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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Workout: Finding Your Voice

As any jazz musician knows, it takes flexibility and adaptability for improvisation to create beauty.
-Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer, From Chaos to Coherence

Find your meditative seat and take ten minutes to relax. Focus on your breathing and enjoying your breath. Slowly move your head from side to side and stretch your shoulders. Let your mind go quiet (this may involve chaining characters and your Inner Editor to the wall and gagging them- go for it!).

Wednesday Workout.......... Finding your character's voice (not recommended for biographies and nonfiction)

The Exercise.......
1) Pick a chapter in your current WIP that's written from the POV of only one character. Print out the chapter and grab some colored pens, pencils, or markers.

2) Sit down somewhere with your chapter, colors, and 30 minutes. Maybe using your lunch break or afternoon commute (if you aren't driving).

3) Pick one color to designate your voice, one to highlight anything that strikes you as "Flat Writing", and another color to highlight the phrasing you think really works. This is all subjective, so you can't do it wrong.

4) Start with the positive. Read through your chapter and highlight any phrase that really sparks your interest. You're looking for the sentences that sound like how you want the whole chapter to sound.

5) Switch to neutral. Read through and highlight every phrase that sounds to much like you talking. The more "in tune" your chapter is with the character's voice the more these odd phrases will stand out.

6) Recognize the negative. Read through and highlight flat writing. Any phrase or paragraph you skim over or ignore on your third read through is flat and needs to get colored here.

7) Re-read the positive highlights. Does that sound like your character? Is your character's word choice and personality coming through? Good! Once you've found what your character sounds like, even if it means doing this excercise with one chapter that really clicks and one that's still mucky, you can fix everything.
8) Move to your computer and open your file. Save the chapter in a new editing file so you don't accidentally delete your entire file.

9) Start by cutting the flat writing. Everything flat gets deleted. If there was important information there you'll have to find another way to work it in.

10) Then go back rewrite everything highlighted in the second color in your character's voice. This may take some trial and error. Make sure to compare the speech patterns of the dialog with other chapters. And be careful not to overuse any words except for character catch-phrases.

11) Read the edited chapter over and make cosmetic changes to smooth appearance and pacing. Repeat the highlighting as necessary.

Sound better?

Rose photo courtesy of and copyright to Peter Heatherbranch.


  1. I'm going to be doing this in my edits! Thanks for the great tips.

  2. Awesome, L! I LOVE it! So... I'm assuming Monarch needs this. Badly.

  3. Do we get a grade for this? :-D

  4. Really wonderful ideas here and I will give it a whirl. I also talked about color coding today -- I guess it's a rainbow Wednesday :)

  5. Litgirl- No, but this will be on the final.

    Tess- It's such a bright and happy Wednesday! I'm glad we match!

    Glam- I adore you. But, yes, Monarch has some points where it's you talking and not the characters. It's a good thing, really. If you're to the point where the reader can tell the difference it means the character's voice is right most of the time.

    Yuna- Let me know how it goes!

    *waves hi to Dani*

  6. Lei, this is GREAT! I'm SO doing this when I finish Jess!! *bounces*