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Masterful Voice in Novels Part 5

In this exploration on masterful voice, we’ve been looking at the role microtension plays. Microtension is all about adding tension at the micro level: the level of phrasing and word choice and sentences. It is all about creating tension in your reader by continually surprising him on a subtle level.

Compare this to the macro level of tension created by plot developments and twists, those “big picture” items in your novel.

Yes, you do need a great plot and wonderful characters. But if you leave out the microtension, you risk deflating your terrific story. Kind of like a tiny leak in a hot air balloon. Eventually all that air seeping out will cause the balloon to crash to earth. Microtension keeps every scene afloat.

These last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at passages from Colum McCann’s award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin, a favorite book of mine, mostly because of the masterful voice of all his many, diverse characters.

I notice in a lot of novels I critique and edit a lack of masterful voice. Every character sounds the same. Meaning, they all sound like the author’s writing style, which is often boring. I get that beginning fiction writers are often just trying to nail the basics of crafting a scene and balancing narrative, action, and dialogue.

But I also see this a lot with multipublished authors. While a strong “character voice” isn’t always evident in many best sellers across many genres, without that strong “voice,” it is harder to find success and devoted readers. A writer has to work extra hard, lacking great characters with unique and interesting voices, to pull off a great novel.

And let’s face it, boring is boring. Do you ever get the feeling, when reading book #7 from best-selling “Author X” that the author is rushing, perhaps bored herself with her story, and isn’t taking the time to write masterfully? That feeling, that the author doesn’t care enough to write the very best book possible, makes me feel cheated. Not that I paid a million dollars for her book. But I am expected to spend maybe ten of my very precious hours reading said book. What’s that worth? As the American Express commercial says: “Priceless.”

We shouldn’t gyp our readers by writing boring scenes.

Let’s take a look at a brief passage from Let the Great World Spin. Continue Reading…

Mastering the 4 Key Elements to Support Your Novel

Since we’ve been exploring masterful writing over these last few months (and will continue to do so), I want to bring you back to the basics of novel structure. Why? Because all the masterful writing in the world won’t go very far if you don’t nail structure.

As you probably know (if you’ve been following my blog awhile), I write a lot about structure. And that’s because it’s crucial if you want to write a solid story. It’s as simple as that.

Every writing coach with a lick of sense is going to tell you essentially the same things I do. Maybe they use different terminology or describe concept or premise differently. Those are moot points.

What matters is that you understand how important structure is. And where to start.

That’s why I like using the building construction metaphor. You have to have a sturdy foundation for your building that meets established and proven building codes. A novel works on the same principles. Continue Reading…

Masterful Voice in Novels Part 4

Last week I discussed how important it is to have conflict on every page. And I shared the Faulkner quote that author Colum McCann referenced: “The only thing that matters is the human heart in conflict with itself.”

That might not be the only thing that matters when it comes to crafting a masterful voice in your writing, but it’s an important one, to be sure.

I believe literary agent and author Donald Maass is spot-on when he teaches that microtension is the key to writing a terrific novel. Without it, a novel is flat, struggling to keep a reader’s attention.

Microtension is exactly what it sounds like: it comprises all those tiny bits that give a reader pause. Contradictions in words and phrases, unspoken mysteries and clues, incongruities, hints of danger or trouble on some level. Microtension depends on what is not being said, on subtext. It’s like a that tightrope wire McCann wrote about in Let the Great World Spinwhich I shared last week.

Those little bits sprinkled throughout every page remind me of sparking gems scattered across a beach of endless, colorless sand. As a reader, I think I essentially read as if I were a beachcomber, rushing from one glittering gem to the next, gathering them up and making my way down the beach. Continue Reading…

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