Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lorin Oberweger Talks About Voice

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop taught by Lorin Oberweger. Lorin says that a Writer's Voice equals Emotion + Viewpoint + Style. She challenged us to think about the dominant emotion we are trying to convey on the first page of our manuscripts. Then Lorin gave us an assignment to describe either a Thanksgiving dinner or an old barn as if we were journalists.

For the record, writing descriptive passages is not one of my strengths. I tend to write fast-paced and with lots of dialogue. Anyway, I chose to describe a Thanksgiving meal. The tone I had in mind was somber, the Thanksgiving after the death of my sister. Here's what I jotted down:

The table for six is covered with a white tablecloth. The centerpiece of leaves and fall flowers is low so as not to impede conversation. Candles glow, casting the room in shadows. The smells of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes waft from the sideboard, though in truth the family members have no appetite, picking at their food. They are dressed for the occasion, showered, coiffed, and squeezed into formal attire. Only one chair is empty.

Next Lorin gave each of us an index card. She asked us to write the emotion that we were trying to convey on the card and pass it to our neighbor on the right. Then we were asked to rewrite the scene using the emotion from our neighbor's card. The card I was passed said HUMOROUS. Here is the passage I wrote by changing the emotion to humorous:

A white tablecloth, candles, and multiple forks. Seriously, who needs more than one fork? What is up with that? When Bryce said his family was wealthy, I had no idea just how wealthy. I took out my nose ring and changed into clean bluejeans, but from the look on his sister's face, she doesn't appreciate my efforts. Most people in my situation would be worried, but not me. I mean, I love Bryce, and he loves me. He even had my name tattooed on his forearm to prove it. When his mom sees that, she's bound to realize we're serious and welcome me into the fold. Maybe even set off some fireworks after dinner to celebrate our engagement. Boom! Boom! I smile and make my way over to the empty chair.

What I really took away from the exercise is to be more conscious of mood and emotion when I write.

We also read excerpts from THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, and ROOM by Emily Donoghe. We talked about how each of these writers makes great use of voice. I am intrigued enough to add all three to my to-be-read list and study the authors' techniques.

I think an author's voice is much like listening to a favorite band. Each song is different, but the band has a distinct sound. When I hear the horns, I know it's Chicago.

How do you define voice? What novels have you read recently that make good use of it?


  1. I found your somber Thanksgiving very effective, sparse, and clearly form the heart. Good exercise! .

  2. Such an interesting workshop. Sorry I missed it. Love that exercise and think I'll try it! Also, I am possibly the only person who intensely disliked ROOM. (not a kids' book, obviously) But the voice was very strong.

  3. That is a great exercise and it certainly brought an interesting response from you. I haven't read any of these books, but I will now. I have read Elizabeth Wein's other book, Rose Under Fire, which I reviewed on my blog last week. It is a spectacular book and has a great voice. Thanks for sharing this, Shannon.

  4. Such a terrific exercise. Shannon, I love seeing how your paragraph took on life when you switched emotions!

  5. Thanks, Ladies, for stopping by. And Rosi, thanks for the book recommendation