Tag Archives: voice

The Power of Words: sight over sound

Dear Daughter is enduring a bout of bullying at school.  Kids can be cruel.  Girls can be nasty.  Teens…well…they’re teens.

Long story short, she’s been the punchline of a few not-so-funny jokes.  Whispered words in the halls, naughty words scratched in her day planner and one extremely derogatory remark scribbled on a teacher’s white board.

Words can hurt.

As writers and story-tellers, we know first hand the power behind them.  They can make us laugh and cry, shout, scream or moan.  They shock us, terrify us, amuse us and frustrate us.  Words are magical. 

But which is more so?  The written word or the spoken word?

Is hearing a story more potent than reading one?  Is that why voice is so important in a great piece of fiction, because the characters themselves leap off the page and into our imaginations?

It’s likely why picture books are so beloved to both children and adults alike.  Not only can we read the words, but we can see the story come to life while feeling the lyrical cadence deep in our soul.

I wonder if that’s why whispered words cut us so deeply?  They cannot be ripped up, erased or thrown in the trash.  Once spoken, they are a living memory not easily ignored.

Which would you choose: to read and not hear or to hear and not be able to read?


Sniff Your Shoes: if you dare!

The other day, our house was filled with our normal array of kids.  As is typical for teen boys now-a-days, most of the shoes on our front rug were black with some kind of white stripe on them.  On occasions, DH and I have been known to tie them all together when the kids are watching movies. 

We didn’t get the opportunity, however, before one young man ran up stairs on a mission to somewhere.  He grabbed a handful of shoes and began sniffing them. 

Yeah, like nose to the foot hole, deep breath, sniff.   

 “Doesn’t smell like mine,” he said and dropped the shoe, only to sniff another.

I learned something that day.  Not about recognizing my own foot odor, but about recognizing my style. 

Most writers have a distinct style when they write.  Their words and sentences flow across the page with a familiar flair.  The same sentence structure, the same descriptive patterns, similar dialogue, etc.

This may be a result of writing in the same genre (fantasy, steam punk, crime, etc) book after book.  Yet as I examine my pieces of fiction, I have to believe it is something else.  Something that comes from deep within us and the way we experience our words and our worlds.

My picture books are distinctly mine, as are my chapter books and middle grade novels.  There is something about the way I write that makes my writing my own.

No other author could sniff test them and believe they were theirs.  Nor could I mistake someone else’s style for my own. 

Have you noticed you write with a unique style?  If so, does this help or hinder you when writing outside the same genre?  Is it even possible or desirable to carry your style across your stories, let alone across multiple genres?  Or am I just over thinking this thing?

Take a look at writing and let us know what you find.

Raw Talent or Learned Behavior?

I’m fickle.

Last night I had my post written for today.  For some reason, I didn’t schedule it to post, figuring I would post it this morning.  Along the way, I got sidetracked by another blog.  Good thing I’m fickle, because I now have another, more urgent topic to discuss.

The Art of Story-telling.

Okay, not that I know anything about it, but it is a topic I feel strongly about.  And it’s Kate’s fault that I waffled from my previous post, fell in love with this idea and am now sharing it with you.

She said, ” I think I write because I’m a story-teller at heart.”

This statement sums up, for me, how a writer finds his/her voice.

I always say voice is something a writer has.  You can’t buy it in the book store or find it like a penny on the sidewalk.  Ebay does not sell it, and mapquest won’t help either.  Voice is something you have or you don’t.  According to me, that is. 

According to everyone else, “When a writer finds his voice, he will know.”

I absolutely agree.  But I think we look for it in the wrong places.  We look for it in style and try to emulate what worked for other writers.  But I don’t believe it can be found in POV and story arc.  Nor can it be found in good writing mechanics, characterizzation and conflict.  Those are simply the by-products of good story-telling.

To me, voice is the difference between telling a story and story-telling.  It is the difference between a perfectly executed song and a song with soul.  It is the art of expressing the story from within.

To quote Kate, voice comes from being a “story-teller at heart.”

Which is not to be confused with passion.  I can have all the passion in the world for the written word and still not have the soul to lay it bare in that magical and spell-binding way.

Some things are just inherent.  Like comedy, for example.

I suck at telling jokes.  My timing is off and I mess up the punchline.  This is telling a story at it’s worst. 

Good comedians like Billy Crystal and Robin Williams feel the power of the joke deep inside them.  When it comes out, they don’t have to work for it.  The magic is there.

That is the art of story-telling.

So, thanks to Kate and my inherently fickle nature, I have created a loaded post for those in the writing industry.  Your input will be valued as we explore the art of story-telling.

Do you believe there is a magical component to story-telling?  Or, can a great story be told with good mechanics and attention to detail?  Is voice something that can be learned/taught or is it an intuitive, yet elusive talent? 

Is there even a difference between the two?

Are you a real writer or a wanna-be?

Last night we enjoyed our final concert of the school year.  The kindergarten class sang their hearts out to a packed auditorium. 

I am always amazed at the enthusiasm such young children possess.  They have shed their shyness from their preschool days and aren’t too old to be uncool yet.  They sing with unabashed pride and confidence.

When they make mistakes, they keep singing.  They simply pick up on the next line or the next song and don’t let the wrong note deter them from their goals.

We can learn a lot from the enthusiasm of these youngsters. 

Often, we write our first novel with the mentality of a child.  We write enthusiastically, letting our words fall to the paper.  When we are finished, we can’t wait to show it to the world. 

Novice writers often do.  They forget that even a simple song needs lots of practice and a dress rehearsal.  Instead of honing their skills and properly editing their work, they submit newly completed manuscripts to 100 agents, get a slew of rejections and, in a fit of frustration, age 40 years. 

They become writing curmudgeons.  They are disallusioned and embittered.  I see it on AQ.  I read it in the comments of blogs.  In college, I  was the recipient of a failed-writer’s anger via English 101.  Thanks prof.  

But what if these budding authors stayed young?  What then could they do?

Exactly what you are doing, I would guess.  They would sing with enthusiasm, make mistakes and tackle the next song.  They would practice a hundred times and never grow tired of their favorite words.  They would maintain the magical draw to writing that they felt while penning their first novel.

In short, they would be writers.

My wish for you today is to find your voice.  No matter what you do; practice, practice, practice.  And then sing with the enthusiasm of a kindergartener.


Major Manuscript Changes

Much discussion in the writing arena focuses on point of view.  Should my book be first person, third person exclusive, switch POV’s, etc.?  I firmly believe POV is a matter of personal taste–for each manuscript.

Every story has different needs.  Most of the time I know what those are going into it.  However, there are times when I’m unsure.  My best example is my NaNo09 novel Whispering Minds

I love, love, loved my character’s name: Gemini, Gemi for short.  I wanted to hear it and see it and love it on paper.  Selfishly.  In addition, I had a whole lot of characters to incorporate into the novel and planned to give each of them their own space.  So I wrote in third person and switched POV’s. 

Twelve thousand words into the manuscript I realized this was too impersonal.  I struggled to capture Gemi’s essence on the page.  She felt distant to me.  And if I didn’t connect, my readers would never give one flip about her. 

Enter first person with no POV switch.  From the moment I realized my huge mistake, I let Gemi tell her story.  It worked out much better this way because she knew her journey more intimately than I and it sounded natural coming from her rather than via my translation of what I thought she wanted to say.

This technique is encouraged in writing circles and by writing professionals.  I’ve heard it from editors, agents, writers and writing coaches.  “Give it a whirl.  See where it takes you.  Use what feels best.”

However, I don’t think they intended for anyone to write 1/5th of a novel before switching.  I have started editing Whispering Minds, but feel like I’ve gotten nowhere.  All I’ve done so far is change out my she’s with me’s and my Gemi’s with I’s and a few other prominant word swaps.  I haven’t even tackled the POV switch yet.  Even so, this is a daunting task.  To date, it is my least favorite edit.

It is even worse than the time I changed an entire novel from present tense to past tense.  Ten times more horrific than a character name change.  Scads more frustrating than the time I gave my MC a sex change.  Not literally within the manuscript–just a simple character shift throughout the whole thing. 

Everything is different.  Word choices, emotions, actions, everything.  Boys use shorter sentences and don’t get all touchy-feely.  Changing tenses means a verb swap in EVERY sentence.  Events feel foreign and forced when making simple substitutions.  Voice is lost and language becomes stilted. 

“Sharon and Gemi attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.” cannot become “Sharon and I attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.”  Every sentence needs to be read carefully to make every appropriate substitution.  This process is time consuming.

Along the way, I’ve learned some tips when making Major Manuscript Changes. 

  1. Use the find and replace button if you have one.  While this works miracles for POV or name changes, don’t try it on a tense change.
  2. In addition, do not–DO NOT–find and replace everything.  Confusion abounds.  I almost scrapped my whole project when I realized the magnitude of clicking replace all.
  3. Make your changes 100% BEFORE editing your rough draft.  If you try to edit and change at the same time you will never understand what is going on.  Your edit will be a Disaster with a capital D.
  4. Save the original manuscript someplace else and ignore it while you work on the new edit.  You may learn–when you are all done ripping your hair out making the changes–that the original was, indeed, the better option. 
  5. Relax.  It’s not a race.  You are not graded on how quickly you get the task done.  However, your final manuscript is judged by editors and agents.  Having Timmy start out the manuscript in present tense and ending the piece with Past-Tense-Tonya will likely get your submission tossed.
  6. Use fantastic beta readers before declaring your changes complete.  A Major Manuscript Change is far too difficult to accomplish going solo (ie, we are too close to the project and know what it is supposed to say).  At the end of the day, too many minute mistakes remain.

Have you ever made Major Manuscript Changes to a completed work?  If so, what tips or tricks do you have to help others? 

As readers or writers, what are your preferences regarding POV, tense, gender, etc.?  Is one form an absolute turn off?  If so, why?

~happy editing