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Monday, February 11, 2008

How to destroy your voice

When I was at Biddy's, I came across a book that she had purchased way back when she was just thinking about becoming a romance writer -- The Romance Writer's Phrase Book. Thinking it might be a list of words, I opened it and nearly dropped the book in horror. The book contains phrases, sentences, combination of words that are supposed to help you in your writing if you are writing romance. Anyone want to say -- cliche here? Why would anyone want to use it as it would be guaranteed to make your voice less unique? The writer would be using someone else's image, soeone else's words.

About the only use I can see for this book is using it to avoid cliches. And here I pray to God that I do not inadvertently use the phrases.
A book such as that one will NOT help you cultivate your own unique voice. It will only give you pat cliches that a thousand, nay ten thousand writers and want to be writers have already used. The phrases might not even be appropriate to your characters.
Publishers buy unique voices that tell good stories.They do not voices where they see the same words written over and over again. The same images. It is fairly good way to get rejected -- time and time again. The best thing you have going for you is your unique voice.Do not compromise it by using stupid shortcuts. It will take longer in the end.

I agree that one should should use physical beats and phrases to help give colour to a world. One should use active verbs and interesting words, but they need to be of the writer's own choosing. The phrases and physical beats that you use should come from your characters. How do they think about the world, what phrases might they use. An artist will see things differently than a Viking. A warrior differently than a nun. What life experiences colour their thinking? Choose words that give your character voices and colour. Make sure you choose different words for different characters. It helps you to create distinct personalities. Men use different language than women. Doctors speak differently than plumbers.

Your voice includes the words you choose, and the order in which you put therm together. As well as the subject matter and the theme. You destroy your voice when you start copying or adding phrases from other writers. End of story.

All your writing needs to come from within.

The building blocks for a writer are WORDS not phrases. Your words, not someone else's. You need to trust your deamon.

Okay, but how do you develop your literary skills?

First you read around the genre. Deconstrucct and look at how things are done. Self Editting for Fiction Writers is brilliant at explaining the nuts and bolts of showing not telling, interior monologue and physical beats.

When you are writing a first draft, accept that you will have a lot of telling.
In subsequent drafts, learn to look out for the telling. For example She sat down on the couch. It is not very exciting, but it gets the point across and you can go on with the story.later when you are revising, you look out for such sentences and try to make them more interesting and containing more. Ino therwrds, you make them work harder.
For example, She sank down in the soft enveloping cushions of the sofa, holding a hand out to him.
Or She perched on the edge of the couch, hands folded neatly in her lap, eyes bright and alert, watching every movement Rex made.
Sometimes even she felt unhappy or she felt happy will give you enough to carry on with getting the first draft done.

It is where your own literary talent comes in.
Cultivate words, not phrases. When you find words you like, make a list. Use a thesaursus. However, do remember to find out the exact meaning of aword. Much merriment and mirth would be saved if wrtiers actaully discovered what lavved means. A good vocabulary is never wasted on a writer. Only you know which words appeal to you. I love the word -- oozed. grin grates. Wink leaves me cold. But I adore elemental, raw, and soothing. Personal preference. Learn your own personal preferance for words. If manroot makes you cringe, don't use it.

As Kate Walker has said on many many occassions -- write like YOU and do not write like anyone else.

I think perhaps I ought to do a few blogs on showing, not tell, and physical beats. Just in case, some writer out there is confused and confuddled by what I mean.

3 comments:

Ray-Anne said...

Yes please. And thank you for the post - it is reassuring to hear that publishers ARE looking for unique voices within the brief for the line.
:-)

Brigid Coady said...

I think I will start hiding all my more embarrassing book buys when you come to visit! ;-)

Biddy

Alice said...

The sad thing is that many published and established romance writers use exactly those type of cliched phrases. So many times I read such phrases as: fear crashed through her, anger sparked in his chest, alarm raced through her, sadness welled up, a smile curved her lips, his lips twitched, he ran/raked/shoved his hand through his hair...

Not to mention those numerous speech attributions ending with an adverb (tagged on to almost every line of dialogue in the case of some of the long-established M&B authors) she said wearily.

A blog on telling v showing would be great. Especially advice on how to dispense with verbs of perception such as she felt... heard... she thought..she realised he seemed...