Friday, August 12, 2011

Stretching Your Voice

The cabin girl and I helped found a teen writers club in our neighborhood. Every week we get together to listen and give feedback as some very talented young writers read their work out loud.

I start each meeting with a short lesson or writing exercise. At our last meeting we talked about voice. Voice is everything. It's the words you chose and the way you use them. From the very first sentence, voice tells the reader what kind of story to expect.

To give these budding writers a chance to stretch their voice skills, I wrote several different voice possibilities on note cards and had them each choose one at random. Then I gave them the first sentence of one of my favorite books, Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl:

At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poor woodcutter who had four sons, the youngest of whom was named Georyn.

That sentence, of course, would make you expect a folk tale. But if you read this version, written by the young writer who picked the card Formal British:

At the edge of Derbyshire, in a little forest, there lived one of the mansion's manservants. He was very poor, for the master of Derbyshire treated him very ill, even though he knew the woodcutter had four sons to care for. The youngest, and most eligible as far as wit and handsomeness, was named George. 

You're expecting a Regency period romance. Now how about this one, inspired by Contemporary Teen:

"Dad, why do I have to go into the Enchanted Forest?" Georyn complained.
"You've heard enough stories to know that whenever a princess gets kidnapped or there's a dragon on the lose, they're always looking for the youngest son of the local woodcutter to do the rescuing and slaying."

We also had text book (very boring), horror novel (chilling), mean old lady (hilarious), and a few others. I was really impressed by how quick everyone caught on to the exercise, and how much we enjoyed the results.

Why don't you give it a try? Alter that first sentence into a different voice and post it in the comments. Be sure and tell us what voice you used.


  1. Rebecca, what fun,and what a great way to bring out voice in your teen writers ! Since I'm in an adventure mode, here you go:

    Looking over the rail of the dread pirate ship, Judgement Day, leaned a scrawny whip of a lad named Georyn. His new title of cabin boy brought no excitement, since the previous cabin boy now floundered in bucking seas off the port side, courtesy of the captain.

  2. Certain that gave me a hearty laugh, me bucko!

  3. I love how you can really craft a different story by using your literary muscles.

    So sorry I haven't been by! Hope your summer is going well!

  4. And nice to meet you, Rebecca!

  5. Rebecca! I would love to start something like that here, too. You're awesome for being such a mentor! Thanks for the sweet letter, I loved it. *hugs*

    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

  6. You're welcome, Elizabeth! Thanks again for the visit.


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