Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Exercise Your Voice

Sometimes, when I'm writing or revising, I get so sick of my voice. You know the part where my characters sound like me rather than themselves. Or when they've described something the same way, like, three times in a row. It drives me nuts when I notice that the character is having the experience/thoughts that I would have in any given moment, rather than their own. But sometimes I feel stuck in my own word patterns and can't find the right words.

Recently, I wrote a character who has nothing in common with me or how I talk, and it was a challenge, but a really fun challenge, to come up with things that only he would say. And when I finished, I had a bit of an epiphany.

What if I turned that into an exercise?

And so here is a way to freshen up your voice:

Take a scene you're feeling is particularly lackluster. Where the voice is blah, or sounds like you, or is just not true to your character, and rewrite it with the voice of someone who's so distinct they're almost a cliche. Like, a southern belle, or a non-native English speaker, or Cookie Monster, or a Victorian era detective, or even a favorite character from someone else's book ... you get my point. Something where you're forced to stop and think of character voice specific ways this person would describe their thoughts and feelings and the events happening around them. Be over the top. Be cliche. Have fun with it.

For example:

Your character says: "I'm hungry."

Cookie Monster says: "Me want cookie!"

A very cliche southern belle might say: "Good Lord in heaven if I don't eat something soon, I'll be standing right up there with him at those pearly gates myself."

A Victorian lady might say: "I feel as though I might faint, I'm so weak with hunger." (and um, honestly I have no idea if this is even close, but that's okay because it's just an exercise!)

These are ridiculous examples, but you see how each one made me think past the bare facts of the statement, and into what that experience is like for each particular character. And they were fun. I wasn't agonizing over the exact right word, I was just getting out of my own head and seeing what happened.

At the end of the exercise you will have cleared your own voice from your head, and you'll be better able to see where the character-specific bits need to be. They will stand out in the scene as those over the top bits. Then use what you've discovered to re-write that scene the way your character would see it, in their voice.

So the next time you're feeling stuck, give this a try, and let me know how it works for you! Do you have any fun exercises or tips you use for freshening things up? Please share!

1 comment:

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

That's a great exercise to help a writer distance themselves from their characters. Great post and very helpful.

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