Posts Tagged writing a novel

FINISH THAT NOVEL—Tips to Help You Go the Distance

Inspired author biting crumpled paper

Today, Alex Limberg is with us again, and he is talking about one of the most important and tricky issues in writing: Endurance. It doesn’t matter how well we write, how pretty the prose or witty the dialogue. WE MUST FINISH.

No half-finished brilliant manuscript ever became a runaway best-seller but a lot of finished “meh” ones have.

Alex has some very effective tactics and practical examples to help you out.

Just look at his list and pick out the ones that work for you. And if you want to see how good your story really is or what it might be missing, definitely check out his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Post starts in 3… 2… 1… 0:

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Have you ever written an entire novel? If so, then you know that it takes a lot of stamina.

I’m not just talking about the really long ones, the brick-like ones you could kill a chicken with. Sometimes it seems like a mystery how Ayn Rand could write something like Atlas Shrugged or how Tolkien could ever complete Lord of the Rings.

I mean, did they never have to do the laundry or cut their toe nails, did life never get in the way?

Did they never get utterly frustrated by the sheer amount of pages they had to write – and by the fact they had to write them well?

I’m sure all of this did happen, but here is the important part: They didn’t let it stop them. They never ever quit. And neither should you.

Luckily, there are a couple of excellent tactics to help you if you are stuck. Here is what you can do if your writing project takes ages to come together and is starting to wear you down:

1. Maybe your story needs change

If something is fundamentally wrong with your story, no psychological recharging will help you; you would just end up frustrated anyways. Instead, your first step is to check if some elements of your novel want to be shuffled around.

Maybe there is one character too many or too few, or one of the figures is making decisions that don’t correspond to her personality.

Maybe the plot needs to be tightened or it needs more logic.

Maybe the point of view is off.

Take notes, think about it, and if you get the impression that there is something wrong with your story, try a different route.

To help you examine any wrong turns your story might have taken, you can download my free goodie about “44 Key Questions” to check your story. Use it to test your story for anything that could possibly go wrong.

2. Take a break

This one seems obvious, but you might not even see it if you are totally caught up in your novel: Leave your project alone for a couple of days or weeks and do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Take a hike, play the piano, do a bartending course; carve a sculpture, visit an origami exhibition, search for Bigfoot. After having your mind circle around your story all the time, any physical activity or mental change will feel refreshing.

Your body and mind will reenergize and open up to new ways of feeling and thinking.

bigfoot-2

3. Don’t expect too much

When we want something really bad, we often put way too much pressure on ourselves. Then it can happen that we freeze in front of the task like a mouse in the face of a snake.

So take yourself aside for a word of clear, constructive self-talk: Reassure yourself it will be okay. No word you put on screen or paper is final. Nobody will ever see a single letter before you decide to release it into the world.

Finally, even the best writers sometimes produce garbage. Seriously, it’s all good. It’s just a learning process, like everything else in life.

But what do I hear from you? That it’s easier said than done?

True, so here is a practical exercise: Write one page of fiction, and on purpose make it as bad as you possibly can. Is it really cringeworthy? Great, you have succeeded. Hopefully you will be less outcome-dependent now.

4. Put yourself in a creative state of mind

What exactly is a “creative state of mind”?

Your creative self is celebrating its most reckless party when you feel both relaxed and playful at the same time. Again, when you get stuck with your novel, chances are you are worrying too much about getting it right.

Start by taking the pressure off yourself like outlined above. Then go play with your kids and their building blocks to bring out your playful side. If you don’t have kids, play a round of poker, tic-tac-toe or Dungeons & Dragons. Start a pillow fight. The more silly, childish and senseless you can get, the better… it will open up your carefree, curious side again. Creative people can learn a lot from how children treat the world.

Finally, start playing around with the elements of your story, just for the sake of it. Try absurd scenarios. How would that confession scene play out at a circus amongst clowns and dancing bears?

Don’t expect any results, but maybe fooling around will spark your passion for your story again. You might even come across new ideas about how to move it further along.

creative-state-of-mind

5. Reward yourself

It’s also important to nurture your creative motor. Assign yourself little rewards in advance for reaching your writing goals.

Pick something you are really looking forward to. It might be a night at the movies for a chapter you finish, or a new iPad for finishing half of your novel.

6. Visualize your success

If you undergo the long, winding process of writing a book, chances are you feel a deep desire within yourself to see the finished result.

So use your desire and visualize that very satisfying outcome: What would it feel like to look at your finished novel, to know that you finally made it happen? How awesome would it be to read the best chapter aloud to your friends, how exciting to send it out to a couple of agents and publishers and see what happens?

Visualize these scenes of sweet victory. They will give you that extra boost you need to get your project done. And if you need a practical exercise, write a letter to yourself and describe what success will look like.

Also, what fascinated you so much about your story you had to start to write it in the first place? Was it a character, an idea, a scene? Remind yourself of what you found fascinating when you started your long and winding novel. Imagine that character or idea vividly before your mind’s eye.

These are a couple of tactics and tricks I found useful for my own writing. See which one of them works best for you. After all, everything you see here is just words on a screen; apply them, live them, finally stick with what really helps you and disregard the rest.

Soon enough your creative juices will be flowing again, and when you have finished your story, you will look at it and be immensely proud of yourself: You have gotten up, overcome all the obstacles and finally achieved your goal – congratulations, this is what makes you a real writer!

AL, Photo 3

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Download his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to quickly detect any problems in your story and keep yourself motivated. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

So far, so good. Now we just need to do it.

Kristen here again. I have a couple of questions for you: Which techniques work best when you feel fatigue? What do we need to add to the list? Is it hard to be creative when everyday life is upon you? Does wearing a banana peel for a hat make you more creative? Could this fashion statement also be your reward for a finished novel?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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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So You Wrote a First Draft—Dear God! What NOW?

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.30.54 PM

Once we have that crappy first draft usually there will be two major things we need to do…fill or cut. Okay, drinking makes three. And maybe wondering why we didn’t go to dental hygienist school instead makes four….

Anyway.

While it is true that too little substance can generate confusion, too much fluff can create distraction.

There needs to be a balance between…

Enough about the damn snowstorm! and Wait? There was snow?

Thus, once we have that completed first draft and begin our read-through we need to make these refinements to see if what we created meets or exceeds our expectations.

Sadly this is usually the first draft.

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Much of what we will need to do is going to be dictated by what kind of writer we are. Are we a Trimmer or an Embellisher? There is a fantastic post over on Writer Unboxed that describes these two types of writers.

Some writers do a very sparse first draft that acts a lot like a frame for paper machet. It is really meant to just give an idea of the final form and serve as a guide.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Suzette.

Once the structure is inspected and found to be solid enough for government work, the writer then goes back through and fleshes in the work.

Other writers write super heavy then carve away what doesn’t serve the story.

And while I think all of us will identify with one type or another (Trimmer or Embellisher) it really helps to know what to add and/or what to cut.

If we add too much of the wrong thing, we can spoil the entire novel. If we cut too much of the right stuff we can collapse the story. Thus I hope today to at least give you some guidance beyond the more surface line-edit tips I’ve given before (6 Ways to Self-Edit and Polish Your Prose) though those are super helpful as well.

When I do a content edit for any writer, these are the main areas I am looking for.

What To Cut

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jojo Nicado

Character Redundancy

Each character should have a distinctive personality. This personality will give them a corresponding unique purpose to driving the story forward and generating conflict.

In Lord of the Rings the main story problem is of course created by Sauron (the whole evil ring thing). But, much of the story conflict is actually created by the cast members of the various parties who all have a specific role to play.

Merry and Pippin create a lot of chaos that generates sudden changes in the plan. For instance, the plan was to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony NOT to nearly fall into the Dark Rider’s lap outrunning a ticked off farmer.

The duo is naive, inquisitive and we can kind of bundle them into one because they are a team in their mischief. To have essentially another Merry and or Pippin type character would be a redundancy that would be a distraction.

Ask yourself then: Do I have any characters who could be merged?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Q Family

Scenes that Don’t Move the Story Forward

All scenes have one common element. Conflict. There is a goal. No goal and that isn’t a scene.

Sections of information dump, flashbacks that have no ties to the main plot problem/resolution, or scenes with no conflict (I.e. two characters merely talking about a third character)? CUT.

Lackluster Description

Many of us love description. I do. My motto? No metaphor left behind! But description can have two main problems. Either we have a lot of good description but it is SO much that it is bogging down the story. Or, we have description, but it isn’t anything remarkable and we need to replace it with something better.

Ideally, it will be description that goes below the surface and adds to the plot, sets the tone and heightens tension.

Description is more than a weather report or a police sketch.

He was tall and handsome with a chiseled chin and dark wavy hair and…

And he took your purse?

I love this line from the beginning of Prisoner of Hell Gate, which is a literary suspense and one of my favorite books. This description hooks me and sets my expectations:

Dampness prevails, as always, but at this time less from the river and more from the mugginess that weighs on everything. It penetrates the very bricks, their crumbling mortar spongy to the touch.

I don’t know about you, but I am practically wilting reading this. It works way better than:

She walked beside the river on a hot summer night.

Though obviously style will dictate how we write description, even lean writers use words that will give the most impact.

He was a boring man dressed in an off-the-rack suit.

Maybe, instead…

He was the kind of man whose face you forgot even while you were still speaking to him.

Good description is less about piling on details and more about evoking a feeling.

What to Add

Sense of Time and Place

Is this a modern story? Or one set back in time? Is there magic? Technology? What is the setting? Now drop in the details that ground us. Talking heads in a place we aren’t oriented in is jarring. If this is in the beginning of a book, often it will fail to hook.

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Character Nuance

If we just roughed out a bare-bones plot, we now need to go put the modeling clay on the skull.

Another one of my all-time favorite books is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. Now in a parallel world maybe he just wrote out that he needed “a brash bounty hunter with a red car” then later built it into this:

“It was a 1967 Pontiac LeMans Ragtop. Bloodred and so souped-up that she’d outrun any damn thing on the road. And I do mean damned thing.”

That’s how Charlie Matthias always described his car. Then, he’d give a big braying horselaugh, because no matter how many times he said it, he thought it was the funniest joke ever. People tended to laugh with him rather than at the actual joke, because Charlie had a 72-inch chest and 24-inch biceps, and his sweat was a soup of testosterone, anabolic steroids, and Jack Daniels… (Page, 24)

We learned a lot about this character from a three-sentence bit of dialogue, some power-packed description and even some narrative regarding how others responded in the company of this particular character.

This is a really short section that does a lot. It even hints at what type of book this is…a book about zombies. If we happened to pick up this story with no book cover, we’d “get” what it was about.

More Conflict/Tension/Surprise

Great stories are about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. Are our characters getting what they want too easily? Too quickly? Is their action toward each goal too linear? Are there enough stakes? Setbacks? Misdirections?

Are the characters’ actions too predictable? Can you maybe do better at defying reader expectations?

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Are the characters acting as three-dimensional “people” who carry a lot of baggage? Or are they plot-puppets merely doing and saying things because we Author God need them to?

What are your thoughts? Does this help give you a plan of what to do with that first draft? Are you afraid of your office because your WIP might bite you and thus far refuses to be potty trained? What items do you look for? Can you add to the lists I gave?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, 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 the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

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

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

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.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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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The Single Best Way to FINISH Your Novel

Kristen's New Author Pic

Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.

#ThingsOnlyWritersAndPornStarsSay

So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

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Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

I….LIVE….AGAIN!

I….LIVE….AGAIN!

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee ;).

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume 😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, 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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Is Perfectionism Killing Your Writing Career?

Image via Amber West WANA Commons

Image via Amber West WANA Commons

As y’all know, Spawn is in Kindergarden and now we have this lovely new experience called, “Helping with Homework.” Hubby, God love him, is new at this “being a Dad and helping with homework” stuff and has his own learning curve. He was at the kitchen table helping Spawn write out letters while I did laundry and cooked dinner. After a while, though, I noticed this homework thing was taking a really…I mean really long time.

Finally, I told Hubby I’d take over while he went and got a shower and when I looked at Spawn’s work, I immediately knew what was going so sideways.

Spawn wasn’t (yet) being graded on how well he wrote the letters. He simply had to DO them.

Hubby was trying to be a good dad so he was making Spawn erase “mistakes” and do the letter over. And, YES, the kid had a lot of nice looking Es but it was taking forever. 

What Hubby didn’t appreciate being new to this “teaching thing” was that Spawn’s just started learning to write and he is strengthening the fine muscles in his fingers and hands. His writing WILL look that bad for now. It’s no shock to the teacher. And, if his writing doesn’t improve? HA! Doctor!

Anyway, when I took over, Spawn wrote a letter and it was, of course, wonky and too small and off-center, but when he went to erase it, I stopped him and said the words I wish I would have learned MANY years ago:

“Perfect is the enemy of the good. Just keep going.”

Because he left his “mistakes” he then had a way of gauging the letters that followed and as he went, I noticed that his writing got better. Instead of being paralyzed that his writing wasn’t perfect, he was able to move forward. So long as it was legible?

Eh, close enough for government work.

Okay, so all was well and good and then the next day I get an e-mail I’d been waiting for. A year and a half ago, I wrote a mystery novel, but then I got seriously ill with Shingles. Shopping this novel just derailed, but now that I was healthy again? I was ready to get this sucker GONE.

Since we all suck at being honest about our own work, I begged an agent friend of mine to read it and give me a professional opinion. It wasn’t a genre she repped or even especially liked, but she is a rockstar who loves me and I trusted her to deliver the hard truth.

Kristen, don’t quit your day job. Stick to editing.

I sent her my novel about a week and a half earlier and of course had been hovering over my e-mail like a vulture over a baked roadkill.

*hits refresh 920th time*

When I open the e-mail, there is the news I’d been waiting for. My novel was solid and firmly in the submission phase.

Yay, OMG! OMG! Wait….*brakes screech*

Oh crap. I have to write a query letter.

I haven’t had to write a query letter for fiction since the Bush Administration. So there I am, uber-blogger-writing-expert-extraordinaire googling How to Write a Query *hangs head in shame*.

WHY?

Because self-doubt descended on me like a teenage boy on a pizza. I help with query letters ALL THE TIME. I can write them for other people in about ten minutes. Suddenly, when I had to do it for MY book? It would have been easier to perform brain surgery remotely from space using a Clapper and a vegetable peeler.

Because if I have an opportunity to over think and overcomplicate something simple? SIGN ME UP!

So there I was writing all these idiotic versions of my query.

My writing style can be compared to the works of Janet Evanovich and…

and…

and…

…and the BIBLE because my words were inspired by ANGELS.

Kill. Me. Now.

After the 78th version of this query? I am done. Put a fork in me.

I felt all smart and virtuous telling Spawn to just keep moving, to not get fixated on perfection, but what was I doing?

No agent is asking for a perfect query letter. They want an interesting query letter.

We writers have to be really really careful about worshipping perfection, and I think fiction can be far more vulnerable because it is far more subjective. There comes a time when we simply have to SHIP. Just let it go. Time to move on to something new. We could edit forever. This applies to blogs, books, query letters and eyeliner.

The world does not reward perfect books, it rewards finished books.

 

Maybe it is time to let go of that first novel you’ve been working on for the last year three years six years. You know what? Maybe it just sucks and that is okay.

My first novel seriously sucked. Heck, my first novel was being used in Guantanamo Bay to break terrorists until it was banned by the Geneva Convention.

I’ll tell you where the bomb is, just not another chapter of that BOOOOOK!

These days my first novel is in the garage because it pees on the rugs and chews on the furniture.

But remember Spawn and his homework? What was the objective? Finish the letters. It never said to make them super pretty and perfect.

Same with becoming a writer and the first novel.

Very often, our first novel is a learning curve. Just like Spawn is developing his fine writing muscles, we are too 😉 .

The first novel is our first attempt to do something most mere mortals can’t. Can we sit and finish a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words?

Or, in my case? 178,000 words.

Gimme a break! I was NEW! 😛

Yes, I was that writer. The one the agents talk about? It’s me. I am the “Alligator-in-the-Sewer” of the publishing world. I am real. I really queried a 178,000 word novel that was all genres and written for everyone to love and that would make an awesome movie and I already had started the screenplay. Did I mention merchandising?

But what I didn’t understand was that novel wasn’t meant to be queried or even published. It had already served it’s purpose and it took me a long time and way too many fruitless revisions to understand that. One of the best lessons I have learned in my career is to simply let go.

Shop it ship it or kill it but move forward.

Write the first book and move on. Write another and another. Sure, the first one might suck, but each one will suck a little less. We learn by doing. Writers only improve by writing MORE.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If we hope to be successful at this writing thing, we must master two diametrically opposite skills—latching on and letting go. We can’t finish if we don’t sink in our claws, but we also can’t finish if we fail to ever let go.

Virtually every long-term successful author didn’t make it with ONE novel. We make a good living at writing by writing MANY novels. But, if we don’t get good at shipping? Odds are we will never be able to write full-time. So breathe and just move forward. It gets easier.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself too concerned with being perfect? Do you think you allow perfectionism to feed you procrastination? Are you still trying to “fix” that first novel and haven’t let go? Do you have trouble moving forward?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

August’s WINNER is lonestarjake88. Please send your 20 pages (2500 words) to kristen at wana intl dot com in a WORD document. Double-spaced and one-inch margins and CONGRATULATIONS!

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

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of FromSandToGlass

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

Yes, awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t argue. It’s history 😛 .

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

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

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

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

Um, what is deep POV?

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

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

Okay, clear as mud. Right? Right.

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

NOT.

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

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

First, Ditch the Tags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at my made-up example.

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifi felt Tom’s hands clamp around her throat.

Just get to it already!

Tom’s hands clamped around her throat.

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

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

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

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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Is Your Idea Strong Enough? Story Structure Part 4

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Whether we are traditionally published, indie published or self-published, we must connect with readers and tell a great story. Structure is the “delivery system” for our story, so it’s wise to make it as solid as possible.

Welcome to Part IV of my Structure Series—Testing the Idea

I assume that most of you reading this aspire to be great novelists. Novels are only one form of writing and, truth be told, they aren’t for everyone. Stringing together 60-100,000 words and keeping conflict on every page while delivering a story that makes sense on an intuitive level to the reader is no easy task.

That said, all novels begin with an idea. But how do we know if our idea has what it takes to make a great novel?

Many new writers start out with nothing more than a mental snippet, a flash of a scene or a nugget of an idea, and then they take off writing in hopes that seed will germinate into a cohesive novel. Yeah…um, no. Not all ideas are strong enough to sustain 60,000 or more words.

Think of your core idea as the ground where you will eventually build your structure. Novels, being very large structures, require firm ground. So how do you know if the idea you have is strong enough?

Good question. Today we will discuss the fundamental elements of great novels. If your core idea can somehow be framed over these parts, you are likely on a good path.

James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure (which I highly recommend you buy & read, by the way) employs what he calls the LOCK system. Jim, being the SUPER AWESOME person he is, has granted me permission to talk about some of his methods, but these are just my notes, so get the book for the real meat.

When you get the first glimmer of the story you long to tell, the idea that is going to keep you going for months of researching, writing, revisions and eventually submissions, it is wise to test its integrity. The LOCK system is one method we will discuss today.

Lead Objective Conflict Knockout… or, LOCK

LEAD

First, we must have a sympathetic and compelling character. It is critical to have a protagonist that the reader will be able to relate to. Our characters should have admirable strengths and relatable weaknesses. Many new writers stray to extremes with protagonists, and offer up characters that are either too perfect or too flawed.

Perfect people are boring and unlikable and they lack any room to grow. Perfect characters are no different. New writers are often insecure and our protagonists are us…well, the perfect version of us anyway. Our heroines are tall and thin and speak ten languages and have genius IQs and rescue kittens in their free time…and no one likes them.

Seriously.

We need readers to rally to her team, to like her and want to cheer for her to the end. How do we do this? Give her flaws, and humanize her. Additionally, if our characters are fully actualized in the beginning, there will be no character arc so our story will be one-dimensional and flat.

Now, to look at the other side of the spectrum. Often to avoid the cliched “too perfect” character, an author will stray too far to the other end of extremes. The brooding dark protagonist is tough to pull off. In life, we avoid these unpleasant people, so why would we want to dedicate our free time to caring about them?

Oh, but the author will often defend, “But he is redeemed in the end.” Yeah, but we’re expecting readers to spend ten hours (average time to read a novel) with someone they don’t like. Tall order.

To quote mega-agent, Donald Maas (The Fire in the Fiction):

Wounded heroes and heroines are easy to overdo. Too much baggage and angst isn’t exactly a party invitation for one’s readers. What’s the best balance? And which comes first, the strength or the humility? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that one is quickly followed by the other.

In my opinion, this was the single largest problem with the Star Wars prequels. Anakin Skywalker was a little-kid-killer, ergo never redeemable…EVER. He needed to die badly and slowly. Lucas should never have allowed his protagonist to cross that line. Heroes NEVER kill defenseless little kids. It was (my POV) an unforgivable action on the part of the “hero” that cratered the epic.

Objective

Our protagonist MUST have a clear objective. There are many times I go to conferences and I see all these excited writers who are all dying to talk to an agent. When I ask, “So what’s your book about?” I often get something akin to, “Well, there is this girl and she has powers, but she didn’t know she had powers, because, see. Hold on. Okay, her mother was a fairy queen and she fell in love with a werewolf, but werewolves in my book are different. Anyway she has a boyfriend in high school, but he is actually the leader of a group of wizards from another dimension and he is pitted against his inner demons because he lost his father in a battle against shape-shifters….”

Huh? *looks to wine bar in the corner of the room*

Your protagonist must have ONE BIG ACTIVE GOAL. Yes, even literary pieces.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a good example. The movie Fried Green Tomatoes very easily could have been just a collection of some old lady’s stories that helps our present-day protagonist (Evelyn Couch) bide the time while she waits for her husband to finish the visit with his mother, but that is far from the case.

Evelyn is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920’s Alabama. Through Idgie’s inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny (per IMDB).

Learning to be assertive is an active goal. Building is an active verb. Gaining the self-confidence to make your own friends shows a change has occurred, a metamorphosis.

Oh, but Kristen, that’s a movie. Novels are different.

Um…not really. I use movies as examples of storytelling because it saves time. But, here is an example in the world of literary fiction to make you feel better that I am steering you down the correct path.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan could have been just a collection of tales about three generations of Chinese women, but they weren’t. There was an active goal to all of these stories.

The mothers left China in hopes they could change the future for their daughters, and yet the old cycles, despite all their good intentions, repeat themselves and echo the same pain in the lives of their daughters. Actually the protagonist in the book is the collective—The Joy Luck Club.

The stories propel the living members of the Joy Luck Club toward the active goal of finding courage to change the patterns of the past. The mothers seek forgiveness and the daughters struggle for freedom, but each is actively searching and eventually finds something tangible.

We will discuss this in more detail later, but keep in mind that running away from something or avoiding something is a passive goal. Not good material for novels. Novels require active goals…even you literary folk ;).

Conflict

Once you get an idea of what your protagonist’s end goal is, you need to crush his dream of ever reaching it (well, until the end, of course). Remember, last time we talked about the Big Boss Troublemaker. Generally (in genre novels especially), it is the BBT is whose agenda will drive the protagonist’s actions until almost the end.

The protagonist will be reacting for most of the novel. It is generally after the darkest moment that the protagonist rallies courage, allies, hidden strength and suddenly will be proactive.

Riddick, for most of the story, is reacting to the Lord Marshal’s agenda. Riddick’s goal is to defeat the BBT, but there are all kinds of disasters and setbacks along the way. Logical disasters are birthed from good plotting. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of doing some plotting ahead of time is that it will be far easier for you to come up with set-backs and disasters that make sense.

Knockout

So your novel has thrust a likable, relatable protagonist into a collision course with the Big Boss Troublemaker. The Big Boss Battle must deliver all you (the writer) have been promising. Endings tie up all loose ends and sub-plots and, if we have done our job, will leave the reader a feeling of resonance.

Your protagonist MUST face down the BBT. No fighting through proxies. Luke had to face Darth. By employing the Jedi skills learned over the course of the story, he was able to triumph.

Same in literary works.

Evelyn Couch had to stand up to her husband and her monster-in-law. She couldn’t send in Ninny Threadgoode to do it for her. In the movie’s climactic scene, Evelyn employs the “Jedi skills” she learned from stories about Idgy. Her Jedi skills are confidence and self-respect, and she uses them to defeat her oppressors by refusing to take any more of their sh—enanigans.

This is why all this “my protagonist is the BBT/antagonist” WON’T WORK. In Fried Green Tomatoes, Evelyn is her own worst enemy. She is spineless and weak. But, the real enemy resides in those who desire to control and bully Evelyn. In each act of the movie, we see Evelyn learning confidence so that by the end, the BIG battle, she can tell her abusive mother-in-law to stuff it.

She isn’t having an argument with herself. She is standing up to a very real antagonist…even though this is a character/literary story. Characters having inner angst for 80,000 words is therapy, not fiction. Humans do better with the tangible. Existentialism is great, but for a mainstream successful novel? Not the best approach.

So when you get that nugget of an idea and think, Hmm. THAT is my novel. Try using the LOCK system. Ask yourself:

Can I cast a LEAD who is relatable and likable?

Is this OBJECTIVE something that will keep readers interested for 60-100,000 words?

Can I create a BBT and opposition force capable of generating plenty of CONFLICT to keep my lead from her objective?

Does this story problem lend itself to a KNOCKOUT ending?

This is just a taste of the good stuff that James Scott Bell has to offer in Plot & Structure so I recommend buying a copy for your writing library. In the upcoming lessons, I will be using this book for reference, among others to help you guys become master story-tellers.

What are the biggest problems you guys have when it comes to developing your ideas? What are some setbacks you have faced? Do you guys have any recommendations for resources? Or, feel free to commiserate and laugh about all the good ideas that went oh so wrong.

I do want to hear from you guys! What are your thoughts? Questions? Concerns? I LOVE hearing from you.

Lynette Mirie is the winner over at my Dojo Diva blog. Today at Dojo Diva, we are talking about the POWER of QUITTING. Since this is a new blog (and a way shorter one), I am running a separate contest for commenters so the chances of winning are A LOT better!

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

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

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Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story—Part Two

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Last post, I started talking about the dreaded topic…structure. I write these posts because I really DO want you guys to succeed and as an editor for far too many years, the single biggest reason most new novels flop? Structure. Pretty prose does not a novel make. Each of these blogs will build upon the previous lesson. By the end of this series, I hope you to give you guys all the tools you need to be “structure experts.”

Yes, even the pantsers.

Structure is one of those topics that I feel gets overlooked far too much. There are a lot of workshops designed to teach new writers how to finish a novel in four weeks or three or two or whatever. And that is great…if a writer possesses a solid understanding of structure. If not? At the end of 4 weeks, you could very likely have a 60K word mess that no editor can fix.

Finishing a novel is one of the best experiences in the world, but wanna know the worst? Pouring your heart and soul into a novel, finishing it, and then finding out it is not publishable or even salvageable. I make a lot of jokes about my first novel being used in Guantanamo Bay to break terrorists.

I’ll tell you where the bomb is just not another chapter of that booook!

Some of you might be in the midst of having to face some hard truths about your “baby.” If you have been shopping that same book for months or years, and an agent has yet to be interested, likely structure is the problem. If you went ahead and self-published, but sales are lackluster? Again, problem might be structure. Many of you might have a computer full of unfinished novels. Yes, again, structure is likely the problem.

Good news is that most structure problems can be fixed, although many times that requires leveling everything to the foundation and using the raw materials to begin anew…the correct way and killing a lot of little darlings along the way.

Last post, I broke the bad news. Novels have rules. Sorry. They do. I didn’t make this stuff up. When we don’t follow the rules, bad things happen. Just ask Dr. Frankenstein.

Authors who break the rules do so with a fundamental understanding of rules and reader expectations. Remember the pizza analogy? We can get creative with pizza so long as we do so with an appreciation for consumer expectations. A fried quail leg on filo dough with raspberry glaze is not recognizable as a pizza. We can call it pizza until we are blue and a consumer will just think we’re a nut.

Same with a novel. Readers have expectations. Deviate too far and we will have produced a commodity so far off the standard consumer expectations that the product will not sell…which is why agents won’t rep it. Our novel can be brilliant, but not sell. Agents are interested more in making money than breaking literary rules. Rumor has it that agents do have to make a living.

I can tell if a writer understands structure in ten three pages. So can an agent. We are diagnosticians and when we spot certain novel “diseases” we know there is a big internal problem. We’ll discuss two major symptoms of a flawed plot today, but first we are going to pan the camera back this time. Last time, we zoomed in and looked at the most fundamental building blocks of a novel. Today, we are going to get an aerial shot—the Three Act Structure.

Aristotelian structure has worked for a couple thousand years for very good reasons. To paraphrase James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure (cuz he says it the best, but do yourself a favor and get his book, STAT!):

There is something fundamentally sound about the three act structure, and it is very much in harmony with how we live our lives. Three is a pattern. Childhood is short and introduces us to life (Act I). Most of our living comes in the middle span of years (Act II), and then we are old and we die and that sums up our existence (Act III). We wake in the morning (Act I) then have the day living life (Act II) and then night ties things up (Act III). When we are confronted with a problem we react (Act I) then spend the greatest amount of time searching for insight and looking for an answer (Act II) and then finally the solution (Act III).

Three act structure has endured thousands of years because it works. Beginning, middle and end. We can ignore the three act structure, but we do so at our own risk that our work will fail to connect with readers.

Beginnings present the story world, establish tone, compel the reader to come on the adventure, and introduce the opposition.

Middles deepen the character relationships, keep the reader emotionally invested in the characters, and sets up the events that will lead to the final showdown at the end.

Ends tie up the main plot and any other story threads and provide a sense of meaning.

(If you don’t yet own Jim’s book, buy it today. It is a must-have for every writer’s library.)

Ideally, our story’s tension will steadily rise from the beginning to end, getting more intense like a roller coaster. Think of the best roller coasters. They start off with a huge hill (Inciting Incident that introduces the ride) then a small dip to catch your breath, and then we are committed. If the biggest hill is at the beginning of the ride, the rest of the ride is a total letdown.

A well-designed roller coaster gives escalating thrills—bigger and bigger hills and loops—with fewer troughs to catch our breath and all leading up to the Big Boss loop, then the glide home to the other side of where we began. We all want to get to the Big Boss loop, but we do so with a mix of terror, dread and glee. Same with a good story.

Great roller coasters are designed. So are great novels. Everything is done with purpose.

Two major problems will occur when we fail to follow this design. In almost seven years of running countless plots through my workshop, I have given them names—Falcor the Luck Dragon and The Purple Tornado.

Meet the Luck Dragon

Remember the movie The Neverending Story? Beautiful movie and amazing special effects…but (in my opinion) a HORRIBLE story. I loved the movie, too. I have a soul. But I feel this movie is remembered and loved more for great effects and puppets, not the storytelling.

The beginning starts with The Nothing eating away a world we haven’t been in long enough to care and gobbling up critters the viewing audience hasn’t even been introduced to. Total melodrama. And the solution? A boy hero who the viewer doesn’t know from a hole in the ground and who, truthfully, isn’t nearly as likable as his horse that sinks into the Bog of Despair.

Yes, I cried.

So High Council instructs unlikable boy hero to go and talk to the Northern Oracle. Northern Oracle is a giant turtle that is suffering depression and is apparently off his meds. Northern Oracle tells boy hero the answer to their problems rest with the Southern Oracle…but it is ten thousand miles away.

Boy trudges off depressed and defeated and music rises to cue the audience that we are supposed to care. Unlikable boy hero falls into the swamp…oh but Falcor the Luck Dragon swoops down from the sky and flies him ten thousand miles to the Southern Oracle. How lucky for the boy hero. Better yet. How convenient for the screenwriters that Falcor was there to bail them out of a massive plot problem.

No, your protagonist cannot find a journal or letters or some contrived coincidence to bail her out of a corner and get her back on track. That is what I call a Luck Dragon. Don’t think you can sneak a Falcor by an agent or editor either. There is no camouflaging this guy. Have you seen the movie? He’s HUGE, and he will stand out like, like…like a Luck Dragon bailing you out of a plot problem. But take heart. Looking at structure ahead of time will make all actions logical and Falcor the Luck Dragon can stay up in the clouds where he belongs.

Watch out for that Purple Tornado!

Next plot problem? The Purple Tornado. What is a purple tornado? So glad you asked. I once worked with a writer who had a YA fantasy. By page 30 there was this MASSIVE supernatural event with a purple tornado. This writer clung to the purple tornado scene until I thought I was going to break his knuckles prying it away from him.

Why was I prying the purple tornado from his hands? Because he couldn’t top the purple tornado!!! He had his Big Boss Battle, his grand finale, his giant loop too close to the beginning. The rest of the book would have either been a letdown or totally contrived.

Plan where that loop will be situated and put it in the spot that will evoke the greatest emotional reaction…at the end.

I see too many new writers trying to “hook” the reader with some grand event like a building exploding. Well, okay, but what are you going to do for the grand finale, blow up a city? The planet? It’s too much too soon and before anyone even cares.

Structure.

I hope you guys get a lot out of this series. I know it took me years to learn some of this stuff and part of the reason I sat down and wrote this series was to help shorten the learning curve. I would imagine most of you reading this would like to be successfully published while you are still young enough to enjoy it. Join me on Monday for more on structure and plotting.

What are some problems you guys have faced in plotting? What are the biggest struggles? Do you have any suggestions for books on the subject or methods you use that you could share? Have you been guilty of a Falcor or a Purple Tornado? Share your thoughts.

I love hearing from you!

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

Will announce the Dojo Diva winner on next DD post.

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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