Category Archives: voice

Doggone!

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my writing.  I’m happy with how my two finished mysteries turned out.  Of course, no one’s seen them but my critique partners and my editor, so I haven’t had to deal with reviews yet–and that might be part of it.  I’m getting better at accepting bad reviews, though.  Most writers get them.  Books I really liked hit some other reader the wrong way.  We all have different tastes.  Anyway, at the moment, I’ve been happily hitting my keys–until–doggone!–I bought Elizabeth George’s newest mystery, THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES.

I’ve been an Elizabeth George fan since I read her first book–A GREAT DELIVERANCE.  That book blew me away.  Her books have gotten longer (THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES is 704 pages) and further between, so I usually have to wait at least a year or two before the next one comes out.  For some reason, in my opinion, they got gloomier, too.  George writes characters really well, and her writing itself is beautiful to behold.  I finally reached a point, though, where I fizzled before I finished one of her books because it was so depressing.  Did that stop me from buying her next book?  Of course not!  Thankfully, though, this new book breathes with great dialogue, characters who spring off the pages, and the occasional humor.  I think it’s her best novel yet.

As always when I read George, I toyed with the idea of adding a little more weight to my writing and my characters, but I decided against it.  I’ll never be an Elizabeth George.  I’ll never have her gravitas, and let’s face it, I’ll never have enough patience to write 700 pages.  I’ll never be like Jenna Bennett, either, with her sense of flippancy and daredevil jump-feet-first into things.  And maybe that’s why I’m happier with my own writing than I used to be.  I still want to improve.  I still want to write my story the best I can.  But I can admire and enjoy all kinds of other writers and learn from them while knowing that what makes my writing what it is, is ME.

We each bring our own voice, our own style to what we write.  Whatever you’re working on, good luck.  And happy writing!

 

My webpage:  https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

twitter:  @judypost

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Starting a new book

One of the joys of writing a series is to revisit old friends–characters you’ve used in previous books–and then add in a few new ones.  And if you get really lucky, one of those new characters jumps off the page for you and demands a book of his/her own.

When I wrote the first Mill Pond romance–Cooking Up Trouble–Ian’s brother, Brody, came to help him get the inn ready.  Brody’s a bit of a curmudgeon.  He’s a little too responsible for his own good, and I fell in love with him.  Whom to pair him with?  Someone who doesn’t pay attention to schedules and likes to bend the rules.  Harmony drives him a little crazy, and Brody makes her want to whack him in the head every once in a while.  A perfect match. For the story, I made Paula, Ian’s chef, and her two kids a part of the plot line, and I grew so attached to them, I wanted to find someone for Paula.  Hence, book 3.  So far, with every book, there’s a new character who begs me for more time in the next book.

I just finished final edits for Book 4–and I know this isn’t fair since I’m writing a few books ahead of what you can read–but Miriam just walked onto the pages in that book and told me that I was lucky she graced me with her presence.  She has that kind of personality.  And I couldn’t wait to write a book with her as the protagonist.

I’m starting that book now–the fifth Mill Pond–and I’m trying my darndest to do justice to the personality that is Miriam.  I also tried to give her a story worthy of her.  She teaches high school English, so I wanted a kid to be part of the romance.

The first time I wrote Miriam’s first chapter, it contained everything in the plot point I’d written for it–all of the characters, a hook, and the inciting incident–but it was flat.  That only goes to show that just because I know what’s supposed to happen, I don’t always get the voice and tone right.  Nobody wants to just plod through a story–not the readers and not me.  So I deleted the whole thing and tried again.  This time, I concentrated on the snark that’s part of Miriam, and it worked.  The woman can quell a rampaging teenager in her third period class with a raised eyebrow.  My type of heroine.  She’s almost six feet tall, gawky and bony, with short, corkscrew curls.  So who could be her Mr. Right?  A man who’s comfortable in his own skin and brews beer.  Miriam has a thing for hops:)

I’m going to have to push myself to keep the energy up for this book.  I’m hoping to deal with a couple of serious subplots in a funny way.  I might need more chocolate.  I know I’ll need wine.  But I have goals, and that’s a good thing:)

 

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

On twitter:  @judypost

 

Webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

 

Writing: Tone and Voice

My daughter came to stay the weekend with us. She’s a travelling nurse who works in Indianapolis, close enough to zip home and spend time with us. We’re celebrating my sister’s birthday tonight. She asked me to make supper for her–Delmonico steaks, potato salad, and peach cobbler. Easy enough to do. So I thought I’d be brilliant and write my blog ahead of time, then post it today…except when I hit the link, the only thing that saved was the title. Arrgh. I saved the post twice, to be sure. What can I say? Life happens. But here goes. Again.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between voice and tone lately, because I’ve been working on a few different things instead of just one. When new writers join Scribes, some of them ask about voice. What is it? How do you get it? It’s always a tricky thing for me to explain. But in my opinion, voice is the combination of all of the components that make up your writing style–word choice, the way you arrange words, if you prefer long, rambling sentences to short, punchy ones, if you use sentence fragments, your rhythm, your style–it’s a natural reflection of you. The best way to “find” your voice, is to simply write, then write more, and keep writing, until eventually, your writing will be YOU. You’ll learn all of the craft of writing along the way–grammar, verbs, etc.–but voice is what makes your writing different than anyone else’s. I don’t think it’s something you have to work at. Don’t try to copy someone else. Learn from them, but be you. And eventually, people will recognize your voice. (Les Edgerton wrote a good “how-to” book on Voice, http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Your-Voice-Personality-Writing/dp/1508879710).

Tone, I think, is a different animal. Tone is something I choose when I want to flavor a story. It’s the difference between a story that’s dark or humorous. It’s a matter of word choice. It permeates the cracks and crevices between sentences. Setting contributes a lot, but you don’t have to do the obvious. Small towns and cities can be both comforting or ominous, according to what you emphasize. When a horror writer describes a house or woods, there are no blue skies and birds singing unless they’re used as a counterpoint to an innocent facade where the reader knows evil is brewing. I went to hear Shirley Jump on a panel once, and she said that when she first started writing humorous romances, she made a list of “funny” words to remind herself to go for the humor in every sentence/paragraph that she could. She even started one of her novels with her protagonist dressed up in a banana suit when she meets Mr. Hunk. (http://www.amazon.com/Virgins-Proposal-Romance-Shirley-Jump/dp/0263191788)

In a series, authors often keep the tone of each book consistent. Their voice is their voice. That’s going to be the same. But every Kate Daniels book, by Ilona Andrews, smacks the reader in the face with Kate’s attitude, adds healthy doses of humor, and lots of action. Readers expect and crave that tone. Patricia Briggs’s Mercedes Thompson series has a distinct tone of its own. She uses action, too, but Mercedes isn’t as in-your-face as Kate. When I read an early novel by Patricia Briggs, though, When Demons Walk, I fell in love with the brashness of her protagonist, Sham. Briggs’s voice was still there, but the book had a fun, sassy tone.

For me, then, the protagonist is a big part of what sets the tone of the book. If we’re in her POV, the way she views life is going to creep into the story. If she’s a woman who’s had a hard life of struggles that’s worn her down, her outlook isn’t going to be innocent and sunny. Her voice–the character’s voice–might be world-weary, harsh, or brittle. Some cynicism probably creeps in, too. Or maybe she’s just given up, doesn’t care anymore. That view will tinge every aspect of what happens to her and how she reacts. We want to hear her, and that sets the story’s tone.

An author’s voice, I think, will be consistent. It’s how she writes. But tone can vary from story to story, depending on the mood you want to set and the protagonist’s POV. It’s the difference between the author’s voice and the character’s voice.

Hope you have an awesome August, and happy writing!

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy
on twitter: @judypost

Writing: A Crap Shoot

One of my good writing friends, Kathy Palm, wrote a wonderful blog post recently. She signed up to judge pitches and the first 300 words of manuscripts. She’s a slushie. And she makes the point that writing is subjective. I’ve judged writing competitions before, and I can tell you, you learn a LOT from doing that. What, for you, makes a story good? What doesn’t work? Because sometimes, most times, if the writing’s clean and good, it comes down to personal taste. That’s why marketing is so important. Pick the right places to send your stuff. Kathy put it eloquently. I highly recommend her post. Hell, I highly recommend her blog:) https://findingfaeries.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/nestpitching-oh-the-words/

A long time ago, I heard Mary Higgins Clark at a mystery conference, and she said the same thing. Back then, I was writing mystery short stories to send to magazines and anthologies. That was a learning curve, too. What one editor criticized in a rejection letter, another editor might praise, and what one editor rejected, another might buy. Mary Higgins Clark told us that before she became famous, she’d send her stories to 20 editors at a time, and often what 19 editors rejected, the 20th might buy. That’s the thing about writing. Perfecting your craft is just the beginning. It’s easy to reject a writer who tells more than he shows, who uses passive voice more than active verbs, or doesn’t know grammar and sprinkles commas here and there like confetti. But those writers aren’t your competition. YOUR competition is other writers who write well. So why would someone–even a reader–choose your manuscript over other manuscripts that are done well? Now, you’re getting into personal taste. Most editors–and I think readers, too–are looking for something that’s similar to what they already read, but different. Different in a way that surprises and excites them, that keeps them turning the pages. It can be voice. An author’s voice is a compelling tool. It can be a twist on the same-old, same-old–adding dry humor to something that’s usually treated seriously. Anything that makes your writing individual. But the bottom line is–what one person loves might leave another person cold.

All you can control is trying to write a really good story. If you get everything right–a great opening hook, an awesome set-up, compelling characters, great plot, perfect pacing, voice, tone…the works, you could still be rejected. But what I’m trying to tell you is not to take it personally. There’s some fan out there who doesn’t like Stephen King. (Pretend you didn’t see that, Kathy). And as much as I love Ilona Andrews, Faith Hunter, and Patricia Briggs, some of my friends tell me that I don’t need to lend them the new books I’ve bought of theirs. Okay, let’s be honest, most of my friends don’t even want to read MY books. They’re not into urban fantasy. Some of them aren’t into romance either. Does that hurt my feelings? Um, no. Because do I like what they read? Hardly.

So, grow a thick skin. Pretend you’re an elephant or rhinoceros. When a dart of criticism hits you, let it bounce off. But do your best. Because only your best will make you competitive with the others who know their stuff. And then cross your fingers, light incense, and hope the planets are aligned for your sign of the zodiac. Because the rest is a crap shoot.

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

my author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

twitter: @judypost

Writing: 2nd Books

I’m working on rewrites now. It’s the second time I’ve tried to fix my romance so that my agent likes it. I thought I had. I was happy with the changes I made. My agent wasn’t. One subplot still bothered her, so I ripped it out. I trust Lauren’s judgement, and if she says it still doesn’t work, it doesn’t. She said “Kill your baby,” so I did. Baby’s dead and buried. I told my brain to think of something different/better, and it did. I hope. Thank you, brain. So by the end of this coming week, I should have the rewrites finished and ready to send out again. This time, I hope Lauren likes them. And now, I have a better feeling about what works and what doesn’t. So while I wait to find out, I’m planning on starting a second romance. And therein lies the big, lurking pressure.

The problem with second books, for me, is that if people liked the first book, the second one has to be even better. There are things to keep in mind. People who liked the first book probably liked its VOICE. Yeah, voice makes a big difference. When I pick up an Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels book, I want the smart-ass attitude, the “I want to kill something” mentality, the heart, the action, the humor–the entire package. And all of that sets a certain tone. If all of a sudden, that tone shifted to something lighter or darker, to more serious or philosophical, I’d be bummed. I don’t buy a Janet Evanovich for beautiful language. I buy it for snark and humor. If I want beautiful, lyrical language, I buy Sarah Addison Allen. If I want to force my poor, little gray cells to consider deep questions, I look for Neil Gaiman, and if I want to ponder mysteries, I reread Agatha Christie. Even then, a Hercule Poirot has a different tone than a Miss Marple. So a second book, in my opinion, has to stay true to the voice and tone of the first book. But it has to up the ante.

Series are popular now, so I decided to make my romance novels into Mill Pond romances. The setting will be the cohesive that holds the series together. And of course, characters of one novel will pop up in a new one, but as background characters, not MC’s. The trick, then, is to deliver the flavor of the first novel, but delve deeper into the stories, to make the setting almost a character that draws readers in and to let early characters grow and develop their own story lines. My friend, Julia Donner–whose writing I love–writes Regency romances. She developed a series around the friendship of a group of men called “The Eligibles,” because every mother wanted her daughter to snag one and marry a rich, gorgeous, powerful man. Once Rave met his Cat, he became a background character in the rest of the series. Once my favorite–and yes, I’m prejudiced–Perry met his Elizabeth, he was relegated to the background, too. (http://www.amazon.com/Heiress-Spy-Friendship-Book-ebook/dp/B00HGQCAYU/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1426356471&sr=1-4&keywords=julia+donner)–(just in case you want to meet him). Perry’s brother, the incorrigible Harry, gets to shine in The Rake and The Bishop’s Daughter before being relegated to minor character status. The thing is, it’s fun to see your favorites in the new novels, while a new hero and heroine get to shine. BUT, the stories have to be as good or better than the ones that came before them. Not so easy to do.

That’s why I want to start my second romance now, before Lauren has a chance to send out Cooking Up Trouble or to tell me to make it into an e-book. I’d like to have Opposites Distract finished and polished before I hear back from anyone. That will be less pressure. I won’t have a deadline. I can fiddle around with it all I want. I’ve seen so many authors who spent FOREVER writing their first book that sells write a second book with a tight deadline, and the second book isn’t as good. They’ve been too rushed. I don’t want that. In theory, by the time you write your third book, you’ve found your groove. Right? The third should be a breeze:)

Of course, I might find out that my brilliant strategies are a bunch of St. Patrick’s Day malarkey. Maybe more time won’t make any difference, and the pressure of writing a second book can buckle a writer because we think about it too much. Who knows? I’m about to find out. So wish me luck.

Happy writing, and may the luck of the Irish shine on you on St. Patrick’s Day!

(P.S. I put all five parts of Freya’s story on my webpage, so it’s finished, ahead of time. What can I say? No patience. But now I can concentrate on romances:)
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/freyas-story–part-5-the-end.html

Writing: Language at its best

I’m pretty comfy as a genre girl. I appreciate the intricacies that go into mysteries, urban fantasy, and romances. But every once in a while, I yearn for the subtleties of a slower pace, the fluidity of language that lingers on the tongue, and then I turn to fiction that’s a bit more on the literary side. My friend, Rachel Roberts, combines literary fiction with a southern voice, and she mesmerizes me, so I invited her to be on my blog today. I sent the questions, and her answers made my knees weak. It’s not often I feel unworthy, but Rachel can do that to me. Without more ado, Rachel:

Thanks for visiting my blog. Your background has helped shape your writing. Would you care to tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks, Judy, for this interview. To answer your question, sometimes I wonder if a person is born to write or whether his/her writing is cultivated. When I was around 12, I longed for a fountain pen! Imagine such a thing! When I got an Esterbrook pen for Christmas, I was ecstatic. I’ve been writing ever since. I was born in interior Brazil, where I went to public school—all in Portuguese– before my parents moved back to the United States. In high school (Dillon, SC), I wrote for the school newspaper and had some writing successes. In college (Furman, SC), I wrote poetry and edited the literary magazine. I earned my MA (U. of Richmond, VA) and began teaching (Radford U) and Haverford HS (PA). While rearing my children, I took up newspaper writing. That led me to do interviews and write articles and features. For 15 years, I wrote a personal opinion column called “View & Review.” I continued teaching (IPFW and Trine) and began writing books. These days, I mostly write short stories and plays. I swim laps regularly at the YMCA, and I’m very much involved in the local arts community. When I get antsy, I pull out my old Latin book and look at it, or I concoct some sort of soup, or if it’s summer, I weed my flowerbed.

1. I’ve read your books and love them. You have a unique, southern voice. What do you consider special about southern writing?

A few years ago, I gave a lecture about southern literature. Based on that research and my experience, the American South is undergoing cultural and social changes, including rapid industrialization and an influx of immigrants to the region. As a result, the definition of what constitutes southern literature also is changing. Some of the main themes in southern literature are: the significance of family, a sense of community, an agrarian outlook, the importance of land, and how it shapes a person’s identity. Other themes are religion, the historical significance of place, the telling of a story, and in some cases the use of southern dialect. Erskine Caldwell said about his writing, All I wanted to do was tell a story, and to tell it to the best of my ability.

2. How would you describe voice?

Voice is the natural style, tone, sentence structure, language, and words expressed by a writer and the cadence (rhythm and sound) of those words and sentences. Whereas one writer’s voice may be formal, another’s may be whimsical or satirical. A writer’s “voice” is something of a personality trait—memorable and indigenous to that one person. It also reflects where a person comes from and how he/she observes and/or accepts life. Les Edgerton’s book, Finding your Voice, explores the subject quite well.

3. I know you’re involved in an annual writing contest to encourage new writers. What do you look for in good writing?

Good writing is direct, clearly expressed, and conveys information appropriately. It displays a writer’s knowledge and respect for grammar and word usage. Good writing has a tone or voice that is memorable. As a dear friend of mine, L. Dorr used to say, “Writing isn’t laying down tiles. The words have to sing.” I am always astonished that some people who have a wonderful story to tell, ignore, don’t know, or don’t make the effort to learn the mechanics of how to express themselves clearly. Other people know all about mechanics and grammar, but they haven’t thought about their story or idea long enough to tell it in a fresh or interesting way. Good writing demands and reflects effort. When I read someone’s work and find myself in awe or thankful to have encountered it, I know I’ve found good writing!

4. Who are your 2 favorite authors? (You can list more) And what are your all-time, favorite books?

My favorite authors? That’s hard to answer. Certainly Eudora Welty and Jesse Stuart for their abilities to capture the essence of southern culture; James Thurber for his wry humor and intellect, and Lawrence Dorr for his determination and stories of courage and luminosity. You’ll note these four are short story writers. I suppose I should include Scott Russell Sanders for his essays and Russell Baker for his down-home style. I can’t limit myself to just two.

My favorite book? No question about it—the Bible, followed by the dictionary, and then the World Book Encyclopedia, but let me explain. I don’t think they publish encyclopedias anymore, but I sure did enjoy reading it as a youngster. Aside from its moral directives, the Bible is a compilation of drama, short stories, romance, poetry, essays, history, letters, and philosophy. But you’re asking about fiction, aren’t you? I honestly cannot say. When I find a good book, I tend to fall in love with the writing and declare it to be my favorite. The first novelist I wanted to read twice was Zane Grey for his Western adventures and Iola Fuller for her The Loon Feather, but one time I went back to Fuller’s book and for the life of me, I could not get “in to it.” You see, at different stages of life, different books appeal or answer a reader’s need. I suppose I needed adventure when I read Zane Grey, but as I matured, I graduated to Chekov, Conrad, and James. Works by Georgia Green Stamper and Ruthann Ingraham are among my latest “favorite” books.

5. Besides writing fiction, you’ve written non-fiction and plays. What attracted you to non-fiction?

I got involved in non-fiction writing as I developed my journalistic career. I did book reviews, features, and personal opinion columns. I had to do research and then express facts in a cogent and interesting way. Non-fiction writing is rewarding, but challenging. No matter how careful the research and after publication, the author inevitably will encounter someone somewhere who offers a startling new “fact” or detail about the subject. It’s a non-fiction writer’s worse nightmare.

6. What appeals to you about plays?

Drama requires movement, dialogue, character development, and conflict. I especially enjoy the back and forth interaction that dialogue demands between actors. I have an ear for dialogue, so writing a play seems natural to me. I love irony and humor in a play, but I’m not good at writing comedy. I admire those who can! A wonderful play is one that entertains me, informs me, makes me think, and allows me to suspend my disbelief for an hour or so.

You can find Rachel’s charming blog at: http://www.rachelsroberts.com/

I love Rachel’s voice. You can find her books on Amazon:

Tacking Forward at http://www.amazon.com/Tacking-Forward-Rachel-Roberts-ebook/dp/B00SZDILB4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1424544499&sr=1-1&keywords=Tacking+Forward%2C+Rachel+Roberts

This Red Earth @ http://www.amazon.com/This-Red-Earth-Book-ebook/dp/B0078SPDBI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1424544643&sr=1-1&keywords=This+Red+Earth%2C+rachel+s+roberts

Beyond This Red Earth @ http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-This-Earth-Between-Rivers-ebook/dp/B007W7549Q/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1424544705&sr=1-4

Writing: How do you make it immediate?

Recently, I finished a first draft of an Enoch/Fallen Angels novella that I want to do something with–not sure what yet. I’ve thought about putting it online for free–which I can’t do at amazon unless it price matches smashwords and other sites–but I’ve never had much luck getting amazon to price match. Then I thought of putting it on my webpage for free, but I can never tell if anyone ever reads those or not. I don’t get any feedback, so they’re sort of frustrating, so I’m still debating. But just writing the damned story was a bit frustrating, too. I started out with one idea, and the story sort of decided to do its own thing–which I don’t usually allow–but this time, I decided to go for it. And it ended up more of a mystery plot than an urban fantasy. I like it, but the plot took over the story, and that, I don’t like. The story’s not immediate. It keeps the reader at a distance, which might be all right for a mystery, but it’s not all that great for urban fantasy. So I want to tweak the voice more.

Voice is the one thing that sets one writer apart from all others. It’s the turn of phrase, the attitude and word choice, the themes he chooses, and the way he structures his story that makes him unique. But more than that, some writers are more cerebral than others. My friend, Paula, writes stories with so many layers and so much depth that I happily immerse myself in them and try to keep up. Mary Lou Rigdon (also Julia Donner) imbues her novels with wit and humor. A new writer to our group, Sia Marion, practically lives inside her characters’ skins and we share what’s happening to them. Her stories are so immediate, the reader just goes along for the ride. (See for yourself. She has lots of flash fiction on her webpage: http://sia4215.blogspot.com/)

I’ll never be THAT immediate, so, how do I breathe more feeling into my Enoch novella? For that, I usually have to delve deeper into my characters. Any writer who’s finished more than a few stories and gotten feedback knows that you never tell. You show. Every description and experience is told through your character’s eyes, hopefully, through action or dialogue. And that’s a start, but it’s not enough.
When I have Enoch walk up to Caleb’s casino and fortress, I show it through his eyes and share his reactions/feelings to his friend’s obsession for pleasure. I was happy enough with that, but once the plot hits full swing, I have Enoch react, but his reactions don’t let us know enough about him. They’re not telling enough–those small, fleeting thoughts that reveal character. I need more internal dialogue, more give and take with people who push Enoch to places he’s not comfortable with. I need more emotion! Another rule for making writing immediate is to get rid of the “he thought,” “he wondered,” type phrases in your writing. Instead of “Enoch wondered if he could trust Darius,”–which creates a distance between the thought and the reader, just say, “Could he trust Darius? Enoch glanced at the vampire beside him. Vampires were hard to read. Could he believe anything Darius told him?” Just an example. I want the reader to be inside Enoch’s head, to “hear” his thoughts.

Anyway, some writers are more immediate than others, but it’s something to consider when you write. The more immediate, the bigger the emotional pay-off. An entire novel doesn’t have to be written one way or another. There are action scenes, “soft” scenes that let the reader catch his breath, and scenes for emotional impact. But there should never be a boring scene. That’s when the reader can put the book down, and he might not pick it back up.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/