Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Voice Exercises

As every singer knows, exercises that strengthen and warm up the vocal cords are essential in order to sing well.  Painters do studies, and dancers stretch. But what about writers?

This Fall, I’ve been taking a workshop entitled “Imagining What You Know” with the incomparable Roger Rosenblatt. Each week, Roger has given us a new writing assignment, the cumulative effect of which has been, for me, a phenomenal workout in developing ‘voice’ – not the vocal kind, of course, but that of character.

Our exercises have ranged from the sublime to the near-ridiculous, but they have had one task in common – imagining ourselves into the character, the setting, the situation. We’ve written in response to paintings, pieces of music and food. We’ve written about ourselves in the third person. But perhaps the most informative exercises have been those that asked us to craft a monologue from the point of view of an unlikely character – a machine, a body part, a type of punctuation, to name but a few.

Children’s book authors often grapple with anthropomorphism – but our degree of success is directly related to how successfully we can imagine ourselves into that character and find their voice.  And as I’ve grappled with finding the voice for my achy left shoulder, my kids’ old Fisher Price jeep or an ellipsis, I’ve discovered that the key lies in discovering the character’s need, or complaint.  I’ve also come to appreciate just how valuable these exercises are… and how many variations of them might be possible. What’s the voice – and/or the complaint – of your kitchen table? Your favorite shoes? The moon?

Each time I’ve shared a piece in class, a fellow student (God bless her!) has remarked “That could be a children’s book!” … and I’ve been reminded that we never know when a simple exercise might venture beyond being a mere tool for development to become the seed of an idea for a story…


4 Responses to “Voice Exercises”
  1. Beth says:

    What excellent writing-voice warmups! I am definitely going to try these as I work to improve my writing and to find and differentiate between different character’s voices. I think for those of us who are starting out, we need to be particularly alert and vigilant to make sure our characters don’t all sound the same. This seems an excellent way to hone that skill.

    Thank you!

  2. Wish I could be a fly on the wall. The exercises sound like they really get you out of your left brain and into your right. Sounds like the class is a wonderful way to discover voice through so many unusual mediums. Thank you for wharing.

  3. Diane says:

    Indeed Emma, this is a great tool for pb ideas. Infact I see potential in using it in our Childrens Book Hub as an exercise of fun. In a flash fiction 300 word project recently, my voice was the seal, although weird it was fun to do something different. To find voice as a table, or chair, now that’s different, quirky, but fun. Thanks for this very interesting post.

  4. pam says:

    Diane, I was thinking the same thing. I would love to have this as an exercise used in Children’s Hub. This is really great and resourceful information that can be applied immediately. Emma, this was very insightful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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