July 25, 2003


 At the recent Romance Writers of America conference, I gave a workshop on voice, and had not realized my worksheet would not be in the book. I promised the attendees to post it on my website and here it is.

Some questions to help you pinpoint your own unique voice

1. Where did you grow up? What are the Old World or native languages that predominate in that area? Any special accent?

2. Who taught you to talk? Do your parents have an accent of any kind? Did anyone ever speak a language other than English around you/to you?

3. What were the main ethnic groups around you when you grew up?

If there’s a predominant ethnic group in that geography, do you know any of the stories/legends/superstitions of that group? Did any of them stick with you particularly when you were a child?

4. Have you ever felt a particular affinity for a geography or culture that is not your own?

Why? What about it do you love or identify with?

5. What did you love more than anything on earth when you were twelve?

What did you want to be then?

6. What are your top five favorite novels of all time? What was your favorite book when you were 12? Fourteen?

7. Can you point to a writer or a book that made you want to be a writer? Who/What?

8. What book do you most deeply wish you’d written? Why? What parts of it make you swoon? Characters? Voice? Plot?

Try typing a few pages from it, just to see how it feels to you. Where you’d change the flow of the language, the way the paragraphs are broken.

9. What are your obvious passions? (Hobbies, avocations, etc.)

10 What are the defining characteristics of these passions? (for example, gardeners and photographers are usually interested in light and color. Model builders and cross-stitchers tend to like attention to detail.)

11. What would five friends all say about you if someone asked them to name a defining passion?

12. What are your secret passions?

13, What charities speak to you? What one world or national ill would you fix magically if you could? What world sorrows can move you to tears?

14. If you weren’t a writer, but could be any other kind of artist/musician, what would you choose? What would be your tools? why?

15. Now focus on your own work: do you notice yourself returning to certain themes?

Are there times/places that you use repeatedly? If so, can you identify the reasons it appeals to you, and if so, are there other times/places that might also stimulate your passions? Have you ever tried to use those other places/times?

What do readers/editors/outsiders seem to respond to most enthusiastically in your work? Is there anything that they see as a strength that you don’t notice or value?

What would you LIKE people to say about your voice?

If you could only write ONE book in your life, what book would it be?

Why aren’t you writing it?

Now, if you can, try to condense all these defining things into a paragraph, or even better, one sentence.

My voice is……

As an example, my paragraph would be “People respond to the emotionally intense themes in my work, and to the lyrical or poetic angles of the way I put words down. (Hey, don’t be modest! This is for you. No one else ever has to see it.) I write about cross cultural themes, and about music and animals. Color, light, textures, sounds–everything sensual–matter a lot to me.”

My sentence would distill to, “My voice is sensual and emotionally intense.”

Critics can be a great help here: I have one phrase someone used in reference to my voice that I loved, and I stole it for my own vision of my work: “darkly voluptuous.” “My voice is darkly voluptuous.” Sandra Brown recommends writing down everything good that you hear about your work. It might surprise you.

Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind is the author of more than two dozen novels and three novellas. She has won four Ritas and a Janet Dailey award, as well as RWA’s Top Ten Books of the Year, twice, and Library Journal’s top five books three times. Her latest novels are NO PLACE LIKE HOME and A PIECE OF HEAVEN, Ballantine Books.

Till next time,


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