Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding her unique voice: Best-selling Martha Bourke on the writer's style

What is writing style? How important is it to the reader, to the writer and to the writer’s success in reaching an audience?

This week, I asked Martha Bourke, author of the Jaguar Sun series of “young adult” novels and fellow member of BestSelling Reads about the importance and impact of her writing style.

How would you describe your own writing style?

A lot of my work is centered on dialogue, so the narrative really moves along. A lot of readers have described my writing as having a kind of breathless feel. It’s not done on purpose, but that description makes a lot of sense. Along with that, I add in quite a few cliffhangers throughout.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I’m obsessed with books, both Indie and traditional, so there are scads of authors I admire. I don’t try to emulate anyone. For one thing, their styles are very different from my own. Also, every writer brings something very special and unique to a story. Writing, like any other art form, is a kind of self-expression. I think that would be lost if everyone tried to write like everyone else. Having said that, most writers I know are avid readers, and I’m sure we’re being influenced along the way somewhere.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

You know, Scott, sometimes it’s just a case of an author and me not hitting it off. But there are certain cases I can predict. For example, I love the story of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is fabulous, don’t get me wrong. And like me, he was a linguist. But those books are just so incredibly dense. I read them all as a kid, but I know for sure if I tried to get threw them now, I’d have a major case of pick it up, put it down syndrome.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

My writing style very closely matches the way I think when I’m writing and the way I see different parts of the plot in my head. So I feel comfortable with it. Being naturally dialogue-oriented means that as I do my rewrites, I am bound to find areas that lack enough description. There’s always a fine balance between giving the reader just enough and being unclear. I’m also always trying to tighten up my writing, making sure to show and not tell.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

I think that in my Young Adult series, the kinds of words or expressions I use lend a kind of credibility to the age group I’m writing. Voice is so important in YA (young adult). Trying to keep it sounding authentic is a challenge, and word choice and sentence structure are key. Right now I’m writing an adult spin-off series from my YA books. I definitely found that my structure changed. It’s still dialogue-based and fast-paced, but it’s written in shorter sentences that often are just one lines. I use conjunctions to add punch, which I suppose I could have done in my YA series, but just never did. So some of the hallmarks of my writing are the same for the two series and some are different.

Do you think writing with a female protagonist and POV, as opposed to a male POV, changes the style, in terms of word choice, sentence structure or other language elements?

I tend to think of my characters as individuals. They all have their own culture, background, race, gender, sexual orientation, and place within in the story. I think all of these things influence the way a writer creates a protagonist, as well as any other character. Gender is a part of the mix, but without the other pieces of the puzzle, the character is very one-dimensional. Having said that, the concerns of a male or female protagonist could be different based on gender. Men and women can think very differently within those other confines, so it depends a lot on the story I’m telling.

How important do you think writing style is to an author's commercial success?

I think it can be a very important part of the package. I say package because it seems to me that some readers are most drawn to a compelling story, while others find the manner in which that story is told to be key.
Cover art that represents the story well is definitely also on the list.
I don’t think that a great writing style guarantees a book will be successful, though. There are lots of books out there from some fabulous authors that just won’t sell. I do believe that while writing style doesn’t guarantee a reader will pick up a book, it’s probably a big factor as to whether or not the book gets put down finished or unfinished.

Thanks so much for having me, Scott!

Thank you, Martha!

Martha Bourke grew up in Burlington, Vermont, often considered a hub of “free thinking.” She was encouraged to write and be creative at a very young age. She spent fifteen years creating and teaching in foreign language programs for young children. She continued to write on the side, trying out a variety of fiction genres. Then she discovered the Young Adult genres — specifically, paranormal romance. She was hooked!

Martha and her husband of thirteen years have carved out their own little piece of Vermont in the Massachusetts countryside. When not writing, she loves spending time with her animals, listening to good music, and reading.
You can find her books, Jaguar Sun and Jaguar Moon, and her novella, Revelations (part of the Jaguar Sun series) on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the Kobo e-bookstore and the iBookstore. You can find all her writing on her blog and website,

Book 3 of the series, Jaguar Hunter, and the spin-off New Breed novels, are coming this year!


  1. Great interview! I appreciate Bourke's comments on writing style.

  2. 'Voice' was the most difficult thing for me to identify in my own writing. It has only been recently that I started to be able to identify it. I might have done a happy dance...*grin*

  3. I agree, Sabrina, voice is tough. In think in some ways being a teacher and hanging out with teenagers for so long really saved me when it came to that particular aspect.

  4. Anonymous3:03 PM

    I have to agree that while I love the concept of some stories, the "manner" of how it's told really is what draws me in. That moment when you're reading and you just click with the author and buy into everything they tell you because the prose is so easy and interesting to read. Great interview!