Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Voice and "Making It Pop"



It’s no secret I’m revising.  I sent off my Golden Heart entry and when “whew.”  Like that was the end of it.  Um, yeah.  That’s just the first fifty pages.

Face. Palm.

So, I’m revising.  More.  What feels like endlessly.

Granted, it’s the holidays.  I’m ho-ho-hoing all about, preparing and hiding things in exhaustive, I-have-small-children-who-are-too-smart fashion.  Therefore, I’m not doing as much revising as I’d like.

To break things up (or add to the chaos), I’m enrolled (read: silently lurking) in Louise Edwards’ RWA University class on the myRWA forum.  (If you belong to RWA, get thee to sign up for myRWA.  Lots of good stuff on their new forum set-up and more to come, I hear.)

Anyway, Louise Edwards is a lovely lady who writes contemporary romance about hunky chefs.  Yum.

But before that, she was an editor at Berkley.  She’s talking about what she learned about writing from being an editor.

Her first lesson was about how we must be true to our voice.  She suggested writing in multiple genres to try to find your voice.  She said that editors and agents are first and foremost readers.  They might not always be able to define what’s wrong with a work but they can feel it when they read it, that something’s missing or rings false.

In fact, I’ve heard this twice since I’ve started writing.  My second manuscript, the only one I shopped as my first one is embarrassing to me, garnered a few full requests.  I didn’t get much feedback on one, but the other two said the same thing: I write well but the story didn’t pop. Contact me again when you have something new.

I had no idea what that meant.  Hal and I discussed and I think we ended up thinking it was something to do with the characters or plot holes.

But now, I think it has something to do with voice and truth.

When I read, I can tell if a story has that “thing.”  I can tell if the writer is pulling punches, shying away from emotion or going too far for drama’s sake.  I can tell if it’s authentic or not.  I don’t know if I’ve ever revised with that in mind before.  In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever thought about it before.  I’ve never revised as a reader before.

We all hear the clichés.  Write what you love.  Be true to your story.

I’ll add, "Revise like a Reader" to my stash.

How about you?  What advice can you give about being true to your voice?  Have you tried writing in different genres to find your voice?  Any ideas about making a story “pop?”


2nd Chance said...

Well, I've tried writing straight and it always goes sideways...which would lead me to believe sideways writing is my voice. ;-)

With my current revision/edit project....A Caribbean Spell...I find my voice is there. A bit raw, but it's there, hampered by what I didn't know about writing.

While it is daunting to realize how much needs to be 'redone' it is also encouraging to read that raw voice and know I've been true to it...and gods, what a ride it's been.

You are so right that staying true to your gut instinct for joy and the creative bliss that powers it is the real pop! Readers know what is authentic!

Donna Cummings said...

Ack! The first attempt didn't make it through! LOL

Marn, congrats again on the GH entry and the revising.

I like your "revise like a reader" suggestion. Now that I've revised a few manuscripts, I am a lot more aware of what gives my stories their pop, and I'm confident about sticking with that. In the past I might have tried to change it to conform to the prevailing standards.

The folks who have recently commented on my novella, or left a review of it, often mention how they enjoy my writing voice -- I think that's my "pop". Without it, it's just another story about a couple falling in love. LOL

At a recent tweetup with a writer friend, we were talking about different stories, and trying different angles, and I said my stories will always have humor and sexiness -- it's how I view the world, particularly with words. And I'm happy with that. :)

Marnee said...

First of all, Happy Birthday, Chance! I hope you have a really great one. I know you're not going to be around today so go have lots of fun.

staying true to your gut instinct for joy and the creative bliss that powers it

I think this is so true. Louise Edwards said that her first story was paranormal. But that Deidre Knight told her that something wasn't right and she should try to find a project that she loved. So she turned to her hunky chefs. Finding something that hits us right in the gut can definitely do wonders.

Donna - they enjoy my writing voice — I think that’s my “pop”. Without it, it’s just another story about a couple falling in love.

This is EXACTLY it. They're all stories about falling in love. The only thing we can do is tell it our way, the way that is authentically us. I think that's where the magic is.

I think it's cool that that's how you view the world. I think there's something too that. I think my world view is similar to how my voice has emerged too. How interesting. I can see some of my underlying thoughts in my stuff. A sort of underlying grittiness but that even with all that, there's plenty to smile about.

Huh. Neat.

Hellion said...

I'll have to think on this more today--I'm running Dad to an appointment. Pray the roads are clear enough to do it.

I would say--"Don't force it and don't try too hard." You know how you read some comedy and you're like, "They're just trying too hard." I mean, we're always tweaking and revising--so we're clearly TRYING, but don't try too hard. It's a fine line, apparently. :)

We get so hung up trying to please SOMEONE WE DON'T KNOW because face it we all want to get published, we get sorta hung up on "What would THEY think is funny-emotional-or-sexy?" but if our emotions aren't engaged, we've pulled the punch, as you say, and it rings false.

Truth is hard to tell, which is funny because we're telling a fictitious story!

Marnee said...

Hells - I like Don't Try Too Hard. LOL! But obviously it is hard.

I suppose by truth I mean our own personal truth. I don't know about everyone else, but when I'm telling a story, I'm trying to say something. Sometimes I'm not sure until the end what it was I was trying to say but when I figure it out (usually at the end) it clicks for me.

Now, as I'm revising, I'm spending an inordinate amount of time cutting out stuff where I'm basically beating the reader over the head with what I'm trying to say. I repeat, in different ways, my point. It's exhaustive. So I've been cutting all that out. Readers are smarter than that.

I've cut out melodrama, too. Another one of my problems. LOL!! But it's all so that the truth of what I'm trying to say shines through. Melodrama, repetitive telling, all of that is just hiding my true story. And I'm ramping up the action and the characters, once all that bologna is out of the way.

Does that even make sense?

Good luck on the appointment and the roads. You guys have snow?

Bosun said...

Happy Birthday, Chance!!! Ride the carousel for me! (She's hanging in San Fran today.)

This might be where my lack of creative writing courses actually benefits me. I read all my stuff aloud and look at it as if I were reading it. From that angle, I can tell when something is off. Of course, without those classes, I don't always know how to fix it. LOL! Nice catch 22 there.

So my advice is the same as always. Read the words OUT LOUD. Amazing what you catch when you say the words instead of just read them in your head.

I did a tiny little story that was para and it was actually fun. I don't think I have the voice to carry it farther than those 800 words, but I did like the freedom of making my own rules and building a new world. I've toyed very little with Historical stuff and doubt my voice would suit the genre. Then again, who knows!

Bosun said...

Oh, I signed up late for Louisa's class and got the digest email this morning. This is going to take a bit to comb through. And I haven't even read all the comments on voice. But from what I've seen, this is all good stuff.

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - I have been reading my stuff outloud too! But usually I'm reading it to the baby. At 18 months he still doesn't quite get what I'm talking about but he likes to hear me talk still. The five year old, not so much.... LOL!!

My first two MSs had paranormal elements and I'm not sure my voice was working for it. But who knows what's to come, right? :)

hal said...

Happy birthday, Chance!

I'm loving this topic. Voice is such a hard thing to capture, but you know it when you hear (read) it. I think it easier to hear audibly than spot when reading, so I'm in definite agreement on reading out loud. I can only do it in snippits, however. The whole thing out loud is so daunting I'd never get through it.

I have a friend who calls voice the "x-factor." She said, "I don't know what it is, but there's something that makes it go from being words on a page to a story that draws you in."

Another example - we were sitting in a critique in class one day, and this agent who was doing the critiquing put two sample first pages on the screen. One he said he'd request pages for, one he wouldn't. The girl behind me was bitching about how arbitrary that was, and how unfair it was, and that there was no difference in the quality of the writing that you could discern from that one paragraph.

I said, "I don't know what it is, but in the first example, I was sitting here reading words on the screen. In the second example, I was a 15-year-old, sitting in a computer lab, with my BFF whispering in my ear." (which was, of course, the paragraph he'd put up on the screen). It's voice. I know that much, but not how it works :)

Scapegoat said...

Happy Birthday Chance! I had no idea but now it's down in my calendar :)

THIS is exactly my problem with my WIP right now - I don't think I've found my voice in it. Other ideas I have are in other genres and that might be the ticket to me playing with them to see where I cna let my real writing voice find it's way.

I'm not really sure what that will be yet, but I have come to realize that lack of a strong voice is what is missing for me. It just feels...FLAT.

Bosun said...

Great example, Hal. Since I come from a music background, this reminds me of certain musicians you just know when you hear them. Few could mistake an Eddie Van Halen guitar riff. Or Frank Sinatra's phrasing. X-Factor is the perfect description (which means the name of that reality show is spot on.)

The HOW is the elusive part, but I think as writers, we have to trust ourselves. Trust and believe in our voice, and it will come across on the page. (But that's a blog I'm saving for later so I'll leave it at that. *g*)

Scapegoat said...

Look at Bo'Sun teasing us with upcoming blog insight! :)

I'm following soem great advice I got from 2 great ladies this past week and am going to start on a new project - hopefully this will be the the genre my voice decides it likes.

Irisheyes said...

Happy Birthday, Chance! Hope it's a good one.

You know I like the try different genre thing. I love to read historicals, where my love of romance started, but I write contemporary. When I first started writing (both on paper and in my head) the voice would be historical. I switched to contemps because historicals seemed too daunting to me. Now when I go back and read snippets I've written in the past of both genres, the historical voice jumps out at me but the contemp is very flat.

I like the "don't try too hard" and "read out loud" too! I find when I'm just messing around with an idea and having fun (not taking it so seriously) it just flows out of me. When I sit down to make a point (trying too hard) I get stuck. I read my kid's paper's out loud all the time while they're standing there yelling at me! LOL I keep telling them it's a wise writer's trick. Your a wise writer, Ter!

I'm not sure if this applies or not but I've ramped up my use of the dictionary. Every day and even with words I know I look them up - it's so much easier with my Nook (awesome feature, BTW)! I find that the more I look up "new to me" words or troublesome words, the easier they stay with me and the more my day to day speech improves. I find when I'm writing my lack of vocabulary really stops me cold. I know this is gonna sound stupid but I never realized there were so many words out there I didn't know about. So, now my goal is to ramp up my learning - when I'm having a conversation I try to throw new words into the mix and try them on for size, if that makes any sense.

Janga said...

I think the reason voice is so hard to define is that it encompasses so many things. I know from analyses I did for my dissertation that discursiveness is characteristic of Southern voices, and I'm conscious of that quality in my writing. I think there is a certain lyricism too. Beyond those qualities, I fumble for a description of my voice.

I do like Barbara Samuel's worksheet on voice. It's excellent for developing an awareness of all that contributes to voice. But I still can't complete the final part of the exercise. Here's a link for anyone who is interested.


Irisheyes said...

And as long as I read a post from Janga each day I get to look up at least 3-4 words! *LOL*

Bosun said...

Go for it, Scape! Those women clearly know what they're talking about. LOL!

I don't know about wise, Irish. I just spent years writing and reading commercial copy and the worst thing was when someone didn't read back what they wrote and you had to figure it out live on the air. Nothing like sounding like a bumbling idiot to 30,000 people.

Bosun said...

Irish - Does that mean you're going to focus your writing in the Historical genre? Sounds like that one feels like a better fit to you. And I'm the same way with words. I know them if I hear them, but they rarely become part of my daily vocabulary. But I do spend a lot of time on thesaurus.com while I'm writing. A LOT!

Janga - I'm going to check out that worksheet. Thanks for the link. Lyrical is the perfect descriptor for your voice. There's a melody to your writing. A lovely, Southern melody.

P. Kirby said...

I have a friend who calls voice the “x-factor.” She said, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that makes it go from being words on a page to a story that draws you in.”

For me, I think, voice when the narrator seems to be personally interested in the story, and quite possibly has a personal stake in the story. Obviously, this is most obvious with a first person story, but it's there with any POV. What I mean ISN'T a flat-out breaking of the fourth wall, but instead a subtle injection of personality into the narration. I imagine, this is a reflection of the author's personality coming through the story. The narration has a kind of sparkle that makes it more than a flat recitation of events.

Bosun said...

Wow, Janga. That's a lot of questions. I'm not sure I could do that last part either (if you mean put the answers into one sentence.)

Pat - My sister and mom often say "I could hear your voice in my head while I was reading. As if you were standing here telling it to me."

I think that's a good thing. Except for those strangers who would hate my personality. Then I'm just screwed.

Irisheyes said...

I don't know, Ter. I've got to think on that one. I still struggle with all the grammar, syntax and historical accuracy needed to write historicals. Writing contemps are definitely easier for me in that respect but that does no good if they just don't "Pop"! LOL

Marnee said...

Sorry, I am rushing around this time of year. I'm back now. LOL!!

Hal - I love the "x-factor." Isn't that the truth of it?

The girl behind me was bitching about how arbitrary that was, and how unfair it was, and that there was no difference in the quality of the writing that you could discern from that one paragraph.

It's not fair that it's hard to explain or define and that what works for one person might not work for something else. No one said life was fair though, right? It is arbitrary. But I know a strong voice when I read/hear it too, so I know it isn't something someone made up.


Scape - I have come to realize that lack of a strong voice is what is missing for me. It just feels…FLAT.

First, I'm sorry. I hated when I felt this way about my stuff. But it is a good jumping off point, I think. Letting yourself go to find a new path.

ANd I think you hit the nail on the head. A strong voice jumps off the page. If it isn't strong it feels flat.

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - The HOW is the elusive part, but I think as writers, we have to trust ourselves.


Both on the HOW being elusive and how we have to trust ourselves. Trusting ourselves though, involves a lot of pushing past a lot of expectations. That is very hard.

Scape - don't tease. What genre are you pioneering into?


Irish - WRiting historical is a bit daunting, but I think writing every genre well is daunting. People expect contemporary flavor when they read contemp. I find that daunting. I feel like people shy away from historical because it requires research but I think every genre requires some research. I think it just depends on what kind of research you like to do.


I know this is gonna sound stupid but I never realized there were so many words out there I didn’t know about.

This doesn't sound stupid at all. And I try on new words all the time and I love the nuance to our language. That someone can think about something but they can contemplate it, they can ruminate, they can ponder. Slight variations but our writing is enriched with those varieties, I think.

And using big words has an added benefit for me. My eldest sometimes surprises me. I asked him the other day if there was enough Parmesan cheese on his pasta and he said, "that's sufficient, Mama."


Bosun said...

Irish - I bet between us, we've read hundreds of Historical Romances. You'd think that would be sufficient research! LOL! I never say never, but for me, I write the stories that pop into my brain. An Historical has yet to show up. But I repeat, you never know!

Marn - You're starting to sound like Hellie. LOL! Yes, it's all hard. But I admit I cheat and stick (mostly) with characters, settings, and situations with which I'm familiar. Or small towns I can make up from scratch. But I have story ideas on the back burners that will involve more research, setting-wise. I figure by the time I get to them, I'll be ready to do the research.

Marnee said...

Janga - I like lyrical too. How lovely. :)

And thanks for the worksheet too! I'm going to check that out.

Pat - I imagine, this is a reflection of the author’s personality coming through the story. The narration has a kind of sparkle that makes it more than a flat recitation of events.

I think this is true. Voice is about personality shining through. But that's why it's scary to be true to that. It's easy to think about how lots (LOTS) of people will read your stuff. It's hard to be yourself when everyone's watching. It feels all awkward, like blowing your nose in church.

Ter - Except for those strangers who would hate my personality. Then I’m just screwed.

What's not to love about you? You're worrying for nothing. XOXO

Marnee said...

You’re starting to sound like Hellie.

Why, thank you!


Bosun said...

LOL! Yeah, sure, I meant that as a compliment. *slinks away*

Marn - I wonder if that thinking about lots of people reading your stuff doesn't bother me as much because of the radio thing. I was live 5 hours a day 5 days a week to thousands of people. I'm sure I said really stupid shit on a regular basis. But you can't think about that. Maybe I got used to the "dance like no one is watching" thing. LOL!

Scapegoat said...

Marnee - My WIP is a Romantic Suspense. It's the suspense part I feel is just not working for me. As Hellie put it - I'm trying to hard to write the suspense.

I have a straight contemp and a parnormal that have been knocking around in my head and I think I'll give a go at writing the opening to both and then see what happens.

Marnee said...

"Dance Like No One's Watching," huh? How about "Write Like No One's Reading?" LOL!!

Scape, good luck!! That's awesome. I think dabbling around is a great idea. No matter what. I think it keeps things feeling fresh in our own heads.

Bosun said...

That works, Marn! Though I did have a tendency to dance around the control room. Ya know, since no one was watching. LOL! Though it was better to just pretend everyone listening was having a good time. So write with the belief that everyone reading will be having a good time!

Scape - Can't wait to see which one takes. Oddly enough, I'm adding romantic suspense elements to a story for the first time. It's a short story, and really a Romantic Comedy, but we'll see if I can make this work!

Hellion said...

Hey, hey, hey! No trash talking me when I'm not here to defend myself. *LOL*

Though I think Bo'sun is slightly demoralized because she's finally gotten me to momentarily to stop saying, "Writing is SO HARD!" every five minutes and now you're doing it. It's like she filled one crack in the rum barrel and a new crack popped. *LOL*

And we barely had snow. We had maybe an inch. However, the retardedness that arose from this mere inch resulted in 200 accidents, 112 calls to the police, and 13 injury accidents. *I* did not go out in it because my back hurt, but I was afraid with the cold weather, the roads might not improve. It was perfectly fine. In my defense, my BIL was also freaking me out, but I forgot to remember that he's hysterical and melodramatic. There was nothing wrong with dad's driveway.

2nd Chance said...

Wow! Some great stuff today! Sorry I was out all day playing with my charge card and having one of the best damned mojitos I've ever had at Boudins on Fisherman's Wharf.

Incredible day!

And I love hearing everyone talk about the fear about what the readers will say... Hey, I just want to hear. I love you're thinking about a paranormal, Scape! Hey, I read mysteries like a demon...I write piratepunk!

Marnee said...

I think the worst kind of snow is enough just to make the roads slick. Or when it becomes that slushy goop that is impossible to drive in.

We only got rain here on the coast. Rain rain rain.

I think writing is hard. It's cool with me, though, because that means less people do it.

Chance - glad you had a good day. :) I love love mojitos, specially the fruity kind. I had a mango one a while a go that was to die for.

Hellion said...

I think writing is hard. It’s cool with me, though, because that means less people do it.

I agree. I think Bo'sun gets nervous because we don't also say: writing is fun. If we said, "Writing is hard, but fun/rewarding", she'd be okay with that. Because it IS hard, but it IS fun and rewarding too. If it was only hard, why would any of us do it?