Nailing your character's voice can sound like a nebulous and impossible task. Today, we'll look at examples of novels where the voice truly shines, and you'll get concrete steps you can use to improve your own writing voice.

 Improve your writing voice! Check out examples from novels and use my tips for nailing your writing voice. Read the full post on my blog >>>

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Have you ever had a critique partner say your "voice" just didn't cut it for them?

Or perhaps you've seen agents seeking writers with "a distinctive voice" (and you had no idea what that meant).

If so, then this is the blog post for you, my friend!

Let's start with the basics.

What is writing voice?

Writing voice is the personal flavor or flair you add to your stories. Have you noticed that although a number of books might have the same premise, once you read those books they seem vastly different? Sure, some of that is because the details in the plot differ, but a lot of it is because 1) the writer's voice is unique, and 2) their characters' voices are also unique.

Writing voice is the personal flavor or flair you add to your stories.

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For characters to truly jump off the page and into the imagination, their voices need to be believable and consistent. An elderly man wouldn't react the same way a first grader would, right? No! In real life, they would look different, have unique speaking patterns, and react differently based on experience and perspective. And since the more we can reflect the real world in our stories, the more powerful they will be; which means we need to make sure our fictional characters illustrate unique voices too.

Take a look at these two different characters written by Sabaa Tahir:

Keenan moves toward me until he's standing uncomfortably close. He smells of lemon and wind and something smoky, like cedar. He takes me in from head to toe, and the look would be shameless if it wasn't for the slight puzzlement in his face, like he's seeing something he doesn't quite understand. His eyes are a dark secret, black or brown or blue -- I can't tell. It feels as if they can see right through me to my weak, cowardly soul. I cross my arms and look away, embarrassed of my tattered shift, of the dirt, the cuts, the damage.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir*

"I owe you, Veturius." Her eyes soften, and the steely, Blackcliff-trained part of me shakes its head. She can't turn into a girl on me now. "Cain told me everything you did for me, from the second Marcus attacked. And I want you to know--"

"You'd have done the same." I cut her off gruffly, satisfied by the stiffening of her body, the ice in her eyes. Better ice than warmth. Better strength than weakness.

Unspoken things have arisen between Helene and me, things that have to do with how I feel when I see her bare skin and her awkwardness when I tell her I worry for her. After so many years of straightforward friendship, I don't know what these things mean. But I do know that now's not the time to think about them. Not if we want to survive ...

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir*

How would you describe the voice in these two examples?

For the first, I would say: thoughtful, timid, poetic.

For the second, I would say: strong, focused, sharp.

You can tell the author is a fantastic writer, but beyond that she has made two main characters in one book have very distinctive voices.

Here's another example I love, from Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

I take a sip of my beer, and it's -- I mean, it's just astonishingly disgusting. I don't think I was expecting it to taste like ice cream, but holy ****ing hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? I honestly think I'd rather make out with Beiber. The dog. Or Justin.

Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli*

Note how different the writing style is between the two different authors. But it goes beyond how the writers write (i.e. word choice, point-of-view, sentence structure), the voices are hugely different.

I would describe this voice as: irreverent, young, humorous.

All of the above are examples of excellent writing, all are from characters around the same age (in their teens), and yet each carries the author's voice and their own distinctive voice - which is what makes these stories shine.

For a non-YA example, let's look at the RITA award-winning romance novel Must Love Chainmail by Angela Quarles:

First, meet the heroine ...

If she were caught--caught doing what she'd promised to give up--what would the cost be? Too high. Oh, but the need. The need itched across her skin, jerked her fingers toward her phone.

Outside a stacked-stone Welsh church in Flintshire, Katy Tolson snugged her pashmina scarf tighter against the pine-scented October breeze whipping through their tour group and across the rocky terrain. Ruining our bachelorette vacation, my butt.

Maybe just a quickie?

Must Love Chainmail by Angela Quarles*

And now the hero ...

Sir Robert Beucol kept a steady hand on the lady's back and steered his destrier up the outer bailey steps, his horse's iron shoes ringing against the stone. He nodded gruffly to a sentry and clattered across the drawbridge over the natural ravine, through the gate, and into the bailey, the lady was thankfully quiet. For lady she was, despite wearing strange hose and an oddly shaped cloak. [...]

God keep him, remembering the feel of those soft curves pushed against him shot lusty thoughts through his body and stiffened his privy counselor. Heavenly, she smelled, like the lushest fruit. Obviously one of the wealthier colonists. He halted any further conjecture and allowed cool determination to cleanse away any flicker of desire. He could ill afford such a dalliance.

Must Love Chainmail by Angela Quarles*

Once you get over the term "privy counselor" (haaaa), note just how different the two voices are - it's something the author did such a fantastic job with in this book. The heroine is a modern-day gal, addicted to planning (and her phone), who gets transported back to the time of knights like Sir Robert. The two voices are brilliant, just spot on (granted, I've never met a Welsh knight, but the character sounded amazing).

As writers, that's our goal: to make the character sound like the real thing so that our readers are pulled into the story and not distracted by a flat or (worse) non-believable voice.

Now that we know what our goal is, let's talk about how we can make it happen.

How to Improve Your Writing voice

Do your research

1. Read. Then read some more.

Read widely in your genre. Know how authors handle similar characters. Find out which books are bestsellers, and think deeply about what makes the voice stand out in those stories.

The first step to improve your writing voice: Read widely in your genre.

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2. Know your genre.

Although you can break rules and toe the lines of what's commonly accepted, it's always a good idea to know what the rules are for your genre before stepping outside of those rules. So before you begin writing your first-person Middle Grade novel about a pre-teen trying out for the school play, make sure you know what the expectations are for your genre (What language and subject matter are acceptable? How are touchy topics approached?).

3. Listen.

Listen to how people like your character talk (or write). Do they have certain habits or mannerisms? What do they value? Where do they like to spend time (and with whom)?

To do this, find non-creepy ways to listen to your target audience. I have a writer friend who sits at her mall's food court and listens in on teen conversations. Another swears by watching television shows popular with her ideal readers. You could also find Instagram accounts similar to your main character, or blogs with a similar audience.

This is a little more difficult with children, but you can volunteer to babysit for a friend or sibling. Or help out with your local elementary school's tutoring or reading program. In other words: get creative! (But again, please don't be creepy.)

Know your characters

In real life, we could describe someone to another person by sharing their physical traits, personality quirks, or speech patterns. I encourage you to do the same for your fictional characters.

Go beyond what the physical characteristics, and jot down details to help bring them to life:

  • What do they say when they're angry?

  • How do they get from one place to another (run? walk slowly? skip? drive a mini-van?)?

  • What do they like to do in their free time?

  • How would their best friend describe them?

  • How would a non-friend describe them?

  • What is their most valued object?

  • How do they react when hurt? Afraid? Sad?

Use details like this to get to know your character before you start writing, and you'll be less tripped up by getting their "voice" down while you're writing.

Practice

After reading (and reading some more) in your genre, the best thing you can do is write (and write some more).

Try short stories or flash fiction to stretch your writing muscles, and focus on prompts that will push you to write new voices.

Try these to start:

Write the same scene from each character's perspective.

  • A mother trying to talk to her daughter about drugs.

  • A first kiss between fifth graders.

  • A 30-something career woman is heading on a vacation, and she's leaving her very-loved dog behind.

  • An ex-soldier is going back to school, and his first class is taught by an ex-girlfriend.

  • A rich teen boy has to take the bus for the first time and meets a girl from a poor neighborhood.

As always, feedback from other writers can help you spot where you need to improve.

Bonus! Advice from Angela Quarles

When I first shared this blog post, Angela Quarles reached out to me on Twitter with some insight into her writing process. She said, "This is the first blog post to use my writing to illustrate craft and--no lie--it feels good to have someone [recognize] the hard work I put into their individual voices. For the final pass w/that in mind, I did Katy and Robert separately [...] in revisions when I worked on polishing their voices, I edited each of her POVs all the way thru, and then his."

For those who are interested, Angela shared the full process (for another novel, but same POV/voice challenge) in a post on her blog:

My current novel has two Points of View (POV), and boy are they completely different. One is the quirky, slightly dorky heroine from modern-day America, and the other is a sweet, hunky hero from 1834. (It’s a time-travel romance). As you can imagine, their voices are completely different in tone and syntax. I thought I’d share my method of making damn sure they didn’t sound alike, not because I think this is THE WAY to do it, or that it is in any way groundbreaking, but just in case it might work for another.

Read Angela's full post

P.S. Want to thank Angela for sharing her amazing insight AND see the results of her POV process? Buy MUST LOVE CHAINMAIL!*


That's my advice, but I would love to hear from you! How do you work on improving your writing voice? Have a favorite technique or tool to share? I would love to hear it! Hop in the comments below & let's chat!

Pssst: I'm also working on a resource to help writers with pre-writing exercises like character sketches. If you want to be notified when it launches, be sure to sign up for my mailing list (and you'll also get access to all my other free resources for writers).

Thanks for reading!


Welcome to the first episode of Book Magic! In this interview series I'll be sharing interviews with writers, authors, and industry experts about the craft and business of writing and selling books. (Who's excited? This girl!)

Learn more about self-publishing and traditional publishing from YA and Romance hybrid author Elizabeth Briggs. This week only: Enter to win copies of her YA and Romance books! Click through for details >>>

The first interview is with hybrid author Elizabeth Briggs, who self-published her NA/Adult Romance series, Chasing the Dream, and whose traditionally published YA Sci-fi title, FUTURE SHOCK, just released. In the interview Liz talks about:

  • Her writing and editing process.

  • Why she chose to self-publish.

  • Tools and resources she uses for writing and productivity.

  • How she juggles writing (amazing!) books with marketing.

I absolutely love Liz's Chasing the Dream series (I've talked about her books here, here, and here), and getting to ask her questions about writing and publishing was ridiculously fun AND rewarding. She has such fantastic advice and insight to share; whether you're considering self-publishing or a hybrid approach, or if you simply want to learn from a prolific author, then you'll love this interview!

Before you start watching, I have a couple of goodies in store for you ...

Enter to win a copy of FUTURE SHOCK

In celebration of the first video (and also because I want you to experience Liz's awesomness), I'm giving away a copy of FUTURE SHOCK to one lucky reader! Click the image below and you'll be taken to the Rafflecopter form for this giveaway. Earn entries by helping us spread the word!

Learn more about self-publishing and traditional publishing from YA and Romance hybrid author Elizabeth Briggs. This week only: Enter to win copies of her YA and Romance books! Click through for details >>>

Enter to win books 1-3 in the Chasing the Dream series

This week ONLY: Sign up to be notified when future Book Magic videos go live, and you'll also be entered to win the Chasing the Dreams box set (Kindle versions of books 1-3).

By signing up, you'll get some seriously terrific side benefits like:

  • Behind-the-scenes goodies and exclusive content (example: I'll send you links to books & resources Liz mentions in her interview).

  • The chance to shape the future of Book Magic interviews.

  • Monthly updates from me with special announcements and news about free courses like these.

Pretty great, no?

Click the image below to sign up!

Learn more about self-publishing and traditional publishing from YA and Romance hybrid author Elizabeth Briggs. This week only: Enter to win copies of her YA and Romance books! Click through for details >>>

Watch the interview

Enough chatting, I bet you're ready to learn from Liz! Click the video below to watch the interview!

Thank you so much for watching! Remember: Visit Liz's site to get a free copy of her book, MORE THAN EXES.

Learn more about self-publishing and traditional publishing from YA and Romance hybrid author Elizabeth Briggs. This week only: Enter to win copies of her YA and Romance books! Click through for details >>>


Have questions for Liz, or feedback for future Book Magic interviews? Leave a comment below.

I love comments almost as much as I love books. ;)


Critique Partners are an amazing asset to a writer at any stage, but they're the source of a lot of questions: Where do you find CPs? How do you find the right CP? Today I've put together the answers to the most common questions below. Take a look!

Critique Partners are an amazing asset to a writer at any stage, and I often hear writers asking about where to find CPs, how to find the *right* CP, or how to make the most of CP relationships. I've put together the answers to the most common questions below. Click through to read it >>>

5 Common Questions about Critique Partners

Last week I shared a blog post about the difference between Critique Partners (CPs) and Beta Readers. Today, I want to answer some common questions I hear about finding CPs and making the most of CP relationships.

Ready? Let's go.

1. Where do you find Critique Partners?

There are a number of CP match-ups online, and Twitter is always a great option. You might find them in your local writing group, in online writing groups, or on Facebook. In short: everywhere!

In case you're overwhelmed, here are five critique partner match ups to get you started:

  1. CP of Awesome Match-Up on the YA Buccaneers

  2. Pub Crawl Critique Partner Connection

  3. Swoon Reads Critique Partner Matchmaking

  4. How about we CP Tumblr

  5. Ladies Who Critique

2. How do you find the right CP?

Finding the right CP can be challenging. You may need to try out different CPs before you find the best one for your story. You might also find that certain CPs are great for one story, but not as well suited for your other stories. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and with a CP, you're looking for another writer who is strongest in the areas you need the most help.

You may need to try out different CPs before you find the best one for your story.

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Things to consider:

  • What genre do they read and write? A writer who isn't familiar with your genre may not give the most helpful feedback.

  • What style of writing do they like? A writer who loves lyrical storytelling may not like your short and snappy dialogue-heavy manuscript.

  • Are they nice? Maybe you like tough love, or maybe you cry at the drop of a hat (raises hand) -- whichever you prefer, look for CPs who fit what you want. For example, you can check out their Twitter feed to get a feel for their personality.

3. Okay, I have a CP. Now what?

Once you've found a CP, start by sharing a snippet of your work, and request that they do the same. Perhaps exchange your query letter, first five pages, or first three chapters. Request specific feedback, and get a feel for their style of critiquing. There's a chance you won't like their style (or they won't like yours), and it's better to find out sooner rather than later to avoid wasting their time.

Related: Before You Hit Send: Prepping Your Manuscript for CPs

4. What should I ask my CP to look for?

As I mentioned in my post on how to revise be specific about the feedback you want when you share your work with a CP.

Be specific about the feedback you want when you share your work with a CP.

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Questions you might ask after an early draft:

  • Is this story worth writing? Do you want to read more?

  • Were there points in the story where you grew bored or lost interest?

  • What did you like best about the story?

Questions you might ask after later drafts:

  • Is my character's development believable?

  • How is the romantic tension?

  • Is this scene confusing?

  • Any gaping plot holes or problems I need to address?

The list goes on! It depends on where you are in the writing process (think of the spectrum as first draft -----> ready for querying or publication), and you'll find that certain CPs specialize in giving certain types of feedback. For example, one CP might be great at quick turn around and big picture feedback, whereas another CP might need more time, but will be able to give you a more detailed critique.

5. How can I be a good CP?

There are a few simple things you can do to make sure the friends you critique for are happy customers:

1. Be honest about your availability and your interest.

First, try to be honest about how long it will take you to read and critique your CP's manuscript. If it's taking you longer than expected, let them know. If you need more time, be honest. You can save your CP a lot of unnecessary stress simply by being up front with them.

Second, if a friend asks you to read their erotic vampire political thriller and you absolutely HATE those (or you're completely unfamiliar with the genre), then don't offer to read for them. (Perhaps skip the part about hating their genre, though.) Let them know you're not the right reader for this story, and be honest about which genres you would be willing to read.

2. Ask for their expectations and try to meet them.

Request expectations from your CP and before you start reading make sure you know what kind of feedback they want. Do this and you'll avoid sending them your line-by-line edit when what they really wanted was to know if the romance worked.

3. Be a gracious reader.

When someone asks you to read their manuscript, they are placing a lot of trust in you. Treat their manuscript--and their feelings--like you would your own. Find ways to be constructive and avoid being negative or overly enthusiastic about their faults or mistakes (i.e. "That's the WORST character arc EVER!!!! OMGGGG.").

Before sending your feedback, double-check it. Are you kind and gracious? Do you offer encouragement? Have you met their requests? Is your feedback constructive?

Remember: being a CP for a writer is beneficial to you too. Not only will your CPs return the favor and help you write better books, but by reading and critiquing your work will improve. #WIN

Related: How to Rock the Critique Partner Relationship


I hope you found my tips about Critique Partners helpful! If you liked this post, I would love it if you shared it on Twitter. You can use the tweet below, just click to tweet!

Want to know where to find CPs & how to make the most of CP relationships? Read this:

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I would love to hear from you in the comments below: Do you have tips for writers looking for CPs? Or questions about being a good CP?


Pssst: You also might like the Novel Plot Test Worksheet I made. My email friends get to download it for FREE! Click the image below to sign up and I'll email you a copy today.

Want to make sure your novel idea passes the test? I created a Novel Plot Test worksheet to help you find out. Click through for your copy ----->


Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


Have writing goals to finish but lacking motivation? Then this post is for you! The YA Buccaneers are hosting their bi-annual bootcamp, and you're invited! (P.S. It's FREE!)

Join the YA Buccaneers FREE Spring Writing Bootcamp! When you join you get goal-setting worksheets plus access to private online writing groups! Click through to learn more! >>>

Want to write with me this spring? The YA Buccaneers are hosting our Spring Writing Bootcamp and this is your official invite. We're three weeks in, but you can join at any time. (I have a fantastic excuse for not inviting you sooner - I've been writing all the words during bootcamp!)

The bootcamp runs May through June, and now is a great time to get started! When you sign up you get:

  • A FREE intro pack with goal-setting worksheets

  • Access to private online communities for bootcampers ONLY - your choice of Facebook or Twitter

  • Word Sprints (where we hang out online and write together!)

  • Book giveaways to help you stay motivated (yesss!)

Join the YA Buccaneers FREE Spring Writing Bootcamp! When you join you get goal-setting worksheets plus access to private online writing groups! Click through to learn more! >>>

This bootcamp is 100% free and is put together by the amazing YA Buccaneers crew. During bootcamp I'll be behind the scenes with my fellow Buccaneers, but I'll also be working on my own writing goals--which makes this a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better.

Bootcamps are a fantastic way to make new writer friends while working toward your goals. You can work on anything - drafting, revising, blogging - and everyone who checks in online will earn chances to win those prizes I mentioned (i.e. BOOKS!).

I would love to see you in bootcamp! Click here to sign up & right away we'll email you your Spring Writing Bootcamp intro pack with those goal-setting worksheets. (Because who doesn't love adult homework?)

What do you think? Hop in the comments and let me know if I'll see you in bootcamp!


Critique Partners and Beta Readers are an essential part of the publication process, but there's often confusion about what they are and whether or not they're important (spoiler: they are). If you've been confused about CPs and betas in the past, then this post is for you!

Critique Partners and Beta Readers are an essential part of the publication process, but there's often confusion about what they are and whether or not they're important (spoiler: they are). If you've been confused about CPs and betas in the past, then this post is for you! Click through to read it >>>

Lately I've heard a number of writers asking the following:

  • What's a CP?

  • What's the difference between Critique Partners and Beta Readers?

  • Do I have to have a CP or beta readers? Can't I just send my manuscript to an agent?

During #PitchMadness, a writer said they were too scared to have a critique partner, and would far rather have an author or agent read their stuff first.

EEK.

I'm going to start with the basics, but first:

Friends don't let friends NOT have CPs and Beta Readers. Your pre-agent and pre-publication readers are your golden ticket to crafting amazing stories. Better yet, they are the ones who will tell you when your book is confusing, lacking, or just ... not ready, which is far better than hearing it in a review or finding out thanks to a stack of query letter rejections.

Friends don't let friends NOT have CPs and Beta Readers.

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But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's talk about the difference between a Critique Partner and a Beta Reader, and why you want both.

Critique Partners (CPs) versus Beta Readers

Critique Partners

Critique Partners (CPs) are writers who read your work and give feedback based on your requests. Often the goal is to exchange work, although you might not start with an exchange.

Since CPs are fellow writers, they can find weaknesses like plot holes, poor character development, and the other million things writers need to think about when writing. Unlike, say, a family member who doesn't write, they know and understand story mechanics and can be the shiny unicorn you need to help you navigate your manuscript.

CPs can be the shiny unicorn you need to help you navigate your manuscript.

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Friends, you WANT a CP. In fact, you want a flock of them. Why? Because they will:

  1. Read your stuff, even when it's the equivalent of a pile of garbage.

  2. Tell you what you're doing right and what you need to fix.

  3. Be your shoulder to cry on when things get hard.

  4. Keep you going when you want to quit.

  5. Prevent you from querying or publishing when you're not ready.

That last one is important.

Your CPs get to hone their editing and story-making skills by reading your stuff. In return, you get to hear from them (versus an agent or Amazon reviews) what's good/bad/ugly about your story.

Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's scary.

But wouldn't you rather hear constructive criticism from a fellow writer? Someone who knows exactly how hard it is to write a book? Someone who can help you make it better?

Besides, you want this constructive feedback before you query or publish. When you can still fix it. When it's not meaning you lost a connection with an agent. When it's not showing up as one-star reviews.

Make sense?

This is why CPs are so, so important and amazing.

But wait! Beta Readers are awesome too.

Beta Readers

Beta Readers (sometimes referred to as betas) are people who read your manuscript as readers first, not writers. A Beta Reader can read your story at any time in your writing process, and they aren't (necessarily) looking for an exchange. With beta readers, you're often asking them for big picture feedback only (i.e. Did you like it?).

Beta Readers are important because they can give you big picture feedback free of the constraints and worries CPs and writers will have while reading. Since they're not looking for your character's goal, motivation, and conflict, for example, but just want a good story, they can help you make sure you're on track.

If you're looking for Beta Readers, family, friends, nieces and nephews, friends-of-friends (non-writers especially) make great readers. You can post on Facebook that you're looking for readers, or email your family members to ask if they might read your manuscript. Just be sure to be clear about your expectations, and try to find people who will be nice to you. :)

Sensitivity Readers

Beneath the umbrella of Beta Readers are Sensitivity Readers, which are worthy of pointing out, especially if you include diversity in your manuscripts. If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a great explanation:

A sensitivity reader reads through a manuscript for issues of representation and for instances of bias on the page. The goal of a sensitivity reader isn’t to edit a manuscript clarity and logic, although that may be an additional service offered. A sensitivity reader reviews a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language. A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.

Write in the Margins

As an aside, thanks to my writer friend Laura Haley for pointing this out and for connecting me with a Sensitivity Reader for my manuscript!

If you are looking for a Sensitivity Reader, the Writing in the Margins Sensitivity Reader database will be a great resource for you.


I hope this helps you understand how CPs and Beta Readers are different, but also why both are important parts of getting your manuscripts ready for querying or publication.

Next week I'll share the answers to five common questions about making the most of the CP relationships, so check back if that's something you'd like to read!


Pssst: You also might like the Novel Plot Test Worksheet I made. My email friends get to download it for FREE! Click the image below to sign up and I'll email you a copy today.

Want to make sure your novel idea passes the test? I created a Novel Plot Test worksheet to help you find out. Click through for your copy ----->


Do you have questions about CPs and Beta Readers? Hop in the comments below and let me know. I'd love to hear from you. Or, if you're someone who has worked with CPs and Beta Readers, what advice would you give other writers who are new to CP and Beta Reader relationships?

P.S. If you found this post valuable, I would love it if you shared it on Twitter!

Not sure what the difference is between a CP and a beta? Read this post:

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo