Humpty Dumpty, or Lessons in Voice

Terena Bell
4 min readJun 1, 2022

When writers say someone has “voice,” what does that mean? As a concept, voice can be hard to describe, but we know when we read it. Voice is that thing that sets you apart, that makes your writing identifiably yours. More than a tone or an approach that permeates the story, voice can sometimes be the story, determining what a writer leaves in and what she takes out. It’s the mystical thing in any piece that makes it exclusively YOU.

For those looking to better hone voice, DIY MFA author Gabriela Pereira offers some advice: Rewrite Humpty Dumpty. Not in the way that you would tell it (though you’re welcome to give that a try), rather as your favorite writers would. Through trying to mimic their voice, we come to better understand the concept of voice itself. Just what exactly makes Jack Kerouac different from Jane Austen? When you’re done, read your retellings over to learn what sets these writers apart from you.

Here are four examples to get you started:

Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an egg placed upon a wall must fall. That this happened in view of the king’s men as they rode out that morning upon their horses was tragic, causing much distress for the — -shire regiment, as in the end there was altogether nothing they could do. The egg was simply unfit for reassembly.

Flannery O’Connor

Humpty Dumpty didn’t want to fall. He simply wanted a place to rest his feet. The king was trying to tell him that he did not need to come down carefully, that if he fell he would not shatter, but would simply roll down the hill as good, Christian eggs are prone to do. He was sitting on the edge, right on the edge, enjoying the view. “Now look here, Humpty,” the king said, “see here, even if you do break, my men will put you right back together,” one hand on his hip and the other violently shaking toward Humpty. “Here this fellow tries to tell me I’m wrong,” he said to his men, “and here I am the king.” So in a situation like that, Humpty had no choice, had no choice other than to try and fall at an angle, to drop in such a way where maybe he would only crack. But when all was said and done, the king lying down that night wished he could forget about the day — because the truth does not change according to our…

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Terena Bell

Reporter & fiction writer; series editor, Writing Through the Classics; short story editor for hire; sponsor more writing here: buymeacoffee.com/terenabell