Monday, March 4, 2019

How and Why to Develop Your Writer's Voice

What Is Voice?

Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall provide the best definition of voice in Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction.  Frank and Wall say, "Your voice is actually a very ordinary thing: It is just who you are, projected artistically" (5).  They add, "It's the way you draw on yourself as you write--your sense of humor, irony, the way you see people and events, use language, and entertain. And it's the way you use these parts of yourself to tell a story--just the way a singer draws on vocal chords, diaphragm, stomach muscles, and emotion to sing" (xv). 

Why Bother Developing Your Voice?

When you think of your writer's voice, what comes to mind?  It's something mysterious.  Ineffable.  Hard  to say: it's . . . there, inside me.  Somewhere.

The most profoundly powerful skill we possess as writers is voice, yet we pay it the least attention.

Why focus on finding and developing your raw natural voice?  Simple: a perfected voice puts you at the top level of your profession.  Conversely, a voice left to languish in lethargy makes you stand out as a novice.  There's another major and even more important reason.  The long-term successes, in terms of reputation and sales, are the authors who've cultivated a distinctive voice.  Think of a phrase for Stephen King's voice: humorously disturbing.  For George R. R. Martin's: grimly fantastic.

Now, think of a phrase for your voice.  

How Do I Develop My Natural Voice?

According to Frank and Wall, "[Be] yourself, [speak naturally] . . . [learn] ways to guide and sharpen this natural voice so it tells a story that enthralls a reader" (xv). 

It's easier said than done.  It's challenging to pinpoint our own voice and to practice deepening it.  One reason is that it's difficult to let go of our internal editor, but doing so--and then doing the hard work of voice strengthening--does pay off because, frankly, time is money.  It takes time to differentiate ourselves in a crowded marketplace, so why not write stories that reflect a mature and well-developed voice?

I've written several novels, but they live only on bookshelves and thumb drives.  Something was missing--my voice.  Too crafted.  Too stylized.  Too vanilla.  Too . . . not my voice.  And all that wasted time happened because as a newbie writer I felt insecure with everything I wrote.  Was that metaphor the right one?  Was there a better one I could use?  Was my style off?  Was it wrong?  Did I need to rewrite several chapters?  Yes, I did.  Everything always needed more attention, more editing, more time.  Thus, my insecurity, teaming up with my relentless internal editor, stifled my natural voice.  I ran out of time and energy and confidence, and as my writing stalled, so did my reputation.  Sadly, some of the stories I've written were good--before I edited the voice right out of them . . . and they became something I didn't recognize.  Something I didn't like.  Something that wasn't me at all.

How Do I Turn Off My Internal Editor?

Don't turn her off.  Ask your internal editor to "listen with you" as you write.  As Frank and Wall teach, "Voice deals with sound, quite apart from meaning."  Thus, we need to learn to listen for a voice that is ours and to spot and identify imposters, i.e., voices that emanate from us that do not enliven the page.

Thaisa Frank's and Wall's book is packed with fun useful activities that help develop voice.  It's one of the most useful I've ever bought.

A few of the how-to find your voice activities provided in Frank's and Wall's book include:

  • Inner listening
  • Distilling voice
  • Our many differing voices (public and private, raw and natural)
  • Pulling voice and character together
  • Craft and story voice
  • Discovering

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Good Troll, Bad Troll: Can Creating Conflict Increase Your Social Media Reach?

Are You a Troll?
Have you ever walked away from a post on Facebook or some other social media site feeling like you were a hashtag away from meltdown? You probably met a troll. One famous troll is Grendel in Beowulf. My favorite is the troll in Grimm's Three Billy Goats Gruff. But let's talk of Internet trolls. Some notables include Trisha Patyas, Lee Dawson, and Lovingkiara.

ave You Purposefully Pissed Anyone Off Lately?
If you are a troll, and you pissed everyone off, then kudos. You're a potty-mouthed prankster with time on your hands, but you did more overnight than most of us could all year. With your anti-social behavior, you sky-rocketed your SEO ratings and built a to-die-for social media platform. You sucked us in, pranked us, and you benefitted from creating conflict.

What Do Trolls Do for a Living?

Trolls piss off everyone on purpose.  (Imagine, we only do it when someone provokes us!).  They do it all the time, with a fusty eye to getting paid.  And eventually, they do (media exposure, social media following, appearances, donations, job offers, etc.).
Trolls do the following:

  • Use derogatory and/or inflamatory language
  • Launch personal attacks
  • Use non-factual or false "disinformation"
  • Ignore everyone else's point(s)
  • Leave no evidence trail, no pics, nothing to help "find the troll" on social media sites
  • Respond quickly: trolls live solely to piss off everyone
  • Perform unsavory acts, like doxxing and swatting

Can Being a Troll Benefit You?

If you're a Putin troll and you want to disrupt the American election, by allegedly provoking voters into not voting for Hillary Clinton, into voting for Donald Trump, or into not voting at all, then yes, you win. If you're trolling Amazon and give Megyn Kelly too many negative reviews--hold on! Amazon might be the only troll-free space on the Internet. So, no, even trolls can't benefit from their behavior on the big 'Zon.

The 3 Billy Goats Gruff - KidsOut Charity Animation by Neil Whitman - YouTube
Did Putin "throw" the 2016 election? Did Amazon quash Kelly's negative Amazon reviews? The better question is, can being a troll benefit "me," even if I'm not the POTUS or Megyn Kelly?

How Are Prankster Trolls Winning?

As it does in novels, conflict creates readers, and Internet trolls use conflict and discord to win their audience. In "How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet," Joel Stein cites Internet troll, Jeffrey Marty. Marty "has become addicted to the attention." This attention includes "[ . . . ] 1.5 million views of [Marty's] tweets every 28 days."

I looked @jeffrey_marty up on Twitter. 1500 (approx.) followers. Okay, not many. So how has he benefitted from being a troll? He did so by using his other troll ID, @RepStevenSmith, to create conflict, rapidly gain a wide audience of followers, including haters, and gain wide social media attention. Thus, Marty, aka @RepStevenSmith, bypassed starting from scratch and instead quickly built himself an Internet social media platform. Once his platform was established, he switched to using @jeffrey_marty.

In her BuzzFeed article, "The Internet's Favorite Congressman Is a Joke," Molly Taft says, "Rep. Steven Smith of Georgia's 15th District was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump [ . . .]. Two things, though: Georgia doesn't have a 15th District and there's no such congressman named Steven Smith. [ . . .]."

That's right. Marty's a troll, aka Rep. Steven Smith. Taft goes on to say, "Now that he's being serious, [Marty's audience is] listening more than ever."

So You Think You Want to Be a Troll?

You can win as a troll, but you're going to take some heat. Like Rep. Smith, you'll be outed by someone, somewhere on the Net. You'll earn a reputation that'll outlive you (to its credit, social media has a memory the size of, well, forever). So if you think being a troll's the straightest path to Internet stardom, be careful. All social media sites have policies in place to take down trolls, metaphorically speaking, for stalking, mocking, and obscene attacks. In Indonesia, trolls are even jailed and/or executed.

Hi, all, Mary McFarland here. Thanks for taking time to read this. If you have a troll story, and a story about how you turned into a Billy Goat Gruff, shoot me a message on my Facebook page.