A writer’s VOICE is not always easy to define, yet it is one of the most important aspects of our work. “Voice” can mean a few different things, but is not the same thing as “point of view.” Think of a book…any book that has a story-line. Who is the narrator? Is the narrator the author, or a different character? Does the story have different points of view throughout? Characters have their own voices; we learn their values, attributes, and peculiarities. Even if, however, the author is not a direct participant in the narrative, by reading the story we also learn about the writer’s voice. The voice of the writer conveys characteristic speech, an approach or mindset, the values and charisma personal to that writer.
Think of it another way: As a writing group, we know each other’s writing well enough, that I bet more often than not we could listen to a piece and make a pretty good guess as to which of us wrote it. Why is that? It’s because we can recognize each other’s voices. Or think of a time when you read something and thought, “Wow, that sounds like Dickens,” or, “This piece is like Stephen King meets Moliere” (I have no idea what that last one would look like). The point is, whatever point of view we write from, our own writer’s voice will come through.
So for this entry, let’s play with “Voice,” whether it be a reflection or an experiment.
“You Do it Too, Writer! Don’t Be Shy!”
Who are you, my reader? I’ve been pouring my soul out to you through my words. I know how I felt when I wrote my innermost thoughts but do you know how I feel? How do any of us truly know another, truly know how they feel? My heart ached so hard when I wrote about my lost love that it felt as if someone had sucked the breath from my body and left a gaping cavern where my heart used to be. Did you feel my pain as deeply as I? Perhaps! But you read and you feel based on your own experience, the emotions developed and mixed and roiled together over the years of your own life. If you have loved and lost as I have then you will feel my pain as your pain as you read my story. My story will mean more to you than to someone who has never loved and lost.
I write to ease my pain. I write to express my joy. I write to remember and to tell my story and those of my loved ones so that we won’t be forgotten. I write to reach out to you and all readers, to all common humanity.
I write to search for truths, my personal truths and to see if what I perceive as truths rings a bell with others. Are they universal truths? Is there such a thing as a universal truth?
There must be something to universal human feelings since touching on them, writing about them is what created a classic. We read the classics to learn about the common human experience and how to fit it into our own lives. We read the classics to learn how to behave or how we are supposed to behave, how we should respond to the world around us: to learn the universal truths.
Ah, but life has changed all around us and changes faster with every year. The classical Greek myths rang true to the Greeks, less so down the years. Now only a few classical scholars even read them, let alone in the original Greek. Pastors preach sermons from the pulpit interpreting truths from the Bible to congregants who can’t even imagine first century life in Palestine as they sit in their pews 2000 years later. We read Shakespeare and struggle with the language while loving the rhythm and poetry of the words. My own grandsons cannot understand the language in Kidnapped and Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classics that fascinated and thrilled their grandfather.
And yet, and yet, all of these classics down the years expressed human emotions that still touch us, still ring true. So, dear writer in 2018, you do it too! You write! Don’t be shy! Tell me, grandson, why you love your X-Box games so. What truths do you discover as you play your games with your friends? Although you rarely have face-to-face contact with them, your eyes cast down to your phone, you still have something to say. Don’t be shy because your voice is the voice of the future. Don’t be shy! Write!
Addressing the Reader in Fiction:
“–Hypocrite lecteur, –mon semblable, —mon frère!”
In my story, “The Sorry Camp”, written in the second person, You are the readers and every other white person who has lived in the United States of America since the birth of the nation. This You shares the baggage of history with the writer. As in Baudelaire’s lines, this You is a hypocrite, the mirror image of the writer, and her sister.
The reader is not shy, The reader is ignorant. The reader thinks that she understands but she does not. The reader is dangerous; she can hurt by doing and by not doing.
In my story, the protagonist, a naïve young white girl (we assume she may share some background with the reader) endures a summer in hell as a counselor for poor black girls. The children are innocent. The camp itself is hellish; its history includes the displacement of freed slaves from lush land they cared for. This– by now utterly barren camp– purports to bring fresh air into the lives of the children. Within this setting and this particular moment and place (Virginia,1964) terrifying events unfold that the reader, the You, of our particular moment and our particular time , may or may not understand with hindsight. The story asks a question about the possibility of forgiveness for the cruelty of ignorance and complicity.