Continuing Education 3: Writing That Sings: The Secrets To Captivating Novels
Karen Ball, writer, dramatic artist, singer, former editor, and current agent, spoke in an engaging manner that drew many writers to her ACFW conference workshop Writing That Sings: The Secrets to Captivating Novels just for the show. Of all discussions on the essential guideline of “show, don’t tell,” Ball’s demonstration of an asthma attack pushed the subject into the unforgettable category.
And then she cautioned for balance, and pulled from her audience the times when telling is the correct choice.
Use of the -ly adverb—a classic example of lazy writing—illustrates the second speed bump of technical corrections to your WIP. Employ adverbs only when they strengthen the writing, even in dialog. Instead, Ball said, show the actions and insert beats to add place and character details simultaneously.
That discussion blended into the use of beats for attributions rather than the ordinary he said/she said. Beats give purpose, intersperse actions, and indicate thoughts of the character that contrast with the dialog.
After asking those in attendance to help define the nebulous concept of author voice—during which Ball directed traffic and provide guidance—some concepts floated to the surface:
- Word choice
- Personality on the page
- The sum of everything an author is
- Where the author has come from
- What makes him distinct as a writer.
Ball suggested writers find their voice by writing—a lot.
Do not try to sound like someone else, or compare your voice to another writer’s. Maintain your voice despite critiques and edits. Don’t be caught up in others’ opinions of “You should say it this way.” You are unique. Own it.
Ball provided an unexpected demonstration of author voice when she compared different actor’s interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. Each actor put his imprint on the part, demonstrating how an author’s voice is unique.
Ball provided a worksheet to help authors establish a particular character’s voice by assessing the traits and background of that character. She suggested authors vary the phrases, grammar, and expressions of each character. A tough Marine is not likely to discuss (or even know) the difference between the colors coral and salmon in his heroine’s blouse—unless he has the background to justify that interest.
Your truest voice
The secret ingredient to writing your passion is distilled to the catalyst for your writing, the core of your story. Dig down to face the hard things. Analyze the actions of your characters with a series of questions—ask them “So what?” and “What else?” Find the strong emotional drama, the energy behind the story.
What kills your passion? Shame, guilt, worry, fear, over-involvement, discouragement, expectations, physical maladies, lack of sleep, anger. Instead, nurture your passion, Ball said. Be with like-minded people. Read widely. Keep an evidence journal of your faith walk. Nothing is ever wasted in the life of a writer. “Trust me on this,” Ball said.
Singer image courtesy of Pixomar/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net