Wednesday, October 27, 2010

VOICE: the elusive beast

It adds vibrant vitality to writing…it makes people stop what they're doing and READ.
Agents and editors are on the lookout for it; they can't always define it, but they "know it when they see it."

Voice is intricately linked with good writing, paired up like peanut butter and jelly--or perhaps more accurately, like pasta and ravioli, where one is actually a part of the other. I've also noticed voice is often accompanied by humor, either blatant or subtle. There is a freshness to the words and the sentences that makes people relate, take note, and be absolutely entranced.

In many cases, voice seems almost inherent to some people and their writing. They have it in abundance, and it appears to be their natural way of expressing themselves. In any artistic or creative endeavor--singing, playing a musical instrument, drawing/painting, dancing--there is the indisputable fact that some people have more of a natural talent and predisposition to these things than other people.

Does that mean you should give up because you weren't born with stunning writing talent or an entrancing writing voice? Not at all. I think voice can be fostered and developed just like a singer's voice or an artist's skill at painting. Sure, it's a lot easier if natural talent exists to begin with, but don't despair if you don't seem to be one of those natural-born Voicers. Writers who work hard to improve at what they do often surpass naturally talented individuals--simply by sheer effort. Hard-working writers are extremely motivated, sometimes more so than the innately gifted, who can sometimes take their talent for granted and not learn to develop their skills.

Voice, to me, also seems symbiotic with writers' personalities…their specific thoughts, emotions, phrasings. Their unique perspectives on life. They are able to express these distinctive things by the use of WORDS.

The middle-grade novel, Savvy, by Ingrid Law, has voice aplenty. Consider this first-page excerpt:

When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it. I had liked living down south on the edge of land, next to the pushing-pulling waves. I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking, so moving had been hard--hard like the pavement the first time I fell off my pink two-wheeler and my palms burned like fire from all of the hurt just under the skin. But it was plain that Fish could live nowhere near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around any largish bodies of water. Water had a way of triggering my brother and making ordinary, everyday weather take a frightening turn for the worse.

Part of the reason this passage oozes voice is due to the free, organic, and almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing. (Strong voice does NOT have to include these things, however.) Ingrid Law is not afraid to string together phrases like "near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around," or make up phrases like "pushing-pulling waves." She looks at the world in a unique way, and shares that perspective with her readers.

VOICE and TELLING: breaking the rules
This week on the Adventures to Children's Publishing blogsite, an important point was made about voice and how it relates to Showing Versus Telling (click to visit). Bottom line: if you're really good and have a strong voice, you can break the rules. In my Savvy excerpt above, in fact, it's nearly all Telling, rather than Showing. The point is, the passage is INTERESTING TELLING. Most writers go all boring and stale when they start Telling. Telling also usually introduces an unnecessary distance between the writing and the reader. The reader starts off feeling detached, which is not what you're aiming for as a writer.

A good writer--one with a strong voice--can bridge or eliminate any feeling of distance, make backflashing and explanation intriguingly vibrant, and make the story's spirit shine through and push past the "violation" of traditional writing rules. The same goes for beginning a story with dialogue. Don't do it unless you're really good at writing and have a strong enough voice to overcome the disadvantages of doing it. While you're learning, you may want to stick with the tried-and-true rules.

Whether it's inherent to you or not, go forth and develop your voice!
Good luck!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Showing versus Telling: SUBTLE TELLING part 2

Hi ya'll, this will be brief--just checking in during my intensive week/s of revising my novel, SHAPERS. I've been slashing, adding scenes, and eliminating Telling--oh my!

Today, I'll add another example of Telling from last week's list.

Telling in dialogue…don't do it!


"Do you want me to get those extra batteries for the flashlights at the store?" Tim asked his mother. "I can pick them up on the way home from school."

"Sure," his mother said, smiling. "That would save me some time before we leave on the camping trip for Yosemite in the morning."

First, it sounds here like both Tim and his mother know what the batteries are for, because he says THOSE batteries, as in previously discussed batteries. Therefore, Tim doesn't need to say "for the flashlights." Second, both Tim and his mother know they're going camping in Yosemite, so the mother wouldn't name their destination. They also both probably know they are leaving in the morning.

These cluttery bits of information are only there to inform the reader, and they are not part of either character's natural dialogue. Omit this kind of Telling, and find other (sneakier) ways to let the reader know what you want them to know. Doing it as shown in the example dilutes the authenticity of your dialogue as well as your characters.

Really, the only necessary part of the mother's last sentence is: "That would save me some time." No need to say more.

Off to revise some more. Have a great day!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Showing versus Telling: SUBTLE TELLING

I'm back from the Oregon SCBWI retreat in Silver Falls, energized to write and revise! I met for a one-on-one critique with a very knowledgeable agent, Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She pointed out places in my sample chapter where I (gasp! me???) had been Telling instead of Showing. Come to find out, there are varying levels of Telling, and while I know how to avoid some of it, particularly adverbs, I have been guilty of the more subtle and less obvious kinds.

My roomie at the retreat had taken a class on the subject of Telling, and shared her notes with me:

Categories of Telling/where you'll find Telling:
1. Backstory and flashbacks (related to info dumps; only say what's necessary for the present)
2. Pure explanation (exposition) told by the narrator/narration
3. Explanation of character motives
4. Telling in dialogue
5. Showing AND Telling interspersed
6. Sneaky Telling (short 1 or 2 words inserted in an otherwise strong sentence)
7. Telling in internal monologues


I reached Geometry class and sat with the other guys. Tara was already there, looking hot as usual in tight jeans and a bright pink t-shirt. I thought about the first time I'd seen her. She'd bumped into me by the lockers, and had fluttered her eyelashes in a wondrous way, apologizing. I had laughed and told her it was okay, meeting her eyes with boldness before picking up her books from the floor. But since then, I hadn't been able to capture the magic freshness of that moment. Now, it was all klutzy and awkward conversations, and worshipping her from afar. I sighed, casting her a longing glance across the room.

This example Tells about the main character's experience as a memory or flashback. It also Tells of subsequent awkward conversations in a distant manner, rather than showing the scene with dialogue to let the reader see that klutziness firsthand. Readers want to experience things WITH the main character, not be a faraway spectator. This would be a much stronger passage if written as an awkward dialogue between the protagonist and Tara. Let the reader draw his/her own conclusions! The details of the past could also be worked in more naturally, and with less Telling.

Sneaky Telling
"Cool!" she said, pleased. "I can be ready tomorrow by six."

This is an example of #6, sneaky Telling, with one blatant and unneeded word inserted here. You don't need the word "pleased" in this sentence, because you already know this girl is pleased from her words.

Explanation Telling (from my novel, SHAPERS)
Credits didn't grow on trees, and she'd literally sweated for her pay. Yeah, she'd spend a little of her earnings on fun stuff, but most of it she'd save to attend tech school. She wanted an education beyond the worthless college e-classes the government provided at no cost. If she didn't, she'd be stuck forever on a financial hamster-wheel like Mom and Dad.

I had to omit this paragraph in my rewrite, since Kelly (the agent) marked it as Telling. I wanted to get the main character's motivations in, but this was too expository, dumped here all in one place. The only part I kept to let the reader know the main character's motivations was the following 2 lines, tagged onto another paragraph about the main character wanting to end her current job:

Forget the monumental pay. She could find a different, less brutal, method to save up for tech school tuition.

This got the information in that she wanted to go to tech school, but hopefully in a less explanatory, Telling way. Sometimes less is more, and the particular wording makes the difference. (Note: I might add the line about the hamster wheel later somewhere, since I rather like it.)

Do YOU have Telling in your writing? Good luck, weeding it out! On that note, off I go to slash and revise my own novel some more.

Other sites that have been discussing Showing versus Telling lately:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tag, You're It!

Here I am, digressing from my regularly scheduled Wednesday critique, because I'll be gone later in the week and unable to do this special post.

I've been tagged by the blog fairy (thanks, Shellie!), and awarded me a lovely blog award, entitled, "One Lovely Blog Award."

My task now is to list 7 things about myself before passing on the award to 5 other deserving bloggers.

INFO ABOUT ME, which oddly enough, all contain numbers in them:

1. I lived on the island of Sitka, Alaska, for a little over a year when I was TWELVE.

2. My junior year, I won FOURTH place in a shorthand contest held on the Oregon coast.

3. I went to THREE different high schools (yes, my family moved a lot--which I wasn't happy about as a teen).

4. I'm currently writing my SIXTEENTH young adult novel. Practice makes perfect…?

5. Alas, I've been married THREE times (which is the charm; I'm keeping the hubby I now have, thank you very much).

6. I had thyroid cancer when I was EIGHTEEN. Yes, surgery got it all, no chemo or radiation. I have a lovely Frankenstein scar on my neck for a souvenir.

7. I turned FIFTY (gawk!) this year, in 2010.

FIVE DESERVING BLOGS--Go check these out!
(formerly Stepping Into Fantasy--follow her to her new home!)

As a note, tomorrow I am abandoning my hubby for the Oregon SCBWI retreat, woohoo! Looking forward to rustic cabins up in the mountain of Silver Falls, not having to cook for a total of three days, and talking about WRITING with people who likewise never get tired of talking about the subject.

Now how can you beat that? I hope to bring home lots of writing ideas and put them to use.