One way that I play with voice is to mimic the style of another writer. For this exercise, I write a section without worrying about voice. Then, I take a couple of books I admire that I think might have a voice that would work for my story. I try to imitate their style.
That is, I try to match their sentence structure EXACTLY. If they start with a prepositional phrase, followed by a subject, verb, dependent clause, and it runs 23 words, then I try to match that structure. I specifically try not to copy ANY words; I’m not copying, but imitating their voice. (In actual practice, I don’t always match it exactly, but I try.)
This often tells me things about my own voice. I tend to write shorter sentences, though, nothing like the fabled short sentences of Hemingway. I use a lot of contrasts, relying on “but.” It helps me to understand what I’m doing and evaluate if it’s what this story needs.
Here’s an example from the opening of a WIP, entitled Horizontal Yellow. Following are two imitations:
Horizontal Yellow: My Original Version
Davide pressed his nose to the cold glass of the window and let his gaze unfocus, let the mile after mile of Texas flat lands whiz by without really seeing. Father had the car heater turned low, as usual. Davide wiggled his toes inside his Christmas cowboy boots; he was pleasantly surprised the boots kept them so warm.
“Wha–?” Father yelled and threw up a hand to protect his face.
Davide whipped his head around, barely in time to see some kind of bird flip from the front of the car onto the windshield. Thump! The bird was gone.
(My first attempt at voice for this story)
Davide struggled, but boredom wore him out, hour after hour, like a warrior who pressed an attack without ever stopping. From the early morning traffic of Greeley, Colorado where he and Father lived to the late-afternoon lonely roads of the Texas high plains, Davide’s boredom grew, and with it his anger. His eyes unfocused, refusing to see the endless fields whizzing by. The road ran on into the hazy horizon and the asphalt never wavered from a straight course. The sky was empty, an unwavering pale winter blue. Davide’s anger, too, across that boring day, never wavered.
(In the style of Elske, by Cynthia Voigt)
Horizontal Yellow: Imitating Ghost Horse by Janni Simner
The fields whizzed by.
Davide stared out the car window, watching each field disappear behind him. The fields didn’t have growing plants because it was January, but rows of turned earth that had dried into clods. The sky was pale, brushed with a watercolor blue. The horizon shimmered far ahead, distant and indistinct, as if the flat Texas prairie had moved the finish line.
Davide wiggled his toes inside his Christmas cowboy boots. “If this is Texas,” he announced, “I hate it.”
( in the style of Ghost Horse, by Janni Lee Simner)
What observations would you make about the voice of each version?