Your Character Needs a Voice

Have you ever heard a friend say something and you immediately think that’s such a “them” thing to say? Or have you identified a catchphrase that only they use or the way they use certain words and expressions that lets you know they are speaking even if you aren’t looking at them.

That is their unique voice coming through. Every time you hear “IT” you know who is speaking.

That unique “voice” is critical when building your novel. Each major character needs their OWN voice so readers can connect to them. When done correctly, voice not only conveys who is speaking, but it can also tell you lot about the character as an individual.

On a basic level think about regionalisms like the pronunciations of roof vs ruff or tomato vs. tomahto or soda vs. pop. Then take it to the next level. A girl raised in a very rural area isn’t likely to have the same dialogue structure as someone raised in an inner city. A 3-year-old will have a very different vocabulary than a 9-year-old or a teenager.

Giving “voice” to your characters can be a challenge that even veterans writers face.

This came up for me recently when I was reviewing a manuscript. I got to specific scene when I was struck by a line of dialogue. I immediately thought to myself “What’s that character doing in this scene?”

Turns out that character wasn’t in the scene, only her “voice” was.

How is that possible? It’s because the dialogue was in her “voice” and not the “voice” of the character who had been speaking.

Now, I know what you are going to say … but that’s why we write “said so and so.” The problem is “said” gets tedious when repeated over and over again in a novel. (The rules are different in journalism, please always use attribution in those cases!)

YOUR HOMEWORK: How do you know if your characters have a “voice”? Take a page from your WIP (work in progress) and ignore the tags (said Jane or said Joe) and focus on the line of dialogue. Can you tell who is speaking without looking at the tag? If so, then you’ve captured their voice. If not, go back and see if there’s a way to rewrite the dialogue using their voice.

I’m not suggesting every single line of dialogue needs to have this level of attention, but it’s definitely worth it for scenes that are crucial in your story and are at the book’s emotional core.

The more you work on this, the more naturally it will come to you. Good luck!

Return to Vistaville – Challenges of Writing an Ongoing Series

Working on a series book has its challenges. Not only do you have to remember what you did before so you don’t repeat it, you have to consider the “rules” of the world you have built for your audience.

For my Layla’s Diaries series, that world is not so much her physical space but her storytelling technique. Everything is told through a diary entry. That presents interesting challenges as I try to balance my desire to dig deeper and tell more, with the expectation of readers who want Layla’s diary entries to be a certain way.

For instance, as much as I would like to know exactly what Shira thinks of her cousin, Layla, I can’t delve into that too much. I can, however, elude to it through Layla’s observations of Shira’s actions and words. Readers of previous books in the series, may, for instance, know that Shira doesn’t have patience for her cousin, isn’t fond of mysteries and is bossy. They know it not just because Layla tells them, but because Shira’s been known to fold her arms across her chest, sigh deeply and shake her head at her cousin’s sometimes crazy ideas.

Likewise, readers of my Achdus Club series, don’t want to get to the end of a story and find out that the girls don’t want to be friends anymore. That could happen in the middle of the story, but, by the end, their issues need to be resolved because friendship is at the core of the series. To suddenly have a character decide they are better off on their own, would betray the connection between writer and reader.

Staying true to the tone, format and style of an ongoing book series is a pact the writer makes with reader. Finding a way to make that happen and still provide a compelling story readers will love is what will give an author an opportunity to grow in their work and skills.

As for the historical book, revisions are starting soon! Given that these books are in very different eras in history and feature vastly different protagonists, I think I should be able to juggle both at the same time. We’ll see how that goes!

WRITERS: Do you juggle multiple stories at one time? How do you ensure that you stay true to the world in your novel?

Writing ‘The End’ Is the Beginning

This week after a few marathon writing days, I finally got to type a writer’s favorite words “The End.” Yay, me! I did a little happy dance. I celebrated by letting my family know that I was finished … but was I?

The truth is that just because I wrote those two magical words doesn’t actually mean that it’s the end of the story. (Get it … the end of the story LOL!) Getting to the end, as any working writer will tell you, is just the beginning:

In fact, at every stage of the end in a book’s journey is really just the beginning.

So now that I’ve written “The End,” I’ll give myself the weekend (or a day or two) off and get back to work!

Researching History

My new current project is a historical fiction novel for middle-grade readers and I’ve been spending the last few days reading newspapers and letters from the Civil War era. I’ve also been pouring over historical maps and railroad time lines.

As part of my research, I’ve been uncovering lots of little gems from my time period. Some of them have made it into the story, for instance, a two-word description of a boat caption, who I otherwise would not know anything about, but some are just plain fascinating.

Case in point, this article appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer in December 1862. It is all about the children’s song “The House that Jack Built” and how it is a derivative of the Passover song Chad Gadyah, which is a part of the Haggadah. This article is not relevant to my story, but was a supercool find. Enjoy!

Ebooks Are Coming …

In response to the numerous requests, I’m happy to report that ebook editions of my books will be rolling out in the next few weeks on Amazon. The first book to be released for the ereader is Layla’s Vistaville Summer, book one in the Layla’s Diaries series.

Click the book jacket to be taken to the ebook edition. Looking for the print copy? You can find it here.

Happy Early Chanukah From Layla …

Yes! Just in time for Chanukah, Layla’s Sugarland Winter, is in stock at Menucha Publishers and is on its way to Jewish book stores around the country!

In this second Layla’s Diary adventure, Layla and her Bubby Ida visit the famous Sugarland Hotel where it’s all about the candy and chocolate! When she gets there, she’s thrilled to be reunited with her cousins Hindy, Sara, Simi and, yes, even, Shira, the queen of the S cousins.

Their plans for a fun vacation are upended when someone accuses Hindy of theft!

Tips for the Mid-Month, Downhill Nano Slide

Oh NaNo, we always start off so well don’t we and then you go your way and I go, well …

Here’s the truth. I wrote more than 10,000 words this month on my manuscript. Not all of it got recorded on my NaNoWriMo account but I know because every morning I’ll rework a little section from the day before and tweak words or descriptions, which doesn’t “add” to my word count goal of the day.

So yay me write … uh, right?

Well, yes and no. We are at the point in both the story and NaNoWriMo where everything becomes that much harder. If you are participating, you are probably stretched way too thin, have been having too much caffeine to give yourself a boost to get through just another 500 words and, because you can’t resist, you just read what you’ve been writing all this time only to discover that it is just … ugh!!!

Or maybe that’s just me. Could be it’s just me.

Hopefully, your writing is going a lot better and you’ve just spent 18 days writing sheer perfection. That would be nice, I think.

But, in case you are like me, I’m going to share some advice I gave to a writing group I belong to. Take what you need from it, ignore the rest, and know that works for me, may not work for you and vice-versa:

Writing isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s actually really hard work. If you stop every time it gets hard, usually just as you start the middle part of the novel–which is the main, slogging section that stretches on for pages when you have no idea how to get from point A to point B–you will not learn the art of finishing a novel.

There will always be another new shiny story to tell. I know my brain is full of them, especially when I’m bogged down because I can’t figure out what my characters need to do or should do or what will make my story not be so blah. 

Some days you do simply need to walk away and give your mind a rest, especially when you are working at a writing rate that you are not used to. Yes, I know, it’s one month of crazy writing, but this year especially, even one month of writing like crazy may be a bit much. Take a breather. Get some fresh air. Close your laptop. Doodle. Knit. Read. Bake. Or simply close your eyes and let your mind wander. Try and come back to the story after you’ve done that.

As for my NaNoWriMo novel, it’s unlike any of my other stories, which is good because I need to try new things and grow as a writer. This particular story is in a new-to-me genre, historical fiction, and features a boy protagonist. My work is also barely a first draft.

I have tons of holes and missing scenes, etc. (which is how I generally work) that need to be fleshed out, but I have no idea how to fix what’s already there. Do I throw it all out? Do I start from scratch? Does any of it get salvaged?

Here’s what I can tell you … I am NOT done with this story. I will slog my way through it and try and figure out how to make it the best it can be.

I participated in a writing workshop last week and several of the authors mentioned making lists or notes as they are working, I may try that to see if I can jump start my creativity that way.  

Will I finish my novel this month? Nope, not happening. One day maybe I will finish NaNoWriMo with a completed manuscript … or not, and I’m fine with that. 

NaNo Week 1 Results …

I finished week one of National Novel Writing Month having conquered a major goal – writing fiction every single day. Now, considering I have five published novels and a sixth one coming out next month, you might be surprised by this admission. Truth is, my fiction writing often comes after my other nonfiction writing responsibilities, which in any given week can include news articles, feature writing, fundraising brochures, blogposts and press releases.

If you were to add up my word counts of all the various types of writing on any given week it could easily surpass the 8,000 word mark. What makes this time different is that this was just fiction work. (Yes I did have some nonfiction work thrown in over the last week, though not included in this count.)

While according to the official NaNo tally I should be closer to 12,000 words at this point, I am beyond thrilled with my output.

Is it because I wrote 8,400 words of brilliance? Nope, not even close. What I have accomplished is moving myself 8,400 words closer to completed manuscripts. 8,400 words focused on building my stories, finding out who my characters really are and what makes them tick. 8,400 words of wondering … will it ever get easier?

Truth is it doesn’t get easier. There is no mystery writing fairy who will come and turn my gobble-dee-guck into genius prose.

There’s just me and my writing.

And little by little, word by word, the story will emerge, the characters will come to life and a manuscript will appear. Every day I keep going through NaNoWriMo is one day closer to that goal.

How’s your writing adventure going?