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?