MYC: Finding Your Voice

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on character development with a warning to not let our friends write bad books!!

This week we’ll tackle the ever-elusive craft of VOICE!

Some of you may ask: Why is voice part of character development?

Well, friend, I’m soooo glad you asked. I once put the question to my Winged Pen peeps: What comes first, voice or plot? I truly thought it was one or the other that came first to any and everyone. I was so surprised when only two of us chose voice as our starting point.

Regardless of how you tackle writing a story, I stand by developing your character’s voice early on in the process. A strong voice will draw your readers in and make your story memorable. Voice sets the tone and creates opportunities for your character to take on the plot headfirst.

Articles and books often portray voice in a vague you’ve-got-it-or-ya-don’t kind of element. Everyone has a voice, it’s a matter of uncovering yours. Here are a few pointers how:

 

Do: Don’t:
1. Know your character well. (age, worldview, family dynamics, academic abilities, etc.) Interviewing is very helpful!! 1. Stereotype
2. Monologue (either out loud or on paper) 2. Confuse accents or colloquialism with voice
3. Read & re-read books with voice you love—Hound Dog True by Linda Urban and The Tiger Rising by Kate Dicamillo are a few I turn to. Conversely, pinpoint books/paragraphs you find aren’t authentic in voice and discuss why. 3. Don’t use your character’s culture as a way to add flourishes to their voice (eg. confusing and outlandish metaphors)

Number 3 under Don’ts leads me to what voice is versus what it isn’t:

Voice Is: Voice Isn’t:
1. Compelling 1. Confusing
2. Specific 2. Generic
3. Unique 3. Bland
4. Purposeful 4. Passive
5. Revealing 5. Disjointed

Knowing your character is like having a black and white coloring sheet and voice is the color you add to the picture. Mood, attitudes, personality, worldview all play a part in the colors you choose.

As an author you also have a unique voice. Do you write short, simple sentences? Are you prone to purple prose? Either way, you need to refine your writing and ensure it meets the Do’s and Is’s above. Both forms of writing are effective. Pick up any of Kate Dicamillo books and be wowed by her strong, poignant writing. Then pick up Laini Taylor and fall in love with magically spooky, but oh-so beautiful descriptions.

Your plot may control your character and her voice, but do not underestimate voice. It has the power to drive your plot. When done well, both your plot and your voice will compete in creating a well-developed story.

 

USEFUL TIDBITS FROM THE PROS:

[Voice] can reflect region, ethnicity or historical era as well as character. However, with these variants, a little goes a long way.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Voice= Person + Tense + Prosody

+ (Diction + Syntax + Tone + Imagination + Details)

Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein

Once you discover the authenticity within yourself, you can move into all the other voices that inhabit your imagination with an assurance you never before experienced.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb

When you are at ease with family and friends, listen for the way you have of expressing ideas, your authentic voice.

The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd

2 Voice Challenges:

  1. Your characters must have such distinct voices and speech patterns that if I were to take the dialogue tags out of your scenes, I could tell exactly who is speaking.
  2. When I pick up a book with the cover ripped off and no name on the pages, I should be able to read a paragraph and identify you as the author.

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

You’re after a particular, distinctive verbalization construct that perfectly conveys how he views the world and how his mind works.

Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke

Kristi is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out with S&S BFYR August 2017. She is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

How to Break Your Resolutions & Live to Tell About It

It’s still January and everyone’s talking about goals. Making goals, keeping goals, how to write your goals and Blah, Blah, Blah!

Actually, I’m a very goal oriented person. I love goals. I make goals to shatter them, not just reach them. BUT 2016 was a bit of a different story.

Shortly after finalizing the edits for my first book, I hit a huge snag. A snag that ripped right through my writing mojo and into all other aspects of my life.

  • I didn’t achieve my Good Reads goal of 60 books (Holy Crap!!! I was reading 100-200 books a year for the past 5 years! In 2016 I couldn’t even manage 1 a week!!!)
  • I wasted spent 8 months trudging through drafts and scribbles of a second manuscript only to agree with my agent that we needed to put it aside and start on another.
  • I failed my NaNoWriMo attempt. I wasn’t even motivated by the chart this year! Usually that rising bar graph is what gets me out of bed in November.
  • I got 0, zip, zilch writing done from mid-November till my kids started their new year on the 3rd of January.

Sure, I could have forced in some writing, but sometimes you just know it’s going to be crap. So I threw myself into some embroidery projects and my girls got me hooked to Dance Moms (don’t judge because all those episodes actually sparked a thread in my incomplete NaNo project).

As you review the month of January or even all of 2016 in preparation for 2017, it’s really important to remember a few things as you create and/or break your resolutions:

  1. Analyze your situation: Are you lacking the motivation or desire to write? Are you being lazy or in a funk? These are important distinctions to make. Sometimes I’m too scared to sit down and write because I know I set up a bunch of question marks for the next day and I’m avoiding rolling up my sleeves and writing through it. Other times, I’m truly, truly in a funk and everything feels stupid and worthless and hopeless.
  2. Don’t make excuses: It’s okay to give yourself a break and pull back when something isn’t working or go make that 20th cup of coffee or meet that friend you haven’t seen in months for lunch, BUT be sure you’re not just giving yourself any old excuse not to get your butt in the chair.
  3. Take the kind of advice you give: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend to do in this situation?” And do that. Don’t give in to the funk!
  4. Find people who motivate you and push you: There are too many downward spiraling moments in anyone’s writing journey not to have people to share it with. Writing people are everywhere! Find them!
  5. Don’t take yourself or your goals too seriously: Part of the creative process is the down time it takes to work problems, plots, themes, etc. out. You need to have an end goal. You need to get your butt in the chair, but also: life happens.

So, as you break into 2017 and possibly break a few resolutions, remember it’s okay to fail. View your setbacks as learning opportunities. Take a break, but don’t make excuses.

Happy 2017!

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out 15th August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

The Call with Julie Artz

Hi, Julie. I’m so excited that you’ve signed with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit and are on your way to publishing success! I think The Call is one of the most desired/feared/nerve-wracking/exciting/elusive steps a writer works toward. You’ve nailed your query and finally garnered some interest, but now what?

Photo credit: Gail Werner
Photo credit: Gail Werner   

 

She sent me an email. I had received a similar email from her in the spring that ended up being a Revise & Resubmit on an older manuscript, but the wording on this one was different, so I was pretty sure it was going to be an offer. She didn’t mention a time, but she called me the next morning, so there was only one day of nail-biting.

How did you prepare for The Call? Any sites or blog posts that you felt were helpful in preparing?

I emailed my amazing Pitch Wars 2015 mentor, Juliana Brandt, who shared her list of questions and gave me an awesome pep-talk. And I emailed a couple of critique partners to freak out/ask for advice. I also did a little cyber stalking internet research on the agency and its clients. I read Janet Reid’s blog religiously and she talks a lot about how to maintain good agent-writer relationships. If you’re querying and not subscribed to her blog, go subscribe NOW!

I have to ask where you did the call? Were your kids and husband home?

I was home alone, thank goodness, because I was pacing all over the house with my phone and notebook. I was so nervous and had to keep moving (and reminding myself not to talk too much)! Once I got off the call, I was getting DMs, emails, text messages, and phone calls all at once. I didn’t even text my husband until later because I was on the phone with The Winged Pen’s own Jessica Vitalis, talking her ear off as she drove out of town!

How were you feeling when the call started? How did you feel once the conversations got going?

I had already had a really positive interaction with Jennie about the R&R on my previous manuscript, so I was feeling really good from the moment the call started. Even before it started, really. I sent her The Elephant Tree instead of the revision (with her permission) because I felt it was a stronger manuscript and she was enthusiastic about the project from the moment I pitched it to her. The call blew me away. By the time we had this call, she had read all three of my middle grades, so I knew she really got me as a writer. And she said all the right things. I was floating by the end.

What was the big deciding factor on deciding that this was the agent for you? Was there a moment in the call or something she said?

When she made me cry (in a good way), I just knew that she got me 100% and was going to be the perfect fit.

How has communication been since the call and what’s the next step for you?

I have been working on revisions on The Elephant Tree since we signed in October. So in addition to discussing revisions, we’ve also had a productive back-and-forth about my next story. The one I was plotting before I signed with Jennie is a totally different genre than The Elephant Tree (dark fantasy instead of contemporary with a sprinkle of magic), so it doesn’t make a very good follow-up.

 I came up with a character and pitched Jennie a story idea that, unfortunately, has been done in an upcoming MG. That’s why I’m so glad to have an industry insider to help me navigate this—can you imagine if I’d written the whole story before I found out someone else had done something similar? I was able to take that same character, who I’m sort of falling in love with, and put her into a new story that Jennie thought would make a great follow-up to The Elephant Tree. Now if I can just get these edits done, I can start writing the shiny new story!

Are there any questions you wish you had asked that you didn’t?

We got so busy talking about edits for my current manuscript and story ideas for my next one that we completely forgot to talk about what her contract looks like! She had to email me the contract after the fact. I actually thought of a ton of questions after I got off the phone with her, so we had another round of email back and forth during my nudge week.

Any advice for querying writers working toward The Call?

Don’t give up! This was the third middle-grade manuscript I’d queried (fourth manuscript total because there was that one awful chicklit novel I wrote in my twenties and was foolish enough to query) and I racked up over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars 2015 manuscript before I shelved it to focus on The Elephant Tree. The evening before I got the email from Jennie, I got a heart-breaking pass from another agent that had me so down in the dumps that I’d actually told my critique partners I was all done with this manuscript (even though I only sent a total of 48 queries on it!). The next day, I had an offer.

Julie, thanks so much for letting me pester you with all these questions and congrats on this giant leap forward. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieartz. You can also find her at julieartz.com.

~Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Claim it!

via GIPHY

When I had my first child, sure my life changed. My sleep was dictated by her cries. I had to take her with me on all my errands and be sure there’d be a place I could nurse. Worse case, I had to time my arrival so I could feed her in the car.

No more running in shops or popping out for a coffee. There were schedules to follow and a baby to entertain.

But, overall, my life was like a less selfish version of its former self. I still worked. Colleagues and students called me by my name. In fact, many didn’t even know I had a family.

I was still Kristi or Mrs. Kristi.

Then, six months into my second pregnancy, I quit my job. My hair went from curly to straight. I only interacted with mothers. I was sick and tired and hungry and sweaty.

All. The. Freaking. Time.

The people at my daughter’s school, art class and music class called me, “Sylvia’s Mommy.” When I walked down the street with a big belly, pushing a stroller, I was invisible. Everyone looked at my cute toddler’s face and smiled at her. I was suddenly no one.

Just a mom.

That’s how it felt, anyway. Eleven years later, I’m only just now rebuilding my identity. I had three other children, went through the ups and downs over and over. I’ve had to be called “So-and-so’s Mommy” for much longer than I ever intended.

My writing felt like a selfish indulgence. So much so that I’d squish it in between naps and after bedtimes. I only told two people that I was even doing it. All the while, unhappily ticking the “homemaker” box on forms for doctors, schools, etc.

Last year I signed with my agent. I still ticked “homemaker” because I convinced myself that my book hadn’t sold yet so technically I wasn’t an author.

Then, my book sold. I still ticked “homemaker” at the gynecologist.

I signed my contract and I still hesitated and let my hand hover over my children’s Punjabi school form next to the line: Mother’s Job:_____.

I STILL wrote “homemaker.”

I told myself that I’d write “author” once my book comes out in print.

BUT, why?

Why should I wait? What if my book gets bumped and doesn’t come out until 2018 instead of 2017?

If a friend asked me, I’d be telling them not to be silly, write “author.” Why won’t I let myself write it?

Being an author is like being a homemaker. No one really knows how much time, effort and work you put into things. Like when I do a really thorough cleaning of my flat. I feel like I accomplished something. Then, the kids get home from school, have a snack, run around outside, invite neighbors in. By the time my husband walks through the door, he wonders what I’ve actually done all day because the house and dinner are kind of all over the place.

My writing time can be the same. I spend hours working and reworking only to have family say, “You’re STILL working on that? How long does it take to write down some words?”

Recently the FOWP group shared our favorite writing quotes. Mine? (It’s funny now that I think about it!) Here it is: Claim it!

Yep, I’m pretty sure it was from a NaNo pep talk.

So, all of you who have a manuscript hiding in a drawer or maybe you’re in the query trenches or maybe your book is on submission…still. Claim it!

Posting this is my promise to myself that after claiming it to all of you, I’m going to claim it to myself as well. I promise to take a photo of the next form I fill out and post it here. You better be sure I do!

 

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out summer 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. 

Spotlight Interview with Karin Lefranc

Alright, Karin, the grocery stores are filled with Halloween treats and decorations and it’s also your book’s birthday!

Happy Birthday, I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS!

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Look at that cover! He’s the only zombie I’ve seen that I want to hug.

If you too are drooling over this book, check it out here and here or here. But, these spotlight interviews are to get to know you better, Karin. Our readers can take a look at your bio to find out about you, sure, but I’d like to know more.

Um…let me see. In addition to being a writer, I’m a certified children’s yoga teacher so I used to tell kids stories through yoga poses! Now when I’m not writing or running around with my four kids, I help high school seniors, as a college essay consultant, to write brilliant college application essays! I absolutely love it, as their topics are close to their hearts, and I get to channel them and see the world through their eyes for 650 words!

What’s the best thing about where you live and how does it inspire your writing?

I live smack bam between NYC and Boston outside Hartford in Simsbury, Connecticut. It’s hilly and woodsy so good for hikes, which is always good for inspiring stories or working out plot problems! Our town is proud to claim the largest tree in Connecticut, The Pinchot Sycamore Tree. It’s located on the same road that our first presidents took to Boston, including Washington, Jefferson and Adams, and it amazes me that the tree was alive when they were. Hey, that’s inspiring me right now to write a picture book!

Aww! I love tree books. Seriously, The Giving Tree…Please write this! Last book you read: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone, who I also have the pleasure of knowing as she lives in the next town over from me! It’s a high concept YA about a girl whose grandmother tells them that she’s dying but wants the whole family to go on a death-with-dignity cruise. But trust me, it’s fun and cheeky and heartfelt.

Last song you listened to on repeat: Crazy by Gnarls Barkley—I enjoy riling up my kids while their crazy mom sings this to them!

Dinner is on the stove, but the best first line for your WIP pops in your head and if you don’t write it down NOW, you’ll lose it forever…. What do you do?

Burn dinner, of course!

That’s what cereal is for, right?! Your current WIP in five words: (bonus points if you can do it in less!)

Are you kidding? Hedda struggles to be brave like her ancestor Beowulf.

Try again… Hedda must save the troll girl (still six words!)

Girl, rainbow bridge, Beowulf, Norse goddesses (obviously very challenging for me!)

You’re packing a bag of books for a desert island, which 5 books make it in the bag? 

Anna Karenina (my favorite book!) War & Peace (also by Tolstoy and I’ve never read it– and it’s really long so it will keep me busy for a long time!) Lord of the Rings (ultimate escapism when I want to be transported from my island). The Little Prince (when I’m feeling alone and doomed). Immortality (Milan Kundera will keep my thinking about my existence long after I’ve finished the last page).

That’s an ambitious list! As if you’re not busy enough, what’s next for you?

My fabulous CPs, fellow pennies Gita and Rebecca, are urging me to finish my PB about a hoity-toity coyote who loves England so much, he decides to fly to London to visit the queen and her corgis!

Yes, please!!! I want to beta read this! It was so fun getting to know you better. Readers, if you like what you read here, follow Karin on Twitter @karinlefranc and you can check out the book trailer for I Want to Eat Your books here!

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out Summer 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

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