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,
and the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

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?
Read!

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.

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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?

Chat With Dawn Allen: What Does Your Manuscript Sound Like?


Different Strokes: Voice

December’s is Voice. Editors and agents are looking for authentic voice in manuscripts. So, what is voice? It stems from the word choice, attitude, and sentence structure. It’s embellished by the flow between narrative and dialogue, as well as description. So, how can writers find their “authentic voice”?

My first guest blogger on the chat about Voice is Dawn Allen. She is a writing instructor and workshop presenter, the founding member of critique group, Novel Clique, and an active member of First Tuesdays. Her stories have appeared in Soft Whispers; A Fly in Amber; and articles with First Opinions, Second Reactions. Her story, “Taking Out the Trash”, is in the anthology, Don’t Tread on Me: Tales of Retribution and Revenge. Her short story, “Christmas Karma” is in the anthology, Once Upon a Christmas and her short story, “Hijacking Halloween” is in the anthology October Nightmares and Dreams on which she served as co-editor. Dawn holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska.

What type of fiction do you write?
This used to be easier to answer. In the adult audience, it’s mostly mystery/thrillers. For YA, I lean toward Sci/Fi (although I prefer the term speculative) and paranormal.

Do you have a favorite quote about creating active voice?
“Live in the active voice, rather than passive.”

“Think more about what you happen than what is happening to you.” ~ William de Witt Hyde

Do you read other books during the first draft of a new story?
Yes. I think you need to continue to have fresh art coming into your head. In fact, I never stop reading.

Do you have any tips to help develop narrative voice?
Do your homework before you actually write a novel. Do character journals/diaries, profiles/bios, even write scenes for them that may or may not be a part of the book. If you pursue the complete development of the characters, they’ll come alive on the page. At Novel Clique, we write “candy bar” scenes first. These are ones we feel passionate about and which reveal the most about our characters. By writing those first, you are firmly entrenched in the character before you sit down to write the rest of the narrative.

Do you have a technique for establishing a clear narrative voice, such as writing in first person?
I don’t think there is one magic button. It takes getting into a character’s persona. If you spend time on the character, write in that character’s voice for a host of soul searching pages, you’ll establish a narrative voice that is believable. If you don’t take that time, your character will come across as flat and uninteresting.

How can you tell when the voice of your WIP (work-in-progress) is off?
First and foremost, readers will tell you. The importance of a good critique group or a trusted first reader cannot be underestimated. Find a beta reader because if the character isn’t working, nothing else will work either.

Is there a particular author(s) whose voice you admire?
Harlan Coben is one of many that I admire for having a strong voice in the characters he writes. There are a lot of writers who excel at this, but he is the guy who always comes to mind when I think of voice.

How can people learn more about you and your writing?
Hook up with me  on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and follow my own blog.

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Thank you, Dawn for taking the time to answer these questions.

Do you keep character journals/diaries,profiles/bios? Do you write “candy bar” scenes first or in chronological order? Do you have beta readers or belong to a critique group and if so, are they helpful or hurtful?

Chat With L.L. McKinney: Hearing Voices?


Different Strokes: Dialogue

L.L. McKinney is this week’s  guest blogger on Different Strokes.  As published poet, a columnist for Writers News Weekly and an active member of First Tuesdays and YA Lit Chat, L.L. is currently working on her YA young adult urban fantasy, SWAYED.

What type of fiction do you write?
Young Adult and Adult. One of my current works in progress has bounced back and forth between the two. I tend to stick to the areas of fantasy with a hint of science fiction for flavor.

How do you stay true to each character’s voice?
By doing what they tell me. My characters know what they want and how they would act under certain circumstances better than I do. It’s my job to listen and record their reactions to the crazy setups I toss them into, not to make up or change said reaction. No matter how much I may want to.

Give an example of a technique you’ve used to distinguish characters in dialogue.
I honestly don’t have a technique. Well, nothing I would recognize as one, anyway. My characters are who they are and they do what they do, I just step back and try to stay out of the way.

What do you do when characters stop talking?
Find out what I did or said to upset them then beg their forgiveness. Though, I often find that they never stop talking, I just stop listening. I don’t even notice when I do it, though it’s usually because they may be saying something I don’t want to hear at that particular time. Again, I just have to stay out of the way. Though there are times when they get tired, and I have to perk them up. I do the same thing I would when I want to get actual people talking, I ask them about themselves and what’s going on in their live.
 
What things do you try to avoid in writing dialogue?
Being “right”. Grammatically, punctually, all-the-things-they-teach-you-in-English-class-ly. And I try not to censor myself. If my character would say it, then it goes in, regardless of whether I would say it myself or not. A few of my characters have rather colorful language, and while I would be uncomfortable peeling paint from the walls with choice words, they certainly aren’t. So, I put it in.

Do you have a favorite quote about writing dialogue?
About dialogue? No, I’m afraid not. Just bits and pieces I’ve read in books on writing and hear from other writers. Mostly to be true to the character, who might be a hateful, womanizing, murderous, prejudice, scumbag with beliefs entirely different from mine, but a good writer would let him put in his two-cents anyway.

Is there a particular author(s) whose character dialogue you admire?
Cassie Claire. I love watching her characters interact. Yes, watching. Her dialogue is so believable that I can see my mental images of her characters bantering back and forth as clear as if they were in the same room as me. 
 
How can people learn more about you and your writing?
There’s my Facebook page,   my Twitter account,  and my website.  There are links to my blog and other places I can be found under the FOLLOW ME tab on my site as well.

Do you try to listen to your characters or change them to fit your plot? Do you carry on conversations with your characters? Do your character’s use colorful language even though you don’t?

Chat With Me: Hearing Voices? Week 2


Different Strokes: Dialogue

This is week two of my Blog Chat, “Different Strokes.” It highlights how differently writers work through issues, which techniques work for them and which ones don’t, as well as how they hone their craft. Each month will have one topic and four guest bloggers (one per week).

I’m happy to introduce my next guest blogger, Gina Klein. She is a monthly contributor to KC Parent magazine. Gina is an author of children’s fiction, young adult fiction, and adult nonfiction.

What type of fiction do you write?
I write both children’s picture books and chapter books, and I also have a young-adult novel in the works.
 
How do you stay true to each character’s voice?
I get to know my characters from the start. I envision a person I know or have met in my life that has traits similar to my character, and I build on that.
 
Give an example of a technique you’ve used to distinguish characters in dialogue.
To distinguish my characters in dialogue, I might have one character with a tic that shows up when he/she speaks (i.e. a nod of the head, a twitch of an eye, etc.); or I might have one of the characters speak with an accent or drawl of some sort. Since I write for children, I find it easy to distinguish one character from another because of their little tics and their word choices.
 
What do you do when characters stop talking?
When they’re not off doing something after a conversation, I like to make my characters thinking about something. I enjoy showing what goes on in their little minds. 🙂
 
What things do you try to avoid in writing dialogue?
I really try to avoid the he said/she said thing. I like to find a variety of ways to show who’s talking (as mentioned above) rather than having to say who said what after each dialogue sentence. I know it’s something you have to do, but I like trying to avoid too many of the he said/she said endings. So, instead of saying:
 
“I want some bread, Mama,” Allison said.
“In just a moment,” Mama said.
 
     I might write it like this:
 
Allison held her grumbling stomach and frowned. “I want some bread, Mama.”
Mama smiled and reached inside the hot oven for the fresh cinnamon bread. “In just a moment, dear.”
 
Do you have a favorite quote about writing dialogue?
“Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.”  — Eudora Welty
 
Is there a particular author(s) whose character dialogue you admire?
One that stands out to me at the moment (and is not a children’s author) is the author of Girls in Trucks … Katie Crouch. I got hooked reading that book because of her great dialogue and characterization. It really brought me into the minds of the characters and the story. 
 
How can people learn more about you and your writing?
If you’d like to learn more about me, you may visit my web site: www.ginaklein.com. On my site, you’ll also find a link to my blog! Hope to see you there!

Do you pull characteristics from people you know to build characters? Do your characters have tics? Do you give your characters discussion topics outside of the context of the story?

Chat With Me: Hearing Voices?


Different Strokes: Dialogue

I’m starting a Blog Chat called “Different Strokes.” It highlights how differently writers work through issues, which techniques work for them and which ones don’t, as well as how they hone their craft. Each month will have one topic and four guest bloggers (one per week).

I’m so excited to kick off this chat with my first guest blogger, Dawn Allen. Dawn earned her MFA from UNO. She has published several short stories/articles and is an awesome critique partner.

What type of fiction do you write? 
 YA/Adult
 My YA tend to be in the Sci/Fi, horror, or Fantasy/Paranormal. My adult novels are mystery/suspense.
 
How do you stay true to each character’s voice? 
I make sure my characters are well-developed. If you know your characters well, it will be impossible to stray from who they are. And I have a backup crew who knows my characters as well as I do. My girls will catch it if I miss anything with my characters.
 
Give an example of a technique you’ve used to distinguish characters.
I like quirky characteristics. One of my characters has a cat tattoo from her ankle to the back of her knee. Another is Native Samoan and barters for everything; he never uses cash and doesn’t pay taxes. 
 
What do you do when characters stop talking?
I’ve been known to write first person pieces where they write about how much they hate their creator (me). When they get that out of their system, they start talking again. And I’ll admit it’s a bit of fun even if it is masochistic.
 
What things do you try to avoid in writing dialogue?
For me I have to forget that I’m an English teacher. Dialogue is going to sound stilted if it’s grammatically perfect so my inner grammarian has to shut up. I watch for times when my author voice shows up – I love words and I can’t let my love of big words come out in my YA for instance. Unless there’s a good reason for the student to speak in that way. 
 
Do you have a favorite quote about writing dialogue?
I don’t have a favorite one about dialogue. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across one on dialogue. But my favorite writing quote is from Chekhov: 
             
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  ~Anton Chekhov

Is there a particular author(s) whose character dialogue you admire?
Hands down, Harlan Coben. He rocks with authenticity in his dialogue. Also, he reveals characterization in his dialogue really effectively.

How can people learn more about you and your writing?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter [miserwriter], and my own blog ‘[dawnall.wordpress.com].

Do you give your characters quirky characteristics? What kind? Do you tend to write in first POV or third POV? Have a favorite quote about dialogue?