Posts Tagged ‘write by the seat of your pants’

Voice. Sometimes, I feel this can be the hardest thing to create in a story, especially when you’re writing in first person. You, as the writer, have to create this unique person, someone with a personality, desires, fears, likes, and pet peeves. And then you have to give them a unique speaking voice, including vocabulary and word choice, syntax, grammar, accent, and all that can be really difficult. A lot of us have that distinct writer’s voice* in our heads that is always arranging our sentences on the page (or on the blog post) in a way that reads like what we consider good literature.

And it’s even more hindered when you consider where our writer voices come from. You see, I have this hypothesis that every writer’s storytelling voice is born when they read a great story and the narration resonates with them on a deeper level. This could be their own voice reading their first chapter book as a child, a parent reading to them a fantasy novel by their bedside and making the story come alive, or an audio book narrator with a great speaking voice behind the words. No matter how many other stories we may read or listen to later in life with their own amazing narrative styles–the childlike humor and observations of Alice in Wonderland, Stephen King’s odd characters and descriptions, or the three women from The Help and how they each view their situation from vastly different backgrounds and dispositions–it will always be this original narrator who contributed the base DNA for your writer’s voice, and whom a part of you will always spend a good amount of time both trying to emulate in power and break away from so you don’t sound like a copycat.

For me, I always go to Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter audio books. Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, and caused me to start writing in the first place. My first attempt at writing was something like a Harry Potter gender-bend fanfiction. And Jim Dale made the text come alive, in ways the movies and the books alone couldn’t. Whenever I wrote, in the back of my mind, I was comparing and contrasting to Jim Dale’s work. And while I’ve managed to develop my own voice, it’s still a fight that goes on in the back of my head up to this day.

So basically, I’m fighting Jim Dale in my head while trying to create an original narrator’s voice on the page.It’s an image perfect for a Family Guy cutaway gag.

Struggling against this guy in my head every time I write.

So what can you do when you’re trying to create a distinct voice for your narrator or narrators? What do you do when you want to make Skeeter sound different from Abilene and Abilene from Minnie, or Cormoran Strike from Harry Potter, or Lestat from Louis? And can I come up with any other characters for comparison? The answer to the latter question is yes I can, but I’ll stick to the former if you don’t mind too much.

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a new story while I wait to hear back from my beta readers. And as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a more organic approach by writing this story without much planning and seeing what evolves from that. And weirdly, that approach has allowed me to tap more fully into my narrator’s head. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it might have something to do with the plotting vs. pantsing thing I talked about in that previous post. When I’m plotting, I think out every detail of the story, not leaving much room for change or experimentation. Thus, the narrator’s voice becomes secondary to telling the story I want to tell, in the way I want it to be told, and the narrator’s voice ends up as something close to default writer’s voice.

But while I’m pantsing it (or plantsing it, as my friend Kat Impossible informs me), that particular mental clamp isn’t in place. Thus, without having to worry about getting my story from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F (I’m not even sure if I have a Point F at this point), I can focus more on my narrator and develop her voice. I’ve actually discovered through, just by letting my character be herself and make her observations about the world, she’s a pretty frank and kind of funny. At one point, after saying “her heart fluttered,” she says she sounds like a romance novel, which she hates reading, and her friends consider that a horror “on par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” I wrote that in, and I ended up laughing!

I might have to pants/plants my stories more often in the future.

But what if you already write by pantsing or plantsing, or plotting is the only style that works for you? Well, I might have a few suggestions:

  1. Write out the traits of your narrator. If your narrator is a character in the story,  then obviously they have a personality (unless this is an 80’s movie, in which case they’re bland and white). Think about them and what their role is a story. What do they want? What do they stand to lose if they fail? What’s in their past? Who do they hang out with? Figuring this out can give an insight into the character and therefore to the voice that they give.
  2. Have a conversation with the narrator. I forget where I got this, but it’s a good one to use. Grab some paper and a pen, and have a conversation with your character. Ask them questions, and then write down what you’d imagine their responses to be. It seems a little mental, but it’s pretty effective, and can be used for other issues in a story (motivation, plot holes, etc).
  3. Spend time narrating scenes in your head. I’m the kind of guy who spends a lot of time planning the story in my head before I write it (the consequence of having a full-time job and only one me to write). Consequently, there are scenes I’ve written and rewritten several times over in my head. During that time, a character’s personality, worries, beliefs, and of course their voice will emerge through several mental revisions. By the time you get the actual writing, you already have the narrator’s voice down pat.

Voice is always difficult to get right for any narrator, but there are a variety of ways to help you get that voice. Whether it’s writing something differently than usual, or having an imaginary conversation, you can discover your narrator and their voice. And from there, you can make your story that much better.

What do you think of finding a narrator’s voice? Do you have any tips for doing so?

*The writer’s voice, by the way, is very different from our speaking voices. I’m never this eloquent in real life. I actually stammer a bit, my mind racing to get the best sentence out while my mouth is already saying the words. It’s quite annoying, and sadly the only time I’m not plagued with it is probably when I’m telling a joke (usually a stupid one). Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could speak like we write blog posts or stories? It might make a few things easier.

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Someone is going to read this title and be very confused as to its meaning. Most likely, my parents. Or any juvenile who thinks pulling down a classmate’s pants is the height of comedy.

So, if you are wondering what the hell that title is about, it refers to two different styles of writing stories. Plotting is when writers plan out every part of the story. Everything, from beginning to middle to end, is planned and…well, plotted. Obviously, not everything is done according to a plan. A lot of stuff, like the wording in the story, is decided upon while writing. But the major elements–plot, characters, grisly character deaths involving giant monsters ripping deceitful high schoolers in half (no wait, that’s just me)–are decided upon before the story is even begun.

Pantsing is the exact opposite of that. Writers write by the seat of their pants and just make it up as they go along. There is some planning involved (for more on that, read this article by my friend/colleague Ruth Ann Nordin), mainly what sort of story arc you want to go through, what sort of characters there are, and perhaps some scenes you hope to include in the story, but for the moment it’s pretty much whatever comes out of your fingers at the moment you’re writing. The dialogue, action, and the descriptions are created spontaneously.

Plenty of writers have their own preferences. Stephen King is definitely more of a pantser: in his memoir On Writing, he compares writing stories to unearthing an artifact from some ancient civilization, revealing a little more with every dig of the shovel and brush, never knowing what you’ll uncover. JK Rowling, on the other hand, is probably a plotter. After all, she spent years putting together the seven books of the Harry Potter series, laying groundwork and hints of what is to come.  And you don’t just come up with stuff like Hallows and Horcruxes like that on the spot. No, she had those planned for ages and ages.

Personally, I’m a plotter. I usually have every scene planned out, especially with novels, where I tend to outline the story, and then do several drafts of the outline, before I get to the actual story. I’m not sure why. It might be I’m a bit of a control freak who takes being the “God of his fictional universe” a little too seriously. Or I just learned to write like that, and it’s done me well so far. Either way, it’s what I’ve done since I was a child, and it’s worked for me.

Writing by the seat of these, LOL

So why the hell am I talking about this? Because for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually writing a story and pantsing it!

I mentioned in the post I wrote after I finished editing Rose that I was going to work on a couple of shorter works for a while. The first of these stories involves a bunch of people being trapped within a relatively small space, and this is going to be the meat of the story. In a confined space, tensions can get high, and the scenario of the story will probably raise those tensions a lot higher. So, I decided that it might be better to write this story by the seat of my pants, rather than plot the whole darn thing.

I figure that, rather than planning out that entire part of the story, I might instead plan only a few scenes and some plot points that I hope will come up in the story, and see what happens. I feel that will be more organic than just planning out who will lash out at whom when and what that leads to. The conflict will feel more real that way, not just to readers, but to the characters themselves, and to me too. If the conflict in a story feels fake, no one will buy it, and the story will suffer because the reader will disengage. Hopefully I can avoid it by changing things up.

I’m also kind of hoping I can experiment a little with humor in my stories. As I said in a previous post, I don’t include humor in most of my stories, and one of the reasons I think that might be is because I’m a plotter, so I keep in mind how dark my stories are from beginning to end and don’t insert humor because of how dark they are. I’m wondering if writing by the seat of my pants will give me more room to insert my style of humor, which is very situational, and make it not as forced as it might be under other circumstances.

It’s not a big reason why I’m trying pantsing with this story, but it’d be a perk if it happened.

So I’m trying to pants my way through this story, with only a few scenes planned, only eight characters fleshed out, and just a general idea of what I want to happen with this story. I have no idea what will happen, if this will be something I’ll do more often, or if the work I produce by pantsing will be any good. However, like every good writer, I have to be brave enough to keep pushing boundaries and to try new things. At least some of those new things have to work. Am I right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a few more blog posts I want to put out this week before I start on this story I’ve mentioned and fall into a proverbial rabbit hole, so I’m going to be putting those out one after the other this week (and maybe next). Hopefully by the time those are done, you won’t be sick of me.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!