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Who Tells the Tale? Narrative Voice by Jenny Jensen

June 19, 2019 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

 

Narrative Voice

 

The creative process is a mystery to me. I like it that way.  Not knowing how or why an author chooses a certain literary device makes every book I read a fresh experience. I’m not always wowed by the tale but I like to start with no bias. Just lately though, I can’t help wondering what drives so many of my clients to write in 1st person. I love a good tale told in 1st person but it’s the most difficult narrative voice to get right.

Up until the mid 20th century the lion’s share of novels were written in 3rd person. A quick glance of current literary prizewinners shows 30% written in 1st person (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, The Martian etc.). Current genre and commercial fiction is more like 50%. Clearly, this is the age of 1st person and I think I know why—energy, immediacy and intimacy.  While those three qualities attract us they’re also what makes 1st person hard to write well.

Be Compelling

The narrator has to be interesting enough to carry the reader through 200 plus pages of story. Basically it’s the only voice we hear so it better be entertaining. The character can be droll, hysterically funny, bitingly snarky, painfully deluded, even seriously insightful—as long as the energy exuded is compelling. Sometimes the narrator exists to showcase the main character. Watson is a rather deluded and bumbling narrator but we become fond of him. It’s his subject, Holmes that keeps the reader riveted. We want to stay for the whole ride.

1st person is both immediate and intimate. The reader sees the action through the narrator’s eyes rather than from the outside. It’s close up and personal so the reader has a sense of being present as the action takes place. With a compelling narrator and interesting plot it’s easy for the reader to feel they have a stake in the story. 1st person reads like a journal or a personal letter. The reader sees, hears and knows what the narrator sees, hears and knows. There’s no distance between us—all the more reason to craft a compelling narrator. The narrator speaks directly to us. Well done, 1st person is more exciting, more emotionally engaging and more satisfying than the viral YouTubes of laughing babies and crazy critters caught on camera. No wonder we love it.

Remove Filter Words

There is one cardinal sin when writing 1st person – filter words. They put a dampening distance between the reader and the action. Because we see, hear, smell, feel and know what the narrator does there is no room for distancing the reader.

For example:

“I even thought of doing something gossipy…”

Filter words removed:

“I considered something gossipy…”

I could hear…I thought…I felt…I sawchop away the filter words and close the distance. Good first person narrative is always from behind the character’s eyes.

Having put these thoughts down I think I’m going to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky). I love a good first person story. Do you?

 

~Jenny

 

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Setting – Gemstones & Stories by Jenny Jensen

April 19, 2019 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,

A beloved aunt left me her jewelry not long ago. I don’t do a lot of bling so I carefully put most of it away. Except for the sapphire ring. I love that stone. The blue is so true, so deep you feel you could drown in it. It blazes with its own cool fire. Like a crow I covet it in secret. I love to look at it. Wearing the ring is out of the question—the setting looks as if it came from a box of Cracker Jacks. It is so lifeless it buries the stone in boredom. I don’t know where Aunt Bea got the jewel but given the racy facts of her life I bet it’s a helluva story.

Setting. It carries such an impact. Every writer learns early on that setting is a critical element of good writing. A badly defined setting diminishes a great story as much as that pot metal dulls my sapphire. I’m going to have it reset someday. First, I have to figure out what the perfect setting should be—Integral or Backdrop?

With an Integral setting the story’s environment affects the action and characters. The time and place influences every aspect of the story. A good setting conveys atmosphere and mood – Wuthering Heights could not have taken place anywhere else. I’m thinking my sapphire would be lonely in the Yorkshire moors.

An integral setting can convey so much more than a background for the action. The symbolism of your choice of setting can be powerful. To simply place the reader in an abandoned house is enough to know we’re not in the security and warmth of Grandma’s kitchen — we know it’s empty and holds none of the energy of life. The stage is set for all kinds of otherworldly possibilities from ghosts to demons to zombie politicians.

In all historical fiction an integral setting defines the characters. An aristocratic gentleman in Regency England is as defined by that period as is the beautiful housemaid working in his manner. The setting will mean something to each of these characters and therein lays the story. What does that setting mean to each character? Does each character change and view his or her setting differently? The tension and the action are defined by the period setting.

Fantasy and Sci-fi, any genre with world building, offers the possibility of a setting where the world not only affects the characters, it can interact with them. That’s when setting becomes a major character in itself. In addition to mood and atmosphere setting can be a good guy or a bad guy. World building offers the added component of changing the setting. Harry Potter opens in the ordinary world and moves to the incredible, interactive setting of Hogwarts.

All the rich possibilities of an integral setting would overwhelm my sapphire. Backdrop setting however, works for a story that could take place anywhere with no affect on the action or characters—The Emperor’s New Clothes or Winnie the Pooh or Waiting for Godot. All simple stories with a central message.

My sapphire is universally appealing. It is timeless. This sapphire is like a moral tale. It has a simple message: beauty. That makes a backdrop setting my best choice. I’m not looking for vague and general like many backdrop settings. I want it to be a clear, simple setting that anchors the message and then fades gracefully away to let the stone shine. I bet I can find at least 10 of those. Now if only I can get an appointment with VanCleef and Arpels…


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Critique Groups or Beta Readers?

March 3, 2019 by in category Partners in Crime by Janet Elizabeth Lynn & Will Zeilinger tagged as , , ,
Author finding a typo in her published book | Critique Groups or Beta Readers| by Will Zeilinger

What’s the difference and why do we need them anyway?

by
Will Zeilinger

Janet and I co-write the Skylar Drake Mystery series and we’ve had people say to us, “I guess you proofread each other’s work.”

Both of us are intimately involved in the writing and initial editing, as such, we can get too close to it and sometimes miss big issues. That’s why we would never submit something for publication without the help of critique groups and/or beta readers to assist us.

What exactly, are we talking about? Maybe this will help.

Reader happy with the text she's reading | Critique Groups or Beta Readers | Will Zeilinger

 Beta Readers are individuals who evaluate your manuscript by reading it through and telling you about flaws or holes in your story.  Beta has come to mean a sort of testing phase and that is what a beta reader does. You have them read your work as a way of testing it for readability, and overall structure.

A Critique Group is made up of several people (usually writers, but sometimes includes readers) who meet together. You as an author, provide a short story or maybe a chapter from a novel for the group to read and critique. 

Let me stop here—The very word ‘critique’ is based on the word criticism, and in our culture that word has taken on a negative connotation, since to criticize someone’s writing usually means to tear it apart. However, the dictionary definition of the word ‘critic’ indicates it is “someone who passes judgement on something, usually in reference to art and literature.”

 That is a neutral statement…judgement can be either positive or negative, or a combination of both. So, it’s not, necessarily a bad thing.

This may all sound scary, especially to a beginning author. They’re taking your baby away from you and who knows what they will return in its place?  Will your prose become something unrecognizable? After all the hours, days, and nights of sweat and deprivation…will they drop a piece of crap in your lap?

A critique group in a library | Critique Group or Beta Readers | Will Zeilinger

Here’s the truth: Having another set of eyes and an impartial opinion of your work-in-progress is an essential step if you are planning to self-publish, but it can also help you in the quest to secure an agent or publisher if your plan is to go the traditional route with your work.

“But it’s gonna hurt!” you say. Don’t look at it that was. This is where you have the power to accept or reject any suggestions or critiques of your work.

As a career graphic designer, I remember vividly, the first critiques in my college classes. We all posted our concepts on the wall of the classroom. The professor would walk back and forth, making “hmmph” and “umm” noises before turning and asking the rest of us in class what we thought of each piece. There were, of course, a variety of reactions to them. 

As students, we’d take each into consideration. I didn’t always accept their suggestions, but I needed to hear and see it because I’d been too close to my work to be objective.

One of the things my professor said that I’ve carried over into my writing was when he would hold his hand over a portion of the drawing and ask, “Does this still work without this part?”

I found that eliminating nonessential pieces has helped streamline my work and make it read easier.

I needed to learn to accept constructive, positive critiques in either my designs or my writing, and discount those that were not pertinent or objective.

Letting others check your work-in-progress is a great way to improve your writing and make friends too.  Your choice: Beta Readers or Critique groups or both. Find the right one for you.

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The Joys—or Not—of Editing by Linda O. Johnston

February 6, 2019 by in category Pets, Romance & Lots of Suspense by Linda O. Johnston tagged as , , , , ,
The Joys-or Not-of Editing | Linda O Johnston | A Slice of Orange

The Joys—or Not—of Editing

I’m currently in the process of reviewing and responding to the copy edits for For a Good Paws, my fifth Barkery & Biscuits Mystery for Midnight Ink.  The process they use is a bit more complicated than many publishers I’ve dealt with recently since it involves making notes about things to change and not just redlining a clean version.  It takes more time, but it’s really not so bad.

For a Good Paws | Linda O Johnston | A Slice of Orange

I’m  a bit emotional about this one anyway, since it’ll be my last mystery for Midnight Ink because the publisher is sort of closing–at least not buying any more books, although they may continue to market existing ones for a while.  So far, I haven’t requested my rights back and probably won’t immediately. 

Will I do more Barkery mysteries?  I’d need to get at least some of my rights back to do that, and I’ve got other ideas to work on first–so I’m not sure. But if not, I’ll miss them!

These days, I’m sitting at my computer a lot working on those edits, which are due soon.  Recently, we’ve had a lot of rain, so sitting at my computer is a good place to be.  Since I’m in LA, I didn’t experience the Polar Vortex first hand but I’m sending hugs to those of you who did.  We have family near Chicago, so I got to hear some fairly scary stories—but all came out of it okay.  Hope that’s the same with you and yours as well.

And yes, the year marches on.  No, it’s not March yet, but it is almost Valentine’s Day.  So hug your sweeties, stay warm and dry—and read, write and/or edit some good books!


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SELF INFLICTED WOUNDS by Jenny Jensen

January 19, 2019 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , ,

The Indie Revolution is the most exciting innovation since Google; it’s more refreshing than the demise of the mullet. It’s such a grand opportunity! It’s so… democratic. Anyone with the passion and discipline to write down the stories that live in their head can offer their work to the world. There are no subjective, judgmental, economic barriers blocking the way. Every avid reader can troll the newest book offerings looking for that next great discovery. When I find a fresh new voice with an exciting sense of drama, fascinating characters and a unique tale to spin it’s like winning the lottery (at least I imagine it is, having never won myself).

And we all know what they say about opportunity—it’s something to make the best of. That’s why I am so amazed how many Indie books contain errors of the sort that any good set of editorial eyes would have found and corrected. It’s a message to me, the reader, that I’m not important enough to make the book right. Or worse, the author thinks so little of me that I’ll accept any error, that I won’t notice or care.

How can I not care when DCI Stewart, ruggedly attractive in a wry funny way (this narrative already has me considering Book Two) has just gone through XXI chapters of intriguing madness to finally find the decisive evidence and as he lifts the shredded ribbon from the debris of the broken vase he cries, “Waa La!”. What!? Waa La? I’m out of the moment now, jerked rudely from the mounting tension. DCI Stewart is no longer clever or ingenious; he’s an idiot. Give the poor man a “Viola!”. I can’t bear to look at any more.

It’s a different kind of awful when the whip smart heroine finally descends the grand staircase to face her treacherous half siblings and the room falls silent, “the rustling tool of her elegant gown the only sound”. This instantly conjures hysterically unintentional images. Yikes, it’s toile. I want to scream. The story has lost all credibility. I can’t get my reading mojo back. Why didn’t this author care?

It’s one thing to accept a typo or two, even a few missing prepositions are forgivable (just remember all those reviews that say it would have been a 4 star except for the typos) but it’s a lot to ask your audience to overlook faulty word choice, a change of voice in mid-chapter, a glaring hole in the timeline, a nonsensical plot point or character traits that shifts mid stream.

Such errors are forgivable in any draft—that’s where the author gets the story down and who cares if a character proclaims it’s a “mute point”. Under the fresh, critical eye of an editor it will become a moot point. This is the stage where an objective eye sees what the writer has missed by staring so long at the trees. Maybe the story arc lags, maybe the narrative or characters are inconsistent, a good editor and the writer can fix it. Doesn’t the writer want it perfect?

Indie publishing is such a golden opportunity and writing a good book requires so much personal investment to get to a good draft it’s sad how many writers just blithely publish, warts and all. Take the extra step and work with an editor. Your book and your readers are worth it. We editors can to save you from shooting yourself in the foot.

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