The posts this month have been amazing. Not only did we explore great works and what made them great, but described aspects of our own writing, and ways to improve our personal secret sauce.
Please browse through the month and read the posts from the Fictorians explaining our special sauce, our unique voices, and how we developed as writers. These excellent posts offer great insights into the Fictorians and the process of developing as writers.
As the famous Julia Childs once said, “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing!”
In addition to those great posts, I’ll point out a few of the other highlights this month:
The theme for this month revolves around what makes a particular author’s work recognizable to their audience. I thought I would take the reverse of this idea — What if you write under several different pseudonyms and don’t want them connected?
This is the issue I have to deal with. I don’t want readers of my horror books to get cross-pollinated into my romance and erotica readers. In other words, don’t get your peanut butter on my chocolate.
You may wonder why I wouldn’t want this to happen. After all, more eyeballs can mean more sales. The problem is that readers of my horror or science fiction titles go in expecting particular tropes and methodologies. Those few folks who go looking for titles under my (real) name want to read something in the “GADM” style. If they see a new book and buy it, they may get a surprise when they start reading an erotic thriller with lots of sexual tension and graphic sex instead of a horror novel with lots of “Dad” jokes and punny humor.
Indeed, I was talking to a friend on Facebook who had just received a low-star review of their novel. The reviewer was not happy that the book contained QUILTBAG/LGBT characters instead of straight old meat-and-potatoes science fiction. Of course, never mind that there are all kinds of folks from many different backgrounds in every universe, even if the author doesn’t include them in their scribblings. That didn’t matter to the reader. They saw an “other” and was unhappy, which is kind of ironic when science fiction is all about “others” from different planets.
For me, when it comes to different genres, I tend to try and keep some of them separated. Erotica and romance are separated from my westerns (except weird westerns), which are separate from my speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, and science fiction). I also have some literary floating out there in the ether. Keeping them separate helps to keep the folks who read a particular genre happy.
As far as QUILTBAG/LGBT characters, they can appear anywhere in my writing, just like the actual people do in real life. I’ll gladly take the review hit, and I’ll even be happy about it.
OK, What Can I Do?
If you’re going to be writing under different pseudonyms, you need to do a solid analysis of your writing style. There are particular phrases and words that crop up with every author, for example. Think about the first three George Lucas Star Wars movies (in theatre release order). How many times have you heard Darth Vader say “is complete”? It drives me nuts when I hear those words, but it’s a Lucasism. Even the scripts he didn’t completely write have his smudgy thumbprints all over the pages.
If you look back over the posts from this month on The Fictorians, there are a lot of ideas to investigate as far as your own writing is concerned. Find the pieces that fit with your style and make a list.
Writes with lots of humor.
Tends to use some colloquialisms.
Writes dialogue in a short, choppy, realistic style.
Focuses less on description.
Plots are unpredictable with some red herrings dropped in.
Once your list is complete, you have some ideas on what not to do for your alternate identity. In fact, you can do things like focus more on descriptions and purposely read and study that subsection of writing. This way you’ll be able to improve your skills all across the board. Try adding in some humor if you’re known as a business-only author.
In fact, you can even purposely create a new pseudonym so you can write in a different area like romance or historicals. This way you can learn your craft without tainting your “real” well-established name.
About the Author:
Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.
As my fellow Fictorians are showing you so far this month, there are many ways to set yourself apart as a writer. In my mind, the most memorable way to set yourself apart is voice, to the surprise of no one. In past posts, I’ve highlighted how you might create tension with narrative voice, and used well-known authors with distinct voices as examples. In this post, I’d like to dive into what voice is, the many ways one can use it, and highlight some examples that will hopefully give you plenty of ideas.
First, what is voice? Voice goes by many names. Style. Point of View. Vernacular. Narrative voice. Language. It is all of these things. For the sake of clarity, I defer to my friend Mignon, whom many of you may know as Grammar Girl. Julie Wildhaber writes on the Grammar Girl website:
Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. (read more here)
It’s the thing that makes a reader say, “Ah. I can tell Kristin wrote this, because there are many f-bombs, and she ends every chapter on a cliffhanger,” for example.
Letting your voice shine is all about one important rule: “Know thyself.” This is not only my own personal credo for just about everything, it’s an important practice that will inform you of your strengths.
Are you funny, or at least have great confidence that you are? Can you translate or work on translating that humor into written form?
Are you good at calculating out the worst case scenario? When friends tell you their darkest fears and worries, are you able to take it another shade darker? Do you have no problem screwing with your characters and making their lives miserable?
Is your writing structure unique? Are you aware of grammatical rules and structures, but can’t help but twist and/or ignore them?
Here are some examples of authors using those very strengths and turning them into voice.
Maria Semple is one funny lady. She wrote for the television show Arrested Development, which banked on candid, awkward family dynamics to amuse their viewers. When it comes to her writing, Maria translates the same odd, character-driven situational humor into fiction. Her second novel, Where’d You go, Bernadette? may be a shade more sophisticated than Arrested Development, but you can expect the same wit and brand of humor that her television writing is known for.
Robert Kirkman doesn’t mind making a character suffer. He doesn’t mind making all of his characters suffer. As Robert has his hand in more and more projects, the common thread between all of them is his signature move: make the character(s) suffer. While reading The Walking Dead, one panel completely floored me. It was too dark, in fact, to be translated to the television version (though I dreaded I’d see it when the time came). If you’d like to read the comic books, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who’ve read a good chunk of the comic books, you may already guess which part I’m talking about. It’s the Red Wedding of The Walking Dead. Instead of just Laurie taking a bullet, the bullet travels through her baby girl in her arms as well. The worst case scenario, one darker than I would ever dare to think up, becomes a reality in the blink of an eye. When I read it, I thought for sure I felt my heart drop.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an author I’ve mentioned many times in my Fictorians posts who is, in my mind, the king of grammatical voicing: James Frey. If you’re currently in the beginning stages of your career and trying to get published and you’ve read James’ work, he might make you a little crazy. And it’s not because he isn’t good – oh he’s good. It’s because you’ll wonder how he was able to get away with his style and still get published. An example, from the first page I opened up to just now from A Million Little Pieces:
I stare at him.
Trying can’t hurt, Kid.
There is truth in his eyes. Truth is all that matters.
And trying’s nothing to be scared of.
Where are the quotation marks? Dialogue tags? Adjectives? And yet, from this short section, we can tell this is a conversation, or at least one person talking to another person. We can make very good guesses as to who is whom (given more context). This is James’ style. While different at first, it grows on you very quickly, and your eyes ease from one word to the next until, before you know it, you’re flipping the last page of the book. His style was unlike anything I’d ever seen before (Hemingway would be jealous of his brevity), and I immediately adored the rock-solid voicing.
The bottomline is this: you don’t have to be the next Maria Semple, Robert Kirkman, or James Frey. You just gotta be you! It’s as easy and as difficult as that.
Hopefully you’re having a barbecue. Here at the Fictorians I’m sharing my special sauce with you.
What makes a Frank Morin book worth reading? (And they are definitely worth reading! Trust me).
Now that I’ve got six novels out there, with a couple more due by the end of the year, I’ve got enough material for readers to get a good taste for my secret sauce.
When you read one of my novels, you can generally expect:
Big, epic stories. Seriously, most of my books are at least 150,000 words. Even my one novella is pretty epic.
Complex, intricate plots, with a large cast of characters.
Lots of action. I like books that move along and in which lots of fun stuff happens, so that’s what I write.
My works to-date span two very different series, and they do have important differences. Jumping from one series to the other has proven a fun challenge and highlighted for me the significant differences.
First, The Petralist.
Big Magic. Big Adventure. Lots of Humor.
Yup, they’ve got the huge, epic story line with tons of action. Layered on top of that is a super cool magic system based on rocks It’s all topped with a layer of humor that raises the stories to a whole new level. The humor makes them accessible for younger readers down into middle school, even though they’re thoroughly enjoyed by high schoolers and adults too.
A really interesting theme I get to explore through this series is the question of loyalties. In particular, what happens when loyalties to family, to town, to nation, and to a love interest end up conflicting? Which loyalty trumps others, and what to do when people you care about make choices that place them in conflict?
It’s hard to fight against someone you care for, and those difficulties are compounded further by the fact that both sides in the conflict have reason to feel justified in their actions. It’s even harder to fight an enemy, when they might just be right.
These urban fantasy historical thrillers are so much fun. Think The Matrix, but through history. These are hard-hitting thrillers that my editor described as “Mission Impossible meets Agents of Shield“.
They’ve got an intricate, awesome magic system fueled by the force of human souls. I switched to a strong female lead for these, and Sarah is simply amazing. The supporting characters are fascinating, and they pretty much all have dark moments in their pasts where they’ve done things that Sarah has a hard time accepting. She and her team must hunt through deadly memories that brush against the fabric of time, fighting superhuman-enhanced enemies whose agendas will topple the world order and destroy Sarah and everyone she loves.
A definite stand-out about these novels are the many historical settings. History is not what the books claim it is, and Sarah learns what ‘really’ happened in critical moments in history, which become the primary battlegrounds.
One bonus of these books is the body-swapping tendencies of many of the characters, which allow me to explore all kinds of fun questions of identity and body image. If you’re suddenly swapped into a very different body, are you still you?
So if you like stories that move fast, make you laugh at one moment, but then ask hard questions in the next, and will very likely keep you up a lot later at night than you had planned, sample these books. You won’t be sorry.
About the Author: Frank Morin
Frank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org