Saturday, 22 November 2014

Finding Your Writers' Voice

I've just finished leading a writing retreat in beautiful Phuket Thailand and am buzzing from the high
that hanging out with fellow authors always leaves. On day one we talked about the start of the journey towards finding your author voice. As we opened with an exercise where participants interviewed and introduced each other, one writer introduced another by saying, "Her inner artist is very protective of her own blank canvass." It was the beginning of the shedding of egos, the recognition that to be a writer you have to say 'I'm a writer!' very loud and very clear and... then just get down to the business of writing, which is the only way to actually discover the author voice that is inside you.

You hear so many literary critics, book reviewers and lecturers say that every author has a unique ‘voice’ but what exactly does that mean?

The more you read, and start to pay attention to the different nuances of different writers, the clearer this becomes as you start to notice a particular author’s thematic preferences, tone and point of view. The more you write and test different styles, the more comfortable you’ll start to feel as your true voice begins to take form.

In Nathan Bransford’s How to Write a Novel he talks about the author’s voice as having a personality of its own with a unique way of seeing the world. For example, he says…

“JK Rowlings conveys a cheerfully magical tone using key details, such as the personalities of the moving paintings in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Bransford outlines the essential elements that define an author’s voice:
  • A distinct Style – the true essence of the author’s voice in a novel is its unique style
  • A personality of its own – a unique way of seeing the world
  • Consistency – the voice stays strong throughout the novel
  • Moderation – don’t overdo it!
  • Immersiveness – a good voice envelops the reader within the world of the book.
  • Authority – confident and unwavering
  • Originality
The Royal Embassy Resort in Kamala Beach, home of the annual retreat
So, ask yourself these questions:
Is my writing wordy or poetic with lots of similes and metaphors?
Do I use sparse language with short sentences?
Does it flow with a stylish and magical tone?
Is it wry and gritty?
Can my writing come across as witty and funny?

Where does your strongest literary muscle show?
Are you adept a writing dialogue and descriptions?
Do you have a knack for building tension?
Can you effectively weave in humour?
Do you tie your writing into time and place?
Is your world totally invented?
Is there always an underlying theme?
Are your stories plot-driven or character-driven?

What is your tone of voice?
Deep and broody
Cynical or Sarcastic

Take a minute to contemplate how your writing comes across. Describe it in a few short phrases or sentences. If you’re just beginning to explore your ‘voice’ what do your strive for? What are the characteristics of your favorite writers?

Great examples abound! Read the masters. Read your favorite genres and just keep writing!

Have you found your author's voice?

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Friday, 12 September 2014

Author Interview with Sophia Bar-Lev - Pasta, Poppy Fields & Pearls

It gives me great pleasure today to interview another one of my new author friends who I met on D'vorah Lansky's Book Marketing Boot Camp Facebook page. What an amazing group of dynamic authors, many of whom are now on virtual book tours. Sophia Bar-Lev is the author of Pasta, Poppy Fields and Pearls and she and I are doing interview swaps today so make sure you pop by her blog and read my interview with her as well.

So... Sophia, please tell us a little bit about your book and what it's about.

Pasta Poppy Fields and Pearls is a 'Boomer Fiction' novel featuring four very different women from different parts of the world who have chosen Tuscany as their retirement haven, expecting a quiet and tranquil existence.  As their lively friendship develops, the best and the worst of each woman's past experiences and memories begin to emerge like the patterns of a kaleidoscope and just when you think you know what's next, a completely unexpected twist in the story will keep you turning the pages way past your bedtime. You'll laugh and you'll cry with Carmela, Janet, Cecilia and Paula Jean. You'll walk through the streets of Florence with them and you'll swear you can smell the aroma of Italian cappuccinos. You'll partake of their struggles and celebrate their joys and you'll feel as if they could easily be your next door neighbors, your best friends. This is a real life book, based on real life women, who embrace each day with gusto, live their senior life to the maximum and invite you to do the same.

I have such wonderful memories of roaming the streets of Florence and can just picture them there! A lot of my inspiration comes from traveling. Where does your inspiration come from when you're writing?
   Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but primarily from my friends and people I know.  For example, the main characters in Pasta, Poppy Fields & Pearls are modeled on personal friends of mine with amazing life journeys.  With their permission, I'm telling their stories (in fictionalized form to protect their privacy).  I also derive a great deal of inspiration from the Bible and other books on spirituality.

What’s your favorite genre to read and why? What do you think makes a great story?
I love biographies, historical novels and good fiction.  A good story is one that draws me in to its unfolding.  I'm not simply an observer; I'm a participant.  From my reading - which I do a great deal of - I glean valuable tips and insights into the craft and the art of writing.  For this I'm so grateful to great authors who have gone before me.

Are you traditionally published or self-published? Why did you choose that path? 
Currently I am self-published through CreateSpace.  Some years back I had a novel traditionally published but I find self-publishing much more rewarding and engaging. I enjoy working with the editor and the publishing staff at CreateSpace.  They've been superb. I like having the final say about what stays in the book and what someone else wants to eliminate. My biggest surprise was how many of us authors are now firmly planted in the self-published arena.  I found the process of manuscript-to-published book comfortable and effective.

Do you have any helpful tips for other authors when it comes to marketing and publicity? 

First issue to embrace: in the present world of publishing, if you are a writer, you must also be a marketer.  That's a big switch from the past but it is precisely the way things go at present.  The course I took with D'vorah Lansky on book marketing was eye-opening and incredibly helpful.  D'vorah has the experience and the commitment to help emerging authors succeed and her practical lessons transformed my whole approach to publishing and marketing.  My second tip is this: if you want to be a writer, there is no short cut; no easy, magical formula.  It's simple actually: WRITE!  Write every day, set yourself a goal and keep at it.

How did you become a writer? 
I credit my sixth grade teacher for imparting a love of books to me and for being the first one who encouraged my efforts to write back then.  She read everything I wrote, even non-assignments, and consistently urged me to 'write - write - write'.  I majored in English literature and creative writing in university but as with many college programs, I've learned the most by actually doing it.  Learning about writing and being a writer are two different things.

What does your writing process look like?
For quite some time, I've made writing a priority and I don't go to bed until I've written at least 1200 - 1500 words that day in whatever the present project is.  Of course, life 'happens' and occasionally I miss a day but not often.  Discipline is very important to anyone who really wants to author a book or books.

What are you currently working on?
I'm just finishing up my next novel, Pizza & Promises, which is the sequel to Pasta, Poppy Fields & Pearls.  I expect it will be available by November  or perhaps a little earlier.  It picks up where the first novel ended and continues the story.  Some very intriguing events transpire in the lives of my characters.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy cooking and baking; reading and having lunch out with friends.  I love cruises and travel.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am very grateful to my mother who taught me to read when I was not quite four and whose love of books was a great example. She was an avid reader and provided me with wonderful books to read as I grew up.  Her example had a great impact on me. I hope and pray that today's parents make it a priority to do the same with their children.  Reading is a wonderful education.

If you'd like to learn more about Sophia and her books visit her website or her blog, follow her on Twitter and join her on Facebook.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Wrap-up Paralysis

I’ve been trying to write the closing scene of my next novel for months. I’ve been talking about it in my writers’ group ad nausea, setting and breaking deadlines weekly and agonizing over it in my sleep. I’m a master procrastinator so I put it off by going back and doing the first edit and then the second edit for which I’m using AutoCrit for the first time. In my mind I was making progress! 

It wasn’t until today, while I was answering questions for an author interview that will post this weekend on a fellow indie author’s blog, that it finally hit me. One of the questions she asked was which character in my book was the most difficult to write about. As I described the antagonist in my current WIP as a ‘true narcissist’, I realized that I hadn’t developed him fully enough. I was even starting to deeply dislike him and was not sympathetic to him one little bit. I then knew I had to go back and build in a little more of his back story to try to explain why he was so deeply disturbed that he would do the things he did (can’t tell you what or it will spoil the story)!

So, back I go to make the revisions, finally write the last scene and type those glorious words ‘The End’! I’ve also given myself a little break and pushed my launch date to March 8, 2015 (which is the same month and day as the launch of my first novel and also International Women’s Day). I originally wanted it out by Christmas but I am in the process of planning the 2nd Annual Phuket Paradise Writers’ Retreat (for which there is only one spot left!), along with keeping an assortment of other projects moving along. Also, there's a lot of prep work that needs to be done before launching a novel. For the sake of my sanity, it only made sense. I think the new launch date also sets a tradition for me for future novels :)

I’m psyched and re-energised now so, Hi ho, hi ho!