Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Write Like You Talk

copyright 2009, Aaron Lazar

Have you ever heard the adage, "Write like you talk?"

I've run across this bit of advice off and on during my career, whether it was in writing skills articles, or from colleagues who had a "eureka!" moment of their own. One mentor told me he didn't write one really good book until he actually put the advice into practice. And let me tell you, it worked. It really worked. I devour his mysteries.

I think "writing like you talk," is another way to accomplish "pure" writing. Simple, yet profound writing. Know what I mean?

I'm referring to words that flow without stuttering in your brain or tripping you up in the middle of an action scene, words that tell a story almost in an invisible way.

Ever had the experience where you're reading a book and you keep paying attention to the actual writing? Okay, okay. I know most writers pay close attention to the writing in every book. But there are superb books whose stories flow so fast you can't stop turning the pages. They aren't always elegant, like Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series (those books make me weak in the knees, they're so beautifully crafted!), yet they propel you forward so the movie plays in your mind and you don't notice the words.

There are others, however, where you can't help but notice the writing, and not in a good way. Sometimes this is a result of writers who are just learning the craft, who are trying way too hard. And sometimes it's just plain old bad writing. These writers want to dazzle us with their vocabulary, their command of the language, or their brilliant analogies. Sometimes it's just too much. One of the first things I learned was to CUT, CUT, CUT. My early prose was filled with glorious adverbs and adjectives which described in no uncertain terms the visions I saw in my head. But they bogged down the story. After all that, after learning to hone and refine and smooth out the sentences, I'm STILL learning to cut the excess and just tell the damn story!

Of course, one must have balance. In literary mysteries, for example, there is room for a bit of poetry, or a scene described in such luscious terms it makes the reader salivate for a meal, or a dip in a lake, or a romantic moment with your character. (You wouldn't believe how many marriage proposals Gus LeGarde has had! LOL!)

Once you've learned to simplify the prose (Remember my resolution for 2009? Simplify!), then it's okay to spice it up -- judiciously -- so your own style can shine. Perfectly chosen verbs, sparing yet brilliant analogies, or dead-on-dialogue will help you carve your own niche in your genre.

I just finished a book that drove me to write about this topic. As I read, I heard the author's voice in my head. I recognized the natural style and lovely Southern accent, because I've heard her radio show and have chatted with her. And it worked, it really worked.

Here's the review I wrote for Kim Smith's Avenging Angel:

Title: Avenging AngelAuthor: Kim Smith

Publisher: Red Rose Publishing

Publisher Addresses: Red Rose Publishing, 12065 Woodhull Rd., Forestport , NY 13338

ISBN number: 978-1-60435-276-4

Price: $5.99

Avenging Angel

Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

A great read doesn't have to be fancy, full of literary allusions or deep musings. Nor does it need a ritzy setting, plots that twist your brain into a pretzel, or elite protagonists.

What a great read does need is a story that moves, characters who linger in your mind, and a voice that calls you back to its pages. Avenging Angel by Kim Smith accomplished all three.

Smith has written a suspenseful cozy mystery set in the south in a small lazy town. Shannon Wallace, a spunky, smart, and all-American young woman, is at the brink of disaster. Dumped by her beau, fired from her job, and plunged into the middle of a killer nightmare, Shannon's pluck and smarts carry her forward in a tidal wave of terror that will get your heart pumping in this delightful page turner.

When Shannon's boyfriend is murdered hours after he breaks up with her, she discovers their private video collection is missing. Problem is, the star of the intimate show is Shannon, and she'll do everything in her power to retrieve the embarrassing disks.

The author knows how to write. But best of all, she knows how to write like she talks. It's not easy to accomplish, as most debut authors tend to fall into the trap of using words that sound good but don't fit, or making a sentence far more complex than it needs to be. Smith's simple, straightforward, and quite endearing style is what drives Avenging Angel forward, with hints of colorful Southern dialect and engaging dialogue.

That said, there are select moments of literary prose that shine, as in the following excerpt:

"August in the Mid-South is like summer in the tropics. The crepe myrtles bloom in fuchsia and pink, and old people perch like lazy flies on white wicker swings and cane chairs. In every neighborhood, folded fans gently wave at the heat, and everyone talks about the weather. No one moves too much, or too fast, thanks to the humidity, which turns the still air into a sauna-like atmosphere even before daybreak. The firmest hair spray is reduced to damp stickiness, the best-laid plans are set-aside until evening, and the most even-tempered person will contemplate murdering their friend."

By contrast, take a look at this wonderfully simple, yet engaging, segment:

"My dreams were a mish mash of colors and snippets from my life. I saw myself as a child, orphaned. I relived the pain that accompanied it until it nearly drowned me and woke with tears on my face. The birds of summer played somewhere outside the window and all the sounds of nature seemed intensified as though reassuring me I was still alive."

As much as I enjoyed the plot line-straightforward, tense, great suspense-it was the relationships between Shannon, Dwayne, Salvatore, her elderly aunts, and the broad cast of suspects that sold me.

I was most pleased that Shannon didn't fall into the arms of the handsome local detective, because that would have made the work too predictable, trite, or Lifetime Movie-ish. No, Shannon held her own, wasn't pushed around by the cops, and survived numerous attacks by a very frightening assailant. This woman-while she does show very real emotions that ring true-won't be bullied by anyone. And when Dwayne helps her buy and learn to use a handgun, it may be the key to her survival.

Smith, "a true blue southern gal who was raised on black-eyed peas and cornbread," promises sequels to her captivating world. See more at her website, www.mkimsmith.com.

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in 2009 from Twilight Times Books.

Double Forté is the founding book of the LeGarde Mystery series and was released in November, 2004. Upstaged followed in October, 2005. His third, Tremolo: cry of the loon, was released via Twilight Times Books in November 2007.

Healey's Cave, the first book of his paranormal mystery series, Moore Mysteries, will be released in 2009, along with Mazurka, the fourth book in the LeGarde mystery series.

He is a regular columnist for FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine), Mysteryfiction.net and has been published in Great Mystery and Suspense magazine and the Absolute Write Newsletter. Contact him at: aaron.lazar@yahoo.com, visit his blog at murderby4.blogspot.com, aaronlazar.blogspot.com, aplazar.gather.com, or stop by his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and http://www.mooremysteries.com/.

Mr. Lazar is currently working on his thirteenth book, The Aviary.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Literary Therapy with Dr. Ni

Have you noticed a recent explosion in Internet radio shows? Perhaps you’ve heard of Blogtalk Radio, or other venues, in the past year. Basically, folks register as a talk show host and run their show via phones and the web. The guests call in, and listeners can either sign in or call in to join the discussion at the discretion of the host. The podcasts are available to download, feature on websites, or share via articles or email. The venue has become a wonderful marketing tool for writers and professionals in all fields. Over the past year, I’ve been a guest on several shows, ranging anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Feel free to listen to some or all of them, if you are so inclined, here.

But in Dr. Niama Willam’s Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes radio show last week (“Dr. Ni” pronounced “nee”), I experienced a completely different type of interview.

It was more like “literary therapy.” Dr. Ni read and loved Tremolo: cry of the loon, brought up questions and issues about the characters, how they related to my life and passions, and spotlighted important aspects of the book linked to current day social issues.

She asked some hard questions that stopped me in my tracks.

But it’s not surprising, because the renowned Dr. Ni, literary scholar, author, creative coach, abuse survivor, and natural therapist, has just what it takes to help you dig into your life or novel, explore literary relationships to your life, and return you from the experience feeling enriched and satisfied.

None of it was planned. I didn’t even get the questions until a few minutes before the show. But that made the whole experience more animated, more natural. She surprised me by asking me to read segments of the book I’d never read aloud. I’m working on recording chapters for future audio books, but these chapters were further down the list and I hadn’t practiced. Sure, I made a few flubs, but the discussions we had about these scenes were illuminating.

The Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes program opens with Dr. Ni’s lyrical and mystical acapella singing, with a welcome that promises to “let your ears become intoxicated.” We laughed a lot, shared common experiences, and dug deep into important subjects.

Following are some of the topics we covered:

- The concept of innocence; how it relates to childhood and shapes a writer.
- How an author’s fears drive suspense and plot elements
- Abuse, and why it’s a recurring theme in the LeGarde series
- The lives of concentration camp survivor’s children
- Grandparenting vs. Parenting
- The “macho man” culture of some African American and Latino men and how it’s okay to be human, to be nurturing, to allow your emotions to show, while also being strong and protective.
- The history and future of Siegfried Marggrander, and where the German segments come from in the series.
- The differences between 50s/60s kids and some children today
- How playing outside and inventing games was/is so good for children
- Materialism and its destruction of the family and quality of some children
- The desensitization of society to violence, gore, sex.
- Nature and the importance of living with and in it, as opposed to living indoor in electronic cocoons.

I wanted to share this with you all for the sake of connecting on important issues, but also to provide some fodder for ideas for those of you who are established or budding writers. Whether you already have a book out there or are about to be published, don’t hesitate to take the plunge with live radio!

At first it’s a bit scary. After all, you are LIVE. But as you become accustomed to thinking on your feet, the fears lessen and it can be truly delightful.

The best way to prepare for radio is to do lots of print interviews first. You’ll collect your thoughts, have files of answers handy, and will be practiced in the art of thinking about your motivations, characters, synopses of books, etc. I must have done 25 to 30 print interviews before I “dared” go live on radio. But they helped immensely. I even practiced answering the most popular questions out loud, so my mouth actually said the things my mind intended.
You also need to be prepared to read “live.” Again, practice makes perfect. Before I record my clips for future audio books, I practice each chapter numerous times, until the sound of the voices and descriptions match what was in my head when I wrote the words. That’s hard to do at first, but after a while it again, becomes second nature.

If you have a laptop in the kitchen, or headphones at work, click on the link to the show above and let me know what you think about our discussion. We can keep it going here if you like.

Remember, dear friends, to take pleasure in the little things. And if you love to write, write like the wind!

- Aaron