Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

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Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

You hear this a lot when you’re a fiction writer. You need to find you voice, write with vision, have a perspective. And when you hear those words you think, Oh, go away, you pretentious git. And I don’t blame you. The people who tell you that you need to “find your own voice”, without any further guidance, are pretentious gits.

But the fact still remains, if you want to write well, you do need to write with your own voice.

So, how does one find this voice?

 

Step 1:

Start keeping a journal – This sounds almost as pretentious as telling you to use your own voice, but please, trust me for a minute. By a cheap ass notebook, and just scribble some thoughts down. Don’t make them frilly. Don’t pretend some great literary historian is going to end up reading them when you’re famous (~coughs~ totally didn’t do that myself ~coughs~). Write like you’re talking to a friend. Be as colloquial as you want to be and just word vomit onto paper a few times a week.

Step 2:

Copy the voices you love – Make a short list of the writer’s you really love, and trying mimicking their style. Don’t go for a full novel. Dream up a character and a short scenario, and write with the voice of a writer you admire. One of my favourites to copy was Douglas Adams, which you can see in Moving Day. His jovial, semi-sarcastic wit is so specifically him, but it’s great fun to play with.

Step 3:

Pin point what it is that you like – Once you’ve had your fun playing with that voice, it’s time to get analytical. What is it that you like about that voice? Is it the wit, like myself with Adams? Is it the simple, clean prose, like myself and Graham Greene? Or is it the fluid presentation of thoughts …like me and every modernist I’ve ever loved?

Step 4:

Blend those voices – Now comes the tricky bit. Now, you need to take all the bits you like about the work of other writers, and apply it to your own work. Sounds complicated? How can you mix Adams’ wit, with Greene’s prose, and Woolf’s stream of consciousness? First off, relax, because here’s the thing; you’re never going to sound like all of them. And that’s fine, because that’s not the aim. The aim is to sound like you, but to develop the bits that you like the most about their writing in your own. That diary you’ve been keeping (right?) get that out, and have a read through what you’ve written. You’ll likely find you’re already doing some of those things you love so much. However, you may also find you sound like you’re up your own arse (thanks, Woolf) or that you’re close to murdering everyone (cheers, Adams) or that you manage to write a whole paragraph without giving any context for what’s happening (Greene! My man!). Once you see these things, you can start to blend the voices together better. Ease up on the 1920’s English, tone down the sarcasm and pop in a few more adjectives.

Step 5:

Figure out what you bring to the table – This isn’t exactly easy to do for yourself, which is why I always advocate sharing your work with trusted friends/ family/ writers. In my case, it was my lecturer, Dr Richard House, who made me realise what I added (although I’m fairly certain my mum had told a very small Emma something similar). When Richard read the opening to The End of Atlas, he said to me that I had a very filmic writing style. At the time, I thought this was really odd way to describe it, but I’ve come to realise that it’s how my mind works. When I’m writing fiction, I see things as if it’s a film playing in my head. I see the shots, and the look, and I target the elements of the scene to describe which I think will have the biggest impact. Knowing this helped me see how I was holding three very different voices together. Simplicity, fluidity and hella humour, woven together with a filmic structure. That is how I like to roll.

Step 6:

Acceptance – Finally, there’s one small thing you need to know and accept. You’re never going to stop fiddling around with your voice. Mainly because, if you’re any good at writing, you’re never going to write the exact same character twice (unless you’re writing a novel series). Even if you don’t write in first person (like myself), and you rely on a third person narrator, your characters will inevitably have some influence over the tone of your narration, and you will certainly need to be able to adapt your voice for dialogue. Writing is as much about acting as it is about prose. However, don’t be disheartened. Having a sense of your own voice will 1) help you pick the projects that you’re going to enjoy the most, and 2) figure out when your character is just you in disguise (I’m looking at you John Green).

 

If I’m honest with myself, I do worry about where I’ll go after The End of Atlas is finally finished. I’ve become so familiar with the voice of Alec, my protagonist, that he kind of feels like home. But I know, when the time comes, I’ll pick up the parts of him that are me and develop a new character, and a new project which I’ll hopefully enjoy just as much.

Hope you’re enjoying your Saturday!

Best,

E.M.

P.S. Today’s featured image is a small snapshot of an essay I wrote before Easter…in which I sound like Dr Seuss.

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Personal Post: Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

Thoughts on the paper towns movie
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Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

I should preface this by making it clear that I love John Green. I think he’s an amazing Youtuber, and no-one has done more for the nerd community that him and his brother, Hank. The VlogBrothers played a big part in how comfortable I’ve become with my intelligence, and my passion, and for that I’ll always love them.

But I don’t like John Green’s writing. Particularly, Paper Towns.

For me, John’s voice is just too strong. When I’m reading his books, I can hear his voice; the fast pace, stopping only to take a breath; the emphasis on multi-syllabic words; the jovial tone. For example:

Your twenties are not destiny, your thirties are not destiny. Destiny is not something that happens all at once, it’s something that happens only in retrospect.

Compared to:

I’m starting to realize that people lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.

Can you tell which is John, and which is Quentin? (The protagonist of Paper Towns.) I couldn’t. Of course, to a certain degree this is expected. A writer without a voice of their own, is a sales assistant. But there’s a limit to how much a writer’s own voice, should affect that of the character. I got particularly irritated by the fact that Quentin – who struggles to interpret the meaning of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, and who worries that he might fail an English test – can somehow quote obscure T.S. Eliot lines like pop lyrics;

Light, the visible reminder of Invisible Light.

I studied Eliot with enthusiasm at university, but I never got round to reading ‘Choruses from the Rock’. How Quentin – a boy who apparently struggles with basic English Lit analysis – is supposed to know this line is beyond me.

My qualms with Green’s writing style aside, I thought perhaps the story would translate better on screen. After all, who doesn’t like a good teen romcom? Then I made the mistake of watching the trailer, and ruined it for myself.

The trailer is ridiculously spoiler heavy. It covers almost the entire plot, from Margo and Quentin’s night of revenge, through to Quentin getting out of the van at the end of the road trip he takes with his friends. The only thing that’s missing is the story wrap up, which (unless they’ve changed it) is incredibly disappointing. For a book that supposedly subverts the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, it sure turns Margo into a complete ass.

As for the casting, well, Cara Delevingne was a bit out of nowhere, and I can live with it. But seriously;

  1. They could have left her tattoos uncovered – Margo is supposed to be a bit of a rebel, and they had already picked a girl that looks nothing like the original description. Why not let her have her own flair? Go big, or go home.
  2. That poster (see above) – Whoever chose the photo needs their head checked. Having her hair in front of her face does not make her look “mysterious”. If anything, it sort of makes her look like Zack Efron in drag (see below). I mean no offense to Cara – she’s a beautiful woman – but that photo is just bad, bad, bad, and the marketing team should know better.

thoughts on the paper towns movieUltimately, I know it will do well. Fans of the book, and those who just like a good romantic comedy, will be all over it. Hell, I might even give it a try when it inevitably ends up on Netflix.

I suppose my conclusion is this; for the love of God, Green, get a decent marketing team. One that is not going to give away the entire plot of the movie in a two minute trailer.

If you haven’t seen it, the trailer is below. However, if you intend on watching the movie when it comes out in July, I’d recommend skipping it. Otherwise you’ll just be spending £8 to watch the end, and the end is not worth £8.

Tip Tuesday: How to be a Nerd

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How to be a Nerd

AKA: The Life Cycle of a Nerd.

Stage One: A nerd, is usually born early on in life. Like an axolotl exposed to the right hormones can transform into a salamander, a human child exposed to the right fictive universes has a good be a nerdchance of becoming a nerd. For the 90’s child, these sources were likely Pokemon, Digimon, and in rare cases Beyblade, but may also have involved Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, or another literary source. While not effective in all cases, the exposure to such worlds often leads to compulsive habits; a need to watch, to read, to delve further into a fictional reality. These changes are subtle, but are usually accompanied by what some (certainly not this impartial observer) might call, an unhealthy enthusiasm for things and stuff.

Stage Two: It is as at the adolescent stage that the metamorphosis into a nerd becomes blatantly apparent. The common nerd may find it difficult to adjust to growing limbs, and be a nerdtake to their bedroom to spend extensive periods of time on the internet, or any gaming system available to them. Common nerds may have issues forming friendships and romantic partnerships, but when they do, it is often a bond for life (or at least for puberty). The lesser more confident nerd, is marked by its ability to recognise that being a nerd is actually several levels of awesome. They appreciate that they are surrounded by friends who are equally as passionate about things and stuff as they are, and know that titles such as “popular” are overrated constructs that will mean nothing once they’re and adult. They acknowledge that having good peopbe a nerdle, with similar interests in your life is important for their physical and mental well-being. For this reason, you will often find at least on lesser more confident nerd at the centre of any common nerd flock, if not more. With time, it is possible for all nerds to develop the feathers of a lesser more confident nerd, particularly upon reaching university, where most people are nerds and its INCREDIBLE.

Stage Three: Adulthood is a difficult time for a nerd. Gone is the bizarre universe of education, in which being a nerd was motivated by coursework deadlines and exams. Now there is a choice to be made; a choice between living life in a state of cryogenic sleep, only to wake up every two or so years for thebe a nerd new series of Sherlock and a mug of homemade butterbeer, or to stay awake, and nerd harder than you have ever nerded before. Life as an adult nerd is about perpetual self-motivation; finding new and interesting sources of entertainment and information, talking to new nerds whether online or irl, and keeping your mind active, as well as your body. Most people will tell you “Exercise more, and eat right.” A good nerd will tell you, “YOU HAVE TO PLAY MONKEY ISLAND. NO. NO. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! HIGHBRUGH THREEPSNOGGIN IS A PRECIOUS BAE, AND YOU NEED TO AT LEAST PLAY CURSE.” Or, you know, something like that.

I realise this is a bit different to my usual Tip Tuesday piece, but I fancied doing something a bit silly (and of course all silliness should be accompanied by John Green’s face covered in sharpie). I sort of went on a trip down memory lane, and now I really want to nerd-out over something. Has anyone got any good game suggestions? Preferably PC based. I need something to muck around with between novel editing and job applications. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll catch you later this week with a couple more posts. In the meantime you can riddle me this; HOW YOU BE A NERD?