Monday, October 3, 2011

Finding a Voice With Which to Write

It's interesting that there are so many books about plot, character development, setting, etc, yet not that many talk about voice.  Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, but I would think that this would be one of the more important concepts in writing.  Finding your voice is important.  It's what defines you as a writer.  It is unique, like a fingerprint.  It is wholly you.  When you read it, others will say, "This is that writer".

Stephen King mentioned it in an essay in his book, Night Shift.  He referred to it as "filters".  He explained that he didn't write horror fiction because he wanted to, but rather, that is just what came out.  He gave the analogy that if he and Lois L'Amour were to sit on opposite sides of a pond that they would come up with story ideas about the same time.  The difference being that L'Amour would come up with a story about water rights in the Old West.  Whereas he, King, would come up with something involving monsters living in the water that would eat anyone that happened by.  What King describes is the concept of "voice".  It isn't necessarily a "choice", but rather "what comes out".  Some might find this concept a little restraining.  After all, we all want to be masters of our destiny.  The reality being, that human beings do what comes more naturally.  We can step out of that "box", but what we create doesn't always look, or feel, natural to us or others.

When I was in college in my music composition class, I remember writing one successful piece of music.  Successful in that the teacher thought it was good and not, as he would call it, "mental masturbation".  Crude though that statement was, it did make its point.  The piece was called "River Fanfare" and was, in my humble opinion, rather nice.  However, what really frustrated me was that my professor mentioned that it reminded him of Aaron Copland.  Now some might find my frustration humorous.  After all, Aaron Copeland is an American icon.  Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of Copeland.  I liked his music, but I didn't love it, not like the European masters that I grew up with (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, etc.).  I wanted to write like they did.  The reality was, however, that every time I tried to write like them, I would fail.  I wouldn't be able to express what was in my head the right way, and as a result, never finish it.  My professor would call it "crap" and I would ultimately give up on my dream to be a music composer.  The rest, they say, is history.

In my very short career as an aspiring writer, I've submitted two stories to publishers (see my blog post on dealing with rejection for the sordid tale).  Both stories were children's stories.  From the feedback I've gotten from friends and family, they are good (now if I could only convince a publisher!).  The second story, Sir Grumpsalot, really surprised me.  It was light, cute, and downright silly.  It wasn't what I would consider "me".  After all, two of my favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.  So it was doubly surprising when a good friend of mine, who is also a writer, told me that I had found my voice.  She read it to her children and they even said, "Wow that sounds just like how he talks".

So, now I've found my voice, what does that mean?  Does it mean that I'm supposed to write silly kids stories my entire career?  Or is "voice" more complex than just a simple, this is what you should write all the time?  Sometimes I wonder if I have more questions now than when I started.  I guess if it was easy, it wouldn't be fun.

Till next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment