We’re going to play a game: Name that tune. Can you name the songs listed below? No cheating! I picked a variety of decades and artists. See if you can name them all.
- You may say I’m a dreamer / but I’m not the only one
- A singer in a smoky room / a smell of wine and cheap perfume
- Hanging out the passenger side /of his best friend’s ride / trying to holler at me
- Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.
- We count our dollars on the train to the party.
That first song has a line which grabs your attention.
The second line sets the scene with sensory details.
The third comes from a song that defined a term for a generation. But it doesn’t tell us the [Urban] Dictionary definition straight out—it shows us through a scene.
The fourth song uses a handful of similes and other fresh imagery.
The fifth song characterizes the singer and her friends.
Together, these five songs show how important a unique voice is—and how popular a strong one can become.
How do you improve voice?
The opposite of strong voice is a generic, impersonal one. To create a strong voice, do the following.
- Be relatable and understandable. (Don’t write in a way that the reader can’t follow. Don’t try to spell out dialect or accents phonetically.)
- Use sensory detail that your character would notice.
- Show what you mean using people or situations unique to your character’s experiences.
- Use similes and metaphors. Revise cliches into fresh imagery.
- Characterize through specific word choice.
Writing Exercise—Fifteen Blinks
Option One: Read this to find out what a Fifteen Blinker is. Choose five to ten specific words or images from one of the songs below and write a Fifteen Blinker using those words.
Option Two: 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
Want more writing exercises? See my tag. Want some critique partners to exchange work with? Join the community at StoryWorldCon. Want a writing workshop tailored to your work and your budget? Choose your course at StoryWorldCon. Subscribe to my blog for course dates!
Click on the links below to read the full lyrics.
- “Imagine,” John Lennon
- “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey
- “No Scrubs,” TLC
- “New Slang,” The Shins
- “Royals,” Lorde
I’ve been listening to The Shins for years, but I never actually paid attention to the lyrics in “New Slang” until today. As I referenced above, they’re full of great imagery:
- Turn me back into the pet I was when we met.
- I’d ‘a danced like the king of the eyesores
- New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries.
- Hope it’s right when you die, old and bony.
- Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall
Every time “Royals” comes on the radio (which is very frequently), I am awed by the fantastic diction. This was written by a fifteen year old:
- I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh / I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
- We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
- And we’ll never be royals. / It don’t run in our blood, / That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
What song has your favorite lyrics? I remember in tenth grade English needing to bring a song in to share with the class. I brought Fiona Apple’s cover of “Across the Universe.”