Voice in a query

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Voice in a query

Postby karenbb » 26 May 2010, 15:08

I'm devoting a bunch of time these days to my query, now that my MS has been polished many many times (still polishing). I'm struggling with the short synopsis. I'm able to distill the details and keep it around 250 words but it feels so different from the book because the book is written in 1st person. Does anyone have any suggestions? I thought about sneaking in a few quirky details about my MC to give it some more interest but my few attempts felt contrived.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby polymath » 26 May 2010, 15:37

Consider the central mood of the novel's narrative voice. Is it lighthearted, resigned, forelorn, reflective, anxious, eager, and so on? I believe the emotional voice of a novel can be incorporated in a query. If the voice makes a major mood change in a novel, I think that's great. The opening mood is sufficient for a pitch and query.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby karenbb » 26 May 2010, 15:56

Polymath,

I hope you know how awesome you are--you always respond first to my posts. Very good advice and I will start fresh tomorrow with that in mind. I've reached burnout mode for today. Now as far as the mood of the narrator in the opening part of the book goes, she's pretty darn cranky and pessimistic and although she never loses her inherent pessimism, she goes through the middle part of the book giddy in love. I suppose I should seek a balance between cranky and giddy. I could call it criddy.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby polymath » 26 May 2010, 16:49

Thanks, karenbb, and you're welcome.

I came upon your post during a break from work. A welcome diversion from the hundreds of dreary pages I'm copyediting today. There's a couple of jobs that were interesting. I'll have read and edited a thick novel's worth of words by the time today's over. Anyway, mood is one of the more identifiable voice facets I've noted in pitches and queries I've read that were successful. Another is tone, the attitude of a narrator, objective, subjective, reflexive, imperative, whatever, that goes with mood and tenor and register. Mood in this case, with a first-person narrator for the novel and the complications that creates for a query, struck me as a solution to the conundrum caused by writing a pitch in a third-person voice for a first-person voice novel.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby J. T. SHEA » 27 May 2010, 11:28

Criddy? How about granky? Struggling? Burnt out? Sounds like your mood matches your narrator's!

And Polymath's copyediting hundreds of dreary pages? I'm starting to feel a bit granky myself...
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby karenbb » 28 May 2010, 07:18

oooh...I love granky.

the re-vamp of the query is coming along. Fabulous advice from Polymath (thx). I also found that word choice played a big role. I think that because you have limited space in a query, my writing was subconsciously becoming tighter. When I'm trying to be efficient, I tend to sound efficient, which is not the way my book sounds at all. So I did some swapping (pig-headed for stubborn, zipping his lip for secretive) and that really gave things an entirely new feel, much more in line with the book.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby polymath » 28 May 2010, 09:08

Voice is a many splendored thing. "Pigheaded" substituted for "stubborn" brings the diction attribute of voice into play. And what a choice it is. Stubborn seems an author's word choice. Pigheaded estranges author and narrator and stands in character voice, something a character might say or think. Pigheaded is a strong adjective achieving one of Free Indirect Discourse's more distinctive features, an exclamatory expression expressing commentary from a character's perspective. Pigheaded is what Formalists call an estranging metaphor, granky, criddy, crumpy too. Word choices that create an abstract, analogous transference of character voice for author and/or narrator voice. The power of modifying words, adjectives and adverbs, revealed. Exquisite.

Otherwise awkward diction that clumsily gets it exactly right can be even more profound. Say, askew, off kilter, but nonetheless precise diction that a character would use. As clear as mud is on its surface an absurd comment. Though perhaps cliché, it illustrates the power of estranging metaphors. Sickly sky is perhaps too precise a metaphor, and therefore dull. Pill-bottle cotton clouds clotted the sky has vigor and potency.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby wilderness » 28 May 2010, 11:39

Great discussion. "Pigheaded" for stubborn is such a succinct way of adding voice to your query. Right now I'm struggling with creating a voice for my novel (I've only just started). My problem is I'm setting it abroad so I don't want to use too many American idioms and slang, but I don't want to stick to "stubborn" either. Any advice?
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby polymath » 28 May 2010, 12:41

I expect if the "American" character abroad has a superior attitude toward foreigners, an "ugly American," American idioms might fit the bill. One of my sisters-in-law speaks English as a second language. She had a difficult time when we first met understanding me because I frequently speak in idioms. I toned them down once I realized she couldn't process them. She spoke English fluently, but my brother still had to translate my speech for her. She's lived in the U.S. now for twenty years and understands me easier. Her native language doesn't have many conventional idioms, not the way English does.

Register is in play. Formal to informal to outright casual, superior to subordinate, subordinate to superior, peer to peer. In some subcultures formal address is considered a sign of respect. In others formal address is considered insulting. There's a fine line between informal address acceptability and casual address insuitability. Some subcultures demand acknowledgement of station between participants in a conversation. In other subcultures, some people are honored and flattered by being accorded equal status when they believe they're below the station of who's addressing them, to illustrate a few areas of register as a facet of voice. There are formal situation idioms, informal idioms, and casual idioms too.

If a character's personality and behavior is firmly established, getting into the register facet of voice of the character for draft writing might help bring out voice. If not as well established as might be desired, then marking stand-in words or phrases for reconsideration later is a best practice to keep writing flow moving. During rewriting when a character's nature has become fully realized, they're easy to go back to and contemplate for diction revision. They're likely to be more natural and less forced seeming that way, too.

In foreseeable and unpredictable ways, a formally speaking American abroad could get into all kinds of entertaining trouble from causing misunderstandings. Keeping track of the alien nuances of station and position and decorum might cause a decision to default to purely formal address in all situations. It's safest but far from perfect, but could be a perfect decision for fiction purposes.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby wilderness » 28 May 2010, 14:29

Great advice, polymath. Actually, my main character is an Indian teenager written in first person. I want to be inside my character's head, but I want the writing to be understandable to both cultures, which is why I'm avoiding idioms. Also, teenagers tend to be pretty informal. As you advised, I will just finish my first draft and save final word choice for later revisions. I hope that the voice will establish itself at some point! Thanks.
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Re: Voice in a query

Postby Holly » 28 May 2010, 16:42

karenbb wrote:I'm devoting a bunch of time these days to my query, now that my MS has been polished many many times (still polishing). I'm struggling with the short synopsis. I'm able to distill the details and keep it around 250 words but it feels so different from the book because the book is written in 1st person. Does anyone have any suggestions? I thought about sneaking in a few quirky details about my MC to give it some more interest but my few attempts felt contrived.


My understanding: the synopsis should show the main plot points and big picture themes and issues. What's your story about in 250 and 500 words? Remember Nathan's recent exercises about pitch -- one sentence, one paragraph, two paragraphs? You can use those to write a short synopsis. I also understand that while the synopsis should be well-written, it is more informational than a query letter, which is the piece that should be enticing.
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