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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Voice, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 199
1. Nonfiction Voice

Your voice when writing nonfiction needs to convey your authority.


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2. Understanding Voice

Everyone talks about the elusive voice, but what do they really mean?


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3. Character Voice

There are many ways to give your characters their own unique voices.


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4. Voice vs. Grammar

Sometimes you have to break grammatical rules to bring out your voice.


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5. On the Edge of Becoming

Sunday morning sunrise and the world awakens again, the silence broken only by the sound of your pen scratching the surface of the page. It's the same each morning. You don’t know what your voice sounds like until you take the risk of opening your mouth and letting the words tumble out, half-formed, until you let your pen begin moving across the page, to see what

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6. Adding a Stance

When I talk to client about world-building, I talk a lot about context. If, for example, there is a magic in a world, I want to know if a) magic is common, b) the protagonist has experienced magic before (if yes, how much? what kind? etc.), and c) how they feel about it. So when a streak of green lightning flies across the room, I am looking to the protagonist for clues. How they react to it will tell me a lot about how magic operates in the world.

But this sort of approach isn’t just for world-building. You can add an emotional stance to almost everything. How does your character see the world? How they react to stuff will be a very good guide.

For example, if they see the new kid in school, they might say:

There’s Bo, the new kid in school.

This is merely factual, but is there an emotional signature there? No. So the reader is still wondering…so what’s the deal with this Bo guy? Do we like him? Is he weird? If he’s important, I want to know more about him right away. One answer (other than putting Bo in the plot or in scene with the protagonist, which I would also recommend) would be to add an emotional stance.

For example, here are some more complex reactions we can have to seeing Bo:

There goes that Bo, swaggering like a show pony. Who does he think he is?

There’s Bo, on the fringes of the cafeteria with the cool drama kids already . Would he say something to me today? I hope so.

And then there was Bo. Was he the one who shot off that green bolt during homeroom? What if he’s an algae elemental? What if he can help me figure out the Slime Pond mystery?

Here we have three different attitudes about Bo, because I’ve let the narrator have an emotional stance in addition to providing basic information (“There’s Bo”). In the first example, the emotion about Bo is quite negative. In the second example, it’s attraction to Bo. He’s already off fraternizing with some other group, but the narrator hopes that he’ll come pay him or her some attention, too. The third example gives world-building context but there’s also an emotional signature of intrigue. We get the feeling that algae elementals (ha!) are quite rare, and they’re desirable, at least for the narrator.

I could play with this stuff forever. For example, what if algae elementals weren’t rare? How would we convey that idea through the narrator’s emotional stance?

And then there was Bo. Was he the one who shot off that green bolt during homeroom? Great. The first new kid we’ve had in ages and he’s another dang algae elemental. This stupid school is teeming with them.

Don’t just settle for describing something or someone. It’s in how you describe them that the reader will be able to read the narrator’s attitude and emotion toward them. It’s all about context, folks!

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7. Adding a Stance

When I talk to client about world-building, I talk a lot about context. If, for example, there is a magic in a world, I want to know if a) magic is common, b) the protagonist has experienced magic before (if yes, how much? what kind? etc.), and c) how they feel about it. So when a streak of green lightning flies across the room, I am looking to the protagonist for clues. How they react to it will tell me a lot about how magic operates in the world.

But this sort of approach isn’t just for world-building. You can add an emotional stance to almost everything. How does your character see the world? How they react to stuff will be a very good guide.

For example, if they see the new kid in school, they might say:

There’s Bo, the new kid in school.

This is merely factual, but is there an emotional signature there? No. So the reader is still wondering…so what’s the deal with this Bo guy? Do we like him? Is he weird? If he’s important, I want to know more about him right away. One answer (other than putting Bo in the plot or in scene with the protagonist, which I would also recommend) would be to add an emotional stance.

For example, here are some more complex reactions we can have to seeing Bo:

There goes that Bo, swaggering like a show pony. Who does he think he is?

There’s Bo, on the fringes of the cafeteria with the cool drama kids already . Would he say something to me today? I hope so.

And then there was Bo. Was he the one who shot off that green bolt during homeroom? What if he’s an algae elemental? What if he can help me figure out the Slime Pond mystery?

Here we have three different attitudes about Bo, because I’ve let the narrator have an emotional stance in addition to providing basic information (“There’s Bo”). In the first example, the emotion about Bo is quite negative. In the second example, it’s attraction to Bo. He’s already off fraternizing with some other group, but the narrator hopes that he’ll come pay him or her some attention, too. The third example gives world-building context but there’s also an emotional signature of intrigue. We get the feeling that algae elementals (ha!) are quite rare, and they’re desirable, at least for the narrator.

I could play with this stuff forever. For example, what if algae elementals weren’t rare? How would we convey that idea through the narrator’s emotional stance?

And then there was Bo. Was he the one who shot off that green bolt during homeroom? Great. The first new kid we’ve had in ages and he’s another dang algae elemental. This stupid school is teeming with them.

Don’t just settle for describing something or someone. It’s in how you describe them that the reader will be able to read the narrator’s attitude and emotion toward them. It’s all about context, folks!

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8. New Voice: Melanie Conklin on Counting Thyme

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melanie Conklin is the first-time author of Counting Thyme (Putnam, 2016). From the promotional copy:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. 

The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. 

All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision? 

I’m a serious student of revision techniques. Because of my background as a product designer, I’m a very visual thinker, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to approach revision because there are always new challenges to encounter!

Prior to going through the editorial process with Counting Thyme, I had figured out a few things about revision: first, that I thought better on paper. I printed out my manuscript and used different colored post-it flags to track different elements through the document, so that I could find them and also so I could see their distribution and revise to where needed. I had also learned to make an outline of my manuscript before revising, so that I could “see” the whole thing at once.

After I survived the gauntlet of revision-under-deadline, my process had changed in small but significant ways. My editor also works on paper, so I learned to take her pages, punch holes in them, and put them in a binder. This may seem like common sense, but it seriously hadn’t occurred to me to make it easier to flip through the book!

I also learned to note the changes I was confident about directly on the manuscript, and to use full-sized Post-its to write every single guess, question, and thought to myself about anything I hadn’t figured out yet.

Basically, I would distill my editor’s letter, then read through my manuscript while noting any possible solutions on hundreds of Post-its.

Why Post-its? Well, I stick them on the bottom edge of the paper so that they hang off the edge of the manuscript pages, which makes it easy to find the notes again, whereas notes on the paper can get lost.

My outlines evolved, too. Now I outline on note cards, one for each scene, and pin them to a tri-fold board (the greatest invention ever). I generally organize the cards into three acts that form a road map for the manuscript. Again, this makes it easier to visualize the book and its major elements as I work through the planning pass for a revision.

Usually, by the time I’ve read all the way through my manuscript, the best solutions have risen to the surface, and I’ve answered all of my Post-it questions, leaving a bunch of notes ready and waiting. Then it’s just a matter of opening the Word doc and making the actual changes!

Doing a planning pass on the manuscript does add time to your revision, but I’ve found that it saves time overall because you have the freedom to think, explore, and choose, so when you open your Word doc you are full of confidence and can work more quickly.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Obviously, I’m super into the creative process, which applies not just to the act of revision, but to writing in general. I studied English Literature back in college, but it did not occur to me to write books myself until I had quit my job to stay home with my young children for the time being.

I found writing offered the same creative outlet that I’d savored in design, and in many ways my writing process have evolved to mirror my design process.

In product design, the end goal is to get one product on the shelf. To get there, you may throw away hundreds of ideas. But remember, the end goal is one success. I think that mindset has made my approach to writing more flexible, especially when I’m developing a new character or voice.

When I first think of a character, I really explore them. I keep a notebook for each book idea, and in that notebook I let my thoughts run wild. I blab for pages about backstory, then change my mind and cross it out. I turn to a new page and draw the character’s house. I write about their family. About where they live and the hurts they carry. What has changed in their life? What wound keeps them from moving forward? What lesson do they need to learn? How must they grow?

Often, I write the opening chapter of a book quite early in the process, but then I always pause and take this time to expand my ideas before I decide anything. Doing this can help you avoid making boring choices. Generally, the very first idea you have may not be the most original idea possible, depending on how much time you spend brainstorming.

To generate more interesting and original ideas, I like to use lateral thinking techniques—in a nutshell, it’s the idea of picking seemingly disparate ideas and pairing them to gain a new perspective.

For example, you might flip through the dictionary (or any book) and randomly pick a word like “apple.” Then you ask yourself, how is my character like an apple? Are they shiny on the outside, but rotten at the core? Have they weathered storms and survived? Maybe they see the world in slices and are trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the full picture. In this way, introducing a new connection point can lead to some very creative character development.

But the bottom line for me is to trust your writing process. Develop your routines. Nurture your mind by reading widely. Try new techniques, and gather them as your arsenal against deadlines.

Too often, we are rushed and panicking, but cutting corners usually just leads to a big old meltdown.

In my experience, your process will get you there every time—even if that involves writing with a cabbage leaf on your head, which I have done.

Writing is that hard, I know. But if you trust your process, the answers will come.

Cynsational Notes

 See more insights from Melanie on:

"Read nonfiction. Seriously, the weirdest stuff happens in the real world. Sometimes it’s super helpful to step away from your fictional world and flip through a non-fiction book (or watch an hour of NatGeo. Did you know that a blue whale’s heart weighs a thousand pounds?)."

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9. PubCrawl Podcast: Writing Mechanics – Voice

This week JJ and Kelly discuss Voice in another installment of their Writing Mechanics series. Voice: What is it? How can you develop it? How many times can they say “voice” in a single episode?

Show Notes

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

Off Menu Recommendations

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly will be teaching another class on contracts at the Loft Literary Center and working on her YA novel
  • JJ is juggling several different writing projects and is trying to figure out what to work on next

That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll be doing our QUERY CRITIQUE podcast!

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10. Watch That Tone

A child learns early on to recognize tone of voice. The mother's soft, sweet coo means she is happy with him. The low growl utilizing his middle name means he pushed the boundaries a tad too far, but what does tone have to do with fiction?

Tone is the emotional atmosphere the writer establishes and maintains throughout the entire novel based on how the author, through the point of view character, feels about the information she relates. 

You may not have thought about how you actually feel about your story. Take a moment to consider. Are you writing about ghosts with a wink and a nudge or are you aiming for chill bumps? Is the story serious and bittersweet or a satirical exposé?

1. Tone can be formal or informal, light or dark, grave or comic, impersonal or personal, subdued or passionate, reasonable or irrational, plain or ornate.

The narrator can be cynical, sarcastic, sweet, or funny. A satirical and caustic tone plays well in a dark Comedy. It won't play well in a cozy Mystery.

2. Tone should suit genre.

Are you writing a shallow Chick Lit comedy or a dark and mysterious Gothic novel? If you write a mixed genre, the tone should match the genre that takes precedence over the other.

If you are writing a funny romance, you have to decide if you want your reader to belly laugh her way through it or have a few moments that make her belly laugh while worrying about the outcome of the relationship. Some Romance fans love a frothy, light tone. Others prefer the melodramatic tone of Historical Romance. Yet another prefers a heart-wrenching Literary love story.

Some paranormal stories are eerie and set an ominous tone. Light Horror feels almost comic to the reader. Readers who prefer ominous, creepy paranormal might not enjoy the comical version.

3. Tone is demonstrated by word choice and the way you reveal the details.

It informs the narrator's attitude toward the characters and the situation through his interior narration, his actions, and his dialogue. If he does not take the characters or situation seriously, the reader won't either. Word choice, syntax, imagery, sensory cues, level of detail, depth of information, and metaphors reveal tone.

4. Tone is not the same as voice.

Stephen King writes horror. His voice is distinct. At times he employs quirky, adolescent boy humor (his voice), but his aim is to chill you and his quips impart comic relief in a sinister story world. Being heavy-handed with the humor can ruin a good horror story, even turn it into parody.

5. Tone is not the same as mood.

Tone is how the author/narrator approaches the scene. Mood is the atmosphere you set for the scene. If you are writing a mystery, a scene can be brooding and dark leading up to the sleuth finding the body. The mood can lighten as the detectives indulge in a moment of gallows humor. Tone defines your overall mystery as wisecracking noir or cozy British as they solve the crime.

6. Tone is not the same as style.

Style reflects the author or narrator's voice. It is also revealed through sentence structure, use of literary devices, rhythm, jargon, slang, and accents. Style is revealed through dialogue. Style showcases the background and education of the characters. It expresses the cast's belief system, opinions, likes, and dislikes. It is controlled by what the characters say and how they say it. Tone is revealed by the narrator's perceptions, what he chooses to explore, and what he chooses to hide.

Stay tuned for examples of tone next week.

For these and other tips on revision, pick up a copy of: 

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11. Comic: The Writer and Santa

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12. The quintessential human instrument

In late 2014, one particular video of a singer became immensely popular on Facebook. At first I thought my perception of its popularity might be skewed; I’m a singer, and have many friends who are singers, so there’s probably some selection bias in my sampling of popular posts on social media. But eventually I actually clicked on one of the many postings of the video on my feed, and with its 7.4 million views, it seemed likely that it was more than just my singer friends who had been watching it:

Overtone singing, defined in Grove Music Online as “A vocal style in which a single performer produces more than one clearly audible note simultaneously”, has been in existence for thousands of years, most famously in east central Asia. But I had never seen this much attention focused on it at once. The video is jaw-droppingly cool, in part because what’s happening doesn’t seem possible. But then, not that many people understand how singing just one note at a time actually works.

Simply trying to explain everything that happens when we breathe and phonate (i.e., make a vocal sound) requires discussion of various complex, unconscious physical phenomena. As the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments article “Voice” puts it:

Phonation takes place during exhalation as the respiratory system supplies air through the vibrating vocal folds, which interrupt and break the air stream into smaller units or puffs of air. The resulting sounds are filtered through a resonator system and then transmitted outside the mouth. Singing, speaking, humming, and other vocal sounds usually involve practised regulation of air pressure and breath-stream mechanics, and balanced control of the inspiratory (chiefly the diaphragm) and expiratory muscles (chiefly the abdominal and intercostal muscles).

Even after understanding all that, it’s clear that what’s happening in the video above is not a typical vocal performance. So when you hear those overtones coming from Anna-Maria Hefele, just what exactly is happening?

Fortunately for all of us, Hefele also made another video which addresses the physics of this phenomenon:

When you sing different vowels, your mouth changes shape to form those vowels. You pull your lips to the side to make an “eee” sound, and your tongue arches up in your mouth; when you make an “ooo” sound, you purse your lips and your tongue flattens out. When you do this, you’re actually changing the shape of your instrument, which in turn changes the harmonics that are stressed above the fundamental frequency (the pitch at which you’re speaking or singing). This is why the vowels sound different from one another. This is clear in Hefele’s training video, where the loudest overtones change from vowel to vowel.

Stress of different overtones is one of the ingredients of timbre, or the quality of a sound beyond its pitch and amplitude. Timbre is what allows us to distinguish between, say, a flute and an oboe playing the same pitch. They simply sound different. This is partially (no pun intended) dependent on the stress of different overtones due to the varying shapes and materials of each instrument.

The neat thing about the voice is that, while we don’t usually change the material, the shape is very flexible, and we can manipulate it to change our timbre. Overtone singing like Hefele’s takes an element of vocal sound and turns it into a new sort of instrument, inverting the typical relationship between instrument and timbre.

Anyone who’s listened to master impressionists or Bobby McFerrin (beyond “Don’t worry, be happy”) can attest to the versatility of the human voice. Vocalists are the shape-shifters of the instrument world. But comparing the 52,251 views of Hefele’s visualization video with the 7.4 million views of her performance video, it seems like we also appreciate the masters of timbre-bending the same way we appreciate magicians; most of us would rather watch the trick than see it explained.

In the newly published second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the voice is called “The quintessential human instrument.” But while almost all of us have voices, very few of us understand what is happening when we use them. Every once in a while I think it’s beneficial to see something extraordinary, if only so we remember to look at what seems ordinary a little more closely.

Headline image credit: A Sennheiser Microphone. Photo by ChrisEngelsma. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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13. Sospiri’s Jenny Forsyth on voice and song

Throughout the month, we’ve been examining the myriad aspects of the human voice. But who better to discuss it than a singer herself? We asked Jenny Forsyth, member of the Sospiri choir in Oxford, what it takes to be part of a successful choir.

Which vocal part do you sing in the choir?

I sing soprano – usually first soprano if the parts split, but I’ll sing second if I need to.

For how long have you been singing?

I started singing in the training choir of the Farnham Youth Choir, in Surrey, when I was seven. Then I moved up through the junior choir when I was about 10 years old and then auditioned and moved up to the main performance choir at the age of 12 and stayed with them until I was 18. After this I studied for a Bachelors in Music, then did a Masters degree in Choral Studies (Conducting).

What first made you want to join a choir?

I had recently started having piano lessons and my dad, a musician himself, thought it would be good for my musical education to join a choir. We went to a concert given by the Farnham Youth Choir and after that I was hooked!

What is your favourite piece or song to perform?

That’s a really difficult question – there is so much great music around! I enjoy singing Renaissance music so I might choose Taverner’s Dum Transsiset. I also love Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine and Bogoroditse Devo from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.

I also sing with an ensemble called the Lacock Scholars, and we sing a lot of plainsong chant, a lot of which is just so beautiful. Reading from historical notation – neumes – can give you so much musical information through such simple notation; it’s really exciting!

I’ve recently recorded an album of new commissions for the centenary of World War I with a choir from Oxford called Sospiri, directed by Chris Watson. The disk is called A Multitude of Voices and all the commissions are settings of war poems and texts. The composers were asked to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. I love all the music on the disk and it’s a thrilling feeling to be the first choir ever to sing a work. I really love Standing as I do before God by Cecilia McDowall and Three Songs of Remembrance by David Bednall. Two completely different works but both incredibly moving to perform.

However I think my all-time favourite has to be Las Amarillas by Stephen Hatfield – an arrangement of Mexican playground songs. It’s in Spanish and has some complicated cross rhythms, clapping, and other body percussion. It’s a hard piece to learn but when it comes together it just clicks into place and is one of the most rewarding pieces of music!

blog pics 2
Photo by Jenny Forsyth

How do you keep your voice in peak condition?

These are the five things I find really help me. (Though a busy schedule means the early nights are often a little elusive!)

  1. Keeping hydrated. It is vital to drink enough water to keep your whole system hydrated (ie., the internal hydration of the entire body that keeps the skin, eyes, and all other mucosal tissue healthy), and to make sure the vocal chords themselves are hydrated. When you drink water the water doesn’t actually touch the vocal chords so I find the best way to keep them hydrated is to steam, either over a bowl of hot water or with a purpose-built steam inhaler. The topical, or surface, hydration is the moisture level that keeps the epithelial surface of the vocal folds slippery enough to vibrate. Steaming is incredibly good for a tired voice!
  2. I’m not sure what the science behind this is but I find eating an apple just before I sing makes my voice feel more flexible and resonant.
  3. Hot drinks. A warm tea or coffee helps to relax my voice when it’s feeling a bit tired.
  4. Regular singing lessons. Having regular singing lessons with a teacher who is up to date on research into singing techniques is crucial to keeping your voice in peak condition. Often you won’t notice the development of bad habits, which could potentially be damaging to your voice, but your singing teacher will be able to correct you and keep you in check.
  5. Keeping physically fit and getting early nights. Singing is a really physical activity. When you’ve been working hard in a rehearsal or lesson you can end up feeling physically exhausted. Even though singers usually make singing look easy, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with lots of different sets of muscles working incredibly hard to support their sound. It’s essential to keep your body fit and well-rested to allow you to create the music you want to without damaging your voice.

Do you play any other musical instruments?

When I was younger I played the piano, flute and violin but I had to give up piano and flute as I didn’t have enough time to do enough practice to make my lessons worthwhile. I continued playing violin and took up viola in my gap year and then at university studied violin as my first study instrument for my first two years before swapping to voice in my final year.

Do you have a favourite place to perform?

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world with the Farnham Youth Choir, with tours around Europe and trips to both China and Australia. So, even before I decided to take my singing more seriously, I had had the chance to sing in some of the best venues in the world. It’s hard to choose a favourite as some venues lend themselves better to certain types of repertoire. Anywhere with a nice acoustic where you can hear both what you are singing and what others around you are singing is lovely. It can be very disconcerting to feel as though you’re singing completely by yourself when you know you’re in a choir of 20! I’m currently doing a lot of singing with the Lacock Scholars at Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, so I think that’s my favourite at the moment. Having said that, I would absolutely love to sing at the building where I work as a music administrator – Westminster Cathedral! It’s got the most glorious acoustics and is absolutely stunning.

What is the most rewarding thing about being in a choir?

There are so many great things about singing in a choir. You get a sense of working as part of a team, which you rarely get to the same extent outside of choral singing. I think this is because your voice is so personal to you can find yourself feeling quite vulnerable. I sometimes think that to sing well you have to take that vulnerability and use it; to really put yourself ‘out there’ to give the music a sense of vitality. You have to really trust your fellow singers. You have to know that when you come in on a loud entry (or a quiet one, for that matter!) that you won’t be left high and dry singing on your own.

What’s the most challenging thing about singing in a choir?

I think this is similar to the things that are rewarding about being part of a choir. That sense of vulnerability can be unnerving and can sow seeds of doubt in your mind. “Do I sound ok? Is the audience enjoying the performance? Was that what the conductor wanted?” But you have to put some of these thoughts out of your mind and focus on the job in hand. If you’ve been rehearsing the repertoire for a long time you can sometimes find your mind wandering, and then you’re singing on autopilot. So it can be a challenge to keep trying to find new and interesting things in the music itself.

Also, personality differences between members of the choir or singers and conductors can cause friction. It’s important to strike the right balance so that everyone’s time is used effectively. The dynamic between a conductor and their choir is important in creating a finely tuned machine, and it is different with each conductor and each choir. Sometimes in a small ensemble a “Choirocracy” can work with the singers being able to give opinions but it can make rehearsals tedious and in a choral society of over a hundred singers it would be a nightmare.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining a choir?

Do it! I think singing in a choir as I grew up really helped my confidence; I used to be very shy but the responsibility my youth choir gave me really brought me out of myself. You get a great feeling of achievement when singing in a choir. I don’t think that changes whether you’re an amateur singing for fun or in a church choir once a week or whether you’re a professional doing it to make a living. I’ve recently spent time working with an “Office Choir”. All of the members work in the same building for large banking corporation, and they meet up once a week for a rehearsal and perform a couple of concerts a year. It’s great because people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other are engaging over a common interest. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, secretary, manager, or an intern; you’re all in the same boat when learning a new piece of music! They all say the same thing: they look forward to Wednesdays now because of their lunchtime rehearsals, and they find themselves feeling a lot more invigorated when they return to their desks afterwards.

Lastly, singing in a choir is a great way to make new friends. Some of my closest friends are people I met at choir aged 7!

Header image credit: St John’s College Chapel by Ed Webster, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

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14. Four steps to singing like a winner

Singing like a winner is what every emerging professional aspires to do. Yet there are so many hardships and obstacles; so much competition and heartache; so many bills to pay that more people sing like whiners than winners.

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15. Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

by Stella Gurney and Natsko Seki (Phaidon, 2013)

Do kids’ books have room for one more smart pigeon? You’ll be glad you let this one in, because Speck Lee Tailfeather is another flier with a healthy confidence and a chatty nature.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

Speck’s mission is world travel, focusing on buildings from a bird’s point of view. He sees things differently.

His words are a travel journal of sorts to his pigeon friends. To his love, Elsie. And to us.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee TailfeatherArchitecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

There’s a lot to look at, from speech bubbles to side bars to fascinating tidbits. The layout and voice are both unusual in the very best way. And if you just shake off what you expect from picture books and settle in, your flight from city to sky and back will be worth it.

Your tour guide, after all, is an expert in the unusual.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee TailfeatherArchitecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

This one is for treasure hunters, trivia fanatics, architecture buffs, or anyone hungry for some off-the-wall-pigeon-fare. You never know.

Pair it with A Lion in Paris. Speck travels farther than France, but matching up the Parisian buildings (not to mention the books’ head-to-head size battle and their animal points of view) would be a fun thing for storytime.


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16. How to Instantly Enhance Your Characterization - #WriteTip

As an editor, I find that a lot of writers don’t fully comprehend what “voice” means in fiction or how it pertains to characterization. So I’ll try my best to explain it in the terms that I understand them.
Just as everyone has their own characteristic way of speaking or expressing themselves, a writer’s characters should also have a distinctive “voice” that clearly comes across in the narrative. How the character reacts or responds in a given situation should be unique to their personality. So choose your nouns and verbs carefully. Being specific about even small details, like facial expressions can create a strong impression of that character’s unique POV. Plus, using a deeper POV can greatly enhance any scene.
Each character’s voice personifies more than their speech or internal-thoughts. The narrative should express it as well. When you write a scene in a certain character’s POV, each sentence in that scene has to read as though it is being experienced, felt, and expressed by that character. Everything that happens in a scene is processed in a unique way by that character, so even the narrative must have “voice.”
Look at these examples from my published novel, IMMORTAL ECLIPSE:
I looked at the cream envelope on the kitchen table. I’d first thought that it was a wedding invitation. I hated being unmarried and having people give me a hard time about it. I didn’t understand why being single and in my late twenties made my married friends give me odd looks. I was just independent.
My gaze rests on the cream envelope lying on the kitchen table. The one I’d first thought was a wedding invitation. Yet another nail in my unmarried-still-tragically-single coffin. Why does being single equate to being tossed in the bargain bin at Target? I’m a sophisticated and independent New Yorker, dammit!
* * *
Each sentence presents the same scenario, but how the character handles it and the way it is shown in the words used to convey her thoughts is different. The first one is “telling” the reader info in a bland way, but in the second version, we get a glimpse of her personality and “voice.”
Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of your narrator, like a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements in any piece of writing.
Here's an example of teen "voice" through close third-person POV from Lucky T by author Kate Brian.
On a warm and sunny Saturday morning, Carrie Fitzgerald stepped out of her walk-in closet wearing a lime green miniskirt. It was so short, she was positive she could never, under any circumstances, bend over in it. Her blond hair was held up in an impromptu bun with a No. 2 pencil. She had just run up to her room with her best friend, Piper Breslin, and begun trying on a multitude of eye-popping outfits that they bought during their crack-of-dawn shopping spree. The Westfield San Francisco shopping center had never been hit that hard that early in the morning before.
 “Does this make me look sexy or skanky?” Carrie asked.
 Piper checked herself out in Carrie’s floor-length mirror and stuck her tongue out at her reflection. The electric blue tank top that she’d grabbed off Carrie’s reject pile was clinging in all the wrong places. While Carrie had a very sleek figure that would make a supermodel envious, Piper was on the shorter, slightly rounder side.
 “How do I put this without hurting your feelings?” Piper said with a smirk. “There’s a hooker in LA that wants her skirt back.”
 “Hey, I can’t help that I’m all legs.” Carrie tugged at the hem of the skirt, hoping a few more inches of material would magically grow.
 “I don’t know how you do it,” Piper said as she watched Carrie gawk at herself in front of her mirror. She could totally tell that Carrie was admiring the lift of the push-up bra she had bought at Victoria’s Secret.
“Do what? Look like a streetwalker no matter what I put on?” Carrie joked, her brown eyes teasing. “Why do I have to be so tall and skinny?”
* * *
To me, “voice” is more about how a writer has their characters say something by the slang they use, or the character’s tics, gestures, unique way of speaking, and even expressing themselves.
Now compare the following two examples, which should help inspire your creative muse. The first is shallow writing with lots of tellingand hardly any “voice” or sensory details.
Sam Harrington glanced up from his comic book. A fat man with brown hair and eyes and a big nose walked into the bookstore. The man was wearing jeans with thick socks and sandals with a faded T-shirt. He walked past the bookcases and toward Sam.
“Can I help you?” Sam asked as the man approached.
“Here to pick up my book,” he said loudly.
“Sorry, this week’s order hasn’t come in yet. Do you wanna give us a call next—”
The man leaned across the counter. “What do you mean my book didn’t come in yet?” he asked raucously.
Sam opened his mouth to respond but stopped.
The guy straightened up and tugged on his shirt. “Where is my book?” he repeated more calmly.
It was a slow day at the Book Shark. Sam Harrington stood at one end of the bookstore in the self-help section, stuffing last week’s shipment of books onto the shelves. The bell over the door chimed and Sam glanced up. A waft of car exhaust and brewing coffee entered the room as the door opened.
The customer maneuvered around the bookshelves with a heavy limp. When he caught a glimpse of the man’s clothing, Sam’s eyebrows rose. It was the middle of summer and the guy had on jeans with socks and leather Birkenstocks. Crazy.
Sam hurried past a guy sitting on the floor reading a book and an old lady with blue hair—well, it looked blue—scanning the covers on the romance novels on sale.
Sam walked behind the counter and asked, “Can I help you, sir?”
“Here to pick up my book,” the man said.
“Sorry, this week’s order hasn’t come in yet. Do you wanna give us a call next—”
The stocky man leaned over the glass counter, and glared down at Sam. His dark-brown hair fell into his hazel eyes, and the man pushed the strands aside with a pudgy hand. He lowered his head, his breath soured by stale beer and cigarettes. “Whaddya mean my book didn’t come in yet?” His bulbous nose twitched with anger.
Sam’s shoulders slumped. Great. Another pissed off customer. It’s not my fault the freaking shipment is always late.
Before Sam could respond, the man straightened, tugging at the collar of his faded Aerosmith T-shirt in an attempt to collect himself. “Now. Where’s my book on ritual human sacrifices, boy?”
* * *
Do you see what I mean? The second example clearly reveals “voice” in both the speech, internal-thougts, and the narrative, and even a Deeper POV. 

"Voice" can add an extra layer of characterization to any novel, and can avoid making your character seem like the dreaded Mary-Sue type.
Yes, writing with Deeper POV and "voice" often adds more words to your prose, but it is far more interesting and tells the reader a lot more about what's going on and reveals a character's personality aka "voice."
Let’s use another example in order to clarify what I mean. Here’s a snippet from my wildly popular novel, LOST IN STARLIGHT, before revision (no "voice") and after revision. The heroine is writing a story for the school paper on a new guy at school, and she is confused by her attraction to him.
Please compare the two examples.
When my last class ends, I go to my locker to get my Trig textbook. I hear the doors at the end of the hall bang open, releasing students and I feel it letting in a gust of air. I notice fluorescent lights overhead.
Across the hallway and a few lockers over from mine, I can see Zach and Hayden. I look at a red spray-painted slash on the metal door. I decide that someone must’ve spray painted Hayden’s locker again.
While opening my locker, I notice Hayden’s staring at me. I discern that he is taller than most boys.
I can see he has a messenger bag in one hand, and I notice drumsticks in his back pocket. I lift my hand to wave.
As I watch him, he doesn’t respond. He just continues gazing at me with strange eyes. I feel my head go woozy. It makes my limbs feel jittery. Frustration and confusion assault me for having feelings for someone like him. And I wonder why he is staring.
I feel a wave of nervousness because he is watching me. I wonder if there is something wrong. From the corner of my eye, I see him lean into the wall.
I think Hayden’s stare is unsettling. I know there’s something about that guy’s smile that attracts girls. I decide that no one can resist Hayden Lancaster. Maybe not even me.
I see him watching me, and I feel heat on my skin. I notice Hayden isn’t looking at my chest like most boys, which I know will only complicate my feelings.
When my last class ends, I stop at my locker to get my Trig textbook. The doors at the end of the hall bang open, releasing students for the day and letting in a gust of warm air. Several obtrusive fluorescent lights flicker overhead.
Across the hallway and a few lockers over from mine are Zach and Hayden. An angry red spray-painted slash taints the metal door. Some jerk must’ve tagged Hayden’s locker again.
While opening my own locker, I’m suddenly aware that Hayden’s blatantly staring at me. Hard to miss. He’s like a man among boys, at least in his flawless physique. His messenger bag is in one hand, and drumsticks stick out of his back pocket.
I lift my hand in a hesitant little wave. He doesn’t return my gesture, just continues gazing at me through those thick lashes that frame his unique eyes. My head goes all woozy. Even my limbs feel jittery. Frustration and confusion are warring inside me for having anyfeelings whatsoever for someone like him. And what’s with the stare?
A wave of nervousness hits hard. Is there toilet paper hanging out of my jeans? Food stuck in my teeth? Or have Frankenstein bolts suddenly sprouted from my neck?
Being on Hayden’s radar is a little unsettling. I admit there’s something about Mr. Puppy Hero’s rare smiles, lopsided with an edge, that draw girls to him like insects buzzing a bug zapper. For better or worse, no one can resist Hayden Lancaster. Not even me.
Our gazes lock for just one second, and heat rushes beneath my skin. Hayden isn’t gawking at my chest like most boys. He’s only looking at my face, which further complicates my feelings for this strange dude.
* * *
Did you immediately detect the character’s unique “voice” in that last example?
Now one last thing, I think even secondary characters need a distinct personality that separates them from other characters.
This next longer excerpt is from my New adult novel, SMASH INTO YOU, shows how even a secondary character can have their own (and should!) personality, too. Vanessa has a very unique voice, as well as my narrator.
My new roommate and I were polar opposites. Her name was Vanessa Carmichael and she apparently guzzled energy drinks by the gallon, and her tousled copper hair looked like the “before” picture in a Pantene commercial. At least she seemed nice and normal. I wouldn’t have to worry about her doing anything weird like stealing my underwear or taking cell phone pictures of me while I slept to post on Instagram.
While Vanessa talked a mile a minute, folded clothes on her bed, and sipped a Red Bull, I inspected her—incrediblycluttered—side of the room. I flicked a glance at the red poster with that lame phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” in white lettering over her headboard. Vanessa had fastened a corkboard to the wall above her desk, pinned with snapshots of her high school debate team and blue ribbon awards for science and math. Piles of Old Navy hoodies and graphic shirts and bell-bottom cords were scattered on her dark green comforter.
 “…then I laughed so hard, I nearly peed in my hemp underwear…Hello? Are you even listening to me?”
I glanced up. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. What were you saying?”
Vanessa pushed up her glasses. “You don’t care that I took the right side? Because I like being closer to the window and you came a day late—”
“It’s fine,” I said, shifting on my bed and lowering the novel I’d been reading.
“If it’s gonna be an issue, I can move my stuff,” Vanessa said.
“I don’t care. Honest.”
Vanessa took a swig of her drink. She blinked her big owlish eyes behind square-framed glasses. “Awesome. My roommate last year was sooo picky. She was always borrowing my stuff without asking, and making out with her emo boyfriend…”
Chatty Vanessa would be my cellmate for the next year. Oh, yay. I already wanted to duct tape her mouth shut.
Lifting my paperback, I shoved both earbuds into my ears and turned on my iPod, the soft melody drowning out her voice. My roommate had started yakking the moment I entered the room after my meeting with Ms. Greene. Her favorite topic? Herself.
In the first ten minutes, I’d learned that Vanessa was a middle child, president of the Earth Matters!—environmental issues—club on campus, wrote The Vampire Diaries fanfiction, used the word “awesome” a lot, and had a boyfriend named Levi who attended MIT.
 “…it’s hard with Levi living so far away. We only get to see each other on break. Over the summer we went to this awesome Comic-Con that featured Marvel’s The Avengers in San Francisco.” Vanessa stuffed a hoodie into a dresser drawer. “And you’ll never guess who was there!”
My turn to talk. Yay.
I stretched my arms over my head, lowering the volume on my iPod. “The amazing writer and director Joss Whedon?”
“No!” She waved both hands in the air like a crazed fangirl. “Even better...Loki, Tom Hiddleston! Omigod, he’s even hotter in person and so nice. I asked him to pose for a selfie with me and, of course, he did. I posted it on Facebook and I got a hundred likes within an hour. It was so awesome—”
“Really? Do you have the pic?” I asked, trying to make an effort.
Vanessa rewarded me with a five-second pause while she dug through her slouchy purse to retrieve her iPhone. “Um, it might take me a while to find it....”
 “That’s okay.”
 “Oh! Awesome! I got two new reviews on my fanfic page.” She stared at her phone, scrolling through the screen with a sparkly green fingernail. “Crapola. I can’t find it.”
“No worries,” I said, pulling my comforter over my body.
* * *
I hope this post helps you revise your own work. If you’re still confused about “voice,” please leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’d be happy to help.

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17. Jordan Brown: What We Mean When We Talk About "Voice"

Jordan Brown is an executive editor with the imprints Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins Children’s Books. In the ten years he has been in children's editorial, he has been fortunate enough to work with such esteemed authors and illustrators as Jon Scieszka, Anne Ursu, Gris Grimly, Steve Brezenoff, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Chris Rylander, Erin McGuire, Laura Ruby, Kevin Emerson, Christopher Healy, Greg Ruth, Dan Wells, Lois Metzger, M. Sindy Felin, and many others. Amongst the books he’s edited are New York Times bestsellers, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, an NPR Backseat Book Club Selection, and a National Book Award finalist, in addition to other accolades. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Your voice is the way you distinguish yourself as a writer.

With everyone hanging onto every word, Jordan defines voice as what comes between the objective facts of your novel and your readers. He leads us in exploring

what voice does,

the elements of narration that define voice,

tasks and challenges to help our voice stand out,

and some examples that do voice well.

Three highlights:

1. Readers want to feel the character they're reading is emotionally real. And the way to get that authenticity is by being specific.

Authenticity = Specificity
2. Think of voice as a camera in a movie that chooses certain things to focus on over others, like leaving the room with one character while leaving the others behind.

3. The idea of psychic distance. Using five sentences from "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner, Jordan walks us through the different distances of voice, from the helicopter view that's the most remote and objective to as close as it gets, no outside world at all. Each distance has its own feel and strengths and things to be aware of. And the point isn't to choose one level and stay there the whole book.

"The key is to know when to make moves between levels within your manuscript."

The session is packed with information and tips, covering first versus third limited points of view, how knowing something your character doesn't can disconnect readers from your story, the benefits and retraints of present versus past tense, and much, much more.

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18. Voice: The Soul of your Story

One of my favorite parts of writing conferences is the first-page critique session—when attendees anonymously submit their first pages and a panel of editors, agents, and industry pros critique them for the whole group. It’s interesting, because the panelists always complain about the same things, and one of the common fails on ailing first pages is the voice.

If the voice on a first page is boring or flat or inconsistent, you may not be able to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with it, but you know something’s wrong. Likewise, when the voice is on, you sense it immediately. It resonates. So if you’re wanting to write a book that people will want to read, it’s hugely important to get the voice right.

That’s why, despite this topic having been discussed already around the blogosphere, we’re going to talk about it again. It’s that important. PK Hrezo is here today to share some thoughts and an exercise on how to write voice well. Thanks, PK!


Courtesy: asboluv @ Creative Commons

Soul. It’s a word applied to many different media. For just a moment, let’s consider it from a musical standpoint. Stevie Wonder. Aretha Franklin. Marvin Gaye. Not just anyone can sing and play this kind of music successfully; a certain je ne sais quoi is required in bringing down the house and moving people to their very souls.

Is it really any different when it comes to books?

If the structure of a story is the bones and the characters and plot are the meat, then the voice most certainly is the soul. Every reader loves a good plot and riveting characters, and many books have these elements, but with so many to choose from, what makes us select the books we do?

For me it’s simple: if you want me to get past the first page of your book, the voice of the story must grab me. It must be authentic, unique, memorable. It should feel like a real person. So what ingredients make up that magical concoction of a compelling voice?


Courtesy: Matthias Ripp @ CC

Word choice. Cadence. Rhythm. It’s where the real writing comes in, paired with crafty prose and flipped clichés. It requires careful thought and consideration, both when the narrator is a main character, as well as when the story is told in third person.

For newer writers, it can be hard to decipher what those editors and reviewers are saying when they mention a weak or bland voice. It’s like not being able to see the book for the words. (See how I flipped that forest-for-the-trees cliché??)

If you’re struggling with the concept of voice, give the following exercise a try:

Let’s say we send three very different people to the same party, asking all to observe the venue and guests for thirty minutes before reporting back on everything they noticed. Let’s say one of those people is an elderly lady who uses a walker, is blind in one eye, and hasn’t been out of her house in a week. How would she describe what she sees and feels? What words would she choose? What are the things she’d notice?

What if one of the guests was a young dad who’d recently lost his wife to cancer and this was the first time he’d been out since her death? How would his observations be different from the old woman? How would he describe it, in his own overwhelmed, brink-of-depression terms?

What if one of those people was an eighteen-year-old girl who was just elected homecoming queen and this was her third party of the night? What words would she use to make her report relative to her world?

This activity exemplifies the importance of character when it comes to voice. What she notices (and doesn’t notice), the words she uses to describe those things, the cadence and rhythm of her speech (is it lilting, rambling, stuttering, or staccato?)—all of these things go together to define her voice and make it uniquely hers.

Now take the exercise a step further. Make your main character one of these guests who must observe the party and report back. Now it’s your villain’s turn. Now the love interest…Not only will this activity get you in touch with who your characters are at their core, but it will distinguish each of their unique voices and help you decide which one would be the most compelling and/or fitting for the story you want to tell. The individual voices that result can be the difference in an un-put-downable story and one that sounds like all the rest.

When I’m drafting, I work fast. I get that story down and focus on the rise and fall of emotion throughout the plot. But I know that a compelling narrator voice is vital, so during my first and second rounds of edits, I focus on how I can strengthen the narrator (and character) voice. Are my word choices dull? If the sentence or paragraph evokes no emotion in me, then the answer is probably yes. How can I flip my current word choices to add flair to my character and refine her voice in the story?

Example from an old unpublished manuscript:

It’s not crowded, but the noise of the arcade and music makes it seem busy. Glancing around, I notice some of my old video game faves. I haven’t been inside here in ages—grew out of it, I guess. Now it seems kind of fun, though. Reminds me of a time when nothing else mattered—when scoring high at Zombie Slayer ruled the weekend. Back when my brother Jake was still at home, and when Mom and I got along. I realize it now. Something about this place comforts me.

Now, using the same scenario, let’s tweak the voice:

The place is a ghost town, only the whirrs and beeps of the player-starved arcades giving it any life. Glancing around, I notice my faithful old time-killers and a flash of nostalgia sweeps through me. I haven’t been inside this pizza joint in moons—not since middle school, anyway. It reminds me of a time when nothing else mattered, a time when scoring high at Zombie Slayer was the highest honor of the weekend. Of a time when my big brother was still at home, and when Mom and I still got along.

Which narrator would you rather keep reading? Both tell the same story, but the second one gives more insight into who the character is, and it’s more entertaining.

In closing, I should add that, like a fine wine, our writer’s ear for voice matures over time. If you’re just starting out, you may not notice anything missing in your story, while an agent or editor or reviewer may say that the voice was “flat” or “inconsistent.” This just means there’s room for growth in this area.

Ask around for suggestions on books with compelling narrator voices. Read them, focusing on the author’s word choice, cadence, and rhythm. Once you read a story with a strong voice, you’ll know it; recognize the techniques, practice them yourself, and the knowledge will change your work for the better.  

Thanks to Angela and Becca for having me here today!

Thanks for being here, PK! Voice is honestly one of those things that can make or break a story, and the best way I’ve found to improve in this area myself is to identify books that have a strong voice and study them. A few of my personal favorites? Chime (Franny Billingsley), The Wicked and the Just (J. Anderson Coats), and Above (Leah Bobet). What books stand out to you as have strong and unique voices?

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PK Hrezo is the author of the Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. series. She is also a blogger and crafter. Follow her down the rabbithole at her website.

The post Voice: The Soul of your Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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19. Ask a Pub Pro: Author and Editor Erin Rhew on Branding, Cover Art, and Voice

We are thrilled to welcome editor and author Erin Rhew to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Having worked with Erin, I'm amazed at how she tirelessly juggles so many hats. Not only is she an editor and the social media whirlwind for BookFish Books, but she's also the author of The Fulfillment Series, with the last book, The Fulfillment, releasing in just a few days!

Erin's here to answer your reader questions on how to brand yourself across genres, whether to send your own cover art in with submissions, and facing the fear of writing to a group younger than your age. Be sure to check out her newest release below!

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.

Ask a Pub Pro with Erin Rhew

1) I've heard the advice that if you want to build a fan base, you need to brand yourself. But my ideas don't all lend themselves to one category or genre, though they all have some similar themes. I'm wondering if you can brand yourself writing across categories and genres but by always exploring a similar type of story question or theme. Or even a similar type of story?

That’s a great question! When branding yourself, it’s important to remember you’re branding YOU, not a specific book or genre. If you have a cause that’s important to you or a theme/message you’re trying to disseminate, you could certainly include information about that in your branding. For example, let’s say you want to bring attention to animal cruelty. As you blog, perhaps blog about that particular topic once a month or so. Highlight and promote charities you feel exemplify the work you’d like done for animals.
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20. Frankenwriter: How to Bring Your Character's Voice To Life

By Kathryn Evans
Kathryn Evans - New Girl On The Blog

Learning the mechanics of story is pretty straightforward.  Basically you need a Beginning, a Middle and an End. OK, it’s slightly more complicated than that but there are many excellent resources that’ll break it down for you – our own Maureen Lynas tells you how in Five Bricks of Story and Life and Seven Steps for Plotting and Pacing 

You can even buy software programmes to help: the Snowflake method has been recommended to me on a couple of occasions.

You can learn all this, you can follow it to the letter, and then you can read your story and find it is a dead thing. You may have the mechanics but where is the heart? Where is the spark? Where do you get the bolt of lightening that allows your Frankenbook to rise from the table and live, LIVE, LIVE!

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21. What gives a book its bones, and soul? Jennie Nash, Author Accelerator, and a special offer

Yesterday I introduced my friend Jennie Nash. It was the first post in a three-post series that spotlights Jennie's Author Accelerator, a singular program that helps steer authors toward their own finished books. Today, we're continuing that series with Jennie's reflections on process, structure, tone and voice. What gives a book lift, shape, foundation? What makes a story soar? Who is that soul with the voice in the cathedral, finally ready to sing?

As you read, please remember Jennie's offer—a discount to try out Author Accelerator for a month. The normal price is $199/month, which gives writers four deadlines against which they turn in ten pages for review. Jennie is offering a discounted price of $150 for the first months. Authors can write to Jade@Authoraccelerator.com and ask for the Beth Kephart special offer. That will be good through November 15, 2015.

Author Accelerator encourages authors to think before they write—to map out their desires as writers, articulate their hopes for their projects, ponder requirements like structure and tone. You’ve published eight books yourself. When did you begin to recognize, in your own work, the power of the authorial pause?

There has been a certain frantic-ness in my own work for a long time. I was one of those people who wanted to be published before I was 25, because I was restless for success. Each time I wrote another book I would think, “THIS is going to be my big breakthrough book!” I would set arbitrary and very ambitious deadlines for myself – like, “I have to finish this draft in three months.” That can sometimes be good for staying motivated, but if you never let the work breathe, or let yourself breathe, it’s hard to find your voice.  All that pushing and striving didn’t help me to become a better writer, in the end, or to find any wider success. In fact, it was one of the things that led me to my biggest publishing failure – my last novel, which did not sell. I was so frantic to get the book done and out there and sold, and my desperation was my undoing.

When I began coaching other writers, I often saw that same frantic energy, and I began to believe that it was the thing that was harming them the most. Rushing to begin, rushing to finish, rushing to publish – these were the biggest problems I was seeing.

I began to build into my coaching process systems for helping writers to slow down and to THINK. I came to believe that taking the time to be intentional was the most critical step for any writer in any project. 

It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily add time to the creative process; stopping to think actually savestime, in the end. I recently had a client complete a rough draft of a book in about six months of very intense work, but she was very intentional, and she followed the strategic process, and it worked out very well in the end. So pausing to be intentional doesn’t have to mean your process is slow.

We all think we know what some words mean. But maybe we don’t. How do you define structure? 

Oh my goodness, this is such a hard question, because structure is such a complex thing! While we might start out by saying structure is the shape of the work – how it unfolds in time, what territory it covers – that is only one small part of it, the surface part of it that we can see, and perhaps graph or outline. Structure is much bigger than that.  I think of it more like a writer’s intention for their story.

I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity (because of her new book, Big Magic, which is an exploration of the creative process) and she said the most extraordinary thing about the beginning of that book idea. She said it took her awhile to start work on it because she didn’t know what the book was going to be. She knew that she would write about creativity, but she didn’t know HOW she would approach the subject. She said that she asked herself,  “Does this book want to be a self help, `ten steps to creativity’ book, or `I travel around and interview creative people’ book, or a novel, or an academic neurobiology of creativity book? I had to find out what this book wanted to be.”

That is, in many ways, a perfect explanation of structure – deciding what the idea in your head is going to be, how it’s going to exist in the world, what your intention is for the work. You can see very clearly that Gilbert couldn’t start writing, and couldn’t sketch out a graph for the work or a table of contents or anything representing physical structure and shape, until she knew what the book was going to BE.

Once you make that decision, you create a kind of ecosystem for the work to grow into. It now has certain parameters and limitations. It is going to follow certain conventions – or perhaps break those conventions. That is when you can start looking at how it’s going to do its job. For memoir and non-fiction, you can begin to ask what is going to be in the book and what is going to be left out, where it’s going to start and where it's going to end. For fiction, you can begin to think about who is going to tell the story, where they’re going to stand in time and how much time is going to unfold in the course of the story.


Voice, to me, is an understanding about who your narrator is and where she stands in time and what her agenda is – her point, her purpose, the reason she is speaking to us in these pages. Voice, in other words, is not just how the narrator sounds or how she (or he!) speaks. It’s all the things the narrator believes and cares about and fears. It’s everything that makes the narrator who she (or he! or it!) is.

Every book has a narrator, which is obvious in fiction, but in memoir and non-fiction, it’s slightly less obvious. In memoir, the narrator is YOU, of course, but is it you, the twelve year old? You, the thirty year old? You, the person who has justlearned the lessons the story is showing, or you the person who learned those lessons last year, or you the person who is experiencing those lessons as they unfold? You have to chose one narrative voice and stick with it.

If an author intrudes on the established voice, we can hear it. If a different “you” shows up in a memoir when you didn’t intend her to, we can sense it. These small gaps result in a breech of trust between the reader and the writer, and once you lose trust, you lose everything. That’s why establishing and maintaining a consistent voice is so key.


Tone is how the voice comes across to the reader, what the attitude or stance of the narrator is as she tells the tale or conveys the information. A book can have a desperate and angry tone, or a sad and melancholy tone, or a light and joyous tone. For the longest time, I didn’t want to read Gone Girl, even though it was all anyone could talk about, because I felt very uncomfortable with the tone of the book. It felt frightening to me, slippery, dark, not to be trusted – and I didn’t want to go to that place. I finally did read it – and of course my sense of the tone was precisely correct. That book had a very strong tone! 

Big Magic, which I just mentioned, has a very joyous, lighthearted tone. Gilbert talks about some dark things in the book, to be sure, but she does it in a way that is very safe, and ultimately uplifting. In many ways, that’s a triumph of her tone.

0 Comments on What gives a book its bones, and soul? Jennie Nash, Author Accelerator, and a special offer as of 10/29/2015 6:55:00 AM
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22. Best of AYAP: Engaging the Reader

Reader engagement is one of the hallmarks of a great novel. Think about it, you haven't heard anyone talk about a novel they love without telling you exactly how hard they were drawn into the story. But when reader engagement is such a tricky thing to nail down, it can be difficult to tell whether your draft has what it takes to be a truly engaging read.

Luckily, the components of reader engagement can be narrowed down to a few key components, including the balance between show and tell, use of tension, and voice. The articles below have great advice on how to manage all three, sending you well on your way to creating your most engaging novel yet!

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23. Letting Your Characters Speak Through You by Shaun David Hutchinson

We're so thrilled to welcome Shaun David Hutchinson back to the blog today. Shaun is an author who's not afraid to explore the darkest depths of his story and the pain of his characters. Today, Shaun gives us some insight into how he gets his characters to speak in such strong voices...by listening and letting them speak through him. After you enjoy his post, be sure to check out his upcoming release below, We Are the Ants.

Let Your Characters Speak: A Craft of Writing Post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Voice. It's my strength as a writer. I struggle when it comes to plotting and I'm definitely no Melina Marchetta when it comes to prose, but character voice is my jam.

Understanding character voice requires understanding your characters. Who they are, where they come from, the experiences that have shaped them. Think about who you are. You are the sum of your experiences. Of the years and hours that you've lived through. The things you love, the things you fear, the moments that terrified you, and the ones that broke you to pieces. You are a patchwork quilt. Each new experience informs how you view the world. The same goes for your characters.

The difference between you and a character is that you are always living in the present. Your past is always behind you. When it comes to a character, you have to develop their past. Where did your character grow up? What fascinates them? What scares them? Are their parents divorced? Are they religious? Did they grow up in a religious household? Were they read to as children? What are their comfort foods? What informs their worldview? What were their favorite toys as kids? No detail is inconsequential.

When I was three or four (it changes depending on who I ask), I nearly electrocuted myself when I found a screwdriver and attempted to take apart the clothes dryer in our garage. It seems like a silly anecdote, a funny little story. But here I am at 37 and one of my favorite things to do is take apart and repair machines. I view them as problems to be solved. And I view most things that way. Whether it's computer code or a troublesome plot or even people. I look for ways to take apart and fix the world around me. I can trace how I approach the world all the way back to my near-fatal experimentation as a toddler. That one incident informs how I view the world.

My next book is called We Are the Ants, and it's about a young man named Henry who thinks he's an alien abductee. His world is chaos, so he clings to science as a way to bring order to his world. Everything he does is viewed through that scientific lens. He imagines the past as viewed from far flung stars. He considers the gravitational force between himself and the boy he's making out with. Science is ingrained in Henry's voice. It's who he is.

Creating an authentic character voice is about more than speech patterns and slang—those things are important, however I remain skeptical about the use of slang, which can quickly date a book—it's about creating an authentic character and then allowing that character to speak honestly. Before you can discover the world through your character's eyes, you have to discover your character. You have to set aside your own voice, your own experiences, and let your character do the talking without reservation, without hesitation. Let them speak their truths, warty sentiments and all.

How you get to know your characters will depend a lot on how you write. I'm a pantser, so I get to know my characters over countless drafts, allowing each new discovery to shape the narrative. If you're an outliner (and I envy those of you who are), you could write a history of your character before you begin. Maybe journal entries written from their point of view. But whatever method you choose, you'll have to get to know your character before their voice can begin to shine through.

In my opinion, character voice is one of the most difficult aspects of a book to get right. It requires getting out of your own head and seeing the world through the eyes of another person. Slipping into their skin and thinking about how they view the world, how they would react, what they would say in each and every moment. But I also believe it's the most important part of a book, and worth doing well. Don't try to speak through your characters, let your characters speak through you.

About the Book:

From the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of The Deathday Letter, fml, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and We Are the Ants, and the editor of the school shooting anthology Violent Ends. He lives with his partner and dog in South Florida and watches way too much TV.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

 -- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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24. New Year’s Resolution 2016

Have more FUN writing.That’s it, that’s all, that’s what we usually forget to do first.

It’s so important, but we so often forget it. Working on my book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, was one of the biggest blasts I’ve had in my life. But I would still stress about it. Second-guess myself. Wonder whose bright idea it was to write a damn book in the first place. (Nobody out there to blame but us chickens!) Sure, even if you’re pursuing your life’s passion, you can easily get stressed, especially when questions of whether it’s good enough or what to do with it or whether it’ll get published start to creep in.

We all work this way, I think. I haven’t met a single creative person who didn’t suffer somewhat while pursuing their craft. (Not even my chef husband is immune from creative angst. My suggestion is usually to top the dish in question with caviar and give it to me!) But I was powerfully reminded of this idea when reading an excellent client manuscript over the holidays.

Without giving too much away, I worked on an alternating-POV adult romantic paranormal fantasy where we sometimes dipped into the paranormal creature’s perspective. It was really good stuff. But I often noticed that the tone seemed to scatter. You know how different genres have different conventions? Like there’s a pretty stereotypical voice you can expect when reading sci-fi vs. contemporary vs. dystopian work.

With this particular project, the writer’s voice and tone tended to shapeshift. When she was writing a romantic scene, there were definitely phrases and overtones creeping in that would remind you of a pretty standard romance novel, right down to the heaving bosoms. When she wrote some action or battle scenes, the voice would grow more formal in a way that’s familiar to high fantasy readers. In the midst of it, there was a certain spark and energy that was uniquely to hers. But all the changes made for a bigger picture that lacked cohesion.

Then I noticed something interesting. Her voice rang out strong and true with one POV in particular. The paranormal creature. The tone didn’t shift at all, the POV experience seemed much more immersive, and the writing flowed. I found myself scribbling “More Monster POV plz!!!” in all the virtual margins. (Don’t worry, please, if you’ve ever thought of hiring me. My comments aren’t really straight out of ICanHasCheezburger…)

With any voice notes, I try to be thorough because voice is such a hot button issue that can be so nebulous for so many. I thought about it for a while. Why did Monster POV work so well? Then the obvious answer struck me. It’s fun to write in monster POV. Most days, I’ve had ENOUGH of stressed-out-human-lady POV. What I wouldn’t give to walk around as a monster through the foggy shadows of some menacing countryside! Stomp stomp, crunch crunch, ROOOOOOAAR!

So I wrote her a prescription for more fun when writing. (Among many other things, of course.) Writing can be tedious. Revision can be on par with a root canal. Putting a query letter together gives people the actual fits. I’ve seen people cry while pitching. And not, like, just once, either. It’s so easy to get caught up.

What’s the fun part of your WIP? What’s fun about it? Is it a particular character you love? A head you like getting into? A setting that calls to you? The tempo of an action sequence? Whatever it is, do more of that. Every writer is different, and every story offers unique opportunities to have a gas.

I’ve always, always said that if something is tedious for you to write, think of the poor sap who has to read it. Your passion for every passage is obvious on the page. If you’re hating every minute, odds are nobody’s having any fun.

Figure out what makes you relish your writing time, and do more of what you love in your current project. Do more of what you love in your non-writing life, too, while you’re at it! Happy 2016!


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25. Voice

A story's voice is how the words, sentences, and paragraphs are put together.


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