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Do you write narrow, broad or both?

I’ve been struggling with my work in progress, Chasing the Son, and about 4 in the morning I realized a problem I’m having is I’m writing too narrow and linearly on a story that is actually broad and spread out over place and time.

Here’s what narrow writing is:

-fast-paced

-action oriented

-real time

-conflict driven

Here’s what broad writing is:

-character focused

-slower paced

-multiple occurrences at the same time

-conflict driven

Note both are conflict driven, but in broad writing, the conflict is more character based, while in narrow writing, it’s more action based.  (all conflict should actually be both)

Neither are wrong. And a good book usually has both. In fact, I started this book out broadly. I begin by describing the low country around Charleston, then go into some history and by page three get to a character, then finally show character in action. Some would say not the greatest opening, where there needs to be that great hook on the first page and action. But I’ve written plenty of books like that. My subconscious obviously feels differently about this book and I have to trust it. Of course, that was my subconscious. The key is to move it from there to my conscious which is what I think finally happened at 4 in the morning. I’d gone from broad to narrow and it was bothering me.

We’re running a Write on the River workshop this weekend with four people attending and the key to it is focusing on process. What each writers process is and how their minds work. I really focus on this now after a quarter century of writing. I constantly surprise myself by not really understanding my process and having to work on it and refine it. So today I have to dive back in Chasing the Son and expand the story rather than move it forward as I’ve been doing. I need to add more texture and characterization so the reader understands the motives of the characters and why the action is happening.

By the way, Jen has been working on covers as we rebrand the Green Beret series. We’re breaking the books apart. The six original Dave Riley stories are one subset. But the books where Horace Chase comes to the forefront, will now be another subset. Even though Dave Riley is present in Chasing the Lost and Chasing the Son, these books are somewhat different. To brand them differently, we’re redoing covers. What do you think?

Chasing covers

 

 

 

You did it.  You got the words down.  What now?

Now you have to close the deal.  The film clip in this blog is from Glengarry Glen Ross, featuring Alec Baldwin (in an academy-awarded nominated role) giving his infamous ‘Coffee is for Closers’ speech in a David Mamet movie.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s enlightening (be warned: plenty of profanity).

How did you react?  Most people react negatively to Baldwin.  But he makes quite a few good points:

If they don’t want to hear what he has to say to him, they shouldn’t be in that room.

If they want to make money, they have to close.

If you want to succeed, follow:

Attention

Interest

Decision

Action

backgroundIn Write It Forward I teach the three steps of change:  Moment of Enlightenment (Attention and Interest), make a Decision, and then have Sustained Action.

What do you want to do with your book?  If you’re happy you wrote 80,000 words or so and you’re done with it, then you’ve closed.  Congratulations.  Go get a cup of tea.  But if you want to publish successfully, then put down that cup of coffee.  Coffee is for Closers.

Most aspiring writers aren’t closers. And most lament it’s because getting an agent is so hard, the odds are terrible, publishing is contracting, no one really reads, etc. etc. etc.  Except here’s the deal:  Agents, publishers, readers, all exist to consume books.  They’re the given.  They’re the lead.  YOU have to be the closer.

You have to be the Closer with great material.  By constantly improving your craft of writing.  You have to Close by studying and following the business, by being a professional who wants to be employed in the world of writing.  By following up every possible opportunity you get with determination and professionalism.  By shutting up about the unfairness of it all and doing everything in your power to Close the deal.

I was amazing, stunned, when I heard that less than 10% of writers who were told to follow up a one-on-one at a conference by an agent actually sent in the follow up material.  Essentially, those writers called a client who had expressed interest, talked about the interest, then hung up without closing.  They got the Attention, had the Interest, then made the Decision to quit.  To not take Action.

If you’re going to self-publish, you’ve just become an entrepreneur.  You’re running a business in a very competitive environment.  Yes, we all talk sweet, but they’ll cut ya!

Publishing is a very hard business.  It’s tough to get published in any mode.  Then it’s tough to succeed once you’ve been published.  But people do it.  They’re called Closers.

Write It Forward!

Conflict is the fuel that keeps your story going. Conflict revels your character and draws the reader closer. It gives the reader a reason to keep turning the page. Without conflict, your idea cannot be translated into story.

Conflict keeps a story going and reveals much about your characters. Conflict is the gap between expectation and the actual result. There are 3 levels of conflict for your characters:

  • inner (inside the character) In many cases inner conflict occurs when a person has a disagreement between values he or she holds to be important. By adjusting a character’s circumstances, you can develop internal conflict.
  • personal (between characters)
  • universal/societal (characters versus fate/God/the system)

You have to consider what your main character faces on each of these levels.

There are five major sources of conflict for people (although you can probably come up with more):

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Family
  • Religion
  • Politics

Nanowrimo coverKeep these sources of conflict in mind when developing your characters.

(Three books in one:  The Nanowrimo Survival Kit)

Remember all characters have to have an agenda/goals they want to achieve. That gives them a driving force, even if it is a passive or negative one. Characters can pursue their goals aggressively or subtly. Or they could not pursue their goals, which also says something about them.

What is Conflict?

  • A serious disagreement or argument
  • A prolonged armed struggle
  • An incompatibility between two opinions, principles or interests
  • (v) be incompatible or at variance, clash

Basic Story Dynamic

  • The Protagonist (the character who owns the story) struggles with . . .
  • The Antagonist (the character who if removed will cause the conflict and story to collapse)…
  • Because both must achieve their concrete, specific . . .
  • Goals (the external things they are each trying desperately to get, not necessarily the same thing)

The Protagonist

  • Must be someone the reader wants to identify and spend time with:  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble, undeserved if possible, but usually not random.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, first is preferred.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.
  • We often empathize with a reluctant protagonist.
  • We must see the spark of redemption in a negative protagonist very quickly.
  • The protagonist’s blind spot can be fatal flaw, but at least brings about the moment of crisis.
  • The protagonist, as she is at the beginning of the book, would fail if thrust into the climactic scene.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your protagonist want most?

The Protagonist

  • Drives the story.
  • You have one for one main story line.
  • Does not have to be the hero/heroine or even good.
  • If she fails, what is the result? (Stakes)
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, defeating the . . .

The Antagonist

  • Must be someone the reader respects (fears):  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, even if by proxy.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your antagonist want most?

The Antagonist

  • You have one.
  • Drives the plot initially.
  • You must do the antagonist’s plan and it should be very good.
  • If removed, the plot collapses.
  • Should be a single person so the conflict is personal.
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, fighting the protagonist because . . .

Their Goals Conflict

  • The reader must believe both will lose everything if they don’t defeat the other.
  • Their goals are difficult to achieve because of external barriers, primarily each other.
  • Their goals are layered, usually in three ways . . .

Goal Layers

  • External:  The concrete object or event the character needs.
  • Internal:  The identity/value the character is trying to achieve via pursuing the external goal.
  • Relationship/communal:  The connections the character wants to gain or destroy while in pursuit of the external goal.
  • People want to achieve their goals because of their . . .

Motivation

  • The reason your character needs his or her goal.
  • Everyone has an agenda.
  • Every character has a primary motivator; Frankl’s ‘One Thing’.
  • Some motivations stem from key events in a character’s life.

More on Motivation

  • The reader must believe that your characters believe all will be lost if they don’t achieve their goal.
  • Motivations, like goals, come in layers that are peeled away as the story escalates in conflict and the character is under more and more pressure.
  • The motivational layers are all present in the beginning of the story, but the character is often not conscious of the layers.
  • Thus the motivation and goals shift as the story goes on and we peel away layers…

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What is stopping your protagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

What is stopping your antagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

The Central Story Question

  • Will the protagonist defeat the antagonist and achieve her goal?
  • When the reader asks that question, the story begins.
  • When the reader gets the answer, the story is over.

Central Story Question Examples

  • DON’T LOOK DOWN:  Will Lucy defeat Nash and save herself and her family?
  • AGNES AND THE HITMAN:  Will Agnes defeat Brenda and keep Two Rivers?
  • This question leads us to the . . .

The Conflict Box

The Conflict Box is a tool that is used to diagram visually your protagonist’s and antagonist goals and conflict.

You can either have conflict because

  • Protagonist and antagonist want the same thing.
  • Protagonist and antagonist want different things, but achieving one goal causes conflict with the other’s goal.

The Conflict Box

The core conflict based on goals that brings the protagonist and antagonist into direct opposition in a struggle that neither can walk away from.

Conflict Box:  Same Goal

  • Agnes wants to keep her house, which she bought from Brenda.
  • Brenda wants to steal back the house she just sold to Agnes.

To see if your conflict is inescapable:  Draw a line from Agnes’ goal to Brenda’s Conflict.  If Agnes is causing Brenda’s conflict, you’re halfway there.

Then draw a line from Brenda’s goal to Agnes’ conflict.  If Brenda is causing Agnes’ conflict, you have a conflict lock.

The key to the conflict box is one character must cause the other character’s conflict. You have that, you have conflict lock.

Conflict Box: Different Goals:

From Lost Girls.  Gant wants to find out who is kidnapping and killing young girls.

The Sniper wants to continue killing the daughters of those he feels betrayed him.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

Go to the below box and fill it out for your book.

Slideshare of the Conflict Box:

Video of Bob explaining the Conflict Box

WRITE IT FORWARD!

There is a word that applies to successful writers: GRIT.

Science has too long focused on intelligence & talent as determiners of success. And it’s not. The key to success is to set a specific long-term goal and to do whatever it takes until the goal has been achieved. That’s called GRIT (defined as courage and resolve; strength of character).

Duckworth did a study in 2008 at West Point. GRIT was the determining factor of Beast Barracks success. My plebe squad, back in the old days when men were men and the sheep ran scared, had five members. Three of them didn’t make it to Christmas the first year. They weren’t bad people; they just didn’t really WANT it. It’s the same in Special Forces training. There are those who go into it because they want to wear a green beret. They don’t make it. The ones who make it want to BE a green beret. There are those who want the lifestyle of ‘author’. They never get published. The ones who want to BE an author make it.

Way back in 1869, Stephen Jay Galton wrote a book titled: Hereditary Genius. He found that ability combined with zeal & capacity for hard work trumps talent.

Woody Allen says “80% of success is showing up.” Again and again.

Available at WDWPUB

Successful people have a growth mindset. The problem with many talented people is that they know they are talented; they think that they already know everything they need to know. So they never adapt and change and grow. A growth mindset person believes they can always learn more.  Successful authors are always expanding their craft and their business savvy, especially in today’s rapidly changing publishing environment.

If the key is to set a long term goal and doing whatever it takes, the first question is:  Do you have a long term goal as a writer?  I call it the Strategic Writing Goal and discuss it in more detail in Write It Forward.

Strategic And Supporting Goals

The Hierarchy Of Goals

  • Overall Writing Goal. (Strategic)
  • Book goal. (Supporting)
  • Business goal (Supporting)
  • Shorter range/daily goals (Supporting)

Let’s talk about your strategic writing goal. It can be anything, but it’s important that you lock it down. Some broad examples:

I will be a NY Times best-selling thriller author in five years.

  • I will write my memoir for my grandchildren in the next three months.
  • I write part-time simply because it is a hobby and spend an hour a day on it.
  • I want to be published within 2 years by a major, traditional press.
  • I will have my book in print within 2 months via self-publishing.
  • I will earn X amount of dollars per month indie publishing in six months.
  • I will write a book that will help people with —– and spend the next three years using it to bolster and complement my speaking career.

The Importance Of Your Strategic Goal

It starts your creative and practical process.  Everything you do is going to be slanted to support this goal.  Your strategic goal determines your supporting goals. Writing it down and posting it where you can see it every single day helps keep you focused.  It determines how you approach the publishing business.  It is also the core of your work regime.  It is the core of your marketing campaign.

All supporting goals must align with it in the hierarchy.

Do you have a strategic writing goal?

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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