Monday, July 23, 2012

From Voices in Our Heads to Voice on Paper

Writers joke about listening to the voices in our heads. When we don't hear anything, we have writer's block. Translating the voice in the head to the voice on a printed or "e" page can be difficult.

When I was at the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop this year, Dan Mueller gave me some great advice that added richness to what I was workshopping. I write almost exclusively in first person singular. I have a strong, mouthy main character, Mad Max, who takes us through her story. Dan suggested I combine Max's voice was a narrator's voice. Let me show you what he suggested.

I have a scene where Max knocks at a door, which is opened by a child. The child hesitates, then let's Max in. Here's what I wrote:

Marianna's frightened eyes flared as she peered at me.

"Don't worry. I came alone."

She started to close the door, then changed her mind. She opened it enough to let me slip in.

Dan made several suggestions. One was to show Marianna's fear better. Yup, old show versus tell. He also said I could describe the room once Max was inside, because the things in a place create a vivid fictional world. While I don't want to pad the narrative with extraneous words, this made sense. My next draft reads:

Marianna stood in the open doorway, her hands twisting the hem of her tee-shirt. She looked past me to see if Emilie was with me.

"Don't worry. I came alone."

She hesitated before stepping aside to let me enter. As soon as I was inside, she closed and locked the door.

Three days earlier, the room was clean and neat. Today, dust dimmed the polished table tops. Light came through a four-inch gap in the drapes and left cross-hatched shadows on the wrinkled rug. A book lay on the floor, its pages ripped out.

Marianna closed the drapes. Not before I saw the dark bruise on the side of her face, though.

Now, I could have said squishy things like, "Max looked around the room." But once Max is in the room, the  narrator's voice can fill in some "stuff" details.

Don't know if I'll use something like the second example, but it does open different ways of presenting scene and action. Gave me lots of room for creative thought.

Hey writers, ideas???


  1. Nice touch. Glad you weren't sleeping during the workshop! Maybe I can use that, too.

  2. Love the dimension added by the extra detail! Not sure twisting the T-shirt is the best possible description of fear; cross-hatched shadows, as an expression, doesn't conjure an image for me, and the book with pages torn out leaves me hanging...unless you explain it later. But, in general, the description is much richer and creates a setting, both of mood and context, that were missing with the shorter scene. Examples like this post are great!!