Thursday, August 13, 2009

I hear voices

You might have known there would have been a few stragglers, reminiscent of days long past when kids are out playing some game that seemed remarkable to them at the time--Capture-the-flag, Stickball, Hopscotch, baseball--being extra alert against the call that would come at any moment, the call for dinner. At such moments, feats of athletic prowess were born, etched in the memory. The awareness, then, of a trope, a small addition after a book is officially finished:

narrative voice--the interior source from which an individual story is told; the sense of a story dictating itself to the writer; the genuine tone and intent driving a story forward.

The narrative voice is the writer's voice, which in turn is the writer being story, telling it first to himself or herself as completely as possible and in as unguarded as possible, the better to rule out attempts by the voice to sound like someone else. During the course of a day, the writer sees, hears, feels, and remembers things--things read, things imagined, things related by others. All of these seem attractive. Many of them actually are attractive. The writer should be free to take them in and note their attractiveness, but the writer should not try to imitate this attractiveness. What the writer sees, hears, feels, remembers informs the authentic narrative voice and is to be cultivated. Hemingway has a lovely way of linking sentences with and. Good for him. Louise Erdrich exudes a sense of vocabulary, mere words, fluttering within like a flock of birds taking off on an adventure. Way to go, Louise. James Lee Burke has an inner cadence that could make the drawings of Hieronymus Bosch and scenes of great violence seem like the lace doilies on your grandparents' easy chairs. But these things, however you value them, are not yours and do not inform your narrative voice. It is for you to find that voice in each of your stories. You find that way by listening to the story, listening to the way the senses inform you. It is as an actor of some stature, a Meryl Streep, a Mary Steinburgen, a Dustin Hoffman, a Derek Jacoby, searching for the authenticity of a character about to be portrayed. It is of them, seeking his or her entry into the landscape. It is of you, and of listening until the story tells you what it is and what it wants from you.

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