Finding your writing voice: putting black ink on a white page.

I write one word at a time and to be even more technical, a letter at a time.  I know, I know, how does that help?  It’s all about voice, finding your voice as a writer and finding the voice of each individual character.  A friend admitted to me today that he didn’t like my writing when he first read it; he said it was too choppy.  Now he says he finds the same scenes compelling.  I shot back that it might have been helpful to know there were problems with my writing to begin with!  Of course, I had no objectivity when I started my novel.  It was the beginning of November and NaNaWriMo was expecting me to hit 1667 word a day – a day!  I did (and then some).  The result?   A semi-completed novel of more than 50,000 words that was in desperate need of editing and re-examination and plot and character development (the list goes on) AND an individual who wanted nothing more than to continue writing and improving her story.  Overall? a complete win.

I hardly recognize a lot of the words I wrote just a few months ago.  I sit back reading and changing them on a daily basis.  Sure, they’re on the page, which of course is the first critical step.  However, they lack polish and they lack voice.  I’m don’t just mean accent, but the  phrases, meanings, colloquialisms and feel all need to ring true.  This is actually difficult because while my world is relatively high fantasy the language used intentionally has (a few) swear words in it but is also linguistically high fantasy in spots.  Yes, you read correctly, my protagonist swears (I like her better because of it).  But, finding the balance in tone is difficult.  It takes work and honest feedback from readers.

In order to achieve this I take the advice of those smarter than I am, many of those I read have emphasized the importance of writing every day and so I try to write a little each morning and evening.  However, finding time to write can be exhausting.  I wake up a little earlier in the morning and start typing away.  Depending on how many times I hit the snooze button I get between 30 and 60 minutes to dedicate to writing.  Then I write when I get home in the evenings.  This part is tricky because I often need time to decompress from work and that inevitably involves the internet.  And, what starts happening when you surf the internet?  You don’t want to stop surfing the internet.  Some days I’m successful in focusing on writing, sometimes I’m not.

When do you write and how are you developing your tone?  Have any ticks you want to share? I find having a well-developed world and character are an important place to start.  Write your character by herself and figure out how she thinks, feels, and reacts.  Who knows, you might use it elsewhere.

Critiques: Surviving those Moments of Honest Feedback

The very word can invoke a shiver, a shudder and the nervous flutters in the stomach we sometimes call butterflies.  Somebody else reading, judging, and providing feedback on your work.  It’s going to be fine, they’ll love, it, anything they have to say can only make it better… these are the words I keep whispering to myself as two long weeks have passed.

A little background:  I am a member of a bi-monthly critique group called Monkeys with Red Pens (love the name!)  Every two weeks we sit down and discuss the work of two writers.  Guess what?  I’m up tonight.  It’s like putting your head under a guillotine and hoping beyond any rational hope that the quick drop will be painless, and as the readers rip off your head and yank out the most important regions of your heart that you will somehow survive.  Ok, yes, that’s melodramatic.  I’m a creative person and I feel that I’m entitled to a little melodrama.  Just ask my fiancée but (just you know) both of us agree to that qualifying word: little.  However, I don’t take that melodrama into the actual critique group.  I let it fester at the door because the feedback process is intrinsic to improving my work and enhancing my craft.  If I can’t listen with an open mind to my peers do I think I’ll be able to listen to a professional editor who won’t hold any punches?  I think you understand my point of view.

A couple of notable comments I’ve had which improved my writing:

“This character introduction sounds like the beginning of a Harlequin romance novel.”  My response: I changed the character introduction to something a little more sophisticated.

“I think you’re getting hung up in passive voice.”  This one required extensive re-reading of scenes to find that, yup, I was telling and not showing in several pivotal scenes.  They now show you the story instead of simply telling.

One critique that I loved:  “I didn’t even feel like I was reading, I could see the story clearly in my head.”

Most nerve wracking critique to date: the friend who read through the first 10 or so pages with Microsoft Word’s comments and track changes turned on.  A lot of great ideas, some of which I utilized in some way or another, some of which I didn’t.

I find the trick is to decide which critiques you believe you should keep and which ones are extraneous and don’t actually improve your manuscript.  It’s a balancing act because that friend?  You know, the one you bullied into reading your typed words?  How do you tell them their ideas are great, you appreciate them, but in this instance you aren’t using them?  I don’t.  You consider, reflect, play around with the comments and then you keep what works and put on the back burner the other ideas, perhaps they’ll be useful later.

Off to work.  I have deadlines to meet for my paid employment!

Love the comments!