Sunday, September 4, 2016

Who's Telling This Story?

This is a previously published article I did for the Brown County Writers Group's newsletter publication The Twig.

If you're writing your story in Jack London's voice, you better be Jack London. Stephen King? Nora Roberts? Annie Proulx? Sorry, those literary shoes have been filled.

Nope, you're telling this story, in a voice that is probably not yet established with a particular reader/fan base. That takes years. Agents and editors have not yet fallen to their knees and deified you for your not-Dean Koontz, not-James Patterson writing style, but for your brand new voice that is brilliant and unique. And insanely sale-able, which enables agents and editors to put meat on their tables, which makes them very happy to share their paychecks with aspiring writers.

When writers read (every day of our lives) we most often read our favorite writers whose material matches what we want to write. Unfortunately, we also tend to try to hijack our favorite writers' voices and call them our own. Sometimes we don't realize we're doing this, and sometimes we do.

Just as actors set aside who they are to become the characters they portray, so too should writers become the people we invent. We made up these characters, it's our responsibility to match how they think, what they're saying and why they're saying it, with their thoughts and actions.

Not only do your characters have to present a certain voice, every element of the story should project a certain tone. Setting, scene, circumstance, incident, and even era should reflect the overall voice of the piece. It can be understated and muted, boisterous, serious and melodramatic, sad, funny--whatever voice enhances the story in the most original way.

Fiction writers create fascinating stories about fascinating people who do something fascinating, and say something fascinating about something fascinating, from somewhere fascinating.

Well, that's the goal, at least. I've thought I've written something fascinating and find out that maybe only three people in the whole world find it fascinating, and that those people are on some seriously fascinating antidepressants.

The hard part is doing it in a voice that is exclusively your own. Your right word in the right place at the right time is not my right word in the right place at the right time. It's also not Jodi Picoult's right word, or John Grisham's. It's your voice you're selling.

To quote Raymond Carver, whose short stories earned literary acclaim and prestigious awards: "Every great or even very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications."

Every word you write, and every word you choose not to write, has to work to build a new world of your own that readers clamor to experience, a story told as only you can tell it.

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