Voice Matters Blogfest Challenge

Two characters. Three genres. Each scene with an appropriate voice.

It’s the Voice Matters Blogfest Challenge, hosted by my critique partner Lori M. Lee.

I took my characters from my historical romance and put them in a contemporary romance and a science fiction scene. Tricky stuff!

Historical Romance:

“I want to thank you for taking the time to show me the area, my lady. However, I would ask in the future that you do not venture out on your own, even if you plan on remaining on your family’s lands.”

The pretty color he had noticed in her cheeks earlier began to darken. She pushed aside her trencher. He steeled himself for yet another fight. But before Isobel could respond, the innkeeper came bustling over with a jug of wine and two mugs. Her eyes flashed with anger but she didn’t stir until the innkeeper moved a discreet distance away.

“I wonder how long you have been waiting to recite your little speech, Sir Alexandre,” she said before taking a deliberate sip of wine.

He watched her lips close over the cup, the column of her throat working as she swallowed. He raised his own mug to her in mock-salute. “For quite some time, I can assure you. And please, call me Alex.”

Contemporary Romance:

Even though he was still a respectful distance away, Isobel could see his knowing grin flash in the afternoon sun. “I didn’t believe it when Daniel said that you’d be here so I came to make sure.”

She relaxed her stance and let go of Rufus. “Alex Johanson?” Her mouth curled bitterly as she took in his thick, dark hair and proud yet even features. “I didn’t realize it was you without the suit.”

The dog bounded over to Alex, and she let her eyes feast on him for only a moment before she tried to calm her furiously beating heart. She had nothing to be ashamed of, she reminded herself. Rufus, the little traitor, pranced happily around Alex’s feet as he strode towards her.

A maroon flannel shirt peeped out from underneath his unbuttoned lambswool-lined jacket, a sharp contrast to the three-piece suit and tie he wore when she saw him last. He seemed completely at ease, which annoyed her even more.

“I’m not the only one who has changed.”

Science Fiction:

Alex saw her, of course, before she had even decided to seek refuge in the café. One did not often see the senator’s daughter out and about unescorted. She must have run into the rally he heard rumors of all week. Stupid girl.

Alex turned back to the stack of books he’d gotten from the library, determined not to get involved. No good would come from that. He pulled the volume on design theory he had special ordered towards him. Diagrams animated with electronic ink winked up at him.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I’m glad you didn’t wait for me,” a female voice announced, before the owner of the voice took the seat opposite of him. Alex blinked, taking in Isobel’s face, for once unencumbered by her trademark glasses, her hair unbound and framing her dusky features.

Surely she wasn’t so desperate she’d use a stranger to get out of the trouble she’d found herself in. But when he saw the determined glint of her gray eyes, the strict way she held herself as if she was prepared to bolt the second he made things difficult for her, he supposed she was.

This was a hard challenge — to establish the characters’ relation to one another, establish setting and other genre conventions, and still make it clear which character’s voice was narrating the scene.

Be sure to check out other participants in the blogfest here.

And remember: Voice matters!
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Routine Recalibration

I think I’m in a rut. Not a I-can’t-write-a-thing rut. More like a nothing-is-inspiring-me rut.

I still tinker with some of my short stories, analyze and implement some of the changes my CPs have suggested for my historical romance novel, and deliberate on whether I should go back to my problem-riddled SF novel that is mostly complete, the problem-riddled SF novel that I need to start over from scratch, or the half-drafted contemporary YA project that’s been hanging out on my hard drive since Christmas.

I can rattle off a whole list of pros and cons to tackle one WIP over another. And as usual, there’s a whole bunch of other things in life that can keep me from writing at all — like sunny days, bathroom remodels, and dress shopping for the three weddings I’ll be attending this year.

To top it off, everything I’ve been writing lately makes me cringe. The folks at Writers Unboxed say You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign! (and be sure to watch the Ira Glass interview mentioned in the article!):

That struggle—that feeling that you’re wasting your time—is a sign that you’re probably on the right path. But most people quit, not realizing that nearly every writer who does excellent work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, but they produced total crap.

When I don’t like what I’m writing, I tend to fall back on craft. I may not like something, but if I write it in a technically proficient way, that’s at least something. Author Jody Hedlund and Fiction Groupie Roni Loren both blogged about the importance of writing craft recently, and I realized it’s been some time since I cracked open the books I’ve gathered.

Even my horoscope last week said:

If I had to come up with a title for the next phase of your astrological cycle, it might be “Gathering Up.” The way I see it, you should focus on collecting any resources that are missing from your reserves. You should hone skills that are still too weak to get you where you want to go, and you should attract the committed support of allies who can help you carry out your dreams and schemes. Don’t be shy about assembling the necessities. Experiment with being slightly voracious.

In other words, it’s time to study up. So that’s where I’m at — incorporating deliberate study of craft into my writing routine. I’m currently plowing through Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style and will probably reread Character, Emotion, Viewpoint after that.

Anyone else feeling the need to hit the books?
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First Person Works for Me

When I started my Nano project this past November, I was shocked at how easy it was for me to capture the voice of my protagonist. But there my character was, flesh and blood, breathing life on the page. I wondered why can’t it always be like this? And I asked myself why things were coming together so smoothly for this particular story.

To some extent, I think it has to do with the genre I’m writing – YA Contemporary – compared to my other projects in historical romance and speculative fiction. Instead of imagining the future or envisioning the past, I’m drawing on direct experiences and emotions from my own years as an angsty teen (with a fictive spin of course). Because of this, I emphasized with my characters right out of the gate instead of having to get to know them first before I’m able to direct them on the page. Big difference.

I’m also writing the YA novel in first person, where all my other novels have been in third person limited. Maybe that also contributed to the ease of subsuming myself into the world of the main character and finding their voice.

Based on feedback and my own instincts, I know character voice and reader empathy are weak points in my other stories. I’m just not going deep enough. And for a long time, I wasn’t sure what more I could do besides revising and reworking until the words blurred into nothingness. I made progress, yes, but it’s an arduous time-consuming process.

But now I think I know how to tackle this issue: by writing in the first person, even when I know I’ll revert back into 3rd person at some later stage of the project. By stripping away the artifice of she’s and he’s and making it all about me me me, I hope I’ll be able to strengthen my own engagement with my characters and up the emotional intensity and interest for my readers.

I can’t always control what genres I write in – stories just are – but I can control the POV I use when drafting. And that, my friends, is my New Years resolution. What’s yours?
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Resource Roundup – NaNoWriMo Edition

In case you’ve been living under a rock, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words/day). Whether you are sailing along or have already found yourself in troubled waters, consider this your one-stop-shop for NaNoWriMo resources when the going gets tough.

As with previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Post Series: 

Write Anything‘s NaNoWriMo Workshop by contributor Karen covers planning your NaNo project in addition to specific aspects of craft so crucial to storytelling. She pulls the best bits from numerous books on craft and technique to give NaNo participants a helping hand.

Find, and Flush Out, an Idea
Setting It Up
Point of View
Constructing Scenes

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp courtesy of Agent Nathan Bransford is a must read, if only because Bransford condescended to write about NaNo in the first place. Besides, you should be reading his posts on craft and publishing anyway. He has 4,660 Goggle followers (and counting) for a reason.

Choosing the Right Idea
Goals and Obstacles
Editing As You Go

Countdown to NaNoWriMo by Paulo Campos at yingle yangle gives you tried and true advice from a NaNoWriMo veteran. When you hit the wall, Campos’s posts provide options for moving forward.

Part 1: Winding Up Your Writing Clock
Part 2: Why Outlining Your Novel Is Essential
Part 3: Outlining A Novel Worth Reading
Part 4: Your Outline Will Fail
Part 5: Making the Most Out of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 6: Making A Mess of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 7: Why NaNoWriMo Naysayers Should Please Shut Up
Part 8: So Your NaNoWriMo Novel Sucked

Stand Alone Posts:

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo – Gives a great overview of the benefits of participating and the trade-offs you’ll make when you lock yourself away to reach the goal.

NaNoReaMo – Author Natalie Whipple decides she’s going to spend November reading instead of writing.

Putting the NANO in NaNoWriMo – An alternative take on what “NaNo” really means.

NaNo Checklist – The title says it all. Make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

6 Golden Rules of NaNoWriMo -When you start questioning where your story’s headed, read this for a reality check, courtesy of editor Victoria Mixon.

9 Ways to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month – Another post from Write Anything to make sure you’re ready for NaNo.

Other NaNoWriMo resources from those who know:

***Please let me know in the comments if you’ve found a NaNoWriMo resource that should also be included. Thanks!
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Endings and Exquisite Corspes

For a change of pace, this past weekend my writing group decided to hold a daylong retreat in lieu of our weekly Monday meeting. So on Sunday, we met from noon to 5:30pm to write, to socialize, and to eat all the goodies each member contributed to the extravaganza.

In addition to our normal prompts, we did an exquisite corpse as our final exercise of the day. I had never done one of these before and was eager to see how it would work. Everyone was given a sheet of paper and the timer was set for five minutes. Then we wrote the start to a story. When the timer went off, we handed our sheet to the person on our right, with all but the last sentence covered up. Then the timer was reset, and we had to write for another five minutes, picking up where the person before us left off.

We did this seven times – one turn for each person in the room. And as we went along, it became increasingly difficult to make sense of the previous sentence and write coherently for five minutes.

Now, since this was the last prompt of the day, our fatigue from writing for hours is one explanation. However, I’d like to think we were experiencing the phenomenon where the more progress you make with a story, the fewer the possible outcomes. As the sheets got passed around the room, and more of each story was written, it became harder to add on. Each story was demanding to be written in an increasingly limited direction, except the writers could not know all the variables that were hidden from view and respond accordingly. So we did our best, often resulting in much amusement and confusion when we got around to reading all the stories aloud at the end.

But the experience reminded me of a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin:

Whatever language we speak, before we begin a sentence we have an almost infinite choice of words to use. A, The, They, Whereas, Having, Then, To, Bison, Ignorant, Since, Winnemucca, In, It, As . . . Any word of the immense vocabulary of English may begin an English sentence. As we speak or write the sentence, each word influences the choice of the next ― its syntactical function as noun, verb, adjective, etc., its person and number if a pronoun, its tense and number as a verb, etc., etc. And as the sentence goes on, the choices narrow, until the last word may very likely be the only one we can use. (2003, Changing Planes, p.167)

There’s always a point I reach in crafting a story where I know there’s only one direction I can take a piece, even if I’m not certain of the specifics just yet. Sometimes what needs to happen in my stories is obvious right away. In others, it can take days or weeks until the proper way to proceed is apparent. In those situations, I need to listen to what my story is saying to me. I need to identify the trajectory I’ve unknowingly hit upon and see it through.

The story can lead the writer to the right ending just as often as the writer can steer the story in a certain direction. Just remember to listen to what your words are telling you.

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