Monday, June 15, 2009

Do-Re-Mi

Today I want to talk about voice.

Wouldn't it be nice if writers could take voice lessons like singers do? In a way we need to learn the same lessons.

Singers learn about projection. We can compare it to getting a reader's attention. After all, if no one can hear you sing or no one wants to read further than your opening sentence, you'll end up singing to or writing for yourself.

They learn enunciation. For us, it's choosing the right word for the right job. Think about the word "walkway." I went to the thesaurus. Here are a few choices. Think what a different picture you paint by using a non-generic choice.
  • path
  • aisle
  • hall
  • sidewalk
  • trail
  • corridor
  • passageway
  • boardwalk

Singers learn breathing. Not only how to breathe but when to breathe. We can compare this to pacing. When to give our readers a pause in the action, when to go for the gusto.

And what do singers do at every lesson and between lessons? They practice!

This is the key. You find your voice by practice. The lessons teach you the correct way, but after that it's up to you.

When I first started writing, somone told me I'd have to write a million words before I'd be any good. I thought he was full of crap. Now I think he was right, because I misunderstood what he meant by those words.

He didn't mean I wouldn't be able to sell anything. He meant it would most likely take that long for me to find my true voice.

So here's your voice lesson for today:

Take a book from your shelf, preferably one you haven't read. Pick a writer you haven't read in a while or someone you haven't read before. Find the beginning of a random chapter, but not Chapter One. Or choose a short section. Read 2-3 paragraphs. Think about what the author conveys.

Now rewrite those few paragraphs in YOUR voice.

Here's an example. This is from a writer I don't know and an old mystery published in 1992. It's the opening paragraph to Chapter 16 of THE YOM KIPPUR MURDER by Lee Harris:

Harris's words:

I didn't sleep very well. Sometime around two in the morning the sound of the town alarm awakened me. Seconds later I heard sirens approach, and immediately my doorbell started ringing and someone pounded on the door.

My words:

I didn't sleep well. The town alarm woke me, but before I was awake enough to sneak out from the covers, sirens approached and my doorbell rang. Whoever was at my door started pounding before I had both feet on the floor and could look at the clock. It was 2:03.

Keep writing and you'll find your voice.

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