Thursday, June 7, 2012

The narrative voice

 “Do you” one of your students asked you, “have any suggestions for not thinking while we are busy getting down the first draft?”

This being the last class of the quarter, you were yanked up erect in your seat, delivering lines fast, aware of the need for more time—always more time, always one more draft.  What a simple, straightforward question.  How pleased you were to hear it asked, how caught in the realization that you should have prepared for this some weeks back.

The answer for you is that you listen to and trust implicitly your narrative voice.  But how can you tell that to a student who is in her early twenties?

The answer involves another of your favorite words.  Risk.  Risk telling her.  All right then, you turn off thinking and listen entirely to your narrative voice.  If there are distractions or the narrative voice fades, you go back to the point in the text where you heard it in clear perspective, then begin reading closely until the words begin to come to you.

How long did it take you to become aware of your narrative voice, one of the students asks?

Not relevant, you tell her.  You wouldn’t be here in this class about narrative voice if you weren’t already aware you had one.

Fancy footwork, you feel them thinking.  Dug yourself out of that one.

No, wait, one of them says.  He trusts us.

Why should I not, you ask?

See.  He does, he trusts us to have a narrative voice.

Now, you move in, ever the anarchist.  How many of your instructors trust you?

Not relevant to this class and this discussion, one of them says.  She is either furiously scribbling notes on her MacBook Pro or IM’ing her boyfriend, wherever he might be.

These are fraught moments of connection and collision.  Here you are, telling them to trust their narrative voice, while you were well into your forties before you gave your own narrative voice much thought.  For the longest time, you conflated voice and style.  Worse yet, you valued style over voice.

The more you listen to it, the more clear and convincing it will sound, giving it the confidence to try things on you that you might not take to, were they to come with the slightest hint of stutter or misgiving.

All the tools in your toolkit got there in the first place because your own narrative voice worked with them on one of your projects.  Thus you both got some skinned knuckles and some pretty smooth movements.

You need to trust your narrative voice; your narrative voice has to slip in those wild-ass ideas you’d not have dared to use all the while wondering when you were going to come up with something out on the edges of wild-assery.

It is symbiosis on counts, you with your own narrative voice and you with your students.

Now that you think about it, you were just getting into teaching when you began to listen to your narrative voice.

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