Cozy Science Fiction
Style and Voice
Last week we introduced the concept of "Cozy" Science Fiction - a broad category to which Science Fiction Romance might belong.
I pointed at a series of Cozy Mysteries -- a mixture of Mystery and Romance with emphasis on Mystery, by Debra Burroughs, The Paradise Valley Mysteries.
These are very good reading!
Woven of the same, "What is really going on here?" plot dynamic is Gini Koch's Alien Series (read them all even though they are very long).
Both pit worthy heroic Protagonists against impossible odds in a bewildering situation with cross-currents of the emotional dynamics of human (and non-human) relationship.
And we ended up at an Israeli (English subtitles) TV Series, Srugim, which is essentially Prime Time Soap -- somewhat like the TV Series Dallas, but without the ultra-rich tycoon and morally questionable wheeling/dealing.
I postulated that while Brian Aldiss may have been correct about "Cozy Catastrophic Science Fiction" in British Science Fiction of the 1840's, he completely missed the vast potential of the "Cozy" concept in genre fiction.
Now we're going to delve deeper into defining exactly what "Voice" and "Style" really are and how to perfect your own.
Lately, you've seen the emergence of the Cozy Mystery via Amazon -- and if you are an inveterate mystery genre reader like I am, you notice a wonderful difference between your standard Detective or Amateur Sleuth or Police Procedural, open or closed form, and the "Cozy" mystery.
The difference is not the presence of sex or romance or even just Relationship. The "Cozy" dimension is much more complex, and thus has vast potential because so many aspects of "Cozy" have not yet been fully explored in novels.
The advent (in 2014) of the surprise hit series, Srugim, illustrates that modern audiences are ready for "Cozy" to spin off sub-genres from every genre, including TV Soap.
Cozy is not the same as Intimate. An Intimate Relationship is based on knowledge about each other that is not shared with anyone else -- in other words, on Privacy. A Cozy Relationship requires the dimension of relaxation. There might be Intimacy (with or without sex or romance), but there might not. A Cozy feeling is a "warm" feeling, positive emotions flowing freely at the surface, such as approval, admiration, bonding.
Cozy implies no need to be defensive - so it is a "barriers down" or "unguarded" relationship.
"Unguarded" is the Relationship the writer of a Cozy variant tries to create between the Reader and the Characters. There can be conflict, surprise, even shock, plot twists gallore, threats, and overwhelming odds, and the adventure can still be Cozy if the Reader can feel the Characters affirming the Reader's personal traits that the Reader admires most. In other words, the Characters validate the Reader's Self.
The Cozy genres don't require the reader to hatch an ambition to become a 'better' person -- to be tougher, smarter, faster, more self-reliant, more heroic or dominating.
Any personal growth a Reader covets after a Cozy novel will come easily, without sweat and strain -- easy and natural.
So how does a writer induce this feeling of unguarded emotion in a Reader?
The technical mechanism that sets the tone of a novel is actually inside the details of things like word choice, syntax choice, pacing, sentence length, and the rest of the components of Style. But Cozy is not just Style, but also "Voice."
A lot of beginning writer essays have been published about how urgently necessary it is for a beginning to "Find Your Voice." These articles don't define Voice because, though every reader can hear it, few writers have any idea what Voice is or where it comes from.
It is often assumed that Voice is a property of the writer, personally, not a learned skill.
Well, just like a singer's training, a writer's Voice is innate and trained. Within each range of Voice, there are levels of training to strengthen and project that Voice.
In learning to sing, "voice" exercises to strengthen the vocal cords start right at the beginning -- but after puberty. During and before puberty - before maturity - the training is more about notes, scales, tempo.
It works that way with writers, too. You start reading lots of novels, maybe in a lot of genres, and coming back to favorite authors or genres. You start to sing your own song, maybe with fanfic, or poetry, or just recounting funny stories over the dinner table. Many writers start by drawing pictures with crayons when they are maybe 5 years old - telling a story in pictures before they have the words.
Sometimes a writer has had several novels published before they "find their voice" -- because it does take practice, exercise. Voices strengthen with time.
As with a singer, the writer's voice is formed of many components. Each component has to mature and strengthen.
When the writer is ready to master their Voice and find the Style best suited to that Voice, there is an exercise that works.
It is very simple. Go back to the youngest reading years, find (maybe in your own library, boxes in the back closet, books you kept all this time) the novels or stories you loved the most, re-read the most, reveled in the most. Make a pile of books that gave you the feeling that you want your readers to garner from your work.
Style and Voice are very personal -- but just as with a singer, the difference between amateur and professional is the ability to de-personalize the skills. If you are to give, you must give-up what you are giving. Oddly, after you've given it, you end up having more, so it is not something to worry about.
So find copies of your favorite novels -- cheap reprints, copies you are willing to ruin.
If you can't acquire paper copies, you can use e-books because color-marking words is possible in the Kindle versions.
There are two parts to this exercise workout.
1) take 4 colored highlighters and mark each sentence, each word in your favorite novels with one of the 4 colors:
STYLE is the pattern that will emerge as you color in page after page.
2) Set the book up beside your keyboard and copy-type the whole book. Keep your eyes on the printed words, and type them into your Word Processor. Just type your favorite book. (note you can't SELL this copy -- you have to destroy it once you're done -- but the objective is not to make a copy, but to connect your eyes, brain and fingers in a living rhythm, choice of words, sentence length, an intangible vibrancy.
VOICE is that vibrancy - that timber and tone that transports you into the fictional world.
Characterization, worldbuilding, plot, story, theme, and all the elements we've discussed as being part of what the writer's mind does before the idea for the story pops up, all combine to create STYLE and VOICE.
That's why it is not productive to start searching for your Voice before you've plumbed the depths of these component techniques. A level of maturity and facility with handling yourself has to be achieved before Voice Training can produce commercial grade results.
Any child can SING -- in fact, infants sing! But that's not the same as playing Carmen in the eponymous opera!
So if you have done these classic exercises of highlighting the components of sentences in your favorite books, and then copy-typing a few books, then when it is time to "find your Voice" or develop your Style, or perhaps change Voice and Style to launch a new byline in a new genre, you just do the exercise again.
If you are looking to create a new byline in a contrasting genre, you will use a different stack of books.
One way of identifying Voice is to contrast two different authors. I recommend using Andre Norton's YA novels for one of the pair, and contrasting her novels with any other writer you are studying.
Voice will become instantly apparent when you compare against Andre Norton.
Here is one of my favorite novels by Andre Norton:
I read STAR RANGERS 16 times before I lost count, and reread just parts, trying to figure out how to get that effect.
I loved the book so much that on one visit to Andre Norton's home, I challenged her to write the sequel, but she insisted she didn't intend to do that and told me to write it myself. That story is in the introduction dedication to the first novel in my Dushau Trilogy. You can read it using Amazon's Look-Inside feature, or read the whole novel free on KindleUnlimited.
Use Amazon's "smile" feature to direct a few cents to your favorite charity without paying more for the Amazon product!
I've always thought of "cozy" mysteries as having a strong "domestic" component. The "detective" is an amateur, not a professional PI or law enforcement officer, typically female, and the mysteries arise in the course of her daily life. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series is a prototype, of course. My favorite contemporary author in that vein is Susan Conant, with her dog mysteries. The first-person narrator (like the author herself) lives in Cambridge, MA, and owns and shows Alaskan Malamutes. Zenna Henderson is a great example of "cozy SF" in the "domestic" sense. Almost all of her protagonists are teachers, housewives, or children. Aliens frequently appear, but they show up in the context of the protagonist's familiar surroundings.ReplyDelete