Voice Lessons

strategies for making your words sing
Presented by Lois Peterson, www.loispeterson.blog.com
1. Voice – what is it? Definitions, explanations, sample readings 2. Craft elements that affect voice      Characterization / Point of view / Dialogue Diction and syntax Pacing Details Vernacular

3. Enhancing voice in your own work Exercises and discussion

“One story may require the formal distance of a historian attempting to be objective, with another may require the hurried breathlessness of the village gossip.” ₪₪₪₪ “Voice also assigns the reader a role in the drama.”
Jack Hodgins, A Passion for Narrative

How you vary line/sentence paragraph lines affects pacing. repetition. ‘Telling details’ make all the difference – identify generalizations and abstractions and translate them into specifics. The use of authentic/appropriate vernacular helps create an authentic voice. sentences and paras evoke emotion. Strong active verbs and specific nouns are usually more effective than cerebral verbs or abstract nouns. Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. Diction & Syntax 1. 2. Third or Omniscient. 2. 3. Vernacular Each era/area/environment has its own particular vernacular. Try rewriting a pivotal scene from various POV perspectives to see how the voice changes when using First Person. Every word/phrase should be tested to ensure it’s the best for the situation. Ensure it’s consistent with character. 3. breaks. paragraphs evoke drama.2 . Diaologue 1. Consider the impact of the sounds of words. 2. Medium length ones create a more neutral effect. Consider text AND subtext and when possible ensure each piece of dialogue is used for more than one purpose. POV character should be the one with the most at stake in the story. 3. denotation and connotation. take out all the punctuation. then reinsert them in different ways to study the different effects you can achieve. Inconsistencies in POV can undermine the voice of the piece.Characterization & POV 1. while shorter lines. Details 1. 2. 3. sentences. For your most dramatic/pivotal scenes. Long lines. 2. line and para. Research the era/setting/environment for authentic details. Pacing 1. Has to be ‘better’ than true to life – with additional ‘ring’.

especially my father. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. He wrote this terrific book of short stories. the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born." It was about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money. being a prostitute. They're nice and all I'm not saying that-but they're also touchy as hell. The Secret Goldfish. He's in Hollywood. about. In the first place. That isn't too far from this crumby place. and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me. my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. The best one in it was "The Secret Goldfish. and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. He's going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe.Sample 1 If you really want to hear about it.B. Besides. One of those lithe English jobs that can do around two hundred miles an hour. Now he's out in Hollywood. it's the movies. but I don't feel like going into it. He didn't use to. He's got a lot of dough. now. and he's my brother and all.B. If there's one thing I hate. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. It killed me. and in the second place. and all that David Copperfield kind of crap. if you want to know the truth. that stuff bores me. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. and what my lousy childhood was like. I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. He just got a Jaguar.3 . They're quite touchy about anything like that. Don't even mention them to me. D. I mean that's all I told D. when he was home.. in case you never heard of him. He used to be just a regular writer.

this point in this inescapable hell. something heavy. rubbing his neck. the war. He raised his fist and saw a knife in it.that town. He shouted at her. He shook his head the way a dog shakes off water and shouted for companionship. pieces of him from here and there .Sample 2 The door was made of thin panels. of polish. always this place.4 . cheap stuff he could put his fist through. one shoulder painful. a farmer in a heaving city. He raised his fist and the knife flashed and he woke. strode down the room … The Frightened Man by Kenneth Cameron Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. She was screaming on the other side. frightening: 'Lily! Lily!' Her name like blows on the door. sinister. The dream more real for a few seconds than the room. of gas. He never dreamed of her any more except in this one horror. offish that he had had for supper. Sitting up. he came completely to in the present: not the young husband of a suicide but a kind of collage. “Sergeant!' He heaved himself up. a nobody who had become a literary lion. the farm . “Sergeant!” His voice disappeared into the carpets and the curtains and the padded furniture of the room. He hated the screams. which smelled of his cigarettes.the creation a paste-up of contradictions: an American in England now. The old dream. meaning to quiet her. bellowing her name with a knife in his fist. his neck with a crick in it. a soldier who sought peace. of coal. He was slumped down in his armchair. and he knew where he was then. but the voice wasn't his own. grumbling.

“Yes. I don't have anything to be discreet about.” “I'd be in a better position to assess that.” And pleased about it.” I said. and a look of satisfaction. “May I?” “Count on my discretion?” “Yes!” “At the moment. then smiled. “May I count on your discretion?” he said. “I was warned that you were given to self amusement. He frowned slightly.” he said.Sample 3 My first client of the day (and of the week. And I am a forensic art consultant in matters of theft and f orgery. “No matter. “if you told me what your issues were. “I see. ''But I would be if I did. a blue paisley bow tie. “Excuse me?” “What can I do for you.” he said. “Is there such a matter before us?” I said.'' I said. “You're attempting to be funny. “I can tell. “I am Dr.” He nodded slowly to himself.” I said. “How nice. Ashton Prince. Prince. He was medium-height and slim.” I said.” he said. “I guess there’s no help for it.” I said. Dr.” Prince said. “Well.” “I am confronted with a matter of extreme sensitivity. “But I need to know you are capable of taking my issues seriously.5 . I am.” he said. I nodded. “You're Spenser.” I said. Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. I am a professor of art history at Walford University. “I'm serious.” he said. truth be known) came into my office on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and sat in one of my client chairs. which I put on my desk.” he said. He handed me a card.” He stared at me for a moment. wearing a brown tweed suit.” “Attempting?” I said. “ Sure.” he said. Less in disapproval than in uncertainty.

quoting the poet he continued. How boldly they talked.6 . They were invited to contemplate where power leads. their eyes was failing. Bill Graham told the mourners at Richard M. “Very much. Their goals were the goals of giants: Control of a nation. and my self -regard. victory in the nuclear age.He took in sonic air and let it out audibly. “John Donne once said there is a democracy about death.” I said. How fearless they seemed. they were men of steel and bristling crew cuts.” Painted Ladies by Robert Parker Sample 5 When last the nation saw them all together. The titans of Nixon’s age gathered again today on an unseasonably cold and grey afternoon. their steel was rusting. “It comes equally to use all and makes us all equal when it comes.” the Rev.” I said. They spoke of fixing their enemies.” he said. titans of their time – which was a time of pragmatism and ice water in the veins. and now there were white-haired or balding.” I said. Then. their skin had begin to sag.” “You’ll get all I can give you. “that your best interest. “There is. “And it requires discretion. “All you can give me?” “Anything. of running over their grandmothers if it would give them an edge.” Voice Lessons March 2013 / p.” “Your self-regard’? “I try not to do things that make me think ill of myself. Nixon’s funeral. strategic domination of the globe. will allow.

three apples and a chunk of cheese. got off in Sioux Lookout to buy food. That makes the first petal. that cheese. sewing flowers all down the sides in all colours. “and we are going to have to face Almighty God. Whatever that was. He is the only American who claims the place of honour in our solemn national ceremonies. then put in a little stick to hold it. The train leaving Sioux Lookout leaving Mama behind. Same as what happened to all the others. even above the sitting president. then turned back to the train to see I heading out of town without her.And here. virile Lion of God with voice like Gabriel’s trumpet. Once she dragged out that pair of flared jeans she’d been sewing on that train. I loved that story. Don’t know what happened to that picture.” graham intoned. she showed me how to do it. three days by train. Told me that story often enough. ‘Men of Steel are Melting with Age’ in the Washington Post by David Von Drehle Sample 6 Mama don’t tell that story no more about how she came here. loop it around. Chain stitch she use. Sewed them down the front a shirt she brought me from the Sally Ann for my first school picture. Mama thought Sioux Lookout was in Saskatchewan till I brought home the right Voice Lessons March 2013 / p.” Coming from Graham these were especially poignant. Now he is a frail old man who struggles to his feet. barefoot with the change left over from buying those apples. “We too are going to die. showed me how you bring up the needle carrying the thread from one side.7 . the great evangelist diverged from a moment from his text to make the point perfectly clear. Mama could sew those flowers so fast. I expect. And once he was the vivid.

big tankers out on the water. Must have turned out okay though. some pretty sailboats looking like paper from far off. took her to the beach. How’d you like it? They asked her. I don’t know what Mama did when she saw that train leave town without her.information from school. she said. Ontario. Mama sat on a log and rank coffee from a paper cup and ate warm popcorn. English Bay.8 . Sioux Lookout. She did say that when she got off at the old CN station downtown she was wearing those jeans with flowers all the way down from waste to hem. How do you like Vancouver so far? Mama Don’t by Lois Peterson Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. whoever had picked her up. Whoever it was meeting her commented on them. It felt good to tell her something she didn’t know. Population 2538.

 Switch roles to critique the second partner’s piece of work. and list elements that contribute to the differences. see if you can articulate elements that you had not considered as you wrote this piece. elements that contribute to the characteristic you’ve identified.  In one word select the characteristic that might describe the voice: o Confessional o Nostalgic o Elegiac o Self-deprecating o Humorous o Strident o Instructional o __________ o Investigatory o __________ o Lyrical o __________ o Neutral  Underline or highlight words. Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. Identify which POV perspective you used . 4. 3. 2.  Compare with the author your perception of the voice with the writer’s intent.9 .  For reporting back. and identify discrepancies.Voice Lesson #1  Read all the way through the first page of your partner’s piece of work. that might help you strengthen the voice in further drafts of this except. Write the first three to five sentences of a fictional scene in which a new police officer attends his/her first murder scene. Rewrite the scene using a different perspective (First Person/Third Person/Omniscient. commenting on your own piece. Voice Lesson #2 1. Identify differences in voice/tone between the two pieces. phrases.

2. underline. Helen Mirren. Write two to three introductory paragraphs of an article describing the funeral of one of the following: Glenn Gould. Queen Elizabeth. William Shakespeare. Pele. considering characterization. Working with a partner. Voice Lesson #4 1. confidant. but one that still makes you cringe to some degree in recalling it. Decide on an alternate voice for the same scene and rewrite it. highlight or list the elements that contribute to it. Susan Boyle.10 . child… 4. Write one page describing a shameful incident from your life – it might be something that seems very minor now. 3. identify the type of voice used. What craft elements did you have to consider in rewriting the scene? Voice Lessons March 2013 / p. Voice Lesson #5 1. Write a one page about something significant that happened to you. 2. Name how you would characterize the voice. Rewrite it from the perspective of someone else who was there. diction and syntax in order to create a totally different voice for the piece. 2. John Lennon.Voice Lesson #3 1. Now rewrite it with a specific listener/reader in mind – your mother. 3. point of view.

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