Thursday, October 29, 2015
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Quick reminder that my new video course on writing short stories that sell is again available at a discount.
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I have therefore released a second batch of discount places that are now available - but only until the 30th of October.
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Your Success Is My Concern
Finding Your Unique Voice
A writer friend recently said to me, "When I read, I find I'm influenced by other authors. Depending on who I'm reading, my writing style is either playful, deep sounding or whatever. How can I stop writing like other writers and find my own voice?"
(She also added that I might want to write an article based on my response - hence what you're reading right now!)
Before we get on to practical tips, we should cover some basic preconceptions about voice.
First of all, your voice should never be some affectation you acquire or work on. I think you know what I mean. When we're at school or in the office, we're told there's a certain way to say things - a style we must adopt to conform to the medium.
Many novice writers think the same applies to fiction - that there is perhaps some predetermined mental attitude and/or demeanour one should adopt - usually a 'superior, more learned' version of ourselves - to sound more authoritative when telling stories.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
You should always write in the style that is most natural to you. It may well be different from your speaking voice but should always reflect the way your mind works.
Secondly, your voice doesn't have to be 'original'. You can waste years of your time wondering what 'originality' is and trying to define and acquire it.
When critics, publishers and agents say they want 'originality', I believe they have no idea what they mean. They merely confuse writers by demanding something so nebulous and indefinable. I think what they should really be asking for is 'honesty'.
The simple truth is you already possess all the originality you need. You are already unique. No-one else thinks and writes like you do - trying to undo your own originality by constantly striving to be anything less than yourself is counter productive. Trust yourself.
Trusting yourself is probably the hardest trick you'll have to learn as a writer - but it is absolutely essential to your growth. Because it's only when you trust your ability to say what you mean with honesty and integrity, that your voice will start to come through.
The real test of a good authorial voice is consistency - it is as strong and recognizable at the beginning of a story as it is at the end.
So how do you achieve this consistency? How do 'get' your voice?
It's a process, of course - and here are some practical tips to strengthen and consolidate your own:
Consciously practice different styles and categorize them. Write using different voices - some that are deliberately difficult to sustain. This will attune your mind to noting differences in style. Try writing highbrow essays and then lowbrow articles, egocentric columns, little plays, short dispassionate biographies - anything that stretches you. These pieces don't have to be publishable - they are designed to help you 'play' with the writing medium.
Try to write without thinking for short bursts. If this sounds too hard, try writing for ten minutes just after you've woken in the morning - before you can think straight, just write anything.
Later, try looking up a word in the dictionary at random and write for ten minutes without stopping, using the word as inspiration. Force yourself to write, whether you're inspired or not - this is a great technique for getting in touch with your subconscious voice (i.e. your true voice.)
During writing spells, especially first drafts, don't read anything - no books, newspapers, magazines, cereal packets, nothing. Starve yourself of influences so that you can concentrate on just your voice and, not only the things you want to say but, how you want to say them.
When you've written sections you're convinced are beginning to reflect your most natural and compelling voice, read them into a tape recorder and play them back. The very process will help because you'll probably find your best passages easiest to read. If not, delete the clumsy words, the extra adverbs, the overlong sentences and try again.
Try writing two different versions of pieces - like short stories. Write one with all the literary might you can summon and write another with just a little casual indifference. Post out both to magazine publishers or read them to your friends to see what they think.
Consciously remind yourself everyday that you are a writer, that you are thinking a writer's thoughts and your are determined that your writing will truly and accurately reflect those thoughts. Do not hide behind fear of honesty or the thought that exposing your inner psyche is in any way bad. It's not.
The real you is what your readers want, respect and deserve.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
As I often do, I'm responding to a subscriber query recently about the type of writing advice I offer in my courses and Kindle books.
First of all I should state - again - for the record, that I believe the most surefire way of improving your writing is simply to write.
Studying is one thing.
I try my hardest to offer good advice on genre requirements and writing style to make it easier for the writer to compete in the marketplace and get published.
What I don't do is force you to study other writers and how they go about what they do.
I think to focus too heavily on how a particular author or three get their results is to slightly misunderstand the point of studying writing.
If you take a tertiary degree in order to study writing, you will be presented with lots of theories as to how writers go about creating stories and all the options available to a writer trying to emulate them.
But to me this is counter-intuitive.
Just because you have analyzed how Dickens or Conrad or Stephen King have achieved the final draft of their manuscripts, the knowledge doesn't necessarily help you when drafting your own stories or books.
Writing is a process.
Analyzing the final product tends to leave you in awe - and intimidated - when you should realize that a lot of changes and rewriting went on in order for the final product to look and seem so effortless.
That doesn't mean it was easy for the author, or that they didn't make lots of mistakes along the way - of course they did.
Nor does it mean that you shouldn't attempt to write something just as good.
When Robyn and I write books and get them published, we're often amazed at how different - and how much better - the final drafts are to our first efforts.
This is the process.
Writing is first of all about getting your thoughts down on paper. Then it's about clarifying those thoughts into a coherent argument - whether it's fiction or non fiction.
Next it's about polishing.
Then it's about submitting to publishers (or movie producers!).
Then it's about rewriting, changing your writing to suit others and your readers.
What writing to me is NOT about is studying the greats over and over only to beat ourselves up into thinking that great writing is beyond us.
The purpose of the Easy Way to Write is to inspire you to get involved in the process of writing - and learn to enjoy it - and learn more as you progress and improve, based on feedback from the real world, not some classroom type environment.
Studying classic writers, while sometimes illuminating (once you know the terms of reference), should not be the focus of a working, or even aspiring writer.
Studying is for students. Writing is for writers.
Curiously, when certain (probably one in a thousand!) writers complain to me and say I haven't given enough in depth analysis of a particular topic, I ask to see examples of their work so that I can give them more specific, in depth advice on their own work.
Guess what happens to these students that prefer to study than to write?
They find writing too hard - and don't have anything to show me.
I don't want this to happen to writers.
I want them to come to the Easy Way to Write and feel encouraged, inspired, energized and raring to write.
That's what the Easy Way to Write is all about.
Your Success Is My Concern
Your Success Is My Concern
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Dialogue is one area in which many new writers seem to struggle.
I'm not sure why.
I think it has to do with the faulty notion that literary fiction has to be formal, which can lead to your characters having very unnatural speech patterns.
It surprises me, too, whenever I see dialogue without liberal use of contractions - as if people say 'I am going to leave this place. I bid you farewell,' as opposed to, 'I'm off. See ya.'
Convincing dialogue is about having your characters sound 'natural'. Studying dialogue in movies and TV can go a long way in helping you define what is regarded as 'natural sounding.'
Unfortunately, listening to real people talk is not going to help you.
In real life, people speak aimlessly without particular regard to sentence structure, punctuation, or even sense sometimes.
If you've ever tried to transcribe taped conversations you'll know this to be true.
People speak with lots of pauses, fractured phrases, a liberal dowsing of um and er and slang.
They use their facial expressions to denote meaning and when they're sure the other person understands them, will leave things unsaid and move on.
This is not a great technique to copy when you're writing fictional dialogue.
Reading your dialogue aloud can help.
Even better, getting someone else to read your words aloud will help you notice what sounds right.
If your reader stumbles or doesn't seem to get the sense you mean, you will have to revisit your dialogue.
But what is natural sounding?
One word: simplicity.
People don't usually speak in long compound sentences where the active propositions are very far from the front of their minds.
For instance, this is unnatural:
"I heard from a good friend of yours, Leslie, that you were considering a vacation. Is there a particular place you had in mind?'
It's more likely this person would say:
"Leslie said you're thinking about a holiday. Where are you going?"
Similarly, the other person wouldn't answer:
"I gave much thought to this issue and decided that, on balance, my preferred destination might be Bognor."
The most likely response would be:
Pare down your dialogue to the minimum - giving the most appropriate response up front. People generally speak without thinking first.
Talking is automatic.
This is the kind of dialogue you should aspire to - characters speaking spontaneously, with no time for reflection.
Here are four pet 'don'ts':
1. Don't let characters state the obvious - in real life, people (except mothers) rarely do this, as in, "It's raining," when everyone's outside getting soaked!
2. Don't use characters to tell the reader about the plot - or convey expositional info.
People don't do this in real life either - especially when your characters know all the details. of their own story.
3. Don't have a character ask two questions in a row - and then the respondent answer them in order. Nobody sane does this.
4. Don't try to write accents in dialogue.
While this practice used to be a favorite trick of bygone literary authors, it's nowadays regarded as affected. Plus it's almost impossible to read comfortably.
It's often said that you shouldn't write dialogue that doesn't move the action along.
However I've seen this 'rule' broken so many times that I no longer believe it!
While it's true you don't want to have lots of character interactions that don't go anywhere, to me there's nothing wrong with people discussing the weather, their health, offering tea and biscuits, and saying supposedly 'forbidden' words like 'hello', 'okay', 'all right', 'goodbye' and 'thankyou'.
It's more natural for a start.
The issue of dialogue is important.
Many modern novels are at least 30% dialogue - sometimes up to 70%.
So, while you want to keep your dialogue minimalist to be the most effective, remember that the key to compelling dialogue is conflict.
Having characters agreeing with each other is dull.
If you want a quick takeaway, the 'rule' is simple:
Use dialogue for character development and to add color, yes, but mostly, have your characters arguing and/or debating their emotions, actions, points of view and their agendas.
Because that's what will keep your readers reading.
You Success Is My Concern