Basics of writingNovel writing

Decisions when writing your story–Part 3

From Rick:

NOTE: No post next week. The blog will resume on June 13.

In the past two posts, I’ve talked about some major decisions you need to make when writing a novel, although these also apply to shorter works.

As I mentioned last time, choices of writing style now come into play. There are four aspects you must deal with in addition to tense and POV. These four determine the over flavor of the novel: style, voice, tone, diction. Here is one article on these.


STYLE: Simply stated, style is the broad way that writers put together words and sentences, your choice of sentence length, and your vocabulary choices. Style includes diction and tone.

DICTION: Diction describes the words you choose and the way you choose to use them. This is important in characterizations because you must match word choice and delivery with the character’s personality and background. We would expect the two lines below to come from different types of characters.

I avoid consuming fatty foods.

I don’t eat greasy foods.

TONE: Tone is your (or your character’s) attitude toward the subject. We’ve heard people say, “Don’t take that tone with me.” In this regard, tone refers not only to word choice but also to voice inflection and delivery. In writing, we convey tone by punctuation, actions, body language, and dialogue tags, and all of these contribute to the tone of the writing.

“I find food dripping in grease repulsive,” he said, glancing from his salad plate to the chicken French she’d ordered.

He shoved a finger at her chicken French. “I refuse to eat foods dripping in grease.”

“Please remove that greasy hamburger from my sight.”

With an upturned middle finger he said, “Give my regards to the chef.”

He gave a wry smile. “If you ask me, the only difference between that burger and roadkill is how it died.”

VOICE: Voice has two meanings in writing. Most of you have heard the phrase “finding your voice as a writer.” Wikipedia defines it this way: “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”

In this context, a writer’s voice means a personal writing style. It may also refer to what the writer has to say in the writing, the writer’s agenda as it were. Voice goes beyond simple style and encompasses the writer’s approach to writing. The writer’s voice develops over time. and is not one of the immediate concerns of a novel.

The other—and more important—meaning of voice is the character’s voice, which reflects the character’s personality. In this regard, voice is the combination of style, diction, and tone. You can have two street-wise characters that speak differently because of their backgrounds. An un-educated homeless person will speak differently from an educated one—a character who grew up homeless as opposed to one who simply lost everything.

Tone and diction figure prominently into the character’s vocabulary. One problem I find when editing other writers’ work is that they’ll create a fantasy world but use terms or expressions that are distinctly Earth-based. One writer in his fantasy world referred to Clydesdale horses. I’ve also cautioned writers to pay attention to particular curse words related to religion. Even though we use “Hell” in a generic sense, it’s a Hebreo-Christian term. If the religion on your fantasy world is something else, Hell may still exist, but you should maybe give a different name.

Writers who have young characters sometimes put adult words into the thoughts of those characters without realizing it. Granted, some kids are smart and may know advanced vocabulary words, but describing something from a kid’s POV using words that we expect only an adult would use will make the writing feel wrong. Most kids would not say “a quadrupedal creature with a dappled coat.” A normal-intelligence, ten-year-old character who uses that description is telling the reader that it’s coming from the author’s perspective, not from the kid’s perspective. This fault applies not only to dialogue but to thoughts as well. Make sure your word choices match the character and the character’s situation or else be sure you justify using language that normally would not fit the character’s vocabulary.

In closing this post, I’m going to refer you to several posts I did four years ago on openings. Although I was showing elements of good openings in those posts, the examples I gave provide superb examples of different voices. As you read them, note how vocabulary choices, sentence structure, tone, and diction all combine to produce a style and voice unique to each piece.





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