Tag Archives: Voice

Prompt Group: Vessel of Place, Using Other Senses, and a few Tips

10 Oct

Time for my prompt group yet again!  We did some exercises this time that were not exactly prompts, but were designed to teach us to write better.  The first was one my friend MB did at a writer’s conference.  It was: Imagine a situation with a strong emotion attached to it and pick an object to describe it.  This is called Vessel of Place, a way of saying that an object can have more emotional memory attached to it than the memory of an event.  (I hope that makes sense.)

The second one was a two part exercise.  We first were instructed to describe a place we had recently visited.    The second part was to use other senses.  Specifically, we had to take out all references to sight.  Mine didn’t have that much, so I worked instead to add more senses into the prose.  I’m including only the second here.  Please criticize me if I used too many visual references.

The final prompt was to take an object from the second prompt and do another vessel of place exercise with it.

Please post your exercises as well!  I’d love to see them.  I’m posting my responses below and then will end this post with some brief writing tips we went over.

Prompt 1

The wine glass was half filled so by default it was half emptied.  I stared at it and saw the reflections of the lights from around the dining room glaring back at me and hurting my eyes.  Looking through it, I could see him sitting on the other side of the table, his own glass of wine in his hand.  He swirled it around and around, mixing the sweet wine with a bitter bite to it.  I took a drink myself and what had previously seemed sweet and aromatic now seemed bitter and ashen.  It was funny how a few words could change the taste of a vintage wine.

I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure I lost more than my taste for wine that night.  The glass slowly drained in the same way the life slowly drained out of him.  What was before savory had turned ashen.  Link the life blood draining out of him as he left this world, the red wine into my mouth and disappeared forever.  The reflections in the glass faded as the night ended and the light in his eyes slowly went out over months of illness.

The pattern on the tablecloth that night reflected strangely in the base of my wine glass and looked like a cross.  I now believe it was a plus sign.  It was telling me, “It’s a plus that you’re with him now.  It’s a plus that you get to see this happen to him before it happens to you.”  But it was a plus for HIV positive, which is always a negative.

Prompt 2, Part 2

The ground was soft and muddy.  Most of the sites had ground the consistency of a baby’s diaper and the ones that weren’t were none too common.  When we finally found a place, the rain let up just enough to make us brave enough to venture out of the car.  Only one site had both a grille and a fireplace, both critical things in our opinion that the site director didn’t seem to find important.  A square of flat land had a few sticks that we threw into the woods so that they wouldn’t poke us in the back all night.  We should have considered that we’d want them later for firewood.  My husband opened the trunk and we got out the small tent, only then realizing that I’d forgotten the big tent at home.  This isn’t exactly what you want to realize 3.5 hours from home when you’re on a budget camping trip.

$106 later we were back with the roomiest tent in the site and were happily setting up for our other friends to arrive.  The sun was finally coming through the clouds and the humidity started to dip below 100%.

Prompt 3

The car smelled like a wet dog.  The carpets had mud rubbed into them from the college friends who didn’t bother to wipe their boots after hiking.  I found an entire McDonalds meal under the passenger’s seat.  It seems someone didn’t listen when I asked them to take their trash out when we left the car.

The squished bug on the inside of the back windshield will still be there six months later and the smell of spilt beer will never really leave the trunk.  The back seat still smells like river and the driver’s seat will always feel like shiver exasperation at the follies of men and boys.  I saw the ‘emergency tent’ we bought when I went to put my summer beach bag away for the winter.  It reminded me that even if you forget the shelter, you can remember to bring over 5 gallons of beer, as long as you have your priorities straight.  That’s enough return money to buy another 12 pack, in case you’re interested.

 

A Few Tips

I won’t be too long winded here, but we discussed a few tips and techniques for writers to utilize.  The first tip was to start with a list of names so that it’s easy to grab a name for a throw-away character while writing and you don’t have to stop and look around for one.  One member of our group suggested BehindtheName.com to look for names based on origin and meaning.  I’ve used this site for a piece I’m working on and it’s very helpful, I highly recommend it as well.

The second is something most writers know already; that every detail about your character and the words they say should give meaning to the character.  For example, I can say that Joe ate breakfast.  All that says is that Joe’s hungry.  If I say Joe ate a cold Poptart, you might think “Joe’s in a hurry and a bachelor.”  If I say that Joe had bacon and eggs you will probably think “Joe’s a family man with a wife who wakes up really early.”  Either way, the detail of what he ate tells you who Joe is.  All details should tell us about the character.

The third trick might sound like my earlier post about strong language, but it’s not to use ‘lazy’ words.  For example, everyone wears shoes.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word.  A woman wears stilettos or boots.  A child wears tennis shoes, a grandpa wears Oxfords.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word that doesn’t give us much description.  Someone can be ‘nice,’ but it’s better if they’re friendly or pleasant.  Try to stay away from very general words when a stronger noun would do better.

The last is one that I think is critical for good characterization and it’s to use a ‘language bank’ for each character.  We each have a vocabulary that’s uniquely our own and when we speak we say something differently than someone else would say it.  Also, individuals have phrases that they use a lot that another person might never use.  My example of this is Jay Gatsby who always says ‘old sport.’  Once it’s established that Gatsby is the one saying this, Fitzgerald could even leave off dialogue tags because the reader knew that was part of Gatsby’s vernacular.  I plan to do this with my WIP characters.  I want to take any scene in which a character talks and put the dialogue into one document.  It should read almost like a stream of consciousness from that character and individual quirks about how the person talks should be evident in each one.

I hope these tips are useful to you.  Please leave a comment and let me know or leave a comment with your own tip.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Novel Girls: Revision Process

16 Sep

One of the writerly topics I’ve been contemplating is the revision process. When I was in school, nothing I wrote ever needed major revisions; I could get away with changing a few words, at most a paragraph. Now, as I write entire manuscripts, I realize that I’m not so lucky.

Nicole and I met up to work on our novels yesterday. After my Novel Girls meeting on Thursday, i realized I had a lot of major updates to do. (Many times we meet, KK and Nicole will give me some major things to change and I usually put them off. They’d caught up with me.) These major changes hanging over me, along with a blog post I read by Emily on Adventures in Fantasy, made me start thinking about my own revision process.

For the WIP I’m currently on, I’ve done a re-write and I’m now going through chapter by chapter in a workshop, which is bringing out a few scenes that need another re-write. This weekend I’m going to do a read-aloud to help point out a few more scenes that sound weird/are inconsistent that need a re-write. I have a plan to take all of my dialogue and make sure that each character has a unique voice as far as idioms and speech pattern. I have a writing workbook that I’m thinking of going through as well. After that, I have a few betas lined up, which should lend itself to some more re-writing. Hopefully I can micro-edit from there and call it ‘done!’

Being the planner I am, I already developed a plan for my NaNo. The obvious first step: write a 50K+ word novel in 30 days. Easy enough. After that I plan to leave it alone for at least a month if not two. I then plan on doing what I call ‘the notecard thing’ which is where you write your major plot points from each chapter on a notecard. Then, you throw the notecards in the air and put them in an order that makes sense. You might have notecards you can take out, or might move the order of the plot to something more logical. (You can also have someone else put the notecards in order. They might be able to come up with something you missed and needs to be added a bit better.) Then, I’ll do a re-write without even looking at the first draft. I figure that at this point, I’ll know my characters better and this re-write will have more character consistency and development. I’ll go back through the rough draft and do what I’ve decided to call ‘digging for gold’ where I highlight sections that I absolutely love in the rough draft and re-write scenes to bring them into my second draft. Depending on how useful I find the workbook and dialogue pull from WIP 1 revisions, I might try those. From there, chapter by chapter workshopping, specific scene re-write, betas, and micro-editing before I’m done.

I’m a very methodical person and I need to have a plan to work to. What’s your process? Do you have a standard process you go through before you call a manuscript ‘done’ (or at least ready to send out)? Do you have suggestions for me? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Novel Girls: Voice, Description, and Motivation

7 Sep

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group of other females around my age who are also aspiring writers.  Because we’re all working on long-form fiction, we decided to call ourselves the Novel Girls.  (It’s a novel idea, HAH!)

We try to meet weekly on Thursdays to have dinner and critique each other’s work.  There are four of us, NJ, KK, and SG.  SG’s been on an extended business trip for the last six weeks, so it was just NJ, KK and I last night.

There were three main writing points we went over last night that I wanted to note here, either for my later reference or to help another writer.

  1. Distinctive voice: KK shared a great piece with us last night that rotated between three settings and four characters.  The opening scene was a female character and she used some wonderful description, internal dialogue, and flashback to give the character a very distinctive internal voice.  The next time we saw this character, she was in a scene with three other people and her voice was a little lost in all the action.  The other characters were busy having a conversation and this female was standing by, listening.  It almost seemed to me like KK had rushed through writing that part because she didn’t give the character the distinctive voice she’d worked so hard to give her in the first scene.  This helped me remember that my characters have personalities and will react to everything around them.  It’s important to be sure this personality shines through in every scene and that they have an appropriate reaction to the things they hear and see. even if they’re not narrating that scene.
  2. There’s a limit to what one line of description can show: NJ shared a piece that started with two female co-workers at the end of the day, getting ready to leave for work.  NJ described one as having a large shoe collection that matched her outfits each day and the other as having a wrinkled business suit.  A few lines later, she wrote that unlike the first, the second character didn’t care about her appearance.  This one took me a second to process because to me, a business suit with wrinkles at the end of the day didn’t imply slovenliness.  With one or two lines more of description, the character could be more developed, come across as a careless dresser, and it might not even be necessary to say she didn’t care about her appearance.  This made me realize that my character’s clothes aren’t even described very much in my text and that how a character dresses can tell a lot about them.  (For reference, my book takes place in 1920s Chicago.)  I recently was invited by an acquaintance to visit her grandmother’s old house, where she still has some of the clothing worn in the late 20s and early 30s.  I hope that after seeing these clothes, I can find a way to show my character’s personalities through their simple clothing choices and be a little less ‘show-y’ and more ‘tell-y.’
  3. Character motivation needs to be strong, even if the character isn’t speaking: I have a scene where my male protagonist is trying to evade a female character he doesn’t like AND the scene is narrated by my female protagonist (confused a bit?).  KK’s comment was that she didn’t understand why the male protagonist was doing what he was doing; she couldn’t find his motivation!  Our ultimate decision was that I should switch the order of a few scenes, but it made me realize that in scenes where the non-narrating character needs some motivation, it takes a lot of attention to detail to make sure that motivation is clear.  It could be done with dialogue, description, etc., but it needs to be there.

 

I’m not sure if this helps anyone else, but it sure helps me to think through it!  What’s some advice you can share about writing?  Maybe it will help me with my next critique group!  Please leave a comment and share.