Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Stories Behind the Voices

This might be one of those posts that is just my internal dialogue spilling out onto the screen, but on the off-chance other people find the writing/revision process interesting...

I'm working on this other manuscript which I hadn't intended to work on at all. (Yes, I'm not working on my dystopian.) I've called it many names since I wrote it two years ago. Re: Straint and Good Girls Don't Date Mutants are the most memorable. We'll title it Mutants for right now and call it good.

So, Mutants is an odd little YA I wrote which doesn't fit in the genres I want it to. Most appropriately, it's probably a YA Science Fiction... which is yikes-worthy because Science Fiction isn't something that all agents and probably editors are begging for. This is even a Science Fiction Romance. A Contemporary Science Fiction Romance. I know, go figure... it's a mutant in itself really. It is one of the main reasons I originally queried Sarah... because her agency represents Science Fiction so I knew that I might eventually find a home for Mutants.

Anyway, so Mutants is the tale of a boy named Lucas who is one of 200 souls on the planet who has evolved to need bacteria to survive. Well, he does more than survive; he and the others of his kind are fast, stronger, can hear and see better, and are all around better. Unfortunately, he falls in love with a regular, average, every-day girl named Hallie. Some of his group, the Strain, don't agree with this and the more violent decide to kill them off. So, that's the story... a love story ... an infectious love story.

Unfortunately, Mutants has/had a little stalking problem. It glamorized stalking... which I didn't know how to get around it, but I've figured it out recently. Yay, no more stalking.

Now, Mutants has a little voice problem. It falls flat. It's set in Florida on the panhandle in a city. Setting, of course, we'll lead into voice. I set it where I used to live so that the accent wouldn't be a problem for me but then I just sort of forgot to add it in. Doh! No wonder it falls flat, huh? Well, I learned a ton about voice from revising SECRETS, and it's time to put it to work.

First, of course, there is character to take into account:

Lucas is a genius who has lived all over, so he most likely won't have a southern accent and his vocabulary will be higher. He's nineteen but he's led an anti-social life and buried himself in books so he'll stumble in conversations with Hallie. I need to work on establishing his voice quirks in my brain.

Hallie, on the other hand, is a senior in high school and she's lived in that city her whole life. She'll have an access and probably some colloquialisms. She's smart, but not as interested in science or learning as Lucas. She's more social than he is with more experience in dealing with others. She also is fearless when it comes to him and has no filter on what she'll say to him.

A few things I establish upfront with voice:

What are their word tics? What words do they say frequently that fill in gaps and create voice? (well, uhh, fine, rather, probably, yeah, cool, awesome, then, really, suddenly, hmm, just, maybe, anyway, still) I try not to overdo it so their vocabulary gets sloppy with the words, but they'll have those words.

What slang/profanity do they use? Piper always said "Frak!" but Gris more commonly said "Holy hell!" What will Lucas and Hallie and everyone else say?

How much will their upbringing and environment impact their speech? Is it mother or mama? Folks or people? Guys or boys? I just finished a revision on Curse Me A Story which is set in medieval times... and that was a whole different ball of wax, but their voices had really settled in by the end of the revision. I already know Lucas will call his mother "mother" both because he isn't originally from the South, but also because their relationship is distant. (She's a psychopath.) Hallie was raised there and has a really loving relationship with her mother. So, it's "mama" for her.

Once again, I'll be switching from feminine to masculine POV in first person in Mutant so there are also gender differences to account for. My husband's speech pattern is nothing like mine. One of my non-writing friends first drew my attention to this. She'd beta read my books and highlight words and say, "Guys don't say this, Wendy." Sometimes it was entire sentences, but sometimes it was individual words. In her opinion, guys don't use the word "so" like women do. I started listening to the differences between the speech of men and women after that. I mean, obviously, there are no finite rules with speech, but I can decide which words MY male character will not be saying, but my female character will.

There is also a distinction between what a person will say out loud and what they'll think in their heads that I try to factor in when I'm writing in first person, but that's a final draft sort of fix.

I was talking with Sarah about how what I learned from SECRETS is helping me revise MUTANTS. I'm also beginning to realize that this deep revision I'm doing on MUTANTS may help me with the revision I'll need to do on SECRETS for the film agent. Writing has always been like that for me... I learn through burying myself in manuscripts and then finding my way out. Once again, I'm glad that it's taken me as long as it has. I couldn't have improved CURSE ME or MUTANTS without the lessons I learned from SECRETS on voice.

Anyway, that's what I'm working on right now. Well, I'm still trying to work on removing the stalkery aspects and then I'll focus on voice idiosyncrasies, but that's my plans for this week. By the end of revising to focus on voice, I'll hear their voices in my head and it will be so thoroughly lovely that I might write about it again. I'm weird like that.

Have a good week, everyone!


  1. Good luck with it. It doesn't matter what editors/agents are buying/requesting. Write a good story, and it'll all fall into place. Plus, dystopian is a subgenre of science fiction and that is selling.

  2. Whew, you are one busy woman! Good luck with the voice--I think that's one of the most fun parts of revising!

  3. That's what I thought, Ashelynn, in regards to dystopian... but there is a weird stigma with Sci-fi that you don't get with the sub-genres. This doesn't "fit" into dystopian or I would go with that. Really.

    Stephanie, it is one of the most fun AND rewarding parts of revising. When you get the voice... it's like magic... or like Frankenstein and you just want to shout, "It's ALIVE!"