Voice and style, a fictional author’s tools, making the character appear real and as realistic as possible, even down to the minor characters in your novel.
I’ve been musing over voice and skill level, a question posed in a discussion on Brandilyn Collins blog Forensics and Faith: Novel Openings
Naturally, my first instinct is to open my mouth and type the first dumb thing that comes to mind, which I did, and I call this brain fart idius (if there is such a word and which I have found no spelling for) you know, it’s those senior moments you have when you are well over the half century mark, and learning a new skill, those collective dumb moments you hope to get away with when you post unthought out thoughts. Getting beyond this, I’m one of those individuals who likes to think long and hard about topics that are posed for discussion, by the time I have digested everything and ready to respond the topics have usually advanced on to other subjects. So, I’ve created my own blog to post what I’ve digested and think relevant in hopes that it offers some weight to the subject.
Voice, looking at from the aspiring writer’s point of view, it is the author’s style in which we begin to tell the story. Now when we look at style, it is the specific way an author uses language to characterize through tone, narrative, and description the beginning of the story.
Style is defined as: The manner of expression of a particular writer, produced by choice of words, grammatical structures, use of literary devices, and all the possible parts of language use. Some general styles might include scientific, ornate, plain, emotive. Most writers have their own particular styles.
Now that style seems to be defined to some extent and we look at skill level, a subject near and dear to me, as I learn the creative process in hopes to improve my level of writing. We do improve our skill level by writing.
Like any good wanna-be, I went to my library of How To’s on the subject of creative writing, for I have multitudes on the subject, and believe one can never have enough books, especially on this topic. Voice and Style by Johnny Payne was the first book I picked up, and the first chapter deals with Habits of Speech. Word choice, comes hand in hand with the author’s individual style. Light bulbs of clarity flashed through my brain sparking a fire that blazes, and can’t seem to be put out, until I share with you his teachings.
Habits of Speech as Johnny Payne says is a distinctive way of talking, not to be confused with dialect. Dialect is a person’s overall style of talking. Habits of speech are certain phrases that give even a minor character presence in the story. Creating an intense impression of a character that can be observed in a few lines of dialogue and a few details of description, defined by the habit of speech. Johnny Payne goes on to explain there is a difference been clichéd language and language that is simply vernacular or familiar. It’s weaving those familiar phrases into a style of speech.
As idle as my brain seems to have been this book has been sitting on the shelf for sometime. The first paragraph adds the flavor to what I have been searching for, adding depth to the character’s I have been creating. It is the nuance of enlightenment.
Okay, now we have our writer’s voice and style down pat, we understand that we come to this through word choice, description, tone, and sentence structure. And we don’t have to settle just for that natural voice, we can be creative and create multiple voices. The more we write the more voices we develop.
Where can we learn different Habits of Speech? By watching people, and listening to how they speak, how they turn a phrase, their mannerisms. Finally, by reading other writers, and observing their method, and style.
New York Times BOOKS Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab By MOTOKO RICH Published: January 28, 2009 Companies that charge writers to publish are growing while many mainstream publishers are losing ground.
As feature writer of the week, I decided to suspend with the usual critique of my work in progress and focus on something that has been plaguing me for sometime, what do with the collective novels, stories, the general all-round writing that’s gathering dust.
So I went to the group and posed a few questions that have clearly cluttered the brain and muddled those little gray cells into inactive, it was difficult thinking of going forward with something else, when I have so much unfinished.
I want to share with others the advice the group has giving me, mind you, the week isn’t over so not everyone has had a chance to respond, but there are two members that are always Johnny on the spot and hopefully they won’t mind me placing their comments here for others to read.
Learning the craft of writing is a wonderful adventure, a journey well worth taking, but as we venture down this creative road, the mind can become muddled and confused.
Over the years, you’ve posted your masterpieces to the group for feedback, and the group responds with excellent tips and advice. Then you begin revising your work in progress based on the suggestions the group has given.
Now you’ve spent years in a group environment, perfecting the skills and honing the techniques, and then one morning you wake up and realize that you’ve revised the stories so much that you’ve lost the muse. Not the muse for writing, but the novels and stories you have in progress.
One of the questions asked…
What do you do to keep the muse alive?
One member responded with this advice: “Personally I think you have to keep pushing forward, glancing back over your shoulder as necessary, but not getting sucked down into revising the same five or six stories over and over for the rest of your life.”
Another member responded with this advice: “My artistic sensuality can be sparked by doing things, like exercising, driving, or hiking or something as mundane as doing dishes. For me it can also be sparked by visuals found in art forms such as movies, photography, and painting. Doesn't matter whether these are well done or not, they always trip my switch. I feed my muse whenever possible.”
This is good advice on fueling the muse and then I went one-step further and twittered a similar question to noted authors…this is the response they gave.
Brandilyn Collins her blog, said: Forensics & Faith Read: novels in your genre, newspaper, obits. Watch news. Many ideas there. Write snatches of scenes in your head.
Karen Marcus her webpage, said:Final Draft Communications IMO, anything that moves you physically or mentally moves creativity--exercise, music, a great conversation.
From this aspiring author’s experience and digesting the advice given from the above, I can see where I could have went wrong possibly, and how the muse was lost in my case, in the beginning it was in the rewriting stage. Essentially, not knowing enough about the craft of writing, ultimately then, this is part of the learning the process.
Advice for myself is to save the feedback a day or so then revise but not to the extent that the muse is lost.
I do hope others that is reading this will share their experience and how you deal with the muse and what you have done to recapture the muse for pieces you have written in the past.
You heard it here first: For the first time in 2009, Writer's Digest is hosting a Valentine's Day writing contest. We're calling it the Red Heart :: Black Heart writing contest, and you can enter for free. Soon we'll have an official page with all the details, but here's the early scoop.
Brandilyn Collins has posted a discussion thread on her blog called Character Arcs -- Part I it will be interesting to follow the comments, too participate in, so I’m posting this link. I’m looking forward to learning through this discussion.
It’s the tenth week of the Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo…this weeks task, review the feature writer of the week her work-in-process, and then write 3 beginnings to introduce a character in a story or scene consisting of a thousand words for all. This doesn’t seem to be too daunting of a task now does it? Perhaps and yet, maybe it is, what are the requirements the assignment sets forth? In the past weeks, we have reviewed one author in particular and three stories of hers that begins differently.
A new character (someone we haven’t written about before) the choices are…
1) An omniscient narrative, where one character tells another character about a third character, hum, there is a lot that can be done with this. But there has to be a reason a character is taking about someone that isn’t in the scene.
2) Or begin a story with an event or a situation.
Now why do groups venture into this type of process, truthfully this can help you increase your writing process and be more successful. As I begin this session I like to review the notes that were taken from the prior week, lets face I’ve slept since then and I need to review this authors work and I want to re-familiarize myself with her technique.
Reviewing the author’s stories…
One story begins with a situation…
Another has omniscient narrative telling us the character lies, and there are a multitude of complications for the character as the story begins. All of the author’s stories are published and extremely well written.
What is it that I need to do at this point? In a situational scene, I want it to be troubling for the character.
Jo Beth watched, as Karen’s car plunged over the cliff. She turned and walked away as though it were nothing. It isn’t as though I can do anything about it; I’m the spirit that plunged down this same cliff, tragically, as it is said twenty years before…now all I can do is watch. There was no one to walk away, when I hit the gas petal, determination is what drove the car that day for me. Now I wait for Karen’s spirit to make the transition to the other side, so that we may talk.
Karen in my view, for I felt her heart as she crashed was not ready to die that was her reasoning for bringing along Jo Beth. She wasn’t suppose to just walk away that was Karen’s thought as she hit bottom. Karen’s plan, which she didn’t let Jo Beth in on, was for her best friend to talk her out of it, too make a call on her cellphone for Johnny to come running and stop her. It’s all about Johnny Dupree …
Okay, here is 178 words to the first part of the exercise. And as I look at what I have written, I see a different beginning. Before I leave, exercises and prompts are a great way to flesh out new short stories or beginnings to a novel. Happy Writing!
Taking on a different persona, the characters point of view, and the narrative voice…who tells your character’s story?
Looking through the lens, as we begin to write, first off we need to know who is speaking and from what point of view, too are we up close and personal, or far away and detached. I’ve written multiple beginnings to several novels and short stories both in first person, third person and ultimately a second person point of view, and have yet to settle on whose voice should tell the tale. Is it simply because I’m an aspiring writer who falters or am I trying to write above my character’s experience by adding more flavor and tone than actually exist within the characters mind?
As I read an excerpt from William Faulkner’s novel “As I lay Dying” the beginning sentence, where the “I” character expresses that he and Jewel come up from the field, I can sense where my own faltering begins.
Let’s look at the story I am writing now of an older man relieving his experience of the great depression, and being orphaned, and how he feels about today’s economic plight and what the world is suffering now. We don’t know the outcome or what will happen during this recession, but what Albert feels and senses is it something he never wanted to go through again not in this life. What I am attempting to do is show the process and the fact that I have written this story from a different point of view.
The first one is a first person point of view. The first paragraph or so shows the cloud of dust that blows across the prairie ultimately killing his father from dust pneumonia and his mother dying shortly after, leaving him an orphan. Albert is torn and talks to his mother as they bury her, and he is confused about the rightness and wrongness and feeling hard at the world and his circumstances. Albert curses God, the sheriff, and the land that his father held so dear and that ultimately took all that was meaningful from him. But Albert is young and virile and eventually meets a hobo named Jake the Bake along with his dog Prudence, who teaches him the survival skills of riding the rails and living off the land.
1st Point of View of a novel-in process… of a ten-year-old boy in the 30’s. Pa scooped up a handful of dirt, letting it flow through his fingers, as if it were flour from Ma’s biscuit bend, there is no moisture in the air, and hasn’t been for sometime, and I poke at the seedlings with my toe for they’d died in the field, as soon as they broke through the parched earth.
Albert awakens to the news that the world is suffering and economic recession, he remembers living through a depression, and his heart is downtrodden having to experience what he thought that he never have to go through again. The memories flood him and he watches his daughter as he relives those memories and worries what it will do to those around him now. How society differs now, and what he sees as a society’s moral decline.
3rd Person of the same boy as an older man, some 88 years later.
Albert Feany wakes from his nap in the overstuff recliner, and stares out the window at the dark wintry gray sky and listens to the news reporter declare this economic turmoil, a recession. “This isn’t a depression folks, we’re far from that,” The man says. It strikes a cord in Albert, as the newsman continues to talk about the stock values dropping, and it being far worse than the crash of ’29, and he wonders whose head is screwed on backwards his or the newsman.
The question that arises for me as the author, is where to begin Albert’s story, is it with the growing recession that we are having now or the remembrance of his having the lived through the great depression and the struggle he had to survive. I believe the third person point of view will be the course best taken.
What I need to think about, as I ponder this is how Albert will say what he is saying, and expressing it effectively in the narrative tone, mood and atmosphere, as how an older man will see things today and how it is happening. Is the voice clear, believable and the voice of a real person. Happy Writing!
I must say the blogging experience has been most enlightening; there was a question raised in our group Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo concerning dialogue tags in a taleteller’s story. To clarify the event the story was told to the protagonist in his youth and he was reflecting back on the tale, as he walked through a cemetery remembering the story, and the concern was the use of dialogue tags (quotes), whether they should be used or not at the beginning of each sentence, as the story was conveyed through memory.
Finding the correct use has engulfed me and finally I posed a question to a blog to get an answer and I received one…
Heather Moore one of their editors graciously responded with an answer:
Thanks for your question.
The general concensus among the editors is that you are fine not to use the dialogue quotes if the taleteller is paraphrasing dialogue.
So the question becomes if there is dialogue in there that isn't paraphrased. This may become a publishing house decision. I've seen it done both ways. Just be aware that when you find a publishing home, you may be asked to use quotation marks.
Not using quotation marks with dialogue is considered more "literary" than the norm. The book "No Country For Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. It's a full novelization. Zero quotation marks. It does throw the reader off at first, but it's a style that has became a bit of a trend in some circles.
If you are interested in a more concrete answer for your specific work-in-progress, I'd be happy to look at a sample page.
I've seen enough writing rules broken that have actually become successful, so I'd hate to deter your style. The trick is knowing the rules well enough so that you know when it's time to modify them.
Sincerely, Heather Moore Managing Editor, PEG, LLC
My journey into the literary world of literature, and feeling more like a tadpole in a large pond than the full-grown grey-haired woman that I am, and as a child and young woman, I read books feverishly as entertainment and being taken to a place that I might never gone had I not read, and now I read to understand the mechanics of writing.
It’s not that you don’t enjoy the story, for you do, but with a greater sense of pleasure and clarity as you attempt to master the art of the craft. The group, Sweet Hearts of The Rodeo this week has read several story’s by Lauren Groff, an excellent writer I must say, and quite young. As well as another writer, that I probably would not have read had it not been part of the groups exercise, and that is “The Year of Silence” by Kevin Brockmeier. The ending of this story is fascinating in that he uses Morse code to reveal a message…I shall not tell what I came to believe the message was …read the story in “The Best American Short Stories 2008.”
Exploring these stories through the eyes of analysis has brought a new perspective to my own writing, and learning to read back over what I have written, for I have noticed that I drop many words, important words you might say and hopefully I have not dropped any here (we’ll see). And as Robert Olen Butler stresses in his lectures (that the group is reviewing monthly and giving their comments and impressions on, as we finish each session) that he reads, and re-reads, as he picks up from where he leaves off in the previous session and that it isn’t about the quantity of words each day that you write, but the quality.
And as I explore the world of literary writing, I learn also, there is a lot of research involved in writing. It isn’t all about an idea or person you might have in mind to write a story about, let’s say you want to write about a character diving for sunken treasure… you need specific details to make it believable. Now Robert Olen Butler in his writing workshop indicates that before the writer even starts a story, or gets into the zone (the dream state) that you have to know what the character yearns for, and it should begin with the first sentence and every sentence thereafter. Okay, let’s follow Butler’s lead (I have a picture that shows a treasure chest in the ocean) and I have a character in mind that yearns for the quest…he isn’t interested in the booty, as much as the glorious aspect of the find.
I know what the character yearns for, and I look at the picture some more to see what it tells me and I know that I don’t have a clue where to begin. Okay, I’m going to have to do a lot of research and as the character I believe I’m going to have to hire someone with experience. With this, I’ll end for I have the crust of the story, along with a lot of possibilities. Happy Writing!!!
The New Year is in the third day and I feel like I’m peddling backwards instead of forwards, cleaning up task that should have been completed days ago… in the old year.
Updates…the homeless mom and the sixteen year seem to have a new beginning to look forward too with all the well-wishers keeping in touch and giving a helping hand. Thank God.
Blinky’s page is updated with answers to questions that has been poised and I must say she has done an excellent job answering questions that people cannot truly know the answers too, unless they walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Life is never easy, nor does it come any easier as we grow older and the aches and pains flood the body making it more difficult to do the task we did when we were younger.
Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo: Boy those ladies have certainly done a marvelous job reviewing Butler’s session 3 and 4 ( I’m behind and I hope they will forgive me for not responding yet to their analysis, I hope to get to it by the end of Sunday) and giving well constructed thoughts on his writing process.
Onto another subject and thought regarding the group, three ladies out of the group has had stories published in this year’s T-Zero Quarterly, a writers village online magazine Link: http://writersvillage.com/t-zero/. And I’m not sure if it is open to the public? But Writer’s Village University offers over 200 courses for the aspiring author. The Ladies, whose short story was published, are:
The Beaded Sandals short fiction by Carolann Neilon Malley
Trying To Beat The Moon short fiction by Kathy Kubik
The Pond short fiction by Laurel Wilczek
And Kathy has a poem published also,
Diagnosis a poem by Kathy Kubik
All are extremely talented writers-- way to go ladies; I’m looking forward to seeing your name in print, again.
I’ve far to many irons in the fire, but there seems to be so little time to accomplish all that needs to be done in a day.
Twitter: is fascinating and I’m learning the method of tweeting as I build followers. And you meet so many interesting people to name a few there are, publishers, writers, journalist, webmaster, bloggers the list is endless, as an aspiring author a definite place to be.
Facebook: Like Twitter, FaceBook is another place to increase your network and meet interesting people.
Onward and upward, writing, blogging and keeping up with the task I have set myself to… Happy Writing!
Katy Hughes blogs as Blinky St. James her drawings as well as her writing are unique in that she is not looking for a handout, but a helping hand and so many have come forward. It boasts my faith in mankind.
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I belong to this fantastic writer’s group called Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo and the group can be found at Writers University, which I have been a lifelong member since the late 90’s.
This is an intense study group that involves the reading and discussion of short stories as well as articles and books on craft. It is not for beginners. The focus is on literary and mainstream short stories, and the work requires a commitment of many hours a week. Word count is 1,500 to 6,500.