Category Archives: Voice

Short Journeys

I have talked about short stories before and how important they have been to me on this journey to become ‘real writer’… that makes me think of Pinocchio I want to be a real boy… 

I think, all too often, we tend to overlook the short story form, assuming that the real success and I guess therefore the real creativity and even the real money is to be made from the novel that becomes the bestseller that becomes the Hollywood blockbuster… and so on. But short stories have also been made into movies you know. And besides, not all short stories want to grow up to be movies, do they?

I always talk about how I ‘cut my teeth’ as a writer working on the short form, and how important this was for me in terms of developing my style and honing my craft and I have spurts now of still writing short stories and sending them out. When I did that earlier this year I had three successes and two of those placements has resulted in a publication; one of which is now available to pre-order, I was runner-up! So I thought I would share a short extract of that as a teaser with some links…

Thinking in Circles

In order to understand something, we must exist outside it.
We are all made of numbers.
Aged 13, Size 8 shoes, Form 5, the 14.35.
We are all on a journey to somewhere from somewhere else with
our eyes half-closed.
And sometimes we get stuck.

You are standing there. Head tucked down; reminds me of a
penguin. The strap of your big blue school bag cuts across your blazer
and it’s as if there’s a thread attaching your head to your shoes. Not
shiny new shoes. These are scuffed, end of term Clark’s one-size-too-small
shoes; they didn’t buy new shoes. Because of what happened
over the summer.
It’s the thing – the thing no one will want to talk about – but they
will talk about it. They’ll whisper. They’ll pretend they’re not talking
about it.
People say bad news is always better when it happens to
somebody else but even when it happens to somebody else,
sometimes it’s happening to you.
You shuffle last year’s shoes to the front; to the desk you used
last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Soon they’ll
all come in and sit where they always sit and nobody will ask. But
they’ll all know.

They’ll all know because it was in the Echo. It was in the Echo
over the summer. Shock had filled up the kitchen: a line of uttered
Oh Gods.
In the sound you were sure you heard something break.
Not like a snap. Not like an ornament shattering into a million
pieces. Not like that. And not like the jolt of something stopping
suddenly, because that happens all at once. This was like a slow
unpicking along the seams.
It happened because of what happened over the summer. It
happened to your dad when he went quietly mad and your nan had to
move in.
It was in the Echo. Everyone knows. About the thing – not your
dad going quietly mad, or your nan moving in. About the thing. The
thing that happened over the summer.

The train left London at 14.35. The name on the front said
Southend Victoria…

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt 2017, With Our Eyes Open, Published by Bausse Books October 15 2017

The book is available now for pre-order as an eBook and a paper version will follow in tine for Christmas! I will share the link again!

With Our Eyes Open

Order me…

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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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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…

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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

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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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Voice

Just a really quick post this morning about voice. Some of us think of voice as our own voice as a writer and that is indeed true. This is part of style — how we narrate, the type of words we use etc. but I like to think of the other voice and that’s character.

While there are still some who favour the all-seeing omniscient narrator who is, in essence, you sitting on the outside reporting on all, contemporary literature tends to favour the character viewpoint narrator.

When I was writing lots more short stories, one of the ways I experimented was in finding different voices. Even in a novel that uses multiple narrators; and even in third-person, you still wants to create distinct and individual voices for each narrator. Remember that voice is how that character viewpoint is heard: in thoughts, feelings, reactions as well as dialogue. It is how you connect to your reader.

Think about Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads if you want to think about character voice. While your own authorial voice is in there in how you create the magic; it’s the characters we hear, not you!

That is all. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

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Opening Windows With The Short Story Form

After some twenty short stories being published in collections since 2008, the biggest feeling of accomplishment came when my debut novel While No One Was Watching was finally published in 2013, nine years and one MA after deciding to be a serious writer. It was  finally something all in my name and the thing I had been working towards. But it would not have happened without the short story. This is why I have a lot to thank it for and why I still write short stories; although fewer now, there are still some out there trying their luck and still ideas I can’t wait to develop.

The short story form for me is this perfect thing; if you get the voice right; deepen the characters enough and capture life in those few words you can shape the story into something that didn’t exist before — and within a relatively short space of time. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I am probably most proud of three short stories (so far including the one I’ve just written, right?) — the first one ever to be good enough to be published in 2008 and that was Jigsaw. I was in the middle of working on a novel (with a lot to learn about writing) when this child’s voice entered my head and I was compelled to write it. I was nothing like anything I’d written before and I was thrilled when Bridge House Publishing (who I didn’t work for back then) chose it and it inspired the cover. What a feeling that was.

A string of success later (and rejections naturally) I wrote something while studying for my MA, but not as an assignment as an experiment in contemporary story-telling and that was The Theory Of Circles, which I have talked about here before. The faceless/genderless voyeur social media obsessed narrator in a story reporting on the goings-on on a crescent in a nameless place; but reading backward the way you scroll blogs. But of course, I had to make certain it still flowed forward for the reader in terms of story. Quite a challenge. I knew conventional publishers and competitions would pass on it but had been seeing a lot about innovative short story publisher Unthank Books. So I targeted them and waited.That wait was rewarded and the story was published in Unthology 3 back in 2012. I was even more thrilled when the publisher nominated the story for the prestigious US Pushcart Prize.

So more short story successes later ( a few short lists and anthology acceptances), between the novel writing and I saw Learning to Fly win the Bath Short Story Award; another young voice, but an important theme, coping with grief but with humour.  This story, with some autobiographical elements, is one I was so proud of — so did the dance when it won! I celebrated that night at a Bon Jovi concert and wow. They even had a tea-party in my honour in Bath (not Bon Jovi!) but the lovely ladies at the Bath Short Story Award.

Of course amongst these stories are some yet to find homes and others that made it onto prestigious short lists that I hope will find homes: namely Mirror Image that I long to adapt into a novel (short listed in the Aeon Prize in 2010) and Chutney that was short listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013 and is the current work in progress having been adapted into a novel.

While No One Was Watching as you may also know was adapted from a short story.

So it’s clear how important short story writing has been for me, in three key ways: the first in teaching me how to write, to experiment, to develop and to grow (and you learn faster and get the satisfaction faster with this shorter form). The second  being that some short stories get bigger and inspire development into a novel. And thirdly, the more I write them, it seems the more the ideas fall from the sky. So ideas seem to be around me all the time and some get scribbled on bits of note paper… and when I am between drafts of novels beg to be written. Once I finish Chutney I plan to write a few more.

When I was thinking about moving back to my home town over the past two or three years I wrote ny first short story set on Canvey Island about a group pf friends meeting at Canvey sea wall after the wake of one of their friends, Adam. I called it Open Windows; which has more than one meaning, but the main theme is making the time for people while you still can. Something happened to Adam when he was thirteen and he got stuck. He is the real boy who never grew up.

The story was selected for another Unthank books Unthology and I got to hold a hot off the press copy in my hands yesterday! Don’t you love the smell of fresh ink! This book is officially released on June 20th. There will be copies at the London Short Story Festival Unthology event that I plan to pop along to and say hi to the lovely Ashley and Robin. And its official launch event is June 25th in Norwich where I, and others, will be giving readings.

While this might be something like publication success number 20, or 21 (which is an odd but humbling thing and to lose count!), and it might be that we all strive for that next novel success (and trust me I do) but we must never negate any success, and to be alongside such a calibre of writers in Unthology 7 is indeed a thing to feel very humble about and feel very grateful for. I am immensely proud to be in another of their collections. Thanks for choosing it Unthank Books.

I will post a small excerpt of Open Windows tomorrow.

Wave your banner BIG and PROUD for the short story form, and thank the publishers for keeping the stories out there…

Happy Wednesday folks!

I hope to invite some of the other unthologists onto the blog to talk about their writing and their stories, so watch this space… and there will be photos and a post about the launch of course!

Unthology 7 coverOrder from Amazon, release date June 20…

Yay!

Yay!

 

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We find Wonder in the simplest of places …

A quick post as I have a few hours’ house cleaning planned with some plot thinking as I go this morning before I finish an edit, and the sun is shining so all fab!

This morning I finished the third of three books I’ve read recently that really spoke to me, all use interesting and quirky voices and all brought tears although the one I finished this morning it was more like a sob at one point.

Interestingly the first is an adult voice, but the narrator’s mental health problems give it the same qualities as a young narrator and in places we do see him as a child.  This is The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer that won this year’s Costa and recommended: great read, great voice.

 

 

A lovely client of mine then recommended a YA novel (just as much an adult novel) and that’s The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It deals with teenage cancer, all the more pertinent with Stephen Sutton’s recent mammoth drive to raise funds and awareness before he sadly passed away.

This novel has is now being made into a movie. I can see why, and one of my favourite characters (although he isn’t that likeable) is the quirky writer in it. But it’s the love story that will hit you. Not sensational, just powerful. Narrated by our young adults — again great voices.

 

 

And the one I just finished an amazing little book, Wonder by R J Palacio, that deals with a little boy in 5th grade in the USA who has a facial disfigurement and so it really is about reaction and finally acceptance. It’s narrated by a succession of young narrators and the voices are just wonderful. I loved this book — LOVED! This gets my gold star and is the best for these three for me — although forget that as they all have something very special and for the writers out there are a real lesson in voice. You hear the character in all of these and never the author.

 

I aim to read a book a week (one of my greatest pleasures) and what all of these books have in common is VOICE and you all know what a great fan of voice I am.

So if you’re looking for something to read, something interesting and contemporary — then you could do a lot worse than these titles!

Have a great weekend everyone! I have a lovely guest In The Spotlight next week and a well-known crime thriller writer coming up soon, so watch this space!

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