Friday, December 21, 2012

Finding your voice

Voice can be a stumbling block for many writers. It’s a concept that’s somewhat difficult to describe, but it’s easy to see when a piece of writing has it, or doesn’t. Voice is the way writing sounds on the page. It's comprised of several aspects: word choice, sentence structure, rhythm, etc. One of these aspects involves being able to connect with the reader's emotions through the words you write. Today we’re going to talk about this aspect of voice and practice injecting it into your writing.

We can’t all be Stephen King or Harper Lee, so don't try to be a carbon copy. You have your own voice. You just need to let it out. Here's one way to begin: Write something. Read it aloud. Listen to how it sounds. Can you feel the tone, the mood, the emotion in the words? Does it have a rhythm or a flow to it? If it seems wooden or stilted, try writing it again. Have someone else read it to you. Keep doing it until you find the right combination. Think about the feeling, the emotion you’re trying to convey. If you can find that aspect, the words will practically write themselves.

There's much more that can be said on this subject, but learning by doing may provide more value in this case. So, let's do an exercise. I’d like you to write a paragraph for the story I’m about to describe. One paragraph. Try to keep it under 150 words. Get that inner voice speaking and make your words powerful enough to convey what’s going on. I’m not going to play Big Brother on this one, so if you go over 150 words, well, you go over. But aim for 150 or less. Your first draft may contain a lot more than that. If so, pare it down to its essence. Start off with an attention-getting first sentence and go from there.

You will write your paragraph in first person POV. And just for kicks, let's write it in the present tense. If you're not certain about the conventions of that style, check out The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or Lost in the Bayou, by Cornell DeVille (shameless plug). If you've never written in present tense, you might find it enjoyable and fun.

The setting is a small chapel. The sky is dark. Thunder is rumbling. It's raining. You are twelve years old, sitting on a wooden pew. At the front of the room is a casket containing the body of your mother. Or your father. Or your grandmother or grandfather. Or your brother or sister. Or your best friend. You decide.

What I'd like you to do is put us inside that twelve-year-old's head. What thoughts and emotions are filling your mind and heart? Memories? Sadness? Anger? Shock? Numbness? Confusion? Relief that the suffering is over? Are there other people in the chapel? What are they doing? Is your hair wet from the rain? Can you feel a water droplet trickling down your neck? Are you cold? Is someone playing the organ? Are there flowers? Can you smell them? Use whatever words you wish to convey the emotions you’re feeling, but keep in mind that a ten-year-old isn’t going to use the same words or speech patterns an adult would. And those questions above are just ideas to spark your imagination. You don't necessarily need to address those.

Your objective is to connect the reader to this situation by the words you choose and the way you arrange them. Draw the reader in so they’re experiencing it with you as they read it. The words should go into their head and straight down to their heart. Make them feel, really feel, what you’re feeling. Use your imagination on this one, and get that voice of yours into it. I know it’s inside you. Let it out. When you finish, if it doesn't make you cry when you read it, rewrite it. Keep revising until your heart breaks and your voice cracks when you try to read it aloud. When that happens, that's the voice you've been keeping inside. That's the voice that will connect with the reader.

In order to keep things organized, when you post your comment, start out with a TITLE. If you don’t wish to participate, feel free to comment on any of the other examples, and use the title so the writers will know which one you’re commenting on. This subject may be too emotional to get a lot of participants, but I hope you’ll give it a try. It's a great exercise, and you may be surprised by the results.

The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart — Helen Keller.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.