1.15.17 - Sunday Smatterings

1.15.17 - Sunday Smatterings

Hello, my loves. How's your Sunday? Watching football, reading books, getting good R&R? It was a good week at Chez Ellison, a quiet, with really productive writing sessions. This week is a bit busier and capped off by the Midsouth EMMY Awards this Saturday. Cross your fingers for A WORD ON WORDS, we're nominated for Best Interstitial! #keepreading

 

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:
 

Well, y'all, it's January. It's a wee bit dark, and when it's not pitch black, it's a wee bit gray and wet. You may be getting cabin fever or, worse, feeling sad from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So why does Denmark, which endures a harsh winter every year, rank as one of the happiest countries in the world? The answer may lie in a little concept called hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah"), AKA developing a life of coziness.

There's a concept in the literary zeitgeist gaining popularity, and it's exceptionally worrisome: that writers should not write about what we don't know firsthand. This is a something I'll be exploring on the blog later this month, but to whet your appetite, I give you author Lionel Shriver, who doesn't care if you hate her sombrero.

Did your life seem bit more productive when you were in school? Do you miss that? (if you didn't enjoy school, ignore these two sentences) Chances are, you may be missing the structural goal setting that came with a syllabus. From the Productivityist, here's the easy way to plan out your year.

And speaking of productivity: if you have a big project you want to get done, jumpstart your progress by blocking off time to work on it during Monday morning. You may be surprised at how much easier it is to complete that project when you get momentum going early in the week.

It's no secret that I adore Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series—which is why I relished this in-depth chat with Diana hosted by Harper's Bazaar. It's a long video, but you need to fast-forward to 27:04 to watch the way she composes a sentence. It is mind-blowing, and she is a master. (Also, she just turned sixty five. Sixty. Five. She is radiant.) Plus, the end had me in tears. 

You may hear us writers talk frequently about "voice." But what exactly is a writer's voice, and how do they differentiate one from another? This post from fellow author Shane Hall is chock full of helpful information for writers or the curious reader.

Who doesn't love a good Myers-Briggs personality quiz? This one will tell you what kind of reader you are. I'm an INTJ, and my reader description was scarily accurate.


And closer to home:
 

This is what happens when you're a writer with bored cats. Trust me, it ain't pretty.

I revere silence. Not just because I'm an introvert—it's vital to my being, to my work. This is why.

Hey, Nicholas Drummond fans, listen up: Barnes & Noble has signed copies of the 4th Brit in the FBI book, THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE, available for pre-order! They're signed by both Catherine and yours truly. Just sayin'. 


That's it from me, y'all! Find a good book, get your hygge on, and we'll talk again soon.

xo,
J.T.

Finding Your Voice

 

I was listening to the audio recording of LOVE IS MURDER in the car the other day. I will admit with no hesitation that I skipped directly to my story, THE NUMBER OF MAN, because I was curious to see what I sounded like. Yes, yes, ego-trip, check. Trust me, you’d do the same thing.

Because having someone else read your work is fascinating.

I think voice is the most important element of writing. It is also the most elusive. Voice is what makes you unique. It’s what sets your story apart from the other 70,000 books published last year. It’s what keeps reading coming back for more, what helps them feel like the characters are their friends, or at least someone they’d like to know. It’s why series are so popular, and why standalones can be so incredibly gripping. Good voice is like a whispered secret directly from the writer's brain to yours. 

Thematically, there are only seven basic plots in the literary world. Each has to do with conflict. Each can be manipulated in many forms, but they boil down to these seven:

  •       Man versus Man
  •       Man versus God/Religion
  •       Man versus Nature
  •       Man versus Machines/Technology
  •       Man versus Self
  •       Man versus the Supernatural
  •       Man versus the Environment

You’ve heard people say there isn’t anything original out there. This is why. So if all stories fall within an agreed upon set of parameters, what makes them different? How is it that you can give five writers an exercise – tell me a story about man versus man – and end up with five WILDLY different tales? Imagination, individualism, quirks, prejudices. 

Voice.

I need a strong voice to hook me on a book. It seems rarer and rarer to find a book that’s transportive, that I can read without thinking about. Being a writer kills reading for fun in many respects, because if the voice isn’t strong and immediate and different, it’s too easy to start picking apart the pieces.

I know I have a unique voice because it’s so strong in my head I can’t shake it, and when I try to write outside my voice, I fail miserably. That’s why I love to hear my work read by other people. I get a chance to see how they perceive my voice. Where they put the emphasis. How they add a giggle here and a sob there. A pause where I didn’t put one, but should have. It is really the coolest thing ever, and it’s a great writing exercise to try at home.

Get a friend, or critique partner, and have them read your work aloud to you. Don’t follow along on the page, just shut your eyes and listen. Accept their voice into your head. You will hear the glaring errors, the passive sentences, the brilliant turns of phrase and the limp declarations. Dialog is especially important to voice, and this method will allow you to hear where you’ve got it right, and where you’re off the mark. I guarantee this will make you a stronger writer.

If you’re a reader interested in this exercise, get an audio book of something you’re very familiar with. That you’ve read multiple times. And listen to how different it sounds in someone else’s voice than in your own head. See? You have voice too.

So I return to the page energized after hearing my story read aloud. Many thanks to Shannon McManus who kicked ass telling Michael and Caitlyn’s tragic story. She nailed it.

Want to share some examples of strong voices? I’d love to hear who you think qualifies.