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.