Writing Excuses Episode 35: Voice, Tone, and Style
Key points: how do you write so that it is distinctive to you? This is NOT something that a starting writer should worry about too much — they need to focus on characters, plot, and setting. One stylistic thing for starting writers is to pay attention to using said and asked instead of said-bookisms. Another point (lost in the transcription) was to watch for overuse of very, adjectives, and favorite words. And the main suggestion for developing a style – practice, practice, practice. Find what you’re good at and emphasize that, avoid what you’re not good at.
[Brandon] 15 minutes long [Howard] because you’re in a hurry [Dan] and somebody gave a trumpet to a duck.
[Brandon] We’re not talking about character voice or viewpoint. What are we talking about?
[Dan] the author’s fingerprints. How can you start reading a book and know immediately that it is Brandon Sanderson’s book.
[Brandon] We mentioned this before in a podcast and it became a storm in a telephone booth [?I think that’s what Brandon said, although that’s not a familiar metaphor for me]. Many people wrote in asking how do we develop our style or voice.
[Brandon] my gut instinct is that the answer to these questions is you don’t
[Dan] you do, but not on purpose
[Brandon] I was trained in a creative writing program that style and voice come to you naturally. But I’m not sure about that, so let’s talk about it.
[Brandon] let’s delve into the meaning first. I think we’re talking about style — how you write it so that it is distinctive to you. This is on a paragraph by paragraph level. It includes word choice, sentence length
[Howard] prepositional phrases, adjectives
[Brandon] rhythm, beat
[Brandon discusses his use of topic sentences, restatement, twisting paragraphs halfway through, and about every three paragraphs having a single line summary.] Do I do that on purpose? Heck no. The point of writing is to tell a good story, but I think we all fall into a natural rhythm.
[Howard] panel, panel, panel, punch line. [Laughter]
[Howard] stylistically, I do follow a rule for my punchlines. Very rarely do I have one bubble of dialogue in panel four. Usually I have one punchline, and then a second punchline that raises it higher.
[Brandon] Dan, do you make a conscious attempt to refine your style?
[Dan] yes. One thing I know I have a tendency to use for impact is one short sentence. And if I notice consciously that I’m doing that, I’ll go back and change the last two or three. When I notice it consciously, I’m doing it too much.
[Howard discusses his third panel trick — he often drops the borders on the third panel. When he puts the scripted dialogue on blank panels, he can stack them up and flip through them to see if he has used the same trick too often.]
[Brandon] this is something you shouldn’t worry too much about it first, you need to focus on character, plot, and setting.
[Howard] the people who should be worrying about your style are the ones who are paying you.
[Brandon] I’ve been looking closely at my use of commas and conjunctions. In particular, I often use and or but to start a sentence, and I put a comma after them. That’s because I pause. But I notice that many people don’t do this, so I am consciously adjusting my style.
[Brandon] some stylistic things to focus on when you’re new include your use of said-bookisms [discussion of whether people from Salt Lake City call these Tom Swifties]. What I mean are using other terms instead of said. The rule of thumb is don’t use said-bookisms. Said and asked are invisible, anything else you use calls attention to itself.
[Howard] the interesting part of the dialogue goes inside the quotes
[Brandon] stylistic things also include sentence length and compound sentences, but you shouldn’t be worrying about that.
[Howard] one thing we’ve talked about in the podcast on humor is the use of descriptions of setting or character where the description is humorous.
[Discussion of Brandon adapting style for the Wheel of Time]
[Dan] this is an example of how you can develop your style. Look at things and tweak yours. I know people hate to hear it, but you have to practice.
[Brandon] you can try writing something in third person and in first person, and comparing it.
[Dan] set yourself goals. I’m going to do something this way, then I’m going to do it a different way, and see what works for you.
[Brandon] that’s beginning to sound a lot like practice
[Brandon] Writing prompt: take a scene — just a quick scene — then write it as Dan would write it, then write it as Brandon would write it, and then write it as Howard would write it.
[Dan] should we give them a scene? Maybe the “Luke, I’m your father” scene from Star Wars?
[Howard] no, make it the romantic confession scene from Star Wars Episode Two
Current Mood: belated
Current Music: Life is a Highway, Rascal Flatts