Thursday, October 31, 2013

Voice--how do you get it in fiction--or get them?

Editors and agents are always talking about VOICE...They want new and distinct voices. They are looking for them. So what does that mean? Here's what I think--today.

When people talk about voice they're usually talking about the way writers use language. That includes everything--the way they punctuate, the rhythm of their sentences, paragraphing, diction and so on. It also includes their particular way of looking at the world which is very important. (more on this in a moment). And the way the narrator of a particular piece is looking at the world.

I think some writers have very strong voices. See Bradley Cooper's imitations of actors below for actors who have strong voices. No matter what John Wayne is in--there's his particular way of speaking in every line. Other actors' voices change depending on the role. I think the same is true of writers. Some writers have very strong voices and others may be strong but change according to what they're writing.

Bradley Cooper's imitations of other actors--in the way some actors have distinct voices some writers do.

SO, in a sense, there are two voices at work in most works of fiction--the author's voice and the voice of the narrator of the particular story. Sometimes the particular character of a piece is strong enough to strongly influence the voice of the writer. Elmore Leonard once said that he let's his character's speak and if they don't say interesting things in interesting ways he kills them off. He's a writer with a strong style/voice but every character still has his or her own voice, too.

Given that this is true--I think the article linked below has much to say about voice but the most important point to me is that a writer allow him or herself to say things in his or her unique way. This is the one thing that you, as a writer, bring to writing that no one else has ever brought before. YOU. YOUR WAY OF SEEING THINGS. By allowing yourself the freedom to speak through the voice inspired by your way of seeing you'll find your voice. By digging deep into the narrator of your story you'll combine his/her voice with your own. If you have a unique voice it can really make your fiction stand out.

"You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?" Donald Maass, agent
Here's the whole article...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Char & Plot & Setting & TBF link

Here's a blog post over at YA in Publishing site where I attempt to put together some of the things I've been thinking about concerning character development and its link to plot development. I throw in some thoughts on setting and a quote from the late great John Gardner. Also, on this site you'll find a ton of YA book info. and they frequently give away books.

Also, I'm on this panel at the Texas Book Festival this Saturday: Apocalypse Now--talking about apocalypse fiction in YA--including my own two alien novels. Just one of many panels at the TBF. It's always fun to go up to the capitol for this book event.

Monday, October 21, 2013

YA Fiction Doing Just Fine


I'm sick of hearing about how YA fiction is getting too formulaic. There are too many vampires and there is too much paranormal romance. Let's have some serious diversity in fiction. Come on YA.

To this I say bullsh**. Apologies for the ** or maybe the bullsh part. Hmm... not sure.

Just to be clear--any genre may have vivid and unique fiction. It's in the telling--the language and the ideas and the imaginative situations and tone and characterization and story.YA fiction has more than its share of vivid and unique fiction.

Is there formula fiction in YA? Of course.

But without thinking very hard many writers' names pop into my head that aren't writing anything like formula fiction, that are writing great and interesting fiction: Pete Hautman, Laurie Anderson John Green, Kelly Link, Francisco X. Stork,  Neil Gaiman,  Lois Lowry, Markus Zusak to name just a few. These writers, and many many more, make the charge that YA is stale and formulaic simply untrue.

But I've said there is formula fiction in YA, right? Sure. So...Teens like it right? They do but not as much as adults, apparently. Look at adult fiction. What sells the most in adult fiction? Look at the lists.   Formula fiction.  Fifty Shades of Whatever. Thank the Fiction Gods that's not all that sells (many great and diverse writers here, too) but my point is that if you look at mainstream adult fiction, you will find that adults buy large quantities of formula type fiction. If you don't look closely, if you just glance,  you might say that adult fiction is nothing but formula. But that would be as untrue as the charge that YA fiction is.

Many readers are always going to be attracted to and satisfied by formula fiction. To me it's uninteresting but it has its place. It has its place in adult fiction (I would argue a larger place in adult fiction than YA fiction) and in YA fiction. But for those interested in going beyond the formula there are plenty of works of  fiction in both YA and adult for them. The YA commentators who make wide generalizations about the state of YA fiction need to take a breath. It's doing just fine.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Using The Where in a novel

 Many writers  have said they consider setting as a character. Joyce Carol Oates talks about it in the linked youtube below, but there's a large crowd of writer's to whom setting is significant to their work.  Of course,  setting is essential to most high fantasy novels: Harry Potter, Tolkien's Middle Earth and so on, but it's also essential to some writers of kitchen sink realism, for example, Raymond Chandler and Los Angeles.  For some writers the setting of their book becomes a character. For others it is essential to the development of character.   In On Becoming a Novelist John Gardner wrote, "Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary." 
I think the importance of setting varies from writer to writer. If you're a writer who has a strong connection to place though, I think you can use setting to give your writing another level of connection to character and story. It will give the reader a deeper understanding of what your character is going through if where he is going through it is vividly rendered.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Setting/Character exercise

Here's an exercise on the importance of setting. The way I see writing fiction is that there are all these opportunities to develop story and character. One way to develop character is through setting. One exercise to try is the following:

Describe the place where someone lives just by the details. The details that you choose reveal the character.

A painter.

A writer.

A foster child.

A police detective.

A man who has separated from his wife and family but wants to go back to them.

A man who has separated from his wife and family and doesn't want to go back to them.

A high school student's room/ he's living with his grandparents.

A girl who has run away from home and is living with three other runaways.

A boy and girl who are seventeen and have a child.

This could go on and on. The purpose of the exercise is to focus on how setting can evoke and develop character. MORE ON SETTING/CHARACTER in the next post.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vonnegut's 8 Writing Rules and one unrule

Kurt Vonnegut's rules to writing a short story and, importantly, his unrule. Read them or listen to him tell you himself.

1.            Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2.            Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.            Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.            Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5.            Start as close to the end as possible.
6.            Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.            Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.            Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
 Vonnegut's Unrule, BUT  “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor… She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

plot and character: a story of codependency

Plot and Character: a story of codependency that works for me…
Henry James, as quoted by Franny Billingsley in a post on Cynsations, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
You go Henry.
 I suppose I had vague notions of the connection between plot and character not long after I began writing. John Gardner tried to tell me in his books on writing and I’m sure others did too, including myself.  Maybe I even understood, on an intellectual level, that there needed to be a connection.
But it was Robert Olen Butler that really got through to me with his talk about a character’s desire driving plot. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character and relationships and all that. Writing is never, ever, about just one thing. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development  as a writer.
In Franny Billingsley’s blog post she talks about a character’s controlling belief directing plot.  See the link to read but the main idea is a character sees herself and/or world in such a way that it defines the character’s attitude, self-image, choices. These, in turn, direct the story.This is helpful, I think, in finding one’s way through the vast possibilities of any story.

But here’s my crucial point—one that was a big part of my pushing forward as a writer. Character is not separate from plot. What a character does, he does because of who he is—how he sees himself & his world and what he wants and what he really wants-- and in a novel what he does causes things to happen to him and all those around him. The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive-- again and again in both small and large ways, builds a story.
Or so I think today