Tag Archives: howIwrite

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

An analysis of a flash fiction edit: draft to final

So, as you may or may not know, I write silly short fiction based on my workplace. And I wrote one recently that I’m not happy with – so I though it’s a pretty much perfect piece to analyse, and give some idea of how I work as a writer.

The edits are the hard bit to explain, often – unless you watch an editor work – and it’s often just trial and error that makes things work.

Version One

True power is never good or evil, you see. It lies in the hands of those who hold it, and lies with their decisions; and a neutral overlord is in many ways more terrifying than the maniacal laughter or the sweeping righteousness of the extremes.

He was good at his job; knew when to put a finger on the scales to tip the decision, and when to give a subordinate enough length to make their own bad decisions. The chastisement was never bad, per se; but it left you feeling like you had a pit in your soul. But the truly terrifying thing was that he did not care; underlings were resources, and when those clear eyes looked at you, you were judged useful – or not.

So! In this one…I haven’t caught the emotions I want. Paragraph 1 Line 1 works, I think. Line 2…doesn’t. It captures the feel, but it’s too long – it overdoes something that could take fewer words to say.

Paragraph 2; hmm. There’s a repetition of “decision” that I don’t like; I did want to use “enough rope to hang themselves” but I hate that expression, and the substitute doesn’t work. As for the next two lines, hmm, They’ve sort of captured the feel but they’re still very muddled. I want to use a specific example there, I think – it’s too general a feel, and I want to narrow it down.

Version two

He was not the maniacal-laughter type, but it was generally agreed that amongst the Evil Villains of the world, he was ranked pretty high. He was extremely good at his job; knew when to put a finger on the scales to tip the balance, and when to give a subordinate enough length to make their own bad calls. The clear eyes would look at you and judge you useful, or not; but that simply allowed him to use or discard resources for the project’s best interests. And the chastisement for failure was never extreme; but it left the subject with a pit in their soul, a chip on their spine, and the feeling that they had somehow failed beyond any measure of redemption.

This actually went through about two rounds of tweaks before I remembered that I was trying to keep track of what I was doing and why! You can see that quite a lot has changed…

So, I’ve removed the start; I just want the feeling of “Evil Villain” so I may as well state that outright.

From the original paragraph 2, with too many “decisions”; I’ve changed that to “call” in the second, and “balance” in the first. I’ve also extended the idea of being judged useful or not.

And the final line; to give the failure some consequence, and tell us something about the person – a final jab.

Unfortunately I feel like I need a red pen and highlighter to try to catch everything else I’ve done, and why; I’ll try to do this again with another piece and catch more of the reasons for the changes!

Writing: Wizards & Work, Part 4

These are still entertaining me! They often need a moment to click; a phrase or comment, or a mannerism linked in to a fantasy setting. I’m really enjoying it when they do come to me. As usual, no offence intended to anyone who is inspiration, and definitely nothing implied; it’s often just the initial inspiration that I’ve borrowed, and then gone off in a completely different direction!

You can also read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

He has a way of looking at you; a sharp-eyed, sideways glance that takes in everything before he gives a friendly smile. In that red-hot moment, you’re never entirely sure what the judgement will be. Are you interesting enough for a longer look? Considered useful enough for a smile? Judged unimportant and politely dismissed?

Or is the smile that of a predator, approving of his prey?

 

The curse was subtle and vicious: it cursed the bearer to tiny bad luck, to those small twists of fate that wear down the hardest mountain with grey disappointment. It dulled his days to tedium, spiralled his thoughts into circles and worked every project into knots and snarls. The problem was that no one could figure out what he had done to earn such a costly revenge. He had no drama in his backstory, no offenses placed against his name; and that seemed the final jab of the curse – to not even deserve another’s carefully-crafted hate.

 

He preferred ‘adaptable’ over ‘slippery’; his pride in his ability to get things done was almost as strong as his stubbornness in staying his course. But it was rare that he was taken aback; he even went so far as to blink.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever offered…help…before.”

The small elf blinked in turn. “It’s called being nice.”

“Yes. Well. That’s not something I’m very good at.” But the tall, imposing necromancer managed something approaching a smile, creasing his face into new lines. Nice… it would need some practise, but this new plan might just work.

 

He was a true Knight in Shining Armour; one that blinded the vision when he appeared, glowing and explosive, inspiring and righteous. Around him, faces would shine and bodies would bow. And when he approached, for a moment everything would be perfect; ideas would flow, projects would work, twists would unsnarl. For a moment, the world was good.

And then he would be summoned away, sweeping off to the next perfect moment, and we would be left in the grey, shattered ruins of our normality.

 

He is friendly, smiling, affable, cheery; always up for a conversation, or a chat and always open to suggestions or ideas. But sometimes, mid-conversation, you’ll see his eyelids flicker for a few seconds – almost as if a thought has been stopped, or a plan redirected.

“I heard he was one of the supreme evil overlords,” kitchen gossip tells me. “Rehabilitated, of course. That’s the therapy kicking in whenever he gets ideas.”

“But we were only talking about cute bunnies…”

“Well, you can make anything evil.”