Thursday, July 31, 2014

Using Dialogue to Determine If Your Character's Voice is Unique and Distinct

My current WIP has been undergoing some pretty major revisions, including a POV change and rewrites to a few characters. In some cases the changes are simple - changing a HER to an I, and so on and so forth. But in other instances I've had to completely rewrite scenes because the characters have changed pretty dramatically.

It was while rewriting a scene that I accidentally stumbled upon a great tool for checking character voice: dialogue.

 That might seem obvious since dialogue is literally a character using its voice to speak, but let me tell you how you can use it as a quick voice "test."

In earlier drafts, I had written a character named Aunt Minnie who was the best friend of my MC's late grandmother.  Minnie was an eighty-year-old sweet grandmotherly-type, with a playful attitude and a flair for making inappropriate comments.  I loved Aunt Minnie, but ultimately decided to rewrite her into my MC's actual grandmother, nicknamed Gams.

Gams is also an eighty-year-old grandmotherly type with a flair for making inappropriate comments. BUT she's also a former principle dancer at the New York Ballet Company, owned her own dance studio until she had to retire, and was my MCs original dance instructor.

I assumed that I could leave most of the scenes between Aunt Minnie and my MC the same even though the character was changing, with a few minor tweaks here and there.  But when I started reading the dialogue I realized that it no longer fit.

It takes an immense amount of focus and discipline to get accepted into a revered ballet company, and to become a principle ballerina at that company takes even more discipline. When Aunt Minnie spoke she was funny, almost childlike in some ways, and her laissez faire voice no longer worked when I started to piece together the kind of woman Gams was: focused, determined, and perhaps even a little critical. In short, they were two distinct characters with different motivations who needed two distinct voices.

Here is a quick trick for checking to see if your character has a unique & distinct voice:

Imagine a new character that is like your original in almost every way, but give them a slightly different back story and/or hobby.  For example, maybe this new character has a tiny chip on their shoulder because their parents are going through a divorce, where your current characters parents are happily married.  Now go back and read some of this character's dialogue, but with the slightly modified character in mind. Would the existing dialogue work with the newly imagined character?  If the answer is yes, you are likely suffering from a lack of voice, and you might want to take a step back and figure out how to infuse your character's uniqueness into the way they speak.  If the answer is no, congratulations!  You have written a character with a unique POV that is reflected in the way they think and speak.  In other words, you've created a distinct and unique voice for that character.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Industry Month In Review: Amazonian Changes

Kindle Unlimited AdTake a break for a few weeks and the industry changes again!  It's been quite the month with my new baby on board but it feels good to be back in the swing of things.  And not a moment too soon! Less than two weeks ago, Amazon announced it's new Kindle unlimited service.  For just $9.99 a month, members would have access to over 600,000 Kindle e-books.

For the reader, this sounds like a goldmine.  All the books you can read without worrying about wasting your money on books you might not enjoy.  Russ Grandinetti, Kindle Senior VP exclaimed "With Kindle Unlimited, you won't have to think twice before you try a new author or genre - you can just start reading and listening."

It also seems like an opportunity for those who self pub.  Even at low price points, it's difficult sometimes for readers to pull the trigger and purchase a title they aren't familiar with. The new unlimited service would eliminate this hurdle. 

However, upon closer inspection, there may be a few issues that need to be addressed.  Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords notes in a recent Huffington Post article the drawbacks of Amazon's new service. The issue is exclusivity.  Indie authors wishing to be a part of the service cannot be a part of other competitive services such as Oyster and Scribd

" not necessarily great for authors and readers.  Exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which forces readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform."

Coker goes on to state that "Authors who cycle their books in and out of KDP Select (an option of Amazon's self-publishing platform) will have a more difficult time building readership at Amazon's competitors.

Even with all the selection, readers may still find it difficult to find books they really want to read.  Anick Jesdadun of JConline compared "The library of 600,000" to that of a "small bookstore with a few current titles attached to a block-sized bargain bin of obscure stuff mixed with classics that are in the public domain and available for free online anyway." 

Already, we're seeing the effects of the new service on what Amazon subscribers are choosing to read and it's having a direct impact on Amazon Kindle's best-seller list.  Digital Book World noted that prior to the launch of Kindle Unlimited, there were "15 ebooks that would have been part of Kindle Unlimited that were top 100 best-sellers on Kindle; the week following, that number has ballooned to 45."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out but given Amazon's prowess to date, I suspect that whatever happens, they will continue to be at the forefront of least for now. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Contest + New YA Release: CALL ME GRIM

July has been quite the busy month!  I returned from an amazing vacation in France (I'm pretty sure, in another life, I was born on the French Riviera) and started a new role at my marketing day job. All exciting stuff, but needless to say my writing has taken a bit of a back seat. Hopefully August will see me back in the writing saddle.

In the meantime, I wanted to share another exciting new release and author giveaway.  This time for my pub sister, Elizabeth Holloway, and her fantastic new YA novel CALL ME GRIM releasing in early September.

To celebrate the release, Elizabeth joined forces with Dorothy Dryer (author of MY SISTER'S REAPER and MY TETHER SOUL) to create a reaper-themed Prize-Pack of Death Giveaway.

The winner will receive a signed ARC of CALL ME GRIM by Elizabeth Holloway, a signed copy of MY SISTER'S REAPER by Dorothy Dreyer, a signed ARC of MY TETHERED SOUL by Dorothy Dreyer, a wicked cool Goth pendant, and a $50 gift card for Amazon or Paypal cash!

Sounds amazing, no?  Enter to win at the Raffelcopter below, or visit Beth's website here .

Release date: Sept. 9, 2014 by Month9Books

The truck should have turned Libbi Piper into a Libbi Pancake -- and it would have, too, if Aaron hadn't shown up and saved her life. The problem? Aaron's the local Grim Reaper... and he only saved Libbi's life because he needs someone to take over his job.
Now, Libbi has two days to choose between dying like she was supposed to, or living a lonely life as Death Incarnate. Talk about a rock and a hard place. 

And the choice goes from hard to sucktastic when her best friend shows up marked: condemned as a future murderer. Libbi could have an extra week to stop the murder and fix the mark... but only if she accepts Aaron's job as Reaper, trapping herself in her crappy town forever, invisible and inaudible to everyone except the newly dead. But, if she refuses? Her best friend is headed straight for Hell.

Goodreads  |   Pre-Order on Amazon  | Pre-Order on B&N  |

More about Beth Holloway: website  | Blog  | @EHolloway300

More about Dorothy Dryer:  website  | Blog | @DorothyDryer
MY SISTER'S REAPER | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
MY TETHERED SOUL | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 21, 2014

YA Book Pick: How I Live Now

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!
Perfect day. Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, and a lot of sunscreen.

This month's book pick is HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff

Synopsis (from good reads): “Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

First lines:  "My name is Elizabeth but no one's ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice."

I want to use this as an example to my students on why specificity matters, and the importance of revision. Perhaps Rosoff spews genius like this without the refining tools on which most writers rely, but most likely a first draft would not have been as specific as "old-fashioned queen or a dead person." But after revision, that is so much better than "my father must've thought I looked like someone special, but what I turned out to be was plain," or even "thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like a queen." It's the nuances of the phrasing that tells us who this girl is in ways no self-description could. 

Highlights: I somehow missed the book when it came out a decade ago and nabbed the Printz award , but since I signed up for Rosoff's workshop at SCBWI LA this year I figured I needed to remedy that mistake. After reading this, I'm definitely thrilled to have a workshop with her.. Anyway, it came out before the wave of high-concept dystopians that have dominated the market for the past several years, and instead of focusing on new ways to spin the dystopia genre for just the right hook, it focuses more on the complexities of the emotional truths, and employs a series of classic symbolic images to render it allegorical.

The fable-esque writing feels teen-honest as she lets the horror of war sneak in slowly, which feels more realistic. At first, the kids don't care; they're even somewhat happy for the freedom. She then paces the plot perfectly as she takes her time to let realistic ordinary details from the outside, like a doctor coming around looking for antibiotics, trickle in. Later, when the horrors of war hit, it's far more powerful than if she'd shocked us at the start. She also employs classic symbolism at its finest in her final garden scene. I won't spoil it here, but gardens do usually allude to the garden of Eden (the Biblical paradise one leaves with knowledge), and her haunting use of that garden is one of the most powerful PTSD scenes I've encountered in all my reading of war stories.

A good read for: Anyone who wants to read a deeply resonant story that will help them understand those around them who suffer from PTSD, or who wants to study how to write with spot-on deep simplicity. It's also just a great dystopian.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's Never Too Late to Start Writing

Hello out there! I've spent the last few weeks getting to know my newborn son, which means my writing time has been pretty much nonexistent. But we're starting to get a routine down, and I have high hopes of being able to carve out some time this week.
My last two weeks in a nutshell
Good thing, too, because I'm starting to get that slightly panicky feeling of time slipping away from me.  I turned thirty last year, which led to a short bout of self-pity and self-doubt that I wasn't a published author yet. It seemed like everywhere I looked were stories of twenty-somethings (or even teens!) getting book deals.

But then my husband pointed out that our mutual favorite author of all time, Terry Pratchett, didn't get started on the series that made him famous until he was thirty-five, and wasn't able to quit his day job and write full time until he was thirty-nine.
Terry Pratchett
A quick search revealed that it's not at all uncommon for authors to find fame later in life. In fact, the list of luminaries who had their first books published after the age of forty includes Charles Bukowski (49), Raymond Chandler (51), and James A. Michener (40). Even J. K. Rowling was thirty-two when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first published.

My takeaway? It's never too late to start writing, and no one is ever too old to be published. Life makes it tough to do it on our preferred schedule sometimes, but perseverance will always win out in the end.
No quitting for writers

Monday, July 14, 2014

Villain of the Month: A Character Development Worksheet for Writing Villains

While generic character templates are nice, here is one specifically designed to help you get to know your villain better in 12 easy steps.

1. Character's name:_______________________ Why? Connotation? Symbolism of that name? Does your character have a name we learn right away or is he/she defined by title only when first introduced? Lack of a name (title only) is dehumanizing.

2. Is your villain a sociopath? Does he/she feel remorse when he/she hurts others? If a sociopath, how has that affected him/her in the past? What lessons has he/she learned from childhood on to help him/her cope in a world that feels more? What incidents made him/her learn those lessons? 

3. If your villain is not a sociopath, why is he/she a villain? Bitterness? Misguided idealism? Pride? Love of money/power? Specific weakness? Was there a single inciting incident or was the character led to villainy through a series of smaller choices? What were the choices/incident(s)?

4. Who is your villain's role model? Why? When did he/she discover this figure? What is it about the figure he/she so admires?

5. Who in the world does your role model care about the most besides him/herself? What is the bond between these two figures?

6. What could turn your character good? If x happened, things would be different... What is x, and why would that change things?

7. What is most admirable about your villain? 

8. What is most despicable about your villain?

9. What song was playing on the radio when your villain had his/her first kiss? Who was it with? What happened?

10. What secret quirks does your villain have that he/she definitely does not want people to know about, even though they are not particularly villainous.

11. What brand of jeans does your villain wear?

12. If on death row, what would be your villain's last meal order? Last words?

Bonus question (if you dare): In what ways is your villain most like you? Why do you think you chose that attribute of yourself to give to a villain?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Take the Pressure Off...

While many of us who are unpublished worry about the stresses associated with writing, we're not the only writers who feel the pain. After chatting with several published friends, I've found that they tend to be more insecure about their writing than those who are pre-published. Fortunately, Elizabeth Gilbert has given a really insightful TED talk on how to alleviate some of the pressure of writing. If you haven't seen it yet, you should do yourself a favor and give it a listen.