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.

Critiquing the Critique

A big hello to any of the Monkeys with Red Pens – that’s the critique group I spent two hours with this evening.  We meet at the Bayou Bakery, great coffee!  Saying that, I am not a habitual coffee drinker but it was completely necessary today (lots going on at work).  There were five individuals at the meeting who commented on my 11,000 word submission from two weeks ago.  Did I mention I was nervous?  Because I was, complete with a fluttering stomach and jittering legs.  On second thought, the jitters might have been because of the coffee – perhaps a nervous moment is not a good time to inhale a caffeinated beverage.

We started with another writers work, I really enjoyed reading it.  More modern than what I write but very interesting.  We had a great discussion about the characters and their motivations.  Then the pause as we watch the camera zoom in.  There I sit, empty coffee cup in hand, wondering “what did they think?”  A momentary pause, I wait with bated breath.  Remember that heart and head I handed them?  Well, thankfully they left the guillotine at home.

Over all the feedback was very helpful.  Nothing to worry about!  I have some great ideas stemming from the conversation on what to watch out for within my writing.  Apparently a few words I use are a little jarring, which is a fair observation.   There were a lot more conversations which occurred and I enjoyed listening to everyone discuss what they thought was going on.  I have to clarify my religions in my writing.  There’s so much to get across that I held back a little too much there.  I’ll have to evaluate the scenes and find a place to enhance the description.  If you want instant motivation find a critique group.

What makes a critique helpful to you?  What do you like in Critter and what is unhelpful? Image

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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!

Paper, Paper Everywhere

My walls are covered in that sticky backed white paper – you know the kind that works like a post-it note except in a larger scale and in white, not yellow.  I’ve turned these sheets into calendars, brainstorming pages and outlines sticking them all to my walls.  Every time I hit a snag in my story I rip off another sheet and fill it with ideas.  There’s a great satisfaction to that sound – the long shzzzzup of paper as it’s pulled off.  Today?  My character Rin was the focus, a 13 year old boy first discovered by my heroine near the beginning of the story.  Who is he?  How is he important?  Why do my readers care about him?  What does he contribute to overall plot?  These are all question I thought about and worked on answering.  He’s a favorite of mine and plays off of other characters well but this is no reason for him to be in the story.  He might be cut out completely if I can’t answer these questions.  So, building him well, building him right, and ensuring he is central to the story is a focus of my time.

(And, yes, I’m watching Downton Abbey!)Image

The Recap

Basic information time! Glad to have you as a reader and I hope you enjoy following my thoughts and experiences.  I’m not sure how others stumble into writing or the desire to be published, but I have been writing since I was a child.  I remember taking long road trips with my family as I clicked on a laptop, working on that first precious novel.  I probably annoyed my siblings as I constantly worked on that manuscript. Since I was fairly young, it’s probably unsurprising that I was writing  a YA story, which I titled A Letter to Liberty.  It was ambitious, and based on history.  The focus was a young woman who lived in 1773 her relationships  and the how the war impacted her life.  In retrospect, it lacked precision, character development, plot, and the elements that make writing good. However, I attribute my love for writing to those days.  It was easy to jump into the novel and lose myself in my main character and her trials and tribulations.  During those same formative writing years I also wrote a lot of short stories, most of which were either fractured fairy tales or fantasy based. Let’s be honest, my last name is Grimm, how could I not fracture a fairy tale or two?

My current attempt at a novel comes after a long period of not writing.  I was too worried about school, work, dogs, and the other elements of living to really focus on crafting a good story.  After the novel experience of being laid off and moving half-way across the country in search of work, I finally decided to take the initiative and focus the things I love to do. Things which include putting words on a page in order to watch my characters grow and change and cheesecake. I really love cheesecake.

Now, I am gainfully employed once again.  The depressing and painful experience of unemployment ended last March – may I say, that is an experience I hope not to repeat.  I struggle like so many others to find the time to work and to write.

Oops, on that note, I really should get back to writing!

Word Count: 65,344