My current soon-to-be-turfed work has multiple perspectives, so it’s no surprise I’ve been thinking a lot about the writer’s voice.
One of my characters is Irish. Predictably, I’ve given him my husband’s speech pattern. It’s like putting on the Butler’s still warm jacket. More than that, it’s practicing a skill I don’t do naturally (speak Hiberno-English), a wonderfully engrossing challenge.
Another character is American, from a region near my own. I sit back in his verbal rocking chair and become Uncle Remus. Here is where, in the guise of a gay male military surgeon, I speak openly about dark things. I am a brave sheep in wolf’s clothing. My bravery comes from no one knowing what is true and what is not.
This isn’t real bravery, no powerful earth woman standing with her arm raised, calling down the power of the Furies. It’s wee, teeny bravery. But, the only reason this wee teeny bravery exists is because someone asked me to write about myself. And I did. And I got a surprise. The surprise was that I wasn’t brave at all, so wee, teeny bravery is a step forward.
About this character actor I admire. (Come, come. The Appalachian mind must travel in curves, never straight lines.) There’s a British actor who transforms himself so completely for his roles – voice, appearance, walk – part of my enjoyment is to see if he’s in there under the wigs and makeup. However, when I’ve seen him as a narrator in documentaries, he comes across as uncomfortable in his own skin, as if he doesn’t know who he is without a role. It’s amazing (and painful) to watch.
He’s a good actor, you say? He is. Then what’s the problem?
For the incurably introverted (myself, perhaps?), the role or the character’s voice protects the interior world, the place where creativity comes from. Why mess with that? No great moral reason, I can see. I just like a challenge, because by stretching my skill past what comes naturally to me, I improve that skill. Except the times when I fail hilariously, of course.
In this first wee, teeny bravery, I’ve learned something. First, I’ve learned to honour my own experiences. I am the only person who’s had them. We all share certain experiences, this is true, but I had those experiences in my body with my emotions reacting to and my thoughts being shaped by them. Therefore, my experience is unique.
The next thing I’ve learned is that there’s liberation to this bravery. It’s like being forced to use your right hand when you’re a natural southpaw, then picking up the pen in your left hand. That’s more than being a better writer; for me, when I’m writing as the gay male military surgeon, I feel like I’ve moved close to my reader and quietly shared a very good secret. I feel closer to you.
And so far when I spread my unique experience on the table, the people who see my wares go, wow . . . I mean honestly, when I see your wares, I go, wow . . . what made me think you wouldn’t do the same? That wow moment is a gift. My experiences are a gift to you. If someone doesn’t graciously accept them – and that’s bound to happen – that doesn’t have to be about either of us. It just is.
The biggest thing I’ve taken from this is that the act of being asked to speak is THE most important thing that can happen to a writer. We pitch and we submit and we work in our closets in the hope that someone will notice our incurably introverted selves. It all changes when someone says to me, will you write . . .
It’s one thing we have no control over. I would love to say, Will you write, and validate your wares, but me asking you to write is one step away from Granny doing it.
Qaisra Shahraz (The Holy Woman, Revolt, Typhoon) recently suggested that writers participate in virtual writing communities, not just through RTs and shares, but with our comments. Give our voices to other writers to let them know their work is being read.
It’s great advice and I pass it on to you. Will you write, will you comment, will you speak to other writers? I request 140 characters of your wares. Will you write . . .