Symbolism & Setting—The Perfect Marriage

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Today I have two very special guests. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are here to talk about a more advanced concept in fiction—symbol. Take it way, ladies!

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We all want our writing to be layered. Like a gourmet meal, we want there to be more to them than just what is seen on the surface. In stories, this depth can be added a number of ways—through subplots, character arc, subtext, theme, and symbolism. Of them all, I think symbolism is one of the simplest methods to employ, and it packs a serious wallop.

Symbolism is important because it turns an ordinary object, place, color, person, etc. into something that goes beyond the literal. Babies represent innocence and unlimited potential, spring is synonymous with rebirth, shackles symbolize slavery, the color white brings to mind purity.

Symbols like these are universal in nature because they mean the same thing to many people. As such, universal symbols are helpful in representing what you’re trying to get across in your story; readers see them and understand what they literally and figuratively mean.

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But a symbol can also be personal in nature, more individual, meaning something specifically to the character. For William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, the thistle represents love since one was given to him by Murron when they were children. To most people, love in the form of a prickly weed wouldn’t typically compute, but as it’s used throughout the film at poignant moments, the audience comes to recognize it for what it means.

So whether the symbol is universally obvious or one that’s specific to the protagonist, it can add a layer of depth to a character or story. But where do we find these symbols? How do we choose which object or thing should represent the important theme in a story? Well, it may not be the first answer that comes to mind, but…

The setting is actually the perfect place to find symbols—because they’re built into every location.

Sometimes, the setting itself can stand for something. Kristen touched on this in her excellent post last week, where she used Shutter Island as an example. The prison is a prison, yes, but it also represents the guilt that keeps US Marshall Teddy Daniels locked away inside his own mind.

Other setting symbols?

A home could stand for safety. A river might represent a forbidden boundary. A church could symbolize either hope or corruption, depending on the prevailing culture or the character’s experience. A city, a business, a natural landmark—whether you’ve chosen a rural or urban setting for your scene, the location can often represent an important idea that you want to reinforce for readers.

Sorry, couldn't resist….

Sorry, couldn’t resist….

But more often than not, your symbol will be something within the setting that represents an important idea to your character. And when you look within your protagonist’s immediate world, you’re sure to find something that holds emotional value for him or her.

For instance, if your character was physically abused as a child, it might make sense for the father to be a symbol of that abuse since he was the one who perpetrated it. But the father might live in another town or thousands of miles away. The character may have little to no contact with him, which doesn’t leave many chances to symbolize.

Choosing something closer to home within the protagonist’s own setting will have greater impact and offer more opportunities for conflict and tension. A better symbol might be the smell of his father’s cologne—the same kind his roommate puts on when he’s prepping for a date, the scent of which soaks into the carpet and furniture and lingers for days.

Another choice might be an object from his setting that represents the one he was beaten with: wire hangers in the closet, a heavy dictionary on the library shelf, or the tennis racquet in his daughter’s room that she recently acquired and is using for lessons. These objects won’t be exact replicas of the ones from his past, but they’re close enough to trigger unease, bad memories, or even emotional trauma.

Symbols like these have potential because not only do they clearly remind the protagonist of a painful past event, they’re in his immediate environment, where he’s forced to encounter them frequently.

In the case of the tennis racquet, an extra layer of complexity is added because the object is connected to someone he dearly loves—someone he wants to keep completely separate from any thoughts of his abuse.

As you can see, whatever settings you choose for your story can be mined for emotionally charged symbols and motifs. Sometimes it can be tough to figure out which one to go with, though; the good news is that symbols can be added at any point in the writing process.

If you know beforehand what your theme will be, consider choosing settings that could reinforce that idea. If your theme emerges organically as you write, you can bolster it by adding motifs later with objects that naturally inhabit the locations you’ve chosen. Either way, if you need a little help coming up with symbols for your story, you can always check out the “Symbolism and Motifs Thesaurus” at One Stop for Writers, which explores a boatload of popular themes and possible symbols that can be used for them.

The setting is such a versatile tool that most of us frankly underuse. Make it pull its own weight by unearthing the symbols within it. And for more information on making your setting work harder for your story, see our latest books, The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces.

BIO:

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thank you Angela and Becca! remember that comment love for guests counts double for my ongoing contest.

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).

Check out NEW classes below! 

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.

So You Want to Write a Novel THIS FRIDAY!!!!!

June 24th, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

July 6th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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36 Comments

Setting—Why a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Hmmmm. Must be Walmart.

Hmmmm. Must be Walmart.

Today we are going to talk about setting and ways to use it to strengthen your writing and maybe even add in some dimension. Setting is more than a weather report. It can be a magnificent tool to deepen characters.

Setting Can Help Your Characterization

Setting can actually serve a dual role in that it can be not only the backdrop for your story, but it can also serve characterization through symbol.

We editors love to say, “Show. Don’t tell.” Okey dokey, here’s where setting can help you do just that.

THAT'S a desk with a story. "The menthol brings out the blueberry notes in the Yoplait…"

THAT’S a desk with a story. “The menthol brings out the blueberry notes in the Yoplait…”

Say you have a character, Buffy, who is depressed. You could go on and on telling us she is blue and how she cannot believe her husband left her for the Scentsy lady, OR you can show us through setting.

Buffy’s once beautiful garden is overgrown with weeds and piles of unopened mail are tossed carelessly on the floor. Her house smells of almost-empty tubs of chocolate ice cream left to sour. Piles of dirty clothes litter the rooms, and her cat is eating out of the bag of Meow Mix tipped on its side.

Now you have shown us that Buffy is not herself. We know this because the garden was “once beautiful.” This cues me (the reader) that something has changed. And you managed to tell me she was depressed without dragging me through narrative in Buffy’s head.

She couldn’t believe Biff was gone. Grief surged over her like a surging tidal surge that surged.

Writing is therapeutic, not therapy. Some of that introspection is great, but after a while you will wear out your readers. Setting can help alleviate this problem and keep the momentum of your story moving forward. We will get that Buffy is depressed by getting this glimpse of her house. You have shown that Buffy is having a rough time instead of being lazy and telling us.

Buffy needs to get a grip.

We judge people by their environment. Characters are no different.

If you want to portray a cold, unfeeling schmuck, then when we go to his apartment it might be minimalist design. No color. No plants or signs of life. Someone who is scatter-brained? Their house is full of half-finished projects. An egomaniac? Walls of plaques and pictures of this character posing with important people. Trophies, awards, and heads of dead animals. You can show the reader a lot about your character just by showing us surroundings.

Trust me, if a character gets out of her car and five empty Diet Coke bottles fall out from under her feet into her yard that is littered with toys, we will have an impression.

Probably the single largest mistake I see in the work of new writers is that they spend far too much time in the sequel.

What is the Sequel?

Plots can be broken into to main anatomical parts–scene and sequel. The scene is where the action occurs. A goal is declared and some disastrous setback occurs that leaves our protagonist worse off than when he began. Generally, right after this disaster there is what is called the sequel. 

The sequel is the emotional thread that ties all this action together.

Yet, too often new writers will go on and on and on in a character’s head, exploring and probing deep emotions and nothing has yet happened. The sequel can only be an effect/direct result of a scene. Ah, but here comes the pickle. How can a writer give us a psychological picture of the character if he cannot employ the sequel?

Setting.

An example? In Silence of the Lambs how are we introduced to Hannibal Lecter? There is of course the dialogue that tells Agent Starling that Dr. Lecter is different, but talk is cheap, right? Clarice goes down into the bowels of a psychiatric prison to the basement (um, symbol?). She walks past cell after cell of the baddest and the maddest. All of them are in brick cells with bars…until Clarice makes it to the end.

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Hannibal’s cell is not like the others. He is behind Plexi-Glass with airholes. This glass cage evokes a primal fear. Hannibal affects us less like a prisoner and more like a venomous spider. Setting has shown us that Hannibal the Cannibal is a different breed of evil. This is far more powerful than the storyteller poring on and on and on about Hannibal’s “evil.”

Setting Can Set or Amplify Mood

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Either you can use setting to mirror outwardly what is happening with a character, or you can use it as a stark contrast. For instance, I once edited a medieval fantasy. In the beginning the bad guys were burning villagers alive. Originally the writer used a rainy, dreary day, which was fine. Nothing wrong with that.

I, however, suggested she push the envelope and go for something more unsettling. I recommended that she change the setting to sunny and perfect weather. In the heart of the village the ribbons and trappings of the spring festival blew in the gentle breeze, the same breeze that now carried the smell of her family’s burning flesh.

Sometimes it is this odd juxtaposition in setting that can evoke tremendous emotion.

Think about how you felt watching the scene in Terminator 2 where the nuke goes off and obliterates a playground.

This tactic is especially useful in horror. Dead bodies are upsetting. Dead bodies at a church picnic are an entirely new level of disturbing.

Setting is a Matter of Style and Preference

Different writers use setting in different ways and a lot of it goes to your own unique voice. Some writers use a lot of description, which is good in that there are readers who like a lot of description. But there are readers who want you to get to the point, and that’s why they generally like to read works by writers who also like to get to the point. Everyone wins.

Whether you use a lot or a little setting will ultimately be up to you. I would recommend some pointers.

Can your setting symbolize something deeper?

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I challenge you to challenge yourself. Don’t just pick stormy weather because it is the first image that pops in your mind. Can you employ setting to add greater dimension to your work? Using setting merely to forecast the weather is lazy writing. Try harder.

In Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane’s story is set on an island at a prison for the criminally insane. What the reader finds out is the prison is far more than the literal setting; it is a representation for a state of mind. The protagonist, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is imprisoned by his own guilt and need for justice.

Like the island, he too is cut off from the outside world emotionally and psychologically. Now an island is more than an island, a prison is more than a prison, bars are more than bars, cliffs are more than cliffs, storms are more than storms, etc. Shutter Island is an amazing book to read, but I recommend studying the movie for use of setting as symbol.

So dig deeper. Can you get more out of your setting than just a backdrop?

Blend setting into your story.

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When I teach, I liken setting to garlic in garlic mashed potatoes. Blend. Garlic is awesome and enhances many dishes, but few people want a whole mouthful of it. Make sure you are keeping momentum in your story. Yes, we generally like to be grounded in where we are and the weather and the time of year, but not at the expense of why we picked up your book in the first place…someone has a problem that needs solving.

Unless you are writing a non-fiction travel book, we didn’t buy your book for lovely description of the Rocky Mountains. We bought it to discover if Ella May will ever make it to California to meet her new husband before winter comes and traps her wagon train in a frozen world of death.

Keep perspective and blend. Keep conflict and character center stage and the backdrop in its place…behind the characters. Two fantastic resources to help you with setting are The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Do yourself a favor and just buy both of those today.

In the end, setting will be a huge reflection of your style and voice, but I hope this blog has given some insight that might make you see more to your use of setting and help you grow to be a stronger writer. What are some books or movies that really took setting to the next level? How was setting used? How did it affect you?

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).

Check out classes below! 

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.

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

So You Want to Write a Novel 

June 24th, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

July 7th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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30 Comments

Are Flashbacks Fizzling Your Fiction? Time as a Literary Device

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One of the most common blunders I see with new authors is they botch the “flashback.” Why? Well, for starters I don’t think subjects/techniques like these get talked about in depth very often (though I could write an entire book on just flashbacks alone). This is part of why I created this Friday’s class, So You Want to Write a Novel. All the lovely stuff English class never taught you😉 .

Additionally, many writers are mimicking what they are writing off what they “see” in movies. Problem is? Movies are a completely different medium. Film is concrete. Black letters on a white page? ABSTRACT.

But another problem with flashbacks? In my POV, the term “flashback” is far too broad.

We can mistakenly believe that any time an author shifts time, that THIS is the dreaded “flashback” I am referring to and the one I (as an editor) will cut.

Not necessarily.

We need to broaden our understanding of the “flashback” because lumping every backwards shift in time under one umbrella won’t work.

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Seems legit.

I will add a caveat. While shifting in time can make for EXCELLENT fiction, we have to make sure we are doing it in the right spots. Most of the time, one of the worst places to have a flashback is in the first five pages of the work.

My reason is this. The first pages of our book are some of the most critical. We need to stick to ONE timeline long enough to hook a potential reader into the story and allow them to get grounded and care. If we bounce forward and backward, with a new time and new cast members and a new setting? Readers will get confused and likely put the book down.

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Can it work? Sure, anything can work. But if we break the rule, better have a good reason for doing so.

The Trouble with Jumping

Think of writing a novel like being a figure skater in a performance. Sure, figure skating is already hard. The skater might stumble in a spin or meet a wall, but usually those aren’t the high danger spots. We can tell the trickiest parts of any ice skating performance by how they are scored.

What is the make or break? Jumps. The more complicated (and dangerous) the jump, the more points.

We can add “lifts” in couples skating, but the idea the same.

But jumps are a gamble. Nail the jump and WIN! Botch the jump and maybe it costs more points than it could have gained. Or, worst-case-scenario, the jump was so dangerous, the resulting injury is a career-ender.

Um…OUCH!

Um…OUCH!

Every time those skates leave the ice is dangerous, because one tiny mistake can ruin the magic. When we decide to shift time (jump), our literary skates are leaving the ice, so execution becomes paramount to keep the performance seamless.

Also, what new skater is doing a routine filled with ten quadruple Lutz jumps? Probably won’t find many Olympians doing that either😉 .

Now you see why I want you to use jumps sparingly/strategically. Also, if we are going to jump, we better know how to execute it lest we destroy a knee our story. Jumps are also blended into a fabric of a larger performance and serve the whole or we would be left with ice-jumping as a sport.

To continue with our ice skating analogy, all jumps are jumps, but they each are different types of jump and each has a varying degree of difficulty worth a corresponding amount of points.

The same idea applies to “flashbacks.” Yes, broadly speaking, all “going back in time” is a flashback. But there are different ways of going back in time. And, within each “way” of going back in time, there is a corresponding level of difficulty (and possible payoff).

Also, some of you may have more than one time-line and more than one “protagonist” and that can and has been done, but remember that jumps now reach a new height of difficulty. Because we are balancing partners, timing must be perfect and if one partner stumbles, it brings down everyone.

Before we talk about time as a device…

The Training Wheel Flashback

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The training-wheel flashbacks are the ones we should learn to nix right away (and the one I see most commonly with new writers). It is weak writing. This type of flashback does what training wheels do. They artificially “prop” up the weak plot and weak characterization.

Most of us start with training wheels. It is OKAY to be new. But eventually, we look rather silly.

When I wrote my first “novel”, I had two protagonists with parallel plots. Okay. More than a tad difficult for a first-timer, but all righty. But THEN, I kept feeling the need to go back and explain. How did they become friends? How did the one character develop such bad OCD she became agoraphobic? Etc.

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Thing is, I had no plot. But, even if I did have a plot, these were elements I didn’t need to go back in time and explain. They were friends. I am Author God and if I say they are friends, the reader accepts that.

The one character was OCD. That was all I needed. She was just OCD. That’s all. There was nothing in those flashbacks that couldn’t have been related current-time in narrative or dialogue. I didn’t need to hop in a Literary DeLorean and explain by detailing her abusive childhood.

In fact, had I not explained why she was OCD and agoraphobic, I might have maintained/increased tension because the reader would have hoped I might reveal WHY.

Flipping back and forth in time added way too many characters, places and problems that had nothing to do with the current story problem in need of resolution.

When I took hostages asked friends and family to read my novel, the largest complaint was I confused everyone. They had no clue what my story was about (namely because I didn’t know either). I’d strung together a bunch of beautifully written vignettes all across time, propped up with training wheels flashbacks.

Ah, but pretty prose does not a story make.

Shifting in time is something that can be and is done. It might be a parallel timeline (The Green Mile, The NotebookTrue Detective).

It can be non-linear structure (Memento, Vanilla Skies, Pulp Fiction, The Murder House by James Patterson).

It can even be using true flashbacks for places in time that are critical to the unraveling current story problem (I call these Easter Egg Flashbacks). For instance, an event that happened earlier that directly relates to solving/conquering the real-time story problem that won’t work in a prologue (Love You More, by Lisa Gardner—and one of the BEST BOOKS I have EVER read).

We’ll explore all of these and ways they’ve been done well.

But, before we talk about bending time, let’s look at the inherent pitfalls to time travel (even when we do it well).

Bending Time

Back to the future, then past then future...

Back to the future, then past then future…

There are a lot of ways to bend time. But, like the quadruple axel, there are risks. Bending time is part of our author toolbox. There is nothing saying all stories MUST go from Point A to Point B in a linear, chronological fashion.

This said, we need to be careful how much we bend time and why we are bending time. Remember that every time we shift time, we can lose members of our audience. Yes, a handful of film geeks loved Memento. 

But, Memento is one of those movies that can probably only be done ONCE.

Pulp Fiction did a fabulous job of hopping all over time, but just as many people who loved the movie hated the movie and couldn’t finish. Same with The English Patient and The Hours (both the books and the movies).

We have to remember that, ultimately, stories are for the audience not for us (unless we are happy selling a book to ourselves). What experience are we giving them? Are we killing our tension and momentum because we keep jerking the reader back into a past that has no purpose other than exposition?

One of the reasons I play the Flashback Dictator, is that if I pull the training wheels away and help you learn to NOT rely on them, your writing will improve. THEN, if you do decide you must shift in time, you will be careful to do it with intention and will execute it WELL.

Instead of wobbling all over, any time shift has purpose.

A good litmus?

The PAST must be related to what is going on in the PRESENT and directly impact the FUTURE (how the story is resolved).

Some questions we might ask when tempted to go back in time.

FLASHBACK TEST QUESTIONS

Is this something that can be explained real-time?

For instance, in the series True Detective which I explored in this post, the story follows two detectives who do NOT get along. The more amiable detective is trying to get to know his tortured and gloomy partner.

Detective Marty Hart: Your mom alive?

Detective Rust Cohle: Maybe.

Just this line of dialogue speaks VOLUMES. Of course later, Cohle explains in a few lines of dialogue that his father returned from fighting in Vietnam when he was two. Mom couldn’t take it and left and he hadn’t seen her since. We didn’t need to go BACK there because Cohle’s family problems, him being abandoned as a toddler and resulting relationship with his dad, has nothing to do with the current PLOT problem…finding a brutal killer.

If I cut the flashback, does it really harm the story?

If you have beta readers, critique partners or an editor, try removing any scenes that “go back” and often they aren’t as critical as we believe. Maybe one or two we need to keep, but I guarantee most can be weeded out (unless this is non-linear plotting).

Have I started in the wrong spot? Am I telling the “right” story?

Sometimes when we get writing, our subconscious knows that the more interesting story actually happened earlier, which is why we keep going back. Often, changing WHEN the story begins helps.

Have I unintentionally smooshed TWO separate stories together?

IF we keep flipping back and forth, we might also be muddying two separate stories together. It might be we need to separate the timelines and give each story a separate stage.

Remember:

The PAST must be related to what is going on in the PRESENT and directly impact the FUTURE (how the story is resolved).

From Pulp Fiction to The English Patient to The Hours past and present are tethered and eventually the timelines converge and empty into the same gulf.

If we look and realize one timeline is going one way and another is going a different way and end in different places? A good time to cut in half and have two books😉 .

I hope this helps you guys understand the difference between the “bad” flashback and simply using time as a literary device. We will explore the ways we can bend time some more and I will work to give you tips for how to land that quadruple-axel without taking out a small village.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with movies or novels that bounce all over time? Have you struggled with shifting in time and maybe you were telling the wrong story or beginning in the wrong spot? Have any questions?

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).

Check out classes below and Battle of the Pages is almost full, so get your seat while you can!

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.

Again, 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 TOMORROW!!!!! ONLY A FEW SEATS LEFT!

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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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27 Comments

Hate the Editing Stage of Writing? Check Out These Helpful Tools

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Hey guys, Today Nancy Lin is here to help us with what might just be THE suckiest part of writing. But part of being a great writer, is also learning to be at least a good editor. We all need professional outside eyes on our work, and Nancy is here to help you get the most bang for your buck.

Take it away, Nancy!

***

Editing is a necessary part of writing, but not all writers are great editors. As a writer, I find it helpful to get a second opinion, because I’m not able to see every single error. And this isn’t just me.

You might think you’re the next Shakespeare (which are pretty big shoes to fill). Once you stop basking in your own ego, you can be more realistic about your writing ability. And chances are you’re not.

Professional editors are useful, and, in some cases, they’re necessary. Hiring one may not be as easy as you think. The process can take a great deal of time, and the good ones don’t work for cheap. That’s why you need to learn to do some of the editing yourself.

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If you learn some self-editing techniques, it could save you time, and it could even save you money. There is also the uncertainty that may come from the waiting process, and not knowing how good (or how bad) your work really is.

Believe me – I’ve been there.

There are some online tools you can use for the editing process, and they come with certain advantages. They can also be cheaper than professional editors. Some of them are even free.

It can be hard to receive criticism from a person, which is why writers cringe at the idea of hiring an editor. After the process is over, they’re sometimes left with a broken bank and a bruised ego. If you get it from a program, it might soften the blow.

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There is another advantage to using these tools, and it’s rather obvious. You can get a better analysis than from a standard spelling and grammar checker, so you will be able to analyze your writing more effectively. This can allow you to be more critical of your own work.

There is one thing you have to remember. Like the rest of us so-called masters of the manuscript, these tools are far from perfect, and they’re not programmed to think. They will be able to identify potential problems with your writing, but you have to decide if you want to follow their suggestions.

As you’re editing, it’s important to remember the “big picture.” Think about what you’re trying to say, and be strategic about any changes you make.

I’m sure you’re dying to find out which editing tools I’ve chosen. So, here they are.

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#1: Edit Minion

The best part about this tool is that it’s free. It may not be the best editing tool, but it will get the job done. It analyzes your writing, and it highlights words and phrases that may need correction. They’re even color coded based on the type of error. Just hover your mouse over it to find out why.

Edit Minion will analyze your writing for any of these potential problems:

  • Adverbs
  • Weak words
  • Homonyms
  • Prepositions at the end of a sentence
  • Passive voice
  • Clichés

You do, of course, have to make your own call about what you want to change.

#2: Hemingway App

This tool is also free, and it does real-time reporting as you type. It highlights sentences that may need shortening, and it points out adverbs or sentences in the passive voice. The program is easy to use, and it’s readable. By the way, there is a readability scale, and you get readability grades for your writing. In fact, it’s good for finding sentences that need simplification.

#3: AutoCrit

Unlike the last two, this one isn’t free. You have to have an account, and there is a subscription fee. But you can request a free trial.

It does a detailed analysis of your writing, and it has a “visual guide.” It will even compare your writing to other published works. What is more, it helps you with the standard edits and checks your document for repetitive words and phrases. It will even check for words that are taking too much space.

#4: WordRake

This is another paid tool, working with Word. It analyzes your writing for any redundant words, and it will suggest possible replacements. While it is not the cheapest, it can help you to shorten your sentences and tighten your writing.

#5: SlickWrite

When it comes to this tool, “slick” is the operative word. Not only is it free, but it’s also fast and easy to use. It looks for the common problems (such as adverbs, passive voice and awkward phrasing)) that can plague your writing. SlickWrite has an intuitive interface, and you can move between the five tabs located at the top.

#6: SmartEdit

SmartEdit is another tool that works with Word, but you can use it as a standalone app. It’s only available for Windows, but there may be a Mac version later on. It does 20 different checks on your writing – some which include:

  • Misspellings
  • Misused words
  • Repeated phrases
  • Adverbs

It will also check for clichés, redundancies, and dialogue tags.

#7: ProWritingAid

This tool works with a variety of writing platforms and web browsers like the following ones:

  • MS Word
  • Google Docs
  • Scrivener
  • Google Chrome

It has both a free and premium version. There are actually two premium levels. The free version will let you analyze up to 3,000 words at one time, but there is no interactive editing. The first premium level has everything in the free version, but it doesn’t have a word limit. A great bonus: The Premium+ version has a plagiarism checker.

#8: Consistency Checker

While it doesn’t do the detailed checks of the before mentioned tools, it can be useful in the editing process. In fact, it does as the name suggests. Just upload the document, download the report, and it will point out any inconsistencies.

#9: Unplag

Unplag is not an editing tool per se, but it can be helpful in the process. It’s an online plagiarism checker, which detects text coincidences in your work. It can check a few documents at once, and there is a full report showing highlighted text similarities, originality percentage, links to the original sources and other important details. The small investment can keep you from destroying your reputation and your career.

#10: After the Deadline

This tool installed in your browser checks your writing for spelling errors, misused words, and other common issues. When you write an email or new Facebook post, After the Deadline will notice any typos or mistakes immediately. The built-in AI recommends alternatives that can improve the flow of your writing, and it has a list of 1,500 words that are often misused.

Final Thoughts

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Editing can be a long process, but it’s a necessary part of writing. It makes your manuscripts cleaner, more concise, and more effective. You might not like editing, but using some of these tools can save you a great deal of time. Not to mention, you can save on editing costs.

Not every writer likes editing. Some of them probably despise it, but there’s no way you can escape it. It’s just part of the job. And you’re going to have to suck it up and get it done.

So, will you take advantage of these tools so you can become a better writer? What other resources you will recommend your fellow writers?

***

Thank you NANCY! And I love hearing from you! Remember comments for my guests get double weight in the contest.

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).

Check out classes below and Battle of the Pages is almost full, so get your seat while you can!

About the Author:

Nancy Lin is a freelance writer, blogger and editor from Kansas City. Her articles have appeared in a number of writing-related websites, including DIYAuthor, Cultured Vultures and Plagiarism Today. If you’re interested in getting help with your writing, you can always find Nancy on Google+ and Twitter.
I love hearing from you!

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.

Again, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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43 Comments

Emotional Toughness—How Haters & Hurt Feelings Can Be GOOD for Us

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 8.11.06 AM

Yesterday I reposted an old blog addressing how I feel PC and EC (Emotional Correctness) has gone more than a little crazy and often has done more to alienate people than to bind them. The thread had some really wonderful and thoughtful commentary. Not everyone wholly agreed on everything but everyone seemed to strive to be thoughtful and kind. THANK YOU, btw.

But some of the commentary about aggression and hurt feelings got me thinking about how we have become as a culture. Are we becoming too sheltered? Is it doing more harm than good?

Bear with me a moment.

I LOVE air conditioning. I live in Texas, so in the summer, I probably love AC more than my husband. I also love Costco, because….

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 7.19.22 AM

I really like being able to drive everywhere instead of walking or saddling up a horse. Indoor plumbing? Huge fan. But often I wonder how soft these conveniences have made me (since I think about a possible zombie apocalypse more than is probably healthy).

If life as I knew it imploded tomorrow, how would I fare? With no power, no Internet, no running water? With no AC and it is 110 degrees and 90% humidity? Since I don’t have to swing an ax daily for fuel if I want to eat? I have writer hands. How will those fare?

Not well.

The hard truth is we don’t grow without being uncomfortable. We don’t get tough without friction. And I wonder if this being comfortable has permeated too much of our lives, down to our “feelings.” I have to say after working well over a decade with other writers, the single biggest hurdle we have to overcome is our feelings.

We must get rhino skin.

Let Me Illustrate

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There was once an interesting experiment. In the middle of the desert, scientists constructed a bio-dome. Inside, life would be a “perfect” world where it was always an ambient 76 degrees.

The trees would get all the sun they needed, all the water, all the nutrients. There were no storms, no pests, no diseases, and no overcrowding, and no weeds. Surely, with these perfect conditions the trees would thrive, right?

WRONG.

Eventually the scientists noticed that the trees in the bio-dome grew slower and were smaller than trees in the “real” world. They also never grew above a certain height. They had very shallow root systems. Overall, they looked…unhealthy.

How could this be?

Since they were scientists they did what scientists do. They went back over the data. What had gone wrong? They’d given the trees all they needed to thrive…or had they?

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 8.22.20 AM

Eventually, they realized that in the hard cruel world, trees weren’t all evenly spaced for enough room, so they had to grow taller to compete for sun. Since water wasn’t delivered daily and there were even periods of drought, the trees were forced to grow deeper roots. Deeper roots could reach the water table. Deeper roots clung on when winds were high.

Speaking of high winds. Storms broke off weaker branches, forced the trees to get tougher bark, to increase the diameter of branches. Pests and diseases? The unprotected trees survived them and became resistant to them. Weeds? They had to learn to successfully compete or coexist.

What does this say about us?

We NEED Push-Back to Grow

I do weight training and sadly, the pink one-pound dumbbells are pretty much useless for anything that doesn’t involve me breaking a pinky toe. In order to get stronger, I need resistance. Resistance causes pain.

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Yesterday was leg day, which means I am likely going to have a pronounced hobble that will pass…just in time for the next leg day. But I do this because it makes me lean and strong and healthy:) .

I know that my body must endure resistance to become stronger and faster, but truthfully? So do my feelings.

Now, please understand. I believe we should always be respectful and as a species it is just good for everyone if we are not acting like a bunch of insensitive asshats. Manners are what separates us from animals.

And proper grammar😛 .

But at the same time? Not everyone got the “nice” memo and if we go around creating a holodeck where no one ever disagrees or makes us feel uncomfortable or criticizes, we are ill-prepared for reality.

Getting our feelings hurt can actually be quite useful if channeled properly. I loved how the children’s movie Inside Out addressed how our culture has gone cray-cray about never feeling sad. Sadness has a very useful purpose. It is human and necessary.

Same with hurt feelings.

Believe it or not? Dealing with obnoxious people is GREAT training in mental toughness. 

But, there are some added benefits, which we will explore.

Hurt Feelings Signal Areas of Weakness

Years ago, if someone said something that hurt or angered me, I got super defensive. I had a million reasons to justify or excuse whatever I’d done or written and….

Drama, drama, drama.

Now? Not as much. If something really stings? Really angers me? I am old enough to have learned that often that is because there might be some truth to what the other person is saying. Not always, but I do at least now stop to explore WHY it made me feel the way I did.

This is especially important for being a writer. I have met a number of folks who were excellent writers, but who came absolutely unhinged if I didn’t tell them their writing was the best thing since kitten videos. Since they couldn’t ever get over the hurt feelings, they couldn’t learn.

What might at first be perceived as a “hater” could be my next greatest teacher.

Hurt Feelings Build Discernment

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People have a right to their opinion, but guess what?

People have a right to be wrong.

When we exercise we can tell the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain. Some folks don’t want to work out at all because they don’t want ANY pain. That isn’t healthy. But working out and ignoring ALL pain is just dumb and a good way to end up injured.

Same with emotions.

When we put ourselves out there in a book or a blog or a conversation? The world often will answer back. Over time we have to learn not to take every single opinion to heart. Some people are just plain wrong.

If we brood too much over one thoughtless review? That is a formula to OD on brownie batter and quit.

Hurt Feelings Can Propel Greatness

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I imagine most of you didn’t get a parade from friends and family when you decided to become a writer. For years I was an approval addict. If I mentioned wanting to be a writer, the second someone made a face, I changed my mind.

That was…DUMB. And a huge reason I didn’t become a writer far sooner.

I had to learn to harness those hurt feelings to propel me forward. What once made me quit, now makes me work harder and longer.

Action speaks louder than words, and those naysayers often can be the very fuel that keeps us pressing.

The guy from church who laughed at me wanting to become a writer? Who told me I had a better chance of being hit by lightning than making a living as an author? Let’s just say proving him wrong has been most satisfying😀. Also, I think his nasty comments did more to fuel me through the dark nights of my soul than all my cheerleaders.

I no longer let people like him dictate my choices. Instead, I was grateful because he finally showed me the sickness of my approval addiction. I learned that I didn’t need 100% consensus to do something great.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 8.16.46 AM

In the end, storms SUCK. None of us like pain or drought or suffering or struggle, but it is part of life and the more we embrace it for what it can give us? The better off we are. Sheltering ourselves all the time, while comfortable for the moment, might not be the best long-term plan.

Though I am not giving up my AC.

Or Costco.

Or driving.

Oh stop judging me. I’ll worry about it after the apocalypse😛.

What are your thoughts? We talked about think skin yesterday. Have you ever been guilty? I know I have. My writing would have improved far earlier had I been doing far less defending and a lot more listening.  Have your haters fueled you more than your cheerleaders? Yeah, terrible to admit but it is human nature.

Have you ever tried to work with someone but dancing around their feelings just made them too exhausting to be around? Have you gotten better about listening to your feelings in regards to weeding out toxic people? Have toxic people taught you some priceless lessons?

Do you think social media has become dangerous especially for younger generations? That people are creating an imaginary reality that leaves them ill-prepared for the outside world?

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).

May’s winner is Alex Schuler. Please send your 5000 word Word document double spaced to kristen at wana intl.com. And CONGRATULATIONS!

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.

Again, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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49 Comments

Lighten the HELL UP! Combatting the Plague of Self-Importance

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

There is a lot of “stuff” going on in the world and many of us are hiding from our Facebook feeds. This is a scary blog to post (and is actually a repost) but I think maybe people need to hear what I am going to say…again.

LIGHTEN THE HELL UP!

It’s life and none of us are getting out alive.

This blog started when I ran across a post from Yahoo, Is America Starting to Target Thought Crime? In the past two years since I originally posted this, the emotions of our world have hit a boiling point. Remember that violence isn’t the only way to let off steam (though some unimaginative people seem to think it is). The other and preferable?

LAUGH.

Too Dangerous to Laugh

First, a little bit of history. In the days when monarchies were all the rage, there was one very powerful position some might not be aware of…the court jester. Every ruler had at least one jester and the jester was allowed to mock, poke fun and joke about those in power without repercussions.

The role of the jester was to offer honesty and perspective. Monarchs knew that being surrounded by too many Yes Men who feared reprisal was unwise and dangerous. The jester’s job was to ground rulers and keep them from getting too full of themselves.

I’ve been blessed to travel more than most people ever will, and not all my destinations were nice places. One thing every police state has in common is that no one has a sense of humor. Even innocent comments can be twisted into something dangerous because one is in a world where everyone is jockeying for even the slightest wedge of importance, even when it means bending the truth. Those closest can become “whistle-blowers” against crimes imagined or real. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Charlie Chaplin. Image vie Wikimedia Commons

Charlie Chaplin. Image vie Wikimedia Commons

Public Pool Politics

Sadly, I’ve been at the other end of this. I love to laugh and relish in making others smile. Put me in a room and I’ll have them in stitches in less than five minutes. My teaching style has been compared to “If Robin Williams had taught writing.” When I was a kid I studied every comedic act down to the timing and tone of voice.

In 1999 I traveled with my best friend to live in a Palestinian refugee camp. Since my Arabic was less than stellar, it was tough. Syria, like all places, has its beauty. I loved the food and people and believed I’d made some friends.

One day, my guides took me to enjoy some recreation at the women’s pool where the hijab can be set aside to splash around and let loose. Being the only blonde many of these women had ever seen off a television, I was soon surrounded by eager friendly faces asking questions about my home, wanting to know about Texas and if I had a job.

In my broken Arabic I made jokes and got them to laugh. We parted ways and I was happy as a clam. The next day, my hosts warned me that it was too dangerous to return to the pool and to stay away. Apparently, one of the women had spread through the camp that I was talking smack about Assad Sr. (the ruling dictator of the time).

Errr?

I’d never even mentioned Assad. Yes, I was a naive Westerner but I wasn’t THAT stupid. My last weeks there were pretty scary and I’ve never been so relieved to be on a plane.

One pivotal lesson I took away from this experience is this:

A nation is only as free as its sense of humor.

When innocent remarks, observations or disagreements can be used against us? This is a MAJOR warning we are no longer in a free country. When certain groups are immune from criticism, jest or commentary? Houston, we have a problem.

The PC and EC Divide

I know the original purpose of political correctness was well-intended. I’m sure EC (empathetic correctness) has good intentions as well. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I was a child of the 70s and 80s and often think it was a really golden time to grow up. My best friend from the age of six was an Egyptian Muslim (and we are still friends almost thirty years later).

Our neighborhood gang consisted of Charo (Mexican), Ngyuen (Vietnamese), and Regina (African American), Veenah (Indian), Cathy (Jewish), Elizabeth (Mexican), and Erica (Choctaw)…and none of us were aware of that.

We were friends who karate fought in the yard because Ngyuen was Asian and so he was supposed to be a Kung Fu master, right? Veenah helped with science and Charo taught us soccer, because Indians were smart and Mexicans were good at soccer.

Regina made us laugh because she was black and loud and fun and could Double Dutch so well we were sure she was a cyborg. Erica could decorate our hair with feathers and we could play Navy SEAL Indian Princess. Cathy declined to join us for Vacation Bible School because she was going to Jewish Camp (and we never understood why we couldn’t go to Jewish camp because the Jewish pool was AWESOME).

And all of this is racist and utterly politically incorrect.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stephen Depolo.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stephen Depolo.

We never knew we might offend Charo by asking him to teach us to bounce a soccer ball on our knee. We never realized how we might damage Ngyuen by assuming he’d trained in a Shaolin temple and that we didn’t even have the right country.

I didn’t know I should have been ashamed to play Indian Princess with Erica or that I might hurt Regina by offering to share my slice of summer watermelon. I should have been aware that I might harm Veenah by asking for her help with my science project. In high school, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked my best friend and date to the Senior Prom, Donnie (gay), for fashion advice.

I was blissfully uneducated about how offensive I was.

We just loved each other, grew up loving each other and still love each other. Gihan (my Muslim friend) and I are still good friends and have been since 1981 (when Kristen had no Gaydar and was in love with George Michael *sighs*).

I still talk with Charo on FB and meet ever so often for dinner with other members of our gang. Erica invites me to birthday parties for her children. I was Ngyuen’s prom date when I was a junior and we only lost touch when he joined the Marines. I still go by his father’s house when I’m in the area even though his English hasn’t really improved since 1983…but he still loves me. Donnie and I talk long into the night when he isn’t exploring the world.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Loyal, Friendly, Resilient MUTT

We grew up in an America of Mutts. I’m not saying that everything was roses and unicorn kisses, but we were American and America was stronger because we could blend all these cultures and races together. Children had this strange appreciation that we all bled the same color when we fell off the monkey bars. We cared less about the color of your skin and more about the color of your bike. They have BLUE????

We could tell the difference between a joke in love and someone being a racist bigot and Lord help the kid who crossed that line.

We were kids who wanted to roller-skate and who constructed ramps, guns, and swords out of every discarded piece of wood. In the glow of a streetlight everyone was pretty much the same color.

Bullfrogs ran from all of us.

No One’s Laughing Anymore

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

These days, I find myself less prone to joke or make conversation with others of a different ethnicity or culture because, bluntly, it’s exhausting and I always seem to screw it up. I find myself hedging everything I say, backpedaling, and struggling to remember my proper and approved PC vocabulary.

I once was trying to be polite when I referred to someone as Hispanic…only to be razed for the next half hour how this person was from Argentina and NOT Hispanic and I was a jerk for not knowing this. I referred to someone as African American only to get my tail handed to me that this person was from Jamaica and didn’t like that term and it figured a white girl would be so insensitive.

If someone is mixed race? *breaks down weeping*

When others make comments about me being a racist simply because I’m white and I point out that I actually have probably the most diverse group of friends anyone could ask for…well that’s precisely what a racist would say: “I have black friends.” But *stammering* I do have black, I mean African American I mean…oh, hell I give up.

This Affects ALL of U.S.

This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to “white people,” either. I remember my husband coming home from work distraught. He worked in Corporate America at the time. One of his team members was Mexican (as in her parents immigrated from Mexico and happily embraced the American Dream). Well, on Cinco de Mayo a fellow employee (also Mexican) asked her if she was going out to celebrate with “her people.” She gave him a genuinely confused look and said, “Huh? My people? I’m American.”

The next day she was being written up by Human Resources for being culturally insensitive. Her coworker found her offensive and turned her in. My husband was having to write out her defense. A MEXICAN female was in trouble for not being Mexican enough?

How does this make any SENSE?

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The real crisis in the country is we are laughing less and less. Everyone is special and fragile and needs to be handled with care. PC was to make us more sensitive and BOY did it work. Our nation has the skin of a grape. Self-importance is taking over like a malignant cancer. We walk on eggshells to avoid “offending” someone. We no longer can make mistakes. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

For anyone reading this who is a “person of color” please try and talk to a “white” person. They probably aren’t a racist, they’re simply terrified they’ll say something stupid. And then being terrified we will say something stupid…we say something stupid.

So if we do say something stupid, just forgive us.

I AM the Reason for Many Blonde Jokes

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

As much as I read about theoretical physics, math, politics, economics, I can be…well, an idiot. I drove my Honda for three years and all the while heard this weird whistling that I couldn’t get rid of. One night, I’m in a drive thru line and accidentally hit a button near the steering wheel and discovered my car had a sunroof *head desk*.

I once accidentally drove to MISSOURI.

Kill me now and keep me from breeding.

Just leaving all of this to say we need to laugh more. Because, come on, white people…THIS IS FUNNY!

I mean *sniffs* we do love cheese, but insensitive MUCH? 😛

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.17.08 AMThe world is amazing and fun but we have got to lighten UP. Yes, seek out legitimate injustice and crush it. I’ll be behind you a thousand percent.

But in the meantime….

Maybe we should all go outside and catch lightning bugs and make the longest Slip-And-Slide EVER. I get my lawn bags from Costco, so maybe we could make it reach DC😉.

I love all of you and thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts and stories. I am a better person every day because of you. And know I was scared to write about this and that should speak volumes in itself.

But, I miss just being a kid. I don’t want to be an adult anymore.

If anyone reading this is an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jew, can we be friends? I don’t have an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jewish friend. Yes, you can dress me up but you can’t take me anywhere😀 .

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you, unless you have no sense of humor. Then might I recommend posting on AT&Ts Facebook page…

What are you? I’m a Scandinavian-Scottish-French-Huegenot-Sami-Cherokee. ADD THAT to your diversity portfolio!

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).

May’s winner will be announced next time😀 . I know I said this time but life happens and I am a writer and we lie.

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.

Again, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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182 Comments

Write About Inner Demons Without Boring the Reader into a Coma

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One of the toughest concepts to grasp in writing fiction is this notion of “inner demons.” In all my years working with writers and busting apart countless manuscripts, the single greatest weakness I’ve witnessed with writers is a failure to truly understand how to plot. And before anyone breaks out in hives that I am encouraging detailed outlines, I’m not.

But the problem with inner demons is they are…well…inner. This means that our job as writers is to draw the demons out so they can be destroyed. It’s kind of like The Exorcist, though green puke and spinning heads is all your call.

You might laugh but if you have ever seen any movie involving an exorcism, what is the general progression?

The victim starts acting weird. Not herself. At first it might be written off as depression or lack of sleep or not enough caffeine. Then as the demon gains a toehold, the outward symptoms become more pronounced. Maybe physical changes (growling voice, speaking in Latin). Priests intervene and stuff gets cray-cray but to defeat the demon, what has to happen?

The demon must give its NAME.

You know you watch far too many horror movies when you are no longer scared, but are yelling critique.

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But the point of this I want to make clear is that the one thing these exorcism stories pretty much all have in common is the demon must be NAMED and manifest OUTWARDLY to be defeated.

Same in fiction.

Inner demons are tricky for a number of reasons we will talk about today. The trick is finding the plot problem that will drive the demon to the surface so it can be defeated.

Inner Demons are Inner

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Yeah, I already mentioned that but this is kind of a big deal. Many new writers begin the novel with a character doing a lot of internalization and thinking and thinking and more thinking.

This is problematic for a number of reasons but the biggest is we (readers) just don’t care. We haven’t spent enough time to be vested in a stranger’s emotional baggage.

Do any of us like spending time in person with folks who do nothing but talk about their character flaws and problems? NO. So we are unlikely to want to pay to endure this too much in a book. Can we get there eventually? Sure.

Just like dating. I would hope by the time we dated someone a couple months we might know they haven’t talked to their father in three years and we would care about this problem. In the first fifteen minutes of a first date?

*backs away slowly* *slips barista a $20 to create a distraction to cover ex-fil*

Demons Hide in the Blind Spot

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One key thing to remember about demons is they hide really really well. If they didn’t then shrinks would starve and be treated like writers.

Wow, you’re a psychotherapist? Really? What’s your “real” job? Seriously, people PAY you to listen to their problems?

This is another reason we don’t begin with a protagonist thinking about her inner demons. Odds are, she is oblivious they are even there. She isn’t yet that self-actualized.

Denial is more than a river in Africa😉 . In fact, the stronger the denial, the better the story (or if you’re a therapist, the better the $$$$$). This is why your protagonist, if pitted against the antagonist in Act One should lose. He/She has not grown enough in order to defeat the core story problem.

Plot is What Exorcises the Demons

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The plot is the crucible that will fire this demon to the surface so the character can then defeat it. This is why understanding plotting becomes so vital. A great plot problem is going to sprout directly from that inner demon. Why?

Because fiction is the path of greatest resistance. What good is a plot problem unless it pits the character against her deepest flaw and weakness?

Some weaknesses might be fairly obvious—grief, betrayal or addiction. The problem, however, is no one wants to read 300+ pages of someone whining about a loss or a compulsion. We would probably want to smother such a person to get her to shut up.

Whining is not a plot.

Also remember that there is a reason for the grief, feeling of betrayal or addiction and THAT is the real inner demon that must show its head. There must be an outside challenge that forces the character to eventually choose to remain the same or to evolve (Act III).

You gonna keep hiding in a bottle? Or are you gonna face/defeat WHY you drink so you can walk your daughter down the aisle?

Not all inner demons are as obvious, though. The tricky demons look a hell of a lot like our greatest strengths, because…..um, they are.

Remember that every character strength has a corresponding weakness.

These inner demons are a real bugger to spot because they serve the character really well (or at least the character believes they do). In fact, this inner demon might be the very reason the character has always been successful…until you Evil Author Overlord hand her a problem where the old tools no longer work.

New level, new devil, baby😉 .

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For instance, maybe your protagonist has a heart of gold. She is always there to help a friend, lend an ear, or fix a problem. Helping is the core of her identity.

But what happens when she wants to open a new cupcake bakery but then realizes she is spending too much time helping people who really don’t want to help themselves?

The plot forces her to recognize she sucks at putting down boundaries. She might even realize that she wasn’t helping after all…she was enabling or even controlling. She might come to finally see that the dark side of her helping. Deep down she doesn’t trust and so she always has to keep the ledger balanced in her favor. Or she could really believe she doesn’t deserve to be successful and helping others is a way of avoiding risk of failure.

Well, as soon as I get my brother sobered up, THEN I can focus on the cupcakes.

When the outside challenge—opening a cupcake bakery—reveals the BS of her core identity, what will she DO? See, before she had a dream of a cupcake bakery, she could be there for everyone and every problem. The plot problem, however, drives the demon to the surface and shows its real face.

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Notice how the problem (outside goal) helps this become a story, not just 300 pages of tedious navel gazing and infighting. Without the goal, there is no real way to see if our imaginary protagonist succeeds. Yet, add in a cupcake bakery and it is pretty easy to spot failure. If, in the end she is still nagging her brother to stop drinking and does not have a successful cupcake bakery?

She failed.

Every side trip to rescue others that stops her from realizing this dream makes us worry (dramatic tension).

In the end, all great stories involve inner demons (character arc). But even in literary fiction, the outside problem is what is going to make that inner demon manifest. So take time to really think about how your outside plot problem can make the protagonist squeal then make them suffer…a lot. It’s good for them😀 .

***NOTE: Pick up a Positive Trait Thesaurus for help finding your protagonist’s weak/blind spots.

What are your thoughts? Does this help you understand how to better make readers care about the internal struggles of your characters? Any questions? Suggestions? Additions? Recipes for holy water?

Remember I am holding the very first BATTLE OF THE PAGES and slots are filling up FAST! (Information below).

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).

May’s winner will be announced next time😀 .

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.

Again, 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.

Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)

June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35

All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.

This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.

This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.

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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39 Comments

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