Voice-Building Exercises

(reposted with typos corrected)

When a writer is just starting out or trying to improve their writing, the best way to improve is to practice. Practicing will help finding your Writer's Voicevoice. New writers – or writers who have never gone under an editor’s knife – usually have either an over-abundance of voice (too informal) or not enough voice (too robotic).

The easiest way to practice is to write short stories. Short stories tend to be very difficult to write. The easiest way is to go in with a plot or theme in mind. I recommend going with a story that had already been written.

To begin, pick the opening scene of a TV show or movie. Make notes of the main points of the scene, especially how it opens and closes. Re-write the scene, but not word-for-word. Capture the environment, the characterization, sensory details from one character only (you can do a different character in a different exercise). Vary sentence lengths and sentence structures (simple, compound, complex, etc.). Keep it between 500-2,000 words.

When you finish, send it off to at least one beta reader who knows what they are talking about – a published writer, an editor, a teacher, or a professional beta. Re-write/Revise following their recommendations.

Unfortunately, you can’t do anything with these exercises. The story and characters belong to someone else. The next exercises are fair game, for the most part:

Choose a song or narrative poem and write a short story based on the story. Make bullet points of the main points or the theme, turn them into plot points, and write a story. Make the length of the story complement the length of the song or poem. Use the same follow-up as before.

The last step (before 100% original pieces), would be using a non-narrative poem. Write an original story based on the sensory details, tone, and theme. Keep it short, about 800 words.

For example:

TV show: Firefly (opening scene of any episode)

Narrative poem: may i feel e e cummings

Non-narrative poem: First Fight Then Fiddle Gwendolyn Brooks

I would love to see your suggestions on developing a writer’s voice, or even examples of your exercises!


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