Friday, September 24, 2010

Voice examples-- put money where mouth is

Everyone post two paragraphs (200 words or less total) that you think represents your voice. That's my only guideline—this sounds like you, or the best of you.

Now everyone, respond with a description of another voice (identify name). Please, no critiquing, no assessment. This is just about describing a voice. So look for words that express what this sounds like, what this feels like. You can use food, music, poetry, whatever. You can compare it to someone else's voice (in fiction, poetry, or music). You don't have to be coherent. :)

What? You think I need this for a class? Huh? Would I do that?



Anonymous said...

Maxwell drew out the basic shape and scale of the water plant with the eye and hand of a draftsman, over a meal of steak and kidney pie in a private booth. Occasionally he would say things like, "Uriel, what is the minimum water pressure that plant would need to sustain all its systems?" and wait for an answer. He found the following silence disconcerting. He had grown to depend on Uriel-- the big man's strength and intelligence were both incredible, even without the helpful additions that Maxwell had made.

Merrily Soarin enjoyed her beer and described the plant in as much detail as she could. Her best irked Maxwell: her rough, uneducated guesses sounded like nails on chalkboard. Conversely, Merrily found Maxwell and his fancy tools fascinating. He had something that looked like a grappling hook hanging from a holster is his belt, metal canisters, a pistol with a glowing green light on the handle. Maxwell promised that if she touched them, it would blow her up.

Unknown said...

Good God, leaving was a really bad idea. I never intended to break it off. At the time it just seemed like a bold way to stand my ground, but I forgot one crucial detail. She didn’t know that. You’d never believe such a tiny person could do so much damage unless you knew her. I knew her better than anyone, better than she did. But that’s only one part of why I was going back. More importantly, I was in love with her. And you’d never believe a guy could love such a train wreck unless she’d fallen for you too. And she did. Hard.
      The needle of the speedometer pushed past 80 miles per hour. It had been exactly 12 hours since the door slammed behind me, but trust me that was more than enough time. This was a first; there was no telling what I was coming home to.     
My crappy Honda Civic took the corner on two wheels as I turned into the parking lot behind the apartment building. Wait. Where is her car? I scanned the lot twice for a black Infiniti, it was gone. It was just after 1:00, class was over, but her car was gone. Alright, sure, there were a million perfectly logical places she could be. Nope, not today.

From my WIP, which you can read on my blog, A Novel...Hypothetically Speaking

Edittorrent said...

Eliza, that's the multiple POV I've been looking for! Where you present two different perspectives. That last line is very fun-- I can see how you're setting up for something in the future. I'm thinking that "how you set up" is an aspect of voice, but I can't figure out what that means yet.

Anyway, I would say that your voice has a lot of juxtaposition, between the perspectives of different characters, and between (I could be mistaking this) actual reality and what is presented as reality (The danger of touching his tools). So there are "opposition words"?

Edittorrent said...

Erica, there's a hard, regretful edge to your voice, I think! A lot of learning by hard experience. Maybe not you particularly, but your voice has a certain regretful knowingness. You know what I mean?

Julie Harrington said...

I know it's more than 2 paragraph, but with speech... It is under the 200 words though, so hopefully that's okay.



The bar dimmed in his presence as if the leather he wore and the equally black color of his hair were an unholy force even light could not escape. Chairs scraped back. The elves made for the door. The fae and the rest literally vanished, their footfalls instantly audible on the floor above McKenna's head as they fled into the security of the rooms there. A chorus of doors slammed as the jukebox crooned on.

McKenna surged to her feet as Dagan and Alex did, her dagger already in her hand and slashing toward the intruder. He caught her wrist with ease, held it immobile without bruising her flesh, the tip of her blade a scant inch from his throat.

He smiled then, but it only seemed to make his eyes colder. McKenna felt the icy sting of it whip through her, swore her flesh had frozen where it touched his. The dagger fell from her numb fingers, struck the floor, then clattered across its planks.

The brow the demon raised was mocking, the voice a portal through time to the ancient windswept sands of Persia when he asked, "Was it something I said?"

Unknown said...

:D Thats what I was hoping for in this scene! He knows he messed up because-given how well he knows her- he can see the consequences coming from a mile away. Not to mention I wanted the tone to foreshadow the disaster waiting for him inside.
Yay! That is the very first (specific) opinion about my WIP anyone has given me! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

From a short SF story I'm working on. Don't ask me where it's going. I don't know yet.

One of the lessons of life: white material in a plastic bag spells trouble, especially when slapped onto the counter of a dark shop in Djibouti by a man missing his front teeth and with a look that said, ‘here’s the stuff, now give me the money.’
Trouble was, I had no idea what was in that bag. I’d walked into his shop because someone told me this was where I’d find workers for hire. I eyed the white stuff, which looked like a bar of soap crushed under an elephant’s foot, and decided to ignore it.
‘Actually, I’m looking for a pilot.’
He squinted at me. ‘Oho, unipersity, eh?’ He spoke in that way I’d come to associate with Crayfish, substituting the letter p for v, although this could be through the lack of front teeth, but then again, Crayfish tended to be in dire need of dental care.

Erastes said...

The wind caught the dust from the pavement, swirled into a tiny tornado and ribboned across the deserted street, catching up pieces of paper and ash, lost and found, before twirling around into a tangle of waste paper and dirt. Lynwood watched it with dead eyes, seeking the amusement of the dancing detritus, elevated to something fabulous until it dropped back to earth again, remembering it was only rubbish. Lynwood could also taste its disappointment, and he knew how it felt.

He limped across the road; his cane, its rubber tip long gone, tapped against the cobbles. These ancient catsheads would soon be flattened, he had heard; razed, for cobbles were ancient, old fashioned and this was a new age that had no time for such quaintness, no time for tradition, no time for time, in fact. They would--Redqueenlike-- slice off their heads, tarmac the streets, paint the edges of the roads in yellow stripes which stood for danger, the camouflage of wasps, broad white lines, so helpful in case you didn't know where the middle was. Where now there were catsheads, there would be catseyes, and They would say that it was good.

pattyjansen, I love the slightly off kilter world you've set up here, we are intrigued, lulled into a false sense of security and then ripped out of it.

Thomas Sharkey said...

Earth, once named the blue planet, was now a shiny white ellipse, covered in a permanent layer of cloud.
“I cannot make anything out anymore.” Thirty year-old Professor Henry Bligh gazed down at Terra Firma from the observation window in the weather satellite Cygnus IV. This rotating, metal monstrosity, with its centrifugal force-induced gravity living quarters and swimming pool was his and his family’s permanent home. It had been their domicile for the past twelve years, and, with enough provisions to last at least another two hundred, and with no hope of return, it would also be their last resting place.
He turned to his colleague, thirty-five year-old Professor Mary Simpson, floating naked in the gravitation free axis behind him and said, “It looks so sad, yet peaceful, does it not, my precious?”
She closed in on him, he felt her warm breath on his neck, “Yeah sure, but I don’t believe the good Lord meant it to be this way, it’ll change back, one day, Honey, just you see,” then she took his arm, and whispered, “Time for bed, lover boy.”
He thought about their daughters. “Are the children sleeping, my darling?”
“Like babes, Sugar, all ten of ‘em.”

Evangeline Holland said...

“A Captain Bellaires to see you, Madame Durand,” The broad, Cockney vowels of Josie Kestrel broke the low hum of conversation and food preparation of the nearly one hundred cooks, assistant cooks, and student-cooks employed by The Mayfair Cook.

Madeleine marveled at the steadiness of her hands as she continued mincing the large yellow onion with a wickedly sharp knife. First rule of the kitchen, according to her mother: never lose concentration while using a knife or cleaver. One slip of your mind and you were likely to lose a finger, or worse, bleed like a stuck pig over the food. She moved onto the next onion, and then the carrots and celery required for vegetable stock, hoping no one noticed the flush of anxiety that prickled her skin. She swept the minced vegetables into a steel bowl and passed it down the line to her watching students, and then wiped the blade of the knife with the damp towel at her waist before turning her attention to her assistant.

Evangeline Holland said...

Eliza: I find the prose as sharp and decisive as a knife.

Erica: The narrator feels both wrung out and hopeful.

JT: Crisp like biting into a fresh apple.

Patty: Very spunky and upbeat.

Erastes: Lush and dizzy with description. Like touching a piece of velvet.

Thomas: Metallic and sparse, yet distant.

A.M. Guynes/Annikka Woods said...

(Yes, I did hijack the first name of one of my characters as part of my pen name.)

The stuttering gait of a horse pushed past its endurance drew Annikka away from her business. She drifted over to stand in Alyx’s shadow – unseen and forgotten for now. The two primary leaders of the mixed peoples of Erondahl were discussing the upcoming Harvest Faire. They both looked up as the lathered horse staggered to a stop in front of them.
A ten year old boy as exhausted as his mount fell off the back of the horse. Eron caught him and eased him to the ground. The boy’s face was grey with exhaustion and it was obvious he’d ridden hard to get there.

Annikka snatched the boy from Eron and held him close. The telltale green glow surrounded them both. After a moment she handed him back to Eron. “Food and sleep,” she said. “I recharged him enough he should be able to tell us why he rode himself near to death to get here though.”

A.M. Guynes/Annikka Woods said...

Erastes: You can definitely tell how bitter the person is in this.

Evangeline: Madeleine sounds like a very precise woman...not to mention offering us very good advice.

JT: The demon is amused by people's reactions to him and it really comes out in this bit.

Erica: I can almost hear him with his heart pounding and that worry/fear gnawing at him about where she is. Love the way your voice comes out as so regretful and concerned here.

Leona said...

His black fur rippled in the wind, gleaming under the blue rays of the full moon. He lifted his nose in the air, sniffing for hunters. Getting caught in wolf form was not on his list of things to do before he died. In fact, being caged might kill him.

He put his nose down to the ground. He had her scent. At first, she had been hard to follow, but her scent had grown stronger the deeper into the evergreens they were. As soon as he realized it, he slowed down his hunt. His instincts told him it was a trap. He still had to track her down. She had killed three pregnant women in his pack.

As a detective, Nolan Littlebull had to do things by the book. As head of the pack, he had other obligations. Nights like tonight brought his dual personalities together. He had the evidence against her. Problem was, she'd committed the crime in wolf form. The authorities were looking for a stray pack, or someone with pet wolves. He knew they were wrong.

Opening 180 words to short story parnormal I've written.

Shalanna said...

Some women pray every night that God will send them a child. Other women pray every morning that He won't, that He'll forgive just one more mistake. And you can never predict which one you'll be when the time comes.

At least that was what Gram always said.

Starla Campbell was stomach sick again, but she couldn't let herself think about the possibility that she might be P.G., because even though she was pretty sure whose baby it probably was, she wasn't ready to think about that yet.

This was the worst possible time, too. Tonight she was going to get her big break and become the lead singer of The Doggetts. Nothing could deter her from that dream. It was probably just audition nerves, or maybe a twenty-four hour stomach bug.

She would just pray this away. She had to get out front and cover her tables NOW. She smoothed down her prairie skirt and readjusted the hateful pink gingham peasant blouse that made her look like a real peasant. She'd have plenty of time to fret later, if there turned out to be anything to worry about. Right now she only knew she never wanted tuna casserole again.

(Southern gothic, supposed to be funny, like _Fried Green Tomatoes_)

[For part 2, am I supposed to describe the voice of another author's fragment here, or a Famous Author's voice?]

Anette J Kres said...

Ranazu’s heart lifted when he heard a distant peal of thunder. He and his men had retreated from the forest fire as soon as the devil-bird left their sight. They were now hastily breaking camp and Ranazu stood straight from his doubled over packing posture to look for the clouds. What he saw instilled both fear and hope in him in equal measures.

Blotting out the stars, a fast moving pack of rainclouds headed straight for the not-so-doomed-anymore grove. Leading them, like a horse drawing a chariot, was a powder blue serpentine dragon. By the light of the burning trees, Ranazu could see that it had four limbs, each ending in rending claws, no wings (he puzzled over how it stayed aloft), and a proud set of cloven antlers upon its head.

Ranazu was a courageous man at his core, but he decided right then – watching the great beast fly overhead – that he’d rather like to never have to fight it.

Anette J Kres said...

I don’t think I’m very good at describing voice (unless it’s REALLY strong) so please take my comments with a grain of salt.

What matters to me concerning voice is “does it feel real or does it feel forced?”

My lack of knowledge concerning voice descriptors probably shows in my own writing, but I’m not sure where to learn this skill or how useful it might be. Our stories sort of play out in our heads and we write them as we see them. I don’t think much about my voice as I write, only on making the story a real, complex, and believable experience.

Anyone else find this difficult?

For narrative voice, I only see upbeat vs meandering, fresh vs old, emotional or hollow. For character voices, there can be any number of descriptors because characters are (or should be) three dimensional and multi-layered.

So here’s my best go at it:

Patty – sounds real and light, like a character who is thinking on his feet in the midst of reality.

Erastes – rambling and meandering voice. It sounds as if there is all the time in the world and no pressing dangers. The descriptions in the second paragraph suggest otherwise, but the voice tells me that the radical changes that will happen are of no concern to the narrator/character.

Thomas – the descriptions sound mostly scientific (thirty year old professor, thirty-five year old professor… forty millimeter long specimen), though I loved the poetic alliteration of metal monstrosity. The voices of the characters fell flat for me. I wanted to believe in them, because the voice in this passage hints at a real culture that these characters live in (which I don’t see often enough), but five different pet names in as many sentences felt forced.

Evangeline – loved it, voice felt very real and genuine. Even though your messenger has a Cockney accent, this feels like it’s happening in New England, with the description of the knife and the rules her mother taught her. Even if it’s not where I think it is, it feels like a real place with a real person and a real voice. Just this little passage makes me want to read more. Very nice.

C.L. Gray said...

Jackson stared into the fire. “I believe we live our lives as empty vessels, designed to collect all the joy and sorrow destined to come to a man throughout his life. Unfortunately, it seems that life hands out more grief than joy. No man is immune to loss. When my first wife and child died, I thought I would shatter into pieces. Only the mercy of Almighty God kept me in those black months.

“If the war hadn’t come, perhaps our cup would have never known the devastating fullness of death and grief. But war fills the cup rapidly. Who knows what death will be the drop the overflows it, or when it’ll happen.”

Jackson stepped aside so a corpsman could set a coffee pot on the fire. When the corpsman departed, he continued.

“When Turner Ashby died, his death was that drop for me. I wept for him, for my young students dead on Henry House Hill, even for my mother who died when I was seven. It’s an anguish we can’t deny, no more than we can hold back the sun from rising. So strong men weep like children because we’re not as strong as we think we are. Then grace comes to us, and we can go on because we know our Lord is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. That’s how we’ll bear this war. Knowing that weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Ellis Vidler said...

This is missing a few italics where she's thinking to herself, but you can probably figure them out.

Claire checked her rearview mirror once more for the mismatched headlights. Tonight, thank goodness, no one lurked on her tail as she left Colonial Williamsburg and headed home. She exhaled slowly and felt the tension slide out of her hunched shoulders. I’ve gotta quit reading those thrillers. This evening she’d settle back and cheer herself with a glass of merlot and a warm fire. And soft slippers. She flexed her tired feet. After a long day at the shop, she couldn’t wait to kick off her heels.

Humming “White Christmas” with the radio, she turned into her driveway. No light. Her pulse jumped a notch and she hit the brakes. Darkness shrouded the thick shrubbery at the edge of the porch. The light beside her front door, timed to come on at five thirty, was out. A tingle of unease flitted across her scalp.
The music died with the engine, and in the silence, she scanned the deep shadows around her porch. Nothing stirred. Geez, she was so paranoid. Move it, Claire.

Denny S. Bryce said...

A bit from one of my paranormal WIPs:)...

A noise, low in his chest grew in intensity, and he stifled the growl rolling its way into his throat. Another drink would calm him, and he hurried to the bar, tipping the bottle of Scotch upside down, emptying its contents into a glass.

The Black Solstice was in the snow falling from the sky, in the wind blowing against the windowpanes, and in his hardening cock as he envisioned himself with Georgia, filling her with his passion. He pressed his forehead against the cool glass and stared at the lake. He had to focus on the Sorcerer.

The bodies of dead witches were stacking up across the Midwest. He wasn’t certain if the killer was the demon he sought or some deranged human caught in the middle of a demon’s curse.

He looked up at the full moon in the dark sky. He should read Rachel’s black book for the umpteenth time and listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That always comforted him, and he needed to get some sleep.

Gideon grabbed a full bottle of Scotch, and staggered out of the living room and down the hallway to his bedroom. He might as well get drunk. What else could he do while he waited for another witch to die?

ann foxlee said...

From my Middle Grade historical fantasy WIP... 3 paragraphs, but 200 words :-)

In the slums below the glittering hillside city of Niwanaka, under the watchful gaze of the Emperor’s seven-tiered palace, sat a collection of thatched huts, slowly rotting into ruin. They had once belonged to a maker of rice wine, until a hot spring bubbled up into the large brewing cellars beneath, causing every batch of wine to taste of mold and sulphur. And so, when one afternoon a merchant named Madam Sanuki offered a small sum to buy the useless property, the brewer thanked the heavens and took it.
Madam Sanuki’s fortune grew with each passing year, though by the look of the crumbling plaster and thatch buildings, it seemed to outsiders that her business must have folded ages ago. Most hadn’t any idea that it flourished just under their feet, and would have been hard pressed to say how it was that she made her living.
Ren, who had been abandoned at birth in a nearby bog and had spent nearly all of his sixteen years living in Madam Sanuki’s cellars, knew precisely how. Together with the others who lived there, Ren was a slave. For the time being, they belonged to Madam Sanuki, who raised and trained them to work as servants for Niwanaka’s wealthy aristocrats. Hidden away beneath the rotting huts, the wretched collection of orphans waited to be sold, learning to bow and scrape and follow orders while Madam Sanuki counted her coins.

Leona-- great example of voice matching the story. Descriptive, but not lush or meandering. We get all the details, but in a direct, concise manner which helps feul the tense, quick pace of the story.

Edittorrent said...

Jt, that's the sort of "Close observation" that I've decided is an aspect of voice-- how precisely the scene is rendered. Some writers don't seem to notice the environment, or shorthand the action, but I think in spec fiction, the setting, the feeling, is important. What do you think?

Julie Harrington said...

Alicia, I think it (close observation) totally is important in spec fic. For me, when you're writing something besides the "normal" world (paranormal, fantasy, etc) you're really hinging everything on bringing that world to life for people, and details count. I've always been a detail gal, but I have noticed that the voice and style greatly differs in regards to environment, action, and setting between, say, contemporary romance vs. paranormal. I think it helps cement a bit of reality into things if you can touch it, see it, smell it...


Julie Harrington said...

Now that I finally have a few minutes of quite to focus, I thought I'd pop in and do the "describe the voice" portion of the post. :) I hope I don't miss anybody. If I do, oops! Sorry!

Eliza: A voice of contrasts. One that likes to play with differing angle (opposites attract and all that) but with a nice spike of unexpected humor tying things together to keep things from feeling too philosophical.

Erica: A voice with edge. I'd dare even venture into cynicism. It sounds like a "Been There, Done That, Learned A Lot, Survived and Moved On" kind of voice. But there's a splash of humor in there too that seems to hint that despite it all, a sense of humor is kept.

Patty: The voice is real in that "this is how it is" way. Promises unique observations on people and life.

Erastes: A voice of experience again, but harder this time. More worn by experience and not as optimistic about the realities of people, nor their attitudes. Harder. Harsher. But again, one that promises interesting observations about things vs. people and how, perhaps, setting, society, and nature reflect emotion, ambition, and fears. Very "reflective" in terms of using setting to further establish character.

Julie Harrington said...

Part 2 (man I'm long-winded!)

Thomas: I get a voice of hope threaded through a tapestry of a harder reality. No illusions here, the voice says, yet glowing at the heart is a belief that somehow things will get better. Funny that the hope is attributed (at least apparently in this piece) not to people -- no solutions to be found in them -- but rather something "larger" than them. God. The cosmos. Fate. Whatever you want to call it. Makes me wonder what your beliefs in such forces might be.

Evangeline: A voice of precision. Of order. Of a meticulously decided 1-2-3... 1-2-3 of cause and reaction, almost like a waltz.

Annika: I'm actually undecided on this one. I always hate when I can only describe something by telling you what it is *not.* Like... This is not a voice of poetry or lyrical. It's not a voice to wax poetic about the moon or the water. It's more global. More encompassing. More staccato in its delivery of action and speech. Sort of a whomp! there it is! I have no clue if that makes sense.

Leona: A Yin-Yang Voice. It's an unusual balance of sensory and tactile details trying to co-exist with another part of the voice that seems stark. Reminds me of that story you always hear about the barb wire fence and the tree and how, eventually, the tree grows *around* the wire and they become one -- vastly different but each managing to survive in harmony together.

Julie Harrington said...

Part 3

Shalanna: The voice comes across young (not in a bad way). Youthful. Focused. Very "immediate." I don't expect deep soulful narratives here or deep reflections of mountainsides and the existence of time. I expect a voice of "here and now," of present circumstances in the frame of Today, not tomorrow or even yesterday.

Anette: Lush. More poetic. Water sliding over smooth rocks before tumbling down to churn up a bit before running smooth again.

C.L. - A voice of vast experience. One that will plunge you deep into sorrows (and probably very ugly truths) before lifting you back up with a form of hope. Transcendental journeys. No false promises here or any attempt to make things prettier than they are. In fact, it's a voice that tells me I'll read lots and lots of ugly things, ugly truths, but some darned uplifting things too. It's a voice not for the faint of heart, but for those who truly believe it really is darkest just before the dawn.

Ellis: Gritty. Real. Very "universal experience" with a twist. We can all relate to the emotions in the story, which means we can all easily place ourselves in these situations. The voice draws us in, the tension keeps us there.

Julie Harrington said...

And I think this should be the last one.

Denny: A harder, more deliberate voice for you. While there's glimmer of a poet lurking inside (why else would the character turn to the things he does for comfort), there bite of the real world -- cold, hard facts -- comes blazing through. Realism over Romanticism in this voice. Dare I say it's a "practical" voice?

Ann: There's almost a Once-upon-a-time flow to the voice in this one. I noticed you said it was for a Middle Grade fantasy, so I think the Voice suits that very well. But as with all fairy tales, there's a dark edge mixed into the reality. It's a voice that says pretty things come with a dark cost. Nothing is ever as good as it looks. The voice is very "think wisely before you leap" in experience. Reminds me of an old woman in a rocking chair handing out pearls of wisdom for a (great) grandchild smart enough to sit at her feet and listen.

And I think that's everybody. :)


Julie Harrington said...

*sigh* Please tell me all the stuff I wrote on everybody's voice didn't vanish into the void. When I posted (and it took 3 posts to get through everybody because of word limit), it said it had to be approved by the admin... but now I'm thinking @#$% I should have copy/pasted it before hitting enter in case it gets lost in cyberspace. :(


Edittorrent said...

JT, I think they all appeared,didn't they?

I am intrigued by how -visual- a lot of these are.
Thanks for all the ideas, everyone! Now I've got some sense of the potential here with the variations of voice. And most important-- what you all think of as aspects of voice. Too many writers think it's just about word choice, but your examples show more aspects. Thanks!

Julie Harrington said...

Yep, they all finally popped up. Whew! The Cyber Gods were kind. LOL. I didn't relish trying to retype all that and geez trying to describe voice is a pain! No wonder it's so elusive and such a mystery to writers.