Voice: Talk Like a Pirate

The best way to learn how to write well is to read, read, read. Read the good stuff and pick them apart to find out why they work. Read the crap to figure out why it’s terrible.

The problem is, many of us just don’t have time to read as much as we’d like. So I could give you list of novels that do things well, but I don’t expect you’d read them. But you know what you DO have time to read? Picture books.

The time commitment is only one reason why children’s literature is so freaking awesome. William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, once said there are four “basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.” What exemplifies these better than a picture book?

My son and I have increased our time at the library of late. Whenever I come across a good picture book that demonstrates a key literary premise, I’ll share it with you. Today’s book concerns VOICE.

Voice: Talk Like a Pirate

Voice is the way a character sounds when talking. Each of your characters needs to have his or her own distinct voice. An uppity Manhattan banker isn’t going to parrot a plumber from Hooverville. You, the writer, need to have your own voice, too.

The best way to see if your writing has some legitimate voice to it is to read it aloud. And that’s exactly what you need to do with this book:


(Click the link to be taken to an Amazon page. If you order from the Amazon page using this link, I’ll receive about $0.000001 from Amazon. Rolling in the dough over here, don’t you know.)

Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate is a tale about a pirate trying to gather for himself a crew of scallywags. The condition for the job, however, is that each candidate needs to talk like a pirate:

“Ye gots to be stubborn and mighty cranky,
Ye gots to be dirty and awfully stanky!
Ye gots to load a cannon and know how to fire it,
But most of all, ye gots to talk like a pirate!”

Read this book aloud, and you’ll see the difference between Pirate Pete’s voice and that of each of the potential crew. I read the first candidate aloud with a mamby-pamby French accent, because that’s what it sounded like in my head.

I’m tagging this under “Writing Resources.” Give me some time to be creative, and I’ll come up with “Writing Exercises” for you to practice on. Until then, start talking like a pirate.

Plotting: Relationship Arcs

I generally find it bad taste to summarize someone else’s words on my own blog, especially if I have less experience in the matter and have nothing to add. So head on over to Bestsellerology and read “Building a Plot, One Step at a Time” by Suzanne Johnson.

I hope y’all are getting in more words than I have been. Let’s get motivated, brainstorm little rewards after so many words written (one of mine is painting my toenails, another is eating OREO-topped pudding), turn off distractions, and write now.

My NaNoWriMo Writing Methods

Today: My Writing Space, Plot-driven Versus Character-driven Stories, Manuscript Format, and Shutting Up the Internal Editor.

So, yesterday was Day One of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t make it to 2,500 words because, well, I took a nap. And 1,788 lent itself to a good stopping point.

I thought it might be fun to share what my writing space looks like. Not the interior of my house, because I write all over the place. Also my desk is a mess.

You can tell already this will be a frenzied post, can’t you?

So here’s what the space looks like:

As you can see, I cover nearly every pixel of my screen. On the upper left is my beat sheet, written in Evernote.

On the lower left is a summary I wrote for the novel. It helps me to get the broader picture of what I think will happen.

A note about planning plots

Though I do plan plot (as you can tell from my series on plot), I also make sure that what I am writing is character-driven. THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. You can write character-driven stories and still have an idea of where you are going. There’s a difference between a plot-driven novel and a plot planned one.

Let’s say you are planning a road trip across country. You plan your route ahead of time, and you have a rough idea of where you are going. But your route takes you to a road with a closed bridge. If you adhered to the plan without faltering, you’d blast through the “ROAD CLOSED” barriers and traffic cones and gun it, hoping that your tiny sedan can make the jump and land on the other side. This is what happens when a story is plot driven. It might have a lot of excitement, but it usually doesn’t end well for everyone involved, and along the way, you’ll make somebody say, “What the heck just happened?” and not in a good way.

But, it you come up to that closed bridge and you take a detour, you change direction. Maybe you even change your destination, having an existential moment where the sun breaks through the clouds and you realize, It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That’s the way a person writes something character-driven. It’s fluid and organic, not rigid and contrived.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan to begin with. In my opinion, you’ll have fewer projects that die by your hand if you make an effort to think towards a possible ending before you even start. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve written that didn’t work. My current novel has already been scrapped and started over a few times. Here’s to hoping I’m heading in the right direction this time, because I truly love these characters.

Related: Outlining for Pantsers

Back to my writing space

Here it is again.

In the middle is my manuscript. I really hate writing in Times New Roman, but I decided to format my novel in the standard Manuscript format from the get-go. Some people want you to use Courier, others Times New Roman. This is how you format your novel manuscript. Remember, though, to check and see if an editor or agent has specific requirements before submitting.

On the right, I have another document that is specifically for my internal editor. I don’t have success completely gagging my internal editor, whose name is Melvin and looks like George Costanza.

Some people have semi-sadist daydreams about their internal editor, and what it takes to shut him/her/it up. With an internal editor like mine, if you fill his mouth with cotton balls, he’ll just start humming “It’s a Small World, After All” until you let him go. So I’ve found it works best to throw him into a cellar and let him shout out a couple of things now and again through the air vents. That document is a collection of his nags and pointers. I’ve found it’s best to acknowledge the internal editor, but rather than make the fixes, write the problems down on a sort of “Honey-do” list I’ll address during rewrites. Then I can keep writing quickly.

My next post is already scheduled for Motivational Monday! Follow me on Twitter @LaraEdits for NaNoWriMo updates and even more tips.

Character Motivations and the Seven Sins

Welcome to Fiction Friday! We are currently in the middle of the Character Series. Last week I posted the Character Worksheets and included a little schpiel on the Cardinal Sins (Seven Deadly Sins). Today I’m going to go into each with a little more detail to illustrate how they can be used as a way to view character motivations. Why the Cardinal Sins? No, I’m not trying to prognosticate here. Two reasons I like this method of summarizing motivations: 1) as a part of popular culture, the idea of the seven sins is familiar to many people, both religious and wholly secular. 2) It’s a reminder that no character is a saint. Few things are more yawn-inducing than a character that is perfectly perfect.

As long as you consider the motivations of your characters, and as long as their actions come about because of what motivates them on the inside, then you can plot all you want. The problem with plotting comes when the writer plots out a story and characters start doing things because the almighty Plot told them to, not because their actions were determined by their goals, motivations, and desires.

The Seven Cardinal Sins are one way of summarizing a character’s motivations into one recognizable word. Using one of these “sins” as your character’s motivation will not limit your character or make him or her trite. The Cardinal Sins aren’t cliches, they are categorical distinctions of human nature. Any one person can have any combination of those motivations. Any one “sin” can be made manifest in a character at varying degrees of intensity.

I think it’s best to summarize each cardinal sin by its motivation and its fear. If you’d like to read more about each in detail, there’s always Wikipedia.


Motivated by self-promotion.

Afraid of ridicule and public humiliation.

CEOs, the manager with a desperate need to be promoted, narcissists, the achiever, the nuclear scientist, the know-it-all, the self-righteous clergyman.Don’t forget that Prideful people can still be introverts. They just aren’t as obviously prideful.


Motivated by wanting more.

Afraid of losing everything.

The possessive girlfriend, the power-hungry lawyer, the millionaire who’s never satisfied, the gambling addict, the obsessed fangirl.


Motivated by putting down others or self.

Afraid of no one liking them.

The person with an eating disorder, the codependent boyfriend, the host of the pity-party, the clingy friend, the girl with the lowest self-esteem, the guy who bases his self-worth on what others think, the psychological bully, the teenage frienemy.



Motivated by physical exertion (not necessarily out of anger).

Afraid of physical weakness.

The one-dimensional superhero, the jock, the Skipper, the abusive ex, the bodybuilder, the humble knight, the roller-derby champion, the gymnast.


Motivated by sexual attraction / physical appearance.

Afraid of being repulsive or unattractive.

The model, the hottest girl in school, the girl that wishes she was the hottest girl in school, the guy who loves the hottest girl in school, the porn subscriber, the Rom-Com addict, the sexual offender, the playboy, the beautician, the soap opera fan, the Chick Lit reader. (Note the varying degrees from normal to psychological disorder).


Motivated by an indulgence in physical or emotional pleasures.

Afraid of emptiness or depression.

The rock star, the party animal, the class clown, the over-eater, the drunk, the funny guy, the yacht club member, the extreme sport enthusiast, the drug addict, the masochist, the socialite.

I define gluttony pretty broadly. One can be a glutton for food, for pain, for fun, for adrenaline. The glutton has a constant need for enjoying the pleasures of life. The difference between Gluttony and a few other sins can be pretty gray. Lust and Gluttony both deal with pleasure. If the pleasure is sex or physical romance, then the motivation is lust. Everything else is probably gluttony. Greed wants to have more. Gluttony wants to enjoy more. A greedy person buys a yacht because it’s something else to possess. A glutton buys a yacht because it’s something else to enjoy. Subtle difference.


Motivated by ease or leisure.

Afraid of having too much responsibility.

The cliche TV dad, the couch potato, the unemployed 30-year-old who still lives with his mother, the heiress, the basement gamer, the fry-cook with no ambition, the commitment-phobe, the hesitant person afraid of taking risks, the housewife who never gets out of her sweatpants (guilty…), the sun-bather.

Consider the fears for a moment. They might come in use for you if you want some poetic justice for a character, a humbling moment, or a chance for the character to overcome those fears and mature into a new person. Draco Malfoy’s sin would likely be pride. And sure, his racist attitudes suggest envy, because he constantly puts down Hermione to feel better about himself. But his greatest fear is humiliation. So if he were helpless and Ron and Harry happened to save his life, then Draco would be humbled and we might see a change in his character.

I’m limiting posting to once or twice a week as we prepare to move cross-country. Next week we will talk about conflict, unless y’all have any other questions about characters and motivations. Let me know!