Deep Prose and Clear Voice

(pulled from a note to a CP)

My main focus for vocal depth is finding places that need a boost to elevate the prose from (blocking and action) to “literature.”

Not just facts, but poetry.

The first layer is “What’s a cooler/more interesting way to X…?”

Second layer is “What’s a way to tie this description/phrase to the story theme/aesthetic/tone/plot?”

Third layer, and the only one that gets approval** for my own work into final drafts, is “How/what does X (description/phrase) mean to my narrator/speaker, and how would They frame X?”

**because no matter how awesome a phrase might be, if it doesn’t sound like it comes from my narrator’s voice, then it could throw the reader off at worst, but will weaken a reader’s connection to the narrator at best.

Page by page, I seek out a wide-angle thematic balance, and–when possible– book-wide character themes. Like, say romantic interest has a hard personality but a vulnerable ego, then I might craft their descriptions to relay that directly or indirectly by which devices I choose (maybe they’re compared to melons or maybe I just keep adjectives about their physical actions “crisp and brittle” while keeping descriptions of their voice “soft”).

I tend to go broad with these when it comes to characterization or repeat settings, sticking with things like seasons or basic elements (water, fire, +), so it doesn’t feel forced or too obvious.Also, the broader the theme, the greater span of sensory experiences and vocabulary range to use in expanding the character’s visceral reactions and word choice.

Random thing, but it’s best, for most readers apparently, to save the most intense descriptive language for moments when the narrator is first describing something (unless that scene is very active), or when it’s an emotional moment that the language can help bolster with “this is important” energy.

Hot tip: use your narrator’s zoom lens to spot concrete details, flaws, or specificity, rather than trying to describe everything anew or “completely.” Better to describe a character’s lone mismatched button than their entire outfit. Even when the narrative point is “excess,” attention can get lost easily in lists of facts, so the zoom is a writer’s best friend in that regard.


Doing BETA Better

experimentNow that I’ve had some minor successes with my beta swap model, I’m ready to bring it back online and share the process. My Role Play – Beta Swap.

By role-playing as agents, publishers, and editors, we learn something in play that we learn otherwise only by making publishing mistakes.

oopsMost new writers make these mistakes, and it’s normal. It’s also one of the things that makes successful publishing such a slow process.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend a second of writing time wasting anyone else’s time.

Our mistakes = the slush pile. Rejections.

Self-publishers’ mistakes become the reason it’s so hard to stand out among the sea of other self-published mistakes.

snowflakeSo how do we make it easy for agents to make that full manuscript request, to believe in us and advocate for us?

How can we make it easy for buyers to say yes to our stories? How do we keep their interest and earn positive reviews?


Better yet, smart practice.

  • Critique Groups. Sharing early and final drafts with other writers puts extra eyes on every page. Whether online or in real life, critique groups can help writers become more professional by offering motivation, group deadlines, and regular feedback throughout the writing process. My favorite site for this is, but I found my truest teammates in The Ubergroup. scribophile.png
  • Conferences. Networking with industry professionals and other writers at conferences that suit your genre or publishing interest. newyorkpitchbanner3
  • Workshops and Classes. Growing craft deliberately with feedback.wdu
  • Agent and Market Research. Understanding your story advocates by staying up to date with industry websites, blogs, and interviews.

But how do we decide that our story is ready to submit?

  • beta-readerThe Beta Reader. They read our fresh-faced revisions and give us their reactions, their reflections, their thumbs up or down.

What if that’s not all we want to learn?

And how do we take beta reactions and turn them into something useful?

How do we turn feedback into something that steers our craft in a positive direction, so we don’t crash and burn into slush?

role play situation.jpgMy  answer?

Industry Role Play!

It’s rough and silly, but it’s just the beginning.

I’m not implying that agents or slush readers sit around their offices with a grading rubric like ours.

I am implying that there are tendencies in the professional publishing world that create a thought matrix that sorts our submissions based on the professionals’ experience and instinct, and we, as role-players, can tap into that matrix.

Once we do, we can find out how our stories and craft measure up against industry standards. We can plan our growth, and we can improve our stories alongside our craft.

improveBeyond that, a role-play beta swap offers a deeper understanding of where we are in our craft now and what we should be working on next.

Since all beta readers won’t be equally-equipped to give feedback on craft techniques or genre requirements, by applying the role-play rubric, a reader can provide some numerical evidence to clue the writer into those reactions and compare their beta feedback in a quasi-qualitative manner.

victory.jpgRole play swaps are now open for applications on Reddit and, and I’ll be sharing more about the process over the next few months as more writers participate. If you’re interested in joining up or learning more, please comment below!

If you are an industry professional and would like to comment or make suggestions or changes to our role-play rubric, please reach out to me @jesscreaden on Twitter.