Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's OK to Experiment

I'm experimenting with voice these days, mainly because I'm fully inside my Ancient Greek story-line, and it just feels weird to write about Greek gods and myths with a modern tone. I mean, I know I don't need to go all Ovid on everyone, and start declaiming in verse, but I also know that having Apollo greet his sister, Artemis, with a "Hey girl, what's up?" feels just a wee bit awkward or, y'know, anachronistic (a word which, ironically, has Greek origins).

I say "experimenting" for a few reasons. I'm in that stage of development where I end up freewriting a lot of scenes that may never see the light of day; this helps me see how characters react to each other and to various situations. I often end up writing out scenes that happen before the action in the story, to sort of see how they unfold. This is pure experimentation; some of it works beautifully, and some of it should never, ever be read. By anyone. Ever.

I'm also experimenting, quite literally, with the tone - the voice - of these scenes. I'm finding myself writing some elevated, formal, and stylized language that I never normally use, and as a result it's a bit of a struggle to make it sound natural. See, I spend a lot of time thinking about the rhythm of the writing; how it flows, how it sounds out loud, whether it feels smooth or awkward. Yes, I read it out loud sometimes. Whatever - Jeanette Winterson said I should.

And yes, of course, I'm totally freaking out about this. Does this sound super pompous? Are people going to think I'm crazy? Is this the most unreadable, ridiculous pile of junk EVER written or what?

But the freaking out - that's normal. It's this new voice that isn't.

In all honesty, neurotic fears aside, it's kind of fun to try out a new style of writing. Ideally, I'd write each section of this book - each time period - in a different voice. The story in Ancient Greece should sound different than the story in modern London, or on a farm in Australia in the 1960s. If it doesn't, I'm not doing my job (this is another reason why I think I must be crazy to write a novel about souls moving through six different lifetimes. Seriously.)

So, I experiment. And because it's really fun to do something incredibly dumb, and expose myself to ridicule, I thought I'd post some of it here! It's totally brand new, unfinished and unedited, and absolutely NOT READY for public consumption, so naturally, I'm making it public. This is from a scene that may never appear in the book. It's an  explanation of what drove Apollo to swear off all love affairs; I used the myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus as the straw that broke the god's back:
It was Hyacinthus, in the end, who broke apart the last whole pieces of Apollo’s heart. Dark of skin and hair, wide-eyed and glowing with adoration, the young prince drove Apollo to distraction from the day the god first spotted him, running the edge of Sparta’s rivers with the swift wind at his back. Apollo descended from Olympus so quickly that he stumbled more than once as he ran, leaping and tumbling over the mountain’s forbidding cliffs with eyes fixed always on his goal. When he reached his target, and the youth stuttered his name, blushing and already weak with love, Apollo swept Hyacinthus into his arms and swore to never let go. From that day on, forgotten were the god’s lyre and his music; his bow lay neglected in dust and shadow; all his time was spent laughing over the hills with Hyacinthus. Together they hunted birds and netted fish, “like two silly mortals,” as Artemis scoffed; or played at sport, be it racing or discus or wrestling, their skin oiled and gleaming; or else wrote their passion, bodies entwined, across the sweet caressing grasses. 
As the days passed, and Apollo’s duties fell further and further from his mind, Artemis’s disdain swelled into open fury. “No good ever comes of these ridiculous affairs,” she spat, her face dark and her tone grim. “Something terrible will happen again, and it will be your fault when it does.” But Apollo, love-soaked, just laughed away the hard edge in her eyes, soothing her contempt with promises to spend many months hunting with her again, soon; tomorrow; or next week; or perhaps in a few moons… 
You can see from this small snippet that dialogue is an issue. It's one thing to make the prose stylized; it's another to make the characters talk that way, too. I'm still figuring that out. Along with everything else, of course.

Thanks for indulging my experiment. What about you? Do you experiment with writing, or something else in your work?

50 comments:

  1. Oh, I think your snip is more than ready for public--it's very good; don't sell yourself short. :) Experimenting is good, too. It's how we learn and grow as writers.

    You know, I don't typically mention my long-time writing hangout, but wonder if you would enjoy the Compuserve Books & Writers Forum--in particular the exercise folder, where we do this sort of thing monthly. :)

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    1. Thank you so much!! It's so hard to have perspective on ANY of these new snippets. They're too new - so I usually just work on the assumption that they're not at all ready for prime time :)

      Thanks for the recommendation! I will totally check it out.

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  2. It's easy to get to the point where our fears can overwhelm us, but we have to strike out and try new territory if we ever want to succeed, right? I've toyed with voice, having written several different genres. I know where I'm most comfortable (and it's not what I'm writing now), but I also feel like I need to stretch.

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    1. Yup, we do, scary though it is. And striking a balance between playing to our strengths and stretching is key :)

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  3. The snippet is FANTASTIC! I love these kind of stories. It might flow faster if you cut sentences. For example--Like a period between adoration and the. Start a new sentence with The. This is going to be a great tale!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm positive you're right - I overwrite EVERYTHING, and tend to make my sentences too long. Thank you for the feedback!

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  4. This definitely made me want to read more. I love the voice.

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  5. I like "love-soaked Apollo." There is something Ovidian about that. And maybe that's not what you're going for, but it suits.

    I do think each time period should have its own tone, but I think it would be interesting if there were a phrase--maybe slightly different, adapted for each period--that came up almost as a trigger every time these two souls met.

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    1. Ok, that is a GREAT idea. Yes! I love it.

      And I do want these period to sort of smell of Ovid, if you know what I mean? Not be exactly like his verse, but reminiscent of it. So I take that as a high compliment :)

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    2. Yes, agree. Agree! (Love 'love-soaked.')

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  6. Loved it! The prose is a lot of fun.

    I don't know that I experiment often, but I do write a lot of scenes which never see the light of day!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I think those discarded scenes are pretty universal :)

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  7. I didn't think they were that awkward.
    That's a good idea to play around with it until you get the voices right and natural.

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  8. I've heard a lot of folks say they "hear" their characters' voices. Free writing is a great way to go fishing for voices and eventually you'll get hooked on one that is right. You'll know it when you feel it. I kind of like the idea of using modern slang in a classic story, but it depends on what you are going for. That would be fun for YA.

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    1. "Fishing for voices" - I love that; it's so true! You're right, modern slang in a classic story would be great for YA (and someone should do that with the Greek gods), but it's not really what I'm going for. But I love the idea :)

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  9. Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with your work. I like to experiment with lighting. After doing my research for each project, I like to try and bend a rule or two here and there.

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    1. Yeah, I can see how lighting could really change the tone of a photo; it does feel very similar to voice! That's cool :)

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  10. Voice is a weird thing for me, because it's always felt like it came naturally with the writing - I know the character whose POV I'm using, so I know how they should sound. I really don't know how else to put it, so I don't know how I do it. That's probably not much help. -_-

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    1. I don't think it's weird, I think it's great! And it doesn't have to be helpful - I like hearing about how everyone works!

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  11. Wonderful! An, oh my, what an opening line! :D

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  12. I think the more we push ourselves as writers, the better we get - and I was intrigued by that snippet :)

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    1. I think you're so right. And thank you!

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  13. I think it's good to experiment because if we write what we're most comfortable with we won't grow. It's good to take on a challenge. I enjoyed your snippet. I think the voice fits the time period.

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    1. Yup - so true. We have to experiment to grow. And thanks!

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  14. Love-soaked is my new favorite phrase. So true and captures the whole thing, the whole way people have of glowing and giggling and being completely clueless...awesome - thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you!!! I'm so glad - that's exactly what i was hoping it expressed :)

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  15. It's fun to play with voices. I did that with my chapter book manuscripts. It took a while to get it, but I'm happy where it ended up. You'll find the perfect voice. By the way, I like your snippet!

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  16. I like your snippet! And it's different, which is always good. Writing outside our comfort zone and experimenting is the only way we grow. I'm trying something completely different too right now and it's staggering, but keeping me on my toes.

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    1. Yeah, it DOES feel staggering sometimes, doesn't it? What a great word. Good for you, though - let's keep staggering :)

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  17. This is such a rich story you're crafting. And the snippet is great. I love the idea of having a different tone for each lifetime. Great stuff!

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  18. Liz, I absolutely loved—truly loved—this snippet. And the tone of the piece sounded just fine, dialogue and everything.

    There is a confusion among writers when discussing "voice." Voice actually refers to the writer's "style," so to speak...that which makes a work unique to a certain writer. For instance, we all know when we read something by Hemingway, without even knowing it was written by him, or by Fitzgerald. The two writers' styles (voices) are completely different. There are nuances that let you know who wrote it. Or like a Jackson Pollack or Georgia O'Keefe or Picasso (or Kinkade). With each, their subject matter may be different, but you can tell who painted the respective pieces. Or in music...we all know a Eurythmics song from a U2 song, but each has its own unique sound. THAT is voice.

    Character "voice" (which really refers to character make-up) comes through more in the dialog via dialect, slang, pompousness, prudishness. If you watch Frasier, compare him to Roz, or Roz to Daphne, or Niles to Martin. While the writing style remains the same (a conglomeration of writers' voices), the characters are vastly different.

    So when thinking "voice," think your style; when thinking character "voice," concentrate more on character development and attitude. And of course, word choice appropriate to that attitude when speaking (for instance, Frasier speaks high-brow while Roz is grittier and more down-to-earth).

    Wonderful post, btw!

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Wow, thanks so much, Mike..

      You're right - I think I'm talking about style instead of voice. And the issue with the dialogue is probably more about character voice than it is about the style in general. I need to figure out how these classical immortal beings would sound - and that's what's feeling awkward right now.

      Thanks so much, as always, for helping me clarify my thinking!!

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    2. God, I sounded so pompous when reading that! Sorry if I came across that way or know-it-all-y. But I was confused on "voice" when first coming along and wanted to help. Anyhoo, that being said, I thought you did VERY well with the character and painting the scene. You didn't need to write in a lot of ancient GreekSpeak to get the tone across, and a little of that goes a long way anyway. I thought you did great, and the dialog was perfectly written.

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    3. No way, no at all!! I didn't think you sounded pompous- I thought you were making a very good and well-illustrated point. And it's helpful! So, no worries at all, and thank you!

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  19. Love the snippet! And I give you props for doing this, I think it would be so hard to write something in this style. I have characters from the 1800s and that was hard enough for me!

    Had to laugh at Apollo saying "Hey girl, what's up?" That would be classic. :D

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    1. Thanks, Julie! It's definitely a challenge, but a good one :)

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  20. I like the snippet, and I like the idea of playing around with style to reflect time period and setting. Will you have some element or device that flows through each story, to connect them?

    And let me second Tara's recommendation for the CompuServe Books and Writers Community--it's a fabulous place for writers of all stripes! :)

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    1. I will definitely have something to connect them - not sure exactly how it will work yet. First I need to make it clear that these are the same two souls in life after life...M had a great idea of using the same phrase somehow.. I'm working on it :)

      Thanks for the recommendation! I definitely will.

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  21. Experimenting and finding the right ingredients for a story will make it better. All this experimenting sounds both fun and eye-opening.

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  22. Experiment away -- that's what this stage is for, anyway. Thanks for sharing an excerpt; I enjoyed it.

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  23. My hat's off to you. I wrote a middle grade book once with a tinge of Greek inspiration--and that was some hard work! Greek mythology is complex, with numerous characters and interwoven storylines. I was exhausted keeping up with it...and I wasn't even trying to do an authentic voice with it.

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    1. Thanks!! It is hard work, but I'm enjoying it. There's a wealth of mythology to pull from!

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