Friday, January 2, 2009

Randy: Talking Myself Into Voice

When I'm revising a manuscript, I keep a separate file open for self-talk or process-talk. As you'll see in the excerpt below, what I tell myself is pretty fundamental stuff, and it’s more or less the same stuff I’ve been telling myself for over 20 years.

It doesn’t matter what I tell myself, because it’s just a way to trick the mind into being quiet so that I stop thinking about writing, and start writing.

It’s the opposite of talking a suicide down from the ledge.  It’s talking myself into taking the leap into silence and white space and the unknown.

Silence is where voice comes from. For me, finding the voice is what it’s all about.


Excerpts from Process-Talk Journal...

I am still not sure how or where to start this next draft. I don’t have the slightest idea. 
How do I take this mess of raw material and narrow it down to a continuous sequence of events, with a hook at the beginning and end of each chapter.

Go back through the draft, run every scene through Q and A. Investigate. Drill down. 
Interrogate every idea. First and second ideas will be clichés; go for the seventh or tenth idea.

Don’t avoid any dramatic confrontations.  

Look for a twist, always look for a twist.

Exaggerate first, tone it down later.

Keep asking: what can go wrong?


Don’t worry about transitions, you can plug those in later. Strip out the background explanations and just leave the action.


Keep it simple:

- What is happening
- What is going to happen

Maybe for once in your life, see if you can start at the end and work backwards.


Work with what’s in front of you. Work with what you have. Don’t worry about what’s NOT there; drill down into what’s there.


Stop racking your brain for the big plot idea.

Concentrate on who the characters are.

Character is action.

Character is story/situation.

Conflict creates character.

The more desire, the more conflict and character.

Give him a tangible goal. Preferably a goal you could take a photograph of.


Do you have to know who the characters are in order to know their situation?

Or do you start with a situation and see which characters grow out of it.

Who cares. A combo of both.


Quality through quantity.

Bring in as much material as you can. The more information and material, the better.

Then cut.

Then build it back up stronger.

Keep doing this process. That is your job.


You idiot. It’s all about the five senses, not ideas.

That is the great discovery.

Writing is about the five senses.
Concrete, specific details. Actions.
Focus on the particulars, the palpable textures.
I cannot say this too strongly: it’s about details.


Wait, it’s all about voice.


 comes from


Voice comes from going in deep and going wild.


white space


the less said the better


“The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.” 



White space.

you are going to take the plunge. Go in.


OK we’re going in.

Good bye for a while.


Randy Powell’s newest young-adult novel (his eighth) is SWISS MIST, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux


  1. I love this post! I can totally use this as an example in my classroom when I teach my students the brainstorm/freewrite stage of every composition. Wonderful stream-of-consciousness writing until the words come ... perfect example. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I am finishing up my third novel, but with the two little ones running around all day, and the distraction of life-period, it's easy for me to wander out of my steady zone. I'll have times where, after I stop a million times to do whatever I have to do for the kids, I go blank. I can already see myself using your technique. It's brilliant! Thanks again.

  3. Randy, thanks for giving us a peek into your Process-Talk journal. Obviously, your process works! I just read (and loved!) SWISS MIST. Milo's voice is perfect. It's a consistent thread that carries us through 5 years of his life as he grows and changes.

  4. Wow, this is amazing and such a well depicted process. It's really giving me the needed motivation for revisions.