Category Archives: Narrative Voice

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.

Happy Cinco de Mayo

May tulipsHappy Cinco de Mayo!

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.

The Petralist series

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.

I dialed up the numbers a lot on the Humor Scale.

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.

The Facetakers

The Facetakers.

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

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank 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

Using Feedback to Improve Your Writing Skills

Happy Star Wars Day from The Fictorians

Sometimes it’s a good thing to ask your friends and/or readers what they like about your work. Then again, sometimes the answers they give will surprise you.

While many authors think they have a good idea of what they’re good at, sometimes they’re wrong. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, having a couple of things that make you feel comfortable enough to actually sit your butt in a chair and pound a keyboard will help to keep procrastination and “writers block” away. When you feel advanced enough, ask your audience what they think you write best. Understand that you can use this knowledge to improve your writing.

When I started writing back in the dark ages, I thought I was pretty decent at dialogue. It turns out I was, but only to half the audience. My characters tended to sound the same, using similar language and sentence structure. In fact, I had projected a version of myself into their vocal chords, and the characters sounded like me.

Thinking back, I now know why. When I would run Dungeons and Dragons gaming sessions, I would always have to be the voice of the various non-player characters the party met. Sometimes I would add in an accent, but the word choices were always a version of me. I had uneducated farmers using words like “obfuscate”.

Not a good thing to do when you write books and short stories.

I started to add in things such as verbal tags. In one short story I turned in this week for a submission call, the Captain had a habit of saying “Yes, yes,” while he was thinking what to say next.

Next, I began to be mindful of the character’s history and cultural background when I scripted dialogue, doing my best not to fall into the “easy” trap of sticking in culturally insensitive or stereotypical words and styles. This helped to sculpt their vocabulary and how they physically spoke, including sentence length, speed, and even autonomous gesturing like hand movements.

Finally, I made sure that when they spoke, it was efficient and necessary to help transport the story to the reader. For example, the vast majority of people use contractions when they’re talking. Some have valid excuses not to do so, such as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who doesn’t have that software installed. A select few can use that quirk as a verbal tag to flesh out the character.

Once you are comfortable with your writing and have developed a thick skin, ask your trusted, honest reviewers and readers what they like about your writing. It can be a pat on the back or a learning experience to improve your skills.


 

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 and poet; 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.

 

The Special Sauce Makes or Breaks it All

Pouring Chocolate

What makes Grandma’s pies better than anyone else’s?

What makes the Big Mac stand out?

It’s the special sauce, of course.

The sauce is the final layer, the finishing touch that elevates a dessert, a hamburger, or a rack of barbecued ribs from the level of pretty good to Wow!

Your favorite authors have their own special sauce too. It’s that special something that you recognize as soon as you flip open one of their books and start reading. It’s whatever they do that’s uniquely theirs, the sometimes subtle signature that makes their stories stand just a bit apart.

This month, we’re exploring the question of what what makes the best stories stand apart? What’s unique and recognizable about our favorite authors? Is it their character voice, their world building, their breakneck pacing, or their use of imagery?

We’re also going to discuss how newer authors work on developing their own special sauce. It can take experimentation and lots of practice, and it can be a really fun journey.

So stick around and share what you consider the special sauce of your favorite authors.