Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Author Voice VS Character Voice

Sometimes people write such awful, villainous characters and people ask: ‘Is the author secretly a horrible monster to be able to come up with this stuff?’ George RR Martin and Karin Slaughter come to mind on my own bookshelf.

Other times, authors try and tackle delicate, depressing, violent or otherwise disgusting topics and just end up coming across like they are in favour of it. Instead of readers being awed by the villain, they’re just disgusted with the author.

So today, I want to talk about the character’s voice, VS the author’s voice. In the hope that you can avoid this particularly treacherous pitfall.

There is, hopefully, a difference between the beliefs and ideals of your characters and yourself, as the author. If all your characters believe what you believe—including your villains—you would struggle to have any conflict and it would, overall, be a very boring story.

However, if you are trying to write a racist character, how do you do it well without coming across, as, well, racist?

I just read this line in a story:

‘They had two of the most gorgeous children you will ever meet; a blonde haired, blue eyed dream of a girl and her strikingly handsome ten-year-old brother.’

Its narrative, not dialogue. So, its information from the author to the reader. Has the author ever met ten year olds? Do they really think ‘strikingly handsome’ is applicable to a ten-year-old? I’m not sure about you, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable, as I suspect I have just read a story written by a paedophile.

Creepiness factor aside, this issue has come up before in my writing group, where material comes across as racist, sexist or otherwise offensive and the author becomes incensed, saying ‘It’s not me, it’s the character!’

However, there is a huge difference between information we are given by the author and the character’s point of view, thoughts and feelings. If you want to make a character racist, sexist or controversial in some way, you want to make damn sure you know the difference.

Let’s take the above example. How would I take the same information and make it not weirdly sexualising of a child? Easily. Take out the sexualising words.

EG: ‘They had two of the most adorable children you will ever meet; a blonde haired, blue eyed angel of a girl and her cutely freckled ten-year-old brother.’

Okay, that’s much more comfortable. But what if we wanted the reader to be uncomfortable? What if the POV character is a paedophile and we want to show that without sounding like a paedophile ourselves? We looked for a deeper POV.

EG:He gripped the chain link fence, watching the children swing higher and higher in the playground. She was the most beautiful little girl he’d ever seen, with her lithe, pale legs and short pink skirt. As the swing, peaked he’d catch a glimpse of blue panties.’

I feel dirty writing that, but you get the idea. However, if I strip out the POV elements, it’s even worse:

EG:She was the most beautiful little girl, with lithe, pale legs and a short pink skirt. As she swung on the swing, you could catch a glimpse of her blue panties.’

Hopefully, you see the difference. Generally speaking, deeper character POV is better anyway, as it fosters a deeper connection between the reader and the character. If you are writing a villain like this, the deeper POV will make the reader much more uncomfortable, which is the goal.

Let’s look at another example:

EG: ‘Unable to fight, the women were all in the basement, where they would be safe.’

This is sexist, because it is implying the women are in the basement because they are unable to fight. What you need to do, is show the women are in the basement because whoever is in charge believes they are unable to fight.

EG: ‘Amid protests, Captain Greggory sent the women and children to the basement, claiming they would be safe there.’

Everyone is going to make a mistake like this eventually. Even my sweetest, most tolerant friends, and my fiercest social justice friends, have tripped up and misworded something in an unflattering way. If someone says, ‘this is racist/sexist/offensive’, don’t argue and explain why it’s supposed to be. Check the attribution, assign it properly.

Remember, give someone ownership of your offensive beliefs, if you don’t, to the reader, they’re YOURS.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Let’s talk about networking. If you just groaned or felt queasy, this post is for you.

If you hate the idea of networking, then you’re probably wrong about what networking actually means. Maybe you think networking is about being insincere or using people. Maybe you have a mental image of walking into a room of strangers and pushing yourself and your product.

Don’t do that.

No one likes those people, that’s awful.

What is Networking?

Networking is actually quite simple and not intimidating at all. Basically, networking is introducing yourself to people, then being nice to them. Not in a fake way, in a genuine way. Say hello to people, then be nice. If either of those things strike you as overly difficult, you might need to sit down and have a think about why that is.

You’re not aiming to use people, or sell your product. You’re just getting to know people in your industry and giving them a chance to get to know you. It’s different from a friendship, in that you don’t talk about personal issues or come to these people for support when you get dumped. However, you should still be friendly.

What is the goal of networking?

The goal is mutual benefit. Mutual being the key word. Simply having a familiarity with the industry and people in it is usually beneficial in itself. If someone says to me “Do you know Kirstie Olley, she’s the president of vision writers?” I will say: “Yes, I am vice president, Kirstie and I go way back.” Instantly, that shared familiar contact will make the other person feel safer and happier talking to me.

Like it or not, publishing is an industry of people who want to work with people they like. Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. But it does mean the more people like you, the more likely they will want to work with you, or recommend you to other people.

I got my first publishing contract with Harlequin hardly knowing anyone and none of my contacts helped me at all. However, everything since then—publishing contracts, speaking gigs, contract work of other kinds, has all come in through acquaintances and networking.

You don’t need to be friends with everyone, but it really, really helps.

Remember this is a two-way street. It’s up to you to speak highly of your acquaintances, and perhaps share their books, let them guest post when they are doing book tours and share opportunities you hear about and so on.

How do we network successfully?

If you’re shy about approaching people, remember you don’t have to approach everyone. Start small. Approach someone else who looks lonely and intimidated and say: “Hello, my name is Talitha.” And offer your hand. Depending on where you are and what the event is, you might say: ‘Are you here as a reader or a writer?’ or ‘How do you know the host?’. If appropriate, you can just start with a casual compliment: ‘I love those earrings’ or ‘I love your shirt, Wonder Woman is my favourite superhero’.

Only use a compliment if you know how to give one. For example, don’t say: “You’re really pretty.” Or “Wow, you’re the hottest boy/girl/banana here.” That’s not a compliment, that’s hitting on someone and its 99% likely to be annoying and rude.

Assuming you open the conversation with a sane, pleasant introduction, there should be a reasonable and polite conversation that is relevant to the event and the things around you.

However, networking is not about being overly agreeable. One of the key elements of networking is being memorable. That means being polite, but having standards and opinions. Don’t just agree with everyone for the sake of getting along, but don’t argue with someone either.

For example, if you are talking to someone and they say something racist, don’t get into a fight about it. Say something like: “I disagree, pardon me.” And just walk away. You want to show you have integrity and standards, you don’t want to make enemies.

Don’t trash things or people others love either. If someone is raving about something you find annoying, like a TV show, simply say: “Oh, I have friends who like it, but I never really got into it.” This is good, because it says, ‘we can still be friends, even if we don’t both love Gossip Girl.’

And I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t put people down if they are less experienced than you. Someone just had their first short story published? Celebrate that with them. Buy them a drink, tell them congratulations. They deserve it.

Who should I network with?

You know who we all want to be friends with? Our favourite authors. However, these are not the people to network with. As a general rule, I say network with everyone. You never know who is going to suddenly rise to the top, so don’t dismiss people who are ‘less known’ than you. Firstly, it makes you an asshole and secondly, it’s stupid.

Also, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started talking to someone who looked lost and daggy at a cocktail event or morning tea and found out they are some super important guest speaker. I’ve also make friends with people who are still in uni, only to have them graduate and become acquisitions editors at major publishing houses. People I spent a few years giving feedback to have become massively popular authors.

Your peers are the next round of big names and the big names already have lots of people trying to network with them. They aren’t going to be grateful if you share their new release, but a first-time author will be and they’ll remember you when you’re trying to sell your manuscript.

Most of the people I network with will never be famous authors or big name editors. But even if I could see the future, it wouldn’t change who I talked to, because I genuinely enjoy talking to everyone. I’ve never gone in thinking: ‘I want to make friends with an acquisition editor’. I go in thinking: ‘I want to meet some new people and make a good impression, I want to have a good time with these people’.

The enemy of my enemy…

I don’t love everyone. There are a few people I see regularly at conventions that I politely avoid. I would never bad-mouth them. Bad-mouthing anyone is pretty much social suicide in such a small, friendly community like Australian publishing. And while most people generally like me, I am sure there are a few people who politely avoid me too. That’s fine, I really don’t mind at all. I’m sorry about whatever I did to offend them, but I’m not losing sleep.

Approach networking with the aim of being genuine and having a good time. But remember everyone else should be having a good time too.

Don’t say: “Well, I am who I am and if people don’t like it, they can shove off.” You sound like a child. You’re that kid on the floor in the supermarket screaming because his mother won’t buy chocolate. This is a public space, show some goddamn restraint.

And if you are one of those people who feels like they are being deceptive or worries other people are judging them, you need to let that go. You’re not being deceptive, as long as you are genuine. Other people are networking for the same reason. You’re not a phoney or pretending to be something you’re not. We’re all in the same boat and most of us are bailing out the same water with the same leaking buckets.

Someone might be more experienced than you, but no one is inherently ‘better’ than you because of it.

Final tip:

Oh, and the best networking tip of all? Easily accessible business cards.

Get nice cards printed and keep them in your pocket or the easiest part to get to of your purse. When you are saying goodbye to someone, say: “It was nice talking to you, do you have a business card? Do you want mine?”

This will help you remember who you spoke to and remind you to add them on twitter or facebook later on.

Business cards, never leave home without them, folks.

I hope this has given you a clearer idea of what networking is, why we do it and how to go about it. If you have further questions, please email them to me and I’ll address them in future blog posts. I look forward to networking with you soon!