Finding your writer’s voice

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD

A writer’s voice can be an illusive thing. It is easy to see when you are not using it, but hard to know you have found it unless you are an experienced writer with enough books under your belt to be comfortable in being quintessentially you.

You often instinctively know when you are allowing your conscious fears to get in the way of what you really want to say, but it can be so difficult to do something about it. Whether it is word choice, style choice, character choice, or some other choice you are smothering, it can be really hard to quash you inner critique and just let the inner writer out.

So what is the definition of a writer voice?

The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works) Source Wiki.

One of the things I grapple with is my use of unorthodox words. There were a couple of places in my book where my editor pointed out ‘better’ words, but I decided not to use them. Of course, there were plenty of other places that I did take her advice on. I guess there are certain words that just interest me, and although there may be a simpler word, I just like the alternative ones.

I actually talk in the same way, it’s part of me, and I think there is nothing wrong with leaving a little me in place.

I’m glad I did, and for no reason other than it allows personality into my book.

But is there such a thing as too much voice? Many bestselling writers write with very little ‘voice’, because if they don’t have a voice no one can be put off reading their material, and it will therefore appeal as universally as possible.

There are also writers who can have a very unique and extreme voice for a variety of reasons. I once decided, in my infinite wisdom, to read the complete works of Jane Austin, for no reason other than I was working my way through a number of what I considered classic works because I felt it was a good thing for a writer to do. Now, Jane Austin definitely has a voice! And the thing about reading a writer with a strong voice is that it rubs off on you, and you find yourself writing like…Jane Austin! Given that I mostly write scifi or fantasy, even when I am just ‘play’ writing, it was a rather bizarre mix! I recently re-read some of my scribbles from the time and the change in style was really quite noticeable. And funny.

It is good to recognise the importance of what we read, and to be aware of how it ultimately impacts what becomes our voice. There’s nothing wrong with reading Jane Austin, but perhaps with hindsight six books back-to-back was a bit of a style overdose.  🙂

Whether you are an advocate of the neutral voice, or prefer reading books that have voice, we all have one ourselves, and we can choose to let it out or not.

Does your writing get lost in translation? #amwriting

One of the curious things about writing a book, and getting feedback on your book, is the translation that occurs between the writer and the reader. As the writer, I would like to think I have the ultimate authority on what my book means…at least I always thought so.

I was discussing background information about one of the characters in the story with my father, when he interrupted me by vehemently insisting that it was not like that at all. I tried to defend my point with the argument that “I wrote the damn thing, and so I ought to know!” But a heated ‘discussion’ still ensued, until we finally both realised how ridiculous the conversation was and started to laugh.

I think I found and read the sentence that explained the point too him, but he was still adamant that it implied a different truth.

My father remains convinced that he was right!

I later talked to my husband about the ‘discussion’ I had with my father, and then he stated that neither of us were right, and something else entirely was obviously the case!!!

Which brought me to the conclusion that…

a) I am either a terrible writer, and no one can ascertain a damn thing from reading my words.

b) That particularly implied information, or even seemingly unambiguous information, is subjective, and as readers we layer over the top of it our own truths of life and so may come to completely different conclusions.

To avoid feeling depressed about my lack of writing prowess, I am going to assume b 🙂

I think particularly the words the characters say can be open to interpretation, but also their actions as well. And I have seen a few heated threads on book forums where readers thrash out opinions on what they think events or conversations in their favourite books mean.

So, has a reader ever argued with you about what happened or what something meant in your book? 🙂

Best Books of the year! Christmas bookish wishlist :) #amreading #bestbooks

Always nice to get that end of year wrap up of the best books…and if you missed a few you like the sound of, now’s the prefect time to give a subtle, or not so subtle, hint to your friends and family!

From the Washington Post…

Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2015

Best mystery books and thrillers of 2015

Notable fiction books of 2015

Notable nonfiction of 2015

Best audiobooks of 2015

Best graphic novels of 2015

Best poetry collections of 2015

Book news 2015: Nostalgia, blockbusters and controversy

Best children’s books of 2015

Kwame Alexander picks his top five kids’ books

Happy Christmas reading everyone 🙂

Why I love writing (and reading)

I think it’s fair to assume that anyone who loves writing also loves reading. I don’t think this love necessarily goes both ways though. I know plenty of people who enjoy reading, but have neither the time nor inclination nor desire to write a book.

There are common themes I love about both reading and writing, but there is one very important difference I experience when I write a book.

What I love about both…

We can go anywhere

The ability of books, either written or read, to take us to a new place and / or time is one of the magical aspects of the craft. Books, I think, have an ability to suck us into another world far more subversively than any other kind of storytelling such as a play or a movie.

We can be anyone

In real life we can rarely create a new persona, not without the aid of a life-changing event, and while some life-changing events can be a blessing, others are not so kind. Either way, we rarely get to experience more than a few of these, and when they do arrive there can be a great deal of painful adjustment before we arrive at our new state of being. The same with careers, few of us take an about swing, and if we do, it doesn’t happen very often during our life.

Books allow us to be or see through the eyes of someone else for a time. Occasionally, this can be uncomfortable, like you are wearing an itchy coat, if you are reading or writing about a person whose character you really don’t like. But it can also be a lot of fun to imagine the life of another person that is nothing like the real you.

We can do anything

Not all of us have the mental acumen to be the next super sleuth and solve a crime, even if we really wanted to, but when we read or write a book, we can. Or perhaps you could trek across the Himalayas, but you have three kids under the age of five and it’s really not that practical right now. This mystical activity you know you are missing either the mental, physical, or practical ability to do, is waiting for us just inside the pages of a book.

So what is the one defining thing that separates reading from writing?

For me, writing is all about being the master of my own ship. I make the decisions, I get to call the shots, to chose what happens next and to who. The funny thing about writing is that it might at the surface feel contrived or constrained, and yet it is often not.

It might also be supposed that there are no surprises, and yet I find there are many surprises along the way.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (5 STAR) #Bookreview

Arguably one of the best fantasy books I have read in a long while Blood Song (A Raven’s Shadow Novel) lived up to its mighty 5/5 on Amazon with a whopping 2000+ people providing feedback.

I actually bought it on Audiable rather than a book, and wasn’t disappointed. Sometimes you have to get along with the narator, and in this case I thought they did a great job.

Without going into detail, it follows the life of  Vaelin Al Sorna. It begins with his father abandoning him to a mysterious order devoted to battle following his mother death, and then follows his journey to adulthood and beyond. There are plenty of battles, mystery, and travel as you would expect form an epic fantasy. There is also a smidgen of magic or mysticism, but not a lot. I think for me the quality of the writing and the genuine attachment I formed with the characters was a stand out and kept me riveted.

If you love a good chunky fantasy fiction with plenty of action and a strong character, then this is the book for you.

See it on Amazon : Blood Song (A Raven’s Shadow Novel) by Anthony Ryan

Books to make you a better writer (Link)

If you are looking for a book to help you become a better writer then here is a great set of suggestions for you. There are a couple I am off to buy. If anyone has already read them I would love to hear what you thought.

When and where and who

I was feeling a little tired last night, so instead of doing any writing, I decided to watch a film.

Flicking through the titles, I came across the old western classic, A Fist Full of Dollars, the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western where our hero pits two rival criminal families against each other, in what would otherwise have been a very sleepy Mexican village. The acting was both dreadfully wooden and dramatically over-the-top, but it still captured the essence of what we believe the wild west was like.

So, what does this all have to do with When and where and who, you may be asking?

Well, as the opening theme was rolling across the screen, I started thinking about what it would have really been like to live in the wild west, whether it was a sleepy Mexican village, or a frontier town, or even one of the first settlers dashing across a plain to make that all important land claim.

It did not take me very long to decide that the wild west was probably not for me!

As a scifi fan, I think if I could choose any when to live, I would want to live in the future. And as for where? Maybe something exciting like a new space colony on a yet to be discovered planet.

But, hold on, wouldn’t that be simply a space-age variation of a wild west frontier town?

Hmm, maybe not a settler on a new space colony after all.

Thinking forward in time is always a little harder. You don’t have any certainty about what may happen, so placing yourself in a when and where is all about whatever your imagination can conjure up.

History is a little more interesting from the point of view that we do at least know something about it, although sometimes admittedly the records are a little sketchy the further you go back.

So, if I was to choose going back in time, then I would embrace my other love of castles, and in particular English castles as they were at their height in the 12th Century, long before the invention of gun power brought their era to an end.

Now here comes my last criteria – the who. Because if I am going back in time, the last thing I want to be is my twelfth century equivalent, who was probably a peasant and toiled all day long in a field of cabbages and was dead by the age of thirty! No, I would like to be someone far more important if I am going to indulge in this time-travel idea 😉

So, I thought I would ask the same question of you all, just for a little fun.

If you could live in any time and any place, and be any kind of person – What is your personal – When, where, and who

You can choose to go forward or backwards in time…but there are some rules to this!

Rule 1 – If you are going forward, you must be born at least 100 years after your own birth date. 

Rule 2 – If you are going back in time – you must be born at least 20 years before your own birth date.

Final bonus criteria. When, where, who, and age (i.e. how old would you be).