An Exercise in Voice: Results


First off, I want to thank everybody who participated in my Voice Exercise post two weeks ago. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to go read it, and to read the stories everyone submitted.

I was actually quite nervous about trying this in a blog format, because it would’ve been so easy for people to cheat. Normally I do it in classes, where it’s pretty much impossible to cheat. But it’s clear to me that people followed the rules that I established, so now I’m going to drive the point home:

No one can ever write the story you will write. Do not ever tell yourself that there’s no point in trying to tell a story because it’s been done before. It may have been, but you have not done it, and that means there’s still something unique you can bring to it.

I gave you guys six sentences and asked you to rewrite them in your own way, and to continue on for a while. Thirty or so people participated, and there are thirty completely different stories all born from the same six sentences.

Nobody else can ever write the story you will write.

Seriously. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, there was a huge, huge, HUGE upsurgence of Arthurian fantasy. I must have read fifty variations on the Arthur legend. I loved them all, because they were all trying to do something new with a beloved structure. In today’s market, it’s vampires, and everyone is trying to bring something new to the table. In another twenty years it’ll be something else. Whatever it is, however often it’s told, there is a story only you’re going to bring to the table. So bring it, because that’s one of the joys of this writing life: discovering that your particular way of telling a story can’t be duplicated, and that it might just touch somebody.

Be brave. Your voice is your own. Trust it, and tell the story you want to.


11 comments to An Exercise in Voice: Results

  • Megan B.

    That exercise was a lot of fun. And indeed, people did write thirty different stories, which nicely drives home your point.

    But with all that said, I do think it’s important to remember that *unique* is the key word in all this. If someone wants to write about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard, they’re going to have to emphasize the things that are *unlike* Harry Potter in their own story. Otherwise it won’t stand out in the marketplace. You can retell it as your own, but it needs a truly unique hook, and if it’s too similar in concept you might even be accused of ripping someone off, no matter how differently you told it.

    I don’t mean to be a downer, I just think that’s important to think about.

  • Catie, the exercise you did last time and the results as you describe them in today’s post are brilliant, and drive home the point I made in my recent post about being scooped. I think that Megan B. makes a good point — if our starting points seem too familiar, the market can punish us, even if the results aren’t at all similar — but the bottom line is, we each have something unique to offer.

  • sagablessed

    Um, Miss Catie, I have a question about that exercise: I wanted to expand my version and submit it as a short (4,00 words or ther abouts) to a magazine, but am not sure about copyright and ethics (it was *your* premise after all, and here on MW). Would such a thing be allowed as far as my personal version, and would it be ethical and legal to do so, as the original plotline was yours?
    I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due.
    Please advice this poor, un-educated person.

  • sagablessed

    4,000 not four-hundred, darn ‘zero’ button

  • “I was actually quite nervous about trying this in a blog format, because it would’ve been so easy for people to cheat.”

    Um – cheat how?

  • This was a great exercise. I had fun writing and then reading all the variations and styles we all developed from that initial prompt.

  • David–I’m glad it was a good follow-up to your post. And yes, of course, I agree with you and Megan that Too Much The Same is dangerous, but hopefully the exercise helps emphasize how we can quite easily make something our own, even if we start out with the exact same premise.

    Oh, sure, go ahead, Sagablessed. Have fun with it!

    Wolf, cheating by reading other people’s offerings, which would have tainted the pool, as it were. 🙂

  • quillet

    I missed the exercise, but I read everyone’s stories today and loved them! Love this post too.

    If you don’t object, I’m going to copy your last three sentences into a note and reread them from time to time: “Be brave. Your voice is your own. Trust it, and tell the story you want to.” Amen to that!

  • Vyton

    Catie, this was a great exercise. Thank you.

  • Razziecat

    I think every writer would like to come up with a totally unique, never-been-done-before premise, but then we’d have the problem of the publishers and bookstores not knowing how to categorize it. 😉 I enjoyed this exercise a lot, and like Quillet, I love your statement of “tell the story you want to.” Yes!

  • Heh! Saga, it gave me some nifty ideas too that I might cut from it and revamp into something else. 😉