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By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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A cat says ________.
A dog says________.
A skunk says______. (We don't know!)
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When a reader first opens your novel or story and reads the first line, the first paragraph, have you welcomed the reader and tried to put them at ease? It is imperative to invite the reader into a story in a way that puts them at ease. This means clarity must rule. The reader must never question where the story is taking place, or what—exactly—is happening in this scene. You do not have to spill all the backstory at this point—that doesn’t work. But the reader should know when, where and who and a hint of why.
Setting. The setting should be clear and specific, with sensory details appropriately sprinkled throughout the opening scene. This includes information on the geographic location, time frame (e.g. 6th century BC or 2017A.D), and something about the emotional territory.
Character. In the opening pages, the reader should meet a character that intrigues. Please, don’t name five characters on page one and expect the reader to stay oriented. Instead, give each important character a grand entrance. The inner life of the main character should start to come alive, as well. What does s/he fear, love, long for?
Cautions: The worse drafts hide information, wrongly believing that just giving a hint here or there is the best strategy. Instead, the reader becomes confused and closes the book, never to open it again. The great sff writer Orson Scott Card wisely said, “The only thing to withhold is what happens next.” Within the context of a scene, this is exactly right. The reader should understand exactly what is going on—and be so enthralled that s/he turns the page to find out “what happens next.”
Don’t use this as an excuse to include backstory, though! Backstory comes ONLY at the point at which it will create an emotional crisis in a reader. Instead, when the reader is deep within a scene, they should only care about what happens next.
Voice is too formal
In the search for a great voice, some writers fall back on their English class and write too formally. Great fiction is informal writing. This means you can use slang, jargon, curse words (when appropriate), incomplete sentences, sentence fragments. You can, and should, interrupt someone when they are speaking. Characters can be rude. A great novel is not a tea party! Stop being so polite, so formal.
Try making up rules for yourself–play with the formality of your novel; keep what works and discard the rest. Don’t like my rules? Make up your own. But play!
- For every ten sentences, you must use a sentence fragment.
- You must use one slang/jargon word per page.
- You will write one section of dialogue (about 10 exchanges) and every bit of dialogue is incomplete sentences.
- In every chapter, someone must be rude.
Yawn. What happened in this chapter?
Then, why is the reader turning pages?
A good exercise is to go through each chapter and write one sentence that summarizes what happens. Something important must develop or change in some way in every single chapter. Novelists do not have the luxury to stop and give us back story or tell every single detail of the setting. You must pick and choose from among the myriad of details, bits of dialogue, actions, thoughts and arrange them in an exciting, fascinating, intriguing order.
For every action, your main character should have an emotional reaction. Why else is the reader following this character around? OK. Not every single action. But it’s a good exercise to try: underline the actions, and circle the main character’s emotional reaction to what just happened. How do they correlate? Do we have 100 actions and only one emotional reaction? Where ever you are on the continuum from no emotional reaction to 100% emotional reactions, evaluate it in terms of your character, your novel. Is the reader getting enough of your MC’s inner life to keep turning the pages? From my experience as a first reader, most novelists err on the side of not enough emotion. If this is hard for you, push yourself toward too much emotion and you may wind up about right.
Writing a novel is a continual decision-making process. For each detail you might include, there are dozens of great ways to put that into words. We go from words to sentences to paragraphs—and each word selection carries connotations and denotations. It’s complex! The variety of ways to tell a story are amazing. What scenes do you include/exclude, and why? What character is the main character? The point of view character?
Throughout the process of writing a novel, it’s a balancing act all the way. We walk a tightrope upon which we build a story. One misstep and the reader falls off.
This is one of the main reasons why first pages go wrong. 90% of a story may be working, until a sentence here, a word there, a questionable emotion in the midst of the scene—and the reader puts the book down. Fine tuning the novel is crucial. Here is where first readers can really help, by marking the places that are “off.” Even if they can’t articulate WHY this section is OFF, they know it when they read it. You don’t want an English teacher marking up the story with red marks. You want a sensitive reader saying, nope, this doesn’t fit. Don’t know why, just know it doesn’t fit.
It’s a matter of balance: every word must belong. Nothing must be out of place. The reader must keep turning pages with no interruptions in the flow.
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Guest Post by Melissa Donovan
When I first learned about alliteration in a writing class, I couldn’t believe there was a word for it. I used it in my poetry all the time! Then I learned about anastrophe and deus ex machina and I began to discover a whole world of literary devices and techniques.
Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds of accented syllables in a phrase: dancing dragons.
I discovered literary techniques that I’d seen in storytelling but hadn’t used in my own work. For example, anastrophe is when the usual word order of a sentence or phrase is reversed. One of the most famous characters in the movies speaks almost exclusively in anastrophe: Yoda doesn’t ask “Are you ready?” He says, “Ready are you?”
There were also literary devices that I’d neither noticed nor used. Deus ex machina is when a character or event is suddenly introduced in a narrative for convenience. For example, when all the main characters are trapped and some long-lost cousin who has never been mentioned suddenly appears and rescues them, this is deus ex machina, and it’s usually seen as a cheap way to resolve a sticky situation.
What Are Literary Devices and Techniques?
So what are literary devices and what applications do they have for writers?
Wikipedia defines a literary device as follows: “A literary technique (also known as literary device) is any standardized method an author uses to convey his or her message.” According to Wikipedia, this can include foreshadowing, flashbacks, and plot twists, things we all recognize as elements of storytelling.
I’ve found some resources that make a distinction between storytelling techniques, which deal with the structure of a story, and language techniques, which deal with how we choose and use words.
Understanding and Identifying Literary Devices and Technique
Have you ever come across a word, phrase, or sentence that mesmerized you, but you couldn’t figure out why? It might have been a line of dialogue that stuck with you or a compelling scene in a story. You know there’s a reason it was so effective but you can’t put your finger on it.
In these cases, there’s a good chance a literary device or technique is at play. And if you can identify these devices and techniques, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to make the best possible decisions in your own writing.
For example, we all know there are a dozen ways to write a sentence. If we’re trying to choose the right word for a sentence and there are several to choose from, we might make our decision based on a literary device.
Let’s look at an example. In the sentences below, would you choose the word store or market?
I have to stop by the store.
I have to stop by the market.
I would probably choose store because of the alliteration that occurs with the words stop and store.
While this is something a lot of writers do naturally—choose a word because it’s the one that sounds the best—it’s immensely helpful to have a more concrete reason, to know that you’re choosing a phrase because it applies alliteration rather than “just because it sounds good.”
When we adopt literary devices and techniques into our vocabularies, we can talk about writing, language, and story more efficiently and intelligently.
Using Literary Devices in Your Work
Let’s say you’re working on a novel and trying to polish a sentence that’s giving you trouble. You’re looking for the right word—the perfect word. If you have studied literary devices, then they are at your disposal and can help you make smarter choices about which words and phrases to use.
Literary techniques can also be immensely helpful in storytelling. When I’m working on a story and get stuck, I often turn to a list of storytelling techniques to see if any of those techniques could help me get unstuck. I almost always find a solution, something that propels me past whatever obstacle I’m facing.
Literary devices and techniques are valuable tools that we can use to better understand literature. By applying these concepts to our own writing projects, we can strengthen our work and make it more compelling.
Fiction Notes has posted before on How to Use Words: 8 Literary Devices, How to Arrange Words: 20 Literary Devices and How Winston Churchill Used Literary Devices. (That’s 28 literary devices to study and use in your next piece of writing!)
About the Author: Melissa Donovan is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas. She has also authored a book of creative writing exercises and works as a web designer and copywriter.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell is an expertly crafted biography that can be used to teach students a variety of craft moves during a biography writing unit of study.
What do editors mean when they say they are looking for a strong, unique voice?
By: Caroline Starr Rose,
Blog: Caroline by line
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One of the things I think has made Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL so successful is voice.
Voice is always one of those tricky things. Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein
defines it "by using the formula VOICE = PERSON + TENSE + PROSODY + (Diction + Syntax + Tone + Imagination + Details). Defining the imagination of Voice, Cheryl says, '[t]he imagination of a voice sets the range of subjects, images, diction, kinds of and examples of figurative language, and references that the voice can include.'”
Agent and author Donald Maass
says voice is "the thing...every novelist already has... . It may be comic, deadpan, dry, pulpy, shrill, objective, distant, intimate, arty or a thousand other things. It comes through in the story that an author chooses to tell and the way in which they choose to tell it."
Here are some quotes I highlighted while reading GONE GIRL. You'll notice they're not big statements on the plot (except for the last one, which sums up the entire story in all its twisted wonder), but tiny observations -- metaphors used to paint a picture of characters, of setting, small things that were fresh and interesting and right. In other words, great examples of voice.
characterization and metaphor:
"They have no hard edges with each other, no spiny conflicts, they ride through life like conjoined jellyfish -- expanding and contracting instinctively, filling each other's spaces liquidly. Making it look easy, the soul-mate thing." (p 27)
setting and metaphor:
"It was the best time of day, the July sky cloudless, the slowly setting sun a spotlight on the east, turning everything golden and lush, a Flemish painting." (p 31)
"His shirt wasn't wrinkled, but he wore it like it was; he looked like he should stink of cigarettes and sour coffee, even though he didn't. He smelled like Dial soap." (p 33)
characterization and metaphor:
"He spoke in a soft, soothing voice, a voice wearing a cardigan." (p 199)
and the quote that sums up the entire crazy ride:
"Our kind of love can go into remission, but it's always waiting to return. Like the world's sweetest cancer." (p 392)
Have you read GONE GIRL? What were your impressions? Any other authors or books that get voice just right?
Reading would be boring, except for the person behind the writing. YOU make it interesting. Your voice.
Even the federal government recognizes the importance of YOU: ideas can’t be copyrighted, rather, the particular expression of an idea. What you copyright is your voice. You.
This means several things:
Voice. As you write, be aware of your particular ways of thinking, of what you notice, of how you express what you notice. Try to foster those interests and expressions. Of course, this isn’t a call to be sloppy in grammar or word usage or sentence structure. Just as a jazz player plays a riff on a song, so you must experiment in your writing, while still making sure the song is recognizable.
Match voice to genre. Your voice–who you are–will also determine the types of writing at which you can excel. Nonfiction or fiction, horror or romance–you need to find a place where your voice fits naturally and allows you to exploit your voice. Experiment with genre, style, length, and venue (online v. print, for example), to find the “highest and best use” of your strengths.
Editors. We all need feedback and early editors. Be careful, though, of line editors, those people who think something must be said their way. Unless they are extremely skilled, line editors mess with voice. And you must not allow that.
Stick with a genre, character, series. If and when you find that sweet spot, stick with it. Careers are built on returning readers, who become fans, who faithfully buy everything you write and furthermore, they tell friends to buy them and they give your books as gifts. Early in your career, don’t worry about bouncing around and writing everything you might want to write. If you are lucky enough to find success in one area, stay there long enough to build a readership that you will take with you to the next step.
You. Your lens, the way you see the world, the way you express what you see–that is what keeps reading from being boring. Let me see the world the way YOU see it. And I’ll keep reading you.
Click on the image to read the photographer's description of the difference in lenses used.
I am so pleased to welcome Shannon Messenger
to the blog today! Shannon is a wonderfully supportive writer who is doing big things in the kid lit world.
Not only is book 1 of her MG series, Keeper of the Lost Cities
(Simon & Schuster)
releasing Oct 2nd, but she also has a YA coming out in the Spring of 2013, Let The Sky Fall.
AHHH! I am so thrilled to see her reach her dreams!
Shannon's got some great advice here about Voice in Kidlit
, so please read on.
~ ~ * ~ ~
Yay--I'm so excited to be here! I've been a huge fan of this blog for years, so it's such an honor to contribute. Here's hoping I can live up to the amazingness of the other posts you guys are used to reading.
I thought I'd talk today about writing kid voice
, since that seems to be the subject that comes up most often when people find out I write middle grade. In fact, usually the first question people ask is something along the lines of: do you have to simplify things when you write middle grade?
And my answer is always an emphatic: NO! Kids deserve way more credit than some people give them.
They are very smart and pick up on much more than we may think they do. So I have never once had to change a word because it was "too advanced" or dumb something down so a kid reader would understand it.
That being said, there is still a definite "kid voice" that needs to be used when writing middle grade. But it's not about simplification. It's about making your writing appealing and relatable to kids. A big part of that will come from the voices of the kid characters themselves. But still, it does trickle into the prose in ways you might not always think of.For example, look at the following sentences:
Mr. Lipkin always wore the same coffee colored business suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain.
Mr. Lipkin always wore a chocolate brown suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain.
Which feels more authentically "kid" to you--comparing something to the color of coffee or the color of chocolate? That's not to say that kids don't understand what color coffee is. Shoot, these days lots of kids even drink it. HOWEVER, I still think it's much more believable that a kid would compare the color brown to chocolate long before their mind would come up with coffee. Coffee feels like a more adult comparison. Which is the same reason I removed "business" from the second sentence. Adults think of "business suits." To kids it's just a suit.
They're very subtle differences. But throughout a draft they can really add up and give the story a more authentically kid voice. And obviously the voice of the character also needs to be considered. If your main character is a big coffee drinker, the coffee comparison would probably be the more appropriate. For things like that you will need to use your own judgement. But as a general rule it's best to try and weed out anything that reads more "adult-centered" from your middle grade manuscripts, because they will make the story feel less relatable to your readers. Not that they won't understand
it. It just won't feel like it's speaking to them.
And it's important to keep in mind that this kind of thing can rarely be perfected in the drafting stage. Of course the more you write for kids the more you will start to internalize that voice. But as an adult your brain is going to naturally gravitate toward these kinds of phrasings and comparisons. So it's something you'll really want to train yourself to watch for as you revise.
I'm a big believer in questioning every word. It's tedious and obnoxious and kind of makes you want to fling your laptop off a bridge. But it's also the only way to really watch for tiny voice issues like this, so it's really worth the extra effort. And just when you think you've found them all, your editor will flag a few more and you'll feel like, ARGH HOW DID I MISS THAT????
Oh the joys of being a writer. :) All right, I think I have rambled on long enough. Hope you guys found that helpful. I now happily turn this blog back to it's rightful owners. Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to hang out. *curtsies* *flees*SHANNON MESSENGER graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she learned that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She also regularly eats cupcakes for breakfast, sleeps with a bright blue stuffed elephant named Ella, and occasionally gets caught talking to imaginary people. So it was only natural for her to write stories for children. Keeper of the Lost Cities is her first middle grade novel. Let the Sky Fall, a young adult novel, will follow in Spring 2013. She lives in Southern California with her husband and an embarrassing number of cats. Follow Shannon: Blog
| Pinterest Wow!
I was nodding all the way through--as kidlit writers, it is so important to know our audience and write authentically so it feels like they've stepped right into the mind of the child protagonist. Thank you so much Shannon for hanging out here and giving such food for thought on Voice
as this is one of the biggest struggles we face writing for this age group!
Shannon is taking over the internet
as she introduces her fabulous books to the world, so check in at Mundie Moms
for the complete tour schedule, which is packed with giveaways
. Oh, did I say giveaways? Yes I did! Fill out the below for a chance to win your very own copy of Keeper!
Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit in. She's not comfortable with her family and keeping a secret—she's a telepath. But then she meets Fitz, who tells her the reason she has never felt at home is that, well, she isn't. But Sophie still has secrets, and they're buried deep in her memory for good reason: the answers are in high-demand. The truth could mean life or death, and time is running out.a Rafflecopter giveaway
By: Julie Daines,
By Julie Daines
The Ten Commandments of Writing and When to Break Them
Writing Conferences. We go. We listen. We obey. Maybe sometimes we obey too much.
My next few posts will be about when to break the writing commandments.
Thou Shalt Not Use the Word Was
As with all of the posts in this series, I agree with this commandment on most levels. However, as with other commandments, the problem comes when writers take this rule too far.
Usually, the best way to say something is the simplest and most direct. Writers who beat around the bush with fancy words are guilty of what is known as purple prose, which I define as trying too hard to make each sentence a work of art unto itself. Each sentence's purpose should be in contributing to the beauty of the whole.
From the first bite, the rich, chocolate cake saturated his tastebuds with mouth-watering flavor.
First of all, this doesn't sound at all like what a MG or YA character would say. And secondly, it sounds forced. So unless your character is Anne of Green Gables, simple and direct is best.
The chocolate cake was delicious.
Straight and to point. We get it, and now the story can move on.
The object of avoiding the use of the word was is not to write forced prose, it is to use a stronger, better, more descriptive verb. So try to replace was with something better.
The chocolate cake tasted delicious.
Or rewrite the sentence in a way that says the same thing, only better.
Mack loved that chocolate cake from the first bite.
If the tasting of the chocolate cake is the pinnacle plot point to your story, then go ahead and elaborate. If it's a passing part of dinner, keep it short and simple.
The sun beat down on the road. When I opened my car door, the heat assaulted me, wrapping its burning fingers around me and choking me. The hot asphalt attacked my bare feet trying to burn its way through my skin.
At first glance, this may seem ok. But it's a problem I see a lot in descriptions. Whether it's meant like this or not, the entire paragraph is personification--a type of literary device.
As with all literary devices, it should be used judiciously. Save it for the important parts of you story.
If Cami just ran out of gas in the middle of the desert and she faces imminent death by heat stroke, then this example is ok.
If all you want to do is get across how hot it is when Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, then keep it simple and direct--even if it means using was.
By the time Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, it was beyond hot.
- Use was, but only when it's the best and simplest way to get your point across. Sometimes, there is no better substitute.
- If you can, use a stronger verb in its place or rewrite the sentence.
- When you need to describe something important, pull out all the stops and elaborate--always keeping in mind the YA or MG voice.
As you're reading, watch for when the author uses was appropriately, and when they should have used it, but instead made one of these mistakes.
What are your thought on using the word was?
By: Kathy Temean,
Blog: Writing and Illustrating
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Yesterday we looked at nine elements to check when doing a critique of your own manuscript or someone elses. Today we are going a step further by reading with Writing Style in mind. I want to thank Anita Nolan for writing these ten writing style elements up, so we can refer to them while critiquing a manuscript.
• Voice: Strong? Too passive?
• Any problems with point of view? If there are multiple points of view, are the POV changes handled well?
• Does the dialogue sound natural? Is the dialogue of each character distinct, or does everyone sound the same?
• Does the dialogue move the story forward?
• Were there too many “he said” dialogue tags, or awkward substitutes for “said?” (snarled, hissed.)
• As to back story: Is it woven into the story, or are there any info dumps or “As you know, Bob”s (use of dialogue to dump information into the story.)
• Is there too much narrative? Too many flashbacks?
• Are the sentences clear, or do they need to be reworded to improve clarity?
• Is the story well-paced, or does it slow in places?
• Is there plenty of white space, or is the writing dense? (In other words, are the paragraphs short and interspersed with dialogue, or are they long blocks of type running a half page—or more.)
Tomorrow, we’ll go over what to check, when reading a synopsis. You can find Anita Nolan at: www.anitnolan.com
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By: Bruce Luck,
I just read another great book, and this was the second time I read it. Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now I first read as a reader. The next I did so as a writer.
In a nutshell, Doug is a tough kid hardened by an abusive father and two older brothers. His father’s obnoxious behavior gets him fired, forcing the family to move to stupid Marysville in upstate New York where the small town people target him as a hoodlum. But Doug is not the ruffian the town perceives him to be. There is a another side to this survivor kid who, by reaching out to others, allows himself to transcend the prejudice against him and the family he’s a product of.
This book is fantastic on many levels. The voice is striking and Schmidt absolutely nails this kid. He maintains Doug’s tough-guy persona, yet allows him to shed it and for the character to grow. The voice is true throughout and does not waver. Another thing Schmidt does nicely is to allow Doug to talk to directly to readers, as if he and they were all chatting in the same room.
Schmidt provides a strong cast of characters and the amiable Doug is willing to reach out to them. Lil is the first person to notice the skinny thug and he follows her into the public library. She is in most of his middle school classes. Her father runs the market and hires Doug to be a Saturday morning delivery boy. On his rounds, he befriends his regular customers, including a playwright and a policeman’s family. Saturday afternoons Doug is fascinated by a large book of Audubon’s drawings under glass in the library. An elderly library worker introduces Doug to art techniques, such as composition and movement in a picture, lessons that play out in various aspects of Doug’s life. And Schmidt give us teachers, some who provoke him to be the hoodlum they see him as, others who see his softer side.
I don’t know what’s more critical to craft a good story, voice or character. I suppose it should have both.
By: Hazel Mitchell,
Blog: Hazel Mitchell
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HOW DO I KNOW WHAT MY STYLE IS?
and the second question
HOW DO I GET ONE?
And here's the thing - most of us already have a style.
Writer's call it VOICE. 'What is our voice? Where does it come from?
How do we capture it and nurture it and grow it?'
As a writer VOICE is the choices we make, the words we use, the cadence, the point of view,
the quality that makes the writing unique - and recognizable.
And emerging illustrators struggle with all the same issues, especially the 'recognizable' one.
The one that will make us
STAND OUT FROM THE REST.
This past weekend, I attended a writer’s workshop where we had a first pages critique session. That’s when an author panel hears the first 200 to 300 words of a manuscript, and then gives feedback to attendees. Basically, what these published experts ask themselves is, “Would I keep reading after this first page?”
You don’t have to write for children to learn a lot from first page critiques. And you don’t have to write a novel, either. Because the point of a first page is always the same: you have to grab your reader right from the very beginning!
Two hundred and fifty words. That’s the average number of words in that first page. Geez, that’s not much. But that’s all that you, the writer, have to grab that editor or agent or publisher before he or she moves on to the next manuscript. So how do you make every word count?
Here are the top suggestions I heard during the critiques, and the discussion that followed:
“You don’t have to explain the whole plot on the first page, but you do have to give an idea of what the story is about.”
Don’t fill up your entire first page with lovely description of your setting. You can weave that lovely description into the plot (what the story is about). Whoever or whatever is mentioned in the first page should be important to your plot (what the story is about). Resist the temptation to throw in anything that doesn’t relate to…yeah, I think you know what’s coming: What the story is about. Which brings me to the next suggestion.
“The voice or the narrator captures the reader’s attention from the get-go. If we don’t know who the protagonist is, we won’t be interested enough to keep reading.”
Your voice must be strong right from the start! Your audience needs to care about what will happen next—and more importantly, who has something at stake in the story. Read a few of the first pages of your favorite novels, or short stories, memoirs or essays so you can see how the writer manages to invest the reader in the story, right from the very beginning.
That’s what you want in your first page. After that, the rest is easy. Well, easier.
I think there are three reasons most people are drawn to novels. Plot. Characters. And voice.
I'm pretty good at characters and I'm really good at plot. Voice, for me, is nearly impossible to master. Sometimes it happens, most times it doesn't, and my prose is workman-like.
The first paragraph in Girlchild: A Novel is this:
Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they’re coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up, we'll agree that there has been "No problem, Officer, we'll keep it down.
I read that and thought: "I will follow that voice anywhere.
Girlchild is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix lives with her mom in the Calle de las Flores Trailer Park outside of Reno. Rory's mom was 15 when she first got pregnant, as was Rory's grandmother. She comes from a long line of welfare moms, alcoholics and gamblers. Can she escape her fate?
Girlchild has the feel of a book written from personal pain. The characters are certainly memorable. The plot could have been stronger, but again this book has an inimitable voice. Read it for that.
Recently I blogged about Mari McCarthy’s e-book Start Journaling and Change Your Life in 7 Days. Since then, I’ve used my journal to focus on my audience before I write. Who are they? How are they different from me? What are they going to demand from this piece? How might this differ from my expectations?
While that works for shorter nonfiction projects, I’ve been writing a longer piece of teen fiction, sending my editor an outline and then a draft. I’d journaled about audience for the outline. When it came time to write the story, I focused on what the story is all about – my characters.
I needed to do this because, based on my outline, my editor found my protagonist unsympathetic. She gave me tips on how to change this, but I had trouble starting the story. Nothing sounded right. I had to find my character’s voice while writing the story in 3rd person. I turned to my journal.
When I sat down to journal that morning, I asked what my character would have to say about being called unsympathetic. I decided to let him speak for himself and write the journal entry in his first person POV. Let’s just say that this particular teen had plenty to say, starting with the fact the he didn’t ask for anyone’s sympathy. He hadn’t created the story problem, but everyone expected him to fix it. We should shut up and let him do it his way. He was freaked out and scared and we weren’t helping.
As the author, I knew most of this. Laying it down in his own words helped me find his voice and get into the story. Soon I had a rough draft, but his brother, the antagonist, was flat.
His story had to come through as well. Sure, he was messing up his younger brother’s life, but it isn’t something he planned to do. He hates needing help from his baby brother. He hates what has happened to him. He’s angry. Who catches the brunt of this anger? His brother. Deal with it.
Again, these were things I knew, but in journaling for him I found the character’s voice. His dialogue tightened to the point of being tense, terse and rude – nothing that would keep him up at night.
If you’re having problems nailing a piece of fiction, journal.
0 Comments on Journaling My Way to Voice and Story as of 4/29/2012 10:01:00 AM
How to Improve Your Writing Voice and Characters’ Voices
Agent Jill Corcoran at the 2012 FL SCBWI Conference in Miami
Jill Corcoran talked about the difference between the author voice, which is in everything you write, and the manuscript voice, which changes according to things like tone, the target audience, and point of view.
She had us write a short scene with two characters from one point of view, then write it from the other. It’s amazing how you can feel the difference. Even better…this exercise can help with writer’s block!
· Make your characters distinct so you don’t always need to put in tags. There’s a great way to test this—take the tags out of dialogue and see if you (or others) can tell who is talking.
· Give each character something unique. Weaving these little details in helps give dimension.
· Readers fill in the gaps—you need to leave some white space.
Here are some other great suggestions from Jill:
· When you sit down and write, you don’t always have to write your book. Just write anything. It helps you find your voice, gives you space, and stops you from feeling pressured. A bad day can affect your writing. She said to strive for more than BIC…you want Butt In Quality Chair.
· Read outside your genre. This helps you see styles of writing that might be great for you.
· Make dialogue count…especially when it’s up front.
· Try to write three pages every morning before doing anything else.
· Play around to find the right voic
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I am working on a novel revision for an editor and I expect to turn it in by Monday. But today, as I was reading through one last time to polish everything up–oh, my gosh!–there’s still so much work to do.
Last Minute Revisions
At this point, it’s not major structural changes or big plot changes. Instead, I am looking to tighten every scene and make as many connections as possible. And I am polishing language and voice.
Here are some thing that I’m working on:
Connections. I noticed that K gave A something. Now, K is a minor character, and while I like K, the connection here was weak. Instead, I wondered how the story would work if C gave A that same thing. Much nicer! It brought back in a sub-plot/theme with C that I thought would never work into this part of the story.
Conflict and Tension. Yes, the mainstay of fiction is conflict and tension and you’d think I would have that right by now. Instead, I realized that I was relying on the external conflict and ignoring the internal conflict. What I needed was conflict to be within my main character, while at the same time, she is facing external problems. I had to go back paragraph by paragraph and make sure that the internal conflict was present, was related to the external problem and that it grew over the course of the story.
Pacing. I separated one long chapter into two chapters, making sure the ending of the first chapter was a cliff-hanger and the beginning of the next chapter had a good hook.
Verbs. Yes, verbs. As we all know by now, strong verbs make for good story language and a strong voice. And I was doing pretty well. But I noticed in this chapter that I was slacking off some. For example, I replaced “They stared” with “They gaped”, and later with “They gawked.” Subtle differences, yes, but important.
Characterization. I am confident that A is a strong character. But what about B, C, D, E, F, G? As I read through, I am looking for places to characterize them better.
When is a Novel Revision Finished?
Um, never. I think I could endlessly revise a novel and my friends will attest to that. But at some point, I’ve done all I can do without more feedback. With this final pass through, I’ll be at that point. It will be time to send the novel out into the world for someone to read and evaluate. Does that mean I am finished with revisions on this particular novel? Doubtful. Bu until some fresh eyes catch weak areas, I can’t see anything else to do. Soon, very soon, it will be on its way.