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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writer's shoes


I'm taking a break from polishing a story for a holiday anthology - love writing about Christmas in June! - to work on my second blog for this group. Doing this makes me feel like I'm talking to someone!

As the owner of a secondhand bookshop I live amongst millions of words everyday. When I open the shop each morning I greet the shelves with Good Morning Everyone, and ask how they are feeling today. (No replies to that one yet, but how exciting if there were!) Even without any audible, ghostly reply, my books speak to me.

Since writing my own books I've become more aware of the individual voices of a writer. How many of you have admired the construction of a phrase, wondered how the writer decided on those particular words and even said, oh, I would love to have written that! When some wording makes me pause, I read it aloud to get the feel of it on my tongue, hear the mood, soak up the flavor of each word and study how it's pieced together.

In 2004 I took an online writing class and one of the assignments was to write in a favorite author's voice. If you want to write like a certain author, said the instructor, then write like that author. Open the book, pick a passage and start typing. It was an excellent lesson in investigating and interpreting what makes up the individual writer's voice.

I worked the assignment with several of my favorite authors and have since repeated it many times. Anita Shreve, to study eloquence and how a setting can be a character which I work to utilize in all my books but especially my historical romances, Almost Silenced being the latest; Susan Johnson to heat up a sex scene with delicious naughtiness, something I tried out in my first erotic romance, Make Mine A Double, as yet unpublished; Robert Crais showed me wit and how sentences don't have to go on forever to make them work, tools I used in Charades, the first of a series to be published this fall; Robin Schone and Madeline Hunter's sparse use of voice tags which lessens distraction from the meat of the story. That lesson I've made a conscious effort to use in everything I write. The voice lessons I learned from Hemingway, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Stegner, Whitney and many others who I consider the classic writers, are innumerable and invaluable.

What better way is there to study our craft than to walk in our favorite writer's "shoes"? What I discovered is that the words they've written don't feel anything like those that come out of me. I can put on the shoes but they feel like I'm wearing them on the wrong foot, or have two shoes from mismatched pairs. As much as I admire their way with words and their stories, they don't fit me, and mine would unquestionably not fit them.

Whose writing do you admire? Who has made you sigh over the perfect word choices that you would never have thought of? Have these writers made an impact on your own style of writing?

I've walked in the shoes of my favorite writers and have enjoyed the stroll but am always relieved when I put on my own pair, the really broken in pair. They're the perfect fit, for me.


stacey said...

i respect writers i wish to have half the talent that a writer has.Books are my greatest joy.


Tina Donahue said...

Interesting post, Polly. I learned long ago not to try to emulate writers I admire. Their style is unique. So is mine. So is everyone's. When I remember that, I write my best. When I don't...I'm in trouble. :)

Molly Daniels said...

Hahahaha...I got my head hopping habit from following my favorite authors' example!

Ilona Fridl said...

Hi, Polly!
I find every writer's voice is unique just like the person is different from every other. I've enjoyed many writer's story telling skills and hope I did as well with mine.

Katalina Leon said...

Written words are just the residue of real human emotions and thoughts. Each writer's mind and life experiences are so unique it seems like a recipe for failure to copy their words without feeling the inspiration of those words. I believe any writer or aspiring writer needs to spend time alone with their own uncritical voice and really listen to that voice.

jean hart stewart said...

Trying to change your own voice is futile. All you can do is polish it, and studying a writer you admire can help with that.

Paty Jager said...

A writer's voice comes from their experiences. Even when they are in the POV of a character far different from themselves a bit of their essence will shine through in that character. That's what makes every writer's story different and unique.

Melisse Aires said...

A great book inspires me to write! Also, a writer who has a style quite different than mine gets me thinking more critically about elements like description, word choices etc.

How cool that you own a bookstore, I would love that!

chasidyjean said...

I admire Susan Elizabeth Phillip and Judith McNaught's style of writing. Not only do their words speak to me as a reader it touches your soul in a way that you can't seem to forget the feelings when the book has long been closed and set back on the shelf. I always find myself going back to re-read those few paragraphs that spoke to me.

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