Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is There Rhythm To Your Writing?

I’ve never written much poetry, nor have I tackled a song lyric. But I think I’ve been a writer long enough to hear the rhythm in my prose. Rhythm lends itself to your style, as well as your voice, which are two different things.

Voice is a unique way of putting words together. It's a deep feeling, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook or belief that enriches an author’s work. How you develop your voice, to some extent, happens all by itself. Stories come from the subconscious. What drives you to write is often your own unresolved inner conflicts. Voice is a natural attribute. You no more control it than you control the color of your eyes. 

But don’t confuse voice with style. Style is more about the writing itself, than the story or characters.

As I write this, I'm thinking maybe rhythm is equally involved in both voice and style. I’ve been known to work a full week on one paragraph. For me, it must have a rhythm, a flow, almost like music. To get that, I have to read the paragraph, or the dialogue, or whatever it is—out loud. If it is dialogue, I must read it in the voice of the character, therefore, most of my “out loud reading” is done with no one around to hear me. When a writer reads their work out loud, much of what is corrected is the rhythm, the sound it makes—the music of the story we create that plays in the background of the reader’s mind. Music the reader is not aware of, but it’s there. It’s truly there. And sometimes that means adding words.

But here’s a shocker—it may not always be grammatically correct. Now, don’t get your panties in a wad over this. Writing in the voice of the character telling the story, the narrator, should always lend itself to the vernacular and not to the rules of the English language. A good example of this is in Wiley Cash’s new novel, a land more kind than home. A writer with a Ph.D. in English.

All of this brings me to the age old question, is less really more? Writers, how many times has that been drilled into your head? It’s a staple of every writer’s conference. We’ve had it pounded into us for decades now. Less is more. Kill your babies. Slice your novel in half. Hogwash. I’m here to tell you that may not always be the case. Sometimes, more is more.

Careful, now. If you accept that, it may change you. Creating rhythm may mean adding words …

From my new novel, The Sanctum (coming soon) …

I wiped condensation from my eyeglasses and shook the snow from my coat, imagining bulbs of daffodils and hyacinths, sleeping in her brown flowerbeds, and then blooming come spring. Winter’s wind blew cruel and steady. An occasional vicious gust burned my face as it shoved fog off the mountain.

Facing the porch steps, I wiped condensation from my eyeglasses and shook the snow from my coat. I imagined bulbs of daffodils and hyacinths sleeping in her brown and dormant flowerbeds, and then blooming come spring. Greeted by a dozen rocking chairs strewn over the wide porch, I saw myself sitting in one, drinking lemonade while my grandmother snapped peas. But at that moment, winter’s wind blew cruel and steady. An occasional vicious gust burned my face as it shoved the fog across the mountain.

I didn’t feel the flow, the rhythm, the music, until I wrote the second paragraph with more words. Truly, some editors would prefer the shorter one, but to me there’s music in the second. Poetry. Balance. The trick is not to go overboard, but find the balance.

Again, the best way to hear it is to read your work out loud. You’ll not only catch mistakes, you’ll create the magic needed to hold your readers in the palm of your hand.

Only you know your characters inside and out. Who they are, where they came from, and what they think. You must find not only the rhythm of your character, but within the entire narration. This comes with writing every day and discovering the rhythm in other great novels. But once you master it, it will carry your work to a whole new level. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Five Year Anniversary!

Where did the time go? Celebrating their 5th Anniversary, my son, Aaron, and his precious wife, Annie, have seen their first five years of marriage come and go. A new house, a new baby girl, they've been immensely blessed. Fraught with the same ups and downs as most of us, they've weathered any storms that blew their way, and have found peace and comfort in each others arms.

"For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh." Ephesians 5:31

I'm grateful today, looking back. That baby boy I once held in my arms is now holding a precious little one in his own. I'm also eternally grateful for Annie coming into his life. She has blessed us all.

Here's to the next five!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BEA Televenge Anniversary (Writers Are No Longer Intimidated)

In June 2012, I attended my fourth BEA. I was about to release my debut novel, Televenge. It's overwhelming as author to stand in the midst of the Expo madness. It's like your first day of high school. As a freshman, you either allow the seniors to ignore, intimidate, and taunt you, or you make your mark early that you're a force to be reckoned with. It's pretty much that way with the Big Dogs of New York.

Published by a small, energetic, independent press, (Satya House Publications) Televenge went to New York with a hopeful group of folks behind it. As a result, my novel about the dark side of televangelism was an Editor’s Pick at the 2012 Book Expo, meaning out of the thousands of new books published, the Library Journal ranked it among the top 28. It also received exceptional reviews from book bloggers all over the world, from New York Times bestselling authors Lesley Kagen and Jacquelyn Mitchard, and even Publishers Weekly gave it a boost with a stellar review.
Published in October 2012, Televenge attracted immediate national attention from Fox News on numerous occasions, CBS Atlanta, scores of national media outlets, and a major Hollywood production company.

We’ve leveled the playing field. Self-published authors and those published by small press are the Navy Seals of the publishing industry. We invade the BEA focused on our mission, and then get out of town with something to show for it. We’re no longer intimated by the Big Dogs pushing their books. It’s just that simple.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What Do You Offer Your Readers?

As a writer, I've often wondered what do I offer my readers?

Some authors write lofty volumes of prose, poetic and soothing to the ears. Some keep their readers spellbound with intrigue or humor. Some carefully perfect the craft of curling the hair on our neck as we quickly turn the page to discover where the killer hid the body. Writers who transport us to exotic places, and hold us there; writers who punctuate their characters, and pierce the heart of the reader deserve to be noticed. Every once in a while, you run across a writer who can do all of the above. It's rare, but it happens.

Think about it. Is there an author you have read recently, or years ago, who created characters and a plot that lingered for days. A story that comes to mind at the strangest times. A writer whose novels haunted you for weeks, years? A writer who consistently moves you like few others? What in their voice gives them the edge? What common thread weaves their unforgettable stories to the cloak of your memory? How do they do it?

Besides constantly polishing your craft, I’m finding there’s another element to this writing thing we do.

How do you share knowledge, life experiences, and enlightenments within the context of a story? How do you make it matter to your readers?

Are you able to bring your heartbreak to the page? The pain of loss, rejection, abandonment, can you write about it? Can you pull from your most horrific memories, as well as your most joyous? What I’m talking about has nothing to do with your writing degree or your awards. Although commendable, that's not it. I’m asking what do you--as a living, breathing, human being--bring to the page?

This quote is from one of my favorite writers. Dorothy Allison’s words at the Maui Writer’s Conference were delivered with fire and fervency.

She said, “I’m here to deliver black coffee, I’m here to leaven your experience. I’m here to tell you part of why I’m a writer is that it’s one of the professions where you can be a fat girl and make it! … Writers come to the page for many, many reasons. In fact, many of us DO come in the hope of justice, we DO come in the hope of balance, we DO come with an agenda of love, but I’m TELLING YOU NOW, lots of us start with a desire for genuine REVENGE.”

So. Does there has to be some deep, dark reason why we write?

Many write for the fun of it. But once again, in my honest and humble opinion, the writing that lasts for generations is gathered from the cobwebbed corners of your mind. Those basements and attics where most writers fear to tread but go anyway.

What if you write humor?

Ah, yes.  Well, dissect that humor. Much of our humor comes from pain. We're going to laugh about this later. Laughter through tears is a powerful emotion. Many believe the angrier you are, the funnier you need to be. Take that to the page.

Do we, then, write only what we know?

Not just what you know, but what you feel. What you've seen. The gut-wrenching moments in your life that cut deep into your heart. Write about that. Write about the scars. Who gave them to you, and how you healed, or how you still suffer from those scars. Give your character a piece of your life story that you want to share with the world. Dig out the best and worst of your memories, and include them in your stories. Write not just what you know, but what matters. What has brought you out of a deep, dark spot? What makes you uncomfortable? Write your passions, your desires, and what moves you. Write that.

Those are the guts of a good story. Bring that to the page. Offer that to your readers.