Springmingle 09 - Saturday PM

Ah, Saturday afternoon. What a wonderful conference it was turning into. The first workshop after lunch for me was Creating a 'True Blue' Voice. The speaker, Caitlyn Dlouhy, is the executive editor at Atheneum Books. She gave a lot of examples of voice, reading from books she had either edited or liked.
To me, this meant voice is elusive, difficult to explain, and even more difficult to achieve. I felt it meant voice is where the character speaks to the reader as soon as they pick up the book. Is it hard to master?
Can it be done?
Oh, I'm sure everyone can find their voice but it means switching up how you write and the methods you use. A couple of months ago, tired of struggling with a project I'd worked on for more than a year, I switched it to first person past tense. Then I asked a few writer friends to look it over. Their overwhelming response was to remain with first person. They heard the voice of the different characters right from the very first word. I'd found my voice but I needed to refine it. Which is why I sat in on this workshop. Surely, Ms. Dlouhy had the mysterious keys to tell me exactly how I could do that.
She didn't disappoint.
Her passionate delivery didn't falter as she explained four important elements of voice. My hand never slowed as I took note after note, to grab as much information as possible in the one hour alloted for this very important subject.
What are the elements of voice?
Give place, character, and sense immediately. Let the reader feel what you are showing them. The story should flow from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.
Use a different feel for each character. People are different. We aren't clones walking around in a world that evolves around us. We are very different from each other. Therefore, our characters should always be different. They have layers. No one is all serious or all humorous. They have moments when they experience a myriad of emotions. We must strive to show all of those while also remaining true to voice. A character must show growth throughout the experience or they aren't three dimensional.
A description of something can give a sense of foreboding, a sense of something about to happen. Very true. In layering the story, we are charged with setting up scenes but also with keeping the character's voice flowing. Simple things can and do set up tense situations with just a few keystrokes. Cliched, hackneyed phrases can and should be reworded. For crying out loud, don't let eyes twinkle. Everyone does that. Instead, have your character move to show them sensing something about to happen. Think about real life. It's far stranger than fiction. Use what you see, feel, and hear to set up the scene and then follow through.
Use the same narrator but work out different voices for each character. Oh, I agree with this. A serious character, one on a path to change their surroundings, will respond more to other characters who not only support them but who are determined to throw obstacles in their path. By knowing each character, far beyond hair and eye color, height, and age, you have discovered just what sets them on the path they've picked. The moment in time you're conveying comes much easier if you can insert certain things that make them individual.
The most important thing I picked up from this work shop is that voice is unique, only yours, and you can do it.
Thank you for that advice, Ms. Dlouhy. It gave me what I needed to clean up my work.
After a quick break, I came back to hear Kathleen Duey speak about Bricks, Mists, Voices, and Heart. What a great way to follow up a discussion on voice. And boy did I get comfortable to hear it. Most folks sit in chairs. Not me. By this time, my body was craving a far more comfortable position, one where I could stretch and move when I needed to. So, shoes came off and I used the carpeted floor to enjoy Kathleen's discussion.
Not to say that she remained at the podium and just talked. Oh no, again, she paced around the room. No apologies for this, she needs to walk, use her hands, and stay in motion while she talks. It certainly made for an interesting session.
About story structure, you start with an idea/a spark. Incubate the idea. Ah, that's easy. Incubating is something I've done for a week to years. I'll write down the initial idea and then put it aside. Then I'll pull it out and look again, maybe write down a few names for the characters. Then it's onto research and letting the bones of the story come out. Before I know it, or maybe long after I first thought I should have written it, the story starts to come together. The process then moves quickly. As soon as the story begins in my head, I must write it until it ends.
Next, go back through the story. If it still sparks, keep it. If not, clear th decks. Yup, completely agree. I've collected tons of ideas over the years. More than half are still sitting in an idea folder while others took that last trip to the recycle bin.
Finally, she said we should write out our thoughts on idea cookers that pop up. Still following her, and to my horror, finding myself coming up with thoughts on how to fix a current manuscript. Let me tell you, it's darned hard to keep up with a frenetic speaker and make notes on revisions at the same time. My notes took on an appearance of a child's scribbling as I used margins to set things down.
Kathleen emphasized keeping an Idea/Inspiration folder for these rough notes. I agree. It's a way to organize things so the mind isn't cluttered. She pushed remulling, relooking, and regoing over the idea files so they stay fresh. Any note added on those reviews will move it along.
Her most important bit of advice was to take yourself seriously or no one else will. Don't self-depreciate.
She had a lot more to say but the most important thing I learned from her is when I stop for the day on a project, stop in the middle of a scene. That way, when I come back to it, I can review what I've written so far, add or delete what's necessary to flesh it out, and them move forward with the story fresh in my mind.
Yes! Very good thought.
The final session I attended on Saturday was What an Editor Wants hosted by Abigail Samoun of Tricycle Press. She made several great points but the first part of her talk is still with me. It was her do's and dont's on how to claw my way out of the slush pile (or in her case, the slush closet).
Dont's: send something unprofessional looking, use amateur photos or art, use a condescending voice, use overdone stories, make the stories too long or detailed for a picture book, or use forced rhymes or unnecessarily rigid rhyme schemes.
Do's: Take pride in the manuscript's appearance (make it clean and unwrinkled), use a fresh take on familiar stories, have a real understanding of a child's reality, have a manuscript that understands the strengths and limitations of a given format, use lots of poetry tricks, such as alliteration, half rhymes, metaphor, and meter.
The second important thing she stressed was six crucial points to sell a book.
1. one line book description - a sentence that captures the heart of the book.
2. Why should the publisher acquire it?
3. Who is the target audience? Who will buy it?
4. What are competitive titles?
5. What are the book's key selling points?
6. What is your platform as the author? What resources do you have to promote the book?
Well, my brain near about burst after these sessions. I had so much information and had to digest it to figure out just what I could do with it. So, I went to the banquet that night, fully prepared to enjoy myself and then spend a few hours figuring out just how to apply all this advice to my work. Of course, Saturday night is always the time the editors sit on the podium and read first pages of those brave enough to submit them for public airing.
Most were pretty good. One stood out. I didn't write it down, so bear with me. However, to the best of my knowledge it went like this.
The main character was a teen girl. She was sitting beside her boyfriend while they drove along a road. Must have been summer since he had on yellow shorts. She's checking him out, as teen girls do when they can't think of something to say. The last sentence of the first page?
"I'd had intimate knowledge of his thighs without his permission."
The reaction was laughter, shocked expressions, and for some the feeling they could never beat that particular sentence in their own work. I know I was one of them. Talk about an attention getter. Also, I have to admit, while I used to check out my boyfriend's legs way back when, I certainly never thought of it as intimate knowledge of his thighs. Wow! That delves far into thoughts than I'd ever gone. But it also showed a teen's mindset without going into a lot of words. We certainly knew her thoughts at that second. No other explanation was necessary.
So, Saturday night ended. On a very upbeat note. Sunday loomed and the weather was on everyone's minds. Mother Nature was about to throw us a curve ball but we had to get through one more workshop, have one more day where we swirled around in a current of writing information, to absorb as much as possible before we returned to our sometimes mundane lives. Stay tuned for just how things ended.


Donna Alice said…
Wow! Almost feel like I was there. Kept thinking about you over the weekend going--now she's at the opening ceremony, workshop, lunch, banquet, etc. Sure do wish I'd gone.

Loads of great advice in this!