THE PERILS of PAULINE IN THREE-PART HARMONY–
CRAFT COMPELLING FEMALE & MALE LEADS NO MATTER YOUR GENDER
To pull off the so-called “impossible” –getting into the head of the opposite sex and understanding from this point of view, surprisingly enough, surrounds elemental, fundamental reliance on a “woman OR a man of substance” that you embed and imbue inside the VOICE that you create for this character.
VOICE in any dramatic, commercial fiction relies on strong Active Voice over weak passive textbook, WAS/WERE-riddled voices (leave the qualifying voice to the politicians). These basic grammatical decisions (word choice, exorcising qualifiers for absolutes, using active verbs over passives and cripplingly slow helping verbs, and exorcising the verb to be) are the crucibles of language about which E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style and supported by the fine book Writing Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern.
Style comes out of extremely small elements you choose to make work for you—like any electrical plug in the wall. Or items you fail to utilize.
As small as the choice difference between say the word before and ago, maybe and perhaps, this is “shaping” voice. This “becomes you”--BECOMES your style. If you choose a folksy or shoddy or simplistic or complex or formal or informal voice, your reader will know it from the outset, and is normally willing to follow it, so long as this voice remains consistent and consistently believable. But a blowhard voice, a whining constant victim voice, or a wishy-washy narrative voice—no, nah, no way.
So is VOICE the single most important element of your story? Absolutely, and yet it is created of all the other elements and choices you make, from setting to dialect to no dialect to the difference between between and betwixt, leaped and leapt, or using a comma for a dash. I personally make a habit of using contractions, dashes, and mixing sentence types from simple to compound to complex to compound-complex. All my choices…all lessons we continually need to relearn with each book.
All good writing relies on the reader ‘falling for’ your Feminine or Masculine authorial\narrative voice, the point of view speaker, the mind you set your reader down into comfortably or awkwardly. If it is an ill fit, little wonder. The holy all of it is this: an author is a trick cyclist on the unicycle juggling twenty four plates in the air, spinning each ‘choice and decision and element’ at the end of long sticks all at once! Each plate, each stick, each prop is an important element, but they all culminate in the overall greatest EFFECT or illusion we writers create. The effect that your story has on the reader’s ear and mind’s eye. (A story is only as good as the lasting effect it has on a reader. Do you recall the details of your favorite child’s book?)
If I had said the writer is LIKE a trick cyclist rather than stating it as a fact, it rings a different bell, sends a different and less powerful blow. The use of LIKE and AS is terribly overdone in some “voices” in female-lead crime fiction. As are adjectives. As are adverbs. As is the use of passives, especially the WAS/WERE verb—a major killer of action and visualization. These mistaken choices riddle even a great deal of published fiction, and especially in the first person narrative along with the personal pronoun references to the narrator: I, me, my, mine, myself, often using the personal pronoun three and four times in a given sentence.
What a reader hears and pictures comes about as result of our giving him a believable SOUND in his head—along with images. The author’s voice, or the narrative voice (not always the same) or the character’s voice creates that sound. A “qualifying” character’s voice can be filled with qualifiers, but you are damned if your narrator or main character’s voice is riddled with qualifying, iffy, wishy-washiness. An absolute gives the same sentence the mental Kodak moments that look, feel, taste, smell, and sound like IMAGES. Images are made of this; they are not made of lines like: He was standing as if in a trance, and was soon climbing through a reddish fog that seemed to be lifting amid the treeline that almost acted as a filter to the sunlit Georgia hills.But rather: In a trance, Mick stood and climbed through a coppery red fog filtering through the Georgia treeline.
No, no no... It should read: He stood in a trance but momentarily climbed through the red fog that lifted amid the treeline that acted as filter to the sunlit Georgia hills.
These words of advice are excerpts from my how-to Dead On Writing which is a paper book at www.wordclay.com and a Kindle ebook at amazon.com
thanks - robert w. walker