Posts Tagged writing tips

Being GOD 101—The Basics of World Building

Nice to beep you

In case I still need to introduce him to you: Alex Limberg has been a steady guest on my blog for the past couple months, and since he has taken to crate training far better than I anticipated, I might keep him around even longer.

Who’s a good guest blogger? *dangles treat*

Alex is a copywriter and blogs on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. Check and improve your stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story (very helpful checklist for anybody who writes fiction).

All righty. How do you create your own fictional world from scratch? So glad you asked! World building is critical to writing a good story, especially in certain genres like fantasy, high fantasy and science fiction. As an editor, I can always tell writers who skipped this step, namely because it makes me want to throw their book across a room. We have to establish a world and the rules of operation in that world before doing anything else, but I am prattling on and Alex is going to help you today.

Take it away, Alex!

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Admit it, you want to be a god.

You despotic, power-hungry person, you need your own little space where everybody (and everything) bends to your rules, and you need to get your way.

Why else would you write fiction?

Ok, maybe you have other, more noble motives as well. Nevermind, sorry for prematurely accusing you (maybe).

But still, one of the most satisfying feelings for a writer is to create his own universe. Where else can you string along any individual, save or extinguish them just as you please, decide about the colors and shapes of what is and even bend the laws of the world to your liking?

You will build your most complete worlds in two genres: Fantasy and science fiction. Here, you can recreate the entire world and re-invented every little detail, should you choose to do so.

Maybe people eat shoes and walk on bread. They might have one billion twenty-two hundred million and fourteen eyes or none. What’s an eye anyway?

For his fantasy world Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien even went so far as to invent not one, but several languages. Diving into a world that detailed and miraculous must feel very tempting to a lot of people. That’s why the masses pilgrimaged to movie theatres all over the world to watch Lord of the Rings: No doubt they would rather be guided by Gandalf than by their own employer!

Science fiction on the other hand represents a harsher, less elfish and cozy world. Whereas fantasy says This could be, science fiction tells us This will be, which is a call much more threatening call to make… we feel more personally affected by science fiction.

In the end, no matter what genre you are writing in, you are always building your very own universe.

Maybe your story plays in a police department, in a hospital, or any other environment that has its very specific code of conduct, look and pace.

Maybe people in your novel talk very realistically or maybe your characters are just goofy and funny.

It might be just about the angle your story is coming from: In a thriller, there is very little room for laughter, everything is looked at from a factual, suspense-driven angle; in a comedy, everything is supposed to be funny. You might have noticed though that in real life funny and tragic moments often take turns very quickly and even come as a package within the same experience.

So it’s finally proven: Your TV set is not your real life!

Ok, so you want to be a young god or goddess respectively, create your own science fictional world, kill everybody, and let the rest live to your liking… now how do you go about it? What tips and guidelines am I able to supply you with on your honorable quest?

Let’s look at a simplified recipe on how to prepare your own world like a warm, steaming, yummy apple pie.

And let’s use one of the most famous science fiction movies ever to inspire us.

The Outline

Before you start writing your first draft, I whole-heartedly recommend you spend some time on preparing a detailed outline for your background. Be absolutely clear about what it looks like and which rules it adheres to.

Even writing in a more “realistic” genre will be difficult without an outline (although it depends on which type of writer you are). But inventing your SF or fantasy world “on the fly” is certainly a bad idea.

Think about it: The less you know in advance, the more of your mental disk space the story background will occupy while you are writing. You can only concentrate on so many things at the same time. So while you think about what a driving tests for talking ostriches looks like, you will miss out on the characterization or on writing sharp dialogue, I can guarantee you.

Make sure to write a detailed outline on your background.

The Feeling

As a first step, you should settle on the mood you want to create: What feeling should your world evoke? Is it funny or serious, very technological or rather simple? How far off is it from the good old world we inhabit?

Sexy in Space

Image by Ludovic Bertron/Flickr CC

For example, it could be “fantastic” science fiction with many curious races involved, like Star Wars. Or it could be a high-tech futuristic environment drifting through the vast reaches of space like Star Trek.

What does it feel like, which aspect of science fiction does it highlight?

Remember the 80s movie Blade Runner?

Its plot is a bit thin. But it’s a perfect example to study background, because it consists mainly of atmosphere. The wonderful production design, the highly acclaimed cinematography and Vangelis’s gloomy score all make for an extremely moody environment.

Blade Runner outlines a dark cyberpunk world and emphasizes the somber, haunted aspect of science fiction. It’s a cold, lonely, alienated world, one in which you can’t be sure if your opposite is human or an artificial clone looking like a human (called replicant).

Of course, you could go an entirely different route and make your world a friendly place with aliens looking like SpongeBob, feeding you grapes all day long. Whatever floats your boat. The SpongeBob version would render a completely different context and statement, and would of course require entirely different details and procedures (see below).

But whatever background you choose, here is the trick:

Give it a healthy balance between a world well known to the reader and a completely unknown one!

If you use certain things and procedures that are familiar to your audience, they will identify with your world. The more you can wrap your reader up in the feeling of a real, existing world, the more she will care about your story.

On the other hand, if you embed these things in a new, futuristic context, you take your readers by the hand and lead them into a world full of wonders, which is exactly what fiction should do: Take queuing at the register in the supermarket (a familiar, slightly annoying feeling, but in your world it’s done resting on hovering chairs), or meter parking (city administration is ready to charge again, but in your world they want your karma).

Balance between realism and imagination matters. For if your entire reality is a completely new one, your readers won’t recognize themselves in it anymore; but if your reality is too close to the known world – well, it’s not science fiction any longer then, is it?

Reality

Image by Byron Villegas/Flickr CC

The Surface

Next, there is the purely physical level: Based on the mood you want to create, what does your world look, sound, feel like?

The future looks streamlined, sounds mechanic and feels waterproof – at least that’s what the convention in science fiction wants to make us believe.

What the audience “sees” and “hears” right away is the uppermost layer of your universe: In the case of Blade Runner, do you remember all of the tubes, consoles, screens, scanners and the feeling they gave you – apparently enough emotion to hook you for a full two hours (because remember, thin plot)?

Can you recall the dark, threatening details of that world, whether it was an abandoned, deranged apartment block or stacks spitting huge clouds of fire?

Technology taking over our lives is often the idea behind science fiction. Technology, by default, is artificial; science fiction worlds are user-friendly, repellent, made of plastic and metal. Have you ever seen an iPad made of raw meat? Me neither; these worlds are all synthetics and steel.

Typical science fiction design looks streamlined, reflecting, immaculate; it sounds mechanical and automated, like a clicking, a buzzing, a laser-like swoosh; it feels smooth, firm and cold. Minimalism and functionality prevail. Everything is made for quick use and to save time. Keep this in mind when you are describing your world and what the characters see, hear and feel.

Then again, all of this is just an idea, a stereotyped label. Yes, just go ahead, create some science fiction with overwhelmingly furry surfaces – show me that meaty iPad!

Cool in Space

Image by L.E.Spry/Flickr CC

The Procedures

Now you know what your world looks and feels like. But what about its inner mechanics?

Think about the technology in your world – what’s ridiculously easy for people to do now? Do they beam themselves to work? Read each other’s thoughts instead of listening to them (time saver)?

Look at the technological advance. Then think logically and realistically: Because of the new technology, which changes might have happened in social life, in transport, in administration, in communication, in trade, etc…?

Throughout the centuries, technological changes have always brought along big changes in all other aspects of life: Take the law, for example. We have the internet now, people have access to never-before-seen technology to exploit each other on a whole new level; so we need a whole new set of rules, e.g. against cyber-criminals.

Think of all the areas of life internet has had a major impact on: Commerce (online sales), love (online dating), financials (online stock exchanges), and many, many more. With the advance of the internet, technological advance brought massive shifts in many other areas of life.

But let’s consider law again for a moment: Say if people read each other’s thoughts to save some time – where is the legal limit?

Are there thoughts nobody is allowed to read, private thoughts?

How is thought reading controlled, what’s the punishment for stepping over the line?

What’s the legal consequence of reading a policeman’s thought?

And as we are already at it, the government’s inclination to control its population always brings new threatening elements with it – that’s fertile ground for any science fiction story and some healthy paranoia.

In the Blade Runner world, citizens have to take emotional tests to expose if they are replicants or not. Replicants will be retired (executed). See how new technology (production of replicants) inevitably leads to new social and legal ramifications?

And sometimes, just once in a while, technology backfires – wasn’t the internet invented to save us a lot of time? And how much time did you waste on Facebook this week?

This is the irony of progress.

The Imagination

Finally, remember: That new universe of yours has to be imaginative! Had your reader the desire to read about the trashcans and trees behind his house, he would have just studied an essay about waste recycling in Dipshit, Ohio. Instead, not only give him something he doesn’t know and won’t ever know, but give him something nobody has ever experienced before.

What is it that makes science fiction so appealing?

It’s just that we love to imagine what the future holds in store for us! This is how human beings are wired, this is the dream of humanity – to live without the boundaries of gravity, of our bodies, of place, of time. So hand out some candy to the reader:

Which unimagined possibilities can he experience in your story that he won’t ever be able to enjoy in real life?

Is it time traveling to tell his younger self about the pitfalls of life’s journey?

Is it a robot who does all his homework?

Free-of-charge love with a clone?

In Blade Runner, we have things as mundane as a video device reacting to vocal commands; we also have flying police cars, which admittedly sound more like a nightmare than a dream to the average traffic participant – but at least they are every policeman’s wet dream!

So there you have it: The future is limitless and time is incomprehensible to the human mind. Humans will always wonder what the future has in store for them and humans will always be fascinated by science fiction.

And when the future finally arrives – it will be the new past within the blink of an eye… and a new future will be awaiting!

Alexander Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your world building, realism and many other story elements with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Kristen here; I have beamed my way back into this post.

And now over to you: Have you written science fiction or fantasy before? Or any other genre when it felt like you were very much building your own world? Do you have a secret sauce to draw your readers into your universe? How do you make sure your audience is as fascinated by that universe as you are? Is riding a rollercoaster equally fun on Mars? If our knees would bend in the opposite direction, what would chairs look like? Let us know about the future of humanity in the comments!

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

I love hearing from you!

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

THIS SATURDAY! Branding for Authors. This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle 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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35 Comments

The Truth About Harnessing Creativity

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Image by PureSolution/Shutterstock.com

Thanks for joining me on the emotional ride we’ve had for the last couple posts. Good times. Who knew paying writers could be so controversial? And if y’all think I have for a moment let this go? *laughs hysterically* Nah, it’s all good. We just probably could all use a drink break.

Blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg assisted me through the holiday season, and now he’s here today while I go get stitches from twelve days of verbal cage fighting. Just so you know? I fight for you guys. I do it for LOVE *sniffs*

Adrian!

Make sure to check out Alex’s free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you get the best out of your ideas and create intriguing stories. Today he shares with us a deep truth any creative should be aware of. Ready? 3, 2, 1… Go!

***

Wherever we turn in our lives, we always see these pairs of two that keep things going:

Men and women. Night and day. Plus and minus. Ebb and flow. Work and leisure. City and countryside. Your left leg and your right leg. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Mickey and Goofy. Calvin and Hobbes.

Wherever you look, the world is held together by two polar opposites that complement and nurture each other, a Yin and a Yang. And in writing, it’s no different.

Whether your writing output will shine or you can throw it in the bin will be determined by the Yin and the Yang of your creative work.

So here it comes, the big truth I promised you in the headline. To me, this is the most important secret about all creative work, and I’m not even going to make you wait until the last paragraph; just take it and run: Your writing needs a creative and a rational side.

Let’s dive in knee-deep and take a look at how you can put each of them before your inner creative horse:

The Creative Side

On one hand, we have creativity.

Creativity is giving birth to something new; it’s risking, not overthinking, it’s the odd straw. A truly creative mindset is a relaxed and very, very playful one – think of a little kid toying around with his toy blocks.

The kid doesn’t sit down to study toyblockology for twelve semesters, he doesn’t calculate an elaborate blueprint for the most correct way to assemble square objects in three dimensional space, and he doesn’t need a teacup full of Valium when his little tower breaks down.

That kid is not analyzing and not second-guessing himself, it just lets his ideas pour out through him. It’s in a complete flow state.

Ideally, you are that kid.

Child in Box 2

Image by Sunny studio/Shutterstock.com

You are sitting down to toy around with your characters, with your ideas and words, self-absorbed, fascinated, totally thrilled by what you are doing, forgetting about the outer world. Ideally, you are experiencing a full-on flow state.

Now this is the important part: In creative mode, you can do whatever you want and your mind is not constricted by any rules whatsoever! No idea is too weird, too bumpy, too far out to be put on paper.

You could write about a cruel, perverted murder, which is something that would repel you in real life; you could write about flying pigs; you could even deconstruct words and sentences and assemble an abstract poem – or an abstract novel (see how I constricted myself here for a moment by assuming that if it was abstract, it had to be a poem?).

You can do anything. You are a big kid!

Creative mode is a state of extreme freedom that most people don’t get to experience very often in their lives – which might be the reason why we like writing in the first place. It’s a free-floating, curious, roaming state of mind. Its freedom sometimes brings out incredible results. No maps, no boundaries. No rights or wrongs. This is creativity.

We are not questioning ourselves in any way in this state, we just follow our gut feelings. No inquiries accepted – in fact, questions seem outright distasteful!

That’s the reason why during brainstorming sessions nobody is allowed to make derogatory comments: You must keep the mood non-judgmental to not choke creative thinking.

Crazy Man 3

Image by Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

The Rational Side

Then, on the other end of the seesaw, we have the rational mind.

That’s the way of thinking most people use the vast majority of each and every day in their lives, above all in their jobs. They might mercifully allow their creative side to come out a bit after finishing time to have a beer with her, but mostly we are way too occupied. We have to check phone calls off our lists, organize transportation for our kids and file tax returns, and we can’t give our creative side the time of day.

Social pressure keeps our creative side locked up as well: Getting naked in the middle of the street for a round of expressive dance is generally not appreciated within our society. If it was, society would come apart at the seams, so there must be an evolutionary reason why we don’t let that kind of behavior slide.

Rational thinking is very logical and streamlined. Everything has its place and rights and wrongs are clearly defined. If something isn’t right, by default it must be wrong.

There is no room for ouside-the-box; in fact, the box is all that counts. Rational mode is about executing things the right and logical way and in the right and logical order. We have to handle things the way we have learned they work; no experimentation. It’s a problem-solving mindset. As we have many problems (or at least we think we do), we have to employ it very often.

This kind of thinking leads to measurable results. Without it, we would be sitting in wilderness, drooling from the corner of our mouths, using berry juice to paint funny circles on a rock.

Rational thinking sets barriers. It lets us steer towards clearly defined goals and manage our daily duties. It separates the successful from the failed and it lets us question and therefore improve things. It’s judgmental. And in this life, more often than not, we need to judge in order to be able to take well-informed decisions.

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Image by hidesy/Shutterstock.com

The Balance

Now where does all of this come together for our, the writers’, purposes?

Here is the trick: To bring out your best writing, you have to establish a healthy balance between your creative and your rational side!

You depend on your creative side to make your stories fruitful, imaginative, and mesmerizing. Without creativity, your story might read “technically” correct, but totally bloodless and dull. You might avoid using quotative verbs with adverbs during dialogue exchanges, the rhythm structure of your language might be precisely calculated, your characters’ psychology might be structured logically, so congratulations – but your writing will still put even the most avid reader to sleep!

What are you even writing this for?

Somebody with the mindset of an accountant might have that problem, especially if he has been working as an accountant for three decades and has thus completely trained his mind to rational thinking.

Then again, look at the other extreme: Without any rationality, your writing will be frayed at the edges, shapeless, not compact. It’s like it’s too much, not cut at the borders where needed, no separation between the well-made and the awful parts.

And what happens if you don’t select, if you don’t judge and separate the successful from the failed? It all ends up out of shape and overshooting the mark – in other words, a big mess.

Selectivity gives you a chance to check if the story is following rules that have proven effective. That means cutting a scene if it’s overwhelmingly long and running out of juice, crossing out a metaphor if it has missed the mark, trimming back a character trait if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the character.

It means cutting everything back to levels that make sense, just like you would cut a bonsai into rectangular shape to fit it into a box.

This “trimming” part can be difficult to do, especially for inexperienced writers. They often love to put their stories to paper, their creativity is overflowing, but they haven’t developed a sense for the “complete shape,” for the rules of the trade yet.

It will come with practice. It will come if during editing they will question their writing and think about story elements and whether each one is in the right place or not (check out my free ebook, it’s the ideal tool to help you distinguish).

Don’t question yourself during the original writing process though; while writing the first draft, give yourself permission to do anything – just like that little kid gives himself permission to do anything! During revision, be more present with your logical mind and challenge yourself. Take educated decisions about what can stay and what has to go.

This is exactly what Hemingway would have meant, had he indeed said: Write drunk, edit sober.

Creativity is chaos. Rationality is order. If you find the right balance between the two of them, people will not only be fascinated by your stories, but will also want to read through your entire tale.

And Yin and Yang, which are essentially just two slightly distorted, happy smiley-faces at peace with each other, will shine down on you knowingly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your creative story output with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

That was some empowering truth about creativity.

And now it’s your turn: What gets your creative juices flowing? Do you find it difficult to cut down your beloved stories? What’s your biggest problem when you try to balance your wild creative side and your inner thinking nerd? Will they ever be friends and go for a coffee together? If they do, will you join them? How does it feel to be schizophrenic? Come on, let us know in the comments already!

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

I love hearing from you!

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

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. Also Blogging for Authors THIS SATURDAY.

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

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

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27 Comments

Do You Have TRUE GRIT? If Not, 7 Ways To Get It

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In my tenure in this profession it is sad how many truly talented writers I’ve seen who never made it. The reason? Talent is useless without mental toughness. It takes true grit to make it in this business.

Too many writers are simply not going to make it because they don’t have the sticking power. And while this is an easy observation to make, I am here to do more than point out the obvious. I’m here to give some practical ways to improve psychological toughness, get better at being disciplined, and eat goals and deadlines for breakfast (they have ZERO calories, btw).

Relax and enjoy the holidays. Refueling is vital. Bookmark this. Let it soak in and then be ready to act come January 1st. These tips work for anything you want to accomplish, btw.

So…

Seven Tips for True Grit

One—Set Goals

No really and don’t roll your eyes at me :P . Set them. I know you hear this all the time but it’s true. Write them down and make them real. How can you map a course if you don’t know were you are going?

When I was in sales we had a saying, Fail to plan. Plan to fail.

If you have a goal to eventually replace that day job with being a full-time writer? Write it down and then plan your escape. Studies have shown that we’re far more likely to reach goals once we have written them down and that isn’t shocking.

To write them down we have to name them, claim them and define them. We take them out of the “nebulous gray.” It is far easier to reach for concrete benchmarks than existentialism.

Forget Realistic—Realistic is For Wimps

Most of us underestimate what we can accomplish. When you write your goal, rewrite it just a little bigger. What’s the worse that can happen? You accomplish more than you thought you could?

 

Years ago I did this. I wrote down, In 2011 I am going to get an agent. Then I crossed it out and wrote In 2011 I am going to sign with one of the best agents in NYC.

See, we never know what is going to happen or what chain of events might open what door. In early 2011, I wrote a little book called Are You There, Blog? It’s Me Writer. I was still an unknown and this was also during the days that most people were unconvinced social media was fundamental shift in global civilization we all NOW know it to be.

When I wrote the book, I needed blurbs, so I made up a Hail Mary List. These were authors who I loved, who were SO BIG I doubted my e-mail would ever even get through.

On that Hail Mary List was NYTBSA James Rollins. Not only did I get through, he’d actually read  my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and was MY FAN *falls over dead*. He asked if it would be okay of he sent my book to HIS agent…who later that year signed me (who happened to be one of THE biggest agents in NYC). I not only got a blurb and a friend, I got an agent.

What if I’d limited my goal?

Visualize Process NOT Fantasy

A critical mistake I made when I first decided to become a writer was I spent far too much time “visualizing” the success. In my head I dreamed of sales, wealth, book tours and being able to travel the world to research and people lined out the door to meet me and seeing stacks of displays of my books.

Nothing per se wrong with that but just that is fantasy and can be unhealthy.

To reach any big dream, we must fall in love with the process. 

I am up almost every morning at 4:15 a.m. That seriously sucked in the beginning. I had to learn to fall in love with it. Blogging? SUCKED for the first 2 years. It was so hard week after week, month after month writing thousands of words to entertain CheapXanaxANDYoungCoeds.com.

But I knew I was honing my skills. I was learning to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner. I was training myself to eat deadlines for breakfast. I was training out my perfectionism that held onto things instead of shipping. I was opening myself to public criticism, gaining fans, feedback and thicker skin.

Original Image courtesy of HeikoHartsuijker Flickr Creative Commons

Original Image courtesy of HeikoHartsuijker Flickr Creative Commons

Through a lot of really humbling lessons, I had to fall in love with all of it, not just the fantasy of what “one day” might be. Writers’ groups are all filled with people who never have pages to read, who never finish what they start. They don’t blog, don’t build a platform, but all have dreams that HBO will be replacing Game of Thrones with their series.

Nothing wrong with that goal, btw. Just don’t leave it at that. Do the WORK.

To the Pain—Set Accountability 

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In the New Year we all have goals. Maybe you want to finish the novel by a certain day or query by a certain day or publish by a certain day. I love pleasure but pain is good for the soul. Put some stakes on it. Go purchase something you really want. Preferably something a close friend (ideally a mean friend) also wants.

Maybe it is a $50 gift card. Maybe a new gaming system, spa package, or 90 minute massage. Whatever.

Put it in the pot and then, if you make your goal by the date it’s yours, if not? It goes to your accountability partner. Yes, rewards and treats are all fabulous but they are a tad too easy.

Often we are far more motivated when it will cost us something. The more it costs us, the more motivated we are to accomplish said goal.

So if a loved one gives you a fat gift card for Christmas, maybe throw that in the Goal Pot and take a gamble for a greater ROI. Use that $100 Amazon card for cool stuff you want to reward yourself with, but also as fuel to finish all revisions by February 15th ;) .

Ditch Negative People, Whiners & Complainers

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Memekode.

Seriously. You wouldn’t let someone bring their dog in your house and let it crap on your floor, would you?  Yes, if someone brings a pet over and once in a while there is an oops? OKAY. But that is very different than someone bringing over their dog and using your living room as a kennel floor.

So why let people crap non-stop in your head? Sorry for the gross image but that’s what that is. Whining and complaining do nothing but increase stress levels which shrinks the size of the hippocampus leading to us being progressively more stupid.

Yes, science has proven that hanging out with whiners makes us stupid.

Everyone has a bad day and that isn’t what I’m talking about. Give them 60 seconds and then enough. Start talking about solutions. People who are chronically negative or addicted to whining? Bye.

I’ve learned to determine the ASKHOLES in my life and get rid of them. You know what an askhole is? That is a person who is always in a crisis, who always needs advice and after they have derailed your life and gotten your advice? Does whatever the hell stupid thing they are going to do anyway…often leading to the next crisis that you WARNED them would happen.

Turn them loose.

Surround Yourself With Accountability & Excellence

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

We are who we hang around. Character is contagious. When I was new as a writer I didn’t understand how important this was. I thought I could fight the inertia of mediocrity with sheer willpower. I also thought that if I was part of a group of people who said they wanted to be writers, well then they wanted to be writers. Right?

No.

Actions speak louder than words.

Writers write. Not all critique groups and writing groups are good for you. If you want to join a writing group, look to how many people in the group are published, multi-published, awarded, writing full-time, blogging, etc. If it’s just a bunch of people who meet and have coffee and talk about writing? Your time is better spent at home writing. Hanging out with that garbage is like hanging around radioactive material and thinking you are fine.

NO.

Negativity and mediocrity are invisible particles that punch your will and your dreams full of tiny holes until they collapse and die. Yes, you can try to ward it off and buffer from it but the best course of action? Stop growing strawberries writing dreams at Chernobyl crappy writing groups.

One of the things I’ve worked hard to do is to make myself available on W.A.N.A.Tribe. Back in November during Nanowrimo I introduced writing sprints in the Main Room IM field.

I rallied everyone at 8:45 a.m. CST and we did as many as 5 sprints. 30 minutes per sprint. Write as much as you could. Report back the numbers. Then we took a break and came back at 3:30 p.m. CST and did more sprints.

Everyone who participated finished Nano. I finished in 16 days WITH the flu while blogging.

Once Nano ended, I changed the plan. We now still meet every morning at 8:45 a.m. CST and we do what I call Blackouts. 40 minutes to do as much work as you can then report back to the group what you accomplished.

Writers now get to see MY operational tempo, since I’m almost always leading the team. We do as many as five Blackouts before lunchtime. Then, we rally back at 3:30 after I get Spawn for more Blackouts. I generally do about 3 more.

Writers get to see what I accomplish in that 40 minute block. What is my word count? How much did I get edited? How many Blackout sessions did it take to get my blog written and posted?

This doesn’t mean people need to copy me, but I tell you, it helped me TREMENDOUSLY when social media peeled back the curtain and I started seeing how authors I admired worked and got so much accomplished.

Also, this current system offers accountability and makes all of us push harder. There is a level of healthy competition and since we are a TEAM, it is far harder for me to say, “Eh, I think I will take today off.”

Up Your Operational Tempo

Believe it or not, I am not the strongest member of my team, merely the best looking #ITSACURSE. There are writers on our Blackout Team who blow ME away. Always look to surround yourself with people stronger than yourself and don’t buy your own excuses.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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You may not be able to do this on your own. You may lack the discipline so come over to W.A.N.A.Tribe and join out Blackouts. Sometimes, you need guidance from a pro. Take one of the classes listed below. Or, feel free to e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com. I do consulting for social media, blogging and branding, but I also can help with your books. Instead of wasting another year revising or rewriting, a small investment in time with me might save you months or years of work.

This job is never easy, but it is always AWESOME.

What are your thoughts? Do you see some suggestions here that might improve your odds of reaching your goals? Do you try to go it alone too much? Do you give negative people too much permission to crap in your life? Do you think you might go a tad too easy on yourself? I hope to see y’all over at W.A.N.A. Tribe! No excuses this year that you have no system of support :P .

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

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).

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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51 Comments

Charles Dickens—Using Symbol, Theme & Allegory to Create Enduring Stories

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Why are there certain stories we just can’t get enough of? Why do some stories fade away while others become staples for every generation? Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been made into all kinds of movies, plays, cartoons, musicals and there are countless variations of Dickens’ original story: A grumpy old miser who is transformed by the power of love.

Today we are going to explore the many brilliant layers of a very simple and timeless tale and maybe even extract some lessons to make our own writing even better.

One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it a story that never grows old? Today, I want to talk about a couple of the elements that speak to me, because they rest at the heart of great writing.

A Little Background

A Christmas Carol is a beautiful story, but I find it’s true beauty when it’s explained in the Christian context that inspired it. A couple years ago, Toddler Spawn was watching Bubble Guppies and they tried (dismally) to tell the same story inserting “holiday” so as not to offend anyone, I presume.

Yet, the story fell flat.

The PC had ruined the beauty of this tale and made it more of a lesson about embracing shallow commercialism once a year than a story of love’s power to redeem the irredeemable. Thus, this post will use scriptural and religious references to explain why I believe this story is so moving and timeless.

Charles Dickens was a Christian and his beliefs are wound all through the story, thus this post is only to explore in light of that reality. For instance, if we were parsing apart The Golden Compass we’d be approaching from a vastly different ontological angle. Namely, Pullman is an atheist and thus his fiction is also an extension of his values.

Back to A Christmas Carol…

Instead of Dickens preaching his beliefs, he created the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and then through theme, symbols, motifs and allegory drove home very powerful lessons.

The Power of Names

Naming characters can be vital. Great writers use the power of parsimony. Each element should serve as many purposes as possible. A name is more than a name. It has the power to be a story within a story.

I recall the moment I was first introduced to what would become my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings. One verse stood out:

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Here by Thy great help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.

Ebenezer? Raise an Ebenezer? I needed to know more. Ebenezer is actually אבן העזר, Even Ha’Ezer, which literally means stone of help or monument to God’s glory and is referenced in the book of Samuel.

Thus, when Dickens chose a name for his protagonist, he chose the perfect name for the redeemed sinner. What is a better testament to a God of grace, than the hardened heart melted by the power of love? The current climate of political correctness aside, A Christmas Carol is most definitively a Christian story and the theme is reminiscent of Proverbs 25:22:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat

and if he is thirsty give him water to drink

for you will heap burning coals on his head

and the Lord will reward you.

Very often this verse is misunderstood. “Yeah! BURN ‘EM! THAT’LL TEACH THEM TO MESS WITH ME! COALS! BURN BABY BUUUURN!” Yet, if one looks to the ancient Hebrew, the heaping burning coals is literally the holy fire of LOVE that melts the hardened heart so it can be remade (think of melting a weapon of war to remake it into something of beauty or a tool for healing or farming).

The path to redemption is love, for only love holds the power to redeem those who have committed grave wrongdoings. Only love can repair what’s been broken and “remake” it into something entirely new.

The Christian story is a story of love, of redemption, of second chances and not because one has earned it or deserved it.

Scrooge is a dreadful man, yet as the story unfolds, not only does Scrooge’s heart begin to melt as he’s faced with the truth of who he is, but our hearts melt toward Scrooge as we travel through the past, present and future and see what has created such a embittered, cruel person. We empathize and start to have compassion and love the unlovely.

Scrooge has done nothing to earn redemption, but his redemption is precisely why we cheer at the end.

The spectral visits serve to show Scrooge the truth, which again is reminiscent of scripture; and then you will know the truth and it is the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). Scrooge cannot change what he cannot see and it is the three ghosts who come to reveal what he’s failed to see on his own.

Repentance is not the mumbled and counterfeit “Sorry.” Rather, it is finally seeing the truth of who we are and what wrong we’ve done. It’s a decision to make things right and turn away from wrong.

By the end of the story, Ebenezer is authentically repentant. He’s a changed person determined to share the love and grace that was freely given to him when he didn’t deserve it.

Again, what a wonderful testament to God’s love. What a lovely “Ebenezer.”

Jacob Marley is another symbolic name. Jacob Marley is the name of Scrooge’s old business partner, and it is he who intervenes to try and redeem his old friend before Ebenezer is sentenced to share Marley’s fate. The name “Jacob” actually means “thief and liar.”

In the Bible, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing, then manipulated, lied, stole and connived until it came back to bite him multiple times  (Jacob later wrestled with an angel until he could be given a new name, Israel and he’d become the father of a great people). What better name to give someone sentenced to roam as a specter for eternity carrying the weight of his ill deeds than a name that literally means thief and liar?

 

The Power of Symbol

When the ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge:

The chain he drew about his waist was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel…

Why cash-boxes? Why deeds? Why purses?

In life Jacob was a money-lender. He was ruthless in his dealings and never forgave a debt. Yet, Matthew 6:12 (part of The Lord’s Prayer) reads: Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

Jacob forged his chains in life. He refused to show mercy, compassion, or kindness. He was ruthless and legalistic, thus he has sealed his fate. God has promised to forgive us the same way we forgive others, which is why the scripture pleads for grace, compassion and mercy. Also, forgiveness of debts is the heart of what Christmas is about, for unto us a child is born.

Christians believe God sent His only begotten son (God in the form of Man) to pay a debt we cannot hope to pay. God loves us as His children, and our actions have left us hopelessly out off our depth, incapable of paying our debts.

Yet, Love cancels the debt.

Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished” literally translate “Paid in FULL.” Jacob turned away from the grace freely offered, so now he wanders, burden by the debts he cannot pay.

Jacob now finds opportunity to warn Scrooge of the chains he is now forging with his actions (and inaction), chains that are longer and heavier than even his. The only way for Scrooge to free himself is to learn to value himself and his fellow human beings.

Smaller Truths Reveal Larger Truths

Dickens makes it a point to show us that Scrooge is a miser. Scrooge shows no mercy, has no warmth, shares none of his wealth…with anyone, including himself. Scrooge is a very wealthy man, yet he wears old clothes, lights no coals for warmth because coal costs money. His home is threadbare and his food measly and meager.

The full story of redemption is that Scrooge not only sees his fellow man differently—worthy of compassion, love and generosity—but in changing how he views his fellow man, his view of himself changes (and heals) as well. The three spirits not only heal Scrooge’s relationship with his Maker, but with himself and others. Scrooge, for the first time, becomes part of the human experience, no longer content to be “solitary as an oyster.”

The POWER of WORDS

This point should resonate particularly with writers. There is a REASON the Ghost of Christmas Future refuses to speak. Words have creative power. If one looks at the first chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and all living things by speaking. “And God said…”

It was only humans He breathed life into. Everything else was created by speaking. Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are countless scriptures referencing the power of the tongue, of words, and warning they carry both the power of life and death.

This idea carries into Ebenezer’s story because, by the time he has this final visit, he still has choice over what his future will be. The specter cannot speak because words would cast his future and it isn’t for the Spirit of Christmas Future to decide.

Happy Ending

Scrooge deserves the death he’s shown by the Spirit of Christmas Future. He deserves to die alone with those “closest” casting lots for his garments. This is what he has sown with his lifetime of greed, hate and spite.

Yet, he is pardoned.

Scrooge is the resurrected heart, the dead brought to life. When God promises “everlasting life” it isn’t a promise that we get to float around on a cloud in Heaven after we die. Rather, it’s a promise that life begins at the moment we decide to accept mercy and love.

Scrooge has been “alive” but not “living.” He was existing. When he is redeemed, given a new chance, he changes. Out of gratitude for the mercy he is given, he reaches out to give what he’s been given. LOVE, MERCY, GENEROSITY.

Restoration

Sure, God could have rained down a miracle that healed Tiny Tim and landed Bob Cratchit a better job with a better boss, but Dickens saw God as a God in the business of finding and changing the lost, miserable and broken. Instead of giving the miracle to Cratchit and his family, God, instead, gives it to Scrooge, the least deserving of a miracle.

Why?

Because God is about working through people. Many of His miracles come from ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of kindness and sacrifice. By changing Scrooge, God could create a man who would become a benefactor. Cratchit has now a kind and generous boss, the community now had a passionate philanthropist, and Tiny Tim lives and the family thrived because one man’s heart could be melted.

 

It is no great feat to love the lovely. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much (Matthew 5:46). This story is so powerful namely because it shows that every human has value and is worth and an opportunity for redemption. God is in the business of changing hearts, and Dickens wanted to show that. A Christmas Carol is a masterful exploration of the true nature of Christianity, what it should be, what it was meant to be. Love. Above all.

What is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? What do you love about this story? What is your favorite part? I love The Muppet’s Christmas Carol (already told y’all that), but THIS is my FAVORITE part!

Also, here is my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I cry every time I hear this:

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

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 the 20 page critique is Toni Kennedy. Please send your 5,000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations and thanks for supporting my guest blogger!

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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69 Comments

How to Sneak In Any Amount of Information & Maintain the Fictive Dream

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

As an editor I have some pretty standard red flags I look for, but a REALLY common blunder is the dreaded information dump. Some genres are more prone to this than others. Science fiction and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. How DO you keep the pace of the story and still relay about the prophecy, the starship, the dragons and the dragons prophesied to have starships?

It’s tough.

Once again we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us. And if you’re already tired of him? Suck it up, Buttercup, because I LIKE HIM. He’s helping me through the holiday season so I can dig out of the pile of work that buried me when I got the flu.

So Alex is here to share ways to help fold in information so that you (the author) don’t inadvertently shatter the fictive dream. He’s here to give you some tips on how to relay the information required so the reader isn’t confused, but also maintain the spell you’ve cast.

Definitely check out his free ebook that lists and explains “44 Key Questions” about any narrative– if you get them right, you will have an awesome story. Aaaaaand, here we go. Take it away, Alex!

*****

Some parts of storytelling are way more exciting than others.

For example, you get to page 724 of your grand novel, and finally Richard the Lionheart faces the seven-headed hydra right in front of the abyss and sends her to hell once and for all.

It’s the absolute peak of your story, nail-biting suspense, unbearable tension, action, risk, fear in the middle of a breathtaking scenery. Everything you have worked for so long, it’s all coming together.

Plus, Richard and your readers don’t even know yet that the seven-headed hydra can spit fire too. Boy, that’s gonna be some BIG surprise…!

On the other hand, some parts in fiction writing we hate.

For example, weaving in the personal history of Richard, so we get to know him better and root more for him.

Or bringing in very unobtrusively 200 encyclopedia pages of background knowledge about medieval England, to establish realistic background.

And where should you discreetly slip in the fact about the hydra’s failed gallbladder surgery?

Hydra 1

Bringing information into your story is like forcing healthy vegetables down a kid’s throat: It’s necessary and the right thing to do, but the work sucks.

When it becomes obvious the author just wanted to insert information, that’s an information dump. What an ugly word!

But it seems like the word exists for a good reason.

Think about it: Somebody took an information dump. That’s when the information comes out and it’s too concentrated, and you can smell the author’s intentions 100 miles against the wind.

Imagine Tracy telling her husband over dinner: “I don’t love you anymore like I loved you 16 years ago when we married. Me and our son Philipp, who is 15, has outstanding grades and dreams of a career as a professional hockey player, lost all our respect for you when you drunkenly caused that car accident. I like cooking and painting and I’m afraid of being alone, that’s why I’m still with you, but I have an affair with our neighbor who is a certified animal trainer.”

The hand of the author becomes really visible here…

Fiction shouldn’t list facts like a newscast. If we wanted to read the news, we would go on the New York Times website (and some of us would actually buy a newspaper, or borrow one from the waiting room of our favorite doctor). In fiction, the reader wants to be gently taken by the hand and led into the carefully woven illusion.

But how can we do that?

They say Don’t give them fish, give them a fishing rod!, and so it shall be. There are a million ways to discreetly distribute some pieces of tasty sushi amongst your readers– you can and should be very creative with it! But start with these five basic ways to avoid an ugly pile of information:

1. Let Your Characters Say It

No, you, the author, got nothing to do with it; it’s your characters who are spreading all that good information like wildfire. Keep in mind the key rule though, so your readers don’t feel cheated on: Your character needs to have a reason to mention the information!

The two most natural reasons that come to mind are:

  • He has to pass his info on to another character who doesn’t know about it.

Imagine a colonel who has to report some military information to his general about what just happened in battle.

  • The character’s emotions are boiling over.

Imagine the accusation of an overworked co-worker to a lazy colleague: “I’m so sick of this! You never get your tasks done on time!” Or take enthusiasm: “Jim, you will never believe what just happened! I won the lottery!”

It’s a very natural and discreet way of smuggling some high-octane info into your story.

2. Don’t Tell the Show

Here it comes, the old Show, don’t tell!

While in some cases it is okay to say “Uncle Albert was tired,” it’s generally much more literary to let the reader discover herself how tired Uncle Albert was.

Describe the “dark circles” under his eyes, his constant yawning and how he forgets his keys at the office. Often it’s much more elegant to not tell about a condition or past events, but to show a couple of clues that hint at them.

3. Spread Your Info Thin

Small chunking over many pages or chapters makes your info a lot more unobtrusive than serving it in one big indigestible cluster.

It’s often convenient to let your reader have the info a little while before she actually needs it; in any case, make sure she doesn’t get it right before she needs it, because that would really look constructed.

Sometimes, a piece of info isn’t absolutely necessary to understand the story, but it gets the reader more involved emotionally. Because it’s not vital, you have more time to nicely gift-wrap it with a ribbon on top– but on the other hand, the longer you wait, the longer you leave out an opportunity to engage your reader further.

For example, we don’t have to know that Walter White has terminal cancer in Breaking Bad. We already understand that he is producing meth and can follow the trouble he gets himself into.

But when we learn about his cancer, it lets us empathize and identify with him more– his decisions become easier to understand, he becomes a more multi-faceted character and thus the story engages us more.

You have more time to bring in information like this.

4. Harness the Power of the Media

From where does the most overwhelming flood of information descend upon us unsuspecting characters?

From the mass media, of course: TV, radio, newspapers and internet. You can let your readers know much just by letting the character watch TV or read the newspaper out aloud to his wife; and any info mankind never wanted can be found on the internet (except for why girls are so much into Justin Bieber). Just make sure your character has a reason to look for the info.

Likewise, make sure the info is available to the media and it’s interesting enough for them to broadcast or feature it.

That’s not too hard to do, because as author David Mamet famously said:

“The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.”

So don’t be shy about letting the media rule even over your little yellow press scandals, man-bites-dog style.

Humanity

5. Plain description: Just Say It!

Sometimes it may be acceptable when the author simply states information.

How well this works will depend on the overall style and tone and the point of view of your story; it’s basically a question of distance between the author and his narration.

Look at the beginning of Suskind’s Perfume, for example: “In the eighteenth century in France lived a man (…) His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (…) not because Grenouille was second to these more famous villains in pride, contempt for mankind, immorality (…)” Plainly stating how it is, upfront.

This style reminds of some short stories, in which the narrator assumes a more zoomed-out position, because there simply aren’t enough pages to carefully spoon-feed information to the reader.

In general, this position is less elegant and artistic, but you can make a virtue out of a vice: If the large distance to your character seems believable and fits into your story, your readers will just accept it as “your style of choice”– a choice of speeding things up, that is.

Just be aware of your choice, should you decide to use this technique.

Alex Limberg, Photo

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies) and he is now tired of talking about himself in third person. Create intriguing stories with my free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. I have worked as a copywriter in Hamburg and also lived in Vienna, Los Angeles and Madrid.

Ok, that was nice.

Now it’s your turn: How do you stuff that stupid information in there? Are your characters helpful or couldn’t they care less? Isn’t it a good feeling when the reader finally gets what he should know? Do you like information about information?

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

I love hearing from you!

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

And YES, I AM BEHIND. I will announce November’s Winner on Monday. Holidays and all that jazz. Also, remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors.

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26 Comments

Being the Best—What it Takes to Be a Rainmaker

Image via Pamela Poole W.A.N.A. Creative Commons

Image via Pamela Poole W.A.N.A. Creative Commons

We are headed into the holiday season and it is time for friends and fun and food and revelry. But, it’s also a time for reflection. Maybe to think about what went right, what went wrong, what could go better. What do we want to accomplish in 2016? I’m a serious go-getter. I think I have three settings.

GO.

GO FASTER.

UNCONSCIOUS.

I like to believe I am the person who gets things done, but I wasn’t always this person. When I started out writing, I think I was more in love with the “idea” of being a successful author than the actual work involved. I wrote when I felt like it. I needed outside approval and validation. I wasted all kinds of brain power wondering if I was a “real writer.”

Yeah *hides head in shame*.

Anyway, I hit a major turning point years later and that is a story for another time. Truth was? The answers had been there all along. I’d just forgotten the truth or didn’t really want to hear it. The answer was actually from my sales days.

I needed to return to being a rainmaker.

Rainmaker? Yes, rainmaker.

Rainmaker is a term that we used when I was in sales.

WHAT is a Rainmaker?

The rainmaker is the person who gets $#!@ done no matter what. Call him a 1%er, call her a cleaner a cooler a closer. Call this person whatever you will, but I dig rainmaker.

This is the person many of us want to be because the rainmaker is the stuff of legends.

Rainmakers come in all forms. It is the teacher who refuses to believe that a kid cannot learn, who adjusts her teaching style relentlessly until she can break through. It is the waiter who remembers all his customers names and what they order. It’s the athlete, the C.E.O., the small business owner, the S.E.A.L. , the entrepreneur, parent, the author, the artist.

But regardless of profession, all rainmakers share some common traits.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will probably see yourself in the following list because this blog attracts a certain type of reader. Rainmakers and Those Who Are Unusually Attractive. So, if you are NOT a rainmaker, then you will have to coast on your looks.

Sorry.

Today I am going to list some of the character traits of the rainmaker. Some you may possess naturally. Others you might have to work on. I do. We are always a work in progress.

The holidays are coming…but so is 2016. Rainmakers make it rain and we need to make some preparations for 2016. Winter is coming.

Sorry. Been watching Game of Thrones. Couldn’t resist :D .

Anyway, what makes a rainmaker? What are some areas we have to watch? Work on? How can we improve?

Rainmakers Have a Dark Side

My opinion? To be a good writer, we must have a dark side. For fiction, we need this dark side to be able to see into the blacker natures of humanity and make them real. If we don’t possess our own dark side to peer into and reference, we’re left with a cheap imitation. All characters are, in essence, a slice of who we are…which is probably why it freaks normal people out to be around us.

Normal people (I am told) do not sit at a Thanksgiving dinner with family and wonder how many ways one could hide a body.

Even those authors who don’t deal in body counts, one must be able to draw from the corrupted aspects of the soul—avarice, jealousy, hate, lust, pride—or?

Meh.

The blacker our black, the brighter our white.

The dark side is not inherently “bad” and it doesn’t have to be “immoral.” We are not going to become the best at what we do by waiting for permission and playing by the rules. Think about it. We are taught from the time we are small to stand in line and be polite and wait our turn and ask for permission and sit down and accept when the answer is no.

But let’s explore that…

J.K. Rowling became a billionaire and revolutionized YA after being told that young boys wouldn’t read. Anne Rice almost single-handedly invented the vampire genre after being repeatedly told no one cared about stories from a monster’s POV. The Martian just opened at $50.1 MILLION in China and crossed $500 MILLION globally . That movie was based off Andy Wier’s self-published book The Martian.

Thing is, our dark side understands there is no “right” path so it doesn’t bother taking a survey and could care less about approval or consensus.

Rainmakers understand they have a dark side and listen to its council. They do not, however, let it in the driver’s seat.

Obsession

If you are a rainmaker others probably refer to you as being “obsessed” as if that is a bad thing. Likely that is a character trait you possess all the time. Rainmakers have a hard time resting. In fact, give us a spa day to relax and it better come with a Xanax or five. We have no OFF button. And before you argue, tell me you go to that beach vacation…with NO book. No pen for jotting ideas.

No *GASP* laptop.

Rainmakers of the writing world are always on. Literally. I wake up at 4:15. I check social media while I get caffeine (for my writing platform). I then put in an audio book on the way to the gym. While I work out I listen to music while I think of all things writing. If I am watching T.V. I am busting apart the dialogue, the plot, the setting. If I am listening to music, I am conjuring a scene. I cannot go stand in line at a freaking STARBUCKS without eavesdropping and hoping to mine some killer dialogue and don’t you judge me because you do it too.

I guarantee most of you reading this need a 12 Step Program for your book habit. Creatives often go from writing to drawing to painting to sewing to knitting to playing an instrument. We can only relax from ONE obsession by switching to a different obsession.

Uh huh. You…are…busted.

Obsession is what makes us the best at what we do. In 2016 make plans to channel this obsession productively.

Rainmakers are sled dogs. And I know I am mixing metaphors but y’all are smart and can roll with it. If you have ever owned a working dog like a sled dog, what happens if you do not let that dog pull a sled? It will dig a hole to CHINA in your back yard.

Rainmakers are working dogs of the human world. Our sled is the writing. This is why I encourage creative hobbies that all serve the writing. Audiobooks, reading, watching series and busting them apart feeds the obsession…but it also serves the goal. This allows us to be rainmakers because we are not diffusing this superhuman energy.

Relentless

Rainmakers do not give up. We get up and we go again and again and again. This one is hard, and if we are going to fail this is the one where we can be weakest.

But, true rainmakers appreciate that life can be a beating and that fair is a weather condition (and we get up eventually). When everyone else is whining we are working. We have pit bull tenacity to figure things out. To be a rainmaker at anything, we must be relentless. Being relentless is awesome. But also remember to be wise. If my goal is to drive from Texas to California and I get on I-20 East? GOOD FREAKING LUCK. Turn AROUND, dumb@$$.

As I like to say, persistence is noble, but persistence looks a lot like stupid. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Saves time.

What are some ways we can develop those raw killer instincts that make us good at what we do?

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Years ago I was on the swim team and when we trained for speed, the coach made us swim laps wearing a full set of sweats. It felt like I weighed a thousand pounds trying to slog lap after lap in that freezing pool in waterlogged sweats. But when those sweats came off? I was like greased lightning.

One of the reasons I recommend blogging and teach authors how to do it in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, is blogging trains us to get out of our comfort zone. Not only are we pushing ourselves mentally, psychically, and professionally, but the sheer word count is grueling.

It is incredible training, especially for the new author.

If we look at some of the most awarded and prolific writers of the last two centuries, many of them were journalists (and blogging is actually a modern form of journalism). A journalist can’t wait until the kids are in bed to write about the four-alarm fire. A journalist can’t wait for a visit from the muse to detail the bombing in the train station. A journalist can’t wait until her family offers emotional validation to take time to write the article due on the editor’s desk.

A journalist is there. Present and in the ZONE when sirens are wailing and bombs are dropping. A journalist learns to drown out the world and ramp up instantly.

A journalist eats deadlines for breakfast.

By blogging, we are training those writing muscles. We are learning to ship. We are learning to meet self-imposed deadlines. We are learning how to cultivate an audience and how to handle public criticism. Trust me. Trolls are great training for bad reviews. I once got a bad review because someone bought my book by mistake.

I wish I were kidding.

 

Again, embrace pain. Push yourself.

If you are comfortable writing 500 words a day. Double it. 1000? Double it again. Never be comfortable.

Comfort=DEATH

If social media freaks you out? Good. We can only be as strong as our greatest weakness. Own it. Face it. Look to your team to help you. Yes we have to build a brand and a platform but only foolish people do it alone. Tempus fugit. Social media is social. If we are going it alone we completely missed the point.

Get training. Get a copy of my book and make a plan to rock and roll for 2016.

Do what scares you. Rainmakers know nothing great happens in the comfort zone.

Reframe

The key to being successful is reframing how we see our world. Some see failure? Rainmakers see lessons.

Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds.

The heat can burn us away, but it can also fire out all the impurities, leaving only what it purest and fine.

I challenge all of you as you enjoy the last of your year to reflect and think over this. If you are reading this blog, you are likely of rainmaker stock since slackers gravitate to blogs with titles like How to Be a Millionaire Blogging Once a Year or Who Needs a Finished Novel to be RICH? 

Enjoy the holiday season and use it to refuel. I am always honored to serve you and looking forward to 2016 because baby, we are gonna make it RAIN! ;)

What are your thoughts? Are you obsessive? Do you have to be careful about your dark side? Do you see that the very darkness that trips you up is also what makes you really good at what you do? Do you freak out friends and family with the way your mind works? Are you obsessive? Do you find that if you are not focused on your writing that you can get depressed, angry or self-destructive? Are you shy about being a rainmaker? In a world where everyone gets awards for trying or “showing up”, maybe you feel guilty for wanting to be the best at what you do? You are relentlessly competing against yourself?

What are your thoughts? I LOVE hearing from you!

I love hearing from you!

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.

I will announce NOVEMBER’S WINNER NEXT TIME since I took a holiday and need time to tally.

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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3 Simple Tricks to Create a Character OH SO Different From YOU

Characters

As some of you know I am still recovering from the flu. Also, the holiday season gets more than a little insane so it is always a joy to run across fresh talent to share with all of you. The bad news is that Alex Limberg lives in Vienna so taking him as a hostage? Can you tweet #logisticalnightmare? Good news is, apparently Austrians work for compliments and candy cigarettes #littleknownfact.

So, with my Amazon Prime Account, I was able to secure SWEET blog content and all of us could avoid any sticky international incidents with the Austrians.

Which is best for all because, well who doesn’t dig their pastries?

This is another guest post by copywriter Alex Limberg. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season until he makes his New Year’s resolution to kick his candy cigarette habit *rolls eyes*.

…and then we’ll just have to catch him when he relapses.

His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. Have you ever written a character you thought you couldn’t portray well because he was too different from you? In this post, Alex lays out three secrets on how to make a character like that come to life. Please give him a hand once again!

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The situation feels so awkward for you: This guy, you just can’t understand what he is all about.

You have really given your best to make it work.

You wanted to discreetly overlook his annoying sense of entitlement (from his perspective, you won’t ever get anywhere, because you are way too modest).

You tried not to judge his ridiculous uptight correctness (he thinks you have no manners).

And you really made an effort to explain that you don’t enjoy small talk and you feel happiest when you are alone with a book (to him, you are too withdrawn; he seems to even get a kick out of chatting with the sales assistant).

But you absolutely don’t understand him. It’s just that the two of you are so different.

The worst part is, you have an important project together and you will have to work with him for months and see him almost on a daily basis.

You have no idea how you will be able to work with somebody like this. Seriously, this will be bad.

But there is also good news: The guy just exists in your head.

He is one of the main characters in your newest novel. If you want to make that novel work though, you better get to understand him on a level as intimate as your very best friend.

Here are three highly practical tips on how to connect with a character who is very different from you:

1. Find the Perfect Template Person in the Real World

You would never step on anybody’s toes, but in your novel you have to deal with a very bold character?

For sure you know somebody who doesn’t shy away from collecting ten free samples at once or “accidentally” taking the hotel towel with him when he checks out (my brother even tried to take the sheets with him once, true story). How would that real life person feel in your scene, how would she act, react and express herself?

Some writers have used their husbands, siblings or parents in a dozen different books, in a dozen different ways.

It’s a lot easier to imagine how a person you know very well would act. All the experiences you have had with that person will tell you. Your intuition will speak to you. Just transfer that gut feeling onto your character.

Most of your characters will not be exactly as their real life prototypes, because after all you are writing fiction and not a biography. Instead, your figures will rather be hybrids of people you know; for example, as brilliant as your sister and as restless as your best friend.

Take from everybody just what you need. The more life experience you have, the more characters you have met over the course of your life– great! Society around you is just a big, yummy, neverending buffet of character traits. Feel free to feast at your convenience.

Funny Tree

2. Don’t Act, Be!

In some way, writing is like acting– the difference is that you have to be all of the characters at once. Being able to switch between so many different shoes from one moment to the next is a major point that distinguishes great writers from not-so-great ones. Fiction writing is a bit like puppet theater.

Have you ever heard of “method acting”?

In method acting, you don’t try to pretend you are a different character. Instead, you just ask yourself: “If I was that cheerful/vain/sneaky/dumb, how would I act?”

The moment you are answering that question, you are already in a different headspace. You are doing what the best actors in the world have a gift for: They don’t act, they are for a brief moment. They are just for an instant as the character does his thing, but they are with all of their being.

It’s a step in between pretending and naturally being.

“Method acting” is actually an excellent way of auto-suggestion. Imagine you had a hypnotist make you believe that you are your protagonist. And that you are the antagonist. Plus that other really cool main character. And his wife. And a couple of supporting characters… you would be in the lunatic asylum for schizophrenics in no time, but you would write excellent prose.

That “self-hypnosis” is basically what you are doing when you suggest to your subconscious you are that character.

Ask yourself: “How would I act, if…?”

Cat 1

 

3. Remember a Situation That Brought Out the Opposite in You

We all have multiple sides to our personalities. The sad ones are sometimes joyful, the mature ones can be childish, and yes, even the dumb ones are smart sometimes, because there are very different types of intelligence.

So that trait your character embodies but you think you don’t, is hidden somewhere deep inside of you.

Here is how to bring it out: Think back to a situation in which you really, really felt that way. Maybe you usually don’t feel so confident, but that one time after you got your promotion or passed that exam in university, you felt on fire and were just invincible for the next couple of days.

Close your eyes, go back to that situation: What did the scenery feel like? What did you see, hear, smell? And how did you feel?

Try to tap into the feeling you had back then with your entire body. Yes, this might sound overly esoteric, but give it a try and see if it helps you. Breathe confidence when your character is very confident on paper– and take it from your emotional memory!

Adorn Yourself with the Most Beautiful Borrowed Plumes

So there you have basic advice on how to be somebody else. Don’t become schizophrenic, but keep on practicing your talent for wearing unfamiliar skin.

If you do this well, you have taken a huge step towards becoming a great writer. People love stories because they are fascinated by their characters. And if you can create intriguing characters, you readers will desperately have to know what happens to them next and will devour your stories.

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

Now it’s your turn: How do you handle a character whose nature seems very alien to yours? Did you ever run out of patience with one of your figures? Are all your characters like you and you can hardly distinguish them, so there is never any trouble? Do you sometimes have long discussions with yourself in front of the bathroom mirror? Who wins?

Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic and so am I….and THAT NEVER GETS OLD!

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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26 Comments

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