Tag Archives: writing

Deborah Ratliff: The Writer’s Voice and Other Elements of Style

As I write this, the manuscript for my first novel and I exist apart. The words I’ve written now in the capable hands of my editor. It was a conversation with him regarding my writing idiosyncrasies that provided me with a clearer insight into my writing style and the voice I choose.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of writing to comprehend is the concept of style. Like fingerprints, one author’s style of writing is unique from another’s and can vary depending on several factors, including the intended audience. Sentence structure, word choice, and the more elusive writer’s voice constitute the elements of style.

Before I returned to writing fiction, a passion from my youth, I wrote professional articles, policy and procedure and training manuals, newsletters, and advertising copy. At times, I might work on policy in the morning, a newsletter in the afternoon. What I failed to realize was I was changing my writing style to fit my readers.

Let’s look at how the description of a thunderstorm varies from one audience to another.

A scientific journal article on the elements of a thunderstorm would present a technically correct explanation of how warm moist air rapidly updrafts into cooler layers of air forming cumulonimbus clouds. Precipitation follows, and cold air sinks creating downdrafts and winds. Electrical charges build up in the water and ice cloud particles and release as lightning, which heats the air with such intensity producing a sound wave we know as thunder.

A storyteller would write of the darkening clouds, the rising winds, a prickly feeling on the skin as the storm intensifies, the driving rain, brilliant lightning flashes, the roar of thunder. Thus, setting a mood or a backdrop for the characters to interact.

The same author can write in an impersonal, technical style or in descriptive prose. It is the choice of words, sentence structure, and the author’s voice that creates style.

Word choice:

Writing experts teach authors to eliminate unnecessary words. To be concise, to choose the best word, an action verb demonstrating a physical or mental act or a concrete noun conveying sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to convey meaning. We limit our use of adjectives and adverbs and the overuse of certain words such as ‘as,’ ‘that,’ and ‘it.’ Polysyllabic words, alliteration, and consonance create flowing sentences, while onomatopoeia and monosyllabic words can break up the flow.

Sentence Structure:

Good writers carefully structure sentences to extract the most meaning and to facilitate flow. When constructing a sentence, vary the length of the sentence to achieve different rhythms. Also, consider the word and phrase placement within a sentence which can emphasize the sentence meaning. Removing unneeded, vague or repetitive words, and including subordinate phrases and clauses will tighten up a sentence and make it more readable.

Voice:

The most subjective of the three elements of style is voice. Voice is unique to each writer and impacted by the author’s personality and one element of style, word choice.  Whether detached, passionate, objective, humorous, serious, it is yours.

This discussion of style brings me back to my conversation with my editor. I had two repetitive issues in my writing. The underuse of the word ‘that’ and my love of run-on sentences.

Somewhere, while reading what all the writing ‘experts’ suggest, I took the suggestion to eliminate the word ‘that’ where I could. Apparently, there are times when that makes a sentence clearer. My editor decided to replace those I had eliminated in my own edit. Then he read the story again and took them out, deciding the inclusion interfered with my writing style.

The run-on sentences are another issue and result from my desire to write with a smooth flow. I wrote a short story for a challenge a few years ago and received this critique, “Great story, well-done, but use an ‘and’ every now and then.” Apparently, I didn’t heed that message.

My editor offered the following advice. That the choice to construct sentences in this manner was mine. It was my style of writing and my decision to change them. It was at that moment I realized I had the final say on how my book would read.

Granted, I am at liberty to make these choices because I am self-publishing. I doubt the editor of a traditional publishing house would allow me the leeway of making these decisions for myself. The fact is I respect my editor and will likely take his advice, but his words made me realize that the style I choose to write in, my writer’s voice is mine.

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Deborah Ratliff is an administrator for the Writers Unite! Blog and Facebook page. Her first novel, Crescent City Lies, a murder mystery will be published in the Fall of 2016.

Personal Blog: the coastal quill

Author Page: D.A. Ratliff

Facebook: Writers Unite!

Crescent City Lies…

My Book Blurb is Done!

Well.. I hope it is! I love to hear what you think. Would you read this book?

“Crescent City Lies”

Emeline Drake’s great-aunt was dead. A heart attack the coroner concluded, but her aunt’s long-time housekeeper disagreed. She suspected murder.

Returning to New Orleans to claim her inheritance, Emeline thought the harrowing life of a war photojournalist was behind her for a while. She was wrong. Sinister phone calls and blackmail threats, an aggressive real estate agent, and the return of a lost love were only the beginning. Someone was following her.

As the threats against her life and those she loves mount, Emeline stumbles across a fifty-year-old family secret. A secret that could get them all killed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now to decide what to write about the author. Yikes! That’s me!!!

Halloween in the Crescent City

If there was a holiday more suited for New Orleans, I don’t know what it could be. Hoodoo and voodoo and the Krewe Boo, all join forces to bring the Halloween spirit to the Crescent City.

My novel, Crescent City Lies takes place in late spring and early summer, but I can only imagine how my main character Emeline Drake would enjoy the Halloween celebration. Second, only to Mardi Gras, All Hallows Eve is fun for both little ones and adults alike.

From outlandish costumes – really, who better than the good citizens of NOLA to make costumes – to tours of the haunted French Quarter or other parts of the city, New Orleans is the place to be for All Hallows Eve.

Visit a Voodoo shop, join in a street party, enjoy the music and food of the most haunted city in the US and catch the Krewe Boo parade full of scary Three-D props constructed from paper mâché and fiberglass.

I think I’ll write another novel set in New Orleans during Halloween. What better time of the year for a good murder mystery in the Crescent City?

Go Saints!!!

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The Garden District of New Orleans

I would venture that when most people think of New Orleans, they conjure images of the French Quarter or a Mardi Gras parade or a bowl of gumbo.  However, there are a few whose minds are immediately drawn to the Garden District.  My love for the District led me to include the area in my novel, “Crescent City Lies.”

Having grown up in the Southern US, I am very familiar with antebellum mansions and lush gardens. My hometown of Aiken, South Carolina is a charming town with beautiful historic houses and another favorite city, Charleston has a plethora of quaint streets lined with spectacular homes and a stroll along the Battery is a step back in time. Yet, despite the familiarity I have with these old homes, I’ll admit to being smitten the first time I visited New Orleans’s Garden District.

Bound by Magazine Street, near the Mississippi River to the south and the famous St. Charles Street and the trolley line to the north, the Garden District is one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the country, boasting well-preserved antebellum homes and immaculate gardens. The area was designed by Barthelemy Lafron in 1382 after the Louisiana Purchase as settlement for American arrivals not anxious to mix with the European residents in the French Quarter. Wealthy from growing cotton and sugar and from the expanding shipping industry, the residents of the Garden District constructed homes in the classic Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles, contributing to the eclectic atmosphere of the area.

On my first visit to New Orleans, like most tourists, I was anxious to visit the French Quarter. I love quirky and eccentric places and things, and I wasn’t disappointed, the Quarter was all that and more. However, a city guide led to dinner at The Commander’s Palace and intrigued by the neighborhood, we returned the next day.

Despite the early morning hour, the humidity was rising, resting on exposed skin, the air thick with the fragrance of flowers drifting on the soft breeze.  After driving around for a bit, we parked and walked along Prytania Street. Enormous ancient oaks loomed above the sidewalk keeping the secrets of hundreds of years standing as guardians in the District. Quaint clapboard houses of all sizes line the streets, some stately, others whimsical, painted in non-traditional colors. Ornate wrought iron is present everywhere in some fashion, a fence, a railing, a gate often enclosing pristine gardens.

Across the street from The Commander’s Palace restaurant sits the historic Lafayette Cemetery #1. Exceptionally maintained, the cemetery along with the entire Garden District has been commemorated in numerous books, films, and photography.

In my first novel, “Crescent City Lies,” my protagonist inherits her great-aunt’s Garden District home and two pivotal scenes in the novel take place in the cemetery.  The lushness, beauty, and charm of the Garden District inspired me, I hope it will inspire you.

If you have not visited New Orleans do so soon. Take a stroll through the Garden District. Word is you might see Anne Rice working in her garden.

Check out these sites:

The Commander’s Palace

http://www.commanderspalace.com/

Lafayette Cemetery #1

http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/lafayette-cemetery-no-1/

Source: http://www.neworleanscvb.com/visit/neighborhoods/garden-district/

(Photo: One of my favorite houses in the Garden District.  Source: Google Earth)

 

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Oh Boy!! Close Call!!!

Last night, Microsoft decided I needed an update right at that exact moment. I only had Google Chrome open, so I thought, okay, let’s get this over with. Closed Chrome and hit update.

Oh – wrong move.

When the computer restarted, it would not reboot. I am not an IT guru. I know only enough about computers to make me a pest to IT techs (but I love them). So I did the one thing I was told by a tech to do before you call us, reboot.

I rebooted. Nothing. The Toshiba screen popped up then a gray screen (not even the blue screen of death) appeared with those little rotating dots. I hate those little dots. Nothing happened, even though I waited for thirty minutes.

Grabbing my tablet, I began to look up all combinations of what I assumed had occurred.   Google is a wealth of information, some of it highly confusing I’ve discovered. So I gave up, deciding the Geek Squad was my next stop.

Resigned to the fact that I would be without my laptop for longer than I would be told, I began doing a mental check-up of what was backed up. My manuscript was tucked away in several places as were several works in progress, along with my posts from Writers Unite Workshop, so I hadn’t lost anything. Went to sleep, fairly confident I was only going to be inconvenienced by Microsoft’s mess.

Then I woke up at three a. m. in a cold sweat. The book cover for “Crescent City Lies” is in a Photoshop file in Pictures. The Pictures folder stored only on the laptop’s hard drive and not backed-up.  Oh boy.

When I woke up again around seven, I nervously tapped the start button on the laptop, willing it to life. I didn’t expect it come to life. It didn’t but this time, it seemed to be trying or I was imagining it was. So I rebooted again. Apparently, the computer gods took pity on me. I was back in.

I have written and preached about backing up your work. I have my writing on One Drive, Google Docs, emailed my finished manuscript to myself, and have two flash drives.  Covered, right?  Wrong. I never thought about the book covers or the banners I do for Writers Unite! and its companion groups. What was I thinking?

Apparently, I wasn’t. I do have my photos on Dropbox, but I filled the free Dropbox file up quickly and haven’t gotten around to upgrading. So prelims of my cover were there but not the most recent and nearly completed cover for “Crescent City Lies.”

As of this moment, all important photo files are not only on One Drive and Google Drive but on the flash drive. Next, I am going to upgrade Dropbox so they will sync there.

I have learned my lesson, but it was a close call.

 

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Location, Location, Location

I’m often asked what is so appealing to me about New Orleans and why do I set so many of my stories in New Orleans or Louisiana, Cresent City Lies being one. After all, I’m from South Carolina, a beautiful state with its own vibrant culture and uniqueness. It also has faults as do all places, but we’ll dwell on the positive for now.

When deciding on a setting for a story, I seem to be drawn to the flavor of Louisiana. Nothing like the sultry summer heat in the south, where life slows down, and the humidity rises. The spicy aromas and comforting palate of Cajun food and the smooth sounds of New Orleans jazz are alluring and set a mood that seems to touch my writer’s passion. Wicked antagonists, flawed heroes, and enticing strong women seem to belong in the bayou or the French Quarter.

In reality, I love the beach. Ribbons of sand lapped by waves, air tangy with salt, majestic pelicans soaring against a cornflower blue sky. My heart lies on the shore, rejuvenated by the sun’s heat. My soul rests in the bayou.

At the moment, however, I live in a beautiful place called Spann Hill in southern Kentucky. As you can see from the image below, one taken from the front porch, not a bad place to be. At least, there is water nearby, even has a dock on the huge pond.

I suppose we choose where we want our stories to unfold for lots of reasons. My thoughts always seem to be on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Battery in Charleston, or an Atlantic beach in Florida. All locations to stir the imagination. Let those places you love spur your stories.

spann-hill

Look for my first novel, Crescent City Lies, to be published in Fall, 2016.

The Muffuletta!

** The Muffuletta **

Have you ever eaten a Muffuletta sandwich? If not, then you’ve likely never visited New Orleans. There is nothing more unique or tasty in the Crescent City.

Emeline Drake, the main character in my novel, “Crescent City Lies,” gets a hankering for one of these delicious sandwiches. A hankering that reopens her past and changes her life.

Yes, the sandwich is that good.

A friend who lives in New Orleans regaled the story of the Muffuletta during a visit. The sandwich was created by the owner of Central Grocery, an Italian market located in the French Quarter. The origin of the name is unclear. It may have been named for a customer or for the baker who created the round Italian bread (the unbelievably delicious bread) used.

There are many places in New Orleans to find this iconic sandwich, but none beat the Central Grocery.

(http://www.centralgrocerynola.com/)

While Central Grocery does mail order, it can be pricey. From the blog “GumboPages,” here is a recipe shared with the blogger by New Orlean’s cook and cookbook author Chiqui Collier. The olive salad recipe is a closely guarded secret by Central Grocery, but this recipe according to Collier comes from the creation of the original muffuletta.

From Collier: “The recipe for the olive salad is the exact way it was given to me. It makes over a gallon, but since your comments indicate that you love it, I’m sure you won’t want to cut it down. It stores very well in the refrigerator for many months and makes great gifts along with the recipe for the sandwich. It does appear in my cookbook, “Cookery N’Orleans Style.”

The Muffuletta

For the olive salad:

• 1-gallon large pimento stuffed green olives, slightly crushed and well drained
• 1-quart jar pickled cauliflower, drained and sliced
• 2 small jars capers, drained
• 1 whole stalk celery, sliced diagonally
• 4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced diagonally
• 1 small jar celery seeds
• 1 small jar oregano
• 1 large head fresh garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 jar pepperoncini, drained (small salad peppers) left whole
• 1 pound large Greek black olives
• 1 jar cocktail onions, drained

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or pot and mix well. Place in a large jar and cover with 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 Crisco oil. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator. Allow to marinate for at least 24 hours before using.

For the sandwich:

• 1 round loaf Italian bread
• 1/4 pound mortadella, thinly sliced
• 1/4 pound ham, thinly sliced
• 1/4 pound hard Genoa salami, thinly sliced
• 1/4 pound Mozzarella cheese, sliced
• 1/4 pound Provolone cheese,sliced
• 1 cup olive salad with oil

Split a muffuletta loaf or a loaf of Italian bread horizontally. Spread each half with equal parts of olive salad and oil. Place meats and cheeses evenly on the bottom half and cover with top half of bread. Cut in quarters. Enjoy!

Serves four timid dieters, two hearty New Orleanians or one incredible maiale.

http://www.gumbopages.com/food/samwiches/muff.html

Enjoy!!!!

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