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Finding Your Voice

As a first-time writer, I found it difficult to figure out how I wanted to write. Sure, I knew the story I wanted to tell. How do I tell it, though? I decided to approach it the way I do tough projects at work: analyze, research, and implement.

I am a voracious reader so I decided to analyze the books I liked. How did the writer structure the story? Did he or she describe every detail in the room, or was the reader left to fill in most of the blanks? Was the story heavy in dialogue? Did we spend a lot of time in the mind of the characters? Did the writer engage my senses – sight, sound, smell, touch?

I watched webinars on storywonk.com. They offered short, free sessions about a variety of topics, which was great for my sometimes limited attention span. I also downloaded some of the paid courses. The fees were modest, and the topics helped me understand more about the writing process.

I tried to read some books about “how to write a book.” I confess that I just didn’t find them engaging enough to hold my attention. I enjoyed the online webinars through storywonk.com so much more.

Now that I had lots of information, it was time to put everything into practice. It turns out the best advice is to just start writing. I first wrote a very long draft of the story. Then, I read what I wrote and changed some things. I repeated this process many, many times.

With each rewrite, I noticed some trends. I have a tendency to use the same words over and over again. I used the navigation tool in Word to search for those words and made sure I did not overuse them.

In my book, I have a tendency to write short paragraphs. Have you noticed that?

I discovered that I like to use little techniques that make it easier to follow the story. I like to read before bedtime. The next night or maybe the next day at lunch, I’ll pick up the book and flip back a page or two to figure out who’s talking or what’s going on. In Through the Mist, I made a conscious decision to structure my book in a “reader-friendly” way. If you put the book down, you (hopefully) would know where you were in the story the next time you picked up the book. I began each section with the name of the character involved in the scene.

Another thing I found was my lack of explanation. I assumed too much from the reader. For example, I called Malcolm Campbell a “laird” in one version of my story. In the critique, Mrs. Rich said I needed to brush up on my history; he would not have used that title after the ’45 Rising. At first, I was a little miffed because I knew damn well that the clan system was destroyed by the Act of Proscription. (Google it; it’s an interesting read.) Then, I understood. While I thought Malcolm’s use of the term showed his old-fashioned sensibility, it did not. I had far better ways to portray Malcolm Campbell, and I should not assume that the reader had a thorough knowledge of the aftermath of the ’45.

By the way, whenever someone says “the ‘45” or “the Rising,” they are referring to the Scottish rebellion against the English in 1745. There were a few Scottish rebellions, but the ’45 is the most significant. The English essentially committed genocide after the ’45. That’s my opinion. I suspect many Scots would agree.

Anyway – moving on….

So, the “implement” part took over three years. I rewrote scene after scene so, so many times, to get it just right. The story that I published differs a great deal from the original. I added much more material as I tried to paint a picture of the landscape and Castle Fion as well as take the reader into the minds of the characters. It took that long to figure out how I write.

If you are embarking on this journey, I wish you luck. Consult with whatever resources you have at hand. It is always useful to understand how other people write and how the process should work. However, in the end, it is your book. Tell the story in the way that fits best for you. If that means you write extensive outlines and put major plot points on note cards, great. If you prefer to jump into the story and make it up as you go along, that’s good too.

I do not believe there is a fixed way that everyone should write. I believe you should write your way. Most importantly, just write! 

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