For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

September 12, 2014
Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who came to see me at Books of Wonder, Children's Book World, Anderson's, and Schuler's! I had a blast joining Sarah J. Maas on her tour, and it was thanks to YOU that we had so much fun!

Also, an amazing reader of the newsletter (who happens to work at Sesame Street) brought me a picture of Cookie Monster. Talk about appropriate office decoration for moi. I have it sitting right beside my Cookie Monster pen mug. (Aren't you all jealous? ;))


For the Misfits
Of Taiwan Rights, Truthwitch Names, & a Sampler Giveaway

First off: small announcement! For those of you in Taiwan hoping to read Truthwitch, great news! We sold Complex Chinese rights for the first two books! Hooray! :D

Second off: You all are SUPERHEROES. I got SO many helpful and well-researched emails/messages last week for new names. Like, I thought I'd done a pretty good job on finding names...but no. You all AMAZED me with your ideas and insightful explanations. What's really cool is that a number of you suggested the same name, and it happened to be one that I was already toying with...

So, for now, I've changed the artist formerly known as Noelle (and formerly known as Sorsha) to...


My editor likes it, my CPs like it, and though I'm not quite used to it yet, I'm definitely liking the vibe it lends to the story. :)

Thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who helped me with this! I honestly cannot express how grateful I am for your input! Now I have an entire playground worth of names to choose from for future characters. ;)

Third off: To say "thank you" for helping me out with the names, I thought I'd give away a sampler that Tor UK handed out at LonCon last month! The sampler includes not only the opening chapter from Truthwitch, but excerpts from other sci-fi & fantasy releasing in 2015 from Tor UK! PLUS, I've signed this (and will personalize it too, if the winner wants).

To enter to win the sampler and get an early glimpse at Truthwitch, just fill out this form!

And don't forget: if you ever have any questions about Something Strange and Deadly or Truthwitch, you can head over to the forums to ask.

For the Daydreamers
Of Voice, Part 1: Promises

I got a tough question in the forum earlier this week. and because it's got several parts, I'm going to split my answer in two. Here's the question:
So as I revise the first draft, I realize her voice is uneven. Should I change the MC’s voice to match the seriousness of the story? How do you decide or figure out the MC’s voice? Do you have any advice on how to improve character voice and to make it unique or fresh? Or is this an innate talent that can’t be taught?

Oy, VOICE. While I don't think this is something that can be taught formulaically--since it is so VERY linked to who you and who your characters are--I do think you can learn to bring it out in your writing. I also think you can learn how to identify it in other works, which in turn will help you hone your own voice.

First of all, let's try to define "voice." It's one of those illusive terms that people say (annoyingly), "You know it when you see it." Well, I'd like to narrow that down a bit and say,
Voice is the filter through which the point-of-view character expresses thoughts, interactions, reactions, and exposition. This filter dictates a character's diction as well personality and style.

Wait a minute, you say. That sounds a lot like point of view! Ah, that's because it IS. A character's point of view is the lens through which he/she sees the world, and voice is an extension of that--voice essentially filters through the point of view.

Consider a book like Sarah Rees Brennan's fabulous Unspoken in which the story reaches into dark places but our heroine's voice maintains pluck throughout. Kami Glass's character faces the world with humor, so we see, feel, hear, and experience the world through her witty lens. Her diction is classically British, her personality includes smiling/joking in the face of hardship, and her style is sharp-witted and clever.

Now consider Moira Young's Blood Red Road, in which our entire world has a voice. Not only does Saba, the MC, filter the world through her deteriorated English (the diction) and raw, angry spirit (her personality/style), but she reflects back the broken, post-apocalyptic world around her.

Okay, let's address the first questions now. Should I change the MC's voice to match the seriousness of the story? And how do you decide on the MC's voice? If, as in the case of our dear questioner, you find yourself with a manuscript in which the voice moves between darker, lighter, poetic, etc. tones, and if you're trying to decide WHICH voice to stick with, I suggest considering this:

What story are you trying to tell? What promises are you wanting to make for the reader?

To go back to Unspoken, here we find a gothic tale with a spunky sleuth MC. That's promised from page 1--humor layered over the darkness--and because of this juxtaposition, we end up with a story that never sinks into too much darkness and also never gets fluffy with humor. Brennan promises us a certain tone from page 1, and she follows through with that throughout.

The same goes for Blood Red Road. You know as soon as you start reading that the world is gritty, the heroine doesn't take crap from anyone, and she will fight to the death for those she loves. That promise holds throughout the series, and even as Saba's character grows and changes, that raw grittiness never goes away.

Now consider, of course, that the tone can change from scene to scene. There will be lighter, softer moments even in a darker book like Torn (by Erica O'Rourke) and there will be sad, hard moments in lighter book like The Princess Bride (by William Goldman). But overall, those books definitely skew in two very different tonal/voice directions.

So in what direction do you want your story to skew?

If you're not sure, then consider what audience you're trying to reach. Are you trying to reach readers of dark contemporary? Humorous paranormal? List out some comparative titles, and then base your voice decision around what THOSE authors do. To help you out, here are some examples of titles you might peruse for inspiration (I'm just looking at my shelves--hence the slant toward fantasy and paranormal!):

Darker Stories with Lighter/Humorous Voices:
  • Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark
  • Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
Darker Stories with Darker Voices:
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
  • Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh
Lighter Stories with Lighter Voices:
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
  • The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
So, there you have my introduction to Voice and Promises. Next week, I'll answer the second half of the question and give you specific advice/tools for improving voice and finding your own.

Finally, here are some links to wrap up the week:
See you next week, my lovelies! And don't forget: if you have any questions about ANYTHING, drop by the forum to ask. Thank you for reading!

photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2014
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 410
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.