Friday, August 23, 2013

Telling a Story in Our Own Voice (or One That Comes Naturally To Us)

 by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Wednesday, I was the only adult in the line of about 100 junior year high school students in front of the counselor’s office.   
The students were all there to have their schedules changed for one reason or another.  My son was next to me, both relieved that I was there and resigned that I was there. His schedule, unfortunately, needed four or five changes to it—sometimes computers stick odd things on schedules.  This computer had.  I was there to lend an air of gravitas to the situation and help him get the schedule in order so he’d have what he needed for these colleges he’s starting to look at (primarily German III and German IV, since they want four years in a single language).
So here’s the situation.  We’re all sitting in plastic chairs in a long, long line outside this office, each with a number.  He has friends to the right of him and friends to the left of him and I’m right in the middle. I have brought my book with me and am determined not to bother/embarrass him (if I can help it).  Although I could potentially be bothering him by the fact that I’m quietly writing about murder in my notebook.  Or that I’m there at all.
We wait about four hours.
His friends, nearer the start of the four hour wait, aren’t exactly sure how to talk around me.  And this is literally around me, since they’re having to lean forward to bypass my presence.  There is some stilted conversation.  They pass their phones to each other to share a video or a funny picture, but they only snort or laugh and don’t talk about whatever it is they’re looking at.  I keep writing.
Finally the girl next to me asks sweetly, “Mrs. Craig, are you here to get your schedule changed, too?” Trying out a different tack to see how I’d respond. My son looks sideways at me.
I nodded.  “I was supposed to graduate in 1989, but I can’t seem to get enough credits for graduation.”
This makes them laugh.  And soon, they’re carrying on conversations that seem a lot more natural. Not as natural as they’d be if I weren’t there at all, but a whole lot more natural than they were before. This helps me relax too. It’s very distracting when people are acting stilted around you.  I was actually able to block them all out and write several pages for my book.
To me, this is half the battle of coming up with a writer’s voice—not sounding stilted.  Stilted narrative is distracting and makes it tough for a reader to get wrapped up in our story.
I knew what I wanted my storytelling voice to be before I wrote my first book…but it took a while for me to achieve it. I wanted it to be intimate and friendly. It took some practice and both hits and misses before I nailed it.  One tip that I found:  once you’ve written a passage of your book in the voice you’re shooting for, print that portion out and keep it near you.  When you feel you’re sounding stilted again, reread the passage that you wrote. It can help to reorient you.
Here are some posts on voice that I’ve found helpful in the past:
Can You Hear Me Now? Developing Your Voice—by Janice Hardy @janice_hardy
10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice—by Jeff Goins @jeffgoins
Need Voice? Think Out Loud—by Jami Gold @jamigold
3 Vs of Fiction—Voice—by Darcy Pattison @fictionnotes
Did your author's voice come naturally to you? How did you find it?