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I think I’ll have to stick to this theme, as the old one didn’t allow certain things. You might have noticed I added my Facebook badge – the previous theme hadn’t allowed me, because the widget was only for text and not HTML. It was probably an “old” theme with less Apps or whatever.

I also joined my very first web-ring. I saw it on Mickey‘s side-bar, and decided to join too. I saw there are many other web-rings for writers, but as I haven’t really figured out what this is for yet, I’ll just leave it there for the moment. Might be something to do for the next year. I know what a web-ring is, but I don’t know how it can help the blogs or sites on it. You never stop learning, so I have something new for the new year! ;-)

Also, I opened a shop on Zazzle. I have made some specific Happiness is… cards and am considering making also a calendar. Would anybody be interested? Help me choose the size and the 12 vignettes? Also, as I put myself in those Happiness is…, I’m aware it’s good for girls/women, but boys/men are probably not interested… so I could do (specifically for the cards) also a male face, and maybe a couple for Valentine Day. What do you think? (the male face will be my Muse, of course, as I’m used to drawing him! ;-))

New year will probably see me open also an Author’s page on Smashwords and Amazon – I haven’t decided yet about the printed version, Lulu again or Create Space? The e-book will certainly be first, both on Smashwords and Kindle. I’m thinking around April, giving time to my editor and my illustrator to work for me.

In the meantime please check Kristan Hoffman’s “special offer“. She’s not giving her e-book for free, but

for the month of December, I’m going to donate all proceeds from my online sales to the It Gets Better Project. That means 100% of the money that would normally go to me? Will go to suicide prevention services and anti-bullying efforts instead.

So hop off to Smashwords or Amazon. I downloaded it from Smashwords (because I already have an account there, and don’t own a Kindle) and hope to read it soon. The offer is valid only until the end of the year – and we can all join in a “review ring” of her work in January! :-D

Speaking of Smashwords authors, please check the interview with Brian S.Pratt – my new hero, so to speak. He wrote what he wanted to read (as I do), put it bravely out there (as I will do next year, if I don’t, you can bash me on the head) and is now earning decently from indy publishing.

Speaking of independent authors, J.A.Konrath mentions Amanda Hockey and speaks of the best seller shift. I think it’s a good time to be an indy author today. Just remember to kill the sacred cow of publishing “You have made it when” with the help of Dean Wesley Smith. And remember no matter how you decide to get published, it’s hard work. And you have to keep writing and writing and not quit after the first book. And it will never be easy, for anyone.

Blood-red Pencil mentions the 6 questions NOT to ask a writer (which, with blog serendipity, goes well with Melissa’s post as 7th question). And Self-published Autho’rs lounge has a new contributor who considers herself an Historian before a writer (which goes well with me considering myself a storyteller, self-taught in writing). Check her Being and Historian and POV post which goes very well with a David Farland’s Daily Kick that compares Graham Greene and Tolkien’s way of writing – or narrative voice. Could be a whole post of its own, though… so here I’m going to copy and paste it, as it also announce a conference call with… you read on.

Daily Kick – Narrative Voice Dec.12.2010

Next Conference Call with Kevin J. Anderson and Wife Rebecca Moesta

They will be talking to us on December 14th, about collaborating on a novel or story. The conference call will be at 9:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time. Call 1-218-862-7200. When the system picks up, enter the code 245657. There will probably be a Q & A after the call.

Then, only two days later, we will talk to The Six: a Utah writer’s group that boasts three published authors. Be sure to tune in to both calls.

Please help us publicize these event by sharing it on your facebook and Twitter pages, as well as your blog and any forums you visit or writing groups to which you belong. Go the extra mile and post it at bookstores, libraries, etc. We appreciate any way you will help us spread the word. Thank you.

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Narrative Voice

So today I got a question from Bryan Steifel , a rather long one, but pardon me if I edit it down to the following: “Tolkien often would tell you about a character’s traits, rather than show you. Now, I own a book by Gene Wolfe where he gives writing advice, and he says that nothing separates a novice writer from a pro more obviously than when an author tells you about things rather than shows you. I’ve always been told to “show.”

“However, this is Tolkien we’re talking about. As far as I’m concerned, he wrote the book on western epic/fantasy.

“He did really cool things like… One of my favorite stories (possibly favorite) is in the Book of Lost Tales. The whole tale of Turin Turumbar is written with a strong narrator’s voice in the third person, yet the character has many vocal lines and thoughts. The character’s thoughts however are more the narrator than the inner thoughts of the character, as if we are inside his head. Example: “And Jarrod slew him with his knife, but he felt dismayed, and a shadow crept near his heart and he feared that he was becoming a slayer of men. But the strife he felt now would not equal that bitter sorrow his heart would know only at the journey’s end.”

“Is it all right in today’s world to make references to the future or past to the audience like Tolkien did without the character’s knowing it?

“It gave the story an epic feel, as if very removed from the story in a sort of mythical way by narrating the emotions and thoughts/feelings a character has or will have often before the character experiences them. I suppose that the narrator’s voice is stronger or sort of “comes into” the story for a moment to give us a “better look” at the situation.”

Long question, and it deserves a long answer, particularly since you have to get into the minds of two great writers in order to come to grips with this.

Now, Gene Wolfe is one of the great writers of the twentieth century. His novelette “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” is perhaps my favorite novelette of all time, and I could go on about many other fine works that he’s written that are underappreciated, but let me say this: Gene Wolfe is a master at creating a vivid illusion of a world and of characters. He inserts the reader into his fictive universes beautifully, so well that you as a reader actually feel that you are transported into them. That’s his goal as a writer, and if you can pull off this trick, then you will do well.

On the other hand, and I’m going to paraphrase some thoughts here, Tolkien often spoke of the importance of a writer trying to dislodge a reader from the here and now, of using techniques to help him enter into your dream world. In particular, Tolkien suggests that you should fracture the timeline of your story—tell us what is happening now, but also give us related tales from the past and hints about the future—in order to create a dreamlike feel. The easiest way to do this, of course is through the use of narrative voice, by giving us a strong narrator who tells a story.

This strong narrator may remain unnamed, or you can tell us who it is. It’s a tradition that goes back for centuries, of course. If you look at Homer, we see tales being told in oral tradition thousands of years ago.

If you’re an oral storyteller sitting around a fire, telling tales to children, you’re very much present. Your talent for storytelling may depend upon dozens of factors—you’re ability to mimic voices, your use of facial and hand expressions, your ability to act out parts, and so on.

So a narrator who is present while telling a story will often use a variety of devices that we don’t quite use the same way when we’re writing. For example, the narrator might give deep penetration into a character’s thoughts in one sentence, then hint at the character’s tragic ending in the next (in order to provide a hook), and so on.

Your question is, can it still be done? Sure, authors do it all of the time. In THE PRINCESS BRIDE, by William Goldman, a grandfather reads a story to his grandson, providing commentary on what will happen, sometimes repeating just what has happened, and so on. In Orson Scott Card’s TALES OF ALVIN MAKER, we have a character named Taleswapper who narrates the action. In Patrick Rothfuss’s NAME OF THE WIND, we have Kvothe, a trained storyteller, relating his own history.

Now, you will note that for each of the authors above, the narrator’s voice typically frames the story. The narrator is introduced early, tells you that this is an important tale, makes hints as to the outcome, and then disappears until the end.

But Tolkien liked to insinuate the narrator more deeply into the story, as if he were relating epic tales around a campfire. I believe that he would have told you that, once again, his use of narrative voice was necessary in order to help induce readers into his fictive universe.

The real question that you should be asking is, Which technique works best? Was Tolkien right in his assessment, or is Gene Wolfe right.

The answer, I suspect, is the difference between vanilla and chocolate. Both approaches can work in the hands of a master storyteller. Having a narrator allows you to fracture the timeline of your story, and fracture the point of view, so that you can gently lead a reader into your tale. It allows you to interrupt the internal dialogs, make commentary on the tale, and so on.

For some readers, this may be helpful. But I want you to think about something. When Tolkien was born in 1892, we didn’t have television. During the early part of his life, he didn’t even get to listen to stories on the radio. In other words, he was trained to receive stories differently from how we do now. Children would sit on their mother’s laps and have stories told to them. Nowadays, a toddler will be plopped onto a sofa while mom plays a DVD.

Because of the modern approach, I don’t believe that children today need as much coaxing into a story as they did in Tolkien’s time. We’ve been trained to jump into a fictive universe on a whim, but in Tolkien’s day, people were much more locked into their own private version of reality.

So Tolkien comes from an era where stories were narrated, and the narrative act itself has tremendous resonance. For me, this resonance is a very powerful thing. I can still remember the days when I sat in my mother’s lap while she told me about “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I remember the smell of her perfume, and how I leaned into her for comfort as the terrible giant chased Jack through the clouds. I felt safe having a narrator. I felt loved.

That’s what Tolkien was after—the subconscious resonance that comes from having a great storyteller. That’s also what Goldman, Card, and Rothfuss are offering in part, but a great narrator can also offer some other benefits. He or she can also offer commentary on the tale, tear it apart, examine it not as a series of events, but as a tale in and of itself. A strong narrator can adopt a beautiful poetic voice that would seem . . . overly ornate for a common storyteller, or perhaps the narrator’s voice might seem familiar and colloquial. A strong narrator can make deprecating comments about a hero, laugh with us, and so on.

Still, it’s a hit-and-miss kind of thing. Obviously, I love Tolkien, but for me, his use of narrative voice in many of his works didn’t work well for me. THE SILMARILLION felt slight and under-developed. Sure, it had a lot of great moments, but it didn’t get into my subconscious and make me feel as if I’d LIVED through the story. On the other hand, Gene Wolfe did make me feel it in a number of his works.

Given all this, I think that you need to look at the “strong narrative voice” not as something that you must have or must not have, but as something that you might use as a storytelling tool, just one of dozens of devices in your arsenal.

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I’m setting up a new writing workshop on How to Rewrite Your Novel. If you’ve got a book that you think has great potential—either to make a first sale or to go to auction—this workshop is designed to help you get it ready. In the workshop, not only will we critique the novel, we’ll teach you several editing techniques to help improve all of your work. For more information, go to http://www.davidfarland.com and select “Writing Workshops.”

For the first half of next year, we have the following workshops:

Superstars of Writing—Jan 13-15, Salt Lake City, Utah (with Brandon Sanderson, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and Eric Flint). Focuses on the business aspects of writing. For more information, go to http://www.superstarswritingseminars.com/.

Million Dollar Outlines—March 7-12, Saint George, Utah. Focuses on outlining your novel in a way that will help maximize your audience.

Write that Novel—April 8-9, Ramada, Salt Lake City, Utah. An introduction to the writing craft for anyone who is interested in writing as a career.

Novel Editing Workshop—April 18-22, Saint George, Utah. A workshop for those who wish to learn better how to edit their novel to greatness.

Professional Writer’s Workshop—June 6-10, Saint George, Utah. A workshop that focuses strongly on how to write and sell a breakout novel.

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12 Comments

  1. Thanks for mentioning my post over at Author’s Lounge on being a historian! It’s nice to “meet” you and I’m looking forward to following you and working together to help others “go indie.” That’s really one of my main goals right now; I’m seriously committed to mentoring others. Please check Kathleen Valentine’s blog “Parlez Moi” — she wrote a most generous review of my new book over there yesterday. Again, thanks Barb. You’re one of the best!

    • Well, it was great reading you at the Author’s lounge – I mentioned only the first post, but I read also the second, and the others you will write! ;-)
      Nice meeting you, Maureen, I might not go indy with my historical novel, but I’ll definitely go indy with my fantasy world! :-D
      Will check “Parlez moi” (love the French title, haha), thank you!

  2. I just had one of those ding, ding, ding wake up! moments. Web rings!! I haven’t looked around one of those in a long time, but they are a great way to find new blogs and hopefully have new people find you.

    • hahahaha! Just got my first “web-ring feedback” and I’m still trying to figure out what it means! ;-)
      Long way to go in that department, I’m afraid… :-(

  3. Barb, thanks for mentioning my holiday special in support of It Gets Better! I appreciate it a lot, and I think it’s helping… :)

  4. I love the new look on your blog. Very clean.

    I still haven’t figured out the whole web-ring thing either.

    I have noticed here lately I am getting a lot more traffic to my blog. I think that’s mostly because I am doing a better job of blogging every day. I’m looking for ways to build more traffic as I get ready to start marketing the second book next year.

    • Blogging every day is hard work, but it pays off!
      I look forward to the next Phoenix Worthy adventure! :-D

  5. Yeah, love the new look! :)

  6. Hi Barb; I see you mentioned my post about being a historian (published at Author’s Lounge). I’m going to be writing more about what I consider my creative use of POV and share with you the reader feedback I’m receiving as well (so check in with me later over there). As anyone who’s read me over at Author’s Lounge or has read my back & forth with Kristan Hoffmman knows, I have some strong opinions — which I believe are well grounded in reality — about indie publishing. I now prefer to call it “partnered publishing” because when you work with companies like Smashwords and CreateSpace that’s really what you’re doing — you’re partnering to publish and promote your work, using their talents and resources and advice to do so. I think that’s something I’d like to pass on to everyone: companies like SWs and CS offer support and How-To’s. Let me comment also (and this is in response to Barb’s mention that she’s looking into CreateSpace and Lulu) that while I have no experience with Lulu I’ve had nothing but great experiences with CreateSpace. I’m going to write more about that experience in more detail over at Author’s Lounge; think I’m going to make it a priority to do that… yep, think I will. I’d like the word to get out. Nice reading your blog, Barb, and thanks for stopping over and seeing all the strong talent we have over at Author’s Lounge. It’s great when we can all work together to float everyone’s boat!

    • Hey, Maureen
      the Author’s Lounge is on my blogroll for a reason! ;-) I’m going there every week and catch up on old posts – yours wasn’t the first post I linked to, but you were the only one hopping over to check me. I guess the other authors are too busy! :-D
      I’ll add more links to interesting posts as soon as I see them, promise! Saturday is the day… ;-)

  7. Wonderful! C’mon over — the coffee’s always on and the conversation is friendly and fun!

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