Here are some observations. I hope they help anyone who is struggling to unlock their voice for greater flow of the written word.
- Get quiet to know and allow your authentic self onto the page. This seems contradictory to the impulse we might have in a loud world with so many competing interests. But in fact, if you will pause, silence the noise and tap into the uniqueness that is inside you, your voice will gain strength, because I can promise you this one thing. Voice, like a thumbprint, is unique. Your words will reflect it when they are allowed to follow the rhythm and flow of your inner thoughts about the things you care most about.
- What follows then is being the word, rather than using the word. A wise fellow writer once gave me this advice when he read a small section of my work, and I never forgot it. I had dressed up the prose of my story, preparing for it to be scrutinized in workshop. I was thinking about the judges and wanted others to admire the prose, the description, the alliteration and images. But, while those things were on the page, they were not yet connected to a deep well of caring. Of course, I cared about my subject, maybe so much that I was protecting it from criticism. Be brave fellow writers, and allow the depth of your caring to be shown vulnerable on the page. Words and story will flow then and an organic voice along with the words.
- A writer’s voice is built through the techniques of character, setting, dialogue, plot and point of view.
Character: Observe people. Take your journal and yourself into the world and listen to different kinds of people talk. Hear their word choices, the cadence, the quirks and repetitions of phrases. Record your observations in a journal and know these are your working notes. Characters must be distinct from each other.
Setting: Place matters! Are your characters a product of rural or urban life, which socio-economic class and experiences related to that class. Mechanics? Yachtsmen? In a garage or on the ocean? Two different settings offering different languages, vocabularies…contributing to two uniquely different voices.
Dialogue: Listen to bus drivers, schoolteachers, farmers, talk radio hosts. Listen! Tune in to southern literature and the writing of diverse populations, and you will absorb more dialogue than you may use in a lifetime.
Plot: The action of a story, the what is happening and why lends to creating voice with its tone and urgency or anger or nostalgia or humor. Action creates feeling in the characters.
Point of View: Whether you tell a story from the first person point of view or second, or third, the vantage point of the camera fundamentally creates voice. Imagine if Daisy had told the story of The Great Gatsby, or if Moby Dick had been written from the whale’s point of view.
I share in closing a story. Many years ago, I wrote a novel that won an award and came with an agent. I prayed the novel would not see the light of day because I was not ready for that story to be told, even though I had to tell the story. The agent submitted it to a small number of editors (she worked on a quick turnaround as she explained to me) and when none of those six editors took it, she told me to change the title and get another agent to keep submitting the book. Instead, I breathed a sigh of relief and put the book in a closet. I shut my voice there, and wrote stories for a while instead. I had to reckon with that ghost in order to write the next novel, and acknowledge my voice as important. Not more, not less important than anyone else’s. But mine, and necessary.
As yours is necessary to the chorus of creation.
What one thing would you write if you were not afraid of the consequences?
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