Monday, February 21, 2011

I am the Voice

When I first learned about Pandora radio, I looked up a station that had one song consistently in its playlist. The song was called "The Voice" and was very repetitive musically. It also made no sense. The entirety of the lyrics can be summed up in four words "I am the voice".
There's no setting to show us where the voice is coming from, or to whom the voice is speaking. Why is the voice speaking? We don't know. Why is this voice important and how can it be the voice of everything, and does it matter?

It was a classic case of stringing together words that sound nice but don't make any sense. The writer of the song clearly thought they were saying something profound, when they were really just feeling profound.

So when I hear writers talk about voice, I can't help thinking of that song and saying to myself "The voice needs context in order to become important."

This past week I've been exploring what it means to discover and write a consistent voice in my work. I thought I'd try writing the first paragraph of my novel in four different ways to see if a different voice emerged and if I liked one of them best.
But when I clicked back to my first paragraph, I realized it already had voice without me knowing it. I thought I had left the first paragraph a flat, murky string of words with no real feeling. I was pleasantly surprised to find, though it contained flaws and clear inconsistencies in the voice and flow of the story, it had something.

I've never heard voice defined in any satisfactory manner, (which might be why I think of that song: they're both ambiguous,) but I saw it in my first paragraph. I can't explain it, but it felt right. I could see where I had written with complete authority and been in control. And now I remember how I eeked out that first paragraph. I did two things: got inside my character's head and knew before I started writing what I wanted to emphasize.

The character was my villain. I already had his character nailed down so I knew what he would do if he was reluctant. I knew how he would act and along what lines he would generally think if he was uncomfortable or undecided about something.

In the scene, I knew I wanted to show he was reluctant to go into a building. I could have shown it in many different ways. But the way I chose was consistent with his character. That in itself is not voice. That's characterization.
However, the reason I call it voice is because when I went back to read it, I was totally drawn in to what was going to happen next and I found myself feeling sorry for the villain, (the effect I intended to produce).

If I, a writer bent on red-pen-editing-destruction of a story, can go back to my first paragraph and NOT analyze it to death for narrator flaws because I was distracted by the character and setting, I have to think the voice was done correctly. I successfully removed myself from the audiences' view.

I'm quite sure I'll discover there's more to voice than that. But it was a nice surprise. Now if only I could duplicate that magical alignment of the stars that made correct voice appear (or rather disappear) in my first paragraph, I'd have a pretty good book on my hands.
For now, I'll just keep using my red-pen-of-death to ex out sentences that are just nice words strung together.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Rejection Letter!

Hi all.

I received my first rejection letter this past week. Of course, I would rather have been asked to send in my full manuscript, but a first rejection letter is what I was expecting.

Woohoo! I've taken another step in my writing career and have officially entered the query phase! :D

The rejection letter was from Dragon Moon Press. Form letter. Very polite. They even apologized in the form letter for sending a form letter. I thought that was kind of cute.

Anyways, onward and upward. I thought I would feel devastated when I got my first rejection letter, but I don't. Thank you to all you publishers and agents and writers who blog about these things, otherwise I would not have known what to expect.

Update on experiment:
I tried writing 'til it hurt my brain, pushing past my normal 'I want to stop' moment. Conclusion: I hurt my brain.
But I did get some writing done and I think there's a good focus that comes from the other side of the push. I'll continue the experiment this week.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How much is too much?

When I write, I find I'm only good for about two and a half hours at a time, and it's pushing it to do more than one session of two and a half hours.
For whatever reason, I always reach a magical point at which it gets significantly harder to think of words to put down.

In the past I've always stepped away from my computer and said "That's good. I just wrote for two and a half hours and I have something to show for it. Time for mindless distraction!"
But I've recently started wondering if I should push through it and force myself to write beyond that point.

So this week I'm going to try an experiment. I will write until I come to my finishing point, and then attempt to write some more. Next week I'll examine my writing and see if writing past my finishing point makes me write better or worse.
Also, I'll see if there's a golden valley of muse-inspired words after I push myself past that point. Maybe there's a second wind that comes if I push myself.

There was one day last year when I wrote for nine hours straight. But that was for NaNoWriMo when I turned myself into a strict word machine. This experiment pertains more to the entire writing process: not only adding to my word count, but editing, contemplating, researching, and doing all the little things that go into a polished novel.

Check back next week to see what happens!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I am not a brand

They say to market yourself as a writer, you need to turn yourself into a brand.
I get where they're coming from, but honestly, I'm not a brand. I'm a person.

That's all I hope my readers ever see me as, and all I ever hope to convey to them. To me, 'brand' sounds like I'm something other people mindlessly consume without paying attention or thinking for themselves about what they want.

When I reach for a more expensive brand of a product instead of the cheaper thing, it's because I've been taught brand loyalty and I expect a certain quality from the brand name. So it DOES make sense that readers should come to expect a certain quality of writing from a book with my name on it.

But I still can't stomach the fact of marketing myself as a brand. I don't want people to mindlessly  consume what I write. I don't want to come off as some super famous writer who deserves their attention. I just want them to see my book, take it off the shelf, and enjoy an afternoon because they read something that made them satisfied. The attention should be on the book, not on me.

Making myself into a brand makes it seem like I'm conditioning readers to come to me and give to me, when really all I want to do is give to my readers.

I have no doubt that in the future I will end up marketing myself as a brand. It's part of the publishing game. But I hope it doesn't come off as commercialized, cheapened, or like I have some kind of angle I'm working. I just want to make people happy through what they read. I hope it comes off more as "I loved her voice in her last book so I'm going to buy her next book too."