Another Exercise in Voice

Early, I posted an exercise on Character Voice a.k.a. characters’ attitudes toward their environment.  I had a blast reading the comments in response to how characters would finish the line, “Life’s like a box of chocolates…”

You never know where/when the next ‘light bulb’ moment will happen. My inspiration for the next exercise came to me while driving by a handyman truck with the slogan that read “From Mild to Wild”. My first thought: wish I had my camera, nobody’s gonna believe this. Second thought: a writer could take a line like that anywhere, no matter if they wrote paranormal, romance, horror, crime mysteries, etc. Which made me think how much genre affects the voice of a story. Word choices, sentence flow, details…all vary according to the author’s intent with the story.

My challenge for you comes in the form of this quick prompt.

The third police car concerned him.

Write the next line(s) from two different genres.  Here are a few to choose from, but feel free to add your own: paranormal, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror, science fiction, romance, humor, chick lit, action adventure. Did you stick to your comfort genre or stray? Were you able to convey the genre through voice?

For tips on Voice, be sure to read Dawn Allen’s and Laura Diamond’s guest blogger posts.

Exercise in Voice

The main character’s attitude affects the voice of a story. Dialogue shows readers how the main character sensors herself in front of others. Narrative lets readers see what a character is really thinking. Those discrepancies help give voice to a story.  It’s in the way characters respond to the world around them.

The movie Shawn of the Dead centers around a horrific event — people turning into zombies. Yet the main character’s response isn’t fear. That’s not Shawn’s disposition toward life, so the story has a lighter, comedic voice. Even though the main character in Forest Gump faces one challenge after another, he never has a defeatist attitude which lends a light, hopeful voice to the story.

My favorite method to find the voice of a new character is to ask them to finish this sentence:

“Life is like a box of chocolates…”

If you watched the “Forest Gump” clip or have seen the movie, you know his mother’s response is “you never know what you’re gonna get.” It reveals her don’t give up, no matter how hard things get disposition toward life.

Rena Moon, the main character in my novel Edge of Truth responds this way: “Life is like a box of chocolates, sharing makes them better even you never find another box.”

Lexi Ripley, the main character in my WIP Blink responds this way: “Life is like a box of chocolates, they’re delicious, but some of them bite.”

How would you characters finish the sentence “Life is like a box of chocolates,  _______”?

Chat With Dawn Allen: What Does Your Manuscript Sound Like?

Different Strokes: Voice

December’s is Voice. Editors and agents are looking for authentic voice in manuscripts. So, what is voice? It stems from the word choice, attitude, and sentence structure. It’s embellished by the flow between narrative and dialogue, as well as description. So, how can writers find their “authentic voice”?

My first guest blogger on the chat about Voice is Dawn Allen. She is a writing instructor and workshop presenter, the founding member of critique group, Novel Clique, and an active member of First Tuesdays. Her stories have appeared in Soft Whispers; A Fly in Amber; and articles with First Opinions, Second Reactions. Her story, “Taking Out the Trash”, is in the anthology, Don’t Tread on Me: Tales of Retribution and Revenge. Her short story, “Christmas Karma” is in the anthology, Once Upon a Christmas and her short story, “Hijacking Halloween” is in the anthology October Nightmares and Dreams on which she served as co-editor. Dawn holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska.

What type of fiction do you write?
This used to be easier to answer. In the adult audience, it’s mostly mystery/thrillers. For YA, I lean toward Sci/Fi (although I prefer the term speculative) and paranormal.

Do you have a favorite quote about creating active voice?
“Live in the active voice, rather than passive.”

“Think more about what you happen than what is happening to you.” ~ William de Witt Hyde

Do you read other books during the first draft of a new story?
Yes. I think you need to continue to have fresh art coming into your head. In fact, I never stop reading.

Do you have any tips to help develop narrative voice?
Do your homework before you actually write a novel. Do character journals/diaries, profiles/bios, even write scenes for them that may or may not be a part of the book. If you pursue the complete development of the characters, they’ll come alive on the page. At Novel Clique, we write “candy bar” scenes first. These are ones we feel passionate about and which reveal the most about our characters. By writing those first, you are firmly entrenched in the character before you sit down to write the rest of the narrative.

Do you have a technique for establishing a clear narrative voice, such as writing in first person?
I don’t think there is one magic button. It takes getting into a character’s persona. If you spend time on the character, write in that character’s voice for a host of soul searching pages, you’ll establish a narrative voice that is believable. If you don’t take that time, your character will come across as flat and uninteresting.

How can you tell when the voice of your WIP (work-in-progress) is off?
First and foremost, readers will tell you. The importance of a good critique group or a trusted first reader cannot be underestimated. Find a beta reader because if the character isn’t working, nothing else will work either.

Is there a particular author(s) whose voice you admire?
Harlan Coben is one of many that I admire for having a strong voice in the characters he writes. There are a lot of writers who excel at this, but he is the guy who always comes to mind when I think of voice.

How can people learn more about you and your writing?
Hook up with me  on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and follow my own blog.


Thank you, Dawn for taking the time to answer these questions.

Do you keep character journals/diaries,profiles/bios? Do you write “candy bar” scenes first or in chronological order? Do you have beta readers or belong to a critique group and if so, are they helpful or hurtful?