A Matter of Distinction

A friend and I were talking about different books that we had started lately and decided to DNF. The premise of each book appealed to us, but we weren’t pulled in. We couldn’t immerse ourselves in the world the author created. After talking for a just a few moments, she said something about her book that was one of the main reasons she couldn’t connect. I realized it was the same reason that I couldn’t get on board with the one I was reading either. The character voices weren’t distinctive.

When I talk about character voices, I mean more than the way the character speaks in dialogue. It’s their attitude, air, personality. It’s their essence. If characters are distinctive enough, you could theoretically tell which one of them is “talking” without any kind of tag or beat.

Think about opening up a text from someone you know and immediately knowing, without needing to be told, that their significant other sent it from their phone. How did you know? The feel of it was all wrong. Your friend wouldn’t say it that way. But their partner would. That’s what character voice is.

Think about the music you listen to. If you heard a new song, just the first few bars before the lyrics begin, do you think you’d have a clue which of your favorites was performing? Perhaps. What if you read the lyrics. You might be able to figure it out. Because different artists/acts/bands do more than sound different. They feel different. Their voice is different.

So when you write characters, each of them should have a distinctive voice just like the people in your life. Even if there are similarities, no two people sound exactly the same. I have two sisters. They each look a bit like our mother in their own way. They shared a room growing up. They were taught the same idiomatic expressions. But they don’t say things the same way. When I answer the phone, I know which one of them is calling me without looking at the name on my phone. Even with similar tones and pitches to their voices, their “character voice” is very different.

Because this happens with real people, it needs to happen with fictional characters. Otherwise, each character comes off as a wooden copycat. Unless you’re writing a story about creepy Stepford clones, that shouldn’t happen. And if you’re writing a romance, character voices that sound too similar will seem like the main character is falling in love with himself/herself/themselves. And not just in a healthy self-esteem kind of way.

So when crafting characters, explore their personalities. What are their idiosyncrasies? Everyone has at least one. Do they use different idioms? Does everything they say have a passive-aggressive bite? Maybe they’re more direct? Do they say exactly what they are thinking, or do they expect everyone to hear what they aren’t saying? It will affect how you write their scenes. And it should. Characters should sound different because people are different.

Writing Resources

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I’m a newbie in the writing world. I finished my first manuscript last year. I was so proud of it. It was so dear to me. It was a piece of me. All of my life I have wanted to be a writer, and I did it.

What then? I did some research about what it would take to get published. I found out about a few twitter pitch parties and contests. Even better, I learned about the special brand of torture called a query. I got some likes and got some kind and encouraging rejection letters. Most importantly, I connected with other people in the writing community.

I learned what critique partners were and found great people who graciously took up the burden of being mine. They helped me to see some things I had been blind to. I loved that manuscript so much because it was my first and it was a part of me, that I had no idea how bad it was. But it was.

Y’all.

Awful.

But I learned from it. I found some great resources online, some by accident and some from recommendations. Crafting threads, podcasts, free ebooks and online courses. I learned how to tell a story, how to kill your darlings, the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and found some basic guidelines regarding how to write more inclusively.

Now when I sit down to write, it feels like a different animal than it was before. In some ways it’s harder because when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know how badly you’re messing up. But it also feels like I’m growing as a writer. Every time I sit at my keyboard and hack away, even if I end up deleting everything when I’m done, I’ve grown as a writer. Because I know why it needs to be deleted. I can hear my CPs in my head asking questions and know what won’t fly.

Do I catch it all? Of course not. I’m human. And still learning. But now I at least have some inkling of how much more I still don’t know. It doesn’t stop me from writing. I’m not waiting on that magic day when I’ve read all the crafting blogs, listened to every possible podcast, etc. I do have a life away from my keyboard, after all. Blasphemy, I know.

So I write. And I rewrite. And I edit. And I cut. And I promise my fiction is more polished than my blog writing.

Anyway, I thought today I would pass along some of my favorite resources. If you’re even newer to the writing world than I am, maybe they’ll help you as much as they are still helping me.

Podcasts:

I have only recently joined the podcast craze. I’m not the best auditory learner and I’m a mom of little boys. Life is crazy and my attention span is short. All that means that while there are some really great podcasts out there, my favorite right now is Writing Excuses “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” As the tagline suggests, each show is only fifteen minutes. This makes it a great podcast to listen to while scrubbing dishes or folding laundry.

Blogs:

As far as blogs go, I have several favorites, so I’m going to narrow it down. First, I’ve learned a lot from Writing with Color and refer back to it often. I highly recommend it. Also, you should let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of their recommended reading. Before you know it, it’s dawn and your kids are up, but you have zero regrets.

K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors is another great resource. She breaks things down in easy to understand chunks. She even has a series where she breaks down story structure using the Avengers franchise. So many light bulbs went off for me while reading that. I will note that most posts have a link at the bottom to listen to the podcast version, but so far I’ve stuck to reading.

Vlogs:

If you’re more of a vlog fan, Ellen Brock has some very helpful tips regarding editing. You can see her videos and read her posts on her site, so there it’s really the best of both worlds. The videos are all short, so much like the Writing Excuses podcast, they are great to watch in the few minutes you have between other chores or activities.

Classes/Webinars:

If you are looking for specific topics and can afford to pay for classes or webinars, I recommend The Manuscript Academy and the webinars offered through the Pitch Wars site. I have had a good experience with inexpensive courses from both of these sources. And the experience doesn’t stop with just the class. The Manuscript Academy also connected me with a Facebook group for other people who took the same class I did, offered a live Q & A with the author, a podcast, and the class video. The Pitch Wars staff offers ways you can interact with other writers on social media through activities like Pitch Wars Movie Night. They pick the movie and appoint the time, you watch along and tweet with them on the hashtag throughout the show.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It should be noted that I have a folder of bookmarks on my computer that is nothing but “Writing Advice”. It has five subfolders and I still have to scroll down to reach the bottom of the list. And that does not include the separate folder I have that’s just for podcast links.

Nerd and proud, y’all. Nerd and proud.

What are your favorite resources? I’m always looking for more tools for my writing toolbox.

Book Review: 5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland

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If you are just getting started as a writer, or if you’ve been at it a while and can’t figure out how to solve your wandering plot issues, this book is invaluable. K.M. Weiland breaks down the concept of the three-act story structure in easy to understand ways and offers common examples.

The book is short, easily read in an hour, more or less depending on your reading speed. If you are already well versed in the three-act plot structure, then you are not the target market for this book. Though I will say, I knew what the three-act structure was, but this did make the pieces of it clearer to me. The examples were a tremendous help. And she has a database of examples. My list-making, organizational heart loves that she has a database of examples. A database. It makes me happy.

All of the information in the book is available on K. M. Weiland’s site, but to have it in a quick to reference book, organized away on my Kindle, is right up my alley–especially considering it’s free. That’s right. You heard me. Free. In it, she points the way to several other resources as well. Some of those are free. Some are not. Your mileage may vary.

I love the simplicity of what she says and will be keeping this one filed away with my reference books for some time yet. Because if I’m having pacing issues, there’s probably an issue with my structure that could easily be fixed if I take a step back and study it a little harder. This book helps me break it down and examine what each of my plot points are and what isn’t necessary or draws the reader out of the story by crowding out the important milestones within it.

It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s valuable and yet free. You have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.