Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Writer's Resource: Voice Lessons (not the singing kind) From LA SCBWI

So I almost forgot that I had a post scheduled for today, because I've been spending every single free second stalking the WriteOn forums.  There are so many great writers out there!  Hop on over and take a look if you haven't already.

Also, quick announcement about an upcoming query workshop - Brenda Drake and three other fabulous writers will critique 40 query letters on August 20-24.  Check out her blog to learn more.  Winners will be chosen on Friday, 8/17.

Now on to my regularly scheduled (but almost missed because of WriteOn) post.

Voice Lessons (not the singing kind) 

Developing a character's voice is a tricky thing, and while at SCBWI's LA conference I had the good fortune of attending several workshops that addressed the topic of voice.

Voice is more than the words your character says or the actions/reactions your character has to their situation.  Voice is in how your character sees the world around them - every detail about your character should act as a filter for what your character comments on, be it through dialogue or internal monologue.

Picture three different characters walking down the same street - a cement layer, a florist and a bird watcher.  The cement layer would probably notice cracks in the concrete, or uneven places in the pavement.  The florist would probably not comment on the street at all, because he is too busy admiring the foliage that lines the road.  The bird watcher wouldn't notice anything below her neck, because she's too busy looking up at the sky.

Think about who your character is and how those details might affect the way he or she sees the world, then bring that world view into your writing.  If you are writing in first person or third person close, you should never deviate from that world view, because it is a reflection of who your character is.

A few exercises that may help develop your character's world view and voice:

1.  Write a series of journal entries from your MC's POV. What kinds of things are important to him/her? How do they spend their day?  What language do they use? How do they feel?  Start thinking of your character as more than a person from your story - think of them as an actual person, and start to put yourself into their shoes.

2. Write down a series of adjectives that describes your character.  Now start replacing each word with an antonym. How would these words change your character's actions? Their dialogue? The word choice?  Understanding what your character shouldn't do can often help you make smarter choices about what they should be doing.

3. Go back and read the first few pages of your favorite books.  What did the author do to set up the story? The character? How quickly did you get a sense of who this new person might be?  How does one character feel versus another character from an entirely different story? Why do they feel different to you?

4. Read the award winners, both in your genre and out of your genre.  Pulitzer prize winners are often a great place to start, because they almost always have rich, complex characters that hop off the pages right from the opening paragraph.

The key takeaway for me was that developing voice takes practice and patience - it can't be forced. Practice, read, and practice some more.

Now back to the WriteOn forums...

Happy writing!


  1. Great post! And thanks for mentioning Brenda Drake's upcoming query workshop. I won't miss it!

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I'll be hitting up Brenda Drake's as well - fingers crossed I will see you there!

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