Monday, December 8, 2008

Three Ways of Not Looking at a Rejection Slip

voice--the sound made by a narrative text when being read; the pitch and timbre of the author's emotional tone; an intended or revealed-through-betrayal attitude resident in text; the DNA of an author's agenda.

An author seeks and is said to have found voice when a clear, resident tone beyond style and content can be found in all the material that writer produces.

Virtuoso musicians are recognized by the voice with which they produce tone either through an instrument or in vocal rendition. Actors convey voice through their movements, manipulation of time, or projection of attitude. In similar fashion, writers express voice, which hints at attitude and the degree of emotional involvement with the matter at hand. Voice begins to appear then gradually deepen in a writer in direct proportion to the writer's honesty in dealing with interests, passions, and philosophy. The writer who has found voice has recognized vital interior forces and concerns.

Voice may be discovered in accidental, unplanned encounters where the writer dramatizes specific personal concerns that seem at first to merely appear out of nowhere. It is the direct result of passions. Voice is the result of caring for someone or something, or recognizing a portion of the writing self as though it were a long lost friend or relative.

Readers need not agree with a writer’s particular passions or politics to recognize the qualities of that writer’s voice.
Often conflated or confused with style, voice is the personality of the writer resident in text. It can be instructive and rewarding to read aloud from one’s own work as well as the work of others. It can be instructive to note that the great jazz musician Sidney Bechet was proficient on the clarinet, but his taking up the soprano saxophone secured his distinctive voice and led to his remarkable discoveries over his active years as a musician.

Although there is no substitute for story, voice is a major vehicle for expression in all narrative.

defensiveness--a quality variously apologetic or insistent, often found in novels and short stories, emblematic of the author's need to explain or justify actions, attitudes, or events portrayed; an often unnecessary footnote-as-text used to justify a behavioral or moral position taken by the author or one or more characters.

Defensiveness begins with a writer's response to critical reaction, said response often rendered as "But it really happened that way," then extending to lengthy explanations in support of what should not have required defense. This quality may be seen as the literary equivalent of a youngster trapped in a fib or lie, extending the flawed trope with even more extensive justification. It is "The dog ate my homework" writ large.

Frequently the product of a mountain goat leap of logic in the motivation or behavior of a character, defensiveness becomes a good argument for less being more. The more logic is attached to a behavior or condition, the more likely the reader is to question it. The best approach for explaining or inserting behavior attributions: Let the characters do it. The reader is less likely to question the behavior of Character A if Character B questions it first. Thus Character A didn't trust Character B carries more weight than the author telling the reader how A was trying to convince B of his trustworthiness.

Reminder: A story is a procession of events and interactions, not an argument or harangue.

event--an occurrence (off stage or on) in a narrative. An action or series of actions involving specific characters in specific situations, meant to be interpreted by the characters themselves and, of course, by readers. (Thus, by being called upon for interpretation, the reader is made an active participant in the transaction of story.)

It is no more fanciful to see electricity as a series of electrons, moving past an arbitrary point at a particular speed and density than it is to see dramatic narrative--story--as a series of events as they move past the reader's point of awareness.

Electricity is in fact measured by the rate at which electrons flow, including the resistance against which they move. Story is a set of experiences in terms of the number of events, the pace at which they proceed, and the resistance against them. As the scene is the basic unit of drama, the event is the basic unit of scene.


Anonymous said...

Shelly- your thoughts on voice are inspiring- I'm going to add them to my writer's notebook as a reminder, as I start my next novel. On rejection slips: I paradoxically find myself feeling more free than I have in months, all because of a rejection slip (via email, actually). I absolutely hate waiting for someone else to say yeah or nay to my writing, so much so that even a "nay" brings, at some level, a sigh of relief that I can now move on to another project- once I got over being upset, that is!

Kate Lord Brown said...

It's the waiting that give you grey hairs. Rejection you can do something with (read it, process it - act on it if constructive, use it as kindling). I wonder how many rejections on average = voice

Querulous Squirrel said...

I like the concept of dramatic events as electrons. I reserves such statements as "but it really happened this way" for fumbling, unreliable narrators. and as far as distinctive voice, the writer much first be read and appreciated and the rarity of that happening even to the strongest of voices suggest these are heard as mere whispers or murmurs in the crowd and that the vast majority of voices are simply appreciated by the writer herself.

Anonymous said...

wow squirrel, it makes me sad to think of all those wrothy voices being undeveloped for lack of an audience. Maybe that's what a blog or writer's group could be useful for? BTW, I loved your latest blog entry on blogging. It rang very true for me. Please keep writing.