Masters Class on Voice

Every start reading a book and find that you simply cannot put it down? You’re hooked. Snagged. Hopelessly snared by the character unspooling the story. That, my friends, is voice. Some authors have it in spades. It’s a very tricky subject to nail down. Rather than pontificate, let’s show two amazing examples.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

“The musical would be easy for me. I am a good actor. I have a whole range of smiles. I use the shy, look-up-through-the-bangs smile for staff members, and the crinkly-eye smile with a quick shake of my head if a teacher asks me for an answer. If my parents want to know how school went, I flash my eyebrows upward and shrug my shoulders. When people point at me or whisper as I walk past, I wave to imaginary friends down the hall and hurry to meet them. If I drop out of high school, I could be a mime.”

You can smell the desperation on the narrator in Speak. How does Anderson make it happen? Look closely, she has the narrator’s thoughts fire away like dialogue. It helps that she uses a first-person narrator in present tense. It creates an immediacy that resonates with the reader. She also utilizes made up words and phrases to convey this girl’s distinct point of view. Check out: “look-up-through-the-bangs smile.” Everyone can picture this. It so completely describes the action, yet it also demonstrates the girl’s viewpoint. Strong verbs like “flash my eyebrows” or descriptions like “crinkly-eye smile” also paint a picture of this narrator.

How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, by Crystal Allen

“Since Saturday, I’ve fried Sergio like catfish, mashed him like potatoes, and creamed his corn in ten straight games of bowling. And it’s just the middle of the week. People call Wednesday “hump day,” but for Sergio, it’s “kicked-in-the-rump day.” I’m his daddy now. The maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler ever.”

Allen uses many of the same techniques as Anderson. She works with a first-person narrator in present tense. She makes up phrases like “kicked-in-the-rump day” and “creamed his corn.” She also employs fragments to better create the feel of clipped speaking. Notice she started the second sentence with “and.” Not grammatically correct, but if she’d fixed it, the narration would have lost it’s punch.

So when scanning for a book to read, look for a narrator who lets it all hang out. Or, if you’re a writer, use these techniques to add captivating voice to your writing.

Tim Kane

Literary Easter Eggs

I love to give gifts for Easter, so in that spirit, I have several writerly nuggets of advice gleaned from Ray Bradbury. They come mostly from an interview he did back in 2001. Here are my favorites, passed along to you via a frisky Sylvilagus audubonii (Desert Cottontail).

Get Rid of Unbelievers

Are there people in your life who won’t support your writing? I don’t mean support as in pay for your lazy butt, but people who frown on your endeavors. Fire them. Unfriend them. Unlike them. Unfollow them. They will drag your dream down.

Write with Joy

Why did you get into writing in the first place? There had to be a spark of joy there. Right? Fan that spark until it’s a flame. Make your work your love. After all, for most of us, no one’s paying for it. So if a story feels like drudgery, scrap it. Start a new one that you love.

List Ten Things you Love

Then write about them. Create stories about them. Combine your passions. I love to write and cook. No, that doesn’t mean I’ll write a cookbook. But I do have some ideas in the works for stories that involve cooking.

List Ten Things You Hate.

Kill these things but putting them on the page. It’s great therapy. I once had a difficult time with a few friends of mine, so I bashed out a screenplay. A serial killer screenplay. Then I promptly offed all the offending friends. I felt awesome afterward. Thought I’m not sure what this says about my psyche.

Type Anything, So Long as It’s English 

The first thing that pops into your head. Put it down. Use word associations to break through that dreaded writer’s block. Hey, words on the page beats a blank page. Even if they don’t make a lot of sense. You might even try the Write of Die website. The screen turns red if you stop typing for too long.

Don’t Write for Everyone

It just takes one person. Someone to notice and appreciate your writing. Maybe it’s the fella who will tell you that you’re not totally nuts.

Be a Cheerleader

Writing is a lonely awful business full of neck aches, bleary eyes, and rejection letters. Sometimes people need a little encouragement. Writers need to support other writers. It’s the only way we’ll all get through this.

Tim Kane

Rube Goldberg Devices

I’ve always adored Rube Goldberg devices. It may stem from watching too much Tom and Jerry or Wile E Coyote as a young tot. Each of those fellas built some outlandish contraptions.

Another great product from Acme

The origin of these machines dates back a century to Ruben Lucius Goldberg. At a young age, he obsessed with tracing from books, newspapers, and calendars. After a failed career as an engineer, he began drawing cartoons for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Perhaps the best device I’ve seen to date is “Page Turner”. Watch and enjoy.

Tim Kane

4 Steampunk Must Reads

For those of you with a literary bent, here are some amazing, and possibly overlooked, books dealing with Steampunk.

Doctor Grordbort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory

Think of it as a Sears catalog for ray guns. Everything a planet-hopping adventurer could need. The author, Greg Broadmore, has thrown in the kitchen sink on this one. In addition to the various rayguns sold by his emporium (Dr. Grordborts Infallible Aether Oscillators) he has armored suits (like the Ignas Fraunhofer III Gas Driven Gadabout), robotic moving couches ( Chairlord 2200), along with straight up robotic servants (Automaitre D’). There are even some comics at the end to exemplify the exploits of Lord Cockswain. Buy it now.


Doctor Grordbort Presents: Victory (Dr. Grordbort Presents Victory: Scientific Adventure Violence)

More adventures with Lord Cockswain. The subhead says it all: Scientific Adventure Violence for Young Men & Literate Women. Mr. Cockswain aims to bring order to the galaxy by obliterating anything that personally offends him. And he’s got the rayguns to back him up. Filled with mock advertorials inviting you to join up with the “British Colonial Expeditionary Forces.” It also comes with a complete bestiary of Venus. Such a value!


The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter

Technically not out yet (May 11th) this proves to be a tremendous addition to any steampunk aficionado. Who could beat Will Shakespeare gone steampunk? The dialogue alone is worth the price of admission. Will Romeo have a mechanical arm? Will Hamlet be a cyborg? The possibilities are endless (as long as they contain gears and springs).


Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 1: The Far Away Island

Okay, so technically not a book, this iPad app will appeal to anyone who has a love for gears, levers, and of course buttons. Bartleby collects buttons. In this interactive tale, he sets off to a mysterious island to find a new button for his collection. There’s plenty of button pushing fun with this book. Plus, if you dig it, there’s a sequel: Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea.

Happy adventuring fellow gear-heads.

Tim Kane

When Will Apple Build a Car?

I recently took my vehicle down to the shop for maintenance. Well, it wasn’t voluntary, the battery died. I mean died. It took a tow truck to jump it and even then, when I stopped at the service department, they couldn’t restart it again.

As always, there were plenty of other nifty (and expensive) repairs on the docket. One had me scratching my head. My car needed a software update. I get this all the time for my iPhone or laptop. But a car? Plus I had to shell out a c-note for the update (no wireless download for me, thank you).

Then I thought: when will Apple build a car? The idea isn’t so far fetched. Google has created a driverless car. So why can’t Apple join the fray? People thought Apple was nuts when it teamed with AT&T to make a cell phone. Look what happened there.

An Italian designer, Liviu Tudoran, created a car prototype inspired by Macintosh and iPod products. Check out all the specs here. For a look at a Microsoft developed car, check this out.

Imagine it. The new Ford powered by Apple. It could happen. At least then I could get my software downloaded off the cloud. Hey, I’d probably be able to get all the schematics on my vehicle’s performance sent to my phone. That’d put all those specialized mechanics out of work. Plus, think of the apps you could download.

Food for thought.

Tim Kane