Finding Your Voice

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

“Voice” is so important – and, in many ways, so illusive. It’s unique. Yet every writer has one. It’s the narrative tone in which you feel most comfortable and it conveys your story with the greatest strength.

I was at MIBA’s (Midwest Independent Booksellers Association)fall conference last week and participated in a round of “speed dating” with bookstore buyers. Another writer and I were paired together and we traveled table to table to pitch our stories. Five minutes each. Talk fast. Move on. While some writers, I heard, had a bit of competition over their five minutes, my partner and I had a blast.

She was amazing… She finished her MFA a couple years ago and hated the literary fiction she was writing. She felt it was boring, and she said everyone else did too. She couldn’t sell anything. Then she started writing a humor column for a blog and a street-smart-bold-sassy-brash voice came out of her. She started having fun with the blog and the character, and the words flowed fast. A couple years later find her sitting beside me, pitching a hardcover book ready to drop next April by Random House.

I’ll tell you more about her book another time because I don’t want to get away from the point: VOICE.

Reading the story above, a writer might think it best to adopt a provocative, snarky, funny, or cynical voice to attract agents and publishers. But that would be missing the point of the above writer’s experience. It wasn’t that my new friend adopted this new tone to attract a contract; she unleashed it within her to tell a story. Catch the part about the words flowing? She said she couldn’t put them down fast enough –t the voice was within her and it wouldn’t be silenced. I experienced that myself with Dear Mr. Knightley. Sam Moore would not leave me alone until I laid out her story – and let her live it.

I suspect that happens often that happens when one finds a story’s voice. Thoughts and words, emotions and drama, flow more freely because they come from something creative, organic and exciting within the writer.

Without honing, refining and delivering your own voice, your story can create a layer of distance between you and the reader – and everyone can feel it. You never want that. Yes, you want to deliver 3-D characters, strong plot, and tense conflict – but most of all, you want to deliver impact. Distance dimishes impact. I say investing a little effort to discover and hone one’s voice is time well spent…

  1. Don’t think. Don’t edit. Plan to throw it away. Simply sit down (or stand at your desk as I do) and have fun writing whatever comes to mind,in whatever tone evolves. This is a great exercise to get the juices flowing and dig around for your unique voice. Don’t let this distract you from your work, but do give this a few minutes everyday. It may surprise you.
  2. Read novels with a strong sense of voice. Filling up your well of great stories is always a good idea. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my all-time favorites. Death has a fascinating voice… To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Phantom Tollbooth and The Catcher in the Rye are other great examples – the last two being a couple of my favorite books.
  3. Share your writing with trusted readers. This is a tough one, but I do recommend it. Find a couple people you trust and share a variety of writings and ask what they think. In fact, that is how the woman in my story came to find her voice. Friends called her again and again asking, “Why don’t you write like this all the time?”
  4. Have fun! You’ll find my posts almost always include this. Perhaps because I need reminding myself. I can take this journey far too seriously at times and that is a sure-fire way to kill creativity, voice, expression and joy. So have fun!

Thanks for spending some time here with me today! A little time working on this all-important and somewhat illusive aspect of writing will make your stories more powerful, more authentic, and more saleable. All three are exciting adventures. Enjoy!

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

It’s All About Character

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Our ability to engage our readers, surprise, delight, antagonize, or even offend them when we want, all comes down to our characters. Compelling characters make a compelling story — and keep readers wanting more. Even if you write fast-paced, plot-driven fiction, no one wants to head down that road unless the character is worthy of the chase.

So what do we do to create such characters? Ones who “jump off the page” and keep the reader glued to their ups and downs late into the night?

I offer these suggestions:

  1. We feel multiple emotions simultaneously – so they must too! When writing Lizzy & Jane, I realized you could look at your sister and feel (off the top of my head) five emotions instantly: fierce love, equally fierce dislike, jealousy, loyalty and adoration – especially if you’re the younger sister. Use that! Layer the emotions for your character just as you feel them layered within yourself. And the more those emotions conflict, the better! They’ll bring depth to the reader’s experience and the character’s substance.
  2. Look at all those emotions (even list them) then choose any but the most obvious. The reader will feel that one instinctively. Again, in Lizzy & Jane, Lizzy was angry with her sister. She felt betrayed. And, while those two emotions came through often, it was more interesting and in many ways more realistic when I explored Lizzy’s adoration, hero-worship, and yearning for Jane’s acceptance and love. Anger was the lens through which the reader found those softer and more vulnerable feelings. By bringing those emotions out, through and beneath the anger, I also increased the micro-tension between the sisters – that’s the push and pull beneath what’s written on the page.
  3. Make sure what your characters do is an extension of who they are. I use profession, dress, reading preferences, food tastes, decorating, season, quirks, hobbies, and more… Everything is planned to express an aspect of character, either to the positive, the negative or the unexpected. When writing, you have tons of descriptive detail to lay out, don’t let a single size, color, shape or nuance go to waste.
  4. Take a blank page occasionally and “talk” to your character. You don’t need to make it formal, but do write it down. As a writer, that’s how you think and how you communicate – so make sure you don’t just chat, make sure you write down that chat. By doing this, you’ll learn more about your character’s cadence of speech, inner thoughts, and expressions. It’s an interesting exercise and can reveal things that surprise you… Only by doing this, late in the manuscript process, did I learn how truly angry Sam Moore (Dear Mr. Knightly) was by all that happened in her childhood. This changed later scenes and made the story more authentic to her voice.
  5. Have fun! I end every post with this because it’s so important. Enjoy your characters – even the “bad” ones. The more you enjoy them and explore them, the more real and expressive – and unexpected – they become. And that’s more fun for you and for the reader.

Thanks for spending time here with me today. Please find me and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my website at www.katherinereay.com. I’m always out and about…

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

First Drafts

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

The First Draft…

It’s wonderful to be here today. As I write this, The Austen Escape is a couple months from release and I begin a new story. In fact, this very morning, I pulled out my colored pens, opened the file in Scrivener and started, in earnest.

The blank page, or the blank computer screen, is a daunting sight. It’s exciting because it is just that – blank. We can fill it with anything and that anything has the potential to be great. But that catches our breath too because it must be filled – and that it will require hundreds of hours and thousands of words.
Continue reading “First Drafts”