August 2017: Distinguishing voice

Tonight we had a discussion about VOICE, and considering all attendees to our writing group today were female, whether a female can effectively tell a story in a male voice.

Voice 1280px-EH_Voice_Box
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One of us brought in a story she’s working on for the upcoming Catchfire Press Competition due at the end of October. It is written in first person deep point of view, but the challenge is that the main character is male. We discussed whether the story had a effective male voice, and how the author could strengthen the male voice without coming across as stereotypical.

The main character is a father taking his 3 year old daughter to a swimming lesson. Three aspects we discussed about the story, that could be changed to make it sound more masculine were:

  • We changed ‘I avoid looking at the swim coach’ to ‘I’m not going to look at the swim coach’.
  • We removed the words ‘of course’ throughout the story, as we agreed this can sound feminine.
  • We changed the sentence ‘I push her feet into her shoes then take them off again, sigh loudly, and put them on the right feet this time.’ to ‘I shove her shoes on. For f#$%’s sake, they’re on the wrong the feet again, but I’m not changing them now.’

One of the group also mentioned that a great example that shows the difference between male and female voice is a book by Margaret Atwood called ‘The Heart Goes Last‘.

What do our readers think? What ways can you manipulate words to change the voice from male to female or the other way round?

July 2017: Holding on to this drainpipe

Tonight our writers group did a writing exercise by randomly picking a sentence from a random book Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. We had 5 mins to free-write, starting our story with the sentence ‘Holding on to this drainpipe’. When finished, we each read our stories aloud.

Facade Drainpipe Decay Ram Cornice Structure
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We were tapping into the very first idea that comes into our minds, and we discovered some pretty interesting things about how we each develop our stories:

  • The drain was a metaphor for depression (in fact, the drainpipe was an underground drainpipe, where for others it was a pipe on the outside of a building, some many stories up). The drain was a big black hole and the character was already inside, clinging to the grate above.
  • The drainpipe was literal, and introduced a problem that had to be solved (a person hanging from a pipe, 6 stories up, and the person needed to find a foothold, or a way to be rescued). One of the key elements of a story is an obstacle that a character has to overcome, and being stuck on a drainpipe was that obstacle.
  • The story developed around a recent event that we’d been discussing just prior to the exercise (the tragic death of Justine Damond). Justine was the girl in the story, and she was holding on to a drainpipe by a canal in America.
  • The story was driven around characters. The author threw two characters and a drainpipe together, and the story developed around that. The author understood the personalities and drivers behind the characters, so their actions came naturally from there.
  • The drainpipe was on the move. And the character was attached to it. It was a little quirky, a little humorous and got our palms sweating by the end.

This exercise made it clear that we all get our inspiration from very different places. As expected, our stories took very different directions, despite using the same starting sentence. However what was most surprising was the very different approaches we took to get those stories on the page.

What’s usually the approach you take when starting a story? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.