Is it okay if I talk about myself for a quick minute before getting into the soy protein of this post? I’m going to do it regardless, so you might as well go with it.
There’s a special group of authors out there – of any artist, really – that cannot visualize what they create. In my situation, it’s a little bit of brain damage from when I was younger, but you know what? Some people are just wired that way. It’s not wrong or bad, but it is different from what we expect and it can make the process of creation a lot harder.
But it can also make for some very unique outcomes that break the mold.
When I say I can’t visualize, what I mean is that as I’m writing, I can’t see my story play out in my head, at least not without an extra sense helping me out. Thankfully there are great auditory tools like Pandora and FocusAtWill (check it out, it’s like Pandora but with random concentratey music), Rainycafe, and other ambient noise sites. And I have an amazing friend who handcrafts candles and oils to go along with my setting and characters! So with a few extras in place, my brain gets the shove it needs to see the words as the story I need them to be.
But there are days where that just doesn’t work. This problem can make reading a pain in the ass, too. I am a very selective reader – I can’t tell you how many books I’ve stopped reading after a few chapters in because I just couldn’t see and feel what was happening. They were literally just words on a page to me.
So on days where writing can’t become anything more than putting words to paper, the most crucial parts become Rhythm and Voice. It’s all I have to go by at that point. I just have to make it sound good in my head and I can take care of the rest later!
People will disagree, but I think that your Voice is hands down the number one most important thing about your writing. No matter what it is you’re writing. I remember in high school, in English 12, my class discussed Voice and no one knew what my teacher was talking about. I didn’t understand the concept even years later!
Well, that’s not entirely true. We understand the concept of Voice well before we know what it’s called, and that’s the hiccup. It’s the way your story is told, the manner of speaking in which it’s narrated, the language and emotion in the words you use. Even if your narrator isn’t a character (including in essays and technical writing), we still read in that author’s “voice”, so it goes without saying that it should be a good one!
A unique voice with interesting style can make even the worst story readable (not recommended that you try, however). It could be cliche as hell with gaping plot holes and terrible characters and “twists” that we could see coming from miles away, but with a captivating voice, people will still read it. They’ll probably groan and hate it at the end, but that’s a problem for the future.
Voice takes a long time to master and it has to be consistent. The second it feels like a different person is writing/telling the story, there’s a problem. Unless of course you are writing something that is supposed to sound that way, like a novel in 1st person that switches character POVs. That’s a whole new post on Voice, but maybe I’ll come back to that later–
BUT NOT BEFORE A CAVEAT ABOUT IT
1st person POV is dangerous! Please allow me to share with you my embarrassing mistake. Picture some good flashback fog right now.
A long time ago – back in high school again! – I was writing Nightwalker for the first time. Yes, I have been writing and rewriting and scrapping and burning and writing this novel for almost fourteen years now, but that’s just a drop in the bucket for some authors. Anyway, I was very attached to 1st person POV at the time. I loved showing the world through Tizzy Hallenar’s eyes, letting them see her terrible thoughts and relating to her in ways that they knew they probably shouldn’t.
Then came the part where I had to introduce an estranged brother she hadn’t seen in ten years.
An attractive brother. So I wrote him as attractive, I drew attention to things that would make him come across as, well, hot.
Through her eyes.
I re-read it a few times and kept thinking, “Maybe I’m the only one who is going to notice the awkward sexual tension between these two. Yeah, it’s probably just me. I’m probably just looking too much in to it.”
I let a few friends read it and hey guess what. It wasn’t just me. Oops. 🙂
1st person POV is lovely but for PETE’S SAKE, BE CAREFUL.
So hey, let’s talk about Rhythm now that that awful story has passed! What do I mean by Rhythm? It’s part of your Voice, just like many other little nuanced things are. Rhythm is the part that lets you BREAK THE RULES!
Grammar rules. And only sometimes. If you’ve ever joined a writers’ group on Facebook or ANY social media platform, you’ll see people doling out advice left and right. (Shout-out to an amazing new social media website for writers – The Write Point – check it out, it’s lovely and supportive and fun!) They’ll say things like “don’t use the word ‘suddenly’ ever!” and “use complete sentences” and “HOW DARE YOU USE PASSIVE VOICE” and just so many things, good lord.
These are said with good intentions most of the time, don’t get me wrong. And in many situations, it is good advice. You really shouldn’t rely on the word suddenly, and maybe only use adverbs if there’s one with connotation that you need.
But this is also your Voice, and you are constructing your own Rhythm. Some words are rhythm killers, they can slow down and interrupt the way your story is being told, but some of that other stuff is fantastic for building rhythm! Screw complete sentences! I’ll start a sentence with And or But, fight me! I do it all the time!
To get your words to flow and to create your unique Voice, you will have to sacrifice some of the language lessons you’ve learned in school. If there’s a thrill, or a chase, or confusion, make me feel it, leave me out of breath with a crazy long sentence that makes me look for an exit when there’s no where to turn! But then give me One. Little. Pause. Show me the way out. And then lead me down the corridor where I can see a light, a solution, a savior! Or whatever.
You get the idea. Right? Rhythm.
I’m learning Spanish right now and this is sort of relevant. I have a workbook where the first few lessons have you translate and make sentences that are very exact and robotic. “Yo tengo dos plumas nuevas”, “Yo quiero tomar café contigo porque yo no duermo bien”, etc. But then in later lessons it says to knock it off and don’t use more words than you have to, and in many cases saying “yo” (I) all the time was completely redundant. Because of the way verbs are conjugated, you will know right away if the sentence is about “I”. I can just say “Tengo dos plumas nuevas” and “Quiero tomar café contigo porque no duermo bien”. Or at least I hope so, someone let me know if my Spanish is a little eeeh. What is my point here?
If you don’t need to write it, don’t. Remember – your readers are not stupid. They can infer a lot from good, simple writing, and sometimes that’s exactly what a scene needs. Pruning back unnecessary words will help your writing flow. It’ll improve your voice and give your rhythm the punch it needs, and that is just as important in evoking emotion and mood as word choice is.
Don’t neglect Rhythm and Voice!