I was once a little girl who read everything: comics, Enid Blyton, fairy tales from every part of the world, historical romance and here and there, a classic. It never occurred to me until a couple of years ago to separate the stories from the writers, which made for a lot of confusion, since writers…you know…
lie make things up. A lot. All the time. The only remedy I found for my confused and bewildered life was to become a writer myself, and confuse and bewilder entertain my own small clan of gullible susceptible readers.
Artist and work=2 separate entities. Those of you who have children know whereof I speak. You were joined to Junior for 9 months and that was all you got. It took him a while to walk and talk, even longer to think by himself, but by the time he went off to college, one thing decidedly missing from his backpack was you.
Our books can and must live legitimate lives without us. Even in the writing, it’s only by freeing ourselves from the inhibited, self conscious critic–who locks away the wild, growly, horny, needy, raging parts of us–that we can build a living, breathing novel. I touch on this in How to write a FEARLESS book while hiding under the bed, and here I’ll venture further–into the realm of narrative and personal voice.
- Personal Voice, as in the voice of emails and blogs, essays and erotic smartypants texts. I’ve chosen to stick with voice because I think it’s the be-all and end-all of how we connect. It’s how we go out into the world, and it represents the convergence of what makes us who we are: our character, personality, sense of self, the masks we wear, the extent to which we’re vulnerable or assertive. There’s often conflict between how we perceive ourselves and how the world sees us. I lost my voice when I came to the US. I had a British sensibility informed by South African neurosis and paranoia, so often when I opened my mouth to speak or blow bubbles, someone would toss me a baffled, silent stare. Communication? Forget it. A lot of my spelling went out the window. Americans are less formal, so even the way I wrote emails suddenly seemed stilted. Way back, when I was having a torrid affair with words, I wrote poetry, mainly sonnets. I haven’t written a poem in a long time, and in my search for a new voice, I’ve had to ask myself many of the questions I’ve set out below. My challenge has been to accept the hybrid that I am with a spirit of adventure, because let’s face it, mongrels are just as interesting as purebreds.
- Narrative Voice and Point of View. Unless you’re writing a memoir, finding your voice as a writer doesn’t only mean YOUR voice–it means your narrator’s. You have to know who s/he/it is, because whether you’re writing in first person or third (close or distant, earnest or unreliable), your narrator is driving the bus. She’s the one getting the reader from page 1 to page infinity and beyond. If she’s dull, incoherent, apologetic and mousy, she’ll lose her passengers no matter what the book’s characters get up to. Now I’m not saying that a dull, incoherent, apologetic and mousy narrator can’t be incredibly interesting, (especially if she’s a serial killer, in fact that’s got me thinking), but she has to connect with her reader, get him to go on a journey with her, and that she does with voice.
Questions to ask your narrator: Who are you? Where do you come from? Are you observer/voyeur/snoop or participant? Do you care or are you just watching? Are you a character or a presence? Are you passive or do you have agency? Do you get in the way of, interfere with or facilitate the story? Do you lie or hide things from the reader? Do you hide things from the book’s characters? Are you angry/sexy/okay-mousy-and-incoherent/subversive/secretive/inconspicuous/brash?
The questions themselves will free you to create an entity that is bigger and beyond the limited perceptions of who you are as author. And here’s a secret: those limited perceptions? They’re slaves to the ego, whether it’s healthy or psychotic, and they’re the ones wearing the armor plated underwear.
Finding answers: Listen–to the voices in your head and the voices around you. Read–as much as you can. Your objective isn’t to clone your favorite author, it’s to discover what’s working and why. If you get carried away by a novel and forget to analyze it–that’s the gem, the book to take to Mars if you’re one of the chosen to go and never come back. The easier and more immersive the reading, the more difficult the writing. Sidle up to some poets. Every word a poet uses is a world unto itself. Write–as much as you can. Write rubbish, write free, write pictures, write, write, write. Your brain, which is a pretty savvy organ that doesn’t want you to die in desperate creative misery (it’s the ego that’s the culprit there), will quickly figure out what you’re trying to do and become a most indispensable ally.
Do you have any tips you want to share about voice? How it drives you crazy / eludes you / keeps you up at night / or maybe how it comes to you as a series of epiphanies? Some of us struggle, some of us don’t, but I think most of us go through some sort of dynamic process.