“Voice” or “Can You Hear Who I Am Now? Good.”

Okay, so here’s what’s up. Danielle got this idea for a “fun” blog post where, instead of talking about “the distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book”, she’d have one of her characters talk about it. Y’know, kinda like a guest post. Except she still has do all the work. April fool’s on her, I guess.

            Originally, she was going to have Allyn-a-Dale do it, mostly because – hello – he’s Allyn-a-Dale. You want a voice in the “musical sound produced by [scientific yadda-yadda]” sense? Allyn’s got a voice. Thing is, though, Allyn’s not really blogger material. His style or manner of expression is far more suited to songs and poetry and little sound bites that sound like they ought to be songs or poetry. Tell him to throw together a five- to eight-hundred-word editorial, and he’ll look at you like a deer staring down the shaft of a Robin Hood arrow. Plus, part of the point of this gimmick is that you ought to be able to distinguish between the voice you’re getting now vs. the voice you usually get when Danielle’s skulking around WordPress as Deshipley, and since she expends so much time and energy in trying to talk like her minstrels, the line can get a little blurred.

Yeah, that's me. Sorry.

           So I guess Plan “B” is for Bruno. What up, world; “World of the Dream” saga protagonist, comin’ atcha. I’ve been mentioned around here a few times before (way few, compared to, say Gant-o’-the-Lute or Edgwyn the author’s pet, but hey, who’s bitter?), most notably in “Sequel”, “Q and A”, and “Modify”, if you really care enough to check the archives. And apparently, I’m here to rep for voice. Zero pressure.

            So. Voice in books. It’s kind of a big deal.

            Go to a literary agency’s website and read the agents’ preferences; it’s almost like a cliché. “What’s your number one wish, Beauty Queen?” “World peace!” “What do you want in a book, Agent?” “No vampires!!!” “Besides that.” “A fresh and engaging voice!”

            What was the difference between Danielle enjoying that “All Good Children” dystopia she was talking about, way back whenever, and her suffering through 300 pages of heck-on-a-stick with the most martyr-like pout you ever saw? Mostly, the voice of main character Max, that’s what (which, she’s decided, reminded her of me. I can’t tell who’s supposed to be flattered or insulted or on first with that one, so we’ll just leave it alone).

            The story you have to tell is only half the battle; the other half is how you tell it. This goes for both third-person and first-person narration, and possibly even more so with the latter. I mean, if you’re gonna have a character doing all the talking, you want them to come across as interesting, right? Otherwise, why is this person getting a book?

            Even if it’s only Nameless Omniscient Guy telling the tale from behind a curtain, Oz style, you can’t let character voices slide. Or you could. But your book might tank. The thing about characters is, they’re people. (And I’m not just saying that because I am one; I’m saying it because that’s the kind of thing I’m getting paid the big bucks [read: diddily-squat] to say.) And people don’t all talk the same. (Thank goodness. Have you heard some people talk?) So if you’re reading a book and can’t tell the difference between a) the deer-in-the-archer’s-sights minstrel and b) the modern teen with attitude issues who dreams of solving his differences with a sword without throwing in an “Allyn/Bruno said” every time, there’s a problem somewhere.

            How to make sure that your voice is distinctive, fresh, engaging, and conducive to world peace? How the heck should I know? I don’t write. Whatever, I can still throw opinions around. How ‘bout you don’t try to force it? Don’t throw in big, pretentious words that you never actually use just to try to impress anyone, because nobody worth impressing will be. That said, I wouldn’t advise that you write exactly how you talk conversationally, because let’s face it: Real life conversations need major editing. So try to find something comfortable, but not sloppy. Make your voice something you feel able to keep up consistently for however long the book lasts. If it matches the tone of the story, that’s probably a plus. Unless you’re trying to be ironic; that can work, too. And lastly? Try to make it sound like you wrote it. Maybe/maybe not like you, but like you, writing. Because if you, writing, tell good stories, well, people will keep coming back for another listen to your voice. And I’m assuming that’s what you authorial types want.

            There you have it. My two cents. And with my promised salary of diddily-squat for this post, that leaves me two cents in the red. Big thanks, Danielle.

“Synopsis” or “Like Juice Concentrate, Literary Style”

I’d planned to dedicate my writing time, today*, to working on “a brief outline or general view, as of a subject or written work; an abstract or a summary” for my most recently-drafted novel. And yet here am I, not writing it, but writing about writing it. “Procrastination!” you may cry. But keep in mind that to put off writing this blog post would also be procrastination. So since I’m really darned whether I do or don’t, here, and doubly-darned if I go with option three (“don’t write either one”), let’s count the fact that I’m writing at all as a victory for discipline and get on with the post.

            Now, just so we’re all on the same page, when I say “synopsis”, I am not using the word interchangeably with “blurb”. A blurb is “a brief publicity notice, as on a book jacket”; y’know, that little teaser on the back of the book that lays out the book’s concept in give-or-take two paragraphs, hoping to entice the reader to explore the story in full. I’m not talking about give-or-take two conceptual paragraphs. I’m talking about condensing the entire plot of a several-thousand-word book into one to three pages. And that is not easy, my friends – at least, I’ve not found it so.

            I think part of my problem is that I have a hard time going halvsies. (Like, with anything.) I can toss out a few sentences that get the main idea of the story across, or I can say, “Well, here, just listen. Chapter One…”, and hope you’ve got nothing to do for the next five hours while I play audio-book. But to squeeze a novel into two pages? To abridge? I’ve always felt rather affronted by abridged books, you know, or when movies on TV cut out scenes to make room for more commercials. If a thing’s worth experiencing, is it not worth experiencing in full?

            But I guess I understand the synopsis’s use in the literary world. I mean, if you were an agent or a publisher, snowed in with non-stop author queries all day long, would you rather have to read through a thousand novels, or a thousand summaries of novels? Unlike the first few pages of a book (which, no matter how exciting or well-written they are, can only convey so much of the story to come) a few-page synopsis gives you everything – beginning, middle, and yes, the end, too. (The synopsis is no place for cliff-hangers.) So if you’re planning to send your book out through traditional publishing channels (as I am), you’ll want to have a synopsis handy.

            I’ve heard some recommend that you write the synopsis even before you write the book, as it’s a useful tool in clarifying to yourself where exactly the story will go. While I do prefer to plan the story’s course to some degree (it’s a plotter thing, you’ll recall), laying down a full synopsis feels a bit micro-managerial to me, so I’ll generally save it until the end. The one partial exception to this was my first NaNo novel, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, where – as insurance against getting stuck mid-November – I wrote out a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. In rhyme. A twenty-three quatrain synopsong. All very fun, but I still had to do a proper synopsis afterward.

            And I still have to finish the proper synopsis for my latest novel. …After I shovel the snow-covered driveway. (More necessary procrastination, I justify!) Fellow authors, in the audience: What’s your experience with synopses been like?

            *This post was actually written some days earlier, so I’m presently free of snow-shoveling duties. ^-^

“Publication”

That’s right. The big “P”. The act or process of preparing and issuing printed material for public distribution or sale. The authorial Grail.

            I have been actively pursuing literary agent representation for various novels o’ mine since March of ’09. (2009, not 1909, though there have been times when it sure did feel like a century…) Does an author need an agent to make it in the biz? Not at all; plenty of authors who’ve done quite well for themselves without agents can tell you that. And there are also plenty of authors who love their fabulous agents to death. I want to be one of those.

            Query letter feedback has ranged from the “Dear author, better luck elsewhere” form letter to more personal “Dear Danielle, this was really good and would probably make a great TV show, but…”-type responses. The latter was slightly more encouraging than the former, but rejection is rejection. So if anyone wants to pull out a violin to accompany me, I can easily launch into a sob story of disappointment, dashed hopes, demoralization and— No violins? Moving right along, then.

            Over the past little-under-three years, I fell into a pattern of query, query, query, take a break to wait for replies and live life and feel a little sorry for myself over what those last few replies were, grit my teeth in a surge of confidence-slash-ironclad-resolve and query, query, query, take a break to write another, better, more immediately sellable novel, query, query, query for some other novel I’d had sitting around for a while, take another wait/live/self-pity break, query, query, query for that tidied up immediate seller, bash my head against a desk and wail because “‘immediate seller’, my eye!”… Okay, Lute, put the violin down. I’m not whining, here, I’m just giving the background.

            “Mm-hmm,” he says, making the catgut weep.

            Minstrels. Anyway. During my most recent break from agent querying, I started taking note of contests and online periodicals in the market for short stories. I don’t even remember what got me started – there was just a contest on a blog calling for vampire stories here, a magazine looking for fantasy there, and the next thing I knew, I was sending out shorts left and right, some previously written, some freshly made to order. I hoped and didn’t dare to hope, and wrote, and sent, and noted on Facebook, “Man, it seems like God’s just been dropping short-story submission opportunities into my lap, these past weeks. Wonder if I’ve got a morale boost on my horizon.”

            As it turns out, I did.

            Since the start of November (and following two rejections elsewhere), two of my short pieces have been accepted in two separate publications. (I pause to hyperventilate somewhere you won’t have to put up with all the squeals and excessive use of exclamation points.)

            One, a 100-word piece of “Wilderhark Tales”-inspired flash fiction, is to appear in the upcoming issue of the online journal, Luna Station Quarterly, due up on December 1st.

            The other story – just shy of eleven times as long as the flash, and its equal in Deshipley-approved quality – is also due out in December in “A Cuppa and an Armchair”, a collaborative venture joining writers and the charity, Equipe. The anthology will be available in both e-book and paperback formats. (It’s a good cause and I’m in it, so whaddaya say? Christmas presents?)

            I’ll not be receiving payment for either of these pieces, but at this point, publication is its own reward. I’m so excited, my brain has shut down and can only sporadically process how terribly excited I am. Goodness knows what I’ll be like when my novels start selling.

            The moral of this writerly fable? The same thing you probably already knew: Keep writing, keep submitting, keep praying like mad, and don’t bash your head against a desk in frustration too hard, ‘cause then you won’t have enough brain cells to fully comprehend how excited you are once you get good news.

            The End.

            Or The Beginning.

            One of those. (: