Thursday, May 28, 2009

Consistency Conundrum

Most boys and girls can't sit down and write a book from start to finish in a single day. Some boys and girls wish they could. So how do said boys and girls maintain a consistent voice and writing style through a project that might take six months to finish?

Let's examine.

A girl recently started editing a novel she started writing in November of last year. She finished it at the end of April, with a long break (2 months) in between. She deleted 95 pages of this novel and rewrote it. As she started going over the beginning notes from her critique group, she realized that the style of writing was way different than how she finished the book. Of course the main character has a huge arc, but that doesn't mean the actual writing should.

So what's a girl to do?

This girl put it aside and started working on something else. *snarf* But really, in the back of her mind, she knows she has to address this issue. When she worked at Pepperidge Farm, she had to check the goldfish for proper baking consistencies. Burnt fish were not packaged and sold to the general public. Thus, in her writing life, her quality control must be flawless as well. Half-baked beginnings are no good. They must be thrown out or packaged and sold as seconds.

And she is not satisfied with second. And so the girl will rewrite. Revise. Edit. She's not entirely sure what the difference is, but Scott said it so well, and she has to do all three so *shrugs*. She's working on making the beginning consistent with the ending in the style of writing. And she's revising the story, making needed improvements and clarifications. And then she's going to edit those rewritten sections and revisions. Maybe not in that order. She's learned that she is not like other girls, and what works for them doesn't always work for her. She's open to new ideas, she tries new things, she's willing to learn, so don't get her wrong. She just knows she is sort of on her own personal death march (see "motivational" poster above) as she reworks said inconsistent novel.

How do you maintain consistency? In the voice? The narrative style? Your blog posts? (*rolling on the floor snarfing*)

This girl wants to know.


Anonymous said...

OOhhh hard questions. I guess, for me, I haven't figured this one out. I am just like the girl who is currently rewriting a story cause her author's voice - and therefore writing style - is very different now.

I think everyone deals with this. In speaking with a couple of NYTimes Best Selling authors recently, they said the same thing. In fact, what they told me was that in the beginning, before they really got going with their writing careers, they would write a story and then completely rewrite - as in completely - because there voice as an author had changed so much.

Long and short of it for me is, I just keep reworking something until it is that a month, a year, whatever.

And BTW - conundrum is the best word ever!


Annie Louden said...

It's true, it's hard to stay consistent. I think that is what revising/rewriting/editing is for (I'll need to read that post you linked to).
There are novels I started years ago that I'm afraid to go back to b/c now I'm a different person than I was when I wrote them. But, I don't want to abandon every project.
I need to write faster, boo! Well, I need to write.

Marybeth Poppins said...

Unfortunately I'm incapable of keeping consistency in my blog posts (amazing people keep reading it!) But in my novel it kinda just worked that way (or at least I think so.....) I think the main reason I kept the voice consistent was by rereading and editing as I went. That way I ALWAYS had the voice and the previous chapters in my head.

Not sure that helps this girl. Maybe she just had too many flavored goldfish set in front of her to choose from?

Great Blog by the way!

M. Dunham said...

I find if my writing isn't consistent that there's something in the story that's a larger problem. Once you get that, the voice evens out.

But that's just me. :P

Scott said...

I think maintaining the writing style throughout a novel, especially over months, is extremely difficult. I've often noted with my projects that my style changes - somewhat - about halfway through. I finally figured out it was because everything - characters/settings/etc. - was so familiar to me by that point. What? Seriously, in the beginning of any project you're (well, I'm) stumbling along trying to find my groove thang! The groove thang usually kicks in at about the half-way point. So, don't fret about it. Just write and then when it comes down to the revise/edit stage, pull out some of the best passages from the later half of the manuscript, study them, absorb them, osmosify them, and somehow infuse all that jazz into the first half. : )

Okay, have I confused the heck out of you? Sorry, not my intent.

Oh, and to me - editing is where I do a read through, make some notes, cross out a word or two, make a notation about 'needs work', and so on. Revising is where I actually go back in and delete the words, work on the rough paragraphs, realize that MC name actually sucks and he/she needs a new one, and firm up any consistency errors (like how I tied that in to your post??).

Lastly, it's really odd that you put this post up today. As I've been working on my new project, honing my voice/tone, I've been hoping (fingers crossed) that I can maintain the voice/tone throughout the manuscript and somehow not screw things up. : )


B.J. Anderson said...

Haha, I don't. I'm random and inconsistent and that's probably why I don't have an agent yet, lol. But I'm working on that, too, so if you find out how to be more consistent, let me know!

ElanaJ said...

Scott, I think we have a freaky twin vibe going on. You do know that I plan my posts a few days in advance right? So maybe you're sending thought waves into the air or something. lol

And I echo you. This is why this girl has issues with the consistency. In the beginning, my MC was too much like another character in another book and that style is totally different. By the middle, she (the new MC) had found her own "voice" and thus the beginning needs to be adjusted. The girl will figure it out. It's just a matter of time. And work. Lots of work.

Marybeth, I'm a rereader and editor as I go too. So I need to reread the end to get the style and rewrite the beginning to match. I think.

Go, Annie, go! You know one of my MC's is named Annie, right? It's my favorite name of all time.

Christine, I rework my stuff to death, as you well know. ;-) This will be no different. We'll see.


beth said...

I write fast! The faster I write, the more likely the voice will sound the same :)

Rebecca Knight said...

Wow, great question, Elana!

I hadn't really thought about it. I just knew when I started going back over the first part of my first draft of my MS, I thought "this sucks." Then after I rewrote it, it matched the 2nd half, which was much, much better.

I think I'm with Scott, too, where by the middle, I'm in my novel groove, so the first half always needs more TLC.

Casey said...

How did you know *this* girl is dealing with this very thing?

The voice is way better at the beginning of my novel. I'm struggling to carry it through.

Eric said...

Elana, you deal with too many of the same things I find myself struggling with. Unfortuantely, I don't have any answers here. Possibly (hopefully) through the editing process after draft 1 is done, your voice becomes refined into one single voice, consistent throughout. So maybe the idea is to not worry about it until you get to editing. I don't know.

Icy Roses said...

What a true post, and I love the poster. I want to print it out and put it above my desk. I don't know if that would be motivating or demoralizing...

I go away, take a walk, listen to some music, cook some food, whatever, then I come back and pretend like I'm reading something for the first time. And I try to see if the characters are doing things within their personalities. If a normally calm person runs to the edge of a cliff and starts screaming obscenities, there must be a reason. I search for reasons. Sometimes those reasons aren't there, and then I make one up and stick it in somewhere.

It's like...reading fanfiction and scanning for OOC (out-of-character) moments...except you're doing it for your own work.

This probably made no sense.

Steph said...

I struggled with this a lot in my current WIP. My MC started off very strong and snarky, but it kind of drifted off a little. Maybe I just stopped being so clever! ;) I had set it aside for the last 2 months bc I couldn't come up with how to fix it, and it really just came to me one day. So I went back and rewrote the parts that didn't match up and am much happier with the continuity now. I don't have a great answer for you though, other than you are an amazing writer and I imagine it will work out the way it is supposed to. Light bulb moment style. ;)

p.s. My dad has called me "snarf" since I was a tot, and still does to this day. (From Thundercats, the whiney cat 'snarf snarf,') so how much do I love that you managed to use it as a verb! :)

Danyelle said...

Hmmmm. I don't by any chance know this girl, do I?

*quirks brow*

I have no idea. I think voice is something that happens naturally for me. The characters are just...there. Helpful, I know. :$ Hmmmm. Mayhaps get the writing down, and then go through it during the editing phase more quickly, noting where things don't mesh well?

Litgirl01 said...

It's when you start talking about yourself in third person that you really need to worry! LOL ;-) I think it's inevitable that your voice would change when you put your novel down for a while then pick it back up. I have the same problem. Sometimes your writing can change for the better, which can change your voice too. So, yeah, I hope that makes sense because I AM SO TIRED!!

Abby said...

It feels like there is no consistency for me. When I completed my current WIP and went back to the beginning, I was horrified by how bad the writing was. I found tons of things that needed changing at the beginning, but not as much toward the end. I took a break (major procrastination/query research break) for about a month between writing the two parts, and it was like they were written by two different people. So, apparently, I maintain consistency by doing a lot of rewriting. Not really maintaining, I guess. :)

Even on my blog, it's difficult not to go back and rewrite some of my earlier posts. Thank goodness I don't have time for that.

Love the motivational poster. Thanks for putting things in persepctive. :)

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