Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Confetti of Enthusiasm.

In your role as teacher, you've had diverse and significant opportunities to play out the ensemble of persona who are at all times roistering, complaining, and arguing with one another, noisy neighbors keeping you awake, on occasion doing the diplomatic thing of inviting you to party with them.

You've gravitated to roles where you are incarnations of The Trickster, hopeful of imparting to those you contact of the joys and needs for creating situations where ordinariness in all its forms is questioned, put through the grinder of impatience.

Often in your role of teacher, you'll hear a person read a work she or he had written that causes a special resonance for you, perhaps explaining the mystery of why the quality of voice in narrative matters so much to you.  

The Trickster takes over, after the reader has finished reading from the work.  You turn to the audience"  "Of course," you remark, "that piece was so effective because of X's reading voice."

You know what happens next.  The audience becomes vigorous in assuring you the story was there before the voice--the story had resonance because of the things the characters were doing and feeling, not from the way the reader read the material.

This is when you lay your cards down on them.  The listeners may have a full house showing, but you have four of a kind.  "The voice," you say, "informs the choice of characters, how they speak, think, and act.  The focused writer makes use of these elements to draw you into the picture.  There is little matter in a thing resonating if it does not resonate for you."

In your experience, the resonant voice often appears where and when you least expect it.  When you hear it or read it, you know it is something you look for, await with nervous apprehension, because it has the ability to transform the ordinary into the memorable, by which you mean you are transported to the landscape of which the writer writes, in effect brushing away hanging spider webs, untrimmed branches, and lawn chairs still moist from the morning dew.

With the given that nothing is perfect, that all novels and short stories have the analogy of the deliberate error woven into them as they are in Navajo rugs, you speak to the class of what they've just heard, trying to conflate voice and story, action, with purpose and deliberation, detail with the need for careful choice rather than random volume.  

You do this knowing you have in effect opened a floodgate of detail and impression the writer has held back because it is not supportive of story as much as it is an impulse for the writer to dance about the work area, showering it and the work in progress with the confetti of enthusiasm.

A narrative voice cannot be faked; it is as close to perfection as a writer can come within the framework of composition, presenting a dazzle of details, thoughts, actions, agendas, missed connections, and that great literary device beginning writers are at great pains to see, ambiguity. The part you like about being stuck, either as teacher or editor between this rock of a resonant voice and a writer who comes at you professing a love for words, is the choices you have to make among the useful and less useful words in your vocabulary.

Sometimes explaining how voice works and why things work in one way and not in another is like trying to find a matched pair of socks in a wildly scattered desk drawer.  Being placed in the position where you have to define the way a process works for yourself is a vital tool when the time comes to review, revise, or completely reconsider your own work.  

When you were only a writer, you took to techniques because of the way they felt--"It feels right."--or as an accepted technique--Because it just is.--without giving it additional thought.  Even then, you reached the place where your work was edited, most of the time to the point where you could see the reason behind the edits.

At this stage of your advancement on the fields and shoals of craft, you have to know as much about what to leave out and how to leave it out as you have to know about what goes where and why.  It took you all this time to understand that.  Without teaching and editing, you might still be searching, and as it is, you still throw out a good deal of material.  There is some  grim joy in knowing,from teaching and editing, that you are not alone.

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