Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Going On a Voice Hunt

Unfortunately, re-connecting with broken or lost voice isn't quite as easy as filling out a worksheet or answering a quiz. However, there are a number of things we can do to explore, identify, and strengthen our voice. All of the below have really helped me get a better idea of my voice so that I could try to make it stronger.

1) Embrace your inner odd duck.

This is the dedication in the second Theodosia book, and something I talk to kids about all the time. Our unique, crazy self is our secret weapon—especially when we’re engaged in creative pursuits. It’s our strange, uniquely individual perspective, emotional truth, and acquired wisdom that makes our work stand out from others’. If you’re a smart ass, or have way too vivid an imagination, or are too sensitive, or have attitude to spare, or have a wicked temper, or always look on the bleak side, whatever it is; embrace that part of yourself and incorporate it into your work. The longer I’ve been writing the more I think that drilling down to this absolutely unique core view of the world we each possess is key.

When I was in Dallas I had a chance to hear Judy Schachner, author of the Skippy Jones books, speak. As she gave her presentation and read from her latest book, I was struck by how this book was so uniquely a product of her. After meeting her and listening to this presentation, I realized this book was such a product of her own completely unique world view that it simply could not have been written by anyone other than Judy. And it seems to me that all our books should be that tied to our own individual perspectives and have our voice stamped so indelibly on them.

2) Ask by what moral authority are you telling this story.

And no, I don’t mean the church lady type moral authority. What I mean is, what authentic emotional route do you have into this story? That doesn’t mean that you must have experienced sexual abuse to write about it, but it will make your story more authentic if you have experienced some sort of abuse—if you are intimately aware of what abuse feels like. Especially if you agree that an author’s emotional truths are part of their voice. (And you might not, and that's okay, too.)

You know that saying that says, Write what you know? It’s talking about the emotional truth of what you know, not whether or not you’ve ever been a fireman or in love with a vampire.

3) What is the favorite thing you’ve ever written?

Do you have one piece of writing, an essay, a novel, even just a paragraph, that you love so much you can’t even believe you wrote it? If not, do you have something that simply stands out from other pieces of writing in such a way that makes you sit up and take notice? What sets it apart from your other writing? Can you identify what makes it sing for you?

4) Try to get a sense of what sort of stories really call to you.

Make a list of your fifteen favorite books of all time, then your fifteen favorite movies of all time. What commonality emerges? Mine were from a wide variety of genres and tones and it took a while before I recognized that one factor was a strong voice (yes, even in movies). Another was that the stories I loved the most took the hero to the mat emotionally, the protagonist was truly reborn by the experience of the story. Big sweeping, redraw your entire emotional landscape, type stories.

5) Looking back in time, what were some of the most pivotal moments in your life? Your childhood? How did that betrayal, salvation, glimmer of kindness, moment of despair, shape you? Pick a couple of these moments and do a quick, five or ten minute timed writing. Timed writing means stream of consciousness, only you will see it, no editing, kind of writing. You’ll be surprised how much truth gets on the page.

Tomorrow we'll talk about story voice--how one's voice can shift from book to book.


Dave Johnson said...

This is good stuff - keep it coming!

PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Robin. And I love your voice in the Theodosia books!

I've heard this about voice which I loved - it's how you sound when you're talking amongst your very good friends vs. how you talk in a group of strangers. The real you.

Robin L said...

Glad you're finding it helpful, Dave! More to come later today.

Hey PJ! I'm so glad you liked the Theodosia voice. I have to say, that's probably my truest voice to date. When I did some of these exercises for the first time, I was surprised to discover how wordy and somewhat formal my normal voice is. I really do talk in complex clauses!

And I really like that definition of voice, that it's how it sounds when talking amongst your best friends! The problem I ran into though, was how does that change--or should it--if I'm telling a radically different story from Theodosia.

PJ Hoover said...

I know! Short of dumping all your friends and getting new ones, I'm coming up empty on this one. Maybe it's how I talk to my best friends about a variety of different topics, some serious, some not much so. Cause if I'm having a conversation about religion I sound way different than if I'm relaying my best college dorm prank story.
Hmmm...something to think on.

Dave Johnson said...

Natural voice usually works, but I'm curious how to keep it natural when crossing cultures and time periods with characters. I'm using first person POV on a Renaissance era character right now, which means no contractions, more "courtly" language at times, etc. It seems to take me further and further from my natural Voice, but then again, I don't want the character to have my personality either. It's more of an experiment for me right now...at worst I'll learn how badly I can botch it, then it's all downhill from there!

That's why I specifically asked Robin this question. The Theodosia voice is very natural, but also completely believable in terms of age, era, and culture which is a pretty good trick.