Monday Classroom: So, you want to write? . . . Then, come on with me and do it. (Voice/Style/Setting/Tone/Dialogue)

 Practice

Just as any musician, athlete, artist, Olympian gold medalist, blacksmith, butcher, baker, candle-stick-maker, must practice their craft, and practice often to become better at what they do, so must the writer. The more you write, the more you will understand just what it is you are doing and why. Of course there are the mysteries. I love the mysteries, too—those things we do that come just from the instinctual/natural and no matter how much someone else may practice, they may never break through that wall that some achieve more easily and naturally. But with practice comes confidence.

If you could read the original Virginia Kate story compared to what would become The Graces Trilogy, you’d laugh. Oh, the writing isn’t really bad (uh huh, some of it is, Kat), but everything is just Wrong. I cut my teeth on what would become Tender Graces, and then the others followed. But that first novel was an experiment, a beginning. It allowed me to learn about dialogue, setting, tone, point of view. It allowed me to “find my voice,” and as important, to find the character’s, Virginia Kate’s, voice. (And by the way, yes sometimes your first novels are published, as mine was.)

When I was younger I used to try to write as other writers did. I’d read a good book and then try to sound something like that author. I did that until one day my own voice, my own style, my Own emerged. Something clicked and it felt Right. I began to better understand what I was writing and how and why. I felt more comfortable with the language, with my language.

Finding your voice–

When you are not so “self-conscious” about what or how you are writing and just let the words come, you will “find your voice.” It isn’t some magical thing—just be who you are. Find a quiet space and then allow yourself to write the words without worry over how they read (sound) or without worry over who will read and like it/hate it/not care one way or t’other–this is the time to experiment, to be free to see where all this Goes. Most important, don’t think too far ahead of yourself. If you let yourself become worked up over “Who’s going to want to publish this drivel?” you may find the urge to write what you think someone else wants to hear. Set the words on the page without stopping to over-think it—your own voice will come through. After you finish, you can then revise. See “practice” above.

Finding the character’s Voice–

Your character must tell his/her own story in his/her own unique way. You must step out of the way and let them emerge. I want readers to be able to know who a character is without me having to identify them. I could take out all the taglines between Sweetie and Melissa (in my novel Sweetie) and in most, if not all, instances, you will know who is speaking just by their “voices” – who they are and how they speak. You don’t want everyone to sound alike, do you?

 Style–

The way the writer writes – use of the language/words – the unique way each writer has, just as the unique way a painter paints, or a dancer dances. The “voice” (above), if you will. One day, someone will tell you: “Before I even saw who wrote this, I knew it was your work.” And when I am told this, I feel a sense of gratitude and happiness–it is a supreme compliment. Our style is our handprint, our fingerprint, on the work. It is ours and no one can do it quite like us.

 Setting–

This is the where and when of your story. For example: a small mountain town in 1966; one stormy night spent in a boat on the sea; a house on a hill in the middle of winter. (This also can set the “tone” of the story.) To me, Setting is as important as character, or even in some way, a character. The mountain in the Graces Trilogy is almost as if another character, as is the lonely house on the hill, Momma’s little white house in the holler, for they set mood (tone), have “personalities,” and are as important to Virginia Kate, and the story, as her human supporting characters.

Tone–

The “feel” or “mood” or “atmosphere” of the story (see above). Set the tone at the beginning of the story–by the way you write it, your reader will anticipate “what kind of story” to expect or how they will feel while reading it.

Dialogue–

You do not have to repeat what’s already been told in your narrative—use dialogue to move the story along, or to develop your character(s), not just to hear them talk back and forth as we would in real life because you think you should have some dialogue thrown in there. Dialogue is also a wonderful way to show your characters’ personalities, quirks, etc etc etc. Don’t put yourself in the story–let your characters speak for themselves. Listen to them. Don’t force your characters to say something that feels wrong or unnatural (or if you have a rant or “lesson” you want to project through your character–no no!). And remember, your readers won’t be fooled by your trying to fool them into believing something unbelievable just because it is easier for you to have that particular (implausible) thing happen instead of thinking the scene through—like dumping a bunch of information in the dialogue because you want the reader to “know” something; don’t be a “lazy” writer.

Do your research

Not only when you write something technical or informational, but in general, make sure you are accurate, for if you make mistakes, the reader may no longer trust you. If I say that the capital of Louisiana is New Orleans, then many people may not completely trust what else I have to say, since the capital of Louisiana is of course Baton Rouge. If I talk about clothing/food/drink/models of cars/hairstyles, etc, I do my research even when I think I know it from memory–memory is a tricky thing. Same goes with figures of speech, pop phrases, music, et cetera. There have been times I thought sure I knew something was correct and I’ll be danged turned out I was wrong. We aren’t perfect and we do make mistakes; so again, don’t be a “lazy” writer.

And finally, Rules are made to be broken

If you break them, do it well; do it with confidence; do it so that the reader loves you for it.

We hear this a lot: Never Give Up Your Dreams. You know, I do believe this. But I also believe that sometimes we may have to alter our dreams. Maybe the way we’ve always “dreamed” of something isn’t going to happen just in the way we’ve always dreamed of. So, try something else, or do things another way. Turn the dream on its head and shake it and see what falls out of its pockets. But you’ll never know until you sit down and Begin, right? Right.

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun, for lawd’s sake! See you Wednesday! — now go do the day.

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15 thoughts on “Monday Classroom: So, you want to write? . . . Then, come on with me and do it. (Voice/Style/Setting/Tone/Dialogue)

  1. Kat, this is great! Timely for me, too, thank you very much. [She rifles through rewrite #4 and checks her characters’ conversations…]

    I think this Paul Simon lyric is appropriate. It is one of my all time favorite quotes:
    “You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.”

  2. I have recently been floored and honored to receive, not one but two, compliments on the strength of my voice in my work. I know when I started there was some mimicry of my literary heroes going on – particularly of Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. It took some time, but that just fell away, and I hadn’t considered to much about what emerged as being my Own voice. Hence my feeling honored and so grateful for the praise.

    Love the last reminder. It should be fun, and it often is, just need the reminder once in a while. Great post, Kathryn!

  3. Character voice – Unfortunately, I’ve read (or rather just started to read and then put down) so many novels in which all the characters talk exactly the same. Boring! All characters need their own voice, they own sayings, their own manner. Ah, the research, yes. Especially towns and roads and local customs and events, because somebody is going to be from THAT town or that general area.

    • I’m not as picky a reader as I used to be, but there are some things I find irritating, and that’s when I have the feeling a writer just slap-dashed it all together without honoring a place or time – errgh errgh :-D — not that we don’t make mistakes, but if I do, it isn’t because I didn’t try my best! And lawd, you will get mail if you don’t – so far, so good on my stuff *lawd*

  4. Oh my goodness, I still feel like I’m learning all this. I’m finally working on a WIP after over a year of editing and submitting and every sentence I write feels so clunky and yuck. And then I think about the mistakes that might be in my book coming out and Eeeekkk! LOL
    Wonderful tips. I really do believe practice brings out voice, but also having fun.

  5. In my first-person memoir, I start out with a seven year old voice and I have to age how I sound as the novel progresses. A lot of the depth of what happened doesn’t emerge until I can review my past with therapists and guidance counselors. What makes it difficult is, I was a precocious seven year old, had to be in order to survive horrific abuse. I was so precocious, my first grade teacher wrote a comment on my report card that I acted like a fifty-two year old adult (not sure where she got that age), so voice is a challenge for me. That, among other challenges. But it is fun to write and share.
    Have a blessed day. Thanks for this post, it was a word in season.

    • You will have a difficult time, I can imagine – delving back into abuse is stressful and emotional. Try to rise above it, if you can – write as if you are a character and what you are writing is fiction – see if that helps you to create distance.

      I’m hugging you.

  6. Kathryn,
    This is such a great post, especially for writers who are just starting out. Finding your voice is so important for beginning writers. I think it was Judy Garland who said, “Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.” That is so true. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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