Monday, January 2, 2017

POST-HOLIDAY WRITING EXERCISE: Exploring Voice

The holidays are over and it's time to get on that "I'll write more" resolution" and work off that finger-flab that came from not enough time at the keyboard these last two weeks. Nothing for it but to leap back into the fire with some tough work on VOICE. As readers and writers know, voice one of those elusive things. It is sensed or felt better than it is described. It is the thing agents and editors are always seeking but, when asked for specifics, respond something to the effect of "I'll know it when I read it."

Voice isn't something to be TAUGHT. It is something writers must FIND for themselves. And, once a writer realizes his or her own true voice, he or she must then summon up the COURAGE to use on the page.

Sounds tricky, huh? Maybe a little scary, too. It requires some brutal honesty and self-assessment. But, when you find that voice--that space in which your writing feels the strongest--I believe you'll agree that it is worth the risk. I have discovered a few exercises that may help you feel more connected to your truest voice. First, jot down answers to the questions/prompts below. Write quickly. Don't overthink!
  1. I write most often in 1st person/3rd person, and my lens is wide/omniscient or personal/unreliable/closely-focused.
  2. I am the oldest, youngest, middle, only child in my family.
  3. I am outgoing/introverted, a leader/a follower, optimistic/pessimistic, strong/weak, quiet/loud.
  4. I would most like to be a character on GAME OF THRONES / YOUNGER / MADAM SECRETARY / BLUE BLOODS / THE BIG BANG THEORY / other.
  5. You are trapped in a mountain cave after an avalanche – write the first sentence.
  6. Three words (or phrases) about an experience that inspired you to write (meeting a great teacher or idol, a critical book read at the perfect moment, a bad grade or lost race).
  7. When I start writing, I feel strongest writing about character / plot / setting.
  8. My favorite BOOK is…
Now, turn a few pages (or chapters) into your current work-in-progress and give them an honest read.

WHAT are the strongest features of your writing at this point? Are you a master of setting? Is your main character compelling and unique? Is your plot full of must-turn-the-page moments?
ANALYZE your manuscript in terms of the questions above. Is your character like you in birth order or temperament? Is your plot style related to your favorite television show, or is your genre similar to your favorite book? Does your "avalanche" sentence style relate to your viewing and/or reading preferences OR is your first writing instinct something totally different?
WHERE are the disconnects? Are you trying to emulate the style of a favorite author or drive a plot you like to watch but don't necessarily enjoy writing? Are you writing a character like yourself (or unlike yourself) for a reason but something isn't ringing quite true? Are you holding something back?
Now, rewrite a few pages in which you LET SOMETHING GO or INVITE SOMETHING IN. If you've set your strong characters in a hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett noire you'd like to read but, plot-wise, is weaker than you'd like, SHIFT your setting to a brighter space. If you're writing a middle-child like yourself, LOOK AT THE WHY and go all the way there--let your middle child character be as vulnerable (or naughty, or funny) as you were yourself. Try capturing the voice or style of your avalanche sentence instead of your reading/viewing inspirations. Draw back to that experience or idea that inspired the book and reconnect it--weave it somehow back into this revision.

So, do you feel wonderful? Horrible? Utterly confused? Write about that.