Category Archives: Narrative Voice

Home As Setting and Theme

When my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, was released in 2016, many of my childhood friends, family, and even my teachers commented about my use of “home.” Where I call home is a long way from where I live now, but every time I’m there the feeling of peace is as palpable as wrapping a blanket around my shoulders. I was born and raised in upper east Tennessee in an area called the Tri-Cities. My family actually lived very near a small community known as Midway – it was Midway between Johnson City and Tennessee’s Oldest City, Jonesborough. The Appalachian mountains filled the eastern horizon, running in a roughly southwest to northeast line. It’s a beautiful place.

And I never intended for my story to go there.

As the story of a cloned soldier trying to find his identity unwound from my brain to the keyboard, I initially struggled with “What’s the point?” or even Eric Flint’s famous guidance of “Who gives a $^#@?” I needed something to make the character’s emotional struggle hit home and that’s where the inspiration hit. So, I took my character home. In the third act, he descends Cherokee Mountain, crosses the Nolichucky River, and ends up on a small knoll where a farmhouse once stood. All of those are real places and the knoll is where my family’s homestead still stands. My cousins own “The Farm” as we call it, and it’s wonderful to know that it’s still there and open for my family to visit any time we want. That openness and warmth led me to bringing my character to an very different emotional level. I gave him a sense of place, a sense of a home that he’d once had and was very different than the future one, but a place he could identify with fully and embrace his identity. Once I’d opened that door, I proceeded to move him further along the path by having him stand over his own gravesite in the Mountain Home National Cemetery.

The journey to find his “home” was really the key to unlocking his identity. My first ideas to bring him through familiar territory to help with my description and emotional resonance gave way to something else entirely: a theme I’d never intended. Our sense of home is a large part pf our identity. Even our home nation, or state, or municipality is much more than a common bond to our neighbors. We identify ourselves to that place forever. No matter where I go, when I am asked where I’m from I always say that I’m from Tennessee and just happen to live elsewhere.

My point is this – write about your home or wherever you consider your home to be. Pull that emotion and identity into your own writing. Your voice will improve, your characters will seem more grounded and real, and your readers – especially those who claim the same sense of home – will keep asking for more. When you’re not writing about your home? Put that same warmth and emotion into the characters who are there. It makes a difference to the story and to your characters.

A Good Sauce is Worth Experimenting With

Julia Childs Quote

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:

Research Until Your Fingers Bleed by Sean Golden

Hiding Your Secret Sauce by Guy Anthony De Marco

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart by Kristin Luna

Adding Realism – Military SF by Kevin Ikenberry

Jayne Barnard and Adria Laycraft – Creating Successful Author – Editor Relationships by Ace Jordyn

Wisdom in abundance – The Characters of Daniel Abraham by Greg Little

So keep working on your own secret sauce, and feel free to update your recipe books with some of the wisdom shared this month.

Keep writing!

Hiding Your Secret Sauce

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.

Why Not?

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:DeMarco_Web-5963

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.

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart

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.

If Socrates fermented goods, this would be his beer label.

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.
Truth.
Just try.

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.

First: know thyself. Next: write.