Openings and Voices

Published July 30, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Voice: A writer’s unique, personal voice results from the combination of the writer’s style (the way the writer uses words), tone (the writer’s attitude toward the subject matter), and personality.

My daughter shared with me an excellent book that contains writing prompts, quotes, and exercises: Write Starts by Hal Zina Bennett. Today’s exercise is an adaptation of “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night — On the importance of good opening lines” on page 163.


Analyze and emulate the opening (first lines or paragraphs) of several stories or novels, each written by a different favorite author. This exercise will help you practice how to hook your reader, but most importantly, it will help you discover and develop your voice through the study of a favorite author’s voice. If you love the voice of an author, it’s probably because you identify with his/her voice; that is, your voices have something in common. This exercise will help you discover those commonalities.

I’ll be working on this exercise all week, and then I’ll reflect on the products. My first author is Roald Dahl and the novel is James and the Giant Peach.

My attempt:

Until she was eleven years old, Jamie Jones had led a wonderful life. Her loving parents were wealthy and loved to travel, so Jamie had visited many interesting and exotic places in her short life. She had even been on a safari in Africa, where she had ridden on the back of a ghost-white elephant. Jamie had moved with her parents to Denver, Colorado, to a lovely Victorian house that stood in front of a well-kept park full of evergreens, rabbits, and squirrels. She was looking forward to starting sixth grade at Lincoln Middle School, a school that was fairly close to her new home and was full of smiling children.

But that summer, a terrible thing happened. She and her parents were touring the Grand Canyon, taking photographs with their brand-new 30mm camera from the edge of a spectacular cliff, when, all of a sudden, the ground gave way under their feet, and they found themselves plummeting down 5,000 feet toward the Colorado River.  “Aaaaaah!” all three of them screamed.

A rescue team found Jamie hours later, clinging to an outcropping with one hand, clutching the camera with the other, too shocked to even call for help.  Her parents had not been so fortunate.  They were found three days later many miles downriver, floating face down in a quiet, gentle stream, their hands tightly clasped together.

This is a great exercise. Try it! 🙂

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