Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Tip — and a Short Case Study — for Writing “Voice” Authenticity

Coaching the writing voice — the narrative tone and style and essences that become the telling of the story in sentences and paragraphs and scenes and chapters — is the toughest realm of “talent” to access.   And for many, to improve upon.

Thing is, sometimes it’s that very thing – your voice – that is standing in your way.

It’s like coaching a singer to carry a better tune. 

Writing voice is an ear thing, a sensibility.  It is something that comes naturally, and from there is honed and tuned in context to the evolution not only of what you need to get onto the page,  but what you are drawn to as a reader, as well.

What may seem like your natural “voice” may not be your ticket, after all.

The ultimate goal of working on your voice is, like the singer, a more appropriate tone and style and musicality for the performance.  The singer has to get it at some point, no matter what the teaching tries to convey.

I once heard Michael Bolton sing opera during a concert (you can hear that HERE), and it was stellar, he absolutely could do it and do it well.  Question is… could he do it better than, as well as, the professionals in that niche?

Bolton singing opera, as good as it sounds to you and me, is not the voice that sold millions of pop records.

That’s the point: write what works.  Discover what works, and if you’re there yet.

But first you need to understand what works.  In this case more than others, feedback is critical.  Too often it comes in the form of rejection.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Use your resources, ask for honesty.  Then listen.

You very well may not have found that voice yet, even after years of banging out stories.

This case study is from a writer who has been hitting some brick walls with her submissions because of, she has been told, her narrative voice.

Agents and editors are complimentary of her writing in general, and her story sense, but they “just aren’t feeling it” where the voice is concerned.

Translation: it wasn’t distinctive enough.  And perhaps, it was too often off-key.  Or simply too often too much.

She submitted the problem, which became our coaching objective, along with two separate 5-page excerpts from her novel.  I’ve included all that here, followed by my analysis and some coaching points.

The take away: it’s easy to do, but bringing a third person sensibility (which may be your natural voice) and context to first person narrative creates an unnatural tonality to the voice, to the point of distracting from the story.

You absolutely do NOT want your narrator to sound like your high school English teacher.  You remember, the one that had a thing for adjectives.

See that happen here, along with some tips and examples, including a link to one of the finest modern “voices” writing novels today (no, it’s not me, trust me): Voice analysis and Coaching.

Many thanks to this courageous author, who requested only that her name and the name of her protagonist not be used, because she doesn’t want this on a search engine somewhere after she revises the manuscript.  Which she will, since the feedback resonated and she now sees it and hears it better than before.

In fact, her response was to switch from first person to third person in the next draft, because she’s closer to understanding her natural gift of narrative, which fits better there.

Feel free to share your thoughts, she deserves any feedback we have that might help. 

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If you’d like some feedback on your story, click the links at the top of this post for a short Concept/Premise analysis, or a longer Full Story Plan analysis.  I won’t post your work (and the feedback) here if you don’t choose to go that route… and that’s not the point.  YOU are the point, in many cases saving months or even years of exploration and experimentation over a series of draft, perhaps never really understanding why your submission gets the responses it does.

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Click HERE for some tips (lifted from Story Engineering) from writer Liesa Malik’s terrific blog.  And a contest, too, if you’re the competitive type.

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NEWS FLASH ANNOUNCEMENT: I just learned today that Turner Publishing has sold the audiobook rights to all of my novels, including my current title, Deadly Faux, myfour backlist titles, and my new release on December.  Exciting news for me, I’ve been trying to crack that code for years now.  The producing company is a Grammy winner and considered the best player in that niche.

Who knows, maybe now I can accompany you on a road trip sometime!  Will keep y’all posted as this unfolds.

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Writing Lessons from the BBQ Pit

A guest post by Art Holcomb

One of the great things about being a writer is that you can find inspiration anywhere.

The world around us and the vibrant nature of our daily lives can give you great insight into your art if you can just see the connections that exist everywhere.

As it’s been awhile since I’ve been back on these pages, and since summer is right around the corner, I thought I’d share with you some of tips that I’ve learned about writing . . . through the fine art of BBQ:

#1: THE SWEETEST MEAT LIES NEXT TO THE BONE: The best stories I’ve ever worked on happened once I learn to dig deep into my own story.

My first success was a play years ago that was inspired through my coming to grips with my mother’s death. Through the years, I’ve explored issues of the death and the afterlife in my story 4EVER and my play AS NIGHT. I used the nature of man’s physicality in my story SUMO DANCING, as well as my struggle with my own beliefs about God in my story THE CHRISTIAN ROOM.

Writing must be about the stories that are uniquely ours. Dig deep and don’t be afraid – the best stories come from our own fears and doubts.

#2: SEASON LIGHTLY: BBQ is best when you let the natural flavors come through.

Many of us dive headlong into the genres that we enjoy reading, and work the tropes and traditions we find there very hard. Take a moment and free-write every day. Try writing a piece that just flows from you – just close your eyes and “pants” your way through something basic and pure in your life.

Like the artist who paints the bowl of fruit or landscape, take a moment to describe and explore the world outside your window. You will be surprised at the new skills you’ll develop.

#3: THE SECRET LIES IN HOW YOU CONTROL THE HEAT: Learn to become the master of creating powerful conflicts in your stories.

All stories are about some manner of conflict – without it, it’s just typing! Escalate the conflict in your own stories. Raise and lower the heat. Explore the hotspots on the grill for better control. The more masterful your conflict-writing skills become, the better your stories shall be.

#4: KNOW WHEN THE MEAT IS DONE: Stop being so precious about your own work.

Are you rewriting the same piece over and over again, and finding less to improve after each successive pass? Life is too short! Learn to type THE END, then just send the damn thing off and start on something new.

Remember: PERFECT is the enemy of DONE.

#5: CHICKEN IS FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT THAN BEEF: Just as each type of meat requires a different type of seasoning, temperature and technique, different genres have specific requirements that bring out the best flavor.

Learn as much as you can about the genre in which you’re writing. Larry has some EXCELLENT sections on genre, and gurus like JOHN TRUBY and MICHAEL HAUGE are considered experts on how to exploit genre for the best possible writing.

Become an expert in your own given world. Your fans will thank you for it.

#6: THERE’S MORE TO THE MEAL THAN JUST ONE DISH: What is a BBQ without side dishes?

What is a writing career without variety? If you’re a novelist, try your hand at a screen or stage play. The best things I learned about my own writing have come from experimenting with other forms. For me, playwriting led to screenwriting, which lead to animation, and then to comics – and then back to playwriting.

If you need to work on your dialogue and direction, try writing a play. If description is where you need work, try writing a short movie or comic book script. Examples and tutorials abound on the web for each form, so instruction can often be found for free. By simply trying to write in a different form, you see things about your own writing that never occurred to you – and you might just find a new passion and a new place to shine.

So . . . saddle up and get the fire going. And let us know what you “cook up” in your writing.

Happy grilling!

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And… adds Larry… stay hungry.  

Always great to see anything from Art Holcomb on this site.  If you’re new here, use the search function (it’s on the right of this column, near the top) to find wealth of gold under his name.

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ART HOLCOMB writes in many different forms, and is a well-known writing teacher at the University level as well as writing workshops. His most recent play is “DEATH IN THE DIGITAL AGE.” His new writing instruction book is “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect your Abandoned Passion Project and Get it Written NOW!” (which, Art is pleased to say, will have a Forward written by our Storyfix host, Larry Brooks).

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