Monday, November 4, 2013

Adding Voice and Depth to Your Writing || Melinda Curtis || BLUE RULES

 Blue has a nice life.  He's got a job in public relations with a local production studio and a nice social life with some hot reality stars.  But then his father dies and his sister, Amber, blackmails him into working with her at the Dooley Foundation, their father's life coaching business.  His social life grinds to a halt.  Now every woman wants him to fix her - and not in bed!  Along comes Maddy Polk, up-and-coming reality show producer, with an idea about a new reality show based on their work at the Foundation, featuring him as a matchmaker.  Who does Maddy want him to match up?  All his really hot, slightly crazy, reality show ex-girlfriends!  Trouble is, it's Maddy who makes Blue hot and slightly crazy.

Adding Voice and Depth to Your Writing
by Melinda Curtis

There are authors who write beautiful first drafts.  I fall more into the crappy first draft camp.  It’s not unusual for me to edit a page 20 or more times.  Why do I bother?  Because I want to bring out my voice, and tell a story in a way where readers recognize my style and find it unlike anyone else’s.  My goal is to add my humor, write fresh, establish a world the reader can relate to, and create characters readers love.  The following shows my most recent before and after.  My hope is that by comparing the two, you’ll see how rich your own writing can be (maybe in less than 20 edits per page).

Premise of Blue Rules, book 2 in my Hollywood Rules series:  Blue is being stalked and harassed by his crazy ex-girlfriends.  If the world learns that Blue, celebrity relationship counselor, sucks at relationships, he’ll lose everything.  Oh, and as part of his father’s will, Blue has to take Mr. Jiggles, a teacup poodle, with him everywhere for a year.

Here’s my crappy first draft.

Blue Rule’s career balanced on the rim of ruin.  His ex-girlfriends had too much time on their hands and had formed a club.  Their charter?  To ruin him.

“This is supposed to be the happiest day of my life.”  Amber, his half-sister and blushing bride, hooked her hand in the lapel of his tuxedo and dragged him out of the reception hall.

Mr. Jiggles growled, much as Blue had growled when he’d picked up his deceased father’s little dog.  His exes had dyed the dog pink.  It was the last straw.  This had to end.

Me again.  Yep, it’s bad and short (my first drafts generally run 200 pages).  Not much humor, not much character, not much setting, not much…me.  Here’s how it reads after many revisions.

In high profile L.A., careers were made and broken on the fickle stench of publicity.

Blue Rule’s career balanced on the rim of public ruin, a stinking, fuck-ccident waiting to happen.

Clearly, some of his yet-to-be-named, celebrity ex-girlfriends had too much time on their hands.  They’d formed a club – the Playboy Avengers.  Their only goal?  To ruin him. 

“This is supposed to be the happiest day of my life.”  Amber, his half-sister, the blushing bride, glided toward him at top speed, and hooked her hand in the lapel of his black tuxedo as she passed. 

Caught, Blue rode the crest of her white train out of the Sunset Ballroom and onto the terra cotta-tiled patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel. 

It was a relief to be out of the blue sky-themed room where professional athletes, Hollywood moguls, and buzz-seeking celebrities were packed tighter than condoms in a frat boy’s wallet.  It was not a relief to be publicly towed along like Hemingway’s ill-fated marlin.

Mr. Jiggles, a hot pink teacup poodle with the attitude of a pitbull, agreed with him.  Tucked in the crook of Blue’s arm, the dog growled, much as Blue had growled when he’d picked up his tiny charge and discovered the Avengers had struck again.  Only this time they’d picked on his deceased father’s defenseless little dog.  Not only had they dyed the poodle pink, they’d painted Mr. Jiggles’ nails to match!

With each Avenger prank Blue fought gut-plunging helplessness.  With each Avenger prank his reputation teetered on the precipice of a publicly humiliating, income-ending abyss.  But the dog was the last straw.  This had to end.

Me again.  Hopefully, you’ll agree that the second version is better, richer, more interesting.  My one watch-out to writers as you try to add voice and depth to your pages is not to get in the way of the story.  Voice and richness make for great reading, unless the story goes nowhere.  Happy writing!

Please feel free to ask questions about bringing out your voice. 

BLUES RULES excerpt:
  “I don’t know how you came to these…these erroneous conclusions about my brother, but you’re wrong.” Amber’s words fell weakly between them.

   Sensing she was near victory, Maddy pressed on. “The Avengers launched the retail portion of their web site last week. Selling Avenger T-shirts and logo thongs means they’re in it for the long haul. There’ll be no escaping the gossip and subsequent damage to the Dooley Foundation if you don’t sever this at the jugular.” At Amber’s perplexed look, Maddy shrugged. “Another of Poppa Bert’s pearls.  It means you need my form of damage control.”

   “Hello, ladies.” A deep voice. From behind her. And then a tall man with the grace of a dancer and the swagger of a model settled in the chair next to hers, unsettling Maddy’s pulse.

   She’d never seen photos of Blue Rule in khaki shorts and a dark polo. He wore tuxes. He wore suits. He wore body hugging button downs. Regardless, he still didn’t manage to look like the guy next door.

   Pitch anxiety returned, prickling her skin with nervous heat.

   Blue Rule had the kind of looks that most women only saw on television and in fashion magazines – a long lean body, short crisp black hair that was never unruly, lips that quirked knowingly and dark eyes that seemed to penetrate your very soul with the promise of bone melting, I-just-met-you sex. Maddy imagined him reclining on a penthouse suite bed, the camera panning up his body, across all those very hard body parts, until it reached that smile.

   Did her mental camera have to shoot porn now? In the middle of a pitch meeting?

   “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Blue Rule.” He extended his hand. If Blue’s appearance inspired I’ll-do-whatever-you-want bedroom fantasies, his voice did not. Cool. Confident. Controlling.

   To her credit, Maddy didn’t miss a beat as she introduced herself, thrusting her clammy hand toward him and shaking his hard, because there was only one reason for Amber to bring Blue into this – to confirm Maddy was not one of his ex-girlfriends.

   Blue’s smile broadened like a hunter who had a deer in his sights.

   And Maddy, who had always fled the mighty male hunters that prowled L.A., felt her anger rise like the fire that swept through Bambi’s forest, burning her anxiety to ashes. News flash: her kick-ass idea had legs that made these two Rules nervous. “Now that we’ve confirmed I’m not one of Blue’s Avengers, can we continue?”

Buy Links:

Author bio:

Melinda grew up on an isolated, California sheep ranch, where sightings of passing mountain lions had been recorded and yet she was allowed to roam the 50-acres un-accompanied as soon as she could walk. Being a brave and rather optimistic - clueless of the danger - sort, she took to playing "what if" games. What if the mountain lion comes by while I'm picking up firewood at the edge of the forest? What if my plastic boat sinks in the sheep pond? What if it never stops raining and the road gets so muddy we're trapped? It led to her fascination with creating stories where she could answer the "what ifs". 

Melinda spends days chained to her desk trying to figure out new ways to say "He made her heart pound." That might sound relatively boring, but the mental challenge keeps her on top of her game so her three kids and college sweetheart husband don't often get the best of her.

Author Links: 

Melinda Curtis is offering an ebook copy of BLUES RULES to one randomly drawn commenter, so please leave a comment for a chance to win!


  1. So great to be here today! Bring on your questions! Mel

    1. Hi Mel,

      Thanks so much for visiting with us here today on the Snarkology. I'm with you. I go through about a hundred drafts before a story is ready to go to the publisher. Then another hundred after that. ;-)

  2. My first drafts need a lot of help, too! It's nice to see what you've done with your piece. You've added more details that let me see the scene a lot clearer. Thanks for the info! ~Lynn

    1. Thanks, Lynn! Best of luck on your writing.

  3. Great article! I really like the way you showed the difference. You mentioned walking the fine line between expanding and adding depth without overwhelming and burying the actual story line. Any advice on how to tell that line has been crossed? Thanks so much for the great information and thanks Melissa for hosting such great craft articles!
    Laura B.

    1. Laura, great question! The correct answer would be it depends upon the story. But I say it depends on what type of scene and/or what part of the scene you're in - conversation with lots of tension needs less, reflection scenes could have more. It's all about pacing and if you get two paragraphs down and you've forgotten what line of dialogue or action your h/h should be reacting to, it's probably too much. Hope that helps!

  4. Great post and love the comparison, Mel. I also love the pink poodle! :)