Half-blood blues, by Esi Edugyan

Anyone writing about music and/or a music scene has my attention, but its Edugyan’s use of voice that intrigues me most. Edugyan could give a master class in voice. To me, voice is a person’s personal music. Ever notice how the people you know have a sound? I don’t mean an accent, just their way of speech – its distinct. It’s music of its own.

Edugyan taught me to not take the easy way out when it comes to constructing a distinct voice for the main characters. Some novels with parts told by more than one character – the characters sound the same. The reader may say these characters are related or friends, that’s why there’s little to no difference in sound. Edugyan’s use of voice is informed and beguiling and reads like truth, and serves me as inspiration.

Norman Bray in the performance of his life, by Trevor Cole

Bombing the moon is character-driven because that is the fiction that I love best. Trevor Cole’s novel is a fantastic piece of character-driven fiction: he so well defines what goes on inside Norman Bray’s, the protagonist’s head. Much of Norman is unlikable. He’s self-centered to the point that he can barely hear other people. Yet there is something lovable about Norman and Trevor Cole constructed that somehow and it’s this tightrope act that so impresses me.

What I learned is that an author doesn’t have to write this kind of fiction from first person point of view, which I chose for Bombing the moon, because of the intimacy it brings. The author puts the reader into the character’s head. But as Trevor Cole showed me this can also be accomplished through third person, without sacrificing subtly or nuance.

Alligator, by Lisa Moore

I participate in Manitoba’s Writers’ Festival, THIN AIR, regularly. I was particularly excited when the organizers began a writing “boot camp” series of writing workshops hosted by celebrated authors. I attended a workshop on plot structure led by Lisa Moore. But what stayed with me about her presentation was a comment she made about dialogue. One of her novels, I can’t remember which one, was being optioned for a movie. She was told to underline all the dialogue – something she didn’t do for some reason. When she confessed she hadn’t done it, the voice on the other end apparently said, “That’s because you don’t have any.”

I had to read Alligator and February to see how a novel is written with so little dialogue. I’m so glad I did. Moore is instructive in how to develop a story. New writers tend to lean on dialogue too much. This might be due to the abundance of films we consume. But dialogue should be treated sparingly and when it does appear, it should be doing some heavy lifting, as in developing character or theme, for example.