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sophieweston
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'Voice' in category fiction

Lynne, category lines each have their own specific requirements. These are guidelines which you will normally get from the publishers and/or find on their websites. (In the UK mainly Harlequin Mills & Boon but also Headline's new imprint Little Black Dress.) These include word length and, perhaps setting but also things you must include in books aimed at a particular imprint and, sometimes, a hint on what is not a good idea. In the latter case, you need to be particularly aware of sexual content.

Voice, by contrast, is personal to the writer. In my experience, it is much less under your control than complying with publishers' guidelines. It is made up of all your experience, the way you think, the way you normally speak.

There is, of course, a degree of deliberation involved in the way you develop an individual voice. For instance, P G Wodehouse, one of the great stylists in my view, became more and more recognizably the writer we now know once he had started writing musical comedy with Guy Bolton. His scenes and, in particular, his dialogue, could have come straight out of the production of a very witty play. (Elizabeth and I
cover personal style quite a bit in 'Getting the Point' - not a plug, because I know Lynne already has a copy, folk!)

I think that the way to develop that voice is to 'hear' the words. Either write for your characters as if they were actors or tell the story aloud to your best friend. You will soon get an ear for the best rhythm to suit you.

good luck
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net
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sophieweston
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Formal writing and jargon

Lynne

I used to have to write reports for the Bank of England and then moved on to the International Monetary Fund, which had an entirely different set of expectations and requirements in terms of vocabulary, sentence length, layout on the page etc. I was writing my novels at the same time. You get into a different zone before you start to write.

I've been a bit harsh on jargon, I suspect. It can be useful when quite a narrow group of professionals are discussing their particular area of expertise, so that they don;t have to keep spelling out rather long, complicated ideas which they already understand and have in common.

Though even so, jargon can sometimes be used to hide unpalatable truths. I seem to remember working on a Loan Facility which the IMF introduced many years ago to help small farmers in developing countries who grew "soft" commodities - coffee, sugar etc. They could be horribly affected by sharp fluctuations in world prices, over which they had no control. As far as I recall, the compensation system was worked out on the basis of a mathematical averaging of relevant former harvests. The IMF called it a "Formula Forecast". Only, of course, some people had had bumper harvests and some people had had hurricanes, so it wasn't a fair comparison at all. So the IMF Staff ended up adding in another calculation, the so called "Judgmental Forecast". I always thought of them as 'a silly guess, based on the sums' and 'a slightly less silly guess'.

Also I do think there is a danger when professionals start to pat themselves on the back for having mastered jargon. That is when they start to show off their fancy phrases and lose touch with the real subject of their work - which is the important thing in all these formal reports, isn't it?

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.gettingthepoint.net
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sophieweston
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Good Style

[ Edited ]
I promised Janet that I would find the George Orwell article about good style. It is 'Politics in the English Language'. He wrote it because he was interested in political thinking (this in the 1930s) and he particularly criticised some of the Big Cheeses of the day, who really did write the most terrible tosh. Try reading some of his examples aloud. You can't get your tongue round them and you really don't know what they mean.

you can find it here http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

He has 6 rules, which work as well for fiction as they do for any other sort of writing;

1 Never use a cliche. ("A metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.")

2 Never use a long word where a short word will do.

3 If it's possible to cut out a word, then cut it out.

4 Never use a passive verb (e.g. "Sir Andrews was instructed to go to take ship for France.") when you can use an active one (e.g. "The letter told Sir Andrew to take ship for France."

5 Never use a foreign word, scientific phrase or jargon if you can think of an English equivalent. (DNA is DNA, you can't get round that. But think carefully before saying in a novel "He died of hypothermia" when you mean "he died of cold". Quite apart from anything else, the latter is much more shocking. Short words that everyone understands are powerful - see Orwell's Point 2, above.)

6 Break all these rules rather than say anything outright barbarous. (By which, I take it, he means over-complicated, pretentious and/or impossible to understand.)

Hope that's helpful.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net

Message Edited by sophieweston on 05-04-200708:13 AM

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LeighMichaels
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Re: 'Voice' in category fiction

I concur, here. I was going to suggest reading aloud -- your own work, but also that of other authors you enjoy (or for that matter, don't enjoy -- it's an enlightening experience!) Reading a Marion Lennox aloud is a whole different thing from reading an Olivia Gates aloud, and it will really help you hear the author's voice -- how she constructs sentences, how she moves the story.

But Jenny's answer is much fuller and more thoughtful!

Leigh
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RachaelMBrown
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Re: 'Voice' in category fiction

Hello everyone. I feel a bit intimidated by such great discussions, but I'll jump in anyway. I have "researched" writing for several years now and "developing my voice" is what has kept me from publishing. I even had an offer from Larsen and chickened out when I became ill. Luckily, even in the time I was discouraged, I have still been writing. I've read and taken notes on Leigh's book on writing romance several times, and took her advice. I read my favorite authors to find what I liked about them.I think now that voice is more your sense of humor and the way your inner monologue comes out to play than a stylized way of writing. But my question is, now that I've found my voice, how do I find a publisher who will like it? I've been reading various samplings of Harlequin lines, and none currently sound like me.
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ChristineM
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Re: Good Style

I've seen the Orwell article before. It was great to read it again. It has become one of those things that I've internalized and don't even remember where I got it from. :smileywink:

I have always felt that all bets were off in dialogue though. In description you wouldn't want to say the patient died of hypothermia, but if a doctor is talking, he's not going to say cold, he's going to say hypothermia. I also have seen and written characters whose speaking style changed based on emotion. Do you find that to be true or useful in charater development?
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sophieweston
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Re: 'Voice' in category fiction



RachaelMBrown wrote:
I think now that voice is more your sense of humor and the way your inner monologue comes out to play than a stylized way of writing.


Rachael, what a great way of describing voice. I'm sure you're right. It's only "stylized writing" to the people who are trying to analyze it. To you, it is your natural way of thinking.

How great that you have found yours. Just a word of warning, however: don't take for granted that, because you know what you're writing about, other people will do so, too. A voice can become so individual that it loses the reader, especially if you use words in an unconventional way. I'm sure you won't, certainly not at this early stage of your writing. But even the best writers can let their idiosyncrasies run away with them. Never forget, that you need to express yourself but you also need to keep the reader's attention. Confuse them, you lose them.


You ask: now that I've found my voice, how do I find a publisher who will like it? I've been reading various samplings of Harlequin lines, and none currently sound like me.





Harlequin aren't going to turn you down because your voice is new. Nor will any other publisher. Publishers are all dying to find a new voice that will be popular. Unpublished authors have a whole load of difficulties but an original voice really is not one of them. It's a huge plus. Congratulations!

Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
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sophieweston
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Re: Good Style



ChristineM wrote:

I have always felt that all bets were off in dialogue though. In description you wouldn't want to say the patient died of hypothermia, but if a doctor is talking, he's not going to say cold, he's going to say hypothermia. I also have seen and written characters whose speaking style changed based on emotion. Do you find that to be true or useful in character development?





Christine, you're absolutely right about dialogue. Characters are allowed to use technical terms, even jargon (though you have to shut them up if they go on too long, or you will lose your reader) whatever makes them real.

Characters also have their own pet words and phrases, don't they? (I'm told that I say "Absolutely!" a lot.) I used to know someone who had a habit of saying, with steely lightness, 'It couldn't matter less' and you knew, you just KNEW, that it was the start of a major battle because someone had offended her. I've even put it in the book I'm writing at the moment. You - well I - can't put real people in books because they overbalance them, but you can borrow the odd mannerism and put it to work.

The voices of characters is one of the most difficult things to get right. Like Leigh, I find that,if I'm worried about a scene, the best thing is to read it aloud. If I act it, changing voices for characters, I will stumble over the wrong use of vocabulary or sentence construction.

Maybe we should do an exercise on this? Leigh, what do you think? If so, I'll think about one.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
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cariann92
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Difference in characters and their dialogue.

I belong to a local crit group. I am critiquing a young man's book about two guys. Their adventure on a boat going down river is interesting, but the two guys speak the same. And the young man doesn't put enough tags in. I have to go through and count off the dialogues, put initials in for my own use to tell who is talking.

I told him last week that he needs to change some things, to distinguish between them. Put in a phrase that only one uses, etc.

They talk with words like, doin', instead of 'of' he uses a' [Joe's out a' the office.]. He uses 'ya' for you, but is not consistent. I am used to what it is now.

One girl said 'all'f our lives'.

Maybe next time I will have it read aloud. We could even do it and alternate the dialogue—like a play.

Cariann
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Ch-Janet
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Re: Difference in characters and their dialogue.

Hi Jenny,
Thank you for that Orwell link. I wondered about this point: "if it's possible to cut out a word, then cut it out."

Maybe romance writers need to keep some of the words Orwell might decide are best left l out. A few adjectives here and there can help set the mood and the emotion (?)
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Ch-Janet
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Plots

[ Edited ]
Hi Jenny,

The most recent HM&B Romances I've read are very well written but strongly focussed on character and emotion at the expense of plot.

I really miss the plot lines of 10-20 years ago when the books had strong and intriguing external plots. (I'm thinking of Leigh's books from the 1980s and into the mid 1990s)

Today the books seem to show an emotional journey, and many aspiring HB&B authors are told in their rejection letters that their stories focus too strongly on external plot.

I'd love to know why HM&B made the changes. Have you any thoughts on this? Or any advice on writing an interesting/gripping character driven story :smileyhappy:

Best wishes
Janet

Message Edited by Ch-Janet on 05-05-200704:47 PM

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sophieweston
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cutting out words



Ch-Janet wrote:
Hi Jenny,
Thank you for that Orwell link. I wondered about this point: "if it's possible to cut out a word, then cut it out."

Maybe romance writers need to keep some of the words Orwell might decide are best left l out. A few adjectives here and there can help set the mood and the emotion (?)




The important word in Orwell's sentence is 'possible'. Some romance writing is almost like a poem. You are creating a word picture. When you do that, you will need adjectives and adverbs to set the tone of the novel, the mood of the scene, the character of the speaker.

There are, however, words that I think as writers we should always be wary of - very, extremely, actually. They look like intensifiers but, in practice, they tend to undermine the strong words in the sentence. 'Rather' is another word to treat with care. It can dilute your meaning to nothing.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net
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sophieweston
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Re: Plots

[ Edited ]

Ch-Janet wrote:
Hi Jenny,

The most recent HM&B Romances I've read are very well written but strongly focused on character and emotion at the expense of plot.

I really miss the plot lines of 10-20 years ago when the books had strong and intriguing external plots. (I'm thinking of Leigh's books from the 1980s and into the mid 1990s)

Today the books seem to show an emotional journey, and many aspiring HB&B authors are told in their rejection letters that their stories focus too strongly on external plot.

I'd love to know why HM&B made the changes. Have you any thoughts on this? Or any advice on writing an interesting/gripping character driven story :smileyhappy:

Best wishes
Janet

Message Edited by Ch-Janet on 05-05-200704:47 PM






I'm not sure that my experience of HMB mirrors yours, Janet. I think HMB always wanted plots that were driven by character, not external events. In other words, what keeps the hero and heroine apart must be something in their own psyche, not a job transfer to Timbuktu. If you think about it, the characters in today's HMB Romances are in a different place at the end of the book, having come a journey, even if most of them have not slashed their way through the jungle or gone through board meeting mayhem along the way.

I do, however, agree that a situation is not a plot and that a number of writers have trouble recognizing the difference. That includes me in the early stages of putting a novel together, I'm ashamed to admit. I hope I've learned to develop the plot as the book progresses, but you the reader are the best judge of that.

Leigh is certainly a master at plot that is completely character-centred. Leigh, what is the title of that fab book with a heroine Whitney? She ends up falling asleep on the telephone while the man who is, by then, in love with her just hangs on and listens to her breathing. That is so romantic and so truthful to those two oddballs, too. I just WISH I could remember the title. I have it somehwere but it's late in London and I'm not up to the search.

To be honest, Janet, the situation-not-plot problem is the cause for so many saggy middles, about which you will hear novelists wailing whenever two or more of us are gathered together. Usually in the bar.

best
Jenny

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net

Message Edited by sophieweston on 05-05-200705:24 PM

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LeighMichaels
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Re: Plots


sophieweston wrote: Leigh, what is the title of that fab book with a heroine Whitney? She ends up falling asleep on the telephone while the man who is, by then, in love with her just hangs on and listens to her breathing. That is so romantic and so truthful to those two oddballs, too. I just WISH I could remember the title. I have it somehwere but it's late in London and I'm not up to the search.



Thank you, Jenny -- what a nice compliment! That book is "A New Desire" -- the first couple of chapters are on my website under Romance Classics. And as long as we're speaking of character journeys, that's one where the heroine makes quite an extensive change -- she was a battered wife, who even though she was widowed still suffered the consequences of her late husband's treatment, until quite a while after she meets the hero.

Happy writing,
Leigh
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sophieweston
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Re: Plots


LeighMichaels wroteThat book is "A New Desire" -- the first couple of chapters are on my website under Romance Classics. And as long as we're speaking of character journeys, that's one where the heroine makes quite an extensive change -- she was a battered wife, who even though she was widowed still suffered the consequences of her late husband's treatment, until quite a while after she meets the hero.

Happy writing,
Leigh





"A New Desire", of course. What was so terrific about that book was that the hero was a consultant, advising the heroine on business, and everything that looked as if it was about their professional lives was actually about their developing relationship and, indeed, Whitney's growing self awareness. An excellent example of what I said to Janet: that incidents and dialogue having to do more than one job in a category romance. A classic, indeed.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net
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lavenderlass
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Re: Plots

Thanks for that really interesting conversation Jenny et al. It seems to me that in medicals you have much more freedom about how you construct plot and sex etc. as long as you've got medical details of course.

That Orwell article was really interesting, I'd seen it referred to somewhere ages ago, but never read the whole thing until recently. I really did find it difficult to switch off formal writing, partly because I have still been writing occasional reports for social services. I also suspect some reservation came from within me, I found it very hard to give up a writing style at which I was very skilled, for a style with which I felt much more shakey. I still have a tendendy to lapse into long sentences etc. which you probably noticed above!

I think I've improved greatly, especially recently because I did Leighs online course with Gotham college and it was wonderful. Jenny, am I the only person you've heard of that's done one of the online courses? It seems to me that in the UK people hardly know about it, yet it's wonderful because you can ask all sorts of questions that are directly relevant to your own writing because you can posts excerpts, and get a reply very quickly. I've written about it for 'Romance Matters' but when chatting about it online few have heard of it.

I must just get on and finish my second, but my mother is so sickly with heart failure it takes me away quite a lot. Very furstrating.

Lynne.
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Ch-Janet
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Re: Plots

[ Edited ]
"Some romance writing is almost like a poem. You are creating a word picture."

And it's so beautiful when an author does that. Some romance authors have the knack of evoking emotion from the most mundane observations. Things like raindrops beading the H's hair. Maybe that's what Donalld Maas means when he advises writers to heighten the moment?


"think HMB always wanted plots that were driven by character, not external events. In other words, what keeps the hero and heroine apart must be something in their own psyche, not a job transfer to Timbuktu."

Yes, I agree. And the older books had all that. But in those older books there was something extra that you don't see in the modern ones. e.g. the quest to find the author Valerie St John in Leigh's "Capture a shadow". The storyline was so intriguing.

The characters had their internal conflicts to work through, just as today's heroes and herioines do but (going back to Leigh's 'Capture A Shadow) there was the added intrigue of wondering which of the people the H and h encoutered was actually the elusive author. (And all sorts of red herrings to throw us off the trail.) Today's external plots, on the whole, are more lightweight. (There are exceptions but these are few and far between)

Fiona Harper's debut novel had a good, strong external plot, but you don't often see plots like that now and I miss them.

Message Edited by Ch-Janet on 05-06-200708:02 AM

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sophieweston
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Online courses

Jenny, am I the only person you've heard of that's done one of the online courses? It seems to me that in the UK people hardly know about it, yet it's wonderful because you can ask all sorts of questions that are directly relevant to your own writing because you can posts excerpts, and get a reply very quickly. I've written about it for 'Romance Matters' but when chatting about it online few have heard of it.

I must just get on and finish my second, but my mother is so sickly with heart failure it takes me away quite a lot. Very furstrating.

Lynne.




I've heard of other people taking online courses, Lynne, but they generally don't seem to stick with them in the way that you have done. I'm not surprised it's rewarding. I regularly consult Leigh's book on Romance Writing myself.

Very sorry to hear that your mother is still poorly. But well done for still managing to write.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net
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sophieweston
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Re: Plots

But in those older books there was something extra that you don't see in the modern ones. e.g. the quest to find the author Valerie St John in Leigh's "Capture a shadow". The storyline was so intriguing.

The characters had their internal conflicts to work through, just as today's heroes and heroines do but (going back to Leigh's 'Capture A Shadow) there was the added intrigue of wondering which of the people the H and h encoutered was actually the elusive author. (And all sorts of red herrings to throw us off the trail.) Today's external plots, on the whole, are more lightweight. (There are exceptions but these are few and far between)

Fiona Harper's debut novel had a good, strong external plot, but you don't often see plots like that now and I miss them.

Message Edited by Ch-Janet on 05-06-200708:02 AM






I so agree about Fiona Harper's book, Janet. Did you know that it won the RNA's Joan Hessayon Award for new writers last year? Well deserved. It's got some terrific minor characters, too, which HMB always worry about, especially in a debut author. But these were expertly managed and really added to the romance, I thought.

And for a great example of an older category romance that had a fabulous external plot which had real resonance for the romantic relationship, try "The Driftwood Dragon" by Ann Charlton. It almost becomes a woman-in-jeopardy plot in the second half. I absolutely could not put it down and still recommend it to people as a superb example of the genre.

best
Jenny/Sophie

www.jennyhaddon.com
www.gettingthepoint.net
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LeighMichaels
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Re: Plots & Fiona Harper

What was the title of Fiona Harper's debut/prize-winning book, Jenny? I'm thinking it was something like "Blind Date Bride," but when I tried to look it up, all I found was one called "Blind Date Marriage" and it was listed as a Silhouette Romance rather than M&B/Harlequin. Is that the right one?

Thanks!
Leigh
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