Posted in Book Nook, Voice, Writing Craft

Permission to Read

So, I was sitting in the snack bar at the hockey rink last Saturday, waiting for my son’s game to begin. Normally I would be catching up with the other hockey moms, or hanging out with my daughter. But my daughter was off doing teenager-y stuff and my hockey mom-friends were, I guess, running late. So what’s a girl to do with say a half hour of free time on her hands? Well, I pulled out a book and read, of course! But what I was reading may not have been so logical apparently. The conversation I had with one of my hockey mom- friends a few minutes later went something like this:

“Why are you reading that?” my hockey mom-friend asks, disturbing my bliss, laughing like my book has three heads growing out of the pages. (It didn’t. It wasn’t a fantasy book, duh.) I look at the cover, forgetting I’m reading a middle grade book—with a bright purple cover no less.

“Oh, I read middle grade books all the time—you know that well, um I’m a writer? Well, this is the age group I write for, so it’s sort of like research I guess.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. It helps to have a feel for middle grade language and tone and voice….” my own voice trails off.

“Oh, okay. Doesn’t it feel like you’re copying the ideas in there?”

“No! I’m not actually trying to copy what’s in the book. It helps to immerse (is that a word?) yourself in the head of middle school kids so you can write in language that appeals to them. You know, write in age appropriate style.”

“Oh, I get it.”

I bet she doesn’t. Conversation stops until I change the subject. Yeah. See, that happens to me all the time. Can you relate? So, even though my non- writer friends and family (except for my supportive husband and kids, who live amongst the chaos of MG and YA books) don’t understand why I spend my free time on purpose reading books in my genre…I still do it.

I do it because I genuinely like these books. If I didn’t, I really shouldn’t be writing them. And neither should you or any other writer. Reading books in the genre you write is essential to writing an authentic story. Through reading, not only will you learn the proper language of your audience, but also proper pacing and dialogue. I read mostly contemporary middle grade books and now speculative fiction or light fantasy stories because that’s what I write. It helps me to know my target audience and to know them well. It feels like I gain a better understanding of the genre with each book I write.

Just last weekend, I read a fabulous debut middle grade novel by Jen Malone, AT YOUR SERVICE. Not only was the story fun and well written, it taught me a bit more about voice. (Yeah, voice…uggh). In case you missed it, my Monday post this week was about voice and a trick you can do to find yours. Well, that trick came to me after reading that book! Chloe’s voice is everywhere throughout the story. And it got me thinking. What if Chloe weren’t so Chloe-ish? What if she weren’t so capable? How would she talk? How would she act given her circumstances? In essence, I gained a better understanding of the skill of voice by reading in my genre.

I also recommend reading across genres. A lot can be learned from reading a mystery novel for instance. Plotting needs to be precise in those books. I mean how Rebecca Stead created the puzzle that is WHEN YOU REACH ME, I will never know. I can merely just kiss the ground she walks on when she walks by me (sometime). Let’s not even talk about the mad world- building skills of J.K. Rowling. I’ve been practicing my curtsey for years on the oft chance I will run into her (someday). It’s also a good idea to read in other age groups too, thank goodness, like YA. THE HUNGER GAMES is one of my favorites and taught me how important it is to have big stakes in your story.

So there you have it. If you’re a writer, I give you permission to read as much as you want, especially in the genre in which you write. It will make you a better writer and you’ll feel like you’re on an adventure while you’re doing it. How great is that? Looking for suggestions? Check out the To Be Read or Book Nook– Middle Grade or YA tabs. I’ve added some new titles to the pages. I know, I know. The YA page is a little bare. I’ve been so bad about updating it. I do have more titles to add to it though and I will try my best to get on that this week. Thank you again for stopping by my site. I hope it’s been a worth- it use of your time! Have a fantastic end of the week and weekend. Hopefully many of those days will even include one of your new favorite books!

Posted in Voice, Writing Craft

Let’s Hear Your Voice!

There’s more to writing a story than just the words you say. There’s also how you say them. Yes, your story consists of the words you choose. But in order to catch your reader’s attention, it also needs to tell the reader something about your character too.

That’s called writing with Voice.

Voice can be described as the way an author chooses words and strings them into sentences -all in order to ensure the reader really gets to know the character. After reading just a few sentences or paragraphs, if an author is good at creating voice in their writing, the reader will know something about the character’s personality.

So how do you get good at writing with Voice?

Writing with voice is tricky- mostly because there’s no instruction manual on how to do it. Not really. There are some tips that can help, but writing with a real memorable voice only happens by practicing. It takes time to write this way.

Confused? To make it clearer, here’s an example of two passages—one with very little voice and then another with good voice.

I saw a bug crawling down my bedroom wall. I put it into a tissue and flushed it down the toilet.

I saw a bug crawling down my bedroom wall. I flew to the stairs and screamed for my brother. No answer. I screamed for him again. Nothing. Uggh! He’s the one who’s supposed to kill bugs for me. Where is he? I raced back to my room. The creepy stink beetle was now traveling dangerously close to my pillow! I knew it was up to me to get rid of it but ick… it’s so gross! I took a deep breath and grabbed a tissue. I smashed it over its disgusting shell or whatever it was, and ran into the bathroom in like two seconds flat. The flush of the toilet was the best sound I heard all day.

In the first passage, the author gives the facts. We know there’s a bug crawling down the main character’s wall and we know she kills it with a tissue and flushes it down the toilet. However, we don’t know anything about her. The author uses verbs that have no voice at all like saw, put and flush.

In the second passage, we know those same facts, but we also learn more about the main character. We know she’s petrified of bugs. We know she thinks they’re disgusting. We know she relies on her brother to kill them for her. We know that when she finds herself in a crisis, with no one to come to her rescue, she can find the strength to overcome the obstacle. We also know a little something about her personality.

Wow! That’s a lot of information.

So how did the author show this? She showed it by word choices, descriptions, and by showing the world through the character’s eyes instead of her own. The author’s job is to use words the character would use, and use them with the character’s own particular flair. She does this well by using words like, ick and gross and disgusting! Her verb choices show voice too like flew, raced, grabbed and smashed.

Voice is a tricky writing skill to master. It takes awhile to find your own. It takes practice and it takes really knowing your character. What words would she use in a situation? How would she react? Would she react calmly or would she freak out? Would she scream or would she take matters into her own hands with confidence?

Refer to the Scribble Tips tab on the site. Read Scribble Tip # 4 about Fifty Facts. It’s a great way to get to know your character. Check it out and then try using it to write with Voice.

And on a side note…
Our Short Story Showcase is coming! (Check out the tab for details.) If you have a short story that you’d like to see up on the blog, send it in! I’m hoping to have a few stories to post by April 30, so please email yours to swirlandspark@gmail.com and tell your friends!