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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Guest Blogger: Author Martha Brockenbrough on Writing the Book You Should Be Writing, Part 2

I am thrilled and honored to have a 3-part guest blog from Martha Brockenbrough this week on Writing the Book You Should Be Writing. Scroll down to check out Part I.

Welcome back, Martha!


So how does a writer sink time into the wrong book?

In my case, I loved my idea for the story. I researched the topic. Not only were there not many novels on this subject, the ones out there were nowhere near as fantastic as they could have been (in my opinion, of course).

I was finishing a nonfiction manuscript when my main character came to me, so I couldn't jump in right away. But I did treat myself to plenty of nonfiction books about the subject, so I could infuse my book with all sorts of M.T.-Anderson-like historical richness.

In retrospect, that was my first mistake. M.T. Anderson is a genius. I have met M.T. Anderson (in an elevator. He is very tall). I have read his books. I am no M.T. Anderson.

Every night, I spent a couple of months sketching the outlines of my story. I read adventure novels by the pound and really enjoyed them. I totally ignored the fact that they were written in a voice that doesn't come particularly naturally to me. I could speak epic if I tried, right?

That was my second mistake. All capable writers can adopt a difference voice from their own. In her book "Take Joy," Jane Yolen even lays out what she views as the limited number of storytelling voices, which she essentially recommends writers put on as if they are magical cloaks.

I really liked that book, but I think it's dangerous advice if you don't happen to be Jane Yolen yourself. A primary challenge of being a writer in this Age of Voice is to discover the diction, rhythm, characters and subject matter that, when combined, support your natural way of storytelling.

Around the time I was finishing my paperweight, I wrote a throwaway piece of comedy for a Web site that publishes a lot of my writing. I call it throwaway because it wasn’t something I strained to do; it was just a fun piece that made me laugh as I worked. [Editor's note: you can read that hilarious piece of writing here.]

In it, I wrote in the voices of make-believe characters from someone else's novel. I never could have planned for this to happen, but a children's book editor saw it and posted it on Facebook. An agent read it and commented. Both had great things to say, much to my surprise and joy.

That was when I realized something. To try and ape a voice that you loved from other writers' books, or even to try to write in a genre that doesn't suit your native style is a little bit like singing karaoke. If you've watched "American Idol" at all, you know this is a surefire way to get booted off the stage. As good as you might be at imitating someone else or working in a style that doesn't quite fit, you're running the risk of writing a book that will never quite soar.

This is why, for now, at least, I have put away the 100,000 word adventure novel.


Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow: What can you do if this happens to you?

And if you're in the Seattle area tonight, drop into the Wednesday SCBWI WWA meeting for my talk, How to Hook a Hottie: Landing the Agent of Your Dreams:
SCBWI WWA Monthly Meeting
Demaray Hall 150 at Seattle Pacific University
6:45 networking & 7:00 meeting

I hope to see you!

1 comment:

  1. THese are tremendous interviews, Holly. So bracingly honest and fresh. Thank you to you both.