How to Make (insert your name here) Stew

Hi there ~ J here.  I was chatting with another writer the other day about how to develop your own authorial schtick.  You know schtick – that thing that makes your writing identifiable as yours.  I think it’s more than voice, it’s more than tone, more than topic.  It’s all those things, plus. 

Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve been re-reading many of my favorite books looking for those nuggets of style that make the book/author one of my favorites.  Are they things that I can incorporate into my own writing style to improve it?  And what are the aspects of my own writing that are strong (keepers) and those that are weak (TBD – to be ditched!)

It took me a-few-minutes-short-of-forever to finish writing my first book, The Cordovan Vault.  By the time I published it last March, I had been through no less than 14 drafts!  FOURTEEN!  Yikes.  But much of that was learning through error.  For example, did you realize that the paragraphs that are visually lovely on a 8.5×11 page are James Joyce long when the paper size is reduced to 5×8 or whatever?  I had to go back through and fix that.

But one of the other problems I had with The Cordovan Vault was POV – point of view.  I had head-hopped (jumped from the POV of one character to another, fast and often) which is a major no-no unless you are a famous-set-in-your-ways-bagillion-time-over-best-selling-author.  Which I’m not.  Yet. 

So I had to fix this head-hopping problem. Seriously, if I couldn’t figure out who was speaking/thinking then how would my audience?!  I solved that problem by borrowing a style nugget from one of my favorite authors: Lynn Kurland.  At least in her more recent romances, each chapter is one person’s POV and she tends bounce back and forth between main characters, one chapter at a time.  I’ve noticed that other writers do this too.  Rick Riordan‘s Kane Chronicles, for example, does something similar, although some times we’ll go several chapters in on POV then switch it up. 

It was hard to fix the POV in The Cordovan Vault entirely, because it had already been written (and rewritten, and rewritten…) but it turned out. When I started writing The Peacock Tale (available October 18th) though, I learned from that experience and each chapter starts out with the name of the person whose POV we are experiencing. 

There are lots of other nuggets of style out there, too.  I love how JK Rowling names things, and she created a wonderful slang language for her magic folk.  And I love how things that seem unimportant in book 1 suddenly become important in book 4 and you don’t see it coming, but later you are like WOW!  How did I miss that?!   I love how Rick Riordan makes mythology alive.  If Percy Jackson had been around when I was trying (unsuccessfully) to memorize that boring yellow book on mythology, it would have made so much more sense!

Today’s Secret: It’s okay to find those aspects of style that you love and incorporate then into your writing.  Eventually, (hopefully!) they’ll develop into a writing style that is all your own.  J Monkey Stew, if you will.

Today’s Question: What are some of the things about your favorite books that make them your favorite?


11 thoughts on “How to Make (insert your name here) Stew”

  1. Hands down – voice and character. If the story has compelling characters and a strong voice, I’m along for the ride. I just finished reading Rob Thurman’s Chimera. I love the way her characters come alive the moment the book starts. She grabs you at the start and doesn’t let you go until the end.

  2. One of my favorite books of all time is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It has two plot threads, one during WWII and one in the 1990’s. One thing I love about that book is how he was able to incorporate historical figures such as Admiral Yamamoto and Douglas MacArthur as characters in the book, staying true to how the characters would think, speak, and act, but still maintain his own voice as an author.

    1. I like to see historical figures as characters in books too. Someone today was talking about an alternate history book where the Roman Empire never fell, and that was intriguing to me. I’ll have to look it up.

    1. I actually found the books very depressing, but I loved his voice – how he’d say xyz, which is a word that means blah, blah here.

  3. I love authenticity in a character–someone I can relate to and care about like they’ve been my best friend for years. When an author can do that, I’m hooked.

  4. Books that will go down in history as our favorites have characters that move us. They have to be a little dark and broody, really bright, have a slightly sick sense of humor and ooze sex. Zilla. Jean-Claude, Ranger, Cal and Niko…these are the types that will stay with us always. (Jon insists on adding Ronon too— he’s a tv character!)

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