Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Practicing voice

I’ve just finished reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and if you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend that you do. But among the many virtues of these books, one that really struck me was the voice.

Over the course of the four novels, I became so familiar with the voice of the point of view character, a woman named Elena Greco, that I felt myself unconsciously starting to write in it. (I often have this tendency to imitate; I fear the day I might meet my current celebrity crush, Tom Hiddleston, and accidentally do a bad impression of his accent.)

I decided to fully commit and try on the voice for myself. At first, I tried to spice up my own, personal journaling about my real life by writing about my day in the voice of Ferrante’s narrator. The narrator—not the character. To me, this distinction is crucial. I felt that writing from the perspective of Elena Greco would be somewhat restrictive; an Italian woman in her 60s probably wouldn’t have much to say about my life. I wasn’t looking to write from a total outsider’s perspective, but rather wanted to imitate the intimacy, the attention to detail that Elena projected on her friend Lila’s life, and on her own experience. So I focused on what the narrator sounded like, the word choice, the sentence structure. I focused on what details the narrator drew out and described facial expressions, attitude, the atmosphere between characters.

Voice experimentation and practice through imitation isn’t unheard of, but I hadn’t really done it in the past. Now, having written through this exercise a few times, I can see how useful it is to help me pick out what makes a writing voice unique. Hopefully, that means I’m improving this aspect of my own writing that can be difficult to pin down but is so necessary to great storytelling.

What are your favorite ways to work on voice? Let me know!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

P.S. The header image is a photo I took of the third Neapolitan Novel. I was on a work retreat and had trouble falling asleep, so would read basically until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I woke up one day to the sight of the book in bed with me.

P.P.S. Another thing I’ve been enjoying is Elena Ferrante’s column in the Guardian. Check it out: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/elena-ferrantes-weekend-column

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Creating writing prompts

As part of my 2018 writing and learning plan, I’ve started incorporating daily, 10-minute exercises in order to improve my writing. I have been good about completing the prompts so far, though I can’t say for sure if I’m making any progress. Still, the prompts have been good at getting me to write every day; I haven’t missed a day since the start of the year.

In the past, whenever I looked for prompts, the ones I found were often unsatisfying and uninspiring. They were either trying too hard to be “wild” and “out there” to spur on a new story, or else they were so simplistic that they didn’t really give me much to go on. While there might be something to be said about pushing through and trying to answer an uninspiring prompt anyway (because who knows—maybe it’ll spur a great idea), what I ended up doing was spending too much time searching for the perfect prompt and not enough time actually writing.

So instead of relying on lists and books full of prompts, I’ve been making my own, and I’ve found that the prompts I make are more effective at getting me to write. But this isn’t happening because I’m somehow a prompt goddess who knows the perfect combination of words that will spark a writing sprint. Rather, I’m happier with my prompted writing because it allows me to tailor my prompts to what I’m working on, which allows me to be more productive with my time.

Most often, I use prompts to help me dive deeper into a particular aspect of a work in progress.

One of my current WIPs is a literary fiction novel, which is an expansion of a novella I wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo in 2016. Since I’m lengthening the story, I have more time and space to dive deeper into the characters, so many of the prompts have been based on questions to help me get to know them better. What kinds of students were they in school? What are their attitudes on diet and exercise? When it comes to politics, are they optimistic or pessimistic?

From there, I think about the unique ways I could illustrate this aspect of the character, rather than just relying on a straight reportage of facts. For example, a prompt I was particularly proud of making was, “Describe the classroom of your character’s favorite high school class.” This prompt made me figure out how to express my character’s attitude toward the class by using descriptions of their surroundings, and I did my best to get into their mind and choose the words they would use to describe the room.

Although almost none of what I write in response to these prompts will end up in the final novel, I’m able to get to know my characters in the context of the story I am building around them. And by writing the prompts myself, I can save time (since I don’t have to hunt; they’re all in one place for me) and I can save effort (since I don’t have to engage in a futile exercise of trying to imagine my character in a situation that has no connection to the story I’m trying to tell).

When I try and prompt myself to write something completely new, the prompt takes on a different form.

I have a running list in my journal of potential story titles, and a one-sentence description of the story that I can see matching that title. I’m always adding to this list, and if I ever feel the need to start a new work, I pull from this well of ideas.

The beauty of this title-and-sentence prompt is that it gives me two things: A unifying theme or idea that should be the thread that connects the story (the title), and a kind of “thesis statement” for the story (the one-sentence description). Even though the title and the plot of the story almost always change as I revise and rewrite, the beauty of the prompt is that it’s just there to get the story started. A prompt doesn’t have to be the end state, the thing that you’re writing towards, but it can help a story crystallize into something beautiful and new, like water freezing around a speck of dust to form a snowflake.

Prompts can be a great way to jumpstart creativity, by either helping you understand your own story at a deeper level or getting you to make something new. Although there are many great prompts out there, making your own can be an effective way to get to know your own writing and improve.

What are the different ways you use writing prompts? And if you don’t already do this, do you think you’ll try your hand at writing your own?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.