Openings and Voices 3

Published August 1, 2012 by Elsa Pla

The exercise I’m working on all this week:

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.

Today’s author is Kathi Appelt, and the novel is The Underneath.

There is nothing sadder than a tiger that, after experiencing the freedom of living in the wild, is captured and forced to spend the rest of his life in a cramped cage. A young Bengal tiger. His captors have brought him to this noisy city, to the third floor of this concrete building, to this 6×10 feet cage by a glass window, this hot cage where he feels exhausted and thirsty all day long.

How long has he been here? Weeks? Months? He has no idea how he got here, this prison so far from the jungle where he grew up. He remembers a prick in his side, like a bee sting, and human voices, and feeling scared and, oh, so sleepy, and then nothing else until waking up in this lonely, sweltering space.

The room that houses the cage is small and bare, and the cage itself is empty except for two large metal bowls chained to the thick iron bars. If he looks out the glass window, he can see the flat cement rooftop of the house next door, and beyond that, more and more houses and buildings. He prefers to look higher up, at the blazing blue sky and feathery clouds, and to contemplate the way the sky changes and darkens as night approaches and lights up again with the coming of the new day.

At first he paced up and down the cage. He scratched at the bars. He growled in anger at the men who brought him food and water and at the people who came to stare at him and talk quietly amongst themselves. But now he just sits and looks out the window. He should be angry. He should be worried and afraid. But mostly he’s terribly, terribly sad.

You learn so much from this exercise. You identify elements of style you like and want to add to your writer’s tool kit, and you make choices in word usage and sentence construction that help you figure out your own voice and style.

Try it! 🙂

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