Monthly Archives: March 2014
Recently, I have addressed the pitfalls of writing from too many POVs in one chapter. Today I would like to dig a little deeper and discuss the individual voices of your characters and reveal what is actually an industry wide slip-up in narration.
Every character has a certain way of thinking and talking. So does the narrator’s voice (if the book is in 3rd person). It’s actually the narrator’s voice that gets mishandled most often when a writer says something as a character that is clearly information or verbiage more suited to the story teller.
It’s an easy mistake to make, and almost 50% of my own edits are search and destroy missions looking for just this sort of pulp foul. It is especially easy to spot if you’re writing with a particularly snarky voice and you see that a lead character says something in a way that has already been established as the omnipresent voice. Sure people change, and so do characters. It’s not even unheard of that all characters and even the narrator share a similar speech pattern and sense of humor, but a good separation is only going to strengthen your work.
If your character can suddenly identify every flower on the hill, and you hadn’t established them as a botanist, or at least a cast member of Little House on the Prairie, then maybe you’re assigning them uncharacteristic attributes that might be better suited for your narration. It’s rarely this obvious, of course, but this kind of “swap” writing is out there everywhere.
In the defense of authors, they have all the voices in their own heads after all, and that makes this error a hard problem to spot. This is especially true in the moment they are assigned to their respective literary bodies. And again, this really is a third person issue and seldom becomes a problem with first person narration.
Doling out the humor can be a big trap sometimes. A particular joke or funny observation might only be appropriate as a narrator, but we want to give the gag to a character to enhance their presence. (Or maybe we’re not even thinking about it that hard). Either way, it might not be the best use of the wit, so it’s worth the time to craft the delivery of a good joke so it sounds as organic as possible. Although, that reminds me, if you have a really dirty joke, or shocking statement to make, putting the words in the mouth of a brazen character is a great way to separate yourself in a way from a potentially embarrassing bit of writing. It may prove necessary, vital even, but as a writer you might not want your narrator to point out certain (pervy) things.
As usual, I am swimming in nuance here and dealing with highly subjective issues that defy the ability to be generalized, yet here I am. Ironically, it’s one of the biggest literary landmines and rarely gets a post dedicated to its nuisance. (Notice now similar the words, nuance and nuisance are).
It’s not just dialogue either, authors get inside their character’s head a lot and their thoughts must be true to them as well. It can be a difficult skill to master but a stringent edit should shake out the incongruences.
Writing a book is like directing traffic in a country where no one is required to obtain a driver’s license and the drinking age is twelve. Which is to say; you spend most of your time jumping out of the way. I know I like to make it sound like writers have little control over their craft, and admittedly, I am dramatizing the effects sometimes. We have God-like power over our own creations, but it’s our desire to see them walk on their own that has us often chasing after them like kids running behind the ice cream truck. Frankly, it depends on the day.
I am lucky to write, (and read) with a partner, my wife, Jennifer. She and I have read more than two dozen books to each other over the course of our marriage, and have written one book as a couple. But even when we’re working on solo projects, the other set of eyes and ears, and access to another brain can be like turning the light on in an otherwise completely dark room.
I am particularly good at spotting the kinds of things I have been warning against in this post as well as keeping a consistent tense in the writing. She, while proficient in these skills, has a knack for finding the kernel of any scene and getting the emotional tone just right. We both know how to write a steamy love scene too, although we rarely do that together for obvious reasons. (as in we wouldn’t get very far in the writing).
If you have an editor, or beta reader, encourage them to help you identify any instances where you cross-assign characteristics. You will have one more reason to be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Writing is more than just an art, it’s a dream. And for once, it’s a dream we can share with each other. Keep dreaming my friends, I’ll be in the ice cream truck.
This month’s Random Fan is Susi, who has her own blog called Reading Between The Wines where she discusses books, wine and food. If you’d like to know more about Susi and her blog, be sure to visit at http://readingbetweenthewinesblog.com/.
Many thanks to Susi for signing on for this experiment with us.
Morgan and Jennifer: As a foodie, which is your favorite to prepare – breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert? Why?
Susi: I cannot say that I have a favorite dish to prepare. I love making desserts but I love preparing dinner too. I took pastry chef classes when my boys were young because I always enjoyed making all of the desserts and treats for their parties. I took cake decorating classes too. I learned the art of fondant from one of the best cake decorators in Miami.
As my kids grew, healthy dinners became even more important. I have always had a large collection of cookbooks and I take recipes from those cookbooks and make my own changes to suit my family needs and tastes. I love it when my younger son, the pickiest eater of them all tells me, “Mom, please repeat this dish. It was awesome!”
I love food. I consider myself a foodie. Whenever I am not reading, I am watching Food Network. Not many people know this, but my husband and I want to open a restaurant someday. It is a dream for us.
Susi: Did you always want to write together as a team? What challenges do you encounter writing as a team?
Jennifer: Morgan first began writing fiction in 2008 when he signed up for his first NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t become involved until two years later. Morgan began writing and posting a story online and asked me to edit it for him. This ended up turning into a two year commitment. During that time, I was inspired to give writing a try. I posted a short story online in 2011, and since then we’ve both writing on one project or another.
Morgan: The hardest part is the editing process. When we’re trying to reword a sentence, for instance, two solutions usually present themselves and together we have to agree on which thought is the better one to go with. It’s not a bad thing, but it can slow the editing process down because the decision can’t always be made spontaneously.
Morgan and Jennifer: We noticed you have a segment on your blog called Throwback Thursday. What books did you read in childhood that you still read today?
Susi: I grew up with an older brother (11 years older) who would leave books lying around. I inherited many of his books which is probably why I love science fiction. I was fortunate to have a librarian living across the street too. She didn’t have any children of her own. For this reason, she saw a daughter in me. She would bring me all of the latest books to read. I read many Judy Blume books, Beverly Cleary books, and especially loved reading Nancy Drew Mysteries. I still read these books today. My students love it when I tell them that they were my childhood favorites.
Susi: I love that you focus on charities via social media. What inspired you to do this?
Jennifer: Community service always has been an important part of our lives. Over the years, we’ve donated our free time to several local causes – volunteering for the American Cancer Society, mentoring teen parents, promoting the performing arts, fundraising to develop ocean literacy programs for school children throughout our state and working to obtain affordable healthcare for women and children in our local area. We have found great joy in donating both our time and our dollars to various organizations, and know that our lives would be incomplete without these experiences.
Susi: How important is writing to you both as parents? Do you encourage your own children to read and write?
Morgan: Reading and writing is the key to unlocking true imagination, and as such all children should be exposed to it. Both of our children are readers. Our son has shown an occasional interest in composing poetry and has experimented with songwriting, while our daughter is showing an aptitude toward creative story writing. Hopefully, these are interests they’ll maintain into adulthood.
Morgan and Jennifer: As a teacher, how do you inspire your students to learn to love reading and writing? What books do you like to use to wake up their minds?
Susi: First of all, I read to my students every single day. I read books, magazine articles, newspapers etc. I encourage them to read from whatever sources they enjoy. Some of the books that I have read this year to my students are The Kingdom Keepers Series by Ridley Pearson. I also read Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett because I feel it is important to expose the students to classics. I also have read some short stories by Edgar Allen Poe as well as excerpts from novels that I have read. We are currently reading books by Roald Dahl.
My students laugh because I highlight in my books. I find examples of imagery and figurative language that I think they would enjoy and make a teachable moment out of it.
This year, I created a blog for my students. They are now writing their own short reviews of the books that they have read. It is fun for them. They look forward to comments on their posts. As a Language Arts teacher, I encourage students to write everyday. We start our day with creative journals and a lesson on a new vocabulary word of the day. I always look for words that are above their grade level. I call it infusing mature vocabulary into our day.
My blog received special attention this year. Because we added a Spanish component to our blog, I had royal visitors in my classroom. I had the honor of meeting the Prince and Princess of Asturias, Spain. This was momentous occasion for my students and for me. It was an honor and probably the highlight of my teaching career.
Susi: Do you have plans to write a full length book together to publish? If so, what genre?
Morgan and Jennifer: Actually, you have scored yourself a bit of a scoop here. We’re excited to announce that we recently signed a contract and will be publishing a contemporary romance. We’re looking forward to saying more soon, and will share further details about this just as soon as we can.
For the past couple of months, Morgan and I have been editing a manuscript. This endeavor is a new element in our work together as a team. Typically, one of us writes and the other edits. Not this time. Since we wrote a story together, we must now learn to edit together.
Most of the time it goes well. We lock ourselves away in a room and I read a chapter out loud while Morgan listens. In this process, we are both able to hone in on errors within the manuscript and address them. If there are bigger issues to tackle – scenes to be cut or moments to elaborate on – it means we both have to be in agreement on any change. Even the shuffling of a word or two must be agreed upon, or else one author is unaware of what the other is up to.
Nine times out of ten, these changes are simple. But on occasion one writer wants to mess with something and the other is not so easily convinced. That’s when things get interesting, and that’s when being locked away in a room together doesn’t always seem like the brightest idea. And because we’re not just co-authors but also husband and wife, this means disagreements should always be settled before day’s end.
When the tension builds and we need a few minutes to work through a problem, Morgan and I go for a walk. There is one particular trail we gravitate to, and we’ve spent countless hours there over the past several years. The fresh air and change of scenery always does wonders for us. We tend to break through mental blocks as we walk through the woods, over boardwalks and bridges above a winding creek before ending up on the ocean beach. It’s become a special place for Morgan and me, and we refer to it simply as Momentum.
Once we set foot on the path, life seems to slow down. More often than not, we’re alone. We hold hands, we smile and recall other days spent walking the same trail. Most importantly of all, we relax. And once we’ve settled our minds, solutions to our writing dilemmas present themselves. Usually an hour is more than enough time to work out the pressing issues of the day.
We’re still in the throes of editing, and I’m happy to say that Morgan and I are feeling good, not only about the progression we’re making with the manuscript but about how much we’ve grown as a writing team. Although there have been a few passionate flare ups from time to time (remind me to share the story about when I almost kicked Morgan out of a car in the middle of nowhere over the suggested premature death of one of my most beloved characters), Morgan and I agree that our time spent writing together has only strengthened our marriage. Together, we’ve found an activity that gives us both great joy, challenges our ways of thinking and even gets us out of the house for a bit of physical exercise.
During the next few weeks, Morgan and I will have some new and wonderful things to share. We hope to see you here and that you’ll enjoy some momentum along with us.