Narrative Voice with Alice Munro and Ernest Hemingway

Topic Progress:

All writers, if they are being honest, pay homage to the master writers who came before them. In this revision process, we are going to identify a favorite writer and voice, the voice that makes you envious and feel at home all at once. We are going to use this voice to further fine-tune your own voice in your work.

  • Choose a favorite writer and work. This writer and work should reflect the following in your current workshop manuscript: genre (fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, intermedia, cross-over or combination of one or more genres.) This must be an identification you make for yourself. Someone else making this identification for you will be less effective. If you find you are having difficulty deciding on which writer and work best suits you and your manuscript, email me and let’s discuss it. While you are considering this, think about whether or not readers have compared you to other writers in the past. Be wary of choosing a writer who wrote before the modernist era. Language aesthetics have changed considerably since fin de siecle and you will want to fashion your own voice in such a way that it is both uniquely your own and also meeting your contemporary readership. Mixing in classic elements is fantastic but should be done with surgical skill so not to alienate a contemporary readership.
  • Once you have identified your writer and work, acquire the first 300 to 500 words of this work. Maybe this is already in your library OR find a free copy located online. Purchase the work if you must. Either way, this writer and work should be yours already, so let’s make it part of your library. Make sure you choose a work you can acquire within a day or two. Most everything is available in digital download format.
  • Now that you have your narrative voice model, 300 to 500 word excerpt, read it aloud. Read it aloud so many times that you can recite the first few lines without looking at the page.
  • Next, hand write or type, whichever works best for you, the excerpt. Some writers who use this narrative voice technique feel that hand writing is necessary to absorbing the voice of the model work, however, those who have grown their craft in a purely computerized era, may feel that typing is their preferred creative writing modality and so typing works best for them. Do whatever is best for you.
  • Once you’ve written or typed your chosen excerpt, I want you to replace the predominant setting and character(s) of this excerpt with that of your workshop manuscript. For instance, if you choose “Hills Like White Elephants,” you will replace the two main characters lines with that of your two main characters, or if your work only has one character, replace one of Hemingway’s characters with your own. Perhaps Hemingway’s story turns its focus from hills to urban buildings, abortion to loss of a job. Perhaps the train station and tracks become a Manhattan cafe and cab filled streets. Use Hemingway’s voice (or whatever your Hemingway is) to recreate your manuscript in the tone, setting and voice of Hemingway’s classic. (Obviously, Hemingway in no way needs to be your model. I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway, personally, so please do not feel Hemingway is a suggestion, merely an example. Perhaps, Alice Munro is yours.) [/tab]



Alice Munro

Carla heard the car coming before it topped the little rise in the road that around here they called a hill. It’s her, she thought. Mrs. Jamieson—Sylvia—home from her holiday in Greece. From the barn door—but far enough inside that she could not easily be seen—she watched the road where Mrs. Jamieson would have to drive by, her place being half a mile farther along than Clark and Carla’s.

If it was somebody coming to see them, the car would be slowing down by now. But still Carla hoped. Let it not be her.

It was. Mrs. Jamieson turned her head once, quickly—she had all she could do to maneuver her car through the ruts and puddles the rain had made in the gravel—but she didn’t lift a hand off the wheel to wave, she didn’t spot Carla. Carla got a glimpse of a tanned arm bare to the shoulder, hair bleached a lighter color than it had been before, more white now than silver-blond, and an expression that was both exasperated and amused at her own exasperation—just the way Mrs. Jamieson would look negotiating this road. When she turned her head there was something like a bright flash—of inquiry, of hopefulness—that made Carla shrink back.


Maybe Clark didn’t know yet. If he was sitting at the computer, he would have his back to the window and the road.

But he would have to know before long. Mrs. Jamieson might have to make another trip—for groceries, perhaps. He might see her then. And after dark the lights of her house would show. But this was July and it didn’t get dark till late. She might be so tired that she wouldn’t bother with the lights; she might go to bed early.

On the other hand, she might telephone. Anytime now.

This was the summer of rain and more rain. They heard it first thing in the morning, loud on the roof of the mobile home. The trails were deep in mud, the long grass soaking, leaves overhead sending down random showers even in those moments when there was no actual downpour from the sky. Carla wore a wide-brimmed old Australian felt hat every time she went outside, and tucked her long thick braid down her shirt.

Nobody showed up for trail rides—even though Clark and Carla had gone around posting signs at all the campsites, in the cafés, and on the tourist-office bulletin board, and anywhere else they could think of. Only a few pupils were coming for lessons, and those were regulars, not the batches of schoolchildren on vacation or the busloads from summer camps that had kept them going the summer before. And even the regulars took time off for holiday trips, or simply cancelled their lessons because of the weather. If they called too late, Clark charged them anyway. A couple of them had argued, and quit for good….

“Hills Like White Elephants”

Ernest Hemingway

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.

‘Let’s drink beer.’

‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.

‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.

‘Yes. Two big ones.’

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills.

They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.

‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.

‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’

The girl looked at the bead curtain. ‘They’ve painted something on it,’ she said. ‘What does it say?’

‘Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.’

‘Could we try it?’

The man called ‘Listen’ through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.

‘Four reales.’ ‘We want two Anis del Toro.’

‘With water?’

‘Do you want it with water?’

‘I don’t know,’ the girl said. ‘Is it good with water?’

‘It’s all right.’

‘You want them with water?’ asked the woman.

‘Yes, with water.’

‘It tastes like liquorice,’ the girl said and put the glass down.

‘That’s the way with everything.’

‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.’

‘Oh, cut it out.’

‘You started it,’ the girl said. ‘I was being amused. I was having a fine time.’

‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’

‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’

‘That was bright.’

‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it look at things and try new drinks?’

‘I guess so.’

The girl looked across at the hills.

‘They’re lovely hills,’ she said. ‘They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.’

‘Should we have another drink?’

‘All right….’

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