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Voice again!

In the absence of requests, I decided to share this with you even though it means listening to my far from perfect African-American accent. You see the thing is, having created that voice for Lydia, who I talked about yesterday, it means to do justice to readings, how could I talk in my estuary English London accent?

So I had to take Lydia on the road to book launches and events including the Hollywood event where there were African-Americans in the audience (yikes) and try to let her voice come through.

Now recently, my hugely talented friend who wrote the song for the book trailer, recorded me reading the whole of Chapter 16… and I hate to hear my voice, but it is now out there in what is known as the SoundCloud along with the song.

So, here is my link. This is not really an editing tip, but if you are shy about acting (which I am) and you write a first-person narrative in an accent, just remember that one day you may have to read that way! 😉

That is all, not sure what I will be blogging about next week, whatever comes to me I guess or send requests for tips! Hey I could do a vlog one of these days… although not sure you want to see me waffling on, and waffling on I am prone to… never?!!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy Weekend!!!

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Filed under 50th Anniversary Kennedy Assassination, 50th anniversary of Kennedy Assassination, African American Vernacular in FIction, Parthian Books, Uncategorized, Voice, While No One Was Watching

The Way A Character Speaks {Editing Tips}

 

how-to-write-a-believable-character-now-novel

It’s interesting how we write our stories and often in workshops I ask people to write me a scene, hook me in and let them think it’s because I want to see how they use devices. But what I am really doing is looking at what comes naturally. If I asked you to pick up a pen and write me an opening scene now, about a missing dog, how does it start? What is your natural storytelling voice? Who does the reader hear, you or the character?

While the omniscient narrator is still alive, these days most novels use character voice and that means first or third person… because, as I have said here before, even in third- person you can still create a limited or subjective viewpoint. So imagine not an external narrator sat in the corner of the screen saying he did, he thought, he said but as if you are that character, You have to imagine you are sat right inside their head. So the narration is as close as a first-person, right? He couldn’t believe it, hell where did she get the damn gun? Jesus, how would explain this? He had to get out. Jesus, right now he had to get the hell away from here… 

It’s in third-person… off the cuff writing so don’t judge it but can you see that this is anything but generic. Even in third-person, it’s the character’s voice you should hear and not me as the author.  Look at how other writers create these voices. In this voice we see, think, hear, make assumptions, act as if we are him and so no external view of his face as he doesn’t see it, does he? So no his eyes sparkled at that moment… how does he know?

Voice is the point in the writing that connects YOU to your READER. The reader wants to be this character and so that’s why, for me, voice is everything. I make the distinction again that I mean character voice and not ‘your voice’ as the author. That’s more about style, how you write, how you construct your sentences, the signature bits that make this story your unique way of doing it, right? That’s what you develop the more you write. No, here I mean character voice and it’s what stops the writing being generic and makes it feel real. Honestly, I learned that from reading Stephen King, the master of characterisation. Look at his work if you haven’t.

When you start a novel the voice you ‘start to’ create for a character changes as you progress through the novel. What you have to do when you edit, is look at how much of that is character development that you need for story, and how much is you developing the character the more you get to know them. The latter is the thing you need to address in the big edit. Ensure a consistent voice. As you get to know characters they start to exhibit behaviour patterns so the reader sees these as cues, he coughs when he can’t think what to say, he picks at an old pockmark when he’s anxious… and he will use memes, expressions, unique to him, as we as people do, right? This is when the character begins to truly live on the page. He attains his own identity. The way he speaks, thinks, acts in given situations, even what kind of person he is: messy, neat, a touch of OCD, outspoken etc. all start to form. Now you will feel as if his voice is natural to you. You have breathed life into a character.

Voice is all part of that characterisation and since it’s the character we hear in any given scene, chapter or the whole thing, then it needs to be right. I actually think it’s the difference between something that’s okay and something that’s great. 

When I wrote While No One Was Watching voice was so important to me and Lydia just became real. Her voice was tricky and, while most people loved her, there was the odd review that said they did not get her voice. Trust me I had a softer voice, worried I was overdoing the African-American vernacular but an editor told me to commit, do it or don’t do it at all and I did have to study to get it right, or as right as this British white girl was able! I hope I succeeded! What can I tell you, as soon as I breathed life into her, she took over and showed me this is me, this is how I walk, talk, think and you better do me justice, girl. Yes, Sir!

The aim for me is that you can pick up the book, let it fall open and know from a couple of lines whose voice this is. That for me makes it sing!

So deleting stuff… I talked earlier this week about the need to edit out those phrases, expressions that repeat, are not functional etc. That is so true. However, you also want to think about the voice. There are times when there might be a sense of repetition, a sense of recap because that is one of the aspects of the character’s personality. Look at Lydia as an example, she does tend to repeat for emphasis. The trick is to get the balance right between the wittering repetitive non-functional diatribe that reflects the way people really speak and creating a believable character with a believable voice, and one that does not bog the reader down with unnecessary repetition. It still has to function to move the plot.

Your editor should be able to make this distinction so you keep the voice but lose the filler.

So now go and look at your favourite novels and firstly ask yourself if this is a character narrator… and now look at how the voice works, is it distinctive?

I will leave you with an extract from my novel…Lydia at her finest… I hope…

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The storm is gone.

Mister Tommy is still curled up in the towel from last night when he came in lookin’ like he’d fallen in the river. Missy Cat is watchin’ me from Papa’s rocker. In the kitchen there’s half a bowl of beef stew on the floor – soul food Momma used to call it. Or maybe that was chicken stew. Either way she always said it was the way to a man’s heart, of course I wouldn’t know about that.

Don’t you leave one morsel, she would say, food is for the soul and if your soul is right everythin’ else gon’ be right. Then she would get that look as if she was seein’ into the distance. Momma always said she didn’t have the gift but when she looked at me like that with her eyes so wide they looked like poppy blooms with big black centres, I thought maybe she did.

Of course Papa, he never approved of nothin’ like that. He said it was against God. I can still hear him: There should not be found amongst you anyone who practises divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer. Now I never knew what one of them was – a necromancer, but he’d look at me real hard and no way was I gonna ask him and he’d carry on: or one who inquires of the dead. Anyone who does this – they an abomination of the Lord. And I would see the way Momma looked at me when he said that. Papa liked to quote the scriptures, yes he did. But me – little ol’ Lydia an abomination? Just as well I never knew what that meant neither.

Right now not even soul food’s gonna lift this feelin’. Like a cloud even though there’s no clouds in the sky this mornin’, just good ol’ Texan sunshine. But it’s there anyhow: a memory I put away a long time since. Matter of fact I didn’t just put it away – I closed the darn lid.

I walk to the kitchen and gaze into the fridge mumblin’ to myself: Eggs. Bread. Oatmeal. Bacon. Then I close the fridge door with a soft suckin’ sound and look at King Marms who watchin’ me like I’m some kind of crazy woman. Now I know somethin’s gonna happen. I know because I lost my appetite and that means there’s more than last night’s storm in the air.

I look at the pile of paper on the table, all kind of nonsense that comes through the door, offerin’ me all kind of things I don’t want. Except for the coupons. Papa would be so proud about that. He’d rock in that chair cuttin’ coupons like it was therapy. I used to wonder where in the scriptures it said somethin’ about cuttin’ coupons. I bet if I’d asked him he would’ve started quotin’ me the Old Testament: Thou shall cut the coupons …

And he would come home from the grocery store tellin’ me how much he saved, a whole five cents on beans he’d say like he just won the lottery. Papa was proud to own this house. He’d be tellin’ folks ’bout it like he weren’t like the other coloured folks back then. Sometimes I thought maybe he forgot his roots. But he weren’t too proud to cut coupons, no Sir.

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Parthian Books, 2013

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Tomorrow I can talk about anything you want editing wise… send me suggestions, questions etc!

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When to Delete Part 2 {Editing Tips}

editing

As we saw yesterday we can make changes for the flow of the narrative by editing out any words that do not have to be there; but the same can be said of information and backstory (exposition), repeated information, non-functional scenes, plot points, entire subplots and whole characters!

This is the real nuts and bolts stuff because as you start to edit out these things you could potentially weaken the structure of the story or piece and make it unstable. What you do in one place can have serious consequences elsewhere, but structural editing is a vital part of the process. While I have called this Part 2, in reality, this is the editing you will do first before you tackle the things I talked about yesterday. You need to get the shape of the story right before you start playing with scenes that might not even make the final cut, right?

So look at:

  • How you handle the information we need to understand the story: character backstory, historical information, science information perhaps: the stuff you research. Do not include this as ‘information dumps’ but drip feed in on a need to know basis as and when the story dictates! And use the backstory stuff as a tease so you hook your reader as I have talked about before.

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  • Tell the reader once; do not recap, by repeating information we already know, like Janice, my adopted sister… don’t keep saying who she is. If some information has not been used for some time find more inventive ways to remind the reader through their dialogue or a short phrase. Don’t repeat for the sake of it, this is more you reminding yourself of the story!

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  • Make sure all scenes are functional: by that I mean they move plot, reveal character and by doing so explore theme. I talk about this a lot in my reports, narrative and dialogue has to be functional, like repeated information or information dumps it’s FILLER and needs deleting!

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  •  Subplots that do not tie directly into the resolution of the key storyline: delete. The function of the subplot is to add layering to the story but not to add a whole other story!

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  • Characters also need to be functional and assume defined roles. If you have too many then think about how they work and see if you can merge roles, so you have fewer key characters, doing some of the same things. Look at the traditional archetypes so you will have in there a mentor, lover, enemy, shape-shifter and remember characters can assume more than one role! At the editing stage, you might be killing your darlings… literally or writing them out of existence… oh the power of the writer. But remember, like everything keep drafts and maybe you’ll use the ‘decreated’ ones again. Now there’s a story… what happens to all the character who didn’t make the cut… like rejected toys? The victims of the editor’s imagination?

 

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That is all, character voice tomorrow!

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When To Delete {Editing Tips}

 

editing

All I can say is: be ruthless when it comes to anything that’s — clunky (awkward), redundant, superfluous, extraneous, clichéd, telling, overdone…

When it comes to having a nice fluidity to your narrative you have to ensure you remove things that simply don’t need to be there, simple! Take them out and if it still works then you are on the right track. Some writers think they have to say it in unique and interesting ways. While, to some extent, that might be true it can, if you work too hard, really feel forced. Then it simply doesn’t work! I have seen some wonderful metaphors and similes lost in a crowd of metaphors and similes! The trick is to use such devices sparingly and in just the right place. This gives them power. Got it?

 

Here are just a few things to ponder… I will talk about filler and the things you can lose from the actual story tomorrow!

  • Description — this is important for allowing the reader to really ‘see inside the moment’, to visualise it as you intended them to, but they don’t need every single detail drawn in for them — just enough and perhaps more importantly to create the right mood, or tone, perhaps, even, to create the right sense of danger if you are leading them to the edge of a cliff face, for example. Sparing, yet vivid wins the day! So it really does come down to how you use your words and which ones. And if in a moment of great tension then whatever you do don’t stop to admire the view, make the description an active part of the movement itself. Look at how other writers do it!

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  • Look at things like attributions; the ‘he said/she said’ in dialogue. You will find that a lot of the time you can remove these as long as you can stay with the flow of the conversation. Better to show some body language so we know who said it. And don’t write  ‘they paused’ — create the pause with an action! None of us stop and pause, well not really! Lose adverbs that are redundant if we can see how something is done or said. Lose different words for said when said is just fine (I have talked about this before!) Punchy and sharp!

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  • Lose clichés as these are considered to be lazy prose! The tears streamed down the face… ugh! How about she dabbed her cheeks or some other more interesting way to show she was crying!

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  • Telling tags: These tell why something is done or said when it’s usually obvious! She stopped the man to ask the time because she was worried she was late. Telling! If we see her rush and ask the time as she rushes we can see it, it’s shown! See what I mean?

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  • Lose ‘that’ and ‘very’ and ‘just’: a lot of the time … see some of my deliberate crossings out. Also see the use of italics when I think the word is more functional so I left it in…  The way that he said it made her smile; he was just so angry (more active?); she was very jealous (though better to show this through actions… right?) Also think about some of the adverbs we overuse! Like ‘suddenly‘… So often there is no other way to interpret the action so lose it and just show the action!

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  • Pleonasms: nodding the headshrugging the shoulders; thinking in the mind… Where else? Get the idea?!!!

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The message here is very simple: if you can lose it, lose it. That way the writing becomes sharper! 🙂 Only repeat expressions or use words that are less functional in a sentence when part of character voice and there is a difference as I will show you later in the week!

Happy Tuesdaying!

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Create Your Style Guide [Editing Tips]

Welcome to a new and busy week. I thought I would give some editing tips every day this week, of course, some of this will have been covered before but  I think it’s always useful as a reminder.

So hands up who uses a Style Sheet or Style Guide when they write?Do you even know what one is? 

A style sheet is a list setting out the decisions that your editor has made on aspects of the layout and language of your document, in order to keep the document consistent.

This is a really useful thing, especially if you intend to write this as part of a series and so how you do something in one book must be consistent across books as well as within the book.

As you come to edit your work you don’t just focus on the shape of the story and if it works, on filler, character development etc. When it comes to the nitty gritty bits of the narrative don’t just focus on the flow of the language and the construction of the sentences either, you have to think about how you represent things. So, for example, do you use a hyphen in ‘no-one’ like that or ‘no one’, both are acceptable. Which of the OK or okay forms do you use (ok is not generally an accepted form). Do you write -ise in words like recognise or realise OR the more US form of recognize/ realize and how is this in other forms of -ise/ize words. Do you use capitals in some of your expressions, like the Magic Sword, the Golden Knife. Do you capitalise the East and the West? Do you use a capital in Professor? University… here I would say unless part of the official address, his name, the university’s name then use a small letter — get the idea? US or UK spelling?

By writing these things down you can create a guide so you don’t have to remember because, inevitably, you will use forms interchangeably. The sheet helps you create consistency — which is key here. For a final edit/proof, it’s vital, especially if you plan to self-publish. But to submit you also want to show the highest level of professionalism. It’s very rare I am sent a ms with the writer’s own style guide but it happens from time to time and it shows me they appreciate this aspect is important.

 

It might include notes on what font is used, whether the text is left or fully justified, how particular words are capitalised or hyphenated, how much indent your indented quotations have, what is put in italics.

Especially if you’ve learned English as a second or other language, you will know that the English language is not consistent, and it doesn’t even have proper rules for some things! This can be really frustrating, as two people might do things in two different ways, BOTH of which are correct.

For example, in English …

  • We can use -s- spellings or -z- spellings in words like “organisation”
  • We can capitalise or not capitalise words like Chapter 1 or experiment 2
  • We can hyphenate or not hyphenate pairs of words like policy-maker

 

And that’s before you get to decisions like …

 

  • Are you going to use 20%, 20 percent or twenty percent?
  • Are you going to describe America as America, the United States, the US, the USA, the U.S. etc. etc.?
  • Are you going to use double inverted commas for quotations and single inverted commas for concepts, or vice versa?
  • Are you going to refer to other research as (Brown, 2003; Green and Jones, 2005, p. 23) or (Brown 2003, Green & Jones 2005:23) or any other variant

 

Now, the important thing with all of these is to keep it consistent.

 

More editing tips tomorrow!

editing cartoon

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Friday Writing Prompt

Inspired by my talk last weekend, and thinking about the close interaction between fact and fiction, here’s a prompt for you.

Take a key moment in history; so something that ‘literally’ stopped the world, not just your world, so let’s say, as is the case in my novel, the death of a president, maybe 911, Diana’s death, Elvis… ? and then write a short piece of ‘alternative history’ as if it never happened. So you will need to use fictitious characters perhaps or make it a memoir piece where the event affected you, but now let us see what happened if something else happened instead… So, for example, JFK Airport used to be called Idlewild and, in fact, this is the name of Mark Lawson’s alternative history novel, if Kennedy had not died as he did and make him the icon he is, would the airport still be called that? In fact, that is the case in this novel; Kennedy is still alive years later. Perhaps juxtapose what might have happened with what did happen, so some of you might even want to write two versions…? I will leave that to you! Allow your imaginations to run wild… and not be idle! See what I did there 🙂 Groan!

Happy Writing!

Happy Weekend!

Happy Being YOU!

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Book or Ornament?

This might seem an odd dilemma but the question is prompted by something that happened yesterday on a rare day out of the office. Mum had asked me to ‘be her’ for the day (interesting!) as she had booked a trip with the U3A with a close friend and neighbour but in the end was unable to attend. Despite mounting workloads and waning energy levels on my new gym programme, I had of course agreed and we had a really fun day at Hatfield House in Herts!  Great company 🙂

One of the rooms in this stately home I loved was, of course, the library, pictured below. Rows and rows of ancient books and despite knowing they would not like greasy fingers on the covers, I knew I had to… some compulsion that said inside my head: touch the book. My friend did too of course! We only touched one, but don’t you just love the feel of a real book? So many of them, from fiction to psychology although hard to read the authors or the titles on them, shame, they all look the same! So, of course, poking fingers got reprimanded with a ‘don’t touch the book’ which I ignored, almost touching another in protest but I am aware these are priceless artefacts and if we all poked the books would not live another 500 years. I get it, but that voice inside did not! See, the thing is, these are books. They were born to be opened and read and enjoyed and now they are nothing more than ornaments and somehow I find that sad… what do you think?

 

Hatfield House Library

The Library, Hatfield House, Herts, taken September 13th, 2017

I think it was a day of rebellion because there was also a dog groomers on site where they had the stable doors flung wide open so you could watch, an invite to see the doggies get clipped.  So, when an Airedale looked at me from where he was being pampered and wagged his tail I naturally said hello there. So then the woman who was in there reprimanded with a don’t talk to the dog. I ignored that too, … don’t open the door and invite us to look in if that is the case! Books are made to be read just as dogs are made to be social!

Later, in part of the old house, we walked around what had been a massive kitchen, read the sign that said ‘Do not touch the kitchen utensils’ and guess what we saw? The gong. Oh yeah… a gong for announcing that dinner was served. We looked at one another and seriously, seriously wanted to pick it up, I mean, to apply the same philosophy, and allow it to be what it was made to be… oh how much we wanted to do that… but even we (rebels that we are) thought that might have finally been a step too far! But imagine giving it a lease of life once more… 🙂 I so wish my inner rebel had done it now! Darn that self-control!

But seriously, I am all for rules and preserving history etc… but a book is made to be read, is it not? It’s a library but not a functional one so is it really a library if no one reads? Is it really a book if simply on a shelf? History needs to be living and breathing and even if greasy fingers spoil books at least they get to be books and not ornaments! There resteth my case!

I will leave that for you to ponder and for me to wish I had taken that gong now and made my protest to the world! Pick up the books, smell the books, read the books!!!

A collage for you all…

 

Some pics of Hatfield House, including me in hat to tame the frizz, and very cheesy grin… Knight in shining armour anyone?

 

 

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