Chat With Nancy Pistorius: What Does Your Manuscript Sound Like?

In December, we chatted with Laura Diamond and Dawn Allen to get their thoughts on Voice. This week, I interviewed Nancy Pistorius. I met Nancy through the Mid-West Children’s Authors Guild. I truly enjoyed working with her on the delightful story she contributed to the October Nightmares and Dreams anthology, as well.
Nancy’s says it’s easier to find her nonfiction work online than it is to discover her fiction. Writing “anything that anybody will pay me for” is her “day job,” and you can find links to her most recent nonfiction stories, including travel features at her website. Her blog is Writing in the left-hand lane and she tweets on Twitter as LyricLemon. You can also follow her on FaceBook. Nancy has published fiction, poetry, essays, and feature articles in more than 75 different literary and mass-market publications, including WOMAN’S DAY, COSMOPOLITAN,

Her most recent honor was the 2009 Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award (Fiction).

What type of fiction do you write?
I don’t write in any specific genre, and have dabbled in just about everything, including sci-fi, picture books, and poetry, but my main interests are middle grade fiction, Young Adult fiction, women’s fiction (not necessarily “chick lit,” but fiction hinging on the POV of a woman), and literary fiction. It’s easier to relate the types of fiction I DON’T write–I don’t write mysteries, thrillers, horror, or Westerns. I don’t write in the genre of Romance, but some of my women’s fiction has romantic undertones. I have written fantasies and am currently writing a YA fantasy, but my fantasies are firmly grounded in reality.

Do you have a favorite quote about creating active voice?
I got a Master’s degree in Literature, and loved studying Victorian Literature. Charles Dickens completely swept me off my feet. I love his quote: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.I can relate that quote to getting the voice right of a character. Sometimes I will get an idea for a story, and charge full-speed ahead, but more often the idea will percolate and simmer for months or even years before I commit one word of the story to paper. It’s the same way with the characters in each story. I want my characters to speak for themselves, and in order for them to do that, I have to LISTEN. I know writers who interview their characters when they’re stuck. I’ve done that a few times, but mostly I try to back off and let the characters breathe and grow.

Do you read other books during the first draft of new story?
It depends. I’m always reading something, but not necessarily something related to the story I’m writing at the time. If my story idea is strong enough, then nothing I’m currently reading will have any influence whatsoever on my story. On the other hand, absolutely everything I’ve ever read or experienced contributes to my literary voice. There is no getting around it. Your literary voice, for better or for worse, is YOU, your very essence. You can’t help but let it out.

Do you have any tips to help develop narrative voice?
I was getting in trouble for writing “novels” instead of doing class assignments when I was still in first grade, so I’ve been writing for a long, long time. Because I’ve been writing (copious amounts) since I was a small child, I write organically. I don’t ever think about “voice,” although editors have told me that mine is “fresh” and strong. I think you can pick up just about anything I’ve written, and be able to tell that I was the author, and that’s where “voice” comes in. I think all writers must develop multiple personalities–one for each character they create. In order to write in each character’s voice, a writer must thoroughly KNOW his/her character, inside and out. If you write organically (as I do), your characters will reveal themselves to you as you write. And each of them will have a distinctive voice. Yet, if you look at the work as a whole, you should be able to detect your OWN voice in the narrative thread. My #1 tip for developing that narrative voice is to write, write, write, and then KEEP ON WRITING! And my #2 tip is the exact same thing.

Do you have a technique for establishing a clear narrative voice, such as writing in first person?
I don’t really employ any techniques. Sometimes I write in first person (I love its immediacy) and sometimes I write in third person, and sometimes I even write in second person (makes your prose riveting, if you can pull it off). I write in both past and present tenses. None of that makes any difference at all, when it comes to voice. The real difference comes in being able to get INSIDE a character’s head and UNDERNEATH a character’s skin. You feel that character’s emotions, think that character’s thoughts, know what makes him/her tick. You become that character on the page, blood and guts and bones. You have to “get” that character; then you’ll get the voice right.

How can you tell when the voice of your WIP (work-in-progress) is off?
By the time I’m writing the story, I know what each of my characters is capable of, although sometimes they’ll surprise me. I can hear their voices in my head. I know that sounds insane! Writers have to be at least a little bit mad, especially when they’re engaged in stream-of-consciousness writing. I try not to be analytical as I write. I want to be completely immersed in the story and deeply involved with the characters, just as I was when I was a kid and was totally unself-conscious about my writing. I think I’ve lost a little bit of that along the way. I’m trying to find my way back.

Is there a particular author(s) whose voice you admire?
I’m an Anglophile and attended an English boarding school in London as a teenager, so I particularly relish British novels, especially ones written by women. I think Elizabeth Buchan is brilliant, and I also love the voices of Margaret Drabble, Penelope Lively, Elizabeth Noble, and a host of others. Among children’s book authors, P. L. Travers (who was born in Australia) and Noel Streatfeild had amazingly unique and wondrous voices. And did I mention Charles Dickens? No one could ever pick up a novel by Charles Dickens, and mistake it for a novel by anyone else. Talk about an inimitable voice! And Thomas Hardy’s voice was just as clear and distinctive.


How long do you let your new stories ideas percolate before committing words to the page? Do you consider yourself someone who writes organically, like Nancy? Do you spend time getting to know your characters before starting a story? Are you unself-conscious when you write?

Want to learn more from Nancy, check out some of her other online sites:

Thanks Nancy for the awesome interview!

Chat with Marsha Lytle: What Does Your Manuscript Sound Like

In December, we chatted with Laura Diamond and Dawn Allen to get their thoughts on Voice. This week, I interviewed Marsha Lytle. I met Marsha through the Mid-West Children’s Authors Guild. She is currently a fellow member of Novel Clique and is never short on wonderful story ideas.

Marsha Lytle, is a librarian by trade, which is a pretty good place for a writer to be exposed to many great books. Reading is her favorite way to spend time. She has been published in Soft Whispers Magazine, Better Horses Magazine, the Once Upon a Christmas anthology, and the October Nightmares and Dreams anthology. She belongs to Novel Clique critique group, Kansas Author’s Club, Savvy Authors, Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. and Romance Writers of America, including Mid-America Romance Authors, From the Heart, and Celtic Hearts chapters. She is currently working on four projects: a middle-grade historical, Just Plain Lizzie, a YA, Sara, Adult romance, Kylie’s Song, and adult political thriller novel, Passion for Glory.

What kind of fiction do you write?
Maybe a better question would be what don’t I write? It just depends on what muse is talking to me at the time. I have so many ideas on the back burner, plus I am interested in doing non-fiction historical as well.

Do you have a favorite quote about creating active voice?
Not really. I have dozens of writing books but rarely have the time to read them.

Do you read other books during the first draft of your story?
I never stop reading, but don’t let it interfere with writing.

Do you have any tips to help develop narrative voice?

Do you have a technique for establishing a clear narrative voice, such as writing in first person?
I do frequently write in first person, but when I’m writing in third I try to let the reader get inside of my character’s head through internal dialogue also.

How can you tell when the voice of your WIP (work-in-progress) is off?
I count on my critique group to bluntly tell me that it isn’t working.

Is there a particular author whose character dialogue you admire?
Mine would have to be YA author, Janette Rallison. I am a big fan of her books which have fabulous dialogue, great characters, and wonderful plots.

How can people learn more about you and your writing?
I’m on Facebook, also WordPress, and to allow my characters in Kylie’s Song a chance to speak, I gave them their own WordPress blog as well. Please feel free to drop by and ask them a question.

Do you use internal dialogue to help readers get inside your character’s head? Are you able to continuing reading while working on a new WIP? Do you have a critique group who keeps you on track?

Chat With Laura Diamond: What Does Your Manuscript Sound Like?

Last week, we chatted with Dawn Allen to get her views on Voice. I met Laura Diamond on WriteOnCon and was so impressed with her work I invited her to be this week’s guest blogger.

Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist with aspirations of becoming a published author. She writes urban fantasy, young adult urban fantasy, young adult dystopian, and middle grade adventure. Come visit her blog, Diamond, Yup Like the Stone, where Mental Health Mondays, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog, and Flake-our Fridays are regular features.

First of all, I’d like to give a big thanks to Natasha for hosting me today! This was a lot of fun and really got me thinking.

What type of fiction do you write?
I started out writing adult urban fantasy (I was greatly influenced by Charles de Lint). Then, I found QT. I learned how to write a synopsis, a query letter, and how to hone my first five pages. I also learned I totally enjoy young adult fiction! So, now I write young adult paranormal, urban fantasy, dystopian, and middle grade adventure. Phew!

Do you have a favorite quote about creating active voice?
Man, I’m kinda bad at quotes…Though I have to say Mark Twain is a great one for sayings.

Here’s one of my favorites: The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
[Editor’s Note: This is one of my favorite quotes too. 🙂 ]

Do you read other books during the first draft of new story?
I do read…though I should read more. Other authors’ works have taught me so much about voice, pacing, stakes, and creating loveable (and not so lovable) characters. And you can’t learn how to be a writer without reading, right? Trouble is, when I’m drafting a new story, I like to stay “in the zone,” meaning, I don’t like to feel distracted by another world, another voice, another set of characters. So, I tend to read more between drafts. It’s a bit of a reward that way, LOL! (Gotta say, though, the “to be read” pile is getting ridiculously high!)

Do you have any tips to help develop narrative voice?
I’m gonna answer this one with a personal experience story. In the beginning, I wrote without any regard to the “rules” (because I didn’t know them!). I ended up with a nightmare of a first draft. The story is still viable, though, but the writing, eep! Then I focused on learning the craft. The pendulum swung the other way (like it does) and my writing became “too correct.” The grammar was there, the rules were in place, but the voice was GONE! So, what did I do? (After a good bit of whining, that is.) I used my crit group and writerly buds to help. AND I “let go” of being grammatically perfect. Relaxing the internal editor Nazi helped me to get the flow back. Thank. God.

Another point I think is pertinent here: You’ve really gotta know the tone of your story. Here’s where research and reading books in the genre you write comes in handy. For example, dystopians tend to have a darker feel and your words will want to reflect that. If you spend time describing the beauty of a daffodil, you may run the risk of losing the cold, hard edge of a broken world. Unless it’s like the only daffodil on the planet and it has super daffodil powers that can save the world and your main character is the only one who can tend to the daffodil or it will die. (And how likely is that, eh?)

Do you have a technique for establishing a clear narrative voice, such as writing in first person?
There are lots of ways to add voice to your narrative. Know your characters like inside and out! Practice having them speak (in other words, write dialogue for them, even if it’s not for the WIP). How would they phrase things? How do they perceive the world? Someone may react to horror with humor, with terror, or with anger.

Voice also comes through the thoughts of your main character. What does he or she notice? If they only see the bad things, then your manuscript will have that feel. If there are sarcastic, the words you use should fit with that.

Use ALL the senses! So, it’s not only what your characters see, it’s what they feel, smell, hear, and even taste.

I do write in first person. It allows me to see the MC’s world through his or her own eyes. I have to be careful not to start every sentence with “I,” though, LOL! It’s also important to really highlight those emotional reactions. Go for broke, writing peeps! You don’t just feel sad. Your stomach churns, your eyes burn with tears, your body aches and trembles.

How can you tell when the voice of your WIP (work-in-progress) is off?

  • If I get bored working on a scene.
  • If all my characters sound alike.
  • If I have a scene of talking heads (meaning there’s little description or movement happening or the plot isn’t progressing).
  • If I lose the emotional component.
  • If I know I should feel a certain emotion, but totally don’t.
  • If the emotion described in the scene feels inauthentic.
  • If my character doesn’t react as he or she should.
  • If the secondary characters start acting out.
  • If I read it aloud and it doesn’t sound good.

Is there a particular author(s) whose voice you admire?
I enjoy Somerset Maugham’s prose (an oldy, but goody). For YA, I *LOVE* Paranormalcy by Kiersten White and Going Bovine by Libba Bray. I think Maggie Stiefvater does a good job with her Shiver series, as does Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games series and Rick Riordan with Percy Jackson. AND (oh my goodness, how could I NOT mention her???) JK Rowling! Each author has their own distinct writing style and voice. All are winners in my book.

This brings me to another point. Voice is a subjective thing. What works for some, doesn’t for others. This is equally true when someone tries to model a voice from someone else. It has to come from you to be authentic.

Be true to your voice. If you don’t have it, find it! I truly believe it is 100% necessary.


Thanks for the awesome interview, Laura. I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.

Do you try to avoid reading other books in the first draft stage of writing, too? Do you engage your characters in dialogue that has nothing to do with you WIP? Have you tried highlighting emotional reactions? Can you answer yes to any of the bullet points about an “off” voice?