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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.


From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Filtering by Category: Voice

How to Use Showing vs. Telling Effectively

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

There are tons of writing blogs and articles out there that offer advice on showing vs. telling. But why is that?

Why is showing so important that it automatically trumps telling? Is it ever okay to use telling? The secret is actually in the combination of the two. When you know how you can use showing in conjunction with telling, you can strengthen your writing and sharpen the structure of your pieces.

If you struggle with showing vs. telling at all, check out my guest blog over on the 10 Minute Novelist site today:

In it, you'll find tips for balancing the two and how to strengthen your voice.

Developing a Supernatural Edge: Enhancing Your Voice

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

In all my time writing, both in developing my own pieces and in working with other writers, the most difficult area for me to master has been voice. Narrative voice is something like your DNA in the writing world. It’s your unique ability to craft content and string words together to convey your message. The problem with mastering it is that it’s complex. Because there is no other voice like your own, there’s no blueprint to follow. So how can we first define voice and then enhance it to enrich our stories?

Voice as a Noun

Your voice is you, and you are your voice. Voice is a giant tapestry, woven with the qualities, language, concepts, and beliefs that make you who you are. While your characters will undoubtedly have minds of their own, your voice is what shines through in the overall piece and in the narrative to tie it together. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with your characters. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t. But having a strong voice is the key to tying their story together.

If you’re struggling to find your own voice in the sea of characters, start by looking at what makes you tick. Would you describe yourself as an optimist or a pessimist? Do you tend to wear your emotions on your sleeve, or are you more discreet and maybe even reluctant to open up? Your personal traits will often have a direct impact on your words and how they are delivered.

Voice as an Adjective

I love analyzing voice as an adjective. This is probably my favorite layer of voice, partly because I know immediately whether or not I’ll click with a piece I’m reading based on it. Sarcasm, innocence, intelligence, skepticism, humor, and boldness are all concepts that could be applied to enhancing your voice. In my own writing, I tend to have a sarcastic undertone with a bit of dark humor. And overall, the mood is serious, oftentimes with intense emotions. Because of that, genres like horror and thriller speak to me the most. If you’re lost on the adjective part of your voice, first look at what genres really captivate you. Chances are, there will be a few elements that bind those works together. Find that, and you have the second layer of your voice.

Voice as a Verb

The third part of voice has to do with how it’s executed. A previous article of mine about themes covered how you can use them to amp up the tone and mood of your story. Voice is no different. If you have the noun and adjective aspects of your voice nailed down, think about the delivery. What kind of impact do you want to have on the reader? Do you want them to be scared, happy, uneasy, sad, empowered? How you use your voice to create elements such as tone and pacing in a story can alter the mood of the story and the way that readers connect with it. Voice as a verb is one of the trickiest parts to master, because it has to marry well with your theme and plot. It also should contain signature features that will leave a unique and distinct mark on each piece you create, one that sets yours apart from everyone else’s. This is where wording comes in the most. The vocabulary and phrasing you choose in the narrative will depict a style that is all your own. It’s basically the combination of the noun and adjective forms joined with the conscious decision of implementation.

Pushing the Limit

Enhancing an established voice can be difficult. Just as with the technical side of writing, shaping the creative elements of writing, like voice, takes practice. For a lot of us, it can take years to master. One way is through experimentation. I often recommend starting by dabbling in new genres and points of view to do this. The idea is to stretch your boundaries and push past your comfort zone. By doing so, you’ll discover new ideas and techniques, adding depth to your voice. But how do you know if a technique is really part of your voice or not?

My rule of thumb is to examine your gut reaction when you’re working with this new idea. Does it feel natural? Does it leave you feeling empowered about your writing? Or is it difficult to churn out and awkward to pursue? View testing your voice like you would shopping for a new outfit or buying a new car. Each one you try out will have a different feel to it, and chances are, your gut will give you an initial reaction, one of joy or contempt. And with each new outfit/car that you try, you’ll discover individual elements that fit with your style and ones that clash. Even after a commitment is made, it might feel foreign for a few days. But once you’re settled in, not only will you feel completely comfortable in it, but you’ll also start to view it as an extension of yourself.

That extension is EXACTLY what voice is. It’s everything that makes you who you are and who you want to be in your writing. It’s your signature move that no one will ever be able to pull off, because it’s as complex as you are. Which is a pretty cool thing if you think about it.

Developing a Supernatural Edge: Where Have All the New Ideas Gone?

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

A huge challenge every fiction writer must face at one point or another is conjuring a unique idea to write about. It seems like everything under the sun has been written about, especially when it comes to the supernatural genre. Vampires and zombies have been plaguing the publishing and entertainment industry for several years now, and though tales about them have been floating about for hundreds of years, many readers beg for some new material, something that will set those books apart from the overused ideas that haunt modern-day writers.

So what is a writer to do? Well, Mark Twain would argue that the problem isn’t new ideas but rather the need for a new perspective.

 “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

—Mark Twain

With that in mind, I’d like to propose to you that there are three elements you’ll need to craft a bestselling idea: unique perspective, a killer voice, and twists and turns.

Developing a Unique Perspective

Of the three, perspective is perhaps the hardest to master. Not only does it take some critical thinking to procure, but it takes time. Some of the best ideas are ones that people let sit and stew for ages before landing on just the right angle to play. With my most recent series, for example, I came up with the idea for the first part years ago. But it took months and months of tweaking and revamping it before it was finally ready for its debut.

Perspectives are usually shaped by our own life experiences and viewpoints. For some of us, writing is an outlet for our fears, wishes, frustration, and anything else that we’d otherwise keep bottled up. For others, it’s a way of sharing pieces of ourselves with others. Though, for many of us, it’s usually some wild combination of the two that comes into play. But the two things that must be considered when approaching a topic are audience and purpose. Who are you writing for, and what do you want to tell them? Even in fiction, you should think about your purpose for writing, whether it’s for entertainment's sake or for relaying a specific message to the readers. Once you have figured out those two things, you’re ready to hone in on your voice.

Crafting a Killer Voice

A voice, in writing, is a fancy way of saying style. It’s your unique approach to the narrative and how you want to tell the story. Many of our favorite authors have a place in our hearts simply because we connect so deeply with their voice. Without that strong voice, neither their characters nor their stories would be all that memorable. Take one of my favorite authors and biggest influences for example: Edgar Allan Poe. I think just about every person on the planet can recite at least part of "The Raven" from memory. But what is it about his poem that makes it so quotable? Is it the characters? The subject? The storyline? While all those things do play a role, I’d argue that the key factor in it—and in most of his writing—is his wonderful and unique voice.

Poe has a way of drawing us in, even from the very first stanza:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
     Only this and nothing more."

—Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"

Each line has a musical and soothing, if not a somewhat dreary, quality to it, an echo of precisely the story unfolding within it. As the poem progresses, we see sharp intervals of “Nevermore!” interrupting that solemn mood, and the pacing picks up as well. It’s a fantastic example of how you can blend music with writing, using cadence to enhance the mood.

This unique blend of cadence and melancholy is the driving factor behind a lot of Poe’s pieces, which has established the incredibly memorable and captivating voice that most of us have come to know, one that makes it easy to distinguish his work from that of others.

Incorporating Twists and Turns

Another component writers can weave into their supernatural writing (and that of other genres) is the element of surprise, usually in the form of some unexpected twist that leaves readers on the edge of their seat. In the previous post for this series, I covered different approaches for foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is, in fact, the key element for creating such stellar twists and turns. Though this will work for many genres, I’m going to focus on horror for a moment since it, along with the thriller genre, is particularly known for surprises. There are also some striking similarities between the two. If you do a search on Amazon for horror books, for example, you’ll come up with a multitude of stories ranging in everything from paranormal events to serial killers and everything else that goes bump in the night. So how do you create a story that is unique enough to stand out from all the others…especially if there are no “new” ideas to be had?

One possibility for approaching this is to switch up the perspective, as I’ve already mentioned. Say you have a story from the viewpoint of the killer rather than the victim. Take the series Dexter, for instance, which has received high acclaim both as a book series and as a television show. Each story is told from the perspective of a serial killer while honing in on the events revolving around his victims. This approach has gone over quite well with readers and viewers alike, earning both the books and the show an outstanding amount of praise.

But there is another option, and this is a personal favorite of mine. You can take a story whose outcome is largely already known by the readers and still make it quite enjoyable. This goes along the lines of the direct foreshadowing mentioned in my previous blog post. What’s the secret to making this method a success? It’s all about the twists and turns you include. For most readers, reading thrillers and horror stories isn’t just about discovering the outcome, though that is part of the experience; the main reason they read is for the journey it takes to get there. I’d even go so far as to say that’s the primary reason that most readers read: we want to get lost in the world that’s presented to us, to experience what the characters do, whether that’s triumph, loss, terror, devastation, hope, or any mix of those things. By expertly infusing dynamic scenes that leave you hooked up until the very end, you’ll have created a roller coaster of emotions, one that readers can’t wait to ride on again and again.

So to heck with new ideas. Take some old ideas and put your own spin on it! Look at what happened with the YA genre. It had just about worn out its welcome until the last decade or so, and now an astounding amount of bestsellers fall under that category. Living proof that old ideas can make be used to create awesome new books!

What books do you recommend that incorporate old ideas? Were they successful at their endeavors? Why or why not? I'd love to hear from you! Submit an ask to me on Tumblr with your feedback, and I'll feature you in my next newsletter. :)

For those who are curious, you can check out my take on an old idea with a fresh spin in my Porcelain Souls series, the first part of which is currently available (for free) on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Part two is in the final editing stage and is scheduled to be available for preorder within the next couple of weeks.

Kendra Merrick has a knack for spotting unusual trinkets and treasures, and she isn’t afraid of using unconventional—or illegal—methods to obtain them. When she meets Adam, a fellow sleuth and collector, they embark on their biggest adventure yet: the Whitson house. The house is a marvel, and its secrets are even stranger than she imagined.  Kendra stumbles upon the find of a lifetime. But she may have signed on for more than she bargained. There’s a darkness in the house that wasn’t there before, a pair of eyes in every corner, watching, waiting. And Adam isn’t at all who he claimed to be.

Kendra Merrick has a knack for spotting unusual trinkets and treasures, and she isn’t afraid of using unconventional—or illegal—methods to obtain them. When she meets Adam, a fellow sleuth and collector, they embark on their biggest adventure yet: the Whitson house. The house is a marvel, and its secrets are even stranger than she imagined.

Kendra stumbles upon the find of a lifetime. But she may have signed on for more than she bargained. There’s a darkness in the house that wasn’t there before, a pair of eyes in every corner, watching, waiting. And Adam isn’t at all who he claimed to be.