Fellowship Season Prep Part 2: Clarifying Voice
April 23, 2020
With some fellowships already accepting applications and others about to, we’re doing a mini crash course in exercises that can help prepare you for putting your best foot—or rather pen—forward.
We’ve already discussed three exercises designed to dig into your personal history and mine your memories for essay inspiration. This week, let’s take a look at exercises that can help you clarify and better understand Your Voice.
While your personal essay and your answers to creative prompts may share commonalities with other applicants (even if you come from a family of clowns who climb mountains in their spare time) you’d be surprised to find there are plenty of others out there who overlap in some way with your experience, "I went through a struggle and that’s how I fell in love with writing" - There are probably hundreds of writers who feel the same. So, the way you tell your story—Your Voice—is what will set you apart as a one-of-a-kind, the-writers-room-needs-ME, writer.
SO, WHAT IS IT?
Your Voice isn’t just one thing. It’s a collection of attributes made up of your word choice, structure preferences, character wounds and flaws, dialogue styles, comedic or dramatic tones, and the themes and questions that are commonly found in your scripts.
HOW DO YOU GET ONE?
The good news is, you’ve already got one. It’s been developing throughout your entire writing career and will continue to sharpen as you grow. But the following exercises can help you become more aware of what yours is, so you can heighten it intentionally as you continue writing. These exercises will also help you understand Your Voice so that you can explain it clearly when asked, “What do you bring to the table, besides your story?”
HOW CAN I SPOT MINE?
EXERCISE 1: INSPIRATION INVENTORY
First thing’s first, let’s do a deep dive into some things you love. Make a list of your:
- Favorite movies, TV shows, and books
- Favorite moments from your favorite movies, TV shows, and books
- Favorite songs and musicians
- Favorite hobbies
- The people you look up to and the friends you feel the most yourself around
What themes and elements do your favorites have in common? Are they all high energy and existential? Do they involve slow burns and romanticism? Are your best friends boisterous, ballsy and blunt? Or soft-hearted, living, breathing hugs? Are your hobbies solo or communal? About connection or distance?
More importantly, how often and in what ways do the common elements and themes from your favorite inspiring things show up in your scripts?
EXERCISE 2: PAGE DECORATIONS
You can tell a lot about a person by how they decorate their home. The same goes for reading someone’s script. Is there a lot of white space or is it action heavy? Do they use long, flowery sentences or are they blunt and direct with descriptions? Do they have short or long scenes? Across multiple locations or only a few?
With this in mind, here are two sides of an exercise that will help you notice the way Your Voice has already worked its way into your scripts.
Take a one to two-page scene from your script and write a terrible version of it. I don’t mean make it unreadable. I mean write the barest bones, simplified, boring version of that scene. Take out all of your adjectives. Remove any character descriptions. Reduce all dialogue lines to only one sentence each.
Re-reading this new version of the scene should still get across the point of the original, but it’s missing everything that you brought to the table. Now take note of the things you took out. Sure, maybe some lines read cleaner now. But, the elements you put back in because they make it better; the adjectives, the way you describe the world, the style of speech in each character’s original dialogue—that’s Your Voice.
ADD / SWAP
Take the same one-to two-page scene you just worked with, and this time, instead of taking away, you’re going to add to it. Add 10 adjectives or swap out 10 words for more heightened words, more if you’re feeling fancy. Play up the words to match the genre you’re writing in. Drama? Sneak in “sullenly” or “sulked.” Comedy? Have someone “bounce” into the room “brightly.”
The more you play around with this exercise, the more you’ll move past some common ways of heightening the tone and you may stumble into describing your scene or having your character speak in a way only you would think of.
The most important part of this exercise is to recognize that this heightened and exaggerated version of your scene is not necessarily your new version. It likely reads a bit silly. But, by turning your descriptive language up to “eleven” you’ll be able to see where your instincts pull you, and where you’re having the most fun creatively. This “fun” is you tapping more clearly into Your Voice. You may even end up keeping a line or two in.
Hopefully these exercises are getting the creative juices flowing, but we’re still just getting started with digging into Your Voice. Stay tuned for more exercises and writing prompts to sharpen your fellowship essays and applications!
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter, playwright, and development consultant, and has sold shows to CBS (sitcom) and NBC (crime/mystery). Raised on a mix of Gilda Radner sketches, Columbo reruns, and neuroscience conferences, Liz’s love of comedy, mystery, and the puzzle of human behavior is woven through every story she writes. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook and can be found at www.BletchleySpark.com.