Three Ways To Add the Sizzle to Fiction That’s Fizzled

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

I read a TON of fiction no only for pleasure, but for work. I’ve been blessed to help countless writers diagnose what’s going wrong in their fiction. The good news is that Occam’s Razor applies even to fiction that is fizzling…meaning sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.

Often we think we need to invent a story never told, or create some mind-blowing twist-ending never before witnessed. But, while those are cool things to strive for, they aren’t necessary and can even backfire.

Truth is, there are only so many plots and if we get too weird, then readers have no basis for comparison and it’s such a mental jump that the story won’t resonate. I use my blue steak example.

Steak is wonderful and there are countless creative ways to prepare it, but if we get too weird for the sake of being different, it will make the reader lose her appetite.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Twist-endings can have the same effect. Recently, I read a thriller by a mega-author and the book had me positively entranced. The author had created one of the most frightening killers I’d ever seen. I am an avid fan of Discovery ID and read countless true crime works and probably own every profiling book out there. To create a killer that rattled me? Pretty big deal.

So I am inhaling this book and then the ending?

I would have tossed the book across the room, except I was listening to it on my phone and really didn’t want to buy a new phone. The author actually would have had a way better ending had he not tried to be clever. I wasn’t buying the twist and it ticked me off more than a little.

When I think of some of my favorite fiction, I think of what they do well. I dog-ear and color my books. I actively study what writers do well and when a story goes sideways, I go back and try to diagnose what went wrong where so I can learn (and pass this on to you guys).

Thus, today I want to share three simple things you can check for if you have a plot that just seems to be flatter than a week-old Coke.

There MUST Be an Active Goal

Whenever I teach my log-line class, this is one of the things I am looking for when a writer is describing his work. Getting a writer to articulate what her story is about in ONE sentence is highly useful, especially when diagnosing a problem. One of my all-time favorite plotting books is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Brooks breaks plots into three elements.

In Act One the protagonist is usually in the dark. Something life-altering has happened but the protagonist is kind of swinging blindly or avoiding conflict altogether (Running). Act Two, the protagonist becomes aware there is a problem and begins pushing back (Warrior). Then we have the false victory and darkest moment and then the protagonist undergoes a transformation.

Act Three is when the protagonist transforms. Anyone else would have said, “Screw it” and gone home, but the protagonist presses on to solve the core story problem (Hero).

Often when I see log-lines that involve passive goals like “avoid” or “evade” or “hide” that is only part of the story. There is an incomplete plot. No protagonist can rise to become a hero by avoidance. Any plot that simply involves a character trying to stay away from something is only partway there.

While it is completely okay to begin with a passive goal, the story cannot remain there.

The protagonist must face the life-altering force (antagonist) in order to rise to become a hero. Even in literary fiction, the protagonist must face the existential enemy and come out on top.

For instance, in The Road the enemy is man’s animal nature. When faced with imminent death which will triumph? Humanity or baseness? If the Man and Boy reach the ocean by snacking on other humans, they fail.

Unlike a genre fiction, there is no Big Boss Battle with a terrorist organization, a mad scientist, a serial killer or monster. And yes, in literary fiction the antagonist can be more of an intangible, but that doesn’t mean there is no showdown. There has to be or there is no transformation/triumph and transformation/triumph is the entire point of fiction.

Stakes/Consequences

Image via Dupo-x-y courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Image via Dupo-x-y courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes and the consequences, the better the story. This is true in life and more so in fiction (since fiction is the bouillon of life).

Case in Point

I’m a huge fan of horror. When the remake of Poltergeist came out I couldn’t wait for it to come to video (since I prefer watching movies at home). What really surprised me was that Poltergeist was such a cool story to remake and yet? The movie got terrible reviews. I didn’t read them because I didn’t want to be biased, but two stars?

Ouch.

So I watched the movie and yeah…it sucked. I wasn’t quite certain why so I rented the original Poltergeist to compare. Maybe I was just being biased?

No.

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The problem with the second Poltergeist had to do with the stakes and the consequences. See, in the original, the Freeling family is living the American Dream. They have an amazing house in a new tract home development, a development that offered many luxuries to a more working class section of society.

Steve Freeling is passionate about his development and his enthusiasm shows in his sales numbers. In fact, his bosses are SO impressed that he is offered a prime spot in the next phase of building, on a hill overlooking the development where he currently resides.

Diane Freeling is a stay-at-home mom with fantastic kids and life is not only good, it is simply getting better and better.

Until the poltergeists start disrupting their lives.

The story is so disturbing simply because this is a really likable family living a dream that becomes a nightmare. When they find out their home is built on a cemetery and no one bothered moving the bodies, it is a profound violation.

Contrast this with the new-and-not-so-improved remake.

The Griffin family isn’t living a dream at all. Eric Griffin was laid off. He’s desperate and erratic. They didn’t buy a dream home, they bought the only house they could afford because they’re broke and all their credit cards are maxed out. Eric and Amy (unlike the Freelings) are already teetering on divorce in the beginning of the story.

Thus, what the poltergeists disrupt was already cracked and failing anyway. Since there was no ideal marriage, perfect family and American Dream on the line?

Meh.

To find out the crappy house you moved into only because you could afford it is built on an old cemetery is not nearly as disruptive as realizing all your hopes, dreams and future are tainted.

Plot Stakes and Personal Stakes Are Bound Together

Also remember that there are two lines of stakes—plot and character. Both act as cogs, one turning the other. The protagonist should be arcing and that personal arc is critical for confronting the problem and winning.

In Winter’s Bone there is the land that is at stake, but Rhee is also risking her personal identity. In the beginning, she is loyal to the patriarchal family structure. She keeps her head down and avoids confrontation. But the plot problem puts her in the crosshairs of choosing the larger family structure with the nuclear family. She must defy the unwritten laws of the hillbilly culture in order to save her mother and siblings.

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She is not only gambling her own life to find what happened to her father, she is risking the lives of her own immediate family. Her very self-identity and where she fits is on the line.

Urgency

Stakes and consequences are ultimately tethered to urgency. In genre fiction, this is a bit more straight-forward. In The Black Echo Harry Bosch must uncover who killed tunnel rat and Vietnam buddy Meadows before the second heist is completed and the killers disappear forever.

In Winter’s Bone, Ree Dolly must find proof her father is dead before the bondsman takes the family land and renders them all homeless.

Even if the antagonist is not so flesh-and-blood (I.e. addiction) there needs to be some kind of a ticking clock. The protagonist doesn’t just have forever to get sober. There is some outside pressure that gives a timeline and if the protagonist doesn’t meet the timeline, she fails.

The shorter the timeline, the greater the tension. If loan sharks tell you you have the next ten years to come up with $10,000 that sucks, but is doable. But what if they give you three days?

Combine the Three for MAX Effect

Image courtesy of Iwan Gabovich via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Iwan Gabovich via Flickr Creative Commons.

Notice how all three of these elements dovetail into one another. In order to have stakes or a timeline, there has to be an ACTIVE goal. Then once you find that active goal, make the stakes as high as you can…then try harder. Remember that risk and reward are joined at the hip.

The more the reader is aware of what is at stake, the tighter we can wind the tension. Remember that fiction is the path of greatest resistance.

If the reader knows that Mount Doom is the destination and that Middle Earth will be plunged into darkness and despair if the Ring of Power is not destroyed…then every misstep, every mistake, every setback is enough to shred our nerves.

Additionally when you (the writer) are aware of the ultimate goal and the stakes and consequences, then it is far easier for you to generate dramatic tension instead of simply inserting bad situations.

Go over your plot and if it isn’t where you want it to be, try using these three elements as a checklist. Is the goal active? Do you only have a partially formed plot? Are the stakes high enough? Could they be bigger? Can you up the timeline and make the protagonist (and the reader) sweat?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

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

Upcoming Classes!

Back by popular demand! Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist

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

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

Beyond craft and to the business of our business?

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

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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41 Comments

Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish—Part 2

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

All righty, so last time in Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish we talked about a lot of myths that surround publishing in general and I promised to delve deeper into this subject. I hope, at the very least, y’all walked away with one core understanding about traditional publishing.

Traditional publishing measures one thing and one thing only…commercial viability.

Granted, this often means the author is professional and the writing is outstanding…but that’s isn’t always the case. Some works are published for the sole reason that they will sell a certain amount of copies (refer to Snookie’s memoir). Additionally some of the greatest works of our time are not coming to market (initially) through legacy presses (refer to The Martian).

But here’s the deal. While we certainly don’t have to be leggy-pressed to be “real” writers, self-publishing is no panacea.

The hard truth is there is a lot of junk being published. There are too many people who are so in love with the idea of calling themselves “published authors” that they take shortcuts, and I feel this is likely what irritates many professionals (especially since what this group lacks in skill and talent they tend to more than make up for in mass marketing).

But, the dangerous idea comes when we cut off our nose to spite our face.

We are SO scared that we are going to get lumped in with the folks who, frankly, should just increase processing speed by deleting Word off their hard drives, that we sit around believing we aren’t any good unless the Legacy Gods reach down from Olympus New York and give us their blessing.

NY is not going to give you (or me) a writing career. We have to hustle. Self-publishing actually has a lot of benefits not only for writers, but for traditional publishers as well.

Really, I Mean It

In my post The Ugly Truth About Publishing I explained how the consignment model worked and how mega-stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the bookstore landscape. We discussed the terrible consequences writers have endured because of these companies’ greed.

Borders is now a memory and, trust me, Barnes and Noble isn’t far behind. They’re succumbing to the effects of their own avarice. Having a megastore on every corner was a sound business model…until everyone began shopping on-line.

If Barnes & Noble survives (which I highly doubt because, to date, they have not listened to my advice to SAVE them😛 ) they aren’t going to offer writers all that much of an advantage. These days, their stores are few and far between meaning there are fewer point-of-sales locations than ever.

The remaining stores resemble a department store more than a bookstore. They look like a Starbucks, a Hallmark, a Radio Shack, a Tower records, a Blockbuster and a Toys-R-Us had a baby…oh and there are some books, too.

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It’s almost an ironic homage to all stores/industries first plundered by the megastore.

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. 

Btw, that was WAY cooler before Amazon started doing it to them. Anyway…

This transition has a huge impact on all authors because bookstores no longer are the best place for discoverability. Gone are the days where most readers found what they wanted to read by browsing a bookstore. Amazon has done a stellar job of spoiling us and training us to rely on algorithms to help us choose.

People who bought this, also bought THIS.

This means the remaining points of distribution—Walmart, Costco, Sam’s, airport bookstores, drug stores and grocery stores—are the only common points of sale and they only carry a scarce fraction of available titles (and those are almost always established brands guaranteed to sell—you know, “real” writers😛 ).

The biggest advantage legacy press had was distribution, and in a world not yet shopping on-line? That used to be a big deal. Now?

For the first-time novelist or the novelist who’s yet to be a big brand? Not the big deal it used to be simply because shelf space is finite (and only for a short time) and brick-and-mortar stores are going under and the new brick-and-mortars are owned by The Borg Amazon.

The remaining stores (the few indie bookstores that survived) are generally very small, which means limited inventory. By the time we subtract the classics which will always be a staple and the mega-authors who are guaranteed to sell? *cough Stephen King* 

We don’t have a lot of space left for anyone else.

What Does This Mean?

Image via Bill_Owen Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Bill_Owen Flickr Creative Commons

In my opinion, the author career path is evolving. Traditional’s ability to distribute is still a pretty big deal, but due to market changes, NY can now be far smarter/surgical about how they choose. They need to be picky, especially now when shelf space is more limited than ever.

In the old days, a publisher took on a huge risk hoping a work would resonate with audiences and sell.

Now? They really don’t need to. They can simply look to what is doing well in the indie world then come in and help develop that work/author on the next level.

Try to go through an airport without seeing The Martian on a newsstand.

I feel this new trend also allows us to gain a greater diversity of works. Before we could get realtime feedback what audiences were loving, legacy presses were forced into a lot of guess work. They would spot a trend (Twilight) and then ride that trend until the sparkly vampire was beaten to death. Now? They can capitalize on what I am calling The Dark Horse Effect.

What is The Dark Horse Effect?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Pedro Ribiero Simoes

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Pedro Ribiero Simoes

The dark horse is the outlier no one saw coming. It’s the candidate or competitor about whom little is known but unexpectedly wins. Instead of NY trying to create lighting in a bottle, now they just have to catch it.

It is impossible for NY to capitalize on the dark horse author without self-publishing. Why? Because by definition a dark horse is no one anyone expects to win, and last I checked? NY wasn’t into that.

Self-published/indie authors have much more freedom to experiment with writing that would have been patently rejected ten years ago. I know I keep mentioning The Martian but it is a stellar example because it breaks all the rules.

Too Much Science

Self-published book and now a major motion picture. BOO-YAH!

Self-published book and now a major motion picture. BOO-YAH!

First of all, I’ve read the book and it is very science heavy. I could see an agent going cross-eyed and telling Weir to cut all the talk about chemistry, that audiences would be bored. Why? Because usually that is great advice.

But had Weir (in a parallel universe) sought after approval from the Legacy Gods, they very likely would have given advice that wrecked the exact reason this book is so awesome.

Content Published on a Blog is No Good for Publication

For years (and even today) we will hear agents say that any fiction we publish on our blog is no good and not worthy of publication. The Martian, however, shows this is not always the case.

Weir was originally a programmer who left AOL and decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a writer…but failed. He couldn’t get an agent, let alone a publisher. So he then left writing and returned to programming, but then decided he would still write his story and offer it on his personal blog where anyone could read it for free.

Initially, his story flopped, but he kept at it fine-tuning and doing more research while honing his writing skills.

It paid off. BIG.

Eventually, word of the story spread and readers started requesting an e-version (the PDF was too hard to download) so Weir uploaded it into Kindle and sold it for .99. Within a few months The Martian rocketed to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list and an agent contacted him.

Soon, Random House called and wanted to make it into a hardcover. Within days, Hollywood called and asked for movie rights. Weir scored a book deal and a movie deal in the same week.

Crowd-Sourcing is Bad

I would imagine that many within Legacy Land would have broken out in hives at the thought of a book being written using crowd-sourcing. But that is precisely why The Martian ended up being so successful.

According to Business Insider:

“Chemists actually pointed out some problems in early drafts,” Weir said. He was able to go back and correct some of the chemistry that’s crucial for Watney’s survival.

Fans of the work were eager to be part of the collaborative process, even if it simply meant helping out with the facts. The writer of that Guardian article blasting self-publishing was adamant that “real” writers possess the decency to make mistakes in private.

But Weir wasn’t afraid to get it wrong in public…and it paid off BIG TIME.

Not everyone has the rhino skin to be corrected publicly, but if we do? We grow up way faster.

Breaking Making the Rules

What all this means is that a work that breaks all the “rules” for what NY might have been looking for in a query letter goes out the window the second they are able to see what readers really want…in sales figures.

NY didn’t have to guess that a science-heavy-crowd-sourced-geek-fest previously offered for free “might” be a winner. They could see it for themselves.

What happens to "rules" when a work is profitable.

What happens to Legacy Press “Rules” when a work is profitable.

I’m also happy Weir didn’t care about being a “real” writer.

As much as self-publishing gets flack, it’s allowing legacy publishers to reap high profits in a world where that’s harder and harder to do. It’s removing much of the guess work out of what readers like and want which helps NY’s bottom line.

It’s also freeing up writers to do what we do best…get creative. We can experiment. Try new things. Adjust, adapt, grow and mature instead of slaving away on one draft for a decade hoping someone in NY will notice.

Additionally, successes like Weir’s prove that a writer can create a platform of hardcore fans before the work is ever published. The single greatest reason authors fail to ever make a living is they can’t escape the gravitational pull of The Black Hole of Obscurity. Now? We can.

The Martian wasn’t released into a vacuum (*bada bump snare*), rather Weir created a core group of die hard fans using…his blog. There was no high-priced marketing campaign or promotion (which doesn’t work as well as writers believe). Rather, it began as a small grassroots fandom that grew roots and spread exploded.

No ads, no algorithmic alchemy, no giveaways, no contests, no relentless blog tours, no slaving away on social media instead of writing. Hmmm. Wonder if he read my book Rise of the Machines? 😛 #heywhynot

Suffice all this to say that this notion that we are only a “real” writer if we publish a certain way is ridiculous. But, we find what fits for us and our work. We try things, we get creative and who knows?

We might just be the next dark horse😉 .

Are you ready for a perfect storm?

What are your thoughts? Personally, I love this new renaissance and it always thrills me to see how creative you guys can be. I’m also a helpless pawn on Amazon—the crack-meth-heroin dealer of books. I am now listening to three audiobooks, reading one novel and another novella on my Kindle. Yes, I am ADD but I do finish😛 #donotjudgeme

I am also completely spoiled that when I find an author I love? I can buy that writer’s entire backlist…probably far too easily.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

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

March’s WINNER: DK WALKER! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (New Times Roman and one-inch margins double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

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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68 Comments

Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 8.21.53 PM

One of the things I love about doing what I do is that I have the ability to connect so closely with you guys and speak on the topics that matter to you. Yesterday, a fellow writer shared an article from The Guardian, For me traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way. She wanted my take on what the author had to say.

All right.

For those who’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, I hope I’ve been really clear that I support all paths of publishing (vanity press doesn’t count).

All forms of publishing hold advantages and disadvantages and, as a business, we are wise to consider what form of publishing is best for our writing, our work, our goals, our personality, etc. But my goal has always been to educate writers so they are making wise decisions based off data, not just personal preferences.

We don’t self-publish because all our friends are doing it and we think we can make a million dollars fast cash. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t hold out for traditional out of some misguided idea that self-publishing/indie isn’t for “real” authors and that traditional publishers are somehow going to handhold us.

The author of this article has the right to publish as she sees fit. I am all for empowering authors and trust me, I know that self-publishing gets a bad rap for good reasons. I am not blind to all the book spam and authors who write ONE book and camp on top of it for the next five years selling to anyone who looks at them.

But there were some egregious errors in many of the article’s assertions that I’d like to address so that your decision is based of reality not an opinion piece. I won’t address them all today for the sake of brevity, but here were the major ones that jumped out at me.

Myth #1—Serious Novelists Don’t Self-Publish

Tell that to Hugh Howey, Bob Mayer, Barry Eisler, Joel Eisenberg, Vicki Hinze, Theresa Ragan and y’all get the point.

Myth #2—Self-Publish and ALL Time Will Be Spent Marketing Not Writing

Or maybe they’re doing it wrong?

Myth #3—If You Self-Publish You Will Act Like an Amway Rep Crossed with a Jehovah’s Witness

Many do, but that’s a choice not an inevitability.

Myth #4—Gatekeepers Know Best

LOL. Sure. Because Snookie’s It’s A Shore Thing was published for its literary value.

Myth #5—Private Apprenticeship is Better for Author Growth

Public feedback can be brutal and isn’t for everyone, but rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic in private isn’t necessarily a better, nobler path either.

Myth #6—Awards Are Everything

For some genres, perhaps. But can the literary world keep ignoring that some of the best works of our time are not coming from legacy presses?

Myth #7—To Look Pro in Self-Publishing You Spend a Fortune

Network better.

Myth #8—Traditional Publishing Creates a Far Superior Product

Tell that to the romance authors who, for years, couldn’t expect that the cover would match their story. Pyramids on a romance set in the Highlands? It has happened.

Vonda McIntre (who is a brilliant Nebula Award Winning Author) has even posted some of the really awful covers her publisher (traditional) thought were a good idea. And, because she was a mere author and had no control over the covers? She had no say.

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Myth #9—Self-Published Authors Can’t Make a Living

Many don’t. This job is not for everyone. But then again, most traditional authors would make more flipping burgers.

Myth #10—Amazon & Self-Publishing Have Destroyed Author Incomes

Definitely a NO. For the first time in history more authors are making a living wage than ever before. Mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble did more to damage author incomes than almost any other factor. They almost single-handedly destroyed the bookstore ecosystem and many writers who were making a good living suddenly were forced to get a day job if they liked eating.

Refer to my post The Ugly Truth of Publishing.

Now that I pointed out the ten contentions I disagree with, I’d like to zoom in on this idea that traditional publishing is only for real writers and that self-publishing is for amateurs. Namely this quote from the article rubbed me the wrong way:

Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write).

This statement is so far off-base I need this book…

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I’m back and I can “literally even” so let’s go😀

The Long and Short of Publishing

I know we are going through a lot of birthing pains right now and we still have ways to go, but a lot of the changes in publishing have been for the better. For years, traditional (legacy) publishers were the sole gatekeepers and this had a lot of disadvantages for authors and readers.

Because traditional publishing was taking on a large financial risk and had to also maintain high overhead, they obviously had to be picky about what works to publish. These works had to bring in a certain amount of ROI (return on investment). This devastated the literary landscape and drove many works to the brink of extinction.

For instance, in the 70s and 80s long epic works were all the rage. Readers actually liked a book so long you could take out a burglar with it. I mean, Clan of the Cave Bear  could have been registered as a deadly weapon. But the thing is, paper is heavy so it is expensive to ship. It costs a lot more to print a long book (Duh).

Additionally, big thick paperbacks? Only fitting a few of those suckers on a shelf. Why sell three books for $9.99 when you can sell ten books for $7.99?

Basic math.

So, the trend became to cut works off after a certain word count. Many agents would take one look at a query and if the work was over 110,000 words? Forget it. It didn’t matter that it was the next Lord of the Rings. 

They weren’t being mean, they simply knew that publishers were wanting shorter works because they could sell more of them and enjoy a higher profit.

But what if a story needed to be that long?

The other side also suffered. Short works. Pulp fiction got its start with the much-esteemed Charles Dickens and this form of storytelling really picked up traction in the early part of the 20th century. This type of fiction gave the general public access the larger-than-life stories with exotic and sexy characters. Pulp authors also made a really good living, some becoming among the richest people in the country.

We can thank pulp fiction for some of the greatest literary geniuses of our culture. Edgar Rice Burroughs almost single-handedly laid the foundation for today’s science fiction. Then we have Max Brand, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ray Bradbury.

With WWII we experienced paper rationing and the pulp magazine fell into decline as publishers opted for longer works with…a greater ROI. Notice how these changes really don’t have much to do with the skill of the writer and have more to do with paper costs, shipping costs and ROI.

The beauty of pulp fiction was how it connected to everyday people who normally would not have considered themselves “avid readers.”

As publishing became bigger and bigger business, it had less to do with the story and the quality of the writing and more to do with, “Can we sell this?” Again, this is simply wise business. A publisher might love a vampire book…but unfortunately they already had taken on three other vampire books and filled that quota for the year.

REJECTION

Many forms of writing were driven virtually to the point of extinction. Novellas, short stories, poetry, memoirs (unless your were famous), and epic works all suffered terribly. To extend the logic, their creators were driven almost to the point of extinction.

Because what if you happen to be an excellent pulp writer in a paradigm that has no outlet for that? What if your strength is epic length high fantasy that just can’t fit into under 150,000 words? Then just because a writer doesn’t fit into the current business model of legacy publishers she is less…talented? He isn’t a professional?

No.

Remember Traditional Publishing is a BUSINESS

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

This notion that an author lacks skill or talent or has nothing worthwhile to offer unless the Legacy Gods deem approval ignores history. Most noteworthy?

John Kennedy Toole’s work A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously and went on to win the Pulitzer for Fiction. Though Toole’s work was praiseworthy in his lifetime, after facing rejection after rejection he took his own life.

Was it Toole’s work was substandard? Or did it have more to do with the business model of the publishing world and his work didn’t neatly fit in? Would Toole have continued to be a great voice in literature had other viable models of publishing been in existence?

African American Author Zora Neal Hurston was an anthropologist whose fiction was overlooked in her lifetime. Luckily for us the first wave of feminism catapulted her writing to success…after her death.

Often traditional publishing is hesitant to make waves because…they are a business.

Notice the massive uptick in LGBT fiction? Thank indie/self-publishing for much of that because these authors had the freedom to push boundaries and challenge social norms in a way that would have been virtually impossible for traditional publishing.

In fact, the success of many of these indies has allowed legacy presses to relax and realize just maybe there is an audience out there who’d love to have a voice, too (I.e. Barry Eisler writing anti-establishment, anti-war thrillers with a gay lead). Eisler left traditional because of the stories he believed needed a voice and he knew there would be an audience who shared those views, too. Indies are aware of cultural shifts and are risk-takers willing to explore them for good or bad.

I suppose this is one big reason I am puzzled a literary author would have so much against non-traditional publishing. Often it is literature that says what’s unpopular, that points out the pink elephant in the room. Literature is known for highlighting the lives and struggles of those groups who are largely ignored in the commercial realm.

Self-published authors have largely been responsible for many of the most beneficial changes in publishing history. Check out Why We Should All Hug a Self-Published/Indie Author.

Back to Business

Sure thing.

Sure thing.

Is Snookie’s A Shore Thing great writing? Or did the decision to publish this work have more to do with the fact that NY could capitalize on the popularity of a reality television show and, crunching the numbers, knew they could sell copies? Is 50 Shades of Grey a better book simply because a legacy press picked it up? Or did they pick it up because giving E.L. James a far wider distribution was a sound business decision?

What all of us have to remember is NY is not a non-profit organization; it’s a business driven by profit and loss. Sure, a lot of authors jump the gun to self-publish and they aren’t ready. Refer to 5 Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors. But guess what? That is common in ALL business. There is a reason most restaurants don’t last a year😉 .

Traditional publishing tests ONE thing…commercial viability. All across the arts from painting to music to writing, the greatest legends were very often overlooked by the establishment. From Picasso to Plath, genius is often not something that fits neatly into a P&L statement.

Traditional publishing is also not a meritocracy.

There are excellent writers who don’t make the cut for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. We all know of talented authors we love who, for whatever reason, aren’t selling like 50 Shades of Darker…and we die just a little inside knowing that.

But this notion that only “real” writers publish traditionally? Patently false. We will take some time to explore some of these other myths, but rest-assured the decision of how to publish and when to publish is far more complex than it may seem. Also, self-publishing has evolved quite a lot. Yes, it used to be the equivalent of cheap vanity press, but that is light years from today’s reality.

There are good and bad reasons for ALL forms of publishing, so do some homework. Also, remember sometimes we need to try things on. If they don’t fit? Um…change.

What are your thoughts? Are you a successful indie/hybrid/self-pub author who gets tired of this misconception that you are not a “real” writer? Have you felt undue pressure to self-publish? Are you a writer of really long or really short works and think maybe you might have a new home?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

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

I will announce March’s winner next post.

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

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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184 Comments

Trouble With Your Plot? Three Reasons to Kill Your Little Darlings

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

I love helping writers and one service I offer that’s been particularly valuable is plot consult. Writers who are struggling to finish or who start off with one idea after another only for that great idea to fall flat? They call me. Querying and getting nowhere? Again, contact me.

I’ve busted apart and repaired hundreds of plots. Thus far I’ve yet to meet a plot I couldn’t repair.

But, in my many years of doing this, I’ve seen enough troubled plots to note some common denominators for a failed story. One ingredient for plot disaster stands apart.

Little darlings.

As writers, we are at risk of falling in love with our own cleverness. The “cool” idea, the super amazing mind-blowing twist at the end. We get so caught up in how smart we are that we fail to see that we are our own worst enemy.

Yesterday, I spent three hours talking to a new writer who was simply stuck. No matter how he reworked his novel, it was just going nowhere. This is one of the reasons I like to get authors to be able to state what their book is about in ONE sentence. Paring away all the pretty prose makes little darlings easier to spot…so you can then terminate with extreme prejudice.

But, since this writer was 60, 000 words deep into his own woods? He needed my eyes.

Hey, sometimes it takes a Viking to raze a village…of little darlings😀

At first, I wanted him to explain his story to me…

Ten minutes later…

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Huh?

After listening to his idea, I pointed out the problem fairly quickly. He’d created what he believed was the world’s most interesting virus. Problem was, the only thing his virus killed was all the conflict in his story.

Because he was SO married to this clever virus, he’d built everything around it. The virus was a little darling and needed to go. Once we repaired THAT? The plot fell together effortlessly…and is pretty fantastic, btw. OUCH! I got a cramp patting myself on the back!

Seriously, once he got out of his own way? He had the story. It was there. I just helped him see it.

In fact, my biggest job consulting on plot is to pull the distraught writer off the body of the little darling and offer grief counseling and the assurance it was for the best.

What’s a Little Darling?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.”

Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian flash drive where they would come back as really bad novels.

…oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. They can also look like “never before thought of ideas” and “wicked twist endings that put Shyamalan to shame.”

To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot. Why are little darlings so dangerous?

Because th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go. Here are three BIG reasons your little darlings need to die.

#1 We Risk Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. The characters’ agendas, secrets and insecurities collide.

As my awesome friend and talented author/writing teacher Les Edgerton mentioned a while back in his lesson about dialogue, subtext is vital. It’s more than what’s said. This can only happen when 3-D characters meet with real baggage that gets in the way of solving a CORE STORY PROBLEM.

In the new book I’m working on, my bike officer Landri had a father who wanted a son. She never quite lived up to his expectations. The need for his approval, in part, propelled her to become a cop. When she is reckless and legitimately criticized by a fellow officer that she should have waited for help, she takes it personally. Why?

She doesn’t hear that another cop is genuinely concerned for her. She hears the old recording from her father that she isn’t enough.

Fiction is a lot like life (only way more interesting). In life, we sometimes strike out at others not because of what they did or didn’t do, rather we are punishing them for unhealed wounds from our past often inflicted by other people. If my protagonist is pushing away the one person there to help her, she is five steps back from solving the core plot problem that’s upended her life.

Conflict.

Since little darlings are often birthed from a flimsy plot, the writer is left to manufacture conflict (melodrama). This weakness often manifests in pointless fight scenes, chase scenes, flashbacks or hospital/funeral scenes.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

We are creating bad situations, not authentic dramatic tension.

#2 We Mistake Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

Me: *looks for closest bar*

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. It is my opinion that new writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—A CORE STORY PROBLEM IN NEED OF RESOLUTION. Without a core story problem, conflict is impossible to generate, and the close counterfeit “melodrama” will slither in and take its place.

I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a subconscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated.

When we fail to have a core story problem, often we resort to trying to fix the structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping no one will notice. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o😀.

“Complicated” is Not Conflict

We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Most of us do. This is all part of the author learning curve, so don’t fret and just keep writing and learning.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complicated. We frequently get too complicated when we are trying to BS our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out.

Um, it won’t.

Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we add more players trying to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

“Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.

#3 We Fail to Spot/Correct Weaknesses

We fall so in love with our fun characters, our witty dialogue, our amazing inter-stellar conspiracy that we never finish. We can’t finish.

Since we aren’t being honest about why the book isn’t working, we aren’t doing the hard work that would make the story publishable and we end up playing Literary Barbies.

In the end, be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. Make the hard decisions, then kill them dead and bury your pets little darlings for real.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.59.35 AM

You’ve rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies? I really recommend taking my log-line class that’s coming up. I help you pare your story to ONE sentence and this is invaluable for spotting little darlings, honing your plot and you’ll need it for pitching later anyway. Or if you need a Viking to raze your village? E-mail me at kristen at wanaintl dot com.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

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

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

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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52 Comments

Lies & Secrets—The Lifeblood of Great Fiction

Image courtesy of Nebraska Oddfish via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Nebraska Oddfish via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

All stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way. Plot provides the crucible.

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone Has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, “Everybody lies.”

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus “Authentic” Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see. If this weren’t true then my author picture would have me wearing a Call of Duty t-shirt, yoga pants and a scrunchee, not a beautifully lighted photograph taken by a pro.

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, “Grandma! TMI! STOP!”

No one wants to be trapped in a long line at a grocery store with the total stranger telling us about her nasty divorce. Yet, if we had a sibling who was suffering, we’d be wounded if she didn’t tell us her marriage was falling apart.

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography. Yet, as their daughters grow into women, they see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are thousands of miles away from the past (China).

The mothers have to reveal their sins, but this will cost them the “perfect version of themselves” they’ve sold the world and their daughters (and frankly, themselves).

The daughters look at their mothers as being different from them. Their mothers are perfect, put-together, and guiltless. It’s this misperception that keeps a wall between them. This wall can only come down if the external facades (the secrets) are exposed.

Secret #2—False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be acting out of guilt or control, not genuine concern for others. We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

In fact, we might not even be aware of them. It’s why shrinks are plentiful and paid well.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet. She wants others to believe she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

Anyone walking toward her closets or asking to take a shower makes her uncomfortable because this threatens her false face.

Watch any episode of House and most of the team’s investigations are hindered because patients don’t want to reveal they are not ill and really want attention, or use drugs, are bulimic, had an affair, are growing marijuana in their attics, etc.

Secret #3—False Guilt

Characters can be driven to right a wrong they aren’t even responsible for. In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly is driven to find her father before the bail bondsman takes the family land and renders all of them homeless.

Ree is old enough to join the Army and walk away from the nightmare, but she doesn’t. She feels a need to take care of the family and right a wrong she didn’t commit. She has to dig in and dismantle the family secrets (the crime ring entrenched in her bloodline) to uncover the real secret—What happened to her father?

She has to keep the family secret (otherwise she could just go to the cops) to uncover the greater, and more important secret. She keeps the secret partly out of self-preservation, but also out of guilt and shame.

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

This is one of the reasons I HATE superfluous flashbacks. Yes, we can use flashbacks. They are a literary device, but like the prologue, they get botched more often than not.

Oh, but people want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such.

Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY. Reveal pieces slowly, but once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Secret #4–The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Character arc is very often birthed from the biggest lies of all—the lies we tell ourselves. Your protagonist in the beginning should be raw an unformed. She has not yet been through the crucible (plot) that will fire out her impurities. Many of these “impurities” are the lies she tells herself.

I don’t need anyone’e help.

I am fine on my own.

I don’t have a problem.

These self-delusions are the biggest reason that your protagonist would fail if pitted against the antagonist in the beginning.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Army of Darkness. Even a silly low-budget movie takes advantage of the self-delusion. Ash is transported into another world where a great evil has awoken and seeks the Necronomicon (which is his only way back home).

Ash is a selfish ass who cares only about himself. He tells himself that others don’t matter, that he doesn’t really care about them and that he’s fine on his own. And he believes his own BS.

The challenges he faces (and often creates because of his poor character) change him and reveal that he was really lying to himself. He does kinda dig being the hero and he really does care about those around him. The lone-wolf maverick rises to be a leader who unites a frightened and divided people against the forces of darkness.

Good? Bad?

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.44.14 AM

Everybody LIES

They can be small lies, “No, I wasn’t crying. Allergies.” They can be BIG lies, “I have no idea what happened to your father. I was playing poker with Jeb.” Fiction is one of the few places that LIES ARE GOOD. LIES ARE GOLD.

Fiction is like dating. If we tell our date our entire life story on Date #1? Mystery lost and good luck with Date #2.

When it comes to your characters, make them lie. Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly reveal the true self, and they will do everything to defend who they believe they are. Remember the inciting incident creates a personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Resist the urge to explain.

Feel free to write everything out in detail for your own use…but then HIDE that baby from the reader. BE A SECRET-KEEPER. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Could you possibly be ruining your story tension by explaining too much?

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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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32 Comments

13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 6.59.11 AM

Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I took out my knee last week (ergo the sudden dropping off the face of the blogosphere) which just left me a lot of free time to drink and contemplate murder. I’m plotting a new book and kid you not…spent all of the weekend trying to figure out how to murder oil workers and make it look like an accident. Then yesterday, I spent like two hours on Google trying to find the right hotel balcony to toss someone off of.

Apparently “normal” people do not do this, which is why being normal is totally boring and for losers.

So before friends and family turn you into the FBI, here is a handy list of ways we writers are often mistaken for serial killers.

#1 Serial Killers Writers Need Alone Time

Generally, dealing with the public is only for a purpose (like making others think we are normal). To truly recharge and immerse in the art of what we do, we need to pull back and simply “get away.” Many writers can be found in basements, dark corners of libraries or lurking behind a desk surrounded with bear traps.

#2 Serial Killers Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job

Many writers are also teachers, engineers (or likely married to an engineer—What is WITH that?), lawyers, doctors, or even librarians. We are friendly, polite and on-time and hold down gainful employment. This is what makes writers SO terrifying. You probably work with one.

You might even be married to one.

#3 Serial Killers Writers Can Look Just like YOU

When our book comes out, neighbors will say, “But she seemed so nice and normal. Really polite. Always thought something was off, but writing? Really? Who can ever know these things.”

#4 Serial Killers Writers Understand Law Enforcement

And probably dated it😀 ….until they married an engineer.

When planning any murder or series of murders, we have to know our enemy. The cops. What are ways we can confuse them? Can we kill in multiple jurisdictions knowing the law agencies will never properly communicate and thus we can kill as many people as our plot requires? Can we run the police down a rabbit hole of distraction?

Can we evade them altogether? Get rid of ALL the evidence?

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

Image via Creepy Freaky House of horror (Facebook)

#5 Serial Killers Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.

Throw T.O.D. around a writers group and no problemo. But using this term at Thanksgiving with the family? Meh. We writers know the best time of year to kill and dump the body and which season a shallow grave is an acceptable option. No writer ever sees just a freezer. Trust me, we are thinking how many people we can fit in that sucker and if we’ll have to saw apart the body first.

#6 Serial Killers Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill

And often talk to those voices. We might be driving to Costco when the Voice visits and tells us that we really shouldn’t kill that asshat who stood us up for prom. No, the slutty cheerleader he dumped us for is a way better choice. Then, so enraptured with talking to the Voice, we find we missed the last fifty exits and have to hope there’s a Costco in the neighboring state.

#7 Serial Killers Writers Choose Victims Carefully

Generally our victims will include anyone who picked on us in high school or ever broke up with us via Facebook or text message. Victims can also include anyone who ever worked in HR or customer service for AT&T.

#8 Serial Killers Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically

Sure you might get the fantasy or sci-fi author who just exterminates an entire race, but for the rest of us? No, we thought those kills out. We can’t just kill anyone lest we be left with a pacing and plot problem.

Duh.

#9 Serial Killers Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills

Sure the body count will rise, but during revisions? We just go back and spend quality time with the souvenirs we took off our victims. We might even take breaks between books because we can’t murder characters without a plan. Helloooo?

#10 Serial Killers Writers are Narcissists 

Seriously, we have to be. Who else can write hundreds of thousands of words just knowing the world will love every bit of what you put down? And PAY MONEY to consume it? Narcissists have a God-complex but unlike serial killers who pretend to be God?

We writers actually ARE.

#11 Serial Killers Writers Take People Apart

We crawl in your head, but don’t get too freaked out. We crawl in everyone’s head. We think like you. We become you. 

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Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

What???? Don’t judge me. You do this too!😛

Okay so when ACTORS do this it is OKAY but a writer does this and it’s creepy? We need to know how people think, what makes them tick, what sets them off. What are the right pain points and speaking of pain…

#12 Serial Killers Writers Are Also Sadists

Excellent fiction is the path of greatest resistance which means good writers are all about exacting pain. Doling it out bit by bit. Upping the heat and making that victim and all who love him squirm, then panic, then question the very meaning of their existence. We push our victims until just before that spark of hope in their eyes extinguishes completely.

And then we give them a bone and rescue them so there. We aren’t completely heartless. Sheesh, these people are imaginary. Why so freaked out?

#13 Serial Killers Writers Struggle with Addiction/Compulsion

Drugs and alcohol? Maybe. Books and cute bookmarks we never use because we lost them and so have to use the receipt from purchasing the freaking bookmark as a bookmark? Definitely. Female serial killers writers can often be spotted wandering around a craft store talking to the yarn. Males? Computer stores.

Angels and Devils

Yeah yeah writers could be mistaken for serial killers but in the end, everything we do is for the ultimate good. We actually have to write in mistakes lest our villain remain free and that is bad fiction.

Speaking of which, have you ever created a villain so good you had to go BACK and write in some oopses? Like, “Wow, this guy’s good. Nope, they’d never catch him. Ah sh#!.”

Okay so some of you by now are either laughing and nodding…or you’re dialing an FBI hotline ready to link them to my blog. Fine, when they haul me away in cuffs, trust me I am taking notes so when I write a similar scene? I know how cuffs FEEL.

So there😛 .

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had strangers overhear you talking about how to kill someone and you had to stop and say, “It’s okay. I’m a writer.” Do you love Discovery ID just a bit more than is probably healthy? Do you freak out friends and family because autopsies make you giddy?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

 

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

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81 Comments

Want a Page-Turner? You Need Deep POV

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 7.26.00 AMToday, I’m busy finishing up work before I have to travel and speak in Utah, so since we’d been discussing Deep POV, I figured I’d get a Deep POV expert to come and weigh in on the subject. Marcy Kennedy is an excellent teacher and has actually written a whole book on the subject, and she’s taken time out of her busy schedule to help us out.

Take it away, Marcy!

***

In her post Introducing Deep POV—WHAT IS It? Can We Buy Some on Amazon? Kristen explained why deep POV is more popular than the old trends that defined the classics. Those old ways of writing? Probably not coming back unless an EMP pulse permanently fries all our technology.

I think it’s actually a great thing we’ve moved on to deep POV. Deep POV is the magic sauce that can make our books so all-consuming that readers miss their subway stops, consider calling in sick for work, and burn the casserole.

Why? Well, in deep POV, there’s no distance between the reader and the character. The reader experiences the world through the character’s mind, body, and senses. They hear the character’s voice. It’s personal and intimate. This means readers form a stronger connection to the characters and they have to know what happens to them.

It also means that everything is filtered through the character before readers receive it. Nothing is objective. The character is interpreting the story for us in the same way that we interpret what happens in our lives. That means that in deep POV even the “less exciting” parts like description become exciting because they show emotion and personality.

So let’s look at two ways we can develop deep POV in our writing…

Show the Emotion, Don’t Tell It

This works to suck the reader in because we’re feeling an emotion rather than being told about an emotion. If I tell you that I’m sad, or feeling guilty, or scared, you’re not going to feel much. There’s too much distance. It’s too cold and flat.

If you’re brought in so close that my sadness or guilt or fear becomes real to you, maybe even reminds you of when you felt those emotions, now you’re feeling it too.

Let’s take an example.

Telling: Jennifer was sad because of the death of her daughter. She went into the little girl’s room and threw one of her favorite toys against the wall, shattering it.

Even an empath wouldn’t feel anything from the shallow Telling version.

Deep POV (Showing): Jennifer stood face to face with the delicate porcelain doll Ellie idolized too much to even play with. The doll stared back, her face held in an immortal smile, mocking. No doll deserved to live longer than the little girl who owned her. Jennifer snatched the doll from the shelf and heaved her toward the far wall. The doll’s head exploded like a car bomb, fragments flying everywhere.

In the Deep POV version, this is now a specific, nuanced sadness. It’s how Jennifer experiences her sadness. Jennifer isn’t just sad. She’s also angry, maybe even a little bitter. That’s very different from a character who is sad and guilty, or a character who is sad…but also a little bit relieved.

Use Description as a Way to Increase Tension, Heighten Emotion, and Reveal Personality

How many times have you skimmed over a description that read something like this?

Jennifer ducked into the only other room in the apartment—a bedroom. It had a Captain’s bed, an end table butted up to the bedside, and big windows along one wall. Ugly orange and green curtains covered the windows from the top to three inches off the floor. To one side was a tiny, doorless bathroom. She had nowhere to hide, and if he found her here, he’d kill her.

Yawn. I almost fell asleep writing it. I’ve described the room, but it’s a boring description because these are the objective facts. There aren’t any opinions to go along with it. There’s no personality.

Let’s try this again in deep POV. This time I’m going to weave the description in among the action (when Jennifer would naturally pay attention to each item) and let Jennifer tell it in her voice.

Jennifer careened into the only other room in the apartment—a bedroom. The unmade bed was one of those Captain styles with drawers underneath that she’d always associated with kids, not adults. No place to hide there.

Out in the main room, the rattle of a chain marked him locking the door behind him.

She spun in a circle. The only door other than the one she came in led to a tiny bathroom. Without a door. What kind of a person didn’t at least hang up a curtain? She glanced inside. Or a shower curtain for crying out loud.

A clatter on the kitchen countertop. Probably keys and a cell phone being emptied from a pocket. If he was like most people, his next stop would be the bathroom. And he’d catch her. And she’d be dead.

She skittered back to the orange-and-green pinstriped curtains that looked like rejects from the second-hand store her Aunt Bertie owned in the 80s. She ducked behind. Her feet stuck out the bottom. If he didn’t look down…please God let him not look down.

We now have a description of the bedroom that not only shows us the facts but also adds to the tension and hints at the personalities of both Jennifer and the man who owns this bedroom.

That’s the way deep POV makes description—and everything else—interesting.

***Thank you, Marcy. And, as a correction…

I was wrong, you CAN buy Deep POV on Amazon…well at least a good book about it.

Please check out Marcy’s book Deep Point of View on Amazon (and on Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo too). It’s available in print and ebook, and it’ll help you learn how to rock deep POV!

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