One Voice Exercise and Two Questions

Get real candy heart

This post has nothing to do with the stated theme of the week, but you will take it, and you will say “thank you”.

The truth is, I had a rough night, peeps. (One of those post-critique-group sleeps where you are excited because you know where to take your WIP and terrified because you know where to take your WIP.) And while much of the time I’m okay to walk a tightrope between irony and megalomania, today I know I’d slip off. That wouldn’t be pretty. 

It’s not that I can’t handle the blood. I’m an ex-physician, okay? I just can’t handle the laundry.

So, how about a discussion that’s somewhat relevant to February and that still revolves about me? (Oh, lookee; this may even work out.)

A bit over a year ago, I took a class on Voice by Barbara Samuel/O’Neal. The exercise she gave us was to write the first page of a book we enjoyed — verbatim — then play with it. Being the good little Hope that I am, I did a fab job. Well, except for my reading comprehension issues. 🙁 Where Barbara intended us to change only punctuation and phrasing — in essence, adjust cadence alone — I went a little wild.

I inserted characters. I wrote four versions of this passage, each more distant from the original than the next, so like serial photocopies, the final product — ah, why don’t I just shut up and show you?

From The Trouble with Valentine’s Day by RITA award-winning Rachel Gibson:

Valentine’s Day sucked the big one.

Kate Hamilton lifted a mug of hot buttered rum to her mouth and drained the last drop.  On the “things that suck” scale, it ranked somewhere between falling on her face in public and her great-aunt Edna’s bologna pie.  One was painful and embarrassing, while the other was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.

Kate lowered the mug and licked the corners of her mouth.  The hot rum heated her up from the inside out, warmed her skin and cast the room about her in a nice, cozy glow.  Yet it did nothing to lift her mood.

She was feeling sorry for herself, and she hated that.  She wasn’t the sort of woman to sit around and get all weepy.  She was the sort to get on with life, but there was nothing like one whole day devoted to lovers to make a single girl feel like a loser.

A whole day of hearts and flowers, chocolate candy and naughty undies delivered to someone else.  Someone undeserving.  Someone who wasn’t her.  Twenty-four hours to remind her that she slept alone, usually in a sloppy T-shirt.  A whole day to point out that she was just one bad relationship away from throwing in the towel.  From giving up her Fendi pumps for Hush Puppies.  From driving to the animal shelter and adopting a cat.

Now my bastardized version:

“I’ll have your baby if you’ll play some Nine Inch Nails,” Kate Hamilton said, as she cradled her second Spanish coffee in her hands. Normally she wouldn’t make an offer like that to a sixty year-old man.  Not when her CPR needed recertification. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and after being mocked by Michael Bublé for thirty consecutive minutes, she was ready for action.      

The bartender recovered quickly, his lips curving beneath his moustache in an understanding smile. “Not a fan of Valentine’s Day, I take it?”

She snorted. “Not hardly.” What was there to like about the one day of the year when you had your single status rubbed in your face, over and over again? When the only naughty underwear coming your way was billed to your own Visa? When you’d caught yourself staring at an elderly woman’s elasticized waistband? With envy?

“I’ll see what I can do.” He moved down the bar toward the sound system, swiping the mahogany surface with a dishtowel as he went. Moments later, the bass thrum of U and UR Hand began. She threw back her head in laughter and flashed him the thumbs-up sign.


Now, there are things about that passage I would change in retrospect, but I think it’s relatively true to my present-day limited third voice. Dawn, Donna, would you agree?

I guess my question here is twofold:

1. You know how you’re supposed to have an idea of authors you somewhat resemble when you pitch? Well assume I took the above voice and spun it into an 80,000-word contemporary romance. Who do I sound like to you? This is not a trick question in any way. I’m genuinely curious.

2. If you write, what do you write? And if you have a sense of who your voice resembles, who would that be?

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14 thoughts on “One Voice Exercise and Two Questions

  1. i’m not sure i know the answer to #1 right away but i gotta tell you that i love the page you wrote! And as for #2, i have voice issues so i’m not sure my writing resembles anything or anybody.

    great exercse though. i need to give that a try.

  2. I would like to think in a couple more years I will be a Yankee version of Joshilyn Jackson. But that’s on the days I fall off the tightrope toward megalomania. (Well, I like my voice to just be ME, but if I had to do a comparison, as you asked.)

    As for YOU. You remind me of someone like Rob Thurman if she were writing contemp romance instead of urban fantasy. Sharp, witty, fast-paced, somewhat over the top but not always . . . yanno?

  3. I like your page as well (or should that be “I like UR page 2”?).

    I’m not sure about voice. I think I figure this: if I can write down what my characters are doing, thinking, saying and move them along at a good pace and keep the reader from getting too confused — my voice will emerge.

    So, for me: character, pacing and clarity are all more of an issue for me than voice.

    My other thought is that I fear falling into some infinite wormhole if I try to focus on my “voice” when revising my work. I no longer hear my husband English accent because he now just sounds like himself. If I try to detect my own voice, will I even recognize it? Or will I just pick at it, like pulling yarn pills off an elderly sweater, without recognizing its strengths and interest?

    So now I’m paranoid about something I previously didn’t worry about. Gee, thanks! 🙂

  4. Stephanie, I think this exercise convinced me as nothing else did that we all do have a unique voice — from cadence, to names of our characters, to actual word choice. It also convinced me there was no point to trying to copy voice, no matter how much I might admire another writer. I couldn’t even sustain it for a few paragraphs. Imagine the disaster of a book, or three.

    Which leads into my response to you, Magdalen. I’m sorry if I made you feel even more self-conscious. That wasn’t my intention, and I’m going to choose to believe you’re merely pulling my leg. A little. 😉

    Speaking from my own meager experience, voice is almost the final thing to worry about in writing. Even then, for me, it’s mostly about keeping the character’s voice true for their level of education, gender, etc. For example, last night I learned I had sissified my hero in a certain passage of internal dialogue. But that’s nuance. That’s not going to change the thrust of the book. A good beta or critiquer should be able to catch that.

    Jess, a Yankee Joshilyn Jackson would be a fine thing, indeed. I happen to love your voice just as is, although I’d be hard-pressed to list a comparison. You’re definitely more literary than I am. And no, I’m not familiar with Robyn Thurman, but thank you for that info! Off to google her.

    PS: Thanks, all, for the kind words on the passage itself. That wasn’t the focus of this post, but it’s appreciated.

  5. I’m with Magdalen here. What is this Voice that everyone speaks of. I write as it comes to me in my head. Perhaps I’m too much for a newbie writer to know that: Aha, that’s my voice, whenever I’m done with a scene that feels particularly “right” to me.

    That is not to say that I don’t recognize the voice in other authors’ writing, especially the authors whose every book I’ve read.

    It’s just that I don’t what mine is and I don’t know how to write to it.

  6. Keira, if you get a chance, you might be interested in Barbara’s class. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Also, Writer Unboxed is doing a series on voice this month.

    I don’t think a person should write to their voice, per se. It’s more that we all have one that’s most comfortable, and if we honor ourselves, rather than fight it, we’ll find a natural constellation of genre, theme, etc., that resonate.

    For instance, just from your word choices on Twitter, I might have predicted you’d be drawn to historical; from your admiration of Laura Kinsale, that your fiction might incorporate romance. That’s not to say you can’t write other genres. It just might be more work.

    Take me. Give me picture like this:

    and I’ll invent a tale about a kid with a quirky pet, whereas in my CP Donna’s hands, he’d be a freaky menace who spoke in poetic cadence. 🙂 That’s voice.

    At least it is to me.

  7. So voice is like a writerly personality? OK. I understand that.

    Yep, I write historical romance based on my tweets, Fbook, and blogs. But my online personality could be different from my writing personality or my RL personality.

    Thanks for the suggestion for Writer Unboxed.

    And that pic? Seriously scary to me.

  8. When I read a novel, it’s the *voice* that draws me rather than the meat of the story. In other words I’m drawn, repeatedly back to authors whose voice enthralls me and I’ll read EVERYTHING they write, regardless of the plot because I know I’ll be entertained, educated, enlightened, inspired. (only , on occasion is the plot Soooooooo bad that I toss the novel aside unfinished. And even the author will accept the fact that THAT particular story didn’t harbor a facimile of their voice.

    If only I could find my voice which is a blend of Jude Deveraux, Fern Michaels, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, (Avalon’s) Carolyn Brown, I would spend twenty of twenty-four each day writing my heart out!!

  9. Keira, yes, absolutely your voice will change based on the circumstances, much like an auditory voice will sound different if one’s rapping or singing opera. And that pic is pretty odd. I found it googling “demon”.

    Carol, I read according to author too, but it’s interesting what different the POV can make to me. One of my favorite writers typically writes in 3rd limited and I love her stuff. She tackled a series in first person present tense and I just couldn’t get into it despite the character being credible and sympathetic.

    But why can’t you find your own voice? Are you holding yourself back in some way?

  10. Interesting conversation! There is an helpful article on voice at: It is geared towards K-12 students, but it is a clear straightforward discussion of the subject.

    I do think that voice can be copied, though. When I read the PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE AND ZOMBIES mash up by Seth Graham Smith, I was amazed at how well he nailed Jane Austen’s voice (as well as her style)!

    BTW, I loved your version, too, Hope!

  11. Does “smart ass” crossed with Dave Letterman/Stephen Colbert snarky count as voice? ’cause I’ve got that in spades. All my readers agree that they can “hear” me in everything I write—maybe NOT a good thing? I’ve tried to write some short stories in my genre (the Naughty one) with some success (check the aabedwench.blogspot site and see what you think) that are too short to allow me to insert myself too much. My characters tend to be conflicted yet focused at the same time a la The Wench and her multi layered personality/career paths. But creating a sympathetic character that doesn’t ooze a sort of cynical asshole-ish-ness is tough for me (as I’ve also been told an not in a positive way).
    The Wench

  12. Glinda, that’s pretty decent article. Thank you for sharing. I agree some people can mimic voice very well. It’s probably like acting, in that some actors can do Broadway, movies and TV and adapt their style according to the venue, while others are less flexible. And thank you for the kind words.

    Beer Wench, one of my critique partners is planning to do a series on craft on her blog. (I think.) I’m going to mention your comment to her, if that’s okay, because she has helpful things to say about writing sympathetic characters. It seems to me your edginess suits the genre you’ve chosen, not that I’m any expert. Maybe Dawn will create an a-ha moment for you.

  13. that would be great Hope101.
    My heroine is sympathetic to a point, but I tend to want her to be more “real” (less one dimensional/in need of a rescue a la formulaic erotic romance). She’s flawed as is the Alpha male in the equation, and I have no problem making these 2 seem like people you actually know. My problem is the 3rd leg of the triangle–the “nice guy” — he is awfully one-dimensional to my mind because I need him to be a foil but he’s coming across as a passive-aggressive wimp–not my intention. cheers!

  14. As an example to those above who don’t quite get “voice” I would point out The Master–Stephen King. If you are a fan of his, you’ve read more than one of his books. If you have read more than one of his books, you know what his “voice” is–it permeates everything he writes, most especially the pseudo-autobiographic-horror-fantasy Lisey’s Story.

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