Author Interviews

Liz Colter’s Writing Advice: Titillating Tone

Liz Colter is another author from the Athena’s Daughters Volume 2 that I get to showcase on my blog.  Here’s her writing advice on how to use tone in a story:

From her own words…


When I begin a story, I tend to begin with tone. Not always, but usually.

In order, the process is most often a feeling for the tone I want, followed by rough impression of the protagonist, then a setting, and a general idea of the beginning and ending. I’m a “pantser” not an outliner, and so at that point I begin writing. The tone guides me through the story – short story or novel – as I try to evoke and maintain an atmosphere: strange and unpredictable, lyrical, dark, political, noir; whatever I’m shooting for in that piece. I also strive to emulate the things that impress me most about my favorite authors: Gregory Maguire’s beautiful use of language, Neil Gaiman and Tim Powers’ ability to take me somewhere I wasn’t expecting, George R. R. Martin’s depth of characterization, or China Mieville’s bizarrely unique worlds.

Even once I’ve settled on a tone for a story, it remains a fairly abstract. If someone asked me to summarize my life I doubt I could put it into words, yet I have a ‘feeling’ that I associate with the experience as a whole. In the same way, I ‘feel’ my protagonist. That, in turn, inspires their story.

My original inspiration for “The Flowers of Cenene,” my short story in the Athena’s Daughters II anthology, was a dream. It was one of the rare dreams I remembered on waking and it carried a strong emotional hangover, though no story ideas followed at that time. A few months later I was thinking about title ideas and, remembering the flowers in the dream, I jotted down “The Last Flower” and the words “cultural and emotional.” No specific location had been implied in the dream, but there was a strong other-worldly feel and there had been a distant city, which shaped this into a science fiction story instead of my more usual fantasy. I knew that my protagonist was female and that I wanted her to have a different cultural background than my own. It’s difficult to describe the actual ‘feel’ of the dream, but it had been enough to give me my theme and my main character. I began with Allie in a field of other-worldly flowers, and the rest of the story flowed from there.


flowersThe Flowers of Cenene Synopsis

Allie is assigned to a three-person, interplanetary Psi-Ops team to investigate a report of a mass murder on a colonial planet. They set out to discover if the colonial leader has established a brutal dictatorship, but the most significant discoveries Allie makes are about herself and her fellow team members.

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