A new week is upon us, and you and I have some things to discuss. All 7 blog posts this week will be focused around a central aspect.
That means all 5 writing prompts will have a little lesson about the same thing. It also means that the Sunday and Thursday main blogs will go deeper into that subject.
What is this subject? Writer’s voice.
Voice is one of the most important things in a story. It is the one absolute thing you must have to be successful and it is the hardest thing to define, identify and produce.
Yet, without thinking about it, almost everyone does it. And I want you to be able to not only identify it, but to harness its power and make voice work for you.
Before we dive into the lessons and prompts, first we need to identify voice, define it. The funny thing is, “voice” is one of those things that people either get right away and then look at everyone else like they are stupid for not getting it, or, it is something that you have to redefine and look up every time you think about it.
I wondered why for the longest time and then it dawned on me. Almost every definition of writer’s voice you find starts out explaining what it is not.
This is wrong. If I wanted to define a coffee cup to you, I wouldn’t start out by saying “it is not a tree.” That is counter productive and incites confusion.
Let’s Define Voice
As you can tell, writer’s voice is hard to define. You can go to any search engine right now and type in “what is writer’s voice?” and you will get millions of results, each one saying the same thing and no one really explain it. I will further bet that if you clicked on say, 5 of the top results each one of those five would start by telling you what voice is not. It is not a tree.
I understand why they do this. The word voice means several things. And if you aren’t a writer or word artist, there are specific things or “definitions” that first come to mind. Those 5 links you looked at just now, are all attempting to define writer’s voice by telling you it is not those things you first think of.
But again, this is wrong. The word “mug” has a few meanings. And if I wanted to talk to you about the kind that holds coffee, I wouldn’t start by saying “Its not when someone robs you on the street at knife point.”
So, here is my attempt at defining writer’s voice without first telling you what it is not.
Writer’s voice is the tone, meter and emotion the pattern of written words inflect in the reader’s mind.
Every story has a beat, a rhythm that is being used to tell that story. Think about stand up comedians for a moment. They tell you a joke with a set up, to get you invested. You can identify with them because you, too, have done that same thing. Then they lay the punch line on you, and you laugh because it is a fresh view on a familiar thing that you have identified with.
Need an Example? Okay
The comedic voice is what makes that joke funny. Comedic voice is how the comedian presents the joke to you. The long pause, facial expressions, animated arms and hands.
If a guy comes out on stage, stood very still, arms to his side, leaded into the microphone and said “My dog pooped on the carpet and I had to clean it up.” You probably wouldn’t laugh.
But if he came out and said “Y’all, I got this new dog, right? And I expected him to be house broken because he is like 12 years old, which is what? Old enough to not shit in the house years old in dog years? But I watched this dog walk around my whole ass hours with hit butt hunched.” Then he walked around the stage imitating the dog’s walk, then continued with “Looked me dead ass in the eye as if to say ‘try and stop me you little bitch’ and shit on my carpet.”
With all of that combined, you would probably laugh. It’s the same joke. But the second comedian used comedic voice to tell it.
Writer’s voice is similar. It is how you use the written word, descriptions, long sentences, short words, extra paragraphs, that all combine to tell this story in a way that only you can.
So Learn to Use Your Voice
Today’s writing prompt is going to be set up for you to identify your writer’s voice. To help you understand it and learn how to change it to suit your needs.
Later in the week, as we go on, we will get into more of the “not” definitions, clarity, and of course, more practice. For now, let’s work on identification.
Write a scene about two guys lost in the woods. They are rescued by a woman who is highly skilled at nature survival. When you are done, write the same scene again, at least once, using a different voice.
The first part is fairly simple. Write your scene following the prompt. Usually, you will write in in your writer’s voice without even knowing it.
Which brings us to the second part of the prompt. Writing the same scene again with a different voice is difficult. So pay attention to the parts and areas where you struggle. At these points you are fighting your natural voice to be someone or something different.
Make a note of these spots during your writing. Then, when you go back and compare the two (or more) scenes, try to identify where the voice fails, where the reader gets lost or confused.
Thinking back to our dog shit comedian joke, find where and how to make it funnier, and alter the voice to be much better in its delivery.