March Madness 2: Making a Noise

The brown and grey Song Sparrow isn’t very big. The Cornell University’s Ornithology site describes song sparrows as medium-sized but bulky, and says they are one of the most familiar sparrows in North America. If I sit quietly down by our marsh on a summer day, I’ll sometimes hear their chip-and-trill song from somewhere in the bushes, but I never get to see them.

Song Sparrow, Pacific Northwest form (Melospiza melodia)

Song Sparrow, Pacific Northwest form (Melospiza melodia)

This little guy is the only one that ever comes out of hiding, and he reappears every year during late winter, travelling with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. He’s a ground forager but visits our deck to snack on seeds spilled from the feeder by other more messy eaters. I’m assuming it’s the same one every year, since I’m told they can live ten years or more, but of course I can’t know for sure.

I’m not a great birdwatcher, but I’m learning to identify the birds that frequent our property, most by sight but some by their song. Each species emits a specific sound. You can hear the Song Sparrow’s here, if you desire.

SongSparrow2It’s surprising what you can learn from birds. Today I’m reminded of how important it is to have a distinctive voice. For this Song Sparrow, hearing him and knowing he’s around means I’ll be sure to toss out a few handfuls of his favourite seeds.

For those of us who are writers, our voice, according to Wikipedia, is “a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).” A lot of words, but what exactly does it mean for us?

Donald Maass, in his book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (if you haven’t read it, you should), says:
“What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.”

So, fellow Wipsters (or March Madnessers… I kinda like that term of Shari‘s), as we launch into this second week of pursuing our goals, I’d like to suggest we give some thought to what makes our work stand out. Whether blogging, writing stories or illustrating, have you put any effort into developing a unique voice? Do you think it’s important, or just a literary accoutrement? And if you’re a reader, do you prefer certain books because of the author’s voice, or are you more attracted to the theme or story?

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Before  moving on, I’d like to give away another prize from our huge prize arsenal! Today’s winner is…

Trudi Trueit!

Congratulations, Trudi! Stop by our goal-setting post, and choose your prize from those still listed. Then email Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice and we’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.

And if you didn’t win, there are still LOTS of great prizes to be won, so keep checking in each day. Tomorrow’s check-in location is at Angelina Hanson’s blog: http://yascribe.blogspot.ca/

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How does perspective affect mood in a novel?

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The word perspective has several synonyms including perception, angle, outlook, and viewpoint. Granted, each of them carries a slightly different nuance, but how often do we consider the importance of that when deciding which point of view to use in our stories?

After we decide on the main characters, there is always the question about first, second or third person point of view, and the appropriate tense. Sometimes the decisions are made very offhandedly, as if it doesn’t really matter as long as we choose one and stick with it.

What I’ve been noticing, however, is how the mood of a novel seems to depend on the personality represented by the point of view. Not only does each character have a distinctive personality, but so also does every narrator, and it is reflected in how the story is told.

This idea suggests we should know our characters well before beginning to write – not something that comes easy for me. I tend to develop my characters as I write, knowing them intimately only when I finally reach the conclusion. That might explain why I sometimes end up switching point of view and tense during my revisions. If I did more detailed character studies before I began I wouldn’t have quite so many changes to make later. (I tell myself that constantly, but when a character begs to have his story told I can’t wait to dive in. Does that mean I’m undisciplined? Oh, please don’t tell me that! I have enough problems.)

One of the reasons my first novel has been permanently shelved is because the protagonist is unsympathetic. She’s always discouraged or depressed, and no matter how I rework the chapters, they’re still going to reflect her personality. I’m pretty sure I need to replace her with a stronger, more upbeat character or rewrite the entire story from a different point of view, not something I want to tackle… at least, not yet. I have another cheeky character taunting me with her story.

 What determines how you choose the POV and tense for your stories? How would it affect the tone of your writing if you switched perspective?

 

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New beginnings… or, please not another revision!

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Bridal Wreath Spirea in bud

Now that spring is officially underway, I think most of us are wishing for signs that winter is giving in and retreating. We all realize that where we live has a bearing on how soon we can expect to see buds bursting, but we’re more than ready for the return of springtime with its cycle of new beginnings. Then again, there are some beginnings I’d rather avoid.

Monday’s post was about a blogfest where we were to offer up the start of our novel for a critique that focused on showing voice. We posted the first 250 words and waited for our fellow bloggers to tear into them and pass judgment on the quality of the opening and its voice.

Brenda Drake is hosting this “Show Me the Voice” blogfest-cum-contest, and her instructions were to post it for critiques, then polish the excerpt until it shines, and submit it to be judged.

Have you any idea how many times I’ve revised that novel? I’d challenge you to throw out a number, but in truth I don’t think I remember exactly how many. Nevertheless, I tweaked those 250 words and, of course, found myself reading on to the end of the chapter. And, just like every other time I looked at it, I could see more possible changes. Oh, please… not another revision!

I’ve asked the question before, but still, there is that niggling uncertainty. When do you know it’s time to stop revising a manuscript?

I have a different novel in revision, and another new one in the works. I don’t want to begin revising this one again. In fact, I’ve sent the excerpt to Brenda, and I’m closing the file. I just can’t face it. So, unless someone can convince me otherwise, I’m off to work on my new story. ‘Bye now!

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Achieving Our Personal Style

Style Gets Personal” says a headline on the cover of one of my favourite design magazines, “Canadian House and Home”. I smile because in my opinion style has always been personal. But as I thumb through the pages I realize that’s not entirely true. Sometimes we deliberately imitate someone else’s style because we like it. Perhaps we think it will suit us or our use of it will impress others. Maybe we adopt a style because we haven’t figured out our own.

In one of the articles Karen Von Hahn says, “Over the years I’ve opined on all things stylish for design panels, on television and radio, and now I even blog about it. But my own style, particularly that of my own home, is really my life’s work. It’s a crucial distinction, because that’s the thing about style: it’s a creative reflection of all the places you’ve been, the encounters you’ve had and the influences you’ve gathered along the way. It’s also your personal imprint, your particular point of view, which, at least in my case, is always evolving.”

Isn’t this also true when it comes to our writing style? Our “personal imprint” and “particular point of view” evolve as life changes us.  At the beginning we have trouble identifying our style, our voice. We start where we are, with what we have, fretting because we don’t have what it takes to create a distinctive effect.

I wonder if maybe it is through experience and discovery that we begin to recognize a unique style already exists, albeit one that will change as we mature.

If we hone our writing skills and combine them with simply being ourselves on the page, will our personal style emerge all on its own?