon flies on the page when the story took off down a bunny trail and lost my interest. This became known as my, “Fly on the Wall of ‘Who Cares?’” and was a signal to the writer that this was a section with no real purpose so it needed revision, tightening or to be cut completely.

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The reader is a fly on the wall when it comes to the world we are creating. Make them the fly on the wall of something interesting at all times.

How do we accomplish this?

All Scenes Need Conflict

Conflict is the fuel that powers the story’s forward momentum. “Scenes” that are merely back-story, reflection (rehash of what the reader already knows) or information dump, slow down the story and make the reader either want to skim ahead or put the book down. Bad juju.

We want our readers hooked from the beginning until we finally let them go on the last page. How do we accomplish this? We add lots of conflict.

Scenes, according to Bell, need three components, collectively known as HIP—Hook, Intensity & Prompt.

Hook—interests the reader from the get-go. This is why it is generally a bad idea to start scenes with setting. Waxing rhapsodic about the fall color is a tough way to hook a reader. If you do start a scene with setting, then make it do double-duty. Setting can set up the inner mood of a character before we even meet him. Setting should always be more than a weather report. Try harder.

Intensity—raises the stakes. Introduce a problem. Scenes that suddenly shift into reverse and dump back-story KILL your intensity. Cut scenes at meals unless there is a fight (okay, just something tense). If your characters are in a car, they better be in an argument or a car chase. Also cut any scenes that the sole purpose is to give information. Have a scene that’s sole purpose is two characters talking about a third? CUT! CUT! CUT!

We are writing novels, not screenplays for Days of Our Lives.

Prompt—leave the scene with work left undone and questions left unanswered. If your character is relaxed enough to happily go to bed at the end of a scene, that is a subconscious cue to your reader that it is okay to mark the page and close the book.  There should always be something unsettling that makes the reader want to know more.

Going back to the chords of the writing. Every scene should involve one of your key characters in pursuit of an interesting goal that is related to the overall conflict of the story. Each of these scenes are stepping stones that take your character closer to the final showdown. Most of the time, it will feel like two steps forward and one step back.

Your POV character (protagonist) sets out to do X but then Y gets in the way. Your character then will have some kind of a reaction to the setback.

So we have the major chords I mentioned earlier:

ACTION–> REACTION to the obstacle

Now when we add in the minor chords, it might look something like this:

Setup–>ACTION–>obstacle–>REACTION to the obstacle–>deepening

Setup and deepening need to be short and sweet. Why? Because they don’t drive the story, conflict does. We as readers will need a certain amount of setup to get oriented in what is happening, but then drive forward and get to the good stuff. Deepening is the same. We want to know how this conflict has changed the course of events, but don’t get carried away or you risk losing your reader.

Remember when we talked about antagonists? How the BBT is responsible for the problem in need of resolution, but that EVERY scene should have an antagonist.

Allies will often provide the lion’s share of the conflict of a story. One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo. Darla the Fish-Killer is the BBT, because had she wanted a puppy for her birthday, Nemo would have never been taken and wouldn’t be in danger. But who creates MOST of the conflict? Ally, Dori. For most of the story. Marlin and Dori are at odds.

Marlin wants to keep searching for the clue to find his son.

Dori wants to talk to the sharks and attend a Fish Anoymous meeting.

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"

Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

So how do you keep track of all these elements? The note card is a writer’s best friend. We will discuss different methods of plotting in the future, but I recommend doing note cards ahead of time and then again after the fact. I use a very cool tactic from screenwriter Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

On each note card, I write the location, then a one-sentence header about what the scene is about. Then there is a neat little symbol for conflict (><) I use to show who is in conflict in this particular scene. Then I do a micro conflict lock. Who wants what? I also use an emotional symbol to note change +/-.

Characters should be changing emotionally. If your protag enters on a high note, crush it. Enters on a low? Give some hope. If a character is constantly okey dokey, that’s boring. Conversely, if a character is always in the dumps, it will wear out your reader and stall the plot.

I also note any facts I might need to keep up with. Has my main character suffered an injury? Lost her weapon? Gained a weaponized Bedazzler and a pet hamster?

Let’s look at an example from the movies. Romancing the Stone.

So the card might look something like this:

Jungles of South America (Location)

>< Joan (protag) and Jack (love interest/antagonist)

Joan wants a guide to get her to Cartajena, Colombia to trade the treasure map for her sister.

Jack wants to recapture the exotic birds he lost when the bus crashed into the back of his truck.

-/+ Joan finally convinces Jack to take her to Cartajena. (Note she started on a low. She was lost, in a crash and far away from Cartajena. She ends on a high note. Jack agrees to guide her to her destination)

Joan and Jack decide to go to Cartajena (decision), but then bad guys arrive and start shooting at them (prompt).

Yes, Blake Snyder’s system is designed to keep up with all the scenes a movie, but it can do wonders for novelists, too. When I finish my first draft, I go back and make set of cards. Using this system makes it painfully clear what scenes are in need of a total overhaul.

If I can’t say in one sentence what the scene is about, then I know my goal is weak, nonexistent or unclear. Too many people in conflict? Conflict might be muddy. Go back and clarify. If there isn’t any emotional change, then that’s a big red flag that nothing is happening—it’s a “Fly on the Wall of ‘Who Cares?'”

If I find a scene that’s sole purpose is information dump, what do I do? I have three choices. 1) Cut the scene totally. 2) Fold it into another scene that has existing conflict. 3) Add conflict. Note cards also make it easy to spot bunny trails—goals that have nothing to do with the A or B plot.

This tactic can help make a large work manageable. If you are starting out and outlining? Make note cards for each scene and who you foresee being in conflict. If you already have your novel written, but you want to tighten the writing or diagnose a problem you just can’t see? Make note cards.

Keeping organized with note cards is an excellent way to spot problems and even make big changes without unraveling the rest of the plot. There are, of course, other methods, but this is the one I’ve liked the best. Note cards are cheap, portable and easy to color code (you can also sub an Excel spreadsheet for cards).

For instance, each POV character can have a designated color. Using these cards makes it much easier to juggle all the different elements of great novels—characters, conflict, inner arc, plot, details.

Have any questions? Are there other methods that have worked for you? Please share so we all can learn. What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to plotting?

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).

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

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

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Choosing a Genre—Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part 7

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.42.33 AMUnderstanding structure helps us write cleaner and faster. Whether we plan every detail ahead of time or just intuitively have the architecture in our head, structure makes the difference between a workable first draft and a nightmare beyond salvage.

I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. 

If we don’t pick or we get too weird, we will confuse agents and readers because there is no clear idea of where this sucker should be shelved. It will also make plotting more than problematic.

Fifteen years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-inspirational-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants.

I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a pure literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at an Indian restaurant.

Um, ew.

Part of why I stress picking a genre will be a huge factor in driving sales and connecting readers with a work they will LOVE. We need to make certain we have slotted our product correctly because 1) we want readers to FIND our work and also 2) readers can be very unforgiving with reviews.

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As an example, writers often make the mistake of putting their books for sale in the incorrect spot. One of the most common oopses I’ve seen is writers believing they have a Romance, when in fact they have a Women’s Fiction or a General Fiction. Romance has rules and expectations.

I once worked with an author who’d had terrible sales for her book and gotten some scathing reviews. But, when I looked at her work, she didn’t have a romance at all and had listed her book for sale in the wrong place. She’d gotten razed in reviews because guy and gal didn’t end up with an HEA. In Romance, that is BAD. In Women’s Fiction? Not bad. She was connecting her work to the wrong audience.

Once she reslotted her work, sales improved and so did the reviews because she was now connecting to the correct audience who were now judging her story as a Women’s Fiction.

Additionally, some writers will try to get clever and blend genres together. Literary Thriller is one example.

Yes, it can be done, but in my POV, why? Readers who love thrillers love fast-paced action. Readers who like literature love a slower pace and lots of deep probing character development….which is likely to alienate most thriller readers. Also, add in the action and it’s going to be tough to keep the attention of the literary folks.

Can this genre work? Yes, but we have to realize we DO risk losing the audience so it better be done really well. Also, I think the term “Literary Thriller” is just for marketing. “Thrillers but written gooder.” And either they are a thriller or a general fiction. I think this genre term is confusing, misleading and more than a bit insulting to thriller authors.

Granted, there are people who like to read everything, but betting our writing future on entertaining statistical outliers is a serious gamble.

I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

know I haven’t listed all the genres, so if I miss one, feel free to add it in the comments ;) . These are just the “biggies.”

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit.

Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the endThrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the LambsA murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your Big Boss Trouble Maker (read Structure Part Three if you want to know what a BBT is). Yes, the guy will likely be a scene antagonist, but that is different.

Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance because there are SO many categories of romance that it could make a book.

Literary Fiction is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Note: Literary fiction is not a free pass to avoid plotting. There still needs to be an overall plot problem that forces the change. People generally don’t wake up one day and just decide to change. There needs to be an outside driving force, a Big Boss Troublemaker, and a tangible physical goal. Again, in The Road, the man and boy have a tangible goal of getting to the ocean.

The only difference in literary fiction and genre fiction is that plot arc is now subordinate to character arc. In commercial genre fiction the plot generally takes precedence. In Silence of the Lambs catching Buffalo Bill is top on the priority list. Character evolution is secondary. In literary fiction these two arcs reverse. The character growth and change is of primary importance and plot is merely the vehicle to get them to change.

For instance, in Joy Luck Club, June’s impending trip to China is what brings the women together and what forces each of them to change the patterns of the past. The trip is irrelevant save for two purposes—1) bringing the women together to face their demons and 2) when June actually makes the trip to China to meet her mother’s twin sisters (the lost babies) we know the change has occurred and the chains of the past have been loosed.

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

In regular fantasy, we will generally have a singular protagonist. In high fantasy, the various parties each become protagonists. Think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gamut. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association

Young AdultI won’t talk long about YA, since YA beaks into so many subcategories. Often YA will follow the rules of the parent genre (i.e. YA thrillers still have a ticking clock, fast pacing and high stakes just like regular thrillers). The differences, however, is that YA generally will have a younger protagonist (most often a teenager) and will address special challenges particular to a younger age group.

For instance, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Tris is taking on a very real political battle between factions. But the plot also involves her evolving from child to adult, how she defines her identity aside from Mom and Dad and forging a new romantic relationship with Four. These are all prototypical struggles for someone in that age group.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin.

This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story or change the genre entirely because she actually wrote a Women’s Fiction and NOT a romance.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like children’s or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

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

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Is Your Story PRIMAL?—Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part 6

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Okay, so if you have read all the blogs in this series, you should understand what makes a scene vs. a sequel, understand the three-act dramatic structure. You also understand that the antagonist—or Big Boss Troublemaker—is the engine of your story. Without the BBT, your protagonist’s world would remain unchanged. The BBT’s agenda drives the story. It is the engine. No engine, no forward motion.

By this point, you should also be able to decipher a good idea from a not-so-good idea and then, once decided, state what your book is about in ONE sentence. You can have up to three, but let’s shoot for one.

Welcome to part SIX of my series on novel structure–whoo-hoo! Today we are going to discuss gimmick versus fundamentals of a good story.

First, gimmick. Here is the thing. There are only so many plots. DO NOT try to get creative with plot. Everything has been done. Seriously. Remember Part One of this series? There are only so many elements on the Periodic Table, yet everything in the universe is made up of some combination of these elements. Think of core plots like the elements on the Periodic Table.

Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. Leave the wheel alone. You do not have to revinvent plot as we understand it to tell a darn good story.

I find a lot of new writers get really excited about gimmick. Gimmick is dangerous, and gimmicks can bite back. Don’t believe me?

Okay…M. Night Shyamalan. He got us with The Sixth Sense, but after that? It was over. Why? Because the “magic” only worked with a naïve audience. After The Sixth Sense we were like CSI Vegas with every Shyamalan story. Short of using a swab kit and blacklight, we paid attention to every last little detail trying to figure out the twist ending.

This also limited Shyamalan in that he was doomed if he did and doomed if he didn’t. If he told a story with a twist ending, then the audience (no longer naïve) was looking for the clues, so no ending could possibly measure up to The Sixth Sense. But, if Shyamalan tried to do a movie with no twist and do something different, then the audience was ticked because there was no twist.

Shyamalan, in my opinion, is a victim of his own brilliance, and I can see how The Sixth Sense really put him in a bind…because it worked so well. Most of the time gimmicks suck, but even when they are really good…they still suck. So avoid gimmick and just focus on becoming a darn good storyteller.

Anyway, back to my original point.  There are only so many plots, so don’t try to be cute and clever and unique because it is unlikely you will discover a “new element.” Go ahead and try. I guarantee you that one of two things will happen.

One is that you will think you have this new plot no one has ever seen. All excited, you will posit this new-and-shiny-never-before-imagined-idea to your fellow writing friends, and one of them (I promise) will go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like the movie Blah.”

….and then you are required to drink heavily and cry and wonder why you were doomed to be born a writer.

The other end-scenario is that you get so weird that you barely understand your own story, and the poor the reader will need a Dungeon Master Guide, a Garman and a sherpa to navigate your plot.

So, remember. Pizza has rules. Plot has rules. Can’t get too weird. If you still want to invent the plot never seen before? Have fun storming the castle *waves and smiles*.

Moving on…

Plots, at the very core, are usually simple. Why? The plot is the foundation. Now what you construct on top of that foundation can be super-complex. Note I wrote complex NOT complicated.  Even the most complex stories can be boiled down to very simple goals. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, James Clavell’s Shogun, and MacMurtry’s epic Lonesome Dove all have very simple forces driving very complex and dynamic stories.  Good versus evil. Struggle for power, for survival, for love. Very simple.

As Blake Snyder says in his book Save the Cat: Is it primal? Would a caveman understand the core of your story?

Good storytellers connect with the audience on a basic level. So when you whittle down that idea or novel into a one-sentence log-line, step back and be honest. Does your story hinge on primal drives like survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, or fear of death?

Does it have physical and or emotional stakes? Your story might seem complex, but at the core it should be very basic and connect at a visceral level.

People in China LOVED Titanic.Why? Because it is a love story. Love is basic. It is primal.

Before you start any novel, there are some fundamental questions we can use as a litmus test for our idea. Ask yourself:

Do I have a sympathetic protagonist? 

Notice I said sympathetic…not likable. Be careful here. If we are expecting readers to spend 10 hours (average time to read a novel) with our protagonist, it helps if they are rooting for him to win. If you have a rough protagonist, then you need to at least offer the reader a glimmer of hope that he can be redeemed. If he can’t be redeemed, then you must offer the reader something about your protagonist that puts the reader on his side.

For instance, one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE movies is Tropic Thunder.

Don’t judge me.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.49.06 AM

The main protagonist Tugg Speedman is a washout and an action movie has-been. The entire group of actors are hard to like. They are insecure, narcissistic and extremely high-maintenance. One is a hardcore addict. These guys are tough to root for. BUT, when placed in relation to the dreadful Hollywood producer Les Grossman?

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.48.52 AM

BEST Tom Cruise role EVER!

We can’t help but cut the actors a break and sympathize, especially after they end up in way over their heads when they are dropped in Vietnam and the plan goes sideways. The actors believe they are in an action movie, but (after a freak twist of events) they are actually pitted against real drug dealers…with real bullets.

*giggles*

Do I have a genuine GOAL for my protagonist?

A lot of first-time novelists get fascinated writing novels about journals, letters and buried secrets. I have a theory about this. It is called, “We-Are-Squeaky-New-and-Don’t-Know-Jack-About-How-to-Plot Syndrome.” Guess how I know this? Yes, I was visited by the Bright Idea Fairy too. Shoot her. Now. Double-tap. It’s for the best.

Novels that involve a journal or finding about a secret past usually involve the newbie author’s favorite tactic…the flashback. Since we have no big goal at the end, forward momentum is scary, so we roll back…and this makes the reader feel as if she is trapped in the car with a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift.

Journals and letters, in my opinion, are so attractive because they provide the unskilled author a contrived mechanism for stringing together unrelated vignettes. That is not a plot. Sorry. I was bummed too. That is okay, though. Everyone starts somewhere. I’m here to help :D.

Yes, you can use journals in your story, but seriously? How many best-selling novels have you seen that involve someone reading a journal? Things written in journals are in the past, which means they have already happened and the world didn’t end so who cares?

To paraphrase Blake Snyder, it becomes a Watch out for that glacier! No rising stakes and no pressing danger. Watch out for the glacier! It’s moving at an inch a year, but watch out!

Conflict drives stories. My best advice? Journals are for self-actualization. Leave self-actualization for therapy. Want a gut-wrenching plot? Stick to the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy ;).

Stories can have a journal/letters, but they MUST ALSO have a main conflict and the journal/letters are merely a tool that drives the present conflict…which is your plot.

The journal isn’t the plot. Neither are the letters.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had conflict happening real-time. Yes, the novel contained each girl’s experience with the pants, but each girl’s story was a separate plot joined in one large plot and happening real-time. Each girl was facing a different challenge and had to mature in a different way, but the group of girls (the group is actually the protagonist) had to learn to mature while finding a way to hold on to childhood friendship.

Same with The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood. The Ya-Ya Journal was critical for the daughter and mother (present-day) to repair the rift in their relationship. So there was a present-day problem that the journal solved, and basically you have a Fried Green Tomatoes. Two parallel plot lines and the present-day plot relies on past-time events to drive forward momentum in the present.

Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook was the same thing. Two parallel love stories, but both had a plot arc. The love story told in the notebook drives the present-day love story in the nursing home.

Same with secrets. The secret must have something to do with the present-day story or it is just a contrivance. The secret can be a part of the story, but generally doesn’t work as the entire story.

Linda Castillo executes this brilliantly in her novel Sworn to Silence. Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish, but made a choice to live in the world with the English. She is the Chief of Police in a small Ohio community of both Amish and English, and she acts as a cultural bridge.

When a serial killer begins butchering women, Kate leads the investigation, but a secret from her past holds clues to catching the present-day killer. Kate’s secret drives the forward momentum of the present-day plot, and adds mind-bending tension.

Is my story primal?

Beneath the empires and spaceships and unicorns, is your main plot driven by a basic human desire/need? Here is a list of some best-selling novels to illustrate my point.

Michael Crichton’s Prey—Survival. Save/protect loved ones.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic ParkDon’t get eaten. Protect loved ones.

Lee Child’s Killing FloorVengeance. Protect loved ones.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games—Don’t die. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Cormac McCarthy The RoadSurvive. Protect loved ones.

Linda Castillo Sworn to Silence—Fear of death. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Jennifer Chiaverini The Aloha Quilt—Love. Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island—Survival. Vengeance. Protect loved ones.

Dennis Lehane’s Mystic RiverVengeance.

Veronica Roth’s DivergentSurvive. Belong. Protect loved ones.

Okay, so as you can see, I read a lot of genres. But most great books can be boiled down to a very simple driving force. New writers very frequently rush into the writing with no idea of the story they are trying to tell. I know. I’ve been there. And since deep-down we know we do not have a core goal that is simple and primal, we try to compensate by making things more and more complicated.

That’s why so many writers have a panic attack about the agent pitch session. We are forced to boil down our plot to the primal core…and we can’t because there isn’t one. So we ramble and blather and try to fit 400 pages of world-building complications into our pitch while trying not to throw up in our shoes (Been there. Done that. Got the T-Shirt).

Being complicated is like trying to use Bond-O putty to fix your plot. Won’t work. Strip that baby down and look at the bare bones. Simple. Primal. This is why gimmicks are a sticky wicket. Gimmicks make stories complicated instead of complex. Stay away.

Remember that there are no new plots. So why not take a story you really love, look at the plot, then make it your own? The award-winning novel A Thousand Acres is King Lear on an Iowa farm. In my pov, Twilight was Jane Eyre with vampires (and I am not alone in this assessment).

Instead of trying to totally revinvent story and plot as we understand it, why not take a book you love so much the pages are falling out of it, and see if you can use the premise in a new and exciting way?

Utilizing another author’s plot is not plagiarism. It’s smart. Remember…the number of plots is finite. I think this is where a lot of writers get stuck. Heck, I did! We believe we have to come up with a story never told before or risk being accused of plagiarism. Not so.

Plagiarism is when someone takes the execution of another author’s plot and tries to hide that by only changing surface elements. So if I wrote a book called Evening about girl who moves from Texas to Northern California to fall in love with a vampire who merely glimmers in sunlight…. See the point?

Actually, a great way to come up with story ideas is to go to the IMDB and look at log-lines, then ask yourself how could you tell that story differently.

A timid romance author must travel to South America and join forces with a handsome opportunist to rescue her sister who’s been kidnapped by treasure-hunting thieves. (Romancing the Stone).

A shy librarian must travel to South Texas and join forces with a handsome biker to rescue her brother who has been kidnapped by desperate drug-dealers. (Kristen’s Made-Up-Just-Now Story).

See how you can take a story that has already been done and make it something amazing and new?

So what are some problems you guys are facing when it comes to plot? Do you have any resources to share? Have I scared the socks off you or offered you new inspiration? Share. I love hearing from you guys. Lets me know I haven’t given you a massive coronary and killed you off, :D. I appreciate your loyalty to this series.

Oh, by the way. Since there seemed to be a lot of interest in log-lines and creating them or repairing them, I am thinking on doing a class and workshop to help. Is this something that would interest you guys? It would be about $35. Lemme know.

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

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