Writing Exercises: Voice

I sure have missed blogging and interacting with you all over here. Though I can’t commit to posting regularly (my course load for my MFA is now much higher than before), I do still want to make this a place where writers can get new or at least renewed resources. Why else subscribe? Besides getting access to my free downloads, I mean.

Speaking of downloads, I added a link in the navigation so you can find them all in one place! Get there under Writer Resources in the main menu or by visiting larawillard.com/downloads

So I decided to start posting writing exercises every Friday on Twitter @LaraEdits and Facebook. I don’t want to post that often here on my blog, but I’d like to do a monthly roundup for you.

Here are the writing exercises from the past couple of weeks and the rest of October:

1: Latinate & Anglo-Saxon Diction

Switching between Latinate and Anglo-Saxon roots for different connotations:

Write down a list of 5–10 adjectives describing yourself or your protagonist. Look them up in the dictionary and see if they are based on Latin/French roots or Germanic (or Old English) roots. Then come up with a syllable that comes from the other family.

Source: Latinate vs Anglo Saxon Diction

2: Rewriting

Rewriting makes better writers, just like repainting makes better painters (see Hokusai below) Today’s is a long assignment, so feel free to just do number 8!

Assignment: Diction & Rewriting


3: Reimagined Lyrics

Pick a song with memorable lyrics. Look up those lyrics. Rewrite the song by swapping out the words and imagery for those of another character’s point of view. Some ideas:

  • One of your characters
  • Romeo, the lovestruck Shakespearean teenager
  • A pothead (e.g. one of Cheech’s, Chong’s, or Seth Rogen’s portrayals)
  • A proper British lady trying desperately to impress her in-laws
  • A man who has been cryogenically frozen through several decades and just woke up
  • A seven-year-old who wishes to be a princess
  • A toddler

Source: What Pop Songs Teach Us about Voice

4: How old is your voice?

But my book is is full of sex and violence! How could you say it sounds middle grade?

  1. Take a scene or paragraph from your character’s point of view and see if it “sounds” the right age by checking it against these guidelines: https://larawillard.com/2016/02/25/when-voice-and-genre-dont-match/
  2. Then rewrite it as if the character were in a different age category.

5: Pirate Voices

Go to your local library and find a picture book—fiction, not nonfiction—about pirates. Read it aloud in a pirate voice. I recommend Pirates of the Sea by Brandon Dorman or  Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate by Kim Kennedy. Can’t find a pirate book? Read Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and see how each of the baby owls has a different personality based on their dialogue.

You can stop there or write Talk Like a ___________ for a different profession. What would Talk Like a Podiatrist sound like?

6: Characters in Costume

Are you dressing up for Halloween? Would one of your characters? Take that costume, turn it into a character, and write a Trick or Treat scene from that point of view. Dressing up as a strawberry? Write it from the POV of a strawberry. What kind of observations does that character see? Is the weather foreboding or gleefully dreary? Does the character’s age affect how they see the event? Are they a creature or inanimate object? Use all five senses.

Which Gothic Romantic Writer Are You?

Just over two hundred years ago, it was a stormy June on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Lord Byron and his personal physician, John Polidori, were renting out a mansion in the summer, the Villa Diodati. Rained in with them at the time were poet Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin, who would later marry Percy and be known as Mary Shelley.

They read Shakespeare and Mary’s mother (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and a host of German ghost stories to beat the boredom. Then Byron issued a challenge: each of them should write a ghost story of their own, and then share it with the group.

Each of the four tackled the challenge in their own way. Mary Shelley wrote about their creative endeavor in her introduction to Frankenstein.


Polidori, Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley

Lord Byron

Byron wrote a story based on a fragment of a tale from the end of his poem “Mazeppa,” which itself was a narrative poem based on a legend of a historical Ukranian high commander. If that isn’t literary inception, I’m not sure what would be, especially if you consider the fate of this abandoned vampiric tale, which later inspired:

John Polidori

Polidori “had some terrible idea” of a skull-headed lady who saw something she shouldn’t—Mary couldn’t remember what. Polidori didn’t know how she should be punished for such a crime, so he put her in the tomb where Romeo and Juliet died.

After Byron abandoned his ghost story when the weather improved, John rewrote it into The Vampyre, a novella which basically became the grandfather of all paranormal romance.

Percy Shelley

Mary’s future husband, Percy, was a poet “more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery and in the most melodious verse that adorns our language than to invent the machinery of a story.” In other words, he was a literary pantser who cared little of plot.

Percy took something that scared him as a child and added some alternative facts to fashion his ghost story.

Mary Godwin (Shelley)

With her high literary pedigree, it’s no surprise that Mary Shelley would become a writer herself. But as a child, rather than the romances or adventure stories that were popular at that time, she preferred living in a world of her own making, inspired more by her dreams and imagination than reality. “I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age than my own sensations,” she writes.

Mary struggled with the challenge. The men, she felt, failed at writing a true story, concerning themselves more with word choice or concepts than creating an experience.

“I busied myself to think of a story, —a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.”

The poets quickly abandoned the challenge, neither finishing because they were “annoyed by the platitude of prose.” Byron and Shelley instead spoke about a number of topics, including the principle of life, and if it could be discovered or created. They spoke of  Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s “Spontaneous Vitality” and of galvanism, a professor of medicine’s applications of electricity to dead frogs, making their legs move.

That night, Mary couldn’t sleep. “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me,” she says. She saw vividly the scene of a “pale student of unhallowed arts” using a machine that brought a “hideous phantasm of a man” to life.

“The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!

“Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November , making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.”

It was Percy Shelley who, seeing its potential, urged Mary to flesh it out (pardon the pun) and turn it into what became the grandmother of science fiction novels.

Which Geneva Gothic Romantic Writer Are You?

It depends on how you get your inspiration.

The Reteller

john-polidoriPolidori was inspired by the works of others, of Shakespeare and Lord Byron, creating his own stories from their initial ideas. Consider stories that inspire you. Write fan fiction, a retelling, or a twist on another tale, making it your own.

Example: Marissa Meyer wrote Sailor Moon fanfiction before she started writing her debut novel Cinder (a futuristic retelling of Cinderella), followed by retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White, and the Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


The Historian

lord-byronByron was inspired by literary history, both his own and historical legends. Consider something you’ve written in the past or a legend or classic you find fascinating. Then write it in a different medium or genre. Turn a play into a poem, a myth into a novel, or a short story into a script.

Example: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis is based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Rick Riordan writes novel series based on mythology.



The Memoirist

percy-shelleyPercy wrote creative nonfiction, taking creative liberties with memories of true and personal events and feelings. What events in your past had the most significant emotional reactions, psychological consequences, or philosophical epiphanies? How can you fictionalize or elaborate on those moments?

Example: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is his most autobiographical , most chilling, and most beautifully written novel.




The Inventor

mary-shelleyMary was inspired by science, dreams, and philosophy. To come up with fantastic ideas like hers, read widely and think wildly. Read about scientific discoveries, consume philosopher theories and poet anthologies. Absorb visual and performance art. Visit a museum and take notes. I just stumbled upon a special on PBS about how engineers and scientists are using the concepts of origami to build structures, automate robotics, and energize space stations. How could you incorporate origami into a fictional universe?

Example: Publisher’s Weekly calls Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World a literary pyrotechno-thriller.

A New Challenge

Ideas may be illusive, but they aren’t endangered. I’m probably more of a Byron or Polidori than a Shelley, but inspiration can come from anywhere.

Now I challenge you to write a story. It doesn’t have to be a ghost story, but it does have to come out of a deep emotion. Will it be dread? Anxiety? Betrayal? Regret? Obsession?

Write your story, and if you feel so lead, tell us about it in the comments. If you post the story on your blog or a website, link to it below. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner!

Giveaway + Pitching and Submission Course

There are a few days left to enter my giveaway for Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice graphic novel. To enter, click here.


In other news, the StoryWorldCon courses now have their own website: StoryCadet.com.


The Cadet Course (for pitching and submitting your stories) will start June 8 and go for eight weeks. Find out the different pricing options and the schedule here. If you purchase the complete workshop before June 1, you get an extra $10 off!

Curious about what it takes to become a freelance editor? Soon I’ll be doing another #AskEditor series and sharing my chat with my 2015 intern about how I got into editing and my advice for freelancers-to-be.